Waking up next to a turian was never actively on any sort of "things I don't see happening at any point in my life" list, but that didn't mean Thena Shepard ever saw it coming. She hadn't, in point of fact, seen it coming at all. And yet, lying there with Garrus, waking up slowly and feeling the reassuring weight of his arm resting across her body, part of her couldn't believe it had taken this long to get here.
She wasn't watching Garrus sleep, exactly — no quicker way to wake someone up and unnerve them at the same time — but rather the slow rise and fall of his chest. He could have been sleeping or, like she was, he could simply have been… savoring the moment. The quiet of it. The peace of it. The calm before the shitstorm of it.
What shocked her most was that things hadn't been more awkward between them, given the way that particular brainchild had come into being: a slip, a joke, a conversational accident. Thena knew Garrus by now, knew the cadences of his speech well enough, for instance, to know when he wasn't telling her the entirety of a story (that hardly bothered her, as she'd done the same, usually when they spoke of family). She could tell when was feeling uncomfortable or frustrated — really, when it came down to it, understanding Garrus required little more than a set of working eyes and ears. So Thena knew — she knew — the moment he started telling her about that recon scout, about tension and tiebreakers, she could hear the "Oh, shit" in his voice, and she knew instinctively it hadn't been a story he'd ever intended to tell her. He'd just got wrapped up in the tale — like he did — and then found himself visor-deep in awkwardness.
The next thing she knew, she was grinning at him, saying the words "reach and flexibility," and trying so very hard to defuse the situation, never realizing until the damning words came out that… the idea wasn't exactly a bad one. No, Thena didn't have any secret turian fetish any more than Garrus had any sort of secret human fetish. And it wasn't a turian thing at all, not really; it was a Garrus thing. And it was a thing that had been slowly growing, and gradually becoming increasingly difficult to ignore. She felt… close to him at a time when she hadn't thought it would be possible to feel close to anyone again. Not after waking up in Miranda's lab, feeling so strangely sore, inside and out, her head thick with the fog of whatever drugs were swimming through her system. For a while, she wondered if her emotions had been as reconstructed as the rest of her, if the electric pulses racing through her brain were actually organic, or an excellent copy, a simulation of real emotions.
Was she Thena Shepard reacting, or was it merely how Thena Shepard was supposed to react?
With all this in mind, the fact she could relax around anyone was no small feat. She found she was able to stop thinking — overthinking, if certain opinions were to be believed — when she found herself alone with Garrus, even if they just were in the battery, discussing potential upgrades for the ship. She discovered she could simply be… herself. It had never been easy for her to let the mask come down and be anything or anyone other than "Commander", or "Shepard," or "Oh, shit, it's her." But Garrus had known her long enough — and knew her well enough — to read her better than any member of her team, past or present. He knew when to speak up, and when silence was the best course. He knew when to call her on her own brand of bullshit, which was… okay, always.
Garrus knew her better, even, than Liara ever had — when she'd actually been inside Thena's head.
It wasn't something she would have necessarily considered before. Before Cerberus. Before coming back from the dead. Before Reapers and Collectors and a suicide mission that actually might be a suicide mission, this time. Before, Garrus had been Thena's de facto second in command, and it was never, never a good idea to sleep where you worked. But the rules were different now — a lot of things were different. But the rules, more than anything else, took on a different tint after facing death and being brought back again for a second chance.
And it was with suicide missions and second chances firmly in Thena's mind that she faced Garrus and let her mask drop.
A scant two hours before they marched into hell, with a whole plethora of possibilities looming before them, so many of them heavy with awful potential — a laundry list of things that could still go horribly, painfully wrong — it was just them. And there, in the soft light thrown off by the aquarium, after the music was silenced and the bottle of wine set down, the two of them were left with a sort of naked honesty between them, because there were times the fear of something going wrong — because things so often did — was so great, it almost seemed pointless to hope for something to go right. Missions were one thing; when a mission went pear-shaped, it was a situation in which it was easier to improvise, to conceive a plan on the fly and execute it, and even if you went down in a rain of bullets, you'd know with your dying breath you had done everything you could. But being alone with Garrus, hearing the desperation in his voice as he confessed wanting something to go right, just this once, utterly erased all of their teasing and talk about reach and flexibility and tension and blowing off steam. There wasn't talk, or teasing, or one-upmanship; there wasn't room for it, then and there. They were just two people standing on a precipice, knowing that if things went wrong now between them, everything could have been irrevocably changed. If things went badly, there would be no clever plans, no brilliant tactics, no reinforcements. Just the two of them, left alone to sift through the mess they'd made of a perfectly good friendship. The best friendship.
