He could hear his footsteps clacking in his head as they pounded their way back through the collector base to the ship. His shoulder was aching, and there was something wrong with one of his knees, but Shepard was trucking along behind him, and the drell was darting down the passageway ahead of him. According to the radio chatter that had resumed once Shepard had pulled a pile of debris off his back and shaken him back into alertness, the rest of the team was already back on the ship. And the countdown on the bomb was getting alarmingly low.

"Commander, you seriously better be on your way." Joker cut through his concentration on throwing one foot in front of another.

Shepard had caught up to him, and her hand was on his arm. He realized he was less running and more limping. Damn.

As they ran, she glanced back and pushed him forward.

"Go, go go!" She called, and he could see the Normandy's open airlock hovering at the end of the corridor as it opened up before them. Thane ran and leapt into the airlock, and with her shove, he made his way over right behind him. Joker of all people was there providing cover fire. He turned around and watched as Shepard was still standing behind on the ground, watched as her shots took down two more collectors, watched as she turned and raced towards the ship.

He felt his heart leap into his mouth as something shook and she stumbled, leapt, the Normandy drifted just that inch further from the ground she had kicked off from. Her arms windmilled, trying to propel her further forward, a foot, inches closer to the ship. He reached out and grabbed the gauntleted hand that almost made it to the handhold at the edge of the airlock. He had her, but she was still too far—she slipped and dropped. She caught herself at the floor with her elbows. Thane was at his side to help drag her up, but her eyes were locked on his, wide, her pupils were far too dilated. Almost unconsciously he noted that her pulse was racing—far more than was necessary.

But between the three of them, she was in the airlock, hands hoisting her up and away from the drop off the ship. She scrambled until her arms were locked around his middle, and he couldn't stop his surprise.

She huffed, some sort of quick breath out, and he didn't know if she was crying again as she had before they had even left her cabin, or if she was laughing as she had after she had put him in command of the second squad and darkly told him that she wasn't done with him.

He vaguely noted that Joker had slammed control for the outer hatch shut and that the ship was swaying with movement.

She was laughing, her chest heaving against him as she tried to catch her breath. She grasped his head and pulled his face close to hers, shouted a wordless victory cry to him. He couldn't stop the joyous subvocalizations that escaped his throat in response.

She broke away from him, clapped Thane on the shoulder, and punched the control to open the hatch back onto the CIC, but he grabbed her hand and pulled her back to him.

Their space in the airlock was suddenly empty, just them as Thane and Joker filed out.

"We're alive." He couldn't help but run his talon down the side of her face that wasn't covered by her visor. He realized his other hand was circling that spot in her armor that was covered in bodysuit instead of hard plating.

"Yeah." She grinned slowly. He felt her hands on his waist, right where he had shown her felt good—barely hours ago—was it really only this morning? "Yeah. You're not going anywhere, Vakarian."

He'd never really like his last name—reminded him too much of his father—but when she said it, her soft, stretchy lips curling over the name like a secret between the two of them, it seemed like a lot of rational thoughts simply left him. The calculating C-Sec officer, the carefully destructive Archangel disappeared and his blood ran hot in his veins.

He realized he was growling, and that she was giggling, and he pressed his mouth against hers in what he had learned was a human kiss. The jump to FTL made the artificial gravity shift just enough that they fell together against the bulkhead in the airlock, with Shepard's tongue still in his mouth.

His shoulder twinged again as it hit the metal and she pulled back, feeling him flinch.

"Medbay." She said. He made a noise of protest and pulled her face back to his. "Medbay!" She repeated, laughing again. "I need you in top shape, understand?" He growled, blood still pumping hard through his body, but decided to leave her with a soft bite against her jawline—the one that he had discovered made her gasp and clench around him.

Her reaction didn't disappoint him, and he walked away with as little limp as possible, watching her smile and flushed cheeks until he rounded the hallway to the elevator.

When Chakwas released him with a light coat of medigel for bruising on his shoulder and an stretchy pressure bandage holding his knee in place, he found most everyone else on the ship gathered outside. Gardner was cooking, something that actually smelled good, and there were drinks in everyone's hands. Judging by the color in all of the human faces, and all of the laugher and the singing accompanying a song someone was playing, most of them were fairly alcoholic. Kasumi appeared near his side and pressed two cups into his hands.

