Garrus Vakarian always thought himself an old hand when it came to reading human faces.

For a turian, human faces were tricky. They were too soft, too malleable, and made with too many muscles to shift themselves in hundreds of directions, leaving even their obvious emotions communicated in imperceptible flinches and flickers. It didn't help that humans communicated more by their faces than even their spoken language - something exotic to him, his kind. Turian faces don't reveal much of anything, even to other turians. His people adopted a culture of strict honesty to level the gap.

C-Sec work only gave him the briefest of introductions into human communication, where he quickly found that his unparalleled skills in interrogation turned crude and laughable when it came to human lie detection. Their faces eluded him. Soon enough he just lost any patience he had for negotiating with the unreadable, pliable faces of enemies, and simply put bullets in them instead. Human faces were bendy, but at least the laws were not.

But then he'd worked, fought, and saved the galaxy beside one of the most direct, forthright, and sincere human beings he'd ever known. Jane Shepard singlehandedly taught him his entire understanding of human faces.

And now she was making him doubt it.

She came back from the destroyed Bahak system, her human face unlined and unchanged, looking the same woman of two days ago. Two days ago, when she'd spent most the day helping engineering with the fuel canister loaders (grunt work for a starship commander), when she'd mingled with the crew on the lower decks and drank a couple ensigns under the table, when she'd snuck up to gunnery with some dextro ale and, against his will, kept him company through his calibrations, telling him old Alliance recruit stories until her laughter made her human eyes do that thing where they water, and then, at one point, her soft human wrist had accidentally brushed his-

Two days ago, when she'd abruptly and deliberately took the shuttle and left her crew, her ship, and her mission behind with no orders other than to leave XO Lawson in command.

But now she was back, and he watched her through the open glass paneling of the med bay, as she sat and smiled and even rubbed the back of her neck and laughed through Admiral Hackett's debriefing. Garrus had heard brief reports of the mission: Shepard went off to Aratoht, and returned two days, one destroyed star system, and three hundred thousand dead batarians later.

From the darker corner of the crew deck, skulking in the ship's kitchen, Garrus surveyed the exchange, wishing his left arm for the ability to read human lips. But his translator couldn't even begin to parse such a thing, and even then, part of him wasn't sure if he even wanted to know what they were discussing. Other than the obvious: she was still doing dog runs for the Alliance. Why would she keep that a secret from everyone?

From him?

His clawed hands tapped against the table, then slowly clenched in.

Later on, Gardner would implore whatever in the good God hell put eight-inch rivets in his cutting board.

# # #

He spent two days in a dizzy, paralyzing worry. Where did she go? Why did she leave them? Was she coming back?

Was she even alive?

Then, out of nowhere, Joker relayed a message in from Shepard, her frequency frayed and staticy, but frantic. She was in the Bahak system. She was riding a runaway Alliance research station into a collision with a Mass Effect Relay.

The bay doors slid shut, and the commander had burst out of airlock, her armour still steaming and glistening with frozen hydrogen. Garrus had been one of the first to receive her, standing at attention on the command deck ever since the Normandy ricocheted off the asteroid. He had stepped toward her, reaching out, but she brushed him off without a glance, skidding to Joker's chair as she wildly ripped off her helmet. Her face was lit by the blinding light of the approaching relay. She jostled as the ship was ripped and careened by the gravity from the asteroid closing after them. "Get the hell OUT of here, Joker!" she screamed, before the familiar pull of unseen force ripped them all away.

The Normandy settled into the safety of the Sol system, the kuiper belt spreading in a veritable eternity of frost and rock past the cockpit's windows. No explosions. No collisions. Just dark and endless space.

Jane let out the breath that she'd been holding for two days.

Joker had wasted no time to jerk around in his chair. "Shepard, what the h-"

"Later," she interrupted, sharp and final. And without a glance, an explanation, or even a thank-you for her pilot's rescue, Shepard turned and left. "I'll be in my quarters."

She brushed past Garrus a second time, her eyes held straight forward, the look on her face like he wasn't even there.

He tried to call after her, "Shepard -"

"I said later."

# # #

Soon enough, Shepard assembled her entire team in the war room, and gave her point-black, factual report of the mission in a tone of voice that sounded like she was reading stereo instructions. Alliance mission to Aratoht. Rescue of Dr. Kenson. Reaper indoctrination. Project Base collision into Mass Effect. Reaper invasion thwarted. Star system gone. Relay gone. Batarians gone. Mission successful. Judiciary inquest imminent.

Everyone, including Garrus, all wore the same look of shock. Commander Shepard just looked tired.

Miranda Lawson was so outraged that she put her biotics straight through a titanium desk, cleaving the furniture into two twisted halves. The woman ranted and raved, cursing the Alliance up and down the hulls of the Normandy and spitting words that even made Massani's brows lift with appreciation. She called them hypocrites, cowards, and sanctimonious sons of bitches who'd sell out their heroes to a race who were no more than atavistic monsters. Fevered, she promised Shepard endlessly that it wouldn't stand, and Cerberus would fight to maintain an injunction on that ridiculous trial.

Shepard, who stood still, unmoved, unfeeling, through Lawson's entire tirade, said that it shouldn't be necessary. She sounded like she didn't even notice, or worse, even care. Not about the mass deaths of batarians, not about an impending planetary inquest, nothing.

The other Cerberus operative, Taylor, didn't seem to share Miranda's ire. But it was for that reason that Garrus couldn't help but respect the man. He had a formal nature and a cool temperament, traits that were rare in human beings and, in another life, would have made him one hell of a turian. Jacob demonstrated his infinite patience even now, refusing to overstep his rank to over Shepard any advice, but to evenly remark that the crew was fit to take this development as it'd come.

The meeting finished on that note, Shepard out the door before anyone could think to ask any last-minute questions.

In the ensuing days, it bothered Garrus how quickly things went back to status quo. Past her official crew debriefing, Shepard made no noise to confirm that the mission would ever be discussed again, and anyone who brought it up was swiftly and sternly rebuffed.

Not that it stopped the crew from gossiping about it out of Shepard's earshot, all wondering what happened in those hours before the Bahak system vaporized into nothing. Mordin approved emphatically with Shepard's actions to bar off a Reaper invasion, remarking that although the loss of life was always a shame, sometimes the gains had to be weighed empirically. Neither the mercenary nor the krogan seemed to particularly care.

But it was Tali's response that stood out the most to Garrus; poor little Tali, who looked all the more guarded and uncertain, kept on a perpetual defence in the confines of a Cerberus ship. Even behind her faceless mask, he could see the devotion she held to Shepard; see the mental pedestal where that woman was jealously set. He could see it because he'd done the same. Part of him was still doing the same. Now the quarian looked all the more unsure, and he watched her trying to reconcile the destroyed system and the mass deaths against her ideal of Jane Shepard, emotionally equating batarian losses to the suffering of her own people. In the war room, in the mess hall, down in docking, he'd catch Tali's quiet glances turned Shepard's way, distant and pleading, and every single one of them pulled on his heart.

Probably because he was asking the same question:


# # #

After several days of radio silence, Shepard had shown up in the main battery just as she did before, that unchanged smile haunting her human mouth. Her body language was gentled and relaxed, her temperature nominal, heartbeat steady, and her pulse smooth and slow. He registered it only though the readout on his visor; he didn't turn to look at her.

Jane seemed unhindered by that. "Hey, Garrus," her voice rose at his turned back in its customary warm, if somewhat apologetic greeting. "Got a moment?"

Garrus's talons flexed against the controls. He always found her presence a welcome, soothing, even when he found himself buried cowl-deep in equations and calibrations. But now everything about her was grating. Even her smell was putting him off. He couldn't even dull the sharp edge in his voice when he replied, "What do you need?"

He could sense a fleeting pause about her body language - good, maybe she'll get the message and leave - but Shepard, either oblivious or simply deciding to ignore him, invited herself to that same panel where she'd sit when she kept him company. After so many days of ignoring his presence entirely, she wasn't going anywhere. Already Garrus felt his mood curdling like spoiled Palaven brawkaillic stew; he didn't want to talk. He didn't want to stand there and force pleasantries with her.

"I've set the Normandy on a course back to the Citadel. I decided it'd be best to give everyone a day of shore leave, and get back our bearings before we proceed on mission." Jane rubbed at the back of her neck, absently pulling her fingers through the ends of her dark hair. "I need to pick up some supplies, myself. Maybe even cruise the marketplaces a little... I was wondering if you wanted to join me."

Garrus already knew his answer. "I can't, Shepard. I'm already behind on calibrating the installation of the Thanix."

But she didn't leave it at that. "Come on, Vakarian," she pressed, with a transparent smile in her voice. "Even you need a break. I'll only accept the calibrations excuse for so long. How about this: if you come along, I promise that I'll find you some dextro ramen and-"

It was the last straw.

He couldn't take another second of it. Not another second of her smiles, her laughs, her teasing, her lackadaisical return to normal when there were three hundred thousand batarians dead by her hands. She was rubbing it in his face; how she's allowed to invest herself in secrets, put her old Alliance comrades before their mission, spit on his trust, and act so damned unaffected about it all.

Human beings usually can't parse Turian faces worth a shit, but Garrus made sure she read his. Patience snapped, he tore his claws off the controls and turned on her, fixing her stunned, silenced face with his predator eyes. Her human lips were still half-parted, left open, stopped mid-sentence by the weight of his stare.

He reiterated very, very slowly, "I'm not going anywhere with you, Shepard."

The hand that was rubbing the back of her neck paused, and then fell away, dropping back to her lap. She met his eyes a moment, and even his skill in reading her face was cast in doubt for a split second, her stunned expression gone unreadable. Then she smiled again, still in her same, warm way, and pushed herself back to her feet. "Sorry to bug you, Garrus."

The door slid shut behind her. Garrus waited half a minute, let go the breath he was holding, and then put his fist in the turret controls.

