All this traveling was getting to Shepard. She couldn't remember the last time she'd gotten a decent night's sleep, much less a vacation.
Square up, soldier, she snapped mentally, pulling her shoulders back from their weary, slumped position. The tension in her neck was unreal, and she lifted a hand to massage the muscles. You spent the last two years on your back. That's all the vacation you needed.
The faint orange glow from the private terminal illuminated her features. Mere minutes spent at this thing felt like hours. She'd never liked having to check up on messages. Her inbox was usually full when she went back home on leave. It was usually three fourths full when she left due to her frustration after checking no more than a few dozen.
Her thick brows dipped as she squinted into the screen. Blue irises darted back and forth as she skimmed over the words, soaking up no more than the necessary information. Last mission a success. Civilians saved. Recovering from her team's rough housing, but they'd live.
Calla gave a faint smile at the recollection the words brought forth. That mouthy biotic had hauled off and punched one of the ungrateful citizens in the jaw, which had resulted in a short brawl that ended with her hauling Jack off of the poor guy before she smashed his skull into the ground. She wasn't sure how she'd managed it.
Thank you, Shepard.
The words warmed her to the core. Gratitude was a rare commodity these days, especially now that she wasn't riding on the Council's coattails when it came to her missions. Anderson was quick to thank her as if he spoke for the whole of humanity, but she craved more than that. The Illusive Man certainly wasn't as effusive as the admiral. Most of these planets could've cared less who pulled their boots out of the fire. It was her job. She was Calla Shepard, savior of Elysium and now the battle of the Citadel. She had to help them.
Pinching the bridge of her nose, she kicked at the floor, sending her chair rolling backwards. She'd never dealt with such frequent stress headaches before. It was staggering that she was even able to concentrate as easily as she could, given the constant pounding in her forehead. This was insanity. All of it. Couldn't they find someone else to do the dirty work? For once?
She leaned back in the chair, staring blankly up at the ceiling. They were on their way to the Imathea Cluster. Illium. There, two more interests were waiting to be recruited into the Illusive Man's scheme to save humanity. It struck her as ironic that a man with such deeply held humanocentric beliefs would be recruiting aliens for such an important mission.
An important, deadly mission, she reminded herself. "Ah."
Everything seemed beyond her reach. Gears were turning and cogs revolving without so much as a sentence of input from the former Spectre. She hadn't asked for any of this. Had she the choice, she would've declined the Illusive Man's offer. Thanks for saving my life, but I refuse to work for you. But that hadn't been an option. Not everyone understood that.
The memory of Kaidan's reaction to her alliance with Cerberus was still fresh in her mind. Disbelief. Not the shock that had riddled his features when he'd come home to see his ex-girlfriend sitting on his couch, a whole hell of a lot of not dead. This was different. She'd been through a lot of things in her life, but nothing stung like being escorted coldly out of the door with nothing but a, "I need some time to think about this, Shepard."
"Now is not the time to be thinking about this," she murmured to herself, pulling herself up into a standing position. Focus. She had to focus.
She passed her hand absently along the panel beside the door. It slid downwards and she was shadowed immediately by a much taller and wider frame. It was one she recognized easily, but it did not lessen the scare. Her surprised gasp and step backward brought forth a rumbling chuckle from the turian.
"Garrus!" Calla laughed, her hand resting on her racing heart. It felt like it was going to beat right out of her chest. "Don't do that." She paused, "How long have you been standing out here?"
He turned, glancing around the hallway, "A few minutes." He looked back to her, his piercing eyes widening slightly and for only a moment. Word was going around that she was looking a bit worse for wear lately. Tired. He wasn't one to hang onto gossip, especially not about Shepard and surely not anything malicious, but it was more out of a collective concern than a desire to spread lies. "I didn't want to disturb you in case you were sleeping."
"Me? Sleep?" She grinned to herself. "I don't need sleep. I could run off fumes for weeks!" Laughing at her own poor excuse for jokes was the first sign of sleep deprivation in the usually borderline stoic woman. Scrubbing a hand over her face, she wiped off her smile and turned a sober expression toward the turian. "Is there something you need? Did you want to talk about the last mission?"
"I'm… concerned, Shepard," Garrus began, shifting his weight uncomfortably. Standing in doorways was never very cozy, and scuttlebutt was never very kind when they found one of the commander's close friends idling in front of her private quarters. Clocking his unease, Calla stepped aside and offered him entrance, which he took willingly.
