Shepard ran. She ran like a bat out of hell, long, quick strides making her legs ache and her lungs burn. She ran like there was a whole army of husks behind her, like all the galaxy depended upon her getting from point A to point B.
She braced her hands against the railings of the treadmill and ran.
Out of her periphery, she saw Garrus walk into the small gym of the Alliance base, which was entirely unoccupied at nine in the evening on a Saturday. Except for Shepard. Shepard had nothing better to do these days than run and spar and drink and fuck and it was driving her to the brink of madness. She was this close to contacting Hackett personally and begging him for an assignment. Taking out a Reaper nest, flushing out a Cerberus cell, anything. Anything but more desk work, more reports, more supply orders given out and appearances made.
Garrus, for his part, seemed to feel much the same. Except he seemed quite content to enjoy the running and sparring and drinking and fucking. Hell, she did too, but she was never comfortable being self-indulgent for very long. And this god damn medical leave had gone on so very long.
Garrus wandered over in front of her, preoccupied. He was staring at a datapad. Shepard keyed the console and increased the speed.
"You know what?" He asked, looking up.
"What?" Shepard gasped out, breathing hard.
"I hate Joker."
Shepard couldn't help but smile, but she couldn't laugh. Too busy sucking in air. "Everyone does at some point," she said breathlessly.
"He sent me an extranet article on 'turian/human relationships.'"
"Sounds like him." Shepard increased the speed to the maximum. It was moving so fast she actually had to take her hands off the railings and start using her arms. She was sprinting.
She saw his eyes narrow and his mandibles flicker out briefly. "Whoever wrote this never met a turian in their life. It's insulting, is what it is."
"Garrus," she gasped.
Garrus stared. She realized he was noticing that her red hair was actually tied behind her head for once. He leaned over and slammed on the big red 'stop' button. The treadmill slowly began to wind down, and so did Shepard. She ended up collapsing against the console, drenched in sweat and very pleasantly exhausted. The endorphins rushing through her body almost convinced her she'd done something today.
Shepard felt something fuzzy drape over her back. "Thanks," she managed as he toweled her off.
"Anytime." He placed his hands on her waist and gently lifted her from the console, guiding her towards a nearby bench. She promptly plopped down onto it, legs wide and head bowed, taking deep swallows of air. He sat next to her, still thumbing at the datapad and looking thoroughly agitated.
"Give," she said, holding out a hand. He did. She read it. Slowly, her eyes narrowed, then widened, and she quirked an eyebrow.
"You bite your mates?"
"We do not," Garrus said indignantly, crossing his arms.
Shepard glanced at him and half-smiled, too tired for a full one. "I don't know, big guy, you can nip pretty hard-"
"I nip," he said sternly. "I do not sink my teeth into your neck to claim you." He reached over and keyed the datapad and an explanatory image appeared. Shepard's expression shifted instantly.
"Oh god. Why would... that's the neck. Where all the blood is." She looked at him. "No offense, Garrus, but if you pulled something like this before the Omega 4 relay, I think that would have been that."
"None taken. Look at the next page."
She keyed the datapad and more text appeared. She quickly scanned it and already noticed an error. "Thought your tattoos were colony markings."
"They are," he huffed. "They're certainly not 'Clan Vakarian' markings. Spirits alive, we're not krogan."
"That's something I always wondered," she said idly. "Does that mean everyone from Palaven has the same tattoo?"
"Only the basic structure," he explained, reaching down under the bench and retrieving a water bottle Shepard hadn't noticed. He handed it to her, and once more Shepard was surprised at how rarely she had to verbalize her desires to Garrus. "The designs can vary, and the colors as well, but the basic form is the same. And there are numerous tattoos for Palaven, one for each of the major cities."
Shepard sucked down water, and when she came up for air, she said, "Yours is the capital, right?"
He nodded. "Cipritine."
"And the color?"
He grinned briefly, mandibles flaring. "I like blue."
She grinned back. "So do I," she said huskily, leaning over and kissing the edge of his tattoo.
Garrus gave her a knowing look. "You're never going to make me blush, Shepard."
"That's what you think," she shot back, shoving him lightly. "Vakarian clan."
"You sound like a volus." He rumbled. "Keep reading."
Shepard flicked the datapad again. Another image appeared. It was... particularly explicit.
