What moments those last hours hold
Things we missed that might have changed our lives

Natural, healthy sleep was a rarity. Cat naps were more realistic- twenty minute spans of blackness. Even more commonplace was a coma or unconsciousness brought on by a sound beating. To finally attain peace unthreatened by disquieting dreams was a damn fine accomplishment. The mind works its wonders during the REM cycles, laying the ego's cards upon the table while subconscious attempts to read them. It's a dizzying mechanism resulting more often in confusion than understanding. The worries of the world turn to whimsy and evolve in the mind's eye as tiny synapses fire off and chemistry comes into play. What man comes to understand as his true motivation becomes marred or muddled after a night of reconciliation with the dream world. Good intentions peel away and reveal the selfishness balled tightly within. Petty man relishes dreams of wealth and satisfaction with no regard for human life or the needs of others. Shepard clutches dreams of silence, watching ships drifting through the vacuum from safe within her cloister, kept company by a select few. James Markham was a frequent visitor, as was the Keenan McDowell of days long passed. Every once and a while, her mother and father joined her in space. Their faces were never certain, though. Features changed as they stood around her, never the same person. Now it was Garrus standing at her side, quiet and certain as they watched the stars flicker and die.

It took her a few moments to sift through the muddled dreams as she breached through the veil of sleep. She recognized the ceiling first, then the stiff sheets beneath her. This was her room, not the crew locker. She felt a pang of remorse, wishing with all her heart that she could return to that moment of careless abandon rather than dwell on the realization of what she'd done. It was fraternization, regardless of how right it seemed at the time. It was real. She tried to justify her lust, blaming it on the sudden onset of irrational anger. Shepard was still deeply affected by that shared moment of affection. Her fury abated and she was left without a buffer, experiencing in full the weight of her own attachment to Garrus. Garrus, the turian- the alien made of spikes and plates and discomfited, yet endearing candor. It was evident to the vast majority of the Normandy that Shepard identified more with their non-human recruits than she did with the Alliance officers. Chakwas was a solid ally, as was Ashley, but their companionship still didn't quite compare to the sense of homecoming when she was reunited with krogan, quarian, and turian. Even, on occasion, asari.

She could have laid there for hours, lost in those thoughts, but she was remembering very quickly what exactly had transpired in those moments before she surrendered to sleep. Shepard sat up, exhaling sharply as the not-quite-forgotten pain shot through her battered limbs. Garrus was facing her desk, busy with something she couldn't quite make out. He turned his head slightly, just enough to catch a glimpse of her out of the corner of his gleaming eye.

"Do humans only sleep in ten minute increments? Or is this something unique to you?" Garrus pivoted to her, leaving Shepard a window into his work space. She snorted and pushed a curtain of hair out of her eyes, trying to make out the writing on the plastic casings he'd left askew on her desk.

"Why are we in my room?" Shepard muttered, devoid of an apology for changing the subject without any sort of segue. She didn't remember walking here on her own, either. Her last memories were of collapsing into his arms after a heated exchange. Logic dictated that the relocation was Garrus' doing.

The turian in question shifted his weight to rest against her desk, leaning as he rubbed the back of his neck sheepishly. "Don't give me that look; makes me feel like I've done something wrong. You got here on your own- barely."

Oh yes, there was more to it. There had been a brief dream of peeling off insulation and stumbling through the mess, passing by a dumbfounded cluster of crewmen on downtime with an uncomfortable turian at her heels, followed by a nose dive into her pillow.

'So… not a dream.'

Shepard's lips quirked in a crooked grin, surprised at how quickly her cheeks flushed. Garrus prepared to speak, but tilted his head back as he ran an uncertain hand down the plates of his face.

"I used to be good at talking."

Shepard smirked lazily. "I have that effect on people. I think it's my awesomeness. Lesser men would be crying right now, you know- because of the awesome. "

Garrus made a short, guttural sound in his throat that may have been a laugh. He seemed slightly more relaxed and didn't have the same stiffness about him. Shepard wasn't sure if he was conscious of it.

He cocked his head. "As much as I want to believe that, I don't. Love the false bravado, by the way."

