Mass Intermission: The bridge between 2 and 3

"What the hell happened to your face?!" Solana launched herself at him, her mandibles pulled tight against her face in angry concern. Garrus hugged her tightly, despite her protests.

"I missed you, too, Sol." Garrus smiled down at the petite female, her grey eyes flashing in a way that long experience told him that a shitstorm was about to fly his way. She pushed away from him with a hiss.

"I'm serious, what the hell happened?" She picked up his duffle and slung it over her shoulder while he picked up his two rifle cases. She flicked her head in the direction of one of the aircars parked on the curb.

"There was this airship and a, um, rocket incident, no big deal." He laughed at her incredulity, and she threw his duffle at him. His cases hit the floor with a clang and he shot her a look of consternation before dropping his duffle in the car. He inspected the cases and finding no damage, tossed them in the back and slid with a sigh into a seat, shooting his sister a look of consternation, "Spirits, Sol, be careful, my guns are in there."

"You think I can't tell that you nearly died from that 'rocket incident'? Oh, dad is gonna kill you." She pulled out into traffic violently and Garrus grimaced, heart racing as they nearly collided with another vehicle. Did he finally find a worse driver than Shepard? He sincerely hoped not, it would put a serious crimp in his plans if he died on the way home from the spaceport.

When they settled into a more sedate pace, Garrus breathed a sigh of relief then turned to her, "Dad's going to kill me for nearly dying? That seems...excessive. And illogical."

She flashed him a wicked smile, "Maybe you'll just wish you were dead."

"Military life has made you savage, where's the girl who used to hide my guns so I wouldn't pretend to shoot her toys?" He cajoled her with a smirk. She gave him a sidelong stare in warning and he relented, holding his hands up in surrender.

She sighed, the anger in her eyes fading to resignation, "Well, now I know why you never used the vid link. Did this happen while you were with Shepard? Oh, why am I even asking. Of course, it did."

Garrus felt a touch of irritation at her assumption, which while technically true, Shepard had indeed been present, she was not in any way responsible. He gestured at his scars, voice low and tight with anger, "This was not because of anything Shepard did. I'll have you know, Shepard's not in the habit of killing her people."

Solana snorted, dubiously, "Mom will be glad to see you."

Garrus winced, guiltily. He patted his carryall until he found a crinkled pack of cigarettes he'd snagged from Massani's stash with the man's blessing. The turian thought the mercenary was more amused than it was strictly called for that Garrus had picked up this little habit. He lit one and sucked in the first drag and sighed, letting it soothe his jangling nerves. Solana was staring at him like he'd grown a second head, he rumbled, "What?"

"I guess...nothing? Just...nothing." She peered at him curiously out of the corner of her eye, "Not my lungs. Wondering how dad'll feel about you picking up bad human habits, is all."

"I can't live my life afraid of whether or not he'll approve of my decisions. I've tried to do right, Sol, I have." He leaned back and closed his eyes. There was very little smoke, he'd grabbed low emission ones on purpose. "I might not have always succeeded, but I tried. Now, I'm home and all I can think of is how in hell am I supposed to do this thing I have to do. I need dad's help, but I won't grovel at his feet."

There was a flicker of respect that crossed over her face and she nodded grimly, "That's...a change. No, don't frown at me, I mean that in a good way. I always thought you were trying too hard to be him, then trying too hard not to be him to see that he just wanted you to have security, stability, whatever you do. I don't think he even really cared about the whole Spectre thing as much as the idea of you being sent to far off places where bad people would be trying to shoot you in the face with a rocket."

She laughed at his expression, which he knew must be one of shock, because that was what he was feeling. How time changes the way one sees the world. He felt a pang of remorse at the thought of all the misunderstandings that must have occurred on both sides of their conflict. All the time lost. Well, that was going to change, whether or not his father decided to help him, he would make that change. He laughed at himself, saying softly, "Security and stability...not really my thing, but I'll do my damnedest to make sure everyone gets a chance to have it."

"That didn't sound dire at all." Her sarcastic comment was accompanied by a grin, "Well, I got your back, brother of mine."

