"Garrus!" Her voice was strident, its tones bright, and a memory surfaced of that same tone in a far distant, far different place, hearing it then as he sat on a crate in a dismal apartment in crowded, corrupt Omega, mind riddled with doubt. How different it was now, instead of fear and pain, he only felt exultation bubble up in his heart. He did his best not to devour her with his eyes and reluctantly dragged his gaze from her to Corinthus as the turian saluted him.
"Vakarian, sir! I didn't see you arrive." Garrus felt slightly embarrassed as he nodded to the general, though he had no idea why he would, he'd been fielding salutes from great men for months now. Shepard watched him with deep amusement.
"At ease, general." He darted his eyes around, not sure just how...open he could be in this place. If he'd learned anything about the military, someone was always watching. With guilt, he realized Shepard was eyeing his wrist, where the token she'd given him lay in full view of just anyone. It would only take a glance at her hair to see where it came from. Corinthus had turned away as had everyone else in this small command pod, he thanked the spirits for his luck.
Shepard stepped in front of him, fidgeting a little, like she was just itching to be more than familiar with him, if not for the company of these soldiers. He felt a rush of heat as she looked into his eyes with a rueful smile on her lips and a sparkle in her eye, a sparkle that told him exactly what would happen had they been alone. She almost whispered, "You're alive."
He took her hand in one of his and placed his other over it, leaning in close enough to smell her. His heart started to pound. He fought to not drag a breath in reflexively, she smelled so good, so Shepard, gun oil and flowers, and he rumbled a reply, "I'm hard to kill. You should know that."
Her eyes grew bright in her face and she leaned toward him, unable to help herself or so it seemed, kept her voice carefully level as she said, "It's...good to see you again. I thought you'd be on Palaven."
Her tone said she feared he'd be on Palaven. Garrus resisted the urge to turn and look at the burning planet above them, tried not to think of his sister and father being somewhere up in that mess. He said, his voice also without inflection, "If we lose this moon, we lose Palaven. I'm the...closest damn thing to an expert on Reaper forces so I'm...advising."
Out of the corner of his eye, he saw the turians around him stiffen in surprise at his downplaying of his role in this whole operation. For the first time he noticed the squad Shepard had brought with her, a burly human male stepped to the fore. Shepard, somewhat abashedly, belatedly introduced her squaddie, "James, this is Garrus Vakarian. He helped me stop the Collectors. He's a helluva soldier."
"Lieutenant." Garrus could see the man being drawn into her orbit. Already, she worked her magic, won this man's devotion. He just kept from grinning at the man, but they shared a look of understanding, " It's good to see you, too, Liara."
He turned to the asari, who smiled warmly. She stepped up boldly, "It's good to see you in one piece, Garrus."
A polite cough from his left drew all their attention to General Corinthus, who turned to them, "I got word. Palaven command tells me the next primarch is General Adrien Victus."
Well, well, well, Garrus thought with something like amazement, how the tides do turn. In his mind, he weighed the pros and cons. Overall it was a good choice. He liked the man, as more than a commander. The new primarch would have a flexible attitude towards advancing Garrus' plans here in the Heirarchy. Liara broke into his musings with a startled, "Victus, the name has crossed my desk."
Shepard turned her warm regard on him, "You know him, Garrus?"
"I was fighting alongside him this morning. Lifelong military, gets results, popular with his troops." He gave her a little smile, saying, "Not so popular with military command, has a reputation for playing loose with accepted strategy."
He heard a small snort that suspiciously seemed to come from Corinthus, but ignored it, feeling a flush of chagrin warm his neck. Shepard heard, if the flick of her eyes was any indication, "Really."
It wasn't so much a question as an observation. He turned his head slightly and spotted his entire squad of elite turian soldiers assembled behind him, not really looking at the exchange, but definitely within earshot. He swallowed, and hoped she hadn't noticed their very distinct double chevron insignia. He half heard Liara telling Shepard about the Taetrus campaign and turned to see Shepard watching him knowingly, crap she knows something's up. Not that it was even possible to hide anything from her, her intuition was uncanny. He coughed and picked up the story, "Then the rebels attacked the salarians and when both groups had worn each other down, Victus moved back in. Didn't lose a man. Primarch Victus, that should be something to see."
Shepard heard some of his admiration in the words and nodded, thoughts turning inward for a moment, "You think he can get the job done?"
