Chapter 91: Nights Before

The beauty in the dawn
Is in the moment just before
In the silver blue darkness
Which the golden red overcomes
In the glimmer of hope and anticipation
To know what comes next
To know the light approaches
And cannot be deterred

March 6, 2187…

"You know, Sol," Terra groaned as she took cover, "you might have noticed on EDI's scans that there was a surprising amount of turrets down here."

Solana scoffed as she ducked down next to her sister. "Yeah, and you might have noticed when you made that deal with Aria that they were all just going to go back to being mercs after the war was over."

Terra rolled her eyes, tossing a grenade over their cover at the mercs in question. She had known that, peace time or not, there would always be a few problems around the galaxy for them to handle. She had just figured that, after the Reapers, none of it would be a challenge. She was only mostly right. Hence her new policy to bring the entire team whenever possible, which she wrote off as being a choice to carry on the spirit of their excursion on the Citadel rather than because she was in any way concerned.

"Everything alright down there?" Violet asked over the COMM she now kept constantly active when her sister was in the field.

"Fine," Terra answered as she peered over her cover just long enough to scope out the area and then ducked down when she immediately started drawing fire, "Nothing we haven't done 100 times before."

"Oh, good. I guess I should know better than to worry about you." Then, as if to prove her point, she set to playing her flute like she had forgotten the COMM was still on.

Liara smirked. "Is this how she was on Mindoir?"

"Yeah, kind of," Terra shrugged. Then she turned to Solana to ask if she regretted leaving the navigation console or not staying on Palaven, finding her adopted sister fiddling with a display on her omni-tool. "What are you doing?"

Solana smirked. "Liara's a biotic. You, James, and Ash are combat beasts. Garrus and EDI have their tech tricks. I have this." Then, without looking, she reached her gun over their cover and fired four shots.

Across the field, four mercenaries dropped dead.

Garrus turned to give his sister a stunned look of amazement. "You have a heat-seeking target interface?!"

Solana gave him an almost smug look in reply. "I was support for a black ops squad for two months. I picked up a few tricks."

"Ha!" James laughed, "You never cease to amaze, Sunny."

"I still think you could find a more imaginative nickname for me, Vega. Then again, you stopped at 'Scars' and 'Doc.'"

"And yet went the extra mile for 'Lola' and 'Bumblebee,'" Terra smirked, "I think he's just favoring his commander."

"Can you blame me?" James retorted.

"Focus fire on the turrets, not on my little sister."

"Oh, I don't mind," Violet spoke up, finishing the verse on her flute, "Just as long as he…" She stopped for a second as if she'd noticed something. "Hey, EDI, is someone else on the line?"

EDI took 0.2% of a second to check. "Yes. I believe Tali is attempting to call again."

"Is now a bad time?"

Garrus preempted the inevitable answer to that question by overloading the turret that had them pinned down and then firing armor-piercing rounds right down its muzzle. The resulting explosion was fantastic. "Put her through."

EDI nodded, establishing the connection as they all rushed into the now open field, spreading out to whatever was available that allowed them to surround the remaining mercs.

"Terra," Tali's voice came over the COMM, enough in itself to make the commander smile, "did I hear you had a date set?"

"24th of next month," Terra answered, "Don't tell me you didn't get the message and thought you weren't invited!"

"Oh, no, it's not that. It's just that we've had communications set up since we came back to Rannoch, but we just now managed to set up extranet connections, so all my messages have—" She stopped for a second when she noticed the gunfire. "What's all that noise?"

"Caught us in the middle of a firefight," Ashley answered as she lobbed an inferno grenade into the middle of a cluster of mercs, "No big deal."

"What? Should I call back later?"

"Don't be ridiculous," Terra countered as she reloaded, "We don't know when you'll have time to talk again."

"The geth are actually doing a lot of the work. I don't want to distract you."

"Ah, don't worry, Tali," Violet waved her off, "I've been here the whole time and they've hardly noticed me."

"Oh, hi, Violet. How are you doing?"

"Good, thanks. We haven't really gotten to talk since you left the ship, have we?"

"Is the team frequency the best place for this conversation?" EDI stepped in.

"Hey, I didn't exactly start it!"

"Oh, Tal!" Solana cut in, "Since you're here, did you ask the geth about those Reaper navigational charts?"

