The Citadel, 2186
He found her in the empty bathtub. It didn’t really surprise him. She never liked the Citadel and Anderson’s gift filled her with a superstitious dread that he was hastening his own death by giving her his apartment. She simply found the smallest space and curled up in it.
He knew she was exhausted, but it was more than that. It was the kind of tired no sleep could relieve. There was an old turian saying ‘A body can be tired, but when a spirit needs rest, it is time to build a pyre.’ He didn’t want to see that happen.
“Come on. I want to show you something.”
She dressed mechanically, like a middle manager on Monday morning. Her hair had grown long enough again to pull back into a ponytail. It curled and swung jauntily and he resisted the urge to tug it. She didn’t look like she was in any particular mood to be teased.
She didn’t say anything for the longest time, just stared out the side of the skycar and almost meekly following him toward the Presidium Towers. But then, she slowed as familiar looking blossoms came into view. “Hey. Isn’t that where we first met?”
He stopped next to her and surveyed the rebuilt landscape. They had been painstaking in details, from the transplanted cherry trees to the gleaming, grandiose steps. “Well, rebuilt. Hey. Why did you turn around?”
She seemed lost in thought, her eyes on the steps leading to the Council Chambers. A trio of salarians came down the steps hurriedly, disturbing the air and causing several blossoms to fall. She blinked and turned to see him looking down at her expectantly. “What?”
“You turned around,” he repeated patiently.
There is a ghost of a smile in that incorrigible corner of her mouth, “And you told me the Council was waiting.”
His mandibles twitched at the memory. “Yeah.” When she didn’t move, he put a hand on her shoulder. “You did the right thing, you know.”
She looked away, blinking up at the artificial sunlight, but he knew what she was seeing. Smoke and Saren, twisted beyond saving; Sovereign threatening to end the lives of everyone on the Citadel. Shepard had been criticised for her decision to concentrate on the Reaper, blamed for the deaths of the Council Members, and it still filled Garrus with righteous rage. He squeezed her shoulder before she could recriminate herself. “Come on. We’re almost there.”
They linked hands after that and if people stared, they both chose not to notice. Silence with Shepard was never uncomfortable, but Garrus couldn’t help but steal looks her way as they came upon a side entrance to the Presidium Theatre. He often said it as of late, but he was worried about her, and not just as a euphemism to disguise his deeper feelings.
He let go of her hand to access his omni-tool, causing Shepard to raise a brow and gesture at the location. “How many regulations do you intend to break in this shore leave?”
One of his mandibles fanned out in a smirk. “Just a few more.” The panel turned green and the door cycled open. “This way.”
Since he had already taken her to the top of the Presidium, Shepard seemed to find no reason to question why they were scaling ladders to a high, enclosed catwalk above the stadium seating with a prime view of centre stage.
Garrus climbed into the makeshift sniper perch first, then helped Shepard up, making room for her to sit next to him on the deep ledge.
As though in reward, a hint of amusement curved her mouth. “Is this the Fortress of Solitude?”
Garrus put an arm around her waist, leaning back against the bare drywall behind them. “Haha. Very funny. That was where you found me on Omega. Besides, isn’t that the other hero?”
Shepard turned to him with the first real amount of animation he saw in her that day, “You read Batman!”
He proceeded to perfect his look of smug nonchalance. “I had a lot of free time recently— “
She curled in his side and looked up at him through her lashes, “I thought that was all spent doing ‘research.’”
His gloating could not be contained in subvocals alone. “You were not complaining about that research last night. Anyway, it’s amazing how much spare time I had, even with the Reapers and impending destruction of the galaxy, just from one annoying little creature being gone.”
“You were not annoyed after I hauled your ass off Menae,” she shot back with a fond look.
Garrus eyed her in a quelling manner. “I brought you up here for a reason. Will you be quiet already and let me tell you?”
Shepard straightened up and snapped a salute. “Yes, sir, Advisor Vakarian, sir!”
He gave her a look that could scorch a sun. “Oh. That one we’re going to come back to, later.”
She leaned back into him, looking through her lashes once more. “Or now...”
He tilted his head up as though considering the idea. “You know, I hear the Skyllian flu is going around the refugee barracks. Maybe I can get a batarian to cough on me.” It was a well-known fact that the Skyllian flu affected different species in different ways, notably causing laryngitis to both sets of voice boxes in turians.
Shepard pulled away, looking absolutely gutted. “That is the meanest thing anyone has ever said to me. And I’ve had a lot of mean things said to me.”
He laughed and pulled her close, “Come here,” and began stroking her hair as she settled her head against his cowl.
