This was a longer car ride, they had to fly to the other side of this continent to get to their destination. They traveled very high, high enough that the distance was inconsequential, shot through the highest part of the stratosphere like a ballistic missile, it would only take an hour or so to arrive. He watched the ground as it flew past them. There was still a lot of wilderness down there, cities this far from the coast were spread pretty far apart, a lot like Palaven. The turians had noticed what deforestation was doing to their world early on and established strict laws on which areas could be exploited or turned into cities. He was glad Earth wasn't one huge metropolis like Illium, places like that seemed soul less to him, no reminder of the natural world to balance the occupants' perspective. He looked at Shepard, who was watching him and said, "Going pretty far for a first date, aren't we?"
"I told you it was a surprise, so don't think too hard about it." He chided her with a smile, "I had to jump through a lot of hoops to get this to happen."
She grinned abashedly, hand coming up to fiddle with her ear jewelry, "It's hard to turn it off, you know? The thinking."
"I know, but try, for me." He reached out and pulled her to him, mindful of her gown and hat. She giggled into his shoulder and he ran his thumb across her collarbones and she gasped with delight. He growled seductively against her throat and pulled away regretfullly, adjusting his pants to try to hide his arousal, "We'd better stop or we'll never make it to the show. You and that damn alluring dress are making it hard."
Her gloved hand teased him through the fabric of his trousers and he inhaled sharply. Her smile was wicked as she said, "Oh? Make it hard, do we? So I see."
"Jane, seriously, if you don't want me to rip that dress off and have my wicked way with you, we need to stop, I'm barely holding back as it is." Mercifully, she ceased playing with his cock and he groaned as it slid back into his plates, still thick and heavy with need. He could see that making it through tonight without ravishing her was going to be a trial.
Thankfully, they reached their destination, a huge sprawling city spread out below them. The aircar slid through the riotous traffic easily, parking outside a complex made up of many glass and steel buildings. Garrus helped her out of the car with a flourish, extremely pleased at her expression of awe as she looked around. She breathed, "Julliard..."
They joined the crowd of people at the kiosks and Garrus found the appropriate one and got their tickets. The auditorium's entrance was packed with people talking excitedly to one another, there were even a few aliens here. A few turians loomed over the shorter humans, he saw a small group of hanar conversing with some older humans, their hair white with age. There was even a flash of a quarian mask or two.
He held his arm out stiffly to Shepard, in imitation of some of the couples around them and she rested her hand lightly on it. They walked in through the double doors to a huge room filled with seats, he snagged a program on his way to their assigned places. Shepard seemed shocked at how close to the front they were, "Wow. These are really good seats. Must have cost a pretty penny."
"Don't fuss. I got this." He was inwardly grateful for Anderson, who had helped organized all this and gotten him the tickets. They were eyed up and down by official looking people near them, their faces a study in cultured disdain. He smirked at them and they turned away in a huff, finding new targets for their haughty derision. He risked a glance at the program, holding it away from Shepard, who quirked an amused brow at him, but she relented in her damnable curiosity. Struggling to hide his glee, he saw that the whole reason he'd brought her here was there in the program, near the bottom, the last three selections. He repressed his impatience and harshly told himself that the wait would make it all the better. He tucked the program into his breast pocket and took her hand just as the house lights went dim.
A polite cheer went up as a woman in a green gown took center stage. The graceful middle aged woman gestured for silence and her voice rolled over them, "The Julliard School is proud to present tonight's orchestral selections. Some ancient and some modern, all composers whose names have been lost to time. These anonymous geniuses, who for one reason or another remain unknown to us, have left us only their works to wonder at. Ladies and gentlemen, thank you for joining us tonight, our school humbly offers these masterpieces as tribute, may they never be forgotten."
The stage lights brightened as the woman made her way off to the right, revealing a huge group of musicians with a startling array of musical instruments. A man in a black suit with tails on the jacket held a baton at shoulder height and at its first downward sweep, the music crashed over them, making him sway under its powerful spell. Out of the corner of his eye, he watched Shepard's face beam as she listened intently. He watched the musician's ply their art, dextrous hands flexing over keys, strings, holes, the variety of sounds was amazing.
