"Can I assume you've got an update for me, Commander?" Hackett's holographic outline sharpened and blurred, then sharpened again as his features came into focus on the vidcomm. Even if the admiral's outline jumped and frazzled with interference, his expression was all too shrewd, all too knowing as he regarded her across the comm link. That came across clearly enough.
"Yes, sir," Thena replied, standing up straight, hands linked loosely behind her back. "There were more casualties since you and I last spoke, sir, but Jeremy Delaporte, also known as 'Billy,' is not longer a threat. C-Sec underwent heavy losses, but Commander Bailey assures me those losses would have been far greater had we not eliminated the threat."
"And your team?"
"Garrus Vakarian is recovering from injuries incurred during the final standoff, but I'm given to understand his recovery will be both swift and complete." He was already feeling better, if the degree to which he was driving Chakwas to distraction was any indication.
Hackett eyed her for a moment, but if he was waiting for her to volunteer information about her own injuries, he'd be waiting a while. Finally, apparently satisfied, he nodded. "Good to hear. What's your current course?"
"En route to the Perseus Veil, sir." And Thena knew, knew, because nothing was ever easy, that convincing the quarians to join the war against the Reapers would take… well, more than just an inspired speech at a trial, that was for sure. She had no idea what was coming, but that was all right. In a lot of ways, this kind of uncertainty was almost easier to prepare against than what they'd undergone the last four days.
"Keep me posted, Commander. We're going to need the quarian fleet's support if we want to make any headway in this war. Hackett out." With those words, the admiral's image fizzled and faded into nothing. Thena exhaled, feeling no small amount of tension flow out of her body as she did.
"'Recovering'?" Garrus drawled from the doorway where he leaned, arms crossed. He wasn't in his armor, making him look strangely out of place — likely he'd come here straight from medbay. "I'll have you know I'm fit for whatever you throw at me, Shepard."
"Yeah?" she asked, shifting her weight and folding her arms. "And what would Doctor Chakwas say if I asked her about that?"
"Hey, she cleared me to leave medbay," he said with a shrug. "You think I'd be here without her say-so?"
"You? Break rules? Can't imagine such a thing."
Garrus gave a soft snort. "Normally I'd say you're right. But even I wouldn't cross Chakwas."
"Smart man," she said, coming out of the vidcomm room. Garrus moved out of the way just enough that Thena barely brushed against him as she walked past. "So you're not suicidal. Good trait to have."
Together they walked from the war room, through the scanners, on their way to the elevator.
"So," Garrus said, and then he cleared his throat and rolled his shoulders as the doors opened. "Where you headed?"
She waited for the doors to close again before she answered, "I was thinking about going down to talk to my chief medical officer about the crew member she just cleared for duty. Figured I'd ask her just what kind of activities he's cleared for." Tilting her head at him, Thena shot Garrus a grin. "Unless he wants to tell me himself?"
His mandibles flared — one a bit wider than the other, which leant a definite smirking quality to the expression — as he said, "Pretty sure the doc knows me well enough not to let me out of her sight unless she thinks I can handle whatever, ah, trouble I get into."
"Trouble, huh?" she said, reaching for the keypad. But Garrus was quicker than she was and punched the pad first. "And where're you headed?"
Garrus stepped closer, dipping his head until his cheek brushed hers. "Girlfriend's quarters," he rumbled into her ear, and her breath caught as the sound went from her ear, straight down her spine, making heat pool suddenly in her belly. "Figured I'd see just how much trouble I could handle."
She looked up to find him watching her steadily, and she remembered suddenly, and with skin-prickling clarity, how drained, how wrong he looked when she and Jack had raced to the uppermost level and found him crumpled on the floor, one hand still gripping the Widow, his plates pale and dull. And that had reminded her all too clearly of Omega, a gunship, and Garrus bleeding out on a dirty floor.
But then his hand was at her chin, then slid up to her cheek; it was enough to pull her back, to make her see him again. "Hey."
"Sorry. It just… I'm okay."