“I used to eat lunch here sometimes. Before, you know. And then I was surprised to find it standing after. So, I watched the construction. Came to answer emails.” Shepard opened her mouth, obviously about to remark on his rightfully earned reputation as a terrible correspondent. “Oh, hush. I know.”
Still, she laughed lightly into his jacket. “You used to send me those awful playlists.”
Garrus made a dismissive sound. Everyone knew Shepard’s taste in music was crap. “They were not awful.”
She was not deterred. “I couldn’t get them out of my head for days. Earworms! And always, always, in a firefight, one of those stupid asari pop songs would go right through my head.”
He couldn’t resist nuzzling her head fondly. “And you had to sing it.”
He felt her mouth curve up against him. “Of course, I had to sing it. How else do you get rid of an earworm?”
He decided to ruin the moment by ruffling her already mussed hair. “When you find out, tell me. I’ve got this pesky pyjack problem and could use some advice.”
Shepard jabbed him between the plates above his waist. “You’re lucky you’re so devastatingly handsome.”
He grunted, then looked mighty pleased with himself. “Don’t I know it.”
Shepard then brought him back down to atmosphere, though she did couch it with an inordinately affectionate look on her face that nearly took his breath away. “Especially since it offsets the bad loner aspect of your charming personality.”
Garrus tried to rearrange his features back into an arrogant visage, but it faltered under that look. When Shepard shone on those she loved, it left them blinded in return. “I thought you liked that about me,” he returned in attempted recovery.
She wasn’t scolding, but rather concerned. “Hiding yourself away to eat lunch alone in a sniper perch, those two years on Omega, not even talking to your sister?”
He jostled her just slightly, aware of how high up they were. “That is what I’ve been trying to get to, but someone insists on interrupting.”
As if on orders, she obediently tucked her head against him once more and shut her mouth.
“I wasn’t hiding myself away. I missed the mission. I was bored at C-Sec. Waiting, endlessly waiting for the Spectre program.” He curled the end of her loosened ponytail around his fingers. “Did I ever thank you for your recommendation letter?”
Her answer was airy. “It must have gone missing with all those emails.”
He didn’t take the bait, but fiddled with the curling strands. “Well, actually…”
She stiffened, alert, craning her neck up to him. “What?”
Suddenly, Garrus wasn’t sure if he could go through with telling her this story. Sure, the taboo subjects of her lost two years and Omega had become less of a minefield for them, but it didn’t make talking about it any easier. “That’s the thing. I was sitting here, avoi—ducking the rookie I was supposed to mentor. They thought it’d be cute to assign me a human. What is it with your people and cat vids?”
Shepard groaned, relaxing a little against him. “Ugh, don’t ask me. I don’t understand that, either. Tali seems quite enamoured with them, though.”
He chuckled fondly,” Heh. I can see that.” Then, clearing his throat, he went on, “Anyway, I was sitting here, right here, queuing up your last email about geth stalkers—"
As if on cue, she shuddered and his subvocals hummed in confirmation. “Yeah, I could see you doing that as I read it. And a certain human stalker—"
She interrupted with a huff. “He ordered steak, you know. Steak and beer. Do you know how much steak costs on the Citadel these days? And did he offer to pay?”
He tried to level a steely gaze her way, but she was so irate that it made his mandibles twitch. “Steak and beer, huh? Is that what the kids are calling it these days?”
She tried to stifle a grin, pressing a kiss onto his mandible. Then she leaned against him and tried to look contrite. “Okay. I’m quiet now. I swear.”
They grinned at each other for a long moment, but his faded first, remembering why they were here. He fidgeted, piecing words to begin. “Maybe… I don’t know…”
She curled into him, stroking his arm encouragingly, soothing. He heaved a heavy sigh and soldiered on. “I could always see you, hear you, when I read your emails. And I’m pretty sure when this all gets turned into a vid—because you know it will—the music will swell and there will be a montage—" He interrupted himself, before she could. “Yeah, we know you love montages in vids set to horrible music.” He could feel her grin, warm and tender against his cowl. “Of me, presumably grief-stricken, heart-broken, determined to embark on the most complicated, ineffective, and drawn-out suicide attempt the galaxy has ever seen—"
Shepard stilled and stiffened, daring to look up at him, but still he went on. “But that’s not what happened. I liked you, you know, respected your authority, admired your position…” When the stricken look remained on her face, he looked away and swallowed visibly. “You were supposed to make a joke there about a terrible pun.”
She was still and sombre. He cleared his throat and swallowed again. “Ah, uh, well, I did. You know. Respect and admire you. No one’s ever yelled at me for taking a shot and then complimented the technique. And you gave advice that didn’t make me want to claw my plates off. You made sense. You didn’t talk down to anyone. You never forced your opinions, but sought others. I thought, well, if I’m ever in command, I’d like to be like that.”
