A/N: Hope you all are staying safe in these wild times. The following chapter title is brought to you by 'anna sage.'.
VI: Crows Feet
Palaven (Daxus Outskirts)
It was dawn. It seemed that both Garrus and Castis couldn't sleep, and felt the needed to do something to pass the time before Aelen woke. They were out back of their home; a wide open expanse with a small, but sudden drop-off. A wall of mountains, normally a silvery hue, were a tone similar to sand in the early morning light as they lay menacingly along the horizon. There wasn't a soul, let alone building in sight.
Garrus had slung two rifles over his shoulders while Castis had a bag of empty bottles.
"Who's first?" He questioned as he handed his fathers rifle over to him. Other than being an older model, and the navy blue paint beginning to fade, it was practically identical to his. It was clear that while it had seen plenty of use way back when, it had not seen much use other than when Castis maintained it. Garrus stared down at his rifle. It was oddly cool to the touch.
"You first..." Castis replied, sounding distracted. Garrus noticed the distant look in his eyes as he took a bottle. With the click of a button, the rifle extended. Garrus knelt on one knee and put his eye to the scope. After a moment, he looked over to his father. The elder Turian's body relaxed as he stared out at the mountains. Trebia, the sun, was beginning to peak over them.
Castis came to his senses. "Ready?"
The elder Turian may have had his best years behind him, but the man still had quite the arm. The bottle was launched far past the drop off, hanging high in the air as it arced. His scope followed it the whole way, he took a deep breath in as the sunlight flickered off it. In that split second, he could almost see Sidonis looking back at him, begging to die.
A loud bang echoed across the landscape as he pulled the trigger. As it fired, the recoil made him lose sight of the bottle momentarily. The silence that followed said everything. His eye no longer on the scope, he caught a brief glimpse of the bottle now in free fall before it disappeared over the drop off.
"Damn..." he uttered under his breath. Without even a second thought, eyed the scope again. "Another." He could see through the scope that the barrel was shaking. He hadn't set his hands on it since he had taken down Sidonis, and frankly, he hadn't even planned on doing so until he had returned to the Normandy. Something about holding it now felt off.
Castis' mandibles flared as he stared at his son briefly, before taking another out. This one didn't appear to have as much power behind it, but the bottle still moved swiftly across the sky as he followed. Again, he saw his face as his talon began to put pressure on the trigger, and again another bang rang through the valley without a response.
"I am breathing!" He snapped. A heavy sigh escaped him as he laid his rifle on his knee. He looked up at his Castis. His mouth was slightly agape. He always found him so hard to read, but he could see the worry in his eyes. "Just like old times, eh?" The slightest of grins appeared on his fathers face, but was quickly replaced with his usual stolidity. "I'm sorry, it's this rifle...it's Sidonis..."
"Can't let the past get to you, Garrus. Not with the mission you're on." Castis replied as he examined his weapon. With the flick of a button, the barrel extended. "My turn..." Unlike him, Castis remained standing as he put his eye up to the scope.
Garrus approached the bag of bottles and grabbed one. Catching his nod of approval, he threw the bottle. His eyes never left it as it arced across the sky, just before it fell out of sight, he heard the bang, nothing else. Castis lowered his rifle, his mandibles flared as he sighed.
"Seems we're both out of our element today."
"And what's your excuse?"
"...Aelen." He placed the rifle on the ground, and stared out into the mountains again."I remember when we first got married, we took a trip out to those mountains. You think the bureaucratic nonsense to get time off was bad, it was a total shitshow then, so I got real lucky. But it was so perfect." The elder Turian squinted, appearing to try and focus on something. He pointed out towards the mountains."You can't see it, but there's a house somewhere on that one."
Garrus tried to imagine the view from the mountains of Daxus. The city always had a deep blue hue at night, it must have been spectacular.
"I wanted to go up there again before it was too late, but I guess that's not happening now."
"You can still go, Dad. Hell, when this is all said and done, I'll buy you that damn house, and you can live your days out there."
The elder Turian chuckled, before bowing his head. "Retirement would suit me well right now." There was a long pause before he spoke again. "Spirits...It's really happening, Garrus. And it's coming up so quickly now. I can deal with the demons that've haunted me over the years. All the things I missed cause I had to work to keep this place. But I can't handle the here and now. She means more to me than you can imagine. To watch the one you love beyond comprehension waste away and forget you..."
