Kells toyed with her wine glass, debating whether or not she should have it refilled. Reluctantly, she decided to wait before having another drink. Keeping her wits about her would probably be a good idea. She sighed and straightened her shoulders, glancing about the room.
The crush of guests at the reception was impressive. It had surprised Kells when the invitation arrived. She had asked Alek why in the world a whore would want them to come to her party, and his reasoning was that maybe the Consort wasn't a whore, exactly. He was right. Whatever label you chose, Consort or concubine, she was a very well-liked one.
Kells retreated even further into the shadows, seeking refuge under the ornate architecture around the balcony door. She had met a great number of tonight's honored guests during her years with the movement, wringing money from the galactic pockets of various alien races. Some of the agreements had even been in writing. It would be awkward if any of them tried to get her to repay for their investments.
She scanned the crowd until she found Alek. He was deep in conversation with a shorter human woman with red hair. The familiar pang of envy crept up at how easily he slipped into conversation with complete strangers. Taking a deep breath, she screwed up all her courage. Just as she was finally ready to walk over and join in, the band struck up a song. Kells froze. The music was too loud, the rhythm too steady. This wasn't just simple dinner music, this was dancing music.
Alek glanced back at her and gestured. Oh, no. He wanted her to dance with him. She shook her head "No" and mouthed "Please". He shrugged, and offered his hand to the red-headed woman with a grin. Kells muttered a prayer of thanksgiving under her breath as the other woman accepted, and the two were swept off into the crowd of dancing guests.
Kells made for the balcony as if the dance floor had suddenly burst into flames.
No matter how lush the greenery, or how spacious the interiors, or how convincing the cyclical lighting system, the Citadel was still a space station. Out on the balcony, the air was no more fresh than inside the party. But the "sunset" deepened the shadows, making it easier to keep out of sight. She would have to interact with some of these people at some point, she knew. Delaying the inevitable was one of Kells' stronger skills.
She frowned and looked at her empty wineglass. To refill it, she would have to go back in. What if Alek should insist on a dance when she did? He had been drinking, he might even do it. She mulled the conundrum as she gazed out over the Presidium.
"What's a girl like you doing in a nice place like this?" a shockingly familiar voice purred from the shadows.
Kells jumped and whirled around, franticly searching for anything she could use as a weapon. The wine glass was her first instinct; she could smash the bowl and jab the stem into his eye.
"How did you find me?" she demanded,
"Relax, relax," he chuckled as he stepped into the light. "This is just a happy coincidence."
She gripped her glass a little tighter. "Coincidence? What are you doing here?"
Garrus spread his mandibles in a smile, and his hands to show he was unarmed, though the whole situation struck him as sad. If anything, she was even jumpier now than she was the first time he met her. "It's a party, remember? I was invited."
Feeling suddenly foolish, Kells relaxed slightly. "Oh, yeah. That makes sense." She cleared her throat and eased her posture into something less combative. "So, you're all done with that Mission of Deadly Importance you were telling me about? Managed to save the human race from extinction yet again?"
He crossed his arms and leaned against the railing. "Something like that. I see your funding mission was successful as well."
She laughed. "You were right about the Hanar, by the way. They said it was 'the will of the Enkindlers that we slip our chains of bondage'. Whatever that means. And, turns out the Elcor were also interested in our cause. There's something of a Human-mania going on with them right now. I had to sit through a sixteen hour version of some Earth play I've never heard of, but the credits were worth it." She glanced at him sidelong. His posture was a valiant attempt at looking relaxed. "I'm boring you. Sorry."
Garrus shook himself slightly, embarrassed at his own rudeness. "No, of course not. I'm just not... comfortable at these kind of things." Shepard had insisted that he "dress nice" and leave his visor in their room. He could not shake the itching feeling of vulnerability creeping up under his head fringe.
Kells nodded in sympathy and patted his arm. "She's ok, by the way."
"Who is?" he asked, not turning to look at her but instead continuing to search the other room for Shepard.
"Your woman," she said flippantly.
Garrus turned on her, aggression rising at her impish grin. "What are you talking about?" he demanded.
"Oh, give it up." She rolled her eyes. "I recognize a self-satisfied gleam when I see one. Shepard. She's yours now, isn't she?"
He looked down, trying not to look too satisfied, as his mandibles twitched into a grin. "That obvious, huh?"
"Secret's safe with me. Although that's my husband she's dancing with, and he can't keep a secret to save his life." She smiled as Alek spun the other woman, both laughing delightedly. "Don't worry, he's also faithful to a fault." She patted Garrus on the arm, as his shoulders hunched slightly. "He'll flirt with her, but that's just how he is. He doesn't mean anything by it."
Garrus looked down at her. Her eyes were shining brightly, her cheeks delicately flushed, the words tumbling out of her mouth so easily. "Just how much wine have you had to drink tonight, anyway?"
