Palaven's sun blazed in the far left corner of the window, one slightly brighter star among many at this distance. Its planets would not be visible for several hours. Still, Garrus felt a knot of anticipation in the pit of his stomach as he watched its approach.
Absently, one hand drifted to the hinge of his jaw, cautiously prodding the rough bands of scar tissue. His reflection in the window grimaced, and with an effort of will, he returned his hand to his side. Still sore.
He had thought long and hard over whether to seek out a specialist to repair the cosmetic damage. It would have made things easier, avoided awkward questions. In the end, he had not, one of only a few recent decisions he had not shared with Shepard. Erasing the scars felt dishonest. He had changed since he had last visited Palaven, taken his chances and made his choices, and it seemed wrong that he could erase their consequences with a little pain, a little time, and a fair number of credits.
He shifted his weight, and the light in the cabin fell over the ruin the scars had made of his colony markings.
Then again, he thought wryly, maybe that's a bit too honest.
In his head, he could hear his father's voice: "Do it right, or don't do it at all." In a way, this whole trip hinged on how much his father trusted in his honesty. No sense in pulling the punches. His father was a dedicated officer with a fine eye for detail. He would at least give the evidence serious consideration and evaluate it fairly. That would have to be enough.
Absently, he tapped a finger against the table he leaned on. Of course, all this speculation assumes the old man is still speaking with me. They hadn't parted on good terms. Garrus had never bothered to check – hadn't wanted to know – but he half-suspected he might have been disowned sometime in the past two years.
His father was his best bet for getting the information where it needed to go. There were other channels he could go through if he had to. One or two of his old COs might be willing to hear him out, and if necessary, he could enlist Liara's assistance and anonymously ensure that the data crossed enough desks to get noticed. But the first of those options relied on whatever hazy good memories his former superiors might have of him and the second on sheer, dumb luck. Neither guaranteed that the information would ultimately trickle into a place where it could do some good. Of the options available, his father was the only one with both a reason to listen to him and the right connections to do something about it. Failure was not an option. The mission in the Bahak system still shot ice down his spine. They had dodged a full scale invasion by a matter of minutes, and he knew every second they had now was borrowed.
Bahak set his thoughts to Shepard, currently en route to Sol system to stand trial. She'd stood arrow-straight when she told the crew she was going back, every inch the Commander. But Garrus knew Shepard, had learned the subtle twists of her expressions, and the pinch of her mouth and stiffness of her shoulders had worried him. Later, over a beer, she'd confessed. "It's a political game. They don't have enough evidence to do anything but make a lot of noise. It'll be a PR circus. A waste of time when we should be preparing for war." Much later, staring up at the blackness of space in the darkness of the cabin's night cycle, he'd heard her voice next to him, thin and hollow.
"Three-hundred thousand people, Garrus. An entire system."
"It was the only choice you could have made."
"I know. But, hell. Three-hundred thousand. I can't even imagine a number that big."
He'd tightened his arm around her, pulling her back against him, and felt her hand tighten on his in response, but they'd stayed awake in the dark a long time after that. They'd spent the next morning combing through the data they'd collected over the course of the mission, sorting it into an organized narrative and weeding out the parts the Alliance wouldn't want spread around. A copy for everyone on board who might be able to bring it to their government's attention.
Shepard might be temporarily grounded. But her crew would do their best to raise a little political hell in her absence.
He took one last look at the far off star of his home and then headed to his cabin to make his preparations.
He'd had a hell of a time getting through Cipritine port security. His last set of civvies and the single piece on his person were par for the course for off-duty military. The Mantis and Vindicator in his luggage were less usual. He had the proper permits – the Council's grudging reinstatement of Shepard's Spectre status was at least good for that much – but security had held him up for nearly an hour trying to poke holes in them. He'd sat it out as patiently as he could – back in C-Sec, he'd have been all over a guy trying to bring that kind of heat on station.
What goes around comes around, I guess.
They'd finally, reluctantly, let him go, and now he made his way though the crowd at the reception lobby, trying to catch a glimpse of Solana. Absently, he noted how strange it was to be in a crowd of mostly turians again. He'd grown used to being taller than everyone else.
