It was all Traynor’s fault. The party had been going for hours, and just when Shepard thought she might be able to drag Garrus away from the dance floor for some more private recreational activities, Samantha had to suggest a game of “I never.”
“What is this game?” Tali asked, playing with her straw. Well, technically her fourth “emergency induction port,” since she’d mangled her first three.
“A good way to get plastered,” James said. He’d spent the last five minutes flexing his biceps for Kasumi, who seemed to have forgotten her disappointment that Jacob left so early.
“A good way to get to know your friends even better, you mean,” Traynor corrected. “Come on. Everyone get another round and come over to the sofa. In fact, bring a few bottles with you, in case we need refills.”
“I’m not so sure about this…” Shepard said.
The party had been, frankly, perfect. Exactly the sort of escape everyone needed. But there was a difference between dancing like an idiot and letting your crew know all the sordid details of your past. Besides, she’d left Wrex, Javik, and Grunt arguing around the poker table, and that could only end in disaster. Not to mention the fact that Miranda and Jack had disappeared ten minutes ago, and no one knew where they'd gone. At least she knew where EDI and Joker were, since one of the spare bedrooms was now occupied and locked down tighter than the Normandy ever was.
“Pleeeeease, Shepard?” Garrus said. “It sounds like fun.”
He came up behind her and wrapped his arms around her waist. All the tension she’d felt at Traynor’s suggestion immediately drained away in the warmth of his touch. The magic of the evening had affected him more than anyone. Well, the magic and the alcohol. He wasn’t thinking about Palaven or ruthless calculus, at least not obviously. Instead, he’d spent the evening dancing and joking and getting up to way too much trouble with Zaeed. He was the Garrus she might have met in a world without reapers. She wouldn’t trade her Garrus for anything, but seeing him lighthearted and unburdened by war was gift she intended to cherish for as long as possible.
Which meant agreeing to a game of “I never.”
“Fine. But if you learn things about me you’d rather not know, you have only yourself to blame.”
“Mmm, secrets,” he said in her ear, his rumbly voice stupidly sexy, and she almost dragged him off to her bed right then.
“I don’t know this game,” Liara said. “What are the rules?”
“Simple,” Traynor said. “We take turns saying things like, ‘I’ve never killed a reaper on foot.’ Then anyone who has done that thing has to drink.”
Everyone looked at Shepard.
“I don’t like where this is going,” Shepard said.
“It was just an example,” Samantha assured her. “And to go easy on Shepard, I’ll add a second rule: you have to make at least two people drink or it doesn’t count. Otherwise it would be things like ‘I’ve never fallen through a fish tank’ and ‘I’ve never died and been brought back to life’ all night.”
“Gee, thanks.” Shepard looked up at Garrus. “See what you’re getting me into?”
He grinned back at her. “The great Commander Shepard can handle a little ribbing.”
“If you say so.”
In the end, there were seven of them: Shepard, Garrus, Traynor, James, Liara, Tali, and Kasumi. Although Kasumi was popping in and out, and would probably only participate when she felt like it. Well, anything that kept her away from her greybox was a win in Shepard’s book.
“I’ll start us off easy,” Samantha said. “I’ve never had sex — or the asari equivalent -- with a turian.”
Shepard groaned and took a long swig of her drink to the hoots and hollers of the group. Garrus and Liara also drank. Liara got some raised eyebrows.
“What? I’m over a hundred,” Liara said. She plucked at the fabric of the sofa. “And besides, turians make nice noises.”
“Hell yeah, they do,” Shepard agreed, maybe a little too loudly. How many shots had she already had? It was worth it, though, to see the shocked look on Garrus’s face. “Thanks for making me play, Vakarian. Maybe this will be fun.”
“Well, I have never had sex with a human,” Tali said, punctuating her statement with a hiccup. “Actually, I’ve never had sex with anyone.”
Everyone drank, even Tali. Sometimes Shepard forgot how young Tali was. This party had certainly reminded her.
“Buck up, Tali. The night isn't over,” Samantha said, pouring Tali another drink and edging just a little bit closer.
“This is definitely getting interesting,” Kasumi said.
“My turn.” James raised his glass as if he were making a toast. “I’ve never had to ride with Shepard in the Mako.”
There were several groans.
“Oh, my head hurts just remembering!” Tali took a swig.
Garrus giggled. Actually giggled. “Shepard thinks the shortest path between any two points is a straight line, even if that line goes over the peak of a mountain and plunges down into a crater on the other side.”
