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Follow My Yellow Light

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Somehow Vakarian’s weekend nights had quickly turned into acting as a handyman at his best friend’s apartment. He wouldn’t have it any other way, though, because that involved his two favorite things – his best friend, and fixing things. 

Their evening had started out as a dinner and vid night to relax after spending the afternoon in the autopsy lab going over a drell who was missing most of its face and a significant portion of its torso. However, it quickly turned into replacing Shepard’s fan in her bathroom because the thing started sparking when she turned it on and was seconds away from turning the bathroom into a bonfire. 

Jane cursed. Rocket shot out of the room so quickly it was clear how he’d received his name. It was a moment, to say the least. 

So it was Vakarian to the rescue. 

An hour into the project, Vakarian was nearly finished replacing the fried wires, and just needed to get them all trimmed and tidied before they could finally get to the vid.

Shepard’s job was simple, cut off two-inch sections of electrical tape and hand it to him. It’s something a kid could have done. 

But not Shepard. 

Ready for the first strip of tape, Vakarian turned to Shepard. Noticing a little black dot on her lip he lifted a finger to his own in reference. “What is that?”

“What?” she asked while lifting her hand, which possessed a single strip of tape. It wasn’t the length of the tape dangling from her hand that upset him most – being an inch and three-quarters max – it was the unclean, stretched-out edges that made his left mandible flare out and caused him to pause, completely taking his focus off her lip. 

She rubbed at her lip though, the irritatingly imperfect strip hanging from her finger as she did so. 

“What?” she asked again, a bit of impatience in her voice. They were both tired, hungry, and ready to relax.  

He turned his focus from the tape issue back to her lip issue. “You have a black spot on your lip.”

She turned her head to inspect her reflection in the shower stall glass.

“Oh,” she said, lifting her finger and gently scraping at her lip with her nail, “that’s just electrical tape.”

“How in the hell did you get electrical tape on your lip?”

“Because I couldn’t find any scissors,” she said in a way that made him feel like he was the fool. 

He looked at her, still confused. "So you just bit into the tape?”

“Well yeah.”

“Go find some scissors,” he told her as she got the speck loose and carelessly flicked it off her finger. “I’m not taping these wires together with jagged tape mangled by your blunt little teeth.”

“It’ll work just fine,” she insisted and held up her finger, offering him the unusable strip still hanging there. So confident that the tape would work, and that Vakarian would have no objections to either the mangled edges or the incorrect length, her eyes inspected the electrical panel while she held out her finger so that he could take the strip from her. It only took a moment of silence and inaction before she cared to glance at Vakarian to see that he stared her down with a dissatisfied look. He wanted to get the project wrapped up, but sacrificing quality for expediency would only lead to additional issues. In other words, another Friday evening fixing her fan instead of relaxing. 

“Fine, she huffed. “I’ll go look for the stupid scissors.” She turned, balling up the strip of electrical tape between her fingers and throwing it in the trash as she exited the bathroom. Rocket trailed behind her, giving attitude with a flick of his tail. 

Vakarian called out to her, “It’s that kind of laziness that led to this unit failing, Jane.”

“I just want to watch a damn vid!” she called back, frustration in her voice, her feet pounding against the hard floors as she stomped off. 

“I apologize for saving your life.”

“You are so dramatic,” she muttered, just barely loud enough for him to hear.

“Oh I’m dramatic?” he muttered to himself because no one else was around by that point to hear his ranting. “Who was the one shouting like a crazy person over a little electrical flame?”

In her absence, Vakarian worked on trimming some additional wires and congratulated himself on making his point clear to her. As time passed though, he wasn’t sure if she couldn’t find the scissors, or if she just got bored with helping him. He pictured her sitting on the couch with Rocket curled up on her lap, both of them staring at the vidscreen while he fixed her damn bathroom fan all by himself. 

His suspicion was proved inaccurate, though, when he heard her footsteps, then her soft voice. “Can we finish this already?”

His mandibles jittered in irritation at her nerve. As if he was the one holding this whole operation up. “Did you find the scissors?” he asked, not even trying to veil the snark in his voice. 

“Yup.” 

“Alright, I’m ready,” he answered. Without looking away from the wires in his one hand, he reached out the other and signaled for her to hand over the first strip. Her fingers brushed his palm before a sticky mass was pressed against his skin. He lifted it up to wrap around the wires but paused in agitation just as the strip came into his view. Expecting to see neat, blunt cuts – and hopefully a full two inches as he instructed – he saw a strip of tape with jagged, stretched out edges instead.

“Jane, you did not find the scissors. This strip is even more torn up than the last one. How is that even possible?”

“I found them, the tape just got caught on the blades. It’s really sticky.”

Losing his patience, he turned to her, ready to argue with her and accuse her of being a damn liar. But as he caught sight of her, a smile broke out on his face instead. Right there on her lip was another little speck of black.

“Oh is that so? Because the evidence of your crime is stuck on your face, proving otherwise.”

“Shit,” she muttered, a guilty smile creeping out. She lifted a finger and gently picked at her lip in a vain attempt of removing the little bit of sticky tape. He watched as her nail just slid right over it over and over, though. Then it finally loosened, only to get stuck once again. 

She inspected her finger. “Did I get it?”

His irritation with her waning, because he could never stay mad at her for long, he laughed softly. “No. It’s…” He raised his finger, itching to simply get it for her, but hesitant to just reach out and touch her soft, pink lips. The longer he stared the more engrossed he became, mild agitation building because he just wanted to get it for her, but knowing deep down how awkward it would be. 

“This is what you get for chewing on electrical tape like a child.”

“Turian kids chew on electrical tape often?” she quipped.

“Well, no. But even if they did, who are you to judge, you’re the one with tape stuck on your face. And you’re supposedly an adult.”

She rubbed at it again, still in vain, and huffed out a short laugh. 

He couldn't take it anymore. It wouldn't be that weird if he just got it off quickly. “Here,” he said with a smile, reaching his hesitant finger to her lip. “Can I…?”

She nodded, “Yes, please.”

Once his talon was just nearly touching her lip he became fully aware of just how delicate the smooth, plump flesh must be, and how sharp his talons were. While she pouted out her bottom lip to give him better access, somehow making it even plumper than he’d ever seen it, he tenderly placed the blunt edge of his talon to the speck of tape. Her warm breath fell in a soft wave against his fingertip, making him hyper-aware of just how close they were. Far too close. 

Best to get this over with. With his first swipe, he was surprised at the way her lip puckered around his talon at the slightest pressure. And maybe it was because it was really stuck on there, or maybe it was because the texture of the delicate flesh around her mouth distracted him, but he wasn’t able to get the sticky little bit loose either. 

Carefully, he moved his talon back to make his second attempt, but as she realized he hadn’t been any more successful than her, she let out a soft exhale of a laugh. With attention so rapt that it embarrassed him, he watched her lips part to let that laugh out and the very tip of her little pink tongue pressed forward just slightly causing him to wonder at all the things she could do with it. All the exciting, teasing, wonderful things she could do.

Her breath was almost too hot on his fingertip that time.

"What are you looking at?" 

He must have been staring because she sounded more self-conscious than irritated. "Nothing, I'm just trying to get this off you."

Illogically, he blamed the heat traveling up his neck on her warm breath, but they weren’t that close. Which forced him to acknowledge the feelings blooming deep inside him while he touched his best friend’s lip, felt her breath against his fingertip, watched her tongue move almost imperceptibly but in the most surprisingly seductive way. 

Determined to remove the troublesome little speck from her lip so he could ignore the way she was making him feel he made another attempt. Ashamed of the thoughts drifting through his consciousness and worried she could somehow perceive them, his finger shook.

Another failed attempt. His agitation grew. If only she knew her antics led to his confusing and unwelcome considerations of her very strange and increasingly alluring anatomy... Well, she’d probably look a little bit harder for her scissors. 

She laughed softly, this time with an inflection of self-consciousness. “Sorry.”

He joined her laughter, more so because he really didn’t want this to be as awkward as it was turning out to be and to ease tension. Honestly, he didn’t feel like laughing anymore. Mostly he felt like hiding in a closet and berating himself until the terrible, pulse-thumping thoughts her lips and mouth and tongue were giving him were gone for good.

“You’re a mess, Jane,” he managed to say.

Her gaze met his, warm green eyes making him feel like has was falling just for a brief second. “Good thing you like me so much,” she said with a shy, sly little grin.

He lost time just for a brief moment, caught staring into her eyes and trying to figure out just what was going on with him. And her. When he came back to reality he realized his hand had wound up cupping the back of her head to keep her still, and his fingertip rested gently against the pouting, enticing flesh, talon hanging in the space between her upper lip and lower. 

Peeling his eyes from hers, he cleared his throat and tried once more to pry the little speck loose, and this time he was finally successful. So relieved this dangerous little escapade was over, he let out a satisfied sigh. “There,” he said, his voice deeper and warmer than he’d like, “got it.”

“Thanks,” she said, eyes falling to the ground as she brought her own fingertip to the place his had rested, brushing her lip with the gentlest touch. He watched her, anxious that he had hurt her, or that he’d made her uncomfortable. 

“Did I hurt you?” Vakarian asked.

Easing his worries, she shook her head. “No,” she said with a voice so soft it made him wonder what her breath would feel like against his neck. Because dammit it felt amazing against his fingertips. “I'm going to go, uh, look for those scissors again.” And with that she turned from him, leaving him alone with his racing thoughts and horrible desires. 

Instead of getting right back to the wires, he turned and leaned against the sink to gather himself, carefully avoiding his reflection in the mirror out of pure embarrassment. 

Why in the hell was he so damned awkward? 

And who in the hell thinks it’s normal to touch their friend like that? 

His thoughts stayed on her lips. Then the sight of that little black speck of tape. How funny she looked. The real question was how someone could be so unbelievingly beautiful, but such a damn goofball. He laughed softly and finally peeled himself away from the sink, determined to wrap this damn project up so they could finally watch the vid. 

He worked a while longer in solitude before Shepard reappeared around the corner, waving the elusive tool in the air. “Found your stupid scissors.”

He thanked her and took them, careful to avoid letting his hand linger for too long on hers, then he cut a strip of tape – 2 inches exactly with perfectly clean edges – and handed it to her. 

“You want me to tape the wires?” she asked, unsure, as she took it. 

“No, but if I’m going to finish fixing this damn thing, I’m going to need to distract you. Thought you might want to chew on that.”

“You son of a bitch.” She slapped his arm as his mandibles flared out in a wide grin. They both fell to fits of laughter as he realized he could spend the rest of his life like this – doing dumb shit with her – and he’d be a happy man. 

Chapter Text

By the age of thirty, Shepard realized the amount of fun she had drinking with friends was typically equivalent to the amount of pain her body was in the next day.  

The night before had been such a blast that Shepard sat at her desk wishing her headache away while cradling her precious coffee with both hands. She propped her feet up on her desk as she leaned back into her work chair’s stiff back. The typical morning chatter in the crowded Homicide department bounced around the open room, making it even harder to convince herself to dive into work. Kryik and T’Saris sat at their desks, discussing a case they were close to solving. Shepard’s eyes struggled to focus on her console screen, her vision going blurry, then clear, and back to blurry again.  

If she wanted to get any work done, she’d first have to get rid of the headache pounding a path through her cranium. Caffeine and a moment to settle in would do the trick, but she needed something to occupy her mind in the meantime. 

She glanced up at Vakarian, hoping to bullshit for a while until the headache decided to fuck off. 

If Shepard didn’t know him better — hadn’t sat across from him every day for three years— she would have thought his hunched shoulders and faraway look were normal. But Vakarian always sat in his work chair with a confident and comfortable lean in his tall, muscular frame. His hips would be cocked to the side. His broad shoulders would be set back. Even though the difference was subtle, Shepard knew for certain Vakarian was nursing a headache. He didn’t usually look that grouchy when he had a hangover, though. 

