A/N - I've said it before and I'll say it again - thank you so very much to everyone who reads, reviews, and favorites this story! The feedback has been so wonderful and positive, you guys are great!
Most of the in-game romance dialogue is present in this chapter, because that dialogue always felt like it belonged early on in their relationship. The remainder of this story will aim to fill in the blanks between those early conversations and the night before the Omega 4 Relay. :)
Omega had taught Garrus the danger of lying to himself, and he couldn't pretend he didn't know how they'd reached this point. Standing there, staring across the main battery at Shepard, he knew this one was all on him. It didn't matter that Shepard's recent behaviour had been odd enough to attract his curiosity; Vakarian's intense regard for the Commander had bypassed mere friendship quite some time ago, and he damn well knew it.
He'd been testing the boundaries tonight. Garrus had thrown out the story about the scout the way a sniper sets up a wind marker. Testing the air currents, seeing what direction he should be pointing himself in. It had been reckless and a little dangerous, but this had been coming longer than he wanted to admit.
Except, as was typical when Shepard was involved, it had somehow moved faster than he'd expected – and he was completely unprepared for this.
"I... ah... didn't think you'd feel like sparring, Commander."
She didn't like that. Garrus had seen Shepard face down Saren, the Council, the Illusive Man and Sovereign itself, with shoulders thrown back, chin lifted defiantly and sheer self-confidence radiating from her every pore. The sudden shift in her body language was alarmingly obvious.
Where are you going with this Shepard?
Although... Watching the damn near predatory way she moved closer, Garrus wasn't entirely sure he wanted to protest.
"What if we skipped right to the tie-breaker?" she suggested and her voice was so low and strange that it momentarily distracted him from what she was saying. But then his brain caught up to his ears and his throat was suddenly dry as a Palaven desert.
She's not saying what I think she's saying. I know she's not saying what I think she's saying because I'm not that damn lucky. Except, oh hell, what if she is saying what I think she's saying?
Garrus' mind was a whirlwind as he fluttered his gaze over her frantically, trying to put this moment into some kind of context. They flirted almost out of habit, but it had never been serious before. This wasn't delicate innuendo or teasing overtone. This was Shepard being about as subtle as a charging krogan.
She was moving closer and all he could do was watch her lean back on the terminal. Her small, dexterous hands rested carelessly on the panels still loaded with half-finished firing algorithms, eliciting beeps and alerts as she destroyed over an hour's work.
He knew he was in trouble when he didn't make even a token objection to that.
"How about we test your reach," she purred and oh hell, it was exactly what he was thinking; her smirk widened triumphantly. "...And my flexibility?"
His heart was pounding in his chest, ricocheting wildly against his ribcage as he forced air down his lungs in a frantic effort to clear the white haze in his brain.
"I didn't... huh."
Say something suave. Be charming. Dammit, Vakarian, don't babble!
"Never knew you had a weakness for men with scars," he managed faintly.
This was too big a risk to gamble on. He sharply broke his gaze from Shepard's, turning away and giving into the nervous energy running along his skin. Under her steady gaze, Garrus paced the length of the main battery, trying to marshal his thoughts into some semblance of order, striving to make sense of the conversation. Struggling to accept that somehow, out of nowhere, she was seriously offering him... this.
Objectively, he knew it was insane. Madness. A turian and a human? Sure, he liked her a hell of a lot more than he should, had since before Omega, but how would it even work? She didn't even have a fringe. Except as he glanced over at her quickly, it didn't feel insane. It felt...
It felt like Shepard was offering him every damn thing he'd ever wanted and never dared to let himself hope for. It wasn't a question of whether he was interested; of course he was interested. But now that it came down to it, could he really do this? Risk everything?
In a heartbeat.
The uncertainty solidified into clear decision with such intensity that Garrus froze in his pacing. He couldn't let this slide through his fingers. Maybe it wouldn't work. It probably wouldn't work. But to reject even the chance, to not even try... He spun back to face her. She was there – his Commander – leaning back against the console and watching him with fierce expectation.
