A/N: Unbelievably, this was supposed to be a short crack story. Unrelated to my other Mass Effect story, Strange Bedfellows. Different Shepard, slightly different headcanon about turians. Note that this has a dubcon vibe to it. (Mild-ish? But YMMV.) So I wouldn't wade further if you absolutely hate that.
I've chosen to pretend that universal translators don't exist. Space magic may explain everything, but they just don't make that much sense to me.
A big thanks to my beta Elenilote as usual.
You can also read this on AO3. I've done some cosmetic fixes there which are lacking from this ffnet version, but nothing significant.
Flickering signs gleamed in the perpetual night of the ancient space station. Commercials droned, street music chimed and blared, shuttles clanked and hissed in their hidden tunnels. Whores, peddlers and pickpockets worked the crowd. Under everything else, muted rhythms from nearby strip joints and nightclubs throbbed like a heartbeat.
It wasn't the back streets of Chicago, but damned if it wasn't close enough to feel like home.
On a shadowed construction scaffold above Omega's maze-like Lower Markets, the humanity's first spectre leaned against a bulkhead and pretended to watch the throng below. She wasn't off duty, but it still had the feeling of R&R to her, standing there without either uniform or hardsuit or even a name. No Collector dropships, no possessed tech-zombies, no particle beams and seeker swarms screaming death above her head... no ex-lovers giving her the symbolic finger across a scorched battlefield. Just the weight of her shotgun against her thigh, darkness, and ten inches of steel behind her back.
And also, one seriously gun-crazed turian standing not twenty paces away from her at a kiosk.
The shabby little shop didn't look like much, yet the wizened batarian behind its counter presided over what was arguably the largest inventory of contraband personal arms in the Terminus Systems. If Garrus Vakarian believed in heaven, it might not have been very far from where he now stood.
Elena Shepard, however, was starting to believe she was in hell.
Three months after her resurrection, she could use every moment she got away from how her life had suddenly become Cerberus-shaped. And after the nightmares of Horizon, it had felt like a good idea to allow Garrus have a little fun. But stepping outside the Normandy and turning from 'Commander Shepard, Ma'am' to just 'Shepard' brought certain issues to focus. Ones she usually managed to hide under her more public, galaxy-sized problems. Ones that had very little to do with Cerberus, the Illusive Man, or ancient god machines capable of destroying all sentient life in the known universe.
The fitted new casuals Garrus wore were a nice change from his usual combat gear and baggy utes. Only the smart bandage that still covered the right side of his neck and face told of his french kiss with death barely two months ago. Shepard's memory was as good as it was cruel; if she closed her eyes, she could still see him being gunned down in that shitty holdout in the Kima District — and how his claws had reached for his Viper across the bloodied floor. If she'd ever wondered what he treasured most in this world, that day she'd received her answer.
So, it has come to this. I'm jealous at a bloody sniper rifle.
Suddenly she heard a whirring noise nearby.
She spun, hand on her M-6. But it was only a commercial info drone. The shimmering sphere blinked softly and spoke in a whiny asari voice.
"'Honey, not tonight. It was a long day at the office and my tentacles are aching.'"
Shepard raised her brows as the asari's voice turned into that of an over-excited salarian.
"Weary of excuses? Tired of being rejected? Frustrated by lack of excitement in your bedroom? Lustrox Pharmaceuticals. Help is closer than you think!"
Sex aids. Apparently her aura of unrequited lust had caught the drone's interest. It was illegal to read pheromone profiles without consent in most civilized parts of the galaxy, but on Omega few such limitations on entrepreneurial imagination existed. A bit of unsolicited, non-invasive medical scanning was definitely not the most disturbing way her privacy could have been violated.
Shooting the damned thing would probably have been overkill. Easing her hand off her pistol, Shepard settled back to wait and watch, arms crossed, booted feet splayed on the scaffold, nigh invisible in her black combat jacket and fatigue pants.
Jesus, she needed a smoke. But she'd promised Chakwas she'd cut down. The state-of-the-art tech in her worked more optimally without added strain. Also, tar felt like shit in her squeaky clean new pipes.
"Turian, krogan, human, batarian, asari — we serve all hormone-based species. Our clinically tested products will scientifically kindle even the most hopeless relationship!"