A flash of movement caught his eye and he spotted her. She was checking her omni-tool, probably looking for a message from him, and hadn't yet sighted him. His mandibles dipped into a broad grin and he headed her way. He cleared his throat noisily when he got there, startling her out of her messages.
"Fancy meeting you here."
Her head jerked up and her eyes snapped to his, then to the scars across his jaw, and locked back on his eyes.
She leapt from the seat, and suddenly they were in a fierce, one-armed embrace. At length, they leaned back, hands still on each others' shoulders, examining each other. He saw her gaze flick again to the right side of his face, but mercifully, she let it lie.
"Is that all you have?" she said, nodding at his scant luggage.
"Yeah. Figured I could pick up most of what I need on planet."
"All right. Let's go – I reserved us a taxi." Her hand squeezed his shoulder. "Spirits, Garrus, it's good to see you again."
They made their way out the door to the taxis. Cipritine's summer heat and glare hit like a hammer, and Garrus spent a moment in wistful reminiscence of the comfortable warmth and soft, infrared glow of the Normandy's main battery. Their cab, thankfully, was queued only a little ways from the main door. They made their way over in companionable silence, and both breathed a sigh of relief as the taxi lifted off and the climate-control kicked on. The quiet lasted while they wended their way out of the city traffic and onto the route leading to Faxis. Then, Solana took a breath and turned to him, letting the autopilot take over.
"I see why you stopped syncing up the video chat. Garrus, what happened?"
Inwardly, he flinched. I caught a rocket with my teeth. "A slight altercation with a gunship," he said instead.
"A gunship," she said flatly. "Are you all right?"
"Still a bit sore. Everything works, though." Quickly, before she could inquire further, he added, "What about you? How are you doing?"
She shrugged, falsely nonchalant. "I was nominated for Pilot First Class a few weeks ago."
A flash of pride went through him at that. "Congratulations."
She waved a hand dismissively, but cocked her head proudly all the same. "It's not a sure thing yet. The merit committee is meeting this week." She paused briefly, gathering her thoughts. "Dad is still doing work for Intelligence, but most of it's administrative now, since he spends most of his time looking after Mom. Mom..." There was another brief silence, and when Solana resumed speaking, the subtones of her voice were flat. "Mom isn't doing well. We had some good luck. Managed to get her into a government-funded trial, all expenses waived." She took a breath. "It seems to be helping some. She's lucid more of the time, at least, but it's hard to watch. She can't walk anymore, and her fine motor control is gone. She's starting to have trouble speaking now." A beat of silence. "What was so important that you couldn't come back here?"
"I'm sorry, Sol. It's classified."
"The hell it is. You've been doing mercenary work for the past couple of years."
"I served with Shepard for the past six months. I can tell you that much."
"Shepard. The one who's working for that terrorist group?"
"It's not that simple."
Her mandibles dipped once, then returned to their tightly closed position.
"I hope you know what you're doing, Garrus."
"I promise, I'll tell you everything when I can."
Solana threw him a quick glance, expression momentarily relaxing, before returning to its tense mien. "I'll hold you to that."
The rest of the ride passed in silence.
The taxi dropped them in front of the house they'd grown up in. It looked smaller. Drearier. A light shone from the room overlooking traffic, where his father's study lay. There was little to tell it had been almost three years since his last visit.
Solana opened the door for them – his old passcode no longer worked. Inside, the house was dimly lit and quiet. A door slid open down the hallway, the noise startlingly loud, and his father walked out to greet them.
"Take that thing off inside the house." His father pointed at his head, looking almost startled, as if the order had been purely reflexive. Garrus removed the targeting visor and set it on the low counter leading to the kitchen. Blinked, momentarily disoriented without the familiar blue glow of the HUD.
"Sorry. Forgot it was there."
His father said nothing, examining him. Like Solana, his eyes lingered on the scarred side of Garrus' face, but he made no comment. Garrus held himself still, suddenly feeling like he was fifteen and on his first day of boot camp all over again. Finally, to his surprise, his father clapped him stiffly on the shoulder.
"Go and see your mother. We'll talk after."
Garrus tapped at the door to his parents' chamber and slid it open on a faint, muffled noise of assent from within. His mother sat in a chair by the window, a holoscreen open in front of her. Her head turned at his entrance and her mandibles shakily dipped into a warm smile, and for one heart-stopping moment, she looked as he remembered her. Then she opened her mouth to speak, and to his horror, made a choked, guttural noise as her tongue refused to cooperate. He hastened over to her and embraced her.