Six songs later and he was still stunned, all the songs were so vibrant and different from one another, truly humankind held a diversity of spirit not present in any other species. He watched the conductor's hands glide through the air and came to a startling realization. He'd seen some of the same gestures and sweeping motions when Shepard directed them on the battlefield, and he gaped at her for a moment, but her eyes never left the performers.
Was this how she saw war? Not a clash of two opposing sides, but a harmony between them, all contributing to the creation of something greater, coming together to become a moment of beauty as soldiers on both sides strove to live, some succeeding, some not, but their energies flowing together like streams into a river, no, a torrent of existing in a single instance, the joy and agony of life in a single breath.
This insight rocked him, and he felt that the idea might be appalling to some, a reduction of each person to being only an instrument in a play, but in his soul he could feel that it was more. What he was hearing and feeling was that the music was alive, as alive as anything could be said to be living. Each distinct instrument brought all their passion to bear in the creation of it. And it was not an easy birth, it was filled with chaotic emotion, the good and the bad, but greater for the inclusion of it all.
The stage dimmed and the woman in the green dress strode to the forefront again. She gazed out across their enraptured faces, "Our last author of the evening is an even deeper mystery than most. A burst of glorious creation, then silence. Whatever happened, she, as it may be only my vanity to think of her as a she, clearly meant to continue and it is our deepest regret that we do not have four selections to present tonight, but alas the fourth was unfinished, no more than a single inspired movement-"
She waved away the sounds of sad disappointment that drifted to her, her face tinged with sorrow, "-it is not known what happened to her. It is a dangerous galaxy after all, but all of us poor students of the arts, and hopefully, you, who have decided to join us, beseech the gods to give her peace in knowing that her existence is not forgotten, though her name may be lost."
She bowed and exited the stage. When the lights came back up, a piano sat on the stage predominantly. A smaller orchestra present behind it, along with a chorus made up of five women and four men. Jane had gone very still next to him and he couldn't look at her yet, not yet. A young woman in a white dress whose train swept the stage behind her walked slowly to the piano and a feeling of deja vu fell over Garrus, who thought that if he looked to his right he might see a colony woman with gold hair or if he looked left, a pair of boys with red hair would be staring at him laughingly. It was eerie how they seemed to press him with their presence.
The girl sat gracefully, her hands floating over the keys, forearms at a right angle to the rest of her body. Garrus felt Shepard start to tremble at the first note and finally wrenched his gaze to her, half afraid of what he might see and gasped at how she seemed to burn in that seat next to him, the fire in her eyes the only indication that she was aware at all, her face was so still, so emotionless. He was reminded of when he'd first met her, her inscrutable mask that hid madness beneath it. This wasn't madness, but he found it nearly as frightening and gently squeezed her hand where it lay clenched in her lap. A tear slipped down her cheek and she turned her face to him. He looked into those burning eyes with difficulty and ran a talon over her cheek, collecting her tear and placing it on his tongue. She shook with suppressed emotion and whispered, "It's too much. I can't-"
"I've got you. It's okay." Garrus tried to project calmness at her, felt her still under his hand and relax. Eventually, her trembling ceased and she just listened with awe, her eyes wide and childlike in her face. This was worth every bit of time he'd spent putting it together just to feel this with her, every feeling that she expressed he felt at the same time, like they were one person in two bodies. He even felt a lesser connection to all the people around them as they too marvelled at the wonderful compositions. He could feel the spirit of this place rejoice.
Garrus applauded with the rest as the concert came to a close, but his eyes were only for her. She blushed as she listened to the riotous cheers, seemed so endearingly embarrassed by them. They walked slowly to the exit, her head was tilted thoughtfully and she clung to his arm tightly. Her soft voice broke the silence between them once they had broken free of the crowds, "I'd thought that there wasn't much left in the universe that could surprise me so completely. Thank you, Garrus. This is-I can't even think of a word that comes close."