"Well, why the hell not? There's nobody in this galaxy I respect more than you." Maybe it wasn't suave or charming, but it was the most honest thing he'd ever said in his life. Garrus looked her over uncertainly.
He knew her too damn well, and he felt a surge of pride to realize it. He could see straight through her bravado. She was nervous as hell; it was all there in the careful dart of her eyes as she watched him, in the way her teeth caught at the inside of her lip.
Hell. He knew this woman, knew her better than anyone else in the galaxy. She wasn't turian, but she wouldn't be Shepard if she was. Shepard's humanity was part of what made her... well, her. She was an alien, small and pale, with soft skin instead of plates; not a cowl or a fringe or a leg spur in sight. But damn if he didn't suddenly look at her and realize - human or not – this felt right to him.
Because she was Shepard and she was everything that made sense in his life.
Garrus took a deep breath and stepped closer. Close enough to catch the uneven intake of breath from her. He didn't have to be human to work that one out. His mandibles shifted into a slow turian smile. Yeah. He could do this.
"If we can figure out a way to make it work," he purred softly, slowly, letting the sub harmonics resonate around her deliberately. "Then... yeah. Definitely."
There was something sinfully wicked about the sharp spike of satisfaction he felt at seeing her eyelashes flicker in response. It was always one-upmanship with them, cheerful competition. She'd started this, or maybe he had with that damned scout story, but Garrus was damn sure she'd challenged him to meet her head on here.
So he didn't disappoint; locking his gaze onto hers, he waited until her smile stretched into a smirk that fairly oozed relief. She reached out a hand, those tiny pale human fingers curling briefly around his forearm. An indrawn breath tangled at the back of his throat as he stared at the point of contact between them.
"You never could resist a challenge," she teased, her gaze flicking over him in sharp, assessing glances.
Garrus managed a low-pitched laugh. "It wouldn't be the first time I've followed you into something completely insane and with a low chance of success."
She flashed a wry grin up at him, letting her hand slide away from his arm and drop back to her side. "We do tend to jump first and ask questions later. But I don't want to push you into anything here. So... do me a favor, big guy? Think about this before you make the call."
Garrus wanted to protest the loss of the contact, but her hesitation made him realize she wasn't as confident and sure as she was acting. That helped, somehow. Knowing he wasn't the only one nervous about walking blind into this paradoxically made him feel much better about it.
"Sleep on it, Garrus," Shepard advised with a playful smile. "I'll stop by tomorrow. Deal?"
Sleep? After this?
"Sure, Shepard," he managed to get out, past a throat gone suddenly dry, and watched her as she slid past him and out the door. "Night."
When the door closed behind her, Garrus laid his hands on the edge of the console, and realized they were trembling. Nerves, maybe, or the adrenaline that was still running through his system and making his heart beat triple-time. His record with women had never been brilliant, with all of his encounters triggered by aggressive females or from acting on impulse before he had time to think about it. Thinking about it always seemed to trip him up, but it was very characteristic of Shepard to want him to be sure.
Sure? Garrus knew perfectly well how intense his regard for her was. She'd just given him a green light to take their friendship somewhere he hadn't even allowed himself to think about; like hell was he going to turn it down.
As far as Garrus Vakarian was concerned, tonight had probably been the best night of his life.
"Look to the right," Doctor Chakwas requested politely, and Garrus obediently turned his head in that direction. He heard the approving hum from the doctor as she inspected the skin grafts that his bandage typically concealed, and took that as a good sign.
Delicate human fingers prodded lightly along the edges of the graft; it was the most sensitive and therefore most painful location but Chakwas was careful and professional in her ministrations and he was inured to the pain by now. His whole damn face hadn't stopped hurting since Omega.
"You're still not taking the painkillers, are you?" the doctor asked with a sigh.