"Whoa. Guess we know how Joker found this."
Garrus laughed mirthlessly. Shepard studied the images carefully.
"What is going... is he-"
Shepard keyed the datapad again and read the accompanying text. She felt her frown deepen.
"Sexual dominance rituals?"
Garrus finally pushed himself out of his seat and began to pace around in front of her. "It's like they think we're barbarians. Clans, rituals, biting and scratching-"
"Well, there is some scratching."
"Every species scratches sometimes," he said, throwing a hand in the air. "Except the salarians, but that's because they don't have nails. I certainly don't have 'razor sharp talons' that I use to 'establish dominance.' Whatever that means."
Shepard glanced up at his hands. Gloved, it was hard to tell what was under them. "Well, you do have talons."
"Short and clipped and filed and perfectly blunt." He shook his head. "No turian keeps them sharp."
She hummed thoughtfully as she read. "Figured that was just for me."
He shifted his weight and scratched at his fringe. "Well. I keep them a little shorter than most."
"I'm flattered," she said with a smile, keying to the next page - mating with regard to society. "Open relationships, political marriages, good breeding..."
"That's salarian culture," Garrus said, hands on his hip spurs. "Turians don't do that."
"You do have those citizenship tiers," Shepard said conversationally, reading and occasionally sneering skeptically at the datapad. "Though I imagine in a meritocracy, who you're married to doesn't mean a whole lot."
"Exactly," he said, pacing back towards her and taking his seat on the bench again. "Of course there's a certain honor to be had if someone of a higher rank sees something in you that's attractive, but there's certainly no such thing as an 'marrying up' in turian culture."
Shepard looked over and smirked but before she could even say anything, Garrus leaned over and his mouth nipped lightly at her jaw.
"And yes," he said, subtonals rumbling quietly in her ear, "I am honored, thank you."
Shepard locked eyes with him (blue and brilliant and so damn honest) then quickly looked away and keyed the datapad before Garrus could see the blush rising to her cheeks. Thankfully, the next page gave her a good cover. "Whoa, hel-lo."
"Reached the section on male anatomy, I see," Garrus sighed, turning away and covering his eyes with one hand while resting the other on his knee.
Shepard had never been attracted to aliens. She was attracted to Garrus, certainly, but that started as an emotional connection, or a spiritual one in the least religious sense of the word. Once a physical attraction started to develop, Shepard's mind had reeled at the thought. She had never felt so unsure about her desires, or her sense of self. It scared the living hell out of her. She ended up sitting in a bar at the Citadel, checking out men of all species to make sure she was still who she thought she was. She found that human men looked good, the occasional drell looked kind of alright, and turians did nothing for her.
And the next day, when she passed by Garrus in the mess hall (in another pissing contest with Zaeed, weight shifting on his hips as he crossed his arms and tilted his head), she thought he looked damn fine. Shepard's mind settled after that - she wasn't attracted to a turian, she was attracted to Garrus Vakarian. Simple as that.
Of course, over the course of their physical relationship, she had come to... appreciate the turian anatomy, but she still found herself entirely disinterested in any other turian she'd ever met. And so when she saw these particular images... all she could do was laugh.
So she laughed. "Guess you're not such a 'big guy' after all."
"Oh yes, those are true to life representations," Garrus said, sarcasm oozing from every tone in his flanging voice. "Turn the page."
She did. She stopped laughing. "Oh god, what? It's barbed."
Garrus said nothing. He simply sat there with his arms crossed and scowled.
Shepard sat there with wide eyes. She glanced over at Garrus, saw him looking thoroughly humorless, and couldn't resist. "Well, this would explain why you were so confused when I offered to-"
"That is not the reason!" He barked. "Turian women have sharp teeth and no lips! That's the reason!"
"Whoa, calm down," Shepard said, patting the air between them. "Don't go into one of your primal, animalistic furies."
Garrus spun his head and squinted at her. Shepard burst into laughter again, and he looked away, shifting uncomfortably.
"Why doesn't it bother you?" Garrus asked. "The idea that people could look at us, look at you, and think that you were some kind of... deviant."
"Two reasons," Shepard said, putting arm around his neck. "First, anyone who believes this crap? Probably not that smart to begin with. And second?"