"Wonderful? Spectacular? Amazing?" He swung her around in the air and she laughed, that glorious laugh filled the air.
"All that and more, magnitudes more." She grinned down at him and he set her gently on her feet, her countenance took on an excited, furtive air, "They're playing my music, my music, at Julliard. I wondered what Anderson had done with it. Your idea?"
He rubbed his neck, "Maybe. It didn't seem right to bury that, too and we both were...charmed by the thought of a piece of you floating around forever."
She looked around at the school's buildings with longing pulling at her expression, "I was going to come here to learn, was actually packed when the slavers took that all away. Julliard...it's surreal to be standing here now. The dream of my youth corporealized before me."
"We could go back in there and tell them the truth-" He knew that was never going to happen. It was confirmed moments later by Shepard.
"No. I can't be this, now. As much as I would like it, I don't get to have this and do what needs to be done. Dreams change." Garrus motioned that they should walk through the adjacent park and noted that their two shadows trailed them at some distance. Night had just fallen and he watched Earth's moon on the rise, smaller than Menae, but no less luminous. "Let it stay anonymous."
"Did you ever finish that fourth, uh, symphony?" He treasured the normalcy of this all, the walk, their gentle conversation, her hand in his. Like they were a normal couple, that there weren't huge tasks looming over their heads, waiting to crash down and fill them with their terrible purpose again. Who knew if there would ever be time for this again, she deserved to relish every second of it.
"No...and I couldn't now if I wanted to." She smiled at the pensive frown that pulled his mandibles tight to his cheeks. Laughingly, she said, "There are...moments, you know? And when they're gone, they're gone forever. Each piece of music was a moment and that one's was over too long ago to try to resurrect."
Garrus understood, had felt the power of moments. Moments like the one in the auditorium, or like the final confrontation with Saren, or even the thing with the apples. So many instances that were gripping while you were in them, but were shallow memories after, fading with time. That made them no less cherishable, it was merely a fact of recollection. He wondered briefly if it was momentously powerful each time Thane was lost in solipsism, it must be emotionally wracking without the filter of time to cloud the feelings engendered every time. More of a curse than a blessing. "Do you think Thane lives in moments or memories?"
Shepard, wincing, said, "I...hope for the latter and fear it's the former."
There was silence as they contemplated this. Garrus shook himself and lead Shepard to a bench under a copse of trees and they sat for a time, listening to the sounds of insects living in the grasses around them. Garrus steeled himself for the next part, shame made the back of his neck hot as he turned to her, "I..have a confession, Jane."
She pursed her lips, waving a hand for him to continue. He took a deep breath and pulled the OSD out of his pocket, handing it to her, "I had this for a really long time before you died. I couldn't seem to find the right time to give it to you and then, well, there was no time left. I'm sorry."
She turned it over in her hand and plugged it into her omnitool. He couldn't see the screen from this angle, but he'd watched it so many times now that he could close his eyes and see it unfold perfectly. He waited breathlessly for recrimination, eyes closed, mandibles starting to ache from the tension of being clenched to his cheeks. Her breathing came in choked sobs and his heart was bursting with guilt. He should have given it to her when he'd first gotten it from Liara, it was wrong, so wrong of him to keep it from her. The decision he'd made at the time now seemed basely cruel, a selfish act that surely damned him.
Garrus was completely unprepared for the press of soft lips against his and his eyes shot open in surprise. She threw herself into his lap, pulling his face to hers in a crushing grip. It was almost painful, but he welcomed the discomfort if it meant that she harbored no hate towards him for his cowardice. She started laughing, a joyful peal that shook her whole body, "You gave them back to me. I'd almost forgotten their faces. All of them. Oh, my heart, my heart."
Shepard held a hand to her chest as her breaths heaved, her face a grimace of elation. He saw with alarm how her pulse pounded at her neck and wrapped his arms about her, pulling her close with a rumble. She locked her burning eyes onto his, "My god, Garrus. You are a wonder."
"Guess that means you're not mad." He nuzzled her jaw, breathing in her scent. The gun oil smell was fading, he wondered if it would fade completely with time, or if it was ground into her soul.
