Where Angels Fear To Tread
Chapter the Sixth: Surely To The Sea
Shepard lay curled on her side, alone in Garrus' bed. She faced the wall; her gaze fell upon a bottle of Palavan ale, the only thing on the shelf over Garrus' bed. She stared at the softly glowing liquid as she tried to come to terms with what had just happened.
Yes, there'd been some awkwardness at first, mostly centered around the fact that humans and turians seemed to have very different ideas of what constituted basic "vanilla" sex. Shepard usually liked to be on top, but she didn't think that position would be all that comfortable for her first time in this body. She'd shyly asked Garrus if he'd be willing to do something more traditional, and he'd agreed.
Then she'd found out that "traditional" for a turian apparently meant the female on her knees, draped over the bed, with her chin tucked down against her collarbone and her rump in the air.
No way in hell was that happening.
Shepard hadn't learned to fight as a teenager, hadn't resisted the easy path of the older male gangsters' protection in exchange for sex, in order to let a man dominate her now.
So she'd told Garrus that she had the human position in mind. And telling him what the missionary position involved had pretty much made his eyes pop out of his head. Shepard was still trying to wrap her brain around what was so terribly kinky about that from a turian point of view. She'd shocked him, no doubt, but he still hadn't said no.
She recalled looking up into crystal blue eyes made strangely vulnerable by the absence of the previously ever-present visor. She knew she had been taken aback by his tenderness, how reverently he treated her, how his frame had trembled as he fought to control himself long enough for both of them to savour their time together. For God's sake, they'd kissed while they did it, and Shepard couldn't quite reconcile the innocent sweetness of that gesture with the sharp need and fiery pleasure that had burned throughout her body. And she remembered that whatever unfortunate comments he might have made about savouring shots before popping heat sinks, Gunnery Officer Vakarian could reload with a speed no human could match.
She'd been really sore the second go-round, but she hadn't been able to stop him, or rather, hadn't been able to want to stop him. She was pretty sure she'd begged him to continue, in fact, and if he ever brought that up in public, she'd be outright sickened with humiliation. Doubly so if he mentioned the tears that had run down her cheeks during it.
But afterwards, Garrus had bolted out of bed and made a run for the sink in the corner. Shepard wasn't sure what he was doing over there, but she heard water running and drawers slamming. She didn't have the courage to roll over and look at him. He'd left with only a mumbled "gotta clean up" and then he'd just been…gone.
She felt...she hated it. She felt cold and alone and...and defenceless, and she was scared. Unlike her usual relationships—okay, romantic encounters—she could not just put herself back together and walk away. She had to trust him to keep his mouth shut about watching her fall apart and, God, somehow they'd never even gotten around to talking about what this relationship was supposed to be. It could fall anywhere on the scale between one-night stand and some bizarre alien marriage, and either of those extremes scared the shit out of her.
Something had happened—she didn't know if it had gone very wrong or very right, but she was in real trouble. Somewhere along the line she'd lost control. She loved him and she'd let him…she'd trusted him with her heart, not just her body.
And she already knew where that road led. Her father's grave in the autumn rain and you need to be a big girl now. Mommy leaving the apartment one morning and never coming back. Shepard squeezed her eyes closed, lost in a swirl of memory and nightmare.
Something bunted her cheek. Garrus. She cracked open her eyelids.
He didn't say anything, only nudged her more insistently. She grunted. He retreated, but moments later she felt his raspy tongue over the back of her neck. How did something so weird feel so damn good—sexy and tender at the same time?
Shepard rolled over to face him and put her hands on his chest, only to notice he was once again wrapped in the same borrowed robe he'd worn that first night after Omega.
"Clothes?" she asked, despising the tremor in her voice. Why had he felt the need to conceal himself?
Garrus gave her a goofy smile. "No chafing."
Of course. She hadn't even thought that the two of them probably shouldn't be cuddling up in the nude for too long. He hadn't taken off on her; he'd been protecting her. Watching her back. Good old Garrus.
"No chafing," she agreed with a smile. She accepted him into the bed, wrapping her upper arm around him. She nuzzled his cheek and listened to him growling in the back of his throat as he slid his hand onto her waist. "Do I need to wear clothes too?"
