Shepard lay awake in bed between Cassia and Jun for several hours. It wasn't an unpleasant sort of insomnia. At least awake she could feel the warmth of their small bodies against her and know for certain that they were unharmed. If she fell asleep, who knew what dreams would befall her, who knew what horrors she might awake to. This was probably the best she could hope for.
Shepard's quiet vigil was broken some time later by a soft rapping at the door. Whoever it was had known that though there was a ringer to ask for entrance, it was loud and would likely wake the children. It was probably Garrus.
Shepard carefully extricated herself from her sleeping children, thankful that both were heavy sleepers. She activated her omni-tool legs and carefully maneuvered herself over to the door, unlocking it first then tapping it open. Just as she had suspected, Garrus was on the other side.
"Shepard," he said, voice barely above a whisper, "just wanted to see how you were doing. Oh, and bring you your… legs."
He pointed to a crate at his feet which contained both of Shepard's prosthetics as well as Cassia's.
"Thanks," Shepard said, reaching down for the crate. "We're alright, all things considered. Want to come in?"
"I don't want to wake them…"
"Don't worry. They sleep like the dead," Shepard said, moving to the side and gesturing for him to enter.
Garrus nodded his head, then stepped into the cabin. Shepard grabbed the crate and led him to the small desk that still had a display case of model ships above it, pulling out the same human-shaped rolling chair that had graced the cabin during her tenure, and letting Garrus pull out his own turian-shaped chair.
"I can't believe you kept all my models. And my chair!" Shepard said, pulling off the omni-prosthetics and starting to reattach her much more comfortable and familiar prosthetics.
Garrus chuckled a little, the sound rumbling deep in his register, and one hand scratched under his fringe in embarrassment.
"Well, even after a few years, this still kinda feels like your space. I couldn't bring myself to change it too much."
"The Normandy's yours now, Garrus. You deserve it. You earned it."
"Obviously at least some people thought so," Garrus said.
Shepard finished getting her legs back on and sat up, taking a moment to just look Garrus over. He had largely ignored her whole reassembly process, which Shepard appreciated, and mostly just looked mildly embarrassed by her praise. Shepard smiled at his familiar awkward self-deprecation, folding her arms across her stomach and leaning back into the chair. Garrus had always loved boasting of outlandish, exaggerated exploits, but when it came to sincere, straightforward praise, he balked.
"So how did the rest of the mission go? Did you find out what they were about?" she asked.
Garrus gave a noncommittal shrug.
"They're definitely terrorists à la Cerberus. It looks like they were an independent cell holding out for all these years, but we can't be certain without more investigation. We seized all their files, and all the operatives who surrendered will be interrogated. I…"
Garrus trailed off, shifting uncomfortably in his seat for a moment before leaning forward and looking up at Shepard with those piercing eyes of his.
"I have to apologize to you, Shepard. I was one of the people tasked with ensuring that you made it to the Citadel safely, and something like this never should have happened. I'm so sorry."
A stinging weight welled in Shepard's eyes at the sheer earnestness of Garrus's apology. One of the things she'd always loved most about Garrus was his sincerity, and he just had to hit her with it full force just as soon as he saw her again, didn't he?
"You can never be prepared for everything. I don't blame you. I can only thank you for getting us out of trouble as quickly as you did."
"Still I… I can't help but feel responsible."
"The only thing you should feel responsible for, Garrus, is our rescue. Ok? If anything, I'm the one who's ultimately responsible for their safety. Not you," Shepard said forcefully.
Her commander voice had come out, which silenced him fairly quickly. It surprised Shepard that she'd reverted to it so easily, but then again it had always been a useful tool for keeping Garrus at a distance. The conversation fell into an awkward lapse, but Garrus soon rallied and managed to find his bearings again.
"Well, despite the awful circumstances, I am glad I finally got to meet your kids. They seem great," he said.
"They are. I'm glad you got to meet them too."
"Will they be alright? I mean.. Getting kidnapped is the kind of thing that can stay with a person."
