"A Krogan, a Salarian, and a Vorcha walk into a bar," Garrus says to his audience of one.
The Vorcha kit has given up on the loose barrel of one of his assault rifles; now its' moved on to the muzzle of his battered Hurricane sniper rifle, gnawing at it furiously with tiny teeth scoring lines in the rough metal stock.
This isn't going to work. He drops the batch of empty dissolve clips from his hands to a bit of spare counter-space-- away from the edge, because all three of the little ones have already shown tendency to procure long things for the knocking about of higher targets, much to his combination of pride and terror-- and he steps around the kid, out the door and into the long hallway of home sweet home.
Not really home, or even all that sweet; just a procured cargo ship like all the others that have been cleared out of smugglers over the years. But they've been on this one in particular for four months and it'll be six months minimum before they're back in what counts as Civilised Space these days to offload their specialised cargo, so he's going to make the best of it.
Best of it in this case is peering down the hall into the open pilot's chamber where Shepard is messing with something. He can see the back of her head bowed over a panel, and he dearly hopes that this is her curiosity at play and that something else isn't broken again.
"Hey, come help me with this!"
Shepard raises her left hand and waves at him without looking up. The brace on that arm clicks softly with the movement.
Something hits his right shin. He looks down to see the Vorcha kit beside him, nothing in its' tiny claws or in its' gaping mouth. They have a small stare down between them, and then the creature wraps spindly arms around his leg and latches onto him like a creeper.
He watches in resignation as the thing starts to gnaw on him. He wishes he could figure out what the kit's sex was so he wouldn't be stuck referring to it as an "it".
The Vorcha is small enough he doesn't have to alter his gait to get down the hall. Ten steps take him to where the bunkspace is, and through the transparent barrier he can see the other two foundlings of theirs, a year old Salarian girl and six month hold Krogan boy.
The Salarian is sitting with her legs straight out from her, head tilted back and mouth open wide in an agonised scream. The Krogan is curled up in on himself, eyes closed and tiny fingers curled around a wooden doll that Garrus explicitly remembers giving to the Salarian.
He shakes his head and continues on to where Shepard is.
"Hey, sweetheart. Help me with this."
Shepard leans away from the mass of wires she's been messing with. She put on sleeveless everything at the start of the cycle so her long legs and bare arms are on display, webbing of scar tissue and the various bracing she has to wear on full display. The metal glints in the overhead lighting, makes Garrus blink.
She looks up at him and does a long, indecent sweep of her gaze down. Then she stops and stares at the little Vorcha busy chewing on the plating of his leg.
"I'm not genetically predisposed for chewtoy playtimes, so maybe not, huh?"
"What?" He jerks his head to look down at the Vorcha, back up to Shepard. "No, I need to finish a joke."
The love of his life stares at him blankly.
She doesn't sound interested, but he's going to soldier on, because that is what he is: a soldier. "I have the opener, but no punchline. Listen, okay, it starts, "A Krogan, a Salarian, and a Vorcha walk into a bar.""
Shepard makes a considering noise.
From the cargo area, a lone voice howls, "Fooooooooooooooood!"
Garrus glances back at the empty hall and grinds his teeth.
"Is Mele still screaming?" Shepard asks.
He turns back to her. "Yeah, Louska stole the rest of her doll and was cuddling it. Do I-- Do I get involved?"
"I have no idea, you tell me." She shrugs. "You're the one who's all nurturing."
"The one who's what?"
Another howl of "Fooooood" echoes, with other voices joining in. Garrus snaps his head towards the sound.
Shepard just laughs. "What the hell is their problem."
"I fed those bastards an hour ago, I swear I did."
She keeps on laughing at him. "No, I believe you."
"It's like taking care of toddlers," he says, despondent.
"Actual toddlers are easier," she says, waves at the Vorcha kit on his leg, "You just give them your leg to gnaw on and they're happy."
The Vorcha is indeed still chewing on him. He hopes it doesn't chip a tooth.
Speaking of Vorcha, actually. "Do you know how to sex Vorchas?"
Shepard snorts and turns back to the mess of wires in her lap.
"To figure out if its a girl or a boy, come on."
Shepard shrugs her shoulders and begins to strip the plastic covering off of a blue-coated wire. "No idea, but I think Dizzy in there called it his "little girl"."
Garrus looks down at the kit. Her eyes are half-closed in bliss as she chews on him.
