Chapter 8 of The Candidate
Garrus was leading a drunken krogan by the cuffed hands to an extra-padded cell when a familiar smiling face showed up on the news-holo in the main hall of the C-Sec compound. He smiled back at it; no time to listen to the news report now, but he made a mental note to look it up on the extranet later.
It had been nine years since their brief entanglement in the Spectre training camp, and Garrus could count the occasions when they’d run into each other on the Citadel after that by the fingers of his hands. Nihlus would always greet him with unadulterated cordiality. They would shake hands in the beginning and exchange a brief hug in the end, and it wouldn’t be the hands-on-the-shoulders kind, but the long-lingering, full-body, cheek-to-cheek sort of hug. Nihlus would promise they’d go have drinks the next time, for he was in a hurry, he was always in a hurry. Garrus didn’t mind the white lie, although he did still harbor a healthy amount of longing. But mostly he was simply proud of the acquaintance, and enjoyed the privilege of nudging a fellow C-Sec officer in the canteen to say, hey, I know this guy! And the fellow officer would glance at the news report and say, a Spectre, eh? Lucky son of a bitch. And Garrus would say, yeah. Exactly.
With the krogan secured and the forms M2 through M14 filled in and signed, and questionnaires Q3 through Q7 filled and posted anonymously, the witness statements run through the speech recognition program, checked, rechecked and filed, and the report template signed by the section PI and marked due next morning, Garrus finally took the elevator down to the wards for a lunch break. The speakers in the cabin were busted again; but he could see the news report and the same picture of Nihlus through the panoramic window, displayed on the news-holos all over the Citadel. Something big must have gone down.
He picked up his usual order of dextro pastries and vegetables from Hinley’s and took a walk to the rented apartment he’d been sharing with Polox, a young man from Taetrus who was working for Elanus Security. Their schedules were such that they rarely met, and that was just as well; Garrus wasn’t keen on making friends. He hated the Citadel, and barely tolerated the work, and lived from day to day, constantly waiting for an opportunity, some opening to escape through and start living his life, the life he wanted. The life of a Spectre.
It was a strange thing to admit, but seeing Nihlus on the news always triggered these spells of foul mood, just as meeting him launched cascades of conflicting emotions. He never stopped liking Nihlus; and he was still to have sex he could honestly call better than that quick fuck against the wall. In time, he started collecting extranet reports on his activities, like he used to do with Saren’s. Saren had fallen off the radar in the recent years, dabbling in politics and accumulating riches; Nihlus was the new hero, the new poster-boy, the second most-decorated turian in the service of the Council ever. No, Garrus had never stopped liking him, but seeing Nihlus on the news made him want to snipe someone from the rooftop of his building, just as meeting him made him want to beat someone within an inch of their life with bare talons.
He sat to eat and brought up the terminal. Scrolled through the daily Citadel headlines and ended up typing “Nihlus” in the search bar to save time. The smiling face came up under the title “Attack on Eden Prime.” Garrus scanned the keywords. And put down the unfinished pastry on the tray with a hand that had started shaking.
He had barely known the man. Yes. He couldn’t remember the last time he had seen him face to face. True, all true. He had no right to mourn him. No, no right at all. It had only been a quick fuck against the wall.
So why was his throat suddenly constricted? Why was there an ache in his chest? He started to clear his throat but instead froze at the sound that came out of it. A horrible sound that scared the shit out of him. Deep, heavy and meaty, resonating from his vocal cavity in all the wrong ways.
Garrus stood up and pressed a hand against his chest, feeling the rapid heartbeat of panic. His breath came in ragged, and a crumb of food must have come in with it because he slipped into a violent fit of coughing that eventually sent him to the bathroom, and the freshly chewed lunch went out in sadly recognizable pieces.
When it seemed to be over, he stood in front of the mirror. Nauseating shivers were travelling up and down the muscles of his abdomen. He hadn’t cried even when they’d told him about Mum. He had never cried, period. His chest was still heaving with shock, but now it was controlled, contained. It had been just a cough. Yes. The sad news had made him choke on his lunch and that was all there was to it.
Another ragged breath.
He went back to the room, turned the terminal off without looking at it and took out a nearly empty bottle of quarian tequila from the storage. He was still on duty and wasn’t supposed to drink. But right now, Garrus didn’t give a flying fuck about duty. He took a long drag that burned through the lump in his throat in no time.
There was just about enough tequila in the bottle to make the final goodbye a bit blurry in his memory.
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