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Follow My Yellow Light

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Shepard stood in front of her bathroom mirror painstakingly applying enough pomade to turn her typically ruffled mess of red hair into a dapper coif befitting a gentleman. She only briefly took her attention off her project when she heard Vakarian step through her open bedroom door so she could watch his reflection approach.

“You ready?” he asked as he rounded the corner into her bathroom, Rocket stalking at his heels, no doubt thrilled that his seven-foot-tall buddy had arrived. 

“Not even close,” she muttered, swirling goop into another tendril of hair, playing a delicate balance between plastering it back and fashioning it in a fantastic swoop. A wig would have been easier.  

“Party starts in five minutes,” he warned.

“A Halloween party doesn’t start at all if you don’t have your costume on.”

He leaned against the bathroom wall and crossed his arms, a single talon tapping against his forearm. “How long?”

“I don’t know, like, twenty minutes?” She stopped to assess her work. “Ze pomade is tricky.”

He barely got his huff out before she shooed him away with a flick of her hand and a stern look. “Go sit on my bed. I had a show playing. Turn it on and tighten your mandibles, or you’re going to make me anxious and I won’t be able to focus.”

Without a second huff, he did as he was told, sauntering over to her bed, plopping down on the end, and starting up the next episode. The sound of a soft thump told her Rocket jumped up on the bed to sit beside Vakarian. She couldn’t see the screen, but the eerie, steady tones of the theme music hit her straight in the heart, giving her so many happy goosebumps she had to shake the shivers away with a shimmy of her shoulders.   

After a moment Vakarian asked with a bit of dubious curiosity in his voice, “What’s this show called?” 

Unsolved Mysteries . A classic. It’s been airing off and on for like two hundred years.”

A few minutes passed while Vakarian nearly silently watched the show. Only nearly silently, because every once and a while he scoffed or muttered to himself. Too occupied with perfecting her hair, and grumbling every time a lock slipped out of place, Shepard didn’t care to get involved. Eventually pleased with her hair, she began to work on the mustache, cursing that costume glue still wasn’t very good. You’d think after hundreds of years they’d be able to make it — she tapped her sticky fingers together trying to make it tackier — less goopy and more sticky. Placing the artificial mustache on her upper lip, she gently patted a fingertip to it, struggling to get it to stay in place. When it drooped slightly on the left side she let out a low, frustrated growl.  

“What’s going on in there?” Vakarian leaned to the side, body inclined and neck stretched to watch her. 

“Oh, just being the worst at gluing hair to my face.”

“This is going to be a weird night,” he muttered and focused back on the vidscreen.

Holding it in place for a solid two minutes did the trick, so Shepard walked past Vakarian to her closet, sliding the door shut behind her. Once she had her dove grey three-piece suit on and primly situated, she grabbed the tie and left her closet to join Vakarian in watching the show.  

“I frickin love this show,” she said with whimsy in her voice as she stopped to stand next to his knees. “When I was a kid I would snuggle in my Papa’s lap and we’d watch it. He’d be holding a cup of coffee and crackers. I’d get so spooked and I’d tuck myself into his side to cover my face.”

His browplate rose as he stayed focused on the screen, clearly trying to reconcile Shepard’s esteem with the campy aesthetics. “What’s so scary about it?”

“I don’t know. The creepy music, I guess. And the narrator’s voice is so ominous. They told stories about people getting kidnapped, just disappearing like a puff of smoke, and I just knew it would happen to me.”

“Why’d you watch it then?” He turned to look at her, his eyes lasering in on her fake mustache and popping in surprise. “You gave yourself fake facial hair?”

She smiled. “You like it?”

He raised a hesitant finger to her lip and petted the hair. “That is so weird.”

“Careful,” she warned and drew her head back. “This damn thing is going to fall off. That glue sucks. And to answer your question, being spooked is fun. If you don’t understand that, then you have a lot to learn about Halloween.”

“I have everything to learn about Halloween. I have no idea what to expect, except that humans will be wearing strange clothing.” 

She felt the mustache droop, tickling her lip, and gave Vakarian an exasperated look. “I told you.”

He said sorry with a small smile and reached up to hold it in place for her. The comfortable contact made her hold her breath. A wicked look flashed in his eyes. “Maybe you should have used electrical tape. We know how well that sticks to your lips.”

She groaned and struggled to hold back the smile threatening to dampen her frustration. “You drive me crazy, do you know that?”

He responded with a warm chuckle that rippled with amused subvocals. “I do. And it only encourages me.”

Her heart thumped. Three pounding beats before she stifled those dangerous feelings that were only growing in strength lately. Their friendship had been deepening as they grew more comfortable with each other and spent more and more of their time together. Which only made it so incredibly difficult for her to deny that a casual crush for her partner was becoming an unhealthy crush on her best friend. 

Her best friend who was not attracted to humans. Not attracted to her. 

They fell silent. Vakarian holding the mustache in place seemed to fix it, so they watched the show together, him on the edge of her bed and her standing by his knees. As the first case wrapped up, Vakarian’s browplates pinched. “And this case is unsolved, really?”

“Mhmph,” she muttered with a tie stuck between and dangling from her lips while she tried to get the initial knot correctly tied.

“That’s unbelievable.” He paused. “Doesn’t it bother you?” 

She drew the tie from her mouth to answer him, mentally cursing that she didn’t buy a pre-tied bowtie. “Well yeah. It’s clearly the husband.”

“Yeah,” he agreed, focusing on the screen even harder. After a moment he raised his omni-tool and began typing with a look of determination setting his browplates. 

She rolled her eyes and turned to grab her cane and hat from their resting place beside Vakarian on the bed. “It’s not your case to solve, Garrus.”

“I’m sending them some details they might have missed. I can’t believe those idiots haven’t solved this.”

“They probably think it’s him, but can’t prove it.”

