Garrus had only worked alongside humans for a few years, but he already knew that they always complained about the holidays. He never understood why — holidays were about gathering, honoring, and cherishing. Halloween had given him a first glimpse at why humans associated bad experiences with their holidays. But, it was Christmas that gave him true insight into the human tradition of loathing something turians held dear.
Human holidays were just…so intense. And Christmas was the most frustratingly intense of all. So many rules. So many expectations.
But Jane had been invited to spend Anivia Vocan with his family (and even though she’d be vid chatting with her family on Christmas Day next week) he thought it would be nice to celebrate her holiday too. T’Saris helped with the research, which only heightened his nerves. Presents should be thoughtful, fun, meaningful, expensive but from the heart. He thought he had all those boxes checked, but, what if he didn’t? Would it ruin her Christmas? Deep down he knew she’d appreciate anything he did, but being on a space station away from her family was hard on her, and the one good thing that came out of Halloween was learning that celebrating holidays softened her homesickness.
It took him weeks to decide on the presents that were already wrapped and ready to go, but he knew he was missing something. Something fun. Ed, Jane’s grandfather, had given him an idea that would check that box, but every time Garrus thought of it, a dozen worries ran through his mind.
Despite every one of those worries, though, he wound up at the toy import shop standing alongside Sol. He was there, but deep-seated dread kept him from walking in, so he just stared at the display window. His quarry was proudly displayed right at the front, long shiny barrel gleaming in the bright lighting.
No. This was a bad idea. His subvocals trilled.
“What are you waiting for?” Sol finally asked, nudging his elbow. “Go in and get it.”
He sighed and stood stone-still. “I don’t know about this.
Sol tsked. “She’s going to love it. Her grandfather said she always wanted one.”
“She’s a cop, Garrus, she’s not going to hurt herself with a gun.”
Although he wanted to scoff at Sol, he couldn’t peel his attention from the window. “It’s a toy gun. And if you think she won’t hurt herself with a toy, you don't know her as well as I do.”
“Of course I don’t, because I don’t spend every waking moment with her like you do.” Sol’s teasing, dry voice barely caught his attention. Like he needed any of his sister’s jokes about being a pathetic single at that moment.
“You’d never do something this nice for Nihlus.”
“Nihlus doesn’t deserve it,” he said absentmindedly.
Sol continued talking, but he wasn’t quite sure what she said. His mind was too preoccupied running scenarios of a hundred ways Jane would hurt herself. Or damage her uncle’s apartment at the very least. One image burned into his mind, though, pushing all other scenarios to the side and taking center stage.
He felt his mandibles jitter as Sol pushed him towards the entrance, his feet sliding along unwillingly. “She’s going to shoot her eye out,” he muttered.
Garrus stood in Jane’s living room. The fireplace was aglow and hot chocolate was on the kitchen counter, delicate plumes of steam rising enticingly. Hopefully she liked hot chocolate — he’d never seen her drink it before, but T’Saris made it seem integral. He even lit a stinky holiday candle.
Rocket sat at attention under the decorated tree as if he was aware this was an important moment, and Garrus stood nervously by his side — as much as a seven-foot-tall creature could stand at the side of something grazing his ankle. Garrus looked down at the fuzzy little guy, who slow-blinked up at him. It was a sign of affection and camaraderie for cats, Jane told him years ago. Because Garrus loved the little cat, he slow-blinked back.
Rocket took off for the door which slid open a second later, mowing as soon as it did.
Her warm voice carried from the front room. “Hey buddy. How’s my favorite little guy?”
Garrus heard a few excited chirps in reply. Her soft footfalls along with Rocket’s quick clicking ones neared. His heart beat thumped faster as they approached.
“Mmm, smells like cinnamon,” she said. “What is that? You figure out how to light candles?”
She chuckled. “I hope not.”
Jane rounded the corner, setting her sight on Garrus. Instantly a warm smile brightened her face. “Hey. What are you doing here?”
“Merry, uh, Christmas. I bought you some presents.”
Her smile broadened, pulling at her flushed cheeks. “You didn’t have to buy me presents.” She propped her hands up on her hips accompanied by an apologetic tilt of her head. “I didn’t get you anything.”