Moving into her room, he glanced around it with interest. Things changed almost constantly here, if only due to her own distaste for cleaning and constants. The fish darted this way and that in their tanks. Her terminal bleeped quietly, indicating she'd just received a new message. Her closet was half-open, revealing her armor as well as a few sets of casual clothing. The only perfectly arranged thing in the entire room was her bed - folded with sharp precision, immaculate. Being in the service could do that to a person.
"So what's the problem, Garrus?" Calla asked after sliding her hand along the panel to shut the door. She passed close beside him, hand just barely resting on his arm as she moved by. "Grunt giving you some lip? Mordin never shut up about turian physiology?" He chuckled again as she whipped around, eyebrow lifted high on her forehead.
Always with the teasing. "Nah," he said quietly, resting a shoulder against the partition separating her office from her bedroom. "Jack threatened to take his eye out if he didn't stop talking about my…" He lifted a curled fist to his mouth and cleared his throat. "Evidently it was more than she needed to know."
Calla grinned again. It was a shocking change from the Shepard he'd served with two years prior. That woman was some other beast entirely. She was lighter now, less reclusive. On their first mission, her only confidant had been Lieutenant Alenko, much to the turian's annoyance. Their conversations were insightful, but short. Her frequent visits were punctuated by a desire to get to know her crew, not him in particular.
After being there as she stalked through the SR2 to get back to her quarters, the reunion cut short by hours, he could tell that he was no longer an option. She was under so much stress. She needed friends. He was more than willing to offer her one.
"Then why are you here?" she asked, placing herself down on the bed. "You checkin' up on me?"
"Guilty as charged."
Calla's smile faded into something faintly wistful. What did she do to deserve such a great right hand man? Unofficial right hand man, but that was hardly the point. "So big, bad Calla Shepard, savior of the galaxy, is gonna get a bedtime story?"
Garrus' mouth twitched in something resembling a smile. "If that's what it takes." He descended the stairs in two long strides. She watched curiously as he moved over to her, hands going to her arms. He guided her into a standing position. There was a strength in his grasp that she didn't think she'd ever get used to. He was always sure to mind his talons around her skin. It was much fleshier and delicate than turian females. He looked down at her, and she stared up at him, eyelids heavy and an inquisitive expression on her face. When next he spoke, his voice was lower. It rumbled in his chest. "I'm not familiar with any human bedtime stories, but I'm sure I could come up with something."
Blowing a stray piece of red hair away from her face, she averted her gaze and shifted within his hands. He let go of her. "So, I take it I should lie down," she laughed, turning towards the bed. Kicking off her boots, she climbed on top of the covers. After she'd punched her pillow into a proper shape, she rested her head on it, looking to Garrus, who stood at the edge of the bed, unsure of where to go. "You're not going to stand there and watch me sleep, are you?"
I can't believe this is actually happening.
The thought passed through both of them.
Garrus' mandibles flared. "No, I suppose not." Taking a deep breath, he moved over to the side of the bed and sat down. Carefully, like the thing was made of sticks that would break under his weight. He shot a look to her over his shoulder. "Is this better?"
"… Are you serious?" Calla stifled a laugh. "If you were any more uncomfortable-looking, I'd feel bad for you. Kick up your feet. There's a good chance I'll be out for a few hours, and I don't want you sneaking around my quarters." It was a joke, of course. Another one, worse than the last. Thankfully the turian grasped the heavy sarcasm, something he'd learned to enjoy and even reciprocate now and again.
"Alright," he murmured. Removing his own boots, he situated himself so his back was rested against the sleek black headboard. Calla was curled in a quasi-fetal position at his side, one arm tucked under the pillow. "Are you comfortable?"
Calla gave a soft grunt that had a pleased enough sound to it that he clocked it as an affirmative. "Are you comfortable?"
Garrus looked down at himself. Sitting up in Shepard's bed, mere inches away from the edge of it to keep enough distance between the two of them. And she was expecting him to sleep, too? That would either end with his falling out of the bed or with a crick in his neck that would stick with him for days. "Not… really, no."
She sighed heavily. He gave a quiet sound of protest when he felt her arm around his waist, her own surprising strength moving him so that he was lying down. "Then get comfortable," she pressed. She withdrew her hand, but not before her fingers trailed lazily over his stomach as they made their way back to the cool confines of the underside of her pillow. She didn't really notice, but he did.
He felt incredibly awkward lying there. He didn't know where to put his hands, or how to lay down. On his back? His side? Would one pillow be enough? Did she need both pillows? Could he sleep without one? Was he going to sleep at all?
"You're fidgeting," Calla muttered, her voice deadpan.
"I'm sorry. I… I'll stop."