Garrus smirked, the damaged mandible shooting familiar pain along his cheek. "Not when there's a mission on the table. We'll have a few days down time, so I'll take some today. Besides, it's not that bad."
Her delicate, tiny human hand balled up into a fist and pummelled him directly in the sternum with enough force to make him cough in surprise. "Spare me the macho crap, Garrus," Chakwas snapped, but there was a resigned countenance to her expression. "I know better than you do exactly what it did to your nervous system, and how much pain you're in. If you want to be uncomfortable, that's your choice. You can put the bandage back on now. We're done."
The truth was that after damn near overdosing on stims during those last days on Omega, fighting to stay awake and alive, Garrus was reluctant to take any kind of meds beyond the necessary. Physical pain, he could deal with. Pulling the bandage back on and settling it snugly back into place, Garrus reflected that pain reminded him he was still alive, and he could live with that reminder quite happily.
"How's it looking, Doctor?" he asked lightly.
Chakwas made a note on her datapad and flashed him a bland look. "You're healing, the nerves are regrowing – as I'm sure you're aware. You know I can't do anything cosmetic for you here, but I'm confident that in another six weeks, the graft will have covered the cybernetics and bonded with your natural skin."
Assuming we're all still alive in six weeks.
Garrus shook off the pessimistic thought and nodded. "I'm grateful for all of your help, Doctor Chakwas. After the healing is complete... if I went to a doctor on Palaven, would they be able to..." He paused, unsure exactly what he wanted to ask.
The doctor was regarding him with sympathy and a hint of curiosity. "A turian doctor could help with the worst of the scarring. I know cosmetic surgery is rare in your culture, and turian plates are difficult to work with, but I'm confident that much of the damage could be concealed. Has it been more painful? That will ease in time."
He couldn't blame Chakwas for being confused by his sudden request. Garrus had been dismissive of any cosmetic repairs in the past, mostly because he hadn't been expecting to survive the Collector base. But now, if he did survive...
Will the scars bother Shepard? She only knows what I looked like before.
It hadn't mattered to him, before. But Shepard's visit and unexpected offer, had gotten him thinking along lines that had started to bother him. He was a good sniper, a damn fine soldier, and a brilliant tactician. Garrus could admit that much with blunt honesty and no false modesty. But attractive? Not so much these days... maybe before.
Shaking his head and summoning up his most charming smile for the good doctor, Vakarian slid off the edge of the examination table. "Thanks Doc. That'll be fine," he reassured her and made for the door.
He could feel Chakwas watching him as he left, and wouldn't be at all surprised if she sent him the name of a good turian surgeon in the next day or so. Doctor Chakwas was nothing if not thorough in her care of her patients. Whether he'd give the surgeon a call would probably depend on Shepard, and how serious she was in her suggestion. He'd be foolish to make any assumptions until he saw her again.
Dodging a charging krogan was always a difficult task, but the close confines of the Normandy shuttle bay / training room made it even trickier. Garrus flashed back quickly on a long-ago spar with Wrex, and an accidental but fortuitous grapple approach that brought his old friend to a halt. Acting on instinct, Vakarian reached for Grunt in an echo of that move, pivoting on his hip to redirect the krogan's momentum where he wanted it to go.
He'd only managed it once or twice with Wrex, and Garrus was pleased – for the sake of his reputation, if nothing else – that it worked on the younger krogan this time. He panted in satisfaction, watching Grunt crash headlong into the decking, probably leaving behind more than a few dents in the process.
"Not bad, kid, but you still need to work on your focus," he drawled cheerfully.
Grunt pulled himself to his feet slowly, his unusual blue eyes flashing with anger.
Prudently, Garrus took a few steps back to put some more room between them, and waited for the next approach. Their spars were getting more and more brutal each day, but the turian had seen how much Grunt needed this outlet to control his growing rage. They needed to get him to Tuchanka; daily sparring was a stopgap measure at best.
"You'll pay for that, turian," Grunt snarled, shifting his weight forward in preparation for the leap that would signal them back into combat. Garrus tensed in anticipation.