"Yes, actually. They're compiling them right now. I could send them to EDI later or just hand them to you directly at the wedding."

"Wow. Have EDI get first dibs or wait a month and half to accept them in the turian approximation of a dress? Tough call."

"Right!" Violet cut back in, "Thanks for reminding me! I was so busy worrying about the music that I forgot to ask Terra if she picked her colors yet so we could start picking the dresses and flowers."

"I thought I told you already," Terra said, "Blue and silver. I figured it was appropriate for us."

"Wait, really? …you're gonna make Liara wear blue?"

Terra took a second to think that over. "…oh. That is a bad idea." Then she thought it over for a second longer and shrugged it off. "Ah, well, Tali can't wear a dress, period, so we'll just have to diversify. It's not exactly gonna be traditional in the first place."

"I reiterate," EDI stepped back in, "is now the best time for this conversation?"

"Oh, it's never a bad time to discuss the plans, EDI," Ashley said even as she ducked out of cover long enough to kick a mercenary back, shoot him in the face, pull the pin from the grenade on his belt, and then push him into the middle of the opposition. She smirked, taking a second to savor the boom as their opponents scattered, then ducked back down to reload. "Besides, I already got a blue dress and I'd hate to lose the opportunity to rock it."

"Am I involved in any of this?" Garrus finally asked.

"As the groom?" James scoffed, "Basically, your entire job is just to show up and say 'I do.'"

Terra clearly wanted to retort but decided to let it slide. "On second thought, maybe we should be focused on the problem at hand and worry about all this later." She accented that remark by leaning out of cover enough to shoot one of the mercs in the head until he dropped.

"You did say you wanted to recapture the spirit of the mission in the archives," Liara said, "All that's missing is Glyph pinging James with a pizza bill."

Terra couldn't help but smile. "And Wrex charging in to steal everyone else's kills."

"If it'll settle the issue, I can find a silver dress. Asari do understand the concept of color coordination."

"Yeah," Ashley struggled not to start laughing, "and then she can be your 'something blue.'"

In response, Terra struggled not to glare. "Ash, that's not funny."

"It's kind of funny," James snickered to himself.

Tali quickly jumped back in. "Actually, I was considering taking off more than just the one day. Maybe I can come out and meet you there so we can discuss this properly?"

"That'd be wonderful!" Violet beamed.

"Then, perhaps, we can explain all these human traditions I'm failing to grasp."

"Honestly, most of that is based on the old concepts of luck. Still, I can see why everyone was so worried, considering it's your entire future you're talking about."

"I see," EDI spoke up curiously, "So, in regards to the flowers, is the prediction made by who catches them usually correct?"

"Uh, I'm willing to advocate changing the subject whenever you're ready, commander."

"Joker?" Terra answered, "How long have you been listening?"

"What are you talking about? I'm hooked up to Vi and EDI's channel, I never turn it off."

Solana froze. "Wait. So, earlier, you heard me say—"

"Don't worry, it wasn't inaccurate. If I was offended, I would've spoken up then."

"Wait, what?" Terra asked, "What'd you say?"

Solana winced. "Uh…nothing."

Just when the conversation was about to kick back up again, the captain on the mercenary side of the field drew a heavy weapon and started laying into their cover. Terra ducked down, immediately committing all her mental faculties to determining a strategy to finish this.

Then, suddenly, the captain was thrown into the air and slammed down. The two mercenaries left next to him recoiled in shock, leaving the first of them open for an equally unexpected biotic strike that sent him stumbling back in pain.

While the other was taken down by fire from a familiar weapon, Terra stepped out of cover to finish the first of the final mercs with a heavy strike from her omni-blade. Then she turned to beam at the one who'd stepped in to finish the fight. "Javik! Didn't think you catch up with us that fast."

The Prothean shook his head at them as he holstered his weapon. "You would not have needed my help were you not so easily distracted."

"Nah, it boosts morale and throws the opposition off their game. Little known tactic."

"…of course."

