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Chapter Text

Shepard had been very quiet on the drive back from the rafters. Before she had got into the car, she had seemed happy, light-hearted even. It was a rare thing to see, the way she lit up thanks to just one simple smile. The peaceful moments when someone could pretend there wasn't a war going on and that everyone could die tomorrow. But now, she seemed lost in her own thoughts. She just stared out the window with a faraway fashion, even her laugh seemed downbeat when Garrus had commented on her aim. It worried him.

It worried him even more when her solipsistic state continued after she got out of the car. He watched her through sideways glances, but he could have just stared at her - she wouldn't have noticed. She was wringing her hands, fingers knotting together in about as many ways as she could weave them. She was also chewing on her bottom lip, something she only did when she was deep in thought. She didn't look at him - she didn't look at anyone at all. Sometimes she would stare at her hands, or at the floor just in front of her, occasionally the front of the car. She spent a moment, he noticed, watching the way he gathered up the remnants of their shooting match from the back seat. He doubted she was actually seeing what she was looking at. Her eyes had a tendency to watch movement when she was thinking, but not actually take anything in. She did react, however, when she heard the beep of the lock on the car, and fell automatically into step as he turned towards the docking bay.

The weapons scanner pinged as it read the signatures of the sniper rifles neatly packed away in case Garrus carried, but registered the permit equipped on both guns and they carried on through untroubled. The docking bay waiting area was unusually busy and most of those present were turian. Garrus quickly scanned the scene as he passed, noticing the military insignia the marked most, if not all, of the soldiers present as belonging to the Seventh Fleet. He had heard that one of their heavy cruisers had been in the Citadel dry dock for repairs when Palaven was hit, they were probably gearing up to ship out and crew members had spilled over into other waiting areas before boarding. There was quite a few families gathered, but most were small groups or soldiers and civilians - friends saying goodbye for what could be the last time. There was no cheerful chatter or excited buzz in the air. Quite a few of the asari were crying. The atmosphere was heavy.

And Shepard was still quiet.

So quite that Garrus wasn't even sure she was still following. Sidestepping a keeper as it chittered past him, he turned to see that Shepard had indeed fallen behind, still deep in thought. Her brow was furrowed and she was still gnawing on her bottom lip. Her focus was clearer now though, she was looking over the gathered crowd in a distant way - both paying attention to her surroundings and her thoughts at the same time. Her 'Commander' mask had slipped, no one seemed to notice the very famous woman wandering aimlessly past them. It struck him then how vulnerable, how fragile, she seemed when she wasn't aware she was being watched. Or judged.

He hadn't seen her this distracted, however, for a long while. And never in public before. She was so distracted that she hadn't noticed him stop walking, colliding with his side in a slow impact with a faint 'oof'. He had seen her coming, of course, and had moved so that she would simply end up on his arm rather than elsewhere. Only then did she seem to surface. She blinked at the metal in front of her face for a few seconds before it registered and she caught his eyes. No explanation was forthcoming, she just looked puzzled.

"Shepard, you've been distracted since you got in the car," Garrus began gently, tilting his head slightly, "clearly there's something bothering you." Truthfully, he was slightly worried about her answer. Their exchange up on the rafters of the prisidium, her unexpected confession…was she beginning to doubt it?

"Oh. I…" She frowned, unable to hold his gaze. She fidgeted on the spot, knotting her fingers almost frantically. Garrus stilled them by a simple touch, his hand on hers, which she stared at in silence.

"Am I being selfish, Garrus?" Her question was sudden, her tone worried and laced with an edge that he rarely heard. For a woman that was so capable, so sure of herself…she seemed so insecure and hesitant.

"Shepard, you're the most selfless pers-"

"I mean about us."

Garrus blinked. Out of all the question he could have expected, that was probably one of the last he could come up with. And he was struggling with an answer that would be acceptable. That she would believe. He knew her too well - a straight out denial wouldn't work even though it was genuine, she was too used to people lying to her. But he couldn't stay silent, that looked even worse. "I…don't think I completely understand the question."

Brilliant green eyes suddenly snapped back up to meet his and she frowned at the question. She wasn't angry, that wasn't her angry expression (odd that he could now read her face so well, yet he still struggled with the expressions on the faces of other humans). She exhaled loudly, lifting a hand so she could bite on an already short thumbnail. She drifted past him in thought, heading over to the railing that overlooked the viewing area. He followed, placing the case that held the rifles on the floor next to her.

"It's just…I've never asked if you want this." She was hushed, her voice only for him, but what she was saying left him dumbfounded. "I just ploughed right on in there like I always do, never stopping to consider if it's…"

She trailed off as his gauntleted hand cupped her chin, tilting her downcast face up so he could pin her gaze. "Shepard, when have I ever given you the idea that I don't want this?"

Her fingers wrapped around the hand under her chin and eased it away, her gaze following it as she wrapped five digits around three, 'brow still furrowed. "You haven't. But I don't want you doing something you…might regret later."

"I'm not sure I follow you."

"You're a handsome guy, Garrus - even with the scars. And I'm sure that your work with your task force has left you quite high on the 'eligible bachelors' list." She didn't give him time to argue, even though it was obvious he wanted to protest. She didn't pretend to know what turian women wanted in their men, or even if desirability was linked to social rank (which she suspected was the case either way), but she had to continue. She couldn't let this linger any longer than it had. "Just know that if you ever wanted…"

Her eyes travelled to a turian couple who were saying their goodbyes. Quite obviously joined, going by the way they acted; the look was universal, and the worry was etched into both of them. Shepard had been watching them before she walked into the back of Garrus, noting how the subtle, almost miss-able movements the male did mirrored what he had been doing for quite some time. She had never really noticed before, there was never much to go on and turian body language and courtship behaviour were unusually sparse on the extranet - and any turian romance vids were either very hard to find or non-existent.

Garrus followed her gaze, landing on the couple just as they rested their foreheads together in a moment of desperate peace. Everything about them screamed agony of being parted, of the fact that one (or both) could die in this war. In a lot of ways, it felt wrong to watch their intimate moment, but it was enough for him to grasp at what Shepard was saying. She was giving him an out.

She was giving him a way out. That concept was harder to grasp.

"I would understand. And I wouldn't stop -"

"Not going to happen, Commander."

Her attention was suddenly snapped back to him, green eyes meeting blue that flashed with an intensity she recognised. It was the same intensity that was there when she told him she loved him. It was the same intensity that was there when she made it clear that he wasn't a passing fancy, back in the Main Battery. And before that on Menae. And numerous times before that. Suddenly, she was struggling to swallow the thick knot that had lodged in her throat. He had also pulled her rank, which she hadn't heard him do in a personal conversation for what seemed like a long time. For once, she was lost for words. And he was closing the gap between them.

Garrus didn't care who saw, if there was anyone actually watching. One hand slid over her waist, squeezing gently as he pulled her as close as his armour would allow. He was leaning so close he could feel her breath on his face, his forehead brushing against hers. As intimate as he could get without kissing her in this very open, crowded place. He was such a bad turian.

"I'm with you, Shepard. Forever."

Chapter Text

Such a slow day. Reports needed to be filed, Admirals needed to be contacted and, worst of all, a bandage needed to be changed. That last one was what Shepard was putting off the most. The firefight back on Ontarom was nasty; an ugly, brutal run-and-gun fight that she wasn't comfortable with. While she was glad that she had taken Vega along to take down some of the heavier ground troops, those damn snipers always seemed to appear out of nowhere. As a result, her shields had been dropped and an assault trooper had put some rather unattractive holes in both her armour and her shoulder. And of course, it had to be the shoulder that was always giving her problems in the first place.

But her reports had been done, even if she had written them whist on her bed, swimming in painkillers. She didn't like what she was seeing as she poured over the figures coming in about the war. Millions dead, if not billions. So many planets just lost, the fact that some colonies had decided that death by nuclear bomb was better than death by Reaper, and the simple incomprehensibly large fight that lay ahead. She was amazed that she hadn't found any grey hairs on her brush yet.

And her chat with Hackett was…heavy. As usual. But she had been given one faint glimmer of hope. Her mother was alive, and promoted. It wasn't much, and it was a selfish thing when everyone, everywhere was losing their family. But her mother was all she had left of relatives, beyond that she had her crew. Her friends. Five of which she called close enough to be family - and only one of them was human. And Garrus. Always Garrus. But he was more than a friend; more than family. He was more like her home than the Normandy.

She slipped through the War Room fairly unnoticed - either that or those present were giving her space because of the uncomfortable conversation she just had at the QEC. While she didn't mind getting stopped by either a subordinate or a diplomat, Shepard was more than grateful she was left un-harried. She only half listened to the idle chatter of the two women guarding the weapons scanner as she passed through, something about Cerberus as usual. She was starting to get more than a little sick of that word.

"Commander, you've received a new message at your private terminal." Traynor. Stating the obvious, as usual. The blinking green light on the monitor was obvious enough in the gloom. Still, Shepard thanked the Specialist and said that she'd read it in her cabin. 'When I eventually get back up there,' she amended in her head. For now, she had to bite the bullet and get the bandage changed. It was starting to itch.

She flexed the shoulder as she stepped out of the elevator, grimacing as she felt the muscle pull and resent such treatment after taking such a battering. It didn't hurt anymore, the painkillers saw to that, but it was a deep ache that just wouldn't go away. And it felt such a long walk from the elevator to the med bay when you had very little motivation to make it.

"You sure you wanna play this game?"

Garrus's voice reached her before she stepped into the mess, and she stopped just out of sight. She could hear the amusement in his voice, but she was just secretly glad that he wasn't holed up in the damn battery like he was when Cerberus ran the show.

"What's the matter Vakarian, you chicken?" And there's his conversation partner, she commented mentally. James Vega. Stupid, charming, young Vega. He vaguely reminded her of Grunt, crossed with Garrus when she was first getting to know him. At first, she didn't want to like the lieutenant but she couldn't help herself. He had a heart of gold, even if he didn't have the brains to match the brawn. But his heart was in the right place, and he followed orders. Being a damn good soldier helped, and he was greatly needed on the team considering they lacked a krogan aboard.

She waited a while, just listening to the conversation. She couldn't help but smile at the game of one-upmanship being played, though she never did like the memory of Saren, Sovereign and the geth very much. "You're right, I was with Shepard, from the very beginning." It was a boast, coming from the turian, and she could hear his ego…but there was also something else there. Buried in the harmonics of his voice that humans didn't know how to decipher. She herself was oblivious to most of them, but some she had picked up simply by being around him. She couldn't place what exactly they meant, but they were there. Of course, Vega's quip about age caused her to wince and suddenly she decided that she couldn't quite face the doctor just yet.

Turning on her heel, she chose to pay Kaidan a visit - only to find he wasn't there. She blinked dumbly out the observation deck's window before heaving a defeated sigh and coming to the conclusion that there was only one place left to go. She'd have to get it over with eventually. Garrus and Vega were still talking, of course, only now the subject had turned…uncomfortable.

Omega. Archangel.

Shepard had to stop, eyes squeezing shut as the memory of Garrus laying face-down in a pool of his own blood flashed before her. It haunted her, tormented her just as much as everything else. She knew it was irrational, stupid even. The sound of his voice coming from the mess should have been enough to stomp firmly on the thoughts. But when she visited that place, all she could think about is what would have happened if she had lost him then. And that thought hurt more than any bullet ever could. She needed to stop thinking so fatalistically, he was right there. And obviously it didn't bother him too much, hearing him talk about it so freely. With a silent sigh, she shook off the thoughts and made for the med bay. She didn't even look in the direction of the two competing men, she simply opened the doors and made for Dr. Chakwas.

Garrus had noticed Shepard enter, watching her closely as she avoided eye contact and vanish into the med bay. He was worried about her, of course, but he couldn't openly show it. They had never denied their relationship - and no would they - but they had decided to keep the cuddly, mushy stuff to quarters. No need to show too soft a side to the crew. Especially newcomers like Vega - or potential problems like Kaidan.

Once the doctor had declared that she could return to active duty in a day or two, and that the painkillers were now to be used sparingly, the commander was let loose with a clean bandage she probably didn't need. It was mostly there for support. One thing she had to say, her Cerberus rebuild certainly gave her an advantage others lacked - her regeneration rate had been compared to that of a krogan, for good reason.

And still the competition continued. Though it was no longer a competition, as the two soldiers had meandered into the territory of 'that which we shall not speak of'. As casually as she could, she angled for a table and leaned onto the edge of it, folding her arms across her chest - though it seemed more like she was hugging herself. Eyes unfocused on the floor, she listened with a faint smile to talk of curing the genophage, of stopping the coup on the Citadel. Of stopping the Reapers. She noticed neither of them, while they had noticed that she was there, attempted to let her in on their 'game'. Probably because the small woman in front of them had more experience and stories to beat them both. The Blitz, Vermire, Ilos, Sovereign. And then death itself. No, there was no comparison.

As a comfortable silence fell across the mess, Garrus watched her stare at the floor in silence. She seemed lost in thought - unhappy thought, if her body language was anything to go buy. He couldn't pretend that he knew a lot about human body language, but he knew Shepard. He knew her very well, and while everyone else saw quiet contemplation, he saw the strain starting to show. Straightening from where he leaned against the rail, he went to her and placed a hand on her elbow. She came back to him almost instantly, meeting his eyes with a weak smile. "Hey. You okay?"

"Yeah. I'm fine."

Which Garrus took as meaning the direct opposite. With a gentle touch, he took one of her hands and leaned in to speak to her and only her. "We both know that's not true. Do you want to talk?"

"Not here."

Without another word, Garrus directed Shepard to the battery, leaving a rather bemused looking Vega in their wake.

Vega blinked at the unusual display he had just witnessed, quite unsure what to make of it. He hadn't know that many turians, but he was almost convinced that they weren't capable of that amount of concern - of tenderness - towards anyone. And the way Shepard had responded, he had never seen her so open before. She was always honest, always true, but she was always a commander - sometimes she seemed superhuman. But she seemed so normal then, like a civilian girl talking with her boyfriend. Only when he ran that scenario back, and applied it to the two people that were having the conversation…it got a little weird.

None of them had noticed Liara watching silently from the dividing wall, staring towards the main battery doors with concern on her face. It was only when she moved that James noticed her. He blinked at her a few times before he couldn't help his own curiosity. "Hey Doc, what's up with Scars and the Commander?"

"What do you mean?" Liara turned her attention to the marine, not looking anywhere near as confused as the question would have lead James to believe.

"They seem…close."

"They are. They've been through so much together, I would say that there are few in this galaxy that could even come as close."

"So they're…yanno…" James made a strange, vague hand gesture that could have meant anything. And nothing. But Liara caught his meaning and gave him a warm smile.

"Yes. They have been forged in the fires of battle and cooled by the waters of loss. I don't think you couldn't find a more strongly bonded couple."

Chapter Text

As the elevator descended in it's agonisingly slow way towards the armoury, the faint smell of smoke and scorched metal began to filter through. Shepard wrinkled her nose as the foul odour of burnt rubber added itself into the mix. She knew why, of course. The Mako was in a bad shape. And 'bad' was a poor synonym for 'dreadful'. The pair of geth colossus and accompanying rocket troopers had really done a number on the poor vehicle - and Shepard herself hadn't helped. She always had a tendency to drive over things - in retrospect, driving into and then over a colossus wasn't the smartest thing to do. Especially when it exploded. The M35 was very hardy, but this was the first time Shepard had actually seen it on fire before. The team had done their best to patch it up in the hostile conditions of course, but they could only do so much before the VI told them that the environmental hazard was reaching critical levels. In the end, the Normandy had to practially skim the surface so that the three working vertical thrusters could carry the limping vehicle back to where it now smouldered.

It was reparable, however. Shepard knew this, she was going to have a go at it herself before Garrus had growled at her that she'd probably just break it further and that she should go and file her report with Hackett. That had stung, she had to admit. She was an engineer, a bloody good one at that, she used to be a proper grease monkey once, back at boot camp. Not only that, but she was the one who wrecked it, it only felt right that she should help repair it. Instead, she had snapped at the turian for insubordination and ordered him to work on the battered rover through what should have been his downtime. It was stupid, petty, and done only because he had wounded her pride. And so, to make up for it, Shepard had decided to break out the big guns. But first, she would have to try and apologize.

As the door of the elevator slid down, she couldn't help but wince as she looked directly over at the still smoking Mako. She never stepped out for a good while, she just stared at the damage dumbly. She didn't think it was that bad, but the longer she stared the worse it looked. And to cap it all off, there was half of a leg from the colossus laying a short way off.

"Impaled in the undercarriage behind the front axel." A voice made her jump so much she almost dropped the sleek black gun case she carried. She jarred and fumbled with the handle as she turned sharply towards Wrex who had approached without her noticing. For such a big guy, the krogan could move with surprising stealth when he wanted to. He laughed when she jumped.

"It never seemed that bad back on the surface." She commented lamely, almost pouting back at the rover.

"I don't think your turian is going to be able to handle it, you had better go and rescue his ass before he does something stupid…more stupid."

"I'm quite sure that Garrus can…wait, what do you mean by 'my turian'?"

Wrex just laughed and hit the button on the elevator to go up to the mess, forcing Shepard to dart out before the door closed. He left her very confused and rather irritated. Damn krogan. But she figured he was right on one respect, the damage was far too much for one person no matter how skilled they were. She gave a quick glance to where Ashley stood at her console, eyes narrowing when she noticed the way the woman was actively avoiding looking her way. Something was off here, and Shepard couldn't figure out what. Still, she would have to figure it out later. Shaking her head and taking a deep breath, she strode over to the rover with more confidence than she felt.

Garrus was under the midsection, the faint glow of an inspection lamp and a pair of legs the only giveaway that he was there at all. Until, of course, she heard him swear. It was colourful and didn't translate, a series of hisses and clicks with an underlying growl of frustration. It immediately made her doubt bothering him was a good idea. Not that she thought it was a good idea to start with. But it needed to be done, she couldn't let ill will linger on a team that close, not with the mission to Virmire coming up so soon. Plus, she didn't like sour notes with people she was close to - and as much as she begrudged admitting it, she was very close to her turian squad mate. He was arrogant, brash, hotheaded and tended to act first before thinking things through. He was infuriating. And charming. And witty. And somehow…somehow he had become a closer friend in just a few months than she'd ever had in her life. Her, him and Wrex. The perfect team, just the right balance of tech, biotics and combat mastery for any situation. Their very presence aboard the ship annoyed some, the fact they were always the ones on missions infuriated others. Not because they were aliens (though that was part of the reason for some), but because they seemed to get preferential treatment. Shepard had argued this at the time, but as she looked down at the case she carried she had a nagging feeling that it was true.

She cleared her throat, hoping to get Garrus's attention. There was no response, even though she was sure he had heard. She tried again, this time slightly louder. Again, nothing from underneath the rover - though a strained glance from Williams proved that it was indeed loud enough for him to hear. Shoving back down her rising anger at his attitude, she grunted and glared at his legs. Damn his stubborn turian ass.

"Officer Vakarian, if I may have a word." Crisp, clear and ever so slightly sharp. He couldn't ignore this one.

