A/N: Hello again! So this is the last full chapter of my story, but the epilogue I'm planning may end up being plenty long itself. I'm afraid my limited computer access means this chapter is a bit less polished than I'd like, but I hope you enjoy it anway. Please keep the reviews coming, I love them!
Garrus' less than thrilled voice echoed throughout the hangar bay as he and Kasumi approached the sleeping shuttle.
"Stop being so stubborn," replied an annoyed Kasumi, her black eyes hard. "Are you always so convinced everything will blow up in your face?"
The turian sharply pointed to his ashen scar. "Things literally have blown up in my face!"
"Relax. All I'm asking is that you wait here for Shepard. She should be down any second."
His voice grew strained. Garrus Vakarian wasn't one to plead, but he sounded close. "It'll look like I'm stalking her. I already followed her around the ship once today. That's probably enough."
Kasumi mindlessly adjusted her hood, obviously unconcerned. "Yes, yes, to Miranda's office, I remember," she answered. "But this time is different. You have a good reason for being here." She pointed to the black box suffocating beneath his gloved grasp.
"As if I could forget the damned necklace," he growled. The jewelry box groaned as he clutched it ever tighter. "I don't know what's worse- that it isn't even mine or that I can't put the damned thing on."
To his surprise, Kasumi let out a light giggle.
Garrus was taken aback. "What?"
"It's just… you're so cool and confident on missions, but with Shepard you turn to mush. It's endearing."
She patted his arm lightly, as if he were a charming pet. "It'll all work out, you'll see."
And with that, the thief slipped into the elevator, leaving Garrus alone to worry and wonder in the dimly lit cargo hold.
Shepard leaned back against the elevator's stolid walls, desperate to relieve her heeled feet. She had already acquired some grotesque blisters from the cursed stiletto shoes, and her wounds were growing larger and more boisterous by the second. Had she known she'd end up alone during her ride down, she probably would have considered sitting on the elevator floor.
She patted her hair down vigorously as the elevator doors opened to the hangar bay. Unfortunately, Kasumi had done a surprisingly successful job in teasing the Commander's hair in a gravity-defying manner. All Shepard ended up accomplishing was working herself into a mild rage as each strand bounced back like a spring when pushed down. She tried to inhale deeply and calm herself, but her unyielding dress denied her the space for such a action.
She exited the elevator with angry stomps and a steady stream of curses before she heard a rustle in the darkness ahead of her.
What she saw made her smile.
Garrus had clearly spent considerable time contemplating what bodily pose to make when Shepard arrived. He had finally settled with leaning his humped back against the shuttle's side and letting his arms lay casually down. It would have given him an aura and poise and self-assurance he had lately lacked around the Commander.
But when Shepard stamped angrily in, she startled the previously cool turian, and he took more than one wary step back. Now he assumed an almost defensive posture, with arms up as if to catch Shepard's fury, and pupils dilated so wide they threatened to swallow the blue of his irises.
Shepard gave a rueful grin to her friend and shook her head. "Sorry I scared you. This outfit is killing me."
Garrus attempted to regain his composure, and he tried his best to walk nonchalantly towards her. "You just surprised me, Shepard. It usually takes a swarm of Collectors to get you looking that pissed."
Shepard chuckled. "I'd rather fight Harbinger with a combat knife that spend another minute in this getup. I don't care if it's supposed to make me look 'pretty', it's damned uncomfortable."
"Ah," the turian muttered uneasily. He didn't really think Shepard looked more or less attractive, just different. Was he supposed to think she looked 'prettier'?
"So…" she continued, stepping forward (despite the protest from her feet) and closing the gap between them. "Is there something I can do for you or is the forward battery getting stuffy again?" Her eyes twinkled mischeviously.
The turian's voice faltered as her eyes bore into his. "I…uh… have something for you."
Shepard cocked her head. "For me?"
"Yeah…" He turned behind himself and reached for the jewelry box nestled atop of the shuttle. Naturally, he nearly dropped the damned thing once Kasumi left. In the end he decided to store it on the ship's roof, more to hide it from himself than from Shepard.
He clutched the box in his large, gloved hands and extended them to Shepard. He watched with nervous fascination as the Commander's small, numerous fingers peeled back his own to grab the gift. Her hands were calloused for a human, but felt strangely supple, even through the thick leather of his gloves. He couldn't quite tell if he was intrigued or aroused by the feeling of them.