She sniffed haughtily. "I don't see how any of that is your business."
They watched as Alek dipped Shepard to a just-a-bit-too-low level. Shepard blushed and appeared to giggle in response. Garrus clamped down on the growl that was rising in his chest. "Faithful to a fault you say?" He looked at her sidelong, trying to gauge her mood, and decided to tempt fate. "I guess opposites do attract."
She whirled on him and he braced himself, but the blow never came. She stopped herself and laughed. "You asshole," she chided, and then laughed again. It was a beautiful sound. Her laugh was rich and throaty, and it occurred to Garrus that he had never heard her laugh like this before, with no edge of bitterness or anger. He pulled her close.
"Hey, wait," she stammered, protesting.
"The night is young, and so are we," he said, mandibles quirking. "May I have this dance?" He took her left hand in his right, placed the other on the small of her back, and began swaying in time to the music floating out to the balcony.
"I don't dance," she argued, her expression totally serious as she began to move with him.
He grinned. "You don't dance in front of a crowd, you mean," he corrected. "But there's nobody out here. Come on, for old time's sake."
Her shoulders relaxed and she smiled. He led her in a simple dance that Shepard had been teaching him, but she was not Shepard. Shepard's movements were always decisive, precise, and sure, planned out several steps in advance. Kells was pure reaction, fluid movement that anticipated nothing, and effortlessly followed where he led.
He spun her, and her hair floated in the warm breeze. It was a deceptive submission, he knew. As soon as he tried to lead her somewhere she did not want to go, she would be twisting out of the dance and disappear into the crowd.
He decided to press his luck again, and pulled her even closer. She gasped, and he could see the faint blush creeping up her face. He dipped her, even lower than Alek had to Shepard and for a moment, as their bodies pressed together, he was possessed by an intense desire.
It was madness. He was with Shepard, and Kells was married. There was no room for them, anywhere. And besides, the woman would not be a good partner to him. He looked at her and saw his confusion and struggle mirrored in her remaining eye.
And smoothly, gracefully, she stepped out of the dance. "Thank you, Mr. Vakarian," she said with perfect cordiality. "But I really must be returning to... the festivities."
"Of course," he replied, squeezing her fingers one last time before letting her go.
She paused at the door and looked back. "Garrus..."
"Do you think... Well, now that your mission is over and so is the war..." She twisted a lock of hair around her finger, looking oddly ill-at-ease. "Do you think you and the Commander would like to visit Honla sometime? Would you like to..." she cleared her throat. "Meet Stefan? My... my son?"
Garrus paused, paralyzed at the thought. His inner voice screamed loud as a klaxon that he should keep his distance.
"I'd like that."
She smiled in return. "Good. I look forward to having you."
"So long as Shepard doesn't kill me for suggesting it."
"I wouldn't worry about that," Kells said, teasing him with her glare. "She knows how to cure a case of death, doesn't she?"
Garrus barked a short laugh. "I doubt she'd go through the trouble on my account."
"Either way, the offer stands." She stepped toward the doorway, and the light streaming onto the balcony outlined her in its glow. "Goodbye, Garrus."
He watched her go, only daring to follow after she had been re-united with her husband. Shepard was heading his way, still beaming with excitement. He reached out to her, forcing the thought of Kells from his mind.
A/N: So there it is, my little noir short piece. I just wanted to take this time to make a few comments in re: the extensive review left on the previous chapter.
I think a big part of the problem here is a misunderstanding of the things I wanted to achieve with this piece. If you look at my profile, I planned from the beginning for this to be a three part story under 6k words. Because of these limitations, things like characterization and even some plot (for example: how she got into the base before chapter one) are going to suffer a bit because I simply don't have the space to explain things the way I would have if this were a novel-length fic.
But I didn't want to make this a novel-length fic because to me, the relationship between these two characters does not merit one. They have a sexual attraction to each other, but that's about it. Garrus doesn't love Kells any more than she loves him. I also do not feel that this is terribly OOC for Garrus, considering his "reach and flexibility" story. He's done this sort of thing before.
As for Kells, she is a character in a novel I've been working on. I'm about halfway through the draft and decided to take a bit of a break and play with her in a totally different setting. I also decided to play with form (the three part noir short story) and shifting POVs and a lot of things I don't normally do. Some of these experiments didn't totally work out to my satisfaction, but there's enough good in there that I felt perhaps other people on would like to see it. I realize that aside from my friends who have seen the draft, the character of Kells can come off as shallow and even Mary Sue-ish, but I thought there was enough good in the story to counteract those shortcomings and still have an enjoyable bit of fanfiction for other people to read. I apologize if you, dear reader, were offended by this offering. It was not my intention to upset anybody.
As a final note, special thanks to Lothering Rose for betaing this chapter, and actually finishing it. (She knows what that means ;) ) And to NotLaura for getting me to write it in the first place!