"Mom. I missed you."
"Garrus," she finally got out. The subtones behind her voice were all wrong, and he clamped down hard on the instinctive urge to stiffen at the distressing noise. Her hands shook badly on his back as she returned the embrace. Finally, they leaned back and Garrus dragged over the room's other chair to sit next to her in the warm patch of late afternoon sun.
"How are you doing?" he asked.
"Better than I could have expected," she said bluntly. The harder consonants stuck in her throat, leaving her choking helplessly for a moment before they tumbled out explosively. "Most days I know who I'm speaking to and what year it is."
He was stung at the bitterness there and tried not to let it show on his face, but must not have completely succeeded.
"Garrus," she said softly, "it's better than I could have hoped for." She reached out a hand and laid it on his arm. "A year ago, I didn't think I'd be able to talk by now. It is enough."
A cold chill settled into him at that, that he might have come home to find her dead already in all the ways that mattered, a husk of her former self, unable to speak or recognize him. Damn it, Sol is right.
"I'm sorry," he said. "I should have come back sooner."
His mother gave him a long, thoughtful look before replying. "I don't know what you've been doing. I won't ask. If you'd wanted us to know, you'd have told us, and I have too little time left to waste it stirring up trouble. But I've known you all your life. If you stayed away, you had your reasons."
Garrus glanced away. My own damn fault for cutting all contact. "The mission had to take priority," he said. "But if I'd known earlier it was this bad, I'd have come back."
"You're here now," she returned bluntly. "That's what I care about." She paused and gestured shakily at a cabinet under the window. "There's a parthium set in there. Bring it over and play a game with me."
He found the set at the front of the cabinet and dragged over a table to set it up.
"Your father and I usually play a game after dinner. I know all his moves, though. It's getting stale."
"You probably won't find me much of a challenge. It's been years since I played."
She made a disparaging clicking noise. "We'll see. I still remember you trouncing your father after boot camp."
That brought a smile to his face. "I'll try to live up to my reputation."
"See that you do."
They passed almost an hour on the game. Garrus found the experience surreal. The conversation was light, focused on the game, deliberately ignoring the weightier topics that hung over their heads. They'd played hundreds of games like this during the rainy season when he was a child. The familiarity was almost comfortable, but the small differences felt all the more jarring for it. He had to make his mother's moves for her, as she could no longer guide the pieces accurately. Several times in the conversation, she seemed to lose her train of thought mid-sentence. She covered well for it, and he didn't draw attention to it. He won by a narrow margin, gaining control of her territory at the cost of most of his officer pieces. A tenuous victory on a real battlefield, but a solid one in parthium. It was soured by the suspicion that she could no longer play at her best.
"Well-played," she said, eying him thoughtfully as he swept the pieces into their compartments.
"You should play a game with your father after. He's such a cautious player – you might be able to surprise him with an advance like that."
Garrus stiffened. "I'm, ah, not too sure how that would go. I haven't spoken with him yet."
"Ah," she said quietly. "Go easy on him, then. It's been a hard few years. He'd like to make amends with you, I think."
He digested that in silence. He'd been at odds with his father for close to two decades. He had a hard time imagining an amicable relationship between them.
This might be the last chance I have, though.
"I'll try," he said.
He found his father in his study, watching traffic out the broad window over his desk. A neat pile of datapads sat on each side of the desk, and the terminal screen blinked a silent message alert.
He sat in the room's other chair, and his father turned to face him. For a long moment, they stayed still, each measuring the other. His father looked older than he remembered. He still sat with military straightness, but something in his face, at the edges of his eyes and the set of his jaw, looked weary. At last, he broke the stand-off.
"I'm sorry I left the way I did."
Something in his father's expression shifted.
"But not sorry you left."
"I'm sorry I haven't been here for you and Sol and Mom. I'm not sorry I quit C-Sec," he returned matter-of-factly.
His father eyed the scars, and his voice was bitter when he replied.
"And where have you been for the last two years, Garrus? Doing mercenary work? You'd rather be a thug for hire than contribute to society?"