She was pulling his opinion from him, her words wrapped in her faith in his judgment. With a touch of pride, he said, "We both know conventional strategies won't work on the Reapers. He's our best shot. And I trust him."
She nodded abruptly, smile lifting the corners of her mouth. Her comm pinged and she opened it with a press of one long finger. Garrus heard Joker's panicked voice and lifted his brows. The human squawked, "Commander, Shepard, come in!"
Shepard's brows furrowed as she replied, "Can't this wait, Joker? We're in the middle of a war zone."
"We've got a situation on the Normandy, Commander. It's like she's possessed. Shutting down systems, powering up weapons...I can't find the source." That can't be good, thought Garrus as he pulled out his sniper rifle. He was finding it hard to feel too much alarm over the overwhelming relief of being near Shepard again. Shepard in the meantime shot a look in Liara's direction.
"I need the Normandy standing by. We may need to bug out."
Liara straightened up, "Should I go back and take a look?"
"Do it." Those green eyes swung around to pin him in place and he barely kept from grinning madly at her, her lips twitched and she said, "Garrus, you said you were with Victus this morning?"
"Yeah, but we got separated. He went to bolster a flank that was breaking. He could be anywhere out there." He heard shuffling footsteps behind him as his squad approached almost timidly. Shepard looked past him and nodded to the men and women who obviously spun in Garrus' orbit.
She stepped closer to him, her eyes flickering with remorse. He realized she felt pained to be taking him away from his men, dragging him away from something he'd obviously sweat blood to build and he shook his head at her, telling her with his eyes that he'd been waiting, waiting for her all this time. She said softly, soft enough that no one heard but him, her eyes grateful, "Go to them. Tell them goodbye."
Garrus turned with a sigh, looking at Cicero and the rest with pride and love in his gaze. He would miss them, sorely. He walked up to them and placed his hand over every heart there, a word of encouragement for every ear. Cicero's mandibles stretched in compassion and understanding and the turian, who'd become a brother to him, who would be a strong leader in his absence placed his hand over Garrus' heart in turn. Garrus rumbled in humility as he felt the connection he had with these soldiers flare within him, fed through his hand to Cicero's heart back into his heart from Cicero's hand. "Show them the way."
"I will. They will know it." Cicero's words burned with resolution and Garrus felt a grateful flush, flashed the man a cheeky grin.
"I'll be watching you do wonders, Cicero, you and my brave lads." He turned from the heroes then and took his appointed place at Shepard's side, a place that had always been his and had long awaited for his return.
Garrus slid down the hill, watching the rocks around them for signs of movement. His eyes kept being drawn to the petite figure lightly running along the canyon floor in front of him. She moved so smoothly, like these boulders and ridges and that harsh mistress, gravity, couldn't keep her from flying, if she wanted. Maybe they couldn't, he smiled at the fanciful image of her zipping through the air, raining death on their enemies.
He caught the human, James darting sidelong looks at his profile. Between his long stares of adulation at Shepard, anyway. Garrus couldn't blame the man, she was a sight to behold. The way she'd taken down that brute, so effortlessly, had been breathtaking. Garrus had never seen a squad of less than four take one on before. He wondered if she'd encountered one before and calculated that it wouldn't have mattered anyway. He decided to take mercy on the man, who seemed about to burst for lack of saying anything, saying with amusement, "I see Shepard's still taking in strays."
"Oh, yeah? Were you one of these strays?" The lieutenant had spirit, Garrus had to give him that.
He chuffed, "One of the first, and most stylish."
Vega laughed, "Is stylish the turian word for arrogant?"
Oooh, he was going to like this human. He scratched his neck as he replied, "Well, turians are known for their big...egos."
The man dropped him a wink and smiled, "I get it. Got a pretty big...ego myself."
"If you boys are done flirting, I got husks up here." They sprang into action, sweeping the husks down with their assault rifles. Within moments, they had all been dispatched, the last falling to Shepard's omniblade as it got too close.
"Shit! I hate those things." There was a disdainful sneer on James' face as he caught back up to them, "And New York is crawling with the creepy bastards? Augh, I never should have left Earth."
"It's gonna be bad all over." Garrus gave the man a look of consternation as he took point.
"Leaving the fight just pisses me off." James seemed oblivious to Garrus' incredulous look. Garrus exchanged a look with Shepard, who shrugged. He wasn't very good at telling how old a human was from looking at them, but the man seemed a bit too old to have such a narrow view of the cosmos. Did the lieutenant think that the fighting here was any different from the fighting there?