# # #

He didn't leave the main battery until EDI announced Normandy's landing on the Citadel, and his keen ears could hear most of the crew packing up and going off-ship. He wasn't in any sort of a mood for humanity. His patience for the entire race was at a fever pitch. The crew deck was already dark when he eventually wrapped up work, the lights dimmed and the steely deck walls gleaming chitin-black. The Normandy's armoured shell echoed with each of his strides, and Garrus felt a sudden, aching nostalgia for turian ships, with their natural noise dampeners that were designed into the decks: necessary when your entire crew were loud, scratchy, walking battlements.

Those on board who stayed behind seemed to avoid him on purpose, even more so than the usual xenophobia accustomed aboard a Cerberus ship. They had good reason to. Garrus was on a warpath, and one wrong comment, even one too-long and disapproving look, and he was ready to happily confirm every human misconception of turians. He hadn't felt this pissed off, this betrayed since he found Sidonis's flight records off Omega while his dead team's blood dried on his armour.

Sidonis. The memory made Garrus punch the controls to his door on his quarters a little harder than necessary. Shepard went into such a fevered little speech when he was ready to turn his gun on the traitor. He was possessed by the rage of his fallen men, men who had given their lives to his crusade, and he was ready to anoint their memory with the split-melon sound Sidonis's head would have made by his rifle.

But then Shepard wouldn't step out of the way, and then managed to convince him that it was wrong. She had the audacity to lecture him about murder, murdering one man, one insignificant turian traitor and murderer, preaching on about his wrong path and how he's changed... only for her to wipe out a star system and make jokes about Citadel food. How could she be so unaffected? How could she accuse him of changing? How did she become so hypocritical?

If he's changed, she's changed too. And into someone he didn't think he could respect.

Alone in the safety of his quarters, Garrus paced its perimeter, desperate to burn off his extra energy. He felt keyed up and wild. This would be the signal to call for a sparring match if he were on a turian vessel, and be able to trade blows until he got his rocks off, until the blinding fury was drained out of his blood. But he was stuck on a Cerberus ship surrounded by fucking humans, humans who could not, or even refused to, understand turian decorum. The last thing his race needed was him starting fights with humans who probably sorely deserved it.

Blowing out a miserable growl, Garrus sank down to his bed, resigned to his common sense and better nature. He wouldn't be fighting anything. He'd just spend the night stewing, analyzing his thoughts, and making some very crucial decisions.

He knew he needed to decide whether he still trusted Shepard. His new, nagging doubts confused everything. He thought he knew her. He made damn sure she knew him. He even realized he'd felt something for her too, feelings he'd never conceived to bestow on a human being.

Garrus had to admit that the worst of his anger was the lingering sting of betrayal. He couldn't reconcile how she kept a directive from the Alliance under wraps like that. It's not like she was even one of their own. She had no professional responsibility to uphold, and even if she was reticent to tell Cerberus anything... why didn't she tell him? Didn't she trust him?

Aggravated, he tore off his visor, letting his head fall forward to rub roughly at the plates bordering his fringe. The turian gave his head a fierce shake, as if the simple motion could eject his disquiet. It did nothing, and he fell into a disturbed silence, feeling way too sensitized to every sharp, unhampered sound that echoed through the level of the Normandy. It was going to be a long night.

Sitting up, he stared down at the Kuwashii visor in his hands, turning over the small device until he determinedly activated the uplink. Maybe he'd have some new messages enough to distract him until he could fall asleep.

Sorting through the visor's read-out, the message folder came up empty. Not even a return letter from his sister, which was already two weeks overdue from the last time he'd written her. Mood darkening, he disinterestedly scanned the updated galactic news headlines. Maybe the media would be running some preliminary stories on what happened out in the Bahak system-

That's when a new headline shot up, catching his eyes amidst the rest:


Head tilting, Garrus surreptitiously checked the news date. It was today. It was only a matter of hours ago. She was talking to the media already? Was it about what had happened?

He paused, part of him not even sure he wanted to watch this, wanted to hear Shepard explain herself. But the thought was quickly dispelled. His curiousity winning out with a sigh, Garrus fixed the visor back to his head and activated the old broadcast.

The recording started promptly, and Garrus immediately recognized the face of the reporter on camera. Even before his work with Shepard, he knew this woman was a borderline public nuisance inside the halls of the Citadel-

# # #

"This is Khalisah al-Jilani with Westerlund News. And I have with me the famous reinstated Spectre, Commander Jane Shepard."

Commander Jane Shepard, infamous Council Spectre with her unmatched skills in perception, appeared to be caught unawares, dressed down in her civvies and attention stolen from a market console. She also appeared to be completely alone. Al-Jilani, by all purposes, must have recognized and cornered the woman while doing something as innocuous as shopping. And now Shepard looked trapped.

The camera split close-ups between the surprised, almost nervous-looking Shepard and her abrupt interviewer, while panning shots of the Citadel backdrop behind them. People had stopped, drawn by the familiar name, casting surprised and interested glances on the exchange.

"Batarian reports are circulating your involvement with the total decimation of the Bahak system. The Earth judiciary confirms them. The estimated casualties are over three hundred four thousand batarians, many of them civilian colonists and miners. Some batarian diplomats are labelling this an act of terrorism and even a failed attempt at genocide. Reports are coming in from the Alliance labelling you as the key suspect in this atrocity. Commander Shepard, allow me to simply ask the one question on everyone's mind: Why did you do this?"

Garrus could see the public rousing in the background of the report, judgment casting different shapes on the faces of humans, turians, volus, and asari milling about. The solitary krogan in attendance just appeared to look amused. Unconsciously, he recognized a couple C-Sec uniforms within the crowd. They weren't doing their jobs and dispersing it. They were part of the captive audience. Waiting for Shepard to explain herself. Explain for the Alliance. The Council. The Spectres. Waiting for her to explain, in one sentence, decades of human mistakes, generations of political bitterness, and centuries of Council inaction.

The camera turned on her face, Shepard's same, unmistakable face, the one that was trying to smile at Garrus just a few hours ago. Trying to convince him that she was the same person and that everything was all right. Trying to convince herself.

She wasn't smiling now.

Lit by the camera like an interrogation, her recording seemed to be staring straight at him, her grey eyes silently begging Garrus for help miles and miles away.

Within the image, Garrus's sharp gaze could notice the offence and hostility already brewing within the recorded crowd, and his fingers tightened into his palms. C-Sec wasn't doing their job. Shepard wasn't paying attention either. She seemed unable to look away from the camera. Why wasn't she watching her six? She was going to get herself attacked. Why wasn't anyone there to-?

Al-Jilani's sharp voice cut into Garrus's thoughts. The reporter was biting back the smile that shone transparently through her vicious eyes. This was a revenge for Shepard humiliating her on-camera in prior occasions. This was a deliberate attack. "Don't you think all those innocent and now dead batarians deserve an explanation, Commander Shepard?"

Jane just stared into the camera, paralyzed on the spot. Silent. Helpless.

And Garrus saw in her eyes what he was too angry, too offended, and too blind to notice before. Even his self-professed expert readout of human expression missed what should have been obvious. Shepard's live image looked helplessly back at him, her face pale with guilt and devastation, and her pale eyes raw and much too bright. She was affected. She was affected and hiding it. She was trying to stay strong, but she was in pain. And now she was blind-sided and cornered, left unprotected and alone... and believed herself to be a cold-hearted murderer with the entire galaxy as her witness.

Shouts began to arise from the recorded crowd. Leave it to the turians to start shouting something about humans showing their true colours. A volus seethed something about Council race favouritism. The uniformed C-Sec operatives began to remember their duties, bracing against the brewing audience, and when something was thrown at Shepard's face, she flinched, turned her head, and the camera cut out.

Garrus stared helplessly at his darkened visor.

He was such an asshole.

# # #

He had to speak to her. He needed to find her.

In a matter of seconds, Garrus had exploded out of his quarters, locking his visor in place around his head as he moved purposefully down the ship's darkened halls. Shouldering through tight corridors designed better for shorter, stockier human beings, his armoured, digitigrade feet knocked heavy echoes against the claustrophobic, concussive halls. The dim, amber lights reflected off his battered armour and the razored points of his fringe, casting his hard, plated face in ominous shadow. With that agitated scowl moving his mandibles, the turian bee-lined straight for EDI's closest console.

"Officer Vakarian," the AI's mild, toneless voice greeted him, "how may I assist you?"

"Can you tell me where Shepard is on deck?"

"She is not on board the Normandy at this time," EDI gracefully replied. "One hundred seventy-three minutes ago, Commander Shepard left instructions that she will be remaining on the Citadel overnight. She will rejoin the Normandy at oh-six hundred."

That gave Garrus pause, his entire plan falling straight on its ass. He flinched with surprise and a creeping sense of disquiet. "She's still there? Who's with her?"

"She left unaccompanied."

Shit. Gritting his teeth, Garrus tried to ignore the memory of Shepard's gentle, hopeful urgings to join her off-ship. She'd so badly tried to coax him with friendly pokes and teases, gestures he thought only assured her total and unforgivable callousness. But it wasn't what she meant at all. Was she secretly pleading with him? Why didn't he pick up on it? He turned her down on the spot.

Still, the nearly-emptied third level of the Normandy added to his confusion. Most of the crew had left to go unwind on the Citadel; why wasn't she with them? Why didn't she take anyone else as escort? Were the rest of the crew as hesitant to be alone with her? Did she just resign to go on her own? "EDI, I need you to reopen the docking bay and prepare the necessary I.D rep. I'm going off ship."

The artificial intelligence remained quiet for under two milliseconds, a time that still felt seamless to organic beings but meant a substantial pause when it came to computational sentience. "Commander Shepard did not provide coordinates as to where she is staying."

