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Damage Control

Chapter Text

 

From: Captain Bailey

Subject: Next Time

 

Shepard,

Next time you decide to trash the Citadel, could you give me a heads up? Or at least send a bottle of brandy my way.

Your friend Grunt was reprimanded this morning for his creative use of the shuttles. You'll be glad to hear I got him out, even though he assaulted one of my officers. You would owe me, but if you stop the reapers, we'll call it even.

-Bailey

P.S. Don't be surprised if you're charged a little extra next time you're in Purgatory. Your crew sure likes to drink.

P.P.S. I hope the hangover isn't giving you too much trouble.

 

– – –

 

Shepard clicked off her email and lowered her face to her hands. The room spun around her, threatening to topple her from her chair. Her stomach flipped and fizzed and twisted. She groaned. The smell of alcohol stained her skin and hair. She felt gross and sick. Usually, her biotics would save her from a hangover, but not this time. This time, her body was intent on punishing her. Maybe she deserved it, according to Bailey's email.

In the too-bright glow of her terminal, Shepard rubbed her face. When she tried to remember last night, her mind went blank. She could remember arriving at Purgatory and meeting Grunt and the Aralakh Company. She had wished him a happy birthday by buying him the biggest glass of beer she could find. She could remember Tali getting in a round of shots, and Vega flirting with anything that was vaguely female.

When Shepard tried to remember any more than that, her head began to ache. She had no idea what had happened after Liara had climbed onto the table. This morning she'd woken up on top of her bed, fully dressed, with an empty champagne glass in her hand. All she knew for sure, was that the Citadel needed cleaning, and Grunt had had one hell of a birthday.

Shepard stood up and immediately regretted it. Her cabin spun sickeningly, forcing another groan out of her. She just wanted to go back to bed, and maybe sleep for a hundred years or so. Unfortunately, she had a crew to check up on, and if they were half as hungover as her, they wouldn't be leaving the Citadel for a while.

Shepard shuffled to the lift. Her muscles felt like lead, her body dead weight. When the lift descended, she gripped the handrail, willing her stomach to stay put. If she threw up in the lift, her crew would never let her live it down.

The lift doors breezed open and Shepard stepped out, wondering when the lights in the CIC had become this bright. She squinted at the N7 mug Traynor was holding out to her. It took her a stupidly long time to realise that Traynor had made her coffee, and she accepted it gratefully.

“How are you feeling?” Shepard asked, wrapping her fingers around her mug.

“Oh, like an entire Krogan company wanted to get me drunk,” Traynor said.

She looked exhausted. Deep purple bags lined her eyes, and her skin was paler than usual. She'd brushed her hair back, and a few strands hung around her face. Shepard narrowed her eyes as a memory pushed into her mind. She remembered Traynor being followed by an overly friendly Krogan all night.

“FARAX!” Shepard shouted suddenly, making Traynor cover her ears. Shepard laughed when Traynor glared, “Farax. He had a thing for you, didn't he?”

Traynor grimaced and lowered her hands, “I really I wish I could forget that.”

"You sure?” Shepard grinned, “You're not even a little tempted?”

“There's not enough alcohol in the galaxy, Commander.”

Shepard laughed and blew on her coffee. She took a tentative sip, picturing the smaller-than-usual Krogan that had been intent on getting Traynor drunk. Shepard could remember Traynor hiding under the table at one point, while Garrus laughed loudly.

“Speaking of trying things out...” Traynor wiggled her eyebrows at Shepard.

“What are you doing?” Shepard asked, arching an eyebrow at Traynor's teasing.

“You know...” Traynor continued to wiggle her eyebrows. When Shepard shook her head, Traynor stopped. Her eyes widened, “Oh! You don't remember.”

“Remember what, exactly?” Shepard asked, with a sinking feeling. How embarrassing had she been last night? What had she done?

“Uh...” Traynor turned back to her terminal and tapped the screen. For one terrifying moment, Shepard thought she was going to bring up some video footage from last night. She didn't, thankfully, she just shrugged her shoulders, “You should talk to Joker.”

“Joker?” Shepard asked, trying to catch Traynor's eye as she expertly dodged her gaze.

“He saw it first hand.”

“Saw... what?” Shepard asked, suddenly feeling much sicker.

“I'm... gonna go over here now,” Traynor said, all but running from Shepard.

Traynor ran across the CIC and down towards the War Room. Shepard abandoned her coffee at her own terminal and headed straight for the flight deck. She had never been one to shy away from fear, but this felt different. It felt like she was walking into the worst news she could possibly hear. Just how badly had she acted last night? Had she accidentally started a new war? Had she told the Salarian Councillor where to go? Had she stripped off and gone shuttle surfing?

“Oh god,” Shepard groaned at the thought.

When she reached the flight deck, she stopped in her tracks. All thoughts of her behaviour left her mind, replaced by confusion and horror. She watched the view in front of her like it was a museum exhibit.

“What... am I looking at?” Shepard asked.

Joker's chair was reclined all the way back, and he was lay on his stomach. EDI was stood over him, running her metallic hands roughly over his shoulders and back. Joker lifted his head up to look at Shepard, his face tensed in pain.

“I am giving Jeff a traditional asari hangover massage,” EDI said, as though it was obvious. She dug her elbow into Joker's back so hard, Shepard flinched.

“Right...” Shepard said, “Why?”

“As long as she stays away from the salarian injections, I'm fine,” Joker's voice was muffled when he pressed his face into his chair again.

“They are a very effective cure, Jeff. The needle would not hurt that much,” EDI said, continuing her massage.

“The salarians have a hangover cure? Damn, Mordin kept that quiet,” Shepard muttered.

She watched EDI massage Joker for a further few seconds, wondering where on earth EDI had gotten this idea from. Joker let out a hiss of pain, and Shepard decided enough was enough. If she let this continue any longer, she may not have a pilot left. She stepped forward, putting herself between EDI and Joker.

She placed her hands on EDI's shoulders, “EDI, EDI. Joker is human, he needs a human cure.”

“The extranet did not have any results for human hangover cures,” EDI said, frowning.

“Come on, I'll show you,” Shepard said, leading EDI out of the flight deck. She shot a glance back at Joker, who smiled gratefully at her, rubbing a hand over his shoulder.

 

– – –

 

Shepard pulled the last pack of bacon out of the fridge. She placed it next to the bread, the sausages, and the beans. After giving EDI some simple instructions on how to cook, Shepard made herself a coffee and settled into a stool by the island counter.

“Commander, I have a question about organic behaviour,” EDI said, as the bacon began to sizzle.

“Shoot,” Shepard said, ignoring the way her stomach flipped at the smell of food.

“Is it common for organics to avoid one another after being intimate?” EDI asked, prodding the bacon with interest.

“I don't understand the question,” Shepard said, sipping her coffee.

“You and Garrus began to avoid each other after your kiss. I was wondering if...”

Shepard didn't hear the rest of EDI's sentence. She stared blankly at the back of EDI's head, her cup of coffee halfway up to her lips. She and Garrus kissed? She didn't remember this. She strained to remember, so hard a stab of pain shot into her temple, but nothing came back to her. She would remember kissing Garrus, definitely. After pathetically crushing on him since their night before the collector base, she would remember kissing him.

Still, there was a huge chunk of the night she couldn't remember...

“EDI, I-”

“Hey, Lola! Are you here for a galaxy-renowned James Vega breakfast?” Vega shouted from across the crew deck. At the sound of his voice, Shepard, Tali, and Cortez all flinched. Cortez looked like he wanted to hit Vega as they walked towards Shepard and EDI.

Compared to everyone else, Vega looked great. He seemed wide-awake and ready to fry some eggs. Cortez looked pale, and vaguely sick. Shepard wondered whether the shuttle bay needed cleaning. Tali was hidden by her suit, but judging by her stumbling walk, she was feeling those shots. Shepard had lost count at around the ninth shot of sparkly pink alcohol.

