A/N: Well, this is it. The last chapter. Thank you to everyone who read and favorited this story, and special thanks to those of you who left reviews. I always appreciated your feedback! And I want to thank Suilven, Candle in the Night, and Tuffet37 for being my supportive cheerleaders through every single update.
Big thanks to Suilven for beta reading and for being such a wonderful, encouraging, supportive human being. All my love to you! :)
I hope you'll all like this ending to this story, and I'm looking forward to hearing your thoughts about it! :)
Shepard could count on one hand the number of times wearing a dress didn't make her feel weird, exposed, and vulnerable. Now, she can add the day of her wedding to that list, too.
Not having to worry about getting caught in an enemy ambush without her armor definitely helps, as does being outside of the reach of the media's attention. What really makes the difference, though, is the appreciative gaze Garrus gives her when she emerges from the bathroom in her white gown.
"You're beautiful," he says, his voice thick with so much breathless heat that despite the scars still curling up and around her arms, she believes him.
She blushes, and smiles, and takes his offered arm. "Thank you. You don't look half bad yourself."
That's an understatement if there ever was one. The truth is that Garrus looks absolutely dashing in his dark blue suit, the cut accentuating his shape, the color, his eyes.
He laughs, and they touch foreheads for a moment, eyes closed, breathing in each other's scent, before they set out on the short walk from his bedroom, through the kitchen and the basement, and out into the garden where the primarch, Castis, and Solana are waiting.
Shepard lets out an audible gasp, and nearly forgets to take another step when they make it out into the cool night air. Now she can see why Solana spent so much time during their shopping trip selecting flowers and ornaments and trimmings, and why she forbade everyone from coming out here all day.
The place looks magical. The weeds are gone, replaced by bouquets and wreaths and garlands, the blinking lights around the terrace reflecting the metallic blues and purples and whites. Even the patio furniture is covered with some kind of silky material, the table set for a feast, the cloth doing an admirable job of hiding the rust and stains beneath.
It's enough to melt a frozen heart, but Shepard has promised herself that she won't cry, and damned if she's going to do it now. She blinks back the warm tears prickling her eyes, shoots a grateful smile at Solana, and keeps on walking, her hand just a little shaky on Garrus's arm, to the far end of the terrace where Adrien Victus stands waiting.
Solana's mandibles flare, and she gives Shepard a small bow. Castis does the same, stepping aside to let Shepard and Garrus pass by.
"Commander Shepard. Garrus," the primarch says when they come to a stop in front of him. "It's good to see you again."
"You, too," Shepard says, inclining her head in greeting. Garrus makes a thrumming sound that probably means the same. "Thank you for doing this for us."
"It's my pleasure. I know no other people who deserve happiness more than you two. Are you ready to begin?"
Garrus makes another sound, shorter this time. "We are." He taps his wrist, and behind them, the vid camera whirrs to life.
It makes a slow sweep around the perimeter, coming to a stop behind and to the left of the primarch, a spot Garrus must have set up in its program. It takes a moment or two, but Shepard manages to ignore the blinking lights and the memories they dredge up in her mind and concentrate on Victus's speech instead.
He starts with his own official title and the legal base for his role in the proceedings, recites the names of all the participants in the ceremony, then goes on to list Shepard's and Garrus's ranks and accomplishments. He talks about the important part bonded couples play in society, and about being honored to be able to officiate this momentous event.
Were it not her own wedding, Shepard would probably find it a little dry, a little boring, but as it is, she hangs on his every word, and when he finally asks the question she's been waiting for, her voice nearly cracks as she gives her reply.
"Katherine Jane Shepard, is it your stated wish to bond with the present Garrus Vakarian?"
"Yes, it is."
Victus gives her a pleased nod, and turns his attention to Garrus.
"Garrus Vakarian, is it your stated wish to bond with the present Katherine Jane Shepard?"
"Yes. Yes, it is."
There's a small table behind Victus, and he turns around to pick up a bowl that's been waiting patiently for this part of the ceremony.
Remembering Solana's lesson on The First Sharing from the day before, Shepard accepts the bowl from the primarch when he offers it to her, and takes a sip of the rich, spicy drink contained within.
"I will cherish you; I will support you; I will stand by you, now and always," she recites the well-practiced words as she hands the vessel to Garrus.
His mandibles spread out in a grin, his hands touching hers when he takes the bowl from her.
He drinks, then he looks at her, his blue eyes intent and honest as he says his own vow. "I will cherish you; I will support you; I will stand by you, now and always."
There's a warm hum coming from Victus's chest as he takes the dish back and puts it on the table. "As the official conductor of this ceremony, I certify—" he starts to say, but he stops when Garrus holds up a hand.
