Garrus Vakarian grinned in triumph. He had just broken his record – he had improved the Normandy's weapon system by point four-three percent, much to Legion's surprise and annoyance. If a synthetic could be surprised and annoyed, anyway.
“How did you accomplish this?” Legion's voice asked from the comm unit.
If he were petty, which he wasn't, Garrus would have considered borrowing a page out of Jack's book, and telling the geth to “suck it.” Whatever that meant. Instead, he just grinned and answered, “A little secret we organics like to keep: always hold some back for emergencies.”
“Is our current situation an emergency?”
The turian snorted. “A geth meddling with our computers, telling me how to do my job? Nah, I can't imagine that would qualify.” he quipped sarcastically.
When no response came, Garrus turned from the console and headed out into the mess hall, surprised to find most of the Normandy's rag-tag band of misfits sitting around one of the tables. Kaidan, Liara, and Tali were seated on one side, while Traynor, Cortez, and James were seated on the other. It was still very early in the morning cycle for them to be up. Immediately, Garrus was worried he had forgotten about a scheduled briefing, but looking around, he couldn't see Shepard anywhere.
Finally spotting him, Liara quickly waved him over. “You guys are up early. What's going on?” he asked when he reached the table.
“What are you getting Shepard?” Tali asked, her hands wringing together excitedly.
He frowned. “Come again?”
“We were debating on whether or not we should go all in together to get her one big gift, or just buy something individually,” Liara informed him. “We're just trying to decide on what to get if we go in together.” she looked at him expectantly. “I assume you've already planned something, but you're welcome to go in with us.”
“We've booked a private room at Purgatory, too.” Tali exclaimed excitedly.
“Uh, okay. You guys have lost me. What's this for?” Garrus had a horrible feeling he was missing something very important, and the looks the others were throwing at him confirmed his fear.
“Oh, Keelah. Don't tell me you forgot, you bosh'tet.” Tali groaned, shooting him a look of disapproval.
He felt his stomach drop. Dammit, he had missed something. Whatever it was, it was big. “Of course not. I wouldn't do that.” he responded unconvincingly. “Forget what?”
Liara pinched the bridge of her nose. “Oh, Garrus...”
“Garrus, tomorrow is Shepard's birthday.” Kaidan told him. Garrus thought he could see a look of smug satisfaction on the biotic's face, but it was gone far too quickly for him to be sure. Apparently he was still a little upset that Shepard had chosen a turian over him.
“What? She never told me when her birthday was!” Pulling a chair from one of the empty tables, he sat, dejected, with his head in his hands. “Spirits, what am I going to do?”
He tried to do the math in his head. How could he have served with her for so long and not have known when her birthday was? It didn’t make any sense.
Then it hit him. They were always separated around this time of year. It had already passed when he was first recruited aboard the Normandy. Garrus had returned to the Citadel and C-Sec before the Collectors had attacked and she had been killed. He guessed he had just narrowly missed her last birthday before she had found him on Omega.
“Don't worry, Scars. We'll be landing on the Citadel in a few hours. I'm sure you can find something for Lola there. Or, ya know, help us decide on what to get and go in with us.” James grinned, clamping a heavy hand on the turian's shoulder.
“How is it that all of you know about this and I don't?” he asked, glancing around the table at each of his friends.
“Liara told me,” Tali confirmed as James and Cortez nodded in unison.
“Me, too.” Traynor said.
Garrus shot the asari a look of mock annoyance. “Thanks for letting me know. Don’t worry about the boyfriend or anything, he doesn’t need to know something as important as a birthday.” he teased.
Liara gave him an apologetic smile. “I assumed that already you knew, Garrus. That's why I didn't say anything. I'm sorry.”
Kaidan cleared his throat, clearly uncomfortable. “When we were, uh, together, she told me. Had to force it out of her though.”
Frowning, Garrus tried to ignore the instant jealousy surging through him. Shepard had told Kaidan, but not him? “Why?”
He shrugged. “She never told me why, but she doesn't like to celebrate them. Says they're a waste of time and credits.”