Garrus had no response. He saw Castis look back down at the rifle, and raise it back up. Without a thought, he took another bottle out, gripping it firmly. His stride as he pulled his arm back was longer and faster. He threw the bottle with such force, a yelp escaped him. He lost track of it as it left his hand, a bang was all he heard in response.
"It's you too, Garrus." He uttered, lowering his weapon again. "When this is over, you'll be heading back on this mission of yours. I know you don't have much say in that, and probably would go back regardless, but I need you to come back alive, son. I can't bury both of you."
He had said it so many times up to this point, but the idea of him dying on this suicide mission had never really hit him until now. The mangled side of his face tingled as he recalled the moments right after he was struck with the missile. Gasping for air, choking on his own blood. He was desperately trying to call out Shepard's name, but all that came out was the most pained gurgling sound. Just as everything he went black, he truly thought that was it. But then he came to in the Normandy's medbay. He was alive? He figured if he could survive a missile to the face, and everything that followed, he could survive anything, so it never came up.
"I know it can be hard to tell sometimes, but dammit Garrus, you and Solana are all I got. I could've just left you on the Citadel and never let you know your mother was in her final days. But I did..."
"You don't have to-"
"I care so much for you two, and I'm so sorry if I never made that obvious."
He never was one for a heart to heart, but Garrus could see in this moment of candidness the weight of everything being lifted off of Castis. He too could see his son have a moment of clarity. With a nod, the elder Turian grabbed a bottle. Garrus nodded back, and raised his weapon. He never saw him throw it, but the moment it appeared in his sights, he didn't hesitate, and pulled the trigger.
The bottle exploded into tiny fragments, leaving a quickly dissipating smoke trail.
Garrus lowered his weapon, grinning. He turned to Castis who was now looking behind him. He turned and saw Solana approaching.
"Mom's awake, I was going to get breakfast ready."
"How's she doing?" Castis asked.
"Seems like a good day so far."
He really hoped it would be.
It was the first time since Sidonis that Garrus had actually sat down and had a real meal. As he ate on the island in the kitchen that hung below his room, he watched carefully as Solana fed his mother at the table further into the kitchen. He had gotten used to it over the past couple days, but it still pained him to watch her struggle to eat. Her condition had deteriorated to the point where she could only eat through a straw. Despite all this, she appeared far more lucid than previous days. Solana seemed to be able to hold a conversation with her. What about, he wasn't really aware. He was far too lost in his own thoughts to follow. Even now, he couldn't bear to disturb them.
As he silently ate, he could hear in the distance the sound of his father's rifle going off. He had declined to come in immediately. From his view through the glass doors directly in front of him, he could see him far off, his rifle raised. It didn't appear that he was launching any more bottles, or aiming at anything in particular.
"Garrus," hearing his mother say the name now gave him a heavy feeling in his chest. He could tell she was struggling to find the words she wanted to say. "come here..."
Garrus looked down at his food for a moment before moving to the table. He tried his best to put on a smile as Solana moved the straw up to her mouth again.
"I was just telling mother about the upcoming observances for Armistice Day."
"Isn't that more of a human thing?"
"Yeah, well we don't really have a name for it, so I just call it that."
"What was being planned?"
"Parades..." Aelen uttered. "Mass..."
"Maybe we could all go?" Garrus suggested, looking for any sign of approval.
"Hmmmm..." Aelen appeared to be in deep thought for a moment before going blank. The three sat in silence for a moment as Solana fed her again. When she was done, she looked up at Garrus, eyeing his scars.
"Were you hurt?"
"Yeah, mom. I was trying to help some people. It didn't really go as planned."
Aelen's shaky hand raised as she put it to her son's scarred face. He could see a moment of clarity in her eyes as he spoke. "You always were so brave, Garrus. So caring."
It took so much effort not to lose it right then and there, but Garrus held it all in, placing his hand on hers before pulling away and engulfing another bite of his food. It was at this point Castis came through the doors. None of the equipment he had brought out was with him, he was staring off into space. He came to quick enough to come over the to the table, gently caressing Aelen's scalp.
"Castis..." Garrus noticed his father forcefully blink at his name being called.