Her eyebrows shot up in disbelief, then she smiled ruefully, "Makes my gift seem a little silly."
She placed a palm sized box in his hands, with a sheepish grin. Garrus untangled his arms from her just enough to open the top. Inside was a tightly coiled rope of brilliant red hair. He gasped and shot a look at her as he unwound the coil from its resting place. It was about an inch thick and nearly a foot long. It burned with color like embers in his palm. With shaking hands he reached up and removed her hat. Hair fell around her face, short, none of it longer than the breadth of his palm. It made a soft cloud around her head, the ends catching fire in the moonlight, like a burning halo. Her face was filled with trepidation under his intense stare. He set her hat down and ran his talons through her shorn locks, feeling how light and different it seemed. "Spirits, Jane..."
She ducked her head, "Wasn't exactly regulation, as long as it was. And I thought you'd like a...token to take with you, to remind you of me."
He could tell that she was bothered by his reaction, and searched for a way to allay her fears, his utter sincerity coloring his tone, "I like it, it's beautiful, honestly. The light is making it like a halo. And this..."
He held the coil tightly, moved by her thoughfulness. He swallowed a lump in his throat, "I will treasure it, Jane. But I don't need it to remind me of you. I'm always thinking about you. Right now I'm thinking about how quickly we can make it back to the base and get that dress off you."
She laughed and they raced back to the car, past their astonished guards who took after them at a respectful distance. The aircar ride back was an affair of steamy caresses and sighs that inflamed the blood and they barely made it back fully clothed before he attacked her in her temporary quarters and he made love to her until she collapsed in exhaustion, almost instantly asleep the minute her head hit the pillow.
Deeply satisfied, he drank in the sight of her laying there, sweat dripping off her skin to soak the sheets. Garrus leaned over, careful not to jostle her and whispered in one sleeping ear, dropping the barely audible words he dared not say to her awake, "I love you."
His heart raced as she turned over fitfully, sliding closer to his warmth. He traced a thumb over her shoulder blade, crooning softly. Sleep would pursue him for the rest of the night, but he didn't want to lose any second of these last few hours with her. So he chased sleep away, ruthlessly. It was a moment he would keep in his heart as a sweet memory on the lonely nights to follow.
He was looking into her face when her eyes opened in the light of morning and she flashed him a sleepy grin, stretching every muscle and popping a few joints. He leered at her and ducked as a pillow flew at his head. She flounced to the shower in this small apartment, tossing an invitation over her shoulder, "Care to join me?"
"Thought you'd never ask." He bounded after her with a grin. They scrubbed each other raw, making small talk and laughing. Neither one wanted to think about what was about to happen, some 60 minutes from now. They dressed in their best military attire, she in dress blues and he in his grey armor. He took the time to polish it to a mirror shine, even had time to put on his rank and insignia, which he almost never did. She made a sound of approval as she put on her shoes, "As good as you looked last night, I think I like you best in armor. My Garrus Vakarian, deadly turian sniper and tactician."
"Aw, and here I thought you liked me best out of my armor." He chuckled as she blushed, flustered. He looked out the window, "The jeep is here."
Shepard grimaced and straightened her shoulders, "Ready?"
"Are you?" He looked at her out of the corner of his eye, saw her jaw clench with resolve. He held the box of all of her belongings under his arm, his duffle on his back and hands full of weapon cases.
"As I'll ever be." She marched out to the jeep, taking the passenger seat. He jumped into the back and plopped down as the vehicle started moving, bouncing along the road past all the squat utilitarian buildings. The Normandy was at the airstrip, grounded for the first time since she was rebuilt. It was odd to see it just sitting in an airfield, powered down, looking oddly derelict.
The jeep pulled up to where two groups of people stood facing each other. Garrus hopped out with Shepard and they both stood shoulder to shoulder with Chakwas and Joker, facing Admiral Hackett and Anderson and their retinue of MPs. There were other officials there for the look of the thing, but this was between the Admirals and Shepard and her crew, obviously.