He heard her give another soft laugh. "So when am I getting that bedtime story?"
Garrus passed his tongue absently along the inside of his teeth, his eyes staring up at the ceiling. He'd finally given up finding a comfortable position and was now lying on his back, hands folded across his stomach. Turning his head on the pillow, he looked at her. She already had her eyes closed, but she opened them slightly when she heard him move. A small smile tugged at the corner of her mouth.
"Lights - dim," she murmured, and they dimmed accordingly.
Clearing his throat, Garrus turned his eyes back to the ceiling. "How is it you humans start your bedtime stories? Upon a time…"
"Once upon a time," she said, her voice hardly more than a sleepy whisper. Her mouth opened and eyes clenched as she yawned.
"Once upon a time," he murmured, as if committing the phrase to memory. When he continued, his voice was louder, a genuine storyteller's voice. From the very beginning of their friendship, Calla had always loved the way he spoke. Most turians had alluring voices, but there was just something about his. "Once upon a time, there was a woman. She was a human woman, of average height and weight, but there was something very special about her."
Calla grew up hearing stories that started like this. Perhaps not with the specification that said woman was human, but that was beside the point. From her earliest recollections, she remembered this ideal that the older kids often teased her for. She was just some orphan. She'd never be a hero, especially not one like the woman she'd put together in her head. Rich, beautiful, daring. Heaps of friends. A man who loved her. Hell, maybe even kids… eventually.
"The entire galaxy knew her name, but her past was mainly a mystery to anyone without the ability to check out her files. Classified, you see."
At one point, she'd imagined that she would finally be that woman, that beacon of hope for those brats back on Earth. She was so close. She had the credits saved up. She wasn't bad looking. She'd faced impossible odds at Elysium and persevered. Her squad was quick to back her up. And when her eye first settled on Kaidan Alenko, she was positive that she'd found her man. Yeah, she'd only sat across from him a few times in the mess, but he was cute and she was persistent.
"She was a savior. Not just to her own race, but to dozens of others."
Then there was the problem with Saren. The reapers. Having total annihilation so close you could feel it breathing down your neck. She had more than enough money. She was up to her ears in loving admirers. She helped destroy Sovereign and saved the Citadel. She had a team of close friends at her back, all of whom she was privileged to know. And she could still feel Kaidan's quiet strength beside her as the Normandy headed towards Ilos. Everything was perfect.
But, hey, sudden death does usually put a hamper on your happy ending, especially if it's not permanent.
"Her name was Calla Shepard."
Calla shifted, groaning her dissent at his choice of story and nudging him in the side. "Bullshit, Garrus," she spat. Too tired to bother returning to her spot, she kept her arm draped over his stomach, resting her head on his chest. While he certainly wasn't a pillow, he would do. His heartbeat, while vastly different when compared to hers, was comforting, as was the quiet rumbling of his breathing.
He stared down at her, his entire body gone rigid as slight panic settled in. What should he do? If he moved, he would disturb her position. If he didn't move, she'd still be there… sleeping… on his chest.
Months ago, even in his wildest dreams, he'd have never expected to be in this predicament.
Months ago, Calla was dead. He was done grieving. Everyone was. He'd seen Wrex a few months prior, and they'd shared a drink. Not once did they mention her in all their long conversation. A simple, silent toast was all they needed to say.
But this was Shepard. Of course she wasn't dead. After emerging from the wreckage of Sovereign a the Citadel, harboring major wounds and the cockiest smile he'd ever seen on her face, she'd been fine. She'd fought geth. She'd fought rachni. He'd seen krogan battlemasters thrown back yards by a single thrust of her open palm. She was strong. At least, that's always how he'd seen her. Hero worship some people called it.
Things were… different now.
Lifting a hand from his side, Garrus carefully brushed her hair out of her eyes with the back of a talon. She seemed so much smaller now, curled up like this. She was so much closer, so much more fragile.
He heaved a small sigh as he moved his hand quickly away. No. No. This was not the time nor the place. He couldn't. This was Shepard.
And with that, Garrus looked away from her. He focused on nothing in particular, yet remained alert, a talent he'd learned from his training. He cleared his mind of all those thoughts that would trip him up.
He didn't sleep, but he was glad she did.
A/N: So. I'd just like to say that if Garrus isn't a LI in Mass Effect 2, I am going to cry bitter, angry tears. Now that that's said and done, I'd like to dedicate this to the ladies over at the BioWare forums! Garrus Love FTW and all that. This was supposed to be something completely different, but... this is what ended up happening! Enjoy!