He typically held it together when they went out, and alcohol usually made him quiet. But, last night he drank more than he usually did —  enough to get a bit sloppy, in fact. Shepard let out a light chuckle as she recalled how her partner had propped himself up against the back of the bench seat with a cocksure demeanor and shy smile, then woozily mumbled silly, mostly unintelligible things to her while everyone else was dancing.

For some reason, her chuckle earned her a tired sigh from Vakarian, who now looked anything but cocksure. She firmly decided at that point that Vakarian needed a laugh. 

While his eyes drilled into his console screen, she smiled and asked, “What the hell were you talking about last night?”

“I don’t know,” he muttered, then leaned forward as if he needed to focus any more than he already was. 

“You kept talking about my face, but what were you saying? It’s curvy?” She paused for a moment, expecting a response or reaction from him, but was disappointed when he offered nothing. “You were saying something about curves on my face...”

He propped his mandible in one hand and simply ignored her. With the subtlest of movements, his eyes flicked to give Kryik a sideways glance, then focused back on the screen.

“I thought it was funny,” she said, trying to ease his mood.

That’s when Kryik began to pay attention, his over-attentive eyes scanning Shepard and Vakarian. Then Kryik leaned forward, a confusingly self-satisfied grin on his face, looking far more invested in this conversation than it deserved. “Wait,” he said, “Vakarian was talking about the curves of your face last night when he was drunk?”

Unable to understand Kryik’s interest in this story, Shepard shrugged. “I’ve never received a geometry lesson at a nightclub before.” She turned to Vakarian. “Was that your inner math nerd making an appearance?”

Vakarian didn’t answer, but he cleared his throat, which made Kryik laugh for some inexplicable reason.  

“Why are you so grouchy?” Shepard asked.

“He’s not grouchy. He’s embarrassed,” Kryik answered. 

While Vakarian continued to ignore her, Kryik’s left mandible flicked out in amusement. His eyes were glued to Shepard and filled with anticipation. “What exactly did he say?”

Vakarian had said a lot, actually. Recalling it now that she was sober and more awake, his attention to detail and the smooth rumble of his voice had captured her, body and mind. He had described her entire face in great detail, from forehead to jaw and every curve in between. When he got to her eyes, he called them ellipses and mumbled out something so beautiful it sounded like a damn poem. Too bad she couldn’t remember what he said. She could only remember how it made her feel. For her part, she had been so drunk and confused she just gawked at him the whole time — probably grinning like an idiot. 

While sipping her coffee, she closed her eyes a tad longer than she should have to let the memory of Vakarian’s smooth voice wash a bit of her headache away. No one would guess the memory rather than her coffee triggered the smile that developed. Still, she hoped it looked soft and serene rather than idiotic. 

Vakarian’s gorgeous voice stuck in her head sent warmth traveling throughout her body. Though she felt anything other than casual, she replied in a casual tone, “Just like... something about the downward curve of my jaw, and the tip of my nose was a perfect circle. Just basic geometry—”

“Hah!” Kryik’s grin turned wicked. Shepard shot him a glare for it — and for cutting her off.  

The way Vakarian’s shoulders sank even further made Shepard severely regret bringing this up, but she wasn’t quite sure why. In another attempt to defuse Kryik’s confusing interest, she turned to Vakarian and said, “It’s funny, no reason to be embarrassed.”

“Human faces are strange,” Vakarian mumbled quietly, looking and sounding oddly defensive.

T’Saris, who so far had been quietly watching this entire exchange from her desk, offered a soft smile that would have been innocuous had it not been for the gleam in her eyes that were trained on Vakarian. “Nothing wrong with noting the angular nature of turian faces. Or the curvature of human faces.” She turned to Kryik and with a stern, yet jovial tone said, “Get some damn work done and stop harassing Vakarian.”

Kryik didn’t respond as he leaned back in his chair, looking smug and comfortable. With his deep, reminiscing storytime voice, he said, “The first time Vakarian got drunk we were on shore leave at a bar. He’d been pining after this intelligence officer for months but never made a damn move. Well, she was sitting across from him and after eyeing her all night, he started going off about the angles of her face like he was writing her a damned love poem—”

“I did not,” Vakarian quickly argued. 

“Yes, you did. I was there.”

“It wasn’t like that.”

“I remember it perfectly — ‘Galvinia, the straight angles that form your nose are so beautiful I want to keep them locked in my memory. Your mandibles form such perfect obtuse angles. I want to hold them in my hands. And—”

“What I said was nothing like that.”

“No, what you said was better because you’re a damned sappy romantic, but it’s pretty close. I bet you painted a picture of Galvinia and gave it to her too.”

Shepard simply sat back, watching their little back and forth. She wasn’t sure if Vakarian was going to ignore Kryik as well or lunge at the annoying bastard and start choking him. Kryik was certainly blowing that story out of proportion and making up the romantic aspect, solely to agitate Vakarian. A decade together during their service, and three years sitting side-by-side in Homicide, had given Kryik ample time to hone his “embarrass the hell out of Vakarian for shits and giggles” skills.

And Vakarian was just naturally charming, so Shepard could see how Kryik would assume he’d been interested in the woman when their relationship was probably purely platonic.   

Vakarian looked like he was itching to say something, but not a single word came out of him. The two turians stared each other down — Vakarian glaring and Kryik grinning. Neither made a move. 

Eventually, Captian Pallin’s voice booming from his office doorway caught everyone’s attention when he called for Kryik and T’Saris to get their asses in there. 

With a sly grin and a quirked browplate, Kryik rose from his chair all while taunting Vakarian with piercing, unmoving eyes. After a few awkward seconds, Kryik was finally gone. Without saying a word, Vakarian simply turned back to his console as if nothing had happened. 

“What the fuck is up with him?” Shepard asked. 

“He’s an idiot,”  Vakarian grumbled. 

Shepard chuckled. “Well yeah, but he’s not usually that vague when he gives you shit. And what was with that weird stare?”

He ignored that as well. Why in the hell was everyone acting so weird? And why was her partner so uptight?

For her part in this whole mess, Shepard felt horrible. She got the sense her gaze was making Vakarian uncomfortable, too, but she wasn’t quite sure why . It was just a silly story about being drunk and muttering off geometry nonsense. Everyone rambled on when they were drunk every once and a while. 

“Hey,” she said, trying her damndest to make her voice sound normal and not coddling. “I just thought it was funny. Nothing wrong with being a math nerd. At least you didn’t give me another lecture about the latest rifle mod, hm?” 

After a beat, Vakarian finally sat up a bit straighter and looked her in the eye. Expecting to see an anxious or agitated look in them, she only saw warmth – and maybe a little bit of a pleading urge. “How about we just not tell Kryik all the dumb shit we say when we’re drunk?”

They watched each other with looks that gave nothing away for a moment. Even though Vakarian’s suggestion was fueled by his desire to avoid embarrassing memories from his service days, it triggered a terrible, horrible memory from last night — Shepard telling the disinterested salarian waitress how badly she wanted to pin Vakarian down. That she wanted to wrap her hands around his biceps and lick his mandible. Thank god Vakarian hadn’t been near enough to hear that. 

Hopefully, he hadn’t heard that. 

Fuck. What if he did, and that’s why he’s acting so weird?

Feeling a flush run up her neck and a weight grab hold of her chest, Shepard finally removed her feet from her desktop, planted them firmly on the ground, and stiffly sat forward. 

While furiously typing her password into her locked console, she responded with a decisive, “Sounds good.”

Chapter Text

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. 

 

Chapter Text

“What’s wrong with your face, Shepard?” Kryik asked, gesturing towards his own with a wave of his fingers. Piercing green eyes analyzed her while he leaned to the side, propping his elbow on the arm of his work chair.

Jane wiped a finger at the corner of her lips, just in case her lunch was hanging around. “What?”

 “You have a face .”

Kryik’s opinionated expression gave her a brow-knotting scowl. “I don’t have a face .”

“You do. Like you smelled something.” Kryik swiveled his chair towards Garrus, casting his piercing gaze at him instead.   

Garrus’s fingers struck console keys, the rapid clacking blending in with the cacophony of typing and shuffling coming from busy detectives sitting at the endless rows of desks in the overcrowded room. He was zeroed in on tracking down a witness they couldn't locate. “She’s grouchy about something,” he said with a disinterested tone. Like a good friend, he was too smart to outright address whether she had a face or not. His candidness concerning her mood was a slight betrayal, but it wasn’t her partner’s job to help her pout in undisturbed peace. No, she should just own up to her fit, like an adult.   

Casting her datapad aside, she sank into her chair. “Alright. I’m grouchy because Miranda is bailing on our plans tonight.”

“What’s she supposed to be doing with you?” Kryik asked. 

“My Uncle David gave me two tickets to this ‘get drunk and paint’ thing.”

Garrus glanced up at her with a quirked browplate, looking both amused and slightly disapproving.  “You know the point isn’t to get drunk, just enjoy some wine while you create art.”

“Probably,” she shrugged. “But getting drunk was the only thing making me think I’d enjoy my evening.”

T’Saris looked up from her console. “So skip it if it’s not your thing.” 

“My uncle will be hurt if I don’t go. It was a gift.” Jane paused, turned to Garrus, and waited for him to acknowledge the look she was giving him. He wouldn’t say no to her, not with the pleading eyes she sent his way. 

Instead, all she got was a cursory glance and a quick, “Nope.” 

She nearly scoffed at the abruptness of his refusal to go. 

“Standing still certainly isn’t your strong suit,” T’Saris said, her eyes meaningfully landing on Jane’s fingers drumming a rapid beat into her chair arm. Jane clenched her hand tight and tucked it under her leg. 

“Shepard,” a hum came out of Kryik, then he paused, and his face turned sincere and soft. “You’ve been so tense lately. Painting could be a good activity for you. You should go.”

“I’m trying to,” Jane muttered, then turned to T’Saris, hoping she would volunteer. 

“Sorry, I have to help my sister move into her new apartment tonight.”

Next was Kryik. 

“I would say yes,” he said, “but I’m your fourth choice, so to preserve a portion of my dignity my answer is ‘I have plans’.”

“Come on,” Jane begged. The thought of going alone to a stuffy art class full of strangers was the opposite of relaxing. 

Kryik shook his head, then nodded his chin towards Garrus. “Ask him again. He’d love to go, but he’s being stubborn.”

Without even glancing at Kryik, Garrus’s mandibles jittered slightly. He gave her a sincere, apologetic glance but said,  “No, I’m not. I just don’t want to go. Sorry, Shep.” 

“You’d make me go alone? Come on — free wine.”

“You could offer me a bottle of aged horosk and I’d say no.”

A simple ‘no’ without an accompanying reason wasn’t good enough for best friends, which is why she’d harass him until he relented…or, maybe she could just trick him into going.  

“Rock paper scissors?” she proposed. 

“You never win that game, so not only will you be going to this class alone, you’ll be going as a loser.”

“I’ll take my chances.” Feeling lucky and hopeful, she leaned forward and propped her fist in her palm. 

Having seen this game too many times already, Kryik and T’Saris turned back to their work. Garrus gave Jane a look she only took as pity and sighed, but after a beat, he matched her posture. Fists pounded in palms twice, her eyes anxiously watching his hands in hopes that just once she’d win this damn game against him. Intent on winning this, she projected every ounce of her positive energy and went with rock.

Her positive energy was worth about as much as her pleading eyes, though. To her deflating disappointment, his hand landed in his palm with his two fingers only slightly splayed. Paper. Fuck. Alone it was. 

A resigned huff puffed out of her. “Dammit, fine. I’ll go by myself. You’re picking me up though when patrol calls because I passed out in the grass on my way home.”

He didn’t say anything — didn’t slap on a triumphant grin or lean back in his chair with a puffed up chest. The silence was torture and she’d prefer a cocky celebration over guessing what was behind his contemplative, heavy look. Before she could ask, he softened. “Won’t be any need for them to call me, because I’ll be passed out alongside you.”

“You don’t have to go, you clearly won. Paper beats rock.”