"Not until we're done with this," he said, pulling a cloth and a small tube out of his robe pocket.
His mandibles twitched. "Mordin said this lotion would help with, ah..."
"Me being allergic to you." Curious, Shepard let him go and sat up in bed, looking down at herself. Sure enough, she had a red rash developing...
Shepard started to blush as she realized where the rash was...over her belly and abdomen and down the insides of her legs, particularly her knees, where she'd been gripping Garrus' waist, and her inner thighs. It wasn't painful or itchy, though it did feel tender to the touch, and Shepard wondered if she would break out in oozing boils, or worse, if she didn't accept the medicated lotion. Come to think of it, the worst was …
It took her a moment to realize the redness there was more than a rash. Shit, she was going to leave a mess. Shepard released him, looking around for some tissue or something, but when she looked to Garrus for some assistance, she realized that he was already staring at her with a horrified expression on his face.
"Did I hurt you?" His voice came out as a strangled whisper.
"I'm fine," she assured him, though she didn't feel fine, exactly. She felt shaky and needy and sick.
"I smell…blood," he choked.
Oh. "Don't worry about that, Garrus, it's…"
"I did," he insisted. "I did hurt you." He cringed away from her, as though withdrawing before she could attack him.
He looked about as wretched as she felt, and she found herself immediately, instinctively, defending him, even though the only enemy here was his own innocence. "Garrus, that happens to humans. You didn't do anything wrong." She grabbed for his free hand with her own; once she captured it, she smiled up at him, hoping she looked encouraging.
Garrus regarded her skeptically. "Humans bleed when they have sex?"
Shepard blushed. "Not every time. Just the first time."
"The first…?" Garrus' jaw dropped as the implication sank in.
Shepard used her other hand to guide his mandibles gently back up into position. "Cerberus rebuilt me, remember? New body? What, you think I jumped the first guy I saw after they let me out of the lab?" Shit, she was joking again, even though the maelstrom of emotion tearing through her was a very serious concern.
Garrus cleared his throat and handed her the cloth. "Er, do you need to…tidy…"
She blushed furiously. His mandibles clattered. Suddenly they were laughing again. She picked up the cloth; he'd used hot water to moisten it, and it was pleasantly warm. Shepard got on her knees, touched it to herself, blurted out, "Don't watch!" and, though she was still hot in the cheeks, giggled as she saw him dutifully plant a pillow over his head.
"Ever feel like you're thirteen years old again?" he mumbled through the pillow.
"My God, Garrus, you were doing this when you were thirteen?"
"Badly and with much fumbling, yes. And considering I was in boot camp at fifteen, that's not that bad." He peeked out from under the pillow.
She'd forgotten turians were legal adults at fifteen. She didn't see him as an alien; she just thought of him as a person, and sometimes she forgot that person and human weren't the same thing. For a quick moment she wondered if someday that would come back to bite her in the ass. "There, I'm clean. You can do the lotion thing now."
He slipped up behind her on the bed. She had only a quick glimpse of sleek muscles, silver scales, the deadly grace of an apex predator before his hands closed over her shoulders. The lotion's sweet scent couldn't hide its antiseptic undertones, and it stung her raw skin. "Why?" Garrus murmured in her ear as his hands slid down her chest, spreading lotion from collar bone to belly. "How old were you?"
Shepard flushed. She didn't want to admit this to him. Anything that took her back in time was dangerous; right now she needed every year she could get to separate her from that little girl in the cold apartment—the girl who would throw her arms around Vakarian's neck and beg him to never leave her, please, she'd do anything. She'd be a better girl. Promise.
Shepard didn't want to go there, because as she'd gotten older she'd learned that most children were loved just for being who they were—and that not even saving the galaxy from Saren and Sovereign, or saving humanity from the Collectors, or defeating the fucking Reapers, would have been enough to change her mother's mind.
Garrus made a low sound deep in his throat, a sad keening noise.
He thinks you don't trust him.
Man up, Shepard.
"Twenty-one," she spit out. There. Let him think what he would.
