"So they...just left?" The sound of his voice caused a hush in the room. His back was to the room full of turians, seemingly not part of their heated debate. He was gazing out of the window at the reconstruction of the Citadel. Its bulk hung in the space above him, partially complete, panels removed, parts never meant to be exposed open to space. It was kind of like looking at a woman with half her clothes off and he suddenly felt like some kind of voyeur, peeping through windows. He shut his eyes at the thought, in self disgust. It would be quite a while before it was habitable, maybe years. A lot of it had to be built from scratch.
"Yes, there was the light...and then they just took off, they didn't even wait to let their ground forces board, just thousands of them rocketing up through the atmosphere." Primarch Victus, who looked older and older every day, said in a tone of confusion.
"Any idea what this 'light' was? Any sensors catch it?"
A female turian with dark coloring and yellow bands of color on her cheeks stood, "All telemetry was knocked out by the wave, we only caught a tiny piece of it and I hate to say, it was...nonsense. Just noise and light."
Garrus sighed and pinched the bridge of his nose, "What happened to their forces?"
His father, who'd come out of retirement to help with the Restoration, as the various peoples of the galaxy had taken to calling it, stepped forward and said, "Inactive, dead, just piles and piles of corpses."
"I assume someone has vids, show them to me." Orders, to men who'd never thought to take orders from him before this war and Garrus suppressed a snort as they jumped to oblige him now. No, a quiet retirement was never going to be his lot and it rankled a bit.
A holographic display popped up at the terminal before him as he turned to face the room. He saw the HUD of someone's helmet cam, data spooling off the sides, showing hostiles as dots and numbers for distances to targets. It was similar to what his visor used to do, before he'd destroyed it on a dirtball far from here. He focused on the scene, the soldier whose helmet it was was clearly a turian, towering over the smaller races running with him. Explosions ahead made the soldier zoom in to see a large group of husks sprinting at them in mindless fury.
Skillfully, the group tore them apart, using ordinance, Garrus saw with approval. Suddenly, there was the terrifying boom of a Reaper above and the camera swung up and to the left to see one of those monsters land right over the strike force and he watched with secondhand trepidation as the red eye of the thing flared in preparation to fire its deadly beam. The soldier whose eyes he was looking through yelled something incomprehensible just as a sweeping arc of green energy felled every soldier there, making them tumble in the shadow of that colossus. It filled the sky with light, sheets of palpable force that poured over them. He could almost hear something in the undertones of it. Through the shaking lens, Garrus saw the Reaper stumble in the energy blast's wake, all its lights and blinky things turning from red to green.
It seemed confused as it gained its bearings and crouched with another one of those booming cries. Then it lifted from the ground ponderously, its rockets flaring as it gained altitude. A cacophonous shriek filled the air around them as every Reaper force in the vicinity clutched its head and fell to its knees. Garrus saw the camera pan left and right, taking in husks, marauders, brutes and banshees all dropping to the ground, green light pouring from eyes and mouths. Then they just fell over, silent, dead and empty of that unholy vitality that had so driven them before. And on the horizon, more black shapes lifted away from the Earth.
He heard the turian soldier mutter something that sounded suspiciously like, "What the fuck?"
And the recording cut out, leaving him with more questions than it answered. He looked out at the faces turned expectantly toward him and kept his face blank, "And then they went out and fixed the mass effect relays?"
"Yes, the Reapers repaired them, then they used them. To where, we don't know. There have been no sightings as of five days ago. From every world in every system they just vanished." Victus shook his head.
A mystery, and to think, he used to love mysteries. Now it was just another pain in the ass, trying to figure out why the giant bastards would leave on the cusp of victory. Possibilities flooded his mind and he put his hands on the table before him, "Worst case scenario, they fled a larger threat. Let's hope that's not what happened."
Gasps around the table told him that this was one they hadn't considered. What could be a bigger threat than the Reapers, he could hear them thinking. He clenched his fist, as he tried to say the next without betraying the rage that still filled him at the thought of her, and was pleased that his voice came out mild, even, "Best case, Shepard succeeded and we won. Let's run with that one for now. Patrol the rim with the fleets, work on the Restoration. We still have a long way to go. What is the status of our colonies?"
Victus stood and flipped on his omnitool, feeding the latest reports to the monitors on every console in the room. "Many are still empty, the colonists are reluctant to stray too far out, and there are pirates and mercs preying on the ones that are undermanned."