Terra merely smirked to herself. Their Prothean friend had been putting off his post-war plans for months, ostensibly under the pretense of attending the wedding and helping Liara's research (though he never admitted to either out loud, naturally). He had finally gone off to visit the graves of his crew two days ago. And lo and behold, he'd returned. Terra was willing to take this as a sign that she was convincing him they could find a place for him in this cycle—at least on the Normandy—even though it would be the first time in his entire life there was no war to fight. In all honesty, she was mostly curious to find out what his new niche would be.

"We should probably head back to the ship," Solana said after they made sure the area was clear, "Apparently, EDI and I are gonna have charts to go over."

"I look forward to assimilating the new information," EDI nodded with a smile.

"Oh, please, don't use that word," James shook his head.

"Right," Tali sighed, "I'll call back later."

Terra nodded. "See you."

"Yes, you will."

"I don't know what's stranger," Garrus noted when they were safely back in the shuttle, "that we get most of our good planning and conversation in while we're under fire or that it's become a typical mission for us."

Terra smirked. "Honestly, with this team, I expect nothing less."

April 11, 2187…

Tali made good on her word. Once Terra had given the order to dock on the Citadel for the final planning phase of the wedding, her quarian friend booked a transport straight there, resolving to spend the next two weeks back with her old team. It was nearly two hours before the crew was done giving her a delighted welcome.

The Citadel had indeed easily returned to its orbit around Widow. Most of the reconstruction was even well on the way to completion. The station had been through the wringer over the past four years, but Reaper-built or not, it was the home of a newly united galaxy that would treat it well. Terra was certainly relieved to see how well the repairs were already proceeding, giving Garrus a sly smile when she saw the Presidium reservoir back to its former glory. Still, she was most relieved when she came back to her apartment on the Silversun Strip and saw that her apartment really was all but untouched, the rest of the strip intact even if not quite back to working order. Stepping into the apartment now, free of the burden of war, and seeing all her paintings still hung in place was an overwhelmingly wonderful relief. In a way, it was exactly what she had needed.

It came as a surprise when Violet caught up to her before Garrus did. "Oh, good, he's not here yet. We're going out."

Terra looked at her sister in confusion. "We're doing what?"

"Don't tell me you don't know what day it is?"

Terra did know. With everything that had happened over the past four years and everything that was going on now, she'd just assumed no one but Garrus would take the time to worry about it or even notice. "Violet, you don't have to—"

"Yes, I do!" Violet asserted, putting her foot down (which, if she wasn't a full two inches shorter than her older sister and far less combat skilled, might have been the slightest bit intimidating), "I missed your last 16 birthdays! I'm giving you the best one yet! Now come on, let's see what shops on the station are reopened."

"Well, most of them, actually, but where are you gonna get credits—?"

"I have my ways." Before Terra could say anything more, she grabbed her by the wrist and dragged her off for the closest thing they could approximate to a shopping spree.

In all honesty, Terra would've been content to consider the day out with her sister gift enough, but Violet still insisted on also buying her whatever she wanted from every place they visited. Violet genuinely did seem to have a reasonably sized share of credits to her name that Terra would definitely be inquiring about later. It took most of the day and felt like the entirety of the station. They even ran into some of the others along the way, keeping the meetings short on Violet's insistence. Not to mention the three calls from Garrus asking what they were up to (and sneaking in some lighthearted flirtation when Violet wasn't listening). All in all, Terra thought she could safely say that this birthday was easily in the top five.

"Not number one?!" Violet demanded when she heard this, "Why not?!"

Terra shrugged. "Well, you set the bar pretty high with the last one on Mindoir, even given the bittersweet recollection of it being the last one. And true, I spent the next birthday too upset to celebrate and the birthday after that leaving Palaven to enlist and my last three birthdays either under house arrest or…dead. However, I also received my original position on the Normandy as something of a birthday present and you can see how that went. So top three, actually, and very strong contender for number one. Most definitely."

Violet sighed. "Alright, I guess that's fair enough." Then she stopped in her tracks when she noticed something else.

Terra stopped right behind her. "What?"

She looked back, her gaze remarkably unreadable. "You still don't have a dress, do you?"

"No, we're doing the last of the planning tomorrow and Liara was going to pull some strings."

Violet smirked. "We can do better than that." She nodded to a building off to the side.

Terra reluctantly looked and saw it was a dress shop. She smirked back. "Guess we can."