“Yeah, but rock beats scissors. Guess I’ll be painting and drinking wine with you tonight.” 

A weight lifted from her and she almost jumped for joy. “Really? Your paper and scissors look exactly the same. I can’t ever tell what your flippin’ fingers are doing.”

“Well tonight they’ll be painting,” he said with a soft smile that melted her frustration and worries away. 

With giddy excitement bubbling up in her chest, she picked up a datapad, leaned back in her chair and propped her feet up on her desk. “I’m excited, it’ll be fun.”

While Garrus gave her one last hesitant smile, Jane picked up on a wary look on Kryik’s face. It made no sense —he’d pushed them both to go. Maybe he was simply worried about her and Garrus. He certainly had reason to be. Work was knocking them on their asses, one shit case after the other, and while Garrus seemed to be taking it in stride, he still second-guessed himself more often than he should. And more often than she wanted to admit, she annoyed even herself with her negative, chirping comments  

Kryik could be a pushy bastard, but he was right. She and Garrus both needed a break from their normal routine, and this would be the perfect opportunity to do something fun. 

🖌🖌🖌

Walking through an upscale neighborhood in a creative district on Taseri Ward, Jane couldn’t help but notice that Garrus seemed to be carrying a lot of extra weight on his shoulders. He said he was fine, but maybe her pleading had gone too far. He swore three times already that he didn’t mind going, but he didn’t look pleased despite all the uneasy smiles he shot her way.

While strolling down the main street bustling with people, performing artists, and groups of people laughing and talking, Jane nudged her hip into Garrus’s thigh. “You have never moved slower in the entire four years that I've known you.”

“Hmph.” Garrus turned his attention to a large mural coloring the alley side of a renovated factory building. It had been turned into apartments for the type of people who complained about volus trading systems and asari diplomacy tactics while sipping wine shipped straight from companies owned by volus traders and asari diplomats. 

“I suppose it would be nice to slow down, enjoy the sights.” She paused, eyeing a lively bongo jam session inside a small studio with windows thrown wide open. The huddled, joyous group of salarians and asari hummed along to their beats. “Hey, wanna start a bongo group with me? You, me, Nihlus?”

“A what?”

“Bongos.” She slapped imaginary drums in front of her.

“Oh. Spirits, no. And those are called insantis.”

“As in 'I’m going to go insane if you don’t stop banging on that?'”

He gave her a questioning look.

“Hm, maybe that’s lost in translation.” They weaved around an asari sitting on a stool, painting a fairly lovely image of the large tree ahead of them. “Listen, if you want to just go home, that’s fine. I won’t mind. I can make it on my own, swear.”

“No, I’m going. You’re going. We’re going.” He took in a quick breath. “At least it’s nice to get out, hm? Get some fresh air. This is a nice change from the neighborhoods we usually visit, too. And we’re guaranteed to see no dead bodies, right?”

Jane agreed with a nod and drew in a heavy drag of air. Pleasant aromas hit her senses — sweet florals from the plants along the sidewalk, chalky paint from the woman they just passed, an enticing fusion of the distinctive foods from the restaurants, homes, and vendors lining the street. The richness of it all cleared her mind and lifted her mood. While floating on a wave of bliss, something sharp hit her nostrils and suddenly they were burning so terribly she’d swear someone was stuffing whole peppers straight up there. A wheezing cough burst out of her and she rubbed at her poor assaulted nose with her elbow. 

“Jesus, something’s spicy.” Her words weren’t much more than a rasp. 

Garrus grinned down at her. “I take it that we won’t be eating Jafta tonight.”

“Is that what that is?” 

“Yeah. Salarian cuisine from a northern region of Sur’Kesh. Lots of noodles. Lots of peppers. Lots of bugs.”

Jane shook her head and rubbed at her nose one last time. “Nope, may I humbly request burgers?” 

“You got it,” he hummed, then stopped and looked up at the building to their right, their destination. Judging by the look on Garrus’s face, you’d think they’d arrived at the gates of hell. “Here we are.” 

Stepping into the studio, Jane kept her eye on Garrus as his focus warily darted around the room. Most easels were occupied by asari and salarians, with a few volus and drell sprinkled in. Some hanar floated over in a corner. To Jane’s surprise, despite being a majority group on the Citadel, only a few turians interspersed with the groups. 

Jane leaned in close to Garrus so she could whisper. “Turians aren’t really artists, are they?”

“Some are,” he said. “We just don’t typically do crap like this.”

“What, have fun, low-pressure hobbies?”

“Yeah, actually.”

While Jane chuckled at his response — and the fact that he was now the one with a face — a kind-looking asari approached them, her silky, brightly-colored floor-length jacket trailing behind her dramatically. “Hello, welcome,” she cooed. “I’m your facilitator tonight, Kesphia.” She reached out a hand and shook Jane’s, then tapped her wrist to Garrus’s. 

Since Garrus looked like he was going to choke, Jane spoke for them. “I’m Jane, and this is Garrus.”

“Nice to meet you. Please, take a place over there once you’ve helped yourself to some wine. We’ll start soon.” 

Kesphia breezed away, a pungent but not unpleasant spice and citrus smell trailed in her wake. Garrus’s attention fixated on the easels they’d been pointed to, and he looked like he was about ready to puke. 

“Alright, what’s wrong with you?” Jane nudged her elbow into his side, and he actually teetered a bit from the gentle force. “You’re wound so tight you look like you’re going to seize up on me.”

“Nothing’s wrong. I think I need that wine.”

“Speaking my language, buddy.” She patted his keel then grabbed his hand to pull him along. “Come on. And just relax, ok? This is fun. No one expects you to paint a masterpiece on your first try.” 

A sharp pain shot through her hand from his talons digging into her palm. “Ouch, watch it big guy, or you’re going to be painting on your own.” She didn’t let go, though, only squeezed back. 

Jane, intent on getting loose that night, generously poured their glasses while Garrus stood like a stone soldier at her side. She took a few steps towards their easels, but noticing he didn’t follow her, she rejoined his side and placed a hand on his lower back, nudging him forward. 

“Come on, come paint with me. That is,” she tilted her head towards a group of sad-looking people gathered in a huddle to their right, “unless you want to hang out by the wine table and pick up lonely singles.”

His mandibles flared. “That is the only thing that would make this evening worse.”

Finally, he got going with her hand at his back, urging him forward. They only made it a few feet before Jane realized she’d made a mistake, though. His body heat warmed her skin, which was enough to make her over-excited heart patter. And then all she could focus on was how his muscles shifted beneath her touch and each sway of his hips turned that patter into exigent pounding. How in the hell did he always put his hand on her back, in the very same spot, so casually, so comfortably, so platonically? Nope. No. Touching him there was not a good idea. Even though he was fully capable of differentiating between platonic affection and something more, she just wasn’t. She withdrew her hand as if removing it from a bright, flickering, dangerous flame. 

Hand holding was fine. Hugs were fine. Touching him anywhere below the keel was off the table, though. Which, admittedly, should be obvious. If you’re attracted to someone don’t touch their very tight muscled, sensually swaying body parts. 

Especially when that person has given you the most sincere, deepest friendship you could ever hope for. 

The class started out easy enough. This is a paintbrush, that’s the canvas, so on and so forth. The instructor pointed towards a finished piece at the head of the room, that’s what they would be painting. Blah blah. Jane sipped her wine and played with the cap on a paint tube while the instructor droned on about having fun and exploring their creative side. 

When the instructor began to describe the proper way to unscrew a stupid tube cap to avoid spillage, Jane sighed and looked to Garrus. If she was bored with the instructions and Kesphia’s eager urging to let their creative spirit flow, Garrus’s skin had to be crawling. 

Surprisingly, he seemed at ease, though. All of his paint tubes were open and he was mixing colors like he had some kind of clue what he was doing. He must have gotten so bored he decided to figure it out on his own. Cocky bastard.

“Think this is easy or something, Mr. Vakarian — Mr. Rebel who needs no help, doesn’t need any instruction?”

He gave her an unamused side look. “Just keep drinking that wine.”

Heeding his advice, she took two long, slow sips. Well, no one would really call what she did sipping, technically speaking. But she made her gulps look dignified, at least. Probably. 

Finally, Kesphia stopped talking and told them to place paint on their palettes. Jane unscrewed the first cap. There was spillage. 

After wiping the spilled paint on a cloth hanging off the side of her easel (hopefully for that purpose), she was a bit more careful loading her palette up, and finally the actual painting began. She followed the instructor’s directions, making a soft sweeping motion with her brush loaded with that blue color — at least she thought she got the right blue color — and she was pleased with her effort. Her line was a lot shorter...and wider... but after inspecting the instructor’s and comparing it to her own a few times, she felt fairly confident that she’d be able to pull this off. Maybe painting wasn’t so bad. 

“Hey,” she whispered to Garrus, pointing at her canvas. “Look at that. Pretty good, huh?”

Garrus leaned to the side, peering from behind his canvas to examine her blue streak. “Sure, not too bad.”

“Not too bad?” She scoffed. “I think I’m a natural. Let me see yours.” She leaned over to take a peek, but he scowled at her and blocked his canvas with his body, all seven feet of broad shoulders, wide hips, and thick arms. 

“No, keep your eyes on your own canvas.” He smiled at her, though, and shot her a playful look. “I don’t want to get nervous. Right now you have no expectations and I want to keep it that way.”

“Intimidated, huh?” 

“It’s not a competition, Jane,” he drawled.  

Fifteen minutes later she decided that painting was the worst thing in the galaxy, and went for her and Garrus’s second glass of wine. All her brush strokes were wobbly, too short, or too long...and some weren’t even the right color. Garrus’s had to be worse, though, because he wasn’t even following along with the instructor’s movements. 

That second glass of wine was half gone by the time Jane had thoroughly lost her patience. They’d been there long enough that she could confidently tell Uncle David they’d gone to the class and enjoyed themselves. Glancing over at Garrus, she was certain he was ready to go as well, if the scowl on his face was any indication of how he felt. He did look strangely engaged, though. Overly focused on his canvas, even. He was probably angry that he wasn’t a damned natural at this. The big dork just had to be good at everything he did. 

And he absolutely was not relaxed or having fun. Being a turian had to be exhausting, sometimes. Simply being a turian’s best friend certainly exhausted her on occasion, trying unsuccessfully to convince him to just unwind for Pete’s sake. 

“Come on, let me see your painting,” she said.

“No,” he grumbled. “You can see it when I’m finished.”

“Hoping it’ll look better when it’s done?”  

Besides a dry side-eye, he ignored her, so she let him be. Putting her paintbrush down, she contemplated her painting, looking back and forth between the instructor’s and her own. It was a lost cause, really. In place of mountains were ice cream cones. And in place of a beautiful Thessia sun was a melted scoop of ice cream.

“Hey, let’s sneak out of here and get some food.”

“Finish your painting.”

He sounded like a dad. 

“No lectures about being a quitter,” she warned. “This was supposed to be fun but I’m bored and you’re hyper fixated.”

The only response he gave was a rumbly grumble. 

She looked back down at her paints, then over at Garrus. The blue she’d mixed was almost an exact match to his colony marking color. She snickered, a terrible, silly idea pecking at her boozy mind. A quick glance around the room revealed that everyone else was busy, so no one would probably notice. She didn’t care if they did, though. Not like she’d ever see any of them again. 

Planning on making this more fun, and getting Garrus to relax a bit, she dipped her brush in the blue paint and raised it to her face, trying her damndest not to move too much as she drew a thick line across her nose. The moment the cold, weirdly scratchy paint hit her skin a cold shiver ran through her body. Her tongue poked right out between her lips. “ Bleh .”  

“That’s an alarming sound,” Garrus said and tried to glance over at her.

She quickly ducked behind her canvas so that he couldn’t see her, and continued her work, swiping a second, smaller blue line above the first.

“I don’t even want to know what you’re doing over there,” Garrus said. 

