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The Boy

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Rain from the artificial weather system beaded on the skycar window as they drove through Eden Glen. Shepard and Vakarian dreaded getting to the scene, but for different reasons. 

“Ground’s gonna be soft and muddy,” Vakarian drawled. “Hope you don’t have any plans tonight.” 

She watched his mandibles clicking tight against his jawline and eyes warily surveying the rolling raindrops that traveled down the windshield as he maneuvered through traffic. Knowing he’d be more upset about the rain than her, a soft smile spread across her face.

“I have a date, actually,” Shepard replied dryly. She should have been looking forward to it because she hadn't been on a date in...hell, it was before she got shot. Two years, then.  

Vakarian genuinely looked surprised, and she couldn't help but feel a little uncomfortable dropping the news. “You didn’t tell me,” his voice was quiet and careful. 

“I only met him last night.” She watched his reaction carefully. His mood seemed to shift just slightly, but maybe that was just her hopeful thinking. 

Silence fell between them in the dark skycar as they turned down a well-lit street. The neighborhood, Eden Glen, was fairly new, built up in the last six years for the humans working in Council Administration and the wealthy investors eager to reap the profits of intergalactic trade. 

Large houses, by Citadel standards at least, sprawled on for blocks behind meticulous yards filled with lawns and trees from earth. The result was a carefully manufactured earth-like appearance. If Shepard forgot for a moment she was in space, she would have guessed they were driving through an ungodly expensive neighborhood in San Francisco or Chicago. Back on Earth, she would get jealous driving through neighborhoods that looked like Eden Glen – of all the wealth and comfort. Out here...it just made her miss her family’s home back in a little, rural California town. 

Placed right across from the park, the houses they currently passed were the most expensive. A view of thick woods and a beautiful stream on a space station wasn’t cheap. Shepard felt a bit cheated that she had no idea such an extravagant park existed on the Citadel. If she’d known, she would have insisted on coming out here and just walking around. Now, though, it would be years before she’d be able to come back here and not think of the murder scene she was about to analyze.   

“No one else has felt the need to replicate their homeworld on the Citadel,” Vakarian pointed out. She knew he didn’t really take offense or judge. Humans just intrigued him, even after five years of their presence on the station.

“Turians were one battle away from decimating humans before the Council stepped in. Give em a break.”

“That’s a bit of an exaggeration,” he drawled before getting back to his original point. “Gotta hand it to em, though, building this all in five years is pretty impressive.”

Unimpressed with her own kinds’ desperate attempts to make their stamp on the Citadel, she sighed. “These humans, the ones who live here, would sell their children to buy a little respect from the council races.”

Vakarian gave her a sideways glance, “Well you’re being pessimistic today. Back off, that’s my job.”

Seeing the flashing lights of the C-Sec vehicles pulled further into the park, Vakarian maneuvered the vehicle down a path and began to slowly weave through the trees to join the scene. Shepard anxiously watched as they neared the perimeter. Lights flashing. C-Sec officers and the forensics team milled about.

“I hate rain,” Vakarian grumbled as they climbed out of the car.

It wasn’t raining that much, just a light mist, but it had already established a light layer over Shepard’s fine hair.

“It calms humans,” she offered. “Makes us feel more at home, like on Earth.”

“Take a shower if you want to get wet.”

She smirked, “Not quite the same.”

“Does it rain this much where you’re from?”

She nodded, “More than the artificial weather of this neighborhood, actually. It’s like one long, wet shower. All winter long.”

His faceplates flexed and twitched, obviously turned off by the idea.

They heard the croaking whistle of a salarian as they approached the scene. The medical examiner, Dr. Solus, beckoned them over to the body. The earth scrunched under their feet as they approached the culvert where the body lay nestled in mud and grass. A thick layer of muck had already built up on their boots as they cautiously approached.

“Think he was already in the park, or did they dump him here?” Shepard asked. 

Avoiding the inevitable, looking at the boy, she instead watched her partner’s eyes travel along the body. “Shoes were nice, no noticeable scuffs and no mud built up from walking through the soaked terrain. Dumped, definitely,” he muttered.

Shepard looked over to the officer that had first arrived on scene, a female turian, Alvinia Regitus. Shepard suspected Officer Regitus hated her, based solely on the constant look of disdain on her face when they spoke, but she had no idea why. “Any tracks?” Shepard asked, ignoring Regitus’ sour face.

Regitus shook her head, “No. No suspect tracks and no victim tracks. We do have disturbed grass from skycar thrusters though.” The officer’s sharp eyes examined Jane. She could only assume Regitus disliked her for being human, like half the force. The running assessment was humans weren’t as intelligent as the salarians, wise as the asari, or judicious as the turians – so what could they offer? With opinions like that, Shepard supposed the humans were somewhat justified in working so hard to catch up, and to prove themselves. She’d certainly spent the last five years doing just that. 

Even if they tried to keep an open mind and suppress their suspicions, most questioned her ability to keep up with them and actually contribute to solving cases. Most of Shepard’s peers who got the chance to work personally with her learned how wrong they were forever doubting her, but it was still a bit irksome to be questioned so often despite her track record.

But everyone at C-Sec who didn’t know her, peers and superiors, chalked her success up to her partner, Garrus Vakarian. He was the son of the most highly respected C-Sec Investigator in recent times. His success was expected. She didn’t let it bug her that he got so much of the credit, though, because she knew that the pressure on his shoulders from being Castis Vakarian’s son pissed him off more than being over-looked frustrated her. He gladly took only the credit he deserved – but they didn’t really give him the chance to set the record straight. Everyone waved off his mumbling and groaning protests as humility, though. It only increased their admiration for him.

If she didn’t suck up her nerve, though, he would be doing all the work on this one. She forced her eyes to finally look at the body and examine the scene, slowly drifting from one detail to the next. Why did this one have to be a kid? The boy lay in the muddy culvert. All of Vakarian’s assessments were spot on – he was definitely dumped. Next, her eyes scanned the ground around the boy, then slowly scanned the ground out in concentric waves until she saw the grass that had been disturbed by thrusters. “No tracks. Pulled into the park and pushed the body out, then. Either they were in a hurry or didn’t want to get dirty.”

“Maybe both,” Vakarian offered, his eyes dissecting every detail about the body. “Looks like a rich kid from this neighborhood. Why would they pull up in a car to dump him here?”

“Maybe they’re not from here,” Shepard speculated. “Giving him a ride back, but something happened? Or picked him up here, killed him, and dumped him before leaving?”

“Anything missing from the body?” Vakarian asked.

Regitus shrugged, looking noticeably chipper now that Vakarian was asking the questions instead of Shepard. “Don’t know yet. Nothing noticeable.” She nodded, excusing herself, before quickly walking towards the forensics team gathered a few meters away.

Shepard watched her leave and as soon as she was out of earshot asked, “Why does she hate me?” 

“You really want to know?” he asked while his sharp eyes diligently took in the scene before he paused to look at her, his expression somber.

She felt her muscles stiffen, readying herself to hear a harsh truth. “Yes, please,” Shepard said, eager to finally be told why Officer Regitus felt no compulsion to hide her disdain for her.

“It’s the freckles. Some turians just hate freckles.” His mandibles were slightly flexed into a smartass grin that always made her happy, regardless of how annoying he was being. 

“Fuck off.” Her words were sharp and tone annoyed, but her grin told another story.  

He shrugged, looking back down at the body. “Don’t be mad at me, I like your freckles.”

At that moment she really regretted the fact that she had a date that night. She’d much rather just go back to her apartment and eat take-out with her partner, just like they did most nights.

Shepard sucked up the resolve to do what she had been avoiding since they came upon the body, and looked at the kid's face. He was young, maybe 13 or 14. His features were soft and kind. Just a rich kid that probably only ever worried about his grades and the girl sitting next to him. He would have had a crush on her. Boys always had crushes on the girls that sat next to them. His eyes, gray, had been bright and trusting. Now dull and sad, they looked out to his dumpsite.

Then she felt herself slipping into a terrible habit she’d been trying to drop for months, but she could never quite shake the impulse. At a scene, staring at the body, she would imagine the last thing they saw. What did Adam last see? Was it his killer’s face? Was it the sky, or trees, or the inside of the skycar? She imagined his poor, kind eyes focused on the material of the skycar seat, his face violently smashed into the surface. 

She found herself thinking about that a lot lately, even old cases that were solved and she’d moved on from – what was the last thing the victim saw? She still hadn’t decided whether it would be better to see something happy, or something bleak and terrifying – something that told them exactly what was about to happen to them. Her heart sank, and a knot balled up in her stomach.

Uncertainty was really getting to her lately. Having the reputation of possessing nerves of steel, and a sense of certitude that Vakarian always teased her for, the issue was new to her. Ironically, she wasn’t quite sure how to fix that. She felt unsure about a lot of things.

Staring at Adam, she thought that out of those two options, seeing something beautiful as they took their last breath had to be worse. The sadness that tightened her throat and made her shoulders feel heavy was more intense, at least, when she thought of that. Why tempt them with beauty, or hope?

“What’s that in the grass over there?” Her partner’s deep, easing voice interrupted her distracted thoughts, finally allowing her to peel her eyes away from the boy’s. Vakarian stood just a few feet from her, rain dripping down from his fringe – he looked miserable. Maybe she should cancel her date? Take Vakarian back to her place and turn the fireplace on for him.  

“Where?” Regitus called back.

Vakarian pointed over to a concrete ledge, about 10 feet tall. The culvert protruded from the ledge, dumping water into the wooded park. “Something is in the grass.” He flashed a light from his omni-tool in the direction, and sure enough, a glare reflected off something nestled in the grass.

Shepard and Vakarian walked over to the ledge together. Without a word between them he placed familiar hands on her hips and lifted her up to get a better look. She took her omni-tool out, stable in his tight grip, and began to take pictures.

“Looks like a watch.” She turned to Regitus, the turian officer that hated her. “We need forensics over here. We’ve got a watch. Looks like some blood on it, too.”

She soon slid out of Vakarian’s grip as he lowered her back down to stand on her own feet. Side by side, they carefully walked back to the body. Dr. Solus had been busy when they first arrived, but he stood, looked at them briefly, before typing notes into a datapad.

“Strangulation could be cause of death,” Dr. Solus began. “Hemorrhaging along the throat. May find more when he’s on the table. Will have full story for you then, help you get justice for the boy, Shepard.”

It took a while for Shepard to get used to Dr. Solus’ unusual speech patterns that burst from his mouth at a somewhat frantic pace. But he was the best medical examiner they had, so she made sure she could work well with him. They had become fairly close, actually. He wouldn’t have told any other detective he’d help them get justice -- not that he didn’t care about it himself, he just knew Shepard gave her heart and soul to cases. And he thought of her, and Vakarian as close friends. 

“You think they did more than just strangle him?” Vakarian asked. “His clothes are neat, orderly. Perfect even.” 

“Maybe too perfect,” Shepard replied. “What’s the likelihood his shirt would be straight, buttoned, and tucked in after being strangled?”

“Anything else?” Vakarian’s mandibles drew tight as he spoke, a turian grimace. He wiped a hand over his fridge, flinging the rain off.  His frustration with the cold and rain was affecting his typically calm, cool demeanor. 

“Bruising on both wrists,” Dr. Solus motioned towards the kid’s wrists slightly protruding from the long sleeves covering his arms. “Light cylindrical reddening of skin around the jaw. Probably finger marks from holding head still. Come see me after autopsy, will know more.” The salarian sighed, as the three of them looked the kid over, their eyes examining every detail carefully. “Poor kid,” he finally said, large dark eyes blinking quickly. “Couldn’t have deserved this, whoever he was.”

Vakarian’s eyes roamed over the whole scene once more as Shepard nodded solemnly.

It took about an hour standing out in the drizzling rain to gather all the evidence and wait until the body had been removed. Shepard and Vakarian huddled so closely that the steam from their breath drifted out into one unified cloud as they mulled over the evidence that popped up, throwing ideas back and forth.

“So this date of yours…” He stopped there to let out a huff, pulling his hood down even tighter. He then shivered, looking even more miserable than Shepard expected he would. She couldn’t help but wish she could do something to warm her poor turian partner. They didn’t do well in the cold.

Despite the sympathy she felt for him, she nearly groaned when he brought up the date again. She peeked out from under her hood, “You know, you’re more interested in this than I am.”

“I’m eating take-out tonight and going over omni-logs from that Presidium hold up.”

“I’d rather be doing that.”

“You don’t want to be single forever, do you?”

“I’m only thirty. Not quite an old spinster.”

“It seems to be for turians,” he responded, bitterness souring his voice.

“Your mom and dad don’t have you married off yet,” she said encouragingly. “Maybe you’ll sneak into old bachelorhood and they’ll leave you alone.”

“Vakarian. Shepard.” Regitus finally called over, interrupting their conversation. “They’re done here, you’re good to go.”

His eyes, the most comforting thing she had on this station, warmed as they traveled across her face. She couldn’t help but think he was examining her like he would a crime scene. Another puzzle for him to solve.

“Thought I’d get your mind off this case while we wait around. Talk about something more pleasant,” Vakarian said. 

She ignored him, allowing silence to fall between them. As odd and horrible as it was, to her this date was not more pleasant. She rubbed at her eyes then allowed them to wander up to the simulated sky above them, thick with clouds. She found herself wishing they were real clouds, not an image, aching for the comfort of home right now. Her legs bounced anxiously, and despite not being cold, she wrapped her arms around herself.

🔪🔪🔪

Vakarian noticed Shepard’s sunken shoulders and tired eyes. Her lips were tight – humans’ lips got tight when something was bothering them. And he knew her eyes hadn’t looked that tired when they got in the car to head over here.

Her eyes landed on his like a slap to the mandible. They pulled him in closer, at least he felt closer to her, even if he hadn’t moved an inch. It looked like she was aching to tell him something. As the moment between them passed he almost convinced himself to just ask her to skip her date. 

“Aren’t you sick of seeing dead kids?” she finally said.

“Yeah, but I’m not quite ready to take on the riveting world of investor fraud,” he drawled as he motioned for her to follow him to the car. “Come on, let’s get you home and ready for that hot date.”

He watched her eyes as they made their way through the muck and back to their car, hoping to see them spark back to life as they got further and further away from the scene. On the way over they had been bright and happy as she told him about a comedy vid she’d watched the night before. A krogan and a turian had to team up to save a colony from batarian raiders. She hadn’t understood all the jokes, but she was starting to get cultural stereotypes and catch eccentricities often enough to enjoy watching comedies by herself. Her progress made him proud.

Watching action vids with her when she first moved to the Citadel was all right, but comedies were tedious. They usually ended up laughing at each other’s ignorance and misunderstandings more than the vid.

They climbed into the car and were soon traveling at a slow pace back to the academy. His eyes carefully watching the traffic, he asked, “So, who is this guy?”

She looked over at him, a suspicious eyebrow quirked up, “Why?”

“I need to know something about him. What if he abducts you? I’d rather find your mangled body before it reeks of rot.”

She chuckled, “You’re an ass. And I met him at a coffee shop. He’s a Council Spectre. His name is Kaiden Alenko. He has a dog that his sister takes care of when he’s on missions. And he likes Italian food.” She recited as if she was going over the details of a case.

“Spectre huh? No wonder you said yes. You like the smooth and dangerous types, mmm?”

She snorted, “I had to ask him, actually. He just kept hovering around, talking about random crap. I knew he wanted to ask me, but he couldn’t get up the nerve to say something, so I did it for him.”

“Ouch, no quad. Must be good looking then?” His throat tightened when he said that. Acting like this didn't bother him turned his stomach just a bit. But what was he supposed to do? Ask her to spend the rest of her life wasting her nights with him when she could find someone who would make her happy?

“What do you care?”

“I need a physical description. For the APB. Please don’t make it hard for me to find your murderer Shep. I’ll be emotionally distraught so it’ll be hard enough.” 

“Oh, ok,” she jokingly conceded. “He’s alright. About my height—”

“So, short.”

“5’8” is pretty tall for human women.”

“But not men.”

“No. But they’re all short compared to you. Most turian men are shorter than you.” As he maneuvered the car into the right lane, nearing the academy, she continued her description of the Spectre, “Black hair. Medium build.”

“Eyes?”

He pulled into a stall and they climbed out of the car as she thought, then said, “I don’t really remember anything else about him.”

“Hmm, great sign. He really made an impression on you then,” he teased in his drawling tone.

“I’m pretty sure that’s how people end up meeting their spouse,” she argued, and it was nearly convincing. “It’s the ones that give you butterflies that end up burning bright, and burning out, right?”

“Sure. Every time I ask a happy couple how they met they answer ‘No fucking clue, can’t remember a thing about it’.”

She shoved him with her elbow as they chuckled. Selfishly, he’d been annoyed ever since she said she had a date. He’d become accustomed to their routine, most nights eating take-out together and either working on cases or just hanging out. What the hell was he supposed to do? Just go home? Eat by himself?  

They both inhaled big breaths of air at the same time, watching each other. He didn’t want to say goodnight and imagined maybe she didn't want to either. “Go on and get home,” he finally said. “I’ll start the reports. You can look at them tomorrow morning.”

“You sure?”

“Yeah.” He ran his fingers, talons dulled so he could safely work with humans, along the end of a strand of her soaked hair. “If you want to impress this guy you have your work cut out for you.”

“Fuck off,” she groaned but still smiled.

His mandibles flicked out in a grin. “Don’t fall in love too fast. See you tomorrow, Shep.”

If she had looked back she would have seen him watching her, protective eyes unable to leave her. They were great partners. A perfect team.

The reports went fairly quickly. Turians were precise and to the point, but keen to all the details. Humans, the few that worked with C-Sec, still hadn’t caught up to the turians in terms of precision and professionalism. A few had taken offense to it, claiming racism. It usually wasn’t. Just cultural differences that he assumed would fade away as humans adjusted to the intergalactic community and their still new and untested place alongside the asari, salarians, and turians.

Shepard usually let him start the reports and she looked them over later, polishing them by offering her perspective and additions. Sitting at his desk, he smiled, remembering that it used to piss her off when he insisted on starting them without her. She never thought it was racism, but she did take it personally. She quickly realized, however, that their time was better served when she allowed him to start. After only a year or so they found a perfect system that worked well for them.

Many turians and humans had been paired up initially when the first round of humans arrived in C-Sec, but he and Shepard were the only original pair that were still together. They got a lot of attention because of it, good and bad. 

Two hours had passed since Shepard left to get ready. He couldn’t hold back the itch any longer, and soon found his fingers typing out Kaiden Alenko’s name into C-Sec databases. He didn’t find anything too interesting, and thankfully nothing alarming.

Unsatisfied with basic information anyone could get on the guy, though, he used the illegal programs loaded on his omni-tool to hack into Council files and jumped down a boundary-pushing, and possibly career-damaging, hole. He didn’t care too much, though. It was nothing he hadn’t done before for a case. And this was his partner. Keeping her safe was worth one of Captain Pallin’s lectures. What if the Spectre was known to massacre hanar colonies? He had to know…Shepard, deserved to know that.

Unfortunately, all he found was some uninteresting psych evals and information on his family and past relationships. The most interesting thing he discovered was that the Council kept trackers on all Spectre’s, even when they were off duty. Alenko was currently sitting at an Italian restaurant a few blocks from Shepard’s apartment. The selfish prick took her to eat his favorite food. Jane preferred steaks and bourbon, which he would have known if he’d asked.

“Go home Vakarian,” Pallin shouted from the hall and on his own way out of the building. With a quick glance around the room, Vakarian realized that the lights had been dimmed and everyone else already left. The only ones left in the room were the night cycle shift.

He shut his console off, satisfied with his reports but still irked by the thought of the unknown Spectre eating pasta with Jane, and slid his arms into his jacket. He decided to grab some take-out before heading home, and refused to admit to the real reason he planned to go by a specific place on Silversun Strip that served decent food that was safe for levo and dextro species. He convinced himself he’d just take a little peek into the restaurant, just to make sure she looked safe and happy, and then he’d go home.

 

Chapter Text

Kaiden had promised her the best dinner on the Citadel. She told herself to keep an open mind, but she didn’t always follow her own advice. Especially after standing out in the rain for an hour processing a crime scene. A hot shower hadn’t done much to lift her mood, either.

Shepard sat across from Kaiden Alenko at a little restaurant imitating an Italian bistro. It was cozy, and the food looked pretty good. His attentive, warm brown eyes stayed locked on her. He was extremely handsome, had a deep, pleasant voice, and smelled nice.

The best thing about her date so far, though, was how close to the entrance she sat. It gave her a good view out of the front window overlooking the pedestrians strolling or hurrying to wherever they had to be. Happy couples walked hand in hand, friends laughed, mothers and fathers tried to wrangle their kids in, and every once in a while an officer on patrol would walk by. Her focus was supposed to be on Kaiden, though, who was excitedly chattering about how difficult balancing Council requests with Alliance wishes can be, not the passersby. Normally she’d be able to tough it out through a conversation she wasn’t really interested in...but Kaiden just kept talking. And talking. 

And hell, she could have told him that she started that evening staring into the eyes of a dead kid, or that she’d had at least one drink every day since…well, months ago. But weren’t dates meant to be spent talking about pleasant things? Hopes. Dreams. Their pets. They shouldn't be talking about how hard their jobs are. 

To make matters worse, all she could think about was sitting on her couch with Vakarian, talking, laughing, teasing each other, and enjoying their night together. It sort of hurt, someone deep down in her chest, realizing that she had no idea how to be away from him. She didn’t want to know, honestly, because she knew without a doubt that she’d give up a thousand dates just to hang out with him instead.

So what the hell was she doing sitting at this restaurant with this guy? 

She sneaked a glance at her omni-tool, then cursed mentally when she realized it had only been thirty since they sat down, not a full hour. Did the headaches he mentioned getting make him lose track of time, or did he just not care that he’d been droning on about himself for thirty minutes?

Her ticket to freedom was Miranda, who would be sending her a message in thirty minutes, just in case this date went south. 

This date was six feet in the ground south. 

She could poke it and it wouldn’t even groan south.

“I bet that’s frustrating.” Her pulse thumped a beat because her voice was too high – she overcompensated to sound interested, but thankfully he didn’t seem to notice. She just had to make it another thirty minutes without hurting his feelings and she could get the hell out of there.

“Yeah, but that’s enough about me.” Kaiden played with the edges of the folded napkin sitting on the table in front of him. 

She sighed in relief, and immediately felt guilty for getting into this situation with Kaiden. This date should have never happened, but she was so damned lonely sometimes. And, she thought she could do it. She thought she could force herself to stop pining after her best friend for just one night. Her hang-up on Vakarian had to fizzle out sooner or later. She just needed the right guy to help her with that. 

Truthfully, she hadn’t been herself lately, and Kaiden was probably taking the brunt of her bad mood. He seemed really nice. But, he didn’t seem like the guy that would help her move on from those terrible, sad wishes. Like that one of these days, Vakarian would hold her just a little bit longer, and maybe his hands would travel to somewhere he'd never dared to touch her before. Or, the wish that he’d offer her lips the same attention he gave to playing with her hair whenever he pleased. 

She knew her best friend would never be interested in her. Her mind knew that, at least. It seemed that her heart was the stubborn one. 

“What about you? How’d you end up here?” Kaiden asked, eyes unnaturally glued to her face. She assumed he was trying not to look down at the faintest peek of skin she was offering. Her black tank wasn’t showing much, but you’d think she was on full display the way Kaiden’s gaze avoided her. It was like her breasts had the power of Medusa’s gaze. Unfortunately, turning men to stone wasn’t really her kink.

Making Vakarian’s dick as hard as a rock...now that would get her going. 

Right, Kaiden asked her a question. 

“Oh. Well, I was part of the initial recruitment effort to integrate humans into C-Sec. And my grandparents –” But she didn’t get any further. She soon found herself frustrated and disappointed as he cut her off. 

“Oh I was recruited too,” he said excitedly, “Into Spectre training, after the war.”

He was just trying to connect with her. Find something they had in common. Which probably meant he was really interested in her and was trying really hard. But she just didn’t have the energy to be on a date, getting to know a stranger and giving them a chance. 

She stared at him for a moment, considering whether or not he’d get the hint if she just stared wide-eyed at him like a doll. She also thought an asari consort would be a better match for him. She’d have to lie about her profession, of course, because based on the way he blushed and quickly diverted his eyes when the asari hostess with a low neckline seated them she figured he was a bit repressed.