Garrus's head spun, thoughts taking him in several directions. He'll need his gun. He'll need to make a trip to C-Sec, call a few owned favours, hack a few more systems, and start his path on tracking her down. He'll also need to figure out what the hell he's going to say when he does find her. Part of him was worried that he may not even find her safe and unharmed. The fact she reported in was optimistic, unless she was persistent to hide something from all of them. Would she do that? Of course she would. He already gave her reason to believe she's all alone. "That's fine. I'll figure it out."

"Is this action within any positive correlation to the Westerlund report, Officer Vakarian?"

Stolen from his thoughts, the turian gave the console a look.

EDI continued, matter-of-factly, "Should I locate any viable information within the Citadel extranet, I will be sure to forward it to you."

Garrus's mouth twitched. He swore the AI almost sounded smug. "...Thanks."

# # #

Jane collapsed at the foot of her Citadel hotel bed, all of the accustomed military tension bleeding out of her body. What was left was a human being, a flawed one, a tired one, complete with a flask of alcohol at her side. Bending her long legs up at the knees, she leaned back against the bed, her head slung back against the mattress. Dark hair winged across her brow, and Shepard's hollowed grey eyes gazed up through their tresses and watched the ceiling. It was too damn white and ornamental. The expansive chandelier was off-putting. Detachedly, it made her realize how she'd gotten so used to the sterile, cagey enclosures of ship quarters, where touching anything would leave behind smears of fingerprints on steel. Down on the Citadel, the hotel room felt too big, too bright, and too unprotected.

But retreat to the Normandy was out of the question, no matter how safe the vessel made her feel. She was a commander, one who was on the verge of leading her crew into the belly of the beast. They were on the cusp of a suicide mission, and she couldn't promise them their lives even if they managed the impossible and took the Collector ship down. So she could at least be the strong leader they deserved.

They didn't need some scared, doubtful little girl tearing up over a couple bad decisions.

She'd stay on the Citadel overnight and leave after a good sleep. She'd be better in the morning. She'd feel more like herself again.

Or so Jane kept telling herself.

Somewhere between trying to unscrew the lid off her alcohol and stealing her first greedy drink, the tears started rolling out of her eyes, and she ignored them to streak silently down her cheeks. Jane was always a stoic crier, and whenever it had to happen, she did it quietly and without a fuss.

The alcohol bit her palate and went down like a fistful of nails, but Jane heaved a grateful sigh despite it. She just needed to get a bit drunk. That would fix it all. Then she could forget Khalisah's questions, the looks on all the faces of the people around her, and her worse thoughts, the ones that kept telling her again and again: if you had fought just a little harder, been just a bit stronger, you would've had the time to warn the colonists. You fucked up, and now they're dead.

And now she was taking dozens of people to run the Omega-Four Relay, forcing them on a death march out to God knows where, and they're going to die just the same. More lives to add to the tally. How the hell was she going to protect them? How the hell was she ever going to pull this off?

Shepard couldn't even deny the way Garrus looked at her back on the Normandy. He was the only person she had left to call a friend, the only comrade who hadn't walked out or laughed off her suicidal mission, and so badly she wanted to assure herself by him that everything was OK, unchanged, just as she left it. But he didn't want to look at her. Her only friend was disgusted. She'd lost his trust, turned into the very scum he was trying to cull in Omega, but there was no other way. She had to do what she did. If she had more time... why couldn't she have had more time?

The bottle of alcohol slipped from her fingers, as all ten of Jane's fingers crawled up to clutch wringing handfuls of her dark hair. Maybe there was another way and she didn't know it. There had to have been. She'd thought that she could do this. There was once a time when she could navigate an entire life-or-death scenario gone to hell, when she found herself trapped God knows where and shit out of luck, and she managed the impossible without a single innocent life lost. She used to know what to do. Before she died, she had all the right answers.

And now... now, she just didn't-

# # #

"Shepard, I need to talk to you."

Her hands loosening out of her hair, Jane just gazed askance at the closed door. She stared at it with the same numb hesitation she did the lens of al-Jilani's mobile camera. Even for a woman of action, she was momentarily unsure as what to do. She recognized the voice, even without the translation beckoned off of her omnitool. But that did nothing to alleviate her indecision; on the contrary, it was making it worse. Maybe she was just imagining it-

"Please. Open the door."

No imagining that. Through the haze of her mild buzz, through the bleary film of her tears, Jane wondered why Garrus Vakarian was here. She pulled up recent memories through her mental fog. He didn't want to be near her. Why would he be here? Did something happen on the Normandy? She turned off her live communication uplink except to EDI in the case of an emergency. But something could have transpired despite it. Did Garrus come to collect her? Did he come to hand her his formal resignation?

Shepard remembered her own voice, only to immediately regret using it. It sounded hollow and little as she called, "Garrus?" But she still went straight to auto-pilot, pressing one hand against the bed to stumble up to her feet. "What happened? Is it an emergency?"

"No emergency," his faceless voice confirmed from the other side of the door. "Let me in."

Shepard felt her insides twist and go cold, the revolting combination of relief and dread mixing as peacefully as acids and bases. Her stomach turned. It meant his strange visit didn't bode well. Stopping from her mechanical flight path toward the door, she pressed a hand to her temple. "Garrus... it... it's not a good time."

The door creaked against its motors, sounding as though he'd pressed his hand up against it. The weight meant he was still wearing his armour. He was silent on the other side, and for so long that Shepard began to wonder if Vakarian had just heeded her warning, picked up on the scratchy sound of her voice, and got the hell out of there. But then he spoke up, his two-toned voice still surprisingly close as it asked, "Do you trust me?"

The question made Shepard's weight fall to her heels, her eyes unable to look away. There was only one answer to that. Wordlessly, she stepped forward and hit the panel to the door. It slid open to reveal her gunnery officer, Garrus Vakarian, looking just as she'd imagined him. The hallway lights reflected dully off the metal of his armour, his plated hide, his fringe, everywhere but those two dark, shadowed points of his eyes, which were staring straight at her, fixing her with the intensity that made him such a feared sniper.

A silence fell between them, as commander and officer appeared to wait for the other to speak. Averting her eyes, Shepard caught a glimpse of herself off a band of Vakarian's armour, and her face looked way too gaunt, her eyes way too red, for this to be an effective conversation. Exhaling, she opened her mouth to break the peace, to try to stop this-

And Garrus appeared to catch on fast, too fast, as he curled one three-fingered hand around a panel of the door, effectively barring any attempt for her to wall him out before stepping inside. In a punctuated motion, he hit the panel behind him, shutting and locking the door after his own sizable mass. His next movement was quick and entirely involuntary, those avian eyes of his surveying the room and checking all the windows and exits, taking count of them as though that huge fucking rifle strapped to his back couldn't dissuade any attack that dared their way. Then he glanced back at Shepard, checking her over, appraising every curve, limb, rib, and strand of hair with the concentration of a full-body scan. Did he think she was injured?

But she wasn't, and assuaged by that fact, her gunnery officer appeared to let down his guard. His gauging inspection of her body stopped at her eyes, and his expression mollified imperceptibly but seemed unable to look away. Shepard felt the same way, finding it damn near impossible to glance away from Garrus's wordless staring. A silence befell them a second time, but not because she was waiting for him to speak.

She just wanted to look at him. Even though this could potentially be the last time she'd ever see him, when he'd confirm her suspicions and ask to free himself from her mission and the Cerberus ship, and she'd allow him his freedom because he deserved it - he'd already given her too many years of his life. Jane just wanted to look at that face what never left her thoughts when she was trapped and eye-deep in enemy guards on Project Base... that alien, turian face who would surpass all to become her one last friend left, her only confidant, and her hopeful lover.

There was no warning.

Not even Jane knew exactly when it happened, when something snapped inside her and everything she'd been holding in, days of exhaustion and desperation and grief, came pouring out. She's not sure when it started, and how long it was going on for, but the next thing she knew, she was half-slumped on some Citadel hotel room at her gunnery officer's armoured feet, crying her guts out.

# # #

Jane Shepard couldn't have stopped if she tried. Some part of her knew she'd regret this, regret doing something as unprofessional, as inconceivable as breaking down in front of a subordinate officer, but for the time she couldn't care. There was nothing left in her, no more strength, no more excuses, no more pithy justification, just her exhaustion, her failure, and her hands caked in the blood of hundreds of thousands of dead batarians. Wavering on the spot, she sank her face into her palms and just wailed, the grief so thick and heavy and nauseous in her throat that she could have puked it up. The rest of the world narrowed into nothing. Part of her swore she heard Garrus speak her name, but she couldn't know for sure.

Then it happened so fast. Her knees buckled, and then something moved in with blinding speed to catch her. Two armoured arms seized around her with a quick desperation, and her sternum hit a little jarringly hard against a flat, cold metal plate. Her breath caught, but Shepard just fiercely grabbed on, not wanting this enveloping presence to leave her. She turned her head, and it was Garrus holding her, keeping her in place as she hooked her arms around his alien neck, her blunted fingernails scratching at the hide under his sharpened fringe. He grunted once in response to the contact, like being similarly shocked out of his own breathing, but said nothing. Instead, he deliberately bent and one of his long arms snuck under her knees, whisking the galaxy's saviour off her feet as though she weighed no more than a pillow.

His bulky armour felt freezing and slightly painful, pressed too roughly against her lungs and bones, but Shepard wouldn't have it any other way. It meant he was there. He wasn't leaving her. He was holding her. Sobbing in relief and still refusing to let him go, she buried her teary face against the side of his neck, not so selfless that she wouldn't try to steal whatever warmth or comfort she could get from her best friend. She knew she had to tell him before it happened, while she still had the chance, and Jane fought her sobs as she felt his strange, almost sinewy turian gait carry her body across the room.