"Laugh it up. Sarcasm looks great on you, too. Feel good about yourself?"

"Most of the time. It really depends on what I'm wearing."

"You vain little bitch."

"Are we done stalling?"

"Ah- no." Shepard stammered as her eyes were inexplicably drawn back to Garrus' gaze, trapped. His face was stiff and careful, but could feel the intent radiating from him. Garrus Vakarian was not going to let her walk away from this. She sighed heavily, but her muscles tensed. Part of her missed the obliging, submissive Garrus. That one didn't make her doubt herself.

What happened? What came over her barely an hour ago? Shepard admitted to possessing an indescribable fondness for the turian, but she would have never indulged in anything so rampantly carnal. Their exchange spiraled into something suddenly physical. Shepard was a novice in these matters. Her methods of initiation ranged from awkward flirtations to fumbling and muttered apologies. This never led to sex. She couldn't even remember the first and last time she'd been felt up by anything- let alone another human being, but a turian? What was worse? Her hasty introduction to xenophilia? Or that this had all transpired with Garrus? She dared to call him a friend once, and that was no small thing. They were a tandem force in the field, anticipating each other with excellent intuition. She trusted him with her life and she valued his loyalty above so many things. There were very few people who had survived her company long enough to enter the trust circle. She could count them on half a hand.

Yet having him so close to her, prodding her to open up and talk to him for once. It was true what he'd said down in the darkness of the locker room. She'd spent so much time listening that she'd forgotten how to speak.

Now she was fearful of her own thoughts. She wanted his warmth again and she grasped the edge of the bed tightly, unable to look at him as she spoke. She absolutely despised this sensation.

"What is it about you that makes me feel so goddamn small?"

"Probably the height difference, but I get the feeling that's not quite what you meant." There was still soft humor in his voice, but his tone was far gentler than she'd ever heard before. It made her quake and she struggled to process this sense of affection coming off him. That was something she'd never properly learned to process. It just didn't compute.

Shepard wasn't ready to give up. The cold and distant part of her was clawing to get away, urging her to dismiss him and avoid the problem altogether. The other part of her, this newly risen seeker of physical contact and guardian of her emotions, was currently stronger and far more insistent on opening itself up to him.

'Step one: stop staring at the carpet.'

"I… don't know how to do this, Garrus."

The words came out pitifully small and she hadn't meant to look at him like that. Whatever he saw, it unnerved him. He was pacing.

"I'm sorry. I didn't mean to… Ah, I didn't want to make this harder. I know you have a lot of things on your mind and this really isn't…We don't have to talk about this right now… Should I go? I should go."

He half-turned to leave, as though there were two pilots steering his body, each with opposite orders. One was quite set on staying.

"Wait!" Her voice hitched, betraying her. She winced in embarrassment and tried to pave over her mess.

"It's okay. This is… this is all me."

It was enough to stop him, thankfully. Garrus looked downright ashamed, though, and Shepard's face fell. She'd conveyed this all wrong. Still, she'd managed to anchor him back down to his seat on her desk.

"Yeah… used to be a lot better at this, and I don't think it's you, Shepard. I'm sorry."

"Don't be. I'm not much of a wordsmith, either." She tried to smile as best she could, wanting nothing more than to comfort him, to build him back up when he seemed to be crumbling so quickly. This wasn't Garrus.

"No, not for that. For lying. For the fiasco on Hanshan and even when you woke up after Therum- white lies or not, they were all wrong. It's against the code… the one I've done such a shitty job of trying to live by. I could have stopped this."

Shepard frowned, "Garrus, you couldn't have changed what happened down there. The Second Strike was always goings to be bad news and we'd prepped for them. Knowing that I was the most hated Spectre on Noveria wouldn't have fixed much. "

'McDowell would still be dead at the end of the day.'

Her own thoughts were straying and she looked away, quickly forcing herself to put the mental snapshots of the bloodied man and gray matter out of her mind. They'd resurface again in time. They always did.

"I don't believe that, Shepard, as much as I'd like to. Hell, I don't know what I believe anymore. I thought things were bad enough at C-Sec beneath all of the bureaucracy, but out here… it's the same game with a different name. Sometimes, I think I'm about to cross over to the dark side, take the low road, thinking the justice down there's just as good as the Council's. Then I look at you…"

He was walking towards her. Slowly. One step at a time. She turned her head back to him, eyes drifting upwards to meet his gaze.