Shepard grimaced at the thought that had occurred to her as well.
"...Yeah. It will probably be hard for a while, to feel safe again. I know it was hard for me after Mindoir. But they're tough. We'll find a way to get through it."
Garrus let out an angry huff, shaking his head in frustration.
"You know, it's things like this that make me regret taking this job. Being a Spectre."
"Hostage situations?" Shepard asked.
Garrus shook his head again.
"No, no. It's just... During the war so many awful things happened to so many innocent people. And then at the end, I just wanted… I just hoped that that wouldn't happen any more. And if I took some administrative job in the Hierarchy like my dad wanted, or even a high-up C-SEC position, I'd probably be able to pretend that those things really don't happen any more. But when you're a Spectre… Sometimes it feels like every damn tragedy in the galaxy somehow ends up on your list of situations to handle."
"I know what you mean. So… why did you take the position, then? God knows you earned a cushy spot in the Hierarchy, if you wanted it."
Garrus laughed, leaning back in his chair and crossing his arms across his keel.
"Shepard, there is no such thing as a cushy spot in the Hierarchy—at least not in the higher levels. I almost… In a way, accepting the Spectre position was my way of avoiding the Hierarchy. As a Spectre I have to see some of the scum of the galaxy up close and personal, but at least I'm not likely to have to make any decisions that will affect billions of lives. I had enough of that during the war."
"So… being a Spectre was the lesser of two evils."
Garrus shook his head.
"I don't mean to sound ungrateful. For the most part, I enjoy being a Spectre. Take today—it feels good to rescue innocent children from crazed fanatics trying to profit off of fear and lunacy. It just gets hard to see so many people put in these awful situations in the first place."
"I get that."
Shepard sighed and leaned back in her chair. She wondered idly for a moment if Garrus still had human-safe liquor stocked, but knew that drinking wouldn't be a good idea. Cassia or Jun could wake up any moment, after all. She wanted to model positive coping mechanisms for them.
"You make me feel guilty sometimes," she said instead, leaning her head back and staring at the ceiling.
"Well… You hopped right back into action, as soon as you could. While I just hung out on Earth for three years, playing house."
"I'd hardly call raising two children 'playing house,' Shepard."
"I know. But I could be doing more. I know a lot of people really want me to do more."
Shepard lifted her head up and looked back at Garrus, a wry smile twisting her mouth.
"I saw the toll the war took on you, Shepard. It was hard on everyone, of course, but the way it all seemed to rest on your shoulders… I don't think a single person in the galaxy could begrudge you some time to recover."
"But there were people who lost so much more than I did, people who don't have the luxury of just taking a break for three years."
"You don't need to downplay how hard it was on you, Shepard. I saw it. The whole crew saw it. From the Omega-4 Relay to the Crucible, you were practically a different person. We used to be close and by the end you hardly talked to me-" Garrus said, volume increasing until he suddenly cut himself off.
He gave his head a quick shake and sat back in his chair, his mandibles pulling close to his face.
"I, I'm sorry, I didn't mean…" he stuttered, then let out a massive sigh. "First time I'm seeing you in three years, and I've already screwed it up."
Shepard winced, his words confirming what she had long suspected. Pulling away from her friends had been a conscious choice—had felt like her only option at the time—but she knew she'd hurt them. Garrus probably most of all.
Since the end of the war, Shepard could have reached out to Garrus. She'd responded to all of his messages with delayed, half-hearted correspondence until he'd gotten the picture. It had hurt, but she'd felt like it was necessary. With her other friends she could build that rapport back up, but with him… It felt too risky. It felt like making herself a glutton for punishment.
But now… It was three whole years later. Looking across the study space at him, at his familiar scars, blue face paint, and beat-up armor—it felt too much like home. Looking at him now, she knew she didn't want to give him up again. And it had been long enough now. She could accept what she had without always yearning for what she didn't.