“What are you feeling? Omelettes? Beans on toast?” Vega asked, joining EDI by the stove. He leaned over her shoulder and looked at the frying bacon. He nodded approvingly and EDI looked pleased.

“Don't talk to me about food,” Shepard said with a grimace.

“Just don't talk at all,” Cortez mumbled.

“Ignore Esteban, he gets grumpy when he throws up,” Vega said, waving a hand dismissively.

“You promised me food, Mr. Vega. Get on with it,” Cortez leaned his elbows on the counter next to Shepard. He lowered his face to the counter top, and Shepard patted his head gently.

Tali took the stool next to Shepard and rested her head on Shepard's shoulder, while letting out a long whine. Vega left EDI by the stove and began rooting through the fridge. He began to whistle as he pulled out ingredients. He only stopped when Tali, Shepard, and Cortez groaned.

“How are you not dead? If I recall, you were on tequila all night,” Shepard said, staring incredulously at Vega. She was Commander freaking Shepard and even she had a hangover.

“It takes more than a few shots of tequila to kill me,” Vega said, shooting her a wink. “Unlike you, Lola, I can handle my alcohol without humiliating myself.”

Shepard groaned, “What did I do?”

“The question should be what didn't you-”

A screeching sound cut Vega off. The fire alarm threatened to pop Shepard's ear drums. She rose from her seat while Cortez and Tali covered their ears and complained.

“Oops,” EDI mouthed.

Smoke clouded over the stove, and Shepard noticed it for the first time. She coughed and lead EDI away from the stove, while Vega wafted the smoke away with a tea towel. The ship didn't have windows that opened, but the crew deck was big enough to let the smoke disperse without choking them. The fire alarm had gone off before any real damage occurred.

Shepard keyed her authorisation code into her omnitool and the fire alarm shut off as abruptly as it started. EDI frowned when Vega lifted up the pan of black bacon.

“I hope you like your bacon extra crispy,” He said.

“It appears I am not good at cooking,” EDI mused.

“Don't worry about it,” Tali said, in a fragile voice. “You should have seen Shepard trying to cook pancakes on the SR1.”

“Hey! That oven was faulty!” Shepard said, folding her arms across her chest defensively.

“You don't cook pancakes in the oven...” Cortez said.

“Oh.”

“You can't dance, you can't drive, you can't cook. I'm starting to think the only thing you can do is shoot,” Vega laughed, scraping the burnt bacon into the bin. He dumped the pan in the sink and turned on the tap.

“I can kick your arse,” Shepard said.

“That's yet to be seen,” Vega said. He began cutting his ingredients, preparing some extravagant looking breakfast. If Shepard's stomach didn't feel like it was inside out, she'd want some.

The four of them – EDI, Shepard, Cortez, and Tali – watched Vega cook. Shepard felt awful, but Tali and Cortez looked way worse. She wanted to ask EDI what she'd said about her kissing Garrus. Maybe EDI had it wrong. Maybe she'd interpreted something friendly as romantic – she didn't know much about organic behaviour after all.

Shepard was too scared to ask though. What if it was worse than EDI thought? What if it hadn't stopped with a kiss...

No.

They definitely hadn't done anything more than that. For one thing, Shepard had woken up fully dressed. For another, she would absolutely remember sleeping with Garrus again. It was kind of unforgettable.

“...and then she fell, flat on her face.”

Shepard tuned in to the very end of Vega's story. She had no idea who it was about, but the others were laughing, so she forced a laugh too.

Vega shared the omelette between three plates. He even had a plate of dextro food ready for Tali, not that she looked all that interested in eating. He placed a plate in front of Cortez, who grumbled something incoherent and dug his fork into the food. EDI accepted a plate off him, eager to show Joker what she'd done.

“You sure I can't tempt you?” Vega asked, gesturing to the last plate.

“I don't think I'll ever eat again,” Shepard said.

Vega took the last plate for himself. He and Tali nudged Cortez until he followed them to the dining table. Shepard and EDI bid their farewells, and headed back for the lift. EDI was admiring Vega's food with interest, and Shepard pressed the lift call button.

Just as it arrived, she heard Vega shout, “Morning, Scars! You hungry? I make a mean dextro breakfast, right Sparks?”

Shepard thought about heading back and confronting Garrus head on. But Garrus wasn't a reaper and she wasn't fighting him. If she ran in, guns blazing, shouting, hey did we kiss last night?, he'd run a mile. That was the last thing she wanted. If she had kissed Garrus, she had to act carefully from now on. Their friendship, and the war, came first. Her unrequited love had to be ignored.

EDI and Shepard walked back to the flight deck in silence. EDI had no more questions about organic behaviour, she was far too interested in the food. Shepard didn't mind, she had a lot to think about. She decided to follow Traynor's advice and talk to Joker.

“What happened? The Normandy notified me of a fire,” Joker said, swivelling his chair when they walked in. He grimaced at the dizzying movement. EDI presented the plate of food to Joker, and he furrowed his brow, “You cooked this?”

“No. I set the bacon on fire. James cooked this,” EDI took her usual seat.

“Sweet,” Joker said. He immediately stuffed a forkful of omelette into his mouth, moaning in delight at the taste. He swallowed, “When this war is over, Vega needs to open a restaurant.”

Shepard leaned her hip against the guard rail. She steeled herself, she had to find out for sure what happened last night, so she could plan what to do. “About last night-”

“Yes, you kissed Garrus. Yeah, I saw it all. And yes, I do need to bleach my mind of that sight,” Joker mumbled around the omelette in his mouth.

Shepard's shoulders slumped. So it was true. EDI hadn't misunderstood anything. Shepard had kissed Garrus – and in front of Joker. Their friendship was stretched thinly now, Garrus probably wanted to avoid Shepard for a long time. One more mistake and they may not be friends any more. It was all because Shepard couldn't handle her feelings like an adult. She got drunk like some hormonal teenage and threw herself at him.

“How did you know I was going to ask?” Shepard asked.

“Call it instinct,” Joker said, “It's been a while since we talked about you and Garrus. I thought I was free of this.”

“There is no me and Garrus. Last night was a mistake,” Shepard said. Joker scoffed, and she arched an eyebrow at him, “Excuse me?”

“Oh sorry, do you want to continue bullshitting me?” Joker gestured for her to continue, “Go ahead, I'll wait.”

“I'm not bullshitting you.” Shepard crossed her arms over her chest.

“EDI, you don't know much about organic behaviour, do you?” Joker ate another mouthful of food.

“You know I do not, Jeff,” EDI said, turning her chair to face them.

“Right, so imagine you didn't know Shepard and Garrus,” Joker said. EDI looked confused and Joker elaborated, “Just pretend you've never met them. They're strangers, okay?”

Shepard frowned at Joker. She wasn't sure what the point of this little charade was, but she was sure she wasn't going to like it. Joker was grinning, and Shepard had long since learnt that was a bad sign. EDI eventually agreed to play Joker's game, and he continued.

“Are they a couple? Are they in love?” Joker asked, beaming at Shepard when she glared at him.

EDI paused for a moment, looking thoughtful, “Their body language would suggest romantic attraction.”

"What!” Shepard exclaimed. She may be hopelessly crushing on Garrus, but she knew her body language wasn't obvious. It's not like she bent over in front of him, or pushed her cleavage up.

“When you are around him, you present the typical body language of a human in love,” EDI said. Joker was grinning so widely, it looked like his cheeks would split open. Shepard ignored him, and EDI continued, “You mirror his actions. You maintain eye contact – longer than usual. You smile at him, more often than at others.”

“All of those could be friendship,” Shepard said, even as heat rushed up her neck.

“Checking your vital signs could present us with more quantifiable data. It would reveal hormone levels, heart rate, breathing pattern. A significant change in any of these could suggest-”

“Enough!” Shepard said, cutting EDI off. She didn't have the mental capacity to deal with this today, “There will no checking my vital signs.”

