Almost a year into this "haitus" and here I am, updating again.
Let me tell you- how I feel about this story now is light years different from how I felt about it in August 2011.
Updating will remain semi-frequent. Summer is a tumultuous time in a tourist town, in mine? Doubly so.
Post-Friday the 13th, I will have some more time to edit, update, write porn. Until then, I'll enjoy my hour or two in the morning when I can write with reckless abandon.
Love you all. Thanks for sticking around.
PS - I should also add, if you haven't already, I would recommend re-reading the story. The chapters may be a bit different from what you remember.
Each one gives and weakens a bit,
Allowing the other to live and exist.
- Great Lake Swimmers
In the wake of Sovereign's attack, the citizens of the Citadel looked for cleaner, sleeker wards- none of the dirty, grimy, sketchy businesses that had been the heart of the lower sections years before. As a result, after the Battle for the Citadel, many such places were closed down, boarded up, turned into something a bit more… acceptable. Luckily for Garrus, though, there was a small hole-in-the-wall bar that he was all-too familiar with. Some dark, dank corner of the wards that was just the kind of place a person could get lost in, the kind of place he had frequented in his younger years, looking for an escape from the surgically bright presidium.
And there he sat, cigarette in his hand, drink on the bar in front of him, when she found him, exactly where she thought he would be. Lina slipped into the barstool next to his, resting her forearms on the stained, scratched wood, giving a quick nod to the bartender with a "bourbon, straight up."
Garrus looked over to her, but she stared ahead, giving him a full view of her familiar profile. That pointed nose, dotted with freckles. Her curls pushed back from her forehead, resting behind her ears. It was strange to see her in civvies, although it really shouldn't be. The majority of their time together, she had spent in civvies. She had also been twenty-two or twenty-three at the time. But this bar and that drink, and her curls and the freckles and the civvies, the white sleeveless shirt and tight black pants and red hi-top sneakers, a wave of nostalgia swept over him and he felt a pang for something he hadn't felt in years.
Certainty. The certainty of knowing where his life was, and what he would be doing the next day. That crappy, ancient apartment with it's hinged doors and malfunctioning climate control, the bed they shared and their ever-rotating selection of coffee tables that always managed to break. He had given it all up in an attempt to forget her, an attempt to make the galaxy a better place with his work, and twice, twice in his attempts he had failed and fallen back into her again. The first time as a C-Sec investigator, where his work never made a difference thanks to bureaucratic nonsense, and hell, he'd burned that bridge to a crisp behind him when he left. The next time as Archangel, where he let his damn feelings get in the way of better judgement, and it had left ten good people dead in his wake. It was blood he couldn't seem to wash off of his hands no matter how hard he scrubbed, so instead, he opted for his old strategy- have a cigarette and a drink in some dingy bar and hope that by the time he left he will have thought through the problem.
Making himself feel better about it made no difference, of course. He was still a failure, a stupid, selfish failure and everything he touched turned to shit. He glanced over at Lina again, who still faced straight forward, taking the occasional sip from her drink. He recognized the smell and it brought back more memories, of how he used to be so full of potential that he had thrown away by acting like a child for far too long- his state of arrested development effectively ruining every relationship he had formed.
Well, all but one, so far. But why was she letting him sit there, wallowing in his own self-pity?
"Aren't you going to say something?" he asked her.
And she finally looked over at him with a smile, and shook her head, and squeezed his hand with her own. She took her drink and walked to a booth, sitting with her back to the wall, facing him, the invitation of "when you're ready" apparent in her actions.
He watched her fluff out her curls. You could always tell she was comfortable when she played with her hair.
So he grabbed his own drink and went to her, setting his glass of bright green liquor next to her dark brown spirit. He saw there was no ash tray and took care to grab a clean one from the bar to bring to their table, setting it away from her, on his far side- his cigarette hand.
Her arm pressed into his, her leg touching his, and she didn't say anything but just listened as he recited his biography, the chapter that he would call That OTHER Time in My Life I'd Like to Forget. The chapter that recounted the two years between the destruction of the Normandy and the moment that fucking gunship fired on him. He spared no detail, from the animal trap that destroyed his spur to that one night he had called Andrea Phillips because he just needed some perspective, a reminder of who he used to be before everything had fallen apart. He took off his visor and pointed out the names of his men scratched into it: Erash, Monteague, Mierin, Grundan Krul, Melanis, Ripper, Sensat, Vortash, Butler, Weaver, Sidonis.
He faltered, his cigarette hand shaking badly as he read them, over and over again. He had carved them into his visor as a reminded of all that he had left in the world, everything that he had to protect. Nothing else mattered but the names, and that's all that they were now- some names scratched onto a worthless piece of metal.
Lina listened with her hand on his wrist. When he stopped talking she stayed silent a moment longer until she asked what she was hoping she wouldn't need to ask, what she had hoped he was truly certain of before they left the Normandy that morning.
"Do you regret killing him?"
For a moment he didn't respond, but his breath hitched a bit. Then he took his cigarette and rubbed the ember into the last name scratched into his visor.
By the time they had returned to the ship, Garrus felt as though the ground was spinning a bit. It had been a long time since he was drunk, imbibing more than a beer on a hot day, or some wine with a meal, or a glass of scotch with a friend. He was a big person and had years of experience under his belt, so his tolerance to alcohol was nothing to scoff at, and in his adult years he could count on his six fingers the number of times he had been out of control drunk and he'd still have a few fingers left. Hell last time was… before Omega, a short trip back to Palaven, back home to gather himself and settle his accounts before his personal suicide mission. It turned out that "gathering himself" meant getting hammered, then sleeping with Telsa Radnar, and good spirits she was just as pretty as she was when they were young. On Omega, it was important to stay alert as half of the station wanted him dead, and he wasn't about to make it easy for them.