What this guy really needed was someone who’d stand in front of him only offering a few responses based on a carefully crafted dialogue wheel. She mused about that scenario and laughed to herself. The simple act of laughing made her imagine Vakarian laughing along with her. Why in the hell did it take going on a date with another guy to make her realize how unbearably linked she was to her partner?

Kaiden was still talking about his recruitment when she realized that staring at him like a doll did not in fact give him any hints as to how this date was going.

And just as she considered taking drastic action to extract herself out of this slowly suffocating date, like faking a heart attack, her eyes, staring out the front window and envying all the people not having dinner with Spectre Kaiden Alenko, landed on her salvation. Too excited, she didn’t even question the serendipity of seeing her partner, the same man who she’d been pining over this entire time, sauntering by the very restaurant she was trapped in.

She leaped up from the table, chair scraping against the floor and her escape already planned. “Oh my God, my partner. I hope everything’s ok,” she called as she sped towards the door. She admitted her theatrics verged on ridiculous, but the trusting Spectre was such a good guy there was no way he’d assume she was lying. Plus, she was a damn good liar. And so was Vakarian. Thank god he was a bad turian.  

She rushed out to meet Vakarian, who walked by slowly with take-out in his hands and was perfectly oblivious to her suffering. The nerve. Kaiden rose out of his chair behind her, which only made her move faster and behave more frantically. Her plan required that she reach her partner far ahead of him. She waved her hands to get his attention. 

“Garrus,” she barked as if he was the last ship leaving a warzone. She pushed past a turian who glared at her. Nearly toppled over a volus who huffed an indignant wheeze. And almost felt up another turian as she slid past him and had to use his waist for balance. She muttered a quick sorry but didn’t care otherwise. 

And Vakarian watched her the whole way, frozen like a red-handed thief in a jewelry store, his mandibles drawn tight. He didn’t even look around or try to figure out who was bellowing his name and why. 

“Jane, uh…you having dinner here?” he asked, voice wavering a bit. His mandibles clicked nervously as he spoke. She must have really caught him off guard, but she didn’t have time. Kaiden would be right behind her any second.

“Quick, tell me that there’s a break in the case, that Pallin’s calling us in,” she whispered.

“Um,” his eyes blinked rapidly, “what?”

His gaze left her and drifted someone behind her, she could only assume Kaiden had followed after her. He’d be closing in on them fast. She flashed desperate eyes at the clueless turian, relying on their ability to communicate without words.

“Is everything ok? Hope you don’t have to leave.” Kaiden had caught up to her and sounded disappointed. And she almost felt bad – just for a second. But she didn’t have time to waste worrying about his feelings. Hesitation would send her straight back into that restaurant. And that just could not happen.

If her partner was going to save her she had to make him realize how dire this situation was. Fearing he’d choose to leave her there because he’d get a laugh out of it, she wagged her brows at Vakarian, waiting impatiently for him to understand how badly she needed to get out of there.

“Oh, yeah,” Vakarian started lamely. “Yeah, Pallin, um, wants us to come back in.” He shifted awkwardly, eyes jumping between her and Kaiden. The take-out bag crinkled in his hands as he clutched it tighter. “Immediately,” he added with a bit more conviction. 

Shepard watched him for just a second, mouth literally ajar, wondering why he was suddenly so awkward and incapable of working a lie. This is what they did. They bluffed, and lied to people, and manipulated a story. Their entire career relied on being able to manipulate dumb, confused, and scared people. Not that Kaiden was any of those...but the point was they were experts. Vakarian was not acting like an expert. 

Deciding to focus on her mission instead of Vakarian’s suddenly awkward behavior, she turned to Kaiden. “Damn,” she sighed dramatically, “guess we’ll have to call this one early.” She took a few steps away, fully intending to leave quickly before this whole charade fell apart, or before Kaiden had a chance to tell another story about himself.

“Wait,” Kaiden called out before she made it more than a few feet from him, “let me get your jacket for you.”

Kaiden began to weave his way through people and back into the restaurant. Once he was out of earshot, Shepard whipped around to face Vakarian, frustration burning through her body.

“What’s going on?” he asked in a hushed tone, looking amused but incredibly confused.

“I don’t want to be here anymore,” she almost whined. 

Vakarian shot her a cocky grin. “Spectre Alenko not as exciting as his job title?”

“No, he’s not. And every minute in there is taking away another little bit of my soul, so please, help me escape.”

“I don’t know, Jane," he teased, "turians hate lies. And this is an unnecessary lie. It’s not even going to help us catch a bad guy.”

Vakarian’s eyes flicked over her shoulder, then she heard Kaiden’s voice kindly apologizing for stepping on someone’s toes. He was so close, and she still didn’t have Vakarian’s cooperation.  

“Get me out of here,” she mouthed quietly, and just a breath later Kaiden stepped up beside her, returning her jacket with a puppy dog look in his eyes. Then Shepard and Vakarian’s eyes locked – hers pleading, his smiling. 

“Good thing you have your jacket, sure does get cold in the office at night,” Vakarian drawled, his voice oddly triumphant. 

That was all she needed. Her thumping heart settled. “I am so sorry. I’ll call you,” she promised Kaiden as she quickly turned in the direction of her apartment.

“No problem, I understand. Duty calls,” he called out with an enthusiastic wave and smile that looked more sad than cheerful. 

She looked back behind her, not at Kaiden though. Her pleading eyes quickly fell on Vakarian, urging him to catch up. 

She already had plans for the rest of the evening that involved take-out, her apartment, and bullshitting by the fire with her partner. That was the best dinner on the Citadel.

Some other guy would have to be the one to take her mind off Vakarian. Someday.

🔪🔪🔪

As Shepard’s short little legs helped her flee the scene, her intention finally dawned on Vakarian. She wasn’t upset – she wasn’t even curious – why he was walking past her date. Instead, she was focused on using him as an excuse to escape. 

Vakarian didn’t mind that at all. He certainly cursed himself for the joy it brought him to see her leave the date with him, but he’d rather have it this way than pine after her all night, jealous and confused as he sat in his apartment all by himself. 

In just a few strides his long legs allowed him to easily catch up to her. Once they were clear of the restaurant her eyes shifted to him, clearly telling him she was in no mood for teasing. Sometimes that look worked on him, sometimes it didn’t. Either way, he was always amused.

“Mind telling me what that was about?”

Shepard huffed, “That was the most boring man I’ve ever met.” 

“Not bad looking though, for a human. Kind of short.”

“Gouge out my eardrums and I’ll go on a second date with him.”

He chuckled, noting her flushed complexion as she huffed and sailed away from the restaurant so quickly he was actually having trouble keeping up with her. Her hair bounced and swayed, and he couldn’t resist thinking about reaching out and running his hand through it. Which would probably earn him a slap and a scowl. Sometimes she didn’t mind when he played with her hair. Other times, she seemed annoyed by it. He could never figure out why it was ok sometimes and it wasn’t others.  

“You have some explaining to do,” her stern eyes fell on him.

His heart stopped, and mandibles clenched tightly against his jaw. He had no idea how he would explain to her why he just happened to be walking past the restaurant where she was on a date. Just a coincidence? He didn’t want to lie, because he was a bad turian, but he despised lying to her. He only did it when he really had to. 

“What was with the bad acting?” she asked. “I’ve never seen you freeze up like that.”

Oh thank the spirits, she didn’t realize he had basically stalked her on her date. With his heart fully functioning again, he gathered an answer. “You surprised me. I didn’t expect to see you running out of the restaurant.” It wasn’t a lie; he was surprised to see her. And she did look absolutely crazy. “You looked like a rabid varren.”

He paused, the image of her dashing out of the restaurant like a lunatic coming back to him, and then laughed softly.

“What?” an amused smile parted her lips.

“The way you were running at me, I thought someone was trying to kill you.”

“He was trying to kill me. Death by boredom.” She eyed the take-out in his hands. “Have any food in there I can eat?”

“You haven’t eaten?”

“No,” she groaned. “I have never waited that long for food before. How hard is it to boil pasta?"

“Well you’re in luck, I ordered a levo dish for you -- thought you’d like it for lunch tomorrow.”

A satisfied grin spread across her face as her fingers began to wiggle their way into the take-out bag, trying to get a peek at the contents. He could actually hear her stomach rumble, which made him chuckle.

“Have I ever told you you’re my hero?” she said. 

“A few times. Wanna look over our report?”

She nodded. “You finished?”

“Yeah, just before Pallin kicked me out. Have any bourbon I can drink, or do we need to make a stop?”

“I have plenty, just picked some up last night.” A tired sigh fell out of her. “I should just give up on dating and accept that the rest of my nights will be spent drinking and working with you.”

“Don’t sound too excited,” he drawled, and couldn't help the strange disappointment he felt in hearing her say that. But then she raised herself up on her toes and bumped her hip with his, flashing a soft smile at him, and that disappointment dissipated immediately.  

Then her eyebrows knotted up and her lips drew tight. “Crazy that you walked past that restaurant just as I was in the middle of the worst date of my life. Really weird.”

He froze for the third time that night and dreaded having to decide between admitting to his purely well-intentioned and – he’d argue – justified stalking. Or, he could just lie to her about it.

Thankfully, his decision was delayed as a turian stumbled into Shepard and glared down at her, distracting her just long enough to get them started on another topic. She took a moment to glare right back at the turian. Although it was cowardly, he appreciated avoidance tactics. They helped him ignore uncomfortable truths. And disappointing people. 

At her apartment, they took out their food, poured drinks, and got comfortable in the living room. The first time she invited him over he cracked jokes about the apartment. It was huge, filled with dark, soulless paintings, and a lot of black leather furniture. And it was obviously not hers.

She finally revealed that it was her Uncle David’s apartment, loaned to her when she was accepted into C-Sec. He was in the Alliance military and didn’t spend enough time on the Citadel to properly utilize it. Whoever it belonged to, Vakarian was grateful for the large apartment with comfortable couches and an even more comfortable spare bedroom, which he had utilized frequently over the years of working, and drinking, late. She eventually filled it with puffy pillows, soft blankets, and some artwork more reflective of her personality. And she usually kept the fireplace on, which he and Rocket both appreciated.

Only a few bites into her dinner, a ping from her omni-tool interrupted their meal.

He couldn’t help but worry it was her date checking in on her, and couldn’t hold back the salty teasing. “Aw, Spectre Alenko misses you already?”

“It’s Miranda, asking how my date’s going. She was supposed to be my rescue if the date didn’t go well.”

Shepard typed a reply while chewing like a starving varren, and then sent it off to her friend. 

He tried not to sound too interested when he asked, “What did you tell her?” 

“I told her I’m currently sitting on my living room floor eating take-out with a seven-foot-tall, drunk turian. And I told her that her help didn’t come soon enough.”

“I’m nowhere near drunk.” Vakarian sat on her couch eating his food with Rocket already nestled up in the hollow of his carapace, passed out and purring. Cats were strange creatures, and it took him a while to get used to it when he started hanging out at Shepard’s apartment. The way they hissed and swiped at imagined threats was unnervingly like turian infant behavior. But he liked the feel of Rocket’s soft fur, and Rocket seemed to really love him. Shepard’s theory was that they both purred, so a deep bond was inevitable.

“You and Miranda are so different,” Vakarian said.  “It’s strange you two are such good friends.”

Shepard shrugged, “We don’t have a lot in common, but it’s nice having a human around. Especially as I got used to being surrounded by aliens. Aliens that are tall, hard bastards like you,” she teased.

Sick of humans thinking he was made of stone and was hard as a rock, he always took offense to stereotypes like that. And even if she was teasing he always felt the need to defend himself. “I’m not that hard,” he grumbled.

He knew he made a mistake just as the words left his mouth. He feared the bourbon she just took into her mouth was dangerously close to shooting across the room as a snicker burst out of her.

Damn her raunchy mind. “No,” he warned her, taking another bite. “Don’t even.”

Their omni-tools chimed in unison, interrupting their dinner. They were used to it, though, because there was always something going on at work. 

He got his datapad out first to discover what news came in. “ID on the boy.”

She nodded, her eyes sifting through the details on her own datapad. “Adam Udina. Son of Charles and Samantha Udina.” She paused, then shot a hushed look at him. “He was Ambassador Udina’s nephew.”

“Well, damn,” he drawled. “Know them?”

“I met Ambassador Udina once when I was visiting my uncle at his office. I’m sure he wouldn't remember me though. He barely acknowledged my presence. I don’t know the parents though…not exactly my social circle.”

“Your social circle is me and Miranda.”

“Kryik adores me. You just hate that he and I are close. And I think he’s way more excited when I go to Flux with you guys than he is if it’s just the two of you.”

“That’s only because everyone assumes you’re with me, so he gets all the attention.”

“Aw, good for him,” she replied.

Offended, he stared her down. “Good to know your priority is his sex life.”

“He needs help. He’s not nearly as handsome as you,” she teased him with warm eyes and a sly smile.

He couldn’t keep himself from grinning, despite the guilt he always felt when he allowed himself to enjoy the way she flattered him. Vakarian preferred having her around when they went out, too. Even if it meant he lost out on meeting new people. He’d rather spend a night bullshitting and getting drunk with Shepard than meeting anyone new. As pathetic as that was, it was true. 

One of these days he’d figure out a way to convince his mind and body that she wasn’t his. Didn’t seem like that day was the same day she went on a date with another guy, though. 

“You are so vain,” she chuckled. “I could tell you the galaxy is ending, and as long as I followed that up with 'you’re pretty’, you’d forget what I first said.”

“Fuck off,” he told her while his mandible fluttered joyfully. It was true, though. Anytime she complimented him, it hit him straight in the chest.

“Tomorrow morning I’d like to visit Solus first to see what he finds in the autopsy,” she said, returning to the case. “Then we can go meet the parents.”

He nodded in agreement, still thinking about the way she smiled at him when she jokingly called him handsome. 

While they finished their meals her attention had drifted back to the boy’s picture. “Look at his face, Garrus,” she eventually muttered. Her voice was filled with emotion, which hadn’t been typical until a few months ago. She always showed concern and sympathy for victims, but the way she spoke of them lately – so sad, so focused on how tragic death was – had him worried. “What a sweet kid. You can see the kindness in his eyes.”

And she never used to talk about their eyes so much.

Vakarian watched her despondent face and troubled eyes stay on Adam’s picture, so engrossed that she forgot she had a full mouth of food that was wedged in her cheek. He hadn’t realized his concerned and comforting subvocals started up until he felt Rocket stretch out a paw and begin to purr along with him. But Shepard was out of earshot of both of them, so they just rumbled together for their own sense of ease.

“We’ll find the bastard, Jane,” Vakarian eventually told her. 

She nodded, finally chewing her food and reaching out towards him. “Pass me the bourbon?”

Chapter Text

The next morning Vakarian sat at his desk while he waited for Shepard to deliver his first dose of caffeine for the day. He was trying to look through interviews with Adam’s friends and family that were conducted last night, but a giant distraction was imposing itself into his personal space. Kryik, his long-time friend and constant annoyance, sat comfortably perched atop his desk. Kryik’s agitated subvocals rumbled around in his chest; his mind was clearly focused on something that was bothering him. Vakarian had enough plaguing his own mind, though, so he just let Kryik sit there, stewing, until he finally came out with it.

“How in the hell have you worked with a human this long?” Kryik huffed.

Vakarian’s interest was only slightly piqued by the question, so he maintained his focus on the interviews. “If Shep did something to piss you off,” he said in a disinterested tone, “you probably deserved it.”

Kyrik shook his head. “I’m getting a human partner this week,” he explained. “They’re refusing to give up on that little integration project.”

“Who?” Vakarian was more interested now, but he still didn’t look up. Of course they didn’t give up on it - turians and humans had to start working together in C-Sec more often. 

“He’s new, just transferred from narcotics. James Vega.”

Vakarian chuckled, “I know Vega.”

“Yeah?”

“He’s wider than he is tall. Hair cut close to his head.” Vakarian recalled physical descriptors for Kryik, giving Kryik a chance to recall whether or not he knew Vega.

“I don’t think I’ve worked with him. What’s he like?”

“He’s alright. Not a genius, but he’s good with people. And you could certainly use help in that realm. Good shot, too. Shep and I see him at the range often.”

Kryik mumbled a curse under his breath while his mandibles clicked, light agitation prevalent in his demeanor. It wasn’t that Kryik disliked humans – Vakarian knew Kryik was one of the few detectives that genuinely liked the weird, fragile species. And, he’d always got along really well with Shepard. 

But liking humans being partnered with one were usually two different things. Humans, in private, were fun and passionate. At work, the same behavior was called brash and careless. At least that’s what the Council races thought about humans in general. Vakarian knew Shepard well enough to know there was some truth to the stereotypes. 

But humans could be so much more. Sure, Shepard was fun, and passionate, and sometimes brash. But she had a bigger heart than anyone he’d ever known. And there was always a fire burning in her. Sometimes that fire was comforting, and gentle. And sometimes it flared up, and she was suddenly tougher than a krogan on red sand.

“Tell me, what’s the trick?” Kryik persisted.

Garrus shrugged, he had no interest in speculating why he and Shepard made it in Homicide when no one else did, and he truly didn’t have much advice on the matter. He was so used to working with her that he forgot about it...until someone else brought it up.

When the humans first transferred in everyone complained about it. Even the diplomatic, pro-diversity officers were openly agitated. They all thought it was too quick , and undeserved. He didn’t join in on the grumbling, though. When he was growing up, complaining wasn’t really an option. And if you did complain, you better immediately follow it up with a solution. That was Castis Vakarian’s number one rule. 

There was no solution to working with humans, though, so you just had to deal with it.

And after a few years when he was the only one with a human partner left, they all treated him like he was a plague victim that somehow survived. He was the department pillar, a paragon, a wonder that impressed many and perplexed all. Something unique and special about him had to be the cause, right? He hated being held to standards he knew he didn’t meet.

“Really,” Kryik continued. “No one else has worked with a human for so long. How do you make it work?” Vakarian knew Kryik well. The idea of failing at this, and especially failing at something Vakarian had succeeded at, wasn’t acceptable. Kryik would treat this as a challenge. It kind of made Vakarian want him to fail at this, because he was even more competitive than Kryik. 

But there wasn’t much Vakarian could say. He and Shepard didn’t immediately get along. It was awkward. They said stupid shit that pissed each other off. Truth be told, they goaded each other from the very beginning. There were a lot of silent skycar rides and dirty looks exchanged at the start of their partnership. .

But they worked on it, had to keep an open mind, and had to learn how to trust each other. Somehow the dirty looks were soon replaced with laughter. He wasn’t quite sure why it worked. It just did. 

“Maybe Shepard’s just different,” he finally offered. “I can’t imagine working with anyone else.”

“You’ve never worked with anyone else,” Kryik pointed out with a tinge of salt. “Of course you don’t know what it’s like.”

“She puts up with me.” Kryik knew him well, and knew that on his bad days he was prone to caustic comments and brooding. Well, the brooding was chalked up to bad days. Caustic comments were just his personality.

“Come out to Flux tonight. You haven’t been out in weeks.”

Trying to dodge an argument and more harassment, Vakarian didn’t respond. Flux was the last place on the Citadel he wanted to be. At first he thought he’d get away with not answering, but Kryik’s silence was unnerving. He felt his friend’s eyes on him for a while, thinking about something far too long for it to be anything he wanted to hear. As the seconds ticked by, his discomfort grew.

“Ever think of…” Kryik finally spoke, but instead of using words to clearly communicate what he wanted to know, he tried to make his inquiry clear simply by wagging his brow plates, then shifted his eyes to Shepard’s empty desk. 

Unfortunately it wasn’t clear, and it only aggravated Vakarian even more because he was determined to get through the interviews.

“Spit it out Nihlus.”

“With Shepard…”

Vakarian felt his muscles tighten as actual fear and indignation welled up inside him. He couldn’t believe Kryik was even asking that. Actually, he could. Kryik thought about sex as much as a junkie thought about a fix. That realization suddenly introduced a new fear, though. If Kryik was even thinking about…

That finally earned Kryik his full attention. His head whipped around so he could properly glare at him. “If you tell me that you have, you know I’m going to kick your ass,” he blurted out before he had the good sense to keep his mouth shut.

Kryik’s response, a booming chuckle, grated his nerves, which he tried to hide by looking back at the datapad in front of him.

“No, she's like a little sister nowadays. There is something about her, though, hm? She’ll make some turian happy someday, I’m sure.”

“Turian?” Vakarian mumbled. He was still obsessing over why she asked that human Spectre out on a date, and here Kryik was throwing out the possibility that some turian would come along?

“Yeah, I only ever see her checking out turians lately. I’m sure if any had shown interest by now, she’d be happily settled.”

Agitated beyond comprehension, Vakarian turned back to the interviews. How in the hell could he concentrate while worrying about Shepard meeting some turian? “Don’t you have a case to be working on?” he snapped.

“Come on, you can’t tell me that after all these years working with Shepard you’ve never thought about it. Not even once.”

“No,” he grumbled, quickly trying to step out of the conversation. It was impossible to focus his gaze on the interview in front of him more than he already was, but he was certainly trying.

Of course he had thought about her, though – hundreds of times. Every time she smiled at him, or when he'd lay his hand on her back, or when she'd flash him a playful look with her gorgeous green eyes. 

And every time, he reminded himself that their friendship was more important than his idiotic crush.  

“You get along so well,” Kryik said.

“No,” Vakarian repeated flatly, wishing to the spirits Kryik would shut up.

“Yeah? Then what’s that nervous rumble for?” And because of that comment, Vakarian wanted to slap the grin right off Kryik’s face.

It was true. His subvocals were fluttering in his chest. And because Kryik had the nerve to hear it, he quickly stopped thinking about slapping him, and started thinking about straight-up punching him. He cursed the fact that he spent all his time with a human now and didn’t have to guard his subvocals so much. He was getting sloppy, and Kryik took full advantage of that.

“Spirits, Garrus, just admit you have a crush on Shepard,” Kryik teased. 

“You know, unlike you, I can work with someone without having sex with them.”

“I’d like to consult every woman you ever sparred with.”

Vakarian sighed, more exhausted than annoyed at that point. But still pretty annoyed.

Captain Pallin was at Vakarian’s desk barking with jittering subvocals before either realized he was there.

“Am I interrupting something?” Pallin calmly asked, a browplate slightly raised. 

“No, sir,” they responded in unison, both sitting up a bit straighter. 

“Vakarian. You and Shepard get to the Presidium. We have a body.”

“We’re due at the morgue, sir. Autopsy on Adam Udina should be wrapping up.”

Pallin looked around the room for Vakarian’s partner. “Where the fuck is she?”

“Coffee.”

“Why is she never at her fucking desk anymore?”

“You caught her, she’s been masquerading as the Citadel art thief. She’s on a heist right now.” Only Vakarian got away with smartass comments like that, and if he had to put up with all the bullshit that came along with being his father's son, he’d damn well take advantage of the privileges.

Pallin, only acknowledging Vakarian’s smartass comment with a slightly more quirked brow plate, turned to the next closest detective. “Fine, Kryik.”

“Sure. What’s the story?”

“Body in the water. Might be asari but they can’t tell.”

Vakarian watched Kryik, anxiously anticipating a reaction. He was quickly rewarded when Nihlus cursed an expletive, and he genuinely took pleasure in his friend’s pain. He couldn’t help the gleeful smile that slowly spread his mandibles…it was a bit of vengeance for Kyrik’s prying into his relationship with Shepard. Justice was always sweet.

“Problem, Kryik?” Pallin stared the turian down with a domineering glare.

“No, sir.” Kryik’s chin tucked in, mandibles clenched. And Vakarian made no attempt to stop chuckling.

“Hurry, before it turns to sludge,” Pallin warned, seemingly taking a sick pleasure in the threat, before turning away and moving on to deal with his next problem.

🔪🔪🔪

Shepard, two hot coffees in hand, approached her partner’s desk as their boss walked away. Vakarian sat reclined and at ease in his chair, a smug grin plastered on his face that instantly made her curious. Kryik sat perched atop the desk, looking like he was about to haul back and punch Vakarian. She had to know what these two fools were up to. “Why are you laughing at Kryik?” she asked.

“He deserves it.” Vakarian looked back up at Kryik with a short, evil laugh that fueled Kryik’s anger.