“You can make it up to me next year. Double the number that I got you.”
She chuckled. “Absolutely.”
After giving Rocket his presents – toys and treats — Garrus guided Jane to open the boring ones first — the sweater, the tickets to a palae match because she’d been so excited to learn about the turian sport, the brand new fancy bottle opener because hers was giving out. She thanked him for all of them.
“Here, open this one now,” he said, handing her the next box and filling with excitement — that one was special.
She unwrapped it like she had the others — furiously tearing the paper off and letting it drift to the ground, creating obstacles for Rocket to dash under and pounce on. The lid was plucked off and with a flick of her wrist sailed towards the fireplace before Garrus caught it mid-air. What the hell would she do without him there to protect her?
Her eyes glistened, staring down at the gray tennis shoes he bought her to replace the nasty ones that were falling apart. Impending Tears. Oh no . He’d purchased the exact model and color as the ones currently on her feet, but she didn’t like the present.
“God dammit Garrus!”
His mandibles jittered anxiously. “I…”
Before he could get an apology out, she washed all his uncertainty away by wrapping an arm around him, hugging him close to her side.
“That is so sweet,” she gushed. “How did you get these here?”
“A special order at an asari shoe store.”
Her arm tightened, hugging him closer before letting him go. She continued to stare down at the shoes. “Thank you. You are… “ she shook her head, “you’re so good to me.”
A nervous chuckle rippled in his warming chest. “No, just embarrassed of you looking like a duct rat.”
She shoved his shoulder. “Shut up. You’re a good friend and you know it.”
He accepted that statement with a smile, then turned to the tree, picking up the last gift and handing it to her. “Ok, one more.”
More wrapping paper fell, more rustling sounded as Rocket flew threw it. When she saw a sliver of the writing on the box, she gasped. Excited eyes looked up at him as her grip tightened. “Oh my god! How did you know about this? Papa told you?”
“Yeah, he said you’d get a kick out of it. You always wanted one.”
“I did! Gran never let me have one. Said it was too dangerous.” Jane rolled her eyes.
While Jane tore the rifle out of its packaging, Garrus took the accompanying visor and placed it on her head, careful not to pull her hair. He tried to flick it down over her eyes, but she turned to laugh at Rocket who was bounding through the wrapping paper with his toy. An agitated hum tickled Garrus’s throat. “Here, put the visor down over your eyes before you get the rifle out.”
“I will, just a sec,” she answered as she turned the barrel at her face. His heart jumped.
A click and pop stopped Garrus’s jumping heart. His eyes darted to hers, immediately assuming the worst. She hurt herself. Dammit.
Jane’s hand shot to her face, slapping over her eye. “Fuck! Shit!”
“Spirits! Did you just shoot yourself?”
“No.” She lied as well as a guilty kid.
“You did. How did you just shoot yourself?”
“My finger slipped trying to get the,” she shook the gun — thankfully pointing at the floor now — in her hand, “chamber open. Why was it already loaded?”
“I had to load it to calibrate the adjustments I made.”
She looked up at him for a moment without speaking. Her single eye blinked slowly, the sight filling him with guilt. “You don’t need to calibrate a toy Garrus.”
“The range was weak. Barely shot across the living room.”
She gently set the gun down on the couch and stepped cautiously, her one eye still covered, towards the kitchen. “How the fuck does it hurt so much? I think that dumb little plastic bullet actually lacerated my skin.”
“Probably the adjustments. I gave it a decent boost.”
She laughed, sincere and lighthearted despite the pain that was furrowing her brow. “You turned it into a real gun.” Her foot lifted, searching for the first step into the kitchen with a few quick jabs.
“You pointed a gun at your own face,” he said, exasperated.
She shrugged. Shrugged. Then a slow, drawn out “owwww” whined out of her.
“Spirits, how bad is it?” He surged towards her, reaching out to place a hand on her hip, helping her find her way up the steps.
“I’m sure it’s fine, I just need to put some ice on it.”
Worried she’d trip or stub her toe, he guided her way to the kitchen with his hand at her back. Just as her hand shot out to feel for the countertop he picked her up, a surprised yelp coming out of her, and set her down next to the sink. She giggled, blowing a strand of hair from her forehead. “Warn a girl before you sweep her off her feet.”
