Four armed turian marines were standing out front to greet his shuttle as it landed. In the partial moon light, their expressions were traditionally bleak and unreadable as they gave him professional nods, the sergeant pressing his fist to his chest. Kaidan returned the gesture. "Any problems?"
"Nothing since the blue suns bounty hunter we caught the other day."
Kaidan nodded bleakly, his eyes drifting towards the house. "Where is he?"
"I'll take you."
It was a dull night, with Manea's gaze elsewhere, the crescent moon was not nearly as bright as it had been the last time he was there. The armed marine led him inside the well lit home, down the massive hall and towards the other end of the house. He opened the door and motioned to the raised stone patio a short ways into the garden. Garrus was seated at a table, his back to him, Solana standing nearby. She glanced up when the door closed and silently made her way towards him.
"How is he?" Kaidan asked, quietly. Though the forest around them whistled and chirped with life, the night air seemed reserved and somber.
"He spends hours working on datapads... he doesn't sleep much," she explained, worry creasing the plates around her eyes. "I ask, but he hasn't been willing to tell me much of anything."
"And you? How have you been?"
"I'm alright," she glanced around. "Dad went to the Citadel right after it happened, said he was going to spend some time in the archives. It's been strange here with just the two of us."
"Listen, Solana, I'm sorry that-"
"No. You were doing your job. We're lucky things ended as well as they did."
Kaidan dropped his head and nodded. "Your house arrest has been officially lifted. For right now the guards will stay for your safety and to watch your brother. Shepard lobbied for his release, but they won't make an official decision until they read his account."
Solana swallowed as she took the news, and without a second thought, Kaidan reached for her and pulled her close, wrapping his arms around her. Tentatively she placed her palms on his shoulders and he closed his eyes.
"I'm sorry I got you involved in this," he said softly, but she shook her head and pulled away.
"I'm not," she answered, giving him a sad smile. "Listen, I know you're short on time and now that I can send messages I've got to check up on Mom. We'll talk. Message me when you can."
He nodded, his hand lingering on hers before reluctantly letting her go. After she had vanished inside the house, he headed towards the subject of his visit. Climbing the few stone steps that led to the raised patio, he came up behind the familiar, seated figure. Spread out across the table were stacks of datapads, with only a little room spared for a glass of something dark red and an untouched plate of food.
"Commander," Garrus muttered as his former shipmate came around the side of the table.
"Actually it's Major now."
Garrus stared blankly back at him for a moment before motioning to the empty chair across from him."Congratulations." There was a note of sarcasm in his voice. "I noticed they've already painted the shuttle."
"No, that's just a loaner we picked up at the Citadel," Kaidan corrected.
The turian sighed a little bitterly. "So, I suppose you're a spectre now?"
"Not exactly. I've been called back to Earth for the trial. After that well... we'll see."
Garrus didn't comment, his eyes drifting away from his guest and fixing on a point somewhere on the horizon. "How is she?"
"She's doing fine. She's strong." Kaidan shifted uneasily. This wasn't supposed to be purpose of their meeting, but he felt he owed his old teammate a proper answer. "There were three attempts on her life before she could be released to the Alliance. One was a pretty close call. We had to sneak her off the Citadel and onto the Normandy for our return. Admiral Anderson has taken command for our trip back to Earth." Garrus' eyes drifted upward, his gaze staring hard at the starry sky.
"When we boarded the ship the day after her capture, the crew was waiting for us in the CIC. Lined up at attention, alien crew members, Cerberus personnel and ex-Alliance soldiers..." Kaidan shook his head thoughtfully. "It was something to see. All those people choosing to follow her to the end."
"Shepard would inspire nothing less," Garrus sighed as he picked up whatever he was drinking and sipped it absently. "How did things go on the Citadel?"
Kaidan shrugged. "We had to use the Norrulus as a decoy to keep the batarians guessing. Osaro had an entire platoon watching the Normandy crew on our way to the station, and personally stood over Joker's shoulder the entire trip, convinced there would be a mutiny."
"And was there?"
"Of course not," Kaidan sighed. "When we arrived at the Citadel, Osaro spent several hours with Shepard in interrogation. I don't know what she told him, but he joined her when she met with the council." Garrus' attention returned to Kaidan as he continued. "I wasn't present for it, but I heard it was a media circus when it was announced there would be no public trial and that Anderson was stepping down as the human council representative."
"The council knows she's right and they have no idea what to do about it," Garrus answered simply.
"But you know I'm not here to update you during your media blackout. It's about the terms of your house arrest."
The turian plucked a datapad from the pile on the table and offered it towards his former teammate. Kaidan briefly checked the contents.
"It's all here?"
"Everything that's anybody's business," he answered grudgingly. Sighing, he glanced down at the plate of food then up at the human across from him. "What of my request to see her?"