"Not today, he won't," snapped a third voice; a voice familiar enough to both their combat instincts to freeze turian and krogan into instant stillness.
Garrus turned his head slowly towards the Commander as she strode towards the far end of the shuttle bay which had been designated a training area by the crew. He kept a cautious eye on the restless krogan, having learnt too well not to look away once Grunt's blood was up.
"Shepard," he greeted, feeling his pulse trip into overdrive as he watched her approach. He hadn't seen her since their conversation in the main battery and he didn't have a clue where they really stood right now, but damn it was good to see her again. Even if she didn't look particularly happy with his current activity.
"I thought you two had stopped these practice sessions," Shepard commented, glancing between them.
Vakarian relaxed slightly. "It's under control, Shepard. Grunt needs to blow off some steam, and we always stop at first blood."
He saw her eyes flash sharply over his face, and her lips compressed into a straight, unhappy line. When she lifted a hand to his brow plates, Garrus had to fight his instincts to keep from flinching in surprise.
"I'd say today's session is over then," Commander Shepard stated firmly, pulling her hand back enough for him to see the blue dots of his blood speckling it. Garrus studied the light trace of blood in surprise; he vaguely remembered a knock to the head but hadn't realized he'd hit hard enough to break the skin. Of course, Grunt would have seen it immediately.
When he glanced over, the krogan shifted guiltily and wouldn't meet his eyes.
"It's barely bleeding at all," Grunt complained.
Shepard was frowning. "Ease down, Grunt. Once we take on supplies, we're heading straight for Tuchanka. You can last that long without beating up my best sniper," the Commander advised calmly. "No more training sessions, and that's on my order. Go get some rest. We'll be there before you know it."
We weren't scheduled to hit Tuchanka until after Omega. What happened?
Garrus threw a puzzled look in her direction, but her focus was on the wayward krogan. He watched her stare him down, as she'd stared Wrex down more than once; pitting the indomitable force of her own willpower against the strength and ferocity of an angry krogan. It was more than most humans would dare. In less time than he expected, the tank-born krogan grunted and dropped his gaze.
"We'd better be," Grunt muttered and shoved his way between them, heading for the door.
Shepard didn't relax, even after the shuttle bay door clanged to an echoing close behind the restless krogan. Instead, she was putting out even stronger signs of agitation, clearly visible under his visors enhanced vision. It was enough that Garrus took a concerned step closer.
"Shepard, it really was under control," Garrus promised in his most reassuring voice.
To his surprise, she chuckled quietly. "As much as a fight with a krogan can be? I was watching for a while before I stepped in. You've got some moves on you, Vakarian. I'll give you that much."
"So why the change in plans?" he asked in confusion.
"He's getting worse," Shepard replied flatly. "If you have to take that kind of beating every day just to stop him from getting out of hand, I'm not waiting any longer. Once we resupply, Tuchanka is our priority."
Gauging her mood carefully, Garrus concluded that she wasn't angry. She'd seen a problem and she'd fixed it, but having made the call, she was ready to move on. It was so very Shepard that it made him smirk, crossing his arms as he studied her.
"I'm no delicate flower," Vakarian reminded her in a lazy drawl. "I can take more damage than anyone on this ship, except for maybe Jack... and she's too volatile for this."
Shepard's mouth twitched the way it did when she was trying not to smile. "I'm not pitting those two against each other. I'd like to keep my ship in one piece. But that doesn't mean you have to volunteer yourself as punching bag."
He shrugged easily. "Shepard... I don't mind. Grunt needs the adrenaline release to keep himself under control."
For the first time in a long time, he couldn't read her expression. It was still amused, but her eyes were tight with tension and the thin worry lines were present between her eyebrows. Garrus felt his throat tighten nervously when she moved slightly closer to him.
"Maybe it's not just Grunt who needs to blow off steam," Shepard said quietly, watching him with a level of intensity that she normally only reserved for combat zones.
