Closer to Home
So...this story's been neglected for a long time. Around the release of Mass Effect 3, I had a major health crisis, a death in the family, and over the following year as I recovered, the beginning of my professional writing career.
Long story short - this story is abandoned, for the following reasons:
1. A professional writing career eats up a LOT of time. Fanfiction's a treat, and while I still dabble in fanfic occasionally, it has to be something I'm really in the mood to write. Otherwise...it's writing, that's not fun, taking away time from writing that could earn me a living.
2. Canon fiction sort of caught me up. My original plan was for Garrus' mother to be a separatist. Now that we've found out a bit about Garrus' mom in actual canon, we know that's not the case.
3. I worked out a lot of my original concepts for this story roleplaying on Cerberus Daily News and now a lot of these ideas feel like retreads.
Since the story's dead, though, I went back to my old computer's archives to see how far I'd gotten and wanted to give you folks, if nothing else, the last bit of it that I had finished before the sea change took effect on my life. Some of Garrus' siblings' names still have placeholders. I remember one of them was going to be the "Villain" of the piece.
Maybe the moral of the story was for me to have finished it before I shared any of it. Given that I didn't finish it before sharing it, though, rather than take it down, I hope people enjoy what there is of it. And thanks to those of you who read & enjoyed it.
Chapter 7: United Front
Shepard awoke with a start, disoriented and confused. She was not in her familiar bunk on the Normandy; where was she?
The sight that met her eyes was that of a plush hotel suite, luxurious and comfortable, but although the bed in which she found herself was large and decadent, she somehow felt adrift, as though her anchor were missing.
Padding to the window, she opened the blinds and was greeted by the brilliant faux-daylight of the Citadel. Of course. In the absence of natural light, artificial illumination kept the Citadel brightly lit at all times; "Citadel Standard Time" was equally artificial, a construct designed to provide all species with a common point of reference.
She was on the Citadel. She had come with Garrus. He wasn't here, and she'd been expecting that he would be. Here.
In her bed. In her arms.
The rising thrill that she always felt when she thought of Garrus was tempered by a sense of unsettlement. Where was he? With his parents…but how long had he been gone? She remembered waiting up until late last night, finally giving up and going to sleep alone, feeling the keen absence of his sturdy plates at her back.
Shepard checked her omni-tool. The device said that it was extremely late in her sleep cycle, perhaps a bit too early to get up, but she had not slept well and she doubted she would start now. She'd very quickly become accustomed to Garrus' warmth beside her, even if they both wore full pyjamas to avoid rashes from one another, and she had been restless without it.
Now night was rapidly fading into morning and still, no Garrus.
His clothing, including his sleepwear, was still in his suitcase. His weapons were untouched. There were no messages on her omni-tool.
It was possible he'd spent the previous night speaking with Machaera, but as Shepard walked through the corridor connecting their rooms, she fought down a rising sense of dread. She could hear nothing through the door save the soft sighs of a sleeping turian who didn't sound like Garrus. She felt like an actor—someone whose movements were inevitable, scripted by the hand of a greater power—as she knocked on Machaera's door, already knowing how the scene would play out.
Machaera's purr cut short, followed by a challenge: "Identify yourself!" Shepard did. Moments later, the female turian appeared at the door, wrap tied sloppily around herself, gauntlets already on. Shepard asked if she'd heard from Garrus, Machaera's eyes widened as she answered in the negative, and the two of them stared helplessly at one another, not needing to voice the question in both their minds: so where was he?
And worse: who was going to be the one to contact Bastion Vakarian and inquire?
"Would he have spent the night at his father's place?" Shepard asked, for lack of anything else to say.
Machaera shrugged. "I would have figured there was only so much of his father he could take but…they haven't seen each other in so long, who knows?"
Shepard's mouth felt dry. "If he told his parents about…." She gestured to herself, suddenly unable to speak the words "…would they have….could they have…"
The female turian's eyes flickered. "**** and his sister **** would never permit harm to come to him," she said firmly. "His stepbrothers though….*** and Faustus were always so bitter about their mother's remarriage, and the fact that nothing they did would ever win their stepfather's esteem. And Domini, forced to grow up in Garrus' shadow." She folded her arms. "It's possible something could have taken place without *** and ***'s knowledge."
Machaera shrugged helplessly. "Who knows?" Her expression was anguished. "Love does not make one psychic, Shepard."
Shepard sighed. "If it did, I'd know where Garrus was."
The turian managed a small smile.