"I appreciate that, Sol, I really do. I can't even begin to tell you how good it is to see you." He put his hand on her shoulder, squeezing it lightly. She smiled at him warmly, pulling the car into the garage of their family's estate. He stepped out into the sunlight, letting it warm his face, breathed in a lung full of sweet Palaven air. He felt like giving a shout of joy, but held his silence. A mech stood by to take his bag and rifle cases.

He hadn't been home in going on six years now. The garden was overgrown with moss, something that would have never happened if his mother was still well. He felt an overwhelming urge to see her come over him and he hurried into the house. Garrus' father was nowhere in sight, so he must be off the estate at the moment. He thanked the spirits for their tender mercies. Solana trailed after him quietly, just watching him as he looked around.

Not much had changed, some hangings were different and they'd repainted the interior from blue to a creamy sort of white. He turned a questioning look at Solana, who said softly in the quiet entryway, "She's in the guest apartments, they moved her out of the master bedroom, said there were too many contagions there. Dad sleeps in a chair in there with her, I don't think he's even gone in the old rooms since then."

He walked upstairs, unhappy that this house that had once held so much life now felt like a mausoleum, "Do you stay here, too?"

She looked at him in surprise, "Of course not. I bunk in the barracks, with my platoon."

The way she said 'my platoon' raised a flag in his mind, "You've gone career, haven't you."

She snapped a salute, "Lieutenant Solana Vakarian, at your service."

Garrus smiled at her, proud of her accomplishment. "Sol, that's outstanding. Rifle platoon?"

"Is there any other kind worth having? The flyboys can keep their shiny toys, I got 44 good men and women under my command, can stomp anything they throw at us." Her glee was contagious and he laughed with her.

They paused outside the door to the guest rooms and Garrus took a deep breath and stepped in, the door sliding open soundlessly. The beeping of the machines that regulated his mother's circulatory and respiratory systems seemed loud in this tiny space, made smaller by the amount of equipment it took to keep her alive. She lay on her side, facing away from them. The nurses looked up from their charts to wave them in.

Sol must have alerted them to his arrival, they didn't seem startled to see a strange male walk in on their charge. He nodded courteously at them and they left the room, letting the three of them have their privacy. Sol walked up to her bedside and leaned over to whisper in her ear, "Mom, mom, look who's here."

The ill woman turned over slowly, eyes wincing in pain at the movement. He looked lovingly down at her, not really aware that he'd crossed the distance from the door to the bed in a single bound. Her expression grew joyful as she looked up at him, her hands reaching out weakly. He took them in his and leaned down to press his forehead to hers, rumbling deep in his throat. His heart gave a painful little twist as he took in how dull her plates were, how clouded her once piercing grey eyes were, the disease had wasted her away. She opened her mouth and, in a sound that was little more than a breath, whispered, "Garrus..."

He knelt at her bedside,"Mom, I'm home."

Her mandibles fluttered and she traced her hand over the scars on his face, but there was no consternation in her gaze as she looked over him, just relief to see him after all this time. Solana perched on the edge of the bed and their mother turned a grateful smile on her, which she returned with a squeeze of her hand on her arm. Garrus watched his mother's hands draw symbols in the air, some kind of sign language, and Solana nodded. At his quizzical look, she explained, "She wants some water. I'll be right back."

His sister left them, the door sliding shut behind her. Garrus couldn't keep his eyes off his mother, who was smiling at him softly. She whispered, "Your father will be so happy. Have you been well?"

He couldn't help but notice how she winced in pain as she spoke, "Mom, don't speak if it hurts. I'll have Sol teach me that sign lan-"

Her brows drew together in irritation, "I'll do as I please and it pleases me to no end to speak with my son, who I haven't seen for six years."

With chagrin, he ceased his protests, guilty thoughts harangued him and he turned from her to consider the window. There was a view of the garden from here, he wondered how she felt about how overgrown it had gotten. But then it had been her who maintained it, cultivated its flowerbeds and the tiny stream that ran through the center of it. A tap on his arm and he swung his gaze back to her. She smiled, "So, my little cloud gazer, have you been well?"

"I've been...good. No, better than good, great. I...served on a human ship for a time, same one as before, well almost the same. Same commander anyway. There were missions, I saw so many wonders, not all of them pleasant. Most of that's classified..." He watched her listen to him with a happy smile on her face and brought her hand to his cheek, "I was part of great things, mom, great and terrible things and I am...awed by it."