"How you doing, honey?" Garrus felt his father had a rather rough and gravelly voice, he always thought he did it to sound tougher. His suspicions were confirmed when the words came out and the facade collapsed, revealing a softer tone.
"A little tired." It was a phrase all three had grown used to. At this point, it didn't even mean anything to them, as she would remain up and as alert as she could for hours following. Perhaps it didn't mean what they thought.
"Do you need anything?"
"Just stay with me."
Castis blinked again. "Okay."
Solana handed the cup to him and gave her seat to him, moving over to the other side of the table with Garrus. The two watched as he moved the straw to her mouth and she took a long sip. When she was done, he leaned in and whispered to her. Whatever he said made her whole face light up. Spirits, he'd kill to have this moment last longer.
A cupped hand covered Solana's mouth as she bowed her head. Garrus wrapped an arm around her shoulder and motioned to get up. The two stepped away from the kitchen and into the foyer. Solana composed herself as they continued to watch from a distance.
"In all the times he's stayed over, I've never seen him like this."
"I think he senses this could be the last time she's like this."
Castis stopped feeding his wife and sat with her in silence. His hand moving along her shoulder. Aelen's face looked content, but both of them could see the dead stare in her eyes come back.
"I think I may go back to school when this is all over, study Neurology. I know the Helos Medical Institute in Cipritine that specializes in this kind of stuff."
"You should, you've always had a thing for medicine. Put it to good use."
The two continued to stare at their parents. Both were smiling, lost in the moment. Castis whispered to her once more. Everything was so quiet.
"I don't know how he does it." Garrus remarked.
"It never gets easier." Solana said, breaking the silence, clearly on the verge of tears once again. "And once she's gone, you'll be gone, and Dad's gonna go back to C-Sec. It's going to be so hard..."
Garrus had not divulged any information on the mission to her other than he had to go back and finish it when this was done. He couldn't bear to let on the weight of the situation. Solana was strong, but it wasn't worth it. He wrapped an arm around her shoulder, and pulled her in.
"I'll be back..."
The day was quiet. After breakfast, Garrus spent most of the day in his mothers room by her side as she looked out the window. Even in her state, she liked structure, she had always been that way. While they sat, he eventually spotted Castis in the distance, collecting their gear from earlier. He stood slouched, staring back out into the mountains again. For a moment, he turned towards them before turning back around, his posture instantly fixing itself, and grabbing the remainder of their gear.
Much like the previous days, Aelen's lucidity came and went as the day progressed. There would be periods up to an hour where she wouldn't speak a word, and yet Garrus was so content to just be there with her.
"Did you still want to go to Mass on Armistice Day?"
"Garrus, you know I can't"
"...Time's almost up…"
The brief moments of clarity were the most sobering. He couldn't decide what was worse. Other than when Solana came in to feed her for lunch and dinner, it was just the two of them. While Solana was taking care of some final business and various things around the house, Castis was nowhere to be seen. He had told the two of them he was going to run a few errands in town after breakfast, Garrus knew better. Aelen did not seem to make note of their absence.
Shortly after nightfall, Aelen had become agitated, and far less lucid. Garrus was just putting her up into bed when he heard the front door open down the hall. The projector was giving off a bright gold light across the walls and ceiling, with numerous shadows morphing into different shapes. The device wailed a melancholy drone as the machine did its work. She seemed calmer.
"Do you need anything?"
"I'm going to bed. I'll see you in the morning, okay?"
"I'll be there..."
"...I love you, Mom."
Aelen closed her eyes and turned away. Garrus placed a talon on hers that laid across her chest. He felt her breathe in and out at a slow and steady pace. It felt so weak. The moment was interrupted as Castis opened the door. His sullen appearance had not changed.
"How's she been?"
"In and out, the usual. Where were you?"
Castis did not immediately respond. His mandibles twitched as the machines drone
drowned out the silence. "...figuring myself out."
"I'd like some time with her..."
Garrus nodded and left. As he closed the door, he could see his father already sitting along the bedside, his hand in hers. He looked at her momentarily before bowing his head.
The Turian retreated to his loft. He grabbed his datapad and logged in. He had tried to check in with Shepard on a daily basis, though he had forgotten to the night prior. After a moment, Shepard's face came up on the screen. From what he could observe in the background, she appeared seated on in what he still assumed were her quarters.
