He is admittedly late. Garrus steps out of the skycar rental into the warm, night air of San Diego and takes a deep breath. There's the scent of the ocean somewhere nearby, the general grimey smell of name your average city, the acridness of burned out buildings and pollution that still lingers even though it's been a year and a half since the Reapers were destroyed. On top of all that is the distinctive, delicious scent of smoke and grilled meat along with other food smells and a tang of alcohol. He breathes deeply again and checks the address on his omnitool, looks up at the house, front porch light beckoning him closer. From the back he can hear laughter, the thud-thud-thud bass of music playing, the clink of glasses as a loud voice booms out, "Booyah!" James Vega. He'd recognize that voice anywhere. No doubt about it. He's in the right place.
He walks up to the front door, about to knock, when he sees the red sign taped to the door with a large arrow pointing to the right and the words, "Partay! in the back!" So he turns around and makes his way over the brick sidewalk to a high gate. Over it he can see that lights have been strung up through the trees, the music is louder, the chatter of voices more discernable. He reaches for the handle and takes a deep breath. He’s a little nervous. It's been a while since he's seen most of these people.
As he opens the gate, he's assaulted with sensations; smells, lights, noise, and everywhere he looks, the old crew of the Normandy scattered in amongst people he doesn't know, along with a few children who skitter through the crowd like fish through seaweed. His heart beats a little faster. He's been looking forward to this for weeks since Vega had sent the invitation to his N7 graduation. There was no way he'd miss it. But still-circumstances have changed, people have changed. He'd signed on as a Spectre only a few months after the end of the Reaper war. Others have moved on, going home to their planets when they could to help rebuild. Shepard had been promoted to Captain and then retired due to his injuries. And he's with Alenko now.
That's a good thing, he tells himself. Yes, a good thing. They both deserve happiness after all that insanity. Still, sometimes his heart aches when he thinks about it, usually in the dead of night when he wakes up alone on his ship somewhere in the traverse. But that's just probably because he's a little lonely. He's over him though. He really is. And yet old habits die hard and he can't help feeling that his heart will jump out of his throat when he sees the man himself standing on the far side of the yard, beer bottle in his hand, laughing at something that-oh, yeah-Kaidan had said. Yeah. Kaidan. Cut it out.
"Scars!" He's enveloped in large, burly arms. "You're late! Where you been, man?"
"Hey, James." He hugs the man back. "Sorry. Got held up."
"I know. I know. Super secret Spectre business. You're very important, I get it. Thanks for finding time in your schedule, though. Can I get you a beer or something? We've got some dextro food over there that Sparks brought with that guy Reeger. I think they've hooked up or something, man. They're tight. Hey everybody! Scars is here!"
It's been too long, he realizes. With each hug from someone he hasn't seen in over a year, he wishes that the crew of the Normandy had never broken up. That somehow they could have stayed together, running off through the galaxy to save the day like one big day saving family. Shepard is there, awkwardly squeezing him with one arm while the other clutches the cane he still needs to get around. Even so he manages a hug so hard Garrus feels like he's about to pop. He sees how happy he is with Kaidan and a little part of him lets go and he feels a little lighter and little happier. He has a beer, and then another, dances with Tali, then with Kasumi who keeps cloaking so it looks like he's dancing by himself. He drinks a toast with James on his graduation from N7 and promotion to Commander, he watches Steve flirt with his cute date and feels a little jealous, he gossips Spectre business with Kaidan and feels a bit like he's in the cool club, he watches Grunt head butt a tree until James' uncle puts a stop to it.
He finds himself leaning against the tall fence, watching these precious people that have meant so much to him and a wave of nostalgia and loneliness washes over him. For all that he yearned to become a Spectre, he'd never thought about the time he'd be spending alone, navigating star charts trying to avoid the dodgy relays that weren't working properly yet or perched up in a sniper nest doing recon for days on end or even returning to his small apartment on Palaven to lay in bed and look up at the ceiling. He loves his job as a Spectre. It's everything and more that he had dreamed it would be. He just wishes that he didn't have the hollow spot lodged inside that makes him feel like he is missing out on something that he can't even name.
"You look like you could use one of these." A dextro beer bottle is in front of him, held out by a tattooed hand.
Zaeed. Dressed not in armor for a change, but in blue jeans and a white shirt with the sleeves rolled up so he can see the tattoos that circle his forearms. Garrus can think of no example when Zaeed hasn’t been in his armor or fatigues. And he looks...good. He looks really good. Relaxed and just, well. Different. "Thanks, Massani. When did you get here?"
"’Bout fifteen minutes ago. Thought I'd make a fashionable entrance for a change."
Garrus grins and tips his beer bottle over to tap against Zaeed's. "Here's to fashion, then."
"Hell yeah." They both drink deep and long. Zaeed nearly empties his. Let's out a satisfied "ah" after he swallows.
They stand in companionable silence, leaning back against the fence, watching the dancers. “I heard about Santiago. Kidnapping a Krogan female is serious business, even after the genophage cure.”
Zaeed’s smile is wicked. “Alenko was kind enough to let me go along for the ride when he went to bring him in. Led us on a nice little chase. Can’t imagine a worse fate than sitting in a Krogan prison. Well, I can, but you know. I’d be lying if I told you I felt sorry for the goddamn bastard.” He picks at the paper label on the bottle with a blunt nail, peels it back a little.