Slowly Shepard's head turned back toward the drone. The salarian's prattle was replaced by the drowsy purr of a turian male, followed by another asari chirping in with false enthusiasm.
"'Honey, what just happened? That was amazing!'
"'Thank you, Lustrox! A week ago he didn't even know I existed — now we're getting married!'"
Finally, the salarian again.
"Lustrox — guaranteed to drive your partner wild! Illegal in Council space. Not for pregnant individuals or juveniles of any species. Find our kiosk at the Upper Markets. Online purchases delivered to your address in discreet packaging."
The drone quieted. After a nearly apologetic whirr it glided away. Shepard frowned and looked back down, where the batarian seemed to be demonstrating advanced terminal ballistics with his hands and a stylus.
'Illegal in Council space' was the most often used advertising catchphrase on Omega. In this case, it might even have been true. Recreational use of psychosexual drugs was banned in most lawful regions of the galaxy.
Shepard watched Garrus listen to the little ogre, his avian head bobbing occasionally in agreement. The white light of a nearby sign reflected on his silver exoskeleton, catching highlights on his fringe and the frame of his visor.
Back in the Alliance, Shepard had known better than to let on she found turians attractive. There were still people in the brass who'd seen their comrades mowed down by the birdmen in the First Contact War. Shepard wasn't going to endanger her career because of a fetish.
Then she'd died. And come back. And suddenly she was no longer Alliance, or subject to its xenophobic rules and regulations. In the Illusive Man's service she could have fucked varrens, and no one would have cared... well, no one outside her ship, anyway. But it had turned out harder than she'd thought, to make a turian think outside the box. Even a bad turian. After two months of ship life and combat missions together, he still didn't even seem to realize that his commanding officer was a woman.
Shepard stared at the spot where the info drone had hovered.
After a moment she touched the bug in her right ear. Down below, Garrus tilted his head and raised his hand to his visor. His familiar melodic, deep flange emerged from the comm.
"Sorry, Shepard. I know this is taking a bit longer than I thought —"
She rolled her eyes. 'I'll only be a moment' had been his exact words about thirty minutes ago.
"Don't worry, big guy. I need to take care of something. I'll catch you in the Afterlife before the meeting, alright?"
"Of course, Commander. Be careful."
"Careful of what? Getting my ass patted by a vorcha?"
She saw him shake his head. "You know I'm just worried for the vorcha, Shepard."
The line went silent, and Shepard dropped from her lookout to disappear into the crowd.
The Lustrox Pharmaceuticals outlet was situated in the nicest part of the Upper Markets, a five-minute shuttle ride from the bazaar. The district was shabby compared to anything one would find on places like Nos Astra, but at least Shepard had reason to hope that the owner wasn't just looking to make a quick credit with chalk pills. The store was clean and spacious, and the salarian behind its counter wore a lab coat that lent him a professional air.
"Good day, ma'am!" he piped as soon as Shepard had shuffled close enough to place herself in the category of potential customers. "How may I be of assistance?"
Shepard looked left and right, hoping no one would recognize her.
"Well, I heard this ad..."
"Of course you did. Please step inside, ma'am."
She approached warily. Two LOKI mechs slept folded behind the counter, and three surveillance cameras followed her every move. The transparent paneling on the store walls switched to opaque. Well, at least no one could see them, now, unless they happened to come in through the door.
The salarian blinked and smiled, not perturbed in the least by the respectable amount of arsenal strapped in tactical holsters on top of his prospective client.
"So, which one of our many adverts peaked your curiosity, ma'am? The batarian rash cure? The truth serum? Or something more... ahem, recreational in nature?"
"I need to... uh... kindle a hopeless relationship."
"Of course you do, ma'am. Species, gender..?"
"Excellent!" The clerk's head bobbed. "And may I ask... how hopeless is your desired liaison?"
Shepard thought back to the times she'd drunkenly suggested that Garrus come to her quarters and calibrate something in her pants. She'd also asked if turians really had a retractable penis (the answer to which she already knew), and whether the length of their fringe was related to that of other parts. Once or twice she could remember being carried over his broad shoulder to her quarters and thrown on the bed... and left to simmer alone in her intoxicated passion.