“But all the evidence is right there in front of their noses. And they clearly used the wrong travel route when checking the timeline. I can tell by just looking at the map of the area.”

“Not every detective like me is lucky to have a detective like you . Gut instinct means nothing without evidence.” Her excitement building, she carefully placed the hat on her head, making sure not to mess up her meticulously coiffed hair, took the cane in hand, then, spreading her arms wide, stood in between Vakarian and the vidscreen, waiting for an approving reaction. 

She got a confused look instead. “That’s a strange outfit. Your costume is...a man?”

She scoffed, deeply upset that he didn’t automatically recognize the character she modeled herself after. She’d have to insist they watch some Earth detective shows. “I’m only the best detective of all time. Hercule Poirot!” She wiggled her lip and thus the dandy little mustache for effect. Vakarian responded with a questioning look and a scrunched nose. 

She’d been too wrapped up in getting her own costume on to notice he wasn’t in costume as well. “Where’s yours?”

“My what?”

“Your costume.”

“I’m not human.”

Like that was an excuse. 

With a quick tap to her wrist, she pulled up the invitation and displayed it for him. “It says ALL attendees must embrace the spirit of Halloween by donning a costume .” She matched his narrowed, heated stare with her own, determined to stifle his stubbornness with sheer resolve. 

Shepard gave in, realizing words and eyes were both insufficient to help her claim victory, so she turned and marched back into her closet. A second later, she emerged with a low effort and nearly imperceptible costume — meaning he couldn’t refuse to wear it. “Here, put this on.”

He took the headband with two small, fuzzy black ears in his hands and inspected it dubiously. “What is this?”

“Cat ears. You can go as a cat.” She shrugged. “Hell, you already purr.”

Rocket seemed to be on her side — his tiny, furry paw landed on Vakarian’s arm, a silent push to put the headband on.  

With a blank expression, Vakarian stared down at the costume that had just been forced upon him before his eyes rose to meet hers. “I’m not wearing this.”

🎃🎃🎃

“Your kitty cat looks grouchy.”

Vakarian didn’t move a muscle or say a word to the two humans standing across the elevator from him and Shepard with delighted grins plastered on their soft little faces. He simply crossed his arms tighter, narrowed his gaze, and suppressed the grumble that stuck in his chest. 

Shepard, filled with satisfaction and a mean streak, giggled, which didn’t bother him at all because he’d get her back before the night ended. Patience , he told himself as he tapped his talon to his arm.  

The elevator doors opened, and as he and Shepard exited one of the humans called out to them, “I think your kitty would be happier if you gave him some treats.” 

The other human meowed at him.

Shepard giggled again, but he promptly shoved her forward before she could reply. Only the spirits knew what she would say to them.

Shepard had made it clear they weren’t leaving the house until he put the headband on, and as usual, her resolve outlasted his stubbornness. The damned small headband pinched his crest, and when she’d originally insisted that he wear it she hadn’t said anything about the tail that she covertly fastened to his lower back — that had been a wicked surprise as they went out the door. 

Which left him walking down the neon-lit street packed with people going to dinner, a club, or the casino, with cat ears and a damned tail attached to his ass. He could feel it swaying behind him with every step he took. Halloween was weird, and he wasn’t too fond of it so far. 

They decided to just walk since T’Saris lived only a few blocks over, but that meant more people would be giving him odd looks. He must have been the first seven-foot-tall turian wearing fake cat ears and a tail anyone had ever seen. 

Many of the non-humans they passed gave him odd looks. Fewer people would notice him if Shepard wasn’t tapping that damn stick flamboyantly, making a racket, catching everyone’s attention as they passed. However, the humans all smiled — some even shouted  “Happy Halloween! to them. Vakarian wasn’t quite sure what to do about that, so he just let Shepard cover the replies. With every exchange, she responded with a unique gesture — bowing, tapping her cane, smiling, and waving. 

The holiday clearly meant something to her, so he went along with it as best he could. He couldn't help the challenging stare he returned to two curious turians, though. 

“Oh, Hastings,” she chided, a joyful smile parting her lips. “You need to learn to embrace ze reverie.”

“Hastings? Who, or what, is—” a ping on her omni-tool interrupted him so he waited for her to answer it. 

Sol’s face popped up, and instantly a look of confusion fell over her,  browplates twisting. “Oh, I’m so sorry sir, I don’t know how—” 

Shepard giggled and stopped her there. “It’s me, Sol. I have a costume on.”

At the sound of Shepard’s voice, recognition dawned on Sol’s face, but her twisted brows were replaced by a scrunched nose. “I don’t know that word.”

“My clothes and the mustache are a costume for a human holiday, Halloween.”

“Is a costume like a uniform?”

“No, it’s...you dress up to look like someone or something else.”

“A disguise?”

Shepard held her hat in place, looking up at Vakarian for help. 

Vakarian ducked closer to Shepard’s shoulder so his sister could see him. Sol gave him a confused, pleading look. “We don’t have enough time to explain the weirdest holiday I’ve ever heard about to you, Sol. We’ll tell you about it tomorrow at dinner.”

She easily accepted that explanation, so they chatted for a block or so — she had just wanted to tell Shepard about a funny encounter she had with someone at work. Truthfully, Vakarian enjoyed the distraction from the gawking and ogling. 

Once off the phone, Vakarian took the opportunity to figure out what the hell he was getting himself into with this insane human holiday. “All right, I prefer to go into this night having at least a vague idea about what’s going on. What is Halloween? Give me the boot camp lesson.”

“Well, when you’re a kid you dress up as something, meet up with your friends, and go trick or treating at night — you know, when it’s spooky out. You take a bag or bucket with you and go knock on your neighbors’ doors and say “trick or treat!” and then your neighbor gives you candy and you move on to the next house.”

“Trick or treating is begging for candy from the people you live near?”