She giggled so suddenly that she snorted, then heard Garrus laugh lightly. “You are so embarrassing,” he said. “Maybe take it easy on the wine.”

Solid advice. Snorting laughs in public were a clear sign she should slow down.  

She took another sip of wine. 

He tried to look at her again, but she grabbed the edge of her canvas and tilted it to give her better coverage. “You’re not the only one who can hide their masterpiece.”

Jane continued her work in peace. The instructor, who had been making her way through the class members to offer feedback, finally reached them. When she breezed behind Garrus’s canvas she froze, a mesmerized look falling over her. “Oh, my goddess!” Kesphia exclaimed. “Why didn’t you say you were experienced? This is gorgeous.

Jane tried to get a peek while remaining out of view, but couldn't quite manage, so she just stared at Kesphia and Garrus. Was his painting actually good, or were Kesphia’s standards low?

“I think I could work on the lighting right here,” Garrus replied. “I haven’t done this in a while.”

“Nonsense, it’s perfect. May I?” she asked. 

“Sure,” Garrus answered. 

Confused and two sips past tipsy, Jane watched as the instructor lifted Garrus’s canvas, heading to the front of the room where she placed it on a second easel. Jane’s jaw dropped, tight, tacky paint stretching across her skin.

Horrified really shouldn't have been how Jane felt upon seeing Garrus’s painting, but it was the only word that could accurately describe her reaction. Stupefied, might have been better, maybe. 

At the front of the room, right next to the instructor’s own painting, was Garrus Vakarian’s, and it put the instructor’s to shame. Majestic lavender-shaded mountains stood just beyond a valley rolling with magenta grasses. A sunset that shimmered so brightly Jane felt warmth kiss her shoulders. For just a second Jane was sure Garrus was playing a prank on her. She stood still and looked around the room, watching all the people “ooo” and “ah” over his work. General hushed chatter batted about as everyone discussed the miracle with their neighbors. 

“Beautiful, absolutely breathtaking,” the instructor said, hand on chin, examining his painting as if she were at a museum and not a paint and drink class filled with mail workers and librarians. 

It was beautiful. And it reminded her of a painting hung in Val’s office. Garrus had been hiding this talent from her for years. Why? 

“If you’d like, Garrus,” Kesphia said, finally peeling her eyes off the painting, “you can paint whatever you’d like on the second canvas beneath your easel. It’s there for people who need a second chance, but obviously you won’t need that.” 

Garrus grabbed the other canvas and situated it on his easel, not even looking at Jane. He seemed completely unphased by the attention. 

“What the hell, Garrus?” Jane spat. “I thought you couldn't paint?”

“I never said that, I just said I didn’t want to.”

Looking relaxed and focused, Garrus got back to work behind his canvas. 

“What are you painting now?” Jane propped her hands on her hips. “Something that’ll be hung up in the Louvre?”

His arm made a rounded swooping motion across the canvas. “I don’t know what that is.”

Deadset on seeing his talent in motion, she took one step towards him then remembered the blue paint on her face and stepped back. Kesphia was sure to make her way back to Jane now that she was done showing off Garrus’s work. Face painting was probably not what Jane should have been doing with her time or resources, so she got back to work hoping Kesphia would somehow float on past her. A doubtful salarian on the opposite side of the room called for her attention, thankfully buying Jane some extra time. 

Of course it occurred to Jane halfway through her project that Garrus didn’t need to relax anymore. He seemed at ease and even happy behind his easel. But, she might as well finish so they could have a few laughs.

A mirror would have helped, but Jane was damn good at putting on makeup without one, so she was fairly confident she was getting the lines applied in a decent enough pattern. Satisfied that she got the cheeks right, she moved on to the lines along her jaw. 

Jane must have been too buzzed to notice Kesphia approaching because she popped from behind Jane's easel like an eager prairie dog. It startled Jane so badly that she almost dropped her brush, but caught it just in time.

To say Kesphia was not amused would have been an understatement. With tight lips and judging eyes she simply stared at Jane’s face for a moment before saying, “We prefer the paint stay on the canvas, ma’am.”

Jane stood up straight with squared shoulders. “I’m expressing myself,” she replied with a broad smile. The instructor gave her one last disapproving glance before she moved on. 

“Alright, what the hell are you doing over there?” Garrus asked

“I’ll show you in a minute. Just worry about your second masterpiece.”

“I’ll be finished with it before you’re done with your first.”

“Painting something simple this time?”

“No, but I’ve stared at it long enough that I can paint it pretty quickly.”

Secretive bastard. Jane huffed, then got back to work painting another line along her jaw. The trick would be to make sure it was straight even though her jaw had a fairly delicate curve to it. They had to be straight and strong, just like their inspiration. She scowled like Garrus, squinting her eyes to make them sharp, thinking that might help her get the feeling right to pull this off. 

A tall figure popped into her peripheral vision, and she was too consumed with her project and too tipsy to react with enough time. 

“Alright, what the hell are you doing?” Garrus asked as she spun away from him, desperate to hide the unfinished masterpiece on her face. 

“No, don’t look yet, I’m not done!” She raised her arms up to shield her face as his broad chest pressed to her back. 

“You are such a nerd. Show me what you’ve been doing over here.”

His hand landed on her forearm and he tugged gently. “Did you make a mess? Whatever you did to your shirt can’t be as bad as what you did to that canvas.”

“Let me work in peace,” she muttered through huffs of breath. She could have sworn someone nearby shooshed them, but she didn’t care. She was too busy struggling against Garrus’s grasping hands landing on every inch of her arms and trying to pry them away from her face to worry about what the other people in the class thought of them.  

One of his hands wound up wrapped around her waist, under her shirt, his talons purposefully brushing across her skin and tickling her. She writhed and wiggled, but he held her so tight she couldn't escape. His laugh made his chest rise and press against her back. 

“Stop it, you brute,” she said, then snorted out a laugh as he tickled her again. 

“You're making a scene, stop wiggling.” His chuckles sent warm breath along her neck. 

“You stop, idiot. You’re going to get paint on us.”

“Based on what the instructor said, it sounds like you already have paint on you.”

She laughed. It was true. All over her face.

“Alright, we’re nearly done, everyone. If we can just focus on our own paintings, and mind everyone’s personal space …” Kesphia’s sweet but strained voice called out, though it was clear she was directing her comments to two people in particular. 

Jane grunted and wiggled against his hold, shoving her hips back against his. Then, she did something really devious. Raising her voice so that others could clearly hear, she said, “You heard the woman, mind my personal space, Garrus .” 

His low, rumbling chuckle vibrated against her back. He held her still, strong arms wrapped tight around her shoulders and arms, and lowered his head. When his chin grazed the curve of her neck a warm wash of his breath fell against her ear. “You are such a little brat,” he told her with more affection than she’d ever heard in anyone’s voice. It was just a whisper, barely louder than her own excited breaths. Joyful butterflies fluttered in her stomach. 

He stepped back, letting go of her so suddenly that she lost her balance and lunged forward. On the brink of plummeting face first, she planted a foot and Garrus’s hand landed on her hip, both preventing her fall. 

The cocky squeeze of her hip was the last straw. He’d done that on purpose, letting her fall just so he could catch her at the last second. 

Oh he had no idea how much of a shit she could be. He wasn’t going to let her finish in peace, so she decided to just let him see what she’d been working on — his colony marking, expertly painted across her face. She turned around and stood up straight, hoping her wide grin wasn’t messing up her lines too much. 

His mandibles spread out wide. “Spirits, Jane,” he drawled. Bright blue eyes examined her, taking in every inch of her face, so carefully, so eagerly, that a shy smile pulled at her lips.

“Gorgeous, huh?” she said, hands on her hips and chest puffed up in pride. 

Looking amused but exasperated, he slapped a hand to his crest. “You are…” he said through a slow smile. Then he laughed. “You’re such a nerd.”

“I’m not done yet. Go back to your own canvas and let me finish.”

“Here, just stand still for a second.” He took her paintbrush from her hand, held her chin with his thumb and fingers, and swept the brush across her cheek. “There. That line was a bit crooked.”

While she tried to numb herself to the warmth blooming inside her because he’d held her chin so tenderly, and tried to ignore the way his eyes had danced with life, he stepped back to his own space and got back to work, though she could see the smile on his face never faded. 

Not that hers did either. Every moment with him was fun. Familiar yet still exciting. Somehow, within the span of just a year, their friendship had grown from a simple, awkward hug in an elevator to wrestling around like two kids in a damn painting class. 

She cleaned up her palette and brush and made sure all the paint tubes were tightly sealed, leaving Garrus in peace for a while. Once her station was cleaned and she was ready to go, her racing heart had finally settled. 

“Well, I’m done,” she said as she stepped towards him. “Let me see the master at work.”

He drew up his hand. “Hold on, I need to add one last line.” His attention turned to her, studying eyes exploring her face, while dragging his brush through blue paint. “You really pull off that marking, by the way. Almost as well as I do.”

Jane mimicked Kesphia’s contemplative look, her hand on her chin and her eyes sharp and thoughtful.  “Your face is the only true masterpiece here.”

Whether it was for effect or was a subconscious reaction, his hip cocked out to the side. “Don’t I know it.”

They smiled at each other, unreserved and playful.

“Come on, let me see what you’re working on now. I showed you mine.”

“No, give me a minute,” he said and turned back to his canvas, making a few quick movements, no doubt trying to hurry before she could get a peek.

“I showed you my dumb face.” 

“Hey, you’re the adult who chose to spend her evening painting her face. Don’t get mad at me.”

She stepped forward, but his long arm reached out, planting his hand on her chest to hold her back. She tried to step around him, but he caught her just in time, turning her away from the canvas and holding her tight against his chest with an arm wrapped around her shoulders. All the while still painting like a pro.

“Don’t interrupt me,” he chided. “I’m painting something beautiful here.”

Clearly he wasn’t going to allow her to see what he was up to, so she waited patiently. A frustrated little growl grated out of her. “You are such a bastard! Why didn’t you tell me you could paint?”

“I haven’t in a long time,” he said. With him distracted, she ducked and dodged, making it past his long reach. He tried to catch her, but she just rolled into his arms instead. 

Though he had her in a hold again, firmly tucked against his body, this time she faced the canvas. When her eyes focused on his painting, her short, huffing laughter died immediately. Staring back at her was her own face, even more beautiful than she’d give herself credit for. Delicate curves on her jawline, rounded, blushing cheeks, and big beautiful green eyes that sparkled like gemstones. And her hair...it framed her face, as vibrant as flames dancing in a breeze. The last touch was the blue paint adorning her nose, cheeks, and jaw in bold lines...the colony marking she’d just painted on herself. His colony marking. 

Garrus examined his work with keen eyes that usually searched. Now they were simply taking in what he’d created. The night at Flux a few months ago suddenly made so much more sense. He wasn’t just a math nerd rambling about geometry. He was an artist. He knew the curves of her face because he probably saw the contours and textures of everything around him. To reduce his work to shapes and colors would be an injustice, though. The way he’d captured her hair and eyes would convince a stranger that she was a beautiful creature. And she’d only seen the smile he’d given her in pictures. Moments frozen in time when she was happiest. What he’d painted was so simple, just her smiling face, yet it was full of life. Jane saw his heart, and her own free, bright soul, in every brushstroke. 

Math was about the brain — numbers and logic. What she saw in Garrus’s painting, though, was from his spirit.   

“Garrus, it’s…” Jane looked up at him and saw his big, beautiful face filled with humble pride. She nearly hugged him, but instead she smacked him, right on the arm. He flinched and said ‘ow’, but he deserved his punishment for being such a big dope. “How can you paint this well?”

The instructor interrupted them, telling everyone it was time to pack up because the class was over. She asked Garrus if he’d like to come up to retrieve his first painting, which he declined, saying he’d take the second one instead. 

Jane left her melted ice cream scape behind.  

