Garrus steps off the elevator and stops in front of Shepard's door, standing there as the weight in his stomach moves to his chest. It presses, cold and heavy, as though it's determined to squeeze the air from his lungs. He lifts his hand toward the intercom, only to drop it again. Part of him wants to turn around, get back on the elevator, and pretend the last few hours never happened.
They'd been caught, almost literally, with their pants down in a hostile environment. They'd been seconds from screwing like two hormonal kids, ignoring every bit of training they'd ever received and every bit of common sense two seasoned veterans should have.
They'd gotten lucky. Lucky Shepard hadn't bled out. Lucky Jack had extra medi-gel and EDI picked up the weak signal from the Kodiak between waves of radiation. Lucky Chakwas and Mordin were as skilled as they were.
This was the reason fraternization regulations existed. This was the reason some lines shouldn't be blurred, because even Shepard's luck could only hold so long.
The control panel in the center of the door is green, still, he taps the intercom.
"Shepard? Okay if I come in?"
"Hey, Garrus. Yeah. Just doing some cleaning." Her voice has a strange, flat quality to it, and the weight in Garrus' chest squeezes a bit tighter. She's a good enough soldier to understand how badly they'd screwed up planet-side, a good enough commander to know something has to give.
She's sitting on her bed cross-legged, Widow partially broken down in front of her, cleaning kit laid out neatly beside it. Her hair is damp from the shower and she's wearing what she calls tank-top-and-shorts, but all his eyes want to go to is her bruised shoulder and the new puckered scars that start below her clavicle and march up the side of her neck.
There had been so much blood. He's no stranger to gore, but thinking about that much crimson spraying from her throat makes him feel slightly ill.
Chakwas does good work, he thinks. Between the doctor and Shepard's upgrades, the bite marks will be gone in a week.
"Garrus," she says, not looking at him. She's tense; even if he couldn't hear it, he could see it in the way she holds herself. She picks up the metal ammunition block and runs her thumbnail over the surface, checking one end for inconsistencies where the cutter shaves off tiny particle slugs. "Need for me for something?"
It takes him a second to figure out she's following their script, using his lines. He knows how this conversation goes, and at least that makes his part a little easier.
"Have you got a minute?" he asks, walking down the steps, stopping at the foot of her bed.
The words are hollow, without any humor.
"I'd say I'm in the middle of some calibrations, but..." There's no humor there, either. She glances up at him, then back to her work as she sets the ammo block down and picks up the firing chamber next. "You okay?"
"Yeah. Fine." He shifts his weight from one foot to another, then avoids the subject he needs to talk about by nodding at her shoulder. "Broke the bone?"
"Yeah. Just the collarbone, though. Teeth got in around the plate; bastard couldn't have planned it better," she says it with a casual shrug, then another as if to demonstrate the range of motion. "It's sore as shit, and Chakwas says I need to rest it for a few days, but it's fine."
He catalogs her injuries automatically, filing them away as though he's making a field report.
The bruising is the worst around the bites, of course. Most of her shoulder is purple and swollen -despite the medication he'd watched Chakwas pump into her- the sickly color broken by the bright pink scars. She'd refused pain meds, so 'sore as shit' is probably Shepard stubbornly understating her injuries.
Another smaller bruise sits above her knee in a dark irregular circle, and he's seen his share of near misses to recognize it for what it is. She hadn't said rounds made it through her shields, but it's obvious to him a vorcha slug struck there. He's willing to bet she has more, under her clothes, from when she was prone behind the krogan.
Her cheek is scored by twin lines of red, in the precise place he touched it when they were behind the bridge support. Another set of lines set wrap around the side of her neck, and all the marks share the distinct look of the wounds left by a varren's claws.
There's a cold-pack taped to her right shoulder, the one she rolls out of habit. When Miranda's around, Shepard likes to joke that the reason it always hurts is Cerberus got the shoulder wrong, that the joint feels off. Garrus thinks it has more to do with the fact her preferred weapon is an anti-tank rifle that kicks like a son of a bitch.
She leans over to to pick up a cleaning rag, and her shirt pulls up on one side. Above her hipbone, in the curve of her waist, is another mark. It's not as vivid as the others marring her skin, and he knows if he were to put his hand over it, the fit would be perfect.
As hard as he was going at her before the varren attacked, he's surprised the bruise isn't darker.
He's a good enough soldier to understand something has to give.
One corner of the white medical tape holding the ice pack to her shoulder has curled away from her skin as the adhesive gives. She drops the cleaning rag, then reaches up, pressing the tape back into place, only to have it curl back again.