"Okay, that's one thing off the list then. I've got a little girl Vorcha trying to maim me. Okay. Good to know."
A chorus of voices in the cargo bay howl in unison, "FOOOOOOOOD!"
Garrus groans and leans against the wall. "The prisons are overflowing, we don't need to take them in. We could drop them off in a thresher nest and no one would be the wiser."
Shepard does something to the wires that make the display flicker.
"Already called in a headcount, sorry honey."
"Now why did you have to go and do that?"
She does something else to the wires, connects two bare ends and twists, and the display turns on and stays that way. Now he can see what she's been messing with, and all the coordinates that are scrolling across the top of the screen.
"Is that the navigation controls?" he asks, resigned.
Shepard nods as she winds electrical tape around the new connection. "We were on autopilot the entire time. We just couldn't stop if we wanted to."
"Okay. And did this issue start on its own, or did you make it happen to get away from Mele?"
She shoves the wire off her lap to the floor and twists the seat around so it's facing Garrus. She's got a wild look about the eyes.
"She won't stop screaming. Aren't Salarians supposed to be dignified?"
A muffled banging happens from the cargo area. The Vorcha girl stops chewing on Garrus' leg, cackles her wheezy cackle, then starts to crawl on all fours down the hall.
She looks very determined to get from point A to point B, so Garrus and Shepard just sit and watch her go.
"Is this what you mean by nurturing?" he asks, "That I stay with them while they're being brats? Because that's not nurturing, that's tortured resignation."
Shepard rubs at her forehead. "I'm sorry."
Garrus leans away from the wall and catches her wrist in his grip, squeezes gently.
"They're kids, honey. They scream."
Shepard glares at him.
"Oh? Did you scream as a kid?"
He shrugs. "Probably. Do you want to ask my dad when we're back in? He'll probably tell you."
She raises her eyebrows and stares him down.
"Okay," he amends, reluctant, "He won't, but we can find out other ways."
Shepard opens her mouth, then shuts it again with a clack. She jerks her chin towards the hall, where the Vorcha girl has turned a corner to the door to the cargo area, her little ratty tail whipping around the corner.
"Kid's making her escape."
"She can't break them out, it's fine." He releases her wrist and rubs at his neck. Always been a tell of his, good thing he's not interrogating a criminal here. "Do we need to talk about this?"
"What? No. And it's not fine, she's a kid in a room full of assholes." Shepard starts to heave herself from the chain, the braces on her legs make it a stiff prospect and Garrus reaches down automatically to steady her.
"You could say the same when she's in the room with us, you know that right? It's all a matter of--"
The braces clack a lot as she gets her feet under her, then she shoves him gently and shakes her head. "Matter of perspective, I get it."
Shepard stomps down the hall after the kid. Garrus of course follows her.
She takes the corner into the cargo area, and he stops in front of the door to the bunkhouse. Mele is still screaming, and Louska has actually uncurled from around the toy, is staring at the Salarian like he wants to bite her.
He opens the door with a sigh, and the high-pitched monotone wail feels like a slap to the face.
Both hands out and waving, he gets Louska's attention; the boy shrugs at him with his tiny Krogan shoulders.
Mele shuts her mouth with a snap and stares at him with watery eyes.
"Doesn't your throat hurt by now?" Garrus asks. His ears are still ringing, this is horrible.
Mele shakes her head and rasps at him, "Never give up, never surrender."
"Oh boy," Louska groans.
A couple firm bangs happen back in the cargo area. Garrus isn't alarmed by them, but he is irritated. He points at the little Krogan with as much sternness as he can muster while his ears are still ringing.
"Louska, give her back her doll."
The kid raises his chin and looks Garrus dead in the eye.
Garrus does not blink. "I won't let you play with the guns for the rest of the trip if you don't."
Louska takes a moment to consider this. Then he shifts to the side and hands the headless doll back to Mele.
Now it's Mele's turn to be pointed at. "Say thank you," Garrus commands.
Mele crosses her arms, turns to Louska, and says very seriously, "Go die in a puddle of Asari piss."
Luckily all the boy does is that low rumble of a baby Krogan laugh instead of get angry. Garrus heaves a sigh.
"Did you hear that one from me or Shepard?"
"Miss Shepard," Mele says as she blinks slowly. "She was talking to a human on the commune thing and the human laughed at her."
Another bang back in the cargo area. The Vorcha kit's wheezy laugh follows, then someone else's groan of pain. Whatever is going on makes Shepard laugh, so it can't be that bad. Hopefully.