When she found her voice, or its gutted, tattered remnants, Jane forced out her confession against his throat. Her words sounded so stringy and brittle. "I'm sorry," she pleaded airily, hoping Garrus would realize she meant for everything. For ever subjecting him to her risks, for dying, for resurrecting to be less than the woman she was, for failing, for disappointing him, for becoming what he so hated. "I'm sorry," she confessed endlessly. "I'm sorry, I'm sorry..."

But Garrus said nothing. He carried her to the room's solitary bed, the mattress bowing when he determinedly sat down their combined weights. He had no words for her, but did not seem inclined to relinquish her from his arms. He just let her cry.

And she did. Jane wept wet smears into her best friend's armour until there was simply nothing left, no more energy left in her spent body to do little more than sag against him. As quickly as it had started, her grief appeared to break, leaving the woman feeling not so much relieved as strangely, almost chillingly hollow. She savoured one last moment of security in Garrus's arms, until her senses ultimately had to return, and with them that strict sense of decorum that did not let commanding officers weep upon their subordinates.

Averting her eyes, her usual confidence shattered by her doubts and encroaching embarrassment, Shepard finally pushed back at the turian's arms. He seemed reluctant for an instant, but then let go, and as soon as his arms loosened, she was escaping his lap, retreating to merely sit aside him on the bed. Garrus watched her closely, but still had yet to say anything. He watched her almost passively as she slowly reclaimed her lost composure.

Shepard didn't rub at her eyes, wanting to draw as little attention to the fact she'd been crying. Instead she asked, her voice dry and raspy, "How did you find me? I mean... I know how you found me. I have an idea. But how did you know I was here?"

Vakarian's armour creaked as he shifted. One gauntleted, three-finger hand flexed absently at his knee. It took a moment of silence, and then he bowed his avian head forward and sighed. "I saw the news report."

The world spun. Jane sure rubbed her eyes then, letting her face fall into her opened palm. "Oh, God," summed up her entire feelings pretty eloquently.

She could taste Garrus's awkwardness as he sat uneasily through her humiliation. But, soon enough, he continued, "It looked dangerous. I needed to see if you were all right."

Her hand dropping back down to her lap, Jane rubbed a little uneasily at her neck. "It was getting heavy," she admitted. "Anderson must have gotten the tip off; his men came in and broke up the crowd. I got my way out." Then her voice hitched with a humourless laugh, her face heavy with self-deprecation. "Yeah, even the mighty Commander Shepard flees with her tail between her legs."

His head tilted. "It's not your fault," Garrus argued, matter-of-fact. "I should've been with you. I should've been watching your back." It seemed two could play the deprecation game.

"Don't go all bruised turian honour on me, Garrus," Jane rasped, swallowing against the residual rawness in her throat. Her lips pursed, and she finally built the courage to slip her officer a look. He was still there, seated next to her on the bed, looking massive in his armour. Its normally polished shoulder was streaked with her drying tears. With his eyes averted, he didn't notice Jane's glance. She looked away again, forcing herself to remember how he faced her in the Normandy's main battery, and what he said...

"I can understand you not wanting much to do with me," she continued. "I don't want much to do with me right now. I decided to hold up here and return to ship tomorrow. I can't have my crew seeing me like this. I'm supposed to be leading them. They're giving me their lives."

"Shepard -" Garrus countered uneasily.

"No, Garrus," she quickly cut him off, building the courage to look over once more, this time meeting her best friend's alien eyes. Light never reflected off turian eyes, Jane had realized long ago. It took only the littlest bit of shadow to make them look empty, black, and pitted like a hungry predator. He watched her a little reproachfully; perhaps uncertain of what she planned to say, uncertain if he'd like it. "Even you admitted once that we're not getting out of this easy. I'm scared to death. I think I've hit a point... I used to be able to rationalize it, justify it as part of the mission or as that oath we all swear as soldiers, but I don't think I can lose another man. I don't know how to deal with it anymore."

That admission drew another long length of brooding silence from the turian - long enough that Jane considered regretting even saying it at all. There are some lines commanding officers never cross, and there are pains they are not disposed to share; those are the burdens of leadership. It was as she was opening her mouth to continue, to try to clumsily fix her mistake, when Garrus finally spoke.

"I lost ten good men who had lives and families," he said, recalling those two years on Omega he spent as the vigilante Archangel. "They weren't like me. They weren't ghosts. They had futures, and they gave those futures to me to protect." Garrus's darkened eyes narrowed. "I let them down."

Shepard was struck by something at that moment, something she'd always failed to acknowledge. Two years ago, she'd been the turian's mentor, pleased to teach him the ethics of a crusader, and had known from first fighting at his side that his talents craved guidance - he was destined for big things. It was the reason why she convinced him so hard to go for Spectre training. But then she died, and inside two years, he changed. It was easy for her to fall back into funny habits, and treat him as the subordinate soldier he once was, but that was no longer the case. Friendship began to blur those lines, and what now broke it entirely was her realization that he, too, was a leader. It was a risk in sedition he was taking, if just to his disciplined turian nature, but he was prepared to give her advice as an equal.

So Jane took it. "How do you get through it?"

Garrus gave her a strange look, and she could read the flicker of surprise disguised in his hard turian features. She was sure he wasn't expecting that out of her, not the woman who'd always been prepared to get indignant when someone questioned her orders. But he duly answered, grim, "For the longest time... it was the rage that sustained me."

The self-deprecation returned in a nauseating wave, enough that Shepard couldn't stop her eyes from briefly closing. "And I took that away from you." She rubbed wearily at her opposite shoulder. "Maybe you deserved your vengeance. I think I did wrong by you -"

"You did nothing of the sort," Garrus snapped, his voice like a door slamming. Something appeared to galvanize him out of his brief ennui, and armour rattling, he turned on her.

"Look at me, Shepard," he ordered, and when Jane didn't respond fast enough, one gloved hand reached out to capture her face with its long, three fingers. The sensation locked their eyes. He leaned close, so close, that she could feel the heat of his breath on her face, see the tips of his teeth past his flaring mandibles.

"You were right," Garrus told her firmly. "Killing Sidonis would have put me down a path I never really wanted. I'll be honest with you; this is still taking some getting-over for me. I can't compartmentalize two years of anger. I had myself convinced that I deserved that kill. My entire universe was rebuilt around that belief." His hand gentled against her cheek. "But I know you did the right thing. I know your reasons for it. You were fighting for me."

Then he let her go, sincerity hardening his features, Garrus straightening his back and clenching his hands as he bowed his head and faced her.

"Now I get through it by obligating myself to your directive," he confessed. "I need you, Shepard. I need your fight. I've made it mine. I fight for the memory of my ten men, for their surviving families, for their children, and I'll protect you, your mission, so that it may live on. That's what they'd want."

His blue eyes creased slightly. "But it's not just that. There's... there's also what I want."

And then, before her eyes, Jane watched as Garrus moved, doing something she'd only ever heard about in her codex of turian culture. He'd conceded to her authority, yielded to her command more times than she can remember, but never once had he ever done this.

He stood up from the bed, and in a single, graceful motion, dropped to one knee and bowed in supplication. His solid armour resounded when it hit the floor. Kneeling there, Garrus begged her in a purely turian gesture of regret. His voice was rough and thick. "I fight for you because I know you're the only one who can save us. Because even though you've already died once for us, I know you're prepared to do it again. Because even with your own past and loss, you're still willing to cry for fallen batarians. You did the right thing, and yet, I... doubted you, Commander, and I apologize for it. It's my job to protect you, and I've let you down again."

Jane's eyebrows knotted. Again?

Garrus's hands tightened against the floor, and his eyes drew shut. Turians rarely, if ever, closed their eyes when awake or conscious. It was their purest gesture of surrender.

"I'll be prepared to do anything to be returned to your confidence, Commander," he pleaded. "You can assign me to vanguard. You can throw me in the brig. You -"

Jane just yanked him up by two handfuls of his collar, forcing Garrus out of his act of supplication and into her fierce kiss. He froze, his eyes flaring wide. He'd never been kissed before, and since turians do not commonly kiss, it was not so much the sensation but the ramifications that jarred him. He froze for a moment. That meant...

The turian surged forward, his weight pushing insistently down until Jane's smaller body conceded, falling tiredly back to the bed. She broke the kiss as his hands found her waist, bidden to explore the firm lines of musculature through her clothing. They watched each other, his sharp blue eyes fixed on her wide grey ones. She was breathing harshly; her lips were swollen from where she'd crushed them against Garrus's unyielding mouth plates, and even in this impassioned moment, Shepard found reason to pause, her doubts trying to resurrect like some old ghost.

This isn't right, not now, not after everything-

"Garrus, we don't have-" Jane began to apologize.

Then, without warning, her gunnery officer cut her off with a very distinct growl, curved two armoured fingers over her mouth, and leaned in to pull his hot, rasping tongue up the side of her throat. It was long and rough, every turian taste bud scraping a merciless path up her jugular and behind her ear, and the action shot an arrow of heat straight to her groin. Shepard's breath caught in her throat.

"Don't finish that thought," he told the fragile arteries in her neck, grazing his needly teeth over the fragile flesh that shielded them. Garrus's hot breath puffed against her skin, smelling vaguely alkaline, like motor oil and gunmetal. "Didn't we already agree to this?"

Jane reached up long-sufferingly to pull his hand from her lips. "We also agreed to wait-"

Garrus's teeth reprimanded her shoulder, shredding the fabric there and catching the muscle beneath. He rumbled warningly, "I almost lost you on that fucking asteroid. You almost died and it would've been too late. I'm a smart man, Shepard. I don't make the same mistakes twice. And neither do you."

Eyes half-lidded, Shepard swallowed against the pulling sensation of turian teeth in her skin, the pain strangely inciting her but not to want to escape it. Her hands wearily closed down on the armour shielding his upper arms. Doggedly, she still persisted on argument. "But weren't you worried - about us researching this right - about it getting awkward -?"