"Hand me that tape?" she nods at the roll on the low table in front of the couch.
He picks it up and gives it to her, watching as she picks at the end.
"Twenty-second century and they can't design tape that comes off the roll," she says, finally catching the end and pulling a strip free, tearing it off with her teeth. Despite the easy words, the strain in her voice is obvious to turian ears.
He waits until she secures the ice pack again before he speaks.
"Shepard. We need to talk."
"Wow, that's..." She seems hold her breath for a moment. "With humans, that conversation ends with 'but we can still be friends'."
He blames translator lag for his sudden inability to form a reply before she clears her throat and starts speaking again.
"Yeah. Guess it's the same with turians," she says, reaching for the solvent. Her hand trembles.
"Huh. I... Hm."
And in his mind's eye he tells her, Yes, I think it's for the best we call it off. There's too much riding on this for us to make mistakes.
She fumbles the solvent, as though her fingers are numb. You're right, she says. One corner of her mouth twitches, like she's struggling to smile. Guess we're better off as friends.
His mandibles press tightly against his jaw, but she's back to disassembling her rifle and as he steps out of her quarters, all he's left with is the image of her bowed head.
He sags against the wall of the elevator as it descends. Turians don't cry any more than Shepard does, but he can't help the trill of sorrow that fills the small space.
And if that spot of moisture that fell to the back of her hand was a tear drop, he'd never admit to seeing it.
When the Reapers come, they still work perfectly together, and it's together they figure out how to take the bastards out. They watch as the first Sovereign-class ship they bring down crashes into Tuchanka, and she turns to him with a wide grin.
Shepard and Vakarian kicking ass and taking names. Just like old times, Garrus, she says. She grins as she steps close to him and raises a hand as though to touch his shoulder. Then she seems to remember there is no more Shepard and Vakarian. Not like before. No one else notices the awkward silence between them, or the way her smile becomes strained as she drops her hand.
System after system, planet after planet, the Reapers go down in one explosion after another. The galactic community calls her a hero, a savior, and a rising star.
But Garrus knows better.
She's a sun going nova, and he'll cover her six as long as he's able.
At the celebration following their final victory, before they part ways, he catches her eye over the crowd. She raises her glass in a salute and he copies the gesture. Before she turns away he thinks he sees her rub at her eyes. Later, Liara asks, Did Shepard seem upset earlier? and he answers, Probably tired... she did just defeat the Reapers.
He's a soldier without a war and flinches from the thought of retiring, of sitting idle with his thoughts. He returns to Palaven and is placed in command of an anti-terrorist and smuggling task force. He wonders if Shepard would laugh at the irony of Archangel having official backing.
There's a celebration following his appointment. A female turian wearing Thracia Colony markings raises her glass in a salute, and Garrus' father touches his son's shoulder and says quietly, She's a surgeon, from a good family.
She is beautiful, of course. Dark plates and, when she speaks of her work, green eyes that are as sharp as any battlefield commander's. He knows within moments that she is a good turian.
His father pings his omni-tool that evening. A match between you would be beneficial to both our colonies, and to Palaven. Surely, even you can see this.
Hours later, another message. Garrus. I know this isn't what you hoped for, but I promise you will come to care for her. We've had our differences, but I'm asking for your trust in this one thing.
A month after this he asks the beautiful surgeon if she would do him the honor of becoming his mate, but all he can think is he'll never need to lay down covering fire for her. She'll never burn as brightly as a sun.
She's a good turian. Of course she accepts.
Garrus includes Shepard in the list of of formal invitations.
A week after the joining ceremony he receives her reply via extranet: Garrus. Congrats! Just got back from an undercover thing near the Far Rim. Spectre crap and a mess with some slave traders. Sorry I missed the party. Sending a few things for you two; don't let either sit on the shelf.
When the wedding gift arrives, he unpacks a box of thermal clips and a bottle of brandy. His wife turns the bottle to look at the label, her mandibles flaring in surprise. This... costs more than we make in five months.
Garrus polishes the bottle off at the shooting range that night, spends the next three on the couch.
Their son is born a year later and Garrus stares in absolute amazement as a tiny clawed hand wraps around his finger. He presses his forehead to his wife's in gratitude.
A daughter follows the next year. Her eyes change from milky newborn blue to green; Garrus wonders if they're the eyes of a sniper or a surgeon.
For each child, Shepard sends a charm on a chain, engraved with their name, date of birth, and clan insignia. Garrus chuckles when he realizes the tokens are carved from thresher maw teeth. His wife looks at him in surprise, and when he gives her a questioning glance, she says, It's good to hear you laugh. You don't do it enough.
