A/N - This one has not been proof-read, so any and all errors are my own! It's been so long since I updated (for which I blame a boy, a job, and Halloween) that I didn't want to wait any longer to get something out. Thank you to all who have been patiently waiting for an update, and thank you for all the reviews, favorites and follows - I hope you enjoy :)


Shepard gave Massani a sharp once over and nodded. "Vakarian, take him back to the Normandy and get him set up. I've got to pick up a few things while we're here."

The turian swivelled to face her instantly, eyes narrowed in surprise. "You sure that's -"

"I've got Tali. I'll be fine."

She cut him off, because she didn't want to have to reprimand him in front of the others. He knew better than to ask that kind of question. It was just being back on Omega that made him twitchy. Hell, she couldn't really blame him for that. Walking into the den of the people with a hit out on you would make anyone nervous. Even if right now, with his clean new armor gleaming dully under the low light of Omega's docks, he looked more like a member of the Turian Hierarchy than the vigilante sniper that had plagued three merc groups into banding together.

Garrus hesitated, flicked a quick look over at Tali, and nodded. "See you when you get back, Commander."

Shepard watched him lead their new crew member through the airlock, and felt the weight of Tali's scrutiny settle on her.

"More shopping, Commander?" the quarian asked ironically.

Shepard settled her pistol back onto its holster and smiled grimly. "Not quite. We have some loose ends to tidy up."


Afterlife was as noisy, filthy and chaotic as ever. Barely-dressed asari writhed against poles and danced on tables, and if Shepard knew anything about this place, it was that most of them were Aria's spies and soldiers. Probably all of them.

She bee-lined past the bar, heading straight for the back office Aria used. Grizz stopped her at the foot of the stairs, eying her weapons pointedly.

"She'll want to hear what I have to say. Trust me on this. And we're not going in there unarmed," Shepard promised, her expression determined.

Behind her, Tali shifted and drew the guards attention. "Unless you think your guards can't handle us?"

Shepard had to bite the inside of her lip to keep from smirking. Grizz growled something unintelligible into his radio, waited a moment, then nodded to them.

"You can go up."

Shepard didn't bother with a reply; she was already climbing the stairs at a determined pace. There were other guards inside Aria's office, and asari dancers wrapped themselves around poles outside the windows, conveniently positioned so that one good biotic blast would shatter the glass and take out anyone threatening their 'queen.'

"Commander Shepard."

The queen herself lounged languidly along a couch that stretched the entire back wall of this eyrie. Aria's gaze dragged lazily across them both but Shepard was well aware of the cold, ruthless mind that lay behind those eyes; a mind that took insignificant details and disconnected snatches of rumour and wove them together into an intelligence network significant enough to rule this place for centuries.

"To what do I owe the honor?" Aria purred, gesturing towards an empty seat near her.

Shepard gave Tali the 'hold' sign they used in combat - a mere flick of fingers - and moved past the bristling guards to take the seat.

"Always a pleasure to see you again, Aria." She pulled out her most charming smile and saw the asari grimace.

"Cut the crap, Shepard. Last time you were on Omega, you wiped out three merc bands and gate crashed a quarantine zone. What do you want now?"

Shepard settled back into the seat. Leather. Real leather. She didn't want to picture what it might have come from. "I want to trade."

Aria's eyes widened in surprise, her mouth curling in wicked delight. "What do you have on offer?"

This was where it got tricky. Shepard could pull out the charm and sweet talk people into doing what she wanted them to - especially when she had a gun to back up her requests. But Aria had been making deals on Omega before the Commander's great-grandparents had been born. It might have been humbling to another person. Shepard just took it as a challenge.

"I came across some information you might be interested in. It concerns a threat to your throne." With her smile firmly in place, Shepard fished out the datapad they'd stumbled across on their last visit. "This was on one of the mercs trying to take out Archangel. They're coming for you next."

She had no concerns that the mercs had already made their move, since she and her team had decimated all three groups on their last visit. But the intel was still valid, and she knew it. A plan to take out Omega's queen would have been issued from the top of the merc group, not whatever local chapter she and her squad had obliterated. Shepard was betting that the recent alliance between mercenary groups would make even a small challenge to Omega's rule a danger that the asari couldn't ignore.

Aria extended her hand, but only smirked when Shepard held the file out of reach. Omega's queen regarded her thoughtfully. "What do you want in return?"

Shepard exhaled carefully. "Amnesty for Archangel."