"Your boot camp was…"
"So you were already a soldier the, er, the last time this happened."
Did he seriously think she hadn't been with anyone after that first time? "Hey now, I had more than one boyfriend, I'll have you know. I had someone I broke up with right before I started my Spectre qualifications."
"I meant the last first time you had sex," the turian replied smugly.
Shepard winced. "I really don't want to talk about that."
Garrus tightened his arms across her chest. She was shocked by the low, rippling snarl she heard right behind her ear.
"I have a sniper rifle," he growled. "Give me a name."
She wriggled from his grasp. "No, you've got it wrong. He didn't…it was a consensual relationship. No need to go all avenging angel for me."
Garrus faced her, his eyes flashing blue fire. "Something happened or you wouldn't be so reluctant to talk about it."
Yep, here's the problem with screwing someone who knows me too well.
Shepard pulled his blanket over her body before continuing. "We wanted different things. I did something stupid. First relationship, bad judgment."
He waited, letting her talk.
Shepard let out an exasperated breath. "I got too attached, he split, everything came crashing down." She tugged the comforter tighter around her. "I said I wouldn't have sex without love. He said he loved me, I believed him, and I shouldn't have." She blinked, willing herself not to cry. "I don't know if he just said it to get me into bed, or if he meant it and it just didn't last. I don't know. I don't know…what's wrong…with me…"
Shepard squeezed her hands into fists, letting her nails sink into her skin until the pain cleared her thoughts.
"Oh." Garrus folded his arms around her again, not seeming to mind that the blanket was in the way. "So now it's just with people you trust."
Shepard snorted. "No, so after that it was with people I didn't mind losing."
Garrus was suddenly very, very still.
"Until you," she admitted, wriggling in his arms to lay her head on his shoulder. "I...maybe I did want to know what it would be like with someone I could trust."
"And?" He licked her cheek.
"I don't know," Shepard said quietly. Her voice sounded very small. "I guess it depends on what happens next."
"What do you want to happen next?" he asked.
Shepard made a frustrated sound, but inside, her stomach was tying itself into knots. She didn't know how to answer that question. Part of her wanted everything to stay just the way it was—her best friend with a little fun on the side—but she also knew that if he pretended nothing had changed, she'd be upset, and more than a little hurt. Part of her wanted him to, hell, date her or something, and wouldn't that be selfish, crushing his chances of ever having a normal turian family? She loved him too much to screw him over like that. And part of her kept insisting that it didn't matter what she wanted—sooner or later Garrus Vakarian would join her first lover in bolting for the door, or she'd do what she'd done with every man since then and walk out before she could get attached.
Stupid, Shepard. You're already attached.
"I don't know," she repeated, and hated how indecisive she sounded.
"Well…maybe we could think about this, then. How was this? Night to remember, or awkward interspecies thing?" She noticed he didn't use the adjective horrible.
She felt suddenly relieved by the change in topic, even though a nagging part of her insisted that she was only putting off the inevitable. Shepard shoved that voice into silence and turned her attention instead to the warmth of Garrus' wiry muscles through the blanket and his increasingly appealing scent of copper and grass. "Um, I'd say ninety percent night to remember and ten percent awkward interspecies thing." She turned to watch his shocked expression, and then she grinned wickedly. "Though we might be able to improve those numbers with practice."
His left mandible quivered. "Oh, you want to practice, is that it?" Garrus nuzzled her enthusiastically. "I could get behind that."
Shepard wrapped her arms around his shoulders, letting the blanket fall away. "Or you could get beneath that, Officer Vakarian."
He grinned up at her. "Whatever you say, Commander."
Shepard frowned. "Er…it'll have to be some other time, though." She buried her face in his neck to hide her flaming cheeks. "I'm still sore," she admitted. "Too sore to play any more tonight."
"Let me finish up with that lotion then," he murmured.
She settled herself atop him, the blanket covering his legs to the hips, her back against his bare chest, as he continued what he'd started. Shepard closed her eyes, enjoying the sweet, soothing sensation of the lotion on her raw skin. I could get used to this. It was kind of nice, having a guy who was still interested in being affectionate after getting what he wanted. Shepard let out a deep breath. Her eyelids fluttered, and she realized the adrenaline high of the Collector base fight was finally starting to wear off. She could really use a nap…
…so why were Garrus' gentle ministrations starting to turn her on?