“Essentially. Then you have loads of candy to eat for days or weeks.”

“Sounds dangerous and unhealthy.” 

“Yeah, I can’t imagine your parents letting you do it, even for a turian holiday.”

He agreed with a nod. “So if it’s a kid thing, why are adults dressing up?” Just as he said that a group of humans passed them, stumbling and slurring their words. All were dressed in weird clothing, some with massive amounts of makeup. He could only recognize one costume — a male dressed in a C-Sec patrol uniform that was far too tight to be regulation. 

“Adults dress up too, but they go to parties and get drunk instead of begging for candy.”

“So this is an unhealthy holiday for adults and kids.”

She nodded in agreement. “Essentially. But I think the reason it’s so fun is because of the nostalgia of being a kid and dressing up. Remembering all the good times, the fun costumes that ended up falling apart by the end of the night, the excitement of collecting and hoarding all that candy like it’s a treasure stash.”

“That’s why you enjoy Halloween so much? All the good memories?”

She began to nod her head, then instead shook it and frowned. “No, actually. Halloween always sucked when I was a kid.”

“How? Did you get kidnapped or run over because you were wandering around the neighborhood at night?”

She gave him a look with the flick of her eyes telling him to tighten his mandibles. It rarely worked. “No. Well, one year I ate like half of my candy in one sitting. I got so sick I barfed behind the couch and had to miss school the next day. The year after that I hoarded all my candy, afraid of getting sick, but ants got the whole damn pile.” She paused to take a breath. “Then after that, I got egged by some asshole teenagers and got yolk in my eye. It fucking hurt. Then the year after that I stayed home because I was terrified of getting egged again. So I spent all my time carving pumpkins,” she looked up at him with the intense fury of being wronged in her eyes, “and some assholes came and smashed them all to bits before it even got dark.” She paused again. Her voice was lower, making her seem younger, when she said, “I didn’t even get to put candles in them.”

“I only understood the implications of some of those examples, but it all sounds terrible. I’m sorry.”

“It’s okay. The year after that, my gran waited behind the hydrangeas for the person who kicked the pumpkins in. She sprayed them with pepper spray.”

Spirits .” 

“Then the cops came and they gave me a ride in the squad car. That was fun, but they were pretty pissed at my gran.”

He gave her a gentle nudge with his elbow. “Well let’s hope this year isn’t as bad as your childhood Halloween celebrations.”

Shepard raised her hand and crossed her fingers while giving him a bright, hopeful smile. “What could go wrong, really? It’s just a quiet party at our friend’s apartment. No eggs, no pumpkins. Just adults and booze.”

He agreed with a hum, and after a few steps, gave her an amused glance. “I can’t believe you threw up behind your gran’s couch. That’s disgusting.”

She shrugged, lazily swirling her cane around. “Kids barf sometimes.”

“Remember that when you’re cleaning up your kid’s puke.” 

She smirked. “I’ll make their dad do it.”

When they arrived at the apartment building Shepard stopped, her elbow nudging into his side. “Look,” she said with excitement and pointed up to a window with a neon light in the shape of an orange orb. Vakarian glanced at its creepy grin and threatening eyes. “Ah, Hastings, I believe that must be her apartment. It seems she has decorated her window with a pumpkin.”

“Solid deduction, detective,” he replied sarcastically.  

Eager to get inside, Vakarian started walking up the front steps. When he turned to reply to Shepard, who was a few steps behind him, he caught sight of a pair of asari passing by. They didn’t even make an attempt to hide the fact that their eyes were glued to his costume. “They’re staring at the tail,” he said dryly to Shepard.

With darkened eyes also fixed below his waist, she mumbled, “No they’re not. They’re staring at what’s making that sucker swing.”

He questioned her with a raised brow and flick of his mandible. 

“It’s mesmerizing. Truly.”

He continued walking but looked behind him. With every step and every cock of his hip, the tail swayed dramatically — like a furry pendulum. One asari giggled in delight, and the other even waved, prompting him to snatch the tail off and shove it in his pocket. “No tail,” he firmly told Shepard.    

“You’re right. Too sexy,” she said with a wink, which made a flick of heat surge up his neck. Definitely no tail. 

After a short elevator ride, they made their way down the hall. A steady, bassy beat grew louder, guiding them towards their destination. Rounding the last corner, Vakarian saw a lurking figure further down the hall, instantly raising his alarm — his heart ticking up in tempo and trigger finger stiffening. 

The figure, its flesh a mess of rotting gore, groaned and stumbled closer. Images of dead bodies left out in the sun for weeks crept into and hung in Vakarian’s mind. His worst service memories. Instinctually, his warning, clicking subvocals ticked just as Shepard fucking giggled

“Easy there, tiger.” Shepard’s soothing voice was drenched in humor. “Dude’s just dressed as a zombie.” 

“What the fuck,” Vakarian mumbled as the guy resumed a normal gait, chuckled, and wished them a happy Halloween, striding by as if he weren’t a demented deviant.  

Shepard’s hand patted Vakarian on the shoulder. “Oh, Hastings,  it seems you have become familiar with ze spooky Halloween.”

“There are different Halloweens?” he asked, eyeing the guy’s back a moment longer before he turned a corner and disappeared. 

She raised her hand and counted as she listed them. “Yeah. There’s the fun kind. Carving pumpkins and wearing fun costumes, like I am. There’s the sexy kind, like dressing up in slutty costumes, getting drunk, and fucking a stranger.” 

The too-tight C-Sec uniform made more sense. A brief thought of Shepard in a too-tight C-Sec uniform sent all kinds of torrid thoughts through his head. Thank the spirits she wasn’t the sexy Halloween type.

“And the spooky kind. Haunted houses and axe murders and getting scared by things like undead people until you piss yourself.”