She hadn't told Tali what they were doing here, and out of the corner of her eyes, she saw the girl stiffen in surprise. Aria caught it too, turning to study the quarian briefly before settling her focus back on Shepard. She was smiling.

"I'd heard Archangel made it out. So you got to him before Jaroth blew his brains out. I'm impressed." The asari curled her feet up onto the couch beside her, looking as smug as a cat.

"He's not going to cause any more trouble on Omega for you," Shepard said, deliberately ignoring the knowing look the asari was bestowing on her. There was no way she could know about her and Garrus. None. "All I want is for you to get the mercs to back off. He's not going after them anymore." Shepard paused to review that statement. "Not here," she amended.

Aria seemed to be considering it. "Here is all I can offer. What the mercs do beyond Omega is outside of my control."

The smooth polish of that statement had Shepard questioning its validity. She wouldn't be surprised at all to find that Aria was building her own little pirate empire out here, uniting the merc groups into a cohesive fleet to defend and expand her territory. "Let's say I believe that. Omega is all I want. You put out the word that Archangel isn't to be touched here, and I'll hand over my intel."

It wasn't a big deal where Aria was concerned. She would probably catch the attack against her before it got any real momentum, but then Shepard wasn't asking for anything major in return. Just assurance that they could all avoid one more dead body on the deck. It kept peace in her little empire, and she'd stay on the good side of a Spectre. There were fringe benefits to this deal and Shepard watched the asari review them in the space of a heartbeat.

Aria smiled. "We have a deal. Give your intel to Grizz on the way out. The locals will know Archangel is off limits before you get back to your ship."

Shepard didn't relax, but she did stand up. Even with Tali to watch her back, facing up against Aria was always a giant question mark. You never knew which way she'd go. "Pleasure doing business with you, Aria. I'll see myself out."

It was Aria, and of course she couldn't let Shepard leave without a parting shot. "You should find a nice young man to keep you warm in the meantime. You look like you need to loosen up a little," Aria drawled suggestively.

Shepard paused for only a moment, before she kept walking. Tali didn't say anything, but Shepard could hear Aria's low, deliberate laughter as they descended the stairs leading to her eyrie.

The guards didn't take their eyes off her until she had handed over the data file and passed back into the main floor of the club. Shepard caught more than one asari twisting and climbing around her pole to keep an eye on her and Tali until they reached the main entrance.

When they reached the long, flame-lined corridor that led out, Tali finally spoke up. "Next time you try something like that, can you give me a heads up? Please?"

The poor girl sounded strained and Shepard chuckled. "Relax, Tali. I had faith in your shotgun."

She heard the quarian sigh as they exited Afterlife. "So what was that all about anyway? It's not like we're going to be spending much time on Omega."

Passing the long queue of people waiting to get into Afterlife, they headed for the docks. "Maybe not," Shepard admitted honestly. "But at least this is one less thing for Garrus to worry about. And no matter what she says, Aria's word carries weight all over the Terminus systems. Everyone has to trade here and nobody wants to piss her off."

"I've heard of her rule," Tali replied drily. "So this was all for Garrus, huh?"

Shepard pulled up and threw her a warning look. She knew where Tali was going with this. The Normandy was a small ship with too many gossips. But it wasn't something Shepard wanted to talk about - not yet, not even with Tali.

The quarian girl tilted her head and it was too easy to picture a smile behind that amethyst face plate. "I'm happy for you, Shepard," was all she said.

Much as she had with Aria, Shepard paused, considered her options, and again decided silence was the best response. But as they navigated their way through the crowded docks towards the Normandy's airlock, she could feel the quarian's quiet delight radiating out from her.


Joker started in on her as soon as she hit the Normandy's airlock.

"Hey Shepard. Another hard-ass on board, huh? That's great, because I really need more stink-eye coming my way."

The Commander closed her eyes and fought not to sigh. When she opened them, she saw Tali studying her questioningly but waved the girl away. She could deal with Joker without backup.

As the quarian obediently headed off, Shepard stepped fully into the cockpit and levelled her attention on the pilot. "What's the problem? He's only been on board half an hour."

Joker laughed sharply. "He's a lunatic, Commander. The guy's already suggesting we plant explosives in the airlock so we can blow it in case we're boarded. Nobody's blowing up my ship, and they're damned sure not putting grenades that close to me!"

She felt her mouth quirk against a grin. "Sure he wasn't just messing with you?"

