Elegy – Palaven
Disclaimer: In case you haven't figured it out yet, I don't own Mass Effect. All Mass Effect-related characters, settings, etc. are the intellectual property of BioWare and Electronic Arts.
"Never would've expected a sight like this a few years ago, would you?" asked Primarch Adrien Victus, gesturing out the window.
Garrus Vakarian gave something between a nod and a shake of the head, because even this long after the Sol System Battle, with such sights having become increasingly commonplace…
He really wasn't sure what to make of a couple Reapers peacefully installing a communications tower on Palaven, and then taking back off to the stars without so much as harvesting a single turian.
"I still can't say I trust them, Primarch Victus," the former C-Sec Officer said after a few moments. "No one, not even Javik or Doctor T'Soni, knows for certain what the Crucible did to the Reapers. I always assumed it would've just blown them up…nice and simple."
"Same here. But I think it's fairly clear that it reprogrammed them, somehow," replied the Primarch, stroking his chin thoughtfully. "Still, if this was all a ruse of some kind…you'd think they would have made their move by now."
"But can we be sure that 'reprogramming' will last?" Garrus countered, leaning over the railing and looking back over the (largely) rebuilt Palaven.
"We can only hope," Primarch Victus stated solemnly. "Even if we were to rebuild the kind of diplomatic nightmare that Shepard gathered for the Crucible, and it was impossible enough even when she was alive, a renewed war with the Reapers would still wipe us all out. This peace may be…unexpected, but it's hard to argue with the results."
Garrus did not reply to this, instead looking down at his hands for a while. The Primarch quickly realized the reason.
"Ah…my apologies, Vakarian," he appended. "I expect her loss stings far worse for you than for me. She was your commanding officer, after all."
"Yes…my 'commanding officer.' That doesn't undersell it at all," Garrus murmured under his breath.
"I've been doing my best to get her honored accordingly, but even as Primarch there's a surprising amount of red tape," Victus went on, apparently oblivious to Garrus' interjection. "Getting her the Nova Cluster was simple enough, but considering Palaven wouldn't even be standing without her intervention, she deserves more. Far more."
A few more beats of silence…then, "Yes. Yes she does."
"Goodbye, Garrus. And if I'm up there in that bar and you're not…I'll be looking down. You'll never be alone."
"Never…" Garrus repeated out loud.
In the years since the Sol System Battle, Garrus hadn't discussed Commander Shepard particularly often, beyond in an "official capacity." To be sure, there were those who knew of the relationship – their old squadmates and most of the crew of the Normandy, not to mention all those turian soldiers who were in the room when they exchanged their final kiss.
In fact, given that Victus had been present at that moment, Garrus was surprised he'd never made allusion to it since. But he supposed that just meant one of two things: either the Primarch really had failed to notice them that night, or else he simply wanted to honor Garrus' privacy. For obvious reasons, he wasn't going to ask which.
Still…he couldn't help but develop a pit in his stomach whenever her name came up like this. It was impossible to avoid, with the way things had gone – when the last time he'd seen her face had been the first and only time he'd screwed up enough courage to return her "I love you."
Even now when he closed his eyes, he was still being dragged away by Liara, blood coating his face as he reached out for that remarkably smooth skin, longing to hold it one last time…
But if there was anyone to finally speak of this with, it wasn't Primarch Victus. Not because Garrus really cared all that much about what Victus thought of him, much as he'd come to respect the general-turned-reluctant-politician…but keeping his work and his personal life separate was something he'd always firmly believed in.
Of course, if he'd relaxed that principle a little more on the Normandy…perhaps they'd have had a little more time before everything went wrong.
"Thank you for taking the time to speak to me, Primarch Victus. And for the recent promotion," Garrus said after staring for a while at the point where the Reapers departed. "But if you don't mind, so long as I'm back on Palaven…I was hoping I might get to see my family…"
"Of course, General Vakarian," Victus replied with a nod. "Take all the time you need."
Garrus managed precisely one knock upon the door of his father's new home before being assaulted.
"Garrus!" cried Solana Vakarian, hugging her brother tightly around the waist…and then swiftly striking him across the head. "We haven't heard from you in months! Guess I was a fool for thinking your tendency to drop off the map at random times would go away once the war ended."
"Look, Sol…I know I've missed some stuff around here…" Garrus responded awkwardly.
"Like mom's funeral," Solana cut in, her expression briefly hardening.