Garrus nods. He wonders how much the incident had festered in Zaeed when Shepard had told him in no uncertain terms that he had fucked up, that they’d be saving the people in the burning factory - burning because of a fire that Zaeed had started-rather than going after Santiago. Garrus can imagine the powerlessness and frustration of nearly realizing his revenge that was twenty years in the waiting, only to have it slip from his grasp because of one stupid mistake. The anger, the bitterness, the pure malice had been written plainly on his face. He doesn’t know what Shepard had said later to make him change his attitude. He wonders if he himself would have turned on Shepard if he had had to wait so long to find Sidonis, thinks maybe given the right circumstances he might have. That Zaeed had not that day nearly three years ago, Garrus now realises, is nothing short of a miracle.
He’s struck by the outward similarities between himself and Zaeed, the betrayals of their closest friends, the scars that write that betrayal on each of their faces. Standing on this side of Zaeed there’s little trace of the scarring. Only the lines that time and circumstance have written there. It’s a handsome face, he acknowledges. Strong and angular. And underneath is a mind that is more intelligent and complex than most people would give the man credit for.
“Well, here’s to justice, or the semblance thereof at any rate.” He tips his beer bottle in Zaeed’s direction.
Zaeed absently taps his bottle with his own, but he doesn’t drink. He seems lost in thought, eyes scanning the ground. But then he looks over at Garrus. He sees a lightness in his eyes that he’s never noticed before. “Justice,” he hears him whisper to himself before emptying the bottle in a swallow. He clears his throat, seems to shake off whatever thoughts he’s been mulling over. "At least Vega has good taste in beer. Not so sure about his taste in women." He nods over to where Vega is slow dancing with an Asari, who is as much on his lap as a person can be when standing in public and not actually having sex.
"I think she came with Joker. But he and Kasumi went off somewhere a while ago, so-"
Zaeed bursts out with a laugh. "Some things never change. This group is still just one big, goddamn orgy swap pile."
Garrus looks over at him, curious. "What do you mean?"
The man gives him an incredulous look. "Seriously?" Garrus' blank look just makes him even more baffled. "You spent way too much time in the battery, Garrus. It'd take a week to make a diagram of who slept with whom when and where on that goddamn ship, and that doesn't include the goings on before I even got there." Garrus shakes his head. This is all news to him. "And you call yourself a cop?" He’d known members of the crew had been fooling around, but to call it an ‘orgy swap pile’ seemed somewhat extreme. He hadn't been that oblivious, had he?
"Actually, I call myself Batman."
Zaeed snorts and claps him on the shoulder. "Alright, Batman. I need another beer. Think you do, too."
Garrus follows him through the crowd to find more liquid refreshment. Zaeed has always moved like he's stalking prey, lithe and agile, surprisingly silent for a Human. His gaze drifts down his shoulders and back, down further to the jeans and for a brief moment he imagines sliding his hand inside the pocket, molding his fingers to the tempting curve of muscle that he can see residing inside the fabric. Massani in blue jeans. Who knew? An inkling of interest pricks at his consciousness, something he hasn’t felt in quite some time. Not since he had first met Shepard, in fact. But then, maybe it’s best to just not even go there. As far as he knows, Zaeed doesn’t even like males, or Turians, or...well. He doesn’t know what Zaeed is attracted to. Probably not him, though.
James has ditched the Asari-or maybe the Asari has ditched James since she's now dancing with Grunt-and is mixing drinks behind an impromptu bar made of old wooden crates. “Scars! Zaeed! What'll ya have? Hey, we're starting up a poker game in the garage. You guys are in, right?”
They share a look. Only a fool turns down the chance to take part in one of Vega’s poker games. Zaeed grins, face going all crooked from his scars. "Hell yeah. I'm in."
Garrus nods. "Me too. Hand me a beer and prepare to get served up a big bowl of whoop ass."
"In your dreams, Scars."
"More like in yours, little Jimmy Vega." Vega scoffs, but hands two beers to Garrus and Zaeed two and they make their way through the crowd to the garage. Jack, Karin Chakwas, and Steve Cortez are already there sitting around some more wooden crates that have been pushed together to make a sort of low table.
"Where's your new boy toy, Cortez?" Zaeed asks, swinging his leg over a chair back and settling himself.
Steve blushes a little. "Boyfriend, Massani. And he just left. Has to catch an early shuttle in the morning."
Zaeed lights a cigar and looks at Steve with squinted eyes through the wisps of smoke. "Uh huh. Boy toy. What's his name again?"
Steve sputters for a moment, cheeks turning darker, "Angel."
"Rest my case."
Zaeed laughs and shoots a look at Jack, who has been watching silently, eyes greedy. Jack grins back. "Two weeks tops," she says.
"Five days. A hundred creds."
Steve watches the exchange with widening eyes. "Are you seriously taking bets on my relationship? You two are sick."
"How do you think we kept ourselves entertained on those fucking long FTL flights?" Zaeed points his cigar are him, elbow resting on knee. "Don't feel special. No one is sacred."
Jack hackles a laugh and pushes at Zaeed’s shoulder. "Miranda." Then breaks down into giggles. Zaeed bends his head, shoulders shaking. Garrus is amazed to see what is essentially a full on belly laugh. They don't seem to be able to stop either, one's laughter dying off only to be refueled by glancing in the other’s direction.
"Miranda?" Garrus asks. "What about Miranda?"
Zaeed waves him off, still convulsing with laughter. There are actual tears in his eyes that he wipes away. The others all look as completely confused with this display of mirth from the two of them as Garrus is. "You two are seriously messed up," Steve says. Garrus is inclined to agree. He had known Jack and Zaeed were friends, but full on near-hysterical laughter from both of them? Weird.
"Hey, compadres! What's so funny?" Vega sits next to Zaeed, tossing a deck of cards down on the table.
