"Lose this connection, Joker." The grid faded as the lights came up. "And find us someplace decent to fix my ship."
"Illium?" Joker ventured over the comm, pleased to be breaking ties with Cerberus.
"I said decent," she waved dismissively and cringed against the resulting pain, " There's got to be somewhere less mercenary than that. Like Tuchanka."
"Aye, aye, Commander." The pilot shook his head, amused that the Commander so vocally preferred the volatile Krogans over the politics and intrigue of more "polite" society. Not that Joker would take her advice and get his baby fixed by Krogans. He was thinking more along the lines of buttering up Tali to see if the Migrant Fleet would take them in for a while. Of course, that would bring up the issue of Legion, but if it got the Normandy the best repair available, he'd hold the Geth's hand the whole time.
They'd passed through the Omega-4 Relay less than an hour ago and, already, all available crew members were working to piece the Normandy back together. Garrus knew that whatever patch jobs the crew managed in transit would need to be fixed properly once they found an adequate port but no one was willing to assume they'd avoid trouble long enough to tolerate reduced shields or weapons. That was one of the things that he'd always liked about Shepard's crew, optimistic—as he'd found humans, in general, to be—but constantly preparing for the worst.
Garrus studied the performance readout of the Thanix Cannons he'd upgraded at Shepard's request, pleased at their output against the Collectors but already considering further improvements. If they were to again encounter the Reapers or their agents, which seemed inevitable, then there was no such thing as enough firepower. He didn't need to ask Shepard to know she'd agree. He pushed her image to the back of his mind. She had bigger things to deal with right now; she didn't need him following her around, assuring himself of her safety and wondering if she felt the same as he did about…
"Mister Vakarian?" EDI's melodic voice interrupted his thoughts. "Commander Shepard has...encountered some difficulty. Statistical analysis indicates that your assistance is most likely to be accepted."
"Is she alright?" Alarm coursed through him.
"The Commander 's wounds do not currently threaten her life. She has expressly forbidden me from contacting Doctor Chakwas or Mordin Solus regarding her condition as they are both currently occupied managing crew injuries and the significant damage to Tali'Zorah's environmental suit. I have observed that you and the Commander share a certain…closeness. I do not believe that she would turn you away. Her injuries are severe enough that they cannot be left untreated. Commander Shepard's continued survival is of utmost importance."
"I couldn't agree with you more. Where is she?"
"The Commander has retired to her quarters."
"Thank you, EDI." Garrus was already into the hallway.
"Damn it!" Shepard hissed, shaking fingers probing along the edges of her armor. In her frustration, she missed the soft click as the lock to her door disengaged.
"I heard you could use a hand…" Her eyes snapped up at the familiar, rough voice. Garrus stood just inside her doorway, medkit in hand and mandibles flexing. It was that telling display of uncertainty that softened her features into a tired but mischievous smirk.
"And quite capable hands they are. Now get over here and put them to work getting me out of this damned suit. Fucking Harbinger, I think he melted the release. I can't see it though…" She twisted back for a better angle, wincing. The overhead lights glinted across a small stream of red leaking from the half-opened seal.
"Did it breach your suit? Damn it, Shepard!" He tugged her upright, "Stop squirming and let me do it." He knelt to get a better look at the damaged mechanism. "I think this one's a total loss, Shepard," Garrus muttered as he lit up his omni-tool, "I need to break down this whole panel to get you out."
"Fine. But damn it. I liked this suit." She huffed.
"Stand still and I'll buy you a new one." Shepard felt the click of his talons against the plates.
"Now that's the way to a girl's heart, right there." She teased, distracting herself from the radiating pain in her back and side. "Forget flowers, bring her armor upgrades."
"So last night was just your excitement over my cannon upgrade?" Garrus stilled as the implications set in. "For the Normandy. The cannons for the…you know what? Nevermind."
"You have a way with words, Garrus." She couldn't help the humor in her tone, despite the increasing pain as Garrus jarred her hidden injuries.
"You always make fun of the Turian prying you out of your armor?"
"Can't say as I've had the opportunity before." She sent a feeble smile over her shoulder.
"Well…good." He ran a soft caress over her hip before bracing his hand firmly at her waist. "This part's going to hurt. I just don't see any other way. Unless you've changed your mind about the medbay?"
