Chapter 90: Looking Forward

As darkness falls behind us
All the lights seem brighter

November 5, 2186…

Terra's suspicions proved accurate. Once it was established they wouldn't be taking off for a while, she had decided to go ahead and start planning the wedding with Garrus. From the onset, Tali, Violet, Solana, Liara, Ashley, and Kasumi were all very involved in all of it. It was pretty clear it was going to stay that way even after everyone had gone their separate ways. Though they all knew and acknowledged this, every last one of them began dancing around the fact that this arrangement wasn't the new standard and most of them had other places to be once the relays were restored. As the repairs progressed, this unspoken weight turned the air somber until it finally settled with a calm acceptance and some fully voiced promises to remain in contact for…well, knowing them, what might well come to be the rest of their lives (until such time as Liara and Grunt and possibly even Wrex and Samara outlived them all, but they all knew better than to worry about that).

Now the day came when EDI announced to the entire ship that the relays were repaired and had even been tested and found fully functioning once again. Terra was sad to see the team having to finally separate, possibly for good, but she was able to take comfort in the future for once. They would all be together again when she and Garrus were finally joined, after all. Wrex and Jacob were having children, Tali had a home-world to rebuild, Jack had her students, Miranda had her sister, even Liara had her father. And through all this, her words in London held true: there was bond between them all now that was stronger than any other force in the galaxy. No matter what was ahead of them, they would all always be her family and the crew of the Normandy.

So though the collective farewells were bittersweet to say the least, Terra managed. If she was being honest with herself, it was actually kind of wonderful to see them all going off to something resembling a happy ending. Amid all the heartfelt goodbyes and promises to keep in touch, she held it together knowing that this was worth everything she'd faced, that this was exactly what she'd been fighting for the whole time.

That said, it got hard when it came to Tali. She thought saying goodbye to her was going to break her heart. Tali clearly felt the same if the way she waited until last and then stalled her departure for nearly an hour with idle chatter and "last-minute engineering checks" was anything to go by. Unfortunately, the time still came when they had to face it.

"I, uh…" Tali hesitated even now, "…should probably be going. The fleet will be headed back to Rannoch and I should be there to, you know—"

"Oversee relations with the geth and build your beach house?" Terra smirked.

Tali laughed. "Yeah, that."

Terra took a moment to let the quarian know how happy she was for her. Then she jumped to hug her. "You call me all the time, got it? I'm gonna miss you."

Tali nodded, hugging her back. "I'll miss you, too."

"And hey," Terra whispered as she leaned back from the embrace, "when you come to the wedding…I expect to see you without the mask again."

Tali couldn't help a small smirk from behind the mask in question. "Might take a lot of immunity treatments…but I'll figure it out."

Honestly, prolonging the hug was a bit risky even with the suit in the way, but neither of them seemed to care. Like any human best friend or sister, Tali stayed at Terra's side as long as she possibly could. She only stepped back entirely when Garrus came along to say goodbye to her and tell her essentially all the same things Terra said. Liara followed suit. Then Ashley. Then James ("See you at the wedding, Sparks."). Then EDI. Then Joker. Solana even seemed as touched as her brother ("What? You mean a lot to Terra and Garrus. Of course I like you, too."). But, as could be expected and yet not foreseen, Violet was the one most upset by the quarian's forthcoming departure.

Violet smiled as she hugged Tali for herself. "You're my sister's best friend. I'd like to think that gives me a right to call you close."

Tali laughed. "Yeah, well, I guess we have a lot in common. Even aside from the fact we both have experience losing a home and family only to find a new one here."

Violet simply finished hugging her, trying not to show how upset she was that said new family was going their separate ways right down to such an integral member of it. Still, she finished saying her goodbyes and stepped back. But then, before Tali could grab her things and go, she came back. "Oh, I was wondering. Are the quarians all going to be 'vas Rannoch' from now on?"

Tali shrugged. "Probably."

"…would you stay 'vas Normandy'?"

Tali beamed. "Always."

Not long after that, Tali forced herself to get on with it and left the ship she had called home for so long, making her way back to her people to go back to the home-world she had been longing for all her life. The ship felt a lot emptier without her. Terra simply clung to Garrus' hand and laid a supporting hand of her own on Violet's shoulder. To dispel the somber quiet, the others started heading back to their posts as if preparing for the next crisis.