The doors opened, but they both ignored it for the moment. "You zoned for a second there," Garrus murmured, running one talon softly across her cheek.
All she could do was shrug. "Yeah. I know. Memories." She reached up, running her fingertips back along Garrus' fringe, letting the warmth and texture push those memories back, urging other ones, better ones forward.
"Bad ones?" he asked, tilting his head into her hand. He sounded as if he already knew the answer to that. He probably did.
With a humorless chuckle, she nodded. "Hell, Garrus, I've got enough material to make bad memories that'd last several lifetimes."
Nodding at the open doors, he put a hand against the small of her back and gave a gentle push into the hall, "So maybe it's time we try to make some good ones."
She wanted to joke, to say something to defuse the moment before it sank into her skin, before it meant something. But Thena knew it was far too late for that; this moment, and all of the others, had already sunk in, already meant something. She thought back — had it only been four days ago they'd shot bottles of the top of the Citadel? It felt like months now. Funny how she remembered thinking there was no one who knew her better than Garrus, no one she'd let in more than Garrus. She'd thought it true at the time, but it hadn't been true enough. He was past every one of her defenses, now — in where it mattered, in deeper than he'd ever been. Before, Thena had thought Garrus knew her; she'd thought he couldn't know her any better than he already did. But she'd been wrong — completely beyond ass-backwards wrong.
Garrus knew her now. He knew the things she'd never wanted him to know, the things she'd never wanted to tell him. Parts of herself she'd wanted to forget.
"Open the door, Shepard."
"I don't know if Chakwas cleared you for this kind of activity," she joked, but opened the door all the same. The only illumination came from the aquarium, bathing the room in a wavering bluish light. Shadows played across the bed and floor as fish swam from one end to the other. As they walked in, Thena noticed the addition of an ice bucket on one of the low tables. The slender neck of a wine bottle pushed out from the mound of ice cubes.
Garrus followed her gaze and coughed. "I, ah, might've stopped up here first."
She looked over to him, saying, "You're sure you're—"
Holding up one hand to stop her, Garrus cut her off, saying, "Thena, so help me, if you ask me one more time if I got Chakwas' clearance—"
"Right," she replied with a grimace. "Sorry."
He walked to the bucket and pulled the bottle free. "Not that the overprotective girlfriend thing isn't charming in its own way…"
"Overprotective?" Thena snorted as Garrus filled two glasses, handing her one. "I just don't want my sniper screwing up his game because he got drunk after having his nervous system shot to hell."
"First of all, I never screw up my game. And second of all, this is the good stuff, Shepard. You don't get drunk on the good stuff."
Thena shot him a skeptical look, but brought the glass to her lips and drank. The wine was deep, deep red — the liquid looked almost black in the dim room — and smoky and sweet by turns, warming a path down her throat. It didn't have the tinny aftertaste most dual-chiral wines had, and Thena took a second drink, savoring the taste even more this time around. "Nice," she finally said.
"Better than the crap I brought up the first time, I know."
She shrugged. "We were so nervous I'm not sure either of us actually tasted it."
"Correction. I was nervous. You were… you."
She laughed at that and shook her head, turning and walking toward the fishtank; the sunfish glided, the jellyfish bobbed, and the eels cut and raced through the water. She let her eyes track the movements of the different fish for a moment before she turned and leaned against the glass, taking another sip of wine. "Oh, I was nervous all right, Vakarian."
"You hid it well, smooth-talker," he teased, gesturing at her with his glass.
"Yeah, well," she said, rolling one shoulder in a shrug, "that's what I do. Push it down, hide it, shove it aside to deal with later. That night, I thought… I don't know." But that wasn't entirely true, and she knew it. Thena drank again, a deep, long swallow that warmed its way again down to her belly. She took a breath and started again. "I thought I couldn't believe of all the beings in the galaxy, I was falling for you. I thought maybe it was crazy of me, and if it was I didn't care."
"Well. We're both a little crazy, Shepard. Don't think we'd be where we are now if we weren't. But," he said, extending a long talon and pointing it at her, "we're the right kind of crazy."