"No, they've got their hands full. Just do it." She felt Garrus shift his weight and grip the torn panel before searing agony eclipsed everything else. Her vision blurred and winked out into welcome black.
She felt something cool and smooth on her cheek and opened her eyes to Garrus carefully running the backs of his talons across her skin, his eyes anxious and mandibles twitching.
"Hey…" Shepard assessed her surroundings. She was back in bed, propped on her side and swathed in bandages. "What's the damage?"
"Suit's garbage. But it saved your life. Looks like it stopped a direct hit from one of those particle beams. Heated that whole side of the suit, melted most of it. Left you with a nasty burn, runs from under your…" His voice trailed off awkwardly as he gently touched her ribs.
"Breast. Didn't complain…last night..." She graced him with a woozy grin. He grumbled, mandibles close to his jaw, in what she figured was equitable to a Turian blush.
"Fine. From under your left breast nearly around to your spine. And you took a round in the side. Clean shot, fortunately. Plus a whole host of minor cuts, bruises and abrasions. I disinfected everything and applied medi-gel. Gave you some painkillers. Try not to attack another Reaper on foot until you're healed, alright?" He stood to go, every nerve tense at the sight of her prone and beaten. What would he be doing now if she had died?
Shepard caught his wrist. "Mad?" Her eyebrows furrowed in concern at his sarcastic remark and stiff body language. Was it something she'd said?
"Wha…Shepard, mad? About what? That you saved the galaxy, again?" He sat back down on the edge of the bed, the hard edge evaporating from his voice. Garrus wondered what had brought the deep concern to her eyes.
"Took chances. Left Reaper tech."
"You did what you had to, we all did. And, for what it's worth, I think it was the right thing. You and I, we've seen what Cerberus does with technology. The Threasher Maw traps, the Thorian husks, the experiments, even Jack…and this would have been even worse. And that wasn't just technology out there, that was a mass grave." Garrus laid a hand on her head, about the only place she didn't seem injured. His rough skin caught in her hair but she relished the contact. "You acted honorably. It was the only choice."
He could see the drugs moving through her system, her eyes blinking heavily and her words slow. Still, something like relief washed across her features. He was glad that he could offer her some measure of peace if the decision plagued her so deeply. Glad that she accepted what he offered.
"Stay?" Her fingers drew absentminded circles on the back of his hand and Garrus was once again overwhelmed by the differences between them. He had been unprepared for the utter vulnerability of the human body, despite his research. It was inconceivable that such a delicate species not only survived but produced warriors like her.
"Are you sure, Shepard? Dr. Chakwas is bound to show up when she realizes you never came down for a post-mission exam. You know how she gets about those. There will be…questions if she finds me here. With you."
The medicated fog lifted from her eyes as mirth spread across her face. It was the same Damn-The-Consequences smile that had ensnared him in the first place.
"I'll tell her you won me over with your cannon." She dissolved into throaty laughter, whether from the drugs or just the euphoria of survival setting in, Garrus wasn't sure. He couldn't imagine walking away from the particular brand of joy that was Commander Shepard, though.
"You are a very troublesome human." He growled playfully, disengaging the seals on his own armor and dumping the heavy cowl on the floor. He didn't miss the appreciative look Shepard gave him as the last piece of armor joined the pile, revealing his torso. She started rolling aside to make room, grimacing as she put pressure on her injured side. He found the sight of her in pain surprisingly unsettling.
"Hey, I just fixed that." He stilled her with a steady hand. "Let me." Garrus carefully lifted her to the center of the bed, letting his hands linger over her intriguing curves before he stretched out beside her, marveling at the smooth flesh of her exposed shoulder even as he dragged the sheet over her, hoping to protect her already damaged body from abrasion. She looked at him oddly.
" Feel like a mummy." She shoved the sheet back down and curled beneath his outstretched arm, her face laid gently against the crook of his shoulder. Garrus sighed, so much for good intentions. Still, he could not deny the appeal of her small breaths against his bare skin.
"What's a mummy?" He finally asked, grasping at a distraction from the light touch of her fingers low against his stomach.
"Preserved corpse, wrapped in cloth." She murmured, still drawing lazy circles.