"You know," Solana spoke up even as she started to make her way to the navigation console, "this ship has always had a mission. There's always been a Reaper to kill or a commander to save. It's never flown free before. What are we going to do?"

Terra smiled, affectionately stroking the rail around the galaxy map. "Explore. Keep the peace. See the galaxy. Whatever's needed of us…and whatever we want." She sighed, taking her command position. "We're free, too."

Solana smirked. "Guess you'll be getting a lot more use out of your navigation then. Bet you're glad I'm sticking around."

Terra laughed. "For more reasons than one."

"Where to first, commander?" Joker asked as he headed back to the pilot's seat.

Terra took a moment to think it over. The galaxy map had never seemed so open before, nothing to force her a certain direction. In a way, this was what she had dreamed of before she'd enlisted, what the call of the Starbird felt like. But before she could follow through on that, there was one place they had to go first. "Palaven. We need to drop off Castis, check in on the reconstruction." She smiled. "And I wanna show Violet our home."

Joker smiled back. "Aye-aye."

December 11, 2186…

Garrus was in the battery, checking his weapons on the bench, when someone came up behind him and dropped a wrapped box in front of him. He immediately stopped what he was doing, turning to give Terra a confused look. "What's this?"

She rolled her eyes at him. "It's your 'birthday' again."

He scoffed, shaking his head. "Right. We haven't done this is three years."

"Well, I tried last year and I wasn't exactly in a position to for the two previous, but I tried to make up for it. Of course, Violet caught me on the way here and asked what was going on. She then proceeded to ask me why I never mentioned to anyone that it was your 'birthday,' so I had to explain how turians don't record it and I had to do a bunch of detective work to narrow it down and it's really just between the two of us now."

He smirked. "Not that I don't appreciate the arrangement, but you really don't have to do this anymore."

"I have a right to as long as we're getting married, genius." She smirked back, stepping closer to pointedly gesture to his visor. "Besides, I believe it's because of this 'arrangement' that you have that and haven't taken it off in four years."

He elected not to respond. "Right."

She nudged him. "Well, go on. Open it before Vi starts listening at the door or something."

Giving her one last uncertain glance, he turned to open it. He might've guessed she'd sneak three different things into the one big box, especially given her comment about compensating for the three missed years, but the first thing he pulled out still threw him. "This…this is a jar of dirt."

She rolled her eyes. "It's tempered soil in a heated planter. …I took it from my garden."

He saw the meaning now. Setting foot on Palaven for the first time since the war ended had been a solemn moment for them all, not least because of the ashes and bones that remained in the once grand silver city. Violet gave a passing complaint about having to wear an enviro-suit to shake off the radiation Terra had so long ago acclimated to, but Garrus had been silently thanking the spirits that they didn't need breathers since, by all accounts, the cinders of Cipritine had permeated the atmosphere for weeks and even suffocated some of the citizens who hadn't been able to evacuate fast enough. Terra didn't say so out loud, but he'd been able to tell she sort of regretted having this be the first that her sister saw of the world she loved, the world he was born on. Violet hadn't seemed to care, finding the beauty in the ruins. Solana had even dragged Violet off at one point with the promise of showing her something that definitely hadn't changed, which didn't make sense to Garrus but seemed to amuse Terra to no end. Terra and Garrus were left to walk with Castis back to what remained of the house they'd once called home. Being on the outskirts of the capital had again paid off since the building hadn't been completely leveled or incinerated, but it wasn't exactly in one piece. Castis assured them it'd be fine, practically starting the reconstruction then and there as the hierarchy moved back onto its home-world to begin restoring its silver majesty. Terra had settled for looking over the yard she'd spent so much time in for two years before finally snuggling against her mate on the spot where they had first claimed each other, once again exchanging those meaningful words of "You're my human" and "You're my turian." The day had ended on a hopeful note, as if the entire experience had been a glimpse of turian resilience and not a single thought of the Reapers' devastation had crossed their minds.

This "jar of dirt" in his hands wasn't just a clump of soil. It was a piece of home. A symbol of the past he shared with her. Just like the rock she'd handed to Tali on Rannoch, she'd managed to take the simplest of things and give it a significance beyond description.

"And it's not just the 'dirt,'" Terra added pointedly, "There was enough room for a plant." She smirked. "So I tracked down a demael seed."

He almost laughed. Her favorite Palaven bloom, the one he had drawn for her the day they first separated, the one she had lamented not seeing the day they returned. "I hate to disappoint you, but you do realize I'm never gonna remember to water it."

