A contented sigh escaped Shepard's lips as she stood beneath the cascading flow of almost too hot water pouring down over her from the shower head. Cerberus was evil, she mused, that was certain. However, the Cerberus engineer who had incorporated a private bathroom into the Captain's cabin was an evil genius. She savored a final few moments of heat and let the aches and stress flow out of her body to go spiraling down the drain with the soapy run off. The water would be caught, processed, and recycled to be reused elsewhere on the ship another day. The mental stress and the physical fatigue would also reappear soon enough she thought to herself ruefully as she twisted the shut off for the water. No rest for the wicked, or the dead.

Trails of diamond slowly spread over her skin, sliding downwards in lazy paths, glittering in the white glare of the bathroom lights. She wrapped a towel around herself, draping another one around her shoulders to sop up the copious amounts of water being shed by her hair. It was too long really, she ought to cut it she scolded as she caught a glimpse of her image in the mirror. The familiar words brought the familiar accompanying grin with them as she shook her head "no" in the steam fogged glass. That would never happen, her long hair and its ornate twisted chignon was a secret nod to femininity that she held onto fiercely- a little trick her mother had told her about long ages past when she had been a raw recruit shipping out for basic training. Keep a little something back for yourself, for the moments when you want to be something else besides a hard-ass, one of the guys, the bitch on the bridge. Hannah Shepard was a wise woman and her daughter always treasured her advice.

Shepard pinched the bridge of her nose between a forefinger and thumb as she exited the steamy, soap scented bathroom. How did her mother do it? She didn't seem to have the same inner wisdom. Maybe it came with age? People seemed to think she had it, but really she was flying just as blindly by the seat of her pants as everyone else. Good instincts though, she credited herself, they were serving well enough as a substitute for knowledge and certainty in a bind. Well most of the time... right now her instincts were giving her hell. Not the gentle nudges giving her the edge in a tricky negotiation, or the cold, calm, solid steel type that had seen her through a thousand dicey violent throwdowns. No these were the boot to the head kind refusing to be subtle, refusing to be ignored, and refusing to see the really bad timing.

"Dammit." she exhaled sharply. Cinching her towel around herself a little more tightly, as if in defiance, she stepped further out into the cabin- her cabin. Commander Shepard, Commander of the Normandy, first Human Spectre's cabin. "I'm a professional, I don't have time for this. I can't do this. I don't do this." She ground her teeth in frustration as she chastised herself, tried to talk sense to herself, giving herself the bawling out she had been building up in the back of her brain for a few days now. "Pull yourself together soldier!" she barked. Instinct straightened her spine even though the order had come from her own lips.

"Squeak." For a second she thought she had made the tiny little pipe of sound, but the accompanying scribble scrabble of tiny feet on wood shavings focused her eyes on the transparent plastic habitat of her "space" hamster. With a fond smirk she snapped off a polished salute to the tiny little fluffball regarding her with solemn eyes from behind the plastic barrier. "You said it." she chuckled at him. She didn't often take the little fella out of his habitat- she didn't spend much time in the cabin to be honest. She cast a guilty look over her shoulder at the empty fish tank- yeah. She only came up here to sleep when she was falling down stupid tired, or when she had a particularly painful or sensitive bit of correspondence to deal with. "Won't be long now buddy." She spoke to her fuzzy roommate. She had made a deal with him after the 3rd (and final) batch of fish. As soon as she cut ties with the Illusive Man and Cerberus, the sooner the better really, they were going to make an effigy of him, tie a little anchor to it, and sink it right down to the bottom of the tank to celebrate.