That was all it took to make her immediately pivot to defend her partner, regardless of the reason. “What are you harassing my partner about, Kryik?” she asked with knotted brows, using some of her grandmother’s schoolteacher voice.

Vakarian tried to blurt out that it was nothing with a string of syllables and fluttering mandibles, but Kryik was too fast for him. “We’re talking about Vakarian’s sex life.”

“We were not,” Vakarian grumbled, his vindictive grin quickly disappearing. She couldn’t help but feel pity for her poor partner. He wasn’t prudish, but she noticed long ago he did not enjoy the topic of sex as much as his friend did. No one did, really. 

“Leave people alone, you fucking pervert,” Shepard playfully warned Kryik as she sipped her coffee, then handed a cup to Vakarian. “Not everyone wants to fuck everything that moves.”

Kryik’s mandibles spread and mouth opened to say something, and she could tell by the devious look on his face it was something he was really going to enjoy saying, but before he could get a word out Pallin bellowed from across the room. It was a booming and vibrating shout that caught everyone’s attention in the entire jammed pack and busy department. “I wasn’t joking Kryik! I don’t want any damn pictures of the body on the evening news. Move!”

Shepard looked to Vakarian for an explanation, and her partner looked far too pleased for the answer to be anything pleasant.

“He got a floater,” Vakarian gloated. 

She cracked a devious smile. “Jesus, Kryik. I’m sorry.”

“No you’re not,” he muttered before walking away, resigned to his fate and readying himself for a shitty day. “Flux, tonight, Garrus,” he called out as he disappeared around a corner.

“You ready?” Vakarian asked, bringing her attention back to him and their case. A knot formed in her chest when she saw his face, though. His face was always the epitome of happiness when he looked at her; it beamed, really, with warm eyes and a smile so soft only she could see it. 

But now he looked worried, and it had to be for her. She wasn’t worried about herself, she knew she’d get through this, but she couldn’t let herself worry him. There was no reason both of them had to have a tough day. And even though she typically enjoyed sharing things with him – dinner, music, funny stories – she wanted to keep her nagging concerns and gloomy thoughts to herself. She just needed a break. Her trip back home was just a few weeks away now, and it would do her some good.

She stiffened in response, willing some inner resolve that hadn’t yet been utilized. “Let’s do this,” she said with a stiff nod, evoking as much coolness as she could muster.

For a short while the only sound occurring during their descent was the soft hum of the elevator. They exchanged glances a few times, and sipped coffee.

“What was up with Kryik?” she finally asked, recalling that Kryik was overly agitated, which was unlike him. He was even calmer and collected than Vakarian. 

“Nihlus is getting a human partner this week. Has him on edge.”

“Who?”

“James Vega.”

She nodded, acknowledging the information before silence, save the elevator hum, resumed for a moment.

She watched the floor numbers tick by as their descent continued, her mind contemplating Kryik having a human partner. “He’s worried that he’ll fail like everyone else?”

“Everyone but you and me,” Vakarian replied, his soft smile and warm eyes returned. And that made her feel better.

“The wonder team,” she responded as she raised her coffee to toast him, before taking another slow sip. Her morning had been crappy so far, mostly because she couldn’t stop going over the scene details in her head. And she couldn't stop wondering who would kill a thirteen-year-old rich kid.

“You’re lucky I pull all the weight,” he teased.

“You’re lucky I put up with your bullshit,” she quickly replied with a smirk.

But his soft smile slowly faded away, once again overtaken by that look of concern, and she could tell he was trying to hide it. “Hey. I can do this,” Vakarian finally said, gently offering to take care of the autopsy report for her. “You go look at the Presidium logs I never got to last night.”

“I’m fine. Stop acting like your mom.”

“You want a hug?” he joked, a warm sparkle in his teasing eyes.

“Stop,” she said with a grin that she tried to hide behind her coffee. Of course she wanted a hug, but not because she was sad or uptight. 

“Really,” he persisted. “We have a lot to do today. We can split up, divide and conquer.”

Her agitation, which had been building since she woke up that morning, finally spilled out, “I want to know what the murderer did to him. I need to see it.”

“Fine,” he finally gave in, “but let’s get some fresh air after this. I’ll need to get the smell of the morgue out of my system.” She nodded, somehow knowing that the fresh air was for her, not for him, but she let it go. Insisting she was fine when she clearly was agitated would only prove him right. Prove that she should be looking at logs instead of this.

“Is that why turians don’t work in the morgue? The odors are too much?” she asked.

“I think it’s because the medical examiners don’t get guns. We like our guns,” he replied as the elevator doors slid open.

Together they stepped out of the elevator, set their coffees down at a table, and used their omni-tools to gain access to the morgue. The odd odor of death masked by chemicals hit Shepard’s nose. No detective really enjoyed their trips downstairs to the morgue, and she was no different – but meeting with Solus right after an autopsy always provided a wealth of knowledge. And, she actually had a soft spot for the quirky salarian. They were both odd ducks in the department.

Solus greeted them with a quick nod, his eyes flashing quickly as he processed information that had to be bouncing around his brain like a bug stuck in a jar. His assistant, a young asari, worked at putting away tools.

The boy, Adam, was unclothed and lay on the cold table in front of them, a sheet drawn up to his waist. The harsh lights always washed the bodies out more, making them even paler. The lighting insisted that they were dead. Whatever abuses the victim’s endured before their death were all the more exaggerated here. And that was true for poor little Adam, his body littered with bruises. She noticed his fine sandy brown hair, freshly cleaned and no longer marred with mud and grass.

“Good timing,” Solus spoke first, but he didn’t look at them directly. His eyes were focused on his console, which was stationed next to the body. “Just finished photos. Many to take. He had much to tell. Hemorrhaging, fractures, abrasions, blunt force trauma, fingernail scores in skin. Biotics, too. Passion? No, had to be crime of power.” His fingers worked furiously typing in his notes as quickly as they surfaced in his brain.

“Good morning to you too, Solus,” Shepard said, her tone thick with humor.

He took a break from his notes to look up at her and Vakarian. “Very sorry. Greetings Shepard, Vakarian. Why don’t we ever meet in nice places?” He chuckled softly to himself, an impish grin sneaking across his face.

“Alright,” she replied, “you blurted out a lot there. Lets go over it. Slowly enough for Vakarian to understand, this time.”

Vakarian shot her a look while Solus brought up the photos on his console to reference, and the images began to flash by just as quickly as Solus spoke. 

“First, contusions on stomach, back, shoulders, a few on legs. Contusions on legs from shoes, blunt force trauma. Contusions on back and stomach, more kicking and also struck with fists. Contusions on shoulders, though, I think from falling, or slamming, against surfaces. Small fractures to bones near contusions. No large breaks. One small occipital laceration.”

“Someone beat the shit out of him.” Vakarian noted.

“Yes, physical abuse. Happened one hour before injuries to neck. Manual strangulation cause of death. Fractured larynx and hyoid. Fine, pinpoint hemorrhaging on neck. Abrasion marks on neck and fingernail scores. Dug fingers in. Not very strong, but violent. Hateful.”

“They suffocated him. That’s what killed him?” Shepard asked for the confirmation.

“Yes. Damage on body bad, painful, but would have healed. Manual strangulation interrupted oxygen intake, stopped heart. Cause of death.”

Shepard took in a large, steadying breath of air, then immediately regretted it as the odor hit her nose. Maybe she would need that fresh air Vakarian offered.

“You said something about biotics?” Vakarian took over the questioning as she tried to soften the clench in her chest with more manageable breaths of air.

“Yes. Small mass effect charges still in his body.”

“Were they his charges? Did he have biotic power?”

“No, no biotic powers.”

“The murderer used biotics?”

“Yes. Dr. Dantius can say more. She’s expert.”

The asari assistant turned to them. “Biotics were used on him,” she confirmed, “but based on the mass effect particles still present the power was very basic. I think it would have been an untrained or very young asari, or human.”

“Why so certain on the species?”

“Turian biotics are always trained, and they’re never this sloppy. A krogan would have…well let’s just say his body would be in much worse shape. We would expect massive trauma, broken bones and much larger contusions. And I’ve already checked, there were no batarian, quarian, or salarian biotics on the Citadel.“

“How many biotics are on the Citadel right now?”

“At the time of the murder 4,234.”

“Well,” Vakarian drawled, “you know I’m usually Mr. Positivity, but I don’t think we can interview that many people today.”

“Maybe in two night cycles. Must work hard though, no breaks,” Solus quipped with another impish grin.

Shepard’s eyes stayed locked on Adam as Solus joked with her partner. “You can tell what powers they used?” she asked Dr. Dantius.

“I can only make guesses based on the damage. I assume they might have used telekinesis…that’s how the shoulder contusions occurred. He was probably slammed down on a flat surface repeatedly. Some hematoma and some ground in fibers on his face indicate being held down for quite some time, forcefully.”

“That wouldn’t have been from slamming him down?” Vakarian asked to be sure.

“No,” Solus rejoined the conversation. “Pattern indicates firm, consistent pressure against left cheek and scalp.” Solus gestured over Adam’s left cheek, indicating where the damage took place. “Not rapid and abrupt. Also, contusions from strikes and kicks match human or asari hands and feet. Look for human or asari. Certain.”

Shepard and Vakarian nodded in unison.

“Anything else?” Vakarian asked. She felt his eyes on her instead of on the medical examiners or Adam.

“No, nothing else relevant. For now.”

Shepard and Vakarian gave Sols and Dantius nods and thanked them for their time, then Vakarian turned to her.

“What do you say, Jane? Wanna take me out for some breakfast?” She couldn’t ignore how soothing her partner's voice sounded, and knew it was for her. He always knew exactly what she needed to feel better. 

Shepard answered with a slow nod, still trying to fill her lungs with a satisfying breath. But now she was just as focused on her partner’s calming presence and the assurance he provided. This job was tough, but she was thankful every day that she had him by her side. He sure made it a hell of a lot easier. Vakarian’s hand landed gently on her shoulder, ready to guide her back to the elevator.

“Goodbye Shepard, Vakarian,” Solus said, eyes already back on his console. “Next time, we should meet for coffee. Discuss more pleasant things.”

They agreed, then said goodbye to Dantius and Solus, and Vakarian gave her the gentle nudge she needed to go back upstairs, where the light mimicked the sun and the air would fill her lungs.

Chapter Text

Shepard and Vakarian sat in a booth at their favorite diner. It was tucked in somewhere between C-Sec headquarters and the markets, well away from the embassies. Among other things, they shared a deep dislike for embassy staff and they wanted to avoid those people while trying to unwind. Their avoidance also had something to do with Vakarian’s ex working at the embassy, and although the breakup was long past, it was still a sore subject. The idea of running into Livia still made Vakarian tense.

Greasy dishes of fried, unhealthy food sat in front of both of them, nearly fully consumed already. Their coffee cups had been filled too many times to count and they devoured case information on their datapads as quickly as they went through their food. Shepard had perked up almost immediately after they sat down, so Vakarian was feeling a bit more at ease.

“He is so weird,” Vakarian pointed out. “And it’s weird that you two get along so well.” Vakarian truly didn’t understand why Shepard and Solus were friends, and he had to get to the bottom of it. Solus was all logic and brain and Shepard was all heart and senses. But, admittedly, a lot of people didn’t understand why he and Shepard got along so well either. Maybe she was just special like that. With enough time, she could connect with anyone.

“Solus is funny. And God, I wish I had a brain like that.” She took a moment to take a large bite of food and sloppily chew it. “He likes you, you know. He likes joking with you.”

“He’s funny. Sometimes.” Vakarian didn’t connect with people as easily as Shepard. Probably because he was too busy being a wise-ass. “What do you even talk about when you two hang out?”

“Well, we talk about humans and salarians – I still don’t know much about salarians and he’s always curious about humans. Cases, of course. Music, actually. He likes musicals. And I’ve been trying to get him to appreciate the music I like.”

“You mean that desperate, wailing crap you listen to?” he asked casually, knowing full-well he was going to rile her up with that one. Instead of looking up at her, he chewed his food while looking at his datapad. He could see her out of the corner of his eye, though, and nearly broke down with a satisfied grin when she froze mid chew to stare him down.

Sometimes Shepard got a look in her eyes that scared him senseless. It was an odd kind of scared though because it was also very exciting. He always got a tickle in his chest when she looked at him like that, and a little flutter in his abdomen. She was brandishing it then. If she hadn’t also been pretending to look mortally wounded and betrayed he would have immediately apologized and begged for forgiveness with a simpering grin.

“It’s called soul, Garrus.” She spoke slowly as if she was disappointed that a delicate concept was beyond his comprehension. “And that is the sound of yearning, stirring, earth-moving love and desire.”

It wasn’t. It was screaming, crying, moaning noise.

He hummed in agreement. “Rocket thinks it’s pretty stirring when you sing along to it.”

A fry launched from her fingers, hit him in the cheek, and bounced down to the table. He didn’t flinch, though, and stared her down in mock seriousness. Not cracking a laugh after the fry hit him was especially difficult. “If you’re going to behave like this at the C-Sec Gala, Jane, I don’t think I’ll be able to associate with you.”

And then it was her turn to mock a serious tone. “So now I’m expected to dress up AND refrain from throwing food at you? I’m staying home.”

“You are not leaving me alone with my family,” he warned her, fully serious now. “At a formal event,” he added for good measure, because being at a formal event without her was even worse. Being stuck at the gala all night, on the night his dad was getting honored, without Jane helping him pass the time was honestly not an option. Kryik would be there too, of course, but he usually wasn’t any help. Vakarian liked his family, really, but they could be draining, and Jane…wasn’t. He wouldn’t let her throw food at him without giving her a hard time, though. And honestly, he’d do anything to make her smile. That included making fun of her.

“Ok, now you’re just asking too much,” she replied. “You have to eliminate one of those expectations.”

“Well, I can’t wait to see you in a dress, and I am not dealing with my father in addition to my sister gloating with her new mate on her arm without you there…guess I’ll just have to explain to everyone that my partner is a human-pyjak hybrid who has no manners.” He watched her, ready for a reaction, a comeback, something to make him laugh.

She picked up another fry, ready to throw it at him, and he couldn’t help but grin. “There’s my little pyjak.” The fry hit him square in the forehead. “With perfect aim, too. I’m so proud of her,” he used a cajoling tone, as if he was talking to a child or a pet.

A laugh finally burst out of her. It was infectious and joyful, and he quickly joined her. Food and laughter typically were all it took to get her out of a bad mood, which meant he was always capable of cheering her up. He was more proud of that than most things in his life.

For one brief, bitter moment he wondered how in the hell she could go on a date with some guy when all they needed was right there. 

After they got their laughs out he finished swallowing his food and sighed – justice wouldn’t dole itself out while he and Jane fucked around and gave themselves stomachaches eating shitty food. “Alright, let’s go over these interviews. Samantha and Charles Udina answered a few questions last night but nothing in-depth. We have some door-to-door inquiries from the neighborhood. A few calls to family back on earth.” He scrolled through his datapad. “Nothing has jumped out so far, just a few triggers. Adam didn’t have a great relationship with his dad. They fought a lot.”

“Charles Udina’s tech company is prototyping a tool that provides non-biotic humans low-level biotic powers,” Shepard added.

“Interesting. When did you find that out?”

“Woke up too early, couldn’t sleep, so I did some digging.”

“You need to sleep more,” he told her. It sounded like a reprimand. It kind of was.

“Thank you Mrs. Vakarian,” she said sardonically. “But I get enough health advice from my grandma. You may want to bug your son about his over-consumption of junk food, though.” She gave him a look that told him to calm down with the coddling. She took it in stride, but he could tell she didn’t want him to worry about her. Honestly, he was starting to feel like a mother. Or a spouse.

“I’d say something smart back,” he said, “but you’re running low on fries and you get grouchy when you’re hungry. Why would humans want a tool that gives them low-level biotics? What’s the point?”

“Humans don’t like a power they can't have. Turians aren’t like that, are they?”

“It weakens the Hierarchy if you waste your skill wanting to be something you’re not. And if the Hierarchy wants you to have something, you’d have it.”

“Damn turians, always so sensible.”

“Mm,” he agreed. “Gives us more time to practice our aim and a thousand different ways to say ‘yes sir’.”

She wiped her hands on a napkin and chugged the last drips of coffee. “Alright, I’m ready. You?”

He did the same then tucked his datapad in his jacket as they scooted out of the booth and stood up. “Yeah. Wanna read through some interviews while I drive?”

While leaving the diner Shepard looked back at him over her shoulder. “Are you ever going to let me drive again?”

“Never,” he said, a bit astonished that she still asked. She’d have to do something really special to earn that trust back.

"Bastard," she huffed then she stopped in the doorway, planting herself there and blocking his exit. He casually pushed against her with his keel to get her to move, but she gritted her teeth through a playful smile as she dug in harder. She could be quite strong for a soft little human, even though she was so damn light.

It's not like they could stand in the doorway and wrestle, so he wrapped his hands firmly around her waist, and with an effortless lift, she was off the ground, feet flailing, and giggling.  

"I may be a bastard, but at least I'm alive, not drowned in the lake," he said as he continued to carry her down the sidewalk like she was an unruly child. 

She stopped wiggling at that point, then spread out her arms and tilted her head back, a wave of her shampoo scent drifting from her dangling hair. "I kind of like this. I should make you carry me around more often. What other names can I call you? Asshole. Dick. Son of a bitch. My grandmother loves "you damned devil'."

"Devil is an evil guy right?" 

"Yeah, opposite of angel. The devil is hostile, depraved, worshipped by people with lustful thoughts. He has claws and spikes." 

Vakarian hummed in thought, then drawled, "Jane, you just described me perfectly."

She laughed, her abdominal muscles tightening under his fingertips. "Suppose I did," she said.

With warmth quickly spreading through his whole body he let her down – the feeling of her muscles tensing in his hands was a bit too much for him to shrug off that morning. So many awkward stupid moments with her...how the hell did he keep landing himself in these spots?

The trip to Eden Glen went by fairly quickly with Shepard reading through interviews out loud so they both got the information. He listened to her, her voice smooth and relaxing, and dissected the information, looking for anything that could become a lead. The artificial sun was brightly shining now, thankfully. He shuddered, recalling how damn cold he’d been the night they visited the scene.

As they climbed out of the skycar a woman walking down the street with a dog greeted them with a smile and a wave. Shepard smiled kindly and waved back, which invited the woman to approach them.

“You’re with C-Sec?” she asked.

“Yes, ma’am. Do you know the Udina’s?” Shepard asked, her voice inviting but professional.

The woman’s face dropped, like they just confirmed something she was hoping was just a nasty rumor. “It’s true then? Poor Adam. I always saw him playing outside, right there, with his sister.” The woman gestured to the Udina’s front yard. “He’d prop her up on his hip and carry her around till she’d let him put her down. And he never complained. You never see boys his age being that sweet anymore, especially on the station. Such a sweet kid.” They let the woman reminisce for a moment, waiting to see if there was anything else she had to say.

Shepard left their contact information with the woman, promising to answer personally if she thought of anything else.

The yard was meticulous and covered in earth vegetation, just like the others in Eden Glen. The house, three stories, was made of stone and was somehow simple but still stately. Shepard explained the style replicated an Italian villa, whatever that meant. A man opened the door, explained that he was Charles Udina’s assistant, and led them upstairs to talk with Samantha as Charles finished up a phone call.

Vakarian hadn’t been in many human homes. He’d been in Shepard’s, of course, but her apartment was mostly intergalactic in design, meant to be occupied by any species. And he’d seen a bit of her grandma’s house when they spoke in vid chats, but her grandma’s house was filled with puffy furniture that honestly wasn’t very different from turian furniture. 

But this house was purely human. Everything looked perfect and untouched. It contained furniture that looked old and expensive, very human in design and made of materials only found on earth. It was filled with human art, lots of paintings of humans posing perfectly. They definitely had decorators. 

“Is this what human homes actually look like back on earth?” he asked in a hushed tone as they climbed the stairs to interview the mother, Samantha.

“This is what wealthy, old money homes look like,” she told him in an equally hushed tone. “And I think the Udina’s are old money, all of this crap was probably either passed down throughout generations, or bought at auctions.”

They reached the second story and heard a low, haunting humming coming from a room to the left. After following it, they found Samantha in her second child’s bedroom. A little girl, only a few years old. Adam’s little sister that he adored, according to the woman out on the street. Samantha sat in a rocking chair, holding her sleeping little girl. She wore a pink shirt, and her sandy brown hair – the same color as Adam’s fell limply around her tired face. Vakarian watched her for just a moment as she brushed the little girl’s head lovingly, humming a lullaby. Talking to the mother’s always made him quiet, and angry.

“Mrs. Udina.” Shepard nodded in greeting. He let her take the lead, like he usually did when dealing with humans. Humans still found turians a bit intimidating, and didn’t typically open up to him as quickly as they did to Shepard. “I’m Detective Shepard and this is my partner Detective Vakarian. We were hoping you’d have time to answer some questions.”

Samantha nodded slowly without looking up from her daughter, before standing and gently laying the girl down on her bed. Without the little girl in her arms her chest began to heave and her lips quake as she buried her mouth in a hand. 

“I’m so sorry, ma’am.” Shepard told her with kind eyes.

“I’m sorry. I…” she looked lost, like they always did.

“You don’t have to apologize,” Vakarian told her in a comforting tone. “We’re here to help.”

“I don’t want to leave her,” Samantha said, her terrified eyes locked on her daughter.

“We can speak here if you’d prefer,” Shepard told her.

Samantha looked at both of them, and he could see through the look in her eyes that she was crumbling, like someone about to fall off the edge of a cliff and they know they can’t stop it. He hated just standing there, watching it happen. Because there was nothing you could ever do to help them. 

“I…I don’t feel real, right now. I feel so…far. And I’ll forget, for a minute. And then it all comes back and…who forgets their boy is gone? How can …” The woman broke down weeping, her words lost. She was so fragile. Not like the humans he was used to dealing with – the merchants and Alliance soldiers and embassy staffers. And all the scummy criminals that somehow found their way to the Citadel. She was softer. She was just a mom and seeing her cry like that just pissed him off, because she shouldn’t be crying. Her boy should still be alive, playing with his sister in the front yard. And Samantha Udina shouldn’t have to know what life was like without her child.

“There’s no right way to feel right now,” Vakarian told her, hoping to offer a little comfort.

“Don’t force yourself to feel a certain way,” Shepard added.

She stared back at them, and they waited for her patiently in return, not wanting to push her or make her feel uncomfortable.

“Can we stand in the hall? Is that ok?” she asked. Shepard and Vakarian nodded together, following her out into the hall where she stood positioned so she could keep an eye on her only living child, who was now twice as precious to her.

“We’re going to ask some questions,” Shepard told her, tone soothing. “And they won’t be easy. Just take your time, and answer as best you can, ok?”

Samantha nodded in response to Shepard, her arms still wrapped tightly around her body, tears still falling intermittently.

“Do you know anyone who would want to hurt Adam?” Shepard began to ask the typical questions they always asked, and he just let her take the lead.

Samantha shook her head.

“Any kids he fought with? Anyone he didn’t get along with?”

“No. He was…everyone loves him. He gets along with everyone.” It always broke his heart when people still used present tense verbs for their loved ones that were gone, and it reminded him that he never wanted to know what that pain felt like.

“Is there anyone who would want to hurt you?”

“No, I don’t really know anyone here. Charles goes to work. I…I’ve always stayed at home with the kids.”

“I knew we shouldn’t have come here,” Samantha added. “We should be back on earth. Safe. Adam would still be here. I should never have allowed Charles to bring us here.”

“What makes you say that, Mrs. Udina?” Vakarian asked, curious.

“Stuck out in the middle of space, away from family. And…God, how was I supposed to make sure he was safe, on this station? It’s a whole different world, isn’t it?” she turned to Shepard. “You understand, don’t you? It’s…aliens and alien food and biotics and you don’t know who you can trust. Every damn human here…all that matters is the money. All anyone cares about here is money and the kids just want it all, don’t they? They want to have every technology, and they all want biotic ability, and they don’t even understand why…Wasn’t life simpler before we came out here? Samantha trailed off after that, looking to Shepard for agreement, and when she didn’t receive it her eyes just fell to the ground. 

“Did you talk to your family about being unhappy here, Mrs. Udina? Did you talk to Adam, or your husband?” Shepard asked.

