And I thought the debriefing after Saren was intense…
He slouched against the side of the elevator, watching the Wards go by. His brain was really too fried for anything other than just gawking out at the Citadel. Even after a week being back, he still couldn’t believe they’d made it. And alive at that. There was a time when he’d put money on all of them showing up in body bags. He didn’t know how they’d done it, and right now, he just wanted to stop thinking about it, go back to the little hole in the wall he’d been rented care of the Council, and pass out for a few hours before being summoned back for yet another debrief session.
And if he were this tired, he didn’t want to think about how bad Shepard had it. He hadn’t seen her since their abrupt return. Except maybe that was for the best. It gave him a chance to sort though everything before he had to face her again. The others had been easier. Hell, even Alenko had been simple compared to facing Shepard again. After all, they hadn’t done anything to betray his trust.
The elevator pinged, and he stepped off into the ever-present throng of the Wards foot traffic. Turians, salarians, volus, asari… even a few huge krogan stalked down the streets, mingling with the handful of humans. It was nice to finally be invisible again—to be the norm, instead of the thing that everyone stared at. And to not have to worry over whether what you were eating was going to kill you.
Ducking past a pair of conversing asari, he wondered idly how the other refugees—as they were officially being called—were taking the change of scenery. At least nothing here was trying to kill them. And some of them, he thought, smirking, were probably having the time of their lives.
The Council had set up quarters, appropriating a hotel up in the Presidium, until a way home could be found for them. Each had a C-sec officer assigned to them for personal safety, and they were kept as closely watched as they had been back… there, except by much friendlier eyes. In the meantime, they, himself included, were being subjected to endless rounds of meetings while virtually every higher-up in Citadel Space tried to figure out just what the hell happened to them all, and how they could keep it from happening again. Even though the Reapers were a persistent threat, an enemy that could pluck people at random out of otherwise secure locations was something far more immediate. Spectres had been called in, the
One last elevator, and then he could collapse. He stopped in front of his building, giving his name and typing in his passcode. It was a fairly nondescript place, nothing fancy or distinguishing about it. Just the way he preferred it. By all rights, he could have been up with the others, enjoying the comforts of the Presidium. But he was much more comfortable down here, where he’d lived and worked. And besides, as terrible as it sounded, spending time around the other “refugees” did nothing to shake the dust of that place from his boots. He’d see them shortly anyway—he’d promised to take Ennis and Firo to Flux tomorrow.
Despite this elevator bearing no resemblance to the ones he’d come to loathe, it was still a task to convince himself to get into the thing. He probably could have taken the stairs, but he really didn’t feel up to tackling that at the moment. It’s not going to kill me, it’s not going to kill me… he thought as it slowly inched its way up the floors. And it was with no small relief to slip out of the doors once it reached the fifth. Giving his passcode again at his door, he finally was able to just shut out the world, and lean against the wall with a quiet sigh.
It was a small setup, built for one occupant with a single bedroom, but was just large enough to remind him less of there and more of life before anything had changed. He couldn’t have asked for anything more.
“You look like something the dog dragged in.”
The voice brought an exhausted chuckle. Pulling off his boots, he turned to face the speaker—a man in casual dress, reclined lazily on the little couch, absently thumbing through vid channels. “I’m going to assume that’s not a compliment,” he said, resting a shoulder against the wall for support while they spoke. He was distantly surprised not to hear the dull thunk of armor—and then never more grateful for civvies. “But I can never tell with you people.”
“You’re right on this one, it’s not.” His visitor flipped off the screen, sitting up to better regard him. “But I thought it’d be better than, ‘welcome back, you look like hell’.”
He just shrugged. “You’ve seen me look worse, Lieutenant.”
Getting to his feet, Alenko grinned. “Yeah, I probably have, haven’t I?” Self-consciously, he brushed off his pants. “Well, I’ll get out of your hair—stop bothering you,” he said, clarifying out of long habit. “Shepard probably looks about the same, if the Council’s been riding you this hard.”
Another rueful laugh. He couldn’t manage much else at the moment. "She’s not exactly in one of her better moods, no,” he admitted, standing aside so the other man could get out the narrow entry. “And… Thanks, Lieutenant."
"For what?” Alenko halted, turning around to better question him, his handsome face screwed up in confusion. It quickly cleared. “Oh, watching him? Hey, no problem, I like kids anyway."
"He's not really a kid...” His turn to hesitate, trying to figure out how to phrase this without coming across like some kind of worried parent. Which, his brain reminded him, was pretty much what he was at this point. “How did it go?"
If Alenko had picked up on his tone, he didn’t comment on it. Just grinned wider, folding his arms. "Couldn't keep him away from the vids,” he said. “But, aside from that, just fine.” One of his eyebrows quirked. “How'd you keep him fed back... there... by the way? Just about inhaled everything I brought with me."