But some things, Thena knew, were worth the risk. They'd leapt together and landed together, and now she couldn't imagine having done anything else.
There'd been, of course, a few little stumbling moments. Moments of Not like that, Shepard, and Not there, Garrus, and one gasped, Careful of the mandibles. But those moments were soon outnumbered by Please, and More, and Do that again. And her personal favorite, By the spirits, Shepard, yes.
It had gone well. Better than well. A worthwhile experiment, definitely worth repeating, many times over.
As she lay there, a far-away memory slipped into her mind and surfaced. Omega. It could have been a hundred years or go or more that she'd been out there, searching for Archangel, frustrated that she was left with nothing but dossiers — resumes — on which to build her team. Frustration, however, had given way to grudging respect that grew with every tale told by every irritated and overconfident merc. She remembered crossing that bridge and feeling the shots hit her shields and rattle her body inside her armor, and thinking, almost sourly, Garrus wouldn't have missed the chance for a perfectly good headshot. And then the helmet had come off, and everything seemed a little… better. The sniper had missed, not because he wasn't Garrus; he'd missed her because he was.
With Garrus watching her back, things didn't seem so insurmountable. Nothing seemed insurmountable.
Then he'd laughed and given her that look and said, If I wanted to do more than take your shields down, I'd have done it. At the time it had seemed such a benign statement, but she realized now, truer words had never been spoken. Her shields were down now. Her defenses laid bare. And it was almost terrifying how good it felt.
Thena closed her eyes, letting her arm slide across his chest — Garrus hummed softly, contently, and the lower registers of the sound brought a smile to her lips. She'd done this. She'd made him sound like that.
And in that moment, Thena decided that dying horribly was no longer an option for either of them. They'd watched each other's backs for too long — her trust in him too ingrained, too unshakeable for there to be any room for doubt. There were times, in fact, when Thena's trust in Garrus almost startled her — she trusted him with every thread and fiber in her rebuilt body. There was no hesitation, nothing but the unwavering certainty he would always have her six, and if there ever came the time he wasn't directly behind her, keen eyes on every possible threat, muttering observations just loud enough for her to hear and just dry enough to make her smirk — if he ever, ever wasn't there, it wouldn't be because either of them had chosen it. Somewhere along the line, without her even realizing it, or making the choice consciously, they were a team. Shepard and Vakarian. Vakarian and Shepard. There couldn't be one without the other.
She couldn't imagine this mission without Garrus. She didn't want to. Whether he knew it or not, whether she'd intended it or not, he'd turned into the driving force behind her. Somehow she knew with him behind her, literally as well as figuratively, there was nothing the Collectors could throw at them that they couldn't throw back, twice as hard.
"Hmm. You're thinking."
The low rumble of his voice shook Thena from her reveries, her head jerking up to catch him watching her intently. "Maybe a little," she admitted.
"A little. Right," he replied with a snort. After a moment, he gave a languid stretch, long limbs sliding against the sheets before he turned his head and shot her a knowing grin. "So, Shepard, what do you say? Night to treasure, or horrible interspecies awkwardness?"
As attempts to change a topic went — even if there wasn't much of a topic just then — it was less than artless, but given the fact that this stolen calm of theirs was soon to run out, given all that was awaiting them just on the other side of the door, Thena let Garrus change the subject.
"Hard to say," she answered quietly, reaching out to run her fingers across his face, slowly following the lines of blue paint. A slight shift of his brow plates and a minute widening of his eyes evidenced his surprise, until she added, "We might have to do it again for me to be sure."