"You are changed, not in a bad way I think. You feel-" She closed her eyes and rested both hands on his shoulders and he swore he felt the air become charged, somehow, with some unknowable energy. Eerily familiar. It faded quickly and she continued, "complete, whole, and bereft as well."

Her sharp gaze dropped to his wrist and his mouth went dry, "That was...what was that?"

She smiled like it was a secret, while reaching for his hand, "Who is she?"

Her keen insight was clearly undamaged by her illness, he felt a lump in his throat, a sudden longing for a certain human female rising up from the depths of his soul. Wordlessly, he pulled off his glove and showed his mother the wristlet made of his mate's brilliant red hair. He touched it for comfort, as he had so many times now. It had only been a week and he missed her terribly.

Trust his mother to see through him so completely. The turian woman ran a finger over the bright strands, tightly braided into a cord, "A human? Interesting. If you love her, then I love her. When I...pass beyond the veil, take my wristlet to her, this bondmate of yours."

"We...haven't exactly made it official. In fact, I haven't even asked her." He ducked his head in shame, "She doesn't know what I did with her token."

His mother hissed in consternation, her mandibles flaring, "You give your heart away without even knowing if you'll have hers? Foolish male. I don't want to look upon you from the afterlife and see you broken because you can't give your heart to anyone else."

He sighed, "It was always hers, even if she doesn't want it. Nothing will ever change that."

"Does she seem to return your affection?" She searched his face and seemed satisfied by whatever answer she found there, nodding abruptly.

"You already know her, well a part of her. She wrote that song." There was surprise on her face as she gazed upon him and he smiled gently down at her. "She's like fire, creation and destruction. She carries truths around like a torch and once realized, nothing is ever the same. And she does miracles, mom, not the cheap kind that prophets employ to entertain and beguile the masses, but painful, beautiful ones. And at the same time, she's so achingly mortal. Her soul is everyone's soul."

The awe in his voice brought out a dry chuckle from the dying woman in the bed, "She must be a wonder to capture your imagination so fully. You always were a dreamer, Garrus. It is good that you dream so...ambitiously."

"A shame she is not turian. What brilliant and brave children you would have had." She struggled to sit up and Garrus helped her, fluffing the pillows behind her so she might have some relief, "Now, call your sister back in from the hallway. I am thirsty and I'm regretting telling her to wait out there with my drink."

He laughed as he did her bidding, poking his head out to call Solana's name.

His father found him in the garden, where he was industriously yanking out the moss that had taken over the paths and beds. Garrus turned when he heard the gravel crunch behind him and stood awkwardly. The two men watched each other solemnly, each waiting for the other to say something first. Garrus found himself fighting down a welling bitterness, despite his earlier resolution it was harder to forget the past than it seemed. By the look in his father's eye, the man was also struggling with his feelings. Finally, Garrus stepped forward and embraced his father, "Dad..."

When he stepped back, there was a torrent of emotion in his father's eyes, but the shoulders remained unbowed, "Garrus, it's good to see you. Will you stay?"

"Well, I don't want to be an inconvenience. I can find a place to stay out in the city-"

"No." The word rushed out of his father's mouth and the man seemed embarrassed at the force of it, continuing in a voice that was subdued, "No, wouldn't dream of it, son. You're always welcome here. That's never changed."

Garrus swallowed the lump in his throat, "Thanks, dad. I'll stay."

There was a sigh of relief from the older turian, who motioned for Garrus to walk with him to the house. The men strolled in silence, with his father occasionally glancing at his scarred profile out of the corner of his eye. Garrus waited for the comment, which, when it finally arrived, was shockingly absent of accusation or recrimination, "I see you've been having adventures."

He grinned ruefully, touching his face, "Yeah, funny how they never tell you in the recruitment office that you might catch a rocket with your face."

"It's in the fine print." Came the dry reply. It startled a laugh out of the younger man and a chuckle rolled out of the older one's throat.

Garrus had forgotten that his father used to laugh, oh how he laughed, the sound of it now pulled at him in a sweetly sad kind of way. He was sure that his father found little occasion to laugh any more. "I'll, uh, be sure to watch for that next time."

"Nice armor." His father eyed the shiny grey hardsuit, gaze falling on his insignia, "What does that mean?"