The words brought a sharp, angry sting with them, but Garrus did not rise to the bait. It was a great deal easier than it would have been two years ago.
"For the last six months, I've been working with Shepard."
His father's expression twisted, like he had bitten into something rotten.
"Shepard. The Spectre."
All the fight seemed to deflate out of his father at that.
"I shouldn't have bothered talking you out of Spectre candidacy all those years ago. It was a waste of breath." There was a bitterness to the words, but the undertones of them sounded resigned.
"It would have made things a lot simpler," remarked Garrus wryly, not without a little resignation of his own.
There was a small silence, each of them gathering their thoughts. Evening was fast approaching, and the window threw long pillars of light across the room, casting heavy shadows behind them.
"We thought you might be dead," his father said quietly from within one of the shadows. "After a year had passed and we didn't hear from you."
Garrus let out a slow breath. He had heard an angrier version of the same from Solana when he had first gotten back in touch with her after Omega. In the middle of the excitement and angry questions, it had sounded like hyperbole. His father's quiet, weary admission had an altogether different level of impact.
"I'm sorry," was all he could find to say.
His father continued. "I regretted very much that things between us ended like that."
Garrus felt his mandibles hitch. He leaned forward in his chair and met his father's eyes across the darkening room.
"A fresh start, then?"
"Yes," his father murmured, "a fresh start." He reached across the empty space between them, set his hand on Garrus' shoulder, and squeezed. "It is good to see you again, son." After a moment, he settled back into his chair and pinned Garrus with his eyes. "Now, why have you come back?"
Garrus laughed, chagrined. "Once a cop, always a cop." The amusement dropped from him quickly. "Shepard warned the Council about the Reapers during the mess with Saren."
His father eyed him sceptically. "I remember it hearing about it. It sounded insane."
"The Council agrees with you. Perhaps understandably, they chose to blame the Citadel attack on Saren and the geth, rather than sentient, mind-controlling spaceships. Shepard is right, though. The Reapers are a genuine threat. They're coming and we need to be ready."
"Garrus..." his father began to say. He overrode it.
"So when Shepard asked for my help on another lead on them, I agreed. This time, we learned our lesson. We recorded everything we saw, documented everything we did." He fixed his father's eyes firmly. "We have evidence." He fished the OSD out of his pocket and set it squarely on the table between them.
Garrus slid the door of the room shut and gratefully sank into a chair. He tipped his head back (he did not miss the Normandy's human-designed furniture), and breathed a long breath out through his teeth. The day had taken its toll on him. He closed his eyes for a moment, marshaling his thoughts, and then checked his omni-tool for the time.
Hell with it. Close enough.
He opened up the connection, and a moment later, EDI's familiar voice answered the call.
"Hello, Officer Vakarian."
"Hello, EDI. Is the Commander available?"
"Commander Shepard is in the mess hall. I will inform her that you have called."
A moment later, the omni-tool's display opened up to show the familiar clutter of Shepard's quarters, and then Shepard herself, sitting down to the terminal, plate in hand. The weight under his keel bone lightened to see her. The attraction between them was too new and tentative to put a name to yet, but their partnership had long ago become a bright, fixed point in his life.
"Garrus." Her strange, mobile face opened, eyes crinkling and mouth widening into a smile. He responded in kind, mandibles flaring gently open, eyes hooded.
"Miss me already?"
"You know it, you smug bastard."
His grin flared a bit wider, and her smile did the same. More seriously then, he asked, "What's your situation now?"
The smile faded off her face. He thought the straight set of her mouth and the slump of her shoulders looked tired.
"ETA with our Alliance escort is in a couple of hours. I expect the brass will keep this as low-profile as possible, though a ship like the Normandy makes it difficult."
"We dropped Smith, Walters, Chen, and Garcia off at the Citadel. Can't fault them for it. The rest are coming along for the ride."
"They're your crew, Shepard. After the Collectors, the Alliance is a walk in the park."
She snorted. "I'd almost rather deal with the Collectors again than politics."
He hummed thoughtfully. "Politics. Do you think there's more to this than meets the eye?"
Shepard groaned and ran a hand through her hair. "God, I hope not. Talking to Hackett, I think they want Bahak swept under the rug as quickly as possible. It sounds like the military, at least, is convinced that the Reapers are coming, but I don't know what's changed since I... left."