She reached up and took the lid off of the plastic habitat and lifted the tiny creature out gently. She needed a pick-me-up. Something soft, warm, and alive in her hands. He squeaked again happily, little nose quivering excitedly and his tiny heart going pit-a-pat in his chest so vibrantly that Shepard could feel each beat. Shepard's mind wandered as she stroked the small ball of fuzz. She was feeling the normal loneliness of command she told herself. Natural, normal. She was hardly aloof from the crew- in fact she made a huge effort to know every single one of them. To talk to them, get their insights and opinions. To help them if they had problems. She loved that part of being the commander. However she never let it go too far, never crossed that razor fine, but razor sharp line that a commander had to keep between herself and her crew. At least she never had before. She scowled to herself, mind wandering away from approved paths to the big red flagged area that was "off limits." She knew where she was with the hamster. She sure as hell didn't know where she was with her gunnery officer Garrus Vakarian.

The situation was, she mentally strained trying to find the right word, inappropriate? Complicated? Awkward? Unbelievably ridiculous? Bad? All of the above? Over the years of her military service she had learned to deal with the twists and tangles of deep, personal emotions between crewmembers. Reprimands given, sympathetic shoulder offered, even transfers arranged for the really unfortunate incidents. She had even had instances where she was the target of a crewmate's affections. She had been forced to let Kaiden Alenko down gently but firmly on the old Normandy during the mission to take down Saren. She had found a way to tactfully guide Liara's crush into a sisterly affection. It was flattering and all but she was Commander Shepard, she had work to do, this wasn't a cruise ship. It wasn't appropriate. All competence, all professionalism, all business, all the time. It was a mantra that wasn't going to change. Except that her mutinous emotions were not cooperating this time. They were screwing things up in fact. She was screwing things up.

Shepard huffed out a breath of indignant annoyance. At her self created, self imposed exile. How did this even happen? She missed talking to Garrus. After a long, hard day of slaving to save the galaxy whether it wanted her to or not she just wanted to sit down and talk with her closest friend for a few minutes. It was her habit to make a circuit around the ship every evening, checking in on everyone. Her circuit always ended at the main battery. She and Garrus would shoot the breeze, trade stories, banter, laugh. He had a great sense of humor. And his voice, that voice so harmonious and discordant at once, the way it rumbled low and deep, getting in under the radar to catch you by surprise and set your pulse racing and your hands shaking. And his eyes. So blue. God dammit STOP that Shepard- right now!

She had gone all dreamy for just a second there, lost in reverie and distraction. She didn't do distraction. Or dreamy. Or any of this crap. At least she never had before, but it was becoming unsettlingly apparent that she did now. Had been for a few days- ever since that explosion on Tuchanka had hurled her right over Mordin's head to collide with, topple, and land on top of her ever constant Turian sidekick during their expedition into the not-quite-so-abandoned hospital. It shouldn't have been a problem- just another day at the office. Except that her heart had skipped a beat, and her palms had started sweating in their armored gauntlets, and her breath had been stolen away- and not by the sudden impact. Nose to nose, eye to eye with Garrus, she had seen something, felt something, experienced something she had never known before. For a split second. Right before he'd quipped, with a groan, "I'll give you a 10 for the acrobatic flip, but you're getting a -3 for the crappy landing Shepard." She hadn't been able to look him in the eye since.

"This is ridiculous." She said aloud to herself and the hamster sitting on her palm washing one delicate foot daintily. "Right, I'm getting dressed and then I'm going to go down to the mess and get something to eat. Then I'm gonna go down and talk to Garrus about the damn gun like normal. I'm not going to think about that again, it's finished. Over. Done. Back to business as usual." She was convincing herself with all the conviction she could muster. The hamster gave her a peculiar look, his little chocolate drop eyes gleaming extra brightly, almost mirthfully. She swore he gave her the tiniest snort of frustration or disbelief. Then he leaped off her fingers towards the floor with the grace of an artiste and scurried across her sleeping area to seek refuge under the sofa. "Ah hell!" Shepard cursed and sprang after him, trying to pounce before he could get under the furniture. Commander Shepard of the Normandy, first Human Spectre, destroyer of Sovereign was now scrabbling around on the floor on her hands and knees, clad only in a towel, butt in the air, straining to reach the mocking little rodent peeping out at her from the farthest reaches of the shadowy depths beneath the sofa.