"Forgive me, Primarch, but I believe it's only fair that we include some human, ah, bonding customs as well." Turning his gaze to Shepard, he reaches inside his pocket, and pulls out a small box. "I've done some research, and I, ah, didn't have a lot of time to find something better, but I… hope this will do. We can always get something nicer later if you want—"
Shepard smiles. Garrus is adorable when flustered, but she loves him too much to let him stammer on in front of the others. Besides, she has a pretty good idea what all this might be about.
"Garrus," she says, laying a hand on his bicep. "I'm sure it's fine."
He nods, takes a deep breath, and opens the box. As prepared as she thought she was for what's inside, Shepard still can't hold back an astonished gasp at the sight. Nestled in a soft, velvety material, lie two of the most beautiful rings she's ever seen. She has no idea what they're made of; it's some kind of material that shimmers silver and rose and gold depending on the angle of the light, engraved with a delicate, trailing spiral embedded with tiny blue stones that coil around in an infinite loop. She stares at the box, mouth slack, until Garrus makes an uncomfortable sound.
"I hope these are all right," he says.
Startled, Shepard looks up, eyes wide. "They are perfect. But… how? When did you—"
"While you and Solana went shopping, I made a visit to an old acquaintance. It's amazing what he can do with a few strips of metal and a computer chip." His cocky self-confidence back, Garrus flashes his teeth at her with a satisfied grin, then he plucks the smaller ring out of the box and, slowly, he slides it onto her finger. "I, ah, read that this shape symbolizes eternal love. I like that. And I want you to know that that's how long I'll love you."
The ring fits like a glove, the strange material gripping Shepard's finger securely. Garrus's remark about computer chips must have been literal, for she could swear the thing adjusted itself to her size, and when she pulls out the other one from the box and glides it over Garrus's own finger, she can actually see it shrink down to incase his thick digit as well.
"Ooh, fancy," she coos, and smiles when Garrus huffs out a quick laugh.
"Yes, well, Salaris is a genius. He put in some safety features, too, so these will break apart if a certain amount of force is applied to them. So, no need to worry about losing a finger if they get caught in something."
"I love it even more, then," Shepard says, her smile turning wider. "Thank you. And… I love you, too. I'll love you forever and always."
She rises on her tiptoes to kiss him, but she's stopped short when Victus clears his throat, reminding them of his—not to mention Castis and Solana's—presence.
"Ready to go on?" the primarch asks, not unkindly.
"Yes, sorry," Shepard says, her words echoed by Garrus's own consent.
Victus nods. "Well, then. As the official conductor of this ceremony, I certify that the present Kathryn Jane Shepard and Garrus Vakarian are, from this day onward, officially bonded under Hierarchy law. Congratulations. And now, everyone please step forward and provide your IDs and signatures for the Book of Joining."
And there's that bureaucracy again, but it's a small price to pay for a life with Garrus, and Shepard makes no snide comments as she follows the primarch's instructions. Garrus, Castis, and Solana do the same, and once all that red tape is tied up neatly, the turians nearly give Shepard a heart attack when they all let out a loud whooping sound—an ancient custom, Solana later explains, that once meant to awaken the spirit of the clan and ask for guidance and protection for the new couple.
The real surprise, though, is when Castis grabs Shepard's shoulders and pulls her into a crushing hug.
"Welcome to the family, Kathryn," he says.
It takes some effort to force a gulp of air into her lungs, but Shepard manages to squeak out a 'Thank you' before Castis lets her go, and now, it's Solana's turn to squeeze her tight.
"I always wanted a sister," she says. "I'm glad I got you."
"Likewise," Shepard croaks, and bites into her lip to keep those damn tears inside.
It's a relief when Victus merely claps her on the shoulder and wishes her and Garrus all the happiness in the galaxy. The next moment, Solana herds them all to the table, and they sit down for the feast.
Most of the food is turian, of course, but there's plenty of levo dishes as well. Shepard recognizes the asari cold soup and sweet rolls she came to like from the hospital cafeteria's menu and the pasta bowl Castis discovered for her at the nearby restaurant.
There's one thing, though, that's covered with a plastic top, and she can't resist the urge to find out what's inside.
"What's that?" she asks, nodding her head at the mystery item.
Castis's mandibles flare out. "Garrus is not the only one who did some research," he says, and, with a theatrical flourish, he lifts the top off.
Shepard's jaw drops open, and for a few seconds, all she can do is stare at the contents, round and two-tier and beautiful, with two tiny figures, a human and a turian, perched on the top, right in the middle of the white frosting.