“Ah, young love,” Joker sighed dreamily. He shot a smile at EDI, “Tell her the best part.”

“Wait,” Shepard said, holding her hand up to halt EDI, “Do you two discuss me and Garrus often?”

Joker suddenly looked uncomfortable. He stared at his empty plate intently and Shepard cleared her throat expectantly. Even EDI looked mildly uncomfortable, as her eyes darted between Joker and Shepard.

“Joker?” Shepard prompted.

“Look, it gets boring sitting up here all the time. There's only so many times you can play I Spy,” Joker said defensively. He leaned back in his chair, “But I'm not the one on trial here, you are. You were happy with Garrus last year, what changed?”

Shepard didn't have an answer. The truth was, Shepard hadn't mentioned anything about their past relationship to Garrus. She was sure his feelings had changed. Shepard had spent six months in an Alliance Cell, and Garrus had been up on Menae, probably spending his time with turian females. All of them militaristic and biologically compatible with him. Shepard had never stood a chance.

“I thought, maybe, when he came back he'd head up to your cabin. But he hasn't even gone near it!” Joker said.

“Have you been spying on us?” Shepard asked incredulously.

“That's not the point,” Joker said, “The point is, EDI and I think you should get together. You don't find happiness like this often, especially in the middle of a war. A great leader once told me that, I think you know her, it was Commander Shepard!”

Shepard rubbed the heels of her hands into her eyes. Stars danced across her eyelids. She was exhausted, gross, and confused. She didn't want this! She just wanted to go back to bed and pretend last night never happened.

“I'm not discussing this any more,” Shepard said with a sigh.

“Fine, no more Garrus talk,” Joker pouted, spinning his chair away from Shepard. EDI glanced between Joker and Shepard but knew better than to get involved. Joker began tapping at the Normandy controls even though they were docked at the Citadel for a few more hours yet.

“Liara wants to meet you in the lounge,” Joker said.

“Thanks,” Shepard said.

“Whatever.”

 

Chapter Text

Shepard felt guilty for how she'd treated Joker. In a weird way, he was just trying to help her, even if he was unbearably annoying as he did it. He didn't know Garrus was over her. He didn't know Shepard was nothing more than a human Garrus had once hand a thing with. How could she compare to a female turian? She couldn't.

Still, she didn't have to vent her frustration on Joker. If he could shut up for five minutes, she might buy him a beer.

On the crew deck, Shepard stepped out of the elevator, wondering what Liara could want her for. Perhaps she had fallen when she'd climbed onto the table last night and injured herself. Shepard opened the door to the lounge and stopped in her tracks.

Garrus was sat in one of the armchairs. He glanced up from his datapad and when he saw Shepard at the door, his mandibles squeezed tight to his face. He wouldn't hold her gaze for longer than a second, and Shepard dropped her own gaze to the floor.

“Shepard,” He said, shifting in his chair.

“Garrus,” Shepard said. This was not what she'd wanted. Hell, she'd rather listen to Joker babble on about their love than face Garrus herself.

Garrus tapped his datapad, Shepard chewed on her lip. The silence stretched between them, hanging heavy in the air. Shepard shifted from foot to foot, Garrus cleared his throat. Shepard struggled for something to say. She couldn't even remember kissing Garrus, but she was certain she had. What else could explain the awkwardness around them?

“I'm just waiting for Liara,” Shepard said, perching on the arm of the couch.

“Liara? I was told she wanted to meet me here,” Garrus said.

Shepard drew her eyebrows together in confusion. Why would Liara want to see both of them? Maybe she'd seen their kiss and wanted to play marriage councillor with them. Or maybe...

A rush of anger filled Shepard's chest. She clenched her fists. She knew the answer, but she asked Garrus anyway, “Who told you she wanted to see you?”

“Joker,” Garrus said, just as Shepard predicted.

Shepard blew air out between her clenched teeth. She stood up and glared at the camera on the ceiling. Joker may not be watching, but EDI definitely was, and she'd tell Joker just how much trouble he was in. By now, he should have learnt not to piss Shepard off. She looked away from the camera and back down to Garrus, who was watching her with a slightly raised browplate.

“Liara isn't coming, we've been duped,” Shepard said.

“What?” Garrus asked.

Shepard wasn't sure what a hungover turian was supposed to look like, but Garrus looked good – really good. She admired the clean lines of his clan markings and the smooth curve of his fringe. There was a smudge of something on his armour, and he looked tired, but other than that he was perfect.

“Joker forced us together.”

Garrus's mandibles gave a nervous flutter. It might have been her imagination, but Shepard was sure his neck turned a deeper shade of blue. He focused on his datapad, and Shepard ignored the way the fluorescent lighting sparkled in his eyes, the way his fingers curled around the screen.

“I see,” Garrus said, plunging the two of them back into silence.

Shepard was going to kill Joker. She was actually going to murder him. There were a lot of guns on this ship, and Shepard had easy access to all of them. There were about ten between her and Joker right now. She had to scare him away from her love life, lest any other member of her crew get ideas. She couldn't have an entire ship of people seeing her as some jilted lover.

Garrus crossed one leg over the other. He sighed, shut off his datapad and lowered it to the table. He looked up with a strange look of determination. Ice went down Shepard's spine. Again, she knew what Garrus was going to say before he said it.

“About last night-”

“Let's not talk about it,” Shepard interrupted quickly.

“Right,” Garrus said, his mandibles squeezing even tighter to his face.

Shepard couldn't bare to hear it. The rejection. The I was drunk and there's a war on excuse. The we're better off as friends conversation. The last night was fun and all, but you? Really? Ha! No!

No, Shepard wasn't going to let Garrus break her heart. She didn't need this, she had a war to fight and a hangover to get over. As far as she was concerned, last night hadn't happened. Her and Garrus were just friends. They had no past relationship, they had shared no drunken kisses. Nothing at all had happened last night.

“I should go,” Shepard said, eager to leave this room. The more distance between her and Garrus, the better. Especially since her mind was intent on reminding her of Garrus's talons on her waist and his head between her thighs, and his hot breath on her-

Shepard cleared her throat, “I have a helmsman to kill.”

– – –

“Okay, okay, I'm sorry!” Joker begged when he saw Shepard marching towards him. She cracked her knuckles and he held up his hands in surrender, “My bad.”

“Damn right it was your bad!” Shepard shouted, not caring how many people heard her. “I will throw you out of the airlock and make EDI the helmsman.”

“You wouldn't,” Joker said, though he didn't sound sure.

“Do you really want to risk that?” Shepard asked. She was glad to see Joker pause, if only for a second.

“I just wanted you to talk to him! Tell him how you feel, I bet he feels the same.”

“He doesn't!” Shepard snapped.

“EDI, tell her,” Joker said, spinning his chair to face her.

EDI turned to face the two of them. She spoke calmly, and it eased Shepard's anger slightly, “When he is around you, Garrus presents the typical body language of a turian in love. Preening, especially of his fringe. Joining your personal space, and standing closer than is strictly necessary. Looking to you after doing something impressive.”

Friendship,” Shepard all but growled.

“Again, if I were to check his vital signs-”

“NO!” Shepard interrupted, “We are just friends.”

Joker shook his head with exasperation, even EDI seemed a little bit tired of this. Shepard wanted to shout at them until they stopped, but she knew that would only encourage them. She wasn't in the right state for this today, her body was still intent on punishing her for her alcohol consumption. She was tired and shaky and had a furious headache. She rubbed a hand over her face.

“How are you this stubborn?” Joker asked.

“You don't get to where I am without being stubborn!” Shepard crossed her arms over her chest. As an afterthought, she added, “Also, I'm not stubborn.”

“Commander, you just said-”

“I know what I said!” Shepard shouted at EDI.

“Don't shout at her!” Joker shouted back. He flinched at the volume of his own words and leaned back in his chair. EDI rose from her chair and handed him a cup of water.