The necklace seemed to glow as she opened the box, highlighting the strong features of the human female in front of him. At first the gaudy piece caused her to shake her head and smile, as if she were amused by some inside joke. Then, finally, she beamed up at her turian friend.
"Garrus…" she cooed, "You got this for me?"
The turian rubbed his neck unconsciously. He didn't like lying to Shepard. "Yeah, it's a…," he coughed uneasily, "family heirloom. I was the only child so, you know, I got it. Not that I'd ever wear it or anything."
Shepard laughed heartily. "I don't know, Garrus. I think you'd look snazzy all dressed up."
The turian quickly made a mental note that Shepard apparently liked her men well dressed. He'd have to keep that in mind when their 'big night' came around.
But he interrupted his own thoughts on how the hell that upcoming encounter was going to work and returned to the dreaded task at hand. "I could help you put it on," he suggested with a shrug, as if this were the first time the idea had entered his mind.
Shepard's sharp eyes suggested that he was quite transparent, but she played along. "Sure," she replied.
Shepard had seated herself on one of the smaller cargo crates, and Garrus hesitantly approached her backside with delicate necklace in hand. He let out a soft yet disgruntled exhale. He'd already hit an obstacle in putting the necklace on. Shepard's hair. Kasumi had forgotten to instruct him on this alien subject.
Her sea of strands were blocking the back of her neck, where the necklace was supposed to lay against. The male statue he'd been working on didn't suffer from this problem (not that he could have moved its short stone hair in any case), so he was utterly lost about what to do. Garrus' brain churned. He had two options, really. He could either try to move these strange fibers out of the way to expose the neck, or place the necklace over her hair. His gut told him to move the hair, but which way? To the right? Left? Over her head?
But, thankfully before he made any decisions, Shepard came to the rescue. "Let me get this out of the way for you," she said lightly as the grabbed a handful of hair with her right hand and brought the mass around to her shoulder. Now there was an obvious gap beneath the hair that he could slip the necklace through, and he did so eagerly. He laid the bulky front portion of the necklace across Shepard's collarbone, just like the thief had shown him, then threaded the necklace under Shepard's poofed hair until the ends met at the base of her neck.
He steeled himself. The necklace was on. Now came the hard part: Attaching it.
Shepard must have sensed his stern gaze against the back of her neck, for she said happily, "Thanks for helping me out. I can never put these damned things on."
The turian gave no response but simply thought, You and me both. He let out a slow exhale, consciously trying to keep his hands from shaking as he inched the necklace's backing together…
Garrus' wobbly fingers couldn't keep the clasp open, and he had missed the other end of the necklace by a mile. This wasn't looking good.
So he made a brusque decision. Despite the inherent forwardness of the gesture in turian culture, he yanked off his beloved gloves. Shepard turned when she heard the rustling of cloth behind her and cheerfully chirped, "Oh, the gloves are coming off. This must be serious."
"I don't have a lot of experience with jewelry," he replied. He tried his best to sound jovial, but his voice inevitably betrayed his worried frustration. A thin film of sweat started beading atop his forehead. But he forged ahead, again bringing the two ends together as he opened the clasp…
"It's on!" he exclaimed as he released the breath he'd been holding.
He almost backed away to stare at his triumph, but quickly remembered from his session with Kasumi that he wasn't done just yet. Before Shepard could remark on his triumph, he slowly traced his naked fingers around the circumference of her sturdy neck, quietly hoping that his gruffer hands would not repulse her.
They didn't. She shivered in response, and couldn't help but release a pleased sigh. She even leaned her head against his arm as his fingers inched forward. Garrus' heart felt as if it was liquefying within. He hadn't been this pleased with himself in some time.
But eventually, he forced himself to stop. He gradually lifted his fingers off of Shepard's skin and took a step back.
She then arose and turned to face him. Her face grew soft, as did her voice. "Thank you, Garrus. This was very thoughtful of you," she said in a pleased whisper. Again she approached, inching ever closer to him. They were almost touching. He gulped. He could feel her body heat, hear her small breaths, smell her unique scent...
And that was when Kasumi popped out of the elevator, with a statue-pushing Jacob in tow. The thief smiled. "Ready to go?"