He must have intuited her reaction from her swaying hips, heavy breathing, or heated body, because he bowed his head and began to lap her neck. She moaned, writhed. Her vision blurred in and out of focus. She wanted to close her eyes and surrender to the sensations of his hands on her skin. And Shepard—who'd found it surprisingly easy to resist Morinth's seduction—truly feared she lacked the strength to protest Vakarian's.
Oh, God, what's happening to me?
"Garrus," she said, and her voice came out sounding like a sleepy complaint instead of a strong, decisive order. "I said I couldn't screw any more tonight." She used the vulgarity on purpose, in the hopes of driving him off.
"I know," he murmured, undeterred. "It's a good thing I know other ways to make you happy."
Just like before the Omega-Four relay. Except he knew what to do now. He didn't need her awake and alert and teaching him.
He caressed her, very lightly, an unspoken inquiry, and she realized she had a choice—get the hell out of his bed and out of his cabin and out of his life right now, or gamble with her heart as she had just gambled with her life, and trust that once again, Garrus would be there to catch her.
I'll be here if you need me.
She knew better than to trust a man's promise…
He's not a man, he's a turian, she thought, and smug with her ability to twist her own logic, she gave him her blessing.
When Garrus woke up, the clock said that it was midafternoon Zulu time. Shepard was still sound asleep, her head on his chest, her hair strewn messily over his plates, and a great big smile on her face. Her sports bra, meanwhile, was hanging off his light fixture, dangling above their heads. He hadn't realized he'd thrown it that hard.
Garrus tucked his arm around Shepard, closed his eyes and sighed happily, feeling pretty damned content himself right about now.
He still had that nagging feeling that he was dead. Maybe in the Collector base. Maybe on Omega.
You think too much, Shepard had chided him.
So he stopped thinking, and just savoured how it felt to lie here with Shepard warm against him, with that scent of a summer breeze in his nostrils and the occasional precious whisper of her skin against his.
Shepard came aware slowly in a lazy fog of pleasure and happiness. Her body felt tired, but good tired, the kind that came after winning a long-distance run or coming out of a battle victorious, and the pleasure outweighed a few nagging aches. The blanket was soft against her bare skin—damn, she didn't usually sleep naked. Attacks, onboard emergencies, even fire drills…in any of those circumstances, it was a waste of precious time to search for clothing. Why had she…
She rolled over and saw Garrus lying beside her, his eyes half-closed, growling softly to himself.
Now she remembered.
The problem wasn't the sex. She'd come to terms with the fact that she found an alien attractive and she wanted to sleep with him. It wasn't the romance. She had found she rather liked being physically affectionate with her best friend. No, the problem was her increasing lack of control.
She was forgetting obvious, simple, practical things, like using the lotion after their intimacy, or remembering to get dressed before falling asleep. She'd let him pleasure her with his touch, over and over again, until she'd shouted, and cried, and begged for more, and God knows what else, splayed out all over him like a cheap asari hooker. Then she'd passed out, unconscious and utterly vulnerable. What stupid shit would she do next?
"Shepard?" His voice reverberated in her ear, and damn it, even as upset as she was, his reverberating tones still turned her on. "You're tense. Is everything all right?"
"I acted like a whore." She sat up and tugged the blanket around her to hide her nakedness, still feeling sickeningly exposed without her clothing.
"Right before I fell asleep. Shit. I don't want to know what you think of me."
"Shepard, my respect for you has not changed. I don't understand. What's so wrong about being happy?"
"I…" She scowled, choked, unable to describe what she'd done.
"You asked. I gave." He sat up as well. Garrus nuzzled her neck and whispered softly in her ear as he folded his arms around her. "It was an honour."
Shepard snorted, not sure whether she was crying or mocking, or both at once. "An honour? What the hell is that supposed to mean?" It sounded like some kind of fucking duty. How could they be equals in this relationship when Garrus, ever the good turian, insisted on turning her every word into an order to be obeyed?