Shepard stepped smartly forward, saluting the men with a snap, "I, Commander Shepard of the Normandy SR-2, do hereby surrender my ship and crew to Alliance authority, with the sole exception of my XO, Garrus Vakarian, who, as a condition of said surrender, will be allowed to leave Alliance jurisdiction unmolested."
Hackett stepped forward, his face a stony mask as he returned her salute, "On behalf of the Alliance, I accept your surrender and its condition. This detail will take Mr. Vakarian directly to the closest spaceport where he will depart immediately following these proceedings. By the authority invested in me by the Alliance government, I strip you of your rank of Commander and remand you into our custody to await trial on the charges of treason, sedition and crimes under the Articles of War."
There was no time for goodbyes as the line of Normandy's crew turned on their heels and marched swiftly away. Garrus watched her retreating back until it disappeared into a nearby building, probably their brig. Two MPs flanked him and Anderson nodded curtly for him to follow. An aircar landed nearby and Anderson climbed behind the wheel, Garrus sat in the passenger seat. He set the box in the back, next to his duffle and weapon cases. He pointed at it and turned to Anderson, "That's Shepard's."
"I'll make sure she gets it." They lifted off the ground and flew west, where Garrus could just see the glittering dome of a commercial spaceport, shuttles and ships flitting about it like insects.
Garrus looked sidelong at the Admiral, "You'll watch out for her?"
Anderson smiled, "She'll be on complete lockdown, no messages in or out. No visitors, nothing beyond the basic freedoms they have to give her. I'll do what I can to make sure her time is easy. If incredibly boring."
Garrus snorted, "Shepard doesn't get bored. She'll always finds something to do."
There was a long silence as the men sat in agreement. Anderson said softly, "How did she like it?"
"I think it was a memorable evening." His droll tone suggested how much of an understatement this was and the human laughed lightly. Garrus had expected that he wouldn't be able to contact her, but it still hurt. He missed her already, a deep sigh left his throat. He fingered the cord of red hair that he'd tied around his right wrist like a pairbonding wristlet, its soft strands comforting.
The human glanced down at it, his brows lifted in sharp surprise, "Is that what I think it is? Of all the idiotic-"
Garrus stopped his tirade with a raised hand, not really surprised that Anderson understood this facet of turian culture, "No vows were exchanged, David. Not from her anyway."
Mollified, the human pulled the aircar into the spaceport garage, "Does she know what that means?"
Ashamedly, the turian ducked his head, "Uh, no..."
Anderson snorted at his discomfort, "I'm pretty sure she'd be a little irritated if she knew. Are you sure, Vakarian? I know this is kind of a one shot deal for you guys."
Garrus thought about this feeling, this bereavement that he could already feel creeping in around the edges and touched the wristlet again like a talisman, "I've never been so sure about anything in my life."
"Well, then you better make sure you tell her someday, before she finds out for herself." The man laughed at him as he lead the turian to a waiting shuttle, helping him with his cases. He gave the long black case a curious shake, "What's this?"
He grinned with proprietary pride, "Black Widow."
The admiral frowned, "Impossible. The reason I know it's impossible is that the Black Widow was cleared for production two days ago, the first one isn't even off the line yet. I signed the order myself."
Garrus tapped the side of his nose ridge, a gesture he learned from Massani, "This is the prototype. Certain friends of a friend of mine worked some magic to adapt a M-98 Widow so it wouldn't try to take my arm off with every shot."
"Huh, friends of a friend...Well, I won't keep you. I assumed you wanted to go to Palaven directly so this shuttle will take you to a turian frigate in orbit going that way. Safe travels, Vakarian." Garrus saluted the man, who grinned as he saluted back, looking younger and more carefree than he ever had for a moment. Then the human reached a hand out and Garrus clasped it in his warmly. Then without a backwards glance, the admiral walked away. Garrus leaned back in his seat and started planning as the shuttle lifted off, turning over options in his mind, running at the problem of convincing the turian government that the threat was imminent and snorted as he realized an uncomfortable truth, grimacing.
"Aw crap, I'm going to have to talk to my dad."