It was well past midnight when Shepard slipped out of the bed she shared with Garrus. She should have been exhausted; Wrex had dragged them over what seemed like half of Tuchanka, showing off various reconstruction projects and his ever increasing brood of children. He was up to fifteen and had plans for more. Bakara had rolled her eyes at Shepard behind Wrex's back when he announced that. It was good to see them both, and Shepard had spent most of the day basking in their pride and happiness.
Wrex insisted that they stay in one of the rooms of his newly finished compound (house was too small a word for a structure built to hold the number of offspring Wrex intended). Running water was still a luxury, so Shepard crinkled her nose when Garrus put an arm around her waist and nuzzled her neck.
“Really? I'm all dusty and smell like varren.”
He hummed his agreement and she poked him in the side, hard. He grunted, but didn't let her go. “I was just thinking that there really are going to be a bunch of krogan babies running around. I bet Wrex would let us foster one of his if we can't – what's wrong?”
Shepard shook her head, forcing herself to relax the muscles that had tensed at his words. “Nothing,” she said. “Are you really okay with that? If the other way doesn't work out?”
“It's a long shot to begin with. Not that it isn't fun trying to beat the odds with you,” he added, which made her laugh and kiss him, dust and varren smell be damned. “But yes, I'm okay with it.”
She'd pulled him to the bed then, and they made a couple of bets against the house. He fell asleep soon after. She lay awake with her hands pressed against her stomach, listening to him breathe, until she couldn't bear it anymore. She dressed as quietly as she could and wandered the halls until she found the open courtyard in the middle of the compound. She didn't know how long she sat there, staring up at the stars, before her solitude was broken by the sound of heavy footsteps.
“Wrex.” Shepard brought her head down to look at him and blinked. “You're on baby duty?”
Wrex took a seat beside her, his youngest in one arm, a small container of some sort in the opposite hand. “Easier than arguing with Bakara. That woman could talk the teeth off a thresher maw.”
“Lucky for you. I seem to recall her talking down a bunch of angry krogan this one time.”
“I didn't say I didn't like it.” He popped open the container to reveal what looked very much like mealworms. “And it was more than once,” he grumbled, but Shepard caught the glint of pride in his eyes. She watched as he patiently fed the baby a few worms at a time, his hands striking her as incongruously large for the careful work. It was so tiny.
“He's actually big for his age.”
Oh, she'd said that out loud. “Really? His siblings are a lot bigger.”
“We grow fast.” Wrex finished feeding him and looked at her. “You want to hold him, don't you?”
Shepard hesitated. Yes, she did, but . . .
Wrex snorted and held the baby out. She took him carefully, adjusting her hold a little until she could cradle him comfortably in one arm. It was different from holding a human baby, but the warmth and small weight of him was still familiar. She ran a finger over his unplated forehead and smiled as he pushed his head forward in a passable imitation of a headbutt. According to Garrus, turian babies did something similar.
Shepard's smile faded at the thought. The feel of the baby in her arms was suddenly unbearable, and she pushed him back at Wrex. “Here. Thank you, but – I can't -” Her throat closed up and she turned her head and tried to get herself under control.
Wrex didn't say anything, but when she turned back he was looking at her intently. She avoided his eyes and tried to think of something to say to explain herself.
“Huh." Wrex stretched his legs out. “I wondered when you two were going to get around to making babies.”
Shepard gaped at him. He snorted again.
“I'm a krogan, Shepard. You think I don't know what a female who just lost her child looks like?”
“That's not – dammit, Wrex.” The little control she had regained disappeared at his words. Actually hearing it out loud was like a punch in the gut. She felt the tears start and pressed her hands hard against her eyes. “Damn it.” Her voice broke and she bowed forward like the grief was something physical she could brace herself against.
“I should kick his skinny turian ass.”
Shepard looked up, startled out of her tears. Wrex was glaring in the direction of her room. “What?” she managed.
“You don't leave a female alone after that happens.” Wrex stood, looking more pissed off by the second. For a moment, Shepard let herself picture a startled, confused Garrus, woken up by 800 pounds of angry krogan bursting into their room, complete with baby on one arm. It was tempting to let Wrex do it. She wouldn't have to tell Garrus, because Wrex would do it for her, and why hadn't he figured it out already when Wrex could tell with one look?
She was such a coward.
“He doesn't know,” Shepard said quietly. That stopped Wrex in his tracks. He sat back down and Shepard found herself spilling the whole sad story to him. How they'd contacted Miranda a few months ago, almost on a lark, but the woman had taken on the project as a personal challenge. How neither of them entirely understood Miranda's explanations for how it would work, but were willing to try the specially tailored immunosuppressants (for Shepard, in case it took) and virility enhancers (for Garrus). How they'd only just started trying when Garrus was called to Palaven for a couple of weeks that turned into a couple of months.
“I didn't know for sure until after he left. I wanted to tell him in person and not over a vidlink. And then by the time he got back I... wasn't anymore.” Shepard didn't bother trying to suppress the hitch in her voice this time.