"You haven't screwed anything up," Shepard said eventually. "The war did change me, and that's nobody's fault. But I've really missed our friendship. I know I'm a big part of why we haven't talked in a while, but I'd like that to change. Starting today."
"I'd… like that too," Garrus said.
Garrus's blue eyes flicked up towards Shepard's, and she chanced a small smile in his direction. His head tilted to the side in a gesture that had always translated to Shepard as a smirk, and she barely stifled a laugh.
"Just like old times?" she said.
"Just like old times."
A muffled voice called out from the bed, followed by the rustling of a restless sleeper. Shepard got to her feet, looking back over her shoulder at where her two children still slept.
"Duty calls?" Garrus said.
"I'll leave you to it. We should be at the Citadel in just a few hours. I can wake you as soon as we get there, or let you sleep in. Your call."
"Let's see how long I can keep these kids in bed. Both trauma and moving are easier to deal with well-rested."
"You got it," Garrus said, getting to his feet and heading for the door.
Shepard watched as the door shut with him still facing into the room. Turian faces weren't as flexible and expressive as human faces, but she imagined he seemed lighter. She walked back to the bed and eased herself between Cassia and Jun, snuggling Jun closer to her as it had been his sleepy voice that'd called out to her. This time, she fell asleep.
"...And your new apartment is right here, in the nicest part of Kithoi Ward," Garrus said.
Cassia crossed her arms in front of her chest and rolled her eyes, the gesture hard to spot with her smaller, recessed eyes, but becoming increasingly familiar to Shepard.
"I'm sure you'd say that about wherever we moved to. Even the middle of nowhere," she mumbled.
"Cass…" Shepard said, a slight warning to her voice.
Though Shepard didn't love Cassia's sassy moods, at least she was saying something. When they'd landed at the Citadel a few hours earlier, Cassia had been silent and barely-responsive, so Shepard didn't want to come down too hard on her for any interaction, no matter how obnoxious.
"I think it looks nice. See, there's a big park right there! And I saw a hanar earlier—what if we have hanar neighbors?" Jun said.
"Thanks for coming with us, Garrus. You didn't have to."
"I wouldn't have been able to rest easy until I saw you properly settled, Shepard," Garrus said.
He showed them to the elevator to their place, holding the doors open until even rubber-necked Jun tore himself away from the views.
"You guys are on the top floor. Better security available there. You also have a dedicated elevator, so you can lock the whole shaft down if you want to."
"Can we, Jane?" Cassia said, eyeing Shepard a little anxiously. "I'd feel better if I knew people couldn't even get up the elevator."
The elevator dinged and they all piled out into the short walkway before the front door. Shepard pulled up the access codes on her omni-tool and the door opened, allowing Jun to dash inside followed by a slightly more sedate Cassia.
"Wow! Look at the view! You can see everything," Jun said, his face pressed up against the glass of the living room window.
Shepard and Garrus stayed in the living room while Cassia and Jun inspected their new living quarters, mostly just watching the kids' reactions rather than looking for themselves.
Cassia wandered back into the living room from the third bedroom that Shepard had already picked out as Cassia's with a thoughtful look on her face.
"It's not as big as our place on Earth, but it's really nice."
"Honestly, I always thought that house on Earth was a little too big for us. One bedroom each and two bathrooms is more than enough space for three people," Shepard said.
"Seriously. Before the war my parents and I shared a one-bedroom apartment. We even had to share our bathroom with the neighbor!" Jun said.
Cassia's nose plates wrinkled together.
"We were poor, Cass. That's what poor people have to do sometimes."
"Alright, alright. Cassia, I was thinking you could take that room, then Jun would take the other one, and the last one's mine," Shepard said, pointing first to a room right off the living room, then to the two rooms at the end of the hall.
"Works for me," Cassia said with a shrug, turning around and walking back into her room.
"Sure! I can see the docks from mine."