"Blue one's for you, the clear stuff is for Shepard."

"Thanks." He responded, still looking around. "Have you seen her?"

"Mmm. You might want to check upstairs, I don't think her conference with our fearless leader went very smoothly." The thief slipped away back into the crowd, and Garrus made his way to the elevator, drinks in hand.

He found her staring at the galaxy map.

"Where are we?" He asked, reaching over her shoulder and pressing the glass of clear liquid into her hands. To his surprise, she leaned back against him and sighed.

"On the way to the Citadel via Illium. We need to refuel and Joker and EDI didn't want to stop anywhere near Omega." He nodded and pressed his face into her hair. It smelled like her sweat and the strange filth of the collector ship. He was sure he smelled fairly similar.

"How did the Illusive Man take it?"

"Take what?" She asked dully.

"The news that your end of the bargain's done? And that the Normandy is ours now?" She chuckled softly.

"I think he would have shot me if he could have."

"So pretty well, all things considered." She outright laughed this time. She turned towards him smiled.

"That's why I l-like you, Vakarian." She wrapped her hand around the spur of his hip. "Why I keep you around." He decided not to acknowledge her slip… on that word, but the thought of what she might have said made him nervous—made him smile.

"Hope it's more than bad jokes, Shepard." Her responding gaze was calm, bright, and he felt her thumb brush over the ridge of his hip plate.

"To taking it one day at a time." She raised her glass to him.

"One day at a time." He echoed.

Her first sip of the drink Kasumi had given her made her grimace, and cough.

"Oh my god, what is this?" She asked, eyeing the glass warily.

"Kasumi gave it to me." He replied, shaking his head slightly.

"Oh of course she did." She laughed again, and carefully took another sip. Her face twisted again, but this time she just sighed like swallowing it was hard work. "She's never going to let me live that down."

He couldn't stop the curious tilt of his head.

"This is a story I am getting out of you tonight." He told her.

"No, it is not! She is a… mischievous little woman, and she is entirely too quiet for her own good." Shepard asserted, poking him in the cowl. He nodded gently, and tugged her towards the elevator.

"Come on, I want you out of your armor, and I want you drunk with everyone. You know there's a party on the crew deck?" He said, trying to make it sound as enticing as possible. He knew if he didn't get her drinking more soon that she would insist on finding some sort of work to do. He eyed her thin cheeks and the strange dark circles under her eyes, and vowed that once he got her nice and drunk, he was taking her back up to her cabin. And she would sleep. Eventually.

"Garrus, I didn't think you shared like that…" She blushed… and giggled… and let herself be pulled to the elevator.

Whatever Kasumi had mixed for her must have been very strong.

"Take another sip of that drink, Shep." He said, grinning when she immediately complied. He punched the controls to take them to her cabin and grinned.

She let him take her armor off… sort of.

She didn't stop him from taking her armor off, but she definitely hindered his taking her armor off, as she was nearly hell-bent on getting his off at the same time. He finally got her shed of her clothing, and finally paused to let her finish with his, and then barreled her into the bathroom, turning on the shower head.

When the water hit her head, she dutifully washed her hair. He watched her bathe with a wary—but completely interested eye—willing his plates to stay closed. The way the water dripped off the sharp angles of her shoulder blades, and those strange planes of muscle shifting beneath smooth skin… He really was entranced by her. He made himself start scrubbing sweat and smells off of his own body, but he quickly found her slick hands around his waist, and her dull, square teeth scraping against his neck.

"Hey, I thought we were going to go socialize." He murmured, hoping she didn't notice that his cock had slipped from between his plates.

"We still can." She spoke against his neck, and—spirits—one of her hands was suddenly below his waist.

"Not if you don't keep your hands where they belong." He warned, unable to stop his own hands from tracing her collarbones, shoulder blades, bumps of her spine.

"This doesn't have to take all night, babe." She smiled. "One for the road?" He groaned—growled, and spun her around.

