AN: While there is definitely room to argue that Garrus may have been on the SR-1 when she went down, for the purposes of this story, I maintain that he was not. There were originally to be three chapters in this arc, but I've found there are other stories about "this" Shepard and Garrus that I want to tell, so I'll probably continue writing under this title. Thanks for holding out for more and sorry about the delay!

The door muffled Dr. Chakwas' orders to EDI but Shepard could guess the gist. Staring up at Garrus, it occurred to her that she didn't care. The few hours of sleep and his careful ministrations had replaced the searing pain of the burn with the itch of healing skin and a dull throbbing. Too bad the inventor of medi-gel is long dead, she thought, 'Cause I definitely owe that guy a drink. She flushed under Garrus' scrutiny. The undulating backlight of the aquarium cast him in silhouette but she still felt his gaze as readily as his touch.

"See something you like, Officer?" She stroked his elbow spines gently, teasing but curious about his thoughts. Sometimes he watched her, intense and inscrutable, and she couldn't help but try to figure him out.

"Every time." Garrus curled his talons and brushed her neck with his knuckles. She tilted her head, allowing better access. His attention never wavered from the whispered path of his hands across her collarbone. Shepard closed her eyes and relished the electricity of his tender caress. She had not anticipated the pleasure of experiencing Garrus' considerable concentration firsthand. All that intense focus he usually applied to the scope of his rifle translated exquisitely into the rest of his pursuits.

Garrus chuckled, "I'm glad all those years in training were good for something." It took Shepard a moment to realize she had spoken aloud.

"Good for a lot of things," she smiled, drawing him closer. Her fingers coiled beneath his fringe, eliciting a low sound of appreciation.

"If you don't explain what Chakwas meant by 'No doctoring', do you think I'll still get in trouble?" Garrus' mandibles flexed, she detected both amusement and desire in the gesture.

Shepard laughed out loud, "So you want me to go down alone?"

Garrus froze.

"Never," he pulled away, pain in his eyes. "Never again."

The past weighed on them both and Shepard hadn't meant to call up those dark memories. She reached for him, breaking the silence with an apologetic noise. "I'm sorry," she murmured. "A poor choice of words." He framed her face with careful hands and touched his forehead to her own. The gesture was equal parts tenderness and heartbreak.

Her lips found the corner of his mouth, followed the contours of his rigid upper lip. She poured her mute thanks into each kiss, covering him with all the things she couldn't find the words to say.

Garrus rolled back, pulling her with him. Shepard settled herself between his wide hips, careful of his sharper edges. His talons skimmed her hair; he'd admitted a fascination with the minute strands as they lay entwined the night before, fortifying each other with soft touches and hushed words. And now the gesture soothed them both.

His persistent gentleness moved her; from anyone else, it would have been infuriating—she hated coddling—but from Garrus, it wasn't a comment on perceived strength, or lack thereof, it just was. Beneath the warrior he was just…kind. She liked that.

Her fingers explored the ridge along his breastbone.

"I was working cleanup in the Wards when I heard," Garrus' voice was so low, so quiet that she almost felt the words more than she heard them. "Later, Anderson told me he'd tried to reach me before news hit the extranet but Citadel communications was still in such rough shape…"

"Garrus…" She stilled, watching his mandibles clench and feeling a moment of helpless anger—this was a hurt she could do nothing to fix. It could not be undone.

"And all I could think was that I should have been there." He expelled a ragged sigh. "I should have been there."

There was nothing to say to that; she couldn't change how he felt about that day and she wouldn't tell him his feelings were wrong. She carried her own fair share of regrets, after all. Instead, she traced his collar ridge and watched the dim, blue light play across the already familiar plates of his body. She opened her mouth to reassure him and instead she found her own weakness tumbling out in a hushed flurry.

"I woke up and nearly everything, everyone, I'd known was gone. Dead, moved on or just so different that it was like meeting strangers in familiar bodies." He gradually stopped caressing her hair, his hands resting lightly against her neck as he focused on her face. She plowed on; for good or ill, Garrus deserved the truth. "But, despite everything, you still had my back, still trusted me and you were the only thing in all the madness that felt right."

Garrus lay still beneath her, his even breaths pressing against her cheek.

She met his gaze, "No one could have saved the Normandy," Or me. "But because you weren't there, you could be here, in this life, when I needed you most." She fought the urge to fidget; she felt more than just exposed. When was the last time she'd been so honest with anyone?

"I think I can live with that." He rumbled slowly, his mandibles relaxing.

"Good, 'cause I've gotten used to having you around." She teased, glad to see the light returning to his eyes.

"Well, after a while, you were bound to appreciate some good, old-fashioned infiltration." He growled, nuzzling her hair.

"Oh, I definitely value your skills in…infiltration." Shepard tried not to laugh but she couldn't hide the mirth bubbling beneath her words.

Garrus groaned and, mortified, buried his face in her shoulder. She snickered.

"A vow of silence is the only cure." He muttered.

Shepard grinned, "It's not so bad. I think it's kinda cute."

"Cute? I was Archangel. I cannot be 'cute'." Garrus protested.

"Oh, I think so—you stammer and blush…"

"Turians don't blush." He collapsed against the pillows, his arms spread in defeat.