“I’ll get the ice pack,” he told her. “You just sit there.” He swung the freezer door open and plucked it from where she always kept it, tucked in right beside the ice maker and ready for a pulled muscle or sore ankle. Despite her smile, she looked pitiful sitting on the counter, and all he could think about was whether or not there was blood. There better not be blood. He’d snap that damn gun in half if there was.
He held the ice pack at her cheek. “Here, move your hand, let’s see how bad the damage is.”
She bit her lip, the plump flesh puckering out. His grip on the ice pack tightened before he could stop those dangerous thoughts about how beautiful she was in their tracks. “I don’t want to,” she said.
He waited as patiently as he could, though there was an impatient flick of his mandible.
“Promise you won’t take the gun away.”
He cupped her jaw in his hand, inching the ice pack to her brow. “Well it’s not like I can return it after I modded it so—”
She chuckled. “I have the only friend in the whole galaxy who would mod a toy gun. You are such a dork.”
“Says the grown woman hiding her owie because she doesn't want her toy taken away.”
She reached right out and pinched him, making him flinch.
“Ouch. And you’re a little shit,” he hissed through a smile. With a gentle nudge to her wrist, he tried to guide her hand from her face but she leaned back, dodging him. “Why are you squirming around?” He reached out for her arm, and she leaned back again. A frustrated growl grated his throat, which only made her eyes light with amusement. He stepped closer, bumping against the counter.
Her deep breath made her chest rise and fall, sending a wave of air along his bare arm. “Ok, let me do it though.” Finally, she lowered her hand from her eye to grab the ice pack. Instead of placing it over the wound, though, she locked her worried eyes with his. “Bad?”
As soon as he saw the damage, a trill leapt from his throat. Laceration on her upper eyelid, red, irritated skin running from her brow to her eyelashes already beginning to puff up. “ Jane. You’re going to have a bruise. Got yourself right on the eyelid.”
Her little fingers rose to the laceration running just under her brow, tentatively exploring the wound. She hissed in pain and drew her hand back. “Better than right in the eye, hm? Is there blood?” she asked.
“Not much. The laceration is superficial. You’ll need a bandage though.” He wanted to hug her, wanted to wrap his arms around her and tell her how sorry he was. He swore from that day forward he’d follow Alice’s advice, and not Ed’s. Grandma’s usually knew better than grandpa’s.
He also wanted to berate Jane for being such an impossible nerd. Aiming a barrel at her face…what was she thinking?
“I knew this would happen,” he grumbled.
Her brows rose. “You knew I would shoot myself with a toy?”
“Yes, I saw it perfectly in my mind, and yet I still bought the damn thing.”
“Well why’d you buy it then?”
His heart swelled as soon as the answer came to mind, and he couldn't hold his honesty back. “Because, I wanted to make you happy.”
She shifted, but didn’t say anything. Garrus felt heat around his hips and when she shifted again he knew why — her knee brushed against his thigh. Her legs were so close to his that he felt her body heat. His pulse beat through him, unreasonably demanding, warmth settling around his plates. It felt like there was an entire planet stuck in his throat.
He cleared his voice, reaching for the hot chocolate and presenting it to her so abruptly that it sloshed around dangerously close to spilling over. “You uh, want some hot chocolate. We have a few hours before we need to meet up at my parents’.”
She nodded, lowering her gaze from his to take the mug from his hands. “There’s some antiseptic and a small bandage in the drawer right by you, can you grab it?”
A quick rustle through the junk in her drawer (why was she so damn messy?) and he had the materials in hand. So afraid that he’d get lost in sparkling green eyes, or stare at her soft eyelashes or her plump pink lips, he thought of software code while he bandaged her up. Every breath he took and every beat of his pulse added to his anxiety. Just act normal, you idiot , he told himself. The one time he allowed his eyes to connect with hers, he could have sworn she was staring at his teeth, of all things — it was hard to tell, though, because her eyelids snapped shut quickly after.
With her hot chocolate in hand she jumped down from the counter, shimmying past him and slapping her hand on his shoulder so hard he almost stumbled back.
“Thanks, buddy,” she said. “If you ever get sick of being a detective, you can be a nurse instead.”