"You know I was trapped near Earth when that happened," Garrus argued, though it did little to assuage his own guilt on the subject. "The Sol Relay was badly damaged by the Crucible, and repairing it…took time…"
"Don't give me that bullshit," she said with narrowed eyes. "I can accept you not being here on Palaven most of the year. You've got more…important…things to deal with, usually. But you barely even send messages anymore! Even when you were with Cerberus – Cerberus, for the Spirits' sake – you always made time to send something! To let us know you were okay!"
"I was never 'with' Cerberus," Garrus hissed, the name by itself stirring his desire to go and shoot something. "I allied with them briefly, yes. But I was 'with' Shepard, and no one else!"
"If that helps you sleep at night," Solana shot back, before sighing and slumping down in a chair. "I…I just want to know. What happened? Why'd you stop caring if your little sister knows you're alive or dead?"
Garrus sighed as well. He supposed this was as good a time as any for him to finally say it.
"I've already told you what happened," he answered her, leaning against a wall. "Commander Shepard happened."
"What do you mean?" Solana asked.
"I'll answer that with a question," said Garrus. "How's dad been holding up since mom passed away? Is he around here right now?"
"Well…no. No, he's been on-and-off Palaven ever since the funeral," Solana told him, looking downcast. "It's understandable, though; they were married over twice as long as either of us has been alive. You can't just get over something like that…not without a lot of time to heal."
"Well, there's your answer," Garrus stated, crossing his arms.
"What? But I don't…" she murmured, looking confused for a few moments…until she gasped audibly, and her eyes went as wide as a turian's could. "Wait a minute…you mean…but…"
Her eyes glanced briefly across his pelvic area. "You didn't…!" she exclaimed, a nauseated look on her face.
"If you're asking if we engaged in sexual intercourse, then for all intents and purposes the answer is yes," Garrus interjected, his patience rapidly eroding. "The biologies weren't 100% compatible, but we could give each other pleasure. Comfort each other. That was enough."
"I…look, I'm sorry," Solana responded after a pause, seeming to regret her initial reaction after seeing the fierce look in her brother's eyes. "I try to keep an open mind; an asari or a quarian, I could understand. But a human?! Okay, I haven't met that many, but their skin is so…pasty. Feels like varren scales. And that stringy fur that comes out of their heads…"
She shivered, and Garrus sighed once more.
"She may not have had a fringe, but she was still the most beautiful woman in the galaxy," he whispered. The pain lingering across every word appeared to forestall any further objections.
"It wasn't about humans in general. It was about her," he continued. "Just her."
Another pause…and then, "Did you love her?"
Garrus closed his eyes. "Yes. More than anything," he choked out, his voice hoarse and raspy. "If you'd known her, you'd understand. It was impossible not to fall in love with Shepard."
Solana looked at him piercingly for a few moments…before reaching out and placing a hand across his. "Tell me about her, then," she said.
It took a while for Garrus to find the words to answer this. How could you boil someone like Commander Shepard into just a few sentences? "Shepard was…magnetic, might be the best word," he eventually explained. "Whether she was sending us up against thresher maws or on a suicide mission through the Omega-4 Relay, she could persuade just about anyone into just about anything. She made peace between turians and krogan; between quarians and geth; Hell, she even got us fighting alongside rachni by the end of it."
Unconsciously, his fingers were drawn to his scars as he added, "She never lost sight of the people she was fighting for, though…not for one minute. You could always talk to Shepard if there was something on your mind – could always go to her for advice or words of comfort when things got too heavy. Add in being one of the best damn soldiers I ever met in my life, and you can see why so many were willing to follow her to Hell and back."
"She certainly sounds…impressive," stated Solana. "And hey, I've seen the vids. Not going to argue with her being a big damn war hero. But…well, I'm still not seeing the…"
"It started off small," Garrus declared, cutting her off. "A way to reduce stress before we went after the Collectors. Her suggestion, actually…though don't get the idea I was against it. I mean, sure, it was…awkward at first. Gave her plenty of chances to back out of the idea; find someone a little closer to home. But she wouldn't stand for it."
"So…it was just sex," said Solana.
"At first, yeah. Well…sort of. Not really…" Garrus responded hesitantly. "Err…I'm not describing it right. The human expression, I think, is 'friends with benefits.' Neither of us were with anyone at the time and we both felt we could use the opportunity to…blow off steam. So we took it."