She spoke up then, quietly but firmly. “I was so impressed with you. On Menae. Even Omega.”
Garrus scoffed at the very idea. “Come on. Omega was a—"
“Clusterfuck of epic proportions,” she finished smoothly, pressing her forehead against his mandible. “But you owned it. You took responsibility. Not a lot of people do that in their daily lives, let alone in leadership. And on Menae…” She took his face in her hands so he looked her in the eye. “I was so proud of you. Am still. Always.”
His subvocals throbbed with embarrassment, and he glanced down at the chasm beneath them. It seemed less terrifying than living up her vision of him. “Well, as I was saying, I was given a good example to follow. And,” he drew this word out in that way he had, “since we’re being honest here—for posterity, of course— I also liked you. Which, well, I was in denial about.” With this, he chanced a sheepish look her way. “Still being honest here. You were this very inspiring and very perplexing squishy little human with an annoying habit of catching me off guard all of the time. Which also drove me crazy because I was a good investigator and I just couldn’t figure you out. And then it was on Virmire—before… before everything really. We—you, Tali, and me, were ambling along, really, like we all knew what was going to happen and were trying to delay the inevitable. And you stopped dead in front of us—I was sure you saw or heard something, but you shook your head like you knew what I was thinking, stretched your arms out and put your face to the sun and said ‘all the planets we dropped on should be like this.’ And Tali—"
Shepard’s voice was rueful but amused. “She was so upset. She never saw a sunburn before.”
Garrus’ mandibles drooped in surprise. “You remember this?”
Her smile couldn’t be more exasperated or adoring. She shook her head, as though to question how he could doubt it. “Of course, I remember this.”
“I can’t really say I had seen one, either. In person, at least. But it was across here,” He reached out to trace a talon along her nose, “and here,” then up the sharp line of her cheekbone, lingering there, “like markings, and your eyes were so green and you said—
She leaned closer, into his touch. “I’d like to see it sometime.”
He cupped her face in his hot palm. “But the radiation—"
She mirrored his movements, tracing his colony marks first. “So, I’ll get a suit, like Tali’s.”
He too leaned into her touch as her hand caressed his face. “It wouldn’t fit.”
They touched foreheads then, and he thought she was going to kiss him, but instead, she breathed out, “Compliments will get you everywhere, Detective Vakarian.”
His mandibles flared under her hand and her cheeks moved up under his. “Yeah. I can’t really say I didn’t think about the way you looked at me, the way you sounded, after that. And, well, I’ve told you about turian ships, but I also knew humans were different about that sort of thing, and—again, honestly—if you wanted to ah, test my reach at that point, I’m not sure I would have said yes. I was still trying to wrap my head around finding you, well… “
She leaned back a bit, trying to look forbidding, but her eyes were still too warm. “Fuckable?”
He huffed a laugh at that. “No. I mean, well, you were ‘fuckable’ when you yelled at me for shooting that merc in Dr. Michel’s office and then telling me I was a damn good shot. Fuckable isn’t a good measure for turians.”
She arched a coy brow. “Even bad ones?”
He leaned forward to purr in her head. “Especially bad ones.” But then he grew serious once more. “No, it was that I didn’t just want to fuck you.” Now, once more, he had to look away. “I cared. That was scarier than sentient ships intent on our doom.”
He could definitely hear the grin in her voice. “Another lovely compliment from my boyfriend.”
Garrus couldn’t resist. He nipped at her ear this time. “Hush. I can still get a batarian to cough on me.”
She pulled away playfully, then rested her head on his cowl once more. “Bad, bad, bad turian.”
His talons found her hair again. She reached up and loosened it from its binding, and he scratched at her scalp. She melted into his side. “Where was I? So, I liked you but I doubt I would have admitted it even with STG interrogation tactics. I had myself pretty reassured that it was some ingrained, natural response to an attentive, attractive leader. I was still also in denial about being a bad turian, you see.”
She made a sound of half-hearted protest, too relaxed with his ministrations to do more.
“And, in that line of thought, when half the Citadel fell on you—"
She groaned, and it was a sound that went straight through him. He cupped the back of her neck, muffling her retort with his jacket. “It wasn’t half the Citadel. You always say that.”