Shepard tried to force herself to think logically. Tactically. She'd fought the geth, the Thorian, Saren, Cerberus, the Blue Suns, all manner of enemies by keeping her head, analyzing the possibilities, and choosing the best course of action.
It was a lot harder to do when she was so emotionally invested.
"Garrus isn't a child," Shepard said, thinking as she spoke. "Staying out all night is not unreasonable."
"But you are also his commander. He should report to you if his return would be delayed."
"I didn't say when he had to be back, though." She frowned. "I'm a bit concerned that he didn't send me a message, but I also know he's not particularly good at messaging." She'd have to talk to him about that. It was one thing to delay replies to casual acquaintances, but quite another when your own commander…
…didn't know where you were.
"So before we start calling an alarm, we should send Garrus a message and give him a chance to respond."
She tried not to think about Garrus unable to respond, unconscious in an alley somewhere, bleeding…
As if some two-bit thug could get the drop on Omega's Archangel.
…or passed out from too much alcohol, sick and…
There was a possibility that Shepard's rational mind accepted all too quickly. What if something Bastion had said or done had upset Garrus so badly that he'd gone off to some sleazy bar to drown his troubles the only way he knew how? God, even a glass of wine at dinner, or a shot of liquor to flavor a juice, could tip him over.
"What is it?" Machaera asked, having read her expression.
"Garrus…" Did she have any right telling the turian this? Was it too great a risk not to?
"Garrus has had some difficulties in the past two years," Shepard began, "with alcohol. When he feels hurt and alone."
Damn it, if this was the case, why hadn't he come home to her?
She swallowed her selfishness and continued. "I'm afraid that if his father said something to upset him…"
Machaera nodded grimly. "Do you know where his old hangouts used to be when he worked C-Sec?"
"I know a few," Shepard said.
"Then you should go. I will wait here, in case he returns."
Garrus Vakarian awoke slowly, struggling upwards through the black sea of dream towards a distant sun. His head ached; his thoughts were slick and evasive, like dirty oil upon the water. There was a craving in his gullet.
He had to stop this. He had to. Shepard…
Where was Shepard?
Garrus reached out to see if he could feel his bondmate beside him, but his hands would not move.
He realized, to his consternation, that his hands were bound behind his back. His feet—he couldn't even feel his feet. He could see them, though, in the very faint illumination that filtered through what appeared to be the cracks around a door.
If he had to lay a bet, he would guess that he was tied to a chair and shut in a closet.
The room was small and close. When he rocked the chair, his fringe brushed the back wall. By lifting his knees and wriggling his toes, he was able to start the circulation returning to his feet. His muscles ached from being held in the same position so long, and he had a crick in his neck from sleeping with his head bent, but he didn't seem to have any additional injuries. At least, not physical injuries. His short-term memory had a gaping hole in it. He had no idea why the hell he was tied up in a closet.
He'd told his mother that he had a bondmate. ***, perceptive as always, caught on right away that it was someone of whom his father would not approve. He remembered her expression, caught between hopefulness and happiness for her son, and trepidation at the thought of whom he might have chosen. Tentatively, she'd asked him his Commander's opinion of the match; he'd hesitated a bit too long and in that moment tipped his hand.
Her eyes had widened; she'd actually taken a step backwards, and Garrus had felt his throat tighten, his heart accelerate as he wondered if his mother's casual speciesism would…
He'd watched her struggle for composure, and slowly ask what had been so special about Commander Shepard.
There were things which Garrus had not spoken of: the full extent of his injuries on Omega, the depths of his despair at Shepard's death, the details of his struggles with alcohol, or the utter madness of the mission through the Omega Four relay. He did not wish to get into those things now. He had, briefly, outlined what he had been hoping to accomplish on Omega, how Sidonis' betrayal had killed his team and almost killed him when Shepard had come back for him—that was how he had put it. It was close enough to the truth.
His mother had listened, and not at any time during the telling had he seen anyone else, or even so much as heard a telltale scuffle to suggest that any of his siblings might have been listening in.
As night faded towards morning, *** had murmured that Bastion would wonder where she was, and Garrus had realized to his shock how late the hour had grown.
He'd excused himself. He'd been heading back to the hotel…
Damn it, what had happened?
His memory was a void, a swallowing absence, as if pages had been ripped from a book.
Okay. Blackness. What just before that?
Pain? No. His head was throbbing dully, but he could not sense any localized area that was more tender than any other, save for his neck, which would have become cramped after, not before, he blacked out.