"Mr Moreau is unfortunately correct, Shepard," EDI spoke up. "Our new guest has taken lodging in the Starboard Cargo Area and I regret to advise that my interior optics are no longer functional in that area. Nearby sensors have detected traces of microfilament explosive material."

Shepard's eyes widened in alarm, her amusement vanishing sharply. "He's setting up proximity defences in the trash compactor?!" she asked faintly.

What the hell did I just bring on board my ship?

Joker's smirk widened. "This is what I'm sayin' Commander. He's worse than Jack. At least all she does is pick sexy catfights and swear a lot."

Briefly, Shepard regretted not taking longer to speak with Massani before sending him back to the ship. But she'd been eager to get away from Omega, and Garrus should have been able to handle the guy. Unless Garrus had been distracted by their new guest's obsession with security. She fought the urge to groan in dismay at that likelihood, and held up a hand at Joker. "Fine. It's fine, I'll deal with it. EDI, I can't guarantee you'll get visual back in that room, but nobody's going to blow up bits of you."

The AI almost sounded relieved. "I appreciate that, Shepard."

"And can we agree to not bring anymore crazy people onto the ship? Please?" Joker asked plaintively. "I think we reached our quota already."

"Just get us out of here, Joker," Shepard answered on a weary sigh, turning her back and heading towards CIC. She pretended not to hear the cranky muttering coming from the cockpit behind her, instead lifting a hand to her ear to open an internal line to Garrus. "Vakarian, why is our new friend laying explosives on my ship?"

There was a startled silence that lasted until Shepard crossed through CIC and stepped into the lift. Then she heard Garrus clear his throat sharply. "Sorry, Shepard. I authorised some basic security, I didn't realize he'd take it that far." There was a second pause, and Garrus added admiringly, "didn't take him long. I only left him ten minutes ago."

Leaning back against the lift as the doors closed, Shepard pinched the bridge of her nose. "Apparently that was long enough."

Garrus sounded abashed. "I'll deal with it. Miranda asked you to stop by her office once you got back."

That caught her attention. While her instincts warned her it was important to establish her own authority over a loose cannon like Massani now, it was just as important for Vakarian to assert his own position in the chain of command. She would stop by the damn trash compactor after she spoke with Miranda. It was unlikely the woman had any new intel on the IFF transmitter; she wouldn't risk talking about that where the Cerberus bugs in her cabin would overhear.

"Fine. Meet me in Miranda's office when you're done. And no explosives, Garrus," she emphasised, before clicking off the line.

Movement to her right, a flickering where there had been nothing a moment earlier, alerted her. Shepard spun and drew her weapon in one sharp movement, only to find herself staring at a decloaked Kasumi.

"Easy, Shep. You could take a girls eye out with that thing," the thief purred coyly.

"Dammit, Kasumi. Didn't we talk about you wearing a bell around your neck?" Shepard muttered, re-holstering the Carnifex. As far as the Commander knew, only Samara and Thane had any idea when the cloaked thief was about. She'd even been able to interfere with Garrus' visor so it filtered her out, frustrating the hell out of the turian.

"Not really my style. Our new guest is settling in with a bang, hmm? Apparently he's big on privacy."

Well, this can't be good.

"Kasumi," Shepard ground out painfully. "Tell me you didn't try to sneak into his quarters already. I told you to stay out of other people's rooms."

The thief's eyes were hidden by her hood, but her mouth curved into a smile. "I never try to sneak, Shep. Trying implies the possibility of failure. Besides," she went on defensively, "it's not exactly his room yet. He hasn't even been on board an hour."

"Leave him alone, Kasumi. I've just sorted out Jack and Miranda, I don't need more crew at each other's throats," the Commander snapped.

"You're sounding a little tense there, Shep. Maybe you should take some time off. You know, go lock yourself away in the main battery with a certain turian."

First Tali, now Kasumi. Does everyone on this damn ship know?

Shepard levelled her most intimidating command stare at the unrepentant thief.

Kasumi smiled. "Or you can stop by my place for a drink sometime," she suggested as the lift stopped at the Crew Deck.

The girl gave a cheery wave and sauntered out, disappearing down the corridor leading to the Port Observation area she had claimed as her own.

Resisting the urge to sigh again, the Commander rounded the corner, bypassing the galley on her way to Miranda's cabin. It had taken her a while to stop thinking of it as 'hers,' even with the fancy penthouse digs Cerberus had pulled together for her. On every other Alliance frigate she'd served on, those quarters were reserved for the commander. She could still remember the long hours spent alone in that cabin on the original Normandy, wrestling with the new role of Spectre and what it meant for her mission to locate Saren.