Well, so maybe she sucked at flirting. But at least she'd honestly used every trick in her book. It was impossible for anyone to be so obtuse. The only logical conclusion was that he did not find her sexually attractive.
"Hopeless," she said blandly.
The salarian clucked, but did not seem discouraged. "Just to define the parameters, ma'am — have you reason to expect that your friend is at least responsive to females?"
Her brows lifted. Like most marines, Garrus indulged in the occasional asari hooker on his shore leave. And he'd told her about his encounter with an agile female operative back in the turian military. (Shepard still blamed herself for not using the opportunity. But saying something about her own rather considerable flexibility would have required at least half a bottle of batarian whiskey in her system.)
"But he shows no interest in human females, am I correct?"
"None that I know of."
"Ah." The salarian scratched his temple. "Hard to guarantee success when circumstances are so unfavorable. But something can be done to, ahem, create the desired mood. Just a second, ma'am."
The salesman brushed a finger against his console. After a few swipes and taps, a small rectangle in the counter slid aside to reveal what looked like a bottle of eye drops.
"What is it?" Shepard leaned forward as the salesman took the tiny container and placed it on the counter. The label on it used a Palaven alphabet, complete gibberish to her eyes.
"Turian female pheromones, produced during heat." Something in the salarian's smug demeanor reminded her of Mordin. "Synthetic, of course. Extraction from a live female would be... problematic. But the effect is entirely similar."
"And that is?"
"Lowered inhibitions. Elevated and prolonged interest in mating."
"Ah." Shepard swallowed, and straightened. The topic was one of the many taboos in turian culture. Their porn made a big deal out of the heat cycle, but Shepard wasn't stupid enough to expect that those holos portrayed the phenomenon with anything like accuracy.
"I've heard that turian women go into heat, but not the specifics."
"Turian sexual behavior similar to that of most other gregarious, hormonal species. Sex used to relieve tension, strengthen social bonds. But reproduction tied to an annual cycle. Presence of fertile females causes erratic behavior in males, so the sexes avoid each other during this period."
"I see." Did that explain the scarcity of turian females outside their colonies and homeworld? No, that made no sense — from what Garrus had told about 'relieving tension' on a turian warship, Shepard knew that there were women in their military. It had to be a cultural thing.
"And the price?"
The figure was higher than she'd expected, but nowhere near the limits of her generous credit from the Illusive Man. The bastard's accountants probably reviewed Shepard's every purchase... but it was unlikely that a place like this filed their transactions by the book. So she probably didn't have to worry that 'turian sex pheromones' would appear on her record of acquisitions.
In other words, the only thing that stood between her and the little vial was her own conscience.
Noticing her hesitation, the salarian pitched harder.
"Responsible use of such products is entirely safe. Two drops on a warm spot of body heightens turian sex drive without alerting your desired partner to use of chemical aid. In other words — he'll never need to know."
"It's still cheating."
"That, ma'am, is a matter of point of view. Nature did not evolve us for this environment, for its complications. Sometimes its course needs to be... helped. Do you not agree?"
There had been a time she would have accepted the salarian's twisted logic without hesitation. Back before waking up on that examination slab in the Cerberus facility, a puzzle of meat and high-tech, wires still sticking from her rebuilt body. But now...
She thought of the deep trust Garrus had shown her ever since they took down Dr. Saleon. He'd placed his life in her hands more times than she could count. Hell, after her death, he'd shaped his whole life in her memory. Could she really destroy that respect just for the sake of a shag?
Then she thought of his piercing eyes. Of his steady, knowing hands aligning the Viper for a perfect headshot. The exquisite precision of his talon as it pulled the trigger. What would it feel like, to be consumed by that alien heat, to be the center of all his attention? She shivered at the thought.
Oh, crap. Who am I kidding?
"I'll take it."
"Excellent!" Three-fingered hands conjured up a small bag and transferred the vial inside. In a daze, Shepard handed over her credit chit, and the salarian swiped it against his console. The machine chimed and spat out a receipt and a narrow leaflet, both of which the salarian deftly collected into the bag.
"Please read attached safety instructions, ma'am. Must not exceed recommended dosage. Overdose harmless for humans, but causes aggressive behavior, hypersexuality in turian males. In extreme cases, temporary psychosis."