"Can it wait, commander, I'm in the middle of something here?"

He sounded so calm and collected. Damn him. "No. It can't."

She heard him sigh and the distinctive noise of tools being placed back into a case before he made any move to slide out from under the Mako. In the mean time, Shepard placed the gun case at her feet and tried to appear relaxed. She had a sneaking suspicion that she was failing. Apologising was hard enough, but the fact that she was apologising to Garrus seemed to make it a whole lot worse.

She watched him straighten, his hands clasping behind his back as he looked at a point just above her head. Typical solider behaviour, something she wished she could muster right now. Hide all your feelings behind your rank and wait until the moment you can hit or shoot something in private. "Commander." And always so bloody calm.

"I wanted to apologise, for earlier. I was unduly harsh. I'm sorry." She kept her voice as even and professional as she could, but there was a waver there. Apologies were never easy. Though, going by the fact that Garrus's stoicism seemed to drop like a stone and he was rendered speechless for once, she quickly reached the conclusion that it was worth it.

"Look, Garrus. I…I don't want any ill feelings between us because of some stupid comments made in anger. It wasn't right for me to snap and…gah!" Her composure crumbled and she scowled at the slack-jawed turian in front of her before she heaved a heavy sigh. With one swift movement, she folded her legs under her and flopped next to one of the wheels, leaning back and thumping her head against the hub cap. "This whole thing sounded a lot better in my head."

"They usually do." He sounded amused, now that his initial shock had faded. He moved to sit down beside her, closer than was really needed, but Shepard either didn't notice or didn't mind. "I wasn't exactly being fair either. You're a brilliant engineer, you really wouldn't have made it worse."

"I can still help, you know. And you should take a break, it's your downtime."

"Maybe later, I'm nearly done with the wiring where the leg was stuck, then the panel needs to go back on. I wouldn't turn down the extra pair of hands though."

A comfortable silence fell between them, any lingering anger quickly vanishing as they fell into a familiar rhythm. But Shepard could feel something still lingering, and she had a guess at what it was. Sure enough, when she gave Garrus a sideways glance, he was trying not to look at the glossy black case on the floor. Shepard smirked. "Something on your mind."

"Huh? Oh, no. Not really."

"You want to know what's with the rifle case, don't you?" She couldn't help but look smug.

"I've never seen one with no maker's mark. Is it custom?"

"No. It's rather special."

"So it's not a custom, but it's not ordinary? You're not exactly sating my curiosity here, Shepard."

"That's the point."

The withering look she got from Garrus at that point caused her to descend into a fit of laughter. She didn't often get the chance to tease him properly, he was usually far too quick witted for her to get anywhere good before he caught on. Still fighting off her giggles, she reached for the case and slid it over to him. "I was going to give it you before Virmire, but I figured that if my apology went belly up, I could bribe you with it."

"You…bought me a rifle?"

"Oh come on, Garrus, don't sound so surprised. After I sold all that gear those mercs had, there was a lot of credits just sitting in my bank account doing nothing. I have all the equipment I need, so there was no reason for me to buy anything for myself - I decided to treat my team instead."

"Is this a human thing? Because all my previous CO's would pale at the idea of giving their subordinates gifts." He sounded very confused, running his hands (ungloved, Shepard noticed) over the smooth black metal.

"Nope. Just me. My superiors would be the same, but if you can't spoil your friends sometimes, then life would be rather dull…Aren't you going to open it?"

He stared at her for a moment, trying to figure out if she was serious or not, before he turned his attention to the clasps. Shepard watched his fingers with great curiosity, she had never seen a turian's bare hands before, and she wasn't going to miss the opportunity to be nosy. They were slender, tipped with a dull talon, but were obviously far stronger than any human hand could be. Xenobiology was never her favourite subject at school, but she couldn't help be fascinated all the same. And as far as Garrus knew, she was just eager to see his reaction.

And his reaction, as the lid was lifted, was a silent awe. Packed in it's snug, fitted foam casing, was a sniper rifle as sleek and black as it's case. It was folded down neatly, blue lights glowing steadily. The look on the turian's face was priceless and Shepard wished she'd got that camera upgrade for her omni-tool. She watched him touch the stock as if it was something sacred, swallowing hard as he revered it. She couldn't help but look ever so slightly smug that her instincts had been right.

"Spirits Shepard. It's…"

"Pretty impressive, huh? It's Spectre issue. Top of the line, one step above prototype. It's a…uh…hold on." She fidgeted as her hand shot into a pocket, pulling out a printed receipt that had arrived with the rifle. "It's an HMWSR Master Sniper Rifle X. Which is one hell of a mouthful for one hell of a gun. Kinda puts your Harpoon VII to shame really."

"Shepard, I can't accept this."

"What? Why not?"

"It must have cost you a fortune."

"Damn right it did. Probably more than you'd ever earn in a lifetime back at C-Sec. Did I mention that I like spoiling my friends?" 'Or I would, if I actually had any outside of my crew' she amended silently.

"Huh, a simple 'thank you' seems to fall a little short for this."

"Nah, I think a 'thank you' works pretty well. Or you could…I dunno, teach me to snipe? Just an idea, of course."

"You want to learn how to handle something like this?"

"Pft, I don't think I'll ever be able to handle that monster, with the power it packs the recoil alone would put my arm out of socket. But yeah, and I can't think of a better teacher."

"I would say you flatter me, Commander, but I really doubt you could find anyone better."

"Arrogant ass."

"Or anyone else willing to put up with you."

With another laugh, Shepard moved to stand, dusting off her pants while Garrus closed the rifle case and stood himself. "Come on Vakarian. Lets go and raid the mess hall before Wrex eats everything - including the dextro food."

"Sounds good to me."

Chapter Text

Alchera - 2185, date and time not logged.

Cold. Silent.


Never was there a more fitting place for a graveyard. In the whole of the galaxy, Alchera was probably what anyone would think of first if you described the resting place of a very famous ship. Not some lush tropical paradise where the vegetation would grow over it. Not some parched desert where the sand would bury it. But a frozen wasteland with very little snow and no real weather disturbances to disrupt the dead.

It was also, Shepard concluded, a good place to die.

She had always enjoyed the cold, the feel of something cool against her skin and the feeling of gooseflesh that soon followed. The sheer bliss of wrapping up in a blanket against the chill, or cuddling up to someone warm to keep the cold at bay. Cold came with comfort; growing up on ships, in false heat and recycled air, leaning back against a metal wall panel and feeling the cool of space seep through to her skin was bliss. She still did it, even when she could control the temperature herself. It was why the fish tank was one of her favourite things on the SR-2.

But Alchera was different. The cold that slipped through the gaps in her armour was not pleasant. It ate into her skin and froze her bones. She could feel herself beginning to drag. But it was strange, no other cold planet she had been on was as bad as Alchera was. She could remember Amaranthine, on her mission to hunt down Helena Blake and her mercs, and how both Wrex and Garrus had commented that Noveria seemed tropical in comparison. But Noveria wasn't that cold - she had told them such, and that had there not been a blizzard, it would have been t-shirt weather. She never forgot that they both came from much hotter worlds, but that didn't mean she couldn't have a little fun with it.

Alchera was just on a different scale, and Shepard knew the reason.

It was all in her head.

She had decided not to visit that memory, not while she was on the surface. She was collecting dog tags, her own self pity could wait until she had something to send back to the families of the fallen.

It just didn't seem right. By all accounts, she should still be there - a pile of 'meat and tubes' lightly covered with snow. The dead should stay dead. That was how it should be. But then the Illusive Man comes along with all his credits and decides that he should be allowed to dictate to the Grim Reaper who he was or wasn't allowed to take. Out of all the people he decided to remove from their rest, he had chosen her.

The dog tags clinked against each other as she wandered, without purpose, around the barren wasteland of ice and snow. So peaceful and calm. Almost tranquil, if not for the distracting icy bite that was managing to eat it's way through both her shields and her armour. She had focussed on the tinny metal sound of the tags and her own footsteps, because if she didn't then all that was left was her own heart. And worse still, her own thoughts.

She didn't want to think. She didn't want to remember. That didn't mean the memories weren't still there in her head, but she could at least try to will them away. And if she was lucky, maybe they'd get the message and bugger off to haunt her at a different time - preferably not when she was staring at her own grave.

She was never that lucky.

She stared down the nose of the SR-1, down to the cockpit, past the broken chairs, and she could feel the panic itching at the back of her mind. The feeling that she had to get him out. Joker was still trying to save her and she could not let him go down with the ship. Anger as she watched that yellow beam cut through the Normandy's hull like a knife through soft butter, mixing with stone cold fear that she wouldn't get both of them out in time. That, of course, had been partly true.

She found herself standing next to the pilot's chair and she blinked at the dead monitors in front of her, wondering when her legs had decided to take her there. Until the faint gleam of metal caught her eye and she bent to pick up the dog tag.


With a start, she snapped upright and froze, the dog tags clattering against each other at the sharp movement. Joker's voice, the last thing she had heard before a blast threw her backwards and caused her to smack hard into the fractured bulkhead. That was what had caused her suit leak, but there would have been no way she would have survived the decent into the atmosphere. In a way, she was grateful she had lost consciousness before she hit re-entry depth, but suddenly all she wanted to do was to take her helmet off and breath real air.

Had her hands been ungloved, her short nails would have been biting deep marks into her palm as she forced her breathing to slow and heart to stop hammering so bloody hard. There was no way in hell she was going to have a panic attack on this god forsaken rock. She needed to focus.

Still shaking slightly, she lifted the bundle of tags where she could see them properly and counted them. Nineteen. Only one more set to find.

She knew where to find it, and it was the one place she was avoiding. She could see it glinting in the light when she left the remains of the SR-1's nose; off to her right, half buried in a pile of snow beside the…

The M35 Mako.


Out of everything on Alchera, it was that damn rover that made her cry? What breed of insane, twisted logic was that?

The logic of an engineer. The logic of someone with a lot of happy memories that involve fixing it alongside a young turian officer. Memories of a friendship that became something more, when it was given the chance.

Of course it would be the Mako that made her cry. Not because she liked the vehicle - if anything it was the opposite. But because it's entombed state down on this frozen wasteland was a reminder of a promise that she'd broken.

She had promised him that she'd come back for him, that there would always be room for him on her ship and that all he need do was ask. More recently, he had told her explicitly that saying she'd broken that promise was utter bullshit. She knew it was true, deep down. Her promise had only been put on hold, and that she had fulfilled it completely back on Omega.

But she still blamed herself.

Sniffing and blinking away the involuntary tears that had gathered and blurred her vision, she strode towards the rover with more conviction than she truly felt. With a swift movement, she picked up the tag and turned away. But two strides out from the Mako, she hesitated. What if…?

She always knew it was a hardy vehicle. It had survived geth attacks and thresher maws, not to mention her driving skills. From the looks of it, it had been largely undamaged from the crash landing - even if one of the back wheels was bent at an odd angle. She stared, frowning, deep in thought.

I wonder…

Dropping all twenty pairs of dog tags into an empty ordnance pack strapped to her thigh, she turned back to the rover and rolled her shoulders. Because that old truck was worth one last shot.

The entrance latch was buried under a thick layer of ice, ice which didn't stand a chance when Shepard sent a fireball it's way. The ice exploded and the rover groaned from the sudden heat of the incineration tech burst. Some things never changed. The hatch squealed in protest as it was dragged open and stuck in the upright position when it reached the peak, but Shepard hauled herself inside anyway.

Brushing off the thin layer of frost that had formed on the interface, she tried in vain to start it up the old fashioned way. When that failed, she began frantically tapping on her omni tool, bypassing the Mako's circuits and trying to work out the root of the problem. Suddenly, the engine spluttered and the rover shook before silence again took over. Repeating the action again, only changing one thing, the engine once again coughed back into life and then died, this time one of the wheels that wasn't touching the ground spun frantically. "Come on old girl, come back to me."

Shepard tried again, her fingers a blur over the holographic interface, eyes darting over the projected screen telling her everything that was wrong with the Mako. Give her enough time and perhaps an extra pair of hands, and she was sure she'd be able to get the lumbering hulk of metal back into a fit state again. She just needed a sign…

The engine roared, every wheel that wasn't encased in ice spinning. Elation shot through Shepard like lightning as the M35 vibrated around her.

And then everything died.

"No! No no no no. Don't you dare." Elation had turned to anger, which quickly turned to frustration as she re-keyed in everything that she had done moments earlier. It wasn't long before despair followed. She tried every combination, every workaround and trick she knew.

The Mako was done. As dead as everything else on this planet.

And Shepard was once again feeling bitterly cold.

Regret sitting heavily on her shoulders, she clambered out of the rover and dropped the beacon at it's base. That was where the alliance could put their statue; that was where the heart of the Normandy lay. To her. Some might have put it by the cockpit, others the CIC. But to Shepard, it was that damn rover. That stupid, undrivable, near-indestructible brick on wheels that handled like a drunk bull.

She walked away from it without looking back, her eyes on the open shuttle door a way off. She deviated slightly to pick up her battered old N7 helmet she had found earlier from where she had left it by a torn off part of the bulkhead, but other than that, she kept her eyes ahead.

She needed a hot drink, a hot shower and a warm bed. Preferably shared and in that order.

And more than that, she couldn't wait to get off this damn planet.

Chapter Text

"Kasumi, this is…green." Shepard was frowning at the glass that had been gently (but insistently) pressed into her hand. Inside was a strange, vibrant green liquid that was almost neon. Shepard was sure that it could glow in the dark. And it was fizzing. Not bubbling. Not sparkling. These weren't delicate champagne bubbles floating in her glass. If Shepard held it to her ear, she could hear it hissing. She was pretty sure that proper alcohol shouldn't do that.

"It's my own personal blend." The thief was smiling that same serene smile she always had. It was knowing and very slightly smug. Shepard trusted Kasumi for the most part…but right now, as she stared at the drink, she was doubting her judgement.

"It's fizzy."

"It's mixed with Tupari."

"Tupari is blue."

"And when you add yellow to blue, it turns green."

"You have a yellow liquor?" This voice came from Yeoman Kelly Chambers, who had been also staring at the glass Shepard had been holding, but had now turned to look at Kasumi with wide-eyed wonder.

"I have every colour of liquor. Pick one." Kasumi shrugged, waving her hand at the assortment of multicoloured bottles lined up on the wall by the bar. Shepard stared at them, dumbfounded. She assumed that most of them had been for show, a decorative feature. But to find that they were all drinkable, and allalcoholic…she had to remind herself that this was not an Alliance ship - and for once she was grateful for that.

"You categorize your alcohol via rainbow?" Tali sounded just as astonished as Shepard felt at the revelation. "Keelah. How do you know which one to drink?"

"Easy, you just pick a colour and stick with it for the evening. But never mix colours, that can be potentially lethal."

Without seeing her face, Shepard could hear the smile. It took a moment before the penny dropped. "Uh…green?" She waggled the glass just enough to make the bubbles hiss and fizz around the rim, glaring at the young woman accusingly.

"Potentially lethal. I know what I'm doing. Besides, you remember what happened when that batarian tried to poison you on Omega, don't you Shep?"

"Yes, I passed out and Garrus wouldn't stop fussing over me until we got back to the ship. Had one hell of a hangover."

"Wait, Shepard, you were poisoned on Omega?" Kelly squeaked, pausing in pouring out some kind vivid, day-glow yellow drink. "Why wasn't anyone informed? Did you at least see Dr. Chakwas?"

"Honestly, Kelly, it wasn't that serious. Some batarian bartender tried to off me because I was human. It was nothing to worry about -"

"Garrus seemed to think it was." Shepard ignored that comment from Kasumi. She wasn't going to raise to the bait.

"I've drunk ryncol before. Had pretty much the same effect, all it did was made my head feel as if I'd been sat on by a krogan the morning after."

"So? I can't imagine you let the batarian get away with it." Tali was nursing a half-empty glass of (very weak) turian brandy with a straw sticking out. Shepard couldn't remember seeing Tali actually drinking from it, but going by the fact that the liquid was going down, she could only presume that it was getting drunk.

"Oh she didn't. Or, rather, a turian bypasser didn't. What was his name again, Shep?"

"Ogrinn. Ugh. What a slime ball." Shepard sneered at the memory of the turian as she tentatively sniffed the drink in her hands. It smelled vaguely fruity, just like Tupari. But then, she remembered, Tupari didn't contain anything resembling fruit in any context. She was still very dubious that there was only a nondescript 'yellow' alcohol added to the beverage. Knowing Kasumi, there was more to the drink that met the eye. Or nose.

"Slime ball?" Tali tilted her head at the phrase, unsure if her translator had glitched or not.

"He was revolting. He tried hitting on me after explicitly stating he had a mate. Ugly too."

"At one point, I could have sworn Garrus was going to knock him out."

"I wouldn't have argued with him. The guy was crooked, said something about one of his friends getting put out of business by Archangel."

"Hmm. I could have sworn Garrus was more upset by his dreadful attempts at flirting with you."

Again, Shepard ignored her and gingerly took a sip of her drink. She rolled it around on her tongue for a moment before deciding that it really was quite nice.

A few hours, Shepard was on her eighth glass of the green concoction. Kasumi was impressed, she'd never known anyone to get past five before. And the commander was still coherent enough to be joining in with deep conversations. Although, those deep conversations were currently about Kelly's recent attraction to Thane. And were about as deep as the glass the yeoman was nursing.

"He's soooooooo intense." She held the word far too long and ended up squeaking most of it, giggling like a schoolgirl at the end of it. "I've always liked dangerous men. He's so dark and mysterious and mmmm. This drink is really good."

"I don't think Thane's had a proper conversation with me since he came aboard." Tali's speech was slurred and she was listing towards Shepard even though she had only just finished her third glass. Kasumi figured it was to do with the weakened immune system - that, or the young quarian just didn't drink that often. Probably both.

"He's…interesting. Flashbacks are a little weird though. I never quite know where to look." A drunk Shepard had a slower vocal pattern but no slurring. But it was obvious she was still trying to hold on to some semblance of sobriety despite the fog in her head. Every word was deliberate, the occasional pause was ponderous and accompanied with squinting and rolling eyes as she searched for the right word. Out of those gathered, Shepard was by far the most fascinating to watch.

"Flashbacks? Ohhh, the drell memory thing! I'd love to be able to have that. But then, I'd have to remember all the embarrassing things like high school. And that time I got so drunk I tried to give that krogan a lap dance. Oh and my first boyfriend. Oh second thoughts, no, I don't want that." Kelly was a chatty drunk. "What about you Kasumi?"

"I like Jacob."

"Oooh yes! Have you seen him with his shirt off? Mmm. Those pectorals are like granite. I think Gardner could grate cheese with his abs."

"But he's so boring." Shepard sounded tired, her head flopping back over the back of the sofa. "Even Kaidan had more personality. Actually, Kaidan had quite a nice personality, even if he did use me as his personal councillor."

"Kaidan, as in Kaidan Alenko? The one from Horizon?"

"The very same, Kelly. Asshole."

"Shepard," Tali chastised, obviously frowning under her mask, "you don't mean that."