He released her. Silence stretched between them until she felt uncomfortable being so close to him. Awkwardly, she shifted sideways and immediately felt the sudden ache of his absence.
She hazarded a glance at him. He half-rolled onto his side and propped himself up with his elbow, but he stared at the pillow instead of at her when he mumbled, "It means it was special." She saw the muscles in his neck flex when he swallowed and added, "To me, at least."
"Oh, shit, I'm being an ass." She reached one arm across him and used the other to lift his jaw so he would look at her. "I'm not good at vulnerability," she whispered, hoping he would understand.
He nuzzled her. "But that's why you're with someone you can trust."
She wanted to believe that, but trust and permanence weren't the same thing. Even if he would stay with her forever if she asked him to, it wasn't a fair request. He'd been a normal turian with a normal life until she'd plowed into it, dragging him along on her crazy chase after Saren, dropping him into the middle of Collectors and Reapers and Cerberus and God knew what-all else, turning the clean-cut cop into a rogue vigilante. Somewhere along the line there had to be a limit to the damage she was doing. Somewhere she had to let him go back to the life he'd had before she'd interfered.
She kissed him instead of answering, and he must have misinterpreted it as a reply of sorts, because for the next few moments they cuddled in silence. He was warm, and smelled good, and God, she was going to miss him when the time came…
There was a sudden buzzing noise. Garrus looked up. "It's my comm. Want me to ignore it?"
She kind of did, but she'd been self-indulgent far too long. "No, go ahead."
Garrus answered it and she listened in. It was Miranda; apparently the whole crew was gathering in Kasumi's room for a victory party now that everyone was well-rested and on the mend from their ordeal. Garrus had told her he'd be along shortly, and no, sorry, he didn't know where Commander Shepard was—he'd been busy calibrating the Thanix cannon.
When he had disconnected, Shepard glanced at him. He cleared his throat and took her hands in his.
"If you want to tell the crew that we're, ah, involved, I don't mind, but I don't want to be the one to say anything before you're ready."
He was sweet, but involved was a very vague term that could mean anything from friends with benefits to will you come to the wedding? Shepard took a deep breath, trying to focus on the bright side: involved meant this was not a one-night stand they'd just had.
"Are you all right?" Garrus looked down at himself. "Because I don't want to go down there like this, and, well…" He grinned. "Not that I don't like the current view, but I don't want to share it with the rest of the crew."
Shepard blushed, though she was secretly pleased. "I'm going to go up to my quarters for a shower, then. I'll tell everyone it was a long one if they want to know why I was out of touch."
Garrus nodded. "I'll wash up and go hide out in the main battery for a while. Give some credibility to the calibration story."
She snorted. "Does that thing really need constant maintenance or are you doing something else in there? Like calibrating your personal cannon?"
He drew the robe shut in mock indignation. "As you can tell, my personal cannon is operating at peak efficiency."
It felt good to laugh with him. Shepard hoped she could stop thinking about the insecurities of her previous lifetime, or a future which, if the Reapers had their way, might never come. In this moment…in this single shining point in time…she was happy, happier than she had been in longer than she could remember.
Garrus deliberately waited for a good hour before he opened the doors to the main battery, giving Shepard plenty of time to mingle with the crew before he joined in. While he would have loved to walk into the gathering arm-in-arm with Commander Shepard, he could tell that she was more than a little unnerved by the intensity of their relationship. Garrus wasn't exactly sure how love and lust worked in humans—he really needed to do more research, this time on the psychological aspects of having a human partner—but it seemed as though Shepard was going through a stage he'd already come to terms with.
He could only pray she came to the same conclusion.
Garrus didn't want to dwell on that thought. He had busied himself for a while checking the Thanix cannon, but all his hours of calibration had paid off: the targeting computer was running flawlessly, even after the encounter with the Collectors. All it would need now was routine upgrades and system checks…not that he was in any hurry to tell the rest of the crew. He rather liked having calibrations as an excuse to get some time to himself.