"Right." She accepted the bag as if it might have bitten her.
"Keep container in safe location. The manufacturer warns of fragility. Lustrox Pharmaceuticals thanks you for your patronage, ma'am. Enjoy yourself, and have a great day!"
And with that she was standing outside again, wondering what the hell had happened.
Did I just buy myself a turian sex drug?
Temporary insanity, brought on by her raging ovaries. That was the only possible explanation. Without a word she walked to the nearest recycling chute and dangled the little bag above it.
But... there were over three thousand credits in it. And turians worked in the trash pits, too. Cursing under her breath, Shepard stowed the vial in her thigh pocket and fed the bag into the chute, safety instructions and all.
She just needed to get laid. That was all. When even Officer Lawson was starting to comment on her grouchy behavior, it was way past time to find a healthy human male and have some completely human sex to clear her mind.
Trying to shrug the surreal little episode from her mind, Shepard took the shuttle back to the Lower Markets and headed for the Afterlife, just in time for her appointment with Aria T'Loak.
o o o
It was hard to believe that most humans couldn't tell one turian from another. She would have known Garrus anywhere, even without the clan markings and custom-built visor — the shape of his fringe, the proud way he carried himself, how he seemed vigilant without looking totally batshit paranoid (a talent Shepard herself was yet to master).
She sidled through the drunken crowd and ear-splitting music and the mingled hormones of a dozen different species, and slipped behind Garrus where he stood at the bar staring into a glass.
"Penny for your thoughts?" she yelled as close to his auditory canal as she could get. She wasn't short for her species, nor was he exceptionally tall for his, but he still towered over her by seven inches or more.
He spun, and maybe it was her state of mind, but the way he loomed over her for a second took her breath away. Even if the menace she saw in him was anthropomorphic bullshit layered on his predatory physique by her brain, she still found it thrilling.
He relaxed against the counter and crossed his arms. "Shepard, don't you find that just a little bit childish?"
Now and then she was still struck by how much he'd changed. To her, it was barely three months since he'd left to reapply for Spectre training, with a last snappy salute and a respectful it's been an honor to serve under you, ma'am. And now... in the two years she'd lost, that deference seemed to have been bled out of him. Not that she enjoyed being treated like an icon. But despite how much she liked his sexy new-found confidence, she sometimes missed that wholly unconditional yes, ma'am.
"What? Don't blame me if you have instincts like a volus," she said, stealing a peek at his drink. It was something non-alcoholic and boring.
"I'll remind you of that the next time you need me to shoot five husks off your back." His face plates tightened in a small frown. "Is everything alright, Commander?"
For something so tiny, the vial seemed to weigh a ton in her pocket. "Of course."
Christ. She could make a krogan cry and talk an indoctrinated spectre into putting a bullet through his own brain, but couldn't shit one turian ex-cop?
"Yeah, yeah. Just some human stuff I needed to take care of. You finished? We should go."
He seemed doubtful, but didn't argue. "Lead the way, Shepard."
o o o
Lately it had started to feel a bit less likely that the self-appointed queen of Omega would throw Shepard to a pack of hungry varren just to entertain herself. It was weeks since anyone had pointed a gun at the estranged spectre in her presence. If that wasn't the start of a beautiful friendship, Shepard was willing to admit she didn't know anything about criminal masterminds, after all.
Half an hour later — practically an eternity in Aria T'Loak's schedule — Shepard extracted herself from the clutches of her black leather couch. Close by, Garrus stepped from the shadow of a column. Aria's turian goons almost fell over each other trying to get out of his way. Shepard had always wondered where exactly Garrus stood in the turian pecking order, but he avoided the topic.
Was she staring again? She looked at Aria, who smiled, eyes glittering like pieces of glass — seeing far too much, as usual. Her manicured blue fingers toyed with the data chip Shepard had delivered.
"You should find yourself a nice young man to keep yourself warm. You look like you need to loosen up a bit."
The vial in Shepard's pocket burned like a freshly expelled heat sink. "Good idea. Recommendations?"
"Ask for R'Gok on the second floor. I'll drop your name. He'll introduce you to the best entertainers."
Shepard nodded. "I might do that." She turned to go, feeling the asari's cold, old eyes on her back, always watching from that eternally young and flawless blue face.