"We're not sure." Garrus eyes the deck dubiously. "Did anyone count those cards?"
Vega holds his hands to his chest, feigning hurt feelings. "Aw man, Scars. Where's the love?"
"I left it on Omega, right next to your stripper pole. Deal, jackass."
It's a pretty good game, all things considered. Steve loses everything first, stays to watch a bit, then wanders off for more beer. Jack is out next. She's never had much of a poker face, especially when she has a good hand. She leaves when a good-looking marine that Garrus doesn't recognize wanders in and then back out, a lecherous leer on her face. Vega has a pretty good pile of credits in front of him, but so does Zaeed. Garrus and Chakwas are down to their last hands unless either one of them can perform some sort of miracle. Garrus looks down at his cards with a sinking feeling. Which is when he decides to go for the big bluff. What does he have to lose?
"All in." The part of his brain that can still think around the beer says this isn't such a grand idea, that he should just fold and walk away with what small amount of dignity and credits he still has.
He looks over at Zaeed, who seems to be in league with that part of his brain. "Really want to do that?"
"Try me and see, you old merc."
Zaeed clamps down on his cigar and narrows his eyes. "Hey now. No need to get goddamn personal."
"I can get more personal. For example: those jeans are wearing you." Woah. Where had that come from?
Zaeed looks across the table at him, a startled expression raising his eyebrows, dark green eye and milky blue eye both wide open. Garrus feels the same sort of surprise he sees in Zaeed’s face. Can’t for the life of him explain what made him blurt it out. For a moment he feels a bit like when other people have talked about time slowing down. It’s not something he’s ever really experienced himself. Even when that rocket missile tried to make a hole in his head, he’d been too blindsided to see it coming. Everything that's not him or Zaeed is suddenly out of focus and he can feel each and every heart beat, each breath in and out and now he understands what he’s heard other people talk about. Time really does seem to slow. Zaeed will not look away and Garrus resists the urge to break eye contact when what he really wants to do is suck the words back into his mouth and swallow them. Did he really just try to flirt with the ruthless mercenary?
A smirk is curling up one corner of the man's mouth. "You have issues with my goddamn clothes you can take it up with them." Wait a minute. Is the ruthless merc flirting back? There is no way Zaeed is flirting with him. No. He’s just teasing. Must be.
"Maybe I will. Maybe you need to warn a person before you wear stuff like that." He hears Vega snort, but ignores him even though he knows the other two people must be watching all this with interest. He still can't bring himself to look away from those mismatched eyes. He feels like there's something happening that he shouldn't be missing out on, something riding on sparks of electricity in the air around him.
Zaeed leans forward a bit with a look that Garrus would almost describe as hungry. "I didn't realize you were so goddamn sensitive, Vakarian." The smirk has taken over the entirety of the man's face, normally a look that would frighten the faint hearted. His voice pitches lower, sends one of those sparks of electricity down his spine. "Maybe you should avert your eyes."
Maybe I can't. He doesn't say it. At least he has the presence of mind to keep that to himself. But his brain gets stuck there, jaw working stupidly, can't come up with anything else to retort. That spark of interest is back, gnawing away at the fringe of his thoughts, tugging on ideas that he’d long since put aside. Ideas that were unattainable with Shepard. It makes him squirm in his seat, so foreign to the realm of hope that he’s managed to ignore for so long. So when Chakwas says, "Are we going to play cards? Because watching you two attempt to flirt with each other is really rather awkward,” he snaps out of whatever dream space he’s been in and blinks with what he tells himself is relief. His mind stutters over Karin’s words though. She thinks Zaeed is flirting with him too.
Zaeed maintains his gaze for another second before returning his attention to his hand, but that smirking look on his face doesn’t go away. Garrus chances a glance around the table at the other two. Chakwas is studying her cards, but James is looking back and forth between Zaeed and himself with interest and amusement.
James stands up, tossing his cards face up and shoves his credits at the bounty hunter. “I fold. Nobody move.” He’s gone before anyone can attempt a gurgle of surprise.
They all three look around the table at each other. “What the fuck?” Garrus mutters.
He sees Zaeed blink rapidly as he looks over at Vega’s cards-two of a kind-then flips his out on the table showing a full house. “That little fucker.”
Chakwas sighs and throws her hand down. She pushes her credits towards Zaeed. “Winner take all, it seems.”
Garrus relinquishes his few meager coins as well. “What’s got up James’ butt?”
Zaeed looks down at the coin pile in front of him. “No idea. This is fucking w-”
He’s interrupted by James who makes a loud entrance back into the garage with three bottles of what look like whiskey and a handful of shot glasses. “Shit’s gonna get real.”
“What the fuck is this, Vega?” Zaeed looks about ready to blow a fuse.
“Settle down, amigo.” The bottles and glasses are set on the table, one bottle that’s about three fourths full is pushed over in front of Garrus and he sees the dextro stamp on it.
“Scars.” He smirks, mimics Garrus’ warning tone and sits down, pouring out liquid into everyone’s glasses. “Never have I ever streaked in public.”
“Ah fuck no.” Zaeed is shaking his head and moves to stand. “I don’t do stupid ass drinking games.”
Garrus looks around at the other three confused. Chakwas is looking thoughtfully at her glass, so he’s unable to get a clue from her as to what is going on. Zaeed just looks disgusted. "Lost Turian here. Would someone mind telling me what strange Human custom I'm witnessing?"
Then there's the slam of on glass on the table. Everyone looks over at Chakwas. Her normally composed face is now defiant and challenging, arms across her chest as she sits back, shot glass empty in front of her.
