A laugh escapes her lips when Shepard sees the room Garrus reserved for them. He has a remarkable eye for a dramatic prospect: Outside the specially tinted window, blue Leyya, the smaller of the binary pair, dances around the white Raheel. The barycenter, the dark energy that originally pulled the two stars into orbit, was devoured by the larger one eons ago.
Shepard can still feel the latent tingle of power along her spine. No wonder all the asari want to vacation here.
Garrus halts at the threshold of the orange and gold carpet, overnight bag in hand. "Is ... Is something funny?"
"No." Shepard spins on her heel, her red leather jacket flying away from her body, and falls backward into the softest bed she's ever touched. "I'm just happy."
And she is for that moment.
After going through the motions, doing everything that is necessary to keep the endlessly spinning plates in her life balanced and heading in the right direction, it feels like she missed one. More people are safe -- but not all of them. Tali's father is alive -- but it doesn't seem to have fixed any of the Zorah family problems. She thought life would feel better if things were changed, but instead, she only has different things to worry about.
And then her turian swoops in, insisting that she needs a break.
If given the choice between worrying problems like a bone or being in a opulent hotel room with her garishly dressed husband, Garrus wins.
She lifts an eyebrow. "Tell me again how you're affording this."
"I can't take my girl somewhere fancy?" Garrus tosses his bag on a chair.
"Not on what I'm paying you."
He snorts. "Well, this is all courtesy of Vega and Cortez."
Shepard raises the other brow.
"They gave me the idea. You know Vega keeps a TV in the cargo bay to catch the games."
Garrus coughs into his hand, and begins talking again in a slightly lower register, clearly trying to imitate someone else. "Valdez has the ball. He passes to Huang. Passes to Masterson. Passes back to Huang. He's coming up the middle." He paces in front of the window. "But wait! Here comes T'Ryl. Can she stop him? they're at the 40 meter line. The 30. The 20. He shoots." Garrus raises his arms in a giant V. "GOOOOOOOOOOOOOAAAAAAAL!"
Garrus swallows, and coughs again. "Ta da!"
"What was that?"
"The 2186 Dolphins vs. Spolongi game. Somehow, I always end up in the cargo bay when that one is on. I sort of annoyed Cortez and Vega by telling them what would happen before it would happen. They asked me to 'put my money where my mouth is.' I ... ah ... walked away with all of their credits, of course. And then I realized how many of these sporting events I remembered and I'm always short on cash when I come back ..." he suddenly looks away from her, staring out the window. "Umm... Anyway, I started betting on varren. I'll get into biotiball later. It's not really betting of course," -- it's kind of cheating, he means -- "but ... well ... it's for a good cause."
"The 'Take Shepard on a Wildly Improbable Vacation' fund?"
"Exactly." He looks so proud of himself.
"I still can't figure out why you didn't have a harem of women chasing after you."
"Low pay, dangerous job, bad jokes, I lived on the Citadel ..."
"What's wrong with the Citadel?"
"You must have noticed that there's hardly any female turians there." He waves a mandible. "The Hierarchy is a meritocracy in assigning jobs, but if two candidates are equal, females get preference for the planets and males get preference for space stations and non-colony work. Can't have children growing up barefaced."
"Doesn't that create other problems?"
"Well, yes. My parents spent most of their lives lightyears apart." He leans back against the window frame. "I guess I figured if I wasn't going to be able to live with a woman, there wasn't much point to finding one. There were always tourists and diplomats and old acquaintances on layovers."
Madelaine crawls to the edge of the bed. "Not much point in finding a someone if you have to leave them behind in port all the time. Some people make it work, but I never could." She slides off the jacket, revealing the thin tank top beneath, and tosses it on the floor. "Sometimes I found the asari establishment ... sometimes I picked up a local in a bar."
"You do carry a lot of stress..."
"Loads." She smiles at him. "But I loosen up when you're around."
"I don't know... " He steps toward her and runs a gloved hand over her shoulder. "I've noticed some areas get tighter."