"I'd rather avoid hearing about the grisly details of the act itself…so let's skip forward a bit. What happened next?" she asked.
"Oh, you know, the usual," replied Garrus. "Survived a suicide mission, Shepard goes and blows up the Alpha Relay to buy us a few months until the Reaper invasion…and then turns herself into the Alliance so they can have a cozy little scapegoat for it. After that, well…you know most of the story."
"I know what you told dad, yeah," Solana said. "Know you got that task force gig with his endorsement…though even he didn't expect how big that'd make you when those bastards came for Palaven. Which reminds me…you still hobnobbing with the Primarch, Mister Big-Shot-Reaper-Advisor?"
"As a matter of fact, I just finished a meeting with him," Garrus informed her, a bit diffidently. "Err…promoted me to General, actually. And moved me into the third citizenship tier."
"Third-tier? Holy shit…" Solana muttered, tilting her head at her brother.
"It really doesn't mean anything to me, Sol," Garrus insisted, holding up his hands. "I could be recommended as the next damn Primarch and it wouldn't make a difference so far as I'm concerned. It's all just politics…I'm simply on the good end of it for a change."
"Dad'll still be proud," she pointed out, but he just shook his head.
"That's…nice and all. But I told you, Sol – it really doesn't matter to me," Garrus explained. "I don't have a lick of ambition; never have, never will. I just like to get things done. Hell, that's what brought me to Shepard in the first place. She never let red tape or the doubts of the Council get in the way of doing what was right."
Then his expression seemed to grow somewhat wistful. "But she definitely had her principles, don't get me wrong. She just didn't feel the need to write them down and pass them through committee," he went on. "Saved me from a couple decisions over the years I would've really regretted…helped me keep my head on straight in this screwed-up galaxy. No one – human, turian, what-have-you – did more to earn my respect. No one was a better friend to me when I needed it the most. And no one…"
Garrus ceased speaking for a long time, clenching a fist and turning away from his sister. Then without warning, he punched the nearest wall, leaving a gaping dent in the steel.
"It just isn't fair," he whispered. "Shepard gave everything to make this galaxy a better place. Everything. She deserved to see the peace she fought so hard for come to fruition. She deserved a shot at a life beyond this damn war."
He took a deep, rattling breath. Solana had since gotten up to place a hand on his shoulder; Garrus did not acknowledge it, but neither did he throw it off.
"We…always knew it likely wouldn't be a happy ending for us," he said after a long pause. "Probably the reason we waited so long on moving past that 'friends with benefits' stage. Kind of life she led – kind of life I was more than willing to throw myself into at her lead – meant about a hundred new ways to die with every passing day. But still…"
Again, he paused here, as if unwilling to repeat what he'd been thinking out loud. It'd be the first time he ever shared this particular detail.
Finally he sighed and turned his head to Solana, before adding, "The last time we spoke to each other – the last time that wasn't on a battlefield, that is – we talked about a life after the war. Settling down, having something real. We talked about kids, Sol."
"I'm…so sorry…"murmured Solana, unsure of what else she could say. "I…well…I didn't think…"
"…That your reckless, gung-ho big brother was capable of taking some responsibility?" Garrus finished for her. "Unusual, I know…but I would've for her sake. I would have done anything for her sake."
"And now with her gone…you're just not sure what to do anymore," said Solana, briefly burying her face in her hands. "By the Spirits, Garrus…I'm so damn sorry for that racist shit I spewed earlier. I was being an idiot."
"It's okay, Sol. Really," Garrus assured her. But another heavy silence followed nonetheless.
"Am I right in guessing you haven't talked to anybody about this since the battle on Earth?" she asked after a while.
Garrus shook his head. "Tried a couple therapists over the years," he answered with a low groan. "A turian and an asari. Can't say either really helped, though. And beyond them…no, not really."
"Then maybe you should," Solana pressed on, giving her brother a lingering hug. "Maybe see if you can get together with your old crew – others that knew Shepard. Reminisce a bit. It might help you move on."
"Yeah…maybe," Garrus replied distantly, only barely returning the embrace. "Look, Sol…I appreciate everything, but…"
"You'd like to be alone for a little while," she guessed. He nodded in response.
"Maybe just a walk. Clear my head," he told her.
And with that, Garrus bowed himself out of the Vakarian family residence, his sister gazing with concern at his hurried retreat.