"…and I think 'she's got it together. She knows right and wrong. We've seen so much fucked up shit out here at the edge of nothing and she's still whole.' Even when she's bashing heads in."

Shepard made a sound in her throat; a scoff of disbelief. She'd proven him wrong hours ago as she blundered through the caverns of Noveria, wreaking blind havoc with Garrus in tow. She fell apart in front of him on the floor of their cell, deep in the bowels of the Second Strike. Then and there, she felt like the least put-together person in the world; much less a Spectre.

Not even a soldier.

He was suddenly crouching down in front of her. Her eyes widened as they came face to face, his talons snaking out to curl under her chin and forcing her to look at him. Brazen Garrus was back. It seemed that every time she lost a shred of confidence, he grew bolder, swooping down to tend to her wounds.

"So forgive me if I lose myself when I see doubt written all over your face."

"You have to have some kind of moral standard, Garrus. Even if it's skewed a little. If you lose it, well… that's when things turn gray. That's when you get into trouble." The words came with ease, as though they'd been well-rehearsed. She believed it, but found it harder to actualize than she wanted to admit to Garrus. Besides, she was distracted enough by this sudden display of insight.

"Since when did you become such an expert on human emotion?" She kept his gaze as the talons fell away. She gestured for him to sit next to her on the bed, shivering as she found herself missing his touch.

His manner was gradually changing. Shepard could feel him relaxing, noting the self-assurance that compelled him to touch her when he would have otherwise left her be, cordially distant. "Expert? Hardly. Humans are still very much a mystery to me. You, though… I think I understand."

They let silence come over the room as the conversation naturally lulled. Shepard let his words settle and she assumed he was doing the same. They were soldiers, conditioned for combat and tested by countless firefights. He understood the burden of sifting through right and wrong. They each clutched their moral compasses, never quite certain which way was north.

This seemed so backwards. She'd always been the one to instill confidence and boost morale. Never did she imagine that Garrus would be the one to find her in her quarters and spoon feed her assurance. It was a strange feeling that she knew in essence was wrong, but it felt right. Something about him was just right. His code, his rules, his picture-perfect, personalized idea of justice was so alluring. So different than what the Alliance had taught her. It was an ideal she'd adopted since their meeting.

There was one more step she had to take. They could go no further until Shepard learned to open the floodgates. No matter the consequences. She'd felt this lump in her throat before, years ago- in a slant-shuttered office on a dusty red planet.

"Keenan McDowell was a lieutenant when I met him. He was also an agent for the Second Strike, but I didn't know that then; this was back when the Alliance was still shipping off green soldiers to mining colonies when they weren't needed. He re-conditioned me on Cafrim and got me my first transfer to the Lima, into active duty."

Garrus remained very still, staring straight ahead.

"I wouldn't have survived on Akuze if it wasn't for him. He taught me how to stay alive. I paid him back by killing him."

Cold, hard, backwater justice.

"… And I don't know how I atone for that, or if that's even possible. The man I thought I knew wasn't real. The man I met yesterday was the one who convinced me I was worth something and he was fucking nuts."

In actuality, she had been a roadblock on his way to top. She was an object to be removed, a liability. Not an asset. A curious nuisance.

Shepard caught his mandibles twitching out of the corner of her eye. Agitation emanated from him. She could sense that much. Whether or not he shared her doubts was still a mystery.

"You were right. I couldn't even consider it then, but you were right. About revenge. You've earned an 'I told you so.'"

Garrus seemed to sink further into himself.

"Keep it; I don't want it. I was hoping I'd be eating my words by now." He heaved a heavy sigh. "I learned plenty of lessons in my life from people I didn't look up to. I learned some invaluable things from bastards and thieves. It doesn't matter how you learn, so long as you do. Regardless of how wrong your teacher was or how much I would have liked to have taken a shot at him or… ten. To the face."