“Surprised he didn't notice anyway. Garrus never was an idiot. Don't tell him I said that.” Wrex shifted his son to his other arm as the tiny krogan fussed. “Still doesn't explain why he doesn't know now.”
Shepard slumped back. “Because I'm a fucking coward, evidently.”
Wrex considered that. “I'm starting to want to kick his ass again,” he said.
“No – god, I'm saying this all wrong,” Shepard sighed tiredly. “When Miranda told us we might be able to do this the old-fashioned way, Garrus was so excited. He never said anything before, but I could tell it was something he wanted. I would have been fine with adopting. When I found out that I was pregnant -” she stopped for a moment as her voice wavered. “When I found out, all I could think was how happy he was going to be. And now it's going to be just the opposite.”
“What about me?”
“You're the one I found out here in the middle of the night, Shepard.”
She wove her fingers together in her lap. “I thought I just wanted it for Garrus. But after I miscarried -” Shit, that hurt to say out loud. “I wanted this baby, Wrex. I wanted it so goddamn much.” She was crying now, her throat so tight it was a wonder she could get the words out. Wrex put one hand on her back and the solid weight of it was unexpectedly comforting. He didn't pat her back or rub it like someone else might, just rested his hand between her shoulder blades, radiating warmth as she cried.
After a few minutes of that, she sniffed and wiped her eyes. “Look at me. Didn't even have it for a month and I'm falling apart. I don't know how your people didn't go crazy.”
“Don't know about that. The genophage left us with nothing real to fight for. We may not have been crazy, but we weren't the krogan our ancestors were.”
Shepard almost didn't ask – it was a deeply personal question – but she knew Wrex would tell her to piss off if he didn't feel like sharing. “Did you have children that didn't make it?”
“Course I did.”
“Enough that I stopped counting,” Wrex said. He looked down at his son. “I meant it when I said you were a sister to me, Shepard. I'd feed anyone else who asked to Kalros, but if you want a baby, just say the word.”
She and Garrus had joked about it, but the offer still stunned her. If she was a krogan, she wouldn't let anyone outside of their species lay a finger on one of her hard-won offspring. What Wrex was offering was an honor she wasn't sure she deserved. She was touched and grateful, it was just...
It was just that a krogan baby would never be a human child with her hair and Garrus's eyes.
“Wrex,” she started, not sure how to say it without sounding like she was throwing the most precious thing he had back in his face.
“Not the same, I know,” Wrex said. “And you're almost as stubborn as we are, so I don't expect you to give up after one try. But if Garrus's swimmers aren't up to the job, you come to me. I'll make sure you get a whelp even a delicate turian like him can handle.”
She laughed through the remnants of her tears. “Thanks, Wrex. Really.” She knocked her shoulder against his. “If I hadn't seen you lay out that ambassador from Jorgal today, I'd think you were starting to go soft.”
“Heh, yeah. Best part of the day.”
Shepard leaned over and laid a hand gently on the baby, who had finally gone to sleep. His hands twitched and it was just about the cutest thing ever. “No, not the same,” she said. “But it's good to know the offer is there.”
“Whenever you want it.” Wrex picked up the container of worms and stood. “Better get him back to bed before he wakes up again. You good?”
Shepard smiled. "I'll get there." He nodded and started for inside.
He stopped and looked back at her.
“Any time, Shepard.”
She stayed outside a little while longer, until she caught herself starting to nod off. Yawning, she made her way back to her room, pausing outside the door to take her shoes off before entering. Garrus was still in the same position he'd been in when she sneaked out and for a moment she thought she'd be able to crawl back into bed without him knowing she'd been gone. Then he stirred and raised his head.
“Just needed some air.” She finished undressing and sat down on the bed. “Didn't mean to wake you up.”
He reached for her as she slipped back under the covers. She usually had her back to him in bed – she slept hot, and the other way tended to end with her shoving him away in her sleep – but this time she lay down facing him, settling in his arms and resting her head in the crook of his shoulder.
“You were gone a while,” he said.
“I ran into Wrex. Bakara gave him the midnight feedings.”
He chuckled. Shepard pressed a little closer and closed her eyes. Garrus's breathing started to even out and she knew she had to say it now before he fell asleep and she lost her nerve.
“I need to tell you something. After this visit is over.”
He was quiet and she wondered if he'd fallen asleep after all. Then his arms tightened around her. “Is this about whatever's been bothering you?”
He had noticed. “Yeah,” she said. She bit down on the urge to apologize: for making him worry, for not telling him sooner, for it being something that would hurt. If she started it would all come out and she still wasn't quite ready.
“You -” he stopped and she felt him swallow. “Don't tell me Wrex's brood has put you off the idea.” The words were light, but she recognized the unhappy timbre underlying his voice.
“No.” She wriggled an arm up from between them and cradled the side of his face. “Never,” she added, softer. A bit of the unhappiness left his face, but some still lingered. “Just give me a few more days,” she said as she pulled his head to hers. “Please.”
A heartbeat, then he returned the pressure. “Okay,” he said.
They fell asleep wrapped around each other, and when Wrex woke them the next morning by sending a two-year-old Mordin cannonballing into the middle of the bed, Shepard didn't mind at all.