The words on Shepard’s forearm are… not in English.
They’re not in French, Russian, Arabic, Mandarin, or any other human language, for that matter.
They show up when she’s thirteen, a scrawl of weird, scratchy letters that look more like a stylized tattoo than the soulmate mark which they must be. Which is a good thing, because she’s pretty sure it’s maybe an asari language or some shit (if she’s lucky) and the gangs on Earth aren’t exactly bastions of tolerance and alien-acceptance. A lot of old veterans live in the slums. They may be burnouts, but some of them still have decent connections. If the guy who can get you access to weapons, or drugs, or keep the cops out of your neighbourhood says he hates turians or salarians or whatever-ians, you better believe most of the rest of them are just going to nod and go along with it.
So she tries to keep it covered, but even when she slips up, most people just assume it’s some tribal tattoo or old gang mark or, hell, one time she passed it off as a sharpie scrawl one of the younger kids at the shelter had put on her.
She’s fifteen when Old Burt, a veteran and an asshole, grabs her wrist and holds it in a white-knuckled grip.
“That’s turian writing,” he says, and she thinks he’s going to try and break her arm.
She breaks his nose, instead.
A few weeks later she’s lying about her age, dropping every last cent she’s managed to scrape up on forged documentation, and signing on with the Alliance. When she gets her first omnitool installed, she finally finds out what those turian words mean.
The first is a rank, roughly equivalent to ‘commander’ or ‘lieutenant colonel’ in the hierarchy system. The second is noted as a name, due to the first tic mark on the first syllable, and the first sound is actually a hybridized one, to indicate combined sounds from ‘tz’ and a soft ‘s’. The second one is a clicking sound that pops like a ‘p’, and then a curt ‘erd’, with a hard line that apparently indicates formality and implies that the subject is a family name or clan rank.
Apparently, the first thing this mystery turian is going to say to her will be her name. Presumably after she makes it to commander.
What’s she supposed to do with a turian soulmate anyway?
The song in Garrus’ dreams doesn’t sound right.
It’s… round is the best way he can describe it, really. There are no really high pitches, few sharp cuts, and it only seems to produce one tone at a time. He can’t begin to understand what it’s actually saying, although, from what everyone says, that bit, at least, is totally normal. It seems to casually converse more than the usual ‘singing’ that he’s had described to him, but with how weird it sounds anyway, who knows? The other new military recruits always seem eager to talk up their dreamsongs, their soul-voices, but he keeps quiet about his. Most of them think he hasn’t heard it yet.
Some nights, he only hears it very faintly. Like the owner is very, very far away, maybe, except that’s not supposed to matter.
Maybe they’re sick? Or they have some sort of speech impediment?
He looks into it, discreetly, on his private channel when he gets some free time, and a few hopped links and some blogs by turians with asari dreamsongs lead him to a new suspicion.
It’s an alien.
Without being able to recognize specific words, he can’t be sure what kind of alien. But the idea that he might be meant for someone who isn’t even turian is surprising enough on its own.
It shakes him more than he cares to admit. It’s bizarre. He doesn’t even find aliens attractive, why would any spirits link him to a person from a wholly different species?
He finds himself itching to know the answer to that question, desperate to figure it all out, to put together the puzzle pieces of his own destiny. He finds himself spending more of his leave visiting his father on the Citadel, idly walking through the crowds, listening to people speak.
But they all sound turian, even when they’re obviously not. The translator microbes add in the sounds they can’t make, pitch their voices to seem ordinary, and remove as much alien inflection as possible. He doesn’t think he’d recognized the murmur from his dreams through all those filters.
It takes him six months to figure out how to disable the microbes.
When he realizes that the voices that sound closest to his dreamsong are coming from humans, he panics, and throws away the device that he rigged up to the do the job. Lets it all go back to turian sounds instead.
His father… doesn’t like humans.
Maybe it’s better not to know.
Turians seem to make a point of greeting people by their rank and name.
Objectively, it makes sense. By all accounts, they don’t have First Words, so there would be no reason for their culture to develop an aversion to standard greetings, the way that humans have.
