She traced lazy circles on his pectoral plate. He could just barely feel it. Garrus looked down at her, that strange, alien red hair tousled and everywhere. It would tickle, if turians were ticklish.
"What are you doing, anyway?"
Shepard looked up at him lazily. "Sorry."
"I didn't say stop."
Now she smiled. "Oh?"
Garrus bent his head just a little to take in the scent of her again. His mandibles moved when he spoke, and he felt her shudder with reflexive laughter as they tickled the top of her head. "Just wondering what you're thinking."
Shepard resumed her ministrations, finger ghosting across his chest. "Still a bit new to me. This whole thing."
"Thought we'd gotten over that," Garrus said, even though he knew it wasn't really true for him either.
"We've gotten over the awkward part," Shepard said mildly. "We've got a ways to go yet."
"Before..." Garrus felt her shrug. "I don't know. It stops being interesting?"
He hummed. "Don't like the sound of that."
"Would you prefer 'weird?'"
"What I thought." Her fingers moved between the plates, tracing the seams. "You're just so... different."
"Don't know what you're talking about," he deadpanned. "You're the one that's different."
"Said the dangerously pointy alien."
"If anyone here is dangerous, I'd say it's you."
"Me?" He could hear the concealed laughter couching in mock indignation. "What makes you say that?"
He looked down and caught her eye. Garrus gave her his most dubious expression - he narrowed his eyes, his mandibles flexed all the way out, then pulled back in with a soft clack against his face.
Shepard sputtered into a laugh, easy and unguarded. The feel of it shuddered through him. Garrus took a tremendous amount of pride in making her laugh.
"Never seen that one before," she said, still smiling big and wide.
He smiled back, as much as he could. "It's not exactly subtle."
"Well, neither are you." Shepard settled back against his chest, resting her chin and staring up at him.
They spent a few pointless minutes just staring at each other. He ran a hand through her hair, she kept tracing pointless symbols on his skin. The strange, post-coital hypersensitivity had passed, and they were simply enjoying the feeling of one another. During these moments (and there had been a lot of them since the war ended) Garrus couldn't help but be amazed at the turn his life had taken. If someone had told him three years ago he would be bedding a human regularly, he would have called them crazy. If they had said he couldn't even imagine another woman after her, he'd have laughed in their face.
And yet, here they were. And he couldn't.
But, he always reminded himself, she wasn't 'a human.' She was Shepard. Just Shepard. Wholly unique.
There was something he should ask. He'd been putting it off, but for some reason now seemed like the right time. And she'd given him a decent way in earlier. He was about to speak when Shepard gave him a curious look.
"There any turian comedians?"
Well, that brought him up short. He recovered quickly.
"You're looking at one."
Shepard smirked and flicked at his nose. He chuckled.
"Seriously?" He asked. She nodded. "You mean like vid stars, or-"
"Stand up." Shepard smiled again and rested her hands underneath her chin. "Just can't imagine turian stand up. Like, what, is it nothing but military jokes?"
Garrus grinned. "I'll show you a vid sometime."
"So it exists?" Shepard seemed a bit surprised.
"I was always partial to Gorgos Kirlin."
She blinked. Then she narrowed her eyes. "Fuck you."
Garrus looked abashed. "I'm serious."
"That's not a real person."
"He had a very storied career."
She searched his eyes. "Name one of his specials."
He didn't miss a beat. "'Thick White Mandibles.'"
Shepard's eyes widened. Then she burst into sputtering laughter again, accidentally spitting on him. She tried to apologize but she couldn't even get the words out. Garrus ended up laughing too - it was infectious.
"I'll download it tomorrow," Garrus said with a grin as she calmed herself.
"Wouldn't miss it for the world," Shepard said breathlessly.
Briefly, he considered putting it off for another night. They had time. There was no rush. War was over, ship was grounded for another few months. It could wait.
But if there was anything he learned during his time with Shepard, it's the value of living life while it's here.
He steeled himself.