Outside the mass effect field that shielded Aria from both assassins and ear damage, the wall of sound was nearly deafening. Shepard descended to the level of mere mortals, aware of Garrus following one step behind her, one step to the right. It wasn't an entirely useless ruse to maintain. The presence of a big, scarred bodyguard tended to reduce unwanted interest in her person.
As they entered the crowd he stepped closer, close enough for her to pick up his higher-than-human body heat.
"So. Back to the Normandy, Commander?"
She stole an upward look at him. "Can't wait to play with your new toys? Hell, Vakarian, it's the best nightclub in the Terminus Systems. Maybe the whole galaxy. Live a little."
His mandibles twitched. He'd likely been to the Afterlife times enough to know its reputation. "Shepard, you just want to check out those entertainers."
"Hey, it's on the house."
They headed downstairs where the dance beats were replaced by darker rhythms that gave the asari dancers a chance to show off their skills. All the tables were taken, but soon as they appeared, one of them became mysteriously empty. They fetched drinks from a grumpy batarian bartender, Shepard waved off a couple of hopeful asari maidens in glittering body paint and not much else, and they sat down to enjoy their beers and a moment of companionable silence.
Well, silence, relatively speaking. At least the noise level was kept slightly more humane, down here. If only the table would have been designed for privacy, rather than display... Shepard kept stealing glances, trying to memorize other patrons without waxing obvious.
"At ease, Commander," Garrus murmured over his beer. "No one's scoping us, except for a few lap dancers."
"Yeah. Okay." She ran a hand through her hair, released a breath from her lungs, and settled back against the couch, arms on its back. "Christ. Maybe this was a mistake."
"Just be a good girl and drink your beer, Shepard."
"Yeah, yeah. Jesus, mom." She reached for her drink.
Relax. When had she last been able to do that? But for him, she always tried. And that was the reason she took him with her wherever she went.
Borderline delusional paranoia. Manic episodes. Obsessive-compulsive behavioral patterns. The shrinks hadn't exactly minced their words after Akuze. She'd been close to an honorable discharge, back then — youngest commander since First Contact War and a mile-long list of commendations notwithstanding.
And here she was, now, a rogue spectre running an operation beyond anything the Alliance could even imagine. And a woman having a drink with the only person in the galaxy who could keep her sane with just a few words.
Her hand brushed her thigh pocket. Sure enough, there it was, three thousand credits and a big shovel of dirt on her own grave. Now that Garrus was there, drinking dextro beer and trying to keep his eyes from gravitating toward the asari dancers, the whole idea of using some sex drug on him felt ludicrous. No matter how good he looked in his snappy casuals.
Suddenly Garrus yawned, displaying a set of razor-sharp teeth, and shook his fringe and shoulders like a big cat.
"Sorry, Shepard," he muttered.
Not exactly great company, am I? For his sake she'd try to change that, too.
"So. Were you just flirting with that batarian boyfriend of yours, or did he actually sell you something useful?"
"Huh." He regarded her with hipshot amusement. "You're not really interested in rifle modifications, Shepard. Hell, your weapons don't last long enough to reach maintenance."
"Alright, well... don't say I didn't warn you. I'd been looking for this prototype Ariake Tech stabilizer which is supposed to reduce excess temperature from spitting mass into the distortion chamber. It should extend the thermal clip life for the Viper by one round when properly calibrated."
"A whole round? Not shabby."
"Yeah... You see why I got excited. I could do a lot with that. Well, turned out that —"
True enough, Shepard didn't give a damn about weapon mods, beyond keeping her Eviscerator in one piece as she smashed it into a hostile's face. But she could have listened to him read hanar poetry and feel lucky about it.
Did his species do romance? He definitely had the voice for sweet talk. But while she'd seen her share of turian holos, not much in them suggested the birdmen had a soft streak.
Then again, 'bend over and spread your legs, Shepard' would have done just fine, most of the time.
Suddenly Shepard realized she hadn't been listening for a while. And Garrus was again doing that turian equivalent of a frown.
"— and as a bonus, it looks sexy when you pop the heat sink. You sure you're alright, Shepard? I seem to recall that when humans turn bright red, it means they're coming down with something."
She coughed. "No, it's just the heat."