She leaned into him and pressed her lips firmly on his mouth. Her tongue lightly probed into his, and he responded, and for a handful of moments, they kissed. The telltale tingle of foreign proteins in her mouth had become a very welcome sensation, one she savored, since they could never let it last quite as long as she'd like.
She broke away from him, rested her forehead against his, and smiled. "Do I seem like I give a rat's ass what anyone thinks?"
His hand rested on her knee, fingers gently petting. "You deserve respect," he said, though he wasn't really arguing anymore.
"I've got all the respect I need right here." She raised a hand up behind his fringe and rubbed at the back of his head. He closed his eyes and practically purred.
Suddenly, the door opened. Garrus' eyes flew open and he turned, startled.
"Uh." Vega looked at the both of them. He had a sports bottle and a datapad in his hands, and wireless earbuds in his ears. "I interrupt something?"
Garrus moved to speak but Shepard cut him off. "Yes," she barked. "Go away."
Vega glanced around, saw an empty gym. The corner of his mouth twitched up. "You know you got quarters for this shit, right Lola?"
Shepard groaned and rolled her eyes, lifting her arm off Garrus' shoulders and standing. "Far be it from me to interrupt James Vega's pull-ups." She looked at Garrus and jerked her head. "Come on, big guy, let's let the monkey have his bars."
"Ook ook," Vega deadpanned, heading into the gym. He waved a hand over his shoulder. "Have fun, Scars."
Once they were outside and walking back to Shepard's quarters, Shepard reached over and took Garrus' hand.
"Meant what I said."
They walked. The Alliance base covered a relatively large area, nothing but a handful of different varieties of prefab units slapped down in rough columns and grids, occasionally stacked on top of each other. The night was quiet, cool and misty. Shepard felt herself shiver - she was in nothing but a tank top and sweat pants. Garrus removed his hand from hers and wrapped his arm around her shoulders instead. He was warm.
"You have anything pressing tomorrow?"
He looked at her strangely. Not the tone he had expected from her. "The usual. Nothing I can't put off."
"Want to come and see the Normandy with me?"
He stared at her a moment. "Sure," he said with a nod. He looked off into the misty night. "Maybe if we stare at the ground crews long enough, they'll work faster."
"I've never been planetside this long, Garrus."
He stopped and held her back. He put his hands up on her shoulders and caressed her cheeks with his thumbs. Shepard looked up at him. He was a few inches taller than she was, but he never made her feel small.
"We'll get there," Garrus said simply. And looking into his eyes, she could believe it.
She placed her hands on his waist. "Until we do," she said, voice quiet, "make sure I don't fly off the handle, huh?"
He smirked without smirking. She could tell. "What do think I've been doing?"
Shepard chuckled dryly, despite herself. "Enjoying yourself?"
"A bit," he admitted. "But why do you think I was in the gym tonight? Because it wasn't just about the article."
Shepard blinked at him.
"Hell, why do you think Vega was in the gym tonight?" He continued. "Because everyone knows that's where you've been every night for the last month, running yourself ragged."
She frowned and looked away. He gently pulled her face back towards his.
"We will get there, Shepard," he said. "They can't stop you. Just... be patient."
"Patience has never been my greatest virtue." She rested her head against his collar and felt him nuzzle the side of her head. "Hell, Garrus, it's not like I don't like peace, but-"
"I get it," he said. "Been feeling the same way."
"It's not where we belong."
He considered that for a moment. "No."
"We've always had goals, you know? Always had a mission." She breathed deeply. He smelled like copper and smoke and warmth. Comforting. "Now I just feel... adrift."
"It happens," he said, gently stroking her back. "We'll get our marching orders soon enough."
She kissed lightly at his neck. His chest thrummed, and this time it wasn't the cold that made her shudder.
"Wanna hear something that makes no sense?" Shepard's voice was muffled against his skin. She hoped he couldn't hear how pathetic she felt. "I hate myself for being so indulgent, for being with you so much. And then I hate myself for feeling that way."
They stood there in the cool English night for a moment before he spoke.
"Makes perfect sense," he said, pouring on the suave self-confidence. "They cancel each other out, and all that's left is being with me."
He caught her off guard. She sputtered and laughed against him. He stroked her hair.
"Keep me company tonight?" Shepard asked, pulling away and smiling.
"You know me," Garrus said, mandibles flaring. "Always here when you need me."
And they walked.