Vakarian ignored the strange word ‘undead’, figuring he really didn’t want to know what that was about, and sucked up his frazzled nerves as they arrived at the door to the apartment. “All right, that guy’s costume wasn’t spooky, it was morbid, and tell me why you keep calling me Hastings.”

Shepard reached out and pressed the doorbell, then tapped her cane and adjusted her hat. Her enthusiasm and desire to look her best were adorable. “Hastings is Poirot’s sidekick.”

He looked down at her, feelings of terror forgotten and replaced by mild offense. “I’m not your sidekick.”

Shepard simply eyed him, her lips pursed in a tight little smirk. She clearly thought that he was

Through the door, music drifted into the hall along with laughter and general chatter. T’Saris answered herself, wearing a sheet intricately wrapped around her torso and shoulders, and a crown of spikes — both matched her skin shade almost perfectly. 

“Oh my god,” Shepard muttered. Her jaw dropped. “You look amazing!”

“What are you?” Vakarian asked, not impressed.  

“The symbol of freedom and immigration! I think it’s fitting since this is our belated welcome to the humans here.”

“The Statue of Liberty,” Shepard clarified for him. “It’s a huge statue in New York City.” Shepard turned back to T’Saris. “You look awesome, really .”

T’Saris beamed at them and welcomed them in. She turned to Vakarian with an appreciative nod. “Thank you for wearing a costume, Garrus, I’m having a hard time convincing the other non-humans to participate.” 

He mumbled a half-hearted ‘you’re welcome’ — that she probably didn’t hear over the thumping music — as they worked their way into the apartment, squeezing past clustered groups of people. He immediately got a whiff of something strong. More orange obs — pumpkins — were scattered across the apartment on tables and the kitchen countertops. Those seemed to be the real kind, though, because spooky and humorous faces were carved into each one, and they were illuminated from within. Vakarian imagined Shepard as a little girl, standing amongst her smashed pumpkins, and felt a pang of sympathy. If he had a time machine he’d go back and help Alice pepper spray the bastards. 

Rows of little black flying creatures hung along streamers and were affixed to the walls. White floaty things — Shepard pointed at them and giddily called them ghosts — hung from the ceiling, creating a canopy above their heads. T’Saris had gone all out, and Shepard’s huge grin and wide eyes alone made the effort worth it. 

“Mmm, it smells like cinnamon!” Shepard shouted over the beat.

“Do you like it?” T’Saris shouted back. “The shop owner said the scent is highly associated with the holiday.”

Shepard answered with a happy nod. Vakarian appreciated that Shepard scented her home with herbal aromas, and not the intense, permeating cinnamon.

T’Saris led them to a table full of drinks and food. As soon as they stopped, the lights flickered and a shriek made just about everyone in the vicinity tense. The shriek was a bit of an overreaction to lights flickering, but Shepard was acting a bit funny, so maybe someone was a bit too engaged in the spooky Halloween.

“Excuse me.” T’Saris scowled, glancing at the ceiling. “ I have no idea what’s going on with the lights. Please, have a drink, though.” 

While he looked for a dextro beer, Shepard inclined her head. “Excellent suggestion, madame. Let us assault our little gray cells with intoxicating libations.”

T’Saris gave a quick smile, then was gone in a flash. 

Vakarian and Shepard were left alone for a while, finishing off a few drinks in an alcove they shared with an almost life-sized doll that Shepard explained was a witch.

They weren’t alone for long, because Dr. Solus wandered over to them, wearing a grey wig mimicking human hair and some insanely intricate red jacket decorated with small medals and gold cords.  

“Solus!” Shepard exclaimed. “Nice costume!” 

“Thank you. Spent weeks making it myself. Wanted it to be just right.” He turned to Vakarian, who was trying to figure out what he was and must have looked like it. “I am Major General Stanley, character from very enjoyable human showtune. Would be glad to take you to show sometime.” 

Hoping to avoid a musical demonstration, Vakarian just nodded and smiled. 

Solus’s large eyes flicked over Vakarian’s cat ears. “And I see you are dressed as a cat, human companion animal.” An impish grin spread across his wide mouth. “Though, wonder where collar is. Necessary to complete the look.”

Vakarian’s eyes narrowed on Dr. Solus. Despite the innocent look, and his better judgement, Vakarian thought for one brief moment that the doctor advised he wear a collar not for costume authenticity, but for fetish purposes.  

Shepard laughed softly, “It was hard enough to get him to wear the ears.” Her eyes left Dr. Solus to land on Vakarian. “Can you imagine me trying to put a collar on you?”

He could. Even though her intention was innocent, a flick of heat across his thighs told him to stop imagining that.  

Dr. Solus chuckled. “Perhaps collar would be too much for Vakarian. Seems agitated.” 

The lights flashing and another shriek — sounding like a replica of the one before — interrupted that embarrassing conversation. 

Vakarian studied the confused looks on the faces of some nearby asari, turian, and salarians. A  human standing behind Shepard looked thrilled, however. “Someone’s messing with the lights,” Vakarian said. 

“Yeah. Spooky Halloween tricks,” Shepard agreed. “The question, though, Hastings, is who is playing these tricks.”

“A real mystery,” he drawled. 

Dr. Solus explained he wanted to go study the pumpkins and excused himself. After a quick glance down at her empty glass, Shepard leaned up on her tiptoes so she didn’t have to shout over the music and chatter. She didn’t even notice that when she leaned up, she swayed slightly, so he steadied her with a hand on her lower back — not pressed tight, just there to help her if she started to fall. “I’m going to go get another drink.” Her mouth was so close that her voice vibrated against his ear. As she stepped away from him, his hand lingered longer than normal. Being an excellent liar for a turian, he blamed the alcohol for slowing his reflexes.

Bodies blocked his full view of her as she bent and weaved around the small groups gathered in clusters throughout the room, but he couldn’t take his eyes off her. Half swallowed by a sea of people, Shepard turned to flash him a beaming smile, which he returned, feeling just as happy as she looked. Once the crowd completely obscured her body, he continued to watch her little gray hat bob towards the drinks, thinking that Halloween isn't such a bad holiday. 