"No fucking way," an awed James says.
Zaeed sits down with a thump and a bark of laughter. "This I have to hear."
"What just happened?"
James grins and reaches to refill Chakwas' glass. "The rules are simple, Scars. You state something you've never done, and if anyone has done it they drink. If no one else has either then you have to drink. If only one person drinks, they have to explain.”
“And the point of this being?”
“To get everyone else drunk.”
Zaeed points at Chakwas with his thumb. “There’s also that. Finding out embarrassing shit about people you think you think you know.”
Garrus shrugs. He’s never been one to hide secrets, considers himself to be an open book. How bad can it be? “Sounds a bit like ‘Take One for the Team’ that we played back in my military days. Okay.” He looks over at Zaeed. “You said you don’t do stupid ass drinking games.”
“I don’t. But it’s worth it just to hear our upstanding and noble doctor explain the circumstance behind being in public in the altogether.”
“Yeah, spill it, Karin. What’s the story?” James leans forward eagerly over the table.
Karin straightens her spine, eyebrow raised, her lips curling into a smile. “Well, it’s simple really. I was in med school. Some friends and I had just finished final exams and went out to celebrate. I had much more than I should have and reportedly told all present that I was ‘being suffocated by my clothes.’ So I removed them, ran out of the pub and down the street. End of story.”
James’ grin is spread as wide as it could go. “Did you get arrested?”
“I believe that can be answered in another ‘I Never’, James.”
Garrus looks at her in amazement. He suddenly has a whole new appreciation for the good doctor.
Zaeed snorts, reaches over and claps her on the back. “You’re a good egg, doc.”
So they begin. The ‘Never Have I Evers’ are fairly benign at first. Zaeed has never been surfing; James drinks. Chakwas has never smoked a cigar; James and Zaeed drink. Garrus has never been in handcuffs; Karin and Zaeed drink. James has never been caught sneaking off base; Garrus and Zaeed drink. Zaeed has never paid for a lap dance-much to everyone’s surprise; James drinks, downing it with a “What?” and a mumbled explanation. Karin has never gotten a tattoo; Zaeed and James drink, then look at Garrus when he doesn’t. “Colony markings count, Scars.” Garrus drinks. Zaeed has never seen a Blasto movie; the other three all drink. Garrus has never been Human; all three drink-while James calls him a smartass. James has never been Turian; Garrus drinks. Garrus remembers Chakwas’ earlier comment and says he’s never been arrested; Zaeed and Karin drink.
Then things start to get more than just a little bit more personal when James says, his voice beginning to slur a bit, “Alright. Time to turn up the heat. I’ve never had sex with more than one person at a time.”
There’s a pause as if everyone at the table is holding their breath. Garrus can sense that some sort of line has been crossed, going from the rather mundane to the very personal quickly. James has started to reach out for his glass when Garrus hears Zaeed mutter, “Ah hell,” and his empty glass is slammed down on the table with enough force to make ripples in the whiskey in Garrus’ glass.
All eyes turn naturally to Zaeed, who is glaring at James like he wants to shoot his head off. “Woah, Massani. Gotta explain that.”
Garrus is glad he’s not on the receiving end of that unnerving pair of eyes, but James looks pretty unfazed which is probably part alcoholic bravado and part just being Vega. “Shit, Vega. I’m surprised. You seem like a two chicks at a time kinda guy,” Zaeed says gruffly.
James colors slightly. “I don’t apologize for monogamy. Doesn’t mean I haven’t thought about it.”
“Yeah, well. I’ve never farted and blamed it on someone else.” He looks pointedly at Vega. “James.”
“What is this, beat up on Vega night? One time, Massani. Once. I got wheat issues.” He slugs his drink down.
Garrus wonders if he’s the only one who noticed that Zaeed didn’t actually explain when he should have. He knows he deflected. Zaeed looks at him out of the corner of his eye, winks-which makes Garrus’ heart do a little flip, then looks away quickly. Garrus wishes he had his visor on so he could be sure, but he thinks the man might have reddened just slightly. Garrus doesn’t point it out, though. If Zaeed doesn’t want to talk about it, it’s fine by him. “That’s just rude, James.”
“Whatever, Scars. Karin, you’re up.”
“I’ve never been skinny dipping.” She looks around the table hopefully. When no one drinks she shakes her head and empties her glass. “Well that was rather unexpected and disappointing.”
Garrus looks at James. So far he’s had the most to drink. If the point really is to get the other people drunk, he’s got a guaranteed one. “I’ve never slept with someone of the opposite sex.”
James gasps in mock surprise. “Really, Scars? I would never have guessed.” He drinks, along with the other two. “Well then, you should know I’ve never slept with someone of the same sex.”
“Really, Jimmy? You do surprise me,” he all but purrs as he drinks. He is actually a bit surprised, he could have sworn Vega played both sides. He sets his glass down at the same time Zaeed does.
What the fuck?
He looks over at Zaeed, questioning. James and Karin have noticed too. Three sets of curious eyes are focused in on the bounty hunter. “What?” he barks. “Never heard of bisexual?”
From the corner of his eye, he can see Karin nodding her head slightly. She makes a little noise in the back of her throat, as if confirming a suspicion she’s carried around with her for a while. Garrus looks back at Zaeed. Maybe he really had been flirting with him, not just teasing. For reasons that he can’t explain, Garrus is unsettled by the thought. It makes that urge come back, to ponder an attraction to a man that he’s seeing with all new eyes. He feels his pulse speed a bit and the longing in his heart whispers to him to live, to free himself, that it’s never too late to start something new. Zaeed leans back in his chair, arms folded over his chest. And looks at Garrus. Garrus really, really wishes he had his visor on. The man looks like he’s trying too hard to not react, trying to dare Garrus to say something.