Shooting a sidelong glance at the darkened doorway to the main battery, Shepard reflected ruefully that it was probably just as well she wasn't quartered so close to a certain turian.

Shaking her head, she lifted her hand to the sensor pad by Miranda's door and waited for the woman to let her in.


Leaning forward, Shepard peered intently at the data files spread precisely across Miranda's pristine desk. The Cerberus agent had clearly outlined the scenario that prompted this meeting: a lost survey ship and two MIA Cerberus scientists.

Well, we need to keep the Collectors focussed on us instead of the colonies. This is as good an excuse as any other.

Shepard looked up from the minimalist dossiers on the two missing scientists, raising an eyebrow at Lawson. "These look a little light."

That was being generous. They made the Illusive Man's dossiers on Jack and 'Archangel' look comprehensive by comparison.

Seated on the other side of the wide desk, Miranda smiled serenely back at her. "I've worked with Dr Cayce before, he's a specialist on Prothean archaeology. Not quite in the same league as your Dr T'Soni, of course, but he's a few decades behind her in experience. I know Dr O'Loy by reputation only, but they're both pure research scientists."

The implication was apparent, and Shepard considered the two dossiers dubiously. Cerberus scientists carried a bad reputation, but pure research suggested a lack of the kinds of practical experimentation they'd seen so much of on Chasca.

"Did I mention that the Rosalie was carrying an experimental planetary rover that we're also hoping to recover?" Lawson commented, adding another file to the stack. This one detailed a land vehicle; design specs, still images, and brief footage of it in action.

Picking up the file, the Commander regarded a rover as physically and operationally opposite from her old Mako as it was possible to be, while still fulfilling the same function. This one was called a Hammerhead, and it was sleek and light weight, designed more for hopping over obstacles than rolling roughshod over them.

Shepard felt her mouth twitching against a smile, and she lifted her gaze to the woman opposite her. "Trying to sweeten the deal?"

Miranda's eyes gleamed. "I've heard you like ground vehicles. Figured it couldn't hurt."

That earned a full laugh, and Shepard dropped the file back on the desk. "Fine, the timings right and so is the location. We're fully stocked and I want to get some distance between us and Omega for a while. I'll call a team briefing in an hour, and we'll get organized to go rescue your missing doctors."

With an expression of mingled gratitude and relief, Miranda nodded in acknowledgment. "Thank you, Shepard."

There was a knock at the door, drawing both their attention simultaneously. "I asked Garrus to stop by," the Commander explained.

"Of course," Miranda answered easily.

Rising to open the door, Shepard briefly wondered if her morning had made her paranoid about how the crew were interpreting her friendship - relationship - whatever - with Vakarian. But try as she might, she couldn't hear anything but matter-of-fact understanding in the Cerberus woman's tone. Shrugging it off, the Commander hit the keypad by the door and let it slide open. No matter what her crew thought, they were all professionals. For that matter, so were she and Garrus.

Finding herself suddenly face to face with over six feet of lean, sharp-boned turian, however, Shepard's heart skipped a beat in a way that didn't feel very professional. Particularly not when a vivid blue eye regarded her from behind the insightful lens of a visor readout, and she damned well knew he'd caught that.

Shepard deliberately stepped back to gesture him into the cabin. "I take it our new crew member is all settled?" she asked pointedly.

Stepping inside the cabin, Garrus flicked a nod of greeting towards Miranda. "He understands the house rules." The pronounced flanging of his voice suggested strongly that impressing those house rules on the stubborn Massani had not been an easy task. "Sorry about that. I should have dealt with it straight up."

"Don't worry about it," Shepard answered easily, leaning over to grab the specs on the Hammerhead from Miranda's desk. She offered them to him with a smile similar to the one she'd offered Aria an hour earlier. "I've found the perfect revenge. Read up on these... If we do track it down, you can oversee any repairs."

She watched him glance over the file, and fight to keep his face composed as he realized what he was looking at. Shepard was honest enough to admit to herself that she enjoyed the moment a little too much. It reminded her of that younger, less seasoned Officer Vakarian who'd so politely struggled not to vent his frustration at his Commander, each time she cheerfully brought back a badly damaged Mako for him to fix.