But here he was now, leaning on Lina's shoulders as she half-dragged, half-stumbled with him back to the ship. Her strength was immeasurable, as he was an easy forty-five kilos heavier than she was, an easy half-metre taller, but she didn't drop him. She did pause, once, and push him against the dock wall to open the Normandy's hatch, then pulled his shirt to grab hold of him again.
"Left, right, left, right," she muttered softly to him, and he took a step with each corresponding foot as she spoke. They walked rather awkwardly through the CIC, unfortunately having arrived during shift change, when the room was busiest.
"Left, right, left…" Lina paused to let a crew member cut in front of them and let out a whine as she felt Garrus sinking into her side. "Come on, big guy, you're going to have to help me out here…"
Garrus shot his hand out and managed to grab onto the railing surrounding the galaxy map. He felt Lina shift his weight on her shoulders and kept his gaze firmly on the floor as she continued her quiet cadence, bringing them successfully to the elevator without a big, embarrassing scene.
He felt himself being pressed to the wall again and looked up to see the reflective inside of the elevator. Lina pushed the button for the loft, and moved again to wrap her arms around his torso. He tried to tell her that no, that wasn't right, his quarters were down on the storage deck, but she pressed a finger to his mouth and shook her head. The lift wall was nice and cold against his back, and Lina at her side was even cool in comparison to him, but his face was warm and his stomach was doing all kinds of uncomfortable things, and the movement of the elevator was starting to feel weird, and oh spirits, damnit, damnit, no no no; everything got kind of fuzzy and the light dizziness turned into all out spins and the floor was getting a lot closer and then there was nothing.
When he came around again, he was swaddled in something soft but that didn't help the hollow feeling in his joints. He stretched his legs out and, realizing the soft stuff was blankets and a pillow, stuffed the cushiest thing he could find under his neck and rolled onto his back. His stomach made a vulgar sound and he scoffed, giving himself a silent reprieve about how liquor is a cruel mistress and is not to be trusted ever again.
A cool hand touched his stomach and he quickly glanced to his side. Lina was there, equally wrapped in the blankets next to him with a concerned look on her face. He wasn't really surprised- last he remembered was being in the elevator with her- but it was still nice to wake up to.
Even if he felt like shit.
"You okay?" she asked, and he nodded in response. "I lost you there for a minute."
"Sorry," he mumbled back. "You'd think at this point in my life I'd know better."
Lina smiled and rubbed at her eyes.
"There's water next to you there," she pointed with one hand then stifled a yawn with the other.
"You're a queen," he replied, which made her chuckle.
They both shuffled into a more upright position and Garrus spent a few silent minutes enjoying his water while Lina recounted what he did and did not remember from the night before, a ritual they had started in their younger years (which, although they were just as adventurous as their current years, were full of far stupider adventures) although back then their roles were almost always switched- Lina had been a far easier drunk (and was far easier to carry halfway across the Citadel when she could no longer walk) and Garrus had been far more responsible. He covered his face in embarrassment when she reminded him that their walk through the CIC was none too subtle and unfortunately timed.
He chuckled and pushed back the blankets with his feet, rolling himself off the bed as gently as he could so as not to upset his already tumultuous stomach. When he finally stood, it took him a moment to gain his balance, and he cursed that cruel mistress liquor because he was still goddamn drunk. He stumbled up the steps, the light from the fish tank illuminating the way, and felt his way into the bathroom.
Shepard hugged her knees to her chest, her stomach knotted with worry. She'd noticed him withdrawing to the main battery more and more, his excuses of "these weapons don't calibrate themselves you know" falling a bit short after she had heard them a dozen times or so. He was becoming a recluse, she felt, and that was saying something about a man that once could charm the pants off of anyone he met, and often had to use it to his advantage after they had accidentally dropped a bottle or set fire to a table.
It worried her, the visible shift between them- she was now far more social than he was, and there was nothing right about that at all.
When he reemerged, she was standing by the fish tank holding her arms close to her chest. He approached her, a hand touching his stomach, the glow from the tank casting an ultramarine light over his already blueish features. She gave a concerned look, motioning to his abdomen, but he waved it off.
"I'm fine," he said. "I just need to lay off the hard stuff for a while, I think."
He moved toward the bed again, but an unexpected stair left him grabbing the wall for balance.
When she turned and he was holding the wall for dear life, she rolled her eyes, and it was stupid but she felt twenty-three again. She laughed at the incredulous look on his face, his brow ridges furrowed and his mandibles splayed at odd angles and the skin around his eyes pulled wide. She cackled and grabbed at his shirt, pulling it up, up, over his shoulders, over his head, tossing it to the side. He let out a laugh too and, still feeling brave from the liquor, snaked a hand behind her head and leaned in.
And she still tasted like he remembered, all soft and velvety, the minty tang of her toothpaste lingering, and the lips, man those lips were so pliable and foreign pressed to his own but there was everything right with how they made his heart pound. When they pulled apart, she gave him a surprised look. He dropped his gaze to the floor.
But she shook her head and, with a quick pull to the front of his cowl, brought his mouth to hers again. With the ease and grace of royalty she led him down the steps again, stopping her fluid motions only to seat him on the edge of the bed, and straddle herself on top, facing him, arms snaked around his neck as his found her waist.
And tried as he might to picture Telsa Radnar splayed on that bed beneath him, he knew it didn't feel right. He opened his eyes and drank her in- a five-fingered hand in his, blunted white teeth behind luscious lips, and a spread of red curls splayed across the sheets.