"A wedding cake," she says, her voice shaky with wonder and emotion. Finally, she looks up, gliding her gaze from Castis, to Solana, to Garrus. Her lips curl up in a smile. "I love my new family."
Castis laughs, Solana as well, and Victus's mandibles flicker in a rare smile.
Garrus takes Shepard's hand, squeezing it gently. "And we love you."
The rest of the evening is filled with food and drinks and stories and laughter, and the night, once she and Garrus retire to their room, with making love—for the first time, as a couple bonded for life.
Solana leaves a few days later, and life returns to the usual schedule of strength training and physical therapy sessions for Garrus. Once, he asks Shepard about this human tradition of going on a trip after the wedding ceremony, but she brushes aside his concern that she might be missing out on something like that. The turian custom of staying at home for a while after the bonding, spending a few days with your mate to cement your relationship, is just fine with her, she says; besides, there'll be enough chances to travel once he's all better.
That possibility comes sooner than she thought when, less than two months after he woke up in the hospital, Garrus receives his medical release from his doctors.
The next task, now, is to figure out what they'll do with their lives. It's a question Shepard has been ignoring since she's come to Palaven, her attention focused on one goal: Garrus's healing process and the efforts to get him back to his old self.
Apparently, Castis has had the same idea, for, the day he hears the good news, he brings up the issue during dinner time.
"So, what is your plan now that you're healed and able?" he asks. "I don't suppose you'll want to stay here and help with the recovery? We could use both of you, you know." His gaze slides from Garrus to Shepard, his mandibles pulled tight into his face. "Although… I do understand that it's not the most comfortable thing, having to wear an environment suit every time you're outside during the day. And perhaps you'll want to continue your service as a Spectre."
There's more sadness than disapproval in his voice, and Shepard gives him a long, thoughtful look, remembering their initial disagreements about her job. Perhaps his views have changed since then; she knows hers have, somewhat. Not about the necessity for the Council to have an agent with the flexibility and authorization to bring the most dangerous criminals to justice, but about whether or not she still wants that particular role for herself. Nearly losing Garrus has certainly brought a new perspective to her thinking about a life filled with guns and violence.
"I'm not so sure about that," she says. "I mean, I don't think I'm ready to retire yet, but I'm starting to think that maybe… I'm ready to stop fighting. Especially if, eventually, we'll want to start a family." She sighs, and runs her fingers through her hair, only vaguely registering the appreciative hums coming from Castis and Garrus both. "I should probably talk to the Council soon. They've wanted to discuss something with me anyway."
"I see." Castis seems half-relieved, half still tense as he turns his gaze to Garrus. "And what about you? What do you want?"
Garrus opens his arms in a shrug. "I want to be with my mate. I'll go where she goes. I know we'll find something worthwhile to do."
Shepard smiles, and reaches out to lay her hand over his. "We will. Together. No Shepard without Vakarian."
"Well, all right." Castis nods, his voice laced with the quiet resignation of a parent who knows that, no matter what, his kids won't change their mind. "Maybe you'll come visit when you have some time."
"Absolutely," Shepard says, and she means it. Environment suit or not, this house, this family, has become a home, a safe haven that she knows she'll long to return to every once in a while.
Arranging for that talk with the Council turns out to be a bit more difficult than Shepard expected. Not having the luxury of the Normandy's quantum entanglement communication system means that, first of all, she needs to find a place that does. The next step: request permission to use the tech. After that: exchange a few messages with the councilors and agree on a date and time for their chat.
Being friends with the primarch of Palaven comes in handy again, as Victus graciously agrees to let Shepard use his office for her virtual meeting. After that, setting the time of the call takes some back and forth, but eventually, they manage to come up with something that's convenient for all.
Shepard memorizes a small speech beforehand, planning to explain her decision to resign her role as a Spectre as succinctly as she can, but it all goes out the window when the councilors appear in the shimmering haze of the holographic projection and, after some pleasantries, Tevos launches into her own little presentation.
She talks about the rebuilding efforts and the new realities of the economic and political relationships among the surviving planetary governments, and the Council's vision to keep the peace and the unprecedented cooperation that only a galaxy-wide war was able to forge.
"With the fleets of most Milky Way species decimated, we need a new military force to defend against any future threat and to fight against piracy and other criminal activities," she says. "Negotiations are still ongoing, but we are close to reaching an agreement with the representatives of the Turian Hierarchy, the Salarian Union, the Systems Alliance, the Krogan Empire, the Quarian Homeworld, and my people to establish a mutual defense organization with its own fleet of ships that would patrol the most vulnerable areas and provide assistance where necessary."
"That's for the future," Valern interjects. "For now, with the limited resources we have, we'll be lucky if we can build a couple of cruisers for this purpose."
