Title: The Heart Asks for Pleasure First

Summary: A month after taking down Saren, Shepard spends Christmas shore leave with her favourite turian C-Sec officer on the Citadel. Movies are watched, gifts are exchanged, and two war heroes celebrate their unlikely friendship.

Rating: T

Pairing: Garrus/Shepard friendship, flirting, mentions of Kaidan/Shepard

Spoilers: All of ME1

Timeline: post-ME1, pre-ME2

A/N: So, I'm going to be really busy with finals for the next couple of weeks, so I may not update as regularly as usual. Just FYI. In other news, I really, really hate these stupid ffnet login codes! I can barely read the dang things. Have to keep pressing the button for "new code" until I get one that's marginally legible.

Chapter Eighteen

Stranger Danger

December 29th, 2183

9:46 a.m.

"I thought about buzzing Anderson for a cup of tea, but I thought he might be too busy," Shepard said, leaning back on the sofa. Garrus was fiddling with his omni-tool and the 360 television display, trying to fine-tune the resolution. He'd already amped it up far past industry standards, but it never hurt to hack in a few more upgrades. "So I'm glad we ran into him. Haven't really had a chance to talk in a while."

"How long have you two known each other?"

"Oh, forever. Well, since Mindoir, anyway. His team was the first to get there. If it hadn't been for Anderson, I probably would have been shipped to an orphanage somewhere. He pulled some strings to get me clearance to enlist."

Garrus looked over his shoulder, puzzled. "Clearance? You weren't eligible?"

"Too young. Minimum age for Alliance enlistment is seventeen. Eighteen for space tours." Shepard made a face and pressed her hand to her temple.

"Something wrong?"

"Headache. I feel a little woozy, too. Maybe it's a cold."

Garrus chuckled. "Excellent. You can explain the mechanism of sneezing again."

"I think I'll get some water." Shepard stood up and braced her hand against the arm of the sofa for support. Now that Garrus was paying attention, she did look a little paler than usual. There was something odd about the way she moved—almost swaying, tipsy-approaching-drunk, shoulders curved inward.

"Sit down," he said, concerned now. "I'll get it."

"I think I can make it to the kitchen," she said acidly.

Garrus saw her fall before it actually happened—it was instinct, the sight of one foot moving out of sync with the other and a waver in the area around her knees that triggered some protective response in his brain. "Wait," he bit out, launching himself across the few intervening steps to hook one arm under her shoulder. She made a muffled sound of protest, but her weakness was evident in the way that she clung to him, enough of a weight-drag on his arm to surprise him and nearly send them both off balance. He recovered in time and lowered her back onto the couch. Now he was really worried.

"Dizzy," she mumbled, chin tipping to her chest.

"Shepard," Garrus said, subharmonics harsh with distress. Her eyes were drifting shut, the muscles in her jaw going slack. "Shepard, stay awake. Look at me." A brief flicker beneath her half-closed eyelids, a gleam of blue. Her fingers twitched and a spark jumped to Garrus's arm, shocking him with a brief release of static energy. "Did you drink anything? Leave any food unattended?"

Her lips moved, but no sound came out. Garrus felt a cool calm descend over him and his mind detached from his instincts, a process drilled into him by years in the military. He leaned closer and managed to catch a single word before her eyes closed. "Kit."

Kit. Of course. The first-aid kit that every soldier took with them wherever they went, complete with foreign substance analyzer and a variety of antivenin boosters. It took seemingly no time at all for Garrus to enter the bedroom and locate Shepard's pack, sitting on the floor next to the window. The neon orange metal box inside was designed to be instantly recognizable; he snatched it up and carried the whole thing back to the couch. First, the stabilizer—he plucked the pre-filled syringe from its wrapping and took only a moment to recall the locations of major human arteries before injecting the solution into Shepard's neck. The response was gratifying; Shepard made a choking sound but her breathing quickly eased, and in Garrus's visor he saw her pulse return to a normal rate.

Now for the analyzer. Garrus positioned the black pad over Shepard's neck and waited. The true gravity of the situation hit him like a charging krogan—Shepard, Shepard's unconscious, don't know what's wrong, she might die—but he wrestled it to the ground, locked it away in the back of his mind to deal with later. Beep. The analyzer was finished. "Unknown foreign substance detected."

Garrus stared at it. "Unknown?" he growled. "What do you mean, unknown?"