They made their way to a late-night food stand on the Presidium that backed up to the lake and a nice grassy area, Garrus carrying his painting of her the whole way. Once they got to the place and stepped up to order their food, the turian behind the tall counter looked over Jane’s face and gave her a funny look. They ordered their food, awkward energy hanging in the air. 

“Like my colony markings?” Jane finally said. “I just got them, they haven't dried quite yet.”

The turian just looked at her, then to Garrus, and back to her. “Condiments are to the side,” she said, then turned to the next person in line.

While waiting for their food, Jane stole glances at other turians nearby to see if anyone else was staring. She whispered to Garrus, “Shit, is this offensive?” 

“Not to me,” he answered. With his finger hooked, he ran the back of his knuckle over the tip of her nose. “I just hope that paint doesn't stain.” 

“Damnit,” she said, horrified. “I never considered whether or not it would stain.”

“I’m kidding. It should come off pretty easily. And it’s probably just confusing, I don’t think anyone has ever seen a human with a colony marking before.”

She rubbed at one of the lines on her jaw, but he captured her hand to stop her.

“Watch it, rub it around too much and you’ll have a blue face.”

“Oh fuck.” She laughed. “Why did I do this?”

“Well that’s obvious, you can’t stand how devastatingly handsome I am, so you’re trying to steal my look.”

Letting out a huff, she threw her head back and arms up. “Stop reading my mind!” 

Together they fell to deep chuckles and exchanged warm smiles, which was just about all she needed in life.   

They grabbed their food. Without exchanging a word they bypassed the tables set up just outside the shops, walked for a short while away from the people and the harsh lights, and found a nice secluded spot in the grass where they sat down and dug into their food and beer. 

Garrus placed the canvas on the grass beside him, and Jane kept stealing glances at it. She wanted to ask him, yet again, where he learned to paint like that, and why he hadn’t told her about his talent, but he had evaded all her questions so far. He’d answer — if he wanted to — in his own time. 

The other thought plaguing her mind was far more troubling. Did he paint her like that — so beautiful and happy — because he was trying to make a beautiful painting, or because he actually saw her like that? 

🖌🖌🖌

The painting of Jane filled Garrus with mixed emotions, lingering thoughts, and too many sensations. Residual anger at his dad that clung too tight despite time and efforts to ignore it. Black night, he was thirty years old and that bitterness still gnawed at him. He gave up painting and drawing long ago. Grief turned to stubbornness turned to embarrassment. 

So much time wasted. 

While on their way to the class, with each slow step forward every object and sound and smell had only been rushing sensations washing over him. The moment he’d settled in front of his blank canvas, though, all internal thoughts and emotions that he held under the surface altered. They took shape and surfaced. Every fear and drop of anger evaporated, and a sense of assuredness flowed through him as if he’d never cast off the one escape he had as a kid — the one thing that used to fill him with confidence, that shut out the galaxy and allowed him to simply create something beautiful, something just as he saw it. 

Garrus kept glancing at the painting of Jane that rested against a bench just a few feet away. Without a single conscious thought, he’d painted her face as he always saw her — happy, filled with sunshine, and undeniable evidence that there’s true beauty in the galaxy. 

And that bright blue colony marking popped so perfectly next to her red hair. Like it was meant to be worn by her.  

But now that it sat there, those big green eyes staring back at him as though he were special, as though they saw someone that made the galaxy turn, a bit of dread ate at his lonely heart. How could Jane see the image he created of her and not know what his heart kept asking for, even though he told it to just let go?    

She was completely unaware, though, and he’d keep it that way until he could shake off those thoughts, because their friendship made his days easier, gave him a reason to laugh and a hand to hold when he needed it. She needed it too. Lately, more than ever before. Whether it was work, or what happened to her in that damned alley a year ago, Jane had clearly been struggling. He’d do whatever he could to help her through, though. Without anyone else to turn to, someone who knew what working homicide did to a person’s spirit, they found support in each other.    

They’d lead each other through the dark, no matter what life threw at them. 

Only a faint, warm glow of light from the market area spilled over them, comfortably illuminating but not too bright. They just talked. And laughed. Full and finished with their beers, they wound up lying down, staring up at the Citadel’s fake night sky filled with bright, beautiful, fake stars. 

“Thanks for going, by the way,” Jane said, breaking a long, comfortable silence. 

“Sure,” he answered simply. A loud laugh carried from somewhere in the distance, drunk friends fucking around on their way home, probably. “Sorry I made you work for it.”

“It’s ok, your company is worth the effort.”  

She was drifting towards a deep relaxation, a soporific look washing over her. He envied that, despite the release he’d felt when he picked up the paintbrush, and the drinks he’d had throughout the night, he still felt a little restless knot in his chest.

“Hey, wait a minute,” Jane said. “Did you actually draw a picture of that woman and give it to her? The one Nihlus teased you about? Galvinia?”

Of course she’d remember that piece of embarrassing information because luck never shined on him. He sighed, swearing that the next time Nihlus mentioned anything embarrassing he’d kick his damned ass. The pummeling he’d receive in return would be worth it, too. “No, I didn’t. I wasn’t drawing or painting anymore by then.”

“Why? No time during military service for art?” 

That knot wound tighter. Her questions were measured, though easy, which he appreciated — she always wanted to know more, but only what he was willing to talk about. That was probably why he was able to answer her questions so willingly, instead of making a joke or getting uptight. 

“I was supposed to go on a study abroad program when I was young,” he said, his voice heavy with emotion, but she gave no indication it mattered to her. “It would have pushed back boot camp by a year, but I really wanted to go. A year at an asari school on Thessia was…a big thing for a turian kid. I drew a lot, but I never thought I was good enough to be accepted.”

“But you applied anyway? Takes a lot of guts as a kid.”

“No, that would be my mom and Sol. My sneaky sister trespassed into my room, pilfered some drawings, and gave them to Mom to send in.”

“Why didn’t you go, then?”

“Mom got in an accident back on Cipritine. Dad was here at the time and couldn’t get back home. I missed the ship so I could stay with her in the hospital.”

“That’s bullshit.” The heat in her voice wasn’t necessary, but he appreciated her sentiment anyhow — she always offered unflinching support, even regarding old slights. “They didn’t let you just start late?”

He drummed a beat against his keel with worry-stiff fingers. “I’d already delayed it once, got scared and backed out. I wore out their patience. Keep putting things off because you’re scared, and people will lose interest. Life goes on without you.”

“Garrus, it was kind of you to stay with her. You have a good heart.”

“Mom always said my head and my heart worked so much that neither could win.”

“Val’s insightful.”

He hummed in agreement. “I stopped doing anything creative after that. I blamed my dad for years. That’s why I stopped talking to him for a whole year. There was just so much bitterness that boiled over eventually. It was a lot easier to blame him for every damn moment I failed than realize I missed my chance because I was scared.”

“I’m sorry.” Her voice was soft and her reply was simple, but it did something to his heart. Unwound that knot just a little. 

“It’s ok. I’m a pretty good detective. And, I clearly wouldn’t have met you if I’d gone down that path. I don’t think you’ve ever even seen art, based on that sad thing you created tonight.”

“Shut it. I may not know anything about art, but I have a friend who clearly does, even though he’s been hiding it. Maybe he can help me pick out some pieces for my apartment.”

“He’d probably like that,” Garrus said. 

They lay side-by-side in the grass, an arm behind her head propping it up, and one of his arms behind his head to do the same. Their other arms lay loosely at their sides between them, hands almost touching, so close he felt the whisper of her warmth against his skin. In silence, they watched the manufactured night sky, a brilliant deep navy verging on black with thousands of twinkling, mesmerizing stars looking so peaceful. He convinced himself to try being just as peaceful. 

“Hey.” She looked over at him, and once he turned to meet her gaze, she said, “I’m proud of you for getting into that school. That’s a big deal. I hope you’re proud of yourself too.”

He bit back a sarcastic response and couldn’t ignore the lightness he felt at her words. Strong, funny, kind; she called him those things, and more, often. She sounded so sure of this image of him that he never even worried about disappointing her because, despite his hesitance and self-doubt, he believed her. “It…yeah, it felt pretty great.”

“You look good,” she said with a soft smile that put his painting to shame. “Happier, a bit lighter. I’m glad you’re painting again.” 

Finding words was hard, so all that came out of him was a soft sigh. Life wasn’t exactly what you wanted, or thought you wanted, he was starting to accept that. But maybe if you slowed down and opened your eyes, it was better than that. What he said in her hospital room the night she was shot — that if you stop staring at the stars, you might find peace in what’s right in front of you — returned to him. Jane was right in front of him, day in and day out. A constant. As sure as a rising sun. 

Holding on to what you lost only led to heartache, an unfulfilled spirit. Looking forward was the only way to feel whole. He wasn’t quite there, but maybe he was pretty close.

That night was a start, at least. 

His hand, lying in the cool grass, flexed against crisp blades and warm earth. A warm body would feel better, but a simple sensation was better than emptiness. 

Cool skin brushed against his last finger. Jane’s knuckle. Unsure whether it was accidental, he held his hand still as stone. A single, slow breath dragged out of his heavy lungs and when it was finally out she took his hand in hers, her soft skin enveloping his. A simple comfort. An assurance between friends. 

Anything that felt suffocating — terrible memories, self-doubts, worries about the future — all vanished when the right person was at your side. For Garrrus, that person was Jane.    

“This may be really awkward.” Jane sounded tired, and he guessed they’d be getting up soon and going home, she to her apartment and him to his. “But, um, are you keeping the painting, or is it mine?” She ended her question with a soft chuckle. 

His throat tightened. The words were in his head but his body was reluctant to let them go. “You, uh, mind if I keep it?” Releasing them only fed his nerves. 

He waited for a question, for her to ask why he wanted it, what exactly he’d do with a picture of her blushing, joyful face. Just to remind him of finding his creative voice again, he’d tell her.

It probably wasn’t a good idea for him to keep it. 

“Sure. But only if you paint a picture of me and Rocket so I can hang it up in my apartment.”

“I can do that.” 

The knot in his chest unwound, leaving room for him to be thankful for the way they’d spent the night, for damned Nihlus being such a pushy bastard, and for the opportunity to paint again. 

And for Jane. He was always thankful for Jane. Every weird, funny, adorable inch of her. 

 

Chapter Text

Despite an unpleasant experience last year, Jane didn’t hate hospitals. For one, she’d only stayed in a hospital once, when she’d been shot by a turian in a dirty alley and was hauled off to get stitched up. And two, even though you’d think that would’ve been an unhappy memory, her best friend had made the whole ordeal bearable — no, he had actually made it comfortable. What he had offered was simple: a warm hand, his calm presence, and soft subvocals that carried her to dreamland. 

She didn’t realize that she’d be back in the hospital so soon, though. This trip wasn’t due to a second injury, but her partner’s. Unlike hers, Garrus’s injury was one hundred percent his fault — well fifty percent his fault, and fifty percent Nihlus’s. 

It happened during a standard sparring session with Nihlus, Garrus and Jane, which was always a great opportunity for them to stay limber and reactive. You know, in case a krogan pins your partner to a wall and you have to pop their skull open. While Jane had tapped out, Garrus and Nihlus continued to spar. She wasn’t quite sure what triggered it, but challenges had been made. Their bullshitting turned to roughhousing. To Jane’s horror, right before her eyes, the idiots had gone too far. The cracks that came from their bodies were stomach-turning. Nihlus wound up with a split arm plate (and was in the room next door) and Garrus with a fractured spur.

Besides calling Nihlus an asshole, Garrus had been mostly silent after the incident, and without any argument or justifying, he accepted Jane’s accusations of being a dumbass. He even admitted to it, which only made her feel guilty. Trouble was, it tore her up to see him hurt. Finally she understood why Garrus had been so distraught when she’d been shot. He’d taken care of her afterward, gently guiding her upstairs, opening jars that were stuck (because god damn did her core muscles scream for weeks afterward), and doing other simple tasks. Whenever she needed something — and even if she didn't — he'd always been right by her side. 

