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it hurts to become

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In the middle of the Normandy’s primary designated sleep cycle time, Garrus finds himself unable to sleep. It’s not that the sleeping slings are uncomfortable - they’re new and stiff compared to the ones in the C-Sec barracks but they’re made of better material - or that the ship is loud, or the crew unkind. Some members even expressed their condolences to him for the loss of Nihlus Kyrik, as if he’d personally known the vibrantly-colored Spectre.

No, what keeps him up is little more than boredom. So down he goes to the cargo bay where they hold the little Mako rover, which (thanks to Shepard’s love of driving up 85 degree inclines) always needs a tune-up on the suspension.

It’s become routine for him to slip down and do this, little modifications, deconstructing parts of the vehicle more each time so he learns like it works like an autopsy by inches. It’s become comfortable. And things that become comfortable will always, always kill you.

Garrus doesn’t see the myriad tiny details that the cabin of the Mako was occupied until he’s already half inside it, frozen in the doorway at the sight of a figure hunched right in front of him. The yellow-green glow of the interior lights has been recently dimmed, offering only a poor lingering luminescence which is still enough for keen eyes to detect a gun. Aimed at him.

Later, he’ll look back on the billions of cues here and groan into his hands on how he’s always been in love with her, how did he not know, but in the moment all he can do is freeze. His father would have snapped his neck to see him hesitate when held at gunpoint, but it’s this moment of trust that sets the rest of his life in motion.

“Shepard?” he asks, recognizing the pistol she favors. The gun lowers a fraction.

“Who are you?” she asks in a voice not her own, in a voice miles and miles away from the playful confidence he’s used to. There’s not an inch of Commander to this human woman, balled up in hiding in the back corner of the ship, cowering like the bare-headed one she’d talked out of a terrified--

Ah.

Williams had asked him (in jest, maybe) if turians really did eat their weak members, the half-mad survivors of a unit otherwise wiped out. If they’d done that to the humans who had been left, dead or dying, behind turian lines in the war. He’d corrected her that they were usually euthanized instead of consumed, but wasn’t sure she’d understood why .

“Garrus Vakarian,” and the way his subvocals shift is pure instinct, pure empathy. He’s watched superiors do this to C-Sec officers who came back bathed in the blood of their partners and it comes as natural to him as breathing. “You are Commander Shepard, aboard your Alliance ship the Normandy, in the starsweep 111091.”

“Garrus?”

He hums, dropping his shoulders to appear less threatening; appearing smaller is a good general rule when dealing with armed, mentally disturbed lifeforms. It works, and the gun is set aside.

“Garrus,” Shepard repeats, sagging against the wall so suddenly he’s afraid she’d been injured physically as well. He scents the air - no eerie saline tang of human blood. Good.

He tries to kneel down properly, enter the Mako and sit beside her, but finds himself stuck. He growls, trying to manually move his legs into the proper position so his cowl isn’t jammed in the doorway, but fails.

“It really is you,” she adds with a spark in her voice that finally, finally sounds like her, and Garrus riffles his mandibles at her.

“I was startled, okay? Didn’t expect to have a superior officer pointing a gun at me so soon.”

“Problem child.”

“I’m not a child,” he pouts, as though the idea is very important for her to understand.

“I think I might be older than you.”

“Still doesn’t make me a child, Shepard.”

She crawls forward, then, and part of him is faintly worried she’s going to snap his neck (turians had their own horror stories about humans from the war, how they could survive for so long with fatal wounds and conserve their strength to murder someone who got too close) but instead she just reaches above him and adjusts something. Garrus comes free and stumbles inside, nearly headbutting her.

He’s midway through an apology when she drags him back against the wall and he lets her nestle them in the corner. He feels like her new weapon, here, half-cradled in her arms from the tight angle and close quarters, and feels the rate of his vascular system increase.

“Um,” he starts, readjusting how he sits next to and around her. “What are we doing in here?”

“I had a bad dream. About-- before. Mindoir.”

Garrus runs the name through his mind a few times before recalling stories of batarian raids wiping out a human colony save for one or two survivors. By the time he puts the pieces together, Shepard is already deep in her story.

“--had to find a place to hide, and I know I’m safe here, I do, but-- I can’t help it sometimes. I have to hide. Lucky it’s you who found me,” she says with a sigh. “I don’t want to think about Kaiden’s face if it’d been him.”

“Worried they wouldn’t respect you?”

Shepard hums in agreement, slumping against him and fidgeting. He’s floored to see her his open around him, this casual. This trusting.

“Not worried I wouldn’t respect you?”

“This is not the first doorway you’ve gotten stuck in, Vakarian,” she taunts, and Garrus is struck with the sudden urge to preen her. A terrible idea. She’d sink a knife into his throat if he so much as nosed her hairline like this.

But the sentiment lingers, the need to protect and soothe. Reciprocity of this open trust she lays at his feet, even if it’s just the late hour and the torrid emotions of being the last one left alive.

“So, turians.”

He chirps in response.

“Don’t you guys, like, eat your weak members?”

His head hangs with his heavy sigh. “No, we don’t eat anybody. That’s a terrible rumor. We’re carnivores, not cannibals. You ever try sinking your teeth into turian skin? Disgusting. Also, kind of clanky.”

“Okay, but-- you still kill them, right?” Shepard presses, apparently not keen on being distracted with jokes. “And prisoners of war from other species sometimes too. Why?”

“Because we know how much it hurts.” Garrus shifts and Shepard falls into place beside him, the side of her face resting on his cowl and the rest of her impractical, soft body molding into his flank like luxury gel-cushion. “Because a turian alone isn’t a turian at all, and sometimes it’s kinder to kill them than to make them live like that. Empty. Aching.”

“Guilty,” she adds in a whisper, inches away from his aural canal and still so hard to distinguish.

“Exactly. We’re not cruel, like you seem to think we are. We’re just… practical.”

“Would you kill me?” Shepard asks, easy and casual, like they’re sitting at the breakfast table eating their rations from two very different, very carefully sterilized and separated meals. Garrus freezes.

“No.”

“Why not?”

Answering that takes time. “I think you could beat me in a fight, for one,” he stalls, sensing her bask in the complement. “And two, don’t you have a unit now?”

“A what?”

“The crew of the Normandy. Vas Neema. The Krogan. Alenko. Williams. T’soni.” He hesitates, oddly afraid of naming himself. “We’re your unit now, right?”

“A unit,” she breathes, with a new emphasis on the word. Garrus doesn’t speak a lick of human, but he senses the word she used wasn’t the same one she’d used before. “I-- don’t know. They might be. Are you going to be a part of it?”

He hesitates. Leaving C-Sec to join in the manhunt for Saren had been a brash move, borne by years of frustration at a tangled bureaucracy that did equal parts harm and help.  If the Alliance even wanted to accept a turian crewmember, Garrus doubts he’d be their first choice.

And yet--

And yet he knows the feeling sinking into his bones, binding him to this paradoxical human female hiding in a rover next to him. And yet he knows the only cure better than a bullet for a turian alone is a new unit.

So he says “sure” as casually as possible, and they spend the rest of the night calibrating the Mako together.