“I'm sorry, EDI... I'm just...” Shepard trailed off.

She sighed. Her anger was getting the best of her, she needed to relax. Her feelings weren't supposed to have this much control over her. She was Commander Shepard, saviour of the galaxy, not some lovestruck teen. Her love life should be second to this war, it shouldn't matter right now. She had a million people waiting for her help and she was walking through her docked ship, talking about her non-existent love life, with her hungover crew. The more she thought about it, the worse her headache became.

“You seem stressed,” Joker observed, “Are you maybe a little frustrated?

“Joker,” Shepard warned, “It is inappropriate to ask your Commanding Officer if she is sexually frustrated.”

“I know, but are you?” Joker beamed when Shepard glared.

Shepard forced a laugh, but it came out more like a grunt, “You so love to push my buttons. How about you push the button for the air lock and I push you out of it?”

Shepard spun around and stalked out of the flight deck without waiting for Joker's reply. Whatever it was would just annoy her, and soon she would start pulling her hair out. She stormed through the CIC muttering to herself. If there wasn't a war on, she'd kill Joker. Unfortunately, she needed a helmsman. EDI was good, but if Joker was dead, she'd refuse to work with Shepard. With EDI and Joker dating, Shepard was forced to keep Joker around if she didn't want to die at the hands of an AI widow.

“Hey Commander... Oh, you look angry,” Traynor said, raising her eyebrows.

“Don't be surprised if Joker's dead by tomorrow,” Shepard grumbled.

“Maybe this isn't the best time then, but Hackett's on vidcom,” Traynor said.

“Thanks.”

Shepard set off for the war room. She had only taken five steps, when Traynor called her, “You know, there's this really cute sushi place on the Citadel.”

Shepard turned around and blinked at Traynor. She wasn't sure how sushi fit into this insane day she was having, or why Traynor had brought it up now, after shore leave.

“It's got great food, great music, aquariums. You'd love it, it's so romantic,” Traynor smiled.

“Traynor, are you asking me out?” Shepard asked.

“No, no!” Traynor laughed, “For you and Garrus.”

Shepard stared at Traynor, her mouth slightly agape. She had no idea what she was supposed to say to that, it was like her mind had gone blank. Did the entire world know about her unrequited love? She shut her mouth and Traynor waited expectantly. Shepard opened her mouth again, struggling for something say.

“Right. I should go,” She eventually managed to say.

Traynor and Shepard looked at each other for a long moment, before Shepard turned and headed for the War Room. She felt like she was losing her mind. If she woke up right now and found that all of the today had been a weird, drunken dream, she wouldn't be surprised at all. In fact, she'd be a little relieved.

When she pinched herself, she didn't wake up. Instead, she walked all the way to the War Room and pressed the button to open a line to Hackett. He appeared in shaky hologram form.

Shepard saluted, “Sir?”

“I won't keep you long, Shepard. I need you at Ascolla, a Cerberus base popped up over night, and the Alliance needs to know why,” Hackett settled into parade rest, “It needs some damage control before things get out of hand.”

“I couldn't agree more, Sir,” Shepard said, though she wasn't thinking of Cerberus. She was thinking about her overly friendly crew and a certain turian that never wanted to see Shepard again.

“Hackett out.” Hackett disappeared, and Shepard let out a long breath. It felt like today was lasting forever.

Shepard thought briefly about telling EDI where to send the Normandy from here, but she knew it was less rude to do it in person. She groaned at the thought of seeing Joker again. Why was he everywhere she needed to be? After rubbing her eyes until they hurt, Shepard set off for the flight deck.

Traynor didn't look up as Shepard passed. Shepard picked up speed and jogged to the flight deck, the sooner she told Joker where to fly to, the sooner she could spar with Vega and vent a little of her anger. Then she could blow up some Cerberus troopers and maybe by tonight she'd feel better.

Or she'd feel worse, because she'd still have to talk to Joker and see Garrus. And god, she'd rather fight the reapers alone.

“So, when you get married, are you going to keep your name or take his?” Joker said, as soon as Shepard was within earshot. She immediately regretted coming back here, she should have just sent Traynor and gone back to bed.

“Do you want me to kill you, Joker? Is that it?” Shepard asked.

“I'm just trying to make you happy, Commander,” Joker said. After a beat, he said, “Not in the same way Garrus is but-”

“Set a course for Ascolla,” Shepard interrupted, choosing to ignore Joker's comments. “If there is even the tiniest bit of turbulence, I swear, I will kick your ass.”

“Yeah, sure, beat up the cripple, that'll win you allies,” Joker grumbled.

Shepard left Joker to gossip about her and Garrus with EDI. She managed to make it all the way through the CIC without anyone mentioning Garrus. She got into the lift and jabbed the button a little harder than necessary. Sparring with Vega would help her until she could shoot Cerberus troopers.

Vega was doing push-ups when Shepard stepped out of the lift. Cortez was stood over him, balancing his tools on Vega's back and catching the spanners from they slid off. He waved her over when he saw her, and she smiled. Maybe she could have a normal conversation with these two.

“Push ups, Vega, really? You're such a show off,” Shepard said.

“Two oh seven, two oh eight, we aren't all, two ten, light-weights, two twelve,” Vega stood up, sending the tools clattering to the floor. Cortez and Shepard flinched at the loud noise, suddenly reminded of their hangovers, and Vega just grinned.

He was shiny with sweat, his grey t-shirt clinging tightly to his body. If Shepard wasn't so in love with Garrus, she might enjoy the view. As it were, she was a little too tense to think of anything other than venting her anger.

Vega wiped his head with his towel, “Listen, Lola.”

“Look, if this is about the pancakes, I didn't know-”

Cortez cut her off, “No, it's about you and Garrus.” At Shepard's confused look, he elaborated, “Tali told us.”

“Tali,” Shepard muttered. Apparently, she was going to be killing two people on her crew.

“It sounded like you two were pretty happy for a while there.” Vega took a long swig from a water bottle, “What happened?”

Shepard sighed. She was getting sick of this conversation. She didn't want to talk about Garrus any more. Granted, her crew was close and they spent all their time together, but god, could they not shut up for five seconds? It was her love life, not theirs. She had no time to think about it, so they shouldn't either.

If anything, all of this talk showed Shepard she needed to give her crew more work. Maybe they should all write a 5000 word essay on appropriate and inappropriate behaviour on an Alliance ship.

“Oh, I don't know if you heard, but a war started. Nothing too big, just giant machines appearing from outer space and ravaging the galaxy. Ring any bells?” Shepard asked.

“If there's any time to seize love, it's now,” Cortez said, sincerely.

“I'm not talking about this any more. Garrus doesn't like me, and frankly, it's nothing to with any of you.”

“We care about you, Lola,” Vega said.

“Well, stop. I don't need this. I'm going to bed,” Shepard stormed out of the shuttle bay, ignoring Vega and Cortez calling after her.

– – –

An hour later, Shepard had calmed down. She was exhausted, but she was slowly getting better. Maybe not seeing Joker for an hour had helped. Still, if one more person made a comment about her and Garrus, she may just implode. Then where would everyone be? They'd be the crew that killed Commander Shepard.

Shepard ate a forkful of instant noddles. Her terminal beeped, and Shepard pressed the call button.

“Yeah?” She asked.

“Commander,” Liara's voice buzzed over the speaker, “Have you seen the news recently?”

Shepard sank into her desk chair, hugging her bowl of noodles close to herself. She let out a soft whine, “Do I want to?”

“Perhaps not, but you should. Hang on, I'm sending it to you now,” Liara said.

Shepard ate another forkful of food, and a moment later, her terminal beeped to signify a new email. She opened the email Liara had sent her, and clicked the link to the news site. As the page loaded, Shepard felt anxiety bubble in her chest. This could be anything from war news, to another councillor being a dick, to Shepard's crew getting drunk and rowdy. Either way it was bad news.