The only reply he could offer was a hum that had no meaning, neither agreeing or disagreeing with her. He picked up his hot chocolate and her ice pack, following her into the living room where they relaxed on the couch. He smiled when she put on her new shoes and showed them off by kicking her feet up in the air. Rocket bounced onto the cushion next to Garrus, new toy in mouth and mowing his fool head off until he crawled into Garrus’s cowl and settled into a deep sleep.
Shepard watched Rocket the whole time, a soft smile on her lips. “Thanks, Garrus,” she said. “From both of us.”
A warm ripple rolled through his chest. “You’re welcome.”
Her smile dropped, fear replacing the happiness. “Oh god, your family is going to see my dumb face. I’m going to have to tell them what I did.”
A mixture of nerves and self-righteous satisfaction rose up in him. His parents would fuss over Jane, which would make him feel guilty, but at the same time he’d be able to tell Sol he was right.
Standing outside Castis and Val’s apartment, Jane cupped her hand over her eye, certain that once the Vakarian family saw her shiner they’d make a fuss. She’d need a minute to explain, tell them it wasn’t as bad as it looked. Prepare herself for Sol and Garrus’s jokes. Castis would insist she be more careful. Val would offer assurances and comfort. And all of it was god damn embarrassing.
An officer. A damn good shot. And she’d hurt herself.
All these thoughts zipped through her mind as they waited. Garrus gave her a sly side eye, either excited to make fun of her or worried about getting an earful for this as her conspirator. Probably both.
The door slid open, Castis on the other side with mandibles spread wide in a warm smile.
She was hoping Val would see them first to offer some calm before Castis had a chance to worry. Garrus drew in a quick breath while she cradled her eye tighter. Why did it feel like she was a kid again, worried about getting in trouble for messing around with her best friend?
All because of a silly Christmas present.
Castis’s smile dropped and his steel-blue eyes narrowed as they settled on the hand covering her eye.
“It’s not that serious,” she explained. Her free hand even rose up to halt the worry and accusations she knew were a mandible flick away.
“What’s happened?” As expected, Castis’s mandibles twitched.
She opened her mouth but before she got a word out, Val, still standing in the living room, peered past Castis’s shoulder to get a look. “What’s wrong?” she asked, voice quivering with worry.
“Nothing, I…” fuck, this was embarrassing. She sucked up the courage to admit that she was a damn fool.
Castis moved aside to let them in. Garrus, the little shit, waited for her to step inside first so she’d be perfectly on display. And his tactic worked — as soon as she saw Jane, a worried tisk came from Val.
“Jane shot her eye out,” Garrus said. God damn tattle tale.
She held back the intense urge to scoff. “Garrus gave me the gun,” she blurted out.
“The gun ?” Castis and Val said, alarmed and in unison.
“What are you all—” Sol stepped out of the hall and caught sight of them. “What happened?” There was already the hint of a smile in her voice.
“It’s not that serious. I’m fine,” she promised as every Vakarian, except Garrus, fell upon her with worried expressions. She removed her hand and showed the small bandage. Sol, Val, and Castis all gasped.
Garrus even looked mildly concerned. “It’s more swollen than before.”
“Garrus bought me a Christmas present, a silly little toy gun, and I accidentally shot a toy bullet at my eye.”
A laugh chirped out of Sol, eliciting a sly smile from Garrus. He nudged his sister with his elbow. “I told you she’d shoot her eye out.”
Sol covered her amused, jittering mandibles with her hands. “You did call it.”
Jane glared at them both for laughing at her expense as Val and Castis continued to examine her with worried expressions.
Val took Jane’s chin between her thumb and finger so she could tilt her head slightly back. The concerned eyes of a doting mother examined the abrasion. “It’s not so bad. It’ll heal quickly.”
“You have to be more careful,” Castis chided, then he turned to Garrus. “How did an officer hurt herself with a gun?”
Jane hoped Castis saw the sincere apology in her eyes. “It’s a toy, I didn’t think I’d need to be careful.”
Castis hummed. “It’s just as we drop our guard that we assume the greatest risk.”
Sol and Garrus both rolled their eyes.
“If we’re all done gawking at Jane's face, our session at the planetarium is soon. We need to get going.”