As Garrus sat on the exam table, still and silent and awaiting some relief from the pain, Jane stood at his side wondering if she could do something to make him feel better. Once they released him, maybe she’d pick up some cavvalis on their way back to his apartment. It was his current comfort dish. 

Her eyes explored his unreadable face. Either he was taking this all in stride, or he was embarrassed. It was probably a bit of both. 

“Sure you don’t want me to call your family?” Jane offered for the third time.

“No, I’m fine, but thanks.”

“You made me talk to them when I got shot.”

“It’s a minor injury,” he said with a light sigh. 

“Which you only have because you were being—”

“A dumbass,” he conceded as the nurse walked in and sat down in a chair beside his leg. She took his vitals with a sweep of her omni-tool, then made a note on the datapad. When she checked the top snap on the brace wrapped tightly around his legspur, Garrus winced. It was curious that they hadn’t offered anything to relieve his discomfort yet — seemed pretty dumb of them, actually. 

Jane turned, intending to ask why he hadn’t received something for the pain, but when she saw the not-so-subtle eye fucking the tawny-plated nurse was giving Garrus, Jane figuratively and literally stumbled. Thankfully, Garrus didn’t pay attention to her uncrossing her ankles and losing her balance for just a moment. When Jane heard the rich, honeyed ripple come from the nurse’s subvocals, it felt like every drop of warmth leaked right out of her. In her mind’s eye, she clearly saw herself slapping the nurse’s left mandible right off her gorgeous face, maybe popping her in the eye well enough to ruin her ability to make hungry eyes at Garrus. The thought of committing minor assault was so vivid that she could almost feel the woman’s plate popping against her hand, feel the satisfying burn on her skin. Jane covertly clenched her fist, then shook it out to dissipate the sensation. 

Once upon a time she simply acknowledged that her partner, her best friend, was handsome. And then the big nerd had to start taking care of her, teasing her, wrestling around with her and tickling her. Adoring him was regrettable, even though it seemed inevitable. But jealousy, and expectations that his time was hers, wasn’t. When had her stupid crush escalated from melancholy disappointment that an old flame had flirted with Garrus at a Halloween party, to dreaming of assaulting poor nurses who were just trying to do their job? 

It was juvenile. Embarrassing. And something she couldn't shake quite as easily as the need to pop the woman’s plate sideways.  

The nurse looked up at her, sickly sweet smile on her delicately fluttering mandibles. “It’s so nice of you to stay by his side as we bandage him up.”

There was a question inflected into those words, as if the nurse was trying to get Jane to admit whether they were friends or more, and Jane really didn’t want to give her the satisfaction of hearing the truth. Would she ask him out, then, right there in front of Jane? It shouldn’t have been embarrassing, but Jane’s heart was a festering pit of anxiety, dread, and irritation. 

Were her cheeks red? Heat pulsed up her neck and face. 

It was Garrus’s glance lifting to Jane that clued her in to the awkwardly long absence of her reply.  

But Jane, unabashedly stubborn to her very core, wouldn't admit a goddamn thing if she didn’t have to, so she refused to tell the ogling nurse that she and Garrus were only friends even if it made her look like an ass. And she was A-okay with being the biggest dumbass in the room as long as she retained her pride. Rocking on her heels, she shoved her hands in her pockets. “Yeah, well, comes with the emergency contact job role, right?” 

The nurse looked up at Garrus, who sat there, not speaking a word. “You have someone to take care of you tonight?” A mischievous, beautiful smile parted her mandibles. “I’m sure you do, but I have to ask. For our records.”

Right.

Jane watched Garrus carefully, forgetting to breathe properly. Garrus swallowed a deep gulp around the lump that had to be stuck in his throat. Well, no better way to get over your best friend than to witness him finding his new mate in the sexy nurse practically offering herself on a platter. 

“I’ll, mmm, be fine,” he said. 

Jane’s heart beat faster, silently, selfishly, thankful to put off seeing her friend start to date again. That was a rejection, right? Though joy prickled in Jane’s chest, it didn’t come without guilt. More than anything she wanted him to be happy, to have a fulfilling relationship with someone who’d promise to be good to him. 

The nurse’s smile only faded slightly. Looking down at the datapad on her lap, she tapped a few fields and nodded. “We recommend you at least ask someone to get you home.”

Garrus’s eyes flicked to Jane and back to the nurse. “Jane’s got me.”

Jane shouldn’t have felt victorious because of Garrus’s answer. But she did. Pursing her lips to suppress a terrible, immature smile, she nodded and accepted the datapad. 

The nurse’s filed talon, painted silver with decorative, tiny jewels affixed along the edges, grazed the screen. “Please read the short disclaimer and sign here, for our records. We’ll send a list of common and adverse reactions to your omni-tool, and if he displays any adverse reactions on the way home please let us know.”

While Jane checked all the boxes and signed her name, the doctor returned, lifting Garrus’s leg to check the brace again. Another wince on Garrus’s poor, tired face spiked Jane’s irritation. If they didn’t give him something soon, Jane wouldn't be responsible for the things she’d say. 

“Alright, Garrus,” the doctor said. “I think you’re ready to be discharged. Ready for the painkillers?”

“Sure,” he muttered. 

“Have you taken Simbadol before?”

He nodded.

“Any adverse reactions? Chest pain, muscle spasms?”

He shook his head and the doctor patted his knee. At the doctor’s approval, the nurse finally administered the medication to the inner bicep via a syringe and Garrus tugged his sleeve back down. 

“That’ll last three to four days,” the doctor said. “And you should be fine with over-the-counter medication if you’re still sore after that.”

Garrus answered with a quick nod. 

The doctor turned to Jane. “Now that type of painkiller sometimes makes turians a bit—”

Before she finished, Nihlus stuck his head in the door. “I forgot to mention not to give him Simbadol.”

“Why?” the doctor asked, slightly alarmed. Very alarmed, Jane’s gaze shot to Garrus, who seemed irritated but calm. “That’s what we just gave him. Is he allergic? It wasn’t in his medical history.”

Nihlus cracked a smile. “No, he just—”

“I’ll be fine,” Garrus grumbled. “I was young. It won’t be a problem now.”

“You told me you had no adverse reactions.” The doctor looked as furious as her professionalism allowed. Jane fully empathized, and would be just as alarmed if she hadn’t picked up on that sharp mischief in NIhlus’s eyes, the one he always got when he was giving Garrus a hard time.  

“Oh he has react—”

Jane’s focus whipped to Garrus when a light, grumbly gowl rumbled in his chest. “ Get out, Nih .”

Nihlus’s eyes flicked to Jane and back to Garrus. “Want me to make sure you get home okay?” 

“No.” Garrus glared at Nihlus.

“Alright,” Nihlus answered congenially, because he never held a grudge, unlike the scowling nerd sitting next to her. 

The wink Nihlus gave Jane was a bit obnoxious, but she was so tired and over the day that she just wrinkled her nose up at him before he disappeared down the hall.  

The doctor and nurse both turned to Garrus with measured concern in their eyes. “You’ve had an adverse reaction before?”

“No,” Garrus muttered. “I’m not allergic and I’ll be fine, just drowsy. Nihlus’s only hobby is harassing me.” He kicked out his bandaged leg. “Hence the spur. Can I go now?”

“Drowsiness is all? No prior adverse reactions?”

No.” Garrus checked the time on his omni-tool. “Now I’d like to get home so I can pass out in peace.” 

The moment the doctor said he was free to leave, Garrus slid off the table and grabbed Jane’s hand, pulling her along after him. 

Half way out of Huerta, he began fiddling and fidgeting with her fingers. It wasn’t unusual for their hands to link, but only in moments when they were struggling, when the weight of the galaxy had taxed them beyond stretching point. Desperately holding on to her, keeping her close at his side as they booked it down corridors and maneuvered around turns, was a bit odd. And he certainly had never fidgeted with her fingers before. It was almost like he was petting them.  

“Does that medication make you anxious?” Jane asked as they waited at the skycar port. 

“No,” he said flatly, checking his omni-tool for the time.  

Jane discreetly watched his hand lower to his thigh, where it began brushing circles, as if petting himself. 

“You sure you’re ok?”

The brushing became so vigorous his skin rasped against the pants fabric. “I’m fine.” 

 

🔅🔅🔅

He wasn’t fine. 

While they got out of the hospital without further incident, Garrus continued to hold on to her hand and brushed circles against his own thigh — which she chalked up to anxiety. The same thing had happened to her after she rolled her ankle in academy back on Earth. It had felt like her skin was crawling all over her body. She gave Garrus a sympathetic glance. 

Despite Garrus’s somewhat odd behavior, no one had really given them a second look. But once they climbed inside the skycar and Jane set their destination to his apartment, the drugs seemed to finally hit full force. She watched in shock and curiosity when he held his hand to his face and buried his mandible into his palm, subvocals rippling wildly.

“Um, what are you doing ?”

“Jane,” he mumbled. 

“What?” she asked, averting her eyes. That was definitely not an anxiety response. What the hell did they give him? He looked absolutely ridiculous, like a cat in pure bliss being petted, his mouth soft and body limp.

He didn’t answer, though, just kept nuzzling his own palm. 

She whipped out her omni-tool, eyes ripping through the adverse reactions. 

Some patients may experience the following side effects: dilated pupils, relaxation, drowsiness, enhanced sensation or pleasure, heightened emotionality, and heightened sensory perception. These are not a reason for concern. If any of these occur in the patient, rest and hydration are recommended. In rarer cases, memory impairment may occur in this state.

So that was normal? An actual, detailed heads-up from the doctor would have been nice. Nihlus’s knowing smile made more sense. Bastard. 

Adverse side effects include increased heart rate, chest pain, and muscle tremors. If any of these occur please contact your doctor immediately. 

Trying to remain calm and not imagine the worst, Jane reached for Garrus’s wrist, turned it over and scanned his pulse. His fingers wiggled around, seeking her hovering hand out like small, needy creatures. 

“Stop moving,” she said, trying not to sound impatient. 

His mandibles snapped tight, and the softest, most apologetic look fell upon him. It tugged at her heart strings. He stilled, at least, so even though he was clearly loopy he was compliant. Hopefully, that would last. 

“I’m sorry, I’m just worried.” Finally she got a read. Normal heart rate. “Do you have any chest pain? Or do your muscles feel funny?”

“No,” he muttered. When she looked up at him his eyes were hazy and unreadable. Garrus was fucking high. Jesus.

She reached over and placed her palm on his keel. “No pain here?”

He shook his head, staring at her so intently she had to bite her lip to restrain her laugh. 

“You feel ok?”

He nodded, blinking slowly. A silly grin spread his mandibles. 

“You’re high,” she told him, letting her light laugh escape. 

He laughed along with her, though she swore he had no idea what he was laughing at, which only made the situation even funnier and caused her laugh to roll into a deep chuckle. All their laughter stopped, though, when he reached up, took her wrist resting at his keel, and raised her hand up to his face. She was so dumbstruck all she could do was watch as he rested his mandible in her palm and nuzzled, brushing, rubbing, and purring. 

“Garrus, you, um, this is…” His plate was smooth and warm against her skin. 

A blissful sigh rippled from his chest, but he didn’t stop rubbing and brushing. She tried to pull her hand back but he used his other hand to secure his hold. 

“You have a perfectly good hand for this. You don’t need mine.”

“Jane," he murmured.

“What?”

Clearly he was too focused on her hand because he didn’t respond. What in the hell was going on in his doped up mind?

She tried to gently pry his hands loose, but he was somehow just as slippery as he was strong. Every time she got a finger off he replaced it with another.

There was no use wrenching her hand from him, so she settled in as best she could. While the skycar zipped through traffic at a steady pace towards his apartment, he used her hand as a nuzzling post. That lasted for five awkward, confusing minutes before she was able to twist it from his insanely tight grip. When she finally was free, he sought her replacement — the car seat. He turned to face his headrest and began to rub his mandible vigorously against that. 