His daughter turns three. Palaven hosts a joint-species planning summit. The Normandy and Shepard arrive with all of the fanfare, and food, and idle conversation befitting the Savior of the Galaxy. His part isn't forgotten, of course, but what is he compared to a force of nature?
At the celebration, as he stares at the sea of kiss-ass politicians, a voice beside him says, Makes the Reapers seem like a cakewalk, huh?
She's paler and thinner, and burning so brightly he has to look away for a moment. When he can bear to meet her eyes, he sees they are as sharp as ever. Assessing him, seeing his weaknesses and strengths.
She grins and shakes his hand, both of hers taking his one for the briefest of moments.
And then they're at a table in the corner, swapping war stories and drinking far too much. He introduces his wife, but she has no interest in the lies two old heroes tell one another. She excuses herself politely and Garrus sees the flicker of pain in Shepard's eyes as they watch her walk away.
Anyone else stupid enough to approach their table gets a glare from Shepard that would make an elcor cringe. As the night - and the number of empty shot glasses in front of her - progresses, she takes to glaring at the room in general.
I've missed talking to someone I trust. All of these people... they only want to be near me because I'm the big fucking hero. All of these people, and I don't trust any of them. She tosses back another shot of vodka and the clear liquid makes her eyes water. She stares at the glass, lips pressed into a thin line. Then she says, in a voice too brittle and lost to ever belong to Commander Shepard, I miss you, Garrus.
She stands before he can think of a reply - before he can think at all - and without meeting his eyes, walks out of his life again.
The children are asleep when he and his wife get home. She turns to him and her voice is layered with resignation and sorrow when she places a careful hand on his forearm and says, It was good to meet her. Will you be up late?
That night, he decides it's best he sleeps on the couch.
Two days later, he brings his wife a bottle of wine and an apology. She gives him a weary sigh, but lets him touch his forehead to hers. Three more weeks pass; she tells him she's pregnant again.
He follows Shepard's career as she does what she does best. He watches a hundred news feeds and in every one, she remains unsmiling.
His youngest son has just learned to walk when his omni-tool pings, alerting him that Shepard's made the news again. A stunned Emily Wong stands in front of the camera and reports:
Today, the galactic community mourns as news of Commander Shepard's death is confirmed. In what is being called the greatest tragedy of our generation, Alliance Command verifies the commander was struck and killed by friendly fire during a routine training...
He doesn't hear the rest, only Shepard's voice in his ears. She'd told him once, on a burned-out planet, facing bad odds, Garrus. You watch my six and I'll always be fine.
She'd been a sun at its brightest and now she was gone. She'd burned out and left him behind.
He closes his eyes, and even though turians don't cry, it's his wife who holds him while he keens.
"Sort of lost you for a minute." Shepard is staring at him, worried frown creasing her forehead, bottle of solvent gripped in her hand, partially disassembled Widow still in front of her. "You okay?"
Treat such a gift carelessly and you will know nothing but regret.
"I... no. No, I'm not." He steps closer, sitting on the bed next to her, reaching for the solvent. He sets the bottle on the bed next to her knee and reaches for her hands, surprised at how cold her fingers are, noticing - not for the first time - how small they seem compared to his.
Her eyes search his features and he hesitates, then releases one of her hands so he can carefully remove his visor. There are times seeing her heart and respiration rates displayed are especially useful. Now it only seems intrusive, and he wants nothing more than what has to be between them.
He sets the visor across her leg and she stays silent, but swallows hard and takes his empty hand again. He strokes his thumb across hers; fragile bones under fragile skin against tough, metallic hide.
"I thought I was going to lose you," he starts, then pauses, unable to look anywhere but down at their linked hands. He was an idiot to think that taking off his visor would help with what is between them. "What happened today..."
"Was my fault." She squeezes, hard, her fingers turning pale from the pressure. It takes him a moment to realize it's not reassurance; she probably doesn't even realize she's holding on for all she's worth. "It was reckless and stupid and I take full responsibility."
He looks up, irritated. "Huh. I seem to remember me shoving you against that wall and pawing at your waist. There's nothing you need -"
"Tell me," she interrupts him. "Tell me what would happen if we were on a turian operation and that happened."
The blunt question strikes like a blow. His next breath is pained.
"We'd be separated immediately. You'd be demoted. Or worse."
He knows it's a trap, can't believe he stumbled into it. "An informal reprimand. Nothing on my record."