“Charles knew. Adam…” she sobbed. “Maybe he heard.”

“We have reason to believe that Adam and Charles had been fighting lately.” Shepard’s tone began to get more stern, and less comforting. It was how she got people talking. Always go in soft and understanding, get them comfortable, then she could ask the hard, personal questions.

Samantha nodded. “Charles…he never paid attention to Adam. He always worked, it was more important. He wanted more money, more commendations for his stupid prototypes.”

“Did Charles ever get violent with Adam?” Shepard finally asked, in a slow, hushed tone that made it seem like the answer would just be a little secret between them. That tone earned people’s trust, and they opened up to her.

Samantha only sobbed.

“I’m sorry, we have to ask,” Shepard explained. 

Samantha shook her head finally. “Not that I know of.”

“And would Adam have told you?”

“Yes.” She paused, then added, “I don’t know.” Events like this always made them question their life, what they thought they knew. Changing her answer was fairly typical.

“Would Adam have told you if anyone else had hurt him?”

“I think so. Yes.”

“Is there anything else you can think of that we should know?” Shepard asked. 

Samantha shook her head, looking as if they’d got everything out of her that they could, and a door downstairs shut.

“I think that’s Donnel. Charles called him,” Samantha told them.

Vakarian glanced downstairs, and sure enough he saw Donnel Udina walking into a room off the side of the living room.

“We’ll go speak to Charles now, unless you have anything else you’d like to discuss,” Shepard told her.

She shook her head again, her body already leaning towards the little girl’s room.

“If you think of anything, please reach out. We’ll be in touch,” Shepard told her.

“I don’t know if I can ask this right now…”

“Go ahead, we’ll tell you whatever we can,” Shepard said.

“When can I go back home? When is it ok to leave?”

“Leave the Citadel? It would be good to stick around until we get a bit further,” Shepard told her delicately. The woman’s face dropped and shoulders sunk at that answer as if taking a blow. It seemed she couldn’t wait to get back to earth. “Do you have family or friends that can come stay with you?”

“No one has come here before.”

“Charles’ family?” Shepard asked, clearly assuming they might be able to offer some familial comfort.

“They’re…” Samantha paused a moment then shook her head. “Have you ever met Donnel and Chanda? They’re terrible people.” The look of loathing on her face struck Vakarian. People didn’t usually hate their mate’s family that much. And when they did, it was usually a sign of a really unhealthy dynamic.

Of course, she didn’t seem to like her mate that much at the moment, either. Maybe she was just an unhappy woman. He’d have to ask Shepard for her read on Samantha later.

“I’m sure your friends or family would make the trip to be with you. It would be good to have someone here,” Shepard finally told her.

Samantha nodded again then waded back into the little girl’s bedroom looking heavier than before.

Nothing broke Vakarian down more than a sad mother. Deep down he knew that finding the asshole that hurt Adam wouldn’t really fix anything. It wouldn’t bring Adam back, and it wouldn’t take away his mother’s pain. But putting the murderer behind bars might bring her a little joy.

Vakarian would much rather put a bullet in the asshole’s brain. He guessed Samantha Udina would prefer that solution too.

Chapter Text

They left the grieving mother to ask Charles, Adam’s father, the same questions. Vakarian was still incensed after witnessing the mother’s anguish so he worked at relaxing his mandibles and subvocals before they got to the dad. He asked Shepard in a hushed tone, “Got the dad too?”

She nodded confidently. “You start it off though. Look tough. Make me look like the nice guy.” Shoulder to shoulder with Shepard, taking the steps one at a time, he already felt his muscles and mandibles relaxing.

“Look tough? So just be myself,” he said with a shrug and a sly grin. “You keep giving me the easy job.”

She winked at him, completely stealing every bit of his attention. All the way down the stairs they kept stealing little looks at each other, their grins growing wider and wider as they got lower and lower. 

“What?” she asked him.

What ?” he asked her in return

Spirits, how did she not know that she could make him melt with just a little look? Even in the middle of working a case and interviewing grieving parents. The entire galaxy rested in her palm...at least it did for him. 

At the bottom of the stairs they were met by the assistant, who led them to a study off the side of the living room. Charles anxiously awaited them there, surrounded by more stiff art – but this stuff reminded Vakarian of the crap that was in Shepard’s apartment before she redecorated. It featured random shapes and colors, and felt cold. Shelves upon shelves of books lined the room, along with items that looked like nothing more than knick-knacks to him, but probably were meaningful relics of human history to Charles and other humans. A single picture sat on Charles’ desk – a family picture. Charles had his arm around Adam, who leaned into his dad with a huge, elated smile.

“Hello, Mr. Udina. Thank you for taking the time to see us.” Vakarian started, standing up straight to his full, imposing height.

Charles stood in the middle of the room, looking as if he’d been pacing for quite a while; his hair was disheveled as if he’d been running his hands through it all morning. Vakarian still thought it was an odd human habit, but it was something like running a hand over the plates under your fringe – it was comforting. Shepard’s fingers carded through her hair often when she was uptight. It always mussed up her hair and made her look a little wild. A goddess on fire. He nearly chuckled out loud at that thought before he focused back on the father.

“Of course, please come in, have a seat. Do you have anything yet? Do you know who did this?” Charles words fired out rapidly as Shepard and Vakarian sat on each end of a large couch. Where the mother was in a fog, the father was in a state of panic. It was nervous energy. He was still running on adrenaline, probably. Both responses were fully within the realm of normal coping, and not enough to stir any suspicion.

“We’re doing everything we can,” Shepard kindly assured him to gain his trust, and it seemed to work. He took a deep, satisfied breath. He came closer to them, and leaned back against his desk.

“It would really help us if you can answer a few questions,” she spoke clearly and firmly. She somehow pulled off being comforting while still acting like an authoritative figure. Her unique ability to soothe and compel people in the same sentence always impressed Vakarian, and he swore that with more ambition she’d make a hell of a diplomat.

Vakarian took over from there, acting the tough turian to lay on a little intimidation. They were a sight to see together, for sure. His presence was calm, yet he provided a certain level of intimidation based on his size alone. His eyes were quick and discerning, and people usually realized nothing got past him. Her small stature carried all the authority you’d expect out of a commanding officer, but paired with her kind eyes and soothing smile she offered a sense of relief when people felt overwhelmed. It was a hell of a combination, and their track record proved it.

“First,” Vakarian spoke firmly, leaning forward a bit, “we have to ask if you know of anyone who would want to hurt Adam, or hurt you through Adam?”

“No. He got on well with everyone. We never heard of any issues from school staff. And other parents always seemed to enjoy having him over.” His reaction to talking about his son was slightly odd, slightly distant, as if he were talking about an employee. To be fair, Vakarian was personally well aware dads could be distant.

“Any business relationships that might put you or your family at risk?” Vakarian asked, allowing his tone to hint at the accusation that Charles might not have been properly protecting his family. Human men, the ones harboring a masculinity crisis at least, felt threatened by turians. Might have been the height, might have something to do with other fears of inadequacy related to size. Whatever it was, it was a tactic readily used by all the turian C-Sec officers. Vakarian wasn’t above using it as well.

“No, not that I can think of.” That got a twitch out of him, and his eyes kept shifting to Shepard as if she was his savior from the scary turian. Vakarian couldn’t help but feel guilty for a brief moment, looking at how tired and distressed the dad seemed. He knew this was necessary, though. Justice wasn’t handed out in baskets filled with candy and flowers. It was hard-earned. Being an asshole was necessary in their line of work.

“Mrs. Udina seems unhappy here. Has she been unhappy here, Mr. Udina?” Vakarian asked, fully aware that the way he said it sounded like an accusation, rather than a question. Charles only went as far as acknowledging her unhappiness and didn’t explain that he was trying to help her or make her feel better.

“Do you two fight?” Shepard asked, her voice was still soothing but her eyebrow quirked, and she stiffened her posture, making her seem more like a detective and less like a grief counselor. Vakarian loved watching her subtlety shift her demeanor. It was like watching an artist form something beautiful out of stone. She worked just as delicately and passionately as any artist. It really pissed him off that so many in Homicide didn’t get to see this – they’d stop telling him how lucky she was to be partnered with him. And maybe they’d even tell her that he was the lucky one.

“Yes I know she’s unhappy,” he sighed as if the question wore on his patience. “And we argue, but nothing bad. She’s just unhappy here. She always…” he stopped, struggling with whatever thought was beginning to surface.

“Please,” Shepard encouraged him. “Everything can help.”

“God,” he sighed heavily, eyes dropping to his fidgeting hands. “She always worried about Adam growing up here, she said the kids here were terrible. That’s what all moms say though, isn’t it? They think that all the kids that aren’t theirs are greedy and evil.” Charles’ eyes drifted to the wall, staring at nothing in particular, seemingly lost in past arguments he’d had with Samantha. He was probably wondering if she’d been right. “It has nothing to do with being out here. Right?” His uncertain eyes looked to both of them, begging to be told he was right.

Shepard and Vakarian just watched him, neither offering an answer or comfort.

“Adam was happy here?” Shepard finally asked.

“Yes, he loved school, and he had friends. And…”

“Did you know him very well, sir? Did you spend much time with him?” Shepard interjected. Vakarian saw her making progress, so he just sat back and watched Charles’ reactions with his discerning eyes.

Charles stiffened, eyes dropping once again to his fidgeting hands. “When I could…”

“You’d been fighting with Adam lately.” She interrupted him, continuing her steady push. “A family member indicated you didn’t want children, and your relationship was sometimes strained. It was taking a toll on the family, maybe.”

At that his eyes welled with tears, which just meant that Shepard was doing a good job. Crying meant that his defenses were dropping, and he’d hopefully start saying more than he wanted.

“I didn’t at first, no. But it’s just because I supported Samantha’s career. I didn’t want her to give that up,” he explained, and seemed genuine. “She used to be so vibrant you know, before we had kids. She used to enjoy life.” Vakarian had to tuck those comments away, because he wasn’t quite sure what to do with them at the moment.

“You fought with Adam. Did you ever hurt him? Maybe accidentally?” Vakarian asked.

“No, of course not.”

“You never shoved him, or laid a hand on him?” Shepard asked.

“No. He…he pushed past me once and… I mean, I grabbed his arm. Too hard. But I never wanted to hurt him, I swear.”

“When was this?” Vakarian asked.

“A week ago.”

Shepard and Vakarian watched Charles, allowing him to divulge whatever he felt, whatever thought came to him. Giving someone 30 seconds of silence was sometimes more productive than an hour of questioning.

Charles’ chest shuddered, stifling a cry. “I loved my son.” He took a deep breath. “I swear I loved him,” he insisted, eyes darting between both of them. “I loved him. You have to know that.”

“Unfortunately, you don’t need to convince us that you loved him,” Vakarian coolly explained.

Shepard leaned forward in her seat without breaking eye contact with Charles, letting her eyes bare into him. “You just need to convince us that you didn’t hurt him, sir.”

Charles froze. It could have been because he was scared, could have been because he was trying to hide something. Neither Shepard nor Vakarian could know for sure. But before Charles could reply Donnel Udina entered the room with all the imagined authority of a rich kid who always got his way. He carried himself to the furthest corner of the study, a far breadth between him and Shepard and Vakarian. His face was stuck in a constant sneer that made Vakarian want to kick his knee in.

At that moment Vakarian remembered the biotic tool Shepard had mentioned and turned to Charles. “Tell us, sir, your company is working on a prototype that gives humans biotic ability without eezo exposure?”

“Why does that matter?”

“It might help us understand Adam’s death,” he explained.

“Just tell us, sir. There’s no harm in discussing it.” Shepard was back into her soothing demeanor, now that they had him on edge.

“Yes, but the power is very low,” Charles blinked rapidly.

“What does ‘low’ mean, exactly?” Vakarian asked. Donnel, still quietly tucked in the corner, sort of flinched at that question.

“Low. It can only help you move small objects.” A frantic look suddenly popped up in his eyes. “It can’t move people, I swear,” Charles explained.

“Why give humans biotic abilities who aren’t exposed, when there’s so many other things you could work on?” Shepard asked, just sounding genuinely curious.

Charles stood straight, defenses raised. “Why not? What’s wrong with that? It’s…” His eyes shifted to Vakarian then, as if he was defending himself against all of the Council races, “humans just want what everyone else has had.”

“We already have humans with biotics,” Shepard pointed out. “And there’ll be more now that so many are getting exposed to eezo, naturally, like everyone else. It just takes time.”

Charles leaned forward, his eyes animated, fingers pointed and pinched to his thumb like they were holding on to a magnificent idea. “Yes but we’re so behind everyone else,” Charles explained slowly, his tone dripping in passion for the first time since they entered the room.

“Are there any biotics in the neighborhood? Any of Adam’s friends?” Vakarian asked.

“I’m not sure.”

Donnel spoke up at that point, still standing at a safe distance in the corner. “Of course there are. Are you going to interview every one of them?” He sneered at both of them. Vakarian immediately hated the guy, and he could tell by the way Shepard shifted that she did too.

Shepard and Vakarian shared a look, reacting to the ambassador’s attitude. To any bystander, their faces would have been unreadable, but they saw the humorous ‘can you believe this guy?’ look on each other’s faces.

Shepard then gave Vakarian a nod indicating she was ready to go, and he replied to her with his own nod letting her know he was ready too. “I think that’s all for now, Mr. Udina.” Shepard rose and Vakarian did as well. “We appreciate your help.”

“Thank you, please let me know when you find something,” he said to Shepard and Vakarian before turning to his brother and telling him he was going to check on Samantha.

“We’ll be in contact, Mr. Udina.” Vakarian called out as the man hurried out of the room.

Shepard immediately turned to Donnel, her arms crossing her chest as she cocked her hip. Donnel didn’t seem like a man who would react to the friendly inquiry approach, so she wouldn’t bother. “Ambassador Udina, you reacted a bit odd to him talking about biotics. You don’t approve of your brother’s endeavors? Do you have a problem with biotics?”

“I never said that. My son attends Grissom Academy, of course I don’t oppose the use of biotics.” He nearly growled, which was quite a feat for humans who didn’t have subvocals, and his face visibly reddened. “This is pointless. Either start asking the right questions, or I will call Pallin myself and have someone more competent take over this case. This was obviously an attack on humans, committed by some alien species. Humans, my family, will not be treated thusly. This will be resolved.”

Ignoring that racist and paranoid rant, Vakarian nodded to the ambassador. “Thanks for your time, sir,” his tone just hinted at sarcasm, and he didn’t even care if the ambassador heard it. But he held his mandibles in tight, trying to keep them from clicking wildly and showing what he was thinking. Which was picking Udina up by the throat and making him realize just why humans got their asses thoroughly kicked in the relay incident.

“We’ll reach out if we have more questions,” Shepard added in a professional tone.

“I’m sure Charles’ assistant can see you out,” the ambassador spat as he walked out of the room.

With the room empty, Vakarian leaned closer to Shepard and placed a hand under her elbow. “Well, you got Charles to talk and you pissed off the ambassador. Do I tell you enough how amazing you are?”

“Thanks,” she replied with a shy smile as a beautiful blush brightened her cheeks. He usually got a sly smile, or chuckle, or a friendly slap on the ribs. Sometimes she blushed at him, too, though. The blushing brought a pink flush to her cheeks that made her freckles pop. He liked the blushing; it made his nervous subvocals jump a bit, but he definitely liked it. 

He cleared his throat to calm down his excited subvocals and realized how out of place they were in the house. “Do we really need to wait for someone to ‘see us out’?” he asked her.

“No, let’s get the fuck out of here,” she replied, already on her way out of the room. Her fingers raked through her hair, messing it up just slightly. A few little wisps of hair poked up from her head like flames. He reached out and ran his talons through them, pretending to pat them down, but mostly just enjoying how her hairs felt against his fingertips.

“Stop that,” she batted at his hand, but shot him a smile. “I’m gonna buy you a wig so you can fuss with that instead.”

“What’s a wig?” he asked. 

🔪🔪🔪

They left by walking quietly out the front door, the assistant nowhere in sight, and strolling back down the path to their skycar. She mulled over what they learned from the parents as they went.

“What do you think about the father?” Vakarian asked her.

She responded immediately. “Why did he mention the tool can’t move people?”

“He brought that up, completely unsolicited,” Vakarian pointed out.

“Yeah.”

Vakarian shrugged. “Could be something…or not.”

“I want to see that tool.” Shepard started across the street first, figuring Vakarian was right behind her. Mid-way she looked back to ask him a question, her mouth was already open with the words ready to spill out. Before she got a single syllable out though, she thought she caught his eyes dart up from her ass. 

She immediately groaned and craned her neck to check it out herself, knowing for sure that she had to have food stuck on her. And there she’d been, giving him playful winks and fucking around with him inside the house and feeling like hot shit. Just another reason she should stop surreptitiously flirting with her best friend – she was a damn mess, and he always saw her at her worst. “Do I have something on my ass?” She brushed her cheeks to knock off anything that might be stuck or smudged. “Fucking dirty diner.”

“No.” he said suspiciously quickly. Realizing he was probably embarrassed on her behalf, she felt a flush around her collarbones. “I mean, I don’t know if you do or not. Why?”

“I thought you were looking at something on my ass,” she replied calmly.

“I wasn’t looking at your ass, Shepard,” he drawled, eyes focused on watching for traffic that didn’t exist

“It’s ok if you were. I have a great ass,” she jokingly bragged, fishing for a laugh.

She watched him for a moment as they arrived at the skycar, hoping that he’d joke back. He laughed nervously and his mandibles clicked a bit before his arm jerked to take out his omni-tool and unlock the skycar, but that was the only reaction she got. Normally she’d get a joke about her ass being too big, or he would accuse her of being a sloppy eater. She couldn’t quite tell if he was angry or anxious about something.

“You ok?” she asked softly

“Yeah. Sorry,” he muttered absent-mindedly. “Hey you wanna go by the dumpsite again? I wanna see it in the daylight.”

“Without rain,” she pointed out with a knowing smirk.

“That too,” he shivered despite the comfortable 75 degrees.

“Fucking ambassador,” she grumbled, changing the subject.

“What a wonderful representative of the human race,” Vakarian responded. “How in the hell did he get that position?”

“Money. Connections. Better question is why the Council puts up with him.”

“Money. Connections,” he parroted her response as they both slid into the skycar. “We need to look into the watch we recovered at the scene. They’re not typical instruments, are they?”

“No, sort of a fashion piece, a relic of craftsmanship. Just like everything in the Udina’s home. Only a certain type of people have them.” She opened up her datapad to bring up the information on the watch as Vakarian started up the skycar. “No prints on it, blood was Adam’s. There was a minor laceration on the back of his head, it must have traveled to the watch then.”

“No prints on something you have to put on? Bit odd, isn’t it?”

She nodded in agreement, and before long they traveled the few blocks from the Udina’s home to the wooded area.

At the dumpsite they got out of the car, and Vakarian looked over to the houses across the street. “No one saw the car pull into the wooded area, right?”

“Only car anyone saw around the probable timeframe was a K-31. Have we checked to see if anyone in the neighborhood owns one?”

“I don’t think so, we’ll make sure someone starts working on that too. If no one saw it turn into the park, makes me think they cut the lights. K-31s are quiet, so the noise factor isn’t surprising. If that was the car.”

They spent a while looking around the scene, postulating how the dump might have occurred, and putting together a better picture of what that night would have looked like. Eventually, the nightcycle began to creep up, and the light grew dim, so they piled back in the car and headed back to the office.

On the way back Shepard stared at the traffic ahead of them. She’d noticed Vakarian’s tight grip on the skycar controls. These cases, the ones involving innocent victims, made her sad and reflective. Vakarian got angry and focused. He always teased her about looking scary when she was mad, but he was very capable of scaring the shit out of people all on his own. When they first met, his quiet, calm anger certainly made her think twice before she said anything. She got over it, though, clearly. Before long it became something she loved about him. His compassion for others and his desire to give the dead justice was so deep he was willing to rectify wrongs in whatever way he could. That quiet anger could have gotten him into a lot of trouble, but she always kept him calm – kept him from going too far, and doing things that would get him fired.

As he drove she went over the case in her head. She thought about the parents and how they responded, and gave herself a minute to curse about the arrogant ambassador. She wasn’t worried about Donnel Udina complaining or Pallin interjecting himself in the case – Pallin always had their back. Well, he always had Vakarian’s back. And she could at least tag along on that good grace.

But after a while, as they sailed along and traffic zipped past them, she began to wonder why Vakarian always drove so slow. It was something she contemplated quite often on their trips, but she never came up with a satisfying answer. She knew he could haul ass and still keep them safe. She’d never asked him about it to confirm her assumption, but she guessed that tactical driving was part of Hierarchy training. 

Still, despite his skill, and their C-Sec credentials that everyone else took advantage of, he always drove smooth and slow. It never bothered her – it was soothing, actually. She could imagine being in a car with him on Earth. Taking a slow drive through the countryside with her arm out the window, the sun warming her skin, and Garrus at ease behind the controls. They’d pass by trees, and fields, and small produce stands.

“What are you smiling about?” Vakarian asked, his voice warm once again, not agitated or anxious. 

His voice broke her reverie, and she realized he’d caught her smiling at him like a fool. At some point, her eyes must have begun gazing at him instead of the world outside, but she wasn’t aware of it happening.

It took her a moment to respond. She had to sheepishly tuck those sentimental thoughts back deep within her mind where they couldn’t lead to anything real. Where they wouldn’t make her ask questions she didn’t have an answer to. “Nothing, just thinking of being back home,” she finally said, and they both left it at that.

Short little reveries were such an appreciated break from cases, and she didn’t usually feel bad about letting her mind wander to more pleasant things. But for too long now she’d spend a lot of her time thinking about doing things with her partner besides driving from crime scene to crime scene and processing evidence. She was spending so much time doing that over the past few months that she was starting to realize how dangerous those little thoughts could be.

It was one thing to realize how damn attractive your partner was. Quite a while ago little thoughts, like having his hands on her thighs, or what his tongue would feel like on her skin, crept up and interrupted her. But everyone had thoughts like that about people they were attracted to, so she never made a big deal about it. It was an entirely different thing, though, to imagine little normal slices of life with him. To wish that their little teasing moments were real. 

But for some reason, that’s all she wanted to do lately – wonder what it would be like to spend their time together doing other things. Like going back to Earth, and driving through the country with no real destination in mind. Maybe he’d reach over and take her hand in his. 

She sighed, unfastened the top button on her top, and imagined taking a big sip of whiskey instead. Sometimes her thoughts about Vakarian felt like a drug, so she figured replacing them with thoughts of another drug was quite fitting.  

Chapter Text

Shepard and Vakarian started the day like they did most – getting coffee. By now they knew to meet at the crowded coffee shop just outside the Academy entrance without making arrangements; it was their routine. With every relaxed breath, he took the stimulating scent of coffee mixed with the soft smell of Shepard’s shampoo and body wash, gently easing him into the waking world. That smell, whatever it was, made him want to nuzzle right into Shepard’s neck and breathe her in. Which was a pretty funny thought – they were close…but rubbing his face all along her neck was a bit much. The promise that she would swat at him desperately to shove his face out of her neck kind of made him want to do it…just to get a rise out of her.

The realization that if he buried his face in her neck he wouldn't want to stop always kept him from actually doing it, though. 

“What are you thinking about?” she asked. They leaned up against a wall, tucked in close to each other to avoid the crowd in the small shop.

He felt himself straighten a bit, and hoped the smile parting his mandibles didn’t look suspicious. “Um, nothing. Why?”

“You have a funny look on your face.”

“That’s a strange way to tell me I’m extremely handsome and you can’t take your eyes off me.”

She rolled her eyes, smiled, and turned her gaze to somewhere outside of the shop as they patiently waited. He relaxed, feeling like he successfully evaded that awkward moment. He told himself he was getting better at that, but that was probably just wishful thinking. 

For no particular reason Vakarian was in a great mood – he was so happy, in fact, that he even ordered a cup of coffee for Kryik, the ungrateful bastard always whined when they showed up without a cup for him. The thing was, Kryik never brought them coffee so he really didn’t deserve it. But Vakarian was feeling generous that day, so Kryik was getting a cup too.

