eponymous_rose: (ME | Victus)
[personal profile] eponymous_rose
Title: Home Fires Burning (7/8)
Word Count: 1,300 (this chapter)
Characters: Hilary Moreau, Aeian T'Goni, Solana Vakarian, Lantar Sidonis, Garrus Vakarian, Liara T'Soni, Donnel Udina, Dehkarr, Jeff "Joker" Moreau
Rating: T
Warnings: Canon character death, violence
Spoilers: ME3, from start to finish.

Summary: Khar'shan, Tiptree, Citadel, Palaven, Earth. Five tales from the Reaper War. This is the way the worlds end.

Steel and Shadows: 3. Future Imperfect

Solana was underwater.

She was underwater, and things drowned with her beneath the waves, things that were dark and deep and fathomless, brushing against her scales, whispering at the back of her mind.

Stay, they said.

Breathe, they said.

"Anytime you want to wake up, now, that'd be great," they said.

Wait. Hang on. What?

She opened her eyes, squinted for a moment, then split into a jaw-cracking yawn. Lantar, leaning over her, inhaled sharply and stumbled back a step. "Fuck me," he said. "That actually worked."

"Mrph," Solana said, cleverly, and rolled over. She was lying on a cool, hard bed that felt wonderful against her back, which was aching for some reason. Getting old, Sol? Her eyes were just starting to drift shut when it hit.

"There it is," Lantar said, with unbearable smugness.

Solana sat bolt upright, then winced and dropped back down as pain shot up her leg. "Wait, what the hell happened? The cook? Sarus? Dad?"

"Good question, dead, confused, terrifying," Lantar said, ticking off the responses on his fingers. "Do you remember the explosion?"

Solana thought about it. "Wow," she said. "The cook was standing right there the whole time, right? We're sort of idiots."

"Pretty much."

She looked at him more closely. There was a fresh groove in one of his faceplates, fairly deep, and he was wearing different clothes, proper armor by the looks of things. "Wait, did you join the infantry while I was asleep?"

He snorted a laugh. "That'd be the end of the Hierarchy as we know it," he said. "And just so you know, I'm very jealous of those painkillers you got. Broken leg's clearly the way to go."


Holding out his hands in a gesture of surrender, he pulled up a nearby chair and sank down. "You've been out for around a day, I guess. Well, you were only out for a couple minutes, but you weren't really with it until we pulled you from under the rubble. And then the medic gave you the painkillers and you were really out of it. And my clothes got all fucked up in the scramble, so I got myself some shiny new armor." He grinned down at it. She rolled her eyes.

Trying to piece this particular puzzle together was like wading through thick mud, which was bringing back all kinds of nasty memories from basic training. There was the one guy who always- Wait. No. Concentrate. Puzzle. "Where are we?"

Lantar's vaguely amused expression faded. "All of us made it to an evac ship – your father and Sarus are discussing strategy up in the main cabin, I think. Galatan City is lost. The Reapers descended on it all at once – I guess our cook alerted them right before he blew himself up. We barely got out of there alive, and that is definitely a story for another day. For now, we're headed for the Citadel to see if we can meet up with some other refugees and get a solid strategy session going."

Solana blew out a slow breath, thinking again of that nice, spacious desk she could be hiding under right this very moment. It didn't seem all that comforting just now. "Dad can't be happy about evacuating."

"Oh man, he was pissed off. Thought he was going to take a swing at me." He thought about that for a second. "Actually, he still might. I'm not sure he's entirely ruled out the whole shooting-me thing, either."

"Uh," Solana said. "About that."

Lantar looked down at his arm, where the bullet had grazed it, but his voice was steady, solid. "Every word he said was true. And what's worse, Garrus caught up with me, after. I don't know how – I was meant to disappear completely, but I guess I couldn't exactly trust the bastards who kidnapped me and tortured me. I can't make excuses. I betrayed the only people who meant a damn to me, and they died because of it.

"And then I'm on the Citadel, just feeling sorry for myself, and there's fucking Commander Shepard telling me Garrus is waiting on the catwalk with a bullet with my name on it. And she's standing between me and him, and I'm thinking I could push her away, let him take the shot, but I'm too much of a fucking coward even for that. And then he decides to let me live, and what can I even say to that, that twisted mercy? That I'll try to do better? You don't get a second chance after that. Something like that, you're dead inside and your body just keeps going."

Solana exhaled, staring up at the ceiling. The painkillers were clouding her thoughts again, and she was starting to drift, but this was important, she had to concentrate. "I'm a really shitty soldier," she said, which wasn't exactly what she'd meant to say, but she ran with it. "I was hopeless at basic training. Screwed up like you wouldn't imagine. I eventually figured out why. I don't get the whole chest-pounding honor thing. I don't believe there's a person out there who wouldn't crack under some form of pressure. I don't think that makes us cowards."

She reached out, tapped a talon against his chest. "I don't think you're dead, Lantar. I don't think you're a coward for wanting to live. You're not a soldier, is all. That's the Hierarchy code, right? You never promote someone before they're ready, and if you do, it's on you. Garrus has never really understood that, not where it counts. He's too quick to trust, to hand out respect and responsibility." She sighed. "Look, it's like this: a big part of what happened was on him, and it was easier to face you than to face himself."

Lantar was still staring down at his arm. His shoulders were shaking.

"Spirits," Solana said, vaguely. "I never really thought of it that way. We're just one big Hierarchy of guilt issues, aren't we?"

That sparked a faint, tired smile, a little quirk of his mandibles. "Just like that, huh? Start living again?"

"Well, no, I'd imagine there's years – if not decades – of incredibly expensive therapy involved." She grinned, and his half-smile widened in response. "But yeah, eventually. You do things right. You do things better."

He finally met her gaze directly, then sighed and shook his head. "You know, you almost make me think I could pull that off."

And there was something different in his voice, something new that her cloudy mind was having trouble focusing on, so she opened a new file marked 'things-to-think-about-another-day'. Another puzzle. She smiled, sleepily, then blinked as another thought occurred to her. "Hey," she said, "I never got to use my knives."

"Yeah, those were a real treat to find while we were trying to drag you out from under the debris. You're kind of a terrifying person, you know that?" Lantar stood up, patted the side of the bed a bit awkwardly. "Get some rest. We'll talk later, spy."

"Badass spy," Solana corrected.

Shaking his head, he left the room, dimming the lights as he went.

Solana rolled onto her side again, stared out the viewport at the starscape beyond, wondering which of the faint specks of light was Trebia, trying to bring to mind images of Palaven, trying to recall the things that she knew she'd probably never see again. The only memory that actually seemed real, tangible, was the raspy growl of a summer storm, and even that was fading, slipping away, and maybe that was a blessing, maybe that was a kindness, a strange mercy, the forgetting. Life moved on. Everything changed.

Solana closed her eyes and dreamed of the future.

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