She saw him flex his talons, but he refused to clench a fist as he glowered beside her, making little effort to hide his disdain. Her mouth kept moving. Shepard couldn't stop now. A human man would have anticipated tears. Her stoicism may have come off as shocking, but the turian had come to accept this collected response as standard. Garrus didn't coddle and no words could express how much she appreciated that about him right then.

"How am I any better?"

Garrus shot up without warning and Shepard followed him reflexively, startled by his sudden movement. He spun to face her, but said nothing. His eyes were alight with anger, boring into her. She immediately regretted her word choice.

She was even more taken aback when the flash of anger subsided as quickly as it appeared. His manner softened and he relaxed his shoulders.

"There was a turian many, many years ago who served in the fleet. Called him a 'combat philosopher,' if you believe a turian could be such a thing. He said, 'measure a man not by the breadth of his shadow, but by the weight of his heart.'"

She flexed her bare hands at her sides as her translator tried to apply the proper meaning to his words. The core of it seemed lost on her and a much simpler human phrase came to mind.

"Like 'don't judge a book-?'"

"No, not quite so simple," he waved the mistaken meaning away, "A man may do great things and kill many enemies, but that's not what he is."

Shepard's eyes searched his, waiting.

"His true worth comes from what he feels in the wake of his actions. An action is meaningless unless he understands its repercussions and takes a piece of it with him; remorse, regret, guilt. You're better, Shepard, because you mourn him."

Her skin prickled. Shepard didn't want to believe him, but he had appealed to logic and reasoning. As much as she would have liked to keep punishing herself, she couldn't. Garrus wasn't going to let her anymore.

"This… isn't originally what I meant to talk about, but you brought this on yourself. I can't have you walking out that door thinking that this bastard changed who you are," he rubbed the back of his neck.

"I know."

"Are you just saying that to shut me up, or do you honestly believe this?"

She nodded, "I've seen the light."

'And I'm pretty sure that I'll lose my nerve unless we change the damn subject like… now-ish.'

Shepard wanted to fidget and it took every ounce of self-control she had for her to keep her palms at her sides. "I also think that we should probably move on and figure out what happened back there. Before we got… sidetracked."

She expected another visit from flighty Garrus, but he never arrived. Perhaps the residual anger left over from his last outburst had strengthened him a little. This was by no means an easy matter to discuss for either of them, especially as she stood there in spandex leggings and the same not-so-modest tank top, feeling very over-exposed.

"I was hoping that would be obvious," Garrus said softly, eyes set upon her fragile frame.

Shepard's focus shifted from him to the mess he'd made on her desk, suddenly reminded of her intention to ask about that.

"What's all that crap up there?" She gestured with a nod.

"Medi-gel. I thought I'd try to convince you to use some of this stuff," he picked up a packet and turned it over in his hand before setting back down, "But now I'm pretty convinced that you'd prefer to keep the scars."

'They help remind me of what I've done.'

"They help me intimidate my enemies. Is that a problem?" She was quick to hide the momentary dark cloud with a tight-lipped grin.

He dipped his head down, pale eyes glimmering. "I don't mind them." There was that huskiness in his voice again that sent warm shivers down her spine and chased away all humor. She was suddenly back in the dark with him, feeling his claws trace patterns in her skin while he buried his face in her hair and drove her mad with heat and desire. The low vibration in his throat quivered against her body, singeing her where their skin met. Her fingers raked down his chest again and again until she was panting with need.

Then she was standing with him in the dim lights of her room, tiny beads of perspiration hiding under her fringed bangs as remnants of the vivid memory.

Her fingers were itching to wander.

"Garrus-" her voice cracked and blood rushed to her cheeks, flushing her otherwise pallid face.

Aw, fuck.

She hadn't meant to back step, but her limbs betrayed her own orders. Each movement occurred in rapid succession. Her lurch set him in motion and the distance between them was suddenly gone as he filled her space. His talons closed around her wrist and drew her in by the arm while grasped him by the cowl as an act of balance and demand for his closeness.