“Uh, yeah. Just not-” James breaks off when Zaeed turns his glare back to him. “Okay. Whatever.” He pours what’s left of the first bottle into Zaeed’s glass, then fills Garrus’ as well. His hand wavers a bit, sloshing some of the liquid over the edge of the glass.
“Huh.” Karin says. There’s a flickering of her eyes that passes from Garrus to Zaeed several times. She looks like she’s trying to work out a complicated math problem in her head. But she doesn’t say anything else and no one else seems to have even noticed.
Things degrade from there: never gotten a rash from having sex outside, James drinks; never crossed dressed, no one drinks so Karin drinks; never bottomed, Garrus and Zaeed drink; never watched someone have sex, Zaeed drinks-very much reluctantly and says there’s shit you just don’t want to relive; never had sex with an inanimate object, Zaeed again drinks very reluctantly-but refuses to explain, which makes Vega whine that he’s breaking the rules, but they’re all beginning to be so drunk that it really doesn’t seem to matter, and then Karin drinks so it truly doesn’t matter. Never said “I didn’t know Krogans could make that noise!”. Never said “I didn’t know Krogans could make that noise!” in bed. Realised it wasn’t a Krogan making that noise. Howls of drunken laughter from all four echo off the walls.
Garrus is sitting on the edge of his seat, barely able to hold it together after laughing so hard. “Oh shit. I nearly just peed,” he says without thinking.
“I never laughed so hard I nearly peed my pants,” James giggles. Which just sets Garrus off as he drinks again.
Karin reaches out to refill his drink, and her’s as well he sees. She wipes tears from her eyes. They’re getting to the end of the second bottle, although there’s still some left of his dextro whiskey. Garrus is almost relieved, he doesn’t think he’ll be able to walk, much less get up from the table. “I’ve never been attracted to anyone at this table,” Karin says.
Something settles over them again, a waiting game being played out. Garrus looks around at the other three. Karin is out, not because of anything personal, but just because of her gender. James is, well. Too much Vega. Too many muscles. Too much mouth. Too much overt, lippy bravado, although he knows the man is one of the best soldiers out there. Still, just too much. Zaeed, he contemplates. Yeah, he reviews that idea again-the appeal of the mercenary that’s been niggling at his brain all night, increasing in importance with each occurrence. He doesn’t take any shit, plays by his own rules, and yeah. Sexy, he admits it to himself outright. He’s got some sex appeal going on there if you like them rough around the edges, which Garrus has to admit to himself that he does. But had he thought about it before today? For the longest time his head had been full of Shepard. And then Not Shepard. Getting Over Shepard. Getting over something that was never going to happen, he reminds himself. Getting Over Being a Stupid Fucking Idiot.
For the first time in too long of a long time, Garrus thinks maybe it’s time to move on. To put Shepard behind him, to contemplate something-or someone-new. He’s startled with the realization that he’s tired of pining for a relationship that will never happen. He wants to move forward, not just languish in an unfulfilling past. He takes a deep breath, realizes he’s been staring at Zaeed for an awkwardly long time. But the man is looking right back, and the open emotion on his face is surprising in its intensity. Garrus trills to himself and looks away, blood quickly rushing through his veins.
No one drinks for the longest moment, but Karin doesn’t seem to be reaching for her drink either. Instead, she’s looking at Zaeed. She’s focused in on him like she’s trying to speak to him with her brain, eyes intent and bright. Zaeed looks over at her, trying to stare her down. But Garrus has never known anyone to be able to outglare the doctor. “You’re a meddling old bitch,” Zaeed grouses.
A gloating smirks crosses her lips. “I know.”
Zaeed reaches out and slams the drink. Looks at her. “Happy?”
But she’s not looking back at Zaeed. She’s now regarding Garrus with a knowing smile. “Maybe. You owe one of us an explanation. Come on, James.” She pushes herself up with a groan, wavering slightly. “Let’s get you to bed, Commander.”
James moans loudly. “Aw, no. I’m okay. And I wanna watch these two figure out their-”
“You’re very intoxicated. As am I." She pulls him up.
"You’re not going to take your clothes off are you? Seeing as how you’re very intoxicated?”
“No, James. Sorry to disappoint.”
“Too bad.” James points a wavering finger at the two left at the table. “They are very intoxicated too," his words slur together. "You're not making them go to bed."
"Yes, well. I can only hold up one idiot at a time. Say goodnight, James."
"Goodnight, James!" Vega deadpans. He looks over his shoulder as Karin helps him to the door. “I knew it! You two are-” the rest of his words are lost on the night air as he stumbles out of the garage, nearly pulled away by Chakwas.
The sounds of the party outside have died down, although there’s still music playing softly. He can’t even guess as to the time of night it might be and he doesn’t really care. He’s staying right here in this garage with the bare light bulb casting harsh shadows on the walls, across gardening tools and old oil cans. Across the angular face of a man who seems to have woken him up without intending anything of the sort. No, he’s not going anywhere. Not just yet.
Garrus isn't really paying too much attention to James and Chakwas when they leave the garage. The man across the table from him is looking at him strangely. As if waiting for something. Garrus blinks back at him. His whiskey-bewildered brain rolls over the last few minutes. Karin getting up. Zaeed drinking the shot. Zaeed calling her a ‘bitch.’ Wait, no. ‘A meddling old bitch.’ Why had Zaeed been the only one to drink? He pulls his mandibles tight in concentration. Stretches the memory further back only the whiskey makes it like trying to slog through slimy mud. Some part of him, though, really wants to-needs to-remember. It was something that had to do with him. Something that his brain barely even half-caught as it happened. He feels his subvocals vibrate a bit in distress. Zaeed’s eyes widen as he watches him, eyebrows raising. What does he want?