“Sorry,” he rejoined, then corrected himself with exaggerated care. “Half the Presidium fell on you and we were all pretty sure you were dead, it was natural to feel like heart-stopping terror. Because no one would be happy if their commander died.” He interrupted himself with a reminiscent laugh that made her snuggle against him. “Well, that’s not true. There was a recon mission where parties would have been thrown if that happened, but that’s beside the point. The mission ended, I missed you, sure, but I wasn’t commiserating with General Septimus at Chora’s Den, either. I missed the action, I missed the excitement. Cuffing dealers and shutting down illegal gambling rings wasn’t cutting it. The waitlist for Spectre training was over a year. And I mentioned Pallin decided it’d be cute for me to mentor human rookies, right? By the way, is there some kind of rule about Bob or Rob and Steve?”
Shepard brow furrowed against him. “I… don’t know?”
Garrus’ talons moved back to her scalp. “The names,” he explained patiently. “Bob or Rob and Steve. There’s that human vidstar duo, Steve’s husband, and this guy assigned to me was Bob, actually, and his husband was Stefan, but it sounds similar…”
She reminded him very much of their furry pet right now, curled up into his side as he tangled his talons in her hair, but he chose not to divulge this. “Oh. That is weird.”
“Anyway. I was sitting here, actually replying to your geth-slash-human stalker opus—where’d you find the time to write such long emails, by the way? I always wondered.”
She poked at a gap in his abdominal plates for the second time that day, not lifting her head. “You. Are stalling.” He snatched her hand and held it in his free one. “I didn’t write them in one go. I’d keep a tab open and add to it every so often. Once in a firefight, actually.”
He knew exactly which one she was talking about, drawling, “Crap, that one about the rachni and incendiary rounds in—?”
She laced their fingers together in that way they had long since learned how to do and didn’t forget despite six months apart. “Yeah, it was too funny. I had good cover, the geth were mostly dead, and I was afraid I’d forget in decom. Besides, I knew you’d get a kick out of it.”
He chuckled at the image of it even as he sighed at the memory of what he was about to say. “I am stalling.” With one last pause and swallow, he trudged on. “Well, I was here and my omni-tool pinged. I really wanted to ignore it, but I had this feeling—I just knew it was bad news. I thought it was from Sol about my mother and I wanted to ignore it, but I already felt like such an ass about the whole thing, shoving all the responsibility on her while I got to play a minor supporting role in the Battle of the Citadel—"
Shepard made a sound of protest, but then stopped herself, surely sensing it was not a time to interrupt because he’d be more than happy to go off-topic once again.
Garrus looked down at their entwined hands, his other slipping from her hair, bracing it beside her as though to keep himself steady. “So, I looked and it was this nothing message. ‘Report to the temporary Presidium C-Sec offices immediately.’ It could have been anything. But I knew it was bad. I guessed it was about my job, maybe I lost my spot on the training list. So, I saved my draft to you, got up, and figured if I walked real slow, maybe whatever it was would work itself out.” At that, he made a rueful, amused sound. “But, uh, that really logical rationale didn’t work. Again, I’m sure the vid will have a scene where I just happen to walk into your Admiral Anderson and there’s no dialogue. Just the screen panning out on a display of grief. But that didn’t happen, either. Instead, I waited about half an hour, climbing out of my plates before Pallin finally called me into his office. Never even got to sit down. He had the honour of becoming the first person I heard tell the same varren-shit story about you dying in a geth attack that became the party line for two years. I think he spent more time reiterating it was need-to-know and I couldn’t talk to anybody—reporters, civilians— and then told me to get back to work. And I meant to head back to my precinct, but I ended up here again and queued up that damned reply I had to you and I realized then, really, you wouldn’t get it.”
By this time, Shepard had sat up, disengaging her hand from his to wrap her arms around his carapace. “Garrus—"
He shook his head, wanting to look away but not letting himself have the luxury. She had to understand that this was never about her. Not really. “No. No, you don’t get to feel bad right now.”
She was silent, but didn’t loosen her hold as he went on. “I want you to understand… I was upset— I missed you— but I wasn’t breaking things and scaring people. It was depressing. Either someone at work would ask what you were really like—the press was pretty awful about denouncing you and the Reaper threat—or the—you don’t want to hear this—
Shepard’s voice was as soothing as her hands on him. “It’s okay. Tell me.”
He can’t meet her gaze now. “The memorial service—"
How she could sound so cool and calm, he might never understand. “Jeff told me.”
Garrus cleared his throat and swallowed once more. “Yeah. That was... rough. Oh, thanks for leaving me your HMWSR rifle. Or, well, the idea. I have to admit, I smiled over that.”
“All good soldiers have up-to-date wills.” And if that was said pointedly, it was because Garrus was a good soldier, but terrible with any and all paperwork and most likely, he hadn’t updated his own since the formality of filing one when he joined C-Sec. Then, though, her expression softened. “But, if we’re being honest here, I did update it after we took Sovereign down to add that.”