"Another ground vehicle, huh?" Garrus tapped the prominent logo at the top of the specs file and sighed. "One more thing to thank Cerberus for."

"It comes with a price tag," Miranda interjected with a smile, nodding towards the remaining files still scattered across her desk.

Vakarian's answering chuckle was dry. "It always does. But we do need a testing ground for Massani."

"This is a good option," Shepard agreed. "I'll fill you in on the details. Was there anything else, Miranda?"

The brunette's hesitation was brief but enough to catch her attention immediately. Miranda casually pulled out an additional file from her desk drawer, and dropped it on top of the others. "Nothing critical, just some routine issues," she replied, sliding the files into a neat pile. "Our Combat R&D department has put together a new set of armor you might like. Take a close look over it and let me know what you think."

There was too much tension in Miranda, and too much careful precision in her movements as she passed over the files with their new addition. But Shepard took them without question. "Thanks, I'll do that," she assured the woman, and thoughtfully followed her sniper out of the cabin.

"I take it this means we're about to stick our heads out and see if the Collectors are still paying attention?" Vakarian asked curiously, as they both turned automatically towards the galley and up the long ramp towards the main battery.

"Mmhmm," Shepard confirmed. "Some missing Cerberus scientists that the Illusive Man wants us to track down. Miranda vouched for them."

It was a mark of how much Lawson had earned his trust over the past weeks, that this was enough to make Garrus nod in acceptance. "Anything I should know about?"

Shepard followed him into the main battery, waiting until they were sealed inside before she answered. She watched as Garrus glanced carefully about the room, scanning for any listening devices that may have been replaced. "Nothing too strange in the mission brief, but that's not unusual."

The Illusive Man's missions always seemed straight forward, up until you were in the middle of them. Simple, straight forward missions like a prisoner exchange, collection of a krogan warlord, or investigating a derelict ship. They all ended up going sideways somehow, but the best they could do was stay alert and react to whatever developed.

Garrus snorted in amusement, touching the side of his visor briefly. "Still clean. What else did Miranda give you?"

He caught that too, huh? Well, look who's the new expert on reading human body language.

Not too long ago, the turian would have missed the subtlety of that exchange. Shepard found herself grinning a little, even as she pulled out the package of files and flicked through for the new addition.

Behind the technical specifications for the new Inferno armor, Miranda had embedded additional files. Peering at the neat lines of text and carefully labelled diagrams of a scientific report, the Commander realized that this was the intel Miranda had been chasing on the Illusive Man's claim to have found a derelict Reaper.

Moving to the terminal, Shepard lay the file flat across it. Garrus edged up behind her, his sleek form towering over her shoulder. She felt his breath ruffle her hair as they both stared at the Alliance header on what appeared to be an internal memo. The file contained supposition and theory, rather than the polished structure of a published scientific report, but it was easy to get the gist of it.

Eyes widening, Shepard read quickly through the author's detailed argument that the planet's Great Rift was the result of an ancient mass accelerator weapon, and their complex calculations attempting to backtrack to the source of the attack.

"This is from the Alliance science team," Garrus breathed in surprise. "This is what Cerberus intercepted that led them to the derelict Reaper."

"Those reports are usually stored on a secure database," the Commander answered carefully.

She felt Garrus nudge her shoulder lightly in rebuke. "You really think Cerberus can't get through the kind of security used by archaeologists?" He paused briefly. "I mean, archaeologists who aren't Liara."

Shepard chuckled. "Good point. But that doesn't make this any less of a trap. The last 'derelict' vessel the Illusive Man sent us to was very much alive."

"We're pretty good at surviving traps." She could hear the dry humor under the flange of his voice and couldn't deny the truth of it. "What else did she find?"

She flicked through to the second report embedded in Miranda's intel. This one was emblazoned with the familiar Cerberus logo and filled with the precise language of a Cerberus field report. The author, a Dr Chandana, reported on the successful boarding of an ancient vessel. He appeared confident that the vessel was uninhabited and abandoned, and described their initial exploration of the ship.

At the conclusion of the Cerberus field report, Miranda had included a brief note on her findings.

'Shepard, the trajectory of the weapon that caused the Great Rift on Klendagon matches the general coordinates of Chandana's team. Subsequent field reports from Dr Chandana are encrypted with the Illusive Man's personal code. I'm sorry I can't access anything further for you.'

"They found something out there. If the Illusive Man wants to keep this hidden, I'm willing to bet that ship's not abandoned," Garrus drawled thoughtfully.