Garrus couldn't just leave it at that, "But you're here asking Victus to do the same thing. Leave the fight to make nice in some boardroom."
Shepard interjected with a firm shake of her head at James, "This summit is the only chance we've got. None of us is beating the Reapers alone."
Garrus felt a wave of relief at this, the first confirmation that what he'd said to those generals on Palaven was indeed coming to pass. That he hadn't just strung them along to get them to defend their people his way. Shepard was a wonder if she could get the races together on this...unprecedented joint military effort.
They came upon a patrol of his Vagabonds investigating a downed airship. Garrus returned their salutes as they marched by. Shepard's stare heated the back of his neck, and he turned to her with a smile of helplessness on his face. He called to the men, "Have you seen General Victus?"
One, he thought the man's name was Albinius, halted, pointing south, "Half an hour ago. Heading south."
"Carry on." Garrus glanced at Shepard's bemused face.
"Just how many of your 'lads' are on this rock?" Her voice was smoothly teasing as they continued their march.
He ducked his head, feeling pride and embarrassment in equal parts, "You wanted me to prepare them, I did my best."
"And your best was?" Her tone was she was aware he was deflecting and he sighed, relenting.
"There's a squad in every outpost, on every world." Her brows lifted, clearly wanting details he was loathe to give her in the middle of this war zone. He promised her with his eyes that he'd spill all the juicy parts later. She laughed lightly and James looked from one to the other, as though he were missing something. Which he was, not that Garrus was going to enlighten him.
They picked up the pace, Garrus had a gut feeling the general was near and he probably needed help.
The outpost was deceptively quiet on the outside, no sounds of battle emanated from it and Garrus winced, hoping that Victus was still alive in there. He and Shepard looked at each other ruefully and she pulled out her shotgun. He raised a brow, thinking that getting in close was probably a bad idea and she punched him in the shoulder playfully, "C'mon, Garrus, live a little."
With a war whoop, she stormed the open door and alarmed, he raced after her, diving behind cover as the forces of their enemy opened fire. His gut flipped as he took in the sheer numbers of marauders and cannibals that were there to greet them. He popped the heads off as many of them as he could, and drew a look of consternation from Shepard as he took her kills just before she reached them. He chuckled at her expression and grinned when she stuck her tongue out at him. Oh, she was beautiful when she was angry, hell she was beautiful when she wasn't angry. Fierce gladness filled his heart as he watched her fight out there, her red hair flying about her face, its short strands catching the light.
"What the hell are you daydreaming about, Scars?" James slapped him on the back, pulling him from his reverie with a start. Garrus saw two huge shapes appear around a corner of the compound and swallowed.
"Brutes!" He yelled, opening up with an overload. Shepard was nearly caught in one of those charges and he grimaced, pulling out his Black Widow and taking aim. Shepard was too close to fire on them safely and he started to panic. His reticule bounced between the two giants, squeezing off the occasional shot but not nearly enough to put a dent in the behemoths.
"Holy shit, she's dancing with them." James' awed voice penetrated the haze of his agitation and he pulled the scope away from his eye to watch. Shepard stood at the brutes' feet, lightly dodging them as they swung heavily at her. They missed every time, instead hitting each other with ringing blows. Garrus watched in amazement as they fell in tandem, almost landing on top of her. She rolled to the side, taking a vicious hit to her shields from some marauders who'd decided to join the party.
Garrus cursed his distraction and shot those poor fuckers dead, taking their heads off neatly. He could hear Victus yelling from somewhere up ahead but concentrated on taking out enemies left and right. Finally the fight was over, for now and Garrus turned a relieved but wry grin on the lieutenant next to him, "Scars? Really? Couldn't think up anything obvious?"
"I could have gone with one of those contradictory nicknames. You know, call the fat guy 'Slim', or the tall guy 'Tiny'. Coulda went with 'Handsome'."
"Ouch, in which case, I would've started calling you 'Genius'." He laughed with the marine, whose grin was wide and sincere, "Let's just stick with Scars."
"Deal." They caught up with Shepard as she was talking with Victus, who looked at Garrus as he walked up.
"Vakarian, where did you go?" Victus raised his brow plates at him, eyes flickering with something like amusement.
"Oh, you know, clearing some trash off your back porch. It took quite some time, there was a looot of trash." Garrus cocked his hip and crossed his arms.
"Appreciate it." The general turned back to Shepard, who stepped directly in front of the turian.