"It won't," Garrus interjected stubbornly, taking his teeth out of his commander's shoulder to survey the flesh around her collarbone. His too-warm breath clouded over her as he indulgently processed her scent. "I'm too pissed off." His fingers searched Shepard's form-fitting civvies for the most obvious openings. "And you know when I get pissed off, I make things happen."

Jane sighed away the rest of her fight, her breath steeped with patient amusement. "One of the things I love best about you."

Hands stopped, Garrus froze at that admission, seeing through its empty tease to the disguised meaning beneath. He searched her eyes, part of him waiting Shepard to realize her own statement, and give her time to retract it, regret it-

But Jane Shepard, her grey eyes still lingeringly red-rimmed, simply smiled back up, confirming the question in his stare. Comrades like her and Garrus, who had learned each other's faces in those glorious moments of living or dying, needed no extraneous words between them.

Exhaling thickly, Garrus leaned down to push his forehead against hers, pressing intimate, insistent weight. It took Shepard a moment, but it hit her that this must be a turian kiss, second base for a race who had no lips and too many teeth for prolonged kissing. She copied the movement, craning her neck to return the pressure, and was rewarded by the luxurious sensation of his throttling purr as it soaked into her vertebrae, the sound burying into her so deep that she felt it inside her molars. "Shepard," he spoke against the skin of her forehead almost worshipfully, "you don't know what you do to me. I was worried whether I'd be able to respond to a human. Now I can't imagine this not happening tonight. It has to. I'll make you feel good."

Despite the nervous heat fluttering through her belly, Shepard intoned wryly, "Is that one of those infamous turian honour promises?"

Garrus pulled back to stare Shepard down, his sharp eyes aimed like a pair of gun barrels. She was mocking him, and he knew it. "Yes, though I don't think you understand their full ramifications. You'll have to allow me to demonstrate."

# # #

In two quick, deliberate movements, the heavy gauntlets unlocked from Garrus's wrists, and he dismissively let them drop. His hands were exposed up his elbows, revealing his lean, sinewy muscles and thick skin. He flexed his six fingers, each one of them studded with a long, curved killing talon. A turian's natural weapons. Shepard had seen them used before in battle, and they had more strength and sharpness than any trench knife she'd ever kept in her possession. She'd seen those claws rend enemies into hamburger.

Now he'd turned them on her, and it came down to a matter of trust, to stay still and silent as those weapons drew against her body. It was up to both of them to be careful; even one wrong shift or unprepared jolt could leave her with some messy puncture wounds. But he appeared more than intent on his end, rapt and delighted to explore her body with an infinite patience. His hands followed the way her civilian clothes clung to her body, then, he appeared to grow immediately tired of touching fabric, and his fingers searched for an opening on her clothes. But human clothing was foreign and alien to turian designs, whose civilian wear was never meant to be pulled harmlessly overhead or arranged around soft shoulders. There would be too many rips and tears.

But his exploring hands couldn't seem to find a buckling system in her clothing. Agitated, he bent down and tilted his head to squint under her arms and down her sides, searching and finding nothing. Well, nothing save Jane's half-hidden, and very amused smile.

So that's how it's going to be. His gaze flattened, and Garrus replied with a flick of his hunting knife claws. Fabric tore noisily, and before Jane even had time to express the surprised indignation that was colouring her face, he'd torn her shirt free. He reached to similarly snap the carriage-harness she wore underneath, rumbling with curiousity to steal his first glimpse of her breasts. They looked small and firm, streamline to her athletic body, and he wasn't too sure what to make of them.

That is, until he touched one, capturing it in one clawed hand, and Garrus paused at the utter sensation of softness. It was hard to believe that a creature as strong, durable, and enduring as Shepard could feel so vulnerable. She'd proved her prowess endlessly, but to touch her like this aggravated every one of his protective instincts. He had no idea human flesh was that delicate. The thought, again, of her trapped alone on that asteroid station, and surrounded-

Her gentle sigh broke his dark thoughts, Garrus sobering to the sight of Jane relaxing, responding to the whispers of his claws against her nipples.

He vowed privately on his own honour that he'd never repeat that mistake. He'd protect her, more than she'd ever realize, and probably far more than she'd ever like. He wouldn't let anything come so close to learn that she was this soft. The dichotomy of their bodies at this moment didn't escape him, all of her exposed, soft, and prone curves contrasted with his plated hide and heavy, cumbersome armour. She looked so small against him. It was very diverting.

Soon enough, his hands released her breasts for the much more engaging length of her waist, a turian's natural erogenous zone. A human's waist was shorter and thicker than a turian's, but he definitely liked hers, and his arousal shot up at the sight of her hip bones creasing out from the curves of her body. Needing to see and touch more, his claws curled into the waist of Jane's pants, the seams already tearing at the edges.

"Garrus, I need some clothes left to walk out of here-" Shepard groused, trying to untangle his fingers.

"Then I suppose you'll never leave," Garrus confirmed with a playful edge, opening her pants down to her knees. Fabric split noisily under his claws. She gave him a dirty look, but he soon earned her forgiveness by reaching in and letting his claws tease along her inner thighs. Then, the turian went to the patient pains of pulling the unravelling fabric free of her long legs.

Shepard's smooth skin was already chill bumped in that strange, human way. "What about you?" she pointedly turned on him from where she sprawled across the mattress.

"In due course," Garrus just replied. He craned his head at that strange undergarment she wore next to her groin, daring to muffle the strange, sweet smell he could scent arriving from between her legs. To appease her, he slipped in his talons with total delicacy and worked it down her legs without a single catch in the fabric.

"Now let me see."

# # #

He was rumbling, almost purring like some big cat, as all six of his talons hooked under Shepard's thighs and jarringly pulled her hips up into the air. She gasped with mild shock, her arousal not helping the way her world was dazedly spinning, and a moment later, Shepard found herself heaped across the mattress, her shoulders pinioned back into the pillows as her left ankle hooked against Garrus's armoured carapace. He was perched above her, almost mantled like a hawk, with that intent, predatory face of his hovering between her legs. She felt one of his mandibles scrape her inner thigh and realized what he was aiming to do.

Numbly, detachedly, Shepard wouldn't have ever figured this as a universal form of foreplay. And didn't Mordin once warn her-

Her leg tensing where it draped over his sizeable shoulder, Shepard tried to turn her hips inside Vakarian's hands for purchase. He only seemed to fight her harder, holding her half-slung form up from the bed. Jane huffed with agitation. "Garrus, you can't. Proteins - you'll go into shock -"

His steely eyes glanced up from her groin. "Then try not to get too wet."

He's been watching the vids, Jane realized with a groan, before the first hot stroke of his tongue effectively short-circuited any chance of cognition. She cried out, still trying to remember her argument, her logical reasoning that this shouldn't be happening, that it's not safe, but then Garrus's steamy, too-hot turian breath exhaled over her folds. "Is that how you taste, Shepard?" his dark, flanging voice inquired silkily of her. "If the spirits didn't want me to do this, they wouldn't have made you taste so fucking good."

His claws tightened against her ass, barring any escape, and with no further preamble, her gunnery officer went to town. Human tongues had nothing on their turian counterparts, which were longer, stronger, and endlessly rough, complete with sandpapery taste buds scraping against her tortured flesh, almost promising to lick her raw and senseless. He feasted greedily on her, with long and heavy licks that physically rocked Shepard back against the bed, Garrus nearly turning desperate to sample that taste he'd complimented her on. The sensation was nothing she ever imagined, but then only few humans would ever know the sensation of turian battle ferocity turned into an insatiable need to force pleasure from their lovers. He'd already made it known he had no intention of letting her go.

"Goddamnit, Garrus," Jane cursed helplessly as he ate her, her words lost into a cry when the lashing tip of his clever tongue snuck through her folds and hit her clitoris. Head thrown back against her pillows, her voice broke with her keening. Then the smart son of a bitch seemed to realize what he did, and capitalized on that little nub of nerves, opening her shivering legs wider as he descended upon it. The world tilted dangerously, pleasure blearing her eyes as Garrus laved the spot fiercely, his pace slow and entirely without mercy. Her wetness flooded his mouth, and it only seemed to encourage the turian, who was deliberately set on feasting on her as though she were some rare alien delicacy. Did she really taste that good to him?

# # #

She did.

If he'd only realized this sooner, Garrus thought. If he only knew what he was missing, everything would have been different. He would have acted on his feelings much sooner, far before Shepard even mustered the nerve to ask him to her bed: it would've been before Cerberus, before that fucking Alenko, before her dying so he could have at least been there to prevent it. And he would have. His fury was like a fire moving beneath his plates, railing against nearly losing that woman a second time, and her taste on his tongue was his only catharsis. He needed to prove this to her. Prove how much she meant to him. Prove how much he needed her. Prove how insane she made him.

Every turian instinct felt like ignition fluid in his blood, aggravating him to act, to fight, to conquer; this was a demonstration of his hunger, of his devotion for her, but turian devotion was as much an exercise in war as anything else. And she would know it.

Garrus pushed cruelly with his tongue, and felt his mate orgasm, her spine tightening as her fingers twisted into the bed sheets. He drew it out with a long, savouring taste, caring not for her recent fears that drinking her would be potentially fatal. He'd like to see it try. If a rocket to the face couldn't end him, what could? His anger made him feel invincible. What mattered is that she was alive, here with him, and he would take from her all time would allow.

# # #

With a windy sound, Jane relaxed, weak and dreamy from her pleasure. Garrus rumbled, leaving behind points of blood as he unhooked one clawed hand from the flesh of her ass, his palm gliding up the smooth length of Shepard's leg as he stretched it to rest up against his shoulder. Her skin felt clammy, and there were wet pockets of sweat trapped in the insides of her knees. Dully, he noted his own arousal, aching something fierce and poisonous in his groin, trapped inside the heavy plates of his armour. He still needed to remove the damn thing. But he wasn't finished.