Standing there at the bustling coffee shop, staring at her as she talked about…something, he felt his neck warm a bit as he remembered how her skin glowed and how her smile gently parted her lips yesterday as they drove back from Eden Glen. No matter how slow he drove, their rides back to headquarters were never long enough.

The long trips back to the office were a habit by now. Originally, he drove that slow because he wanted to stay with her as long as possible before they went their separate ways. In the past he wanted to extend their days because he just genuinely had fun with her – just a few more laughs were worth watching Citadel traffic zoom past them in a hurry. But somewhere along the way, some force that rested deep within the pit of his chest pulled him towards her and the reason became less about enjoying her company and more about the fact that he dreaded their goodbyes. 

Now, they usually spent their evenings together anyhow, but the habit never died. 

“Garrus?” Shepard raised a hand and wiggled her fingers to get his attention. His eyes cleared and focused on her finally, breaking him from his reverie.

Her bright eyes caught his full attention as she looked up at him. “Jane to Garrus,” she teased with her lips quirked into a sly grin.

Embarrassed, again, because she caught him acting like an idiot, again, he shifted and crossed his arms across his chest. “Hm?”

“I can’t wait to meet Sol’s girlfriend. What do you know about her?” 

Shepard and Vakarian hadn’t met his sister’s girlfriend yet, so his father’s recognition wouldn’t be the only exciting thing happening for the Vakarians at the upcoming gala.

“Not much,” he replied. “Only what mom has told me, which is that she’s delightful. Dad’s a lot more subtle, says she’s the best mate either of us has brought home. So I’m sure he’ll be pushing for a quick bonding ceremony.”

A frazzled but cheery barista set Shepard’s coffee down on the counter and Shepard leaned to pick it up, brushing up against Vakarian for just a moment, causing that warm and comforting scent to waft over him. “Wouldn’t it be more accurate to say he thinks she’s the best mate Sol has ever brought home,” Shepard corrected with a smug look, “because I don’t think he’s even considering any of your mates in that competition.”

“Yeah, I don’t either. Would you?”

“No, but I’m biased,” she mumbled while staring at the water of the Presidium Lake as it shimmered in the morning day-cycle light.

“Biased? What’s that supposed to mean?”

“I…” She shifted slightly, avoiding his gaze. “You’re clearly too handsome for them. You can do better.”

“Love isn’t just about looks you know.”

“Sure it is.” She shifted again. The fact that she still wasn’t looking at him made his pulse beat in agitation; for some reason he needed her eyes connected to his as they spoke.

“Well spirits, then I hope I never get shot in the face.”

Her eyes jumped to his, immediately satisfying his need to connect with her, but it also startled him just a bit; he didn’t expect her to look up at him so quickly with such an intense gaze. He watched her hand reach up to his face. A small finger extended and quickly brushed along the curve of his mandible. “You’d be just as handsome,” she said with a soft grin.

He stared at her, as still as a statue as adrenaline burst through his body for just a moment. As quickly as that little action happened her grin disappeared, she pulled away, and she looked back over to the water. Between his racing thoughts and her quickly changing demeanor, there wasn’t even enough time to enjoy whatever had happened. It was over before he could even process it, and that soft, tender touch was so shocking it might as well have been a slap to the face.

She had never touched his face before. She rarely touched him anywhere, actually. It was always him grabbing and grasping for her attention. 

A quick, uncomfortable laugh was all he could muster. The only thing he could think to do was run his hand along his fringe as he followed her gaze to the water. “Honestly Mom’s just impressed when I find someone who’s willing to stick around long enough to meet my family.” The frazzled barista returned with his order and he picked up the two cups that were just set down for him.

They shimmied out of the coffee shop, past the half-asleep embassy and C-Sec staffers, and headed towards C-Sec’s entrance. You’d think that it would be easier for them to get through crowds with him leading, using his size to cut through people. But Shepard’s scowl and commanding presence did a much better job than his size could. So he followed Shepard, proud of his little spitfire, as she parted the sea of people armed with nothing more than sheer attitude.

Shepard sighed while she glanced back at him over her shoulder. “That’s not true, your mom loves you. She doesn’t know why you’re still single.”

“Oh she knows.” He sipped from one of the cups of coffee he was carrying.

“She tells me all the time she doesn’t know and every time I see her she brings it up. ‘Jane, my son is too sweet to still be single’ and ‘Jane, don’t you think Garrus is too handsome to be alone?’”

“Well she tells me all the time to stop being an emotionally distant smart-ass.”

Shepard sipped her coffee and raised an eyebrow before looking away. He appreciated that she didn’t make a comment, because he was sure Shepard and his mom agreed on that matter. And while it stung to hear it from his mom, it would feel like a krogan punch to the gut if Shepard, the only woman he’d ever really been close to in a long time, called him out on his nonsense. “What’s Livia up to these days?” she asked, quickly changing the subject.

“Bonded, two children, or so T-Saris tells me.” They pushed through the C-Sec lobby that was a commotion of activity with officers, citizens, and C-Sec administrators all trying to get to their destinations.

“Ouch.” She punched the elevator call button.

“I would have thrown myself out of a skycar before bonding with her. I promise you, I’m not heartbroken.”

“Oh come on, you didn’t want to spend the rest of your life being nagged about your rebellious nature?” They piled into the elevator, the doors sliding closed as they leaned against the back wall. 

“Which makes me wonder why Dad hated her so much. They should’ve gotten along just swell, what with sharing a favorite past time – berating me.”

A spark lit Shepard’s eyes and she smiled. Vakarian wasn’t sure why she was smiling but the wicked grin on her face told him he probably didn’t want to hear it. “Castis once told me ‘If she tries to crack a joke with me one more time I’m going to throw myself into the Presidium Lake’.”

“Heh.” Vakarian’s laugh faded to a suspicious frown. “Wait. When did he say that?”

“Dinner one night, before the two of you got to the restaurant.”

“Wait. Do you usually gossip about my mates with my parents? Like, do you guys just gather early before dinner to go over everything you hate about them, compare notes?” He wasn’t annoyed that Shepard hung out with his parents and made fun of his mates, he was just grouchy knowing that they had been sitting at the table hanging out and having fun when he’d been arguing with Livia on the way to dinner.

“You two were late, if I remember correctly. And I only make fun of them when Castis brings it up. Your mom and I only talk about you, never your mates. Castis and I each get slaps to the forearm when we make fun of your mates, delivered swiftly by your mother. And I can’t help that your parents both love me. We talk about a lot of things, not just you, so don’t be so suspicious.” She held the last door open for him as they arrived in the homicide department, and they were immediately greeted by the familiar clanging on console keys, constant chatter, and the fairly steady laughs coming from all of their fellow homicide detectives.

It was true. They did love her, although she didn’t know exactly how much. They even made the familial subvocal when they spent time with her. She couldn’t hear it of course, being one of the lower pitched subvocals and therefore out of her range. And yet, he couldn’t figure out how to tell her because it was sort of an odd thing to bring up. Hey did you know my parents and sister call you family when they see you?

“You know, somehow I like that even less. Feel free to mock my mates – instead of me – from now on.”

“Pallin’s favorites decided to show up today.” They pried their eyes off each other to see Kryik leaning back in his chair with a self-satisfied grin.

“I guess I can just drink this coffee, instead of giving it to you like I intended,” Vakarian threatened as he drew back the hand that held Kryik’s cup.

Kryik leaned forward and grabbed at the coffee, “Hold on, give me that.” Kryik wrapped his hand around the cup, but Vakarian made sure he gave him a friendly glare before he let the coffee go, just to make his point clear. “Please, welcome my new partner on his first day in Homicide. I think you all know each other.”

Vakarian and Shepard both nodded a greeting at Vega who sat comfortably at the desk opposite Kryik’s. A few small boxes were piled on his desk that he was currently going through as he moved into his new space.

“What the hell did you do to get paired up with this idiot?” Vakarian asked Vega, which earned him a laugh and a slap across his arm from Kryik, who was far too confident to let little insults bother him.

Vega leaned forward with animated eyes. “Man, I’m just excited to be here,” he enthused.

“Why’d you leave narcotics?” Kryik asked as he sipped his coffee.

“I worked undercover a lot and my usefulness was based on that– I was real good at fitting in with the users and dealers. My last case was pretty big, bunch of rich kids – humans – dealing red sand. But I tracked it all the way up to an asari matriarch.”

“You’re the one who nailed Dahlia T’Sun? Nice work,” Vakarian said.

“Tell me,” Kryik leaned forward on his desk. “Are all human teenagers so fucking narcissistic and dumb, or is it just the ones that live on the Citadel?”

“Oh we definitely have a unique group of ultra-rich, entitled, shitty teenagers living here,” Vega said. “They think that they can have everything, but having everything is also boring, so they have to do shit like sell drugs to get a thrill.” Vakarian could sense the grudge Vega still carried against the teens he’d probably spent months around, which was understandable – teenagers, regardless of species, could be fucking annoying.

“So you couldn’t work undercover anymore?” Shepard asked.

“Nope, case got pretty big and my face became well known to the wrong people. But since we got the matriarch I kinda got rewarded. Thought homicide would be a nice challenge.”

“Well welcome aboard,” Shepard settled into her desk, starting up her console. Vakarian seconded Shepard’s comment with a welcoming nod as he sat down at his own desk to settle in for the day.

Vega’s gaze landed on Shepard, and then shifted over to Vakarian, some thought developing in his head. He took a heavy breath before speaking up. “To be honest it’s kind of intimidating being partnered with a turian. None of the human-turian partners in narcotics are together anymore.”

“They’re the only ones left in homicide at this point,” Kryik added, sipping his coffee and making no attempt to get started on work.

“Well maybe we can learn something from you guys, eh Kryik?”

“You know,” Kryik said, “Vakarian is a terrible turian. He doesn’t really count.”

Vakarian’s only answer to Kryik’s insult was a raised middle finger as he focused on opening up and arranging files on his console.

Shepard sighed. “Honestly, turians are regimented and humans are proud.”

“Stereotypes don’t build bridges, Shepard,” Kryik said.

“Those stereotypes are mostly true, though. But Vakarian doesn’t like rules and I think humility is a good trait. So he’s a bad turian and I’m a bad human.”

“Which makes us good partners,” Vakarian added.

“And,” she said without skipping a beat, “I let him do the reports and he lets me emotionally manipulate suspects, which most people around here frown upon.” Adam’s autopsy photos popped up on Shepard’s screen. She opened them rapidly and stacked them up in some type of arrangement that made sense to her. Vakarian itched watching her do it, because the arrangement made no sense. 

“It’s way more productive than punching everyone, I have to admit.”

“See, bad turian,” Kryik pointed out. “Officers can’t abuse criminals, no matter how dumb they are.”

Vakarian only barely paid attention to what Kryik and Vega said as they talked back and forth for a while, and instead watched Shepard as closely as he could manage without being obvious. Her eyes bounced between multiple shots of Adam’s pale and battered body now littered across her screen and he couldn’t help but notice her smile was now just a distant memory. He remembered the way she looked yesterday at the autopsy – ashen and diminished, and he wasn’t ready to give up the smiling, bullshitting Shepard.

“So, Kryik does reports and I get to be an asshole during interrogations? Easy enough.”

Kyrik leaned forward again, eyes locked on Vega in a stern glare. “I’m going to teach you how to do reports like a turian, and you’ll do your own reports.”

A look of doubt fell over poor Vega. It looked like he wasn’t sure whether to laugh or be scared. It was a toss-up which Kryik intended to elicit – he could be the sweetest, most supportive guy out there...or an absolute asshole. 

Vakarian chuckled. “So, Vega,” he said with a hint of humor. “In about a week you’re going to need a new partner, because humans can’t do reports like turians. So I’m going to advise you make nice with an asari detective because they’re more forgiving when it comes to documentation.”

That got a relieved chuckle out of Vega. “You two are pretty well known around C-Sec, you know? It’s kind of awesome being able to work so closely with you guys. If you ever need help with anything…”

“They never need help,” Kryik said, already leaning back in his chair again. “Vakarian is the golden boy and Shepard does all of the work that he gets credit for, and for some reason, she doesn’t complain about it.”

Vakarian shot Kryik a glare for perpetuating that annoying little truth. Other than Shepard doing all the work – that was just Kryik trying to get under his skin. 

Without acknowledging Kryik, Shepard turned to Vega with a knot in her brows, “Thanks Vega. We’ll be sure to ask if we need help with anything. Same goes to you.” It wasn’t like her to ignore Kryik’s bullshit – she normally got a good laugh out of it and served it right back. Her mood was shifting subtly, and Vakarian kept a watchful eye on her, as if he could do something to prevent her from slipping into a dark place.

“Where are you from, Vega?” Vakarian asked as Vega shuffled a few things around on his desk, tucking a datapad in a drawer and setting a few personal items up. He didn’t really care where the guy was from, but talking to Vega provided an excuse to keep his eyes on his increasingly detached partner.

“Like on Earth?”

“Well you’re not from space are you?” Kryik said.

“Heh, no. I’m from LA.”

“Where is that?” Vakarian asked.

“California.”

Kryik turned to Shepard. “That’s where you’re from, right?”

“Hm?” Shepard’s eyes stayed focused on her console. Adam might as well have been a fifth person sitting there with the amount of attention Shepard was giving him.

“You and Vega are both from California.” Kryik restated.

She nodded without looking away from the photos.

“Really? Awesome. Where are you from?” Vega asked.

“Born in northern California,” she replied with disinterest, her eyes locked on the damned autopsy photos that were slowly pulling her into the dark. “I worked for SFPD before I moved here.”

“Two Cali kids, eh? Right on.”

Shepard gave Vega a cursory nod before she turned right back to the photos with intimidating intensity. She looked like she’d snap someone’s arm off if they interrupted her and the longer Vakarian watched her, the more his heart sunk. 

At one point he swore she pulled up a photo taken at the scene and zoomed in on the kid's eyes. The happy, glowing Shepard from yesterday evening and this morning was slowly fading away. They had to get out, do something unrelated to murder and death. His immediate thought was the shooting range, but he’d enjoy that a lot more than Shepard would. The realization that all they did together was solve murder cases, get drunk, watch vids, and shoot guns was a bit depressing.

Vakarian realized that worrying about Shepard wasn’t going to somehow prevent her from slipping into a fog, and it wasn’t possible to do anything about it while they were stuck at their desks, so he pulled out his reports and focused on establishing a succinct timeline of Adam’s whereabouts and the witness sightings.

An hour or so passed, the four of them working quietly at their desks before Pallin approached. Vakarian and Kryik both stiffened and sat straighter, and Vega studied them and quickly adjusted his posture to match.

“Welcome to Homicide, Vega.” Pallin extended his arm and shook Vega’s hand – Pallin wasn’t above emulating human culture to make his staff feel comfortable, which Vakarian appreciated. Their supervisor was a hard-ass, but at least he was open-minded.

Shepard noticed Pallin at that point and sat up a bit straighter as well. It wasn’t straight enough for a turian’s approval, but she made her attempt. The real issue was the look on her face though…she looked dazed and distracted when she should have looked sharp and focused. He wanted to snap his finger to rouse her and break her out of her fog.

Or just give her a hug. Hugs were getting so complicated, though – too many feelings, too much disappointment when he had to let her go.  

Vakarian anxiously watched Pallin and Shepard interact, watching with worried eyes for every subtle indication that Pallin made showing he was frustrated or disappointed in Shepard. He wasn’t even listening to what they were saying. Pallin asked a few questions and Shepard mumbled some responses in between glancing at the photos. She even stopped listening to Pallin at one point, mid-sentence, to record something on her console. Vakarian and Kryik both exchanged frightened glances at that point. If Shepard was turian and this was the Hierarchy, her ass would be nailed to a wall for that.

The thing was, Shepard knew better. She knew how to show Pallin respect – and she did respect him. She was just so lost in this case, and too busy staring at that kid’s damn face, to care. This case was going to suck the life out of her before she had a chance to go home and get a break. He racked his brain to come up with something they could do together, just so they had a chance to relax and enjoy life, just for a little bit.

After Pallin left Shepard glanced over to Vakarian, her chin tucked and shoulders low. Her shame was such an odd sight that his own shoulders sunk a bit and his heart hurt a little bit for her. She mouthed ‘sorry’ to him, fully aware that she’d slipped up, and he was probably going to be the one to pay for it. He tried to tell her it was ok with a soft smile, but that didn’t seem to comfort her much.

It was a shame that they had to spend the day looking at photos of Adam’s body splayed out on a metal table, and contemplating what he was doing when a murderer picked him up and spent who knows how long slowly beating the life out of him. Because that morning had been absolutely beautiful.

Chapter Text

Shepard spent all morning going over autopsy details while Vakarian put together a timeline and organized witness reports. She couldn’t help but feel like he was also diligently monitoring her mental state; every time she felt herself slipping into a depressing thought her best friend’s brilliant blue eyes were there, watching her, as if he sensed her thoughts and was pleading with her not to focus on the darkness.

And Vakarian could probably sense the changes in her heart rate and breathing, even with their desks separating them. Because sometimes she would imagine a fist slamming into Adam's back, or imagine Adam's kind eyes freezing still at the moment he let go and took his last breath – and her partner’s eyes were on her before she even realized her body was reacting to the thoughts. Even though the alarmed look in his eyes caused feelings of self-reproach to bubble up, she couldn’t put the images away, because she just couldn’t get the feeling out of her head that something was off about Adam’s injuries. Pouring over them had to lead to something.

“That the Udina kid?” Vega asked while her eyes roamed an image of Adam’s hands that currently preoccupied her thoughts. The fact that there were no defensive wounds whatsoever broke her heart -- he never even fought back.

Although the clamor of voices and activity in the homicide unit was typical – omni-tools and consoles pinging and buzzing, small talk about nothing important, jokes and laughing – her senses were overwhelmed and her nerves were on edge. Usually she found the environment energizing because the people and activity were a distraction from the grueling monotony of investigating a case. But today it was all too much – it sapped her focus and drive. Despite that, she somehow found the energy to answer Vega question about the boy’s identity with a nod.

Vega’s finger tapping and leg bouncing only added to the depleting cacophony. But he was clearly bored and itching to chat with someone, and with Vakarian and Kryik busy discussing skycar thruster patterns left in grass – a fascinating topic to no one but them – she realized she was Vega’s only option. Even though talking to someone was the last thing she wanted, she’d do anything to remove Vega’s fidgeting from the list of distractions. So she resolved herself to be more talkative with him.

“How’s the case going?” Vega asked as he swiveled in his office chair. Shepard had the urge to reach out and hold him still just for a minute, but she willed herself to be considerate. It was his first day and he was probably getting a bit bored with not much to do. Normally she’d sympathetically offer him some sort of project to pass his time, but she was barely focused on her own work.

Her shoulders rose sluggishly to answer with a shrug. “Nothing is jumping out yet. We have a few pieces of evidence, a possible vehicle description, and the father might be interesting…but we have a lot of work to do.”

Vega scooted his chair closer to Shepard’s console to get a better look at the images. “Cute kid. I’ve seen the news vids covering the story. He sure didn’t seem like the other human kids from this station.” While watching Vega out of the corner of her eye Shepard couldn’t help but lean away from him just a bit as he encroached on her space. The over-friendly, eager energy made her itch so badly all she could think of was a way to put some space between them. Vakarian saw it, too – he gave her an amused but sympathetic look. God, her partner knew her inside and out. They shared a soft smile before she looked back her console.

With Vakarian and Kryik finished with their conversation by now, Vakarian was free to lend her a hand with the energetic Vega. “How was he different than the other kids?” Vakarian asked with inquisitive eyes. He was always curious, which made him a damn good detective. There were countless instances where he remembered some odd bit of information that led them to a key piece of evidence.

“They’re all little pricks. The Udina kid just seemed like a good kid, I guess. Of course, maybe I just think that because he’s dead and it just seems wrong to think a dead kid was a prick.” Shepard felt herself wince listening to Vega talk about the kids because she just didn’t want to hear stuff like that right now. Good kids. Bad kids. The thought of any of them winding up like Adam knocked the wind out of her.

“If any of those drug dealing kids were murdered would you feel bad about calling them pricks?” Kryik asked.

Vega scoffed, eyebrows clenched, “Some of them? Fuck no. Sociopaths in the making, man. I’ve got some stories.”

Thinking about it all – the kids, drugs, entitlement, Adam’s poor little battered body – just caused more pain and distracted her from dissecting the images for every bit of information they could reveal, so she intentionally tuned the guys’ conversation out. The images offered something to focus on that might actually lead to something, and resolve these feelings building up inside her.

Lunch came and went – the four of them shared a delivery order at their desks. It was a nice little get-together – the two turian-human partners in the department. Kryik teased Vakarian about something that happened back when they served together while she and Vega reminisced about things they missed back on Earth. They agreed that good Mexican food was severely missing on the station.

Near the end of the day Shepard raised her arms high above her head and pushed out her chest, stretching her tight muscles and bringing life back to her limbs as if they had been drifting amongst the land of the dead. She pulled herself up and out of her chair. “I’ve gotta take a break,” she mumbled. “I need to feel a little light on my skin.”

Vakarian’s eyes followed her as she locked her console and pushed her chair in. “Want me to come along?”

“No, I’ll be right back.”

Despite the impulse to always have Vakarian at her side, she figured a break from her sighing and moodiness would probably do him good – he was starting to look a bit morose himself. So, reluctantly, she headed for the door.

“See ya, Lola,” Vega called, which stopped her dead in her tracks and made her turn to scrutinize him.

“What is that? A nickname?” she said.

“Sure,” he answered with a laid-back shrug.

She wouldn't be able to explain why but for some reason she was annoyed by Vega’s over-familiarity. It seemed aggressive, even, since they barely knew each other. She gestured towards Vakarian and Kryik who were huddled up at Vakarian’s desk, looking like twins as they leaned back in their chairs and watched whatever was developing between her and Vega. “You got nicknames for them too? Or are you just trying to sexualize me in a cute little nick-namey way?”

“I give everyone names. I’ll come up with something for them soon.”

“Hugo and Sweetcheeks.” Shepard said. “There you go.”

Kryik turned to Vakarian, a single browplate raised, “You’re definitely Sweetcheeks.”

Vakarian folded his arms across his chest, lazily rocking in his chair. “Believe it or not,” he drawled, “I’ve had worse nicknames.” Shepard felt a sigh release from her tight chest and she smiled at the way those words flowed from Vakarian’s mouth like smoke. Sometimes it seemed less like he was talking and more like he was humming something sweet and sultry right against her ear, and because he was oblivious to what he was doing to her it was even sexier. With salacious thoughts and images in her mind she turned to leave, needing that break for an entirely new reason.

“Wait, is that face cheeks or ass cheeks?” Kryik called out to her as she turned to leave.

She flashed a smile over her shoulder, “What do you think?” And then she turned down the hallway, the sound of their chuckles slowly fading behind her.

***

Vakarian couldn’t help the titillated subvocal that tickled his throat just after Shepard winked at him, her hips swaying gently as she disappeared around the corner. He and Shepard were used to teasing each other in a way that sometimes bordered on flirtatious, so the way that she winked and wagged her hips didn’t make him think twice. What was new was the subvocal that erupted because of it. He’d ogled her a bit lately, having recently discovered the profound magnificence of the human female form, and he’d had some incredibly explicit thoughts for a while now that could just be explained away as curiosity. Spirits they spent all of their time together, so it was only natural for those thoughts to creep in. But that uncontrolled subvocal – that was all new. He couldn’t help but wonder if she wasn’t just joking around. A little sliver of hope even crawled into his brain that told him she was being completely serious.

But when it suddenly occurred to him that maybe she was winking at all of them, not just him, his neck flushed with warmth and he froze for a brief moment. If Kryik found out that he was this attracted to Shepard, so attracted to her that his subvocals sounded it out to the entire world, his friend would never let it go. Spirits, the harassment would never end…and then Shepard would inevitably find out. After gathering up his nerve and telling his subvocals to shut the hell up he turned, prepared to face Kryik’s patented harassment. To his relief Kryik and Vega were too busy bullshitting to notice what happened, so he allowed himself to relax a bit.

As if timed for the worst possible outcome, Pallin walked out of his office to survey the room, giving Vakarian something more important to worry about. His shoulders were set and arms crossed as he surveyed his team of detectives -- some stiffened up, sensing his eyes on them, while others were too busy to notice. Vakarian watched Pallin’s gaze fall on all the detectives scattered about, until they finally landed on Shepard’s empty desk. Cold ran up Vakarian’s spine as their eyes inadvertently locked. Kryik must have sensed Vakarian’s anxiety because he immediately looked over with concerned eyes.

