ZEITGEIST

Garrus was used to red tape.

He was used to paperwork and busywork and having to answer for every damned decision he made. He was used to pleading his case, and cutting corners because nothing would ever get done otherwise, and occasionally just outright skirting the rules because the alternative—like with that bastard Saleon—was so completely unacceptable.

Until Pallin set him on a case investigating the claims against Saren Arterius, he didn't know what real red tape, real obstruction of justice, looked like.

It was almost enough to make him understand why his father resented the Spectres—and their power—so much.

"I'm sorry, Officer Vakarian, that information is classified."

"This is a C-Sec investigation," Garrus repeated for the eighth time.

"And Saren Arterius is a Spectre, sir. The files you've requested are not available."

It's not her fault, Garrus told himself, looking for patience and really not finding much left, she's just doing her job.

He wondered if his dad had ever stood before this same bland-faced asari, denied information he needed because of bureaucratic loopholes and untouchable Spectre status.

"Then can I look at the report on Nihlus Kryik's death?"

"That information is classified."

"The human ambassador wouldn't have involved Citadel Security without cause," Garrus pressed. "Are you sure you can't—"

"Classified, Officer Vakarian."

He glanced down at his notes, scanning for a name. "And this Alliance Commander? Shepard? I don't suppose you can give me anything on him? Her?"

"That information—"

"Oh, come on," Garrus snapped, bringing his fist down hard on the asari's desk.

She didn't blink, didn't flinch, only tilted her head like she was bored and sighed. "I will call security, Officer Vakarian."

"I am security," he retorted.

"In any case," she said, tone on the very clipped end of professional, "I wasn't going to say classified in regards to information about Commander Shepard. She falls under Alliance jurisdiction, however, and considering the… delicacy of the case, I believe you ought to take your questions to them."

"You've got to be—fine. Thank you very much for your time."

Subharmonics or no subharmonics, he had no doubt the asari heard his sarcasm loud and clear. She did not, however, react to it. She merely smiled politely and said, "And I hope you have a pleasant day, Officer Vakarian."

He was halfway to the human embassy when his comm beeped and Pallin demanded his immediate presence at the Citadel Tower.

"Can it wait, sir? I'm following up a lead on the Arterius case—"

"There is no Arterius case, Vakarian. The Council hearing's going to start in half an hour. I told them we hadn't found anything substantial."

Rage, sudden and hot, brought Garrus to a complete halt so abruptly a human walking too closely behind him half-stumbled into him, half-bounced off his back.

"What?" Garrus lowered his voice when the same human groaned and scrambled backward. "Sir, I still have avenues of investigation I haven't exhausted. I'd like to speak with the Alliance. They had people on the ground. And I have a report out of Dr. Michel's clinic—"

"I don't care if you have Arterius himself on the other line. C-Sec's job here is done."

"C-Sec has barely scratched the surface. I'm the one to know. You expect me to work miracles with no clearance and every damned file even mentioning Saren's name bound up in more red tape than—"

"Did I miss the part where you make the calls now, Vakarian?" Pallin asked, each word sharp and direct as bullets shot at point-blank range. "Get your ass to the Citadel Tower. That's an order."

"Sir."

The second the comm went silent, Garrus snarled the most vicious curse he knew. The human, having just regained his feet, jumped at the ferocity and turned to face Garrus, his eyes showing white. Fear, then. He'd interrogated enough humans to know that much.

"Sorry," Garrus said, "bad day."

"You and me both," snapped the human. Then he shrugged, holding his hands wide and shaking his head. "Look, uh, I'm probably not supposed to—but I couldn't help overhearing your conversation. And the nature of your, uh, investigation."

Garrus crossed his arms over his chest. This time the human didn't flinch or cringe. Or fall over. He stuck out his hand in that strange human gesture of greeting. After a moment, Garrus unfolded his arms and accepted the smaller man's hand. The grip was firm and strong. For a human.

"My name's Crosby. Silas. Serve on the Normandy? That's the—"

"Yeah," Garrus said, "recognize the name from my notes. You know anything, Crosby?"

"No, sir. Well. Not really. Just gossip. Ship stuff. You know? Scuttlebutt."

Garrus nodded, counting how many minutes he could spare if he just ran the entire way to the Citadel Tower after Crosby said what he had to say.

"It's just… you should talk to Commander Shepard, if you can find her. She led the ground team on Eden Prime. Was pretty messed up after. Confined to the medbay. Think she definitely saw some things."

"Any idea where she is?"

The other side of the damned Citadel, probably, if his luck held.

"She and the captain were meeting the ambassador here. Or that's what I heard. Some kind of hearing? Top-secret, so everyone was talking about it."

Garrus nodded, thanking Crosby and glancing at the little clock readout on his visor. Twenty-two minutes. He could do that.

There is no Arterius case, Pallin?

Like hell there wasn't.

#

"No," Garrus said.