Shepard had just finished sighing away the best orgasm of her life when his tongue started anew. It woke her up faster than a slap to the face, already too painfully over-sensitized to suffer this.

"Garrus," she croaked, trying to retreat, but his right hand curled around her ankle while the left dug more painfully into her hip. He chose to say nothing, happy to let his tongue speak for him in this more tactile language. And it did, lapping her firmly and unforgiving, burying into her folds to worry her swollen flesh. The pain was sharp, and every punctuated flick of her clitoris seared. Her eyes watered, but he didn't let up, pushing Jane forward through the agony until pleasure began to build under the burn. Just when she thought she couldn't bear any more, warmth returned to radiate up her back.

Her pride mattered so much to her, but at this point she was just sobbing, her face flushed and tears rolling out of her closed eyes. "Oh, God," Jane kept bleating, "Garrus, you son of a - oh, God!" Then he began to purr, the sound humming deliciously up between her legs, and Jane was lost again, mindless and insensate, reaching one trembling hand to pull his head closer. Her fingers found the skin under her officer's fringe, and her nails angrily dug in. The action reflected inside his shocked eyes, and Garrus surged forward with a growl, pushing a talon carefully into her as his tongue curled around that battered nub and sucked.

It was all she needed. Jane's second orgasm shook her, arriving with a breathless sob, hitting her so sharp and scorchingly hot that she saw stars. She locked up in agonized ecstasy, riding the last emphatic drag of his tongue, and then collapsed, her ribcage fluttering as her body fought to keep her breath. Dimly, she felt Garrus's hand stroke down her leg once more, returning it gently to sling across the mattress. When she found the strength, or at least the discretion, to crack open her eyes, she saw him looming over her, his exposed hands unlatching the initial bands of armour from his body. His face wore the turian equivalent of a shit-eating grin, which looked just as universally irritating. "And that's a turian promise."

Jane pushed a tress of dark hair from her sweat-smeared brow, her mouth twitching. "Duly noted, you bastard." Then, frowning absently, she aimed a squint up on her undressing lover. "Where the hell did you learn that?"

Garrus dropped a heavy layer of steel from his arm that looked - and sounded - to weigh a good twenty pounds. Turians definitely were stronger than they looked. "I do my research, Commander."

Jane's lips curved with a half-hearted smirk at his quip, but she wasn't really listening. Instead, she was enrapt by Garrus's body, as he revealed himself inch by inch from his restricting armour. He looked so alien, but also so beautiful, beautiful in that dangerous, tempting way a weapon is. The serrated edges and hard angles of his body reminded her of a living blade, and he looked so contrary to everything she knew about human men, with their heavy muscles and soft lines. Garrus was narrow and lean, with a hundred razored edges that seemed designed to rip and tear. She wasn't too sure how she found it all so arousing. Maybe it was just a side-effect of her natural masochism.

She determined that he wouldn't be the one having all the fun. Sitting up, Jane obligated herself to helping Garrus strip, her nimble, five-fingered hands tangling with his as she reached for the endless clasps and locks of his turian armour. He watched her with obvious affection, those predatory, unblinking eyes of his enrapt to watch her human face. As she opened one latch and let the chest pieces fall from his torso plates, he reached out wordlessly and let the point of one talon push a lock of hair from her eyes. The action made Jane smile.

Then, with a rasp of the bed sheets, the bed creaked as her lean, naked body lifted from the pillows, her weight settling on her shaky legs. Her knees were buckling, and her genitals burned with an aching, painful rawness that still felt sweet. A strange emotion compelled her to sink down, opening Garrus's knees to kneel between them as he sat on the edge of the bed. The sight of her, vulnerable and flushed between his legs, her exposed flesh encircled by his long limbs and armour, seemed to make the turian tense painfully on the spot. Jane ventured that he was reacting to the submissive implications of her gesture, and the unspoken invitation of dominance appealed to his turian nature. With a culture of social ranks and fierce hierarchy, their civilization was built on control and supplication. He'd done the same as she did now, when he bent and guiltily appealed to her mercy, confessing his doubts, and must not have expected her to return it. He inhaled slowly and deliberately, staring her down with a predatory intensity.

So Jane just made it worse, by leaning in and feeling along Garrus's legs until she found the telltale notches in his greaves, letting each piece open as she patiently pulled them away. Each movement revealed fabric, which opened rather easily to expose his warmed, plated hide. It was nothing like human skin, neither soft nor porous, instead matching the evolutionary step after scales, his flesh taking the form of expansive, grafted plates that rose up in countless little edges. Mordin wasn't kidding when he warned her about chafing.

One leg freed, she ghosted a kiss against the hard, textured flesh of his thigh. Turian skin was thick, but it certainly wasn't insensitive, because that littlest touch incited a growl straight from the back of Garrus's throat. He stared holes down at her, silent, unmoving, and if she could read turian faces as well as she thought, Jane swore he looked a little nervous. Hiding a smile, she stripped his other leg, then, pushing up to her knees, leaned into her officer's torso to find the opening on his pelvic plackart, the reinforced, alien alloy unhitching from his body and lowered to the floor with a heavy, muted clang of steel. Now he was as naked as she, his tall, long-limbed, and sharpened body almost runic with his pebbled plating. Jane's eyes followed the way they wove and interlocked in a long and almost artful path down his chest, terminating to the engorged opening that slotted the reinforced natural armour between his legs.

He was rumbling, almost purring like an engine as she reached one hand to graze her finger down the length of that secret slit. Garrus jerked, but said nothing.

"Anaphylactic shock got your tongue?" Jane couldn't help but ask, looking up from his groin to meet the turian's eyes. It was an innocent joke, but it did reflect her genuine worry. He was being awfully quiet-

"Shepard..." Garrus eventually breathed, almost trembling, and not from allergic reaction. He appeared to be fine in that respect, his pain coming from other obvious sources. He was fixed and poised, looking as though he were one twitch, one reflexive flex away from descending violently, ruthlessly upon her, but that tender look in his eyes was holding him still. He shuddered out a grumbling breath that was underlined by an animalistic whine. "I can't... remain long like this - not in my nature - "

"Good," she replied, "I think I want to see you squirm."

And Jane stuck two fingers into that slit between his plates. Unlike Garrus, she hadn't done extensive research, not on this. Much like any of her battles, the plan of action ran entirely by instinct, instincts she had nearly doubted until he reminded her of who she was. Her roulette was rewarded by a fierce snarl, and her gunnery officer's legs visibly seethed and shivered as she navigated that warmed sheath until her fingers found something hot, slippery, rock hard, and... huge. Garrus buckled with a hollow grunt, and his pelvic plates opened to push his erect member free. It was unlike what Jane ever expected, shaped differently from a human man's, thicker and corrugated with the swollen meat of his thicker hide. It was a deep, dark blue, engorged by the blood what ran through his veins. It was also big.

Her officer was breathing shallowly, almost panting, and Jane figured turian men weren't built for extended foreplay. It seemed to be killing him to sit there, patient and pliant, all to let her whet her curiousity, and to prove his infinite trust to allow her at the most vulnerable part of his body. That fact didn't escape Shepard, who felt her heart pang at the tortured way his hands opened and shut. He was barely hanging on, but she also owed him one...

She leaned in, the plates of his inner thigh scraping the soft skin of her side, and Garrus keened with agitation. He was already hypersensitive, and Jane took infinite pleasure in the way he buckled when her palm closed around his erection. She squeezed, testing the flesh, and watched his face, her grey eyes following the spasms of his mandibles as they twitched in and out. He was definitely squirming. Feeling emboldened by her lover's response, and taking obvious delight in the modicum of control she had over his strange, exotic body, Shepard tested her reins with a first, slow pump, sneaking in her other hand to grip him fiercely at the base. Garrus responded with some delicious, helpless sounds.

"Shepardddd..." he slurred, his voice deepened into something faint and foggy, but the underlying growl was entrenched with warning. He was losing patience-

"Call me Jane," she whispered, before leaning in to lick him from base to tip. He wasn't the only one prepared to play with fire, or at least fatal allergic reaction, as she closed her mouth over his cock's engorged tip and demonstrated what human mouths can do. She sucked him fiercely, and his howl must have jumped every organism with ear drums in the half-mile radius.

Driven by this small sense of accomplishment, that there may be a chance to get this right, Jane only intensified her attentions. He tasted strongly, like copper, like that strange, metallic taste of blood, and the smell off his thighs, so close to her face, reminded Jane of ash from wood fires. A strange warmth curled in her belly, and she felt all the more compelled to please him, prove to Garrus how, even in the recesses of space, in ships and countless stations, he had that unique way of tasting, smelling, and feeling like home. She pumped him determinedly as she sucked, her palm rolling against his erection's strange, uncanny ridges, and the action only seemed to make him thicker. A strange sound burned past her ears, and curious, Jane looked up. He was stooped at the waist, bent over her body, and panting, his mandibles fallen open and the skin changing colour down the sides of his throat. The breath hissed in and out through the dangerous rows of his sharpened teeth.

And he was staring straight at her.

It was, quite possibly, the most erotic thing Jane had ever seen.

Their eyes meeting, almost warring with each other with matching intensity, Jane's fist squeezed Garrus's cock with some of her augmented, Cerberus strength. Her tongue pushed into the slit.

It happened so fast. One moment, she was crouched between his thighs, bending his near resolute self-control to her very whims, and the next, the world flipped and swiftly-upended, and the breath coughed free from Jane's lungs as her back slammed flush against the mattress. Not a heartbeat later, her gunnery officer was mantled above her, his hands locked around her wrists, his forehead pushed against hers, and his cock brushing her entrance. His blue eyes were wide and almost sightless, glassy like taxidermy, reflecting the insanity of teased turian instincts. Jane's lips parted as she stared back at him, awed, frightened, and aroused all at once. She'd never seen him this way.