"Heat?" His expression remained dubious. "I think the temperature's fine."
"Maybe for you, bread toaster." Truth be told, it was kind of hot. Shepard shrugged off her combat jacket.
As soon as his eyes landed on her exposed arms and shoulders, she knew that stripping down to her fitted black tank had been a mistake. Her body was a weapon and a matter of pride — but right now she couldn't help thinking how different she looked from the slender dancers he admired. She was built to break people's necks and handle a grenade launcher, not to look pretty.
What would it take, for him to look at her like he looked at those slinky blue creatures? Maybe if she grew out her hair, slapped on some body paint... but no amount of paint or prayer would change the fact that she danced like a retarded volus.
"Didn't you use to have a tattoo, Shepard?" he asked. "The Alliance logo on your shoulder."
She kneaded the deltoid in question. "Yeah... but I was practically melted into my hardsuit when they found me. All you see is vat grown. I don't even have moles anymore. Tiny benign tumors all humans have in their skin, in case you didn't know."
"Damn. How do you know it's you and not a clone?"
"Well, a clone wouldn't have my memories, obviously. So I guess my brain's mostly intact. Anything else... your bet's as good as mine."
The fact was, the most interesting changes in her were more than skin deep. Shepard was stronger and faster than before, and her senses were sharper. Most poisons couldn't kill her, and her body could regenerate itself to some extent. One of the greatest surprises so far, however, had resulted from the fact that her body had indeed been completely unused. Shepard supposed she should have thanked the Cerberus bastards for giving her back full reproductive functionality, even if it had involved an awkward moment and a bloodied sheet.
"Another round?" he asked, and Shepard nodded. She didn't really like to think of her resurrection and its implications.
With him gone, she leaned back and dug her pocket for her cigarettes, then pushed them back. She didn't really need them, did she? It would be all right. She'd have a couple more drinks with him, then find one of those entertainers before heading back to the Normandy and throwing the salarian's drug out of the airlock. Her attraction to Garrus was just a weakness she had to bear, nothing more.
Just to prove herself that she could, she decided not to think about it and started going over the details of her next mission in her head.
Gradually she emerged from her thoughts to notice the passing of time. No one needed this long to get a couple of drinks from the bar. The club wasn't that crowded. She twisted on the couch.
It took just a few seconds to locate his silver fringe, and why he'd been delayed.
Even for an asari, she was stunning — tall and slender, and possessed of truly gravity-defying assets. Her white bodysuit left little to imagination. But she was no dancer. Even without the armor, her face ink gave her away as Eclipse. And she might as well have been talking smoke scopes and armor-piercing rounds, because Garrus was definitely listening. Hell, if he'd had a tail, it would have wagged.
Shepard saw him gesture at their table. The commando's eyes brushed over her. Bold as you please, she turned back and picked something from her blue cleavage. Whatever it was, Garrus accepted it without hesitation.
Halfway to the bar, she realized what she was doing. She walked to the restroom instead. Safely inside a stall, she struck a glowing fist against an ad on the wall, hard enough to reduce it to static and crack the plast-glass board.
"Fuck!" she yelled, not caring who heard.
She'd been only moments away from smashing that bitch's blue face into the counter. And for what? What did it matter if Garrus screwed some mercenary slut with a boob job and too much makeup? She'd been planning to do the same. Well, not with an asari — but with some muscle-bound idiot who knew tantric massage.
Shepard dropped to sit on the closed toilet seat and fished out her cigarettes. With trembling hands, she picked one from the packet and lit it.
What the hell was wrong with her? Despite her diagnosis or ten, she'd always been good at keeping her shit together. Now... she'd end up murdering someone and rot in house arrest while the Reapers poured through the mass relays unchallenged. Just because she desperately wanted Garrus to do to her whatever he planned to do to that asari.
There was no way she could ever be just friends with him. Deep in her gut she'd always known that. So what if he hated her and left? Stopped keeping her sane? There would be no briefings, after, no post-op evaluation. No shrinks to declare her unfit for duty. Hell, the Illusive Man had seen her files. He probably thought her psychological profile was a good thing. Maybe she'd do an even better job without anyone there to rein her in? If that logic was fucked up, well — so was she.
She took the vial from her pocket.