"Regardless," Tevos goes on, ignoring the salarian's usual less-than-sunny disposition, "we'll need a competent leader who can oversee this phase, develop a strategic plan of deployment and a system for training and integrating the troops and the crew that will come from the different species. And that's where we would like to have your help, Commander."
There are a million thoughts in Shepards's head competing for a sliver of her attention as she stares at the glowing image of the asari. This plan… this job they are talking about—it sounds like the kind of responsibility she thought she'd finally left behind, and she's not sure she wants to pick up that mantle again. It sounds like a lot of work, a lot of politics, a lot of everything. On the other hand, this would certainly be a worthwhile endeavor, one where she could use her skills and experience without having to throw herself—and Garrus—into the line of fire again and again.
"The position comes with a generous stipend and a spacious apartment on the Presidium," the new human councilor, a middle aged, gray-haired woman (Shankar? Singhal? Shepard can't be bothered to remember) says. "It would be more convenient than having to commute between Earth and the Citadel. But if you prefer to be based on Earth, we can arrange for that, too."
For a moment, Shepard's eyes lose their focus as she remembers the little cottage on Earth. She's never asked Hackett if they gave it to someone else after she moved out and left for Palaven. Either way, the councilor is right; living on the Citadel would make more sense—provided she accepted the position, which she's not yet sure about.
"What is your reply, Commander? Can we count on you?" Tevos asks.
All eyes are on Shepard as she lifts a hand, reaching behind her neck to massage her stiff muscles there. "I…" she finally says, breaking the silence in the room, "I'll need some time to think about it. This would be a big commitment that would affect not only me, but my husband as well, and—"
"Your husband?" Sparatus cuts in, his browplates raised as high as they can go.
Right. Her marriage has been a well-kept secret that, thanks to some miracle—or, more likely, to Liara—hasn't leaked to any of the news organizations yet.
"Ah, my bondmate. Garrus Vakarian. We had the ceremony a few weeks ago." The corner of Shepard's lips curl up in a lopsided grin as her brain pushes forward an idea that she's sure will yank Sparatus's chain. "I guess I can become a citizen of the Turian Hierarchy now," she adds, folding her arms in front of her chest as she leans back on one hip and waits for the turian councilor's inevitable, snarky reply.
Instead, Sparatus tilts his head, as though he was seriously considering the question, and says, "Customarily, it takes a few years and a lot of paperwork for someone to gain that status. In your case, however, I'm sure we could expedite that process."
Shepard drops her arms, barely stopping herself from dropping her jaw as well. Huh. This day is just full of surprises.
She clears her throat, her expression serious once more as she brings up one pivotal issue that could determine what choice she'll make.
"If I take the job," she says, "I want my husband to act as my advisor. Not because he's my husband, but because there's no one else I trust more than him."
The councilors look at one another, seemingly communicating via some secret, silent procedure that Shepard can't really decipher through their flickering image, then, shortly, Tevos speaks up.
"We are aware of Mr. Vakarian's skills and accomplishments, and the important role he played in the war. We would be honored to have him join the team."
Shepard nods. "All right. I will let you know of my decision in the next couple of days."
"We are looking forward to hearing from you," the human councilor says. "And, Commander? Congratulations on your marriage."
Before Shepard could reply, the projection cuts off, and she's left alone in the room with her thoughts and the weight of a choice that will guide her and Garrus's life for at least the next few years.
"When I said we'll get you a bigger ship, I never imagined we'll end up getting a cruiser," Garrus drawls when Shepard tells him all the details of her meeting.
"We still won't," Shepard says. "It sounds more like a desk job to me. Not like we'll actually be out there, leading missions with the troops."
"You never know. I can see you hop on that ship and fly to the farthest corner of the galaxy if a stubborn politician needs to be punched in the face."
"A perfectly valid use of resources."
"Without a doubt."
They share a laugh, then they sit in silence for a few minutes, thinking, until Garrus bumps her shoulder with his.
"I think we should do it."
"Yeah. And not just because of the cruiser." She snorts out a chuckle, and he smiles back at her before he goes on. "This interplanetary defense fleet could be a disaster, or it could actually turn out well. A lot will depend on the foundations, and I don't think there's anybody in this galaxy who would do a better job with that than you." His mandibles flicker as he gives her a cocky grin. "With my expert help, of course."
"Of course." Shepard sighs, chews on her lips for a moment or two, then, her mind made up, she nods. "All right. I'll send the Council a message tomorrow." She lays her head on Garrus's shoulder, and takes his hand in hers. "I've been thinking. As long as we're going back to Sol and the Citadel, maybe we could take that honeymoon on Earth. Somewhere warm and tropical. I heard there are some really nice beaches here and there that weren't blown up by the Reapers. We could rent a little cabin, spend a few days there before we start this job. What do you think?"