Shepard was neither grace nor elegance. Her actions were spurred on by raw need and an earnest lust and Garrus seemed equally enthusiastic and untrained. She was drawn to his neck, breathing hotly against the exposed flesh beneath his mandible. Each brush of lips tore from him a rumbling sound; a hybrid between a growl and purr that excited her beyond all rational belief. His free hand was pushing the straps of her tank top down past her shoulders while he bowed over her, the hard edges of his mouth grazing sun-spared flesh. Shepard shifted her weight, but was unprepared for the heaviness of him and she toppled back into the bed, dragging him with her in an uncoordinated display of flying limbs.

The jolt was hard enough to bring her senses to the surface. She had to call time out before they wound up killing each other with inexperience.

"I don't want to be that guy, but… what are we doing?"

Garrus was reluctant to cease his ministrations, but he seemed to be as aware of their predicament as she was. He sat up on his knees while she panted beneath him, hair strewn across her face, stark against her pallor. His blue eyes were still glistening against the gray palette of his plates.

"Well, Iwas seducing you. I think," humor ebbed away, "I'm sorry. I don't want to hurt you… and that's probably what will happen after all this. I just-"

"Garrus," she said sternly, placing a hand on his thigh as she looked up at him, "I care about you. That's all I know. Everything else… "

"… we'll just have to learn," he shifted himself so he could lay beside her. He took her hand once more and led it gently to the right side of his face, holding her palm to the hinge of his mandible. The feel of it beneath her fingertips wasn't like anything she'd felt before.

Hell, nothing about this was familiar. She'd only heard of vids featuring cross-species couples and had never dared to confirm the rumors. Shepard had her own theories on the logistics, but it was hardly a dilemma that occupied her free time. Now she wished she's given into curiosity just once… just enough to know what to do.

"Whatever happens," she muttered as she found herself at the flesh of his neck once more, damning her own ignorance as she began again. "…just let it be ours."

She liked his style. He was a crack shot and quick-thinker. Shepard had known most C-Sec agents to be rigid, by the book, and adequate at best. But damn, the turian had a flair about him. He struck with such intensity that every kill seemed like a personal vendetta fulfilled. Yet after the smoke settled, he was all business and one-liners. He was the very definition of pro. The day he stepped onto the Normandy as a crew member was the moment she believed that she could build something against Saren. He wasn't the last, either, but a precursor for the alliances to come. Tali and Wrex weren't far behind. Each new colorful addition bolstered her resolve and made plans and strategies come to life in her mind. There were new possibilities to explore, new knowledge bases to search.

They were accepting of her quiet quirks and social lacking. Garrus was especially eased by her broken metaphors and dry repartee.

Shepard found him rummaging through a near-empty mess after one of Hackett's assignments. The rest of her team was catching up on much needed rest. The turian, however, seemed to be struggling with finding appropriate rations.

"Problem, Garrus?" Shepard asked quietly, nursing the cup of coffee steaming in her hand as he turned to face her. Sleep was a luxury far beyond her reach, unlike the rest of her crew. She was content, however, to fill herself to bursting with caffeine and spend an hour cleaning her weapons.

"Perhaps. Though maybe I should just take it as a hint and start dieting," he cocked his head.

Shepard caught the subtle exits of the crewman sitting idly at the table, letting them drift from her peripheral as they fled the scene. Some men were powerless in the face of dry wit.

"I don't think the Alliance anticipated having many dextro-based life forms on board. Tali knows how to put it away," she took a seat at the now-abandoned table, letting her gaze drift. "I had her put in an order for more supplies at the Citadel. We're en route now."

"Thanks, Shepard."

She nodded, "I can't having you keeling over while I'm trying to show you what to shoot."

"Well, that, but I meant more for… this," he made a vague gesture.

"For the galley? Don't thank me. I didn't pay for it."

Garrus shook his head, "For getting me out of C-Sec and letting me join your hunt for Saren. You have no idea how bad I wanted this."

Shepard swallowed a mouthful of coffee and let her tongue wag wildly, "Don't get sentimental on me Garrus. It's all for the mission. You're no exception."

She regretted uttering those words immediately. It was intended as a joke; a dry exchange of playful banter that she'd learned to indulge in years ago. It was an acquired taste for many and some never learned to like it. Hearing it become real, it sounded so heavy and… wrong.