He glanced back, unable to see his arm from the right angle, but certain that there was a little pinprick on his left arm where a small dart had sunk deep into his muscle, right at the joint where his plates did not quite touch. He had been surprised, first by the sudden pinch of the dart hitting home, then by the realization that someone had shot him with a projectile bearing an unknown substance.
Confusion had followed, doubtlessly aided by whatever had been in that dart, and then…
He remembered two people descending on him, dressed as paramedics. They had rolled him onto a stretcher, bundled him into a waiting ambulance. A conveniently waiting ambulance. Passersby had seen nothing save a turian collapsing, only to be aided by the timely arrival of medical personnel. Garrus had remembered one of the paramedics, a barefaced turian female, leering down at him…
Garrus grudgingly had to admit that as kidnappings went, this one was pretty clever.
It didn't change the fact that he was tied up in a closet, though, and he had absolutely no idea who'd engineered the snatch-and-grab.
…Could his father truly be this angry with him?
Garrus had just begun the next step—testing the security and durability of his bonds, which were proving to be distressingly well-secured—when the closet door opened.
Garrus was blinded by the light pouring in through the opened closet door, but he could still hear a female voice saying, "He's awake."
Garrus blinked the tears from his eyes and found himself squinting at a turian he didn't recognize. She was barefaced. She wore blue armour, not like his own. Blue armour he felt he should recognize, except his eyes didn't want to focus.
"…not sure this was a good idea," someone else was saying. A long, slender silhouette behind the turian. Another feminine voice. "…don't fancy our odds against Shepard."
The barefaced woman withdrew, and Garrus caught only a handful of her words, "…boss' decision…shut up." Her footsteps faded down the corridor while her companion took up position in the doorway.
Despite the pounding in his head, he tried to summon a fraction of his old sarcasm. "Nice place—but is it the best room in the house?"
The guard didn't rise to the bait. He couldn't even discern a response, though her outline was still fuzzy, and if she'd rolled her eyes or scowled, he would not have been able to see it.
"Are all your guests so fortunate?"
They sat in silence for an indeterminable amount of time until Garrus heard a muffled sound from down the corridor that must have been a verbal command. The guard—an asari, Garrus realized—stepped into the room and cut the ropes tying him to his chair, though his hands remained bound. She shoved him forward, the gesture probably biotically-assisted, though perhaps it was simple muscle exhaustion that caused him to stagger into the doorframe instead of the door. His feet felt like stilts, unstable, not part of his own body. The asari grabbed him by the shoulder and frog-marched him down the pain-bright corridor to a room guarded by two people in armour, one a salarian, the other a human. He stumbled between them and was plopped in a chair sitting before a simple desk. His rear had no sooner hit the chair than the asari was pointing a gun at his head.
The figure sitting on the other side of the desk, back to the door, swung around in his swivel chair.
"Hello, Archangel," a human voice sneered, and Garrus found himself looking at a face he'd never expected to see this close again.
Several hours later, Shepard found herself sitting at the bar in the Flux casino, nursing a beer as she waited for the manager to become available. She'd been to the Dark Star, various establishments in Little Palaven, the C-Sec officers' mess, and even some of the sleazier joints which C-Sec visited in the course of their duties. Now Shepard found herself remembering an episode two years ago: Garrus, who had previously been obsessively single-minded in his insistent pursuit of Saren, had suddenly recommended that the whole crew visit Flux for a chance to unwind. It had been her first hint that there might be a real person underneath the regimented C-Sec officer.
How far they'd come.
The manager arrived, and though he promised to show his staff the holo she'd provided of Garrus, he said that he hadn't remembered the turian himself, nor was it easy to distinguish one patron from another in the flashing casino lights.
Shepard looked around, squinting. Even at this time of day—assuming everyone else was following a sleep schedule similar to hers—there were more than a few drunks lolling about, giggling with their friends, dancing atrociously, and losing at the quasar machines. And, yes, in the flickering illumination it was hard to pick out precise features.
There was a turian sitting further down the bar from her. She knew it wasn't Garrus because his left mandible was a shocking golden metallic shade, throwing dazzling pulses of light back over the dance floor; still, from this distance she had trouble distinguishing what shade his hide was, or what markings decorated his face. When he turned his head, sensing her interest, she looked away. The last thing she wanted was for a stranger to think she was here to pick up turians.
Too late, apparently, because the man rose from his bar stool and approached her.
"Commander Shepard?" he inquired. His voice was deeper than Garrus'. His right mandible was the same slate-grey plating as the rest of his face; the left one was now revealed to be a prosthetic.
"Let me guess," she replied dryly. "You thought I was dead."
The turian grinned. "I think most of us have been presumed dead at one time or another. It's a sign you're doing the job right."