Shepard put her hands on her waist and looked around at the stacks of boxes of things to unpack, sighing deeply at the prospect of all the work they had before them. Most of the larger furniture she'd purchased from the Citadel and had already been delivered, but all of their clothes, nicknacks, and the surprising amount of stuff they'd accumulated since the war still needed to be put away.
"Well I should probably get going," Garrus said, already backing towards the door. "The level of both turian-human cooperation and sibling cooperation going on here is getting eerie."
Shepard nodded and smiled back at Garrus, knowing he'd already taken more time out of his day than he could probably afford just to see them settled.
"Can't you stay?"
Shepard looked up in surprise to see Cassia standing in her doorway, her eyebrow plates raised in a clearly hopeful expression. Shepard looked across at Garrus, and saw that he was just as surprised as Shepard by the request.
"We're having dinner soon, and we always have turian food," Cassia said.
Shepard fought to keep the surprise off her face as she looked back at her daughter. Cassia had always been a little standoffish, especially with adults and people she didn't know, so this development was unexpected.
"Cass, Garrus probably has to get back-" Shepard said.
"-No, no. I was just going to get dinner anyway. I can stay if you don't mind, Shepard," Garrus said, still hovering by the door.
"Of course you can stay. I already ordered, but I can call and ask them to add a couple of things. It shouldn't be any trouble."
Surprised though she was, Shepard was glad that Cassia seemed to like Garrus. Shepard hardly knew anyone she'd consider a better mentor, and Cassia meeting an adult figure that she respected—that could be good for her. Especially considering that Shepard knew Cassia didn't always feel comfortable coming to her.
"Jane ordered the turian food from this place called Cipritine Cuisine. She told me it was your favorite place—she's been talking it up ever since we decided to move," Cassia said.
"I do love Cipritine Cuisine," Garrus said, moving back into the room and taking a seat on the sofa that the furniture store had already delivered. "What did you have her order?"
"Just some roasted truat, a plate of mashed efola, and a bowl of crakee soup."
"How do you know all my favorites? Don't you know it's illegal to spy on a Spectre?"
"Oh come on! Everyone loves truat."
Shepard pulled up the number of the eatery on her omni-tool.
"OK, I'll add another order of truat then."
Cassia crept further into the living room, eventually taking a seat at the far end of the sofa from Garrus. Shepard laughed as she ordered the extra food, sitting down in a comfy chair across from the sofa.
"Is Spectre Vakarian staying?" Jun said, poking his head out the door of his newly-explored room.
"Yep, and make sure to enjoy him while he's here. I'm sure Spectre business will take him away from the Citadel most of the time."
Jun seemed to fly across the room, landing right in the middle of the sofa with a solid thump.
Garrus eyed the two children from his side of the sofa, his arm slung casually around the back of the sofa belying the look of uncertainty in his eyes.
"Come on, Vakarian. You faced down the Reapers. You can handle two harmless kids," Shepard said with a smirk.
"Ahah. If you say so, Commander. I did say I'd follow you into hell."
"You did. And there are no take-backs."
The Shepard-Fedissian-Wang family spent the next two full days unpacking. What this actually meant was that Shepard spent all day unpacking, just barely managing to keep the kids on task for several hour-long shifts throughout the day. The rest of the time they spent browsing the extranet, sleeping, or just bouncing off the walls while Shepard tried to make order out of the chaos. They got their own rooms sorted, which Shepard counted as a victory considering it was the one thing she didn't think she could manage herself.
The third day Shepard had set aside for school prep, but her plans were somewhat interrupted when Liara called her first thing in the morning insisting on visiting them as soon as possible. Not eager to get on the Shadow Broker's bad side, Shepard scrapped her plan to get takeout and instead came up with a nice dinner menu with which to treat her friend. The daytime was still spent purchasing uniforms, datapad books, and whatever other necessities they hadn't thought to bring with them, but the shopping trip was cut a little short to give Shepard time to get groceries and cook. Shepard wasn't too worried—Jun and Cass would be thrilled to see Liara, and they were still more or less prepared to face their academic lives.