She answered that by flicking a switch on the side of the planter where the heating controls were, triggering an irrigation cycle.

He shook his head, carefully setting it on the side of his workbench. "You never give up when you get an idea in your head, do you?"

She shook her head back at him. "You're the reason I have a scrap of the SR-1 on my desk, remember? Now get on with the rest of it."

He knew better than to argue, turning to check the box for the other contents. As usual, she had elected to make one of the gifts practical rather than sentimental. Apparently, she had noticed him eying up the gun shop the last time they were on the Citadel before London, because she had gotten the silencer scope he'd thought would go well on his sniper rifle. They probably wouldn't get as much use out of it now that the war was over, but he was happy to accept it nonetheless, even handing her the box so he could get back to his workbench and swap sights immediately.

"Glad to know you like it," she snickered.

"Shut up." Despite his glaring remark, he set the rifle aside after he completed the switch, electing to test it later, and turned to see what the third gift was. At first, he wasn't sure what to think when he saw what looked like a sketchbook there. Then he opened it and he just wasn't sure what to say. Much like her brother's compilation of her discarded works, she had put together a series of sketches, paintings, and brief poetry…all of which centered on Palaven and the Vakarian family. And like her brother's compilation, the final opening was a portrait of said family, adopted human and all, dedicated in loving memory to its late matriarch. "…Terra…"

"I know," she smirked.

Instead of trying to voice his feelings anyway, he set the book aside. "You're right. This was—"

"Uh…" she interrupted, "…you missed one."

Confused, he looked back at the box. It looked empty, but…wait. He looked more closely and found that there was something in what seemed like a black frame face-down in the box. He carefully withdrew the frame and turned it over.

The drawing they'd made together in the hospital, removed from her sketchbook and framed proudly.

Garrus immediately set the frame in a position of honor on his workbench and then whirled around to grab his mate and kiss her so suddenly that she dropped the box. When he pulled back, he laid his head on hers. "Thank you." As she wrapped her arms around him, he held her close, remembering how it had felt when they had made the drawing together. "I can see why humans do this."

Terra smiled. "Actually, I have one more thing to give you." She started sliding her fingers up his arm enticingly. "Something I couldn't give you before."

He caught onto her meaning surprisingly quickly, smirking slyly back at her. "And where would I be…opening this one?"

"Well, there are more smooth surfaces and less chances of being disturbed in our cabin."

He instantly turned to leave the room. "Let's go."

She laughed as he practically dragged her to the door. "Why the rush? You've got the rest of the day and it's not like we never do it."

"Consider it making up for all that lost time you mentioned."

"Save some for the wedding night, hon."

February 14, 2187…

Solana made herself useful at navigation as much as she could. Not to say EDI hadn't been brilliant at it for so long, but the turian had an eye for it. She'd spotted three different anomalies in the past week that the Normandy was perfectly suited to cleaning up and, true to her word, two pretty fantastic views. Today, though, Garrus had shocked them all by staying on the ship while Terra was on the ground. The times he let her leave the ship without him were the very definition of "few and far between," and he never insisted on such. Terra suspected he was up to something, but she was still pretty surprised when, after she had come back and changed out of her armor, he dragged her up to their cabin to reveal he'd set up an actual candlelight dinner.

Terra practically started laughing as he handed her a rose. "And you said you were still clueless about the romantic stuff."

Garrus smirked back. "Well, I figured I'd pull out all the stops, considering it's our first time really marking the occasion."

She gave him a confused look. "What occasion?"

He blinked. "It…it's February 14th."

When she realized what he was talking about, she started groaning. "Garrus, don't think I don't appreciate all this, but you really didn't have to do any of it."

He tried his best not to look stunned or confused. "But James said Valentine's Day was the most important holiday for humans in romantic relationships."

"That doesn't mean I care. First of all, if you're single, it's either just another day or extremely depressing when all holidays should be worth celebrating. Secondly, if you're actually in a relationship that you want to have a special day for, you shouldn't need a holiday to be able to make time for each other—we especially don't, in case you haven't noticed—and having one just puts pressure on all the plans you make to be particularly special without rendering you broke. And most importantly, it's a completely conventional and made-up commercial holiday that overshadowed and ultimately overthrew a more important observance that practically no one even knows about now—the Feast of St. Cyril Methodius, who originally translated the Bible into the Slavic languages and thus invented their writing system by establishing the Cyrillic alphabet."