She braced her hands against the wall of the shower and he slid a finger along her open slit—so strange that she was always open—available—to him like this. She was slick and wet, not just with the water from the shower, and he pressed himself into her body. Her head dropped, and she let out a noise like she had made before when he had—when they had sex. He liked it—it was uncontrolled, wild, how he always wanted her to be, and she didn't stop making those sounds. He gripped her shoulders and began thrusting into her, slowly.

As much as she had said that she didn't need this to 'take all night,' she had been in awe of his stamina before, and he intended to make the most of that difference between species. But she was pressing her hips back on him, bucking against him, making her flesh bounce around his cock. She seemed to have different plans; and her moans and gasps had formed words.

"Faster—god, Garrus, faster, oh my god." He couldn't deny her that, so he thrush faster, curling his fingers tighter around her hard, bony shoulders, slipping a hand to the wing of her hipbone. The words disappeared and her voice reached higher, spurring him on, and she reached a hand down between her legs to rub at the spot she had shown him before.

He slipped his hand around to follow hers but let her show his fingers where to go, like she had done before.

Faster than he could have imagine, her body tightened around him, her back arching, her hand clamping down around his wrist. She screamed and panted as he continued against her aftershocks. He kept rocking against her, but dropped his head to her shoulder, his teeth wanted to sink home in her skin, so he pulled her up against his body, and she cried out again as they shifted, he pushed her closer to the shower wall so he could rest his one hand against the wall and hold her close with the other. As he pressed his mouth to her shoulder, she tilted her head so that he was free to scrape his teeth against her skin—something she was wary of before. That she would let him leave a mark on her now warmed his blood, and as he let himself grip down gently on her soft skin, he came.

They stumbled together, and his feet finally slipped against the wet floor, she caught them against a shelf, their bodies still locked together.

"Sorry." He said softly, stroking his plates against her wet skin.

"No. God, Garrus." Her voice was husky, her ribs expanded against his arm, and she pulled his arms closer around her. "I… damn."

"That good, huh?" He murmured against her ear, and then raised a hand to rinse away the little flecks of red blood he had raised against her skin.

"Absolutely, babe." She sighed.

"Come on, I think we're done here." He said. She turned around and kissed him again.

"Let me clean up." He nodded and stepped away from the shower, grabbing a towel. He walked over to the couch where he had left his civvies from earlier and dressed himself. He turned around to see Shepard already out of the shower, wrapped in a towel, checking her personal terminal.

Her eyebrows were low on her face and there was that strange crease in between them. Her lips were cast down, and he couldn't allow this to be her only state. He walked over, flipped the display off, and sat down on the desk in front of her.

"Not tonight." He said to her surprised face. "Get dressed. You're going to celebrate, get drunk, have fun." Her eyes flickered over his face before she nodded. She walked over to a cabinet near her bed and started pulling out clothes. She began dressing in her standard fatigues.

"You're going to have to get me drunk if you want me to relax. The Illusive Man sent my head spinning. We don't have his support anymore, but we're still flying his colors. I wanna get this ship painted, and get back on track with the Council and Alliance a.s.a.p."

"Absolutely." He agreed, eyeing her desk from where he sat on it. "But tonight we're on our way to report back in, we've got more proof than can possibly be refuted, and EDI has the ship under control." The desk was littered with data pads and mods, discarded packaging of something, but what he noticed was the holo-photo frame she had—it was sitting up on her desk again. "You can relax, for a few hours." The display had changed. It was… it was a picture of him.

"Damn, Shepard." He said quietly.

"What?" She asked, walking over, tightening her belt. "Oh." She picked up the photo frame. "I figured it was time I admit… that I care about you."

He reached out and drew her in to stand between his knees.

"Really?" He asked, brushing his forehead plates against her nose. She reciprocated and rubbed her fleshy nose against his unbandaged mandible, nodding against his neck.

"Took it when you weren't looking." She said softly. "Pretty sure you were 'calibrating'."

"Hush. I just want your ship to work right." But he slipped his hands up to rest on her shoulders. "I care about you too, Shep—Virginia." She smiled softly, her eyes twinkled with what he was fairly certain were about to be tears—but she kissed him, grabbed his hand and led him to the door.

"Let's go."