Her smile changes to a smirk. "I may require additional incentives to fully relax."
"Hmmm... what do I have to offer?" Garrus's knee hits the bed in front of her as he draws her up for a kiss. His other hand runs down her waist, catching her thigh and pulling it over his hip so he can begin unlatching the buckles of her knife sheath.
"Something without gloves," she says as the knife hits the bed and she captures his hand.
"I don't need my hands to manage you."
She can feel his plates shifting against her thigh, stretching his clothes, and drops the gloves so that she can work on freeing him. "You're right. You only need a word."
He strips off her tank top and bra with one pull. "My mouth may be busy with other things." He nibbles along her collar bone and then begins tracing patterns over her breasts with his tongue.
Madelaine loses herself to squeaks and sighs as they struggle out of the last of their clothes. His talons are like needles in her back, keeping her on edge as he presses her backward into the bed.
Her fingers caress the inside of his carapace, working their way up and down his neck, ever closer to his fringe. Her other hand slides down to check the slick fluid and gap in his plates over his groin. "No words for me?" she asks playfully.
His voice is husky as he whispers, "There are no words for you."
"Humans say that words are mightier than swords," she teases.
"Turians actually prefer spears. They're longer, more versitile, and can slip into the chinks between armor."
She laughs as she pulls him down against her. "I love you, Garrus. Always and forever."
He emits a frustrated trilling sound as his plates press her thighs farther apart. He's warm and slick against her belly. "Madelaine... I ..." His voice tumbles over the syllables of her name like the rumble of a reactor core.
"That's the right word." Her fingers find his lightly ridged shaft and stroke along the satiny length.
He groans and tangles his fingers in her hair. "It is. Though you can't hear why."
"Oh?" she asks as he runs his tip between her legs, to her center.
"Yes. It says ...." he leans down to her ear, "there will never be anyone else." He pushes into her, making her gasp as the galaxy collapses to the two of them in a cocoon of sheets where nothing else matters.
Shepard presses her cheek into Garrus's smooth back, feeling guilty. People like to say that it's better to have loved and lost, but what happens when you can't accept the loss?
It doesn't matter. It's too late to change course. She couldn't stay away from him, and this is the price she will pay.
And so will he.
"I love you, Garrus Vakarian," she murmurs as a tear leaks from her eye. "I'm sorry."
Garrus stretches a leg and rolls over slowly. "Didju say something?" he asks sleepily.
"Yes." She surreptitiously wipes her eye on a corner of the pillow. "I love you."
His eyes shine as he wraps an arm around her, pulling her closer, and presses his forehead into hers. "That's a nice way to wake up."
"Well, you did make me promise not to check my omni-tool. The only thing to do when I wake up for duty at midnight is think."
"Mmmm..." He runs a talon over her temple and down her jaw. "Too much thinking." He grabs the sheets and rolls them off the bed in a tangle of pillows.
The next time Shepard wakes, there's a knock at the door. A turian ankle flashes by her field of vision, and then a butt like two folded beetle wings disappears around the corner. She hears the door open.
The scents of coffee and kava waft in. Hope room service was prepared for full frontal turian.
She struggles to right herself in a nest of pillows as the door closes. "You really don't care who sees you naked, do you?"
Garrus puts the pistol he was holding behind his back on the cart as he wheels it into the room. "It's not my fault humans are prudes."
She stands up and wraps herself in the comforter. Damn, it's hot. "Exhibitionist."
He shrugs a shoulder and puts silverware on the little dining table.
Shepard frowns. "That's all you've got?"
"I don't banter without my morning kava or a gunfight." He tilts his head as a trail of sweat snakes down her neck. "You look sticky."
She smirks at him and drops the covers. "I think that's your fault," she says as she walks past him, slapping him on the butt before entering the bathroom to take care of a few things like a quick cold shower and a search for complimentary robes.
Food is waiting when Shepard comes back wearing white terry cloth.
Garrus's mandibles pull in with disappointment. "I hoped you might be less modest."