"Jane Sheparrrddd," he growled into her flesh, turning his head to let his teeth bump and drag the length of her clavicle. That sinister tongue of his returned to lap the sweat beading between her breasts. His hands tightened, their talons pinching warningly into her skin. He seemed to be luxuriating in her body, alien as it must have been to him, softer and more yielding than the turian women he must have known. His breath, almost boilingly hot, tracked across her breasts, which tightened when a chill rose across her body. The action seemed to interest Garrus, and his tongue swept curiously around her nipple. He sunk closer down upon her body, applying slow, steady weight, and she felt that glorious, ribbed cock of his grind against her thigh.

Voice catching, Jane threw back her head and let her eyes fall shut. This was really going to happen. In one moment, he'd be-


Her eyes opened. "Garrus," Shepard uttered, quickly sobered, "stop. We can't."

He froze, almost dangerously. His voice sounded distant and papery. "You... don't want this?"

"We need protection. It's too much of a risk."

That caused him to draw back, forced to stare at her as though she'd gone mad. "I have my rifle."

Jane's eyes rolled and her head flopped back against the bed. She sighed with exasperation. "I mean a condom. Does your translator know that word? We've been playing with fire so far, and neither of us is dead, but that might be asking too much."

Garrus paused for a beat, and then let his head fall. His face twitched with the turian equivalent of amusement. "Right. Condoms. It's the Citadel," he continued, probably talking to himself. "There should be some in this room." He glanced at her. "Don't ask me how I know."

Reluctantly, his clawed hands pulled off her wrists and he left her flushed, chafed body, rolling up to his two-toed feet with an audible groan. Garrus stretched, then, as if remembering what he left behind on the bed, pinned Jane with a searing glance. "Stay there," he ordered darkly. She shifted against the covers, but he stopped the movement with a snapped, "Don't move a muscle."

Feeling a little light-headed, she watched the turian disappear into the room's adjoining bathroom. Jane thought Garrus looked beautiful before; she hadn't seen him walk naked with all that turian serpentine grace, armed with an erection that looked about as angry as the expression on his face. She couldn't help but feel slightly guilty: Jane Shepard, galactic hero, system destroyer, mood killer.

At the very least, she took advantage of the small reprieve, if just enough to catch her breath. Jane sat up, brushing a hand at the collection of scratches and teeth-marks already notching her shoulders, and bit her lip against the throbbing, piercing ache that ripped up from her groin. Still, she couldn't deny the way her flesh still burned. Almost absently, her fingers snuck down to touch her folds-

"You moved." Garrus's sudden, grim accusation trapped her from across the room. He was back, looking tortured and near half-mad, the only difference about him the plastic barrier that was rolled over his member. He tilted his head against the sight of her, caught touching herself. His hands flexed with the scissory sound of his rasping claws.

In a few purposeful strides, the turian had crossed the room and recaptured his woman, his fingers drawn to the long lines of her waist. Jane couldn't look away from Garrus's smoldering stare. He bent his head down, and even though it was not a turian gesture, she had to kiss him, reaching up to bruise her lips against his scars. Her hand snuck boldly around to play with his fringe. He snarled something unintelligible, and their bodies were back on the bed again, one twist of his strong arms and flexible bend of her back to pull Jane's flushed, naked body into his lap. Her turian remained seated, his arms sealing her spine close to his warmed, scratchy plates. His knees opened her thighs, and his cock ground up between her legs.

It was a position she was unused to, but it felt right, perfect, to be surrounded by Garrus as he seemed to take total reverence in her body. He was worshipping her with his teeth and tongue, laving her throat, licking deeply into her carotid sinus until her head spun. Her head nestled back against his shoulder, her dark hair winged across and down his pebbly alien carapace. He looked and felt the opposite of all she was, but Jane knew she didn't want it any other way.

"Garrus," she whispered, reaching down between her legs to rub the underside of his cock. He nipped her neck, and wrested his arms free to hook his claws under her ass. He lifted her, and the woman held in a breath as she felt the head of his member nudge against her soaked flesh. Drunk on arousal, she reached down to guide him, hot and thick, to the mouth of her entrance. She could feel his cock just barely brushing her folds...

Without warning, Garrus let her go, and Jane fell sheathed on top of him, unable to stop her cry against the sudden, delicious sting of fullness. He was maddeningly thick, stretching her just short of the point of pain, and the burn only fed harder into her lust.

He was having similar troubles with the concept of sanity. Garrus was keening, his arms returning to cage her naked body, one clawed hand sliding possessively up the side of her throat. "Too - tight," he wheezed, the tips of his mandibles scratching her collarbone. "Never - knew -"

Jane was the first to move, unseating herself from Garrus's hips just enough to let his cock grind back up into her body. All of those strange, corrugated ridges and bends she'd thought so strange were a fucking revelation. She groaned, feeling pleasure knife, white-hot, up the bones of her back. Growling from behind her shoulder, Garrus didn't take long to assist, caging her hips in his wide hands and lifting her, until she rocked, back and forth against his slowly-moving pelvis.

Her eyes rolled, and her head fell back again to bring her lips to his neck. Mimicking his gesture, she bit down in a decidedly turian manner. He howled and thrust harder, the head of his cock striking a place that made lights spark against the backs of her eyes. She shuddered short of a sob.

A rhythm built as he pounded her, pleasure and pain mixing into something so good Jane couldn't dream of it stopping. "Don't stop, don't stop," she pleaded as much, begging Garrus in a desperate moan that only seemed to egg him on. She needed him so badly.

"Keep your eyes open, Shepard," he replied tersely, and when she didn't, his right hand twisted around to slide down between her legs, and he put his trigger finger straight on her over-sensitive clitoris. Jane's eyes shot open, trying to stop Garrus with her tightening thighs. His knees just pulled her legs farther apart, and she surrendered, crying out as his hand worked her in time to his insistent strokes. Her thighs flexed against his knuckles and she stretched backward, reaching both arms back to dig her fingers into that well-documented nerve cluster under his fringe. He responded deliriously, turning his head to press his face against hers. She bit desperately at his scars and held on for dear life.

The memory of his words found themselves back in her thoughts: Do you trust me?

"Yes," said Shepard, and then she came.

Her walls viciously clamped down as a third orgasm ripped through her, an internal assault that even Garrus seemed unprepared for. She felt him tense up like living sheet metal, and his jaws opened to let a horrible sound tear out of his throat. His talons squeezed her mound and dug into her hip, and he slammed one final time straight up into her body, all of his crushing strength bearing her down and against his alien body.

Then, after several seconds of soundless, breathless rigidity, Garrus relaxed with a burdened sigh, folding down and around Jane's battered body. She heaped against him, tasting the strange, bitter tang of turian blood on her lips, and immediately regretted performing the simplest of movements, which brought burning and pain.

It was wonderful.

"Jane," he eventually purred, pulling his moisture-slicked talons out from her legs to touch her face.

She closed her eyes, unable to ignore the way her heart pulled at the gesture. They'd only ever agreed to be lovers, but she knew now that it couldn't stop there.

"Garrus, that was... the opposite of awkward. That was amazing."

Her admission gave him pause, and he tilted his head down at her. His rigid features tightened with confusion. "We're not done."

Jane's eyes popped open. "Son of a -"

# # #

"Now we're done," Garrus kindly confirmed as Jane collapsed in a dead heap against the mattress, her body flushed and raw, her voice shattered into something that something between a bleat and a sob.

Their bodies tangled together, hers unable to move and his unwilling to let her go. The turian reached out one talon and indulgently moved a lock of sweat-soaked hair from her eye. "Turian intercourse is a seven-stage process. I thought you knew that. You really should've watched the vids."

"Shut - up - alien - bastard," was all Jane could wheeze.

# # #

Hours later, when the sight had returned to her eyes and the feeling back to her legs, Jane marinated in the total rarity it was to have a few moments in the dark. She and Garrus held each other, exhausted but satisfied, and though she knew her body probably looked like it was caught between the seventh and eighth rings of hell, she finally felt peaceful. Her officer ran his strange alien claws up and down her back, their points gliding wonderfully against her skin. She buried her face trustingly into the cradle of his shoulder. Turians were the farthest things from good pillow candidates, but she found him perfectly comfortable.

He said little, letting his sleepy, lazy presence do the speaking for him, and Shepard liked it that way. It was something monumental that happened, something that would change their friendship forever. They both needed time to process it in their own ways. They'd work it out at their own pace.

That is, if they have enough time...

For someone like Jane Shepard, bliss never managed to stay for too long. Her eyes opened despite the encouraging purr from Garrus's chest to close them again, and a nagging thought haunted her through the up-and-down motion of his breathing. She didn't want to end the moment. But she had to tell him, now more than ever...

"I'm sorry," she said once more. "I'm sorry I didn't tell you about the mission. I really thought it was routine. But it mattered to me. I thought that if I could do it alone, and return successfully... it'd be like I never died. Like I could go back and be that same woman again. I know I worried you. I regret not saying anything."

He said nothing, but he didn't tense, didn't pull away, and didn't go cold. Jane let that hopeful response embolden her to keep going.

"If we survive this, Garrus," her quiet voice rose up against his skin, "they have me slated to face trial."

His claws stopped that gentle movement on her back. For several moments, Garrus was eerily silent, until he yielded with a tired sigh. "I heard as much. I didn't want to believe it. What will you do?"

Jane turned her head to meet his eyes. "I told Admiral Hackett that I'll turn myself in."

"You can't be serious." Garrus pulled his hand away from her, and she could feel his already rock-hard body tense all the more. "They expect you to play martyr for some diplomatic bullshit?"

Jane frowned to herself. "Lesser evils or not, my actions killed a lot of innocents. The batarians are on the cusp of war."

"So what happens?"

