she was floating, the ship, her home was burning around her, she saw joker's escape pod explode, caught in a shaft of burning light, the corpses of her crew floated through the burning wreckage around her, she knew all their names and faces, she couldn't hear anything but her own breathing, coming hard and fast and still not good enough, not enough air, not enough-

Shepard sprang awake, gasping and covered in cold sweat.

Not real, she told herself, just a dream. Focus.

She took a few deep breaths and tried to slow her heart. Her bedroom was dark, the blinds pulled shut against the window. She glanced over at the clock on her nightstand (just past midnight, London time) then turned and stared at her empty bed.

She should just roll over and try to go back to sleep. Maybe go and try and find some liquor first. She thought there might be some in the fridge. It might be dual-chiral crap, but a few shots would be enough to give her a pleasant enough buzz even with her Cerberus implants constantly scrubbing the alcohol from her system.

Or she could just lay back in the quiet dark of her bedroom and try not to think about anything. At least she'd get something like sleep. Maybe.

Shepard turned back. Her omni-tool was sitting right on her nightstand. She sighed in a resigned sort of way and pulled it on before realizing she didn't know what time it was aboard the Intrepid. What did turian ships use? Not zulu time, surely. How many shifts did they even have?

She brought up the messaging client and sent him the briefest of notes.

Hey. Are you busy?

Then she waited. She'd give it thirty seconds, and if he didn't respond, she'd head for the kitchen and make a stiff drink. Maybe putter around her prefab quarters, clean up or watch a vid or surf the extranet or something.

Her omni-tool pinged. She keyed open the newly received message.

No. What's up?

Shepard released a small breath she hadn't realized she'd been holding. She typed away.

Nightmare. You free to talk?

It wasn't more than ten seconds before her 'tool pinged again.

INCOMING VIDLINK.
ACCEPT?

She smiled despite herself. Good old Garrus.

The holoimager projected a rectangular screen over her wrist. He was sitting at a desk or something, metal and utilitarian like everything else on turian ships. He was out of his armor, which meant he was off-duty. Wearing nothing but his black underarmor, in fact, (tight against his plated skin and she couldn't help but notice) which meant he must be in his quarters. He'd never walk around a ship like that.

"Hey," she said, running a hand through her sweaty, sleep-tousled hair.

"Hey yourself," he replied. "You alright?"

Shepard nodded absently, but said, "Not really."

Garrus' mandibles twitched, he hummed an acknowledgment, and that was that. All the times she had woken up gasping or screaming beside him, or called in the middle of the night when one or the both of them were away from London, and he had never once asked about her dreams. She was more than grateful for that.

He turned his attention off to Shepard's left somewhere and she realized he was typing at his terminal with one hand. "Caught me at a good time," he said.

"Off-shift?" she asked, pulling her knees up to her chest and resting her wrist on them.

"Yeah."

"What're you up to?"

"Just looking at a few things on the extranet." He looked at her, tilting his head and smiling a little. "For some reason the ship's gunnery officer won't let me near the guns after I told him his firing algorithms were sub-par."

"How sad for you," she deadpanned.

He shrugged, broad shoulders shifting against his cowl. "He wants inefficient and inaccurate guns, he can have 'em. Just means I've got nothing to do on my downtime except browse the extranet or tinker with my guns."

"And you've already tinkered with your guns."

"Yesterday." He chuckled. "That Widow has never been cleaner than it is right now."

"Revenant's the same way. Factory fresh but for the mods." Shepard scoffed lightly. "Haven't exactly been using our guns much lately."

Garrus turned back to his terminal. They'd had this conversation many times. "They can't keep us behind desks forever, Shepard."

"It's gonna drive me crazy, Garrus."

"I know."

"I'm this close to calling Hackett."

"I know."

Shepard narrowed her eyes. "What are you looking at, anyway?"

The camera moved as Garrus repositioned his wrist and turned the terminal monitor towards it.

She blinked. "Recipes?"

The camera moved back as Garrus laid his arm back on the desk. "Both our quarters have kitchens. Figured one of us should learn our way around them, if we want to be eating anything but MREs and ration packs."

"Those were human recipes."

He nodded, still staring at the terminal. "I know."