The console by the door buzzed precisely at their prearranged dinnertime, and Shepard dashed over from the still somewhat-cluttered kitchen to call the elevator. She could have just let Liara up, but Cassia and Jun had both been having trouble sleeping and had balked at the idea of letting visitors come up the elevator on their own. With the kidnapping still so fresh in their minds, Shepard was more than willing to comply with their request.
Two long elevator trips later, and Liara was oohing and ahhing over their new place.
"It's not as fancy as your old place on the Silversun Strip, but it suits you better, I think," she said, her silky-soft voice contemplative.
"Thanks. The kids helped me pick it out."
"Yes! Tell me they're here, I've been dying to meet them in person. Vid calls are simply not the same," Liara said.
"Is that Aunt Liara?" Jun's voice called from down the hall.
Cassia appeared in the doorway to her room.
"Hi Aunt Liara," she said.
"Cassia!" Liara said, rushing over to her and pulling her into a tight embrace. "It's so good to see you and actually be able to hug you!"
"Aunt Liara, I'm here too!" Jun said, bounding down the hall towards them.
"How could I miss you, Jun!"
Liara pulled Jun in to join her and Cassia in their hug, bending down a little to get better access to them. Shepard couldn't resist the smile tugging at her lips. A few well-placed words from Liara could bring down governments and armies, but put her in front of a couple of cute kids and she just melted.
"So tell me how the move has gone. I want to hear every detail," Liara said after they'd all finally sat down for food.
"Well, it was really scary at first-" Jun started.
"Jun!" Cassia hissed.
"Don't talk about that."
Liara raised an eyebrow at Shepard over her glass.
"Jun, I'll tell Aunt Liara about that later. Why don't you tell her about your trip to the Presidium today?"
"Oh yeah! My new school makes everyone wear uniforms, and they're really fancy, so we had to go all the way to the Presidium to buy them."
"That must have been fun," Liara said.
"Yeah, Mom said it was a lot like the old Presidium, but with more construction. And I saw some hanar! And an elcor!"
"I hope you get used to seeing them soon, Jun, because plenty of hanar and elcor live on the Citadel. It's not polite to stare at every alien you see," Cassia said.
"I know…" Jun said, a little sheepishly. "I wasn't staring."
"Have you made any friends yet?" Liara asked Cassia.
"School hasn't started, so I haven't really met anyone yet. But we did meet Spectre Vakarian," Cassia said, brightening a little.
"Garrus? I didn't know he was on the Citadel," Liara said, then shot Shepard a glance that added "or talking to you right now."
"The Council sent him to escort us to our new home, because Jane is so famous and all," Cassia said.
"Well it must have been nice to spend time with another turian. I'd imagine you don't get to see very many on Earth," Liara said.
"I haven't spent time with any turians in ages. I'd almost forgotten what subvocals sound like."
Shepard took a big gulp of her drink, trying to ignore the niggling guilt that occasionally whispered to her that Cassia would have been happier with someone else. In her mind she knew it wasn't true—when Shepard had adopted her, Cassia had been stranded on Earth, and someone like Shepard was in a much better position to be able to procure dextro-based food for her than practically anyone else on the planet. And she'd moved them to the Citadel in part so Cassia could meet other turians. Maybe they hadn't moved right away, but both the relays and the Citadel had taken a while to rebuild—were still being rebuilt.
"Well Garrus would never admit it, but he's a great turian," Liara said, interrupting Shepard's thoughts. She nodded in agreement.
"Why doesn't he think he's a good turian?" Jun asked.
"Something about not following stupid orders, not liking beaurocracy. I always argued that that made him a particularly good turian, but he always denied it," she said.
"There will be lots of turians at my new school," Jun said. "And asari and salarians. And some other aliens too but mostly just them."
They spent the rest of dinner talking about Cassia and Jun's school—which classes they were taking, how far away from home they were, that sort of thing. After a few games and dextro and levo desserts, Shepard convinced Cassia and Jun to get into bed and stayed up a little later for drinks with Liara.