"No. I don't. And…I don't blame him. Though I still wonder about the 'loved' part. Pretty sure I told him to back off before Ilos." Shepard squinted at the ceiling, a hand coming up to pinch the bridge of her nose as she tried to think through the haze of strangely green alcohol that she'd been drinking for a good few hours. She honestly couldn't understand why he would speak of such things, sure she had flirted - she had even considered breaking the 'no fraternization' rule with him at one point. She figured they were practically on a suicide run, a little dalliance with the crew was the least of their worries. But in the end, she couldn't do it. She just…there was something about him. He was more like her brother.

"So who do you like Shep?" Kasumi sounded irritably sober to Shepard. She had seen the thief drink some strange purple liquid all night, but the way she sounded was too…clear. Was it even alcohol?

"I…no one in particular." Shepard lifted her head off the back of the sofa too quickly and the room swam for a moment - even so, she managed to fix Kasumi with a narrow-eyed stare. "Why?"

"Oh, no reason. I've just been hearing some rumours. That's all."

"Rumours. And what would these rumours be, exactly?"

"The word is that Garrus really likes you. Hard to tell with turians, of course."

Shepard snorted and let her head flop back against the cushion with a muttered "I wish" that only Kasumi caught. Instead, the commander made a dismissive hand gesture. "Pfft. He's my friend Kasumi, of course he likes me. Plus, I've saved his scaly ass countless times. But he doesn't like me any more than he likes his rifle."

"Keelah, you really have no idea." Tali sighed, shaking her head at Shepard. "I wish that bet hadn't have been called off."

"Bet?" Shepard's head snapped up and she pinned Tali with a demanding gaze. "What bet?"

"Wrex started it. After you turned down Liara. He said 'if she turned down the asari then she is gonna turn down the human male' and…" She had to pause for a moment as she recovered from a fit of giggles that Kelly joined in with - quite obviously caused by the ridiculously low voice she had adopted while trying to imitate the krogan. "And then he brought up that you were always in the cargo bay. Next to the Mako."

"Wait…" Shepard held up a hand to stall the quarian, her brain processing the information it was being fed very slowly. "You started a book on if I would end up with Garrus?"

"Not if, Shepard. When."

Shepard merely blinked at her, completely dumbfounded. For once she had been left utterly speechless. And she hated the feeling. She felt like she was a fish out of water, flapping and flailing around uselessly.

"Tali…" She began, heaving a great sigh, the alcohol suddenly twanging the taught elastic of 'commander' enough so that it was just (a drunk) Eden Shepard sitting before her friends. She sagged. "I don't think it's ever going to happen."

"You haven't seen the way he looks after you. Or the way he reacts when your shields go down when out on missions. There's something more than friendship there, Shepard."

"And the way he put down those two ensigns - Travis and Cooper - with just a few words. He's very protective." Kelly was swaying, her voice almost dreamy.

"…ok, you've lost me Kelly." Shepard frowned at her yeoman, who snapped back to attention.

"Oh, when you went out with Kasumi to the Hock party. In that pretty dress. The ensigns were saying things that were…lewd. About how they'd like to see you in less than that dress. And then Garrus comes along looms over them and growls something about having respect for their commanding officer - and that if he ever caught them saying anything like it again he'd cut off their balls and sell them to a krogan."

"He did what?" Shepard blinked, completely unsure if this actually happened, or if it was something Kelly saw in her head.

"He really likes you. Like…he likes likes you."

"…there was too many 'likes' in there for me to understand that sentence, Kelly. Besides, I really don't think he even wants me as a friend anymore. He's been avoiding me like I've got some kind of plague since we came back from that business with Sidonis."

"Really? I'm amazed. I'm sure if he stared at you any harder your panties would catch fire." Kasumi definitely didn't sound drunk to Shepard, and there was far too much sobriety dancing in those shadowed eyes of hers.

Even so, Shepard heaved a heavy sigh and, placing her empty glass on the table in front of her, turned her bleary gaze out onto the great black void out the window. She couldn't help but silently wish what the others were saying was true. Ever since she found him on Omega, there had been something there that she hadn't noticed before. It was a strange sensation that ripped through her when he took off his helmet and she locked eyes with him, an unexpected thrill. She had first put it down to the fact that, despite everything, she had been reunited with her best friend. But perhaps there was more to it? There certainly had been a few close moments between them in the time since, and as always there was the battlefield banter. Though the banter had been becoming something more akin to flirting as time progressed. But no, she had to be kidding herself, he was a turian - there was no way he'd ever want anything more than just friendship.

"Have you ever considered asking him that?" Tali's voice filtered through her thoughts and suddenly Shepard realised she had vocalised that last one out loud. "There was a reason we had that bet, Shepard. We could see something you couldn't. Even the crew here can see there is some kind of singcro…sinkronis…that you're in sync with each other. Especially on the battlefield. If anything, it's more intense now than it ever was."

"I…I don't know, Tali. I just don't know. But I do know that it's too late and I'm on the morning cycle tomorrow."

"I think I'm going to stay here a little longer." Tali nodded, mostly to herself, and Kelly agreed. Shepard simply shrugged and stood, bidding a quick farewell to them before the deck spun away from her - it was currently swaying dangerously.

The door hissed closed behind her at the same time as the door to the men's restroom hissed open. Shepard didn't notice anyone coming out until she nearly collided with Garrus. Swerving away at the last minute with a system full of alcohol caused her to pitch sideways and stagger away, swearing as she lost her footing.

And then he was there, an arm around her waist and hand on her shoulder. No armour, part of her mind noticed; under armour. Black jumpsuit, tight fitting - he must be getting ready to go to bed. But her sober thoughts were drowned out by the hammering of her heart in her chest, the constriction in her throat as her breath hitched as he pulled her upright and steadied her. The feeling of his steady presence for that fleeting moment was not long enough. As the strong grip around her waist vanished and he withdrew, her body keened silently for it's loss.

"You okay, Shepard?" His voice jolted her back into reality and she met his gaze, only to get transfixed by what she saw there. Concern, confusion, amusement but also…something else. Was she imagining that? She had to be, it must have been the drink.

"Yeah, I'm fine. Really need to watch where I'm going though." She laughed and shrugged it off, trying to ignore the low resonating rumble as he chuckled. She really shouldn't be finding him attractive - he was a turian, not to mention her best friend. But she couldn't help but stare, the alcohol had jiggled most of her sensibility loose. "You heading to bed?"


Short answers and suddenly he's unable to meet her gaze. It knocked Shepard sideways slightly before she realises that he's been doing the same tactic for the past week. She's not so surprised anymore, concerned maybe, but not surprised. Even with the alcohol in her system, she could tell there was something wrong with this picture. She'd have to confront him about it sooner or later, but only when sober. "All those calibrations wear you out?"

"Something like that." He laughs - nervously, if Shepard was correct (through the haze of drink at least). The door to the elevator slides open and she wondered how they got next to it without her actually noticing she's been walking. She also hadn't noticed that his hand has never left her elbow during the whole, brief exchange. She suddenly misses it when it's not there anymore when she wandered into the elevator and hit's the button to the loft.

"Sleep well, Garrus." Not trusting herself to say anything more and give away her more personal thoughts, she flashed him a smile, hoping that it didn't look too drink-induced. Her smile falters, however, when she catches a look in his eye as he lets one mandible drop in a lopsided turian grin and returns her farewell. She's left wondering what she saw in those predatory blue eyes as the doors hissed shut and the elevator lurched into motion.

Chapter Text

Garrus shifted restlessly on his bunk, the standard bed size a tad too short and narrow for him to ever get properly comfortable. But tonight there was something else on his mind. Or rather, someone. Shepard. Technically, she had never been off his mind. Ever since he received the news that she was dead, she had been a ghost in the back of his head. A haunting face he would never see again. He thought he was finally losing his mind when he saw her on that bridge back on Omega - or that she had finally come to lead him into whatever afterlife there was. Instead she was an avenging angel, fighting to reach a target. Him. She was fighting to get to him and she didn't even know who he was.

The concussive round he had fired at her had hit her shoulder and taken down her shields. He was sure it would have passed right through, or broken the hallucination - but all it did was cause those brilliant green eyes to meet his through the scope. He watched her lips form curses that went unheard through the gunfire and he couldn't help but smile. He figured that it would end up being her, pulling his ass out of the fire - even when she was supposed to be dead.

Hell, he was supposed to have joined her in death back in that nightmare.

But here he was, alive. And she was two floors above him, on this rebuilt Normandy with a Cerberus crew. If he didn't know this was real, then he could have sworn this was a dying man's delirium and he was back on Omega, bleeding out. The dull, background ache of his face told him that this was real, that she was real.

What he wasn't sure was real was the conversation they had had a few days ago. He had been avoiding her since Sidonis - shame mostly, but also because he was starting to doubt himself. Moreover, he was starting to doubt his behaviour around her. There was a line there, between the friendly companionship they had established back on the SR-1, and the growing feeling that was deep inside him. The feeling that part of him wanted more than what they had. It sparked confusion and alarm, and he had withdrawn.

Oh but that conversation had turned into a mangled wreck in his head, it hardly made sense anymore. She had cornered him in the main battery, closed the door behind her so he couldn't escape, so he had ended up babbling. It was coherent babble, he would give himself credit for that, but it was a diffusion tactic. A diffusion tactic that obviously didn't work. If anything, it had the opposite effect.

And somewhere down the line, they had agreed to 'blow off steam'. Even though Garrus was sure it was far more than that.

How did he ever get himself into this situation?

Five years ago, if someone had told him that his best (and probably last) friend in the whole galaxy would be a human female, he'd have laughed in their face. If they had gone on to say that he would be seriously considering sleeping with her, he'd have called them clinically insane.

And yet here he was. Fidgeting uncomfortably at the prospect of something else going wrong. He would have to watch vids, do the research, figure out how to make this thing work. He had been given an opportunity he never thought he would ever get. Damn it all, he wanted this. Beyond reason and comprehension, he wanted this more than anything. And that alone made him nervous.

He needed to stop thinking so hard. He needed to sleep. To relax. The thought of her hands on his skin, nimble fingers massaging the sensitive areas under his fringe. No. That wasn't helping at all. Soft skin, delicate and fragile. The feel of her under his hands, strong lean muscles flexing as she arches into him. The sound of his name, pulled from her lips like a prayer as he…

Garrus bolted upright and swung his legs over the edge of his bed, talons scratching down his face as he tried to clear his head of his thoughts. It would be a very long night if he couldn't.

Away from the main crew quarters, Shepard had ordered a small section of the ship be sectioned off so that each squad member could sleep in privacy, should they wish to. There were five small rooms, three were open to anyone who wanted to use one, two were permanently claimed by Garrus and Tali. Shepard was currently lingering in the cramped hallway used to separate the rooms, biting her lip as she stared at the sliding door marked with a bold '2'. Under the sign that simply read 'Vakarian', the door lock glowed an angry red and Shepard frowned at it in thought. She wasn't even sure what had brought her here anymore, besides the facts she couldn't sleep and her hamster and empty fish tank weren't exactly very good conversationalists.

But it was the middle of the night cycle, only a skeleton crew operating the down shift and even Joker had left the cockpit for a few hours sleep. All five rooms were occupied and she could only guess at who occupied the 'open' rooms. Only one mattered, however, and she wasn't entirely sure how to proceed. She was dressed in her simple sleep wear, something she never wore outside of her own cabin - and currently she was struggling to recall how she even got here. She felt rather self conscious and very vulnerable. It was also rather unprofessional for a crew to see their CO out of uniform. She should just make a quick dash back to the elevator and retreat into her cabin.

But she didn't move. Her bare feet had welded themselves to the cold steel floor and she couldn't will them to move.

"EDI, is Garrus awake?" She knew she could buzz the door lock, but that could wake him - something she wished to avoid if it was at all possible. Instead, she would wait patiently for the AI's reply.

"Officer Vakarian is awake. He requests that you wait, and that he will unlock the door momentarily."

"Thank you, EDI." He was already awake? Or did EDI wake him up just to ask him if he was awake? Shepard was still unsure exactly how the AI was programmed and how it operated be she liked to think it had the sense to just read vitals instead of actively asking a sleeping person if they were sleeping.

Shepard flinched slightly as the red light on the door lock blinked green and jarred her out of her thoughts, her pulse spiking for a reason she couldn't quite comprehend. Before she could hesitate, she tapped the lock and the door slid silently open.

The room was dim, lit only by a small light above the bunk and the active terminal in one corner - but then the room was barely big enough for two people to stand side-by-side in and that was all it really took. The one thing that was missing was the familiar blue glow of Garrus' visor. It actually took Shepard a few seconds for her eyes to adjust to the change in lighting and pick out the turian in the gloom.

"Everything alright, Shepard?" He sounded tired, weary and slightly bemused. Shepard found herself feeling guilty for intruding on his down time.

"Yeah, I just couldn't sleep." She crossed the threshold and the door slid shut behind her, blocking out the light from the corridor and making it easier to see him, sitting on the edge of his bed.

"Bad dreams?"

"You know me too well."

In one simple gesture, he beckoned her over and she obeyed, sagging onto his bunk with a sigh. She was close enough that she wasn't quite touching but she could feel him close, and that alone was enough to steady what rattled nerves and frayed edges there were. She wanted to lean into him, to curl into his side and hold him close but she wasn't quite sure if he was ready for that yet. She wasn't even sure that he wasn't going to back out on her - she'd let him, of course, even if it would tear her to shreds. Instead, she knotted her fingers together in her lap and stared at the bare floor of his small room.

"I keep…remembering."


"My death."


"It was cold. And dark. And quiet. I hear the oxygen escaping and I try to plug the holes and only manage to run out of air faster. It's not overly painful, like a dull burning sensation and an ache. Then you go light-headed. I blacked out after that."

Garrus must have noticed how her knuckles had turned white, how her blunt nails dug deep grooves into her palms because without thought his fingers were wrapped around her hands. He worked her fingers loose and ran his own across her palm, three fingers interlocking with five with so little effort. A small part of Shepard's mind noticed how right it seemed, despite everything. On instinct alone, she leaned on his shoulder and let just the warmth of him being there seep through the thin clothes they both wore. They both knew there was nothing to say at that point.

"Permissum silenti subsisto mortuus." Shepard broke the silence with little more than a murmur but it caused Garrus to lean away from her slightly so he could catch her eyes in questioning. Shepard felt the need to clarify why his translator suddenly didn't work. "It's latin, an old dead language from earth. Mom had me learn it outside of normal schooling, seeing as most of the Alliance mottos are written in it."

"And what you said means…?"

"Let the dead remain dead, or a rough approximation of it."

"Shepard, you can't possibly mean -"

"Why didn't they leave me, Garrus? Why me of all people?"

Garrus hated rhetorical questions. He knew that's what she meant it as but he wasn't about to let her get away with it.

"That's enough, Shepard." The subtle growl in his sub harmonics was enough to snap her gaze to his, where he held it forcefully. "You know damn well why it had to be you. You're the only one who can do this…" His gaze left hers, squeezing her hand gently as if to reassure himself she was really there. "And if you hadn't - well, I would be rotting in that apartment on Omega by now."

Shepard's grip on his fingers tightened suddenly, her blood running cold at the thought. The memory of Garrus in a pool of his own blood washing away her own thoughts and causing her to twitch. There was so many 'what if's. Too many. What if they woke her too late? What if she had gone to fetch Mordin before she had gone to fetch 'Archangel'? What would she have found in that apartment if she had been a day - an hour - later? He was exhausted by the time she reached him, Chakwas had found numerous older wounds that had only been treated by medigel when what they needed was proper care. He obviously hadn't slept for days if the way he collapsed for a good twenty-eight hours sleep in the med bay (Shepard's insistence, larger beds and the doctor on hand should he need it) after they had got him on board.

Shepard bit back a sob, her whole body shaking with the effort. "I'm so sorry Garrus." Barely a whisper, but enough for Garrus to release his grip on her hands to wrap an arm around her shoulders and pull her towards him. His reassurances that she had nothing to be sorry for went mostly unheard, they registered, but she was fighting too hard to keep her emotions in check. "I didn't mean to leave you, any of you. I should have hauled Joker's crippled ass out sooner. And my last thought…" she barked out a humourless laugh "my last thought was that I never replied to your message about why I hadn't taken any Christmas shore leave like so many other Alliance crew hand. Kind of wish I had taken that leave now."

"If there is one thing I've learned in these past two years, Shepard, it's that you can't dwell on what might have been." Garrus sighed as she leaned into his chest and he held her tighter, resting the uninjured side of his face on the top of her head and inhaling. He didn't question that he was her last thought, simply because he didn't want to think about her having a last thought - even though he was painfully aware she had. Mostly, he just marvelled at how she was able to deal with it. She was remarkable, and suddenly he felt a strange possessiveness spike within him; something else to wonder about later. "If you worry too much about what happened in the past, it will effect your future."

Shepard sniffed, her agreement left as a comfortable silence. She had buried her face in that soft spot where neck met cowl, the pressure of his arms around her and the soft, heavy thudding of his heartbeat made her feel safe enough to momentarily forget that they were in a small private cabin on a ship funded by a terrorist organisation with a mission to stop the abduction of thousands of humans. They were just there, together.

A small, idle part of her brain was telling her that she was in a very intimate position right now, that she should be taking notes at the fact she was just able to hold him close. But she was too emotionally drained right now to do anything other than enjoy the comfort she found in his company. She mumbled something against his neck and she felt him laugh, asking her to repeat that. Reluctantly, she pulled herself away just enough for him to hear her clearly. "I don't ever want to lose you again, Vakarian."

Another laugh, breathy and warm. "Glad to hear it, Commander, because I hadn't planned on going anywhere any time soon."

Chapter Text

"Thank you, EDI. Let me know when we pass through the Widow relay." Shepard sighed and let her head flop back onto the top of the couch cushion behind her. With a grunt, she lifted tired legs and thumped her heavy boots down on the top of the table in front of her. It all felt like so much effort. Even breathing felt like a chore. Restlessly, she stared at the bare metal ceiling of the lounge and tuned out the gentle background music that was piped into the room, listening only to the faint drone of the ship's drive core.

The lights were dimmed lower than usual, at her request, and the shutters had been closed. If it wasn't for the bright light of the bar off to her left, it would have been nearly pitch black. Absently, she rolled the neck of her beer bottle between her fingers in her lap before taking a sharp swig and grimacing. It was awful stuff, like industrial ship cleaner, but it was strong and had the effect of numbing her brain to the point where she might be able to sleep dreamlessly. It hadn't happened yet, but there was no harm in continuing to try.

The doors to the lounge hissed open and footsteps drew her attention, but she didn't lift her head to look. "If your name isn't Garrus Vakarian, you need to state your business here or hoof it to the other side of the ship." She spoke to the ceiling, her eyes half-closed but her tone sharp enough to be taken seriously. It was the same tone she used on the battlefield and in the war room - that was the Commander. And it worked too. She had repeated herself twice already - the first time it was a private who mumbled a strangled apology and dashed off. The second time it was Kaidan, who had come to get a drink and relax. She had let him get the drink, but he had retreated without even being asked. Idly she noticed the stiff way he walked and how he tensed when she had mentioned Garrus' name and she wondered if he wasn't still a bit sore after having been rejected twice. It wasn't her fault she didn't see the man in that light.