Shepard quelled the blush rising to her cheeks even though he probably couldn't see it anyway, and bit her tongue on the requisite 'you don't have to do that' that he would just shrug off immediately.

"What have you learned so far?" she asked.

"That you people require far too many tools to cook anything," he said, shaking his head. "What's the difference between a 'skillet' and a 'griddle' anyway?"

"Asking the wrong human, Garrus."

"And here I thought you were good at everything except dancing and driving."

"Hey," she protested. "I'm an excellent driver."

"Define 'excellent' in this context, please."

"No one died."

"Yet."

Shepard grinned furiously at the holoimage of him. "Ass."

Garrus chuckled again and actually turned to wink at her. That was new.

"You pick that up somewhere?"

He blinked. "What?"

"Winking."

"Oh. Yeah, that was the other thing I was looking at on here. 'Non-verbal human expressions.'"

"Really." She raised her other hand in front of her omni-tool's camera. "You know what this one means?"

"Spirits, Shepard," he said, scandalized. "Go wash your hands out with soap."

She tried to stifle her laugh and failed, devolving into a brief snickering fit. She heard Garrus' flanging laughter piping out of her wrist. He was grinning like an idiot.

"You are not funny," she proclaimed.

"All evidence to the contrary," he replied, leaning back in his chair, the image shaking slightly as his arm moved a bit.

They sat quietly for a handful of moments, staring at each other through a high bitrate vidlink connection. This close to the image, she could almost trick herself into feeling the warmth of his presence.

"I ever tell you I like your voice?"

Garrus blinked and his mandibles fluttered. "Do you?"

"I do," she said. "No bullshit."

Shepard was convinced she could make him blush, but not even a genuine heartfelt compliment could do it, though it must have come close, based the way his shoulders shifted bashfully. His mandibles lowered into that rare, soft smile. "You want me to keep talking?"

"Yeah." A brilliant idea suddenly occurred to her. "Yeah, in fact, you could help me relax."

"Hm." He tilted his head. "You want me to tell you a story?"

"Something like that," she said. "How much privacy have you got?"

"My own private quarters. Why?"

"Lock the door."

Garrus stared at her for a moment, then the image rocked as he stood and wandered somewhere. There was a beeping noise as he keyed an unseen panel. "Okay," he said, clearly confused but following her nonetheless. "Why did I just lock the door?"

"Well," Shepard drawled, grinning lasciviously, "I'm in shorts and a tank top, and you're in your underarmor, and we're both in our quarters..."

Understanding dawned behind Garrus' eyes.

"Oh." He blinked a couple times and ran a hand over the top of his fringe. "Hm."

"Come on, Garrus," she said, "we're adults, aren't we?"

"Yeah."

"And we're apart, at the moment."

"Right."

"So it's perfectly natural to... engage in some mutual stimulation."

"Sure."

"People in long-distance relationships do this all the time."

He tilted his head curiously. "Have you?"

Shepard blinked, then brushed her hair behind her ears. "Well, no."

Garrus hummed skeptically.

"But it's a pretty simple thing, Garrus." She shrugged a little. "At least we won't have to worry about any chafing."

He gave her a look that was half-amused, half-apprehensive. Then he took a breath, the image gently rising and falling. "Alright. Sure."

"Great."

"Okay."

There was a pause.

"So..." Garrus scratched at his tattoos, like he always did when he was nervous. "Where do we start?"

"Oh! Uh, hang on." Shepard pulled her omni-tool off her wrist and placed it in front of her on the bed. Then she realized this was far too low an angle for him to see her face and she would look like some kind of giantess, and grabbed a pillow from the other side of the bed and set it underneath.

"Okay," she said, spreading her legs around either side of the pillow and leaning back onto the ones behind her. "Got a good view?"

Garrus' mandibles flared briefly. "Uh huh."

"Good," she said, breathing out the word. "Now you."

"Now me what?"

"Get in bed, Garrus."

"Oh. But, uh," his gaze shifted and he looked down. "I'm not, uh."

"Oh. Right." Shepard pressed a hand to her forehead. Damn turian anatomy.

"How about I, uh." He glanced around, as though someone might be watching. "Start talking, and you... do your thing, and when things start... building up down there, I'll join you?"

She couldn't help but smile. Garrus was as cool as a cucumber until he stepped outside his comfort zone.