The word scratches at his brain. Tickles an echo of Karin saying...something. He looks over at her empty spot. Sees the knowing smirk on her face. “I know.” No. That’s not it. Before that. “-meddling old bitch.” Rude, Zaeed. Before that. Garrus thinking about sex with Karin. Why was he thinking that? “I’ve never been attracted to anyone at this table.” And Zaeed bitched at Karin. And then Zaeed drank.
Zaeed is looking at him. Waiting. Expecting...something.
He rolls the thought around in his head.
“I’ve never been attracted to anyone at this table.” Zaeed drank. Karin and James are gone. “You owe one of us an explanation.” He feels himself stumbling through the confusion in his mind but he doesn’t let go of the thought even though it wants to slip away.
This is important. Pay attention.
Zaeed drank the shot.
It slams into him like a wall. “You owe one of us an explanation.” One of us is me.
His eyes widen, his heart stutters.
“There it is.” Zaeed says. Almost a whisper.
He doesn’t know what to say. What to feel. He’s struggling against the whiskey, wants it to all go away so he can think clearly. “Zaeed. I-”
“Don’t say it.”
“Don’t say what?”
“Whatever polite rejection you’re cooking up in that goddamn brain of yours.”
“S’alright. We’ve both had way too much to-”
“No. Zaeed. Listen.”
The man stops, waits. Watches.
Garrus searches through his brain. Questions. He has so many questions and they are all too round and rubbery for him to grasp onto.
“I know. Just. Ugh,” he hums to himself in his subvocals, trying to calm his racing thoughts. Finally one emerges, he’s able to hold on to it long enough to form it into a whole.
"For how long? I mean, since when?"
"Remember that day you tried to catch a rocket missile with your face?"
There's a lengthy pause as Garrus stares at him. The day they met. "But-"
"Don't make this weird."
"Why didn't you say anything? You never even-"
"Garrus. You only had eyes for Shepard. I could see that from the first. I didn't have a goddamn chance."
Oh, Spirits. It was true. He recalled it all vividly. Seeing Shepard again. Alive. After two years of believing him to be dead. In his sniper scope as clear as day. The other two people with him-Zaeed and Miranda-only drew his attention minorly. They could fight and that’s what had mattered. Then later, on the new Normandy, it was all Shepard. The focus of his heart had been Shepard since the moment they had met.
Shepard. Whose focus was always on Kaidan.
Kaidan, who wasn’t there. Kaidan, whom he missed. Shepard would drag him out for a drink-AfterLife, or Flux, or just in Shepard’s cabin sometimes-and Garrus could hear the longing in his voice. Kaidan. Even after Horizon. Kaidan. Shepard worried at Kaidan’s memory like a glass marble between his fingers, rolling it, warming it, keeping it in his pocket. And Garrus couldn’t do anything, would never have said anything. Because he knew. Garrus loved Shepard. Shepard loved Kaidan. And Kaidan hadn’t known his ass from his elbow. Now he did. Now they are together. And it’s alright because his friend is happy, and that matters more than anything.
“You’re right.” Garrus says. “I was,” he searches for the right word, “obsessed.”
“Mild way of putting it.”
Garrus groans, the alcohol churns through his blood, and he clutches his head in his hands. “I can’t-”
“I should go.”
“No!” He reaches out across the table. Zaeed is too far away though, so his fingers grasp at the air between them. His hand flops down on the table, talons lightly scratching the rough wooden surface. “Wait. Just. Wait. I can’t think straight.”
Zaeed swipes his hand over his face. “I can’t either,” the man mutters. He knows Zaeed had more than he did. He also knows the man has a liver that could filter rocket fuel.
“I need to know. There’s something I need to know.”
“Are you still?”
He leans back in his chair. “Why? What does it matter?”
“I just need to know. I-” Whiskey addled brain cells flash an image of Zaeed walking in front of him. “It’s just. Uh. You. In those jeans. You look good in them. Not just good. But good good. Sexy good. I never thought of you that way before. Not that you magically became attractive because you’re wearing something that’s not armor or because you drank that shot. Spirits, you drank when she said-. I mean, you’ve always been attractive. I kinda want to stick my hand in your back pocket. Why did I just say that? I can’t believe I just told you that. Fuck. I’m really drunk and I should stop talking but you are hot in those jeans but it’s not just that-”
“Garrus.” Zaeed is looking at him like he’s completely deranged and yet still finds some vague amusement in his babbling. “Shut up.”
“Yeah, okay. Wise idea. But I still would like to know-”
Zaeed stands, falters a bit, then leans forward on the table on his knuckles. “This is only happening because we're both drunk. It's no way to start something."
"Happens in bars across the galaxy every single day."
"And how many of those do you think end well?"
"Ah. Hmm. You might have a point there." He looks up at the man. "But you haven’t said no."
Zaeed sighs heavily. “Yes. Alright. Goddamnit. Yes. I’m intrigued by you. Kept an eye on you for three fucking years. I didn’t say anything before because of Shepard. And I wouldn’t have said anything now if it hadn’t been that I’m toasted off my goddamn rocks. Christ. It’s become this horrible habit, respecting your-”
"You should kiss me."
He's stunned to silence, chokes a little, mouth working as if trying to get words out past his lips. Finally, "What?"
"As a test. Kiss me."
