They have become masters of speaking without words. Sometimes now, in the middle of a fight, Garrus reacts even before Shepard makes one of her hand motions because he's so familiar with the lines of her body and the language those lines speak. Even as her arm begins to move, he knows she's going to direct him left, knows she wants him to watch her flank as she moves up, and he's already in place before the gesture finishes.

And sometimes now, sitting next to each other on the Kodiak as it swings back to the Normandy after one of those smash-and-grab, drop-and-shoot missions, her lips move in the familiar litany of stats and plans and debriefing and what's up next, but her eyes meet his and ask later? And he replies in kind, some jab about Vega not barreling blindly through a firefight if he doesn't want to take a concussive round to the back, but his shoulder bumps hers and she smiles.

He knows they aren't fooling anyone, not really. And though he'd meant what he said before the Omega-4 when he urged caution, when he didn't want to disrupt the crew, seeing planet after planet fall to the Reapers has changed his priorities. They are none of them guaranteed time, and he will take what little he has on offer. Since Menae he has slept in Shepard's cabin more often than not, sometimes curled around her, sometimes alone, always with the strange, unsettling certainty he feels more at home on her ship, in her space, surrounded by her things than he has anywhere else.

Still, they practice what discretion they can, so when the Kodiak docks, he and Shepard stand side by side in the armory saying nothing, checking their gear for wear and tear, for any flaws that might scream a fatal mistake the next time out. The firing mechanism of her Paladin's not behaving the way it ought, so she lingers over the bench, her fingers probing, seeking out the source of the problem.

When he's certain his own guns are in perfect condition, he says, "Shepard." He doesn't raise the inflection, but it's a question nonetheless, and without hesitation she nods. The nod is enough. Like the lines of her body, he is fluent in the language of her nods and smiles, and this one says yes, still on, I'll be up soon.

He doesn't head for the battery; the look in her eyes earlier was an invitation, the nod in the armory confirmation, and he never turns these invitations down, since they don't, between her responsibilities and his, have a great deal of time to spend together. Moments, of course, stolen when they can. Like this one. Glad the elevator is empty, he hits the button for her cabin.

He's cleaned the grit from his armor and is buffing out the worst of the new bullet scars when Shepard strides through the door, already reaching for the clasps and seals of her own armor. Without speaking, she bends at the waist and presses a kiss to the side of his face, her lips both soft and firm against his unscarred cheek. She's gone again before he can reach for her, though, removing her armor with practiced ease. She checks each piece, never rushing. Haste is a killer on the battlefield; they both know it, they've both seen the damage it can do. Some things can never be rushed, and a soldier caring for gear is at the top of that list.

He's had enough of a head start that he's finished with his armor long before she is, and he lounges on her couch, ankle crossed over the opposite knee, watching her. She smirks up at him, gaze coy beneath the dark fringe of her lashes. Cleaning armor shouldn't be sexy, but she's somehow able to make it so, dragging the cloth across the ablative plate in a manner he can only describe as suggestive. Whatever she sees on his face teases another smile from her lips, and this is a smile like a promise. "I don't know," she says, a faint challenge in her gaze, "it's been a long time since I gave my armor a proper… servicing."

"Mmm," he replies. Then, mimicking her tone, he adds, "I don't know. I can always find guns to calibrate if you're too busy…"

She grins, tossing the cloth aside and setting the last piece of armor with the rest. "Bluff called. You're getting better, Vakarian. Might even beat me at Skyllian Five one of these decades."

Just for a second, he lets himself imagine decades with her. Even the word is enough to twist his stomach with the bittersweet pain of impossibility. The Reapers may not even give them a year. Thinking about months is optimistic. He stops himself before he considers the fleeting quality of words like weeks or days. Before she turns away, he sees the crease of sorrow in her brow, recognizes the hint of curve in her shoulders and knows she's imagining endings instead of futures, and it pains him enough to propel him to his feet. "Come on," he says, as lightly as he can manage. "There's a shower in there with your name all over it."

"Just mine?" she asks, and he doesn't need subharmonics to tell him that beneath the flirtation, she's still melancholy. He says nothing, touching her cheek gently before sliding the elastic from her ponytail. As her hair falls about her shoulders, she pushes herself up on her toes, twining her arms around him and burying her face against his neck.

Because he knows even the secret dialects of Shepard's silent language, he hugs her back and says, "Take your time. I'll be here when you're finished."

So he sits on her couch, listening to the shower run, pretending to read. He's never known anyone who appreciates hot water as much as Shepard does. After the roughest missions, the most horrible days, her showers leave her with red-rimmed eyes and he pretends not to notice because she doesn't want him to, but today's shower is not one of these. When she emerges, skin still damp and wet hair slicked back and dripping, she is clear-eyed and smiling again. She moves unerringly across the room, clad only in a towel that does nothing to mask the sultry swing of her hips. He reaches for her before she can reach for him, and her smile widens in genuine delight. Too often he lets her take the lead in her cabin just as he lets her take the lead on the battlefield, but something in their earlier exchange has left him certain this is not a time for playing second-in-command.

Rising, he sweeps her up, towel and all, and sets her on the edge of the bed. Her expression asks a question; he hopes his smile is answer enough. He knows it is when she leans back a little on her hands and closes her eyes. Carding his fingers through her wet hair, he bends his brow to hers and then drops his head to lap up an errant trail of water, his tongue following the curve of neck and collarbone and shoulder. Her skin pebbles beneath his ministrations, and her lips turn up, but she doesn't open her eyes.