The analyzer made no reply. It was a simple machine, not a VI like the ones Garrus was used to arguing with. Snarling in frustration, he opened up his omni-tool. "Get me the closest med clinic."

"Nearest medical facility to your location found: Michel Clinic, approximately six minutes away by private shuttle."

"Private shuttle. Downstairs. Now!"

"Command received. Processing… Done. The shuttle will arrive in approximately two minutes and forty-seven seconds."

Garrus closed his omni-tool, filled his pockets with stabilizer syringes, and hooked his arms under Shepard's limp body, lifting her onto his shoulders. He had been trained to carry much heavier weights than one human female, so the burden posed no trouble. "Open the front door," he barked at no one in particular. Air hissed from the locking seals as his front door swung open.

"Hold on," he told Shepard, knowing that she couldn't hear him, but compelled to say it nonetheless. "Just hold on."

December 29th, 2183

12:39 p.m.

Some time later, Shepard clawed her way back from the great, reaching blackness with a considerable effort and managed to open her eyes. She saw bright white light, but her vision refused to focus—though she blinked several times, everything remained blurry. The light hurt her eyes, so she closed them again and listened. Somewhere nearby, she could hear a heavily accented female voice speaking rapidly; the sound was muffled at first, but as she put more effort into focusing on the sound, she could decipher the words.

"…never see you anymore. Before you left the Citadel, you used to stop by on your patrol route all the time. I kept waiting for you to visit when I heard you were back…"

A short, embarrassed-sounding cough, and a familiar flanging voice. Garrus. "They've, uh, changed my patrol route. Haven't had the chance to come by."

"Hmph. Well, I hope you've been keeping yourself safe. The things I heard on the news… Did you really kill a Spectre? How dangerous that must have been!"

"It was mostly Shepard." The harmonic undertones of his voice shifted, though Shepard could not pinpoint the change or what it meant. "What drug did you say they gave her again?"

"Kardosil. A delayed-action poison. It would have been administered one to two hours before she showed any effects. If you hadn't injected that stabilizer, things might have gone badly for her. Imagine! Commander Shepard, poisoned on the Citadel, after the two of you saved us all from the geth!"

"But she'll be all right?"

"Yes. I'll need to run some tests when she wakes up, keep her here for a few hours. That won't be for some time. Why don't we have a drink…?"

Deciding that she had heard enough, Shepard made an effort to open her eyes again. Bright light stabbed in like a blade, making her wince. Keeping her eyelids open just a crack, she moved one arm, attempting to discern her surroundings by touch. Thin sheets, a pillow wrapped in sterile plastic—a hospital bed. The place smelled of antiseptic.

"Shepard! She's waking up."

Footsteps approached—two sets, one considerably lighter than the other. "Turn off the light," Shepard mumbled, gratified when the words came out reasonably clear.

"What did she say?" asked the female voice.

"Turn off the light," translated Garrus.

"Oh. That would be the effects of the Kardosil. Increased pupil dilation—photosensitivity. It's amazing that she's woken up this quickly. I expected another two hours at least—"

"The light," repeated Shepard in a low growl.

"Here, I'll get them," sighed Garrus.

The lights flickered off and Shepard was plunged into cool, blessed darkness. "Thanks," she breathed, opening her eyes. She could see Garrus's distinctive turian silhouette outlined against dim lights from the hallway, but not much else. He moved closer to the bed, finding her hand easily in the dark—superior turian senses—and giving her fingers a reassuring squeeze.

"Feeling better?"

"Just peachy."

He tipped his head to one side, letting go of her fingers. "Peaches? Fruit?"

"Peachy. Means good. Great."


"Where are we?"

"Dr. Michel's clinic. It was close."

"Someone gave you Kardosil," the accented female voice said. Shepard recognized its owner now as she moved up to stand beside Garrus: Chloe Michel, the doctor they had rescued from Fist's men on Shepard's very first day on the Citadel. The doctor was wearing a red-and-white lab suit close-fitting enough to border on scandalous, until Shepard remembered that skintight professional outfits were the height of civilian fashion these days. "It's a new and very dangerous drug. An overdose is usually enough to kill most people in hours."

"I have implants. Standard Alliance issue." All legitimate drugs approved for medical use in Council space contained chemical flags at the molecular level and were able to bypass Shepard's drug-resistance implant systems, but drugs that weren't certified were either slowed down or counteracted entirely. It had saved her life more than once. "Must be pretty dangerous if it got past those."