Garrus blinked. "Alright, if you have such strong opinions about this, why are you just now telling me?"

"Because, as I mentioned in my second point, it wasn't supposed to affect us personally and also there were much more important holidays for me to inform you about."

He blinked. "…fair enough."

She sighed, shook her head, and finally shrugged. "Ah, well. Seeing as how you've already gone to so much trouble, we might as well go ahead and enjoy it."

He smirked, wrapping his arm around her. "Sounds like a plan."

Despite her misgivings about the occasion itself, Terra would be the first to admit she greatly enjoyed their date. Garrus had a way of making even the simplest of settings enjoyable, just as she had a way of finding the artistry in them. By the time the dinner was behind them, she'd even thought "why not?" and decided to make this Valentine's Day worthy of the hype, coming over to sit in his lap and kiss him for nearly five minutes straight. He didn't exactly complain. Even after they stopped, they simply sat there, wrapped up in each other.

"You know," Terra finally spoke up, casting a thoughtful glance at the rose he had given her, "we still haven't set the date."

Garrus shrugged. "Considering the precautions we took in London, I figured we weren't in a hurry."

"Well, I guess not…but I still wanted to ask you about one."

He gave her a curious look. "Which one?"

She sighed. "The 24th."

"Of this month? Don't you think that's kind of rushed?"

"No, not this month. …April."

He froze. "…are…are you sure about that?"

She gave him a look. "I wouldn't have bothered asking if I wasn't willing to consider it."

"But…that's the day of the raid. The day the Reapers came to Earth."

"It's also the day we met. I'm sick of that being overshadowed with bad memories. I want to give it a weight we can carry." She looked down at her engagement ring with a smile. "I want to make it ours."

He understood that much. It only made sense for them to welcome a happy ending of sorts by both accepting and overcoming the shadows in their past. And though she didn't say so out loud, he knew her well enough to know that she saw it as a way for her family to be there for it. Plus, when it came down to it, it didn't matter what day they did it as long as they got to be married. So he smiled and answered with a question of his own. "On the Citadel or Palaven? They should both be restored enough for a ceremony by then."

She smiled. "Let's keep it radiation-free for the crew's sake."

He nodded. "Guess it's time to start making good on the plans, then."

"Ah, we've still got two months." As she said so, she stood up. "There's something else we can be spending our time on tonight."

He looked at her, not sure whether to be curious or enticed. "And what might that be?"

She simply held out her hand.

He recognized the gesture and practically started laughing. "I thought you drew the line."

"We don't have to tango to dance."

Still not quite sure what she meant, he took her hand on stood up.

Once his hand was in hers, Terra turned on her COMM. "Vi, could you play me something?"

"Any time," Violet answered, "Got a request?"

Terra smirked. "Something to mark the occasion."

"Ha! Did Garrus actually manage to kick that 'Valentine's is lame' notion?"

"…who needs a holiday when you're in love?"

Violet didn't press the matter, but Garrus was pretty sure he could hear her muttering something about her sister being a single-minded, love-struck "poet." He elected not to press that matter and simply placed his hand on his mate's waist as the former prodigy began to play a beautiful tune on her violin.

As the song filled the cabin, the two began to gently sway. Terra was right that it didn't live up to the tango at the casino (she would likely say that nothing could), but the feeling of it was the same, the feeling of moving together freely. It also couldn't compare to the synergy that had been when they drew together, but this was in its own way similar. In a moment, they barely even heard the music, caught up in falling into each other. By the time the song began to wind to an end, Terra had laid her head on Garrus' shoulder and her hand had drifted from his shoulder to his scars. He simply held her closer, his talons clutching her waist as he breathed her in. He distantly noticed when the song came to an end and Violet started asking if they needed anything else only to realize they weren't listening anymore and simply hang up.

After some time had passed with them caught up in the embrace, Terra leaned back to smile at him. "Would you have guessed the day we met that we'd end up here?"

Garrus laid his head on hers. "No…but I knew I wanted you with me forever."

She nodded. "Me, too."

In a minute, they were kissing again. By the time the day came to a close, they were on the bed together, alternating between making their plans and foreshadowing them with a different kind of union.

17 years together. A whole lifetime ahead. And when it came down to it, they would both admit it was as close as they could possibly come to perfect.