This time, he had the grace to look contrite. “Such a thoughtful little girlfriend.” His chastened grin quickly led to a more serious arrangement of plates. “Anyway, at some point it stopped being depressing and started making me angry. Not just denying the Reapers, not just making you the fall guy after you served and died so honourably, not just leaving the galaxy open to this threat—all of it. What was the point of arresting a few red sand smugglers if the ring was never taken down? What was the point of following orders if nothing ever changed? I just felt like—” He met her eyes once more. “You believed you could make a difference. You believed I could make a difference. And I believed—I still believe—we all can. So, I didn’t go to Omega to die. I went to Omega to live. It went horribly wrong, but my intent was give my life meaning. Prove I could be the leader I wanted to be. I could meter out justice without tangling with red tape.” He couldn’t maintain that eye contact, though, bowing his head instead. “I was wrong. I screwed up. I regret the lives of my team. They didn’t deserve to die so I could find myself.” And then, as her hand moved to his face once more, he found the strength to look at her as he said, “But—I’m not—I don’t regret trying to make a difference.”
Now, he maneuverer in the small space to put his hands on her shoulders, the way she would for him. “And I know you’re tired—exhausted—I know you don’t want to do this. I know you want to sit here forever—Hell, I want to sit here forever with you—but... we have a job to do. And when it’s over, we’ll come back here, or anywhere, and just be.”
Her eyes shone, but Shepard never looked away. Garrus knew that she heard him then, what this long, winding talk was about. He didn’t go to Omega because she died, but he might not be able to go on in this war if she gave up now. It wasn’t that she needed him or he needed her. They needed each other. They weren’t a planet and satellite. They were like those two cherry trees, growing together, entwined side by side, in the Presidium. Partners, equals, shouldering their burdens and celebrating their triumphs together. They could survive on their own, but what a lonely, empty existence that would be.
He drew her to him again, and she rested her head against his cowl once more. “And when we get bored of that, I’m sure we can find something else to shoot. There’s always something trying to kill you. Flora, fauna, maybe a sentient fungus next?”
Her single laugh was brief and warm against him. They remained like that for a while in the companionable silence. Their hands shouldn't have fit together, their heart beats shouldn't have synced; nothing felt as natural and familiar as her head on his carapace and his talons in her hair.
“Wait. Hold on.” She disentangled herself from his arms and he immediately felt cold and bereft.
He watched as she produced a combat knife from her boot with all the flourish of a salarian three card monte hustler. “Now that's just showing off.”
She grinned and deliberately twisted over him, rather than changing her position. It was meant to elicit another quip, he was sure, but as she rose on her knees to apply the knife to the wall, her torso extended invitingly into his vision and couldn't resist sliding a hand along either side of her waist.
“Copping a feel, Detective Vakarian?” she asked lightly, but he could hear the amorous edge to her voice.
The way his mandibles moved could only be described as a leer. “Probable cause. You're armed with a deadly weapon and…” He trailed off as he craned his neck to see what she was doing. “Vandalising the Presidium. What is that?”
She admired her handiwork with a little tilt of her head. With as much precision as her rather cheap knife allowed, she had carved their initials into the wall and encased them in a crude heart. It was stupid and juvenile, but when she turned her face to him, it was lit in a foolish grin. “Graffiti.” Already feeling the burn of her awkward position, she shifted down, then out, bringing her knee up to her chin to resheath her knife, and added to her list of transgressions. “Destruction of private property.” As his hands fell from her sides without protest and her knife was secure, she straightened out her legs and leaned back on her hands and went on, “Disturbing the keepers. I think you have more than enough to take me in.” When this litany failed to elicit a response, Shepard turned her face up to him, her mouth opened in a question never to be vocalised.
Garrus was staring at the pictograph, his mandibles drawn in, not tightly but with the faintest flutter. Privately, Shepard had once designated it under The Many Unreadable Expressions of Garrus Vakarian, refiled it as ‘decided against a snarky comeback’ during one of their many conversations in the main battery, and only after their tour of the Omega-4 relay was the final assignation of ‘overcome with emotion’ was applied.
She was about to say it was silly. She was about to ask what bad human vids he watched to know what it meant. But he faced her slowly and deliberately, his eyes two burning hearts of a fire. She reached out, her curled fingers stroking his scarred mandible. He pulled her close then, pressing her down, his mouth nipping ever-so-lightly at the rising pulse at her throat and each pronounced curve of her collarbone, even as he said, gravelly and silken all at once, “Come here.”