Despite herself, Shepard laughed.
He took the seat next to her. "Council Spectre Jaelix Metarsa. Pleasure."
Shepard hadn't had the best track record with her fellow Spectres. There'd been Nihlus, who'd been killed shortly after they'd started working together; Tela Vasir, who'd sold out to the Shadow Broker; and, of course, Saren. Now Shepard was torn between the desire to meet a colleague who'd actually be her equal, and concern—were all Spectres damaged goods, and if they were, what did that make her?
Shepard took the proffered talon and shook it.
"Can I ask what you're up to these days," Jaelix said, "or is it so secret even another Spectre can't know?" He actually winked at her with a roguish grin.
Shepard did not feel like debating the existence of the Reapers again. "I'm on a missing persons case," she replied, surprising even herself. "Garrus Vakarian. Have you seen him?" She flashed Garrus' picture on her omni-tool.
Jaelix, to his credit, took a close look, but then he shook his head. "Can't say I have, though I'll keep my eyes open."
Shepard couldn't help a twinge of disappointment that her longshot had fallen through. "Yourself?" she asked, just to be polite.
"Taking a well-deserved day off," the Spectre replied. "I just got back from Taetrus…dirty business."
Shepard nodded. "I heard about the operation. You know it's bad when it takes a pair of Spectres to do the job."
Jaelix shook his head. "Not me. Tetra and Medessi were the ones hunting down the Facinus leadership. My role is more…undercover." He eyed Shepard, as if weighting something in his mind, and finally snorted a laugh. "You're still hunting the Reapers, aren't you? You'd understand."
"Yes, I am still hunting the Reapers," Shepard said carefully. She'd had to deal with a lot of denial, mockery, and outright close-mindedness from a considerable number of people, and it made her automatically wary, even though Jaelix's words sounded sympathetic.
"Then I'll be honest with you, Shepard. Many of the rebel groups on Taetrus—and there's more than twenty, not including Facinus—many of them are organized in cells, where each member only knows a handful of other members. Oftentimes, messages are received and given by anonymous means, such as blind drops or radio messages. But someone's got to be in charge. Someone is coordinating a number of those groups, particularly those who also have presences on other planets. Someone is attempting to call the shots on a galactic scale." He cleared his throat. "There's a very persistent rumour about a figure called the Silver Clawed Devil. More than one of the higher-ranked rebels claimed to have met with him. He shows up in full armour, a helmet hiding his facial features, identifiable only by his silver hands." The turian Spectre snorted. "If we could find this Silver Clawed Devil and take him out, maybe the rebel groups would go back to interfering with one another again."
Shepard thought of Machaera and realized that she was probably the only Spectre who would have any sympathy for the renegade turian. The Council would want the Hierarchy to remain united, its citizens under the control of the Primarchs and the influence of the Council.
"It's not easy," Jaelix continued. "You've been there yourself, Shepard. There's no concrete proof that the Silver Clawed Devil exists any more than there is proof of the Reapers."
"But you believe."
"If I'm wrong," the turian replied, "yes, one Spectre's time has been wasted. But if I'm not wrong, can we afford to sit idly by? If the rebels became a unified fighting force, we could have the Unification War all over again." He gave her a crooked smile. "And if you're not wrong, we could be closer to extinction than we ever thought possible. I think our efforts are more than justified."
Shepard finished her beer, lost in thought. She'd often hoped to meet someone outside her team—and outside Cerberus—who was willing to take the Reapers seriously. Now, though, she found herself strangely unsettled by her new ally.
"I have to get going," Shepard said at last. "You might have a day off, but I have a missing person to find. I'd hoped to find him here, but I don't think it's my lucky day." She gave him a smile. "Maybe it'll be yours."
Jaelix returned the grin. "Here's hoping. I'll keep an eye out for your MP, Shepard, and maybe you can let me know if you see any terrorists around."
As she walked out of Flux, Shepard thought of Machaera's father, his talons lying severed and lifeless on the table in front of his daughter, and she wondered if the rebels had really shot him as a traitor. And she thought of the title Spectre, and whether it demanded that she denounce Machaera as a threat to the Hierarchy and by extension, the Council.
But what has the Council done for me lately?
No, Shepard knew who her allies were. In a choice between the Council and her bondmate's loyal family member, there was really no contest.
Garrus had been so caught up in obsessing about his father, and helping Shepard deal with the Reapers and Cerberus, that he'd almost completely forgotten that he had enemies of his own. Enemies like every damn merc group that had operated out of Omega in the past two years.