The party was in full swing when he stepped through the battery doors. Most of the Normandy's third deck had been taken over for the festivities, which made sense as it housed the mess, the crew washrooms, and the crew quarters. Garrus winced when he saw that the crowd was starting to fill the hallway leading down to the main battery; so much for his private refuge.
The bulk of the party seemed to be congregating in Kasumi's room, due no doubt to the presence of a bar. Garrus had long since stopped thinking of alcohol as something to consume for fun; he'd had too many brutal nights on Omega fighting the temptation to take cover inside a bottle to enjoy social drinks any longer. He'd lost the ability to consume in moderation.
His eyes slid across the room, searching for Shepard.
Moderation. It seemed to be a foreign concept for him these days.
There she was, and how the hell could she make the regular Cerberus battle uniform look so damn sexy? He grinned, noticing she'd torn the Cerberus patches off the shoulders. Unfortunately, he couldn't spend the entire evening hanging off of Shepard.
Instead, he began making his way to the corner where Mordin, Dr Chakwas and Samara were sitting at a table off to the side, sipping sedately at various beverages and nibbling finger foods. He was on his way over to say hello when someone poked him in the shoulder.
"Hey, boy scout," came Jack's rough voice. "Took you long enough to come out and party."
Garrus forced a smile at the ex-convict. "Just because the suicide mission is over doesn't mean we should be flying around with inaccurate weapons. The Thanix cannon took a few blows during the mission and wasn't firing straight."
"Uh-huh. You better hope you're firing straight after you explain to your girlfriend."
"Yeah. She's been sitting all alone waiting for you. Fuckin' jerk."
Garrus' eyes shot over to Shepard. She actually appeared to be quite happily engaged in a conversation with Legion, attempting to explain the concept of a party to the ever-curious geth, so he wasn't worried about coming to physical harm for upsetting her. But how...
Jack called out to Miranda. "Hey, cheerleader. You owe me a hundred credits."
Miranda walked over, shaking her head regretfully, but she reached into her pocket and typed on her datapad. Garrus heard the ping of a credit transfer. "I'd figured out that all the "calibrations" were a decoy," Miranda said slowly, "but I don't understand it. The whole time we were on Haestrom, she only had eyes for Kal'Reegar."
Just when Garrus thought he couldn't be any more shocked, he had to find out that Shepard had been checking out a quarian?
"How...how did..." Garrus spluttered.
Jack folded her arms. "Oh, come on now. Right before we went through the Omega-Four relay, there were only two people who were nowhere to be found." Her eyes slid over to Miranda. "Actually, four, but..."
"We aren't discussing that," Miranda retorted, arms folded, but Garrus remembered Jacob's mad dash to the elevator and knew exactly what they meant. "We're discussing Officer Vakarian and his adorable little calibration session with our very own Miss vas Normandy." She smiled at Garrus as she wrapped her arm around his shoulders and forcefully steered him across the room. "Next time, do the girl a favour and don't bother to pretend that all the two of you are doing in there is fixing the guns. Take her somewhere with a comfortable bed at least."
And, with a shove, a flustered Garrus found himself practically shoved up against Tali, who was seated alone in the corner tapping furiously at her datapad.
"Do you mind?" Tali said. "I'm trying to write a message to..."
And suddenly, with a devilish grin, Garrus knew exactly what to do.
He seized the datapad and took a look. Yes, his suspicions were correct. "Kal'Reeeeeeegar," he said in a sing-song voice. "Is he your booooyfriend?"
"Give me that!" Tali snapped, but Garrus tossed it to Jack instead.
Jack caught it. Gaped at it.
"Give me my money back," Miranda demanded. "And the hundred credits you owe me."
"What, you think I have any money?" Jack demanded.
"Wait," Tali said slowly as she took in the scene. "What were you two betting on?"
Jack stared at Tali. "You mean that whole time before the jump through the Omega-Four relay, you were..."
"Writing letters," Tali said firmly, but her voice quivered as she added, "Who I was writing to is none of your..."
"Kal'Reegar," Miranda and Garrus said together, and Garrus had no doubt the quarian was blushing under her mask.
Jack's face was the picture of confusion. "But if you were alone, then where was he?" she demanded, pointing at Garrus.