"And if his name is Garrus Vakarian?" The familiar, flanged drawl caused an involuntary smile to tug gently at the corners of her lips. She could tell he was amused, even if she wasn't looking at him; what turians lacked in facial expressions they made up for in vocal ones.

"Then he grabs a dextro beer out of the cooler and parks his scaly backside right here." With her free hand, her pointed to the refrigerator behind the bar and then at the spot right beside her without moving her head from where it still lolled back on the sofa, her eyes now closed.

"Is that an order?" He had a smug smile on his face. She didn't need to see it to know.

"It might end up as one, if you don't park it soon, Vakarian."

This caused him to chuckle and move away from where he stood at the door with a simple "yes ma'am."

She listened to his footsteps as he made his way to the bar, noticing the fact that they were somewhat muted and lighter than normal. This told her that he was not in armour. For someone who wore such heavy armour, he made very little noise while within it - but you couldn't escape that not only were the soles of his boots hard, but the very weight of the armour alone made his footsteps heavier. But in civilian clothing? Turians were deceptively quiet. No one would expect it, but Shepard figured it had something to do with them being apex predators.

She shifted slightly as he approached where she sat, shuffling over so he could slip in beside her without being compressed between her and the corner of the sofa. As she felt his weight hit the seat beside her, she lifted her head from the top of the cushion and, leaning into him, rested it on his shoulder. She couldn't help but smile when he subtly moved her so that he could drape his arm around her shoulders and cradle her into his chest. She let out a contented hum as they settled into a comfortable silence, just enjoying each other's company.

"So, was there a reason why I saw both Kaidan and one of the junior members of the crew hightailing it out of here like scared varren?" She could feel the rumble of amusement in his voice, the slight smile on his face she couldn't see without having to break from her comfortable position.

"I have no idea what you're talking about." Acting innocent was never her forte.

"Really?" She felt him chuckle at this, rather than heard it, and watched as he took a mouthful of his beer just on the edge of her vision. "Because I was under the impression that you were abusing your authority."

"I can't abuse authority if I'm off duty."

"Then what was that well-rehearsed order when I walked in?"

"That was me not wanting to have to deal with anyone else's shit. Just for one damn evening." Immediately, she regretted saying that. Damn him, he always had a way of getting the truth out of her. Either it was because of his C-Sec training or the fact that she was subconsciously picking up 'bad turian' traits from him, she wasn't sure. But she had sounded bitter, resentful and more than a little bit petty.

He hummed, low and thoughtful, the sound running through her and causing her skin to prickle. She felt his fingers leave her shoulder to card through her hair. She knew he knew about the nightmares; the endless times she would wake suddenly in the middle of the night and seek him out from where he rolled away to. He never mentioned it, never once pressed her for details like Liara or Kaidan did - probably because he also knew how she had shot them both down for poking their nose where it didn't belong. Instead, Garrus had just been there. Like he always was. If she sought him out suddenly, be it in the middle of the night in bed, or during the day cycle in the main battery, he would just let her find him until she was ready to continue.

Now was no different.

"How many more are we going to lose, Garrus?" Barely a whisper, weak and strained. "Mordin. Thane. Legion. I know every war has casualties but …"

"These are friends." Gentle, soft, quiet. Barely audible but for the fact he was right next to her.

Shepard squeezed her eyes shut and snaked an arm around his waist, holding him as close as she could. "Yes."

"Sometimes, I think you're a little too selfless, Shepard. You need to take some time for yourself. The galaxy isn't going to implode because Commander Shepard takes a few hours off."

"You mean it's not imploding already?"

"It's not going to accelerate because you took a break." There was a smile in his voice, chastising yet full of concern. And he was making sense. The voice of logic, of truth. Just like always. Twice damn him. "And sometimes you need to tell people to 'hoof it', even if it's just for a little while. You're off duty, take the opportunity to be selfish now and then. That includes time to grieve."

It was a subtle movement, a gentle shift in the way she was cuddled against his side that allowed her to lift her head and brush her lips against his scarred mandible as a feather light kiss. In response, his fingers traced circles on her scalp, pleased with himself when she sighed and relaxed against him. "I think I enjoy being selfish with you, Garrus."

"If that's what it takes, then I guess I can work with that."

"Such a martyr."

"It's a heavy burden." He seemed to have turned the act of sounding smug into an art form. "Though there is one thing that needs to be done."

Suddenly, all Shepard could see was the inside of Garrus' forearm and the glow of his omni tool just above her head. When he fell back into his previous position, she noticed that the lock on the door now glowed red. "You planning on holding me hostage, Vakarian?"

"If that's what it takes. Besides, I can think of worse places to get locked in. And I doubt anything major is going to happen in the next six hours."

"Gonna keep me in here for that long, huh? People will talk."

"Well, I had planned to get you up to your cabin eventually…"

"Eventually. You sound as if you're aiming low."

"I can bring what I had in mind forward, if you'd prefer." He was practically purring into her ear, his voice lowered to a timbre that caused her to shiver. Judging by the puff of laughter that caused his mandibles to flutter, it was just the reaction he was aiming for.

"Thrice damn you, turian." Shepard groaned, playfully pushing his shoulder as she leaned away. Her nearly empty beer bottle hit the table with a thud as she made an act of getting up and straightening her clothes, trying to ignore him as he followed suit. With no reaction as the light on the door turned back to green and hissed open as she approached it, she strode towards the elevator as if she was on her own despite knowing full well that he was at her heels. She just managed to punch the '1' on the console before an arm snaked around her waste.

So much for drowning her sorrows, but she could honestly say that the alternative was infinitely more pleasurable.

Chapter Text

Too long. It was taking too long.

It had been at least a few hours since she was dragged, bodily, out of the med bay by Jacob and Zaeed. She had raged and swore and cursed them all to the depths of hell, vowing to kill everyone on board if they let him die. Empty threats, of course - but this wasn't just some dumb grunt they'd picked up to help with the mission. This was Garrus. And he could be dying in there.

All because she wasn't fast enough.

No, scratch that.

All because she had died.

She paced around the mess hall like a caged animal. Back and forth, her eyes never leaving the privacy glass or the door of the med bay. She would growl in frustration and worry, mutter to herself; nothing outside of her own head and that room mattered.

She was a frightening sight too. She was still in her armour, scuffed and marked from the firefight - and moreover, she was covered with dried blue blood. Her hair was wild, red stained with blue; her eyes were wilder. Even more alarming to the crew was the fact that she was still armed. She had followed the stretcher all the way from the shuttle to the bay, flanking it and guarding it with an intensity that even caused Joker to recoil. He thought he had seen all of her reactions - she had always been a soldier first. But this? This was unprecedented. This was Shepard the human, the civilian. The heavily armed, efficiently trained killer of a civilian who had received more than a few substantial upgrades from her Cerberus rebuild.

He watched her on the monitors, prowling around the open space in front of the table. EDI was monitoring her hard suit's vitals readout, relaying it back to him on an adjacent screen. Elevated heart rate, excessive amounts of adrenaline, stress levels far above normal - all those were to be expected. This was her best friend she had just found and was now waiting to receive news on. What he did find puzzling was that beside it was a static reading of the moments before he was told of developments. Again, elevated heart rate and adrenaline levels - but also there was a spike of oestrogen. Quite why the AI was monitoring thatchemical was puzzling, Joker stared at it for a little while as he tried to remember his school biology lessons. Wasn't that the female version of testosterone? He'd have to play at 'just curious' around the doctor next time she came to bother him about his meds. However, he was ripped from his thoughts by EDI telling him that Shepard had let loose her combat drone. Swearing profusely, he had no choice but to radio Miranda - she'd be trying to hack the med bay doors next.

Shepard's drone hummed as it floated around the mess hall, causing those onlookers who were within range to quickly withdraw. As soon as she had summoned it, she left it to it's own devices. It was programmed to ignore crew and squad members alike but they didn't know that, and it was a good deterrent. All Shepard needed was for it to buy her some time. Just long enough for her to hack into the med bay's systems. With a bit of luck, she'd be able to trigger the doors - but she'd be satisfied with the windows or cameras.

"EDI, temporarily lock the Commander out of the Normandy's systems." Miranda's voice caused Shepard's fingers to skitter over the electronic interface of her omni-tool. She sounded both amused and annoyed. And Shepard hated it. She was regretting having that friend/foe programme on her drone regard the operative as a 'friend'. The drone disappeared when she walked past and Shepard couldn't help but glare.

"Shepard, I know that you and Officer Vakarian are close and that you are worried for him - but do you really think that pacing the mess and loosing your drone on the crew will help?" Perfectly calm, perfectly logical; perfectly engineered Miranda.

Perfectly punch-able, in Shepard's opinion. But she had a point. What good would acting like a caged tiger do? It wouldn't make what was going on in the med bay any easier, nor would it make it go faster. She stared down at her omni-tool and then at the forearm under it as it flickered off. She flexed her fingers and noticed the blue blood staining on not just her arms, but all over. She winced. "I'll be in my cabin. EDI, tell me the moment the situation changes."

As the AI confirmed and Shepard strode out towards the elevator, Miranda frowned. Even though there was nothing to be seen, she couldn't help but look at the privacy glass of the med bay. She had no idea that Archangel would be one of Shepard's old crew, let alone the turian. She had read the reports, that the commander was closer to her alien crewmates than her human ones. And that the turian specifically held importance. 'Best friends' everyone said. 'Very close' the report said, followed by an aside of 'intimate?' Miranda didn't like what that implied, but she couldn't deny what she had seen. Shepard's face spoke volumes when she was greeted by Vakarian, her body language just screamed that she wanted to embrace him - and then there was her display moments ago. Was there really just close friendship at work there, or was there something else? Miranda had to wonder…she had seen Shepard's suit readings too.

Shepard's arrival at her cabin was heralded with a loud crash as vambrace collided with the back wall and clattered onto the floor. She felt so hopeless, souseless. Give her a gun and she could shoot things with a skill few could match. Give her an omni-tool and she could set things on fire, freeze them on the spot or hack practically anything. Give her a tool kit and a big wrench and she could fix the Mako after it had been driven into a geth armature. But give her a best friend, fighting for his life after she had only just found him again and the result was not pretty.

A shoulder guard bounced off the reinforced glass of her empty fish tank and EDI's glowing avatar popped up in her terminal. "The glass on your fish take is toughened, but not unbreakable. I suggest not throwing projectiles at it to avoid flooding your cabin." Shepard blinked at the orb for a moment, processing what had been said, before a string of curse words was growled. Growing in volume and colour in a weave of various alien languages (turian and krogan particularly, with the occasional asari and quarian for flavour) that culminated with Shepard's other shoulder guard hurled through EDI's avatar, which promptly vanished.

She stripped quickly, discarding her armour and bodysuit onto the floor when she would normally be far more careful. It was only when she felt the soothing warmth of her shower on her shoulders did she let herself loosen slightly. She hadn't realised how tense she had been holding herself since that gunship blew, nor how deep the ache had set in. She flexed her right shoulder, wincing when the muscle pulled and protested more than it usually did. All those credits spent to bring her back and the shoulder she broke in the fight against Saren still plagued her. Ironic, really.

She watched distantly as blue-stained water circled the drain at her feet, the colour increasing in intensity as she ran her fingers through her hair. That it was even there in the first place was her fault, her habit of running her fingers through her hair repeatedly when she was stressed or anxious causing the fresh blue blood to transfer from glove to scalp in one swift movement. She must have been a dreadful sight to see.

She didn't linger in the shower.

She didn't linger in her cabin either. She dressed quickly and picked up her discarded pistol from the desk, shoving it into her waistband before covering it with the only uniform Cerberus provided that looked like something an officer would wear. If this were an Alliance vessel, she'd be wearing the same as the crew - but she sure as hell wasn't going to wear the same as the Cerberus lackeys. And she wasn't going to wander around a ship filled with pro-human terrorists without some kind of weapon on her person. Especially since they were now picking up non-human squad members.

Somehow she found herself pacing the length of the table in the debriefing room. She couldn't remember how she got there, or why she had chosen that particular room, but it seemed as good as any. Better, actually, considering how out of the way it was. There was no crew members to bother her when she was busy bothering herself. It was quiet and peaceful and right next door was a room with lots and lots of guns. Shepard felt very reassured by the amount of firepower that was just on the other side of the wall. It made her feel safe.

The hiss of the doors sliding open barely registered as she stared at the holo image of the Normandy. She seemed so focused on fixing it with a death glare that Jacob felt very awkward when she didn't respond to his entrance. He resisted the urge to clear his throat so he saluted, hoping that this would get the woman's attention. When he still got no response, he fidgeted and was about to speak up when Shepard's penetrating glare was directed at him. He saw anger there; frustration. But there was an underlying current of something he didn't think the commander was capable of - fear. He didn't look forward to this conversation.

"I'm fit for duty whenever you need me, I'll settle in and see what I can do at the forward batteries." Garrus had already turned and taken two steps before he was stopped in his tracks. Shepard had grabbed his wrist and pulled him to a stop with so little effort he couldn't help but bemused by it. He turned to regard her with one brow plate quirked slightly - an odd human trait he had picked up from working with them for so long - and a question on his tongue. The question died as soon as he met her eyes.

She searched his face, closing the gap between them to mere inches. There was so much weight there, so much emotion. She had pulled her hand away from his wrist and was now flexing her fingers as if she was nervous. She had his gaze pinned so fast that he barely noticed his visor readout telling him her heart rate was elevated and her breathing shallow.

Before he could ask her anything, however, she had wrapped her arms around him faster than his brain could process. He froze in her hug, completely rigid and entirely confused as to how to respond to something that Shepard had never done before. "You're alive." Her voice was barely a whisper, hoarse and trembling as if she was holding back tears. It didn't seem addressed to him either, more like she was confirming it to herself. Part of Garrus wanted to quip about that being his line, but his brain couldn't will his mouth to move. Couldn't will any part of him to move in fact. Was he still breathing?

"Shepard…?" He finally managed to speak after a few seconds and it seemed to break her out of whatever state she was in as she pulled away, flustered and almost panicked. She fumbled over an apology; fumbled over how she didn't mean to cause offence and that what she had done was totally inappropriate and about how of course he wouldn't want his personal space invaded. He had never seen her babble before and now she wouldn't shut up. None of it was going in and again, it seemed like she was talking to herself again - but Garrus took the time to really look at her. And by the spirits did she look tired. Her skin and lips were pale, her hair was dull and there seemed to be bruising around her eyes. And then were was those scars. Her old one, a souvenir from Elysium so she once said, was gone - replaced by angry red lines that showed the glowing cybernetic weave underneath when her skin flexed. The woman under it all was the same, but she was a mere shadow compared to the vibrant and vivid woman who took down Saren over two years ago. When was the last time she slept?

And she was still talking. He'd only known her to do that when she was drunk, and then never to this extent. Then he remembered how he felt when she had found him on Omega, about how he would feel once the stims started to leave his system. He'd feel like he'd downed six glasses of strong turian brandy in one go. She must be exhausted. Without much thought, he cupped her jaw in his hand and stilled her ramble instantly. A small part of him wondered at it when she leaned into his touch, but she visibly relaxed and that was enough. "You worry too much, commander."

"No one else seemed to care," she replied, half muttered as she reluctantly pulled herself away from his palm.

"So you take it on yourself to worry for everyone?" He had missed the past tense that she used, and she didn't even noticed that he'd spoken.

"Not even Joker. Just like the rest of them. Didn't seem to care."

"Wait, what are you talking about Shepard?"

There was a flash of something then, something hot and angry, behind her eyes. The fire of her former self flared for just a moment as she all but snarled at the perplexed turian. Thrusting an open palm against the undamaged side of his armour, Shepard shoved him hard enough to cause him to stagger backwards. She closed the gap. "You. Almost. Died."

Garrus blinked dumbly at this sudden mood swing, idly noting the similarities of sleep deprivation and being drunk. He had no reply for her, instead he watched her tremble - but it didn't seem like anger. There was a well of hurt behind her eyes.

"On my watch. You almost died on my watch…and no one seemed to care but me." She visibly deflated, curling back in on herself as it all became too apparent. She blamed herself.

Oh, Shepard.

"And don't you dare say you're fit for duty. Not six hours ago I saw you being carried into that med bay on a stretcher, unconscious and bleeding out. You will leave the main battery alone; take that ass of yours and park it in one of the individual rooms on the crew deck or on one of the beds in the med bay. You're out for forty-eight hours - minimum. And that's an order." She didn't sound mad any more. Just exhausted, and back in the role of commander. Whatever it was that Garrus had witnessed seemed to have passed and he'd have to think on it further later. She'd benched him for two solar days - he'd have time. He nodded and acknowledged the order, unable to bring himself to say anything.

Without another word, Shepard brushed past him and left him standing alone in the debriefing room with only his thoughts about how strange the past day had been. He would probably need all forty-eight of those hours to make sense of it all.

Chapter Text

Four walls. No, three walls and one window that was wall sized. An apartment bigger than what most families call 'home'. Only it wasn't, it was a cell. A glorified, prettied up, prison cell. They could call it whatever they wanted, but everyone knew what it was. Stay in your cell, go nowhere without an escort, get all your correspondence scanned and scrutinized for a good week before you get it - and she was called lucky? Shepard didn't feel all that lucky right now. For five months she'd been grounded, looking at the same walls and out the same window. And she hated the view. Some would have called it pretty, the gleaming civilization. But it wasn't. It was ugly, and hid it's true face well. Being stuck on a rock was unnatural for a spacer, it felt wrong to have so much gravity pulling at you. And as for the sky…

Shepard sat in the dark with her back against the side of her sofa and her bare feet pressed up against the cold glass of the window. The glow from the city was enough to illuminate the outlines of her furniture and herself, the lights twinkling like stars and smothering any chance of her seeing the real thing. That was what she hated most about planet life - especially Earth life - she couldn't see the stars. She felt cut off from the rest of the galaxy. She didn't belong. It felt wrong. Sometimes she wondered if it wouldn't have been better had she been discharged - at least then she'd have been able to get the hell off this damn planet and back out where she wanted to be. No, she wouldn't have had the Normandy, but she wouldn't have been stuck.

With a groan of frustration, she thumped the back of her head against the stiffly padded arm several times before frowning at the ceiling. No correspondence, they said, until it had been checked and scanned. It would take a week. She had so far received only two messages. One from Tali that simply stated she was going back to the flotilla and she hoped to see Shepard again someday. The other was from Joker, who was moaning that the alliance engineers were tearing his ship apart. She understood why Tali's was so short, simply because the quarian knew that it had to go through alliance channels and she simply couldn't say what was happening. Joker had used official channels, being almost in the same boat as she was - only he was simply under guard because of the Cerberus thing. Shepard on the other hand, was a mass murderer with the batarians baying for her blood.