She spoke, her voice professional, "General, you're needed off-planet. I've come to get you."
Victus' mandibles flexed in irritation, "It'll take something beyond important for me to leave my men, or my turian brothers and sisters, in their fight."
Garrus shifted, meeting the general's questioning stare with a steady stare of his own, let him know that this was serious with the set of his shoulders and the tone of his voice, "Fedorian was killed. You're the new primarch."
"You're needed immediately to chair a summit and represent your people in the fight against the Reapers." Her aura of command flared from her like an anima, but her voice was tinged with regret.
Victus froze for a moment, then strode past her to look at the world above them, with its cities in flames, his voice carrying softly to them where they watched the man come to terms with it, "I'm...primarch of Palaven? Negotiating for the turian heirarchy?"
"Yes." That single word rang with conviction from Shepard's mouth, making the primarch look at her astonished.
His browplates drew together as he said, "I've spent my whole life in the military. I'm no diplomat...I hate diplomats."
Shepard's facial expression said she thought he was eminently qualified and he tipped a small bow to her for the compliment. She walked toward the turian, hand on her chin thoughtfully, her whole stance saying, We understand each other, this is what must be done, "Honestly, uniting these races will take as much strength as facing the Reapers."
She gestured eloquently to the devastation all around them, "I need an alliance. I need the turian fleet."
He couldn't refuse, how could he in the face of her confidence. Garrus saw the primarch come to a decision, the only real decision he could have taken. Victus nodded curtly to Shepard, "Let me say goodbye to my men."
Garrus turned to Shepard, saying softly, "Without him down here, there's a good chance we'll lose this moon."
Her gaze told him she understood what she was asking of the primarch, of him. He'd not a doubt that she did and turned to gaze at his homeworld for what might be the last time. He sent a prayer to whoever might be listening that his family be safe, that this wouldn't be the end of his people. Shepard's hand brushed his and he closed his eyes against that terrible sight, trusting her was never so difficult. It was even more difficult to not hold her, to not feel her heartbeat against his, somehow he resisted the call of his soul, tried to be content to rub his knuckles ever so slightly against hers.
He'd watched Palaven until it was out of sight, from the windows of the shuttle. He knew Victus was doing the same from his seat beside him, could feel the man shudder as it passed from his sight. Shepard watched the two men over steepled fingers, her eyes clouded with emotion. James napped in typical marine fashion, anywhere and everywhere he could get it. Garrus tried not to lock his gaze on Shepard for the remainder of the flight, but it was so hard to not look at her, after all this time, his control was slipping again.
Victus tapped out some messages on his omnitool, seemed intent on the task, so Garrus relaxed marginally and just let himself look at the brilliant woman in front of him, letting a fraction of the heat he was feeling rush under his plates leak into his gaze. She responded in kind, her green eyes smoldering. Neither one moved at all, but there seemed to be a building pressure between them in these close quarters. The pilot, Cortez as he'd been introduced to Garrus, spoke up from the front, "Coming up on the Normandy."
It broke the tension and he almost gasped in its absence. She looked lost for a moment before awareness snapped her back into focus. The shuttle landed smoothly in the Normandy's cargo bay, settling with a rocking motion. Shepard threw a heatsink at the sleeping marine in the back, her careful aim making it bounce right off the man's forehead. James snorted loudly before waking, sitting up abruptly, shooting her a glare that was almost insolent, "Geez, Lola, can't a guy get some shut eye around here?"
"Unpack the shuttle, James dear. Take the primarch's belongings to the war room, and take our XO's things to the battery." With that she gestured for the two turians to follow her. Garrus returned James' incredulous stare with a shrug.
He couldn't help himself as he quipped, with a smile, "Please be careful with my bags, boy. Or no tip for you."
The marine grumbled something under his breath. Garrus leaned toward him, "What was that, lieutenant?"
"Yes, sir, I was just commenting that, sir, I might've been a child once, but I weren't never no boy." The marine trudged through the shuttlebay, loaded down with boxes and bags, tossing one last 'sir' over his shoulder which made Garrus want to laugh, but considering the seriousness of the situation and the odd, pinched look on Victus' face, he left off. There was a time and a place, after all.
The elevator was as slow as ever. Garrus wondered if they'd ever upgrade that little inconvenience, even the engineers in charge of the retrofit must have seen how damned frustrating it was waiting while this box took its sweet ass time. Victus shuffled impatiently and Shepard gave him a look of understanding, saying, "I used to bring a book in here with me, to pass the time."