Tali responded, her tone making it perfectly clear that her nose was wrinkled up underneath her mask. "You thought I was fooling around with…."
Garrus had to deny the claim, but he didn't want to hurt Tali's feelings, either. He folded his arms and said, "Tali is a lovely girl and a good friend and it would be like making out with one of my sisters."
The quarian gave him a glance that, even through her helmet, was clearly a look of relief. Garrus felt glad that he'd defused the situation in a way that clarified their relationship without making her feel as though no one would want her. If Kal'Reegar had any brains in his head, he'd know that he was a lucky man for having the interest of a girl like Tali.
But not as lucky as Garrus.
It was a long time before the party began to wind down. As Shepard finished off her last drink and set the empty glass on Kasumi's bar, she wondered where the thief would be sleeping tonight. Certainly not in here, judging by the large, comatose krogan sprawled all over her couch.
Poor Grunt. Tank imprinting did nothing to build up an alcohol tolerance. Fortunately, he'd ended up being a happy drunk—Shepard didn't know what she would have done if the booze had made him aggressive, or rather, even more aggressive than normal. Instead, it seemed to have the opposite effect. Grunt had spent a few hours on the couch giggling at nothing in particular, then curled up and fallen fast asleep.
Shepard had the suspicion that some of the crew would be up for hours yet, celebrating their continued survival. Others had already made their excuses and headed off to bed, still suffering exhaustion after their ordeal at the hands of the Collectors. And she'd noticed quite a few sneaking off in pairs, including Jacob and Miranda, who weren't nearly as subtle as they thought they were.
Shepard frowned, thinking of someone else who was every bit as subtle as he thought he was tonight.
Garrus had come by for a friendly chat and some good natured teasing and that was it. He had spent most of the evening annoying Tali, much to the amusement of Jack and Kasumi. Now Tali and Kasumi were engrossed in a girls-only conversation which, from what Shepard had overheard, centered around that nice Kal'Reegar fellow. Jack, meanwhile, had declared the discussion "nauseating" and loudly announced her intent to leave before the subject matter gave her diabetic shock. But just before Jack could attempt to chug an entire bottle of tequila herself, Thane had neatly plucked it from her hand and replaced it with a glass of water. Shepard wasn't exactly sure why this situation hadn't lead to a bloody fight, but now Jack and Thane were speaking, the drell more animated than Shepard had ever seen him, and Jack only occasionally insulting his parentage, his virility, and his intelligence.
Trusting that Krios knew what he was doing, Shepard looked about the room. Garrus had bypassed the bar in favour of water; he was in the process of holding his glass under the cooler's spigot.
Their eyes met across the room.
Slowly, Garrus put his glass down on a nearby table and inclined his head towards the door, accompanied with an Alliance hand signal indicating a withdrawal.
Shepard hid her smile as she signalled compliance. She'd taught him the signals on the last Normandy, but she'd never imagined then that she'd someday use them like this.
Garrus flared his mandibles in acknowledgement and began moving swiftly, around the room and out the door. Shepard, meanwhile, circled the group, saying her goodnights to everyone still remaining, before exiting herself.
She'd expected to see Garrus waiting in the elevator, but it was empty. Curious, she began circling through the halls, weaving her way through the crowd remaining in the mess. She was on the verge of looking for a volunteer to check the men's room when something at the back of the ship caught her eye.
There was a paper sign taped to the door of the main battery.
Shepard, acting on a hunch, moved down the corridor leading to the gun room. A few paces away, she stopped to read the sign:
DO NOT DISTURB
CALIBRATIONS IN PROGRESS
Shepard's lips curved in an admiring smile. She looked back over her shoulder. No one was looking this way. Grinning, she rapped twice on the battery door.
Obligingly, it opened.
Shepard slipped through the portal and into Garrus' arms.
Author's Note: While this marks the end of "Where Angels Fear To Tread," please check out "Closer to Home," the sequel which picks up where this leaves off.
I started a separate story for thematic reasons. This is a tale of friends becoming lovers. "Closer to Home" is the story of lovers becoming family.