“Then why are we bothering to throw a party if she doesn't celebrate?” Cortez asked nervously. “Won't that just make her uncomfortable?'
Liara shook her head. “No, she needs this, whether she wants to admit it or not. Shepard's been under so much stress because of the war, she needs something to take her mind off of everything. Especially with losing Mordin and Thane...”
Shepard had taken the deaths of two of her closest friends extremely hard. Garrus had spent the next few nights holding her as she cried until she eventually passed out from sheer exhaustion. Not that she had slept well in the past year regardless. He couldn't recall how many nights he'd been jolted awake by her screaming and thrashing around in her sleep. She had told him that her nightmares usually consisted of one of two things: the lives of the loved ones she'd lost over the course of the war, reliving their deaths over and over again. That or she was forced to relive her own death as she was blown out of the original Normandy and into the dark, endless void, slowly suffocating as she desperately tried to plug the leak in her hardsuit that was venting her precious oxygen into space.
Garrus visibly shuddered, trying to rid himself of the horrible images from his mind. Those two years she had been gone had been the worst of his life. He and Shepard had developed a close friendship while aboard the Normandy SR-1, but her death had impacted his life in a way he hadn't been expecting. But it wasn't until after she had miraculously shown back up, two years later, pulling his ass out of the fire he had created on Omega that it truly hit him. Why he had resigned himself to death on that shithole station with no regrets.
He hadn't just lost his best friend when the Normandy was attacked, he had lost the woman he loved.
Even if that woman, technically, belonged to someone else, and that someone had technically been his friend.
The turian still felt a little guilty about it. Had Kaidan not said the hateful things that he had to Shepard when they had encountered him on Horizon, he never would had acted on his feelings. Probably. But he had hurt her in such a way that she just couldn't bring herself to go back to him. Not as lovers anyway.
He genuinely liked Alenko, though him pointing a gun at her during the Cerberus coup on the Citadel had left a bad taste in the turian's mouth. He was lucky Shepard had stopped him before he pulled the trigger on his own gun.
After deliberating for a while, the group had decided to go in on a pricey automatic fish feeder for the tank in Shepard’s cabin. Maybe not the most efficient gift, unlike the new Black Widow sniper rifle Garrus had his eye on, or the M-7 Lancer he had caught Shepard drooling over, but honestly, the turian wouldn’t miss the “burials at sea” that his crazy girlfriend insisted on when she forget to feed the things. No matter how cute she was when she teared up over the loss of her aquatic pets.
It wasn’t her fault, however. She’d been at the head of this war for years now and a lot was riding on her, so much resting on her shoulders. So much that she could be forgiven for forgetting to hit a button every day.
Though, how her hamster was still alive was a complete mystery to Garrus...the poor thing had spent six months running around the engineering deck while the Alliance were working on the retrofits. How it hadn't been stepped on was beyond him.
Garrus glanced down at his omni-tool, checking the time. Shepard would be down from her cabin in about fifteen minutes. “Alright, we've got fifteen minutes tops before she's moving around. Fill me in on this party.”
Liara grinned and punched something into her omni-tool. “I'm sending you all a copy of my itinerary. Garrus, you'll need to get Shepard there at twenty-one-hundred hours. The rest of us will be arrive an hour early to set up.”
“What do you need me to do until then?” he asked.
“Just keep her distracted and away from Purgatory. She'll get suspicious if she sees us all running around there.”
Garrus flared his mandibles in a wide, cheeky turian grin. “ That I can do.” he retorted, throwing as much innuendo into it as he could possibly manage.
He snorted at the collective groans around the table. “Keelah,” Tali mumbled, hands coming up to cover her mask. “it’s way too early for those images to be stuck in my head, Garrus.”
Still grinning, the turian stood and made his way over to the kitchenette area. Knowing Shepard would be down in the CIC area in a few short minutes, he began preparing her coffee for her, the way he knows she likes it, with just the right amount of cream and sugar. If there was one thing the Commander used the Alliance budget for to indulge in, it was to make sure the crew had the best caffeinated beverages (both dextro and levo varieties) available.