While he watched her, someone’s over-familiar hand brushed up the line of his back, then rested just above his ass, finally taking his attention off Shepard. His spine jerked straight and because he knew exactly who touched him, he turned to the perpetrator with a flick of his mandible. 

As typical, Vakarian’s dirty look just turned Kryik’s grin wicked. “Apologies,” his friend said. “Lately, I’ve seen your hand on Shepard’s lower back so often I simply figured it was a friendly gesture.”

“It’s a shame I don’t think you’re as funny as you do,” Vakarian said. It was a simple, friendly touch.

Kryik’s smile turned from wicked to wide and easy. “It really is.” As he took a sip of his drink, his gaze rose then lingered on the top of Vakarian’s crest. “Why do you have triangles on your head?”

“They’re ears,” Vakarian explained. “Shepard made me wear them so I’d have a costume on. I see you haven’t been forced into one.”

“Of what creature?”

“A cat. Like Shepard’s pet.”

Kryik’s browplate quirked up dramatically. “So, let me get this straight. We’re at a party where humans dress up for fun as a sort of wish fulfillment. You’ve dressed up at Shepard’s urging. And she’s dressed you up like her pet .”

Vakarian’s eyes narrowed on Kryik, but he didn’t say a word. Almost fifteen years of being subjected to his friend’s nonsense had taught him that Kryik couldn’t be diverted once he found something that amused him.

“You’re Shepard’s pet,” Kryik said again. The bastard just could not let it go. 

Vakarian looked Kryik up and down. “And you’re dressed up as an asshole.”

“No. A man not swayed by another’s wishes.”

Preventing Vakarian from escalating their little verbal battle, T’Saris brushed past Kryik, planting a hat made of straw on his head before he could duck out from under it. Her eyes shot to Vakarian. “I knew this bastard would pull this shit on me and not dress up, so I gave him a costume to put on when he arrived. I can’t even get him to wear the hat though.”

Taking in the sight of a deeply unamused Kryik, a small, short laugh erupted from Vakarian, followed by another, and then another until it rolled into a long chuckle. “My ears are cute, but that hat is—”

“Well howdy, sir,” a warm, familiar voice drifted through the air like silk in a breeze, squashing Vakarian’s chance to return Kryik’s harassment. Dressed in a brown robe with a hood, Kasumi sidled up to Kryik, eliciting a soft rumble out of him. “You’re just about the only turian here who’s handsome enough to pull that hat off.”

Kryik’s hand had been rising to tear the accessory from his crest, but those few words, or maybe the smooth smoke in Kasumi’s voice, sent his hand dropping to his side. He gave her an appreciative rumble and leaned in closer. “Thank you kindly, miss,” he drawled in return and tipped the corner of his ridiculous hat for some reason. 

Vakarian smirked at Kryik. “What was that about ‘a man not swayed by another’s wishes’ ?”

Kryik didn’t even bother looking at him when he responded, he just continued to smile down at Kasumi. “Shut up,” he told Vakarian with half-hearted heat. Unfortunately, the heat was saved for the kick he planted into Vakarian’s shin, which was hard enough to spill some of his beer and make him grunt.

“You’ve got the cowboy thing down,” Kasumi said appreciatively. Her and Kryik’s gazes locked, so full of warmth and wordless suggestions that Vakarian had to look away to avoid their intimate moment. Though happily single, something inside Vakarian felt incredibly lonely and envious of that open affection.  

With a wide smile on her face. T’Saris clapped her hands together, causing the flowing gown she wore to flutter and wave. “I gave him instructional videos.”

Of course she did. T’Saris proved almost daily that her father was turian. At least Shepard wasn’t insisting he meow at people. 

Kasumi peeled her eyes from Kryik to glance at Vakarian. “Cute ears, Garrus. You came as, let me guess…” she tapped her chin under the pretense of contemplation, “Shepard’s pet?”

Vakarian drew in a tight breath and huffed. “You two are equally obnoxious.” Agitation rumbling in his chest, he turned to scan the crowd instead of looking at their self-satisfied faces.

“I see you still managed to wear something with a hood, even in costume. What are you?” Kryik asked Kasumi.

She took out a tube that had been hanging at her waist and with a flick of a button a luminescent light shot out like a blade. She whipped it around in a set of fancy sweeps and arcs that illuminated anything near. “I’m a Jedi.” 

With talons pinching the edge of her hood, Kryik tugged it only enough to lower it a fraction, which got a flirtatious giggle out of Kasumi. 

Shepard returned with her third drink, stalled by the third instance of flickering lights and the shriek which was absolutely a recording. Aside from Shepard (who seemed more concerned with not spilling her drink) all the humans Vakarian could see cheered with delight, while the non-humans just looked confused. With a frustrated groan, T’Saris excused herself, muttering that she had no idea what was going on. Kasumi’s too-innocent look answered that little mystery, though. 

As if on cue, the popping sound of minor detonations echoed from all across the room. Confused and startled, everyone froze as pumpkin innards — chunks, bits, and pulp strings — exploded from all of the pumpkins scattered around the room. The poor people in the blast zones shrieked and shouted while anyone lucky enough to have been standing at a distance stared. Some people helped the victims swipe away the bits that clung and strings that dangled, but most people just laughed. Over the thumping music, T’Saris shouted “what the goddess!” — which only made everyone laugh harder. 

A sad sigh left Shepard, surely filled with memories of her own smashed pumpkins. 

Kasumi giggled. She was absolutely an Egger and a Pumpkin Kicker. 

“Are you enjoying your tricks?” Kryik asked her with a warm smile.

She nodded. “My favorite thing about Halloween.”