The turian was busy sifting through one of the lower cabinets. He came away with a black container covered in un-appetizing notations. He didn't seem offended, but then again, she was a novice at deciphering alien expressions.

"Of course. But you have to admit, I'm quite a catch," He rumbled. Rumbled? Or was that a laugh? She was certain it was some expression of humor. Had he detected her sarcasm then? It was a bit too late now for her to open up and explain herself. Her apologizes usually fizzled into a pile of stutters.

Instead, she articulated her most coherent thought. "That's food? Shit, I thought those were batteries."

"My favorite," he tucked the contained under his arm, "I'll be in the cargo bay if you need me, Shepard."

She nodded her farewell as Garrus entered the lift.

Pride and awkwardness forbade her to call him back.

Now Shepard was screaming his name. Or at least she would have if her voice would obey her. Words came easier before all this. She was too far gone now and simply remembering to breathe was a triumph. They'd taken turns peeling off clothing, leaving them drunk off their own arousal. He'd spent a great deal of time surveying her body, asking questions and gently testing the skin as she encouraged him to explore. Garrus did the same for her, teaching and praising as she traced his shape with her hands. He was fascinated by her chest and seemed pleased by the fact that she appreciated his interest. Shepard was spooned against him, injuries forgotten and back pressed to the hardness of his plated abdomen as he cupped a breast with one hand, the other draped possessively across her hips.

"Fuck, Garrus," she hissed as she craned around, urging his head down to her level as she pressed her lips fervently to his mouth, kissing him as she had in the locker room. He'd learned from her and kept the contact, seeming to understand the human gesture though he couldn't return it completely. Their foreheads touched at his insistence and she wondered if that was his own way of matching her fervor. He responded by drawing the draped hand down to her thighs, stroking the skin there.

She gasped as he continued on his search. He'd found something and it was sending relentless waves of electricity through her, pushing her towards an unseen precipice. Garrus growled, refusing to give Shepard a reprieve as he continued with his certain, circular motions. He appeared to be listening to her, tracing her reactions and making careful notes. He was too damn good.

"How did you…?" Shepard gasped, barely forming the words.

"You're giving me all the hints I need," he purred into her neck, nipping softly. The hand at her breast disappeared into her hair, letting the short strands slip between his talons. She wasn't surprised by his interest in that feature. Something so uniquely human was bound to capture his attention. But the heat between her legs seemed to be his main focus. She was a writhing mess and her hands would not stop moving. Shepard followed the plated paths and paused where skin began, eliciting a contented noise from him with each new touch.

He in turn traced her scars, playing with the mended flesh while he continued to work her into a state of abandon. She felt the pressure become something bigger and unbearable. Her spine bowed sharply and Garrus was there to hold her at bay with the wandering hand while the other stayed between her legs, coaxing her over the edge.

A gasp of disbelief escaped her lips as everything broke. Whether she was deserving of it or not was beyond relevant as she bucked against him, light exploding before her eyes as he pressed her to him, the sharp edges of his neck digging into her back. Everything came crashing down in slow motion and she rode the tumbling waves with careless abandon. She didn't bother trying to stifle herself either; her motor skills just weren't up to the task. Garrus seemed to be having just as good a time behind her. He'd bit down on her neck, hard enough to leave marks but spare her blood. He was moving along with her to their rhythm and she noticed the stiff pressure against her back as the final waves subsided.

He collapsed onto her with a grunt, releasing her flesh and burying his face in her hair. Sweat dripped down her cheeks as she lay there, panting. Shepard shifted to face him, letting a curious hand wander down to where the stiffness resided, only to find that the mysterious pressure had become quite soft.

She rolled her eyes up to his, "Did you…?"

"You have no idea how unbelievable you looked. I… couldn't help myself," he hid his face at her collarbone and inhaled deeply. Her lips quirked in a smile as she placed a kiss at the crest of his fringe, tracing the plates with her fingers. He began to purr again.

Shepard panted softly as they gradually recovered. They'd come to a mutual agreement beforehand, hoping to lay some sort of groundwork before they got too carried away. They had absolutely no knowledge of each others' inner workings and opted to find other means to enjoy each others' company. This would simply have to be an ongoing effort between the two of them. There was quite a bit of research to be done before things could escalate. For now, this would do fine.