Garrus holds out his hands towards the two toddlers, placating. "Don't kill each other. I have to go deal with that."
He waits for both of the kids to chorus "okay," then he closes the door and stomps into the cargo area.
The convicts held in the crates along the walls are all glum and pissy in equal turns. Shepard is sitting on the floor in the centre of the room stacking small boxes for the Vorcha girl to knock over. In one hand she has an open can of soy steak soaked in sauce with a fork sticking out the top.
Once he gets in range, he reaches down and brushes his talons lightly against Shepard's nape. She relaxes into the touch, rolls her shoulders, leans back so she can tilt her head to look up at him.
"So I'm the nurturing one, huh?" he says, just to ruin it.
Her face does a complicated set of expressions, but most of them are what he associates with upset.
"Do we need to talk about this?" he asks slowly.
Shepard shakes her head and tilts forward, away from him. She starts to stack the boxes back into a tower with one hand. "No," she says.
He wants to reach out and touch her neck again. "I think we do."
"Then why are you asking?"
"Because I want to see if you're in touch with your emotions enough to give me a straight answer or if you're going to go fuck up the communications array next."
Shepard finishes the next stack of boxes, then leans away so the Vorcha girl can knock them over again. They're full boxes of heavy artillery clips, thus the major thump when they fall.
"There's different kinds of taking care of someone," he says. "You're doing all right on all counts from where I'm standing."
She pokes at the Vorcha's belly to make her laugh. To Garrus, she says, "You have to say that, you love me."
Garrus takes a half-step back. "I'll go give last rites to the communications array then, shall I?"
Luck is on his side today, because that works. She laughs, she leans back, and before he can get further away he's got a cackling human leaning against his leg with one arm hooked loose behind his knee to knee him from moving.
"Okay, you win," she says with her head tilted back.
"I always win."
Her grin is sharp now. "You sure about that?"
He's not going to answer that, but he does twitch his mandibles a bit to make her grin wider. "Hey, I got Mele to stop screaming, I get to be smug."
Shepard's eyebrows go up. "Did you poison her?"
"No, I think she was ready to stop and just needed an out." He shrugs.
In a cage along the west wall, the cannibal Cleetus Hanar they picked up from an innocent outskirts colony clears his throat.
"Irritated: You will be delivering corpses to the Alliance if we are not fed."
Shepard doesn't even look over at him. "There's three of you to a cage in there, have at it."
Cleetus shifts his head to eye the Asari and Salarian in with him. They both shift further away with their backs pressed to the cage wall.
"Hey," Shepard says, and Garrus looks down at her. "Did you really scream as a kid?"
He nods. "Probably."
She grins up at him. "Okay, I believe you. Take this one here and I'll go make the others get ready for dinner."
It takes a moment to lever up, but then she's standing tall and takes a moment to press a kiss to his chin before she limps out of the room.
Garrus picks up the Vorcha kit and tumbles her in his arms, much to her glee. Mele and Louska are trudging out of the bunkhouse when he gets to the hall, Shepard behind them with her arms crossed and a twist to her mouth. Mele clutches at her doll tightly, glares at the back of Louska's head as he leads the way into the rec room where all the cooking equipment is. And also Garrus' guns.
He hip-checks Shepard lightly as she passes him, flares his mandibles into a grin when she looks at his face. "What's going on in your head?"
She rolls her eyes. "I'm thinking the punchline should have guns."
"That joke you want to finish, it should have something about guns."
He considers this avenue of joke-making. "That's not very original, is it?"
Shepard does that thing with her mouth that means she's unimpressed with Garrus in particular.
"You're making a joke where three historically conflicted people walk into a bar together."
"They could discuss philosophy. You don't know if they're violent."
She shakes her head with a grin, leans in to kiss him. This time he turns his head to meet her, exhales and relaxes as she does the same.
"Never change, honey," she murmurs against his mouth.
A chorus of gagging noises come from the Rec Room.
"Ew, they're kissing," Louska says.
Mele makes an articulated retch of agreement.
Shepard sighs and walks to the kids, makes shooing motions with her hands. "Inside, come on. Dinner awaits."
The two kids follow her direction with a soundtrack of puking noises and whines of "grossssss."
The Vorcha girl in Garrus' arms smacks her thin lips and looks up at him with her eyes mostly closed. He tightens his arms around her, keeps her steady, and follows Shepard down the hall.