Shepard downed the drink she’d just retrieved and pulled at Vakarian’s sleeve. After a too slow blink of her glassy eyes, she said, “And mine is ze treats. Come, Hastings. I want to go get some candy from the table.”

He smiled, but replied, “If you don’t stop calling me Hastings I’m going to grab you, hold you upside down, and wait for you to pass out.”

Sparkling, narrowed eyes looked up at him. “If you do, I’ll call you Hastings until I do pass out, and annoying you will be worth the brief unconsciousness.” Then the little shit poked him in the ribs. 

He jabbed her back with a filed talon and she replied with an elbow, which he caught in his hand before she could make contact. “You’re just asking for it aren’t you?” he drawled.

“Stop it, Hastings, you’ll mess up my suit.” She begged and giggled as he pinned her arms behind her back. “No, Hastings,” she said through spurts of laughter that made her hat fall to the ground and a wisp of hair come loose.  

Satisfied with his torture, he let her go and picked up the hat. Once she tucked her hair back into place he rested it back on her head, careful not to mess up her hair because she’d put so much time into making it look just right. She poked him again, then told him he didn’t deserve a treat while twisting away to avoid his grasp before disappearing in the direction of the drinks and food. He tried not to watch her ass swaying as she walked away from him. 

“Why does she keep calling you Hastings?” Kryik asked.

“It’s part of her costume,” Vakarian answered. 

An amused hum rippled from Kryik’s throat. “Humans are strange.”

“Tell me about it,” Vakarian said, adjusting the fuzzy ears squeezing his head.

Kasumi looked up at him with a sly, warm smile. “Hm, I don’t recall Hastings ever groping Poirot like that.”

A laugh burst out of Kryik, and as Vakarian narrowed an irritated look at Kasumi he saw Kryik’s approving nod from the corner of his eye. 

Kasumi shrugged and smiled. “Just curious,” she said innocently. 

Vakarian gave them both looks, lingering on each of them long enough to communicate he had no time for their nonsense. “You two have issues.” 

Vakarian stayed mostly silent as Kryik and Kasumi discussed a book they were reading together. Everyone eventually went their separate ways — Vakarian grabbed a piece of levo candy because he hadn’t noticed Shepard making it that way.

Kryik and Vakarian eventually met back up after some time. A moment of silence passed between them, both of them glancing around the room, surveying the people. Glancing around the strangely decorated room, humans and non-humans wearing strange clothes, Vakarian wondered what the hell got humans started on this weird holiday. He would be reporting all of this nonsense to his sister and mom at dinner tomorrow night — they’d get a kick out of it. 

Vakarian caught sight of a woman dressed in cat ears, a cat tail, and a painted-on black leotard. Suddenly struck by the horrifying, mortifying realization that he was in the sexy Halloween type of costume, he swore that Shepard would be paying for this. 

“Where’s Shepard?” Kryik asked, his eyes still filtering through the crowd. 

Vakarian raised a finger to point his talon in her direction. He had tracked her movements between the tables. He had watched as she interacted with various colleagues, happy that she was getting out and socializing, but increasingly missing her presence at his side. “Over there. She never grabbed any candy but she went to get another drink and now she’s talking to Dr. Solus.”

“Another drink? She looks pretty intoxicated already.”

It looked like Solus was singing as if the party were his personal stage, while Shepard excitedly clapped for him with a joyous grin on her flushed face. Her cane, still in hand, swung side to side, coming dangerously close to taking out some fellow audience members at the knees. It swayed, jabbed, then swayed again. Vakarian grimaced as it finally knocked a turian’s leg spur. The poor turian winced in pain and turned a dirty look on Shepard. The dirty look dissipated, though, when Shepard drew her hands to her mouth in absolute horror. Vakarian watched Shepard’s mouth form “I’m so sorry!” and the victim and assailant laughed together.    

“Yeah, she is,” Vakarian replied. The warmth running up his neck and the soft smile pulling at his mandibles were a clear sign he felt more affection than he should. When he peeked at Kryik, he saw the curious look on his friend’s face, and pulled in the tender, amused feelings that had softened him. Vakarian took a drink. Thankfully, Kryik looked away.

Vakarian cleared his throat. “It’s good that she’s getting out and having fun.”

“Of course. Work has been grueling, and I don’t envy your caseload. Sucks being the captain's favorites.”

Vakarian answered with a huff — never in his life had he ever imagined being the boss's favorite. 

Time passed and he lost track of Shepard. A guy he dated briefly during his first year at C-Sec, Calus, came by and visited with him and Kryik. Calus flirted briefly, but Vakarian just couldn’t convince himself to feel any interest. Even though his current life consisted solely of take-out and vids with Shepard, he was content. 

And considering how miserably everything ended with Livia, keeping his distance felt best. 

When Calus finally left, Vakarian caught sight of Shepard, on the opposite side of the room, separated from him by dozens of people less important than her, all clustered together in small groups, chatting and joking and laughing. They might as well have not existed, though, because he only saw Shepard, her back against a wall — looking up at Lorik Qui’in. The charismatic attorney stood over her, leaning into her space, an arm braced above her head. 

Another intimate moment between two people, but he couldn’t look away this time. Shepard hadn’t talked to Lorik since that afternoon at the diner, so her moment with the handsome, confident turian had faded from Vakarian’s conscious.  

Vakarian had no words, but Kryik filled the silence with his own. “Ah, looks like Shepard found our old friend Lorik.” 

Vakarian managed only a stiff nod. Forcing such a normal, disinterested reaction made his skin hurt. “Yeah, he sort of asked her out when we were working the quarian case, before her injury.” 

“Good for her,” Kryik said.  

Vakarian managed a strangled hum of agreement.

They watched the two talking for a while, he and Kryik both. Shepard laughed lightly at something Lorik said. He leaned down closer, if that was possible, and she laughed. This time her head tilted back just slightly, making Vakarian wonder just what the hell the guy said to her to deserve such an uninhibited, joyful reaction. 