She considered that a moment, tilting her glass this way and that, watching the liquid play against the sides of the glass, then she lifted it with a crooked smile. "Here's to the right kind of crazy. May we never dip over into the wrong kind."
"I'll drink to that." Garrus raised his glass with a nod, but didn't drink. Instead, he waited until Thena had — her glass was nearly empty now, and his still half-full — to say, "You're not going to, you know. Dip over. You're you, Shepard. Always have been, from the second I met you."
The wine felt as if it stuttered in her throat, but Thena swallowed it down with some effort. "Garrus—"
"What," he interrupted, "you think I can't tell what's eating away at you? Come on, give me a little credit."
She drained the glass in a swallow. "I knew him. I could've… something. I could've done something."
"Like what? What in the hell were you supposed to do? You were a damn kid. The fact you managed to run herd on any of those kids, keep any of them from going bad — it might not seem like a lot to you, but I bet, wherever they are now, they'd say differently. I don't care what kind of fancy cybernetics you've got, you aren't omniscient now and you sure as hell weren't then. You can't blame yourself for whatever happened after you left. And I know damn well that's what you're doing."
Thena crossed the room to refill her glass, opening her mouth to argue, but Garrus cut her off. Bastard. Granted, he was a bastard that was right, but that only made him more of a bastard in her book just then.
"Thena. Listen. It doesn't matter. It doesn't matter what Billy did or said or thought. You didn't abandon those kids. If anything, he screwed them over. He wanted to be the big damn hero by making someone else look bad, and his head was too far up his own ass for him to know that's not how it works. You're still Commander Shepard, first human Spectre, hero of the Citadel, the woman who came back from the damn dead to blow the Collectors into hell. You faced the Alliance after Hackett sent you to Aratoht on a mission that had gone sideways before you even set foot on the planet — you faced the music. Not Hackett, not anyone else. You. It doesn't matter where you came from, it matters that you got here. It matters what you did. And what you're going to do."
She stared at him for a second, then exhaled a soft breath of laughter as she shook her head. "You sound like your dad."
"Spirits, don't ever tell him that." Garrus went still — it lasted little more than a fraction of a second, barely a hiccup in his movements, but it was there, and Thena saw it. He drained the wine from his glass and set it down again. "But, ah, speaking of which. Since you brought him up. My dad. Speaking of him. Assuming we… we get out of this — and I am assuming that — I… Shepard, we get out of this, I… want to take you to meet my, uh. My father. Sister too."
This conversation was going to require a lot more wine. "I've met your father, Garrus," she said, taking what felt like a fortifying swig from her wineglass. This time the liquid didn't go down half as smoothly when she swallowed. "It didn't go well."
"You were, what, sixteen? Seventeen? Hell, he wasn't too fond of me at that age, either." He let out a long, deep breath and shook his head. "I think you'd surprise him, Shepard. And I… really want to be there to see it. My dad doesn't exactly surprise easily."
"You really want me to meet your father? Your father?"
"And Solana, my sister But… yeah. I do."
"You want me to meet your family," she said, still trying to wrap her head around the words. "Me. Your family."
"Well, no," Garrus said, pushing to his feet and joining her by the fishtank. She pressed her back against the cool glass as she looked up at him, suddenly there and close and warm, and more than enough to make every other concern fighting for dominance in Thena's head to quiet down to a soft, distant buzz. His hands were traveling up her arms and shoulders, the blunted ends of his claws rasping gently against her neck and along her jaw. "That's not it at all," he murmured, and close as he was, she could feel the depth of his subharmonics, the way the sound made his chest vibrate, the way it resonated through her. For a moment she thought she could almost make out a thread of… of something in the tones. Something more.
She swallowed hard, tipping her head back and meeting his gaze unwaveringly. "Then what is it?"
That waver, she realized suddenly, powerfully, that note of something she nearly heard was pride. Pride and loyalty and love, all wound together into a thread of sound woven throughout Garrus' reply.
"I want them to meet you."