Privately, she can admit to herself that it is really goddamn irritating, though.
Sometimes, he finds himself just focusing on sounds.
He notices things he never might have before. Like how shops and clubs on space stations always seem to play songs without lyrics, because translator microbes can rarely match the rhythm of the lyrics to the beat of the song. Or how some species, like the elcor and the hanar, seem to have so little variation between their vocalizations that the translators convert their voices in ways that are virtually unrecognizable from one individual to the next.
After his latest falling out with his father, he stops pretending he doesn’t know why he notices these things.
It’s only after Saren, after picking herself up out of the rubble, and celebrating with her crew, and releasing Garrus from his service on the Normandy with a slap on the back and a weird twist of sorrow in her gut that the stray thought slips into her head.
What was the first thing he said to her?
It was her name, wasn’t it?
His dreamsong stops. He wakes up in the middle of the night, gasping for breath, off-kilter and horrified.
Twenty-four hours later, he gets the news about the Normandy being shot out of the sky. Among the crew casualties is Commander Shepard.
The sound he makes is one he’s never heard before.
In the grand scheme of things – dying, being resurrected, having to deal with Cerberus and Collectors and two years of lost time – having the mark on her arm modify itself slightly should barely even register as an issue. But it does.
She’s not totally comfortable with having Miranda catalogue the changes for her, either.
“The part with your rank has dropped off. I don’t know why,” the woman admits. “There’s also been a slight modification to your name. Your first mark was formal, linguistically speaking. This one has punctuation that indicates familiarity instead, which might not be as bizarre as it seems. Some burn victims who manage to damage their marks find them altered to whatever new words their soulmate says to them after the flesh undergoes regeneration treatments. If you already met your soulmate…”
“Yeah, thanks, I get it,” Shepard says.
“Do you know who it is?” Miranda wonders.
“No. Turians tend to greet people by name,” she replies, tightly. “It could be half the Citadel population at this point.”
Miranda doesn’t look very convinced.
He’s going crazy.
Every night, for months now, he keeps waking up with this… feeling. He thinks he might be dreaming of his dreamsong. Not hearing it again – that’s impossible – but dreaming that he’s hearing it again. After it goes on for a week straight, he caves and checks the extranet.
It’s apparently not an uncommon symptom of mourning, but usually it happens immediately after the loss. Not more than a year into it. He supposes it could be something triggered by stress, but things have been almost looking up, lately. Not that he’s going to risk any unfounded optimism, but at least in regards to his own personal mission, his team is pretty much a well-oiled machine at this point. Omega’s crime rates have dropped, and he’s finally managed to finesse his way into earning enough money to buy ammo and decent food at the same time.
So why now?
He tries to ignore it, but every night, it just seems to get worse. It’s not like it was before, either. The basic sound is the same, but the words have a different rhythm, there’s more strain to them – as if each one is being punched out, instead of flowing naturally. Gradually, the song evens out a bit, but it retains a raggedness that wasn’t there before. It’s unsettling. He can’t figure it out, and he’s not sure if he wants it to stop or if he’s terrified that it will.
By the time he finds himself barricaded into an old apartment complex, his team dead and mercenaries at the door, he wonders if maybe it was a warning.
When he actually sees her, he’s so shocked his finger flinches on the trigger, and he says his first ‘welcome back’ by firing a round into her shields.
Cerberus is watching.
Cerberus is watching, but they probably already have their fair share of suspicions, and she’s sure she’s not doing a good enough job of playing this close to the chest to make it anything other than obvious. Miranda has probably figured it out, at least, and Chambers has been making some pointed comments she really doesn’t appreciate. No one else seems to have clued in, and Dr. Chakwas is professional enough not to ask any questions when she requests a kit to cover it back up again. But to be honest, she’s not worried as much about the crew as their ‘employers’.
Cerberus is watching, and it’s Garrus, and a suicide mission, and she doesn’t know if she wants to drag him close or send him away or hit him upside the head for greeting her return from the dead with a simple ‘Shepard’, of all things. As if she needs the extra sense of insecurity in her life right now.