Garrus squeezes her hand, and touches his chin to the top of her head. "Sounds good. Looking forward to it."
"Yeah. Me, too."
She truly does. It will be nice to feel the sun, the wind, on her skin, with no environment suit in between, and to spend some time with Garrus with no doctor's appointments and physical therapy sessions and worldly obligations. Just the two of them, before all those schedules and meetings and debates—for there are sure to be lots of debates—begin.
They spend the next few days shopping for the trip, packing up their belongings, and dodging reporters. With the Council's official announcement that Commander Shepard, with her husband, Garrus Vakarian, will take over the leading role in the new fleet's establishment and organization, the cat's out of the bag about their relationship, and every surviving news outlet sets it as their main mission to snag an interview with the happy couple.
Thankfully, most of the requests come via vid calls and extranet messages from off world, which is easy to ignore, and the handful of turian reporters who show up at their door to ask some questions dutifully leave when told that yes, the news about their marriage is true, and no, Commander Shepard and ex-Reaper Advisor Vakarian are not going to say anything more.
"I'm starting to look forward to you leaving," Castis grumbles one night after a local asari journalist shoves a camera in his face as he tries to enter the house. "At least I'll finally have some peace and quiet then."
"We'll miss you, too," Shepard says with a grin, which turns into a chuckle when Castis shakes his head and lets out a deep sigh.
Two days later, they say good-bye.
With most of the mass relays up and functional by now, the trip to the Sol system only takes a few weeks. Still, it's enough time to find a nice little house on a small island in the South Pacific through an extranet search and to rent the place for a few days, private beach and all.
Making it to their vacation spot is a bit of a hassle, since there's no landing zone big enough on the island to touch down anything bigger than a passenger shuttle, so they make the switch from their ship to a small vessel on Bora Bora, taking only the most necessary supplies with them for their stay.
The reports, they are happy to find, were true: this area, not being a center of any military or industrial complex, escaped the Reapers' attention, and it's just as beautiful as the brochures promised.
By the time they arrive at their destination, the sun is going down, sinking into the crimson waves of the ocean over the horizon. It's a breathtaking sight, and after a quick unpacking, they decide to have their dinner at the water's edge, sitting on the lounge chairs they dragged from the porch onto the beach.
The air is warm, the breeze is light, and as they watch a boat slowly make its way to some unknown port in the distance, Shepard begins to understand Garrus's desire to retire to a place like this.
"You know," she says, dangling her beer bottle by its neck over the armrest of her chair, "I can see the attraction of living in the tropics. Maybe, once we're done with this mutual defense force business, we could look for a place like this. Doesn't have to be here, on Earth. Just somewhere with a nice climate, a nice view. Somewhere where we can live in peace."
"Yeah." Garrus takes a sip of his own ale, then he turns his head, and looks at her. "It wouldn't hurt if it was a little less isolated, though. Once we have kids, they will need a school and friends. Things like that."
Shepard nods. "Good point."
They fall silent, and sit side by side for a long time, watching the waves lap at the white sand and the fronds of the palm trees sway gently in the still-warm air.
Even with nothing to do but eat, sleep, make love, and take it easy, the days go by too fast, and soon, it's time to pack up and leave.
They pick up their chartered ship in Bora Bora, and make their way to the docking bay on the Citadel the Council has assigned to them, far from the crowds and reporters' prying eyes. The station is hard to recognize; it's not the majestic sight it once was, but it is being rebuilt, and, slowly, life is returning to its wards.
Luckily, shipping services are mostly back to normal, and after some back and forth with the dock's transportation chief, they manage to arrange for the crates of supplies they've brought from Palaven to be transferred to their new apartment later that day.
Now, all that's left to do is to find their new home, settle in, and inform the Council of their arrival.
"Ready?" Shepard asks as she hits the control panel for the airlock.
Garrus spreads his mandibles in a grin. "Right behind you. Let's show them how it's done."
Shepard smiles back at him, and she gives him a nod, taking his hand in hers as they walk out into the recycled air of the Citadel and into this new, bright, promising stage in their life.
It will be work, and lots of it, but it's nothing they can't handle. As long as they have each other, they can survive anything.
Shepard and Vakarian. Comrades, friends, lovers, soulmates—together, always, forever.
A/N 2: I made a wedding pic for Shepard and Garrus for this chapter. If you'd like to see it, it's here: deviantart DOT com/mordinette/art/A-New-Beginning-803339407