“What’s up?” Kryik said, and out of the corner of his eye Vakarian saw Kyrik follow Vakarins’ nervous gaze set on Pallin. Their boss was staring at both of them with an unreadable look on his face.

“Pallin’s on Shep’s case. And for some fucking reason every time he looks out here she’s not at her desk.”

“Doesn’t look good. What’s up with her lately?” Kryik asked.

“Nothing,” Vakarian replied, slightly irritated. He sat up straighter, but kept rocking in his chair, drumming his talons against his desk. Kryik stiffened a bit at his response, and Vakarian couldn’t help but feel bad about the defensive way he snapped. He took a moment to still his nerves and replied with a softer tone, “She just needs a break.”

“Well don’t let it bother you. You can’t both be pissed off or upset or whatever it is.”

“I’m not,” Vakarian grumbled. “I just wish he’d get off her back.”

“Despite what a lot of people here think, Shepard made a name for herself all on her own. She can handle Pallin’s pressure,” Kryik said in a rare and reassuring tone. It was moments like these that he remembered just why Kryik felt like his older brother. Sure, he was a pain in the ass, but he was a surprisingly supportive pain in the ass.

Kryik was right. Shepard was fully capable of taking care of herself, but knowing that and being able to tell his overly protective instincts that she didn’t really need him to fight her battles were two separate matters. Vakarian had never really enjoyed taking care of anyone – obligations and ties weighed you down, not to mention the possibility of disappointing others. But he realized a long time ago that he actually enjoyed taking care of Shepard.

“He’s making it seem like a bigger problem than it is,” Vakarian argued, unable to just back down and let it go.

“You know, our lovable sardonic human friend has been a bit of a vorcha bitch lately. And that vacant look in her eyes is unnerving. It’s not like her.”

A handful of rude comebacks ran through his mind but thankfully Vakarian was able to keep all of them from spewing out of his mouth. Instead, he just half-heartedly muttered, “It’s not that bad.”

“And…the number of times you’ve turned down hanging out with me so you could hang out with Shepard instead is not just insulting, but it’s probably not good for either of you. The two of you lock yourselves up in one of your apartments working later than you should and getting drunk. Makes me think the two of you need to lighten up on the bottle, and on your moods.”

“We all drink too much, because we stare at dead kids all day long.”

“Sometimes I just meditate after a shitty day.”

“Tell me, Kryik,” Vakarian said in a sardonic drawl, “did meditating help you peacefully process fishing that water-logged body out of Presidium Lake yesterday?”

Kryik shrugged, not falling for Vakarian’s snark. “It did, actually. You should try it. Might solve that anger issue.”

“I’m not fucking meditating.”

“Then at least tell Shepard to try it.” A dark grin sprang up on Kryik’s face. “Speaking of stress relief, when was the last time you got laid?”

Vakarian just glared at Kryik, and felt like that was all the answer he needed to give.

“Because judging by your mood, I’d say we need to count in months rather than weeks.”

If Kryik thought it had only been months Vakarian certainly wasn’t going to correct him, because the honest truth was they needed to count in years. The last time he had sex was when he and Livia broke up, just after Shepard was shot. That was a terrible fucking memory…Shepard recovering in the hospital and Livia freaking out at him because he wasn’t paying attention to her while they were fucking on her couch. Spirits forbid he think about anything other than her….he really didn’t miss Livia. They broke up that day, and he went to visit Shepard right after, which honestly was a more enjoyable way to spend his evening.

“Hey, there’s a fun little activity for you and Shepard,” Kryik’s taunting voice recaptured Vakarian’s attention, “and you’ll both enjoy it. Little bit of partner bonding…”

Vakarian threw Kryik the deadliest stare he could muster, hopefully telling him to shut the fuck up before he had to threaten to rip his plates off. And just as Vakarian was about to voice that threat, Vega’s curious eyes watching them caught his attention. Vega had been listening to their very personal yet very public conversation the whole time.

Vega sat at his desk, twirling his C-Sec badge around with his fingers. “I know I’m the new guy, so take this for what it is, but a lot of humans don’t handle shit the same way you turians do. We need more time to process this, you know?”

“How are humans different?” Kryik asked.

“You guys…you just seem to run with this stuff better. I don’t know if it’s because you spend so much time in the military and you’re used to seeing terrible stuff, or if you just are taught to stiffen up and get over it. But normal humans…we feel it too much sometimes, you know? And Shepard seems like she feels shit. She has heart…I mean, that’s the impression that I get, at least.”

He wasn’t wrong, and Vakarian felt really fucking shitty that Vega knew his partner so well after such a short amount of time around her. It took him years to figure that stuff out about her.

“I mean, for example, how do you handle the stress of cases, Vakarian?” Vega asked.

“Drinking and shooting.”

“Vakarian was a sniper.” Kryik said. “He’s good at distance. How about you? Does this stuff get to you, as a human?”

“Sometimes, but not too bad. At least the drug stuff didn’t. Guess we’ll see how homicide goes, eh? But like I said, every time I worked with Shepard before…well you can just see that she puts her heart in this. She cares.”

“Maybe too much.” Kryik said.

Vakarian wanted to say something. He bounced from wanting to defend Shepard and justify her actions, to denying anything was going on at all, to itching to tell Vega to back off because he didn’t really know Shepard. But Vega and Kryik were both right.

Vega shrugged. “Who’s to say what’s too much? That’s up to her and her loved ones, yeah?”

“Sure,”Kryik said. “Unless it causes her work to suffer. She could definitely use an outlet though, right?”

Vakarian finally pushed aside his protective thoughts and spoke up. “Well you go ahead and tell her to try meditating, I’ll just call for med support now so they can get a head start.”

“Hey Lola,” Vega’s eyes snapped behind Vakarian, so he could only assume they were following Shepard as she returned. Vakarian turned to see Shepard, and sure enough she still wasn’t pleased about that nickname.

“Not my name, Vega,” she said with an unamused, dead stare.

Vakarian breathed in deeply, recognizing the sharp stench of death and chemicals coming off Shepard. He couldn’t help but look her over, and try to tell her with his eyes that he knew she’d gone down to the morgue to look at the boy’s body instead of taking a break.

“Yeah but you seem like a Lola.”

“Pretty sure I seem like a Shepard, and that’s what you can call me.”

Vakarian shared a cringing look with Kryik, who slowly leaned in closer to Vakarian with tight mandibles. There was a flare in Kryik’s eyes that made Vakarian feel like he was being accused of something and he deeply wanted to lean away from Kryik to avoid whatever his friend was about to say.

“You told me he was good with people,” the words crept out of the corner of Kryik’s clenched mouth.

All Vakarian could offer was a shrug. It wasn’t like he could point out that Vega was being perfectly normal – if a bit annoying – and his own human partner was just too sensitive today. Lola was a terrible nickname for Shepard, granted, but she usually operated with a lot more tact.

“Does this mean I can’t call Vakarian ‘Sweetcheeks’?” Kryik said, immediately diffusing the awkwardness. Appreciative subvocals rippled through Vakarian as he looked over to Kryik; and because it was helping Shepard, Vakarian didn’t mind being the butt of Kyrik’s jokes. “Because I think Sweetcheeks is the best nickname you’ve ever had. Well, other than…”

Vakarian’s mandibles locked and his hands gripped tightly around the chair resting under his arms. “Don’t you fucking dare.” There was a difference between being the butt of jokes and outright humiliated in front of Shepard and Vega, who he wasn’t even used to having around yet.

“What? The way that Octavia talked, you really earned that one. Shame we don’t get to use it anymore.”

“Not another word, Kryik,” Vakarian warned.

“I’ve got two words for you and then I’ll shut up – stress relief.”

Deciding to take the best route possible, Vakarian did his best to ignore that comment and get back to work. It was easy to let Kryik get you all worked up, and then he would just sit there with a self-satisfied grin and laugh. So instead of engaging any more, Vakarian turned to his console. “You know what,” he said. “Call me Sweetcheeks all you want, but we need to get back to work.”

***

Shepard sat back down as she ignored whatever Kryik was teasing Vakarian about. She brought up the autopsy reports again, which she knew Vakarian would notice and dreaded the looks she’d get, but Solus was on a break and couldn't answer the question that popped into her head when she went to take a break. In the meantime, she might find the answer in the reports and could ask for clarification in person later.

Vakarian did notice. His attentive eyes were on her almost instantly and he even took another quick breath in. She’d seen the way he and Kryik both looked at her, their noses twitching, when she got back from the break that turned into a morgue visit.

“I thought you were taking a break to get some fresh air?” Vakarian finally pointed out.

“Hm?” she said while intentionally avoiding his gaze.

“You went for a break but came back smelling like the morgue.”

“I thought of something I wanted to ask Solus, but he wasn’t there. I forgot to go outside I guess.”

Kryik looked over at her, his browplates pinched in genuine concern. “Spirits, Shepard, take a break.”

Shepard ignored them both and took out a snack from her desk, munching on it obnoxiously because she knew the smacking sounds and the drastic jaw movements irritated turian eyes and ears. “What do you have on the car?” She asked through a mouthful of food.

Vakarian shot her an annoyed look, telling her to knock off the antics. That was the thing about their knack for communicating so clearly through facial expressions alone. Sometimes a look provided support or comfort, but others were used to give her a stern censuring.

After looking at her for a long enough time to make her thoroughly uncomfortable, but not long enough to make her stop, Vakarian forged ahead, providing her with an update on the vehicle. “Thruster patterns in the grass clearly indicate the car used to drop the body was a K-31, matching witness reports. No one in Eden Glen owns that model, though. They’re flashier, and most of the residents are older, family types. Must be someone outside the neighborhood, or a rental.”

Out of the corner of her eye she saw Kryik twitch, then snap his head to glare at her. “Spirits Shepard if you don’t stop chewing on that candy like a crazed varren I’m going to kill you.”

Vakarian, ever the focused soldier trudging ahead, tried to talk over them, “So we need to get a list together of every registered K-31 on the Citadel…”

Only partially listening to Vakarian, she stared Kryik down, flashed a toothy, self-satisfied grin and proceeded to chew with her mouth wide open.

Vakarian kept talking about the case as she egged Kryik on, his voice rising in agitation, “…and we’ll need to see if anyone rented a K-31 around the day of the murder.”

Kryik gritted his teeth and snapped his mandible shut almost entirely, with only the faintest crack to still speak through. “I’ve got a nickname for you...”

Vakarian turned to Kryik, and for just a split second she felt truly guilty because she knew her partner, her loyal turian partner, would defend her instead of telling her to stop acting like a petulant child…which she knew she deserved. “Kryik,” he spoke with an alarming chill in his voice, “would you kindly stop harassing my partner about her disgusting habits and let us get some damn work done.”

“Sorry, big guy,” she said as she put the candy wrapper down, a sign of her capitulation. She swallowed slowly and carefully, trying to get rid of the giant wad of food in her mouth in the most delicate and inoffensive way possible. Seemingly appeased, but still glaring, Kryik turned away to focus back on his work.

“Regitus should be free to help with the vehicle work, right?” she asked.

“I can work on it,” he told her while staring at his console. “There’s no need to ask Regitus for help.”

She straightened up and leaned forward to show him he had her full attention. “Don’t be stupid, that’s a lot of work.”

“I can help, if you want.” Vega offered. “I’m fucking bored out of my mind right now.”

“Thanks Vega,” Vakarian said with an appreciative nod. “I’ll send over the info now.”

“No worries, man. Glad to get some work done.”

Kryik craned his head to look past Shepard suddenly, before turning back to his console and sitting up straighter. It was a subtle movement but it caught everyone’s attention. “Heads up, Pallin’s out of his office.”

The thought of Pallin coming out and asking questions about the case, and seeing her looking unorganized and unfocused for the second time that day, caused her nerves to jolt to attention. Without a plan she leapt out of her chair, thinking only about escaping.

Vakarian’s head snapped to look at her, his mandibles spread wide in surprise, but she was already two turian-sized strides away from her desk before he had enough time to say anything to her.

“Where are you going?” Vakarian asked with a frustrated look on his face. And, God, she even felt frustrated with herself, but she couldn’t face Pallin again after her slip up yesterday. Turians didn’t appreciate being ignored or disrespected. Ignoring Pallin when he was talking to her should have gotten her a reaming then and there, but now she worried he was just saving it up for a descent ass kicking in his office.

“I don’t wanna deal with Pallin right now,” she mumbled. And before Vakarian could argue with her she booked it out of the department, narrowly avoiding running into an asari detective in her haste.

Before she acknowledged where she was, she exited the elevator at the lower levels and headed into the morgue. Solus had to be back from his break by now, and she desperately needed to talk to him.

She was happy to find him standing in the middle of his domain, perched at his console and quietly humming some upbeat tune to himself as he typed away with busy fingers. She sighed in relief when she saw no bodies were out on display. The only thing sitting on the main autopsy table was Solus’s lunch, a grim reminder that this work just didn’t bother medical examiners.

“Hey Solus,” she called out and greeted him with a wave.

His head rose, and when he saw her a soft smile spread across his face. “Shepard, good to see you. Can I help with something,” a small grin spread across his face, “or did you make visit just to hear me sing?”

She laughed softly, mostly because she felt like she needed to rather than she really felt like it. “The singing is just an added benefit. But I came to talk about the autopsy results on Adam Udina again.”

“Ah,” he turned back to his console and began to type a command, “let me get body out. Can go over details again.”

As panic tied a knot in her chest she quickly placed a hand up asking him to stop, “Oh no need. Please. I just wanted to ask questions.”

His large, black eyes blinked rapidly at her. “Everything ok Shepard?” He raised his omni-tool up and waved it in her direction. “Vitals spiking. Signs of mild panic.”

“I…” she felt herself wringing her hands, trying to decide how honest to be with Solus. Finally, her shoulders sunk, “Honestly, I don’t think I‘ll be able to sleep tonight if I see his body right now.”

“Strange reaction Shepard. Unusual. We look over bodies together frequently. Your dedication sets you apart. Can’t solve cases without knowledge.”

Shepard’s eyes roamed the room, taking in all of the autopsy tables and equipment. She looked over to the door that led into the large room where all the bodies were held. It was probably full, like it always was. Solus was always surrounded by death and bodies, even more than her.

“How do you look at so many bodies, Solus, without it ever getting to you?”

Solus turned away from his console to give her his full attention and crossed his arms. She could tell she had her friend concerned, but it was better than breaking down in front of Vakarian. Solus watched her for a moment, tapping his fingers against his arm. “Not your first body Shepard. Not even your first child victim. Why so upset?”

Shepard breathed in deeply while she braced her arms against the autopsy table and leaned forward. She contemplated saying more. And God, she really didn’t want to, but talking to Solus would be better than having to admit to Vakarian how bad off she was.

“The Udina kid keeps popping into my head, and I know I have work to do, and I need to focus on looking at the images and the reports, but I just see his sweet little face and…I lose my train of thought. If I could just focus I might have a lead by now.”

“You have heart Shepard, but sometimes you need distance. That is just body, not the person who occupied it. Don’t mistake two concepts.”

She couldn’t look up at Solus, because deep down she knew that. God, she knew that. But that didn’t help the thoughts from creeping in.

“Curious, Shepard,” Solus tapped his finger against his chin as he thought. “Ever lost anyone?”

“My parents,” she answered honestly, but dreaded where this was going.

“Did you see bodies after they expired?”

“It was a car crash, their bodies were too badly burned.”

“Ah, maybe that is reason. No closure. Now, when you see bodies, too hard to process. Because you did not have opportunity to process personal loss.” Solus withdrew his finger from his chin and re-crossed his arms in front of his chest, “Just something to think about, though.”

She breathed in deeply, but the breath got caught deep within her chest and wouldn’t budge. It stuck there. And, as she thought just briefly of her parents’ faces and the images of the car on fire that the assholes put on the evening news, it threatened to burst out in a frantic heave. The tears rolled freely down her cheeks for a moment before she quickly wiped at them. “Fuck,” she breathed out, purposely letting those thoughts go.

Solus watched her, his face looking concerned but also curious, “Adam is not that body. Body was vessel, not Adam.”

She nodded slowly, trying to convince herself that Solus was right. “Don’t tell Vakarian I cried,” she ordered, flashing a stern look at Solus.

Solus nodded decisively. “Secret is safe.”

She turned to him, stiffening her shoulders to regain composure while she wiped at the stray tears at the corner of her eyes. “Oh yeah? We all know how well you keep secrets. Like when you told me Vakarian said I smell funny.”

“That was different, trying to help then. Won’t help for Vakarian to know this. Vakarian will worry about his partner. Not helpful.”

She took another breath in, this time blowing it out slowly through pursed lips, before she looked back to Solus, finally ready to address her questions about the boy’s injuries.

“Now that emotions out of way,” Solus said, “What can I do for you, Shepard?”

***

After Shepard got her answers and went back upstairs the guys were noticeably subdued and busily working at their consoles. Satisfied after her conversation with Solus, she set the autopsy work aside and spent the last few hours of the day working on other leads. She still had trouble focusing, but she tried her best to help Vega with the incoming vehicle information. She even let him call her Lola a few times without scowling at him, and the encouraging smiles she got from Vakarian made it worth it.

She and Vakarian ended up leaving on time that day, and walking out together as others filtered out of the department, making room for the night shift.

“Come across anything else interesting today?” She asked Vakarian as they rode the elevator. They leaned against the back wall tucked in close together, shoulder to shoulder, despite being the elevator’s only occupants.

“No. I was too busy telling Kryik to stop bothering me about how strange you’ve been acting.”

“Tell him to get a bondmate and some kids so he has something important to worry about.”

Vakarian glanced down at her quickly with earnest eyes. “Help me out here, Shep. You can’t just wander away from your desk. If Pallin comes by I want to know where you are at least.”

“I’m sorry for that. But not the candy bar.” She glanced down at their feet, noting for the thousandth time how much smaller her feet seemed compared to his. “Did you talk to Pallin?”

“No, he never even came over.”

“I just didn’t want to talk to him about the case, not until we know more,” she rocked back and forth on her heels, trying to release some of the energy she had built up.

“What are you so worried about? We’re making progress.”

“I just wish we knew more by now,” she let out a frustrated sigh, getting that worry off her chest.

“Shep, we just found him two days ago.” He sounded a little impatient, which made her feel a bit frustrated with herself. “I shouldn’t have to remind you that this shit takes time, and you shouldn’t feel like you have to avoid Pallin just because we don’t have anything yet, so stop wandering off and leaving me to deal with Pallin alone.”

“So I can’t sit at my desk all day and focus on the case, and I can’t take breaks either?”

“Don’t be a smartass about it. Of course you can take breaks. Just…relax a bit more. I know we rely on the way you throw yourself into cases, but you can’t bolt every time Pallin comes by.”

“I can’t stop feeling so…it’s just taking a lot out of me, ok? I don’t know what to work on besides the damn autopsy. It’s all I can focus on, and I can barely focus on that”

“I know,” he said as he wrapped a solid arm around her shoulder, pulling her close to his side. Although his tone had been comforting and supportive, it was also a bit coddling. But that didn’t bother her. She’d grown up rebelling against anyone who tried to take care of her, probably a by-product of losing her parents so early in life. Something was different with her partner, though. She liked when he took care of her.

She allowed her body to fall into his, tucking herself right in under his keel, right where she could hear and feel his soft subvocals, and his comforting arm pressed her tightly against him. His arm held her tight, squeezing her lightly for just a moment, and with his hand he reached up and cupped the back of her head, ruffling her hair just a bit. Soothed by his touch and his warmth, Shepard breathed in easily as she realized she’d been needing this for a while now – a soft encouraging embrace from her best friend.

But instead of just getting to enjoy that hug, Adam’s pale face and vacant eyes popped into her head, and she shuddered just a bit, chiding herself for enjoying such a luxury when that kid was dead and she had no idea who killed him.

Vakarian saved her from that thought when he caught her attention by smiling down at her. while he removed his arm from her shoulder and nudged her elbow with a finger.

“Don’t be so down, Shep. You’re breaking my heart.”

And all of the sudden she didn’t want to hold back from him anymore, realizing he deserved to know what she was struggling with. “I’ve seen so many bodies by now, they all just pile up in my head…don’t you feel like you’ve seen too many by now? All lying in ditches, or in alleys? And sometimes they just pop into your head uninvited. Like you’re not already doing enough for them – they have to take your thoughts and dreams too.”

“I’ve probably killed more people than I’ve seen murdered on the Citadel.” The way he said it so dispassionately caught her off guard.

She couldn’t help but look up at him, a gulp caught in her throat. Because just when she thought she was used to the idea of how her best friend used to spend his days, he’d go and say something like that.

“Fuck, Garrus,” she murmured.

“I’m not saying I have, I never kept count, but it’s perfectly likely. The Hierarchy put my skills to good use pretty early. Can’t let something like that go to waste.”

The thought of sweet little teenaged Garrus lining up actual living, breathing sentient beings in his sights and taking them out one by one made her heart sink. “You’re not making me feel any better,” she told him with a wide-eyed frown.

A heavy breath lifted his chest before it fell into a tired sigh. His eyes, kind and caring, fell on hers. That look, the look that was so familiar and yet was as captivating each time like it was the first, was just as comforting as his embraces.

“A body is a body Shep, what matters is what’s here, now. You wanna know what I worry about? I worry about Adam’s mom, that poor woman who will never see her son again.”

“That makes sense, when you’re worried about your own mom.” She realized after saying that he’d probably just ignore what she said about his mom because he was ignoring his mom’s declining health a lot lately.

“Point is, we can’t take back what’s been done. But we can make sure justice prevails, for the people still here and for society. They take a life and we take theirs.”

“They don’t pay with their lives though. They just sit in prison until they die.”

“Well that’s as good as I’ll get, unless I want to get my rifle out and take justice into my own hands. And lose my job.” He paused to smile down at her, “But I kind of like working with you so I’ll play by C-Sec’s rules.”

She finally swallowed that gulp and let her shoulders relax. “I need to get this shit out of my head. How about some drinks? Your place or mine?”

“Kryik wants you to try meditating instead of drinking so much.”

She scoffed. “Fuck that.”

He laughed, “That’s what I said. How about your place? I wanna see Rocket.”

“Rocket wishes you just lived with us. I think he gets disappointed that I can’t purr back at him. I see it in his poor little confused face.”

“You should ask Miranda to make you an implant that mimics subvocals.”

“Just to make my cat happy?”

“Sure, it’s not like her company is doing anything else worthwhile.”

“Can we be serious for a minute? Sometimes she says shit that freaks me out. I can’t figure out if her company makes worthless shit, or they’re trying to change the damn world.”

“They’re a mega-corporation,” he said. Probably both.” She felt his fingers at her elbow guiding her out of the elevator and noted that lately he was touching her a lot more than usual. The touches weren’t any different than what they’d shared before…just more frequent. She assumed it was because he knew how much she needed the contact right now, and that he could sense how much they calmed her.

“Hm, I just got a good idea,” he purred. “Let’s try drinking and meditating.”

She laughed softly. “I think that’s just called passing out drunk.”

“Hey. You worry about semantics. I’ll worry about logistics. Speaking of, isn’t this gym night?”

“I’m skipping it. This is now pizza and hard liquor night.”

“Fair enough,” he said as they stopped to wait for a skycar. “But I’m going to make sure you go tomorrow. I don’t want some slow, flabby human for a partner.”

“I won’t be letting my defined waist and tight ass go,” she bumped her hip into his playfully. “And I’m sure my figure is more important to me than it is to you, so don’t worry.”

Shepard laughed softy to herself then glanced up at Vakarian when she realized he wasn’t reacting. Instead of joking or laughing, a typical response for him, he stiffened and cleared his throat.

“Christ Vakarian, you look like you’re going to choke.”

“I’m fine, Shep,” he just managed to say with a strange look on his face that made her think he was trying to get a good breath in.

She watched Vakarian shift slightly, stretching and rolling his neck in a suspiciously nonchalant way, as if he were forcing himself to look normal. “Really? Because it looks like you’re intentionally trying not to breathe.”

After watching him a moment, concerned that he wasn’t feeling well, she patted his back softly, “Sure you’re ok?”