Cicero, General Cicero, stood to contribute, "The krogan have offered to help secure our borders in return for a few worlds in our space that we can't use anyway, being levo, not dextro."
They were expanding already, though he'd been informed that the krogan birthrate wasn't anywhere near as high as it was before the rebellions. Mordin had done his work well, or maybe Wrex had gotten his people to understand the large amount of unease a sudden surplus of krogan would engender in these unsteady modern times. Garrus nodded at the primarch, who said, "Do it. We need the protection and they need the space. Maybe a few joint colonies would be in order."
Garrus nodded again, it was a sound idea. He'd bring it up to Wrex when he went to Tuchanka in a few months. "See if we can set up some task forces to thin the pirate population down, we'll need small fast ships like the ones the asari use, maybe...thirty or so teams, you know the ones I mean."
Cicero nodded, he did know indeed. The special forces Garrus had trained would need an outlet now that there was no war on, idle soldiers made for trouble. But there would always be another job to do, another operation to pull off.
His father stood again, clearing his throat, "The council is trying to re-establish its authority now that the Citadel is being restored. They want to know if we have a candidate to replace Sparatus, who fell during the attack on Earth."
Victus smiled grimly, "I've been in contact with the other races' leadership, they wonder if it isn't time to make a more permanent galactic government, with farther reaching powers that blankets all the races."
Garrus shuddered, "Carefully, best not to rush something like that or we'll have talk of empires. I can have Javik come up here and talk to you about empires if you have any doubt about how...corruptible a system like that is. Small steps, test the waters with a few joint colonies first. Though, I am loathe to give everything over to a council that discredited the Reaper threat so blithely."
"As am I." Victus ran a hand over his fringe, "I'll continue to coordinate directly with the other governments and we'll limit exactly how much power the council has from this point forward. I'll appoint a temporary councilor to assuage them for now. Shepard would probably just disband them if she were here."
A hard knot in his guts told him that he'd better leave before he said something...counterproductive. Garrus stood, "Gentlemen, I take my leave of you. Forward any intel on the border skirmishes to my omnitool, if you please. I'll have those teams sorted out before the week is out. Primarch, generals."
He nodded out, striding with purpose to the door. Behind him, he heard Victus call the meeting adjourned and sighed, apparently if he wasn't present, there was no business to discuss. It was depressing how much they depended on him and how he couldn't help but give them his all. All that work to take himself out of the equation and it went up in flames as soon as he'd survived the war. He didn't want to imagine what would be happening now in the turian Heirarchy without his stabilizing presence.
But then he figured they would have gotten along somehow, fallen back on tradition, which would have worked for a time, maybe even for a long long time. Garrus wasn't arrogant enough to believe that his species was going to die out without him.
"Didn't waste any time, did you?" He said wryly as he poked his sister in her expanding midsection. A child, the first of many they hoped, if the gleam in their eyes was any indication. It hurt a bit to see them, the happy family his sister had, one reason he kept his visits short. Solana glowed in her gravidity, the blue markings on her face standing out even more against her dusky, gold-ish plates. Cicero stood proudly by, in his uniform with its rows of bars and insignia, a very discreet double chevron at his breast. It had become a standardized piece of military rank that never failed to make Garrus feel the slightest twinge of embarrassment.
Those months of training his cadres on a rainy, windswept old vineyard seemed so long ago, another lifetime even. Before he'd been blindsided by-but no, he wouldn't think of it now, he didn't want to ruin these precious moments he had to be with family. Solana smiled gently at him, "Uncle Garrus, has a nice ring to it, doesn't it?"
Cicero smirked, "Indeed."
"You won't think it's so nice when I show them how to shoot." He meant it as a joke, but his serious tone made their smiles falter and he forced a smile to soothe their fears. They laughed easily and he twitched a mandible in amusement. "So now to business. The house."
"I know that by birthright, it's yours, but-" Solana drifted off awkwardly and he waved her to silence.
"Have it, with my blessing. I have no use for it. The men use formal training grounds now on Menae and once dad is...gone, I'm sure he won't object at all. He's going to want you close in any case, so he can spoil your kids. Have fun with that." Garrus put his hand over her belly, envy gnawing at his soul but he held her gaze with strength, "I want you to leave me my room, though, if you could, so I can come visit...whenever."
"Of course we will and you must come visit often, so that they will know you, O'Savior of the Galaxy." She laughed. He kept himself from wincing at the title.