When the page finally loaded, Shepard almost choked. The first thing she saw was the photo, taken in Purgatory. It was a little hard to see in the low light, but it was clearly her and Garrus. More specifically, it was her and Garrus in the middle of a rather intense-looking make out session on the dance floor. Shepard cringed. In the background, she could just make out Joker and EDI dancing nearby.

Above the photo was the headline: Shepard Improves Turian-Human Relations

She covered her face with her hand, peeking through her fingers like she watching a horror film, as she read the article:

In a way that is unbecoming of an Alliance Commander, Shepard and her crew enjoyed a wild night down in Purgatory. The party was originally out to celebrate the birthday of Grunt – a tank-bred Krogan Shepard collected last year – but soon the night evolved into something a little sexier.

Shown by the photo above, Shepard and a member of her crew Garrus Vakarian – a former C-Sec Officer – decided to take turian-human relations into their own hands (or should that be mouths?). The two enjoyed a saucy kiss in the middle of the dance floor, to no one's surprise. All night the two could be seen spending time together, drinking, laughing, dancing (scroll down for the slide-show), and it wasn't long before they took things to the next level.

I'm not sure if this kiss will improve interspecies relations, but it sure looked fun.

The article went on and on. It tore apart their kiss, looking at the mechanics behind turian and human mouths, what the location of their hands showed about their relationship. It mentioned both the turian and human councillors several times. At the end, there was a brief list of other noteworthy events from the night, most of which, Shepard didn't remember. It was the worst thing Shepard had read in her entire life – and she'd once read an article that suggested she was carrying the Illusive Man's baby.

“Kill me,” Shepard muttered, slumping in her chair.

“I think killing you would earn me a lot of hate,” Liara said. After a pause, she added, “Especially from Garrus.”

Shepard groaned, “Not you too.”

“I apologise, I had to,” Liara laughed.

Shepard looked at the photo of her and Garrus again. They did look like they were having fun. Their bodies were pressed together. They were kissing passionately and if Shepard squinted she could almost remember it, or maybe she was just imagining it. Garrus's hands were on her waist, and hers were under his fringe, probably running over that sweet spot he loved so much.

The slide-show presented more photos from the night. Some were of her crew drinking and grinning. Others showed Shepard and Garrus in a booth, their faces close together as though sharing secrets, or Shepard and Garrus at the bar, his arm around her shoulders as she offered him a sip of her drink. At the end, there was a photo of Joker looking somehow both triumphant and disgusted at Shepard and Garrus kissing.

Saucy kiss,” Liara read, “Allers has a way with words.”

“Wait, Allers wrote this?” Shepard asked. She scrolled up to the top of the article and lo and behold, there was Allers's name below the headline.

Shepard didn't wait for Liara to reply, she was already out of her seat and heading for engineering. She took the lift straight down, and marched to Allers's office. Her kill list was up to three now: Joker, Tali, and Allers. Everyone else was one comment away from joining them. In the end, she'd probably only end up with Garrus left.

Then maybe she'd be able to talk to him.

Allers was in the middle of a news vid when Shepard stormed in. Shepard waited. With the written story of her and Garrus already out there, Shepard didn't want to make it more popular by bursting onto screen and berating Allers for it. The people loved a good unrequited love story, and Shepard wasn't going to give it to them.

“Shepard,” Allers greeted, as soon as the camera shut off.

“Why would you do this? Did you think I wouldn't find out?” Shepard asked, brandishing the article on her omnitool in her face.

“I didn't want to print the story, I'm not an idiot. I know better than to piss you off,” Allers said, checking herself in the mirror.

“I wish my crew knew the same,” Shepard muttered.

Allers reapplied a coat of lipgloss, “Someone asked me to print it. They even supplied the pictures. And the quote at the end about you and Vakarian before the Collector Base, that was off them too.”

Shepard felt a flash of anger. She glared up at the ceiling, “That's it, Joker, I'm requesting a new-”

“Whoa, whoa, whoa!” Joker's panicked voice came through the intercom. “This plan was genius so I can see why you'd think it was me, but I can't take credit. I didn't do this.”

“Wasn't Joker,” Allers agreed.

“Then who?” Shepard asked.

Allers fluffed up her hair and turned back to Shepard. She frowned, “I would tell you, really, but I can't. I have to keep this tip anonymous. If I go around blabbing about it, no one will ever tip me again,” She laughed, “Surely you understand?”

Shepard laughed too, “Of course I understand!”

She stepped closer to Allers, resting her hands on her shoulders. Still smiling, she said, “As long as you understand, that if you don't tell me, I will throw you off the ship and make sure you never work in journalism again.”

Allers gulped, “You wouldn't.”

“Joker,” Shepard called, still beaming like a lunatic, “We're making an unscheduled stop. Next planet we see, Miss Allers is leaving us.”

“Fine. Fine! I'll tell you.” Allers pouted.

“Forget that order, Joker,” Shepard said, wrapping a friendly arm around Allers's shoulders.

“Yes, Commander,” Joker said, a hint of amusement in his voice.

 

Chapter Text

Purgatory's spinning,” Shepard said, waving her hand for an excessive amount of time.

Garrus leaned back in his seat, bringing his face level with hers. He took a sip of his drink, he'd long since forgotten what was supposed to be in it, it just tasted like sugar. The two of them were sat in a corner booth in Purgatory, with an insane amount of empty glasses on their table. They weren't all theirs, but they did all belong to the Normandy crew. The rest of the crew were somewhere in the club, only Garrus and Shepard were sat here, in this quieter, darker zone.

Yeah, you should fix that,” Garrus said.

I will,” Shepard said, turning to pin him with an intense look. She dropped the seriousness only a moment later and grinned stupidly, “I'm Commander Shepard, I demand this- this club to stop moving before I throw up.”

Garrus laughed and took another sip. Shepard had finished her own drink, and no doubt someone would place a new one in her hand soon. They were supposed to be celebrating Grunt's birthday, but Shepard – as always – had managed to take the spotlight. Not that anyone was bothered, in fact, they were all glad to see her relax for a moment.

Shepard took a deep breath, and Garrus's eyes darted down to her cleavage. She was in that dress again. When was the last time he'd seen it? On shore leave on the Cerberus ship? Hadn't he nibbled her collarbones last time she'd worn that dress? Shepard turned to look at him, a smile on her face.

Garrus paused the footage on his visor. Shepard smiled out at him, cheeks rosy from the alcohol. His chest ached when he looked at the image. It'd been so long since he'd seen her this carefree, this relaxed, this happy. Spirits, she hadn't smiled like that in a long time. He was glad he had this image of her.

He rubbed a hand across his face. What was he doing? He was sat in his bunk, replaying footage from last night and feeling sorry for himself. He was glad he'd recorded the night, his visor remembered, even when his memory didn't. Usually, he only set his visor to record when he was out on the field, where he could relive a great shot or see where he went wrong with a bad call. But, for some reason, he'd set it to record last night. He wasn't using this to improve his aim, he was just using it to torture himself.

Garrus fast forwarded through the footage. He watched Tali arrive with shots, and Vega pull Shepard away for a dance. Garrus spoke to other people, hung out with Grunt, and danced with Liara, but always, always, his eyes went back to Shepard. He was so blatantly in love with her, he was surprised everyone in the club hadn't seen it.

Although, judging by the things people had said to him today, everyone did know. They knew now, at least. Garrus wasn't happy about it, and neither was Shepard. He'd seen her storming towards the flight deck more than once.

Garrus sighed and drank from his glass of water. He needed to check the medbay for more dextro-friendly paracetamol. Hopefully Tali hadn't stolen them all. His head was pounding, and focusing on his tiny visor footage wasn't helping his eyes any. The footage was still whizzing by, while Garrus spent time with other people – he wasn't bothered about remembering any of that.