But there was nothing from the person she wanted to hear from the most. And just the thought of it made her feel so very alone. It hurt to dwell on it, but she couldn't help herself. Five months was a long time, and she would be incarcerated longer still. Would he decide that he would never see her again and move on? He did say he was going to head back to Palaven. She wouldn't blame him if he found himself a nice turian woman that he could settle down and have children with. It wasn't as if she could ever give him that. She wrung her hands in her lap as she squeezed her eyes shut, trying to dispel the image of her stuck on earth for the rest of her life - of never getting to see him again, even if it ended up as just friends. Just friends. That thought hurt more than anything. Were they nothing more than a fling, when all was said and done?

She didn't get the chance to think on it further when the door chimed to indicate that her chaperone and guard was requesting to come in. Vega didn't have to ask, but he was polite and far more of a gentleman than he would liked to have made out. She'd been getting to know him over the past few months - not his service history or his military leanings - him the person. All without letting him know hardly anything about her. It was a skill few managed to master, but Shepard had it down to a fine art. He was big and boisterous, a typical jarhead marine with more brains that he let on. He seemed to act on his emotions often and was almost childlike in his curiosity. In a way, he reminded her of Grunt, only with less of an urge to kill things with his bear hands or head butt something that he didn't agree with. Grunt, tempered with some of Garrus' self control.

"Come in, James." Even to her own ears she sounded tired. It wasn't surprising, she hadn't slept properly in at least a week. With a subtle hiss, the door slid back and the hulking man-mountain walked in and blocked most of the light from the corridor. She couldn't see his face in his silhouette, but she could imagine him squinting into the darkness by the way he hunched over slightly and appeared to be scanning the room. She couldn't help but smile to herself. Lifting a hand, she waved it above her head through a beam of light that slipped past his right shoulder.

"Why are you sitting in the dark, commander?" asked James as he zeroed in on her position and the door slid closed behind him. Shepard noticed he was holding something in his hand but couldn't quite make it out in the gloom.

"I like it dark. Stops me getting a headache. And I'm not 'commander' anymore." She sighed and fumbled with the remote control for the lights, fading them up slowly to let her eyes adjust. Heaving herself up as if it was some great effort, she took two steps around the edge of the sofa and then flopped back down, propping her bare feet on the glass table in front of her. With an amiable wave, she motioned for the lieutenant to sit on the chair opposite.

Vega seemed to drift between awkward and uncomfortable to far too relaxed for his own good. It was like he began to let himself feel at ease around her and then he'd catch himself and put himself back on edge. It was damn annoying. Shepard knew the reason too, it was because she was Commander Shepard. First human Spectre, Hero of the Citadel and defeater of Collectors. Not to mention undead, Cerberus traitor and mass murderer - but those weren't shouted around so loudly.

The man hovered for a bit before deciding to accept the seat, rather than just stand around behind where Shepard sat. She was grateful, considering how she was not going to twist around from her comfortable position to talk to him. She watched him from the corner of her eye while pretending to stare at her toes in a faraway fashion. Eventually, her gaze rested on what he had in his hand. A datapad and…something wrapped in what looked like blue material. "You bringing me gifts, Vega?"

"I am indeed ma'am. Just got them from the security team. All scanned and checked and debugged and…whatever else they do to your mail." He leaned across the small table and offered them with a smile. Shepard eyed them for a moment, not moving from her reclined position, but after quickly putting aside the want to seeth for another point in time, she accepted them with a quick thanks.

The item wrapped in blue fabric had obviously been opened by the security team, but to their credit they had wrapped it back up as best they could - something she couldn't help but smile at. She weighed it in her hand before placing it on the table and turning her attention to the datapad. She tried not to get her hopes up.

It was from Liara. And despite her best efforts, she couldn't help but be disappointed.

"They arrived a couple of weeks ago, the tech boys kept them a little longer than usual because of the item." James was speaking, but Shepard was only half listening. She was already reading.

'Everyone is fine', it read. It gave a quick rundown of the status of the crew, using only initials to indicate who she meant. Shepard understood perfectly, and she highly doubted the brass would be that interested in 'UG with UW' - which was obviously about Grunt's return to Urdnot territory to learn from Wrex's clan how to be a true krogan. Almost all of it had the same clipped tone, informing her that 'ML and JT have gone off grid' and things she already knew - like Tali going back to the fleet.

And then there was a small section on it's own that made her heart beat faster.

'GV on Palaven. Safe, well. Promoted. Wants to send message but understands he can't. Misses you greatly. Gift from him enclosed. I hope they let you have it, Shepard.'

Shepard swallowed thickly and bit back on her feelings as she felt her eyes burn with the longing to cry blessed relief. He was alive. He was doing well. Misses you greatly. Curse her pessimism for thinking that he'd forget her and move on - that they were a desperate fling for a few months and nothing more.

Quickly swapping the datapad for the small package, she chewed on her bottom lip and hoped that the tech team hadn't done something to whatever it was that Garrus had sent her. With a steady breath, she began to unfold the fabric from around the object. It was hard and it was moderately heavy. Not paperweight heavy, but heavy enough to be felt in her palm as she let it tumble into it. Placing the soft material aside she stared at the curved lump of black with a clip in the middle that sat in her palm, puzzled. Until, of course, she turned it over. What she saw made her heart lurch and what must have been an absurdly happy grin spread over her face. Engraved into the metal and in gold paint that was chipped and scuffed from seeing action, was a stylised bird below two lines. "Archangel." She muttered to herself, completely forgetting that James was watching her.

"Archangel? From Omega? Man, you should have heard the stories of him buzzing around this place. Guy's a legend. Didn't he go out all guns blazing?" James seemed suddenly very animated, like a child telling a parent about their favourite superhero.

Shepard blinked up at him and frowned but never replied. She merely went back to rubbing the pad of her thumb over the emblem with a faint, faraway smile on her face.

Part of his old hard suit. That meant that he had changed his armour, finally. And he had thought to make her a memento. Suddenly she felt very warm and fuzzy inside, a feeling that was utterly foreign and only started happening since the Omega 4 relay. Since when was she such a hopeless romantic?

"Got someone waiting for you out there, huh? No wonder you're always on edge."

Shepard smirked at him, finally pulling her attention from her gift. "Why Vega, since when were you so interested in my private life?" It was about as subtle and gentle as a 'mind your own business' as you would get out of Shepard. James held up both hands in the universal sign of surrender.

"I'm just curious as to what it is that could light up your face like that. I've never seen you smile since you got here."

"There's not been much to smile about, lieutenant, but I get your point. It's…a memento. A keepsake."

"Sentimental, but not actually worth anything." James stood when she did, watching as she hitched up her shirt to clip the strange symbol to her belt before pulling the hem back down to cover it. She responded with a smile and a nod. Then, as she did her best to stifle a yawn, Vega took it as his cue to leave. He stiffened and saluted, even though he wasn't really meant to. "Sleep well ma'am."

"See you in the morning lieutenant," Shepard replied with a soft smile and a nod, watching him go, her hand subconsciously resting on where she had clipped Garrus's gift to her belt. She heaved a heavy sigh as she watched the door lock turn from green to red, turning off the lights once again and plunging the room into the faint glow of the city outside.

That night, Shepard slept more peacefully than she had in months. Her dreams -not nightmares for once - blissful, simple memories of having someone else in her bed and by her side.

Chapter Text

"Now I'm sure somebody screwed up something down here. I want to get the old girl back in fighting shape."

There was something odd about the way Garrus had come out with that line, so abrupt and unusually dismissive after all that flirting. It was as if he was…stopping himself? Shepard was confused. That whole conversation seemed oddly hesitant. She could understand his initial caution, six months was a long time no matter what planetary time frame you were using - but she had told him that they were still on, hadn't she? As she hovered in the doorway and blinked dumbly at his armoured back, she went back over every word they had said. Perhaps it was her fault, that he was being distant. Her tone had been businesslike, she was all Commander and hardly any Shepard, and no Eden to speak of. That was wrong. Especially when she considered how badly she'd missed him and how equally (if not more) badly she wanted to jump into his arms and kiss him back on Menae.

"Is there something else you wanted, Commander?" His eyes never left his console, his fingers never missed a beat, but he knew she was lingering.

Commander? Since when had she returned to being 'Commander' to him in casual conversation? And why did that word sting so much? It made no logical sense. It made no emotional sense either. She stared dumbly at the back of his head for a moment before she stepped back inside the battery and let the door close behind her. "I never did get the chance to thank you for the gift."

Even though he never stopped typing, he gave her a confused head tilt and she noticed the fainted twitch of his scarred mandible. "Gift?"

He didn't remember. This was surprising. Normally he had such a good memory and yet here he was drawing a blank. But then, so much had happened since the Reaper invasion that she wasn't surprised. There was only so much things a person could hold on to. She wasn't angry, she merely gave him a soft smile and lifted the front hem of her hoodie and shirt enough to show him the keepsake he had sent her a few months back. "Look familiar?"

As his eyes fell on it, his hands stilled and his mandibles went slack, an expression that Shepard recognised as surprise. Without thought, he keyed in a command that locked the console before turning to face her fully. His eyes remained on the Archangel symbol clipped to her belt, mandibles twitching but eyes unreadable. He swallowed hard. "They let you have it…"

It wasn't a question, but Shepard nodded. "Going on the date on the datapad, it took about a month for it to get to Earth and then security kept it for a good two weeks plus after that. But yes."

He brushed the tips of his gloved talons across the engraved, scuffed golden surface of the emblem with a look that resembled awe. It was unexpected. "And you kept it."

"Of course I did. I never took the damn thing off."

His eyes snapped to hers then, his expression unreadable, his fingers moving from the badge to her own hand in a subtle movement.

"It was the only thing I had of you," she continued. "And when I heard about Palaven…" her voice broke but she held his gaze, refusing to let herself cry. "I was worried that it was all that I'd ever have."

The weight of his gaze almost flattened her then, the heat in those predatory blue eyes enough to set her on fire. His hand slid from her fingers, under her partially lifted shirt to her bare waist, the sudden touch causing her muscles to twitch and her skin to prickle. His free hand had found her forehead, the backs of his fingers brushing against her skin before pushing a lock of her hair away from her eyes. She hadn't noticed him closing the distance, she was just aware of his breath on her face, his eyes the only thing she could see - she didn't even notice the visor anymore.

She wasn't aware that she was being walked slowly backwards as his lips met hers in the strange kiss that they had made work. She was aware of his fingers kneading her waist, of the deep rumble in his chest, even of the vague discomfort of the point of his chest armour pressing against her shoulder. But all that was overridden by the utterly intoxicating feeling of him gently nibbling his way down her neck. Her eyes had slipped closed with a pleased sigh, her body just revelling in the contact after too long without him.

The subtle growl in his sub harmonics was growing to a point, however, that it was setting her body down the road to submission. And from the way his hands had grown insistent, the feeling was mutual. It was only when he had lifted her legs to hook over his hips and pressed her back into the wall behind them that she started to come back to reality.

"Garrus. We can't." Her breath was heavy and forced. Her body screamed in protest when he paused, his breath hot on her neck.

"Too soon?"

He sounded disappointed and it was painful to hear. "God no. Not soon enough." Her fingers, back under her control from where they had clamped themselves around the cowl of his armour, moved to massage the sensitive spot under his fringe. She was pleased at the happy rumble she got in return "But we are both on duty. Not to mention that the Alliance has rigged cameras back up in here and Joker is probably watching us right now."

She felt him tense at that and she couldn't help but chuckle. What they had been doing had already broken so many regulations that she could be punished severely, but it wasn't like anyone in Alliance brass could stop her. After all, she was the one woman who could 'save the galaxy'. They wouldn't dare.

"Ah, let him watch." Garrus shrugged and nipped playfully at the spot under her ear, causing her to giggle in such a girly way that she blushed because of it. A sound only he could get out of her. A sound that made him proud of himself when he heard it. It meant he'd gotten past her carefully constructed defences.

Shepard knew he didn't mean it, and that he was just as conscious as she was about being watched. Especially during such private moments. This was confirmed as seconds later, he lifted her gently off his hips and put her on her feet away from the wall. He never took his hands from around her waist, however, and pressed his forehead to hers.

"I meant it when I said we have a lot of catching up to do, Garrus."

"I look forward to it."

With a quick kiss, he pulled away and let her slip past and towards the door, noticing how her hand never quite left his armour until she was out of reach. He watched her go, waiting for the doors to slide closed behind him so that he could try and occupy his brain with something other than her. But they never did, she had turned to face him with a sly smile.

"Where are you planning on sleeping?" She asked, innocently enough, as if it was just idle curiosity that fuelled it.

"Er…I figured one of the sleeper pods would be adequate enough." He pointed to the pod behind her and she turned to consider it with a frown.

"I think that's a wrong answer." She nodded to herself, causing him to just look confused. She had to admit, she loved that look just as much as the heated look he had not moments ago. She sauntered back to him, hips swaying in the way she'd mimicked Miranda before. In the way they had swayed in her cabin before the Omega 4. In the way that always pulled his attention to them. Humans weren't the only species that could appreciate the movement.

"So, I'll ask again. Where are you sleeping." She punctuated each word with a slow step towards him until she was practically brushing against his armour. She could see he was figuring out her meaning pretty quickly, especially when he leaned down to almost touch his nose with hers.

"I don't know. Where am I sleeping?"

"Hmm. How does a nice soft bed, in a cabin with a tank full of fish, a display of model ships, and a space hamster sound?"

"That depends if I'll have to bunk with someone else."

"Do you want to bunk with someone else?"

"Only if she'll have me."

"She'll always have you."

"Then I guess that's settled."

There was a pause before Shepard took a slow step backwards. Followed by another. "I'll hold you to that, Vakarian."

And then she really did leave, letting Garrus try and get back to his work on the guns while she tried to get back to her rounds.
Neither of them completely succeeded.

Chapter Text

"Do you remember when we first met?" Shepard's voice broke the silence of the cabin, soft and languid from their activities prior. She was curled contentedly into Garrus' side with her head on his chest, listening to his heartbeat. She felt him hum in thought, her fingers playing faint patterns on his plates as she herself remembered their first meeting.

"Vaguely. I was arguing with Pallin, I think."

"You were. Frustrated by red tape, even then." Shepard laughed, a breathy chuckle. "If I remember right, your first words to me was my name, followed by yours."

"That sounds about right. I was working my ass off trying to pin something on Saren and then you came along and I saw my chance. There wasn't much room for first impressions."

It was Shepard's turn to hum in thought, her fingers rubbing her lips. "No, I don't suppose there was. And I was so distracted by the thought of meeting the Council that any chance of a proper conversation went out of the window. You were just another turian then."

"'Just another turian', huh?"

Shepard suppressed a giggle before eyeing him sceptically. "What, were you expecting love at first sight? Look me in the eye and tell me that I wasn't just another human to you back then."

Garrus locked eyes with her, taking her challenge head-on with a wicked smirk. "Actually, you weren't. The correct term I'd use is 'asset'-" he broke eye contact when he saw her face turn incredulous. "But I wasn't exactly sure I was ever going to get the chance to see you again. At the very least, I would have forwarded on my findings to Anderson, in the hope he might send them on to you. As luck would have it, I didn't need to."

Shepard shifted, pulling away from him despite her body protesting at the sudden lack of warmth he provided. While there was still good humour behind her eyes, her expression was unimpressed. "No, that little stunt in Dr. Michel's clinic is one of my more vivid memories. Though you lead me on a song and dance to find you there."

He watched as she swung her legs out of the side of the bed and propped himself up on his elbows, letting his gaze follow the defined contours of her back muscles to the small of her back and curve of her hip. "Oh? I don't remember you mentioning it."

"That's because it wasn't important," she looked at him over her shoulder, waving it off with a hand. "You want to know the reason why I didn't stop you from shooting Harkin when we were chasing down Sidonis? I had dealings with that bastard when looking for you. Asshole. If you weren't so caught up in the moment I probably would have shot him myself."

"Hmm. It was rather cathartic."

"But he did give us both leads. Told me where to find you at least. Right in time for that stunt you pulled."

Garrus winced, remembering how Shepard had chewed him out for shooting the man who held the doctor hostage. She had been able to fluster him even then, like it was some kind of instinct. She had caused him to backtrack in his thoughts, to quickly ask the startled woman (now covered in someone else's blood) if she was hurt. On reflection now, Garrus had become embarrassed by the Commander - his own reckless actions and how he could have easily have missed.

"I knew then, you know." She interrupted his thoughts, as if deliberately, and he looked up to see her half-turned to face him, her eyes soft and a smile on her face. "I knew that I wanted you on my team. Sure, you were brash and impulsive - reckless, even - but I'd never seen anyone take a shot like that. I figured that if you were that good with a pistol, I needed to see you with a rifle. You didn't let me down."

"So… would you say that was more of a first impression than back in the Council chamber?"

"Hell yes. I actually prefer that one."

With a laugh, Garrus shifted on the bed so that he was sat up, leaning against the headboard. In a subtle movement, he beckoned her over and she complied. Curling back against him, one arm looping around his waist and her head on his shoulder, he enjoyed the contented sigh she released. They fell back into a contented silence, his fingers carding through her hair, the blunt tips of his talons gently scratching her scalp in the way she had said she enjoyed immensely. He thought she had drifted back off to sleep, but a thoughtful hum told him otherwise.

"You seemed so young back then. It's hard to believe it wasn't even three years ago."

"Three years and a lifetime ago, Shepard."

She squeezed him tighter to her then, taking his free hand in hers and running her fingers over the soft skin between his own two digits. He practically purred in response, a low rumble that told her he was content, just like he always did. "Funny how things work out."

"Like if someone were to go back in time and tell us we'd end up like this?"

"I think I'd tell them they needed therapy."

He barked out a laugh. "I think I'd do the same."

"But don't think for a moment that I regret it, Vakarian. And for the record? Very few can top that first impression. Not even Thane with his vent-assassination-thing he did."

"Of course they can't. They're not me."

"Arrogant ass."

Chapter Text

The peaceful drone of the main battery, with it's constant low thrum and occasional shudder, was probably one of the most welcoming things in the galaxy right about now. For the past few days they had been on the go non-stop, helping Liara take down the Shadow Broker. And then, much to Garrus' disappointment, the girls had gone and defeated the raging yahg while he was out cold under the remnants of a desk. But the end result was a surprise - Liara stepping into the Broker's (considerably sized) shoes with a grace only asari could muster - though human women weren't far behind.

She had stopped by the battery on her tour of the ship, a woman so far removed from the shy and awkward young scientist from the SR-1. Time, it seemed, had changed them all. And he didn't realise how much of a gossip she was…or how well and quickly she had adjusted to the role of the most powerful information broker in the galaxy. Apparently, he was the last person she came to visit before she went up to Shepard's cabin and when she left he made a mental note to speak to Tali. And Kasumi. And Kelly.

Did everyone on the damn ship know about him and Shepard now? It wasn't like they were hiding it, but they weren't exactly shouting it through loud speakers.

But it was good to see her again, and to see her smiling again. The last time he had seen Liara, before Illium, was Shepard's funeral. They hadn't spoken. Garrus hadn't spoken to anyone except Wrex, as he was the only one confident enough to calm down a raging krogan. He remembered getting drunk with the old mercenary that night, reminiscing about how one small woman could have created such a solid bond of friendship between two men who should have hated each other. The funeral was the last he saw of all the crew, and Wrex slightly after.