He listened as Liara assigned tasks to each of the crew assignments and requisitions for the party tonight, and Garrus was suddenly glad that he seemed to have lucked out and got the easiest job by far: distract Shepard (that should be lots of fun) and make sure she made it to the party on time.
All he had to do was figure out what he should get her. Sure, he was contributing to the extremely expensive auto feeder, but he needed to get her some...personal. While he knew she would love to get her hands on that Lancer, that wasn’t the type of gift you gave to your human girlfriend, military or not.
“When did you become so...domestic?” Kaidan teased, coming up behind him to refill his own coffee.
Garrus was saved from answering though when EDI’s voice interrupted his snarky retort from the mess hall’s comm system. “Dr. T’Soni, per your request, I am informing you that Commander Shepard has entered the CIC and is currently checking her messages at her terminal.”
The asari smiled, closing down her omni-tool. “Thank you, EDI.” she stood. “I’m going to go speak with Javik and see if he would like to join us tonight.”
“Aww,” Vega crooned, standing and pinching Liara’s cheek playfully. “I think you’ve got a little crush on our surly prothean friend, Liara.”
Garrus couldn’t help but snicker as he watched the asari’s cheeks turn a pretty shade of indigo as she shoved James’ hand angrily away from her face and Cortez’s halfhearted attempts to get the muscled Alliance soldier to leave the girl alone.
“Oh!” Liara suddenly turned her attention away from James. “I nearly forgot. Everyone dress up, please. We don’t get the chance often, and I want to make this a special evening for Shepard.”
Side stepping Alenko, the turian started to head up to the CIC, but stopped, turning back to his friends, looking thoughtful. Shepard didn’t really have anything fancy in the way of clothing, that he knew of, except some N7 standard issued black dress that she absolutely hated. He grimaced. Shopping for clothes for Shepard was something he absolutely could not do. He had enough trouble dressing himself.
But, that was something he wanted to do, and something she would not expect. He could always transfer credits to a chit and let her do her own shopping, but that was too impersonal. No, he would do it, but he was going to need help. “Uh, could I recruit one of your ladies to help me find something for her to wear tonight, and another to distract her for a couple of hours?”
“I can keep her distracted,” Tali answered eagerly. “but I’m not exactly knowledgeable about human fashion.”
Garrus nodded his thanks, then turned his pleading eyes towards Liara and Traynor.
“I would, but I already have plans with Diana. We’re supposed to meet for lunch.” Traynor said with a slight blush tinting her darker skin.
Nodding in understanding, and briefly thinking he’d have to thank Traynor later on for getting Allers’ attention away from Shepard (because dammit if that woman wasn’t pushy), he turned to the asari. “C’mon, Liara. You can’t let me go dress shopping on my own. All of the other snipers will make fun of me.”
“I’m not a sniper, but I’m still gonna make fun of you, Scars.” Vega taunted as he and Cortez headed towards the elevator.
“Like you just said, you’re not a sniper. Your opinion is moot.”
Liara’s lip quirked at his desperate expression, and thankfully took pity on him. “Very well. I’d be glad to help you find an outfit for her.”
The turian, ever grateful, squeezed her shoulder. “Thank you in advance for saving my pride. But now, I need to get this coffee to Shepard before it gets cold or she’ll she start headbutting everyone like a krogan.”
When he finally reached the CIC, she was still standing at her terminal, her back to him. To his surprise, she wasn’t wearing her normal Alliance BDU’s, instead opting for an oversized plum colored sweater that hung loosely off of her pale left shoulder, much to Garrus’ delight, and a pair of black leggings. Her chocolate brown hair was piled high and messy on the top of her head, loose strands hanging about her face. The turian rarely got to see her this casual, this relaxed outside of their cabin, and, to him, she was beautiful.
As quietly as he could (which wasn’t easy considering he was wearing his armor), he walked up behind her as he slid the coffee mug onto the table, grinning impishly at her startled yelp. “There’s my girl,” he purred softly as he wrapped his arms around her waist, nuzzling his face into the crook of her gloriously exposed neck, taking the scent of her freshly washed skin.