He rolled his jaw nervously. "You said earlier we've got a ways to go."
Shepard looked up at him, wide eyes in the dark.
"I just, uh." Get it together, Vakarian. "You plan on seeing this through, Shepard?"
He felt her hand on his face, scarred side. "Of course I do." She scoffed at herself. "Fuck, Garrus, I didn't mean-"
"I don't want you to think I-"
"Shepard." He let his hand gently grip the back of her head. "I know. I just... would you consider... formalizing that?"
A strange grin flickered across her face and she laughed nervously. "What, you want it put it in writing?"
"No, I mean." He averted his eyes, groaned and grumbled. No turning back now. "You've made your feelings very clear, I don't want you to think I need this, but..."
He caught her gaze again and she looked... nervous? Scared? Excited? Her heart was beating faster against his chest, he could feel it, it's rhythmic, alien pattern so different from his own.
"Shepard," he said, his throat dry. "Would you want to... join with me?"
Garrus couldn't look away now. He saw the words bounce off her like they meant nothing, and they didn't. He'd used the turian phrasing because he was far too nervous to remember the human one. Still, from the look on her face, she'd known what he was asking before he'd asked it.
She slid up, threw one leg over his waist, straddled him. She bent close, forehead touching his, and met his eyes.
"Garrus..." She began.
And then the wall exploded inwards. Chunks of the prefab structure flew across the room, pieces of metal and debris. They rolled away, off the side of the bed, landing hard and taking cover behind it. After the initial explosion, but before the dust settled, Garrus knelt up, locked his talons underneath the bed, and lifted. He flung it up onto it's side, the metal frame providing easy cover from the bursts of gunfire coming in through the hole.
Shepard went for the foot locker she kept at the foot of the bed. She quickly keyed in the code, flung it open, and pulled out her Revenant. It was loaded, she just needed to flick the safety off. Garrus had already let the bed tip and fall, going for his rifle in the same foot locker. As the bed fell forward, Shepard unloaded, holding down the trigger. Garrus heard the telltale drop of shields, the cries of pain and the sound of rounds penetrating armor and flesh. He pulled out his rifle, his trusty old Mantis, and shouldered it.
He realized he didn't have his visor. It was on the nightstand. Or it had been. The explosion had knocked it off.
"Cerberus," Shepard said simply in the sudden quiet.
"Yeah," Garrus said, keeping his gun trained on the hole as he drifted left, looking down for his visor. "You okay?"
Shepard grimaced. "Gonna have a hell of a bruise on this shoulder."
Garrus glanced over. She was naked but for the rifle. So was he, he realized.
"How many rounds?"
"Half a clip left."
He lowered his left hand to grasp blindly for the visor. "You got more?"
"In the locker. Six more clips."
His hand wrapped around his visor. He grinned without meaning to. "Paranoid."
Shepard smiled. "You okay?"
He slipped the visor on, a bit awkwardly with one hand still ready on the trigger of his rifle, and keyed it on. "I am now."
"You think they heard?"
Garrus thought about the distance between Shepard's prefab quarters and the Alliance base - it was within easy walking distance. He didn't know about earshot. "Don't know. Shape charge, sound might not have carried."
"Figures." Shepard shifted, stepping left towards him, her gun level. "What I get for not demanding proper quarters."
"Said you liked the privacy," he replied conversationally as he backed up, shifting right.
"Their idea." Shepard crouched behind the fallen bed, but didn't kneel. "You got comms?"
Garrus keyed his visor. "Check, check, anyone copy?" Static. "Jammed."
"Of course." She allowed herself a moment to curse under her breath. "Any idea how many are left?"
He keyed his visor for thermals, then scanned quickly around and above. "Think you must have got all the troopers. Nothing on thermal."
"Which leaves phantoms and snipers."
He nodded. "Switching to motion." The color shifted in his visor. "Going to step out, sweep the field."
He knew she'd argue. "Like hell."
"I'm the one with the visor."
"You don't have shields."
"You have any personal generators?"