"The USA didn't work either," put in Garrus. Shepard glanced at him, easily recognizing the acronym—unknown substance analyzer. "It recognized that there was something there, but it didn't know what it was. So it hasn't been added to the database. Where did you hear about it, Dr. Michel?"

"I…" Hesitation fluttered across the doctor's face. "A… colleague mentioned it."

There was a pregnant silence. "Right," Shepard said at last. "Can I have some water?"

"Oh, of course." Dr. Michel fled the room, leaving the door ajar.

Garrus and Shepard exchanged looks full of meaning. Peeling back the sheets, Shepard attempted to sit up—she had always hated lying prone in front of people—but Garrus put his hand on her shoulder. The pressure was light, and she could easily have broken it if she wanted to, but the gesture was enough to stop her. "Wait. Don't get up. You shouldn't even be awake yet."

"Is that an order?"

He didn't miss a beat. "Insubordination? I would never dream of it."

"Good answer." She reached back and shifted her pillow so she could sit in a sort of semi-upright position; Garrus looked mollified and removed his hand. He had been getting a little touchy-feely lately, if she wasn't overestimating things—she had read somewhere that turians were like that with people they cared about. Something to do with leaving their scent on things they didn't want to lose, to establish a kind of connection. Shepard didn't pretend to understand the whole concept—a culture based on a superior sense of smell, with all the attached gestures and rituals, was utterly alien to humans—but it made her feel… good. Appreciated.

"Before she comes back," Garrus said in a low voice, leaning down a little so she could hear him. "I thought I saw some suspicion there."

"She's not telling the whole story," Shepard muttered back. "That's all I can pick up. You know her better than I do."

He looked amused. "Not really. I used to stop by here every now and then to get something to drink on my patrols. Our conversations mainly consisted of her telling me about the latest people who had tried to threaten or blackmail her."

"So she does have a habit of getting into dangerous situations, then? That wasn't just the one time?"

"Two times. And yes. I'm afraid our Dr. Michel does not have a very sophisticated threat detection system."

"Is that turian for 'stranger danger?'" Shepard chuckled. "Don't answer that."

"I wasn't going to. Anyway, I highly doubt that she is directly connected to the poisoner. But she knows more than she's letting on. Perhaps she treated a case of Kardosil poisoning recently. If the drug is so new, how else would she have known exactly what it was when I brought you in?"

"Good point. But how did it even get into my system?"

"Dr. Michel said the administration must have occurred one to two hours before you started showing symptoms. What have you eaten and drunk since then?"

"Just breakfast at that Presidium café. You don't think…?"

Garrus sighed. "It's possible. There are a lot of people who would profit from your death. Slavers, mercenaries, drug dealers… It isn't inconceivable that they might have bought out a struggling stall owner."

"Then we need to go back. As soon as possible."

"Don't expect to find anything. Whoever the poisoner was must have known that a dead Spectre would attract attention. That café would be the first place investigated. Ninety-nine percent chance that they've already flown the coop."

"But we still—" Shepard fell silent as she heard footsteps in the hallway. Dr. Michel entered the room, carrying a glass of water.

"It's so dark in here! Have your eyes adjusted yet, Commander?"

"Can't tell. Try turning the light on."

The sudden surge of light made Shepard wince, but she was relieved to find her eyes adjusting. Soon she could make out Garrus's face in detail, as well as the scratches in the windowpane on the other side of the room and the name on the tag that Dr. Michel wore on her lapel. She had hated not being able to see properly; it was a huge, crippling disability for a soldier, especially a human.

"Ah, much better." Dr. Michel came toward the bed and handed Shepard the cup. The water tasted like nirvana; she felt like her throat had been rubbed dry with sandpaper. She must have sounded like a chain smoker beforehand, though she hadn't noticed.

"Dr. Michel, we have a few questions for you," Garrus said. Straight to the point. It made Shepard smile.

The doctor didn't smile. Her eyes narrowed, brows knitting together in anxiety. Shepard was familiar with fear, and Michel was showing all the signs. "Questions? What kind of questions?"

"There's no point in beating around the bush," Shepard said. They'd get answers quicker if they tag-teamed it. Garrus glanced at her with puzzled eyes. Oh—he was probably confused by "beating around the bush." She would have to explain it later. "Someone just tried to kill me. I can assure you that there will be a full investigation into this matter. C-Sec may be involved, but it's more likely that I will be encouraged to make… personal inquiries. As a Spectre."