While Shepard was slightly disappointed that she'd been deprived the opportunity to satisfy him, she was reassured by the knowledge that he'd enjoyed himself. They lay in a tangled heap of limbs, her own unprotected flesh pressed against jutting plates and ridges. Yet despite it all, she just couldn't care. Feeling his breath against her skin as she stroked his fringe took her mind off everything else.

"You think you can still respect me after seeing me naked?" Shepard smirked.

Garrus tilted her head back, dipping his head down to trace the underside of her jaw with his mouth. "I don't think respect is the issue here," the soft vibrations of his voice sending shivers throughout her body as he stared up at her through half-lidded eyes.

"So you're saying we have an issue?" Her eyes fluttered shut as she felt him move across her.

"It's more of a question. About what this means. Where do we go from here?"

That sobered her a little. He slid up to meet her eyes and they watched each other from sometime. He didn't prompt her for the l-word and she was relieved by it. Shepard wasn't even sure of its definition anymore and Garrus didn't search it from her. Perhaps it did play a part in this equation, but she didn't recognize it. Not here, not now while they were hours away from a drop and still hell bent on stopping the AWOL Spectre. Even now, she should have felt guilty for this respite. Yet she had to know what this was. There was mutual attraction and some other indefinable force between them, drawing them together. To label it, though, would be premature. They simply had to accommodate what they had.

"We've got to keep it quiet, for the crew's sake. There's still… a lot to be done. And we've got that asari matriarch to take out in the morning."

Garrus nodded after a moment and Shepard could almost hear each individual gear turning in his head. He didn't seem offended by the suggestion.

"And then what?"

Shepard hesitated, then smiled softly. "We'll figure it out. If we're still alive."

"Fair enough," Garrus muttered as he drew Shepard gingerly into him, twining his talons through her fingers in a skillful display of cross-species hand holding. Shepard molded to him, laying her head against his exposed bicep as they shifted their limbs to fit, like long lost pieces of a forgotten puzzle. They sank into one another and Shepard felt like she might actually sleep that night as Garrus pressed his mandible to the top of her head. She felt him go limp after a minute or so while her gaze drifted across the dimly lit room, from the abandoned clothing on the floor to the soft glow of the bedside alarm. When her eyelids grew heavy, she didn't fight the urge to relax. Quiet thoughts followed her to the edges of sleep.

She wanted very much to live.

I started writing this when I was 20. I was a sophomore in college and I had no idea what the hell I was doing. I just wanted to write something about Mass Effect. Now, several years and one bachelors degree later, I'm trying to salvage what I started and make it into something cohesive. Well, it's not quite there. I realized as soon as I beat Mass Effect 2 that this story would never work with canon. Even before then, chances of that were slim.

Now, we're done. Three drafts later, I have a version I think I'm satisfied with. I will never write without a beta again. I edited… a ton. Still missed things, I'm sure. I always do. I haven't written romance in so long. The sexy bits were incredibly difficult to write. Half the time, I was too embarrassed to type them up. Yeah, I'm ashamed of myself. No balls at all. Needless to say, this chapter probably warrants an M rating.

Look what's happened over these years. We got our sequel, got our Garrus romance, and got our… movie deal? Well, I'm not happy about it, but that's just me. I'm wary of beloved video games getting thrown into the movie grinder. This place has also proved to me that good writers do exist here and they love Shepard/Garrus hotness. I'm overwhelmed by all these wonderful new things I have to read.

This story has actually been the one thing standing in the way of my new Mass Effect project. I don't want to give away too many details, but I hope you'll keep checking back with me for updates. All original characters, no Shepard recycling.

My last request: Review? What did you think? Let down? Fulfilled? Ragequit?

I hope you enjoyed it. I loved your feedback and I will always appreciate those of you who returned for more chapters. Even you newbies, I heart you too. Sorry for the sillyness in chapter 15. I was starting to crack. Thank you, BioWare, for giving me yet another game to play when I should be studying. One of these days, I'll get you to hire me.

I'm sure I've left stuff out. Ah well.

I'll be here if you need me.