eponymous_rose: (ME | Victus)
[personal profile] eponymous_rose
Title: Home Fires Burning (8/8)
Word Count: 1,800 (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.

Epilogue: Just Like New Times

London was burning.

Garrus Vakarian couldn't quite suppress a smile, watching five kids struggle to lob a chunk of wooden debris into the bonfire. They managed it eventually, though the littlest one tumbled over and lay blinking at the night sky until his father came and scooped him up. There was a moment of breathless silence as the misty rain danced around the blaze, and then the crowd cheered as the wood finally sparked and caught, a fresh beacon of light against the gloom. The air had a tang of smoke to it that was surprisingly pleasant, carrying no traces of the acrid, bloody, metallic stench of the war. Down the city's labyrinthine streets, past the skeletons of half-reconstructed buildings, he could see similar blazes, spontaneous, old-fashioned celebrations, complete with laughing, singing, music echoing somewhere, eerie and soothing all at once.

One year.

Despite the best efforts of the Earth's famed weather regulators, the rain was starting to intensify, sizzling and spitting against the bonfire – a byproduct, he figured, of all the debris still clogging Earth's upper orbit. He raised the hood of his jacket over his fringe, talons lingering on the soft, delicate fabric. He hadn't worn armor in months, but the feel of it was in his scales now, deeper. Inhaling the smoke and rain, he leaned back against a wall, crossing his arms, content to be outside the group, content to merely let the sound wash over him. Content.

"Strange, the difference a year can make."

He didn't jump at the voice, registering the smile in it before the words themselves. "You're getting suspiciously good at sneaking around in the dark, T'Soni. Taking the 'shadow' part of the job to heart?"

"Any good information broker knows the importance of maintaining only the highest standards when it comes to lurking." She too had a dark hood over her head, half-concealing her face, and he figured she'd opted for camouflage for the same reason as him: after the first hundred or so, hero's welcomes started wearing thin. "I thought I might find you here."

Garrus shrugged, attention drawn back to the crowd and the fire. "We all agreed to meet here one year later. It's one year later. I'm punctual." He cleared his throat, straightened up. "Is anyone else-?"

Liara pushed her hands into her pockets, rocked on her toes, a new nervous habit. "Oh, you know. There's a lot going on. New alliances to broker, new peaces to keep, new wars to plan. Everyone's very busy, I'm sure-"

"So you're saying we're it?"

"We're it."

Rain was dripping from the edge of his hood, and he swiped at it with his sleeve, then sighed and stared up at the sky. The moon was visible through breaks in the cloud, a faint light behind them, there and gone, there and gone. The rain felt good against his scales. "I keep looking up there and expecting to see that beam, the light. It was right here."

"The one leading to the Citadel," Liara said, and he knew then that she was watching him, that they'd all been watching him.

Now that he'd brought it up, he couldn't banish the image of the pillar of light from his mind. He looked away, back to the bonfire. "I, ah, I can't remember what she said. Did I ever tell you that?"

"Sorry?" But her hand was already on his arm, offering comfort, responding to the tone, not the words. He couldn't look at her.

"Shepard. At the beam. I don't remember it at all."

She was quiet for a moment, they both were, and they watched the flames flicker uncertainly under the fresh deluge of rain. He knew she remembered, that she'd heard, and it jolted him to his core when he realized he didn't want to know, not really. Better this way. Her hand tightened on his arm for a moment, then she stepped away, shaking her head. "It's not- I mean, Garrus, you were hurt."

Someone at the bonfire was telling a story to uproarious laughter. He laughed, too, a harsh echo. "I slept through the end of the war, T'Soni. After all that, after putting everything I have into it, I just wake up and Chakwas is standing there telling me it's over."

To his surprise, Liara gave a derisive snort. He blinked, stared at her. "Trust me, Garrus, if Shepard taught me anything at all, it's that nothing's ever really over. Things are changing." She tapped a finger to her own chest, waved a hand toward him. "The war's still here, inside every one of us, every soldier, every orphan, everyone who lost a home. We all took all that hate and fear and anger inside ourselves and let it change us. You can't tell me this is over. Nothing will ever be the same again."

Garrus sighed, swiped the rain from his face again, tried not to think about the things Liara had to know, tried to ignore the new quaver in her voice. Disappointed yells signaled the death of the bonfire, smoldering away to embers under a renewed downpour. He shifted, still feeling the weight of a rifle hanging between his shoulders. We took it inside ourselves.