"That was my rank on the Normandy. Executive Officer." He could tell that his father was surprised at the revelation that his son was second-in-command on an Alliance frigate. There was respect there, too, at which Garrus felt a flush of pride in his accomplishments.

"I'd heard the Normandy was back under Alliance command and her commander in custody for war crimes."

His father's intel was as good as ever, which gave Garrus hope that this would actually work, "It's...complicated. The Alliance have to hold Shepard in custody so the batarians don't start a war. I can vouch for her actions, she did everything in her power to save those colonists, hell, to save all of us."

His father grunted, not doubting him which was a relief. They entered the house and went into the kitchen, where a luncheon was set up for the two of them. It was good to eat the food he'd grown up with again and he dug in with gusto, much to the amusement of his father. "Didn't they feed you on that ship of yours?"

"Human ship, they don't exactly have any idea what dextro foods taste good and what doesn't, so yeah, I mostly ate nutrient paste. I feel really bad for Tali, she had to sterilize the paste before she could eat it, told me that if it once had any flavor, bombarding it with sterilizers took care of that. She said it was like chewing chunky stagnant water."

His father made a choking sound, "Quarians always seem to get the short end of the stick, don't they. So, tell me the real reason you're here."

Garrus froze with food halfway to his mouth, then set it down and pushed his plate away and turned to regard the older man closely. There wasn't a single hint on his father's face that he felt resentful or angry, so Garrus took a deep breath, "I had hoped to not ask you for this, but I've turned all of my options over and over and this is the best one, the one that gives us the best chance."

"The chance for what?" There was trepidation in the man's stare. Garrus surmised that there must already be unsettling rumblings somewhere out there, in the part of the galaxy that the turian's called home.

He closed his eyes and stated softly but firmly, conviction in every line of his face, "Survival."

His father laid both hands on the table, and Garrus opened his eyes to see them tremble slightly, "Start at the beginning."

And so he did, it was well into the night before he finished. His father stayed silent through most of it, interjecting a question to clarify certain points at times, but mostly just silent, taking it all in like a sponge. Garrus could see the wheels turning behind those icy blue eyes, so like his own, could almost hear the pieces fall into place. His dad was a cop, a great one and Garrus knew that that didn't just stop because of retirement. There was a lengthy pause after he'd said his piece and they both stared into their glasses of bourbon, deep in thought.

His father stood, "I have to move on this. Immediately, if we're to have a shot. Still going to take time, though. You remember how the system works. I can't make the paperwork move along faster no matter how many favors I call in."

Garrus barked a laugh, "I remember. It'd be a shame to face extinction because the appropriate forms weren't collated or notarized."

They laughed together, loudly and if Garrus heard maybe the tiniest hint of desperation in there, he let it pass unexamined. His father embraced him warmly and Garrus returned it with fervor, "Spirits, son, it is good to have you home."

"Same here, dad, same here. And know, for believing me."

"Of course I believe you, Garrus. I didn't raise a barefaced liar." With a smile, his father left the room, presumably to make some calls. Garrus made his way to his room, the room he'd grown up in, took off his armor and lay on that ancient bed, staring at that familiar ceiling and wondered again at how everything seemed to come full circle and whether that had some kind of significance in the greater scheme of things. Cycles seemed to haunt all of them, made events inevitable. But he knew, if anyone could break the Reaper cycle, Shepard could, she didn't know when to quit. It wasn't something it was possible for her to do.

He calculated how long it would take to get this ball rolling and figured it would be a few days at the earliest before anything could be organized. Long enough for him to get the garden in order, so his mother would have something nice to look at from her window, instead of a reminder of how her work had been allowed to fall into disrepair in the wake of the onset of her illness. He could do that for her, at least.

His thoughts were drawn inexorably back to Shepard, as they always seemed to do. He ached to have her here with him, to meet his family, to see his ancestral home. He fingered the wristlet as he thought of her. Her comforting presence in the bed next to him, her soft breaths as she inhaled and exhaled in her sleep and the low drumming of her heart in his ears. He called out to her silently through the vast space between them and fancied he felt the faintest echo and it soothed his nerves, made him relax enough that he felt drowsiness wash over him at last and he closed his eyes, and dreamt of fire sliding across his palms.