“Sprits,” he finally said with a sigh, “it’s been a long day.”

Chapter Text

Shepard and Vakarian walked through C-Sec doors with their morning coffee in hand. Vakarian found himself, once again, distracted by the smell of Shepard’s shampoo when his omni-tool pinged, signaling an incoming message. His heart dropped when he saw the sender was his mom. He quickly attempted to close it so he could cast it out of sight and mind, but he wasn’t quick enough to hide it from Shepard. She leaned in to him, her shampoo creating a cloud of scent, to sneak a peek at his omni-tool just as the message disappeared. 

“Why are you avoiding Val?” Shepard asked. 

“I’m not. I’ll get back to her later.” Most likely Sol would have to yell at him to prompt his reply. But he would. 

Shepard watched him with worried eyes. He knew she saw right through his facade, that she knew just how anxious he was. He’d ignore his mom and Shepard’s concern, though, as long as he could. Getting bad news from his mom -- just thinking about her precarious health -- wasn’t how he wanted to start this day. Especially after Shepard had such a hard day yesterday. He just wanted one easy, good day. 

He got his wish for just a while, too, because the day dragged by pretty uneventfully. Although Shepard had the autopsy images open all morning, she helped Vakarian contact witnesses for additional interviews and arranged for officers to check on certain leads. It was pretty dull, really. No amazing revelations or startling discoveries. The truth was most days were like that, though. Cases inched forward fueled by coffee and determination. The bullshitting, the constant teasing that bordered on harassment, it all just helped detectives pass the time. It kept their minds active, and probably distracted them from the true horror of their work. He enjoyed the peace. 

After lunch Vakarian turned to Shepard, eager to continue their progress. “Alright, we need to figure out what role that watch plays.”

She finally tucked the images of Adam away, to his relief, and brought up images of the watch. Her sharp eyes roamed the screen, taking in notable details. “It looks like an expensive piece. Has to be fairly uncommon.”

“Does that mean it’ll be easy to track down the owner?” he asked.

“Maybe. There has to be someone back on Earth who can point us in the right direction.” Without a beat she turned to Vega, “Hey, know anyone back on Earth who could track this watch down quickly?”

Vega perked up and leaned closer to Shepard and Vakarian’s desks. “Yeah, actually. I have a friend in burglary back in L.A. Investigates jewelry thefts all the time. I can have him take a look if you want.”

“Thanks, Vega,” Shepard and Vakarian said in unison. Vakarian relaxed, getting one more lead ticked off the list. 

His peaceful day ended at that moment, though. 

“Vakarian!” Pallin’s voice rang through the homicide department, making every single detective in the room look up. Everyone's heads moved from looking at Pallin to staring at Vakarian. 

In response to Pallin shouting his name throughout the room Vakarian nearly jumped, and sunk lower in his chair. His turian instincts took over, though, and he sat up straight. He took a single deep, steadying breath to calm his nerves. Pallin stood at his office door, his imposing form looming as he watched and waited for Vakarian to get out of his chair and join him in his office.

“Don’t look so worried, Vakarian.” Kryik said in that tone he’d perfected that simultaneously comforted someone while ridiculing them. “He probably just wants to tell you they’re naming a C-Sec wing after you now. One for you, and one for your dad.”

“Fuck off, Kryik,” Vakarian muttered. Once Pallin saw that Vakarian was on his way he went back into his office and sat down.

The worried look in Shepard’s eyes made him wish he could do something to make her happy, but he couldn’t come up with anything to say. Instead, she ended up trying to make him feel better. “I’ll get info from Vega while you’re in there, contact that guy in LA,” she said as he walked past her desk.

He nodded before sauntering into Pallin’s office. Slinking in would have matched his mood better, but some bravado went a long way with turians. Sniveling fear was the death of dignity. And a turian without dignity was as good as dead. That shout though, and the look in Pallin’s eyes had Vakarian dreading the impending conversation. He glared at a few of the other detectives who looked up at him with pitying glances as he finished walking the short distance to Pallin’s office.

Pallin sat in his chair, his imposing form hovering over his desk with wide set shoulders and a glare that gave Vakarian flashbacks of his childhood and his dad’s disappointment. “Close the door. Sit down,” Pallin told him, his voice chill and smooth.  

“Can I help you with something, sir?” Vakarian lowered himself into an empty chair across from Pallin’s desk like he was lowering himself onto a bed of spikes. 

“Dammit Vakarian,” Pallin nearly growled, “don’t pretend like you don’t know what I want. Shepard. What’s wrong with her? She having a mental breakdown?”

“What do you mean?” Playing dumb wasn’t going to help. That was just a terrible tactic. Why in the hell was he always capable of handling matters, and maintaining a level of professionalism and level headedness, until it came to his partner?

“Oh so I’m the only one that thought she looked like she’s been snuffing red sand? She barely looked away from her computer when I was out there yesterday morning.”

“She was looking over evidence, sir. You caught her at a bad time.” Talking to Pallin always brought out the soldier in him. ‘Yes sirs’ and deferential chin tucking were ingrained. It was sort of a comfort, honestly – he knew how to be a soldier.

“Well I caught her when she was at her desk at least.” Pallin pointed an accusing finger towards Shepard’s desk. “That is not normal for her.”

“She just needs a break. It’s been a lot, lately.”

“She drinking too much?”

“No more than any other detective in that room,” he quipped, earning him a warning glare from Pallin.

Pallin’s threatening subvocals fired up, making Vakarian’s shoulders sink. “I’m not in the mood for your smartass bullshit today, Vakarian.”

Vakarian realized he wasn’t really in the mood for it either as he slunk down in the chair a bit lower and watched Pallin glance out to the main room. “It’s been over a year since she was shot. What’s her excuse?”

Vakarian felt an agitating thrumming threaten to erupt when Pallin insinuated she needed an excuse for a break. He had to take a calming breath and exhale slowly to keep it from rippling out and getting him into trouble. As the breath slowly left his lungs he leaned back and rested his hands on his knees. “It’s been two years, actually, and I’m not talking about that. It’s the type of cases we get.”

“What type, the hard ones?” Pallin’s mocking tone only pissed Vakarian off further. He felt his talons press into his leg plates before he realized that his hands were clenched into fists.

“No, the fucking depressing ones.” Vakarian stiffened his shoulders as if he was preparing for a fight. “Look at the cases we’ve worked the past few months. The asari twins. The mom that killed five kids over seven years without anyone noticing– suffocated her own babies, one by one. And how about the girl who drowned herself because her uncle was...”

Pallin, sending all the signals that he was losing patience, interrupted Vakarian’s rant with a grumble, “You work homicide, Vakarian. I don’t send you out there to spread cheer. You look at dead bodies, mind fuck murderers, and ask parents if they ever touch their kids. And you do it to make sure the scum rot in prison. You have a duty.”

“I know that. And even though she’s not a turian Shepard knows it too. She just needs a break.”

You’re doing just fine.”

“Yeah, well, Shepard isn’t a cold-hearted prick like me. Which is a good thing because her heart gets half our cases solved.”

He felt Pallin’s eyes lock on and bear into him for a moment, letting an uncomfortable pause hang in the air. It hung there like that until Vakarian finally squirmed.

Pallin finally sighed, hopefully realizing the truth to that statement. “Is she going to fuck up this case?”

Feeling his heart rate slow as a bit of relief washed over him, Vakarian insisted, “No.”

“Fine,” Pallin said, “she needs a break. She’s going home soon, right?”

“Yeah.

“WIll that be enough?”

Vakarian nodded, relaxing his shoulders a bit. “Yeah, I think so.”

Pallin nodded, looking satisfied with Vakarian’s assurance. “Think you can make sure she keeps it together until then?”

Vakarian wanted to protest. He wanted to argue and insist that Shepard was just fine and didn’t need any help. He wanted Pallin to know that Shepard was tough as nails. Arguing wouldn’t do either of them any favors, though. “Yes, sir,” he answered. 

“Fine, but I want the two of you to brief me on the case tomorrow. I’m surprised I haven’t heard from Ambassador Udina yet, fucking piece of shit human. Why can’t more humans be like Shepard? Or her uncle – I met him at an Alliance dinner once. Good man, what’s his name?”

“David Anderson.”

“Right.” He leaned forward and picked up a datapad from his desk, signaling he was ready to be done with Vakarian.

“Shepard’s been really focused on the autopsy and got a lot of good info from the dad too. She -”

“Hey,” Pallin’s gruff voice stopped him before he could say anything else. “I know Shepard’s a damn good detective. She just needs to get her act together, or I’m going to have to put her on leave. I expect more out of you two. And I want her to tell me what she’s accomplished – you two will brief me tomorrow.”

Vakarian paused before nodding stiffly, which should have gotten him into trouble because any other turian superior would drag his ass through fire for such a subtle little sign of defiance against a superior. He should have answered immediately with an enthusiastic, deferential ‘yes sir’. But Pallin put up with him for some reason. He got up and quickly exited Pallin’s office before he did or said anything else. As he stepped through the door a weight fell off his shoulders. That hadn’t gone very well, but at least it was over.

As Vakarian walked back, glaring at all the gawking detectives again while his mandibles clicked in agitation, he immediately noticed that once again Shepard wasn’t at her desk. A sense of resentment that made his stomach turn bubbled up inside him. His eyes scanned the room but she was nowhere to be seen. Easing himself into his chair, he tried not to look as angry as he felt.

“You need to thank me,” Kryik said, focusing on some reports as he leaned forward towards his console. 

“For what?” Vakarian didn’t bother to look at him, he was too annoyed to do anything other than stare at his own console for a moment, not even attempting to log in.

“Vega was talking about how hot Shepard is.”

Vakarian felt his shoulders twitch. His mandibles weren’t clicking anymore – they were drawn in so tight a jolt of pain hit his jaw.

“So?” Vakarian snapped, his throat so tight the word was hard to get out. Why the hell was Kryik bringing this up now? Like he didn’t already have enough on his mind.

“So, I told him to back off. You’re welcome,” Kryik said with a self-congratulatory tone in his voice that immediately irked Vakarian. 

His patience wearing thin, Vakarian snapped his head to glare at Kryik. “What the fuck am I supposed to be thanking you for?”

Showing no signs of being fazed by Vakarian’s outburst, Kryik calmly kept typing at his report. “Are you growling because Pallin pissed you off, or because of what I said about Vega?”

Vakarian realized then that he was in fact growling, and he had no idea when it started. Considering Pallin didn’t throw him against a wall, he assumed it was sometime after he left Pallin’s office.

Instead of responding, and calling even more attention to his outburst of anger, he decided to log into his console and get some work done. But that only caused even more frustration when the program froze. “What the fuck is wrong with the program?” he snapped to no one but himself. His fingers made an absolute racket as they banged on his console keys in frustration, trying to get the program to cooperate. The commotion caused a few curious detectives to glance over. Instead of taking it as a signal to get control of his temper he just glared at them all. He had to have glared at everyone in that room at least once that day. If he wasn’t so pissed off, he might actually feel bad about it.

Kryik looked over his shoulder in the direction of the main door into homicide, clearly looking for someone, before he looked back over at Vakarian. “I have no idea what to do with Vega. I have all these damn reports stacked up and…”

“He’s a human, not a brainless krogan,” Vakarian grumbled. At that moment Kryik’s relationship with his partner was the last thing he cared about. “Give him some damn work,” he finally added, hoping to end the conversation. 

Kryik answered with a shrug. “Well you and Shepard have his hands full now, so at least he has something to do.”

Vakarian’s eyes glanced up to Shepard’s empty desk. “Where is she?” he demanded.

“I don’t know. She left after you went into Pallin’s office. Took Vega with her.”

“You need to figure out how to take care of your own damned partner. Shepard and I are a bit busy.”

As if on cue he heard Shepard’s cajoling voice traveled from somewhere close behind him. “What’s wrong, big guy?” she cooed. “Console being a bully again?” As she appeared at his side he felt her small, warm hand rest on his shoulder. When he turned to face her he saw a sweetly coddling look on her face that made him feel a bit stupid. Vega, who had returned along with Shepard, sat down at his desk.

“Where did you go?” His tone mimicked Pallin’s – frustrated and judgmental. He hated it.

She placed his rifle on his desk and he immediately felt like an asshole for snapping at her. “Thought you might want to go to the shooting range before we go home, and I took Vega along to show him where the lockers are.” 

“Aw, Shepard, you sure do know the way to a turian’s heart,” Kryik said in a sweet tone. “You’re going to make someone a wonderful bondmate someday.”

After that comment Vakarian shot Kryik the same nasty scowl he’d thrown at everyone else that day. His frustration simmered around inside him for a moment before he conceded. “Yeah, I think I’m done glaring at everyone,” Vakarian said, trying to poke fun at himself. “Let’s get out of here.”

***

Shepard felt Vakarian’s shoulder resting under her hand, stiff and vibrating as the growling still rumbled around in his chest a moment longer. Going to the shooting range was definitely a good call. And then, hopefully, he’d settle down and be able to relax once he got home.

“Hey,” Kryik caught their attention, “before you go. It’s your anniversary.”

“What?” Shepard and Vakarian asked in unison, and she was certain she had the exact same confused look on her face that Vakarian had on his.

“You two started five years ago. The anniversary’s in a few days.”

She turned to face her partner. The look on his face matched how she felt – a bit surprised. “Shit, how has it been 5 years?” Shepard asked, to which Vakarian shrugged.

“Point is, we’re celebrating.” Kryik said. “No excuses.”

Vakarian, finally relaxing his stiff shoulders, sighed, “Fine, but -”

“Flux, tomorrow night,” Kryik spoke over Vakarian, cutting him off. Shepard knew Vakarian was going to oppose going to Flux, and Kryik probably did too.

Vakarian shook his head. “Not Flux.”

“What’s wrong with Flux?” Vega asked, looking back and forth between Vakarian and Kryik.

“Dancing and music are too much fun. And Vakarian stopped having fun, oh, about two years ago.” Shepard cringed when Kryik said that, and wondered how in the hell he didn’t realize why Vakarian stopped having fun two years ago. That’s when he found out about his mom’s disease. Then, only a few days after that he had to cradle Shepard in a dirty alley as she waited for a medical support rookie to glue the gunshot in her chest closed with a frighteningly shaky hand. After that he changed -- went out less, stopped dating, drank more. Shepard and Vakarian had been almost inseparable ever since, too. She wanted to think that they were each other’s flotation device, offering a sense of salvation when weather got rough. In actuality they were probably more like overutilized crutches. 

“Come on,” she encouraged him with a nudge to the shoulder. “Let’s go. We haven’t been out in awhile.” Regret hit her like a krogan punch to the gut as soon as the words left her mouth and she realized what she just said -- and how she said it, like they were tied at the hip. 

We haven’t been out.

We.

It played in her mind over and over like a glitched vid. She waited anxiously for Kryik to throw in some kind of dig for it. Somehow she’d made it this long without Kryik realizing that every two to three minutes a salacious thought about her partner popped into her head. She didn’t want to provide Kryik with an opportunity to recognize her evolving attachment to her partner -- he was a good detective, he’d figure it out on his own soon enough. 

Kryik, who did seem slightly amused, looked at her like he wanted to say something. Without a beat, though, a gentle huff came from her partner, unknowingly rescuing her from any potential mocking. “Fine,” he grumbled. “But I’ll only have enough fun to get Kryik off my back.”

Looking thoroughly energized since Vakarian said they’d go out, Kryik turned to Vega. “You coming too?”

“I’m game,” Vega answered. 

Kryik turned to Shepard with that sparkle in his eye that told her she didn’t want to hear what he was about to say. “Please tell me you’ll invite Miranda, Shepard.”

She shook her head, “She’s off station right now. Had to make a lab visit. I’ll tell her that you miss her, though.”

“That’s too bad.” He turned to Vega with that sparkle in his eye and a rumbling subvocal, holding up his hands as if cupping an ass much larger than Miranda’s. “Best ass I’ve seen on a human,” he said, earning an approving nod and a smile from Vega.

Shepard wanted to point out that Kryik’s estimation of Miranda’s ass was ridiculously large, but she didn’t want to ruin his fun. So, she just glanced over to her partner, who was nearly as tall as her just when he was sitting. They shared a knowing smile. Vakarian had never understood Kryik’s fascination with asses, human or otherwise. Although, she realized he hadn’t made fun of Kryik for it lately. Maybe the joke was getting old. 

Shepard walked to her desk and leaned over to shut down her console. “Aw Kryik, you’re making me jealous.”

“Oh you’re top five Shepard,” he told her.

“Alright,” Vakarian said as he interrupted them, shutting down his own console. “Let’s get down to the range so I can kick your ass.”

Top five ass,” Shepard corrected with a wink.

Even though Vakarian still looked uptight he chuckled at her remark, which only encouraged her. “I want you to call me ‘Shep, Top Five Ass’ from now on.”

“Oh you’re an ass alright,” he muttered as they waved goodbye to Vega and Kryik and turned to leave. The soft smile on his face put a smile on hers.

“Bye Sweetcheeks,” Kryik called out.

Vega quickly followed by yelling, “Bye Lola.” 

Shepard and Vakarian shared an annoyed but amused look. “I like your nickname more than mine,” she told him.

“Well, yeah,” he drawled. “You’re the one that came up with mine.”

“I think you’re more of a Sweetcheeks than I am a Lola.”

As they left the homicide section Officer Regitus, the sour-faced turian who never liked Shepard, passed by. Shepard, as stubborn as ever, couldn’t just let her walk by without making one more attempt at forcing a friendship. 

“Oh hey Regitus,” Shepard said. “Helping someone with a case?” She felt Vakarian stop closely behind her, nearly nudging her out the door with his entire body. As she waited for Regitus to respond, hopefully in a friendly manner for a change, she felt his hand impatiently raise to her elbow to guide her forward.

Regitus looked at Vakarian instead of Shepard, “I helped Kryik with the floater at the Presidium. Just dropping off some evidence for him to look over.”

“Ever thought of working in homicide?” Shepard asked in her kindest voice possible.

Regitus finally looked down at Shepard. Shepard always felt so small next to Regitus, even though she was only a few inches shorter. “Being an officer suits me,” Regitus replied. “I know my place. We turians are good at that.” After that nice little comment she ducked out of the doorway and continued on to meet with Kryik.

Scowling, Shepard turned to Vakarian who was now literally pushing her down the hall with his hand pressed between her shoulder blades. “What the fuck did that mean?” she scoffed.

Vakarian just kept pushing as he replied, “Why do you let her bother you so much?”

“I’m going to be so fucking nice to her she’ll snap, and then I’ll find out why she hates me.”

“Is that a human thing? Choosing the worst fucking option to deal with a problem?” He placed a firm hand on her hip, guiding her into the elevator waiting to take them to the shooting range. “Just stop talking to her, unless you have to.”

At the shooting range she watched him roll up his shirtsleeves while the pops of gunshots rang out around them. His inner arm was covered in smooth-looking skin, but the outer arm was covered in pebbled skin and plates. Despite the fact that they clearly weren’t human arms they were still the epitome of masculine strength -- long and muscular. They were the kind of arms that were capable of snapping an enemies neck, or carrying out grueling tasks. They were also the type of arms that made your knees weak, and would pull you in for a breathtaking embrace. 

He didn’t roll up his sleeves to show off his lithe arms and give her a show, though, he did it so he could carefully assemble and look over her rifle. She knew how to do it herself – he taught her -- but he still enjoyed doing it for her. He was always so meticulous, so thorough. And she enjoyed watching the way he fell into a comfortable rhythm, using his technical expertise to efficiently set up her rifle so she had the best chance at the perfect shot. He gave it to her a few years ago, and when she opened the case he told her she deserved her own rifle that reflected who she was – power and refinement all wrapped up in a small little package.

“Pallin’s office, that was about me, wasn’t it?” she said, breaking their comfortable silence. 

He sighed, probably wishing he could just lie.

“Don’t bullshit me, Vakarian. We tell each other everything.”

His eyes met hers. “He just sees that you’re tired. I told him you need a vacation.”

“Thank you.” She told him, hoping he heard the sincerity in her voice instead of the shame, and regret. “You shouldn’t have to cover for me though. I was hoping to get myself together a little sooner, talk to him about it myself.”

Vakarian shrugged, looking away again, then handed her rifle to her. “Pallin still doesn’t know quite what to do with humans. He’s getting better, though.” 

“Look,” she said, hoping to get to the point. “I know you saw the way I was staring at the images…”

“Take a day off,” he pleaded. “I’ll schedule the follow up interviews and -”

“I can’t help that I can’t stop thinking about how fucking sad it is that someone beat the shit out of him and then squeezed the breath out of his lungs.”

Vakarian focused on assembling and adjusting his own rifle as she explained herself. She knew that he was listening, and he cared. She also knew that he always let her get all of her feelings out before he figured out what to do about them.  

“You think I want to be one of those burned out, washed up detectives that gets relegated to petty crimes? I don’t want to drown myself in alcohol, alone, every night until I die. So I’ll get through this. I have to.”

His eyes glanced up from his rifle, landing on her with a soft, comforting look she was used to. “You’re not alone, though,” he told her.

Although she was used to the support he provided, her heart skipped a beat after he said that. “I know,” she finally said. Her voice was just a gentle murmur.

They watched each other for a moment as she tried to figure out if there was something else she could say to make him stop worrying. He finally turned back to the rifle, continuing his work

“I’m fine, Garrus,” she insisted. The look on his face told her that he wasn’t convinced. “That’s what you get for holding me in that alley as I bled out –a partner who can’t stop leaning on you. I rely on you too much, though.”

“No you don’t.”

He rolled his shoulders and ran his hand along the side of his neck, which she understood as his sign that he was ready to talk about something else.“Is that it, or is there anything else fluffy and feely you want to talk about?” he asked. 

Shepard had a suspicion that he wasn’t just worried about her. She hadn’t heard about his mom lately, which couldn’t be good, and if Valeria wasn’t feeling well he would find it easier to focus on Shepard’s problems than to think about his mom’s health. She had to at least try talking to him about it. “I actually wanted to ask about -”

His eyes, looking tired now, shot over to her. “I don’t want to talk about -”

“I haven’t heard from Val in awhile,” she persisted. “We were supposed to go to the museum.”

“Mom’s been tired lately. She just needs some rest. Wants to save up her energy for the banquet.”

“Ask Solus to get you in contact with someone at STG. You know they have people there who could help. I could even talk to him, if you want.”

“It’s not your place,” he snapped in frustration. A talon scraped against metal as his grip slipped from the tool in his typically steady hand.  

Shepard crossed her arms and leaned back against the railing, waiting for him to calm down.

His chest rose and fell letting out a heavy sigh. “You don’t need to worry about her,” he said. “You shouldn’t have to.”

Shepard knew he didn’t want to think about it, let alone talk about it. He loved his mom, dearly. Avoiding the thought of losing her was his only defense against that pain, but she still wanted to ease him into confronting it. “All I’m saying is I know what it’s like to lose your mom. Hold on to yours as long as you can.”

“I’m sorry, really. I shouldn’t have.” He sighed, rubbing a hand across his tired, blinking eyes. 

“Life is fucked, Garrus, and it’s scary. But you know that if you ever need anything…”

He nodded as he finished working on his rifle. “I know.”

A moment of silence passed between them, but it wasn’t filled with awkwardness or frustration. They were both just taking a moment to gather their thoughts and cool down.

 “Now are you done?” he asked, forcing a smile.

“Yeah,” she smiled back then raised her rifle up, ready to finally shoot something. “Why can’t we drink at work? I need a fucking drink.” 

“Hold on for another hour. In the meantime, I know you can do better. Loser has to pick up the winner’s tab at Flux.” He raised his own rifle to his shoulder and they both fired shots – his hit dead on, hers was just a bit off.

His chuckling grated her nerves. She drew in a quick breath and huffed it out. “I’m going to get lessons or something, and shock the shit out of you one of these days.”

“Well seeing as how I’m the best sniper on this station,” he hit his target dead on once again,  “you’d have to get lessons from me. And I’m not going to teach you how to outshoot me.”

“Well I know the person who taught you,” she teased. “How about I get lessons from your dad?”

Vakarian straightened up, his sharp eyes narrowing in on her and she couldn’t help but worry that hit was below the belt. He set the safety on his rifle, setting it to the side. It immediately alerted her fight or flight response, so she did the same with her rifle. 

“Oh you mean little shit,” he said with an amused grin, “you take that back.”