She grimaced. "Built into the armor. Not in the locker, closet out in the hall."
"Don't suppose they'd let us make ourselves decent."
She didn't say anything.
"I'm going out."
"So am I."
"You'll cover me better in here."
"You didn't argue this much back on the ship."
"You pulling rank?"
She set her jaw. "I'm following."
Garrus couldn't stop her, so he waited for her to walk up, touch his shoulder to signal, then stepped out into the open air with her on his six.
The balmy English night awaited. The shape charge had blown a clean hole right into the bedroom, not much rubble or debris on the outside of the quarters, aside from the bodies of the three Cerberus assault troopers who'd tried to charge in. The grassy moors went off in either direction, and the sea crashed lightly against the rocky cliffs on the opposite side of the structure. For once he hated that her quarters had a damn hill separating them from the Alliance base - no line of sight whatsoever. No cover, either, other than a few small boulders.
He quickly swept left, then right. Nothing on motion, but he knew that it couldn't have just been three assault troopers. What little of Cerberus still survived wouldn't half-ass an assassination attempt.
Suddenly, an alert chimed in his visor. "Right!" He shouted, and Shepard spun and fired. The phantom's shields and thermoptics dropped and while she was riddled with rounds, she held her palm out, firing the strange implanted blaster. Shepard dodged sideways, barely dodging the fire which would tear through her unarmored, unshielded flesh like paper. Garrus leveled his rifle, aimed, and fired. The phantom's head exploded, blood and brain matter scattered as the body crumpled to the ground.
They were allowed a single moment of peace. Before they could catch their breath, another alert chimed. "Above!" He shouted, and Shepard spun again as a phantom lept from the roof of her prefab unit, blade pointing down. Shepard raised her Revenant and the phantom landed on her fully, blade piercing the gun she held across her face. It's surprising weight for it's size, born of heavy cybernetic modification and implants, bore down on Shepard, and the blade slowly penetrated further, inches from her face.
Garrus swung his overheated sniper rifle like a mallet, catching the phantom across the head and knocking it aside. It tried to scramble to it's feet, but he threw away his now useless rifle and caught it's weaponized hand in his. He caught it off balance, managed to bring to the ground and brace his knee against it's chest. He pressed down, putting all his weight on the sternum. It wasn't enough, it kept flailing and kicking, it's legs and free hand trying to strike him off, and used his other hand to brace behind it's head and pull, hard.
The cracking sound as the reinforced spinal column broke was loud and ugly. He dropped the phantom's head to the ground, did his best not to imagine who she had been before Cerberus had taken her, and glanced over at Shepard.
"Okay?" He asked breathlessly.
She nodded, held up her Revenant. "Blade missed the firing mechanism. Think it still works."
He grinned, then he saw a red dot drift onto her shoulder, then up to her head.
"Down!" He yelled, running to tackle her. She was already falling when he did, bullet whizzing past her head, taking some of her hair with it.
"Sniper," he said, braced over her, distantly aware of their naked bodies pressed together.
"Yeah," she said in a mocking tone.
"Heat sinks in the locker?"
He waited a beat. "Going."
Garrus jumped up and ran for his rifle, discarded on the ground in the fight with the phantom. He grabbed it and lept into the bedroom, narrowly avoiding another bullet. Shepard lept up after the second shot, gambling that what remained of Cerberus hadn't gotten a hold of any semi-auto snipers. It paid off, and she threw herself against the inner wall.
"Omni-tool?" She asked.
"Somewhere," he said, reloading his Mantis and hoping that the solid whack he'd given the phantom hadn't permanently misaligned the sights. "Was on the nightstand."
Garrus went prone and rolled sideways, ending up behind the upside-down bed. He braced the rifle against it and sighted. It seemed accurate. He scanned the horizon for the sniper as Shepard ran over behind him and searched for the metal bracelet containing the minifacturing fabricator that was the heart of the ubiquitous omni-tool.
Garrus' visor detected motion, briefly. The sniper was indeed just over the hill, switching positions, probably had thermoptic camo up. She was heading left. At least he thought she was.