He caught the hesitation, but was unsure what to do about it. Her death made them both uncomfortable, and she avoided the topic as much as possible.
"Say the word, Shepard, and we'll get you out of there."
She laughed at that, though they both knew the offer was half-serious. "Just don't start the war without me, Vakarian."
"I'll save a few Reapers for you."
"Thanks." The corner of her mouth quirked up, just a little bit. "How are things going with you? Seen your family?"
Garrus considered. "Yes. Strange to be back – it's gone better than I expected, though." He thought of his mother's failing health, and the tension between himself and Solana, but kept it quiet. Shepard didn't need to hear about any more problems at the moment. "My father and I seem to have reached a truce."
A brilliant flash of teeth in her smile. "Good. I'm glad."
He dropped his jaw a little, relaxing. "It surprised me. I thought I might end up disowned this time." He hesitated, then continued. "I gave him the files."
Shepard watched him thoughtfully. "Do you think he'll believe it?"
He tilted his head, certain. "He's always let the evidence speak for itself. He won't stop now. The question will be what kind of weight we can bring to bear on it."
Shepard nodded decisively. "Good. I'll work on my end as well. Between us, maybe we can get the politicians working for us for a change."
"Only some of the politicians, some of the time, and not in public."
That pulled a grin out of Shepard. "Always such an optimist, Vakarian. What would I do without you?"
"...But not so stylishly, I know."
They both grinned in their way at the old joke, and then Shepard's smile tempered to something fonder.
"Write me when you can. Don't know if they'll let me read it, and I probably won't be allowed to reply, but I'll miss talking with you."
"Just talking with me?" he leered. He wasn't sure how well that translated across species lines, but Shepard, spirits smile on her, knew him well, and sent back a smirk of her own.
"I'll miss your painstakingly calibrated guns too."
"So nice to be appreciated."
They talked for a while after that of small, comfortable things. She asked about Palaven, and he told her about its heat and glare, the ancient, severe architecture of Old Cipritine, and the thick, humid forest at its borders. He asked where she had grown up.
"Spacer, born and raised," she laughed.
"You don't know what you're missing then," he replied with a smirk. "Sometime when this is all over, we'll take a vacation somewhere nice and rustic and you can experience nature up close and personal."
"I've been on enough groundside ops to know that's not as nice an offer as it sounds, Garrus."
Finally, she sighed. "I've got to go and make preparations."
"All right," he said quietly. "I'll write you."
She flashed a tired smile. "Looking forward to it."
"See you on the other side, Shepard."
"You too, Garrus."
The comm channel closed, and he was left alone in the darkened room.
Savian Vakarian considered the files his son had given him. Night had long since fallen, and he had finished what work he had left. There was no further excuse to delay.
With a sigh, he levered himself to his feet and padded through the dark house toward the kitchen. A light was on in Garrus' room and he could her the quiet murmur of conversation, but nothing distinct. He waved on the kitchen light, and poured himself a half-glass of the good liquor. A glow to his side caught his eye.
Idly, he picked it up. He'd given it to Garrus on his graduation from boot camp and induction to full citizenship. It had seen a lot of action since. The back hook was scratched and bent into place, and there was a hint of scorching on the corner over the eye. His fingers caught at something on the inside, and he turned it over.
Names. Scratched into the inner surface of the visor in Garrus' precise handwriting. He didn't recognize any of them. Several human, a few turian. Grundan Krul was almost certainly krogan. The others, he couldn't place with any certainty. He counted ten names, and a last, indistinct blot against the back of the visor. Another name, scored out and then burned. He squinted.
With a sigh, he set the visor down, already regretting the trespass. Scooping up the glass, he headed back to the study where the files waited on his terminal. Methodically, he noted the file type and creation date of each item. Fifty-seven files, predominantly written documents, video, and omni-tool sensor readouts, with a smattering of more exotic file types. The earliest had been created over six months ago, the latest only two weeks ago. It matched well with what Garrus had told him, and he felt some comfort in the amount of data and its meticulous organization – it did not look like a hoax, or a delusion.