“The Mako could handle it!” Shepard said.
Liara stared at her drink mournfully. “By the goddess, so many mountains.”
“Fine,” Shepard said. “Laugh it up.”
“There was no laughing, Shepard,” Liara said. “Sometimes vomiting, but definitely no laughing.”
“Someone else go,” James said. “I’m not nearly as drunk as Scars and it’s starting to piss me off.”
“Jimmy!” Garrus said, tossing a hand on James’s shoulder. “I didn’t know you cared.”
James shook his head. “Thought you could hold your liquor better than this, Archangel.”
“Shhhh,” Garrus said, holding a finger up to his mouth. “That’s a secret.”
“Sure it is, Scars.”
Garrus giggled again.
Shepard looked at him, her thoughts a mess of mushy warmth. What would the Hierarchy say if they saw him now? The thought made her want to giggle, too. If she could only remember how.
“I’ve got one,” Samantha said. “Before tonight I’ve never ‘danced’ with Shepard, for any definition of dance.”
Garrus drank again, rather proudly, but fluttered his mandibles when James did, too.
“Not what you think, Scars,” James said. “And none of your damn business.”
They all blinked when Liara drank.
Shepard winked at her. “Good times on the old SR-1.”
“Indeed they were, Shepard,” Liara agreed with a coy smile. Of course, nobody else needed to know it was drunken slow-dancing when Shepard was trying to forget what happened on Virmire. Let them think whatever they wanted. Commander fucking Shepard needed some mystique, after all.
“I definitely like where this is going,” Samantha said.
James grunted. “You would.”
“I’ll go next,” Garrus said. “I’ve never killed three mercs with one bullet. Oh, wait. I definitely have.” He snickered and drank.
Tali threw the dextro equivalent of a potato chip at him. “You drunken bosh’tet! That’s not how you play. Right? That’s against the rules.”
“It is,” Traynor said, “but I think if we make him drink as penance, he’ll only get worse.”
“I will definitely get worse,” Garrus agreed. “There’s really no upside for you.”
Tali sighed. “Turians. The lushes of the galaxy. You sure about him, Shepard? There’s still time to trade him in for a better option. A hanar, maybe. Or an elcor.”
“Think I’ll stick with the turian,” Shepard said. “He keeps my bed nice and warm.”
Shepard looked at Garrus and saw his eyes full of… something. Her breath hitched just a little.
“You’re so smart,” Tali said. “Haven’t I always said that? Shepard, she’s so smart.”
“Turians aren’t the only lushes here,” James said. “The humans seem to be the only ones capable of holding their liquor. No surprise.”
“I could bring the entire galaxy to its knees with a few keystrokes,” Liara said coolly. “I don’t think humans have a monopoly on resisting the effects of alcohol poisoning.”
“Zing!” Traynor said, at the same time Kasumi asked, “Which keystrokes would it take, Liara?”
“Wait! I finally have one,” Shepard said triumphantly. “I’ve never risen above the rank of commander — or its equivalent.”
Admiral Tali’Zorah vas Normandy drank deeply, as did Liara — Shadow Broker trumped pretty much everything — and, as she suspected, Garrus. Reaper Advisor must have been code for “so high up in the Hierarchy we had to invent something.” Shepard grinned. Drunk as she was, it felt like a victory.
“Shepard, you’re a Spectre,” James said. “I kinda think that outranks commander.”
“Not in my book,” Tali said.
“Damn,” Shepard said, crestfallen. “Forgot about that. Guess I have to drink, too.”
“My girlfriend is a Spectre,” Garrus said, and drank again, just because he could.
Shepard stared at him. He seemed to be saying “girlfriend” every chance he got, playing with the word like a kid with a new toy who couldn’t stop himself from showing it off. It was ridiculous and juvenile and far too sentimental.
And yet something inside her fluttered a little every time he did it. She’d had partners in the past — for drinking and for sex, mostly, and sometimes as dates for official functions. But she’d never called anyone her boyfriend, and would have verbally beaten the crap out of anyone who dared to call her “my girl.”
Face the facts, Commander. You’re sunk.
“Ooh, ooh, my turn again,” Tali said. “I have never lusted after anyone on the Normandy.”
Everyone drank, no arguments. Kasumi sighed and said, “Oh, Jacob.”
“You sure that’s true, Tali? Or do you really need to check the spare parts inventory during my workout time every day?” James asked.
Tali sputtered. “I like to be… accurate… with my… counting… of things.”