"Humans don't have natural closures. That makes life without a piece of clothing between me and what I'm sitting on a little disgusting." She shrugs, letting the robe fall off her shoulder. "Which one's my side?"
He points to the dish with more accompanying silverware and she sits down as he lifts the covers. The meals are identical: eggs and sausage.
She looks up at him in surprise. "Are you sure one of us isn't about to be poisoned?"
He scuffs his feet. "I know we can't actually share food, but I liked the idea of getting something similar for once."
Another smile twitches at the corner of her mouth. "You should sit down and eat before our breakfast gets cold."
Garrus eagerly pulls out a chair and begins spooning up scrambled eggs.
Shepard cuts up the delicious sausage in front of her. "This is all wonderful, but I wish we weren't waiting on the quarians to sort themselves out. I worry over what they'll do."
"Have a trial," Garrus suggests. "It's what they did every other time. The only difference this time is that they have the right person."
"That sounds good, but every other time I turn my back on them to work on something else, they shoot me in it."
"They all still deferred to Shala'Raan in private. I can't say I know quarian politics, but she seems to be the moderate one."
Shepard snorts. "Shala'Raan looks good, but I don't trust her. If I have to pick any of them to trust, I pick Zaal'Koris." She dips a bit of meat into maple syrup.
Garrus drops his spoon in surprise. "He's the one that set up Tali to be cast out in the first place!"
"I know," says Shepard calmly. "I didn't say I liked him: He let his feud with her father get out of hand. I would just trust him more than I trust Raan."
"Raan is so honorable that she recused herself from Tali's case." Garrus pulls his mandibles tight and still in a turian frown. "Why would you doubt her?"
"Because of Zaal'Koris and Han'Gerrel, and later because of the war."
"Alright, then, what am I missing?"
"Raan was right to recuse herself, but Han'Gerrel and Zaal'Koris should also both have stepped down."
"Agreed." Garrus nods. "Han'Gerrel claimed to be Rael'Zorah's oldest friend. He shouldn't be impartial about Tali. Zaal'Koris was his political rival and wouldn't be impartial either." Garrus picks up a sausage. "I hate to say it, but the only impartial one was Daro'Xen." He gestures with the bit of meat. "But I don't see how any of that relates to Shala'Raan."
"Shala'Raan should have advocated for the other two to remove themselves or told me to do it on Tali's behalf when she gave me the overview of the situation ... but she didn't."
"Alright, she could have done more..."
"So then there's the second or 202nd Geth-Quarian War." Shepard snags the salt and pepper shakers. "On one hand we have the war hawks with Han'Gerrel." She sets the salt down. "On the other hand, we have the doves lead by Zaal'Koris." She sets down the pepper. "Neither of those two are going to change. Daro'Xen is a hawk because win or lose, she'll get more data for her experiments." Shepard grabs a packet of sugar substitute and puts it next to the salt. "Tali is a dove because of her experiences with Legion." She adds a sugar packet but doesn't put it as close to the pepper. "Tali and Koris aren't going to have a strong alliance because of the personal bad blood, but it could hold a two to two tie." Shepard puts a knife in the middle. "The deciding vote is Shala'Raan. When she moves to support the war, even tacitly, she pulls Tali farther in that direction by making it seem like she's outnumbered. Tali always claims she went along with the war because she wanted the Admiralty Board to look united. So either Shala'Raan didn't listen to Tali, didn't trust Tali, or just didn't care about the possibility of peace. Tali gets discouraged by having not only a superior but someone who is almost family doubt her, and she jumps ship to the hawks."
"Once he's outvoted four to one, he doesn't have any choice but to fulfill his role as commander of the civilian fleet by doing his best to prepare them for war." Shepard shrugs. "When he got shot down, he begged us to save his crew rather than himself." She cleans up the seasonings in front of her. "It was the wrong call, but it was consistent. He can be petty, but he ultimately cares more about the quarian people than he does about himself. Shala'Raan doesn't have strong convictions about anything." She waves the knife back and forth like a pendulum. "I'd rather pick the flawed guy who sincerely cares about the people he's leading. You can work with a leader who actually gives a damn because he'll care about getting it right. If Tali couldn't make Shala'Raan believe in the possibility of peace, then I can't trust her with anything important." Shepard feels tired all of a sudden. "I shouldn't have gotten started on politics."