He opened the first document and began to read. It consisted of a terse report of Shepard's initial contact with Cerberus. He had his doubts – it seemed a convenient excuse that Shepard should have no option but to cooperate with known terrorists. For his son's sake, he reserved judgment, but made a note to check up on Shepard's official status and past politics. The report went on to detail Cerberus' concerns regarding the disappearance of human colonies in the Terminus and a purported connection to the mythical Reapers. It was vague-sounding nonsense (to her credit, the tone of the report indicated that Shepard had thought so also), but it referenced a series of files which proved to be somewhat more specific.
He spent several minutes combing through these. The gist was clear enough, though he'd need to find experts to verify the information. Traces of the violent ends of anteprothean civilizations, rare scraps of late prothean data caches, occasional pieces of technology of unknown provenance, an analysis of the Keepers (which he knew had not been carried out legally). It didn't explicitly point to Reapers, but it did build an unsettling, if circumstantial, case for cataclysmic war every 50,000 years. He failed to see the connection to human troubles in the Terminus.
He returned to the original report and continued to read. It related the events of a mission on Freedom's Progress – uneventful, but worthwhile in terms of intel. He checked; the quarian's data was included in the files and did indeed appear to show Collectors abducting unresisting humans.
Savian leaned back and took a sip of his drink, considering. So far, there was nothing definite to this. Assuming the information was accurate and undoctored, it was disturbing, but not indicative of any immediate threat to the galaxy as a whole. He hesitated. Garrus wouldn't have come back home just for this. He picked the next file and read on.
Where the first report had been a pithy thing totaling only a few hundred words, this one easily reached a few thousand. The style was still clipped and military, but the mission was laid out in exacting, blow-by-blow detail. He skimmed it just enough to discern the mission objectives and context, more interested in the video file titled "Horizon" that accompanied it. He would reread the report afterwards for Shepard's interpretation, but was more interested in making his own judgments without any preconceptions.
He tapped the vidlink, and found himself looking across and slightly down at a human woman, presumably Shepard, and a human man. "Looking forward to seeing if you survive!" chirruped a Salarian voice over a comm. Shepard's expression was unreadable behind the mask of her helmet, but her voice conveyed resigned amusement.
"Thanks, Mordin. All right, move out. Massani, take point. Vakarian, get into cover and shadow us, let us know what's coming."
With a slight sense of shock, Savian realized that he was looking through Garrus' eyepiece. The view dipped for a moment as his son nodded in response.
The human man, Massani, moved off smoothly, but Shepard hung back for a minute.
"Garrus," she murmured, "are you...?"
At the edge of the video, he saw Garrus' hand raise and heard a slight tapping as he rapped the side of his helmet with the visor.
"We're live, Commander."
Shepard nodded. "Good work." She turned and followed Massani, and then the video turned uneven as Garrus headed for cover and high ground.
As Shepard's team advanced through the quiet settlement, they found bodies. At first, he thought they were corpses, but with a chill, realized that their eyes followed the interlopers as they passed. Paralyzed, not dead.
In one room, they found a pack of husks. They attacked in a swarm, with no real intelligence, and Shepard and Massani tore through them easily while Garrus picked off the stragglers.
"Husks. Like on Eden Prime," said Shepard after it was over.
"No dragon's teeth in sight. Think the Collectors brought them?"
"No other explanation. They're taking the colonists alive, not converting them into husks on the spot. What the hell do they want?"
The question remained unanswered. Savian chewed that over a moment. Husks, with no evidence of geth. Either the Collectors were allied with the geth, or they had another, as of yet unknown, ally in common. It lent considerable weight to the supposed threat.
The next chamber held rows of pods like coffins and a troop of Collectors. Savian paused the video here, as Garrus focused on a Collector through his scope. Few people had ever seen a Collector before, but something about them looked wrong to his eye. They wore no clothing, carried no insignia to display rank. They held their weapons in hand, with no visible means of carrying them otherwise. They moved in orderly enough fashion, but he could discern no attempt at communication between them. Mandibles flexing in thought, he resumed the video. The battle went routinely at first; the Collectors were efficient, but Shepard's team was expert and well-practiced.
Suddenly, the audio went crazy, dropping to a roaring, clipped bass.
"ASSUMING DIRECT CONTROL."