“Yeah, like-” he drunkenly flops his hand back and forth between the two of them, “to see if there’s anything.”
“You know. Chemistry.”
Zaeed just stares at him, immobile. So Garrus stands, wavering unsteadily and mimics Zaeed as he leans over the table, supports himself with his hands. He exhales a breath, aware too late that he probably reeks of alcohol, but then Zaeed does too. He’s close enough that he can smell him, the whiskey and cigar and sweat. Something else there too that he can’t focus on to identify.
He leans in a bit more than he had intended, a hand’s length away, so that he’s in Zaeed’s personal space, but he definitely notices that he doesn’t pull back. He’s so close he can only focus on individual parts of the man’s face. His mismatched eyes-and this close he notices the dark green eye has flecks of gold and black in it. The scar on the side of his face and how it puckers his cheek, the end curling up to almost meet his nose and Garrus finds he has to hold back the urge to press his mouth against that little curl. The frown line that’s deeply etched in the center of his brow. His mouth, lips thin and a bit dry looking if he’s honest. But then Zaeed pulls his lips in and he sees his tongue rub over them and oh shit, now they glisten with just a bit of moisture. His heart speeds with the thought of how they would feel if he were to press his mouth against them.
“This is a dumbass idea.”
“No it’s not.” He leans in even closer, can now feel his breath on his face. He flicks his gaze back and forth between the man’s eyes. The blue one is so light as the be almost white, with the barest blue along the outer rim. “If nothing happens, we walk away still friends. Claim we don’t remember because we were drunk. And I get the fond memory of you in those splendid jeans. No harm, no foul.” He spreads his mandibles wide in a grin. “But I’m-”
Zaeed leans forward, closes the gap until there’s barely a millimeter between them. This close, he can feel warmth emanating from him. “You talk too goddamn much.” Then his lips are on him, firm and yet softer than he would have imagined. He closes his eyes as the lips move slightly against his mouth plates. He doesn’t have the range of movement that the Human does, but reciprocates as best he can, pressing firmly against him at the point of contact. He flickers his mandibles and then the lips are opening against him, a tongue gently probing at his mouth asking for entry. He quickly complies and feels Zaeed’s head tilt slightly and then there’s suction as his tongue flickers along the sharp points of his teeth. Garrus responds with his own tongue sliding wetly against the welcome intrusion as he hears the man groan low in his throat.
Zaeed pulls back, ends the kiss with a wet smack when his lips pull away. Garrus can hear the man’s breathing, harder and deeper than before. He watches as he searches his face with eyes that seem to contain something akin to amazement and then he tips his head and captures his mouth again, tongue instantly against his willing one. Garrus’ head is spinning, with the alcohol, with the desire that now quickens his blood. Then there’s a hand on the back of his head, pulling him closer. He rumbles deep in his subharmonics, has the brief thought wondering if Zaeed can feel the vibration. But then his attention quickly returns to the press of his mouth against the other, the warm hand against his sensitive hide, the brief gasps of air from both, the slip of tongue against tongue. He invades Zaeed’s mouth, rubs his tongue against the blunt teeth and the man moans, louder, longer, feels his fingers dig in slightly.
After some time-Garrus is hard pressed to know if it’s minutes or hours-Zaeed gently moves back, rests his forehead against Garrus’ crest, the gesture intimate and comfortable. His hand remains on his neck, but the touch is light. Their breaths mingle together in little puffs as they rest against each other. Garrus closes his eyes again, brings a hand up to hold onto Zaeed’s arm.
“Shit.” Zaeed laughs finally. “That was fucking-”
“I think there might be chemistry,” he says, tries to keep a note of humor in his voice. He blinks his eyes open, studies the unfocused line of cheek and mouth and jaw that he can see.
The corner of his mouth quirks up. “Might be.” Zaeed pulls back a bit then and he feels that penetrating gaze as he studies his face. “Might just be the whiskey.”
Garrus slides his hand all the way up Zaeed’s arm, to the wrist curved at his neck, holds on. He doesn’t want the man to let go, to pull too far away. Not just yet. “Might be.” He locks his gaze to the mismatched eyes. “Maybe we need to explore this further. When neither of us is so toasted off our rocks.”
Zaeed’s eyes flick over his face, from one eye to the other, down to his mouth and up again. His expression turns guarded and he pulls back, releasing his hold on Garrus causing him to awkwardly move his hand down. His fingertips slide down his carapace, briefly over the fabric on his chest before he straightens and steps away. The table now feels like an ocean between them and Garrus can’t stop the keen in his subvocals at the loss of contact. Zaeed eyes him warily. “Contrary to popular public opinion, I am not interested in a quick fuck. Too old for that shit.”
The world tilts a bit out of his control as he stands up straight. “Okay. Good. I’m not either.”
“Once I’m in, I’m in. I don’t do half measure.”
“You do nothing else by halves. I’d hope this wouldn’t be any different.”
Zaeed grunts, crosses his arms and leans back on one leg. It's a self-protective stance, but there’s still something innately sexy in the way one leg is forward, the jut of his hip curving the man’s silhouette slightly. He wonders at his blindness in not seeing this before. His pelvic plates twitch, already loosened from that kiss. Not enough for anything to happen. Just enough to let him know that they’re ready and willing. He forces his thoughts back to the matter at hand.
“So. I’ll call you,” Zaeed says gruffly.
“Alright. If you don’t, I’m a Spectre. I can find you. Anywhere.” He lets his voice rumble in his subvocals, the nuance of suggestion just barely there in his audible tone.