"Actually, it's pretty late here."
Shepard chuckled and adjusted herself on the couch. "It's hard to keep track of time everywhere."
"Yeah, but are you?"
"As good as I can be, Shepard. Sorry for not checking in yesterday."
"I'm sure you've been busy."
"Yeah, something like that..."
"Wanna talk about it?"
Garrus paused. His mandibles flared.
"Well today was quiet, but I ran into an old family friend yesterday, found out his son died back when we saved the Citadel...we were close as kids." A heavy sigh escaped him. "It's not easy losing your friends, especially ones you haven't seen in years...I feel like you're one of the few I have left, Shepard."
There was a long silence that followed. He looked away momentarily, feeling extremely vulnerable in the moment, and then back up at the screen. It was amazing to him how humans can be so well read just by their face compared to Turians. Shepard tried to keep a straight face, but he could see it in her eyes, it hurt her to hear him say those things.
"Did you get the IF-"
"Garrus, what did I tell you?"
"Sorry, Commander." The Turian frowned, bowing his head momentarily. "It's not easy to lose focus of something this big. A lot is at stake here." He could see a hint of a smile appear on her face. He also noticed her eyes lighting up.
"How do Turians get ready for high risk missions?"
"You wanna talk missions, Garrus?" She said, leaning back in her seat, crossing her arms. "Let's talk missions."
"Hmmm, okay then." Garrus smirked. "Well for starters, Turian ships have far more operational discipline than the Alliance, but oddly, fewer personal restrictions. Our commanders run a very tight ship, but they know we have to blow off some steam once in a while."
"How was that usually done?"
"With violence, usually. One thing Turian ships are universally equipped with that the Normandy doesn't are training rooms. And I'm talking ones that take up an entire deck! And they have everything, exercise equipment, combat sims, hell they even have rooms for full contact sparring. You think there's any way we can convert the cargo bay?"
Shepard jokingly rolled her eyes. "I'll get right on that, Garrus. But what's that about full contact sparring? Commanders are okay with their crew fighting before missions?"
"Oh, it's supervised of course. Wouldn't want to risk an injury before the mission. It's also a good way to settle grudges amicably."
"You were a scrapper?"
"Heh, something like that. I remember a while back, about ten years ago-"
"You're making us sound old, Garrus."
"Fighting Reapers, Collectors, and whatever else gets thrown at us does that to you, Shepard."
"As I was saying, we were on a mission to hit a Batarian pirate squad, risky stuff. Our Recon Scout, Juveana, and I had been at each others throats for weeks. Mostly nerves, she offered to settle things in the ring."
"I assume you took her down gently?"
"Absolutely not. We were the two top hand-to-hand specialists on the ship. I had reach, but she had flexibility. I couldn't pass up an opportunity like that."
"Well how did it go?"
"Well, we fought, and fought, and fought, when finally after nine rounds, the judge called it a draw."
"Yup, that's exactly what everyone who placed a bet that night said, amongst other things."
"Was the score settled though?"
"Yeah, well, ah...we did end up having a tiebreaker in her quarters, I had reach but she had flexibility." Shepard immediately burst out laughing at the remark. The Turian responded in kind. "More than one way to work off stress I guess."
Shepard shook her head, grinning. When she looked back up, Garrus noticed a look in her eye that he couldn't pinpoint. "You know, you're carrying a lot of tension, Garrus. Maybe I can help blow some steam off when you get back?" She grinned as she crossed one leg and rested it on her other.
"I didn't think you were into sparring, Commander."
The Turian could see Shepard stifling another laugh. Her confusing response snapped him back into reality. It was in that moment Garrus checked the clock and saw it was almost midnight.
"Spirits, Shepard, I need to get to bed. I didn't expect to be up this late."
"Time flies when you're distracted."
"Heh, it really feels nice for once..."
"Sounds like you had a good day, Garrus."
"Yeah, it was..."
It was still the dead of night when Solana's distant cries woke him. He bolted up from bed, knocking the datapad to the floor, and saw his father at the foot of the steps, his talons gripping the railing like his life depended on it. He was humming, in all his life he had never heard him do that before. "Garrus..." He uttered shakily in the weakest voice he had ever heard escape from him. "It's over..."
Garrus said nothing. Solana's cries echoed through the house.