Shepard exhaled. "Looks like this IFF is for real. But a Reaper ship... You were right, big guy. We aren't ready yet."

The turian's long hand pressed down against her shoulder gently. "That ship has been sitting out there for thousands of years. It will still be there in a few more weeks," he reminded her.

Turning under that light touch, she found him watching her with such calm assurance that the twisting knot of unease in her middle slowly began to relax. "We do have some work to do with our newcomers," Shepard acknowledged, considering their options.

Blue eyes gleamed down at her. "Grunt is settling down, and Dr Chakwas tells me Krios should remain medically sound for a few more months."

That matched what she'd seen in the past week since their return from Tuchanka. The young krogan had lost the bulk of his uncontrolled aggression. He remained belligerent, defiant and impulsive, of course, but that was what Shepard expected from a young krogan. At least there had been no more damaging spars between him and Garrus.

"Samara's oath is a pretty good guarantee," Shepard went on, tilting her head to watch him. "But I'm not sure about our newest recruit."

His hand – alien but somehow so familiar – shifted unexpectedly and slid carefully down her arm. "Cerberus has already paid Massani," Garrus pointed out. "He has a reputation for being loyal to his pay check."

Shepard found herself more distracted by that innocent touch than she should be. But it was the first time Garrus had made any move to initiate something less-than-professional between them. Definitely something she wanted to encourage.

"He also has a reputation for blowing things up," she reminded him dryly, pressing her palms flat against the unmarred plating of his new armor. It was still surreal to see him in anything other than the old broken set of armor, like a pleasant surprise anytime she looked at him.

His answering chuckle vibrated through his chest, under her hands. "Massani seems the sort that has to push. Like Jack. When the time comes, everything I know about him says he'll do what he's paid to do."

Despite the confidence in his voice, she could see the nervousness in him. When he curled his other hand against her hip, his touch was careful and light and strangely familiar. It was the same eager but uncertain manner he'd started to use whenever things verged into this new territory.

Really, it was ridiculous how much she liked seeing him like this. The suave, confident Archangel suddenly so unsure of himself.

"Fine," she said, not fighting the grin that tugged at her mouth. "But you can explain it to Joker if he damages the ship."

His mandibles tilted up in response. "Deal. Now... Can you tell me what you needed Tali for today?"

It was a careful question, but one she'd been expecting. Shepard met his gaze straight on and answered honestly. "I needed backup when I went to Afterlife."

She felt the tension in his body immediately, even through the armor. Garrus' mandibles slanted downward in that way she recognized as concern. "Shepard," he breathed, staring down at her. "What-"

"We didn't run into any trouble," she reassured him. "Aria and I traded. Our intel on the Suns plan to move against her, in exchange for her calling off the head hunters out for your blood."

So maybe she was a little smug about that. It had gone more smoothly than she'd expected, and Shepard had to admit she was relieved. The last thing they needed on this mission was for her right hand man to be running around with a bullseye on his back.

But if anything, Vakarian looked even more alarmed. "You made a deal with Aria?" he asked faintly, the flanging element to his voice suddenly very pronounced. "Shepard, three hundred year old krogans come out worse in deals with Aria. This wasn't worth it."

His concern made her touch his face lightly, running bare fingers along the injured mandible. "Relax, big guy. It's done, and now we don't have to worry about every merc in the Terminus systems trying to take a shot at you."

He wanted to argue, she could see it in his eyes. Garrus had probably seen any number of deals made with Aria go south during his time on Omega. Shepard watched him silently wrestle with it, vivid blue eyes watching her fiercely.

"You really are crazy, you know," he said eventually, but his low-pitched voice was admiring.

"So I've heard," Shepard answered wryly. She felt both his hands settle back against her hips and let him draw her in closer. "I told you we're a team. I've got your back."

Always.

She felt more than saw him tilt his head downwards, his forehead resting lightly against hers. Shepard closed her eyes and breathed in the scent of him. He smelled of gun oil and new armor, and under that the familiar turian scent. Nothing had changed with the mission, or what they were facing. There were still monsters out there to be fought, and ancient aliens to be defeated. But standing there, enjoying the closeness of him, Shepard decided that even a Spectre was allowed to enjoy a bit of happiness every now and then. Or what the hell were they fighting for?

Garrus exhaled softly, his forehead pressed tight against hers. "Thank you, Shepard."

She smiled and felt his mandibles shift in an echo of it.

"Anytime, Vakarian."