“Way to make a girl feel special,” Jane said with a chuckle. 

As he opened his eyes and locked them with hers, the skycar came to a sudden stop. Warmth bloomed in his gaze, and it actually looked like his entire body, from fringe to feet, melted. “Jane,” he said, his voice thick with emotion. 

She took a deep breath. There was no point asking him ‘what’ — he wasn’t going to tell her what he needed or wanted to say. “Is one of the side effects of that damn drug that you think I don’t know my name. And you need to keep saying it for me to learn?”

He didn’t answer, just jutted his neck out to rest his chin on top of the headrest and smiled, wide and goofy. 

“All right, let’s get you inside and in bed, hm? Can you get out on your own?”

Without a word he turned and opened his door, all seven feet of him folding out like a gangly wave. Thankfully, he stayed upright. 

“Hang on,” she said, leaping out her side. When she made it to him he scooped her up and pressed her into a side hug. His happy trill was downright adorable. 

“I never took you for such a cuddler, Garrus,” she joked. “Kind of surprises me.” 

“Hmm.”

Her brows scrunched. “That’s not much of an answer.” 

Without warning his body suddenly slumped against her, all 300 pounds of him. Her knees buckled and thank god she put in all that time on leg days, because otherwise she’d be smooshed and he’d have a concussion from landing on the concrete. Once her shaking legs recovered, she patted his shoulder. “Let’s get you home. I think you need some rest.”

“Yeah,” he said, tone uncharacteristically bright— jovial, even. It wasn’t right. 

He leaned on her the entire journey up to his apartment, so Jane was exhausted by the time they reached his door. When he stood up straight she waited for him to open it, but as the seconds kept passing he stared at it. After a moment his head turned towards her. 

“Mm, Jane,” was all he said, but thankfully the familiar deep drawl was back in his voice. Then he fell against her again. She let out a surprised grunt but caught him.  

What , Garrus?” she grumbled as she swiped her omni-tool at his door, thankful it slid open on the first swipe because he was folded just about on top of her and the weight was about to take her down. 

Jane stepped forward, but before she could get very far Garrus’s chest bumped into her back, almost knocking her over. Recovering from the stumble, she glared at him over her shoulder, only to get a face full of keel. Before she had time to react, his head fell to her shoulder, his arms wrapped around her waist, and he picked her up. She gasped, limbs scrambling. It was no match for his tight hold, though, so she gave up and hung limp, like an understuffed teddy bear. While she tried to process her shock, he pressed her to his chest and with his head still on her shoulder carried her into his apartment, legs dangling beneath her, swaying with each of his steps. Her arms were free, but while seven feet off the ground, they wouldn’t be much help if he fell or dropped her. 

Garrus ,” she huffed, “what the hell are you doing?”  

All she got was silence and a spine-cracking squeeze, which actually felt nice after their sparring session. And, honestly, Garrus’s strength was pretty impressive. 

“God, just don’t drop me or fall, ok?”

As if jinxing it, his leg bumped into the back of hers and his feet fumbled, then they teetered to the side. Jane gasped, certain she was about to be a human pancake, but he recovered quickly. 

While his giant strides carried them into his living room she decided to be practical. “You hungry?” she asked, turning the kitchen light on with her omni-tool, faintly illuminating the living room space in soft, warm light. Her question was a valid one, though the fact that she was hanging like a ragdoll in his grasp made her feel a bit ridiculous for asking. 

“Nnnmmm,” he said. 

She took that for a ‘no’. 

He carried her to the couch, giving her hope that this weird ride was about to end. “Thanks for the lift. Just put me down here.”

Worry spiked in her chest when one of his knees landed on the couch, followed by his other. And she was still in his arms. No. Oh god, no

“Careful, don’t hurt your spur!” Or my entire body. 

Before she could reason with him, he held her closer and with a twist of his body he leaned backwards, easing himself down. Terrified and helpless, every muscle in her body stiffened. There was nothing she could do but close her eyes and hope for the best because Garrus was going down, and she felt like that naked lady on the front of a sinking ship, strapped to the keel and forced to share its fate. The fact that Jane was clothed was the only thing she could be thankful for. 

As if in an unplanned trust exercise, she let her weight sink backwards against his solid body and somehow, by luck or some divine spirit, he settled down while holding her safely and securely the entire way down. Miraculously, the whole ordeal was less dangerous than she expected, but the ride wasn’t one she’d be willingly hopping on again anytime soon.   

Her fear delayed her logical processing, but it finally kicked in that he had laid them down on his couch. Together. Him on his back and holding her to his side. After a few calming breaths, her chest rising and pulse racing, she tried to wiggle away, but he held her close against his body and seemed oblivious that she was trying to get free. When she looked up at him, his eyes fell to hers and he smiled. Not silly, or goofy — but soft and sweet. Because he looked so happy, she allowed her shoulder to rest into the nook between his chest and arm, and her hip to ease into the cushion beneath her. As if he sensed her relaxation, and received some sense of delight from it, his smile grew. 

Although her body relaxed and accepted the situation, her mind just couldn’t. What the hell was he thinking, and what was he going to say when he sobered up? Hugs. Hand holding. Wrestling around. Now this. They needed space, that much was clear, not…whatever this was. Lying on his couch together. Cuddling .  

At that exact moment, she received a ping on her omni-tool. She should have been less surprised when she glanced down to see who it was from. Still, a burning irritation welled up inside her.

Nihlus: Do not lie to me. How out of his mind is he and how much of your personal space has he invaded? 

Jane: You’re a dead man if you knew this was going to happen and didn’t tell me.

Nihlus: Please send pictures. I’ll pay good credits. 

Jane: How long is this going to last?

Nihlus: Oh, only till morning probably. I can only assume he’s treating you like a petting partner right now, so I’ll just say enjoy it before his uptight personality returns. 

Jane: You’re a fucking real bastard sometimes. 

After setting her omni-tool to silent with enough energy to feel like she was taking a swipe at Nihlus, she lowered her arm, but once it was close enough to Garrus's chest to feel the warmth radiating from his body, she froze. It was so awkward, so horribly weird, to actually lay her arm down on his chest — she’d be able to feel his heart, feel his breaths. Her body filled with uncomfortable, wiggling energy. 

Enjoy this? Enjoy being held down by her high-as-a-kite partner? Enjoy hearing him murmur her name over and over with god knows what going on in his mind? If he’d just tell her what he needed she’d happily give it to him. 

Knowing she couldn’t keep her arm hovering an inch above his chest until he relaxed his hold, she lowered it the rest of the way, but swore she wouldn’t let it really rest against him. 

“Garrus, do you realize how weird this is? Or are you just completely out of it?”

“Jane,” was all he said. It was like her name was the only damn word he knew anymore. As speechless as he was, though, it seemed his body was fully capable of finding amusements. While he held her tight against his body with one arm wrapped around her waist, his other lifted and inched towards her face. Tenderly, his hand landed on her head and he began to pet her, palm smoothing down her hair, fingers lacing in between strands every few strokes, his talons grazing her scalp. It was so relaxing. And so odd. 

Her body tensed. “I should go. It probably feels good now, but you’ll be mortified when you wake up and realize how…silly you’re being.”

He said nothing, no clarifying words or assuring sentiments, just kept petting her with long, heavy, languid strokes. He'd never touched her so carefully, or so sweetly, before. Sometimes he’d reach out and play with her hair, but only a quick, gentle tug at her strands, or brush it from her face for her when her hands were full. But this was new, and strange, and not a good idea at all. 

“I should go,” she said again.

“Stay,” he said, finally uttering something other than her name.  

This was some sort of horrible karma for her jealousy back at the hospital. Guilt began to eat at her. As if he could sense it, and wanted to soothe her worries, he snuggled her closer. She let out a short groan as he squeezed the air out of her before relaxing his embrace. 

His touch was so tender, so caring, that despite all the guilt her body and mind both calmed. He’d held her before, in an alleyway as she bled out. That had been purely platonic, just a moment to comfort a friend, and that’s what this was as well. She had needed that, and maybe he needed this. 

Just a simple, platonic moment. Another amongst so many before. 

As if reading her mind, Garrus lifted his hand from her head and placed it to her abdomen where her hoodie and shirt had creeped up, exposing her stomach. With the back of his talon, he stroked along her side, right where her scar left a one inch ripple. Skin tingling, she held her breath at his intimate touch. His sad, drawn-out trill made her chest feel tight and heavy. It had been such a scary day, but lying in his arms had chased away nearly all of her fears. Is this what was going on now with him? Was he uneasy? Did he just need simple comfort from someone who cared? A warm embrace to forget the pain surging in his leg? 

He stroked the spot again, pulling her closer. She became lost in his eyes, pulled in and soothed despite the unwelcome rapture of slipping into the deep blue depths that were heavy with unspoken sentiment. It was mesmerizing how his eyes could sometimes be so bright, icy, and sharp. And sometimes they were deep, dark and held a thousand shimmering mysteries. What she wouldn’t give to know the thoughts that lurked under the depths of his captivating eyes. Maybe it would only lead to heartache. 

But maybe that was a lesson she had to learn. Once and for all. The idea of easily walking out of this terrible place she’d found herself in with him was starting to seem laughable. His talon stroked her stomach again. Something shining in his eyes tore at her gut. It was the look of loneliness, of regret. He’d been scared, his eyes told her that. 

“I was scared too,” she managed to say through her tight, burning throat. 

He watched her for another moment, his eyes exploring hers. With every blink that darkness faded, light returning to them. Sadness replaced with happiness. After a heavy sigh, his gaze drifted to the ceiling and his hand lifted from her stomach. He found a place for it on her hip and held her tight against his side. His eyes closed, confident and comfortable, clearly intent on going to sleep.  

As if this was all normal. 

He didn't want her to go, and she didn’t want to either. So, she decided to wait until he passed out, then she’d wiggle out of his hold. There wasn’t much she could do while she waited, and not much to look at in that position. He’d inconveniently placed her back to the vid screen, so she could either stare at the back cushion on his couch, or at her own hand resting on his chest. 

Or, she could stare at his face. She tried very hard not to do the latter, but after studying the cushion stitching for so long that she spotted a flaw that begged to be picked at, then at her hand until she felt like she knew every line and freckle in her skin, and every crease in her knuckles, her eyes wandered upward. 

The very moment she gave in her breath hitched. He was so handsome. So incredibly, perfectly, unfairly handsome. Smooth tawny skin at his neck. Chiseled, strong, yet refined mandibles. Angular lines in the plating that formed his cheeks, nose, brows, and crest. His colony markings fit every angle of his face perfectly, and the deep, intense blue was simply meant for his eye-catching silver plating. She felt the twisting urge in her chest to reach out and run her fingertips along his mandibles and cheeks. Trace the line of his browplates. Touch the tip of his nose. Why shouldn’t she? His touch was familiar to her, and not just because he had just spent the last half hour treating her hands and head as if they belonged to him. Even aside from his earlier pets and nuzzles, he was constantly touching her. Every damn day he found some way to touch her or tease her or hold her. 

So why couldn’t she reach out and indulge the urge to touch him as he always touched her? Lying in his arms, it was so hard to see wrong versus right. Of course they were friends, he only felt platonic affection for her, but his hand fell to her back or hip on a daily basis as if those spots were it’s personal resting place. And he always found a way to run his fingers through her hair, brushing it aside or twirling a tendril when he teased her. 

How was he so good at compartmentalizing their friendship and the need to be touched, to be adored? Why was it right for him to touch her like that, and wrong for her to allow herself to lie by his side? Wrong for her to know what his plate felt like under her palm — because he certainly knew what her skin felt like. 

When had normal, acceptable lines blurred so confusingly for them? Their friendship, everything they said and did, felt so natural, that nothing seemed wrong even though she knew deep down that she couldn’t handle this closeness with him anymore. 

Touch wasn’t simply a form of affection, though. For him, it was a shelter from a dark world full of disappointment. It had been for her once, too. And it could be again. It would be again. 