"You know me, Shepard: It's hard to stop working."
"Yes." She casts around for a different topic. "What about your family?"
"What about us?" he rub his scaled foot along her calf.
"No..." she says, laughing. "What about your family on Palaven?"
"Not much to say until I see them again." He sprinkles more salt on the eggs. "I wish you could meet them."
"I wish I could have met them, too. If they could leave Palaven and meet us somewhere in our journey..."
Garrus picks at his food. "They can't."
Shepard looks at him attentively, hoping that, at last, he might confide in her and she won't have to keep pretending not to know his troubles. "Oh?"
Garrus focuses on his plate. "No."
The clink of silverware is the only sound for a few moments as Shepard disappointedly focuses on her food.
You don't hear it, do you?" Garrus asks at last.
"No, you don't. I've told you about my family a dozen times, but mostly with tones. Words are so much harder." He takes a deep breath. "My mom is dying. After leaving her alone for all of those years, at least Dad's not abandoning her now. We're all trying to save her -- that's where all my money goes -- but nothing ever works. Solana is furious at me for not coming home this time."
"Is there anything I can do?"
He chuckles bleakly, dabbing up a gooey green sauce with his eggs. "I've had Mordin and an entire hospital of specialists working on it for ... well ... years on and off. No one can fix this." His hand moves agitatedly over his plate. "I can never believe she's gone. She is home. Was home. Maybe it's better she never had to see everything she sacrificed for destroyed."
"Garrus, you made it through the war and so did your father and sister. I'm sure that's everything that mattered to her."
"Yes, but ... no." Garrus sighs. "My mom's an architect. Everything she ever built for future generations of turians is gone. I know it's not turian to want people to remember one person, but ... well maybe we weren't ever a conventional family. Dad's a superstar who gets to be celebrated across Citadel space, but no one will remember him in a two hundred years. Almost no one knows my mom's name, but she had a legacy that could have lasted for thousands of years if her houses weren't all dust at the end of the war."
"I'm ... I'm sorry."
"It's not your fault, Shepard."
"No. It's what humans say when people die."
"Oh. Yeah." He sighs. "She would have liked you." He widens his mandibles. "Probably best you never met Solana."
"She wouldn't?" Shepard sips at her coffee.
"No, I can see the two of you exchanging every embarrassing story of my life."
"No way, big guy. I'm your wife. I'm contractually obligated to keep half of the embarrassing stories just between us."
"Seriously, Shepard?" He lifts a browplate at her.
"Well, I was going to say I needed to have blackmail material easy to hand, but, yeah, seriously. Humans usually vow to 'love, honor, and cherish' and I'm not doing a very good job of that if I make other people think you can't walk and shoot straight at the same time." She frowns. "Unless we need people to underestimate you, but that's special tactical circumstances." She raises an eyebrow at him again. "What about the Great Detective?"
"I'm not sure. You'd either love each other or hate each other. I was always planning to buy a whole bucket of fried lizard legs for Solana and I to eat while we watched the two of you go a few rounds to figure it out."
"Oho! Very supportive." Shepard says sarcastically.
"Daughter-in-law is a different position than only son." Garrus waves a mandible. "You're not going to be a good turian girl and convince me to sit down at my desk and work my way up the Hierarchy the conventional way."
Shepard chuckles. "Hell no. It didn't suit you."
"But what you did encourage me to do actually worked out better than anything he probably wanted. You're a potential ally whose methods he might really dislike. So you'd have to figure out your own relationship with him." Garrus begins chopping at bits of egg with the edge of his spoon. "I've been avoiding talking to your mother. After everything... I mean ... I don't even know where to begin with her."