He mostly just wanted to hear Shepard's voice again, see her look at him. She had barely spoken to him all day. It was the longest time he'd spent on the Normandy without talking to her. She was always poking her head into the Main Battery to see him, always hanging around the mess at meals and making sure everyone ate. Without her, he was starting to feel out of place. The Normandy was his home, but with Shepard not even looking at him, he was starting to feel like he was intruding. Maybe he was just an embarrassing memory that Shepard wanted to forget.

Garrus stopped fast-forwarding the footage, and let it play.

You know, Mr. Archangel,” Shepard said, her words were elongated on her tongue. She was holding a pink shot, the same colour as her lips. She was stood next to Garrus at the bar, angled towards him. “That girl has been staring at you for about an hour.”

Garrus followed the direction Shepard pointed in, and met eyes with a young-looking asari in a dark blue dress. Garrus turned back to Shepard, just in time to see her smile reappear.

Garrus paused and rewound the footage. Right as he turned back, he caught Shepard frowning in the asari's direction. Her smile reappeared a second later. It would have been almost imperceptible, had Garrus not recorded the footage. He wondered why Shepard was frowning at the girl, but he didn't let himself believe it was because she was jealous. He was hopeful, but not delusional. He pressed play again.

Garrus shook his head, “Not interested.”

Shepard hummed, “Oh? Is there someone more interesting?”

You could say that,” Garrus said. He looked at his drink to avoid Shepard's gaze. He could tell her right now, he could tell her he still loves her. It would be over in a few seconds.

But then, so would his relationship with her. She didn't love him any more, she'd not even mentioned their night before the Collector Base. They had been going to die, and they'd found comfort in each other, nothing else.

They weren't on a Cerberus ship any more, Shepard was an Alliance soldier, and she deserved a human. Not just any human, Garrus wouldn't accept that. But someone good for her, someone better than an ex C-Sec Officer with nothing to his name.

Shepard placed her hand on Garrus's arm. He looked at her and she raised an eyebrow, “Something I should know? You having girl trouble?”

Please, Shepard. The only girl trouble I have is choosing which one I take home this time,” Garrus winked.

Shepard shook her head, a smile playing on her lovely lips. She lifted her pink shot and clinked it against his glass. She downed it in one. After slamming down her shot, she shuddered and grimaced. Garrus laughed, and her shoulders shook as she laughed too. He wrapped an arm around her, and she picked up her second shot. She brought it to his mouth, with a smile on her face.

Garrus paused the footage. He couldn't bare to see the kiss, it had caused too much trouble already. He knew it was coming up, it would happen when they moved from the bar to the dance floor. He had no right to view it again. Shepard was obviously regretting it, she was embarrassed by it, and Garrus viewing it would just humiliate her even more. No matter how much he ached to kiss her again, he knew not to take advantage of their drunken state – more than he already had.

With another sigh, he climbed out of his bunk and headed to the Shuttle Bay. On the way, he fast-forwarded through the night's footage, shutting his eyes when he came to the moment of the kiss. He reopened his eyes and pressed play. The time in the corner told him this was the end of the night. Even if it hadn't, he'd be able to tell by the fact that the crew was out of Purgatory.

The perpetual sun of the Citadel hurt Garrus's eyes. He stumbled behind Shepard, barely squeezing past the closing Purgatory doors without falling. He glanced at the sway of Shepard's hips. As though sensing his gaze, Shepard turned to look at him. She was too drunk for such a complex move though, and ended up stumbling towards the rails. She caught herself, and slid down to sit on the floor. Garrus made a move towards her, only to fall and land on his knees. The two of them laughed, as the rest of the crew staggered past, jeering and laughing.

EDI was the only sober one, and Joker was wasted. He was stumbling this way and that, which left her chasing after him and steering him away from sharp objects and stairs. It wasn't easy, because Traynor was following her and begging her to say multi-syllable words and moaning obscenely every time EDI obliged. This left her so busy, EDI couldn't help anyone else.

Liara and Tali were clinging to each other, and bickering about who was the better crew member. Tali was insistent that the Shadow Broker was better, and Liara was insistent that Tali had been around the longest and was therefore, much better.

Vega was being followed by two girls, an asari and a human. The human woman had somehow lost her top, and she was holding a marker pen, begging Vega to sign her chest. The asari was equally as eager, but fully dressed. Vega looked alarmed, to say the least, and he didn't look back at the women once as he jogged away in a wavy line.

Cortez was walking behind the women, laughing so hard he was crying. He repeated the words “embrace eternity” and burst into laughter at his own joke.

Garrus moved to sit next to Shepard, “Made it.”

Look at the great Archangel now. Down on his knees,” Shepard said.

If I recall, you enjoy me on my knees...” Garrus said.

Shepard grinned and leaned her head against his shoulder. Garrus shuffled to wrap an arm around her. He pressed his mouth to her head, his mandibles catching in her hair. She let out a soft hum of pleasure, and shivered at the feeling.

I miss this,” Shepard said.

Miss what?” Garrus asked.

Shepard pulled away and turned to look at him. She brought her face unnecessarily close to Garrus's, and pointed between the two of them, “This.”

What?” Garrus asked.

“This!” Shepard said, stretching the word.

“What?” Garrus asked in the exact same tone.

Shepard rolled her eyes and sat back on her heels, “You're an idiot, Vakarian.”

“I'm smarter than you, Shepard.”

Pssh,” Shepard waved her hand dismissively. She lowered herself to the floor and stretched out her long legs. Her skin looked beautifully soft in the sunlight, and Garrus's eyes lingered on the hem of her dress. She rested her head in his lap and looked up at him.

Whoa, Shepard, you've got to buy me a drink first,” Garrus said.

Shepard laughed and shook her head slightly. She shut her eyes, but the smile stayed on her lips. Garrus watched her lie there, she looked so happy. She didn't look like a Commander in a war, she looked like any normal civilian, enjoying the warmth of the sunlight on the floor outside Purgatory.

Garrus glanced up when EDI came to stand in front of him.

She looked down at Shepard with barely concealed disapproval, “I do not think this is an appropriate place to sleep.”

“Shhhhhh,” Garrus whispered, brushing his fingers through Shepard's hair, “Shepard's sleeping.”

She would get better quality sleep on the Normandy,” EDI said.

I... I am Commander Shepard, I sleep where I want,” Shepard said. Still, she sat up. She managed to support herself for a whole three seconds, before collapsing into Garrus's side.

The saviour of the galaxy does not sleep on the dirty floor outside a club,” EDI scolded.

I guess,” Shepard pouted. She allowed EDI to help her to her feet, and Garrus climbed up too. Shepard tucked her hand in his as they walked towards the Normandy. He glanced down, and she looked at him, a blush coloured her cheeks when he squeezed her hand.

“Hey Scars!” Vega's voice startled Garrus enough for him to stop the footage.

The image of Shepard disappeared, leaving Garrus feeling hollow. He couldn't remember holding her hand last night, but the footage didn't lie. He clenched his hand gently, imaging her tiny, too-many-fingered hand in his. He ached for something so simple, just to touch her again would be too much. And what had she meant when she'd said she missed this? Could she have meant them? Had she missed their relationship?

“Vega to Scars, wake up man!” Vega bounded over to Garrus and waved a hand in his face, which was quite a feat given that Garrus was about a foot taller than him.

“What do you want?” Garrus asked, a little too harshly.

“Wow, someone woke up on the wrong side of his bunk. What's up with you?” Vega asked. He moved to lean against the railing in the Shuttle Bay, and Garrus followed him.

“Nothing,” Garrus said, swiping a hand over his face. He reached up and flicked a switch on the side of his visor to lock away the footage from last night. He couldn't risk Shepard popping up when he was out in the open.

“Right, great, listen,” Vega said. Garrus sighed, he could predict what this conversation was going to be about. Vega cleared his throat, “Lola's a great girl, the best. She deserves to be treated right, and I won't stand idly by while she's upset.”