He's heard stories about the drell, but can't imagine hallucinogenic venom can be any more intoxicating than Shepard's skin. More than anything else, more than the hair or the bend of her knees or the five fingers on her hands, her skin is alien, and he can't get enough of it. He has spent whole evenings mapping out the milky galaxy of her skin, marking constellations of the darker freckles she calls moles first with the blunted tips of his talons, then with his tongue, reveling in the smooth, alien texture of her.

None of his nervous research had prepared him for how soft human skin was, or how responsive. The faintest graze of his hand against hers is enough to make the fine, pale hair rise on her arms. He has learned spots that make her squirm, ones that make her giggle, ones liable to earn him a good-natured punch, and still every encounter is a revelation. Every time yields new secrets, new entries in the dictionary he keeps.

Cupping her face between his hands, he then strokes down her arms, aware how much rougher the texture of his palms is against her shoulders and biceps and the graceful curl of her fingers. Lifting one of her hands, he presses his best approximation of a kiss into her palm, then another to the inside of her wrist. By the time his slow kisses and the caress of his tongue reaches the dip where shoulder meets clavicle, Shepard is trembling, her breath coming in little breathy gasps. Still, however, she remains silent. Still her eyes remain closed.

Permitting himself a smile she cannot see, very gently he nudges her onto her back and she sprawls, raising her arms above her head, the picture of wanton ease. The towel stays put, but falls open just enough to grant him a view of thigh, lean and pale and inviting. It doesn't matter how often he's seen her like this; the sight still transfixes him, and he freezes just long enough for Shepard to open one eye and smirk at him. Then she lifts her foot and pokes him in the side with it.

He captures her intrusive foot and begins repeating the process of driving her slowly mad with languorous touches. Particularly fond of the soft patch of skin at her ankle, he spends a full minute torturing her with tongue and fingertips. She tenses when he tickles her behind the knees, trying not to laugh, but when he reaches the impossibly soft skin of her inner thighs, he wins their unspoken little game because she breaks the silence, moaning his name.

This means, of course, the time for teasing has passed. Her breath catches on every inhale and as his tongue tastes her, heat and salt and Shepard, her delicate human fingers fist in the sheets, yearning for more, more, more, but unwilling to actually ask for it. Every flick of his mandibles against her thighs makes her shift and groan until he stills her hips with his hands and delves deeper, pulling forth the purest keening cry of her pleasure all tangled up with his name spoken over and over with reverence that might feel sacrilegious if he were the kind of man who believed in gods other than justice and duty and killing the things trying to kill him before they managed to succeed.

Perhaps this time they steal between firefights and diplomatic missions is the equivalent of a prayer. It is, he thinks, the only time they either of them quite manage to find peace. Shepard's eyes fly open as he drags his fingers across the skin of her belly, reaching, reaching. Finding. He curls his tongue and flicks his thumb against her and this time her eyes close involuntarily as her back arches and her muscles clench around him. She makes the sound he loves best of all, the one that never fails to make him smile; even the perfect headshot at an impossible distance doesn't come close to imparting the same satisfaction. He remains where he is for a time, teasing aftershocks from her quivering body, his hand drawing nonsense patterns against her silky skin.

Eventually she sighs, and Shepard's sighs are another language he's learning. This one says thank you and it says I needed that and sometimes he thinks it says other words, more potent words, words of futures and not endings, but he doesn't want to presume.

Shepard is only ever this still, this relaxed, just in the moments after she's come apart for him. Boneless and blushing, she lies tangled in the sheets, smiling the satisfied smile she only ever smiles for him.

"You're beautiful," he whispers before he can stop himself and swallow the words as he's always done before. Her skin, already flushed from their activity, blushes even darker. But it's true. She's all color and fire and life, and he can't stop that niggling seed of doubt, the question that asks why him, when the whole of the galaxy is open to her. He jokes sometimes about not being worthy of her—how did a turian like that end up with a girl like her?—but the truth is most of the time he believes it.

Shepard opens her eyes then, and because she's as fluent in the language of him as he is in hers, she sees his doubt. His fear, even. Him. It should unnerve him, but it doesn't, because this, too, is like coming home. Her look answers every question he might think to raise with because I want you, and defies him to disbelieve it.

Every day they throw themselves between the galaxy and death, her skin a fragile barrier between the Reapers and annihilation, and though he would never stand in her way or dream of holding her back, there are moments he wishes he could. And there are moments when her smile says she knows, and she wishes she could let him, but she can't. So they have this. Secret languages. Stolen moments.

"That was awfully one-sided," she whispers, circling his wrist with her fingers and tugging until he obliges and curls up on his side beside her. She turns until she's facing him, their bodies touching, propping her head on one hand. The other hand travels a lazy path from his neck, down his cowl, eventually resting at his waist, and now it's his turn to tremble.

He'd have been content to leave it if she wanted, but the press of her fingers is insistent. "Don't know what you're talking about," he murmurs, in the low voice she loves. "That was only the first wave. We've still got ages before full extraction."

She laughs, sweet and relieved and anticipatory, and for some time afterward, they neither of them speak at all.