Zaeed huffs a laugh, his body relaxing. He scoops up the credits that have remained on the table in front of him and pockets them. “I’m kind of okay with that. There could be worse things than being hunted down by Batman.”
“Probably depends on what Batman wants to do to you when he finds you.”
That stops the man. Garrus can see clearly that his ears have gone red in a blush. He tries to not feel too pleased with himself over that. “I should, uh,” he clears his throat and points over his shoulder toward the door in an a stiff gesture. “I should let you go.”
Garrus lets his mandibles spread wide in a grin. “Yeah. I should get going too.”
“Alright. So. I’ll see you.” Zaeed takes a sidestep toward the exit.
“Yup,” Garrus promises.
And then Zaeed is gone. Garrus stares at the empty room in disbelief. Zaeed Goddamn Massani. Who would have ever thought? The man could kiss, he’d give him that. On reflection, Garrus suspects he isn’t the first Turian that Zaeed has kissed. He knows his way around, seemed to know his limitations already and worked around them easily. He flops down into his chair as the world tilts again. Damn that whiskey. It’s been a long time since he’s had so much to drink and dreads the hangover he’ll be sporting in the morning. But for the moment, he savors the memory of that kiss. Been an even longer time since he’s been kissed so well. The taste of him still lingers on his tongue. He wonders at the smoky flavor of the whiskey, the bitterness of what must be the cigar, the almost sweetness of what he thinks must be the man. And he can still feel those phantom fingers as they ghost the back of his neck. Garrus groans as his plates loosen again with the memory, drops his head into his hands, elbows on his knees.
Spirits. The man can kiss.
Then there’s a pair of boots topped with jeans standing before him and a gruff voice saying, “Stand up.”
He looks up. Zaeed. “What? What are you doing?”
“Stand up, Garrus.” He waves his hand impatiently so Garrus does as he asks. The ground shifts and Garrus groans, feels Zaeed cup an elbow to support him with firm, gentle fingers. “Back up.”
“Just back up. I got you.” Garrus eyes him cautiously, but takes a step back and then another until he feels the press of the garage wall against his carapace. He leans slightly so that his fringe just barely brushes against it. Zaeed moves in closer, feet planted firmly beside his. He presses his body along his entire front, hands at his shoulders to hold him and the mouth that’s now against his is desperate, forceful. Garrus’ arms are around the man without him even thinking, feeling the warmth of the body beneath the cotton shirt, the play of muscles on his back. Zaeed’s arms snake between him and the wall, pressing Garrus harder against him as the kiss deepens. Blunt teeth nip at his lower mouth plate and his tongue lavs along between them, then up to suck at each of the points of Garrus’ upper lip before returning to thrust his tongue against his with a groan. Garrus’ arms tighten around the firm body with a trill in his subvocals. He scrapes his teeth gently against the man’s tongue, pushes back so his own can taste the roof of Zaeed’s mouth. His heart is thudding in his chest so hard it seems to be vibrating his entire body.
He hears Zaeed’s ragged indrawn breath as he breaks the kiss, cracks his eyes open to look at him in wonder. He can barely think and the man is smiling. “Yeah. Okay. Just double checking.”
“What?” He’s in a haze of desire, cock half hard behind his plates. Spirits. The man can kiss.
Zaeed leans in to place moist lips against his scarred mandible, lips it briefly with a soft sigh. Then he steps away, disentangling himself from Garrus’ arms. He pushes his shoulders against the wall, as if he knows he needs the support. “Making sure.”
Garrus’ world has gone all blurry and he wants the warm body back, but he resists the urge to reach out with grasping fingers to pull him in. “Chemistry still there I take it?”
“Yeah. Still there.” Zaeed’s voice is rough and languid, rolling through his thoughts like warm honey. He lets go of his shoulders.
“Good. Me too.”
“Catch ya later, Garrus.”
“Just like that? Kiss and run?”
“Just like that.”
“Hm. Okie. Hey, Zaeed?”
“Yeah, what?” He’s already at the door, but stops and turns halfway to look over his shoulder.
“You know I have questions about some of those things you drank to tonight.”
Zaeed laughs softly. “If you can remember them, I’ll answer them.” He turns a bit more, studies him with focused eyes. Garrus wonders just how drunk he really is. “Hell, Garrus. This is gonna be fun.”
Garrus leans back against the wall and tries to breathe steadying breaths, but it’s difficult with the feeling of the man still lingering on his body. He stares at the empty spot in the doorway where Zaeed had been standing. Fun? Yeah. He could do with a bit of fun. Although he’d never thought he’d put fun and Zaeed in the same sentence-unless maybe other words were there too, like bullets or target or rifle.
He has visions of making his way back to his ship so he can sleep off the hangover. For now he holds the wall up, the room swaying pleasantly around him as he runs through the night’s events-his friends, the music, that kiss. Especially that kiss. He groans with the realization of what he had admitted to Zaeed. Stick my hand in his pocket? Seriously? There was no way the man will let him live that one down. Well, two could play that game should it become necessary. There was no way he was going to let Zaeed live down that kiss. No freaking way.
Seems like maybe as good a way as any to start something.
From: Dr. Karin Chakwas
To: Garrus Vakarian; Zaeed Massani
Re: In case you get your heads out of your asses
I would tell you that I advize against ingesting fluids if you can at all help it, and that I would highly recommend condom use for several safety reasons. But I’m sure you’ll do as you please and ignore your doctor’s medical concern as per usual. I can supply brand names of lubricant that are non-toxic to both species should you so desire.
Enclosed: prescription for levo/dextro antihistamines
Thank you so much for reading! Your kudos and comments are like chocolate for my soul!