"I'll try, but there's so much work to be done, I may not be able to. You know me, always running off. Always something that needs doing."
She eyed him critically, "You should take some time, Garrus, for yourself."
He shook his head sadly, what was he to tell her? He had no dreams left for himself, he had only the work of his hands, the dreams of others to fulfill. She'd taken them with her, wherever she was now, and left him nothing. "I'm okay, Sol. The job will keep me. That's all I need."
Her eyes flickered with some deep emotion and he made his face opaque before her questing gaze. This was what he'd learned in the last few weeks, this impassive shell to block people out. It wasn't the type that begged penetration, he'd mastered it in such a way that it appeared that there was nothing hiding under it, just openness. Assuaged, her gaze softened and she turned to her husband, "I'm going to go to the requisitions sergeant. Get a new pillow for my back."
"I'll wait here for you, make some of that cha you like." Cicero said after her as she left, a smile of complete adoration on his face. It made him look a tad foolish in a sweet way and Garrus felt another pang in his heart, that he silenced with a violent shake. Thankfully, it went unnoticed and he smacked the smitten turian on the shoulder.
"You better be glad you married her, because if I caught any male looking at my sister like that..." The threat was mildly delivered and it served its purpose, which was to snap the man out of it. "Now tell me about the rim. What had you so excited about some survey teams?"
"See for yourself." Cicero handed him a datapad, keyed to a specific section of a report.
Garrus scanned the data, eyes widening in wonder. "A whole colony...A whole batarian colony, untouched. Do the refugees know?"
"Sent the messages as soon as I heard. Figured they deserved some hope. Got ships taking them to their new home now." Cicero smiled as he took in Garrus' grin of genuine pleasure. A flicker of hope, which he hadn't felt for a long while now, tickled the back of his mind.
"I was so certain that they were going to die out and as much as I dislike batarians, we could do with less of that, races of people dying out." Garrus sat abruptly, his voice suddenly stern, "I want them protected. No damned mercs or pirates to finish off what the Reapers started. A cruiser could do it on its own and act as a space station at the same time."
"I'll send the orders tomorrow, boss."
"I'm not your boss, kid, I don't even have a rank." He settled back in his chair, the news on that datapad bringing him a measure of comfort. "Never got a commission, never got a fancy hat."
"Ha. When the primarch takes your orders without batting an eye, I think that maybe you get to be a boss." Cicero laughed as he sat next to his brother in law, "Besides, rank would just get in the way, right?"
"Hmm, yeah it would, keeps them on their toes if they don't know whether or not to salute. Nice, guess they did me an unintentional favor by letting me slip through the cracks on that one." Garrus closed his eyes, then turned a slow smile on his former lieutenant, "Congratulations, Cicero, you'll make a great dad."
"Thanks, boss. And for what it's worth, you would have, too." Cicero turned his eyes from the devastated flicker in Garrus', for which he was grateful. A moment to wrestle with his feelings of hurt and rage and he was in control again. They sat in companionable silence until Sol came back and Garrus did his best to be happy for them, because they deserved it. Even succeeded somewhat.
Palaven was a mess, though a slightly smaller mess than the first time he'd been back since...well, that. Garrus walked through the streets from the spaceport, noting how people tended to get on with their lives no matter how much rubble they had to shift to do it. Every citizen took time out of their day to help with the Restoration, before their work shifts, after dinner, it was heartening to see the people come together and undertake something on so large a scale. Salarian engineers had come from Sur'Kesh to rebuild the infrastructures, waste management, electrical grids, and so forth.
He enjoyed his relative anonymity in this place, no one really glanced at him twice and it felt a luxury to be without responsibility for even so short a time. He made a note to check on turian fleet dispersal in salarian space, might as well return the favor. Salarian space might not have been hit as hard as other places, but they still had threats to their people out there. Same for the elcor, and the volus were in a bad fix as well. A grimace flashed across his face as he thought of the beleaguered races, ones that had truly taken the brunt of the Reapers attack because they'd had no military to speak of.
He took a rented aircar home, noting as he pulled into the garage that the herbicide he'd used on the blossoms that now covered the house from foundation to roof hadn't worked. So much for advertising, he made a mental note to get his money back. His father was in the garden, at his mother's grave, as he was so often now. He walked over to stand by him and gazed down at the moss covered mound. The older Vakarian turned slightly, "Garrus."