Shepard had never liked threatening people. Especially civilians. But sometimes a thinly veiled threat was the quickest and easiest way to get a point across. Every second that ticked away was another second for the poisoner to get away. She still thought their best lead was back at the café, but if Michel had valuable information, they had to get that first.

Dr. Michel sighed. To her credit, she didn't look like she was on the verge of panicking. All that experience with threats and blackmail must be coming in handy. Brushing a lock of dark red hair back from her face with a perfectly manicured hand, the doctor looked at Garrus as she spoke, avoiding Shepard's gaze. "I didn't lie. It was a colleague who told me about the Kardosil. Perhaps not the kind of colleague I implied him to be."

"Everyone has a few vices," Garrus said dryly, shooting Shepard a look that plainly said Go figure. "Tell me about him."

"I won't tell you his name." Forestalling their protests, Dr. Michel held up her hands, though Shepard noticed that she was still focusing entirely on Garrus. Perhaps she thought it would be easier to appeal to him, since they seemed to know each other. If so, she had gravely underestimated Garrus. Shepard knew for a fact that he had never allowed personal affairs to get in the way of a mission. "He's not a bad man. I've known him for years. He helps me stay on top of what's happening in the Wards. New drugs, new diseases, where people are selling the cheapest supplies. In exchange, I give him and his… friends free medical service and supplies, whenever they need it. I wouldn't have lasted six months alone in this clinic without his help."

"With the amount of trouble you get yourself into, I'm not surprised," sighed Garrus. "Go on."

"Last week, he brought me a sample of this new drug. Kardosil, he called it. Some of his sellers had died in the last few days, and the autopsies had turned up traces of the poison in their systems. He said that there was no reasonable connection, that it looked like someone had just been testing the drug and its effects. I put it through the scanner and developed an antidote."

"And if you hadn't…" Garrus closed his eyes.

"I'd be dead," finished Shepard. "Lucky. Too lucky."

She glanced at Garrus. His eyes were still closed; he seemed to be turning something over in his head. Perhaps it had really hit him just how close a call this had been. Shepard hadn't quite gotten there yet—she was still in the righteous anger phase, not even close to shock or denial. Dying of poison? How positively archaic. And the fact that she was on shore leave just made it worse, almost comical. Commander Shepard, Hero of the Citadel—much as she disliked the title—officially deceased while reclining on a couch and watching a turian adjust the settings on the telly. What a sad way to go.

"You need to tell us who your contact is," Garrus said in a low voice. Shepard had never quite picked up the knack of interpreting turian subharmonics, but his sounded more jagged than usual. "I could have you jailed for withholding evidence."

Dr. Michel paled. "Garrus—you wouldn't!"

"I'm an officer of the law. A crime has been committed, and it's my responsibility to examine all possible leads." Now he just sounded tired, like he was quoting from a rule book. "If your friend is innocent, he won't be harmed. But if he is responsible, you're sheltering an attempted murderer."

"Garrus, that doesn't make sense," Shepard cut in. "If he was planning to use the poison to kill someone, why would he turn over a sample to Dr. Michel?"

Dr. Michel seized on the point, the color visibly returning to her face. "Just so! I can contact him. Ask him what else he knows. He will cooperate, I swear. Just let me talk to him."

Shepard hesitated. She exchanged a look with Garrus and knew they were both on the same wavelength. If Dr. Michel tipped off her contact and he did turn out to be the murderer, then he would have the perfect opportunity to escape. "Why don't we all talk to him?"

Dr. Michel shook her head. "No, no. That won't work. You see, he is undocumented. He has no legal right to live on the Citadel. His pass expired years ago. If C-Sec finds him, he will be evicted. He has nowhere to go. People will kill him if he leaves. And my clinic… I'll have to close down. I cannot stay open without his help."

"Undocumented," muttered Garrus. "This keeps getting better and better."

"He will cut the connection if I'm not alone," Dr. Michel continued to plead. "Please, I promise he will not run. He will not keep anything from me."

Under ideal circumstances, Shepard would have taken a few minutes to discuss the problem with Garrus. As a C-Sec officer, his insights could be invaluable. But her comfortable day of shore leave had just changed into a timed manhunt, and her soldiering instincts told her that she couldn't spare the delay. She would have to depend on subtle, nonverbal cues from her squad of one, just as she did on the battlefield. A quick, minimalist nod from Garrus told her that he would follow her lead.

"Make the call," she said. "We'll wait here until you're done."