Of course Liara had asked about his scars and while he was going to make something up, the truth spilled out first. "A gunship, back on Omega." She had gasped, a look of horror flashing over her features. "If Shepard wasn't there…well, lets just say I wouldn't be here."

She had told him then, how they needed each other. How she saw during their assault on the Shadow Broker's base the way they worked so perfectly in sync with each other that there was more to their relationship now than before. They had always worked well, she said, but now there was something there she couldn't put into words. And before she left, she had commented how he needed to trust Shepard completely.

It was on these words he thought long and hard over. He did trust Shepard. Completely. Or at least, he thought he did. So what was Liara hinting at? He had gotten himself so lost in thought that he hadn't kept track of the time - or the fact that Liara's shuttle had left a few hours ago.

He had become so wrapped up, in fact, that he missed the doors sliding open. Until, that was, something hit the back of his collar hard. Something obviously aimed for his head, if the cursing coming from behind him was any guess. He turned to see Shepard sporting a thunderous expression that confused him. She looked so angry and yet, she seemed so hurt. Unable to hold her somewhat unyielding stare, his gaze dropped to what had hit him. A datapad, scrolling through text, lay on the floor. Without thought he picked it up, and then almost dropped it again as he read what was on the screen.

Before him was a transcript of his last conversation with his sister before the Omega-4 relay. Below that, the correspondence about his mother's condition. Where had she got these? They were sent over secure channels that weren't connected to EDI's network. There was no way that Shepard even knew they existed unless…Shadow Broker. Liara had been carrying a datapad with her when she came to visit. Damn.

"What the hell is this, Garrus?" It was a low growl, almost a hiss, as she was obviously trying to keep herself from shouting. "Why did I have to learn this third hand?"

"I…Shepard, I didn't even know if we were coming back." He was still struggling to formulate an argument. So far, he was failing miserably,

"It's been nearly three months since we came through that damn relay. You have had three months to talk to me. But no, I had to learn about it from the fucking Shadow Broker instead of the man I'm sleeping with. Explain to me how this relationship is working, Garrus." She was moving. Advancing. Her voice still all too similar to the one she used in the field when talking to scum. And there was still that deep well of hurt behind her eyes. "I tell you my secrets but you don't share yours? Is that how this works?"

"Before the relay, I didn't think it would matter because it was a suicide run." He matched her tone, his sub harmonics growling. "And afterwards? Forgive me, but I've just been enjoying the fact we're both alive."

Shepard groaned in frustration, a hand thrusting through her hair as she ground out the noise. She took a step back, breathing in sharply through her nose as she went to grab the datapad. She gave a sharp tug, but Garrus refused to let it go, his mandibles tight against his jaw. With a growl, she jerked his hand up and turned the screen to face him. "That just makes this-" she pointed to the first transcript "even worse."

"I don't -"

"She is your sister, Garrus. You give her some vague excuse that you'll be away from the relays for a while and then go completely dark. She cares about you, that's all too obvious. Don't…" her voice breaks and she squeezes her eyes shut. "Don't be like me."

When her eyes open again, she's looking at the floor and her anger and frustration seem to have bled away. Garrus knew that she hadn't contacted her mother since her resurrection, despite the message that was sitting on her terminal. She had told him that she didn't know what to say and that the longer it went on, the harder it became. And he couldn't advise her because he knew he was exactly the same. In a lot of ways, they were far too alike.

"Just…contact her, Garrus. Sync up a video chat - don't argue -" she cut him off when he opened his mouth to protest. She knew the reason why he had only done a voice chat was because he'd have to explain the scars. "Tell her what you need to, don't make up excuses. And tell her that you can pay for your mother's treatment."

"Shepard, I could barely afford that bottle of wine, how am I going to pay for -"

"Because you're not. I am."

"I…I can't ask you to do that."

"You're not." She locked eyes with him, the anger and frustration gone and replaced with determination and passion. "And this isn't an offer you can refuse. Cerberus has given me a silly amount of money that I'll never spend, and EDI has locked them out from ever getting it back. So when I say I'll pay, then I will damn well pay."

There was no reply that Garrus could give. Instead, he dropped the datapad and pulled her close, burying his face into her hair. Her arms wrapped around his waist in a gentle embrace and he huffed out a sigh of relief.

"I would do anything for you, Garrus. But you need to talk to me."

Her voice was soft and gentle and faint even over the muted hum of the cannons. Had he not been holding her so close, he doubted he'd have heard it. How had he managed to get her? What had he done to deserve her? The most selfless woman in the galaxy and she called herself his. Though he didn't truly believe anymore, he thanked the Spirits -and whatever other deity that was out there - for giving her back to him. "Thank you, Shepard."

Chapter Text

Tuchanka at night was an…interesting place. It was bad enough during the day, being able to see the tumbledown buildings and distant relics on the horizon. Even down in the hole that Clan Urdnot called 'home' was a mess. But in the night time it seemed so much worse. When the spiteful sun finally set, a strange silence took over. It was almost as if every sound was amplified by the darkness. And in the great cavernous structure, every noise had an echo. Though mostly those echoes were the sound of krogan getting roaring drunk over in the largest tent.

When the loud shouts and cheers would fade away slightly, the only other sound left was the roaring of the fierce sandstorm high overhead. The same sandstorm that had stopped them from taking off in the shuttle and left them stranded on the planet overnight. It wasn't the most ideal situation, but Wrex had merely laughed and pointed Shepard towards a small tent away from the rest. The shuttle pilot, Monroe, had flat-out refused to enter the camp and promptly locked himself in the Kodiak. Grunt would spend the night celebrating bringing down the Maw. That just left Shepard and Garrus to share the tent.

There had been no complaints from Shepard when she heard that it would just be the two of them, she had just flashed Garrus a smile that he couldn't work out was bordering on sly or not and vanished when she let the tent flap drop. He couldn't help but feel his pulse spike at the though that he would be sleeping so close to the woman that had propositioned him not two weeks previously. And given the thoughts and fantasies that his imagination had been providing him these past few days, he may come to regret telling her to wait a while. That was why, when Shepard had stripped down to her under-armour, fallen onto the krogan-sized cot and quickly fallen asleep, Garrus had remained outside.

He leaned heavily on a broken pillar next to the patchwork tent and sighed, sagging and closing his eyes as he folded his arms across his chest. He listened to the tuneless krogan singing over in the corner, to the roar of the wind, to the occasional yelp or snarl of a varren, and the faint chatter of pyjak's overhead. What he didn't hear was the approach of a krogan, who seemed to have a surprising knack for stealth, despite his size. "I wouldn't say it was wise, being a turian wandering around a krogan camp at night."

Despite nearly jumping out of his skin, Garrus controlled himself well. His sudden stare turned lazy and he gave Wrex a limp half-grin. "I'm hardly wandering, Wrex. Shepard wouldn't want me going too far anyway." He waved a hand casually at the entrance to the tent nonchalantly. He seriously doubted that even a drunk krogan would want to start a fight in the vicinity of Shepard - especially not when she had been declared Grunt's Battlemaster. Add to that the fact that he was part of the krantt that took down the Maw and Garrus highly doubted that the rowdy krogan drinking ryncol would pick any fights.

Wrex, however, seemed to have gone off in a different direction with his train of thought and barked out a laugh. "I bet she wouldn't." Garrus didn't like the mischief in the old krogan's eyes and he lifted a brow plate in questioning as Wrex took two steps toward the tent entrance. "It's about damn time too."

"I'm not sure I follow you," replied Garrus casually, rolling his neck until he felt it click.

"Of course you don't, you always were clueless." Wrex pushed back the side of the tent flap slightly, just enough to see Shepard, deeply asleep on one of the cots. He chuckled as he noticed the other cot had been moved next to hers to within only a few inches. He knew Garrus wouldn't do such a thing, so the only explanation was that Shepard had done it herself. "Never thought it would take you two this long though. Always thought it'd happen on the SR-1."

Garrus blinked dumbly at Wrex as he figured out the meaning behind his words. He knew? How the hell did that wily old krogan figure it out? Shepard wouldn't have told him and Garrus knew that he himself hadn't said anything. So how did the old devil figure it out? "Wait…are you saying what I think you are?"

"What, you think no one notices?" Wrex's voice was thick with amusement, obviously enjoying this. "Anyone would have to be blind not to notice the way you two look at each other - but then you've always had that. Now it's just more blatant."

"And just how do we look at each other, Wrex?" Garrus really couldn't believe he was having this conversation. And with Wrex, of all people.

"Well, you've always looked after her like a varren pining for it's master, but now Shepard's got this look as if you're a juicy pyjak and she hasn't been fed for a few days. It's disgusting"

Garrus merely stared at the scarred krogan who stood smirking at him. Was he really likening himself and Shepard to varren? He didn't know if he should be insulted or not, then he remembered how enamoured Shepard was with Urz and decided that perhaps it wasn't overly insulting. Even so, there were no such looks. "You're imagining it, there is nothing between Shepard and me." He scoffed and looked out over the dark cavern to the large tent where another round of raucous singing had started up.

And then he had a krogan in his face so fast he hardly had time to blink. One crimson eye fixed him with an unblinking stare and Garrus suddenly wished he could melt into the pillar behind him. "Don't play dumb with me turian. I don't care if you're trying to keep it all secret, but don't talk to me like I'm some whelp who's yet to pass his Rite." Satisfied that he had rattled the turian just enough to make him stop his game of denial, Wrex stepped back. "Personally I don't see what Shepard sees in you, but I'd rather her have you over that pyjak Alenko any day."

Garrus visibly relaxed when he no longer had eight hundred pound of krogan looming large in front of him. He had never realised how absolutely terrifying Wrex could be when he wanted to. And yet somehow Shepard had tamed this hulking mountain of hostility. Perhaps that was just another thing he lo- admired about her. "I'm sorry, Wrex. I don't know how to handle this completely myself yet." Despite his misgivings, it didn't feel wrong talking to Wrex about this - but then who else did he have as close friends, other than Shepard and Wrex? "What was that about Kaidan?"

"Remember Ilos? Well I was in the mess hall that night when the whelp went to Shepard's cabin. Wasn't expecting that."

Garrus wasn't expecting to hear that either. His mandibles twitched close to his jaw as he processed this new information. That explained the hug on Horizon - he knew they'd been close but he wasn't expecting intimacy.

"Don't think too much on it. He was back out within five minutes looking like a varren that's just been kicked."

"She turned him down?" Garrus couldn't help but let the wonder and confusion seep into his vocals.

"She did. I always wondered about that. Then I realised…" he had a wicked smirk on his face that Garrus didn't like one bit. "I reckon that if that had been you knocking on her door before Ilos, she wouldn't have turned you away."

"Now you're just talking out of your ass," Garrus deadpanned, even when this new idea threaded through his brain and sent sparks flying.

Wrex just laughed and made to leave. "Just make sure you take care of her, Garrus. I'll mess up the other side of your face if you don't."

It was said so innocently, but Garrus knew the weight behind that threat was all too real. And knowing that old krogan, he'd do an awful lot more than just 'mess up' his face. He'd probably kill him, in all likelihood - after all, Wrex was more attached to Shepard than he let on. But Garrus had already tied himself too much into this; he had committed and he was going to stick it through until Shepard decided to end it.

Scratching absentmindedly at his bandage, he made his way to the tent flap. Giving the disappearing hump of the old krogan one final thoughtful glance, he went inside. He couldn't help but smile at how Shepard had pulled her cot close to his. All previous fears dealt with for the time being, he stripped down to his under-armour and lay down on his cot facing her. She was never the most elegant sleeper, plagued by nightmares as she was, but she looked so peaceful.

Softly, and without hesitation, he took a hand that was dangling off the edge of her bed in his and pulled it so it rested just in front of his chest. He ran his thumb in gentle circles over her palm until he fell asleep.

Chapter Text

Gun cleaning. Shepard both loved and hated the chore. On one hand, it was meditative; the very act of taking apart, cleaning and then reassembling her weapons at the end of every mission was a good way of personally reviewing what had just happened and how it could be improved upon. On the other hand, it could be a little infuriating. She was beginning to learn that Wrex liked to hog the good oil and Ashley had a tendency to smuggle away the best rags somewhere she didn't expect her commander to look - of course, she also didn't expect Shepard to be so persistent and perceptive. There was also the fine line between peace and quiet and absolute silence. She liked the fact that it was quite often a solo job, but she didn't like doing it in total silence. She never had liked complete silence, it made her think of the deadness of space and the fact there was just a hull between her and the crushing black of nothing. She wasn't scared of it, she had just never enjoyed the thought of getting spaced.

Normally, the spot where she cleaned her guns had the background noise consistent with the cargo bay. It was a thoroughfare, used regularly by engineers and technicians coming to and from the drive core up to the CIC. There was also the comings and goings of squad mates to their lockers, and Ashley and Wrex occasionally having a 'heated debate' (or rather, 'mild argument'). But as Shepard paused in taking apart her heavy pistol and leaned back on one of the large wheels of the Mako, she was in near-silence. There was no Ashley or Wrex over the opposite side, no crewmen or movement from the elevator. Bringing up the clock on her omni tool, she immediately realised why. Everyone was in the mess. Frowning at how she could have made such a blatant error, she went back over the previous events that lead her here.

The day had been a mess and she'd had to deal with a very disturbed man named Corporal Toombs. And yet again, the name 'Cerberus' had been involved. Repulsive experiments on non-sentient species, on thralls and husks and now their fellow men. It made her sick to her stomach. She had come back aboard and felt the need to shower, decontamination somehow failing to make her feel adequately clean. Then she had come straight down to clean her equipment, without even thinking that her stomach might be empty. But then she wasn't exactly hungry. She could go up to the mess, but she had just got into her work and breaking it now would be counterproductive. She'd just have to tolerate the silence - and failing that, she'd turn on the rover behind her and just listen to the thrumming of it's engine at her back.

Shrugging it off, she picked up the cleaning rag and solvent and resumed what she was doing before. She had just reached the cooling mechanism when the hum of the elevator pulled her attention away. Absentmindedly wiping the same spot, she watched as the door slid open to reveal the only turian aboard the ship. Holding a food tray. With a bemused smile, she cocked her head at him as he strode over her with the confidence only a C-Sec officer had. The kind of confidence that made normal people feel safer but made those that were slightly crooked want to shoot him. He wore a strange expression, but then she could hardly tell one turian expression from another - the only ones she knew were fear, anger and their strange way of smiling. This was none of those things. Shepard was at a loss.

"Officer Vakarian, what can I do for you?" There was nothing official about her tone, she was off-duty, as was he. There was no need to be overly formal. Still, she didn't know him well enough to call him anything other than his rank just yet. She offered him a gregarious smile as she put down what she was doing.

"Commander. Tali and I noticed you weren't in the mess. She suggested you were down here and that I should bring you something." He sounded…nervous? Or was it cautious? She wasn't sure. There was a strange, strangled sound in his sub harmonics that left her puzzled. He didn't seem to be able to hold her gaze for very long either. Perhaps he thought he'd get told off for it - weren't turians strict about the chain of command? Mentally, Shepard kicked herself for not paying attention to the way the turian military worked.

"Thank you, Vakarian, that's very thoughtful." She had tried hard to keep the bemusement from her voice and failed miserably. She really wasn't hungry, but she took the tray from him when he offered it to her anyway, giving it a curious glance as it reached her eye level. She couldn't help but grin when she saw what was on there - a dessert; the Alliance's approximation of something chocolaty. "Huh, good choice."

Garrus visibly relaxed, releasing the breath he'd been holding which caught her attention. He gave her an expression that she didrecognise, a smile - even if it was a weak equivalent of one. "I didn't know what I was looking at, but it smelled sweet." He was fumbling, and Shepard couldn't help but find it rather sweet, she'd never seen a turian act anything other than stiff and formal. They didn't always have a stick rammed up their butt, obviously. "I'll let you get back to your cleaning."

Shepard felt a sudden hint of panic, and the words "no, please stay" had rushed out before she had a chance to stop them. Coughing and backpedalling, she placed the tray to one side (as far from the solvents and oils as possible) and tried to correct herself. "I mean, you are more than welcome to join me, if you'd like." She attempted to flash him a winning smile, and hoped it didn't come across too desperate. She just didn't want the silence to come back.

"I wouldn't want to intrude, Commander."

"Oh don't be silly, I'd welcome the company. Besides, I don't think I've had the chance to properly talk to you outside of business. I'd like to get to know you better."

"Alright, I'll go and get my rifle." There was that grin again, only it seemed stronger now and he sounded more relaxed.

As he walked over to his locker, Shepard turned to the tray beside her and the brown thing that sat upon it. The goop over the top was obviously meant to be sauce, but she was at a loss as to what could be under it. Picking up the fork, she used the edge to cut it down the middle. Ah, she thought, cake. Or at least as close to cake as you could come from military rations. The mess sergeant must have been feeling generous, normally pudding was some kind of re-hydrated fruit jelly. It was a nice change.

She forked a reasonable sized piece into her mouth just as Garrus sat down opposite her. She made an appreciative noise and pointed at the tray with the utensil. "Very good choice."

"I'll remember that one for the future, Commander." He laughed. Probably the first time she had actually heard him actually laugh and it only made her smile grow wider.



"We're off duty, Vakarian. You can call me Shepard."


This seemed to turn the air slightly stale as he started to break his rifle with a speed Shepard hadn't seen before. She couldn't help but stare at the way his six fingers deftly took apart the gun and place the components, despite the odd change in the tone of the conversation. Eventually, his fingers twitched and stopped and she lifted her gaze to find him staring at her in confusion. She blinked at him and couldn't help but blush at being caught. "Sorry. I've never seen anyone take apart a rifle that efficiently before. It's…impressive."

"Thank you, Commander -"

"-Shepard." She corrected, her eyes flashing with a good-natured challenge.

"Thank you, Shepard." He let one mandible drop as he dipped his head in a nod. Shepard wasn't entirely sure what it meant, but there was something she could liken to humour in his eyes and a lilt on his voice that was light. The heavier air seemed to lift somewhat.

The conversation was light and veered from his military career to hers; they compared notes, inflated each other's egos and then deflated them. It was so good, Shepard noted, to just sit and talk with someone. It felt like so long since she had a get-to-know you chat without it ending up heavy. Sure, she had talked to Kaidan and Ashley, but with the former it always ended up about his time at 'Brain Camp' and with Ashley it was inevitable that it spun back around to either her family or that underlying tone of mistrust of aliens.

But with Garrus? Talking was very easily, once she managed to break down the wall of superior and subordinate that existed during missions. He was idealistic; the way he spoke gave the impression that he was younger than Shepard but she didn't think this was the case. He was also witty and surprisingly cynical. And he wasn't like any other turian she'd met before at all. He was fascinating.