“Mmm,” he could hear the smile in her voice as she reached her hand back to caress the side of his face. “Morning, handsome.”
Garrus was quiet for a few moments as she took her first sips of her coffee and leaned back against his armored chest. It couldn't have been comfortable, but he just couldn't bring himself to let her go this morning. “I heard something about you earlier.” he breathed against her skin. It was taking a lot of his self control not to drag her upstairs to their cabin.
Shepard snorted and sat her mug back onto the table and slowly turned in his arms. “There's a lot to choose from,” she teased with a grin, deep blue eyes shining. “Let me guess. I'm sleeping with the Illusive Man? I have an illegitimate child with a krogan somewhere?”
He chuckled, resting his forehead against hers as he pulled her closer. His purr deepened as she wrapped her arms around his neck. “Why didn't you tell me that tomorrow was your birthday?”
She immediately stiffened in his embrace and her smile slowly fell. “How did you find out?”
Damn it, Alenko had been right. Shepard really did hate celebrating her birthday. But why ? He, for one, thought her birth was definitely worthy of a celebration. “Uh, a little birdie told me.”
Shepard closed her eyes, sighing. “A little blue birdie?”
The turian nodded reluctantly and tightened his arms around her waist. “Why didn't you tell me?” he asked again, trying to hide the hurt in his voice. “I was actually the last to know.”
She groaned and laid her head on his armored chest. “So everyone knows now?”
He shrugged. “It would appear so.” That, at least, wasn't his fault.
She sighed again and reached for her mug. Shepard was definitely going to need more caffeine to get to be able to get through this conversation. She had never meant to hurt Garrus' feelings by not telling him, which it was obvious to her now that she had. Reaching up, she lightly ran the fingers of her free hand along his colony markings across his cheeks. “I'm sorry, Garrus. I...just don't celebrate my birthday. I never have.”
Garrus stared at her patiently, waiting for her to elaborate. When she didn't, he gently nudged her temple with his nose. “Shepard,”
Shepard took another sip of coffee before speaking, eyes averted. “You know I didn't have a great childhood, Garrus.”
He nodded, recalling the story of her growing up on the streets back on Earth after her parents disappeared. She'd had no family, no friends. Not until the Tenth Street Reds took her in. Realization hit him hard, leaving him feeling like he had just been punched in the gut.
They might have kept her mostly fed and clothed, but Garrus doubted they gave enough crap about her to throw her a birthday party. A slow, predatory growl began to rumble in his chest as particular images of some of the unpleasant things that happened to Shepard's younger self flooded his mind.
She gave him a sad smile, reaching up with her free hand to stroke gently behind his fringe, bringing his forehead to rest against hers once more, sensing his distress and somehow knowing what was going on in his head. She always knew. “Hey, come back to me. I'm okay.”
Nodding again, he hugged her to him. “I understand now why you haven't celebrated before, Shepard.” he whispered into her hair. “I know you never had a real family to have those memories with.” he looked down at her then, seeing the painful memories there that she tried so hard to hide. “But your birth is worth celebrating, Carli.”
When she didn't speak, he watched her eyes soften at his use of her first name, he lightly brushed the tip of his pointed tongue against her lips, his version of a chaste kiss. “Let me spoil you for a day. Please.”
Finally, Shepard's lips quirked up ever so slightly and he could see her resolve waver. “I can do that, if you promise me that it'll be just you and me. No parties, nothing extravagant.”
Garrus swallowed. A good turian wouldn't try to lie to their commanding officer, not to mention one that was also their lover.
But Garrus Vakarian had never been a very good turian, even if he did hate the thought of lying to her. He never had before. Liara had been right, after all. Carli Shepard needed a break and some time to relax. And dammit, she deserved a birthday party.
It’s for a good cause, he resigned himself. So, taking a deep breath, Garrus lied to the woman he loved for the very first time. “Of course. Just you and me.”