"Got it," Shepard said somewhere behind him. He saw the telltale orange glow of the omni-tool on the edge of his vision. "Fuck, it's a wide-band jammer. Give me a minute."
"You want me on that?"
"No. I've got it. Watch the sniper."
A long thirty seconds followed. The wind swept in from outside, and lying prone and naked, Garrus felt himself shudder. He quashed it as quickly as he could, tensed and relaxed the muscles in his legs and shoulders to try and keep it from happening again. His mind raced back to his time in the service, remembering how cold it was up in the Virgus Mountains back on Palaven, where he'd taken his survival and sniper training.
"Check, check, anyone copy?" Shepard parroted behind him. "Anyone, please respond."
He saw the sniper. She peaked over the horizon, barely moving, barely registering on his motion vision. He angled his rifle, zoomed in, found her head in his scope. The flare of her laser sight almost blinded him. He fired.
Behind him, he heard a wooden clattering, something like the nightstand falling over. "Fuck!" Shepard shouted, and everything in him wanted to spin around, but he couldn't. First rule he'd ever learned as a sniper was drilled deep into his head: confirm the kill.
The instant he saw the sniper's body slump, he rolled on his back. Shepard fired the Carnifex she had pulled out of the nightstand drawer into the doorway to the rest of her quarters. He saw the dancing outline of the cloaked phantom, staggering from the shot it took to the face, blade still ready in it's hands. Shepard fired again and the inside of it's head painted the wall behind it, cloak flickering back into visiblity as it fell.
Shepard had her back to the wall, naked legs bent and heavy pistol cradled in her hands. She held it steady, but Garrus saw the pain in her face.
"I'm alright." She removed her left hand from the butt of the pistol and grabbed at her right shoulder. "Fuck."
Her shoulder had bothered her ever since the Citadel, when that piece of Sovereign's wreckage came careening through the Council chambers and nearly crushed the both of them. Even after Cerberus rebuilt her, it had always given her trouble. He'd catch her rolling it time and time again, particularly when she thought no one was looking. Combine that with the Revenant and the Carnifex both having a heavy kick, and her total lack of armor, and she'd be feeling that for days.
A voice cut through the sudden silence.
"Commander, do you read?" Her omni-tool flared to life. The voice was staticy and distorted, but still there. "Commander, copy!"
Shepard lowered her left hand from her shoulder and raised it to her left ear. "This is Shepard. Requesting assistance. Cerberus strike team, phantoms and snipers, at my quarters. Do you read?"
"Read you, Commander," barked back the voice, a strange twangy drawl evident behind the distortion. "We heard the shots, backup already on route."
"Less than a minute before visual." Garrus heard him breathing heavier as he started to run. "Injured?"
Shepard looked to Garrus. He shook his head, more than a little surprised - just a few cuts and bruises from diving around with no shoes or armor. Shepard had a few on her feet, and a great bruise forming on her shoulder, but other than that? "No. All fine here."
"How many? Do you know?"
Garrus turned and scanned around with his visor. Nothing.
"Unsure," Shepard said, reading his expression. "Three troopers, three phantoms, and one sniper confirmed dead."
"See the sniper," the voice said. "Good shooting, ma'am."
Shepard grinned at Garrus. "Thanks."
Garrus smirked at her. Suddenly, his face slackened. He drew his thumb over his throat and Shepard quickly cut the comm.
Shepard stared at him.
She spun her head around, looking for something, anything. Garrus turned and saw the first of the marines come over the hill.
"Aha!" Shepard said, reaching over and grabbing the bedsheet that had come off when they'd rolled out. She stood and wrapped it around herself, tucking the edge in and holding it. She kicked a pillow over his way and he placed it firmly over his groin. Not that they would really see anything, turian anatomy being what it is, but hell, modesty was modesty.
The marine jumped up onto the rubble of the bedroom, brown crew cut, brown eyes, thick jaw. Garrus saw two others behind him flank the house, heading around either side. "Commander, you okay?" It was the twangy voice from the comm.