She's being ruthless now, but there's no way to avoid the question, and he's never lied to Shepard.
He narrows his eyes, gives the answer in clipped syllables.
"It was your command. Commanders are responsible for their subordinates' actions."
"Precisely." Her voice cracks and she pauses until she regains control. "And every military organization in the galaxy has regulations in place for this exact reason."
She draws back, pulling her hands away. He feels off-balance, his missing visor leaving him more vulnerable than if he had been without his clothing. He refuses to reach for it like a child clinging to a favorite toy.
Garrus Vakarian is many things, but he's never been a coward. Even if he never gets the chance to tell her he loves her, and carries the words unspoken for the rest of his life, he's not going to flinch from this.
He stares into her sniper-sharp eyes, and waits for the inevitable, struggling to ignore the part of his mind that is screaming that she is the future he is intended to have. Not trying to live as a good turian on Palaven. Not married to a woman he could never love, despite his every effort. Not hearing from a newscaster Shepard had died at an ally's hand.
"There are so many people depending on us finishing this thing. The Reapers are coming. I can't just be another commander. I have to be perfect. There is no room for shit like what happened today. No room for me to selfishly put myself first."
"I think turians have a solid understanding of the meaning of duty." He doesn't intend to sound so bitter.
"I don't... I don't think you understand. If you would have been hurt, or killed..." She stumbles over the word. "I don't think I could live with a mistake as fucking selfish as that. If I were another soldier, it would be bad enough. As your commander, it's unforgivable."
Maybe he is a coward after all, because he can't let her finish without telling her. Shepard and Vakarian. They fit together. Even if it won't change her mind, he's going to say the words. "Stop. I won't -"
"Just let me talk." She interrupts and takes a deep breath as though bracing herself before she continues. "It's unforgivable, and yet, here I am. So, stupid and so, so fucking selfish ... and asking for your forgiveness."
The hope in her voice is raw enough to drive his heart into a fast, jerking rhythm. He stares at her, trying to find the right words, daring to feel hope of his own.
"You never have to ask," he finally says. He would follow her into hell, stand beside her even if that meant her light consumed him, letting it burn him until all that was left was dust.
"This time I do. I can promise you one thing: nothing like this will ever happen again."
"I don't think either of us will screw up like that again. But, if you feel like I have to say the words... I can't lie to you. There's nothing to forgive."
He doesn't want to argue with her, won't concede this point, so he interrupts by letting his mandibles flare in false humor. "I am disappointed there won't be sex in the middle of firefights."
A weak smile disappears as quickly as it came
"I can't do this without you, Garrus. When things... when I go to shit, I need to know there's someone behind me I can trust. I need you."
She reaches for his hands again and when he curls his talons against her fingers, she blinks rapidly. Her eyelashes darken slightly, and he realizes with surprise it's because they're damp with moisture.
"I thought you came up here to break it off, and I... " she trails off, then shakes her head, unwilling or unable to complete the thought.
He can imagine all too clearly what that future looks like, and the thought of living it makes him want to pull her in close. Instead, he says, "Shepard. No matter what the Reapers or Cerberus or whoever throw at us, I'll always be here for you. Always."
She holds the next breath she takes and leans forward, lowering her chin, sighing out only when he mirrors her gesture, and rests his forehead against hers. She slides one hand up his arm and over his cowl, cupping the back of his neck, and her fingers are cool on his hide.
"I don't know what's coming, can't promise anything," she says, so softly he almost doesn't hear it. "But, when we walk out of the other side of hell, I'll take you up on always."
He closes his eyes, and even though she won't understand exactly what his subvocals mean, they hold each other while a soft hum expands from his chest.
Sometimes it's nails and talons and teeth. Sometimes it's sweet and slow. It's give and take, a rhythm set to the hum of engines and the cold stars above. He knows he loves her and even if she's a sun going nova, he'll always have her six.
(I tried to reply to everyone who left a comment, but a few of you have disabled PMs.)
Even More Author's Notes:
About the title. If twilight is the liminal period between night and day, I'd like to think that 'falling in love' is that same hazy threshold between the changing mental states of 'affection' and 'in love'.
I set out with the goal of writing a non-linear story, and chose to fill an old kmeme prompt requesting Garrus and Shepard ending their relationship, and how their lives played out, but once I started writing it, I couldn't handle the angst. I mauled it about until it became this story.
While the result failed to meet my original goal and I had to cheat to meet the prompt request, the hopeless romantic in me still calls it a win.
Thanks for reading, everyone. I'll be on pins and needles waiting to see what you all thought.