It was suddenly last night all over again. His felt his heart clench in his chest and couldn't work out if it was nerves or desperate, excited hope. She didn't sound like she was joking. She looked as serious and intent as she had in the main battery.
Mandibles pressed nervously against his cheeks, Garrus eyed her carefully. "So your offer is still on the table, then?"
"Actually, that's why I came down here looking for you." Shepard also looked uncharacteristically hesitant, shifting her weight to her back foot. "To see if you'd had time to think it over."
Think it over? Hell, he hadn't gotten more than an hour or two of sleep last night, because he couldn't stop thinking about it. Garrus cleared his throat, and tried to pull his brain together. All she'd offered last night was what amounted to casual sex. There was no way he was going to turn that down, but he couldn't let himself read anything more into it.
"Yeah. I've been thinking about what we talked about... Blowing off steam, easing tension. I've never considered cross-species intercourse. And damn, saying it that way doesn't help," he complained. "Now I feel dirty and clinical."
Shepard snickered. "This is new to me too, big guy," she reminded him with a rueful grin.
He thought about Alenko, and then flashed back to the conversation with Jacob in this very shuttle bay a few weeks back. Human men seemed to find Shepard particularly attractive. She could find a partner from her own species without any difficulty.
So why me? he wondered wistfully. If all she wanted was something recreational and easy...
"Are we crazy to even be thinking about this?" he asked her softly. "I'm not..." Not human. Garrus sighed. "Look, Shepard. I know you can find something a little... closer to home."
I don't even know what your species like during sex. What if I do something that freaks you out? What if it's not even possible? What if this ruins everything?
Her eyes flashed. "I don't want something closer to home," Shepard informed him bluntly. She edged in closer; close enough that he could feel the warmth of her body. Close enough to see each of the individual eyelashes that framed her intense gaze. "I want you. I want someone I can trust."
There it was. The truth of their friendship, the single underpinning core of why she mattered so damn much to him. Garrus had family, he'd had friends. But he had never trusted any of them the way he did Shepard, because they had never been what Shepard was to him. She had given him a chance to take down Saren when C-Sec denied him, she'd helped find Dr Saleon. Shepard had come when he'd thought his life was about to end in some trash-heap apartment on Omega, surrounded by the corpses of his team. She'd been there, the warm voice of reason in his ear, talking him down from a very bad idea as he watched Sidonis in his scope.
Shepard was the one person in the entire damn galaxy that he trusted unconditionally, and here she was, standing before him, saying she felt the same in return.
Trust, he could work with. Garrus felt a surge of sudden confidence that maybe this could work.
"I... can do that. I'll find some music... and do some research to figure out how this thing should work. It'll either be a night to treasure, or a horrible interspecies awkwardness thing," he promised her enthusiastically.
Wait, that's not exactly encouraging.
Garrus tried again. "In which case, fighting the Collectors will be a welcome distraction. So, you know, a win either way."
She moved in closer and his vision hazed out at the edges again. Her pale, naked human hand reached up to touch his arm, higher than was her custom, curling delicate fingers around his upper arm. Garrus swallowed and met her eyes.
"You know, Garrus, if you're not comfortable with this, it's okay," she said softly. Shepard's fingers squeezed lightly around his arm, and he felt it even through the armor. "Like I said before... I'm not trying to pressure you."
"Shepard, you're about the only friend I've got left in his screwed-up galaxy," he told her with brutal honesty. "I'm not going to pretend I've got a fetish for humans... but this isn't about that. This is about us. You don't ever have to worry about making me uncomfortable. Nervous, yes... but never uncomfortable."
She leaned back slightly, pulling her hand back and giving him an assessing once-over. Of course, it was like Shepard to make him the offer of a lifetime, and fret that she was pushing him into something. But he was relieved to see her nod in acceptance, taking him at his word now just as she did in combat. If he said he was fine, he was fine.
