To be fair, Shepard probably shouldn't have been eavesdropping in the first place. It was a bad enough habit when she was listening in on the conversations of complete strangers (and one that inevitably came back to bite her in the ass; she was still haunted by the tale of the asari commando and the farmers on Tiptree) but happening to sidle through the Apollo Cafe while Liara was talking to her father was just plain nosiness and she knew it.
Oh, she probably could have found some justification for her spying if she'd tried hard enough, but she knew it wasn't really about knowing the unknowable Shadow Broker, and she didn't really have questions of security where Liara was concerned. Mostly she was glad to see Liara… just talking. Smiling a little, even. It was an echo of the girl Shepard had known long ago, before Liara'd lost mother and purpose and… and her, too, she supposed. It made something uncomfortable squirm along her spine thinking about it, and she still avoided talking about the repercussions of her death (and resurrection), but even she couldn't pretend her friends had come through that mess unscathed or unaffected. Hell. No one had.
So, because it did her heart some good to see the tiny smile playing on Liara's lips, she listened. Even though she knew she shouldn't.
(Also? The quarter-krogan thing? Was gold. She kind of couldn't wait to tell Wrex.)
But when Aethyta's dry tone said, "I've seen the way you two look at each other," and Shepard realized the asari was talking about her—about her and Liara—she froze.
"Surprised your panties haven't caught fire."
Shepard hardly heard Liara's stammered response—just enough to know the asari didn't disabuse her father of the… what? The possibility? Something about being tawdry? Hell, there was… nothing to be tawdry about. They were friends.
Cheeks burning—cheeks and absolutely not panties; where did that even come from—Shepard was halfway back to the Normandy before she realized where she was headed. The elevator had to gently remind her that she'd reached her intended destination. She didn't actually remember pressing any buttons. Blinking at the open doors, she straightened her shoulders and strode past the waiting area toward her ship, even though she still had a dozen little errands to take care of aboard the Citadel.
First things first.
She couldn't quite erase the feelings the overheard conversation had stirred in her. Anyone else, and she'd have thought it a joke at her expense. A sideways 'Hey, funny how you seem to have a lot of business here at the same time I do, Shepard' leg-pull. But… Liara? Liara wasn't the type. And she'd stammered. And said tawdry.
Not for the first time, Shepard wondered if her tendency toward informality, toward fostering friendships over cool subordination, mightn't have gotten her in trouble.
And, shit, for that matter… did Traynor really just want to play a game of chess, as her (as-yet-un-dealt-with) message had indicated? Did Allers really only want an interview? (Private? Why private? Wasn't her cubbyhole in the hold private enough?) And Kaidan. Well. Conversations with Kaidan had always been a bit like running blind through a field of land-mines. She liked the guy—always had—but (in the immortal words of teenagers everywhere) didn't like like him. Hell, they'd been at each others' throats since Horizon. Was a request for a friendly lunch just… a request for a friendly lunch?
She sure as hell didn't like second-guessing herself, belatedly wondering if half her crew thought kindness and friendship equated… well, a hell of a lot more than kindness and friendship. Striding through the CIC, she found herself replaying snatches of conversation, parsing them for… for what? For flirtation? Unwitting flirtation?
And if other people—more or less complete strangers, even—thought she was, uh, looking at Liara with the force of burning panties?
(What was it anyway? Did she smile too much? Was a hand on the shoulder flirtatious? Jesus, didn't they know? Maybe she'd never stood at the top of the Presidium and shouted it, but… but she'd sort of thought her unavailability was… known. Then again, maybe she'd screwed up there, too. Dammit.)
She'd have groaned if there weren't so many people around to hear it.
Traynor half-turned as Shepard headed for the elevator, but whatever she'd been about to say was swallowed. Shepard saw her swallow. Shit, she practically heard her swallow.
"Am I needed in the comm room?"
Traynor shook her head. "No, Commander. Is everything… we weren't expecting you back so soon."
"I'm good, Traynor. Just remembered something I needed to do. As you were."
Was that disappointment on Traynor's face? Was she imagining the slight slump of the shoulders?
Yeah. She really hated second-guessing herself.
"Can it wait? I'm in the middle of some—"
"So help me God, if you say the word calibrations I will rip your arm off and beat you to death with it. We need to talk."
If she hadn't been looking for it—for something—she might have missed the way his hands hovered above the console just a moment too long before lowering and skittering lightly across the panel to shut down whatever it was he was doing. She might have missed the way his shoulders straightened, ever so slightly, barely shifting the weight of his armor.