"Okay then," she said, settling back and letting her hands rest on her stomach, just above her waist. "Start talking, casanova."

The image rocked back as Garrus took his seat as his desk again. Shepard would make him sit on the bed instead, but she knew that would just make him more nervous, and nerves were not what helped this process along.

"Talk, talk," he mumbled. "Uh... where do I begin?"

"You could start with some compliments. Those tend to get the blood flowing."

His eyes found hers through the camera and thousands of miles of space. His mandibles flared into a grin. "Your hair looks good. And your waist is-"

"-very supportive," they said in unison. Shepard chuckled.

"Look," she said, "if this makes you uncomfortable-"

"No," he said quickly. "Not uncomfortable. Just..." Garrus shook his head and laughed softly. "This is weird, Shepard."

"Very," she admitted. "But when has that stopped us?"

He chewed on that for a second. "True enough."

"Now start talking before I change my mind."

Garrus took off his omni-tool and placed it on the desk in front of him, but kept both his hands above the table. He was scratching at his chin. "Alright... I suppose I like your skin."

"'Suppose?'"

"Sorry, sorry," he said quickly. "I like your skin. I really like your skin."

"Better." Shepard breathed out and closed her eyes. One of her hands traveled lower.

"I really like your hair," he continued. "It's a very nice color. Contrasts with your eyes. Which are also very pretty," he added quickly.

Shepard bit back a smile. "Forget the compliments. Start talking about action."

"Action. Right." Shepard's eyes were closed but she could practically see his mandibles fluttering awkwardly. "Well, if you were here right now, I suppose I'd... wrap my arms around you."

"There we go," she mumbled. Her hand moved beneath cloth.

"I'd... move them across your back, and down the sides of your waist..."

"Keep going."

"Oh! I'd kiss you."

Shepard couldn't help but smile. "Of course you would."

"Of course. And... I'd nip your neck. And your collar bone. That's something I really like too. I mean, obviously, you know that-"

"Garrus."

"Yeah?"

"You're rambling."

"I thought you wanted me to talk."

She bit her tongue. "Just keep going."

"Okay," he sighed. "Then... there'd be some more kissing, and touching. And maybe some scratching, if you were feeling that way. And... rubbing, there would be rubbing. Of... parts."

Shepard bit her bottom lip to stifle a noise that had nothing to do with what she was doing to herself. The saddest part of this whole endeavor was that it was almost working. All she had to do was listen to the smooth flanging silk of his voice, and not pay one iota of attention to what he was actually saying. Which kind of went against the whole point of phone sex, but she didn't really give a shit.

"And gyrating." Garrus sighed again. "And licking. There would be licking, I'm sure. I'd put my hands on your chest and squeeze those... chest things. What are they called?" he mumbled to himself.

She grit her teeth, nodded vigorously and murmured a vague 'mm-hm.' She could no longer trust herself to speak without cracking up.

"Well, then, I would put my... thing, into your... thing, and we'd do that... one thing. You know the one."

Shepard couldn't help it. She opened her eyes.

Garrus was leaning on the desk with his elbows. His forehead was resting in one of his hands as he stared slightly off to the side of the camera. He had a faraway look in his big blue eyes, and his mandibles were fluttering every few seconds. He didn't look bored - he looked lost. Like a man adrift. Completely and utterly out of his depth.

When she burst into howling laughter, his eyes snapped back to reality.

"I'm sor - I'm sorry!" she gasped, in between bouts of hysterics. Both her hands were clutching at her stomach as she rolled around on the bed, almost knocking over the omni-tool perched on its pillow.

She couldn't see him - her eyes were screwed shut she was laughing so hard - but his tone was playful, pre-empting any guilt she might have felt. "This was all your idea, Shepard!"

"I know!" Shepard gasped. "Oh god I know!"

As she slowly came down from her giddy high, she covered her face with her hands. "Jesus Christ, the look on your face."

"What about it?"

Shepard wiped tears from her eyes. "I've never seen you look so... unmoored."

"Glad you enjoyed it."

She sat back up and found his eyes in the floating image above her omni-tool. His brow plates were lowered and his mandibles were slack, as close to 'pouty' as a turian could come, but there was a tilt to his head that she recognized as 'amused' as he rested his cheek on his fist.