"Still alive," she said, marching over to him. The marine signalled and another helmeted soldier - sentinel-designation, probably - swept past the two of them and braced himself against the wall next to the door.
"Kitchen's to the right, attached to the living area," Garrus said. "Check your corners."
The helmeted marine gave him a thumbs up, then set himself and burst through, out of sight as he turned the corner.
"We'll finish our sweep here, Commander, then I'd like to get you back to base and into some temporary quarters," the marine said, all business.
"Fine, but, uh." Shepard gestured to her feet. "I'll need to get some clothes on."
He blinked and looked down at her sheet, seemingly noticing for the first time her state of undress. Then he looked over at Garrus, rifle cradled on top of the pillow resting between his legs. "Uh." His eyes shot back to Shepard's. "Yeah, I mean, of course, ma'am." He saluted nervously before he began to leave.
"Soldier," Shepard said, stopping him in his tracks. "What's your name?"
Shepard grinned. "Owe you a drink, Sawyer."
Sawyer shifted his weight, actually looked a bit abashed. "Permission to speak freely, ma'am?"
Shepard narrowed her eyes a little, amused at the protocol. "Permission granted."
"You're the reason I've still got three brothers alive back in the Americas," he said, his drawl unusual to Garrus' ears, some regional accent he hadn't heard before. "Figure I've got a ways 'fore you owe me anything."
Shepard smiled again and saluted. Sawyer returned it, then turned on his heel and walked right out. He stuck his finger to his ear and Garrus heard him say, "Command, cancel that Mako, we're, uh. We're good out here."
Shepard returned to Garrus' side and slowly sat next to him, too-long bedsheet pooling around her legs as she held it tight to her chest. "Good kid," she said.
"Yeah," he agreed casually. "Didn't catch him staring at anything below your neck."
She grinned and twitched her eyebrows. "Too bad."
"Oh come on," Garrus shot back. "He didn't even have any scars."
She laughed. So did he. The leftover adrenaline made them a bit giddy.
"Well," she said. "That was something."
"Yeah," he agreed, mandibles flickering.
"Wasn't quite as embarrassing as I thought it would be once back up arrived," she said, sounding relieved.
"I'm sure they understood." He shrugged. "Assassins don't let you get dressed before they kill you." Shepard grunted and nodded thoughtfully.
"Been a while since we've seen combat," Garrus offered.
"Yep. Still got it, though."
"Well." Garrus hid his smirk in his voice. "One of us, anyway."
Shepard raised her hand and started counting off fingers. "One phantom."
"Two, one with my bare hands."
"With the element of surprise provided by me."
"Four to three. The numbers don't lie, Vakarian."
"Quality over quantity."
Shepard's smile softened. She rested her hand on his. "I'd have been dead if you weren't here."
He laced his three fingers around her five. "So would I."
A knock on their bedroom wall shook them from their reverie. The helmeted marine in blue armor was turned partially away, doing his gentlemanly best not to look at them. "Area's clear, ma'am. We're forming a perimeter."
"We'll be out in a minute," Shepard said, and the marine promptly turned and left. She turned to Garrus. "You mind if I dress first?"
He shook his head. Shepard stood and headed for the closet, grabbed a couple things almost at random and went to go to the bathroom. She froze at the door.
He turned. He was struck by how regal she looked in the bedsheet as it draped around her and pooled at her feet. She turned her head and gave him a look he knew all too well.
"Yeah," she said, her tone and words mimicking what had become a private joke between them since that fateful conversation in the main battery of the SR-2. "Definitely."
It took Garrus a moment to realize what she was talking about. She was looking right at him when he finally did, and before he could do anything more than gape, she said;
"But this is the only time you're ever seeing me in white."
Then she sashayed - deliberately - right out of the room.
And Garrus Vakarian was left in the rubble of her bedroom - their bedroom - knowing that just three years ago, he would never have imagined himself in this position.