"I don't either." Shepard looks down at her plate and finds that she'd subconsciously started mirroring her mate and leaving tattered eggs in her wake. "She didn't come to visit me in the brig. I don't understand why she didn't make time for me then." Talking begins to scratch at her throat. Shepard pushes the pain away and focuses on the logistics. "I ... I think she'd be fine with you if she had a little time to think it over. She never hated all turians or anything like that." Shepard chews on her lip. "I don't know what she'd make of you as a person because I don't know what she thought of me at the end. I ran off with a terrorist organization and then I broke out of jail to save the galaxy. That's not Systems Alliance code. And you're more of a rebel than I am. But she doesn't know turians very well so she might not notice." Shepard shrugs.
"I ... could I meet her? Now, I mean? We might have the time."
"I'm not sure." The truth is, despite her curiosity about Garrus's family, she doesn't want to see her own.
"It would be helpful. Maybe if I talked to her once, it would be easier to do it later. She sends me messages about wanting to see me, and I don't know what to say..."
"Alright!" Shepard closes her eyes in resignation. "I'll see if I can get her to meet us on the Citadel."
Sensing he's upset her, Garrus reaches out a hand to stroke hers. "If you don't want to..." He's trying to be comforting, but she can hear the disappointment in his voice.
"You're right, Garrus. It's something I should do. I owe it to you both. So I'll try. I can't promise she'll be able to meet with us, but I'll try."
She squeezes his hand. "It's alright, Garrus. Really." And maybe it will be. It's easy to ask about his father since the two of them patched things up. The last memories Shepard has of her mother is a sense of betrayal behind a polite facade. Maybe doing this together will make things better.
She scoops up some eggs, trying to focus on something else as the pain and sadness churn inside her. "The food is good."
"It's hard to be wrong about sausage and eggs."
"You're tempting me to be picky."
"Everyone knows that you eat cardboard if cheese gets stuck to it."
"Hey, cheese is the best part of everything ... even really damp cardboard." She looks across at his plate and spears a stray chunk of meat with a fork. "So, what is this made of?" She sniffs at it.
At his warning, she winks at him and pops it into her mouth. It's a little tough, slightly greasy, and surprisingly sweet. "I'm pretty sure I've eaten more digestive tablets in the past day than I need, big guy. One bite won't kill." She registers the intense look he's giving her and smirks at him in return. Then she cuts another piece of her own sausage, extending the fork to him. "Aren't you curious?"
He leans forward. "Dangerous games you play." He slides the meat off the fork with his mouthplates.
"When I look at this table, I think it's the game you asked for." And right now, it could make for a welcome distraction.
He extends a hand to cup her cheek. "That's why you shouldn't play it."
"I like beating people at their own games." She leans into the caress. "I might even be able to live with a tie."
Garrus leans in to give her gentle kiss. When Shepard steps out of her seat to make it easier, he wraps an arm around her waist and pulls her into his lap. "I will have to add this to the list of things you can't resist."
"It's a very short list that includes the picture of a very smug turian." Her sore thighs ache as she settles against his plates. There will be time to take care of that later. She kisses him again, tangling their tongues and anticipating the moment when Garrus will spring free of his plates.
A sharp whistle practically makes Shepard jump out of her skin as the omni-tool implant in her arm starts glowing red: an emergency. Damn it. "Give me a minute while I figure out how many people we need to kill to get some privacy."
Garrus's voice is strained as he holds very still. "I understand."
"What is it?" she snaps.
In an offended tone of voice, her XO says, "I thought you would want to know that the quarians arrested Tali'Zorah last night and are holding her over for trial."
"Goddamn backstabbing bastards!" Shepard swears.
Garrus growls anger across the entire sound spectrum as his talons dig into her waist.
Shepard tries to collect herself. "Yes. Thank you, Miranda. I'll handle it." She banishes the omni-tool and looks into eyes of her mate. "Two minutes." A tear of frustration slips out as she waits for him to process this. "Or we won't be safe to be around."
His chuckle is raw as he knocks the remains of breakfast to the floor and presses her into the table. "I do like a challenge."