God damn it.
Garrus is aware that his prospects are not the best.
There’s the suicide mission, and Sidonis, and Cerberus, and the odds are pretty stacked against both him and Shepard surviving out the year. He’s not about the dump the weight of his dreamsong onto Shepard, not yet. She’s got enough to deal with without the sudden revelation that, hey, guess what? Your old turian teammate hears your voice in his dreams.
He remembers how it felt, that night when he woke up because everything had suddenly gone silent, and he’s in no hurry to inflict that on anyone else.
Especially not her.
It can wait, if it ever has to come out. But in the meantime, it only takes him a few days to disable his translator microbes again. He puts on a dampening field, and heads down to engineering, and listens to Shepard chatting with Daniels and Donnelly. After a few minutes, he leans back against one of the walls, and closes his eyes. He can pick her voice out without even trying. It sounds less jagged than it does in his dreams, with more rise and fall, and he wonders if that’s a conscious effort on her part, or if it’s just something else to do with dreamsongs and aliens and a whole slew of factors he doesn’t know how to account for.
A sound close by gets his eyes to snap back open.
“Garrus?” Shepard asks, and after a second, he recognizes a sort of mangled, flat version of his name.
He turns off the dampening field.
“Sorry, Shepard. Just taking a break,” he replies.
“Finally pried yourself away from your calibrations?” she asks, fleshed out and normal-sounding again. It’s easier to listen to her, this way. It does fewer inconvenient things to his insides.
“For now. Did you need something?”
She opens her mouth, then closes it again, and shakes her head.
“I’m good,” she says, instead of whatever she almost told him. “Take as much of a break as you need. You’ve earned it.”
He thinks about asking her to join him, but by the time he’s really considered it, she’s already walked off again.
The Illusive Man probably already knows all of her weak spots, anyway. And maybe there’s still a line between a reasonable suspicion and total confirmation, but any betting man who sees the turian writing hidden on her arm and saw the way she looks at her only turian friend would probably put good money on the truth. At this point, there isn’t much to lose. At this point, they’re both so fucked up, and she can see how fucked up they are, that it’s probably ridiculous to screw around with unresolved tension and unanswered questions.
She’s heard about turian dreams. She wants to know if her voice is…
She wants to know. Even though she doesn’t know what she’s supposed to do if it isn’t.
The weird thing is, at this point, she’s not sure if she thinks it’s Garrus because she wants it to be Garrus, or if she thinks it’s Garrus because it probably is Garrus and that’s what’s made her want him.
At least she can say with some certainty that she knew she liked him beforehand.
She waits for an opening, and when she finally gets one, she jumps on it.
“We could test your reach, and my flexibility.”
Oh shit. Shit. That is the stupidest line she has ever uttered. Way to go, smooth operator.
He’s going to fuck this up.
He is absolutely going to fuck this up, but she approached him and… yeah, there was no way he was going to turn her down. Even though he is one hundred percent going to fuck this up.
They fumble, awkwardly, dancing back and forth on the whole thing. He’s a mess. She’s kind of a mess, too, which is at least reassuring. The great Commander Shepard has some very cheesy lines.
Alcohol seems like a good idea.
Or maybe a terrible idea. It’s not like it will do them any favours on the coordination front, and they’ll probably need their wits about them because he may have… researched some things, and then researched them again, and then ‘researched’ them because apparently the spirits had his number after all, but there are definitely some logistics involved. It’s not going to just be. You know. Grab-and-go.
He rethinks the alcohol about fifteen times before he decides to just bring it and let her make the call on whether or not to drink any, and then she tilts her head against him and rolls up one of her sleeves.
“You know humans have marks?” she asks.
She smiles at him, and damn.
Maybe he won't fuck this up after all.
He hears her voice.
It probably doesn't amount to much and they're probably all going to die horribly, but...
He hears her voice.
Maybe some things in the universe are allowed to make sense after all.