“There’s no shame in liking a human,” Garrus said charitably. “I mean, they do have bizarre legs and far too many fingers and not nearly enough structural integrity to their faces, but after a while, they grow on you.”
“Is that right?” Shepard grumbled. “I’ll show you structural integrity.”
“Save the dirty talk for the bedroom, Shepard,” he replied, patting her on the arm. “You’ll scare the children.”
“Scars, you make everything weird,” James said, shaking his head.
Garrus’s mandibles flared. “Why, thank you, Jimmy. I do set high standards for myself.”
“Another round, and fast,” Tali demanded. “Who has one?”
“I’ve never been shot,” Traynor said, and grinned while they all drank.
“I’ve never embraced eternity,” James said, laughing as Shepard and Liara emptied their glasses.
“It was the beacon’s fault,” Shepard said.
“Don’t lie, Shepard. You loved it.” Tali lowered her voice to imitate Shepard’s. “‘If you think it will help, Liara…’ Keelah. We all knew what was going on.”
“We did?” Garrus asked.
“Well, most of us did,” Tali said. Shepard was sure that Tali was rolling her eyes behind her mask.
“I’ve never played poker with a Batarian,” Shepard said, just to watch James drink. She got Traynor, too, who shrugged.
“What can I say? I’ll play almost anything.”
“Here’s one for you,” James said. “I’ve never been in love.”
“I’ll drink enough for both of us then, James,” Garrus said. His free hand found Shepard’s and squeezed, and she was surprised, almost as surprised as she’d been on Menae, how much emotion he could convey with such a simple act. For a moment she just stared at his hand entwined with hers.
Garrus leaned in. “Shepard, sweetie. Love of my life. If you don’t drink soon, it’s going to make me look bad. Mind you, I’m no stranger to looking bad. But if you have something to tell me, this is hardly the place.”
She tore herself away from their interwoven fingers, looked him in the eyes, and slowly downed the rest of her drink to the cheers of their friends.
“That’s my girl,” he said, giving her his best smile — the same joyous, unabashed grin he’d had on top of the presidium when she’d first said she loved him.
“To love,” Liara said, raising her glass.
“To Keiji,” Kasumi said quietly.
“To Esteban’s husband,” James said.
“To that bosh’tet Kal’Reegar,” Tali added, “who was not supposed to get himself killed by being brave.”
“To everyone we’ve lost in this goddamn war,” Shepard said.
They took turns calling out the names of the dead as if they were battle cries, knocking their glasses together and drinking to each one. It seemed like the perfect way to end the game, their hearts full and focused.
But then Kasumi said, “Give us one more round, Shep.”
Shepard bowed her head and tried to think of something light. Something funny. Garrus would have been able to. He’d have them all laughing in seconds. But this was her job, and suddenly, she wasn’t in the mood for joking.
Shepard looked at each of them. At her crew, at her friends. “I never… thought I could feel so lucky in the middle of a war. I never thought I’d find all of you.”
They sat there for a moment, looking at their glasses or at each other, none of them even pretending to drink.
The evening wasn’t magic after all, Shepard thought. The people were.
Eventually Traynor yawned and Tali excused herself to find the bathroom. James went back to flexing for Kasumi and Liara was suddenly responding to a message on her omni-tool.
Garrus nuzzled Shepard’s hair and she leaned into his warmth.
“Nicely done, Shepard,” he said quietly. “Only you could turn a drinking game into something like that.”
“Like one of Kirrahe’s ‘hold the line’ speeches,” he said, nipping the top of her ear. “You’ve inspired me to do something I never thought I’d do.”
That got her attention. “Oh?”
“I’m going to tell you the truth,” he said. He pulled his head back just far enough so he could look her in the eyes. “Are you ready for this?”
“Dazzle me,” she said.
He took a deep breath. “The Mako handled like a drunken krogan. No one except maybe Joker could have done any better. None of us actually think you’re a bad driver.”
Her mouth fell open.
“If you repeat this to anyone, I’ll deny it,” he said quickly. “The savior of the galaxy has to be bad at something.”
She kissed him. Not as thoroughly as she would have liked, but there were still people around. Despite the alcohol, his eyes lit up. Maybe he wasn’t as drunk as he seemed.
“Thought I had that covered with my dancing,” she said.
“You just need more practice. You ready to try that tango again?” he asked. “Your bed here is as big as a dance floor.”
She grinned. “Oh, hell, yes.”