"So," Liara said after she'd settled into the sofa with her glass of elasa, "What's this about a dangerous move? And what does it have to do with Garrus?"
Shepard sank into the sofa next to Liara and covered her eyes with her hands, letting out a little groan at the prospect of reliving their nightmare trip.
"Just more of the same old villains. Some Cerberus holdovers kidnapped me and the kids, and Garrus was the Spectre the Council put on the case."
Liara gasped, setting her drink on the coffee table. The gasp was pretty convincing—Shepard almost believed it.
"Don't act like you hadn't heard anything about it, Miss Shadow Broker."
"I may have heard a few rumblings, but the details eluded me. And Garrus wouldn't tell me anything except that you and the kids were safe."
Shepard launched into a detailed recounting of their ordeal, and Liara played the perfect audience member. She gasped, murmured sympathetic sounds, and laughed when appropriate (which was infrequently). It felt good to have an adult to talk to about it. With the kids Shepard had to be so careful, always wanted to be a source of strength for them.
"Wow… That sounds like quite the ordeal," Liara said when the tale finally reached its conclusion. "How are the kids doing?"
"Pretty well, all things considered. I've been taking some extra security measures, I've talked to them about it, I've arranged for them to meet with a therapist. They seem to be doing alright and I know they're tough, but I'm going to make sure they have whatever they need."
"I'll come visit often, too, if you think it will help."
"Sure, I'm sure they'd love to see you. I'd love to see you, too. I was… something of a hermit on Earth, and I don't think that was the best for the kids. Or for me, either, if I'm being honest."
"Is that why you're talking to Garrus again?" Liara asked, looking first down at her glass, then over the rim at Shepard.
Shepard let out a halfhearted laugh and leaned back on the couch, running a hand through her shoulder-length red hair.
"Shepard. You haven't talked to him in three years-"
"-in a long time."
Shepard took another long pull from her drink.
"Well, he'd just rescued me from Cerberus, what was I supposed to do? Give him the cold shoulder?" she said.
"So you don't want to talk to him any more? You'd rather it had been some other Spectre?"
"No! No. I'm glad we can be friends again."
Liara set her drink down and leaned back into the sofa, narrowing her eyes and examining Shepard like she was an ancient Prothean artifact from one of her digs.
"Can you please stop looking at me like you're about to dissect me?"
"Please, Shepard. I did a lot more excavating than dissecting. I wasn't like Mordin."
"Dissecting, excavating—whatever it is you're looking for, care to share your results?" Shepard asked.
Liara fell silent for a long moment, bringing her hand to her lips as she often did when faced with a serious puzzle. Shepard resisted the urge to squirm,
"It was hard on him, not hearing from you. Are you sure you've gotten over… whatever it was that led you to cut him off?" she said eventually.
Shepard swallowed thickly, looking back at her drink to give her a break from Liara's piercing gaze. That was the question, wasn't it?
"Yes. I won't pretend I don't worry sometimes that it will be too much for me, but… It will be okay," she said. Her grip on her glass tightened, and she forced more determination into her voice. "It has to be."
"Well, if I know anyone who can accomplish something through sheer force of will, it's you," Liara said.
Liara finished her drink and set it down, getting to her feet with her trademark asari grace.
"Well, I should really get going. Ah, and you should know. Tali will tell you she's just visiting you next month, but she's actually planning on moving to the Citadel. It's all very hush-hush, but the Council is considering offering the quarians a spot on the Council, and Tali's on their short list for first quarian councilor."
"Well, I'll be sure to act surprised when she tells me," Shepard said with a smile, walking Liara over to the door.
Liara turned back to Shepard once she reached the door, pulling her into a tight hug.
"It's been too long, friend. I am so glad to see you again."
That prickling feeling returned to Shepard's eyes—that's two times she'd felt it in less than a week. She tightened her arms around Liara and squeezed tight.
"You're right, Liara. It's been too long."