"That was some talk, Garrus," she said, elbows on her knees, legs still spread wide around the pillow.

Garrus had the gentlemanly courtesy to look a bit abashed when he smiled. "Sorry."

"S'okay, big guy." Shepard slipped the omni-tool back on and laid back, crossing her legs on the pillow at her feet and resting her arms across her stomach. "Even you can't be good at everything."

"Guess not," he said, shaking his head and laughing a little, thoroughly relieved. "Hell, Shepard, you know how I am with words."

"That's why I thought you'd be good at this," she shot back. "Mr. Pop-the-Heat-Sink."

"That was unintentional."

"Mr. Reach-and-Flexibility."

"And that was an entirely different context."

"Mr. Cross-Species-Liason."

"Now if you wanted dirty and clinical, you should have just asked."

Shepard chuckled a little again and raised a hand in surrender. "Stop it. My sides hurt."

"Good." He crossed his arms and leaned on the desk. "Spirits, what a terrible idea. Who thought this little practice up, anyway?"

"No idea."

"Don't understand the appeal at all."

Shepard sneered. "You don't understand the appeal of watching me touch myself."

Garrus shrugged, and the look in his eyes was surprisingly earnest. "I want to feel you."

Shepard blinked. Then she pointed at the camera. "See, where the hell was that a minute ago?"

"What?" he asked, confused. "You wanted me to state the obvious?"

"Yes! I mean-" Shepard huffed and shook her head. "Forget it."

Garrus shrugged helplessly. His mandibles twitched and he raised a hand to his mouth, stifling a yawn.

The corner of her mouth twitched up. Garrus was never the one to end these calls. The first time they'd been apart and she'd woken up gasping for air, she'd called and he'd answered, she'd made coffee and he'd made kava, and they'd spent hours talking about absolutely nothing until the sun was up. He hadn't complained once.

"Think I'll get some sleep, big guy."

"You sure?"

She shrugged. "Well, I'm a bit frustrated that I got all keyed up for nothing, but you made me laugh, and that works too."

"So," Garrus drawled, "making you moan and making you laugh accomplish roughly the same thing?"

Shepard scoffed and wished he was actually here so she could flick him on the nose for that comment. She'd settle for driving him crazy. "You're far better at one than the other."

"Which one?"

"That's for me to know and you to figure out."

He blinked. Then he shook his head and chuckled. "Not sure there's a good answer there."

"Then don't worry your pointy little head about it," she said with a grin. "Now let me sleep off my sexual frustration."

"What, not even going to make a cursory attempt to get me off?"

"Thought you didn't care for words," she shot back. "What could I say that would get you all hot and bothered?"

He rumbled quietly. "I could think of a few things."

Shepard's eyebrow twitched upward.

"When do you get back?"

"Three days."

She leaned forward. "Make a list, and I'll say whatever you want when you get back."

He hummed pleasantly. "How about you do the same, and we'll both have some things to say to each other when I get back."

"Sounds good," Shepard said with a smirk. Good old Garrus. Awkward and bumbling one minute, suave and secure in the next.

He nodded at her. "Get some sleep, Shepard."

"I will. And Garrus?"

He tilted his head. She hesitated just long enough to feel foolish.

"I love you," she said with a nervous smile.

It was still weird, saying those words. They were layered with so much meaning in her eyes that she hadn't said them to all but a handful of people in her life. She was trying to get in the habit of saying them more often. It was awkward, but it felt good.

Turians, meanwhile, almost never said them aloud. They relied on actions and subvocal harmonics to communicate their deeper feelings. So Garrus' smile was just as nervous, mandibles fluttering and flaring outward briefly as he said them aloud.

"I love you too."

Then he startled, eyes widening as if he just remembered something, and hesitated for a moment before placing one finger against his mouth, and then placing it on the camera.

"Was that right?" he asked, shoulders slumping a little when he saw her grin.

Shepard returned the gesture, with two fingers instead of one, pressing them against the image of him floating above her bed.

"Perfect," she said. "G'night, Garrus."

"Night, Shepard."

Shepard cut the connection. She let her head fall back into the pillow and took a deep breath as she closed her eyes. She felt warm all over.

Her last thought before she drifted off into a pleasantly dreamless sleep was that even though it hadn't gone at all the way she thought it would, she wouldn't have it any other way.