Kaidan dropped his eyes to the table. "You already know the answer, Garrus. It's just not possible. Shepard is in isolation and will be until the Alliance holds its military trial, though you and I both know that's just a formality. From what I've been told she won't be allowed contact with any of her former Cerberus crew for the foreseeable future... and that includes you."
He expected his words to slice into Garrus' guarded exterior, bringing on a flood of anger, but instead the turian's mandibles simply pressed against his face as he gave a solemn nod. "Perhaps you can do something for me?"
Garrus produced something from under the table and placed it on top of the pile of datapads. An old hardcover volume with a warn spine and yellowing pages. "She left this here... maybe you can give it to her?"
"I don't know..."
"It's important to her."
Taking the book was probably a mistake, and giving it to Shepard could be tricky and would likely get him knee deep in trouble - but seemingly by its own accord, his hand reached out to pull the book closer. Don Quixote... he almost laughed.
"I will report that I had your full cooperation." Kaidan explained distantly, his gaze lingering on the book. "When it comes up for review, I will recommend that your house arrest be lifted."
It was hard to tell if his former shipmate had even heard him, as the turian's eyes continued to look past him and up at the sky. Kaidan paused for only another moment before collecting his things. As he stood to leave, Garrus spoke. "For what it's worth, I'm going to try to get the hierarchy to make preparation."
"For... the reapers." Kaidan filled in.
"Shepard and I spent long hours discussing the hypothetical hows and whens of all sorts of galaxy wide invasions. What we didn't realize was that once you start, you can't help but run the numbers over and over - all the scenarios, the possibilities - they are endless and tragic."
"That's fine Garrus, but I still can't fathom the why. What possible reason would such a powerful race have to attack us?"
"We quickly learned not to discuss the 'why'. You can't. Believe me when I say, that's a subject that could drive a person mad, because there is no acceptable reason, on any level, why an entire galaxy of intelligent life should be snuffed out of existence. Whatever their motive is, it has surely been warped by innumerable years of introspective, neurotic deliberation."
"The major races are unprepared, the entire galaxy in denial. We both came to the same conclusion - the reapers will hit the homeworlds first. Based on current numbers, Earth and Palaven will be hit hardest in the beginning." Garrus leaned forward. "I need you to promise me something."
"Promise me you'll get Shepard off Earth when it begins."
Kaidan sighed uncomfortably. How could he make that sort of pledge? "We don't even know if-"
"Please do this for me. If we're lucky, you'll never have to worry about it, but I will sleep easier knowing someone there is watching her back."
Kaidan's jaw clenched. There was no accusation in his former shipmate's eyes, but the echo of his words tore open the old wound between them. Maybe he could see it, because Garrus stood, stepping a little closer. "You've already been watching both our backs this far. If we're going to see this through to the end we need to stand together. I'm only asking you do what I now cannot - to keep her safe. I will do my best to... return the favour," he added, glancing past him towards where he had been speaking with Solana. Between them he had extended his open palm, the offering of an apology and a pledge, it hung there like an unwrapped bandage.
Finally Kaidan nodded, tucking the book under his arm, he accepting the turian's handshake.
"Just make sure you do the same for yourself," Kaidan ordered. "We all need someone to fight for."
As their hands released, Garrus cracked a hint of a smile. "Isn't it funny... the reapers. The very thing that brought us together will ultimately tear us all apart." His statement could have been about anything – he and Shepard, the Normandy crew, the endlessly questioned similarities between the galactic species - and maybe that's how he meant it.
With an awkward nod, Kaidan turned away. He didn't look back as he headed around the side of the house to where the shuttle waited, the armed marines nodding to him as they walked their patrols. As he stepped into the small ship, something slipped from the book. A piece of paper, he thought, as he bent down to pick it up, only to realize it was something much stranger; A pressed flower, white and browning along the edges. Frowning, he opened the book to place it back inside, only for it to crack where something else had been placed. A hand written note, half of it in shaky and uncertain Alliance standard, the bottom in a fluent cursive he recognized as turian. He didn't want to read it, but in spite himself his eyes picked up the first few lines:
Before us is a tree, its branches heavy with shimmering golden fruit. Around the tree is a sea of broken glass. But now we can do more than simply admire the tree, as the pain we endure in the struggle to reach it is no longer shouldered by one.
Author's notes: We've finally made it! I was adamant I wouldn't leave this story unfinished. It was a long road, but I can finally breathe a sigh of relief. Big thank you to those of you who kept reminding me that people wanted to keep reading... you know who you are. And thank you to Spyke1985, for beta reading my long winded story and being so very patient with me. And of course, everyone's kind words make it all worth while.
As a random bonus, if you'd like to check out a playlist of songs I listened to quite often while writing this, you can find it on youtube by search for 'efleck's VVV playlist'.