"Dad. How's mom?"
"Good, still here. I'd half expected the Reapers to dig up the corpses of the dead to fight for them."
Garrus shuddered at the horrifying thought, nausea rising in his gullet, "I, uh, don't think that's how that works."
"What do you mean?" His father shot him a sideways look.
Garrus sighed and let his intuition do the talking, "I..think that the bodies didn't matter. I think they were after what was in the bodies."
"Their...spirits?" Gaius' browplates rose in shock, "That's even worse."
"Tell me about it."
"Then I am doubly glad she is safe, beyond their reach."
"Me, too." They looked down again. Garrus could smell the roses and jasmine that had creeped over the house and sighed in frustration. There was no respite for him, anywhere.
"My time is growing short, I think, son. Soon you'll be Gaius of the estate."
"Ugh, Gaius Garrus Vakarian. Don't you think that's a bit much? Besides, I gave Sol my rights to the house. So, she'll be Gaia Solana Vakarian. Much better." His father rumbled in amusement. He wrapped an arm around the older male's shoulders, "Soon, you'll be surrounded by a horde of small turians with sticky hands. She's already showing."
"You're a good son, Garrus. Are you staying?" Gaius asked, pleading with his eyes for his one son to stay.
"Yes, dad, I will." Even though I really don't want to. Garrus walked the man into the big house covered in vines and flowers, trying not to wrinkle his nose at the stink of them. At least inside, there was the buffer of walls to shield him from unpleasant memories. What he'd once done out of love and the desire to remember, he now regretted as a torture on his senses and psyche.
He dreamt. Drifting above a world that was wild and untamed, he shouted in exultation. Here was something lost, though it only lay on the barest periphery what it could be. Then a breathless moment later, he was a bird, flying over a valley with tiny dots of light flaming at its heart. A long sleek shape glowed in the moonlight. Around each fire, the word came slowly to him as misty and tenuous as the most ephemeral thought could be, he saw brilliant lights, each touched by a majesty that rivaled the stars above. One fire drew him as no other, the light of the being beside it a mirror to his own.
A flash and he was a small animal, its vision distorted by how far apart its eyes were. Some sort of warm blooded thing, he felt the quickness of its heart, the flash of brilliant mottled fur. Mortal flesh sang around him, as sweet and feral and sensual as he remembered and he darted through the underbrush, closer to the light. A broad back met his darting gaze, an anima of blinding light around it making his weak nocturnal eyes half close and a flash of something in that being's hand made the blood freeze, a knife, the word again occurred to him, along with the idea, the concept, of flesh rending, blood flying almost making his tiny mammal heart explode in fright.
The animal he was watched curious as that knife slid along that other's skin while the one inside screamed in pain as the first sounds of tortured metal filled the air. He watched in masochistic agony as the bright thing fell to the ground and was kicked into the dim fire, so dim beside that huge figure next to it. All joy fled, he was a thing of misery as he watched the token burn, burn. Long after it was ashes, he watched. The being was asleep and the beast dared not go any closer, so he abandoned its flesh, feeling his awareness expand and expand until it became so very hard to stay there. He ran toward the fire and plunged the memory of hands into its heart, but there was no flesh to hold anything, no way to touch or feel.
And the last thing he remembered feeling before he lost his grip on this small plane was despair, deep and horrible.
He woke with sweat pouring off his flesh and didn't know why, his heart hammering away inside him. Whatever visions that daunted him in his sleep fled into his subconscious. He smelled rose and jasmine and snarled in wordless rage, lunging out of bed to stalk to the small adjoining bathroom. He clenched his hands around the lip of the sink until they ached, battering back the urge to destroy this room and everything in it. Finally, a measure of control was restored with each deep, rasping breath and he splashed water over his face, feeling it cool his heated skin.
Time, he needed time. Away from this house, time enough to let the fire of hate in him dim to bitterness. Visits, yes, but never another night with that smell haunting him. Alone, in that bathroom, he felt the thoughts come unbidden. He cursed her silently, for her broken promises, her lies, she'd broken a faith that he'd thought unshakable and he hoped she knew it. This was by far worse than Omega had ever been, at least he'd had the excuse of a rather loose grip on reality then. He was sane, so terribly sane and angry. It was galling.
He packed his things with more force than necessary, then took a few minutes to gather the tattered shield of his stoicism around him. And left, with his pride intact.