"Hopefully not everything."
"Nah, I saved a beer or two of yours." Alenko paused, his usual smile disappearing. Dark eyes regarded his bright ones. "You're avoiding my question, Garrus," he said, quietly, as if worried they’d be overheard.
He looked away, studying the floor by his friend’s boot. Best to be truthful. Alenko knew him too well to be fooled. And could, apparently, read turian facial expression as well as Shepard could. "I know. I guess...” He took another deep breath. “I'm not as comfortable with any of this just yet. Rattles me to think about it. Especially after the Council’s been doing the same thing all day…"
"Don’t worry about it."
Unexpectedly, the biotic lieutenant set a hand on his shoulder, all understanding. Blunt human fingers squeezed reassuringly into turian hide. "We're all just glad to see you guys back in one piece,” Alenko said, then trailed off, smirking. “Except..."
He tilted his head, deciding to bite. "Except what?"
"Well, I never figured you for a father, Garrus."
He shoved at the human, who only laughed. "Get the hell out of my apartment, Lieutenant," he said, unable to keep his voice stern.
Alenko's good humor was infectious, one of many reasons he liked the man—and why it was damn good to see him again. It was also why he’d asked Alenko to come spare him guard duties. There were officers stationed in each adjoining apartment, all with surveillance equipment, but he hadn’t been comfortable just leaving the boy alone in the apartment all day. A couple of the other crew members had offered, but Alenko was, in his opinion, the best choice. Tali would have just confused him, and Wrex… hell, Wrex might have eaten him. Not that Wrex had offered. The krogan was too busy doing what he did best, playing the big intimidator for some of the more easily harmed refugees—and offering his services as a merc to the more… illegally inclined.
They managed a bit more back-and-forth, it was comfortable, easy conversation, before Alenko finally left. He managed to force his alien friend into promising a return visit, this time to where the
Despite his exhaustion, the promise of some alcohol-induced relaxation sounded incredibly good right about now. Otherwise, he sincerely doubted he was going to get to sleep, fatigue or no. He paused in the alcove of a kitchen, grabbing the appropriate bottle, before making his way back into the little bedroom. His charge was nowhere else to be seen, so he had to assume the boy was in the other room.
Sure enough, there he was, familiar white head bowed over the computer screen. He didn’t seem aware that anyone else was in the room. With a sigh, Garrus flopped down on the bed, examining the ceiling while he fumbled with the cap on the bottle in his hand. “If you’re on the extranet,” he mumbled, pulling a pillow over his face. “Get off. And if Alenko let you use it, remind me to kill him.”
“Garrus, you have to see this!”
“Allen, it’s a computer, I see them every day—I’m not getting up…”
He heard the chair turn around. “No, I’m serious. This is amazing!”
Inwardly cursing everything he could think of, he dragged himself into a sitting position, taking a drink as he did so. He nearly choked on it when he saw what exactly had attracted the boy’s attention. “That,” he coughed, jaw cracking in an exhausted grin. “That’s a screen saver… How long have you been looking at that?”
The boy grinned back, only he had the presence of mind to look sheepish about it. “Since Mr. Alenko showed it to me,” he admitted.
“You’re going to burn your eyes out at this rate…”
He didn’t see the glare
“No, I’m not,”
“Sure,” he chuckled, trying to settle deeper into the neatly made sheets. “Alenko told me you’d been watching vids since I left. I’m surprised you still have retinas left.”
The chair squeaked again, probably the boy leaning back in it, or shifting his weight around. “There’s isn’t much else I can do,”
“You don’t like the lieutenant?” Garrus asked, cutting him off.
“It’s not that… It’s like… back there. I just feel like there’s more I could be doing.”
He sighed, flicking off his eyepiece with a free hand. It wasn’t the right time for this conversation.
“I’m sorry,” he said, after a moment. “There’s just… The Council’s trying. And trust me—acting instead of just talking is new for them. But they’ll listen to Shepard. The last time they didn’t, they nearly died.” Propping his head up on a pillow, he regarded
“We’ll get you home.”
Both of them were quiet another minute, turning over the words in their own heads. The silence was companionable, instead of cloying, as it had been such a short time ago. Such so that Garrus found himself drifting off, despite the chill in the air that he’d grown accustomed to by now. He should really pick himself up and eat something, make sure
Something thick was tossed over the top of him, and both the bottle and eyepiece were gently pried out of his hands. He cracked an eye open briefly to determine it was in fact one of the spare blankets. A glance over to the bedside table showed the location of his missing items. And a familiar, black-clothed shape was slowly closing the door behind it.
Great, now I’m the one getting put to bed…
His last conscious thought, before he rolled over and passed out for good, was a brief wondering as to whether