Garrus gave her an amused look and Victus chuckled sourly, "I thought the elevators on the Citadel were bad, at least they had the excuse of having to go fifty-sixty floors in either direction."
"I didn't mind so much." Garrus rubbed the back of his neck, putting an expression of nostalgia on his face, "Had some of the best conversations in my life in those elevators, and in this one. Ever had to debate existential philosophy with a hanar? It's...enlightening."
Shepard chortled softly, "I bet the wonders of the universe unfolded for you."
"Strange how being trapped in a 8x8 box makes one's thought turn inward." He looked at her askance, grinning, "Okay, not so strange."
Victus watched them banter back and forth with a flicker of something close to yearning in his eyes, he closed them and shook his head slightly. Garrus pretended not to notice. The doors opened and the three of them walked into CIC, Garrus stole a look around. Not much seemed to be different really, paint job was different, it had a more utilitarian feel to it, more military, less private sector. Garrus wondered if they let Joker keep his damn leather chair. They headed to the right and Garrus was startled to see that the research lab and the armory were gone, all to create this war room, which filled the space before him with monitors and stations and maps.
He could see that this Normandy was going to be more like the original Normandy, there was no question of tainted loyalties here, it was run with clean military precision and a part of him rejoiced even as a part of him was missing all the ones who used to be here. Mordin, Thane, Kasumi, all the rest. He wondered where they were now. What they were doing, if they were safe. How ridiculous, none of them were safe. Not in these dark times.
No doubt they were having an impact, whatever they were doing. Not a one of them could do less. Not now, after being with Shepard. As her purposes, which had once been so impenetrably unfathomable, had become clearer, Garrus was forever being filled with revelation as each...layer became understandable, showed him how wondrously complex her mind was and how shockingly glad he was that she was on their side. The more he thought about it, though the more he thought it was they who were always on her side and he felt gratitude that this was the side she had chosen for them.
Garrus shook the thought off as Shepard excused herself to go speak with the asari councillor. He turned to the monitors to see exactly what resources they'd collected so far, quailed inwardly at how little there was. How much better it would seem when the krogan joined them, Garrus knew Shepard could do it, but he was filled with impatience, he thought of Palaven, and his family and closed his eyes at the scope of the thing they were trying to do. It almost seemed hopeless, but he knew better and sternly told himself that it would get sorted, that the measures he'd put in place would give his people a chance to return to Palaven someday, even if they had to wander for centuries like the quarians.
A small touch on his wrist had his eyes shooting open. Victus was fingering the braid thoughtfully, his face unreadable. Garrus held his breath for the inevitable questions or accusations, but the man just smiled, "I'd wondered. It's so soft."
Garrus resisted yanking it out of the turian's reach, felt like the man was almost fondling Shepard, by the tone of his voice. Sadly, Victus pulled his hand back, looking at the younger turian's clenched mandibles and nodded an apology, the primarch coughed, "The color is remarkable. So like fire, like a manifestation of her inner spirit."
Garrus smiled at the image, like Shepard couldn't contain all of her passion and conviction and it had to come out in her appearance, somehow. It was a charming thought, "She's definitely full of fire, and life."
"The humans have a saying, 'burning the candle at both ends', it makes for more light, but less candle, until eventually, long before it should...both are gone." Victus said sadly. Garrus' mouth dried at the implication, felt a surge of panic at the thought that she would burn herself out for them. It held the ghost of premonition in its embrace. Victus put his hand over his and patted it paternally, saying softly, "I notice she doesn't have an answering token on her wrist. It's best not to let these things lie undone, that's how the deepest regrets are begot."
Garrus trembled at the power in the primarch's words, and gave the man a beseeching look. Don't say any more, please...it won't be, I won't let it be.
Victus turned from him then and he drew a sigh of relief, tried to batter back his unease. Out of the corner of his eye, he watched Victus' shoulders slump slightly. There was a story there, a painful one. For another time, it seemed, as Shepard came back into the room and he felt a fleeting pang as he looked at her. She seemed to burn even brighter to him and he closed his eyes to it. She came around the maps toward Victus and gave Garrus a curious look and he did his best to hide his misgivings behind a wan smile.
He asked her to be excused with his eyes and she nodded, turning from him to talk to the primarch. Garrus retreated to the battery, losing himself and his disquieting thoughts in the task of reacquainting himself with the Normandy's weapon systems.