“She seems to like him,” Kryik said.

“Don’t you have anything better to do than watch Shepard flirt at a party?”

“Not for now,” Kryik said simply. “Kasumi’s busy.”

“Fucking with the lights or exploding produce?”

“Judging by how excited she was, I’m guessing something bigger.”

Shepard’s cheeks blushed after Lorik said something. He leaned closer, inching in. He pointed at her stomach — close to where the slug had ripped a hole through her — then he touched her shoulder just slightly. She waved him off, then unbuttoned her blazer and untucked her shirt, lifting it up high enough to show Lorik her scar — that tiny little knot of white skin that made Vakarian want to hold her close every time she wore a high-cut top around her apartment.  

It took weeks, but Vakarian had grown used to the sight of it, so he didn’t feel worried or faint every time he saw it now like he used to. But seeing her brazenly display it at a party, and to Lorik, made him pause. He couldn’t take his eyes off the two. Just a scar to brag about at a party , he told himself. 

Despite his reasoning, his heart beat so quickly that his entire body thrummed.  

Suddenly in need of a drink, Vakarian raised his glass to take a big gulp of alcohol. 

Vakarian should have stopped staring so intently. If he had turned away, he wouldn’t have seen Lorik raise his hand to her stomach. He wouldn’t have seen Lorik’s finger drift to her skin. And he wouldn’t have seen Lorik trace her scar with the back of his talon. Carefully. Tenderly.  

Vakarian choked on his beer, a small dribble running down his mandible. 

Kryik slapped his back. “Okay there, G?”

Vakarian nodded, and still, like a damned masochist, he couldn’t look away. 

Vakarian read every subtle indication she gave to figure out if she enjoyed the touch. Her cheeks brightened and her eyes fell, then she lowered her shirt. Lorik said something, to which she nodded only slightly. No chin tilting laughs or sparkling eyes.

Maybe Shepard’s Halloween bad luck had passed to him, because watching Lorik touch her literally hurt.  

That was the moment Vakarian knew that he was lost. All the thoughts and desires weren’t going away. He had told himself over and over to block the images of her arched back and delicately inclined throat that constantly occupied his mind. To fend off the thoughts of her silky hair and soft skin. Not only had he failed miserably so far, but all of his secret, shameful, unwelcome thoughts about Shepard just played out in front of him. Instead of knowing the feeling of her skin against his fingertips, though, he had to watch Lorik experience what he’d fought to stop wanting so badly. With his fingertips pressed to a cold beer bottle instead of her warm skin, Vakarian stifled his longing, frustrated subvocals, but just barely. 

He was a terrible friend for pining after her at a party instead of being happy that a decent, attractive guy showed her such attentive interest. Why wouldn’t he? Shepard deserved everything a guy like Lorik would give her. 

“Hm,” Kryik hummed. Vakarian finally peeled his eyes off Shepard — the torture of what he just witnessed pushed him over the edge. He turned to Kryik, swearing that one word, or a simple look on his friend’s face, would be enough to warrant a severe ass-kicking. 

Kryik didn’t say anything else though, simply meeting Vakarian’s gaze briefly before returning to scanning the room.

Vakarian’s best option was denial. He took a deep breath, relaxed back against the wall, and managed to swallow a swig of his beer even though his throat protested every drop. 

Despite his better judgment, Vakarian’s gaze fell back to Shepard. The instant it did, her sparkling green eyes met his from across the room. For one slow, private moment he felt close to her despite their distance. 

Until Lorik leaned down to speak into her ear, stealing her attention away. 

Vakarian felt like a fool. A delusion, selfish idiot.

A huff from Kryik got Vakarian to finally look away from Shepard and the guy lucky enough to have her attention. Maybe lucky enough to go home with her. Vakarian’s stomach turned. Fuck

Kryik wasn’t looking at Vakarian, though. His eyes fell on Kasumi, next to the door and talking to someone. He sighed, heavy and long, then looked back over at Shepard. 

“Is it just me or does Shepard look like she wants an excuse to get back over here?”

Vakarian’s tight mandibles parted just slightly. “I don’t know,” he muttered.

Vakarian watched silently as Kryik made his way through the crowd, then interrupted Lorik and Shepard with a tap to Lorik’s wrist. Only a moment later Shepard excused herself, immediately walking in Vakarian’s direction. Lorik’s eyes stayed on her the entire way, looking absolutely enthralled with her swaying ass. 

“Why are you glaring at me?” Shepard asked once she was close enough. 

His browplates pinched. “What? I’m not.”

“Then who are you glaring at?” She went to look over her shoulder, but just in time, he realized he was very obviously glaring at Lorik and caught her elbow to keep her attention. 

“Hey, do you mmm, want another drink? Or some food?”

“No, I’m fine. And I’m sorry,” she answered. 

“For what?”

“I was gone for so long. Lorik saw me and started talking. Funny running into him.”

Vakarian nodded, holding in the dozen smartass remarks that barraged his thoughts like rapid-fire. 

To Vakarian’s extreme annoyance, Lorik made his way over to them. Kryik followed behind, watching the front door as Kasumi left. This night was turning to shit real quick.   

Lorik gave him a genuine smile, the charismatic bastard. “I’m guessing Shepard convinced you to dress for the occasion?”

Vakarian answered with a stiff nod and tried to think of something to say. It wasn’t like him to be so speechless. 

“I’m sure she can be very persuasive,” Lorik said, his heated gaze landing on Shepard. She smiled back sweetly but didn’t meet his gaze for long.  

Shepard leaned closer to Vakarian and took his hand in hers. He froze, unsure of what she was doing, but not daring to do or say anything that would make her stop. She held his hand aloft, pointed towards Kryik and Lorik. “You guys were pretty much made to dress up like cats. You even have the claws for it.” She used her fingertips to flex his talon out in a subtle clawing motion. 

