She's caught him, three times now since he's come up to the cabin, stealing glances at her hands.

At first she doesn't think anything of it - after all, she's always noticing new things about him, so maybe he's never really bothered to look at them before now. Anyone with functioning eyes could see that asari and humans were the odd species out when it came to finger counts.

The second time, though, Shepard realizes that this explanation doesn't jive with his C-Sec experience. He'd told her stories about how thrilled they were to find that humans had fingerprints like asari—salarian skin was smooth as a baby hanar's bottom, and turians' talons made getting a clean print nearly impossible unless C-Sec was willing to shear them clean off. Which they weren't, he'd added with a wince, since they had blood vessels running up into them. It was more of a torture method than anything else. Point is, he'd probably printed his fair share of humans during his run with them.

So by the third time, she's curious enough to catch his gaze. Shepard raises her hand, flipping it back and forth to examine it. Nothing out of place. "Something bothering you, Garrus?"

His mandibles flare sheepishly as he sets his gun down on her desk. "Ah, no. Not exactly. I just…" his eyes flicker down to her hand again, and Shepard's actually kind of starting to wonder if she should feel offended. She raises an eyebrow at him.

"Garrus, if this is your way of asking for a handjob, you need a new approach."

He splutters at that. "N-no! Spirits, Shepard!" He sighs and stands up, moving to join her on the couch. She doesn't pull her hand away when he picks it up, gently brushing his fingers over the flats of her knuckles. "It's these," he finally says, tapping the offending area.

Shepard blinks. "My fingernails?"

"I was checking out the Presidum earlier," he remarks. She opens her mouth to ask what made him leave the refugee camp, but he hurriedly continues before she can get anything out. "There was a—shop there. Cosmetics. Mainly for asari, but it had a sign out front about human beauty products."

Shepard thinks she sees where this is going. She glances down at her bare nails. "Are you telling me you've never seen painted fingernails?"

Garrus' mandibles twitch in amusement. "Remember who you're talking to, Shepard. I never would have escaped my first posting if I hadn't learned distinguishing marks." Then he takes on a sheepish look again, turning her hand over in his. "I just thought—it was natural coloring, like human eyes or hair."

Shepard almost laughs, but in reality, it's probably an easy mistake to make—nail painting is something of a fading trend, and most people who do it these days are well-off socialites who get it tattooed in along with gene therapy to stop nail growth. A much more permanent fixture than it was a couple centuries ago; it could probably be mistaken for a rare biological trait by other species.

Garrus, seemingly unnerved by her lack of response, puts her hand down. "In any case, I was just—you know, wondering. I don't exactly see your hands when you're in armor, and we're usually…ahh…otherwise preoccupied when I'm up here. So I just—is this…offensive to humans? Crap."

"Garrus, stop worrying," Shepard says, deciding to take mercy. "It's just not something I've ever taken an interest in. They're cosmetic, nothing more. Not like your colony markings."

"Ah," he says awkwardly. "Okay. Good."

That seems to be the end of that, but Shepard can't help but wonder if she imagines the disappointed tinge settled in his dual-toned voice.

"Look, go use my shower," she says lightly, elbowing his arm. "You smell like gun oil. I'll finish up these reports in the meantime."

He seems to straighten at that, relieved at the subject change, and presses a quick nuzzle to the top of her head before getting up. She turns back to her datapad. Soon enough, the cabin is filled with the soothing sound of running water.

Shepard doesn't know why, but Garrus loves taking long showers, so she finishes up her reports long before he's finished. She stretches and stands, going over to the desk and pulling a drawer open to toss the datapad in.

What she didn't expect was the clinking sound.

Shepard pauses, halfway through closing the drawer. She opens it again and moves the datapad. Beneath it is a small bottle, glass, with a tall black cap. She picks it up and finds that it's filled with liquid inside, shaded a deep, brilliant blue the color of turian blood.

The color of Garrus' markings.

"I don't know what I'd do without you," Shepard breathes, her fingers trailing down the side of his face, and it hurts because behind all of the I'm-Fines and I-Can-Handle-Its, she doesn't really know what she would do if Garrus' voice joined the whispers she hears in her nightmares. But he's real and he's here, and he softly grasps her hand in his own, blue eyes gentle even as they're piercing hers.

She can't take it anymore.

She gets up and moves. Garrus seems reluctant to let go of her hand, but he's silent as she goes to the dresser and opens a drawer. When she turns around, his eyes jerk to the blue bottle in her hands, and she sees his mandibles flare in shock before tightening against his face.

"Shepard, I—I didn't—I threw that away."

"I didn't let EDI eject the trash until I got it back," she says simply, sitting down beside him. She feels his body, already tense with anticipation and horror, stiffen against her.

"It's—the kind that wears off," he mutters, eyes sliding to hers and then back to the bottle again as she unscrews the top. "Old-fashioned. With the brush. I thought you could maybe…just try it, and if you didn't like it…"

"Garrus." He goes silent as she hands him the bottle.

She knows she isn't imagining the shake in his arm when he reaches for it, but when he lifts the brush out of the paint and looks back up at her, there's a starkness in his eyes that makes her ache. She presents her hand to him wordlessly, and he takes it.

He doesn't quite know what he's doing. First the strokes are too thin, blue paint laid thickly onto her nail. When he tries wide strokes, he gets small splatters of paint streaked on the skin around her cuticles and on the fingertips. But his concentration is pinpointed, as sharp and unfailing as when he's lining up a shot with his rifle, and Shepard doesn't bother to fight away the quiet inhale when she looks down and suddenly the color of Garrus' markings is a part of her.

He finishes one hand, and holds his out for the other. She complies.

The second time around seems easier for him. It doesn't take Shepard long to realize that it's the same hand she always uses to touch his face, and as she watches Garrus work, gently rolling her fingers between his, brushing his thumb across her knuckles, she's hit—he loves her hand. He loves her hand like she loves his scars, that one part of each other that reminds them how much they have: Shepard warm jokes and rumbling laughter, Garrus the soft touch of her fingers trailing across his face.

It's only the fact that Garrus finishes, gently sweeping his thumb over her hand once more before capping the bottle, that keeps her eyes dry.

Shepard extends both hands, looking at the full extent of work. It isn't perfect—in fact, it isn't even particularly pretty, with bits of blue paint spotting her fingers. But fuck her, it's the most beautiful thing she's seen having to do with her body ever since she woke up in Cerberus' damned lab.

She lifts both hands to rest on the sides of Garrus' head, smiling when his eyes close and his own hands lift to cover hers. She leans forward, her forehead touching his softly.

And in that moment she knows there would never be Shepard without Vakarian.