If she didn't know Garrus, she would certainly have missed the slight twitch of his mandible as he bent his head. She might have assumed he was only looking at the readouts scrolling on the screen before him and not working hard to gather his thoughts. She might only have seen cockiness in the long lines of his body when he turned and leaned against the railing, arms crossed over his chest, one hip taking his weight. She mightn't have understood the unhappy emotion hiding in the deep quaver in his lower register when he said, "Shepard."
"You've been avoiding me."
"You always know where to find me."
She narrowed her eyes at him, and crossed her own arms over her own chest—though she doubted her posture looked half so nonchalant as his. "That's not what I mean and you know it." She huffed a breath, blowing the strands of hair that always fell out of her ponytail out of her eyes. "Half the time I come down here and I'm lucky to get five words in before you're rushing me out the door again."
The shift in Garrus was subtle—for him. He didn't move. His position didn't precisely change. But suddenly he seemed deflated in a way that, in another person, would have manifested as hunched shoulders and head buried in hands. Garrus only turned his head, not meeting her eyes. His mandibles twitched, and his mouth closed tight.
When he didn't say anything, she continued, "I… you know, when you first came back on board, I thought I made myself clear. I mean, clear enough that I… didn't think we'd have to have this conversation."
This, at least, brought his eyes to meet hers again, though she wasn't sure having him look at her was any better. Perhaps foolishly, she'd thought herself pretty adept at deciphering turian expressions. Or at least the expressions of this turian. And if her mental Garrus translator wasn't completely malfunctioning, he looked miserable.
Misery mixed with hope.
God, it made her heart hurt just looking at him.
"Look," he said, drawing the vowels out as if trying to buy himself time. "You've had…a lot of things on your mind, Shepard. I know that. And I—"
She flung her hands up, startling him into silence. He blinked at her. She scowled back. "You don't think this was one of the things on my mind?"
From misery, his head tilted toward confusion. Confusion, and just a hint of the awkwardness she found so dear. He straightened out of his cocksure lean and opened his hands. Helplessly, she thought. She hated seeing him helpless. She hated that she was the one causing it. "I didn't want to hold you to something you weren't… sure about."
"Did you forget the kissing?"
"The part where I said I missed you and thought about you?"
"No." He took a step toward her, then stopped, glancing down at his hands. "But I also remembered you saying you didn't know how things would play out. And with Liara… with Kaidan… you have history. I thought maybe you wouldn't be as… I don't know. Interested in… blowing off steam. With me."
She almost laughed. If she'd been feeling any less troubled, she might have. Instead, she only sighed and shook her head. "Well, you're right about that."
Because she was looking at his hands, she saw them clench briefly into fists. Before he could say anything, she said, "It's not about… blowing off steam. And it is about history."
This time she was the one to take the step nearer, and two long strides put her close enough to lay a hand against his breastplate. He looked at her hand. She watched his face. "Garrus, it hasn't just been about blowing off steam between us for… for a long time. Not for me, anyway. And who on this ship has more history than us?" Closing her fingers into a loose fist, she knocked lightly against his armor. "I don't know what rumors have been circulating, but I can tell you one thing for certain: there's no one else in this whole damned universe I'd rather have by my side. On the field and off of it."
She'd never been more grateful for his low chuckle than she was in that moment. That it was accompanied by the familiarity of his smile, his cocky head-tilt, and the half-unconscious gesture of his where he reached up and rubbed bashfully at the side of his neck was icing. "I am something else."
"And you really would have a hell of a time finding someone better with his gun."
Her own lips twitched into a grin at this, and his chuckle deepened into a laugh.
"Pun intended, I assume?" she remarked mildly. "As usual?"
He bent his head, forehead to hers, close enough for her to feel the rumble of his voice. "As usual."
Turning her cheek, she pressed a kiss to his scarred face. "Wouldn't have it any other way." Then she sighed, and stepped back. "Unfortunately, I was in the middle of a to-do list twenty things long on the Citadel when I came rushing back."
"You rushed back for me?"
"Don't push it, Vakarian," she returned, smirking. "Later?"
He nodded, his expression turning thoughtful. "I, uh… was going to send you a message, but since you're here…" He smirked back at her, and his swagger returned full-force. "Can't fight a war without a little R&R once in awhile. Meet me at the shuttles near C-Sec when you're done?"
She smiled up at him, heart pounding and cheeks flushed in a way that had nothing to do with the embarrassment of misunderstandings or overheard conversations. "Why, Garrus Vakarian, are you asking me on a date?"
"I am," he replied, bluster gone. His seriousness only made her cheeks hotter.
"All right," she said, willing her voice not to waver. The battery doors whooshed open, and she turned her head to send him a cocky grin of her own. "It's a date, then."
And as she strode back through her ship, humming cheerfully and tunelessly under her breath, she added disabuse Aethyta of insane notions regarding Liara to that to-do list she was working on. You know, if she had time. Before her date.