“Jimmy-”

“I know it's nothing to do with me,” Vega interrupted Garrus, “But we all want to protect her. And if you keep treating her this way, I'll have to kick your ass.”

Garrus laughed at that, “Jimmy, Jimmy, oh Jimmy, I could rip your fleshy arms from your body without even breaking a sweat.”

“I could take you.”

“You can't even beat me when we spar,” Garrus laughed.

Vega pushed himself away from the railing. For a second, Garrus thought he was going to challenge him to a sparring match right now, winner takes Shepard. Instead, he just folded his arms across his chest and stared at Garrus in a vaguely threatening way. Well, it would have been more threatening if he didn't have to look up to do it, and if Garrus didn't know Vega this well.

“Look, Lola doesn't need protecting, she can kick your ass if she wants, but I'm going to do it too. I won't let you treat her like this, and I doubt the rest of the crew will either. She's not just some drunk chick in Purgatory, she's the Commander,” Vega said, as though Garrus didn't know all of this himself.

“Vega, I know!” Garrus said, before Vega could continue his rant. Garrus's shoulders slumped, he was tired of this conversation, tired of this day, begging for Shepard to look at him just once. “I...”

“You what?” Vega demanded.

Garrus glanced around the Shuttle Bay. It was empty apart from himself and Vega, everyone else was probably eating in the mess hall. He briefly wondered if Shepard was there, or if she couldn't stomach food yet. She was never good with eating during a hangover. Garrus shook himself out of his memories and grabbed Vega's shoulders. For a split second, Vega looked scared.

Garrus sighed, “I love her.”

Vega opened his mouth, fury ready to leak out at Garrus's words, but then he realised what he'd said. He shut his mouth and his tensed muscles relaxed. He opened his mouth again, “Oh.”

“Yeah.”

“And she...”

“Doesn't love me, no,” Garrus said. It was physically painful to say it out loud, like it made it come true. He'd never thought of Shepard as his ex, never. She was always a future, always a potential. But he doubted that would be true by the end of the day. Perhaps today, she would finally become the past, his ex. The thought made his chest cave in.

“Oh,” Vega said again.

“Yeah.”

“Shit, I'm sorry. I thought...” Vega shook his head, “Well, she looked kinda...” He paused again, “I thought she wanted...” He stopped himself, and sighed, “Shit, I'm sorry.”

Garrus shrugged his shoulders. Whatever Vega had thought, he didn't want to know. Garrus knew Shepard didn't love him any more, and only copious amounts of alcohol could convince her to touch him again. He forced a smile, mandibles flaring out stupidly.

“You still think you can beat me?” He asked.

Vega glanced at the empty space in the Shuttle Bay, “One hundred credits.”

“Double it and then we have a bet.”

“You're on, Scars,” Vega said.

 

Chapter Text

“Tali'Zorah, you are dead!” Shepard shouted, storming into the lounge.

Tali looked up lazily, unaffected by Shepard's shouting. She was stretched across one of the couches in the lounge, a plate of dextro-chips in her lap, and a large glass of water on the table. Behind the mask, Shepard imagined she looked quite peaceful.

“Shepard, how are you?” Tali asked, innocently.

“How am I?” Shepard asked. “Let's see, there's a galaxy wide war on, I'm hungover to hell, my pilot is a manipulative dick-”

“Hey!” Joker interrupted over the intercom.

“-who is still spying on me. Everybody on this damn ship seems to have some opinion on my love life. I drunkenly kissed my best friend and now he never wants to see me again. And, oh yeah! Someone on this ship sold a picture of me to a journalist.”

Tali let out a long whistle, “Sounds like you're having a bad day.”

“Oh give it up, Allers sold you out,” Shepard snapped. She flopped onto an armchair and shut her eyes. She needed to relax, but she couldn't do that while her crew was so intent on pissing her off.

“I knew I should've bought the Shepard insurance, but no I didn't want to pay the extra fifty credits to keep my identity hidden,” Tali muttered. She swung her legs over the edge of the couch and sat up.

“Why'd you do it?” Shepard asked. She glanced at the bar at the end of the lounge. The long bottles of blue and pink and orange liquids looked suddenly appealing. There was that old saying, “hair of the dog”. Maybe a few more drinks would make her hangover go away. It would certainly make dealing with her overly enthusiastic crew much easier.

Shepard shook her head, this was the start of alcoholism and she couldn't add that to her already long list of problems.

“I thought if you saw the kiss, you'd realise how in love you are,” Tali said.

“Tali that's...” Shepard struggled for something to say. She felt like she was constantly repeating herself, having the same conversation over and over with different people, “That's inappropriate.”

“I don't get it,” Tali said. She tilted her head in a way that said she was looking at Shepard condescendingly, “I know you love him, why not just admit it?”

“Tali-”

“Shepard, I know you love him. I've never seen two people more in love! You're more in love than Linn'Moman and Alcia Adatus on Fleet and Flotilla!” Tali said, her voice turning shrill as she argued.

Shepard sank down in her chair. She wanted to melt into it's fabric and disappear, just for a few hours. God, why was her crew everywhere! Why couldn't she get a single moment of peace!

“It doesn't matter if I love him!” Shepard said, louder than she meant to .

“So you do love him?” Tali asked, as though she had finally gotten a prisoner to confess to his crimes.

“Of course, I love him!” Shepard said. She lowered her voice and dropped her face into her hands, “I love him so much. He's my best friend, and I want to spend every moment with him, but...”

“But?” Tali prompted.

Shepard lifted her head and looked at Tali, “But he doesn't love me.”

“Keelah, you're both stupid,” Tali muttered.

Before Shepard could be offended, the intercom buzzed. Tali and Shepard looked up. Shepard braced herself for some comment from Joker about how she'd finally confessed her feelings, but none came. Instead, EDI's voice buzzed out.

“Commander, ETA twenty minutes. Who would you like to join you on this mission?”

“Tali and Ga-” Shepard caught herself.

She'd been going to say Garrus. It had come out out of habit, she took him on every mission. She trusted him to watch her six, and damn he was a good shot. She couldn't take him this time though. Her feelings would compromise the mission. She wouldn't be able to communicate with him over the comms without remembering his voice in her ear and his breath on her neck. She had to do this mission without him.

Shepard was aware that EDI was still waiting for an answer, and Tali was watching her – likely with a smirk on her face. Shepard cleared her throat, “Tali and Vega.”

Tali and Shepard stood up and left the lounge. They called the lift, and waited for it to arrive. Once it did, they stepped inside and jabbed the button for the Shuttle Bay, they needed to suit up and grab their weapons, and hopefully they could all keep quiet until they were on Ascolla. Shepard didn't hold much hope though, especially when Tali turned to face her.

“Why do you think he doesn't love you?” Tali asked.

Shepard focused on the movement of the lift instead of looking at Tali, “He found some turian woman on Palaven, she's better suited to him than me anyway.”

“What! He didn't find some turian woman, Shepard, that's insane.”

“How do you know?” Shepard asked. Part of her wanted Tali to admit Shepard was right, but another part wanted Tali to say Garrus loved Shepard. She wanted this to work out, but she couldn't risk admitting that to anyone, lest they go to Garrus and push him even further away.

“Because you're Commander freaking Shepard! No girl will ever be good enough after you!” Tali said, “Regardless of species, no woman will ever be funnier, kinder, purer, stronger than you! You ruined women for him! You'd ruin women for anyone.”

“That's not true,” Shepard said.

“Keelah! How can you be the galaxy's only hope and such a Bosh'tet at the same time!” Tali shouted, just as the doors to the lift opened.

Shepard was greeted by the sight of her entire crew – excluding Joker and EDI – gathered in the Shuttle Bay. Garrus was laughing about something Liara was saying, and Vega was looking awfully put out. Instantly, Shepard knew he'd been sparring with Garrus again, and he'd lost again. Garrus's eyes landed on Shepard, and his laughter dried up.