Val tapped Castis’s arm. “Saccha, we’re all grown-ups here, no one needs a child’s parable. Keep them to yourself until you have grandchildren.”
Pointed looks from parents to their children were followed by Garrus and Sol rolling their eyes again.
“All right everyone out,” Sol announced, pushing on Castis, who was closest to the door. She turned to Jane. “Do your grandparents bother you about having children?”
“I think they’re more worried I’ll never even date again.”
Sol laughed, then turned to Val. “Mom, don’t forget your Anivia Vocan shawl.”
Val stopped, placing her hand on her keel. “Oh, yes, I’m so forgetful lately! Jane, come with me, help me get my shawl down.”
Garrus looked directly at Jane. “We need to go soon,” he said gently.
Looking back at him over her shoulder, Jane promised with a nod and a smile that she wouldn’t let Val get distracted.
Val’s hand wrapped around Jane’s, pulling her to her and Castis’s bedroom then to the closet. She let go only to retrieve a beautifully engraved wooden box that held several vibrantly colored shawls, carefully rolled and stored with care. A smile bloomed on Val’s face, flicking her mandibles out wide. She ran the back of a talon along a magenta shawl as vibrant as a Palaven sunset.
“This one,” Val said, “is my bonding shawl.” Her gaze lifted to Jane. “It’s my dearest possession and fills me with the most intense joy every time I put it on to renew my promise to Castis. That man is my heart and spirit.”
Jane took a deep breath, warmth spreading through her. “It’s beautiful, Val.”
Val continued to stroke the fabric, the light above them casting beautiful, radiant shadows across its surface. Garrus’s urging was in Jane’s head, but she wasn’t about to tell Val to hurry it up. So she placed a hand on Val’s shoulder and gave her time. To love another that intensely was humbling. Jane hoped that she’d love, and be loved, that intensely someday.
Eventually, Val looked up. “You got new shoes.”
Jane smiled. “Yeah, Garrus bought them for me.”
Val’s hand left her bonding shawl and took another light blue one from the box. “My boy is so sweet.”
“He is,” Jane agreed, taking the box from Val and placing it back on the shelf for her. “The best friend I’ve ever had.”
They made their way back out to the entryway, Sol, Garrus, and Castis waiting patiently.
“What were you two up to?” Castis asked.
“She was showing me her bonding shawl,” Jane answered. “It’s so beautiful.”
“You’ll have one just as beautiful someday,” Val said.
Garrus took his mom’s hand and guided her to the door. “Humans don’t have bonding shawls, Mom.”
Sol giggled. “Maybe she’ll marry a turian. Did you ever reach out to Lorik, Jane?”
“All right,” Garrus grumbled. “Out the door.”
They arrived at the planetarium right on time. It took Jane a moment to see clearly because of the swelling, but once her vision focused she held her breath. The magnificent display of shimmering stars overhead was the most beautiful night sky she had ever seen — it was the night sky Garrus had looked up to on his home planet as a little boy. Though no longer holding religious beliefs, like most turians, the Vakarians went through the traditional motions of thanking the spirits for the past years’ guidance, and implored them for guidance in the next, Jane examined every corner of the sky, from one constellation to the next, and every glimmering dot in between. Presents were fun, but this, the turian winter holiday, felt special — reflective and appreciative.
She felt Garrus’s arm wrap around her shoulder, pulling her body tight against his. When she smiled up at him, his handsome moonlit face filled with content. She found herself melting into his casual embrace, enjoying the warmth that spread from him to her.
“Thanks, Garrus,” she whispered. “This is so beautiful. And, next year I promise to get you presents.”
“Thanks for coming with us,” he whispered back. “But make sure my presents are good. You owe me after making me worry so badly today. Oh, and next year, please don’t shoot your eye out.”
She pretended to huff. “Fine.” As she giggled, she wrapped an arm around his waist, and his hand fell to her lower back, resting in a little curve he’d found months ago. Her heart skipped, and she wished that the spirits existed, because the way she felt when Garrus touched her meant she desperately needed some help.
She looked back up at him, admiring the warmth in his blue eyes. “Joyful Anivia Vocan, Garrus.”
His smile made her heart swell. “Merry Christmas, Jane.”