Garrus rolled his shoulders, stretching, as he rode up in the elevator. He wanted to work out any last minute fidgets before he confronted Shepard. This was it, this was crunch time- that was the expression wasn't it? Shepard had been avoiding him for days now, but she wasn't fooling him. He'd seen her eyes on Tuchanka when their gazes had locked for that split second of epiphany. Her epiphany at any rate, he had known for quite a long time that they were meant to be together. Cross species liaison or whatever people wanted to call it- when two kindred Spirits were fired together in the forge of battle, shaped by the hammer of destiny, and tempered in tears of grief and laughter they were not meant to be separated. Even death had bowed to that simple truth. It wasn't easy for her he knew- she was their commander, their leader. He respected her, and her right, her need to control the circumstances of a friendship that was teetering on the edge of so much more. But time was so short and precious right now, and they had lost so much of it already thanks to the collectors. He also knew Shepard being Shepard would cut everyone else some slack, but never give any to herself. It was time to take matters into his own talons.

The few times he had seen her in the last couple of days, in the CIC, or the mess, or talking to another of the crew her scent had betrayed the neutral expressions and casual greetings she had given him. That and the racing of her heart, which he could so clearly hear hammering away, told him everything he needed to know. He was a predator, and she was acting like prey. If she wanted to be hunted then he would hunt. Garrus grinned ferally, stepped out of the lift and palmed the button to Shepard's quarters, and then froze halfway across the threshold, mandibles splayed in gaping horror at the bizarre spectacle he was now an accidental witness to.

"God damned little.. get over here you son of a …" Shepard muttered, straining, body contorted to give her more reach, head jammed under the front edge of the sofa. She was seriously considering using biotics to start rearranging the furniture if the little bastard didn't come out in another ten seconds.

"Shepard?" He hadn't actually meant to speak, one part of his brain had been trying to engage a full emergency halt and retreat. The other part, the dumb part apparently, had decided it would be better to die a horrible death by announcing his presence and witness to whatever macabre human ritual she was performing. Oh Spirits, please don't let it be some sort of self pleasuring thing he pleaded to the cosmos. His mandibles twitched sympathetically when the back of her cranium struck the metal frame of the sofa in response to his calling her name. "GarAUHHGH SON of a" Something small streaked across the floor past the cursing Shepard, up the set of steps heading towards him and the exit. "Garrus I'm a little bus-SHUT THE DOOR!" she hollered, with as much force as she used on the battlefield. He didn't want to go in there, he really didn't, but he was so attuned to following her commands without question that he finished stepping into the cabin and the door swooshed shut behind him. The skittering hairy thing gave a defiant "Squeak!" and made a dash for Shepard's desk. Shepard came flying up the stairs hot on its six, naked except for the quickly unraveling towel wrap, with her N7 helmet in her hands. She made a leaping dive for it, trying to bring the helmet down on top to contain the runaway beast, just missing it by a few centimeters. She caught Garrus' left foot instead.

Shephard wanted to disappear, cry, scream, something as she knelt panting, damp, mostly unclad, holding her helmet down on Garrus' toes. She stood up slowly, body unwinding from its coiled position at Garrus' feet even as inside she wound tighter than a spring. She gathered the towel around herself once more, attempting to muster the shreds of her dignity. She was aware of a deep basso rumbling coming from her gunnery officer, accompanied by frantically flicking mandibles. Judging by the way he was sucking in air he was trying to choke down the peals of Turian laughter threatening to burst forth from his very depths.

"S..s...something you n..need Sh..Shepard?" he gasped out desperately trying to contain himself even as he looked down at his helmeted left foot and had to stifle another rumble of laughter. She briefly wondered if one could flush the remains of a Turian down a toilet the same way she had discreetly, guiltily, disposed of the evidence of her many fishicides. Probably not, the laughing bastard was too big and how would she explain that kind of plumbing issue to Gardner?