Everyone turned to look at Shepard and Tali, and Shepard suddenly wanted to run away. She forced herself to walk to her crew, and reminded herself that they weren't the enemy here.

“Commander, you missed Vega falling on his arse,” Traynor said.

“Scars cheated,” Vega said.

“I don't think you understand the rules,” Liara said.

“I could still take you, Doc,” Vega said.

“Unlikely,” Liara said.

“I could beat you all!” Vega said, which encouraged a round of laughter from the crew. Even Shepard found herself laughing. She loved her crew, when they weren't sticking their noses where they didn't belong. Vega pointed at Shepard, “Think that's funny, Lola? I can beat you with my hands tied behind my back.”

“She's the saviour of the galaxy, you idiot, you can't beat her,” Cortez said.

“You're just begging to have your ass kicked,” Garrus chuckled. Shepard beamed at the compliment.

“Are you sure you want to embarrass yourself even more?” Shepard asked Vega.

“Bring it, Lola.”

Shepard smiled at Vega. She needed a fight, and she'd just gotten one. Vega was going to regret ever mentioning Garrus to her. She had a hangover and one hell of a bad day to take out on Vega, he had no idea what he was getting himself into. Shepard stepped into the ring that her crew had formed.

She brought up her fists, and Vega did the same. They'd fought before, or danced as Vega called it, and back then Shepard had beaten him too. Vega was too predictable, he readied his whole body before a swing and Shepard could see him coming a mile off. She swung first, and he dodged. He swung, and she dodged. It went like this for a few seconds, her crew watching silently.

Then Shepard dodged Vega's fist and jammed hers into his face. He stumbled backwards and a woop went through the crowd. Shepard grinned at Vega. He shook himself and came back at her. He kicked, she dodged. She swung, he ducked. They danced around each other for a while, before Shepard sent her fist into his stomach and then into his face. He coughed and swung up catching her chin. She staggered backwards, and her crew gasped. They kept fighting, Shepard getting more hits in than Vega.

Suddenly, he grabbed her wrists and yanked her across the floor. As she passed him, he whispered, “Now I know why you always take him on missions.”

He said it so quietly, Shepard wasn't sure she'd heard correctly. She narrowed her eyes, and swung for him. He blocked her and hissed, “I didn't know you had a thing for scars.”

Shepard yanked her fist back, anger filling her chest. She swung again, not waiting for a chance to aim properly. She missed and he caught her in her stomach. He leaned down quickly, “Does he call you Commander in bed?”

“You'll pay for that,” Shepard spat.

Her fist caught his temple, and he stumbled. She swung again, catching his mouth. He blocked her third punch, and she kicked out without hesitation. He was ready for her, he grabbed her ankle and pulled until she landed with a thud on the floor. Everyone froze, even Vega was taken by surprise.

Shepard had lost, she'd been taken down by Vega. The two of them stared at each other for a long moment, no one moved, no one even breathed loudly.

Vega shoved his fist into the air, “DID YOU SEE THAT!”

The crew unfroze and began to cheer. Vega pumped his fist and chanted about how he'd beaten the Commander. Shepard stood up, and abruptly the cheers stopped. She brandished her finger at Vega, but all the anger left her quickly. He'd used her weakness against her, he'd fought well.

She smiled, “Suit up, Vega.”

“Uh, yes, Commander,” Vega said. He glanced around the crew as if to ask if he should be worried.

The rest of the crew began to file out of the Shuttle Bay, while Tali and Vega went to the weapons locker to grab their guns. Shepard watched her crew disappear. Garrus glanced back at her once before stepping into the lift, his mandibles twitched into a small smile just as the doors closed. Shepard smiled, perhaps things were beginning to get back to normal.

* * *

“I don't get it, you didn't think your relationship was inappropriate last year,” Tali said.

Shepard ducked behind a desk just in time to feel a bullet whiz over her head. She ejected the thermal clip from her gun, and peered over the top of the desk. A Cerberus trooper shot at her, and she ducked down again, the bullet hit the desk. To her left, she could see Vega aiming his gun from behind an office chair. She couldn't see Tali anywhere, but she could hear her voice over the comms.

“What makes this year different from last year?” Tali asked, her voice turning to static briefly as she fired her gun.

“We were going to die last year,” Shepard said.

She could hardly hear herself over the barrage of gunfire coming her way. Cerberus had known they were coming. As soon as the three of them had reached the very end of the research lab, Cerberus had practically materialised out of the cracks in the walls and began attacking. Someone had found out they were on their way, but Shepard couldn't worry about that now, she could only worry about getting her team out of this research lab unharmed. She watched Vega duck behind his office chair, and eject his thermal clip.

“We're going to die this year!” Tali said over the comms, “And every year! You endanger your life a lot.”

“Vega, watch your flank!” Shepard shouted.

“On it, Commander,” He called back, using the comms for their proper purpose. She watched him shoot the trooper that had tried to flank him. She peeked over the desk and fired a round into the trooper that had shot at her before. He landed on the floor, the thump hidden by the sound of gunfire.

“What's changed? Why won't you let yourself be happy?” Tali asked.

“Really not the time, Tali,” Shepard said. She took down another two troopers, but more took their places. It seemed with every one trooper she killed, another two spawned to replace them.

“Vega, you think Shepard should be with Garrus, don't you?” Tali asked.

“I don't really want to anger Lola while she's holding a gun,” Vega said.

“Rightfully so,” Shepard said.

She leaned out of cover, surveying the enemy as she sent out a round of gunfire. She spotted an exit. If they could make it out of this office and into the next one through the window separating them, they'd have a clear enough path to the exit. They weren't abandoning the mission, she was sure Tali could rig up an explosion as they were leaving.

“We're gonna make a run out of this office, on my word,” Shepard said.

“Affirmative,” Tali said.

“Received,” Vega said.

Shepard darted out from her desk, and behind another one closer to the window. She shot out the glass, sending it flying in all directions. She was still three desks away from the window, but she'd make it, and hopefully take out a few Cerberus troopers as she did.

“We just want you to be happy,” Tali said, “Right, James?”

“Yeah, Commander,” Vega paused to send a grenade into a group of enemies, “Scars came to talk to me today actually, he said, well, uh, I don't know if I should say.”

“Spit it out,” Tali said.

Shepard was only half listening as Tali and Vega began to bicker over the comms. She'd spotted movement in the office she was supposed to be heading to. It could have been nothing, a civilian maybe. Or it could have been a trooper, she couldn't tell. It had only been a flash of movement caught in the corner of her eye.

There was no use waiting to find out who it was. She burst out from behind cover, sending a wave of covering fire as she did so. Behind her, she heard Vega cover her too. He was still bickering with Tali though, and Shepard was letting their words drone into noise. The mission was more important than whatever they had to say about Shepard's love life.

Shepard was a desk away from the window now. She leapt up onto the desk, exposing herself to every enemy in the room, before vaulting into the new office. She stumbled slightly as she landed. From behind a desk across the room, a Cerberus sniper appeared. Shepard had a split second to react before a bullet hit her. She shouted in pain as heat ripped through her.

Everything slowed down, her mind took on a clinical detachment. The bullet had hit just below her collar bone. Incendiary ammo? Or toxic rounds? Sniped at close range, it had broken right through her shields and armour. Her right arm was numb, her chest was on fire. Tali and Vega were still in the previous office. The sniper was reloading, out of cover, confident in his hit.

Shepard lifted her gun and took down the sniper. She pressed her hand to her chest and sank down to the floor.

“He said he likes her, okay?” Vega snapped over the comm, “He still loves her!”

Everything was going fuzzy, the world was pulsing. Shepard shut her eyes, blood dripped onto the linoleum floor. Tali's voice sounded different over the comm, something like panic or excitement in her tone.

Shepard pressed her comm button, “Joker, we need emergency pick up.”

“Commander?” Vega asked, worry tainting his voice.

She blacked out.