She had been through the end of the world and was currently at the end of her rope. The invitation was addressed to Admiral Jane Shepard, SAN, Retired (and guest). Whoever wrote the address had clearly gone to a lot of effort, since half of Shepard's mail was still sent to 'Commander' Shepard, and the rest was made out to 'Agent' or 'Specialist' Shepard, which as a Council Spectre was technically her only active rank. The Systems Alliance had rewarded her for her service with a promotion, a salarian-made prosthetic leg, and an order to retire that was only thinly veiled as a suggestion.
Meanwhile: the letter.
She flipped it over. The paper of the envelope was heavy, fine under her fingertips, and smelled like nothing discernible. Shepard couldn't remember the last time someone had sent her a physical letter that didn't come attached to a crate of munitions.
From behind her came the pop-hiss of an airlock opening as Garrus made his way onto the bridge of the light corvette they shared. He dropped into the pilot's seat beside her—and hadn't that been a pain, convincing the manufacturer to install one crash seat for a turian and one for a human?—and tilted his head. "Another invitation?"
"Whoever it is must be damn rich," Garrus said. "Not many people want to pay the postal fees for letters."
Shepard grunted again.
"Going to open it?"
"Getting there," she said, and used her thumb to tear the flap open. What came out of the envelope was a single piece of heavy cardstock inviting her to a gala thrown by the David Anderson Foundation. On the back was a handwritten note: Shepard - hope to see you there. It was signed by Hackett.
She held it out to Garrus; he took it and scanned it, and then he said, "Well, that's one way to get you to finally make an appearance."
"No," she said.
"Shepard," Garrus said.
"You want to let a whole gang of slavers escape so I can parade around like a circus act?" said Shepard, who thought she had a pretty sound argument. "No, Garrus."
"Hackett's going. He never goes out in public anymore—"
Garrus was as bad as she was at letting go of a topic, so Shepard made the smart choice and walked away. The problem with living and working in the same starship was that Garrus could and did follow. There was no escape, short of locking herself in the head or throwing herself out of an airlock, and Shepard, who had already suffered one death in the vacuum of space, wasn't eager to repeat the experience.
"Hackett never goes out in public anymore," Garrus said again. "You'll regret not seeing him."
"If I wanted to see him, I'd call him," said Shepard. She'd run out of places to go, so she turned around and started slamming her way through the galley cabinets. MREs. MREs. MREs. One of them really needed to learn how to cook. "And I don't have an X.O. to pick out a dress for me anymore. No."
"If that's your excuse, I'll buy you a dress," said Garrus.
Shepard didn't do anything as drastic as freeze; her halt was slower than that, more like a child running out of momentum than an adult turning to stone; but she stopped with her back to Garrus nonetheless, and she hated herself for it.
They'd fought a long war together, and now they were fighting a longer recovery. After she'd been medically cleared to return to active duty, it had seemed natural to partner with Garrus, himself a newly-minted Spectre despite his refusal to stray from Shepard's side through her long crawl back to health. Their pairing had been a wild success despite their unorthodox methods, and the Council of New Eden Prime was willing to let them go about their business with minimal interference, unlike either the Systems Alliance or the Hierarchy.
In a fit of camaraderie on the eve of the Battle of London, Garrus had told her that there was no Shepard without Vakarian. That was true even in what felt like her afterlife, and in fact Shepard and Vakarian were lauded galaxy-wide as the height of interspecies cooperation… of interspecies friendship. Unfortunately, when she no longer had an invasion of eldritch abominations to occupy her attention, Shepard had finally realized that her feelings for Garrus ran somewhat deeper than camaraderie.
She wouldn't ever tell him, of course. There was no point in ruining what was the best and most rewarding relationship of her life for a roll in the hay. He was her hunting partner, and that was more than enough; that was everything.
But then he had to say things like that…
"No," said Shepard. "Hell no."
Garrus sighed, a much more resonant sound than any sigh uttered by a human, and a long arm reached over her head and shut the cabinet she was staring into.
"Jane," he said.
"Is there some part of 'hell no' that you aren't understanding?" said Shepard.
There was a pause, and for every second of that pause she was aware of his warmth at her back. It made her feel like getting shitfaced.
"What if I offer to go with you?"
"Trust me, Garrus," Shepard said. "That's not gonna help at all."