"That sounds…highly unpleasant. Why would you want to be compared to a corpse of any kind?" His question came out strained and she heard his mandibles click faintly as her fingers wandered. She smiled, pleased by his reaction to her touch.
"Human saying, sort of. Too many blankets. Feel…trapped…"
"Oh." He wouldn't argue with that. After seeing all those bodies confined in tight pods, he could understand a certain need to feel free. She murmured contentedly against him, curving her body more closely to his, and Garrus couldn't help the surge of pride that she trusted him so deeply the she'd asked him to stay even when drugged and vulnerable. He'd hardly ever seen Shepard let her shields down; she was strong for everyone else but never burdened her team with any fears or weaknesses of her own.
Garrus felt a shiver run through her. "Sure you're not cold?" He couldn't help but worry about scratching her as she slept but knew better than to admit that. A handful of the marks on her body had been his doing; unintentional, certainly, but still concerning. But Shepard had already shrugged them off once and he knew she never backed down when she decided what she wanted.
"Mmm…nope. Talked a Turian into the sack. High body temperature, great shot, nice abs…Plus, Illusive Man's head might explode when he finds out how I used his expensive bed." She teased sleepily, twitching her fingers and enjoying the low growl she elicited.
"Sounds useful," he replied warmly, gazing down at her. "How'd you find him?"
"Illusive Man actually. Might let him live for that. Best intel he gave me, best surprise…" She smoothed her hand over his defined muscles until it rested near his heart. Garrus rested his cheek against her forehead in response, mandibles stroking delicately across her face.
"Getting shot at by merc gangs seems doesn't sound too nice. Or surprising, given our line of work."
"Get shot at anyway, doesn't matter." Garrus tightened an arm around her, anger pulsing in his veins. Violence might be an unavoidable element of their duty but every shot aimed at her was an unforgivable crime. Still, he remained silent as she continued. "Surprise was Archangel. An old friend…a good friend…"
"Seems like you met lots of old friends on this trip, Shepard. What was so special about this one?" Garrus still couldn't understand why the Commander had chosen him. Why he'd said yes was easy; she was noble and strong and utterly devoted to her people, which she defined not by species but by relationship and need. Every innocent without someone to stand up for them was her people, anyone who stood beside her in battle, anyone who fought injustice or corruption or evil. Only an idiot would say no to a being even half as incredible as the deceptively soft creature at his side. But her reasoning eluded him. There were easier choices, more certainly.
"Not as many old friends as I thought…distrust, grief…resurrection isn't for the faint of heart." She sighed and Garrus knew she was remembering the life she'd lost. His loose embrace tightened at the memory of her death. The acute stab of loss equaled in intensity only by the fierce joy of her grinning face that night on Omega. "But this one…trusted me…accepted me…" Shepard's voice grew fainter as exhaustion and medication dragged her toward unconsciousness. "Worlds are harsh, cruel. Has faith, anyway."
"You sure you're not thinking of someone else, Shepard? I'm not sure I can be accused of having much faith in people." Garrus had seen too many malignant evils growing beneath the surface of society to trust much in the innate goodness of anything. He watched her face, worried and wishing—not for the first time—that humans had proper mandibles instead of their fuzzy eyebrows to help him decipher what they were thinking.
"Faith in me. Keeps me strong, sure. Best surprise…" She pressed her lips against his exposed chest in a tender caress as she gave in to sleep; Garrus tensed as the gesture triggered a flood of passionate memory. The first press of supple, smooth skin against his own rough angles. The surprising pleasure of her kiss on his face, along his sensitive mandibles, wandering over his body. Before Shepard, Garrus had never even considered humans…well…intimately, and it was the appeal of her intensity, her character that had won his interest. Knowing this, she had then taken distinct pleasure in proving to him the delights in her smooth curves and yielding flesh. He'd always suspected that she found fervent satisfaction in overturning long held preconceptions. She'd certainly done a number on his.
Garrus felt a surge of contentment at the gentle drape of her body over his, sleep and trust loosening her muscles. He knew that discovery by Dr. Chakwas would complicate both of their lives. Garrus could not convince himself to leave. Only a fool would waste this. He settled deeper into the soft warmth of her bed, adjusted the sheet to better protect Shepard's battered limbs and let his own eyes drift shut, lulled by lax weight of her hand over his heart. Both slept dreamlessly.