Alenko pushed a hand through hair already standing up in a dozen different directions. His uniform was wrinkled, and the light in the battery made him look tired. Even more tired. They were all so fucking tired. "Look, Garrus, I don't want to keep having this conversation—"

"Then stop bringing it up," Garrus snapped, unable to control the edge to his subharmonics that had only grown steadily more frayed since he woke in the medbay, half-convinced it was still after Omega and the gunship until Doctor Chakwas' expression told him he wasn't going to find Shepard up in the comm room waiting with a smile and a good-natured insult this time.

She wasn't even around for the inevitable joke about a Mako—a Mako of all the damned things—taking him out of that final push.

Come back alive.

"The crew needs the closure."

"The crew needs you to stop talking about its commander like she's dead."

Alenko flinched as if he'd been slapped. Garrus didn't care. Alenko had made the call while Garrus was in the medbay, bathed in medi-gel, out of his mind with pain, pleading to go back—Alenko had urged Joker to get out while Shepa—Alenko had sent them careening out of the Sol system, leaving her—

If this thing goes sideways…

No.

"No," Garrus repeated.

He had to be cold. Precise. He had to think in facts. Numbers. Lists. He'd mourn—

No.

He wasn't doing that.

"They found Anderson."

"Did they find her?" Garrus asked.

"Hackett says she and Anderson were together up there—"

I don't think Hackett had any idea what he was sending me into, she'd told him, after Aratoht. Does he ever? he'd replied. She hadn't laughed. It hadn't been funny.

It sure as hell wasn't funny now.

"Did they find her?"

"The Citadel's a wreck. They probably won't ever—"

"Did they find her?" Garrus repeated a final time, low, subharmonics so pained even a human ear had to pick up on it.

Alenko raised his chin, and Garrus could see the grief on the shorter man's face as clearly as he could hear it in his own subvocals. "She's dead, Garrus," Alenko said, each word like a blow.

No.

"Whatever that blast was, it was enough to blow out comms and relays across the entire galaxy. And she was at the center of it. You have to be reali—"

"I'm sorry," Garrus interrupted, "I didn't realize you were there."

Alenko's hands clenched into fists; he looked like he wanted to punch something. Maybe him. Fair enough. Let him try. "Do you think this is what I want? Do you think this makes me happy? I know better than anyone how much this—"

"No," Garrus said, turning away. Don't turn your back. "Plan your memorial if you want, but plan it for Anderson. He deserves the honor."

"So does she."

No.

"I have work to do if we're ever going to get off this rock."

"Dammit, Garrus, burying your head in the sand isn't going to change anything."

Head in the sand. He knew that one.

Maybe that's what he was doing.

Maybe not.

Forgive the insubordination, he'd said. He clenched his hands around the edge of his console until it creaked, until his bones ached with the pressure.

He heard Alenko leave.

Garrus thought about pain. Then he pushed that thought away and thought about survival instead.

That's the ticket, Shepard would have said.

Ticket to what?

Elcor Hamlet, obviously. Or that hanar poetry reading…

This one feels like you disobeyed his order, Shepard.

And then he didn't want to imagine what she'd look like, or what she'd say. He didn't want her pity. Even in his imagination.

At the memorial, Joker put EDI's nameplate on the wall. Garrus held his tongue. He and Tali and Adams had ideas, but this Spirits-forsaken jungle on the edge of nowhere wasn't the place. Joker's hunched shoulders said it wasn't the time. Closure.

It was a horrible word. Garrus had never hated a word more.

Alenko hung Anderson's. He said a few words. Good words. Words about honor and duty and sacrifice. He looked at Garrus the whole time. Garrus stared back, unblinking, unflinching, and silently agreed they were the right words. For Anderson.

He wasn't sure who pressed the final nameplate into his hands. Not Tali. He didn't think it was Liara.

He took a few steps forward. Couldn't have said if it was because he meant to do what they wanted, or to get away from the anger still licking at his heels because they'd done exactly what he didn't want them to do. Reduced her to a hopeless little strip of metal to hang on a hopeless little strip of wall.

Instead of thinking about the burst of energy, or Alenko, or the Mako exploding and turning his armor into an oven, instead of thinking about goodbyes and the way Shepard's voice broke, he remembered the stupid smile on her face when she climbed out of the rubble of the Citadel Tower all those years ago.

He'd never been happier to see a damned smile.

He ran one hand over the smooth surface of the nameplate.

Wondered why the hell they hadn't bothered printing her full name.

Tilting his head, he tried to picture it up there. Commander Shepard. Next to Anderson. Williams. Mordin. Krios. Legion. The lost.

The dead.

No.

When a good turian hears a bad order, he follows it.

When it comes down to it, Shepard, I don't think I'm a very good turian.

"No," he said, breaking the nameplate between his hands. It snapped with a sharp, brittle cry, too loud in the grim silence, and behind him someone gasped. This time it was Tali. Maybe Liara.

Talk firing algorithms, big guy.

Not this time, Shepard. This time I have to do what you would do.

So he talked hope.

Didn't come natural. Didn't come easy.

But he kept on talking, because they needed him to.