The view slewed and blurred as Garrus whipped his head around to follow the noise. On the far side of the courtyard, one of the Collectors hunched in on itself, its exoskeleton fragmenting to reveal a seething network of cybernetics underneath. With a start, he realized the implications. They act wrong because they're more like drones than soldiers. Like the husks. The cybernetics flared, and the Collector stood straight and began to advance on Shepard's position.
"WE ARE THE HARBINGER OF YOUR PERFECTION."
"Massani, keep them off our backs. Vakarian, with me. We'll take it out from a distance."
"On it, Commander."
It was smarter and more dangerous than the other Collectors; it cannily anticipated attacks and countered with biotics that none of the others had displayed. Shepard and Garrus poured fire into it until finally, it crumpled and died. At the same time, on the far side of the field, another Collector bent over, exoskeleton cracking.
Massani swore. "It's back Shepard! Your one o'clock!"
"Same strategy as before, gentlemen."
This time, they were expecting it, and the fight went more smoothly. All the Collectors went down and stayed down.
He became aware of the rasping sound of Garrus' even breaths in the sudden absence of gunfire.
"Hell, Shepard. I've heard something like that before."
On the field below, Shepard nodded grimly. "I hear you. Sounded an awful lot like Sovereign."
Sovereign. Saren's ship, that Shepard had believed to be a Reaper.
From there on, the mission only grew more horrific, as Shepard's team fought their way through what could only be described as monsters to reach the artillery controls. When the vid ended, Savian let out a breath he hadn't realized he'd held and forcibly unclenched his hands. He downed the rest of the liquor in two long swallows, waiting for the prickling of adrenaline to subside.
Spirits. Every turian parent knew their child might face combat someday. It was another thing to watch it happen.
He shut down the terminal and locked the OSD in the wall safe. He would continue tomorrow, with a clearer head.
Savian woke groggily out of uneasy dreams to the chime of the alarm. Thalia stirred at his side and he turned to face her.
There was a moment of frightening blankness in her eyes before she replied, stuttering badly. He felt his heart clench in his chest. It was getting worse.
They got up and went through their morning routine, the old motions perfected over years of familiarity slowed and made awkward by Thalia's sickness. This morning, both were silent, each heavy with thought.
"You came back late last night," she said, as he did the fastenings on her shirt.
He hesitated a moment, remembering the weird horror of the mission he'd watched the night before. "Garrus asked me to look over something."
She sent a skeptical look his way, but let it slide. "How did it go with him yesterday?"
He sighed. "We've called a cease-fire for now. I don't know how long it will last."
"You might be surprised. I think he's changed a great deal over the last two years," she said. Savian thought back on the quiet, sober conversation with Garrus the night before, and the visor with the names carved into it.
"Yes," he said, slowly. "He's more deliberate. More patient." He considered the files he had seen last night. "Still damned reckless."
She snorted. "Wouldn't be a Vakarian if he wasn't."
They finished their preparations, and he brought breakfast up for the both of them. He spied Garrus on the way, back to him on the porch, busy with something on his omni-tool. Almost, he approached him, but hesitated, then continued, the remainder of the files waiting in the back of his mind like a predator crouched to ambush.
Afterwards, he made his excuses to his superiors for the day, and returned to the study to continue.
After the shock of the Horizon mission, he was better prepared for the rest of the videos. To his great relief, not all were shot from Garrus' visor. At some point, Shepard's helmet had been altered to accommodate a video feed, and the recordings alternated between her view and Garrus' according to who had the best vantage of the battlefield. A few of the missions, to his interest, dealt with Cerberus operations. Shepard's vehement opposition to Cerberus' goals and methods could have been acting for the camera, but the inclusion of these files in the report constituted valuable intel.
The mission to retrieve the supposed Reaper IFF was what began to convince him. The derelict ship matched almost exactly to Sovereign, and its interior was disturbingly alien and organic. The fate of the Cerberus science team was horrific, and the files they'd left behind unsettling. The association of husks and indoctrination with the ship pointed to a hostile power backing Saren and the geth.