They had spoken about his family, but mostly about his father. Then he had asked about her family and she had spoken about her mother. Polar opposites, they seemed. A father who wouldn't like Shepard because she was a Spectre, and a mother who would most certainly like Garrus - if only for the reason that her daughter liked him. And Shepard genuinely did like him. He was so different from any other turian she had come into conversational contact with; uptight diplomats or formal C-Sec yes-men who never questioned the order their CO gave them. She quickly got the picture that Garrus would accept the order, but he would only do it to keep his job. Hopefully, he would be just what she needed on this mission. She knew that Alenko and Williams would follow her orders and remain silent; that Liara and Tali were too timid to speak out. But Wrex and Vakarian? She had a sneaking suspicion that she'd be leaning on them heavily for input.

They had fallen into a comfortable silence, and for once, Shepard didn't find it grating. Just having someone else there had chased away all the negative feelings she harboured against the quiet. And it didn't feel awkward, as if they had run out of things to say. Casual conversation had never been her strong point. Diplomacy, military issues, trying to figure out why a squad mate was slightly off their game - those were easy. Just making small talk? Nearly impossible, and almost always ending in a feet-shuffling silence when she ran out of things to say. But this wasn't the case right now. They didn't need to say anything.

Shepard glanced mournfully at her now empty tray, wishing she hadn't eaten it so fast. It wasn't good, not by any stretch of the imagination. It was a military-grade 'cake' made with vat-grown or mass-produced alternatives to what really should have been in it. Compared to the proper stuff (that was hellishly expensive on anywhere other than earth), it was like eating shredded cardboard covered in brown goop that vaguely tasted like chocolate. But the fact that someone had brought it to her, someone who didn't know a thing about her or her tastes (let alone the fact that he couldn't eat it himself), made it taste like real chocolate cake. A small part of her brain idly commented that she'd never experienced that before.

Pulling herself out of her grief for her consumed cake, she frowned and glanced at the cluttered floor around them. She was sure that she'd left a finishing rag around somewhere. Eventually, she spotted on the floor beside Garrus who had obviously borrowed it. "Pass me that rag, will you please?"

Garrus glanced up from his rifle to see Shepard smiling politely at him and vaguely pointing to his right. He blinked down at the five rags beside him and shot her a confused glance before moving his hand to hover of an oily cloth he'd used for the barrel. She shook her head and he let his hand drift to a solvent cloth. When she she shook her head again, he frowned and targeted a damp cloth only to have her sigh and shake her head again.

"Don't worry, I'll just…" She moved so quickly onto all fours that Garrus barely had time to lean back when she reached across his lap to grab the polishing rag with a half-apologetic smile on her face. He couldn't help but wonder why she didn't just say that was the rag she was after. Of course, that was the time the elevator decided to descend and the very sound of it caused Shepard to freeze, the nerve under her eye twitching in faint panic. Only then did Garrus realise the position they were in and he all but mirrored her panic.

The elevator door slid down to reveal Wrex and Tali, both who instantly spotted the strange sight of Shepard leaning over the lap of Garrus - both of them looking slightly panicked. There was a short silence that Shepard thought lasted forever before Wrex barked out a laugh that sounded far too knowing for her liking. Tali, while her face was hidden, had very expressive body language and it was quite obvious she was blushing. Shepard could see the light on her mask blinking as she spoke to Wrex in a hushed voice, saying something that only made the krogan laugh harder and then clap her on the back, causing the poor girl to stumble forward with the force.

Rapidly, Shepard scooted backwards and shuffled away into the sitting position which she had been in all evening. Clearing her throat, she tried to ignore the krogan and quarian as they went back to their stations and busy her suddenly fumbling hands in finishing off her gun. Garrus, she noticed, did the same, snapping together his rifle with the same speed and precision that he had broken it with. Finishing before she did, he quickly stood and offered a smile before bidding her a good evening before leaving to return his rifle to it's place in his locker. So stunned was she by his sudden movement that she never returned his farewell. It was only once he was striding towards the elevator that she noticed. "Be ready to his Noveria tomorrow, Garrus. I don't know what to expect so I need you on my six."

Across from her, the krogan snorted back a laugh and Shepard narrowed her eyes at him but said nothing. So much for that pleasant evening's chores. All she was left with now was the packing up and putting away. And returning the tray to the mess sergeant.

Chapter Text

Ships were always unsettling when the crew was ashore. They sat alone, often with minimal lighting and with the drive core only ticking over idly in the background. There was no faint hum of thrusters, no chatter drifting through the vents. Just the barely audible noise of the air filtration system. It was eerily quiet. It reminded Shepard too much of dead ships found drifting. Dead ships filled with husks or thorian creepers or rachni or just good, old fashioned dead bodies. But moreover, it reminded her of the Collector attack. That brazen violation of her ship, the abduction of everyone except for Joker. It was more than creepy, and it just added to the reason why Shepard hated complete silence.

Which was why there was a single noisy spot on the deserted Normandy as it sat docked with the Citadel. One place that could be heard all over the ship if you put your ear to a vent. A violent, pulsing beat from loud club music. Shepard's cabin. It was an eclectic compilation. Most tracks were often heard at clubs like Afterlife or Flux, but all of a sudden the track would change to a lilting classical earth piece from the eighteenth century.

She was the only person on board, but she pretty much knew where the rest of the crew was. She knew that Tali, Liara and Kaidan had gone to lunch at Apollo's and that Doctor Chakwas was visiting a friend in Huerta Memorial. The rest of the crew were probably at Purgatory, as that was where she overheard Joker and Vega mention. Even Javik had left the ship. And Garrus had business with Councillor Sparatus on behalf of Primarch Victus. Privately, she was so proud of him - from all his claims of being a 'bad turian', he was certainly starting to look like a damn good one. She never doubted this, not even after his wobble on Omega. And for once, she wasn't worried about what it would mean for their relationship. Once, her insecurities about any kind of long-term relationship would make her doubt everything - and it was all on her. He hadn't done anything wrong, hadn't shown any signs that they would falter. But not her. She felt guilty about those thoughts of him considering them a fling and finding a nice turian woman; of once wondering that his growing status within the hierarchy would force him away from her. But no, not anymore. For all him becoming a 'good turian', there were still the right amount of 'bad turian' traits there that would cause him to stay with her no matter what he was told otherwise.

"Is that better, EDI?"

"One moment, I am running trials." How the AI could hear her over the din of her music was a mystery, and the reply came via earpiece rather than over speaker, but there was definite dialogue there that didn't require Shepard to shout. It was almost as unfathomable as the fact that in addition to helping Shepard re-calibrate her armour's kinetic barriers EDI was also in Purgatory, sitting at a table with Joker. As good with electronics as she was, even that went over her head. "Yes, Shepard. Shields holding stable at one-ten percent."

"Only one-ten? I was hoping to get at least one-twenty out of it."

"I calculate the maximum threshold of your shields with the current upgrades is one-twenty-seven percent."

"Then let's try for one-twenty-five and hope for one-twenty."

Staring intently at her omni-tool's screen, tweaking by the smallest amounts and adjusting output ratios and stability coils, Shepard missed the subtle hiss of her cabin doors sliding open. The heavy beat of a track commonly heard at Purgatory masked any other noise and it wasn't until her comm crackled and a familiar dual-toned voice drawled through her earpiece did she realise she wasn't alone. "And here I thought I'd just left Purgatory."

Her finger twitched on instinct and sent the readings on her omni-tool into the red as she looked towards the speaker, who was leaning casually on the side of the glass cabinet that housed her model ships. He had a smirk on his face.

"Shepard, output is now only fifty-six percent." Came EDI's almost confused voice.

"Reset to last calculations. And turn my music off?"

"Yes, Shepard."

As the music silenced and Shepard's omni-tool vanished back into non-existence, she regarded the turian with one eyebrow raised. "And here I thought you were going to see the good Councillor. Now I find out that you've been at a bar? For shame, Vakarian."

"And who's to say that Sparatus wasn't at the bar?"

Shepard couldn't help but snort and muffle a snicker at the mental image that conjured up, her shoulder shaking with the effort of stopping herself from creasing with laughter. "I'm sorry. The image of a drunken Sparatus dancing..." And then she folded in half, resting her forehead on the bed where she sat cross-legged as she tried to bring her laughter under control.

Garrus himself couldn't help but bark out a laugh as she shared what her vivid imagination had come up with. For a soldier, she always had possessed a knack for dreaming something up. He figured that's how she came up with her strategies. After all, if you can't imagine every possible outcome then what kind of leader are you? Of course, being so imaginative also meant she suffered from nightmares so vivid that she could barely describe them. But the trade off was the rare sight of Shepard laughing as if there was nothing wrong in the galaxy. It was moments like this he wished he could forget that in little under ten hours they would be hitting the Cerberus base with all the might of the Alliance fleet, hoping to put down one mad dog before heading after the real threat.

It had confused everyone at first, why Shepard had ordered everyone to have a mandatory shore leave for the eighty-two hours it would take for Hackett's team to fully analyse the data from Sanctuary and gather the fleets ready to strike. But it made sense, considering what the Admiral had said. No going back. Final push. The kind of activity they were planning was massive in scale and would likely draw the attention of the Reapers. This shore leave was probably the last chance of peace anyone was going to be able to get. That's why he had gone to the bar, to find her. But she wasn't there. Instead, she was in her cabin. Calibrating of all things. He knew he had influenced her, but he wasn't expecting that.

"You could have stayed there, you know." Shepard's laughter had faded, but her face still bore the smile. Her words were soft, almost chiding. She was glad he hadn't stayed. She knew it and he knew it, but they both knew the routine. They fell into it so easily.

"What? And miss out all the fun up here?"

"Hmm. Yes. Fun." She deadpanned, looking down at her chest plate with an arched brow.

"Want some help?"

As tempted as she was to archly decline his offer, she kept in mind that she needed all the extra shielding she could get. And, talented as she might be at engineering, there was at least one person better at algorithms than she was. Even so, she wasn't going to let him have it all his way. "If you think you can get it to maximum, you're welcome to try." She lifted a finger to stall him when he took a step towards the bed. "But," her finger waggled down at his armour, "I want you to have a shower and change out of all that before getting on the bed."

Garrus didn't question her. He felt gritty and tired. His meeting with Sparatus had dragged on for hours and by the time he'd reached Purgatory he'd been in his armour for a good twenty-seven hours previous. He now regretted falling asleep in it, propped against the workbench in the main battery. Wearing armour for long stretches at a time and sleeping in it was in no way a new thing. But over the past few months he'd got so used to taking it off, collapsing in a soft bed and curling around Shepard every night cycle that it felt strange to be in it again for so long.

You're getting old, Vakarian, he commented to himself as he stripped out of his armour and began to notice a growing stiffness in his shoulders and neck. He rolled his shoulders at the same time as he noticed Shepard roll her neck in a slow circle. Old soldiers. Never imagined that retirement would sound appealing. And they most certainly would retire after all this was over. He was pretty sure they'd earned it.

While Garrus took his shower, Shepard turned back on her music at a low background level and activated her omni-tool. She tried focussing on the lines of code slowly scrolling over the screen but she found it increasingly difficult to concentrate. Garrus had left the door open. It usually closed automatically when someone was in there so he had done that on purpose. Damn tease. It was almost as if he didn't want her to get any work down without him. Which was probably more true than she initially thought. With a sigh, she slumped back against the headboard and closed her eyes. The pounding beats had changed to the more refined and gentler tones of a classical orchestra.

"This music, Shepard, what is it?" Garrus's voice interrupted her blank thoughts, closer than expected. She cracked an eye open to see him naked except for a towel, rifling through the part of the closet she'd allocated for his clothes.

"It's…it sounds like Mozart. Or perhaps Vivaldi. Very old earth music. Good proof that some things never really change with age." Shepard wasn't knowledgeable about classical music, that was always her mother's specialty (she could identify hundreds, if not thousands, of classical tracks) but she knew enough to just appreciate how beautiful it was. "Do you like it?"

"I do. Turians don't really have an equivalent, though the asari do." Some of that sentence came out muffled as he dressed and Shepard couldn't help but huff out a chuckle at the sight of him flailing trying to find the arm of his top. Some things transcended every species. Eventually, however, he managed to straighten out and level her with a flat stare that was his attempt at not being impressed by how she was laughing at him. It didn't work, and Shepard merely snorted. In the end, he merely cracked a crooked grin and joined her on the bed.

Shepard responded to his presence beside her instantly, quickly moving so she was sat between his thighs with her back resting on his chest. She crossed her legs and he folded his own around her, wrapping his arms around her while he hummed gently in her ear. She didn't want the moment to end, but the weight of her chest guard on the bed beside them was a reminder of the fight that was to come. With a sad smile, Shepard pulled herself out of her reverie and activated her omni-tool, bringing up the last page she had been working on.

Working in tandem, both Garrus and Shepard were able to get her shields running at one-twenty-four percent, but neither of them wanted to go much higher in case they shorted something. Both of them were running on fumes and sleep called more than once while they were working. Shepard turned off her omni-tool before a yawn slipped past her defences. She all but sagged against the equally tired turian behind her and it was with great effort that she pulled herself from him to replace the chest piece to it's spot in the locker.

She all but fell back into the bed, clambering under the sheets and into the arms of Garrus, who had taken the initiative while she was putting her gear away. He pulled her close, brushing her hair from her eyes. "So what's the plan?"

"Hmm?" She frowned at him before suddenly realising that he meant for the whole Cerberus HQ shakedown. "Oh. We head off as soon as the crew is back aboard, it'll be all hands to stations for the first part - making sure the Normandy is ready for action. I figure three hours to catch up on some shut-eye or gun prep or personal stuff before we hit enter the system will be enough. Then we meet up with Hackett and take down a man who has had his reckoning coming for far too long."

Though her words were fringed with sleep, the feelings towards the Illusive Man still came over strongly. Annoyance, animosity, frustration. Garrus merely nodded, echoing her sentiments. Fighting off sleep himself for the moment, her rested his forehead against hers. "Well, until the crew gets back, try and get some sleep, Shepard."

Shepard merely let out a breathy laugh and uttered her affirmation in little more than a whisper. She fell asleep so quickly, yet Garrus knew that she'd be awoken by nightmares soon enough. Withholding his sigh for fear of rousing her again (though he'd have a better chance of waking the dead), he let sleep claim him with a wish that this brief moment of peace wouldn't be too brief.

Chapter Text

Out for twenty four hours. Doctors orders.

Shepard still couldn't believe that Chakwas had decided that she wasn't fit for duty when all she had was one hell of a headache. Ok, sure, she had passed out but it wasn't for more than a few moments. And yes, her body temperature had dropped below normally acceptable levels, but she was fine. There was absolutely no need for the doc to bench her for a solar day, not when they were supposed to be heading back to the Citadel to meet with Councillor Tevos. The trip back alone would take well over twelve hours, but apparently that wasn't enough for the good doctor. Shepard had protested hard, of course, she had even pleaded with an amused looking Garrus to help her - but then he went and sided with Chakwas. Traitor. He had even walked her to the elevator and made sure she went up the loft instead of the CIC, saying that he wouldn't be up for a few hours because he had a few calls to make. That was only slightly better than his calibrations line.

Shepard had stormed into her cabin with a face like thunder, her heavy boots stomping up such a racket her space hamster had squeaked in alarm and hid. She didn't place her armour back in it's locker like she normally did, she tossed it in. Her behaviour was reminiscent of a moody teenager that had been grounded and not only was she normally above it, but she would have reprimanded anyone acting as she was. But right at that point, she was too annoyed and irritated to care.

And if she was honest with herself, it wasn't even the fact that she was benched that irritated her. It was the pure and unadulterated confusion that buzzed around in her head. Normally there was something to grasp on to, some faint sliver that was constant and stable. There were times when she was confused, but she never lost the concept of what was right and what was wrong. The madness of Saren, the barbarian experiment that was Project Overlord, Object Rho. She had never lost her head over such things, there was always a foothold she could find. A moral stance to be taken. But with what just happened down in the depths of that ocean…

There was no moral ground to be found with Leviathan. No right or wrong way to deal with something that old, that immense, that unknowable. She had convinced it to fight, but what was to stop it? If she succeeded and the Reapers were destroyed, what was to stop it and the rest of it's kind from coming out of hiding to try and start their domination over again? They could kill Reapers and enslave other races with an easier method. Could the battle-worn civilisations withstand another attack so soon after the brutal onslaught of this current war? No. They couldn't. Shepard didn't know how many of Leviathan there were. Three, to her knowledge. How many more lurked in that ocean? Perhaps there was simply too few of them to try and take over. Or they would simply be content to sit and watch. If she was lucky, they'd be too scared to face the cycle that defeated the Reapers and would simply wait another fifty thousand years. By then, she'd be long gone and wouldn't be able to care. It didn't stop her being confused as hell about all the questions buzzing in her head right now, but she needed something, anything to stop the feeling of dread that was building in the pit of her stomach.

She took a long, hot shower and tried to remove the lingering cold feeling. The powerful jet of water massaged her muscles which ached from tension and she let herself drift away from her muddled thoughts. It only half worked. While she had numbed most, the most persistent questions lingered and she felt rather exhausted by it all as she turned off the water, wrapped herself in a towel and stepped out into the comparatively cool cabin. She tried he best to ignore her thoughts as she dressed, concentrating on the constant background music that was never off except for when she slept (and only on Garrus's request).

Finally, she slumped in front of her terminal. Rubbing her eyes and squinting at the screen, she chose to distract herself by answering some messages and composing some new ones. She still needed to contact her mother, now she had found out her status and location. She still needed to tell her about Garrus too, but that was for another time, perhaps. Shepard knew her mother would like Garrus; she knew she wouldn't mind her daughter being in a serious relationship that just happened to be inter-species. What she knew her mother would mind, was that she hadn't been told for months. It should have been some consolation that she knew Garrus was in pretty much the same boat when it came to not telling his family about his alien girlfriend - though she fully understood his reluctance. Shepard had no such excuse. She propped her chin in her palm and sighed. Might as well make some kind of dent in her inbox at least.

The sound of her cabin doors sliding open woke Shepard with a start. She had fallen asleep in the middle of answering a message from Shiala, the green asari from Feros. She hadn't fallen off her palm yet, her head still propped up by her elbow. She blinked hazily at the screen and pretended as if she had never dozed off in the first place. She purposefully ignored whoever it was who had entered her quarters (she had a pretty good idea), still pretending to be angry while she was now just left feeling vaguely perplexed. Even though she had lost all train of thought with where she was going with her message, she attempted to carry on - typing one-handed with an air of what she hoped was blind indifference to the unwelcome presence.

Of course, it didn't work. It never worked. Especially when the intruder, who wasn't an intruder at all, was a persistent bastard. She had to stop herself from smiling when a familiar chin rested on the top of her still damp head, a hum vibrating through her and causing her pulse to spike momentarily, just as he rested his hands on her shoulders. This was followed by a low chuckle as he rubbed his chin in small circles which instinctively made her tense shoulders sag. Persistent bastard indeed. One hand slipped down to hers, lifting it from the keys and squeezing. While part of her still wanted to be aloof around him, she couldn't help but squeeze back. She felt his head tilt to the side while never leaving the top of her head…then he froze, his grip twitching slightly.