He exhaled — not quite a laugh, not quite a snort — then slid one hand up her back, letting it tangle in her hair. There was little point in hiding her reaction — her shiver, her sigh, the way she leaned just a little more heavily against him. More the point, she didn't want to hide her reaction from Garrus; there was no point in hiding from him at all. She wanted him to know everything he did to her, every reaction, every emotion. Everything.
"That's what I like about you, Shepard," he murmured, the black of his pupils swallowing up more of the blue the longer he looked at her. "Always willing to explore every angle."
"Exploring angles, huh?" She indulged in a stretch of her own, and when she heard Garrus' breath catch, she threw him a wink. "So, in the contest between reach and flexibility, can we assume flexibility wins?"
"Definitely." He paused and pulled her a little closer, adding on a growl, "This time."
She went pliantly, closing her eyes and trying to commit everything about this moment to memory. She wanted to keep it preserved, close, safe; she tried doubly hard to remember the details — the soft gurgling of the fish tank, the sensation of plates against her skin, their combined weight sinking into the mattress, the drowsy contentedness that wrapped around them both and made the Omega-4 relay feel like it hovered a lifetime away.
"Sounds like you're planning something, Vakarian," she muttered quietly, almost drowsily against his shoulder before kissing it.
Garrus just looked at her, all innocent surprise — and all of it an act. "Me? Plan? When have you ever known me to plan?"
"Right," she drawled. "Tactics by the seat of your pants. That's you, all right."
"But if I were the type to plan," he went on as if she hadn't spoken, effortlessly rolling and pulling her up atop him, and leaving her just a little breathless even as she added one more thing to catalog in her memory, "then I think it's fair to say that, yes, I'm planning on doing that again. And again. And… yeah, again after that."
Propping her elbow on his chest, Thena planted her chin in her palm and looked down at him. "Until reach wins over flexibility?"
"Shepard," he murmured softly, his fingers tracing a slow, light path up her shoulder and along her neck, just long enough for Thena to feel as if she were going to completely come apart under his touch, before they came to rest just beneath her chin. "I think it's safe to say we both won, here."
It would have been so easy — too easy — to smile back, to tuck herself against him and listen to the soft thrum of Garrus' heartbeat beneath his plates. But Thena hesitated just a moment too long, the tiniest fraction of time — no longer than that sliver of an instant wherein one could lose the perfect headshot. So, obviously, Garrus noticed.
"You're thinking again."
It was pointless to deny it; she let out a long breath, instead. "Just that I want to get the chance to do this again."
Garrus' eyes darted to the side, and again the silence lasted just a hairsbreadth too long — long enough to let her know she hadn't been the only one entertaining those thoughts. But when he spoke, there was steel and determination resonating in his voice. "We're coming back, Shepard. Both of us."
She inhaled deeply and let it out on a sigh. "Garrus—"
"You aren't listening." On the last syllable, he grabbed her shoulders and pulled her close until their foreheads touched, until she saw nothing but the blue of his eyes and every single secret he kept hidden there. Garrus spoke slowly, emphasizing every syllable. "We're. Coming. Back."
"That an order?" she breathed.
"Hell, no," he said on a snort, releasing her shoulders, but still holding her close. "You and I both know how lousy we are at following orders."
"Then what is it?"
"Whatever it has to be," he replied solemnly. "A demand, a plea, a damned prayer." He closed his eyes. After a second, Thena did too. "Whatever it takes. We're coming back."
The truth of the moment hit Thena so hard, so solidly that it was a miracle she didn't flinch with the force of it. Her throat closed and she swallowed hard against the sensation. When she found she could speak, her voice came out too thick and husky by half. "Stubborn," she managed.
"You're damn right I am," Garrus replied, without any of his usual swagger. His mandibles flared as he met her gaze, looking steadily into her eyes. "Don't tell me you'd really want me any other way."
She didn't, and she knew she didn't. Stubbornness and will counted for something — they had to when there was too much chaos facing them. Too much danger. Too many factors too far out of their control. Too much potential for things to go sideways, pear-shaped, and just generally wrong.
Stubbornness, will, and a dash of recklessness and swagger. Sounded like a winning combination to her.