Focused only on her, Vakarian laughed softly. He was aware of Kryik and Lorik’s voices, but didn’t listen to what they said — he blamed the volume of the music. Her happy eyes drifted up to his. When she lowered her hand, she kept his wrapped within her firm grasp. And, the damn fool that Vakarian was, he nearly puffed with pride because she was holding his hand instead of Lorik’s. 

Asinine, juvenile, shit.  

Still holding his hand tight, she stood on her tiptoes to speak close to his ear. “You feel like going back to my place, ordering some food maybe?” Before he could answer she pulled at her blazer, dropping his hand to do so. “I’m so ready to get out of these clothes.” She blushed and looked up at him. “And into my pjs.”

Somehow everything felt normal again, and he finally felt like his mind was capable of words, not just emotions. “Sure,” he said. “I think you should leave the mustache on though.” He reached up and wiggled it with his talon. 

She laughed softly, raising her hand to stroke the same spot he’d just touched with the tips of two fingers. Maybe human lips were incredibly sensitive — she’d done the same thing when he peeled the fleck of electrical tape from her lip. Maybe his touch had been annoying or uncomfortable.  She looked up at him, meeting his gaze, then glanced at his head. “That has to be uncomfortable too.” 

“I forgot about it, actually.” There was a pause while they simply looked at each other. He cleared his tight throat and finally said,  “Let’s get out of here.”

Kryik engaged Lorik in a conversation about Spectre recruitment, giving Shepard and Vakarian the opportunity to leave with only a quick goodbye.

Leading the way by weaving through clustered bodies, she threw a beaming smile at Vakarian over her shoulder. “Come, Hastings, the time for rest has commenced.”

Opening the front door and letting her tuck under his arm to go through first, he smiled back, raising a single finger. “Call me Hastings one more time.” 

She knew what she was doing too because a wicked, delighted grin fell upon her as the bright lighting from the apartment fell away from them. The dim hallway lighting heightened the wickedness of her grin and flash of playfulness in her eyes. He pinched her arm, not hard, just teasing. 

“Ouch, Hastings.” Her lips pursed together and her eyes darkened. “Such deplorable behavior!” Her deep giggle made him chuckle.  

No one dressed as a rotting corpse hindered their route to the elevator, so the journey went quickly despite her meandering, sloppy path caused by plenty of drinks.  

She tapped her cane as he pressed the button for the elevator. Eying her for a moment, he wondered if the tapping was a part of her costume or her neverending energy. Whereas the rhythm had been steady on the way to the party, as they left the taps varied in heaviness and frequency. She swayed from side to side.

“You didn’t go home with that guy that was flirting with you,” she said, making him wonder how she knew about that. 

“You didn’t go home with Lorik,” he replied, conscious of the fact that her observation sounded neutral, and his was drenched in jealousy — at least it sounded that way to him. She didn’t seem to react, though, so perhaps he was just paranoid. 

Her glassy eyes landed on him, and a sloppy, sad grin spread across her pink lips. “Yeah, I’ve recently realized I have this new thing. I’m only into guys who don’t find me attractive.” Once the words left her, her eyes dropped, and she stopped tapping the cane.

Did Lorik say something to her? If he said anything that made her feel like that, he was an idiot. And a dead man. Even the slightest hint that he had hurt her feelings and Vakarian would have a talk with him. As his thoughts rambled she resumed tapping her cane. His eyes traveled across her body, landing on her still untucked white shirt. He immediately felt so many things...longing and jealousy. Did she like Lorik brushing her scar? Maybe it felt tender to her. What in the hell had he said to her to put such a sad look on her face?

When her eyes rose to meet his once again, he told her, “I liked your costume.”

The sadness dissipated instantly. She smiled at him, not so sloppy this time, just genuine and sweet. “Thanks. I liked yours too.” She reached up and wiggled one of his fuzzy ears. A happy rumble tickled his chest, eliciting a soft giggle from her. Knowing that she thought it sounded like a cat’s purr, he smiled. 

“How was that Halloween?” he asked. “Not too bad, I hope.”

“No, it was pretty good. I forgot to grab some candy, though.”

He swelled with excitement when he dug into his pocket and brought out the candy he picked up for her. “Well you’re in luck because I grabbed you a piece.”

She beamed up at him, a smile so wide it caused him to smile as well. Her little hand with dancing, eager fingers reached up to take it. “Thanks, Garrus.”

But before she could grab it, he pulled his hand back to keep the treat just out of her reach. “Aren’t you supposed to say something?”

A shy grin broke out and made her plump, flushed cheeks even rounder. “Trick or treat.”

Her hand wrapped around the candy and gently took it from his hand. 

“You’re welcome,” he said. 

She unwrapped the candy and popped it in her mouth, her jaw working extra hard; whatever he grabbed had to be chewy. Her eyes closed for just a moment as she savored her treat. Afraid of those thoughts of her soft skin and beautiful smile resurging, he focused on the elevator’s progress by watching the floor numbers tick by on the console screen.

What a strange night. 

“Halloween is weird,” he mused.

She nodded. “But fun. And I think this is just about the best Halloween I’ve had. Nothing bad happened and I got to spend most of my night with you.” Her words were so casual, so straightforward, and held no secondary meaning — he knew that. But they made warmth bloom in his chest anyhow. When all he could do was respond with a smile and nod, she said, “Let’s go watch a spooky movie, hm?”

The elevator announced its arrival with a pleasant chime. Soft, warm, yellow light beckoned them forward as the doors spread. When Shepard made no move to get in and didn’t take her eyes from his, he placed his hand on her lower back to guide her forward. She allowed him to nudge her into the elevator and only took her eyes off him once they were fully inside the chamber, the yellow light bathing over them a welcome comfort.