Garrus managed to get the impending roars of laughter under control with supreme effort, reminding himself of the mission he was here on and how counter productive that might be. Instead, with as much suave panache as he could pack into the gesture, he kicked his powerful leg up ever so slightly while giving his twin pronged toes a flick. The helmet arched gracefully up into the air where he caught it with the beautifully measured movements and poise of a striking serpent. He stood there, sunk slightly back onto one hip, proferring her helmet to her while giving her his best come hither look. "Dammit. How the hell does he manage to look that...sexy?" Shepard moaned mentally, perturbed by the sudden flush of heat burning her cheeks and parts unmentionable.

"Do something!" Shepard commanded herself desperately, "Act casual, do not panic under fire!" Trying to radiate stoicism Shepard shrugged as casually as she could manage and replied, "Well as long as you're here you can help me get that furry little menace back in his box." Garrus was only too pleased, at least she was speaking to him and not trying to throw him out, or throttle him. "Sure Shepard," he trilled in his deepest rumble, the kind that always made her heart race. "No problem."

Fourty-five minutes later Garrus was spewing a litany of obscenities in several of the less translatable dialects and subharmonic frequencies of the Turian language. He, and the now uniformed Shepard, were on opposite sides of her cabin trying to flank the rodent and corral him. Garrus was crouched low, like one of his primal ancestors, a sinisterly predatorial rumble emanating from somewhere deep inside him. He was sniffing the air, listening for a tiny little heartbeat, eyes akindle with savage ferocity, talons itching to tear that little fuzzball apart. His very much desired potential mate was watching, he needed to impress her with his skill, his prowess, his virility. Not be beaten by an appetizer sized hairball. Apparently living with an N7 rated Spectre had rubbed off on the little squeaking hellspawn because he was easily outmanuvering both of them. This was not how his version of today was supposed to be going.

Shepard was crouched on the right side of the foot of the bed, helmet back in hand. She would have been laughing, probably, if the horrific events of earlier were not still playing through the back of her mind. Things had been bad before, after what Garrus had seen in here today, well, one of them was probably going to have to be run through the garbage compaction system in Zaeed's quarters and quietly disposed of. She wasn't certain wether she wanted to space Garrus or herself more at this point. Her attention was captured by a sharp hiss and menacing growl from the other side of the bed area. Garrus was coiling for a spring, his avian eyes boring a hole through the tiny skittish creature that had finally made a tentative "Squeak" and dared the blockade to make a dash for better cover beneath the very sofa where this whole nightmare had begun. He looked seriously pissed off. Shepard tensed herself to make a lunge for the hamster before he became a casualty of war- or possibly a sacrifice to the Turian Spirit of wounded ego. The hamster hesitated for a split second, turning around to twitch his little pink nose and whiskers at them as if he were goading them, or maybe just suicidal. Garrus made a sound remeniscent of a tyrannosaurus she'd seen in a movie once and leaped into the air all claws and fangs. Shepard launched herself at the exact same moment trying to slam the helmet down over her pet before he joined the lost fleet of the fish tank. They met in a spectacular midair collision that put the one on Tuchanka to shame.

Stars, there were stars everywhere and they were beautiful she thought hazily. Especially the two blue ones, they were lovely, so intense, mesmirizing. No wait, only some of those were stars, there were stars over her where the skylight opened out onto the galaxy, but the two blue orbs that had her entranced weren't stars. They were eyes, deep, beautiful, blue, breathtaking eyes. She couldn't breathe, and not just because she had a six foot plus Turian crushing her. They were nose to nose, eye to eye, pounding heartbeat to pounding heartbeat again. Somewhere, vaguely, she registered a squeak from the hamster, heard him scurrying up the leg of the desk, up the rack of plastic ships, across the top of the display cases, dropping into the plastic habitat with its wood shavings. Garrus was looking down at her, purring, oh god he was, he was purring. No one had the right to be that sexy it wasn't fair. The words slipped out of her before she had even registered them, echoing his from earlier without the laughter. Softer, almost shy, except that she didn't do shy. "Something you need Garrus?"