"I'm not sure," Jane admitted, hating how simple honesty made her feel so helpless. "I stand for my crimes and they'll decide whether I'm guilty. The Alliance isn't implicating itself to save face in front of the Council, which I understand. But Earth extradites on intra-galactic matters, no questions asked; it's the way COPUOS works. It means that if I'm convicted, I may not even be sentenced in a human jurisdiction."

That made him move. Garrus sat up in a fierce jerk, Shepard almost thrown bodily from atop his body. She caught herself with one arm, glancing up at the turian with obvious shock. His eyes were dark and his mandibles were flared straight out. He was pissed. "You are not serious about getting handed over to the fucking batarians."

"I don't know!" Jane yelled back, not sure why she needed to match his voice volume for volume. Their tender mood long dead and rotting, she rolled off to sit up, self-consciously drawing the wrinkled bed sheets against her naked body. She stared down at her lap. "Like I said, it's a possibility."

"Their slaver raids killed your family!" Garrus's voice barked at her turned back.

"All the more reason, Garrus!" she shot back, glancing at him over her naked, claw-marked shoulder. Her eyes then returned to stare down at her hands, hands that have killed so many. "They're going to argue that my attack was... personal. And maybe it was. Maybe that's why I didn't fight hard enough -"

The bed shifted, and she felt his talons gently close down around her upper arms. "You don't honestly believe that."

Something in that touch, something it communicated, made Jane's heart catch and her eyes water far more easily than they should. "I don't- I'm not-" she stammered, then closed her eyes and centered her dizzied thoughts. Did she?

She set her jaw and shook her head, sincere, resolute. "No. No, I wanted to save them. I still do. If I could take it all back, and try it again..."

With a light grunt, Garrus drew her back to his body, and Jane didn't fight him. She pressed up gratefully against his rough, too-hot turian skin. His talons wove into her hair, and she felt his forehead bump her temple.

"You're over-thinking this, Shepard. We still have the Collectors to take out. We need to concentrate on that first. But," Garrus continued delicately, shifting to lean down over her, "I promise you now: we survive this, and I won't let you go through that alone. I'll never make that mistake again. I'll fight for you, and if any batarians want to make you their political prisoner, then they'll have to take me out first."

It was a violent admission, but it still made her heart pang. Jane reached out to draw her fingertips up her lover's scars. "Is that another turian honour promise?"

"No," he admitted, leaning his head into her hand. "That's a simple certainty. But..." he continued, and his gaze reclaimed that mischievous, dangerous glint. "If you're looking for another turian promise, I can give you one of those."

He captured her face in all six of his fingers, the killing edges of his talons ghosting gentle lines down her flesh. His eyes gazed into hers.

"If you ever sneak off on another mission without me, I'll break your legs."

Jane Shepard always thought herself an old hand when it came to reading turian faces. It took working with Garrus Vakarian to show her the ropes, and to fall in love with him to really seal the deal. She looked up at him, and saw within his cold, unmoving facial plates and his flaring mandibles that, while the threat was empty, he was still dead serious.

Nothing was fixed, and her problems still spread ahead of her with the fatal inevitability of walking a forced march through a minefield. Promises couldn't be made for people like her, mistakes couldn't be taken back, and change couldn't be avoided. Tomorrow may be the day when everything goes straight to hell, but she knew that at least for now, everything was how it should be. And when that hell came to take her hand, she wouldn't be going alone.

Jane's mouth pulled into a familiar smile. "Duly noted."

# # #


# # #

"Congratulations again on the promotion, Executor Chellick," rose Garrus' flanged voice behind some dispersing politicians. It was with his familiar face, familiar turian smirk, familiar look in his eyes that signaled the resurrection of Chellick's migraine.

"You're like vorcha shit on Omega. There's just no getting rid of you," the other turian grumbled, fixing the lapels of his uniform over his carapace. "I got you the information you needed. The debt's been paid. I don't owe you another damn thing, Vakarian."

"It's just something very tiny this time."

"Vakarian..." Chellick warned.

"You won't even raise a sweat. Even if it might do you some good. Your waist is getting a little uneven."

"Vakarian!" he snarled, patience already torn in two. "It works like this. I owed you a favour. I gave you a favour. I've put a very important career on the line already to give you Citadel access in order to pay it off. It's because I have some... some degree of respect for your limited sense of honour that I even inclined to consider the debt in question. But nothing more. If you don't leave, I'll show you off." And when that, Chellick turned, no patience left to deal with old comrades, his old life.

But this one insisted on staying. "Oh," Garrus intoned silkily, "you owe me this one. See this datapad here? Ensure this information gets routed along to the right source, and that certain... unfortunate night to remember will die with me."

"I recall no such night," Chellick scoffed, straightening his turned back unconsciously into turian battle posture.

Garrus remained deliberately disarmed, lazily leaning one shoulder against the corridor wall. "Oh, so you don't remember your initiation party into C-Sec. It's a shame. Because I do, and so did that elcor stripper. You know, I believe she was even sweet on you. She described her physical response rather well. What was it she'd said?" He heroically searched his memory. "'With growing nether sensitivity'-?"

"OK, OK!" Chellick blurted as he turned, unbidden to have that sentence finished, diving forward to rip the datapad from Vakarian's outstretched hand. "I'll do it! Just get your scarred ass out of here!" Unable to help himself, he looked over the contents, mandibles twitching and breath snorting with disbelief. "Have this sent to Westerlund news?" He paused, and his eyes widened. "Is this true? Krogan women are battling the genophage by taking on salarian lovers?"

Garrus bowed his head with dark amusement. "No. But she'll believe it." He paused. "And you better make her believe it. Keep those political skills sharp." He pushed off from the wall, offering a genial nod as he turned and left his old colleage behind. "Good luck with the career, Chellick. I'll be following it closely."

Executor Chellick's left eye twitched.

# # #

Jane Shepard's hand hurt like hell. But she supposed she got off lucky. It wasn't many people in the galaxy who could walk away from cold cocking a yahg straight in its six-eyed face with their torso intact, their guts still zipped up, or their offending limb still attached. A few fractured knuckles were small potatoes.

She also couldn't deny that a half-broken hand came with one hell of a consolation prize: the unseen, undetected, unbreakable fortress that was the Lair of the Shadow Broker. And from at its helm, Liara T'soni imparted Jane a quick wink.

Shaking her head, Jane couldn't hide her smile even if she'd wanted to. Liara was living it up, drunk off all her new power and endless reach into the galaxy's every last dark corner. She couldn't fault her friend for it. She deserved it. And, even better, she'd do something with it.

For now, everyone was inclined to take a small reprieve, and Shepard was waiting on pick-up from the Normandy. Joker signalled that it'd take seven hours, and Jane spent the time checking periodically on Garrus, who'd sustained himself a pretty meaty concussion from a yahg putting his head through solid lead alloy.

The first thing he groggily asked her as he came to, waking up into her arms and urgent pleas, was to confirm if his fringe looked OK. Dumbass.

Now he was asleep, and Jane surreptitiously checked her omnitool in reminder for when she'd need to wake him again. Her gunnery officer wouldn't be getting a good sleep until she'd kicked his ass into a proper med bay. But she had time to kill, and at Liara's gentle urgings (OK, Liara's incessant, encouraging pushes) to check out the Shadow Broker's endless possibilities.

Everything was a total exercise in her sense of ethics. She'd found political maneuvering and hard-wiring beckoning at her fingertips. Not a good idea. So not a good idea. Then the private dossiers of the galaxy's most infamous faces. And also some familiar ones. Jack wrote poetry? Legion plays a dating sim? And the Broker assembled a profile on Garrus-?

Jane closed it while she could, before she could feel like a total creep. That was too much power there, even for someone like her. This ship was like the express elevator straight to the dark side.

Eventually, she found her aimless travels stopped at another expansive command console, and the dead yahg's chirpy, cheery little drone explained that she was at the heart of the galaxy's most exquisite circulatory system, with billions of veins and arteries of hidden cameras displaying just a little bit of dirt on everyone in the universe.

Her knuckles ached as she flexed her fingers with indecision. She really shouldn't. But it wouldn't hurt. It could help the mission. Perhaps the secret to the Collectors, to Harbinger, would be revealed from this system...

Oh, what the hell.

Video after video, and Jane knew she was going straight to hell. Aria's murders. Anderson's fistfights. Officer Taylor's abdominal muscles. Damn. She replayed that one just on principle. So that's what Kasumi was talking about.

Then the drone piped up as the next video cycled. "Khalisah al-Jilani: Citadel."

Jane's expression sobered, her eyes creasing a little at the corners. She watched the familiar woman, the one who pinned her on the spot and condemned her in front of the galaxy. She was interviewing a krogan, perusing through her datapad as the alien swatted at her mobile cam. The reporter mouthed something incomprehensible, like a question, and motioned the camera forward. The krogan paused on her. Gave her a deep, dark look like staring down into the gaping maw of a great white. Then she took a fist straight to the face and went down like a sack of potatoes.

Shepard's jaw dropped, unable to stop herself from covering her mouth. And she jumped, startled, when an abrupt, coarse laugh barked over her shoulder. Glancing back, it was Garrus, one hand achingly on his head, but the rest of him curled at the waist, mandibles outstretched, as he bellowed with amusement.

Shepard stared askance at him, almost committing to ask if his concussion was getting too much. Then she glanced back at the paused video, al-Jilani frozen in time ass-over-teacups. It hit her.

"You wouldn't have anything to do with this, Vakarian?"

"Who, me?" Garrus's plated face marinated in innocence. "I'm just a simple, law-abiding man trying to make a difference in the galaxy."

Jane rolled her eyes. "Then what would you call that?"

He paused. Then his mandibles pulled away from his teeth, and he gave her the turian equivalent of a wide, shit-eating grin. "An ambitious reporter finally getting her big break."

# # #