Now, for human females shopping for special occasions, there are two simple truths to acknowledge: you're only likely to find what you're looking for when you're not looking specifically for it, but when you find the one, you know. So it was simply par for the course that they spent 20 minutes browsing before Violet forcibly dragged Terra into a changing room to try one on that she'd barely looked at.

She knew.

Tali caught up with them there. "Terra? Violet? What are you doing in here?"

Violet beamed as she gestured to the quarian not to go near the changing room Terra was currently occupying. "Garrus isn't anywhere around here, is he?"

"No, why?"

"…because it's bad luck for the groom to see the bride in her dress before the ceremony starts."

Terra stepped out with the dress in question folded in her arms. "Tali! Wait 'til you see it."

"I'm sure it's wonderful," Tali nodded, "Lucky. I don't know how I'm going to dress up. I'm already wearing my two sexiest belts!"

Terra laughed, hooking her arm in Tali's to lead her out. "Sorry to hear it. Although…I don't suppose you've made any progress on that other thing we talked about."

Tali gave the best sly look she could through the helmet. "I've made some preparations. I'll have to keep the mask close at hand and take a lot of antibiotics, but I think I can manage without for a bit longer than before. Say, oh…two hours?"

Terra beamed delightedly, finally hugging her. "Nothing would make me happier."

"I'd like to think Garrus would object to that."

Everyone else was quick to offer friendly well wishes when they heard it was her birthday. Liara, Shadow Broker as always, had even learned ahead of time the date and associated traditions and gotten her a present—a new sketchbook for when her current one inevitably became completely filled and joined her three others in the "disaster-proof" box. Terra was loath to call it a night.

As ever, Garrus was the one to persuade her otherwise, drawing her back to the apartment. "Finally, I have you all to myself."

She smirked, shaking her head at him. "I think you have to wait two more weeks to make that official."

He ignored the statement, drawing her into his arms to kiss her. "I got you a present."

"You making up for lost time, too?"

"You could say that." He led her over to sit on the couch with him before pulling a holo from his pocket. He turned it on, the display showing a series of familiar images.

She gave him a look. "You're not seriously re-gifting one of the holos I gave you, are you?"

He gave her a look halfway between amused and offended. "No. Look again."

Uncertain, she did so. When she finally caught sight of the command asking input to execute, she started to put the pieces together. When she finally figured it out, she almost went into shock. "Did you…?"

"Scan every drawing of a horizon you ever made and compile them for release onto the extranet? Yeah. So everyone can remember our worlds how they were and could be again." He smiled. "And see you the way I do. As an artist as much as a hero." He set the holo down in front of her. "I left it so you could decide whether to go through with it or not."

Terra found herself staring at the holo. It was far from the hardest decision she'd ever had to make, but it was definitely the hardest she'd had to face since the war ended. It wasn't like she'd never wanted this or didn't want it now. It was that this was a point of no return. She had never shared her art with anyone outside her own family before. The raid had killed any plans to.

…but she didn't just want to be remembered for death. She wanted to be remembered as who she was.

So she pressed the button and sent the holo's contents out into the galaxy.

Garrus took her hand. "Can't wait to see how everyone reacts."

She smiled, returning the gesture. "I've never heard any complaints."

He smirked. "Speaking of which, I have one more thing to give you."

She almost laughed to hear her own words thrown back at her. "So soon before our special night?"

"What can I say?" he shrugged as he pulled her upstairs, "I'm impatient."

April 23, 2187…

They spent the entire first half of the day before the big day at the docks, welcoming all the people who cared about them. It was always wonderful to see them all in the same place. In this instance, it was as if the events to come were only real now that they were all together. What started as a team had seamlessly turned into a family.

It took all of five minutes before the topic of Terra's art came up.

"Wow, Shepard," Jacob smirked, his omni-tool displaying the view of Earth, "I didn't realize you had it in you."

"I know!" James laughed, "Lola was holding out on us!"

"You all saw my paintings in the apartment," Terra shrugged, "I thought that meant you knew."

"Those were originals?" Kasumi beamed, "Wish I'd known, I could've turned a pretty penny copying them. Especially now you're famous and all." She stepped over to lean her elbow on Terra's shoulder. "On a similar note, any plans for the big day I should be helping you go over?"

"Everything's set. We just need no sign of any major crisis."