"You've got some damned nerve," Vido said conversationally, folding his hands over his raised knee. "First you start a gang war the likes of which Omega's never seen before—a war where all the major merc organizations are united against the threat posed by a handful of crusaders. Oh, I heard you were dead but I wasn't inclined to believe it without your head on my desk, and sure enough, you show up on Zorya with my ex-partner Massani and the Spectre that holds you both on her leash. Though I should thank you for that—your Spectre's got the same annoying little conscience as you do. She held Massani back from the kill; she and you are the reason I got away, and now, here I am, to say thank you."
Garrus felt his head spin as he tried to overcome whatever the Blue Suns had pumped into his system and make sense of Santiago's words.
"If you want to execute me," Garrus said, and his voice came out as a croak, "why am I still here?"
Vido gave him a very nasty smile.
"Well, Archangel—or should I call you Vakarian?—I was hoping to get rid of two of my little problems: yourself, and Commander Shepard."
Something must have shown on Garrus' face, because Vido laughed. "You and Shepard are quite the pair, aren't you? Planet to planet, shooting up my operations, killing my operatives, ruining my plans. Every mercenary has occasional setbacks, but between the two of you, you're starting to cut into my profit margins and I'm afraid it really does have to stop." He gave Garrus an ugly smile. "I hear you're quite the pair in more ways than one, in fact."
"None of your business," Garrus muttered.
Vido's smile broadened. "Oh, but it is my business. Because whatever you are—commander and second, man and mistress…or are you the eternal subordinate, Vakarian?" He winked. "Whatever you are to her, Shepard would never abandon you. She chose the lives of those stupid workers over doing her job and finishing me off; I have no doubt she'll choose you."
And walk straight into Santiago's trap.
"You won't get Massani," Garrus said, desperate to convince Vido that his plan was flawed. "Zaeed left the crew as soon as our mission was completed; as soon as there were no more credits being deposited in his account."
But Vido only laughed.
"Do you really think this is about Zaeed? It took him twenty years to track me down. If it takes him another twenty years to find me again, I'll have plenty of time to prepare."
Garrus thought—hoped?—he saw a shadow of doubt in Santiago's eyes, but if it was truly there, it was not enough to crush Vigo's amusement.
"No, it's you and Shepard that Solem Dal'serah wants gone."
Garrus pounced on that comment. "How does it feel to be led around by a batarian, Santiago?"
But Vido only shrugged. "I'm an accountant at heart, Vakarian. I manage finances, oversee operations, evaluate opportunities. If Dal'serah wants to be the public face of the organization, so be it. In the last twenty years there have been several assassins making attempts on Dal'serah, but only Zaeed and Shepard…and you…have ever come gunning for me."
Garrus felt sick. It was true—he'd taken a shot at Dal'serah himself, only to have one of the batarian's bodyguards intercept the bullet. Luck. Blind luck had saved the mercenary captain. And now, he wished he'd sent his group after Santiago.
Too late for regrets.
Vido smiled. "How does it feel to be led around by a human?" A wide, nasty grin.
"Unlike you," Garrus retorted, "I have successfully grasped the concept of partnership."
And Vido Santiago would be very sorry indeed when the other half of their partnership came calling.
Shepard knew well enough to announce her identity to Machaera before opening the door connecting their hotel suites. The turian did not bother with her customary response; she simply opened the door, and Shepard could guess that her expression looked a lot like Machaera's right now.
Worry. Uncertainty. Confusion. Fear.
You didn't find him, did you.
They didn't need to speak the words.
"What now?" Machaera said at last.
Shepard checked her omni-tool. "C-Sec won't accept a missing persons report until two day-cycles have passed."
Machaera snorted. "That's a day and a half away. A lot can happen during that time."
"I know," Shepard replied grimly.
The policy made sense: most runaways, misplaced children, or confused old folks made their own way home during that time. Most domestic spats cooled off within two days. Most drunks or drug addicts came off their benders and sobered up. Most forgetful family members would receive a message and be reminded to get in touch. It saved C-Sec from wasting their time—time they needed to pursue legitimate missing persons.
"Does he…" Machaera fidgeted, began to pace. "Does he do this often?"
The female turian stopped dead in her tracks, and suddenly her whole demeanour changed. "We need to take action. Now." Her head snapped towards Shepard. "While we wait for C-Sec to be able to act, we can begin doing their job for them. We can trace Garrus' last known point and go from there."
"Do you want me to…"
"We will both go." Her eyes narrowed. "We will have an easier time handling Bastion Vakarian as a united front."