"But you do go very still for a moment, right here." She ran a careful finger along his undamaged mandible, "You always do when you're uncomfortable. Or embarrassed. A Turian blush. Like I said, cute." She continued stroking the sensitive planes of his face.

He flexed his mandibles as wide as he could—an invitation—and shivered as her nails trailed lightly over the delicate skin he revealed. Shepard had room to slide her hand beneath his left mandible; the right one hardly left his cheek. The replacement plating still pinned it in place. Maybe if the wound healed enough to upgrade the prosthetic to something smaller, he'd regain further mobility. She gently brushed a thumb over the scarred flesh and stiffly raised herself up to scatter soft kisses from his mouth to the edge of his fringe.

She felt his excited heartbeat pounding against her ribs as he drew a shuddering breath, fighting to remain still beneath her.

"When Dr. Chakwas comes back, she's going to think this is my fault." Garrus growled, sounding suspiciously unrepentant.

"Probably," Shepard murmured against his throat, equally unconcerned. "Bet I can make it worth your while, though."

Garrus made a rough sound, pleasure rumbling deep in his chest. "Hell, Shepard, I've faced scarier things than Chakwas for you. You don't need to win me over. I'm already yours."

She took in his words, his outstretched arms—the vulnerable skin of his inner arms exposed—and open mandibles. She wouldn't have needed Mordin's data to recognize these as gestures of trust but all that information did help her recognize the significance of this particular display. And gave her the framework to properly respond.

Shepard rocked back onto her knees; slowly, she bent and pressed her lips first to one side of his throat, then the other. Garrus' breath hitched. She nipped his collar ridge and then brushed her cheek deliberately against the damaged side of his face. Garrus stared up at her in undisguised shock.

She felt a pang of concern, "I improvised a little…uh, no mandibles."

"Shepard," Garrus rasped and she found herself enveloped, his bent knees bracketing her on either side as he wrapped her in a fervent embrace.

"Did you think I took all of this so lightly, Garrus?" She whispered, slipping her arms around his waist. "I don't think this ever could have been just blowing off steam."

"I'm not sure what I thought but…I…I don't want you to regret this, Shepard."

"I could never regret you, Garrus." She nuzzled closer.

"There are things, things like a family…" Garrus trailed off. "We couldn't…I mean, I'd never planned on it but…you should have kids, Shepard. You deserve that."

"You think what I need is more children?" She sounded shocked and leaned farther back to give him a quizzical look.

"You…you have children?" Garrus stammered.

"I've got so many that I'm beginning to wonder if we're not living out some homicidal Dickens novel." Shepard laughed at the look on his face, "Human writer, lots of orphans." She explained.

"I have heard of Dickens. I have not heard any children running around our ship. Perhaps I should call Chakwas back." He teasingly ran a hand over her scalp, as if searching for injuries.

"Garrus, this week's series of lectures with Grunt included the classics, 'You're not my mother!' and 'Nobody understands me!'. I'm going to mail him back to Wrex when he discovers girls. That is one battle I'm just not willing to fight."

"Alright, so we acquired an adolescent krogan." He shrugged, as if such a thing might have happened to anyone.

"Grunt's just the beginning—we've got a full set. Haven't you picked up on the rivalry between Jack and Miranda? They're catty and fifteen every time they get within ten meters of each other. Legion and Tali are either going to become fast friends or kill each other. Zaeed's the rebel son, out to shock us with tales of sex and violence. Face it, Garrus, two thirds of the people on this boat either are kids, act like kids, or have kids that we have to chase across the galaxy. We're an orphanage with an FTL drive."

Garrus chuckled, "A very lethal orphanage, then."

"First lesson at The Normandy School for Lost and Dangerous Children—shoot to kill."

"Very practical." He paused, "It really wouldn't bother you? That we…couldn't…I mean, I'm supposing a lot, maybe you don't even want this…us…I just assumed, when you…"

"Breathe, Garrus." Her fingers ghosted along his neck, an intentional reminder of her gesture of loyalty. "I want this," a kiss on his jaw, "I want you. Anyway, you're worrying a bit far ahead—kids are a discussion for times when no one's pointing a fleet of synthetic nightmares at you."

"True, there are a lot of people who want us dead, just now." His hand smoothed over her hip slowly; she vocalized her pleasure at the metallic rasp with a low hum.

"I suppose it's what we get for throwing ourselves in front of so many bullets…" Her mouth followed a thick scar across his collarbone.

"Don't forget lasers." He touched her bandages.

She rolled her eyes, "And haven't those been a fun addition."

"I can think of more enjoyable things." Smooth talons circled delicate patterns on the back of her thigh. She traced just as lightly over the soft skin of his neck, enjoying his excited rumble.

"Is that so? Well, I'm open to suggestions…" Her foot stroked the length of his calf, avoiding the curved spur jutting from his ankle. "What did you have in mind?"

"A rematch." He rolled, pinning her wrists to the mattress. Garrus' mandibles stretched in a predatory grin. "After all, how dangerous can one human female be?" His narrow tongue darted out, swiping the curve of her ear. A delicious shudder ran up her spine.

"I think that could be arranged." Her hips arched promisingly against his body, "I should warn you, though…"

Garrus hissed as the wash of dark energy shorted out his brain with a pulse of exquisite sensation.

"…She cheats."