"Ah. That I can help with. More so if you point me to the venue."

Terra rolled her eyes. "Follow me."

"Oh!" Violet jumped to pursue them both, "I need to do some last-minute maid-of-honor-ing, so I'll just go with you."

Ashley shook her head. "I'm not missing this."

While all the females in the party ultimately headed on together, Joker turned to smirk at Garrus. "One more day. Any second thoughts, cold feet?"

Garrus scoffed. "Hardly. …feel like I've been waiting half my life for this."

Joker nodded. "Well, you certainly know when you've found your perfect match."

Garrus nodded back, smiling to himself.

"Oh! And speaking of last-minute preparations…I don't suppose you ever figured out who your best man is gonna be?"

Garrus froze, turning to see that all of them were now looking at him expectantly. "…uh…"

After Terra showed her friends the garden they would be holding the wedding in, they all headed off to enjoy their reunion, finding a good place to have a night out.

"Nothing too wild, ladies," Terra chided the second they walked into their chosen hangout, "Tomorrow's a big deal."

"I hear you, commander," Ashley nudged, "but it wouldn't kill you to enjoy your last night as a free woman."

Terra scoffed, rolling her eyes. "Not how I would describe it, Ash."

"Still worth a bit of celebration."

"Fine with me," Violet commented, "as long as the inherent contract in the deal is made clear beforehand."

"The…what?" Miranda asked.

Terra smirked. "Come on, she's right. We're having a girls' night the day before the wedding. You're all gonna be in the apartment with me tonight instead of Garrus. Bachelorette party or not, I'd say that makes you all bridesmaids."

"You gotta admit you all walked into this," Solana shook her head.

They had, and Terra wasn't backing down now. Violet was still maid of honor, so she sat back and joined her sister in pressuring the others. Solana, Tali, Liara, Ashley, EDI, and Miranda all graciously accepted the offer. Kasumi was reluctant to agree since she wasn't one for the spotlight but was easily worn down. Samara politely declined, opting to remain a witness to the event. Jack outright turned them down, if only on the grounds that she refused to ever be caught dead in a dress.

Terra was happy whatever the results. She didn't care if they were up there with her as long as they were there.

Speaking of which, it wasn't long after they'd reached this conclusion that the male members of their group caught up to them.

"I see we're enjoying ourselves, ladies," Joker smirked as he came over to sit next to EDI.

"Enjoying?" Grunt scoffed, "I've been to funerals more fun than this."

"Yeah, well, someone put her foot down," Jack scoffed back, nodding to Terra before ironically downing a drink (making full taunting use of her overcharged amp's side effects).

Garrus smirked, sitting down with Terra and wrapping his arm around her. "I think she's earned a few stipulations."

"Insofar as I'll remain within them," Joker retorted.

Terra answered with a wary look. "What's that supposed to mean?"

"Someone," James prodded, "thought the hotshot should be the best man."

Terra wasn't sure whether to laugh or go into shock as she turned her attention to her fiancé. "You didn't!"

Garrus groaned. "Of all the choices on offer, we've spent the most time with him. It just seemed like the logical choice."

"Well, I'm not saying it was the wrong answer by any means, but you do realize he's going to be unbearably smug about it, right?"

"Not too late to switch out, Scars!" James called.

"I'm not falling for that twice!" Garrus bit back.

Terra finally sighed and shook her head. "Alright, I'm putting my foot down twice. Tomorrow's a big deal, yeah, but I don't know when we'll ever be able to all get together like this again and I say we appreciate that while we can."

Liara smiled. "Fair enough."

They certainly made the most of it. Just like the party, though, time passed too quickly and they soon had to call it a night. Earlier than several of them liked, due to how much had to be done in the morning. Before long, they were splitting back up to head off.

"You gonna be OK without me?" Garrus asked his mate as they prepared to go their separate ways, to sleep in separate beds for the first time in months.

Terra nodded. "For one night? Yeah." She looked after the others with a smile. "I couldn't ask for a better family." With that, she kissed him quick and raced off for the apartment.

Garrus was actually the one who had a harder time getting to sleep. Terra was able to sleep in the same room as Violet, but he was alone. Still, it was the anticipation that made it hard to rest.

Tomorrow, their lives were changing forever.