Fighting to control the smirk that threatened to form on her face, Shepard knew exactly what he was looking at. She didn't even need to move to know what he had spotted, it was a brand new addition after all. She dared a glance over her terminal's monitor, looking at the reflection of her turian in the glass of the model cabinet. He was indeed looking at her latest decoration, his expression utterly bemused at what he was seeing. His mandibles fluttered and she fought the urge to swat him away for tickling, reminding herself it wasn't his fault. Perhaps she should have warned him about her 'ornament', but she then she would have missed out on this moment.

"I call him Frank," she deadpanned. "Found him in Dr. Bryson's lab."

Garrus pulled away and met her eyes in the glass. He was giving her an incredulous look that made her want to descend into hysterics. Instead, she kept her composure and gave him a bright smile as if there was nothing at all unusual about having a re-animated husk's head on your work desk.

"…Frank?" Garrus quirked a brow plate, folding his arms across his chest.

Shepard shrugged. "He needed a name. Frank was the first thing that came to mind."

"Uh-huh." Shaking his head, he turned to the head that was staring at him with it's unblinking dead eyes and vacant expression. Shepard turned to watch as 'Frank' followed the turian's every movement, leaning backwards as Garrus leaned forward.

Garrus brought up a hand, finger extended to poke at the husk and Shepard opened her mouth to stop him but before she could say anything, Frank had let out one of his loud metallic screeches and caused Garrus to jerk backwards suddenly. "Yeah, he does that," she forced out, her whole upper body shaking with the effort of not laughing. "Might want to watch yourself. He bit James on the nose."

Garrus blinked at her, eyes half lidded and expression distinctly unimpressed. "That explains the teeth marks. I was worried I'd missed something." His comment, said completely seriously, cracked Shepard's composure and she snorted out a laugh. Garrus followed suit and Frank, seemingly confused by the sudden noise, screeched again. This only caused Shepard to laugh harder and Garrus took the opportunity to sweep her up and lead her away from her console.

Shepard let herself be led over to the couch and flopped down when Garrus let her go so he could change out of his armour. The remnants of her giggles dying down, she let her head roll back onto the top of the padded cushion and closed her eyes with a relaxed sigh. When Garrus joined her, now clothed in soft, clean-smelling material, she instinctively curled into his side and rested her head on his shoulder. Blunt talons massaged her scalp as they fell into the comfortable silence they had perfected so well.

"Are you sure you're ok, Shepard?" It was Garrus that broke the silence first, his tone gentle and concerned but his words causing her to feel rather frustrated.

"Honestly, I'm fine. I just have a headache the size of a small planet."

"Yes, well. Talking to beings hundreds of millennia old has a tendency to do that."

Shepard chuckled, leaning into his touch. She relished the simple warmth of him next to her, allowing him to banish the cold feeling that wouldn't leave her ever since she reached the surface. She played with his free hand in her own, nimble fingers massaging the soft skin between his fingers and causing him to hum in appreciation.

"I hope this doesn't come back to bite us in the ass," he stated flatly, leaning his cheek onto the top of her head, the telltale signs of sleep fringing his voice.

"You and me both, Garrus. You and me both."

Chapter Text

"Hey, Liara?" Came Joker's voice over the speakers in her room. Normally she dreaded any question that Joker started like that, but there was something in the tone of his voice that made her pause. With an order to Glyph to continue the trace she was working on, Liara pressed the button to reply.

"Yes, Joker?"

"Can you go and check on Shepard?" Gone were his normal jokes and sarcasm, he just sounded concerned.

"Of course, but why?" Liara couldn't help but be curious.

"She's been down in the engineering sub-deck for three hours when she told me she was heading to her cabin and she's rigged her omni-tool to jam on-board cameras when she's in an area for more than ten minutes."

"Oh my. Yes, I can see why you'd be worried. I'll head straight down."

"Thanks. Oh and Liara…" a pause that suggested he was building up the courage to ask something, "does the Commander seem strange to you?"

This puzzled Liara. It was times like this when she hated Joker's inability to get to the point. "Strange? What do you mean?"

"Haven't you noticed that she's becoming increasingly hostile to people? If you try and get her to emote at all she just shuts you down or is downright rude. The only vibe I've been getting off her is anger, even Traynor asked me if she was normally that unfriendly."

Liara took blinked at the intercom button, frowning as she tried to remember the past few days of frantic activity that was the start of the Reaper invasion. When she first saw Shepard back on Mars, the looks that passed between her and Kaidan made deep space seem warm. And, as she replayed that whole conversation and those that followed, Liara was startled at the realisation that Joker was right. Shepard was normally diplomatic, eloquent for a soldier, unexpectedly patient and forgiving - and open around her friends. When Liara had asked her if there was something wrong on the landing of her cabin, Shepard had shrugged her off with the excuse of 'shrugging off sleep' when it clearly wasn't the case. At times, it didn't seem that Shepard even wanted to be back on the Normandy, fighting.

Goddess…Joker was right. And Liara hadn't even noticed.

"Liara?" Joker snapped her out of her thoughts.

"I…get what you mean. I'll head down now."

When Liara arrived on the sub-deck, she found her path inexplicably blocked by a pile of model ship boxes. All of them, she noticed, were open and ready-built. Picking up the only box she noticed that didn't have shop-shelf packaging, she unfolded the opening flaps to reveal the back end of her old ship. It was only then did she realise that these were Shepard's and that they must have been removed from her cabin after it was impounded. Considering that the Normandy was supposed to be Anderson's Alliance flagship and base of operations after it's retrofit, this made sense. But the very thought annoyed Liara. The Normandy without Shepard in command might as well have been a totally different ship. You couldn't have one without the other. If the SR-2 pulled up then people - no matter if they were allies or enemies - assumed Commander Shepard would be bearing down on them soon enough. If the Reaper invasion hadn't happened when it did then there really would have been a Shepard-less Normandy flying around the galaxy. The very thought made Liara's stomach clench and she couldn't help but wonder if EDI would ever let that happen.

Glancing around the stack of boxes, she saw a flash of red hair and heard a muttered curse. Placing the box back down, she made swiftly for the stairs back onto the main engineering deck. Ignoring the confused look she received from Adams, Liara jogged back down into the dark bowls where she would find her friend.

She couldn't help but frown in confusion at the scene before her. Shepard was on her hands and knees, her face nearly touching the floor as she peered under the large pipes on one of the walls. Beside her was a small box with holes punched into the side and a screwdriver (probably what had created said holes in the first place) sitting on a crate not far off. Shepard was swearing in a colourful mix of human, krogan and turian - the two alien languages not translating but Liara was impressed that the Commander hadn't butchered the pronunciation, even in her obvious irritation. She had been practicing, obviously. But then, she had both species for best friends (a fact which Liara envied, if she was honest) and even if a soldier wasn't good with languages, they always found ways of swearing fluently in any dialect. But she was still at a loss when it came to what Shepard was swearing at.

When it became clear that Shepard wasn't going to either notice or acknowledge Liara's presence, she cleared her throat. Shepard didn't react immediately, instead she fell totally still. Slowly, one hand raised in a universal sign of 'wait' and Liara dutifully fell quiet and still. Then there was a flurry of movement which ended up in a triumphant "AH-HAH!" echoing around the sub-deck to which Liara couldn't help but jump at. Shepard quickly dumped something small into the box with holes and closed the lid, standing to meet Liara with a grin. Obviously noticing the asari's perplexed expression, she held up the box which jiggled in the woman's firm grip. "Squiggle."

Realisation dawned but it did nothing to end Liara's confusion. "Shepard, have you just spent the last three hours of your down time trying to catch your space hamster?"

"Three hours? Huh. Didn't think it took that long." Shepard looked unconcerned, merely shrugging her shoulders as she turned towards the stack of boxes. "Was there something you wanted, Liara?"

"Joker asked me to come down. He was worried about you and I see why. You should be sleeping, Shepard. We hit the relay soon and we don't know what we're going to find on the other side." Liara played with her fingers, knotting them around each other in an effort to stop them from reaching out to her friend. "Talk to me…please?"

"And say what, exactly?" Shepard's formerly bright and cheerful tone had vanished, replaced by something cold and harsh. Liara hadn't heard it often, but occasionally on missions when the SR-1 still existed that very same voice would come out this normally peacemaking and understanding woman, blindsiding both her team and her target. But ever since Mars, it had been more and more prevalent, as if something inside Shepard was close to snapping.

"What's bothering you, Shepard?" Liara felt hopeless. Helpless.

"What's bothering me?" Shepard bristled and Liara wanted to take a step back. "We're about to pass into Trebia. We are headed to Palaven's moon. We know that the Reapers are hitting hard and fast. We don't know what to expect other than a shit-load of fighting. So. What's bothering me?"

Shepard hadn't turned around, hadn't raised her voice - and yet Liara felt as if she'd been slapped across the cheek by a krogan. This wasn't even the Commander trying, yet the asari had the suspicion that she was on the verge of being trampled by a herd of rampaging klixen. She found a new feeling of pity for those that crossed Commander Shepard when she had really got going. Ofcourse Liara knew what was wrong. It was so obvious when she considered it. "Oh…Shepard."

"Actually, I have a question for you Shadow Broker."

The way Shepard said her title made Liara flinch. It was spat out like an accusation, as if it was something dirty. She wanted to recoil, to lock Shepard in a stasis field while she fled somewhere safe. "Yes?" Despite herself, she couldn't seem to ask anything else. "What is it, Shepard?"

"Where is he?"

Liara gulped. She didn't like where this was headed. "Who?"

In that moment, she regretted that word. In that moment, Shepard was bearing down on her like a varren would it's prey. The woman seemed to buzz with a controlled rage - rage, Liara knew, that was fuelled by fear. In the dim light, Shepard's eyes both shone with unshed tears and glowed faintly from their internal cybernetics. Chakwas had explained to her once that Shepard's rebuild wasn't complete when she was woken and that it was a 'positive mental attitude' that stopped the wounds from opening up. It was only when a brief glance to the looming woman's cheeks and the fine lines of red, barely perceptible even in the gloomy sub-deck, did the reality of Shepard's decline hit Liara. She was slipping. And Liara felt so incredibly stupid that it had taken her this long to notice, and to realise the cause wasn't the Reaper war or what happened to Kaidan back at the Mars Archives. Shepard didn't need to answer the question.

"We'll find him, Shepard." Liara whispered, staring into those hard green eyes and trying not to focus on the occasional blink of red that flickered within.

"We'd better. Because if we don't I'll -."

"Commander, we are about to pass through the Trebia relay," came EDI's interruption. And not a moment too soon in Liara's opinion.

Without saying a word more, Shepard grabbed the small box containing her hamster from where she had put it and stormed off towards the elevator.

Liara sagged and released the breath she didn't realise she had been holding in a long, slow exhale. Goddess help them all - Reapers included - if they didn't find Garrus Vakarian alive.

Later- on Menae - when Liara told Garrus it was good to see him in one piece, she doubted there could have been a bigger understatement.

Chapter Text

[Fancy a night out? - G]

The message, sent directly to Shepard's omni-tool, seemed innocuous enough. But the sender was Garrus, and he was never innocuous about anything. She had to wonder what he was planning.

[The crew was planning on heading to Purgatory to celebrate the distruction of the Reaper. I'm guessing you have something else in mind? - S]

[You could say that. - G]

[We're not going to be breaking 137 rules again, are we? I don't think I can play the Spectre card for something like that. Again. - S]

[This one will be perfectly legal. No guns, I promise. - G]

[Who are you and what have you done with Garrus Vakarian? - S]

[If you're that desperate to break Citadel regs, you're talking to the right turian. Though I thought you'd prefer something more sedate after all that excitement back on Rannoch. - G]

[Sedate sounds perfect. Meet you at the usual spot? - S]

[I'll be there at 2100 hours. - G]

Her omni-tool vanished at the touch of a key and Shepard folded her arms across her chest, a small smile pulling at the edge of her lips. She stared at the report she was in the middle of typing up when the first message arrived but didn't really see it. They were in the middle of a war, they were all feeling more than a little stiff and sore (physically and emotionally) after the mad rush that was the war-within-a-war between the geth and quarians. The rest of the crew was going out to get drunk and act foolish at Purgatory; most of the Alliance team would be celebrating the death of the Reaper, but a select few would be toasting a friend who didn't make it. And yet here she was, feeling all giddy like a schoolgirl with a crush. It just wasn't right or proper for a soldier being used as 'the tip of the spear' (and thank you very much Admiral Hackett). But for one night, Shepard wasn't going to let herself care.

Of course, 21:00 was hours away and she still had a stack of reports to file as well as datapads to read - not to mention the schematics of the Destroyer EDI had sent to her terminal. Shepard groaned as she focused on the words she had already typed, forcing herself to focus on her report rather than daydream about what Garrus had planned - a job in and of itself when it came to him. A day of work for a night off. It seemed a fair trade.

Time doesn't fly when you're meant to be focussing on the task in hand but your mind keeps wandering. Shepard had found this out years ago, back before she had even heard the words 'Saren' and 'geth'. Before she'd even heard the word 'Normandy' in context with a ship. But she had worked steadily through everything that needed to be done. She hadn't had time to even look at EDI's report but she found herself not caring. Her mind had already wandered off.

Exiting the elevator onto the CIC, she noticed Traynor still at her station even when the rest of the Normandy crew had gone. Even Joker and EDI had gone ashore. Curious as to why the specialist had decided to stay behind, she wandered over and tapped her on the shoulder, making the young woman almost jump out of her skin.

"Oh, Commander! I thought you'd already gone." She sounded flustered.

"I'm about to head off now. Any reason why you're not with the rest of the crew?"

"I said I would join them later. I have a few official things I need to catch up on first though."

Shepard sighed and placed a hand on Traynor's shoulder. "Samantha, chances for shore leave like this don't come around often. You have to take the chance while you can. I'm sure what you're doing can wait a few hours."

"I…yes, Commander. I'll head down soon."

"Good, but just to make sure…EDI?" Shepard pointedly looked directly at one of the onboard cameras with the hint of a smirk.

"Yes, Shepard?" EDI's disembodied voice seemed to ring out on the deserted ship and Traynor visibly jumped again. Shepard had to wonder what was going on with that girl sometimes.

"If Traynor's still aboard within the hour, can you lock her out of the system? She need to get down to Purgatory at some point this evening."

"Yes, Shepard."

"Point taken, Commander. Will I see you there?"

Shepard stopped herself from smirking triumphantly. "Not tonight. Garrus has something planned and I'm not sure if I should be nervous or not."

"Oh…" Now it was Traynor's turn to look smug. The shit-eating grin that plastered itself over her pretty little face wanted Shepard to take back everything she'd just said. "Don't go getting into too much trouble. The chatter from C-Sec about a skycar on one of the rafters of the Presidium got so noisy I had to block all but emergency calls last time."

Shepard shook her head and walked off, lifting a hand to lazily wave a good-bye to the smirking specialist. "Have fun at Purgatory, Traynor."

She found Garrus casually leaning against the rented skycar wearing casual clothes and an amused expression. "You're late."

At the teasing inflection of his voice, Shepard tilted her head backwards and pretended as if she was going to carry on walking. "I'm never late for anything, Vakarian. I arrive exactly when I intend to."

With speed few expected from someone so relaxed, Garrus had pushed off from where he was resting and snagged her wrist. With a quick movement, he spun her around so fast she ended up bracing her hands against his chest to halt the momentum. "I could argue that when you intend to is usually late by everyone else's standards."

"Then I'm fashionably late." She tried in vain to keep the breathless quality out of her voice, his sudden closeness having forced it out of her in a gasp. She ran her hands over the soft material of his rarely-seen civvies and she let herself take in his appearance. Good wine was apparently not the only thing he could afford with that advisor's salary of his. She thanked whatever divine being gave him the decision to get rid of those awful clothes he had turned up to her cabin in the night before the Omega-4. He was no less of an imposing figure (Shepard figured it was the visor), but he seemed so much softer without all that hard armour. Plus, it was nice not to have to argue with that collar from time to time. "Nice clothes. I feel under-dressed."

He smiled. "Thought I'd make an effort. Where we're going doesn't exactly call for heavy armour."

"Oh? And where are we going?"

Garrus leaned in close, the tip of his nose brushing with hers as the faintest hint of a smile pulled at his mandibles. "You'll just have to wait and see."

Shepard huffed and folded her arms as he broke away, pretending to be offended. He chuckled as he unlocked the car, the engine starting up automatically. Casually, he held out a hand and after blinking at it for a while, Shepard realised what she was meant to do and took it as lady-like as a soldier could manage. She ended up almost falling into the car. She had to give Garrus credit for not laughing at her out loud but she had a feeling she'd never live that one down.

It was a comfortably quiet journey, the need for small talk had long since dissipated and they were just happy to be in each other's presence without having to constantly chat to calm the nerves. As they left the Presidium and the sky around them grew dark and dotted with stars, Shepard found herself marvelling at the Serpent Nebula around them and the twinkling lights of the giant arms below. Obviously they were going to one of the Wards, but Shepard was at a loss as to which. And as one loomed larger than the rest, she couldn't help but ask. "So…which Ward is that one we're headed to?"

"Tayseri." Garrus' eyes never left the busy lanes in front of him and Shepard frowned in thought.

"Wasn't that the one that got the worst of the damage from Sovereign?"

"It was. The Dilinaga Concert Hall is still closed after well over two years."

So they weren't going there. That was the only place in Tayseri Ward that Shepard knew of, and that was only thanks to an Avina terminal back on Zakera Ward. She caught herself gawping out the window as Garrus took them lower, noticing the black patches that were obviously still without power. Much to her confusion, they seemed to be dropping into one of those darkened areas, and she cast a confused glance back at her driver with a raised eyebrow. As much as she trusted him, she had to wonder what he was playing at.

He said nothing as they touched down and he exited, again extending a hand to her when it was obviously not needed. To her (well concealed) delight, she didn't end up falling flat on her face - she didn't even stumble. The doors closed behind her and the car locked with a beep as Garrus took her arm in his and led her towards a low-lit entranceway. "Alright. I give up. Where are we?"

"Hmm. Probably the most peaceful place on the Citadel. It even beats the Presidium for 'calm and tranquil'. I used to come here when I was on my break. It helped me think."

"Still doesn't tell me where we are."

"You'll see." What was it about people looking smug today?

Garrus lead Shepard through the dim entrance and she was greeted with a sight that took her breath away. She gasped, taking in the pale pebble walkway lined with bioluminescent plants that lead to a large, well-lit glasshouse. She was rendered completely speechless.

"Welcome to the Gaeron Botanical Gardens, Shepard."

"Garrus, it's…" she struggled to find the words. Beautiful and magnificent seemed insufficient. She had seen so many different planets, so many different biomes she had lost count. Each had their own beauty, even the worlds that were nothing but rock and lava. But something about this was special. Shepard didn't know if it was the actual gardens or if it was because she was with the man she loved or both or neither, but she didn't care. It was amazing.

"I thought you might like it." His voice had lost the smugness it had before, and if she had retained enough wits about her Shepard would have noticed that it was fringed with relief. But the gentleness of the sound pulled her closer and she stopped them so she could face him properly. Without a word, she pressed her lips to his and he pulled her close.

This was one date she wasn't going to forget any time soon.