"It's not all bad," he said. "Just new. Different."

She shook her head, but he could hear the smile in her voice. "You know me, Garrus. I've always preferred the old to the new. Preferably the very, very old."

He grinned. "And how is Javik these days?"

She groaned, surprised him with a sharp jab of her elbow. "Don't get me started on him. Feron's been egging him on. They take turns telling people how primitive they are. It's been difficult getting him to focus on the book."

Garrus felt his whole body start to uncoil, settling into more familiar territory. "You're still planning on writing that book?"

"Trying to plan on writing it. It's a work in progress."

"You've certainly got your pick of publishers. Just, ah, keep Javik away from any book-signings."

She snorted again, and they lapsed into a comfortable silence. He'd always appreciated that about her – oh, sure, she was nosy and more than a little prone to speaking her mind without thinking about it, and occasionally she could've given Mordin a run for his money on the whole mad-scientist thing, but she'd also been alone long enough to have mastered the art of not saying a word. That was a rare gift.

Soon enough, the rain started coming down harder, and in an unspoken agreement they moved back under the overhang of a roof. He stared toward the fire, to the people still valiantly trying to start it up again. "I, ah, I've been wondering. How do asari cope with loss and change? I mean, a thousand years. I've always wondered, but-"

Liara shrugged. "You'll get different answers from different people. Mother used to say we had to take a philosophical approach. Many embrace religion – after losing so many friends, the promise of their finding peace isn't just tempting, it can be absolutely necessary. I suspect the truth is that nobody ever really knows how to deal with-" She waved a hand. "-with all this. Have you considered that we are the first civilizations in… in millions of years who don't have the Reapers lurking in the shadows, waiting to cause our extinction? This is- well, it's uncharted territory, isn't it? Who knows what we could accomplish?"

Garrus leaned back against a wall, crossing his arms, and smirked. "Makes you wonder what else is waiting in the shadows, doesn't it? Maybe something else is out there on a fifty-thousand-and-one year schedule of extinction, and the Reapers just always beat them to it."

"As optimistic as ever. Besides, if the experimental quantum entanglement drives ever-" She paused. "Wait. You didn't just hear me say that."

"That sounded an awful lot like something awfully classified."

She sniffed. "I have no idea what you're talking about. There certainly isn't a major coalition of scientists working round-the-clock using recent technological advances to develop a means of traveling to other galaxies. Anyone who says otherwise is, er, clearly lying."

"Extragalactic travel," he said, testing the words on his tongue. It was, well, it was big. Bigger than he could properly fathom. New resources, new planets, new places- new people. New threats. New wars. New devastation.

New stories. New hope.

"You didn't hear it from me," Liara said.

"Of course."

Before he could probe for more information, a new round of cheering broke out, over by the remains of the bonfire. He exchanged glances with Liara, who shrugged, and they stepped back toward the crowd.

The fire was definitely out, but its embers were still burning, little glowing half-sheltered pockets of heat and warmth. A few humans were crouched down next to the embers, and with little sticks held to the embers they were toasting something that smelled almost sickeningly sweet. The children were delirious with joy, dancing in the rain, tearing into their new treats, and the adults were laughing and joking and smiling.

"I'm glad I came," Liara said. "I think I needed to see this."

"Yeah," Garrus said, and thought about going home, not just for meetings or diplomatic talks or endless debriefings, but really going home, staying with Sol and Dad and trying to build something up instead of tearing it down.

Liara held a hand up to shade her eyes while she squinted at the sky. "Is the rain letting up a little, or is it just me?"

Garrus attempted the same manoeuver and had to blink a couple of massive raindrops out of his eyes. "I think it's just you."

"All right, then," she said, and, after a moment's hesitation, she hooked an arm through his. "We'll weather this storm, just like we weathered every storm before it."

He laughed. "Didn't you just finish lecturing me about how nothing ever stays the same?"

She smiled, looking more relaxed than he'd ever seen her. "Not quite. I said everything changes. We stay the same."

Childrens' shrieks and giggles from around the bonfire marked the death-by-fire of one of their precious confections. Garrus watched it flare and sizzle away, watched a bit of ash drift up and up into the sky, buffeted by raindrops, until he lost sight of it, and then he just watched the rain. The ghost of the beam was gone, leaving only streaks of water against the dull bruise of the sky. He couldn't see the moon anymore, blanketed as it was by cloud, but he knew it would be there when the storm cleared up.

So would the stars.

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