Garrus felt his half-formed worries about ruining their friendship melt away. This was them – Shepard and Vakarian. They'd trusted one another with their lives, and that trust had been earned a thousand times over. Their friendship was too damn solid, too damn real, to be damaged by a little... interspecies experimentation.
Maybe Shepard had reached the same conclusion, because she grinned up at him cheerfully, her eyes dancing. "So when should I book the room?" she teased.
Now? Now sounds good to me.
Garrus strove for self control and common sense and all those reasonable things that told him rushing into this was a bad idea. Even now, the mission came first – for both of them. Neither of them would risk that. Besides, at this very moment in time, he wouldn't have a clue what to do.
"I'd wait, if you're okay with it. Disrupt the crew as little as possible... and take that last chance to find some calm just before the storm." He summoned up the most charismatic smirk he could manage, in hopes it would cover his nervousness. "You know me. I always like to savour the last shot before popping the heat sink."
When her pleased smile stretched wider into that familiar smirk, Vakarian cringed belatedly.
"Wait. That metaphor just went somewhere horrible."
The smirk grew into laughter. "For what it's worth, I agree with you. I don't know how this will work, but I figure if we take our time, we can work it out. After all, we took out Sovereign. Surely a little interspecies logistics won't be too much for us?"
There was something almost wistful in her expression. It was so unlike Shepard, that he reached out blindly, grabbing gently for her hand. Garrus discovered quickly that holding hands with a human was not like holding hands with a turian. She had too many fingers, or he had not enough. Either way, there was a moment of awkwardness before Shepard wrapped all of her fingers around his end digit.
Instantly he closed his hand around hers, his other two fingers wrapping protectively over her hand, and holding it tightly. Garrus swallowed a sudden lump in his throat and looked from their joined hands to her eyes.
"I think we can figure it out," he drawled in agreement, despite the fact that human romance was a complete blank to him. Garrus knew he had a lot of self-educating to do on the topic. Maybe Joker could help him out? He sure as hell couldn't ask Jacob about this.
Shepard grinned up at him. "You know, Vakarian, if I had more time right now, I'd challenge you to a spar so I can see just how impressive your reach really is," she teased him cheerfully. "But I'm meeting Miranda upstairs in five to go over our supply needs."
For a single instant, his mind fixed on the image of that long-ago spar with the scout, with Shepard superimposed on the scene. He stared blankly into her merciless grin, watching it grow wider. Exhaling sharply, Garrus realized his own impulses didn't give a damn that he had no clue about how humans worked.
"You won't be disappointed," he replied, struggling to keep his voice level. If she were turian, the sub-harmonics would be a dead giveaway as to how on edge he was just then. If they kept this up, he would end up babbling again and just embarrass himself. Pulling his brain out of his libido, Garrus changed the topic deliberately. "Where's the resupply station?"
"Some place called Invictus. Mostly a turian colony, I hear," Shepard told him, the grin still lingering in the corners of her mouth.
The name rang a few bells, and helped distract him from the mental images plaguing him. "I remember there being a mining consortium there. If we can pick up enough eezo, we could look into that thrusters mod Samara recommended for the Normandy's propulsion drive," Garrus suggested.
With business on the table, Shepard's teasing grin turned serious and she nodded encouragingly. "Good idea. Look into it, will you? Jacob says we're running low across the board, and he's got a few weapons mod projects that he can't start on until we restock."
"I'll take care of it," Vakarian assured her easily. His heart beat was returning to something close to normal, now that they were safely talking shop, and he was relieved they could make the switch back so easily.
"I'll catch you later, big guy."
He watched her go, because he couldn't not. Garrus studied her strange, lithe human body in a way that he had never allowed himself to before. Whatever was happening between them, he figured it gave him leeway to do a little curious looking. In doing so, he realized something very quickly.
Shepard lacked the fine-boned hips and sweeping fringe that had typically attracted him to females before. She was human-soft, unplated and alien, but as he watched the fascinating way her body moved, he couldn't deny it.
Vakarian liked what he saw.