He looked so content lying there, breathing easily, chest rising and falling in a soothing rhythm. Holding her body so close to his. Unaware because his mind was clouded with painkillers. 

She couldn’t reciprocate the sheltering touches because he was on drugs. That was the simple, harsh truth. He wasn’t in his right mind, and she was. It was wrong to reciprocate his innocent, affectionate touches, pure and simple. But she wanted so badly with every breath in her lungs and beat in her heart, every itch in her wanting skin, for it to be right. She turned off the kitchen light and a faint red glow from the alleyway outside his window spilled into the room.   

She fisted her hand, watching as his head fell to the side, exposing his long, muscular neck to her. He squeezed her tight and he smiled. Whatever he was thinking, whatever was going through his silly, doped-up mind, he was happy, so she fixed her gaze back on her hand and watched it rise and fall each time his chest lifted, each time his lungs filled with air. First his chest rose quick and high, but soon his breaths grew shallow and diminished. Slowly — too slowly for her racing mind and hammering heart — he was drifting off; she’d be able to leave soon. 

Once he fell asleep at the end of her bed. And once, she fell asleep in a hospital bed as he held her hand. If those were normal instances, lying on the couch together could be too.  

She shifted away from him, but his hold was still firm, and she wouldn't disturb his peace just to get up. So she’d wait. His strong, steady heartbeats thumped against her palm. She nestled her head against his chest, a thrumming beat in her ear joining the pulse against her palm. After a while, her eyes shuttered, and she yawned, her heavy body sinking deeper into the couch and melting into his side. If she didn’t force herself to stay awake, she might beat him to dreamland.

🔅🔅🔅   

Jane woke, warm and content with a tight, heavy blanket wrapped around her. A swelling body beneath her, an inhale of air filling lungs, made her body rise. She curled her fingers in slowly, sensing them drag against someone else’s body, soft fabric under her touch. Dense plate beneath that. 

Garrus . It was his body, she was still on the couch. Her eyes sprang open and sure enough, his face rested inches from hers, still softened by sleep. She hoped that she’d only been out a short while, but that was squashed when she saw the time on her omni-tool — it was morning, she’d slept at his side all night. 

Still wrapped in his arms and cradled against his chest, she took one last dangerous and self-indulgent moment to admire the beauty of his face and enjoy the way his chest pressed to hers with every breath he took. Even in the early morning, after a night of being doped up on some intense painkillers, he was still handsome. 

Maybe if she got up now she could avoid the awkward confrontation just waiting to happen. Maybe if she was really lucky, his memory was impacted and he wouldn’t even know what happened, and they wouldn’t have to talk about it. She could only hope. 

His hold, though still secure, was looser, so she was able to inch her way out of his arms and off the couch without waking him.  

She regretted getting up so quickly the moment she stepped back and looked at him. So content. No, happy. He looked happy. And she had been happy in his arms. For one brief, terrible blink in time she imagined what it would feel like to be his. 

While holding in a tight breath, she pushed that indulgent thought out of her mind. She’d leave before he had a chance to wake up. He wouldn’t even know that she had stayed, maybe.

He was going to be thirsty, though. With careful footsteps she walked to the kitchen and filled a glass with water. When she turned she heard a rustle of fabric, then a deep breath. She froze. From the kitchen, she watched his arms rise, muscles shuddering as he stretched. 

Without a viable exit plan, she continued her path to the couch, her soft footsteps producing the faintest padding. It must have caught his attention because he sat up and looked right at her, surprise immediately falling on his face. 

“Morning,” she said. 

His mandibles flicked out in surprise. “Spirits, if I slept on the couch…please…”

She waited for him to finish, worried that he knew, worried he remembered what had happened last night. What in the hell would she say? Sorry, but I tried to go? Sorry, but it felt good?

“Please tell me you didn’t sleep on the floor.”

She released a heavy breath that had been stuck in her lungs. “You don’t remember last night?”

“No, damn drugs, it’s a blank after the hospital.”

“Nothing?” she asked, watching for the faintest indication that he remembered. A flick of shame. A flush of embarrassment. 

But there was none, thank god. He shook his head and yawned, rubbing at his fringe. 

“Don’t worry. I passed out in the chair, watching a vid.”

“Spirits. You didn’t have to stay. I’m sorry.”

Two sentences begged to be set free from her aching heart. You asked me to stay. You held me. “I didn’t mean to,” she said instead. “I guess I was just tired.”

“I hope I didn’t do anything to look like an idiot.” The poor nerd looked mortified at even the thought of doing something embarrassing. 

Jane bit her lip. Never had she thought she’d be lying to her best friend, but all she could think of at that moment was protecting him. And herself. And their friendship. When the embarrassment and awkwardness had worn off, she’d tell him. “Your dignity is intact, no worries there.”

Looking relieved, another yawn escaped him — mandibles wide, teeth bared, and deep sapphire tongue peeking out like a bashful snake. By the time she realized she should stop ogling him, it was over. His easy gaze rose to her. “Well, are you hungry? Want some breakfast? Feel like I owe you after you slept in a chair all night. Your back must be killing you.”

She set the water down on his coffee table next to him and sat in the chair she’d supposedly slept in. Wrapping her arms tight around her restless body, she nodded. The best case scenario, the one she had wished for, came true, and yet her body was nearly quivering with regret and longing and guilt.

She’d been so reckless and stupid. He was her friend, and there she was pining for him, longing for physical contact, like a fool. How silly. How embarrassing and god damn ridiculous. 

“Hm?” he said.

She turned to Garrus, internally laughing at herself for being so damned dramatic and foolish. Last night would be a weird, bad memory — hers alone and easily forgotten; tucked away and kept secret like all moments that made a fool out of someone. 

“Breakfast?” he asked.

“Oh, yeah,” she replied. “Sounds good.”

Chapter Text

One of Jane’s least favorite things was stakeouts, especially when they were stuck in a skycar. Hour one wasn’t bad. Hour two and three gnawed at her nerves. A minute after the third hour came and went she was just downright bored. Seeing as how Kasumi was passed out in the backseat, Jane knew it wasn’t just her. 

Thank god for Garrus, who sat alert and unbothered in the driver's seat. Years in the military made sitting and waiting for something to happen bearable for him. Lucky duck. So he was stuck being their entertainer since he had the focus and energy for it. They’d already talked about cookies, cats, rifles, swimming, holidays, and video games. All very interesting topics to at least one person in the skycar. 

“Ok,” he said, “favorite vampire vid.” 

“Ooo, that’s a hard one.” Jane propped her feet up on the dash and considered that for a moment. “In what sense? Like, action, romance, raunchiness?”

Garrus gave her a wide grin. “Um, plot, you little pervert.”

“Hey, the sexual energy is a key component of vampire stories.” Jane crossed her arms, as if that lent some kind of authority to her argument. “If they’re not pulling that off, I lose faith in their execution of the genre.”

Garrus chuckled. “Don’t try to sound erudite about this. You just like the—”

She flipped up her hand, not caring to hear any more accusations about being a perv that were one hundred percent true. “Fine, fine. Tell me what your favorite one is.”

“Hmm, A Kiss That Lingers was pretty good. Terrible title, but good vid.”

“Sure, it has great action, but the romance was terrible. He didn’t even love her.” 

Garrus turned to her, a soft, sappy, ridiculously serious look on his face. She almost giggled at the sight of him alone, but she waited with anticipation for what he was about to say. “He loved her the only way he knew how.”

Jane laughed and made a gag gesture, which stole a chuckle from Garrus. “It was terrible. I hate when one person breaks the other’s heart to save them. Lame. Manufactured conflict. Hate it.”

“Ok, so what’s your favorite then?” Garrus closed his eyes and let out a wide, drawn-out yawn, mandibles flaring, indigo tongue peeking out. His mouth snapped shut with a click of his teeth, then he stretched his neck to one side, then the other. When he opened his eyes he looked over at her and paused. “What?”

Jane couldn’t hold back the grin that pulled at her lips. “Your yawn is adorable.”

“Don’t harass me. I need more coffee to keep up with you.”

Jane opened her mouth to say something smart, but she caught his yawn and had to let it out, tilting her head back, stretching her arms up over her head and arching her back. When she looked over at Garrus he was giving her a funny, stony look.  

He cleared his throat and focused his attention on a guy walking in front of the skycar. “Why do your arms always shoot out at weird angles when you yawn?” 

“I’m stretching. Yawns make me stretch. It happens to everyone.” Jane shrugged. 

“Turians don’t stretch their arms when they yawn.” 

“No, you just stretch your neck all seductively, like you’re in an erotic vid.”

He slowly turned to her and raised a suspicious browplate. “Just how often do you watch male turians yawn, Jane? Is this a favorite pastime of yours?”

Her cheeks flared with heat. She picked up her coffee cup, swirled it, and put it back down because there wasn't even a drop left. Out of the corner of her eye, she could see him staring at her intently, amusement making his mandibles flutter. “Ok, done with this conversation.”

Garrus leaned his head back against the car seat and chuckled while she tucked herself down into her seat and fought off the urge to pull her hood over her head, because that would just get her even more teases.

“Want some coffee?” Garrus asked. “I’ll go grab us some.”

She mumbled an appreciative yes and he was gone in a flash, weaving through pedestrians under the crimson neon light of the city street.  

“You two are cuter than a romance vid.” Kasumi’s voice was enough to startle Jane, but she had to pop her head over Jane’s shoulder for added effect. Jane gasped. 

“When did you wake up?”

“I was awake the whole time, I’m just quiet. Anyway, you’re adorable, both of you.”

Jane felt her brow quirk, and she let out a short laugh. “We’re just good friends. We’re comfortable with each other. Doesn’t need to be any more to it.” She’d been repeating that to herself often enough lately that it was starting to work. He was wonderful, she enjoyed every minute with him, and their friendship was more than enough.   

“Are you holding off until it’s right? Is that what’s happening with you and Garrus?”

Jane scoffed, a puff of air expelled almost aggressively from her tight lips. “No, we’re just friends. Really.”

Kasumi just smiled at her. Silently suggesting that she disagreed with batting eyelashes and a sly smirk. 

“He’s not attracted to humans. And—”

“He sure spends a lot of time staring at your mouth for someone who’s not attracted to humans.”

A thousand denials ran through Jane’s head. So afraid of sputtering out nonsense, she bit down on her lips and tried not to get dizzy from the rapid blinking she couldn’t stop. 

“Cat got your tongue?” A flash of mischief brightened Kasumi’s face. “Ooo, that reminds me of when Garrus dressed as a cat. Talk about adorable, huh?”

An image of Garrus dressed up with those ears wormed its way into her mind. And that tail, and the way that tail swung when his hips cocked side to side. And what she imagined he could do with that tongue of his. Kasumi’s wide, ersatz innocent eyes watched Jane, who took a deep breath and sank even lower in her seat. So low she was practically lying down. “Zip it, Kasumi,” she grumbled and instantly regretted it. Irritation would only add fuel to the flame, but acting amused, or even bored, would squash Kasumi’s overly-curious interest. Hiding her frazzled nerves with a calm voice, she added, “You’re bored and you watch too many romance vids.”

Kasumi giggled, sliding away to the backseat. “Yeah, maybe.”

Hands down, this was the worst stakeout ever. The most awkward, at least. Jane looked out the passenger window, wishing she was anywhere else in the galaxy and not trapped in a skycar with Garrus and a nosy Kasumi. Maybe she wasn’t doing such a great job at hiding her feelings for Garrus. Jane spotted him standing at the small street shop selling coffee and snacks, hands tucked deep in his pockets and staring at his feet as he waited for their order. He looked up, their eyes connected, and he waved at her with a sweet, goofy smile. Just the sight of him, so relaxed and happy, instantly allayed Jane’s worry. She smiled and waved back. 

He was so damn adorable, standing there in the middle of the street, people weaving around him as he just looked at her and smiled. Big nerd. 

With his gaze still on her, Jane waved again and sat up a bit straighter.