The final mission, the jump through the Omega-4 relay to eliminate the Collectors, was the hardest to watch. Shepard's written report was as dry and matter-of-fact as ever when describing the Normandy's suicidal leap through an unmapped mass relay and subsequent crash on the vast Collector base. He wanted, badly, to march out of the room and shake Garrus until his teeth came loose. It froze the blood in his veins that his son had knowingly volunteered for a mission that any rational being must suspect was a one-way ticket, and he felt a white-hot, helpless fury at Shepard, who'd commanded his loyalty so thoroughly. Reckless. So damned reckless. With an effort, he forced himself to keep watching, made himself maintain an objective distance. Unlike the other missions, Shepard had recorded the briefing for this one. He watched the grim, angry faces in the war room, listening to Shepard's squad pore over the schematics of the base, deciding on tactics. Two teams to punch through the Collectors' defenses to the central control chamber, one mission specialist to get around security.
"Garrus," said Shepard, her eyes cutting across the room to meet his. "I want you leading the second fireteam."
There was a slight hesitation in Garrus' response, and he was sure something passed between them in that instant. Then his son was nodding, eyes still locked on Shepard's, and he felt a pang of needling pride.
"Of course, Commander."
Two videos this time, one for each team. He watched Shepard's first. It was a brutal, ugly fight from start to finish, relying on the team's ability to hit hard and fast enough to prevent the defenders from pinning them down at a bottleneck. Shepard's people were superb, and she made all the right calls, but it was a harrowing thing to watch. When they finally made it to the control chamber, he paused the video, and hesitated a long moment before opening the file showing the progress of the second team.
He tried to view it clinically, to imagine it as some purely anonymous officer leading a team through a difficult raid. It didn't work, but it was enough to keep the analytical part of his mind in gear. The run was just as much of a bloodbath as Shepard's, and he felt a fierce pulse of pride alongside the worry and horror as Garrus ably pushed his unit through the enemy's ranks.
He switched back to Shepard's video at the control room and almost immediately wished he hadn't. The death of the woman in the pod was horrific, needlessly cruel and chillingly impersonal, and the desperation as Shepard's people wrenched open the pods to release their crewmates was awful to watch. Even worse was the view of millions upon millions of pods lining the chamber like pustules, a genocide in the making.
The squad split again and another grinding, bloody fight followed, made more urgent by the cramped quarters and angry buzz of the seekers swarming outside the barrier. When Shepard's team reached safety and opened the door for the diversion team, his heart seized as Garrus took a hit and stumbled back. There was a sharp intake of breath and the view from Shepard's helmet jolted as she hastened over to him.
Savian released the breath he'd been holding as Garrus straightened up, and heard Shepard do the same.
"I'm all right, Shepard. Armor did its job."
Shepard gave a strangled laugh. "Good," she said quietly, then more firmly, "Good. Nice work, Vakarian." She clapped him on the shoulder and they moved off together toward where the rest of the group was gathered.
A small team to go ahead, while the main crew held the line. Somewhere in the back of his mind, Savian wondered despairingly if this was something he'd have to get used to, this tendency of his son's to volunteer for missions with suicidal odds. Shepard's team continued on to the Reaper at the heart of the base and laid waste to it with vicious, furious efficiency. The thing was an abomination. Savian did not particularly like or dislike humans as a species, but the slaughter that had been perpetrated upon them to make this monster set his gut roiling with horror and outrage.
When it was over, he closed the terminal and sat still for a long time, mentally exhausted. He no longer doubted that the Reapers were real and a threat – the files were too comprehensive to be faked, and such a hoax would serve little purpose.
What to do about it was the question.
Much, much later, Savian found Garrus, still seated on the porch, now accompanied by a small stack of datapads. Wordlessly, he drew up a chair beside him and set one of the drinks in his hand down in front of him. Garrus threw him a surprised look, but took it in hand.
"Thanks. What's the occasion?"
"I finished reviewing your files. I could use a drink, and you deserve one."
"Ah." Garrus looked away, uncharacteristically discomfited at the praise. "Think I got all the drinks I deserve when we made port afterward." He took a sip nonetheless.
For a few minutes, they sat without speaking. The silence wasn't entirely comfortable, but neither was it hostile. There were dozens of questions he wanted to ask, so many things he wanted to tell his son, but he found no words for them. In the end, he stuck to the factual, which harbored no pitfalls.
"I made some calls," he said. "Fedorian will see us the day after tomorrow."
AN: Many thanks to Cadmos for beta reading this. Any remaining mistakes are my own.