“I’m calling him right now. He’ll fucking love it.” She reached for her omni-tool to dial Castis’ number.

Vakarian was behind her with predatory swiftness before she knew it. His long arms wrapped around her entire torso, pulling her in tight against his chest and holding her still -- firm but gentle. Shepard was trapped within his hold, but she was still able to move her arms. He tried to gain control of her arms, blocking her from using her omni-tool, but he couldn't quite hold her still and pin her arms at the same time. She nimbly twisted her arm around, managing to stay just out of his reach. They both huffed and giggled, fully enjoying the struggle.  

“Spirits, you’re quick…and flexible,” he chuckled, trying to get a hold of her arms that easily slid out of his playful grasp.

“And yet you always win with that damned reach,” she huffed, gritting her teeth. His strength was quickly wearing her down, but he didn’t have her pinned down yet.

They wrestled around like that for a few seconds, laughing while they traded the advantage. Their fun was cut short, though, when a salarian officer a few lanes down gave them a queer look, large unamused eyes blinking slower than was typical for her species. Not wanting to annoy their fellow officers with their antics, Shepard stopped struggling against him and threw her arms up in surrender. Her breath caught just a bit as he gave her waist a friendly little squeeze. He took a moment to smile down at her before moving back over to his lane, picking up his rifle.

“Afraid I’ll get as good as you?” she teased, blowing a stray strand of hair from her face with a quick puff of air.

“I’m afraid you and my dad will just spend your time making fun of all my relationships.”

“It’s never really bad – just a little teasing. Promise,” she told him with a smile. 

She had a sneaking suspicion that Castis joked about his son’s mates for the same reason she did – because he thought Vakarian could do better, but didn’t know how to say it without putting Vakarian on the defensive. He just never seemed to find women that…fit with him. None of them had the same spark that he had. Shepard was clearly biased though. She thought the world of him, and believed that he deserved something really special. He deserved someone who would laugh with him, and care for him, and make him understand just how beautiful he was, inside and out. 

Even though she wanted him to be happy, all sorts of uncomfortable feelings surfaced when she thought of him finding another mate. Considering her ever intensifying affection and attraction, she wondered whether she was even capable of being happy for him, no matter who it was. She’d try though, because he deserved a loyal friend just as much as an adoring mate. 

As she carefully lined up a shot, it finally dawned on her that she and Castis had the same exact issue when it came to Vakarian. No matter how much they cared for him, they couldn’t figure out how to really let him know. And if they wanted him to be happier, their default communication was humor or nagging. Feelings were just tricky, sometimes. 

Her mind just tucked that little thought away, jumping to something a bit easier to tackle – the case. “I was thinking,” she said, “while I was looking at the autopsy images.”

“Yeah?” he asked, taking an unusual amount of time to line up his scope on a fresh target that popped up. She wondered if their little tussle had affected his focus.  

“The damage was extensive, but it could have been so much worse,” she said. 

“What do you mean?”

She popped the safety on her rifle before leaning casually against the half wall separating shooters from the targets. “I mean there were a lot of contusions, the spread was all across his body, really. But the thing is, they weren’t that bad.”

“He was beat to shit, Shep.” His finger released from the trigger and he landed another perfect shot.

“Yeah, I’m saying there was a lot of blunt force trauma, but Solus mentioned specifically in the notes, and he confirmed it when I went down yesterday, that the force was fairly minor, comparatively. It was obvious when I looked at the images, too. High quantity, low severity, right?”

“So what are you thinking?” he asked, landing three perfect shots on spread out targets. She used to watch him, awed by his skill. Nowadays she was more awed if he missed a shot. 

“It was like the murderer had never really hurt someone before.  Like maybe they were testing what they could do...or it was half hearted.”

“So maybe it was someone young, or someone who didn’t really want to hurt him?”

“Yeah. Or maybe both. It just seemed…I don’t think it was some thug, or someone who has hurt a kid before. That wasn’t work by someone experienced with violence. Or…”

“Or what, Shep?”

“It made me think of a cat playing with a mouse.”

“Alright, I know cats. But what is a mouse?” he asked. 

“Little rodent…they’re little fuzzy prey animals. Cats were domesticated to hunt them and eat them to keep mice out of barns and houses.”

“Ok,” he said, waiting for her to explain her analogy. 

“Sometimes cats will catch a mouse, but they won’t kill it immediately. They’ll just bat it around, claw at it, slowly exhaust it. The cat puts almost no effort into it. They won’t let the mouse escape, but they aren’t really interested in killing the mouse, either. They’re just bored…” she paused, thinking for a moment. “Or maybe they get a thrill out of watching the poor, defenseless little creature struggle.”

“What happens to the mouse?”

“I think they usually die anyway, exhausted and battered. Their little bodies just can’t take it.”

“Well fuck, Shep. I had no idea Rocket was such a cruel little shit.”

“Yeah, cats are not so nice.”

 “Then why do you have one for a pet? You don’t have mice here.” He lined up his next shot.

 “You see, my beautiful turian friend, cats are a lot like your kind. They are predators with sharp claws, vicious fangs, and devastating instincts,” she held back, waiting for him to just slightly press down on the trigger, “but they can be very nice to cuddle with.”

 His mark missed just a little.

 “Ouch, terrible shot. Did that fluster you, big guy?”

 His brilliant blue eyes narrowed on her before he turned back to his target. “I’m going to ignore that,” he said as he rolled his neck, attempting to let the tension out. She watched, captivated by the way his muscular neck flexed, leaving the sensitive skin at the curve of his neck exposed and on full display for just a moment.

“It makes sense that they’re inexperienced,” Vakarian said. “Or that they were just fucking with him. Solus’ assistant said the biotics used were low level. Maybe young, then, but a human his age with biotics would certainly be at Grissom by now. So, maybe it was a young asari? Or are you thinking more about the dad and that biotic tool he’s making?”

She nodded as she raised her rifle to her shoulder and took aim. “Both are good possibilities,” she said, just before letting out a half breath and firing like Vakarian taught her. The shot landed just a bit to the left. She’d normally celebrate such a great shot – it was pretty good. Damn good actually, considering she picked up a sniper rifle for the first time only years prior.

“It’s ok, Shep,” he hummed with that damned knee-weakening voice, “I’ll pick up your tab.” He took aim at her target, looking perfectly confident and smug. With a pop from the rifle and a thud from the impact, her target was now adorned with it’s first dead center shot. A soft, satisfied chuckle rippled from his chest, eliciting within her clashing feelings of admiration and agitation. Before he was able to crack a joke at her expense she turned to him, her eyes as sharp as an omni-blade. She wanted to kiss him and smack him.

“Fuck off,” she groaned.

 

Chapter Text

Hacking away at case details was like clearing a path through a jungle. Slash at the obstacles, clear out the arbitrary details and the elements that do nothing but keep you from moving forward, and you’ll eventually wind up at your destination. Sitting at his quiet, safe desk at C-Sec, Vakarian recalled too many dark nights, slinking forward at a glacial pace as he and his team moved through tangled terrain to get to the end goal. Getting there was grueling, and more often than not, once they were there the rapid action was over all too soon. Rinse and repeat. One more notch for justice.  

Shepard and Vakarian spent their day doing just that -- hacking away at details that could make a huge impact on the case. Everything had to be organized, unambiguous, checked and double checked. That was where Vakarian’s logical-driven mind thrived. Their cases, unlike so many others, never fell apart because details were missed or misconstrued. A difference of five minutes could put a suspect on the other side of the station, and Vakarian’s timelines were tighter than his seat belt when Shepard drove -- the one and only time he let her. Developing a succinct timeline and looking over interviews until your eyes crossed meant the difference between putting the murderer in prison, and letting them walk free. Justice depended on it.

That afternoon Shepard and Vakarian sat in Pallin’s office, waiting to get the briefing over with so they could go home -- or go to Flux, rather. They sat in his office, side by side, watching him with careful and patient eyes and waiting for him to indicate they should start the briefing. 

Shepard and Vakarian sat there, waiting, their eyes resting on various objects from Pallin’s career, both from the Hierarchy and C-Sec. Across the years they’d spent enough time sitting in that office, waiting for Pallin to speak, that Shepard had asked Vakarian about every single object in the room. She learned that the Genophage was a touchy subject, and Turians didn’t embrace biotics like other species. She also learned that Turians fully accepted same-sex relationships when she asked about the image of Pallin with his bondmate -- and Vakarian wondered why humans were such assholes about the matter. Shepard made a joke about it being better to be in an asshole than to be an asshole. She and Kryik really liked that one -- it caused many bouts of chuckling across the years. 

Pallin finally put down a datapad and looked up at them, his eyes oscillating between them, sizing them up, before he spoke. “So,” his voice was commanding, “what do you have?”

Vakarian sat up straighter and began. “Boy wanted to go to the park. He asked for permission to go at 14:28. He asked both of his parents -- Samantha and Charles Udina -- if they would go with him. Samantha was putting the toddler down for a nap. Charles said he was busy working. So he went alone, which wasn’t out of the ordinary.”

“And the parents’ alibis are strong?” Kryik asked. “Anything in evidence or interviews to support their claim?”

“No.” Vakarian continued. “They can’t even corroborate each other's whereabouts. They say that they stayed home, but they both admit they didn’t see each other while in their own house... They don’t seem to spend much time together.” 

Pallin sighed, “Humans are so strange. I do not understand marriage without bonding.”

Shepard spoke up defensively, “Salarian’s frequently marry with no emotional connection at all, if I remember correctly. And humans bond, they just un-bond fairly easily as well.”

Vakarian wondered what the hell un-bonding meant, and by the look on Pallin’s face he assumed Pallin wondered the same thing. Despite knowing a human intimately for five years, he still didn’t totally understand them.  

The two Turians looked at Shepard curiously for a moment before Pallin cleared his throat. “Yes, well, we are all unique species aren’t we?” He said before shifting his eyes back over to Vakarian.

“As far as we can tell the boy wasn’t seen again, by anyone, until the jogger found his body at the park at 16:43,” Vakarian said. “The probable vehicle used to dump his body was seen driving near the park at approximately 16:00 -- we’re still working on nailing down a more definite time on that.” 

“I’m sure you’ll get it nailed down, Vakarian.” It was tough to suppress the shame filled shudder that ran up his spine when Pallin showed so much trust in him -- he didn’t deserve that kind of blind faith. “The vehicle?” Pallin asked.

Tucking his self-doubt away, Vakarian continued, “K-31. No one in Eden Glen owns one, but we’re working on tracking it down. We have Vega, Kryik’s new partner, helping with that.”

“Well,” Pallin huffed,  “you’re at least putting him to good use. Maybe Kryik will learn something from you two. I need more humans in homicide, and I don’t want this to be another waste of time.” Pallin, clearly agitated, took in a deep breath, leaning back in his chair while his eyes fixed on the ceiling. He took a moment, some thought running through his mind. 

Shepard and Vakarian exchanged brief, knowing glances. Somehow he just knew she was thinking the same thing -- that it was up to them to help Kryik and Vega out. 

Pallin’s gaze finally landed back on them. “Was the boy violated?”

Shepard was up next. She leaned forward, taking over now that he called on her area of expertise. “No, nothing of a sexual nature. They beat him, and used biotics, knocking him around hard enough to leave bruises throughout his chest, stomach, and back -- but not enough to break any bones severely. Looks like they did this for about an hour, before they strangled him -- cause of death was manual asphyxiation.”

Vakarian shifted in his chair as Pallin’s eyes fell on him instead of Shepard. Pallin still, even after all this time, glanced to Vakarian to confirm what Shepard reported. Vakarian wondered if Pallin even knew he did that. It was probably a nasty little habit he would just deny, both to himself and others -- not that Vakarian was stupid enough to bring it up. Pallin really had come a long way, and Vakarian would argue with anyone that he made immense strides in adjusting to humans in his department. But he still had some work cut out for him. 

 Pallin’s glance falling back on Shepard, he asked, “So the killer just knocked him around, then strangled him?”

“Seems so, sir,” she said. “His clothes were neat. If he was knocked around as much as his injuries show that he was, he should have been disheveled. We’ll keep that in mind, because I’m sure there will be a reason for it” 

Pallin nodded in response to Shepard’s note, though only after glancing at Vakarian briefly. “Tell me you have a suspect. I’m already getting messages from the Council. And Ambassador Udina’s going to make this difficult.”

Shepard shifted, looking eager to convince Pallin of her focus and dedication, which was atypical for her. Vakarian knew she was just trying to make up for the past couple of days. “No suspects clearly stand out. The dad seems interesting -- we’re visiting his lab tomorrow to look at that tool, and we’ll schedule a follow up interview with him after that if necessary.” 

“Any chance this is species driven? That's going to be the first question I have to answer. I need to know if there’s anything to indicate they targeted him because he was human, or because he’s related to Ambassador Udina.”

“No evidence points to that at this time,” Vakarian answered. “So far everything points to either human or Asari.”

“Thank the Spirits. Intolerance of humans is just starting to die down, and things are getting comfortable. Let's hope you find something that eliminates that possibility completely.” His mandibles clicked in agitation. “Soon,” he added with an intense glance at both of them.

Vakarian nodded, reassuring his supervisor. “No one wants to see relations degenerate. We’ll make sure this is handled appropriately.” Pallin wasn’t overreacting, media and pro-human groups would definitely get all over this if there was even the smallest hint at Adam being targeted for being a human. Whenever a hate crime popped up, or a supposed hate crime, a string of reactionary and retaliatory crimes popped up. When humans first arrived, every detective working a human murder case first made the assumption that it was ‘hate crime’. Now, their first thought was ‘I hope it’s not a hate crime. That was a small, but simultaneously huge, distinction.    

“You tell me as soon as something indicates this is a hate crime. I want to know the second you know anything.”

They both nodded again, in perfect unison as if they were synced up.

“This is an important case. I know that. You know that. This could affect humans on this station, and it could affect Council matters. I trust both of you will keep that in mind.”

“Of course, sir.” Shepard answered quickly, while Vakarian answered with another nod. 

“Alright. Tell me about the scene.”

“Body was left in a culvert in Eden Glen Park,” Vakarian answered. “Dumped but he didn’t look haphazardly discarded. He was neat, put together. Like Shepard said, his clothes were tucked in and clean other than mud from the culvert. His hair was slightly disheveled. By the looks of him you’d never guess he suffered the level of abuse that he did.” 

“Anything interesting about the injuries?” Pallin glanced at the clock on his wall, the day would be over soon. “Briefly, please.”

“I think his injuries were a bit odd, sir.” Shepard answered. “High quantity, low severity. Looks like the killer slowly beat him, then finished him. No defensive wounds. Medical Examiners believe the biotics used were low level -- particles indicated low or underdeveloped ability. That, along with the fist and foot patterns of the bruises, indicates human or Asari.”

Pallin thought a moment, then nodded. 

“And we have a watch left at the scene. Vega provided a contact who may help us track down an owner,” Vakarian added.

Pallin’s browplate quirked. “Those little mechanical things that ostentatious humans wear?”

They both nodded in reply while keeping quiet, allowing Pallin more time to think and make further inquiries. He finally turned to Vakarian, “Alright. I think that’s enough for now. Make sure documentation is flawless, all evidence is in order, and I want you to look over the interviews once more. I’ll only ask this once -- you sure you can handle this one?” Pallin’s gaze stuck to Vakarian.

Pallin wasn’t asking Shepard if she could handle it. He wasn’t telling her to keep this case proceeding smoothly. His eyes were trained on Vakarian. He was telling Vakarian to, and it wasn’t just because Shepard had been a bit off lately, he was always like this. Say it was because Vakarian was a Turian, or because he was Castis Vakarian’s son. Even though Shepard always lifted a piece of it and placed it upon her own once they left the office, this pressure was placed on his shoulders alone. He had no idea how she put up with it, but she did. She was so damned resilient, and seeing her push through all the barriers and come out stronger was ample motivation to keep him in C-Sec. 

Vakarian thought about telling Pallin off, saying something quippy. All he could think of saying, though, was telling Pallin to stop being a biased asshole, even though it was all driven by subconscious ignorance. Gathering his nerve Vakarian drawled,  “As long as Shepard doesn't mind me tagging along while she solves this, sure.” That was it, that was all the insubordination he dared. It worked well enough to make him feel like he was making a point, without getting his ass pinned to the wall.

As they both rose out of their chairs Pallin glanced at Shepard, a bit of shame in his eyes if Vakarain wasn’t mistaken. “Hey, Shepard, good work on the autopsy.”

Vakarian could sense the tension in Shepard’s shoulders ease just a bit as she stood straight and squared up with Pallin. “Thanks, sir.” Her tone was appreciative, but dignified. It was moments like that that made Vakarian think she would have made one hell of a soldier, and Coming from a Turian, there was no higher compliment.  

Walking through the sea of desks scattered about the room, the steady tapping of fingers against console keys and murmur of conversation surrounded them. Shepard turned to look up at Vakarian, her eyes were tired, but she held herself with pride. “Think he’ll ever realize that humans are just as capable as the other Council races? That I’m just as capable as you?”

“You don’t want him to forget you’re human. You want him to stop treating you like you’re fragile because of it. And, yeah, he will. He’s come a long way, to be honest.” 

Shepard looked up at Vakarian, a wry look on her face. “Hell, remember when he used to ask how I felt during every briefing? Like he thought he had to check on my emotional state constantly.”

“Yeah, well, the trainers who prepared us for human officer integration didn’t really distinguish between passionate and emotionally sensitive.” Vakarian mocked Pallin’s tone of voice, “So, um, Shepard, how do...you...feel, today?”

Shepard giggled all the way back to their desks as he kept flashing stern looks at her, mocking Pallin’s demeanor.  

***

“Pallin’s watching your ass, you know,” Vakarian shouted at Kryik so that his voice would carry over the loud music. It ended up sounding more like a threat than a statement.  

They sat at Flux, still in their work clothes since they left straight from work, at a large table surrounded by a booth and some empty chairs as they waited for Shepard and Vega to show up. The loud, thumping dance music, the din of chatter and laughter, scent of sweat and pheromones, all set Vakarian’s nerves on edge. He used to spend all of his shore leave at places like this, all across the galaxy, but years ago the appeal wore off. Kryik was his absolute opposite -- while Vakarian sat hunched over the table, guarding his drink in a tight grip, Kryik reclined, looking perfectly at ease in his natural environment. His shoulders spread wide and a look of amused contentment on his face, Kryik watched the crowd, his eyes settling on various men and women scattered about the club.

“Of course he is,” Kryik growled. Although his relaxed posture remained unchanged, his mandibles clicked. “Why couldn’t I get another Asari partner? I miss T'Saris. She was perfect.”

“Why? Because you two left each other alone, never relied on each other too much?”

“Yeah, it was perfect.” Kryik smiled at a Turian passing by, and while she didn’t say anything Vakarian heard the intrigued subvocal rippling in reply. Vakarian, happy to allow Kryik to act the flirt, made sure he averted her gaze. Attracting her attention was the last thing he wanted. He wished Shepard was there because her presence alone usually acted as a shield against overly-familiar, desperate people.  

“Look at the brightside,” Vakarian said, then paused until Kryik’s wandering eyes and attention landed back on him, “now that your former partner is Pallin’s second in command, you’ll probably benefit in some way. Maybe you’ll get assigned to fewer floaters.”

Kryik shuddered, probably because some gruesome images were running through his mind. “So far the only thing I’ve gotten out of her promotion is a human partner. Lucky me.”

“You got the human partner because you’re friends with me and Shepard. I’m sure Pallin thinks that some of my good luck will rub off on you. Or...now this one’s a stretch, but hear me out. Maybe you’ll learn something from us. And you won’t fail like everyone else.”

“The only thing I’ve learned from you and Shepard is that you both spend too much time staring at each other’s asses, so you better start giving me actual advice soon.”

Vakarian nearly choked on his drink before he glared at Kryik. The grin and a challenging quirked browplate plastered on Kryik’s infuriating face made Vakarian realize that denying it would only lead to a conversation he’d rather avoid. So, all he could get out was, “Hmh,” before taking a long drink, staring at the sleek metal tabletop. 

Of course, Kryik wouldn't drop it. “You telling me all I need to do is stare at Vega’s ass and we’ll suddenly be able to solve all our cases, or do you have any other bits of advice?” 

Vakarian itched to say something smart back, but ignoring Kryik’s words was truly his best defense at this point. He eyed Kryik for a moment, who stared back at him with a cocky smile, before he forced himself to relax. “I told you he’s good with people. When you get out with him, let him talk. You’re knocking on doors tomorrow in Fylis to gather info on that Asari you found in Presidium Lake, right? Take him with you. He’ll show you what he’s capable of. Oh, and if driving like a blind Krogan is a human trait, rather than one of Shepard's many quirks...don’t let him near the skycar controls.”

Kryik, having first hand knowledge of the actual incident, laughed softly at that last statement. Sitting at their desks, Vakarian had railed her for half a day after he let her drive and she nearly parked them in the middle of Presidium Lake. While they didn't end up in the lake, Vakarian’s lunch had. He hadn’t thrown up since he was a kid -- it was that bad. Kryik had laughed at Vakarian for days, swearing he’d quit before letting Pallin stick him with a human partner. 

Talons clicked a steady ‘tick tick’ as Kryik drummed his fingers on the tabletop, still looking unsure. “Vega and I have nothing in common.”

“Sure you do. You both annoy me,” Vakarian drawled, flashing a grin at his friend. 

“Speak of the Vorcha.” Kryik called over to someone with a wave of his hand. Following Kryik’s eye line Vakarian caught sight of a familiar female Turian close behind Vega, stepping around an Asari waitress, and felt his gut turn to a knot when he realized she was following Vega straight to their table. His eyes met hers before they fell back to his drink. Thank the Spirits Shepard isn’t here yet.

“Hey guys, ran into Regitus on my way in.” Vega sat down, looking just as good-humored as he did at work. The bastard was probably perpetually happy. 

“Hey Regitus, sit down, have a drink.” Kryik pulled out a chair next to him for the Turian as Vega slid into the booth. Kryik placed her next to him on purpose, and Vakarian did his best to thank his friend simply with an sly, appreciative nod. 

They talked for a few minutes before a hand touched Vakarian’s shoulder, and he turned to see Shepard smiling at him from behind the booth. Vakarian saw that she was still in her work clothes too. “I assumed you went home to change, you took so long.”

“Sorry it took so long, Solus started telling me about a musical he’s going to tonight and I couldn’t -”

“Get him to stop talking?” Vakarian said with a knowing grin. 

Shepard walked around the booth and sat down next to Vakarian as she exchanged ‘hellos’ with everyone at the table. Regitus notably didn’t say hello back, but watched Vakarian intently instead. The way that her eyes glued to him, scrutinizing his reaction to Shepard’s arrival made him squirm. He always struggled to ignore Regitus. He wished Shepard could ignore her as well.

But, he instantly relaxed as he reclined and wrapped his arm around the back of the booth behind Shepard and slid her drink over to her, which she accepted with a thankful nod. She unbuttoned her work shirt, casting it to the side, then fanned herself with her hand and played with her hair, her scent drifting out in waves. 

“I’m getting you drunk enough tonight to get you on the dance floor, Shepard.” Kryik called out over the music, his wicked grin peaked out from behind the glass in his hand.

“Oh no.” Shepard’s wide eyes shot to Kryik while she wagged her finger at him. “I am not falling for that again, and I’m not dancing.”

Vakarian laughed along with Kryik, images ran through his head of her soft human body moving inharmoniously with the music, her arms flailing in the air like she was trying to distract someone from the way her hips were moving. To be honest, she didn’t dance much worse than most humans. They all seemed to move like she did...but at least most of them could keep beat. 

“What, you don't like dancing, Shepard?” Vega asked.

“Oh she probably likes it just fine, but she’s terrible at it.” Kryik said.

“Fuck off Kryik,” she warned, not without humor, then turned to Vega. “And no, I don’t like dancing. But Kryik thinks it's funny to ply me with alcohol and drag me out to the dance floor.”

“No way,” Regitus said with a smile. “Kryik doesn’t have a mean bone in his body.”

All his bones are mean,” Shepard said while staring Kryik down.  

“Don’t worry, Shepard, maybe you just need a good partner. I’ll teach you some moves. It’s all about your hips.” Vega swayed his hips as well as he could as he sat in his chair. 

“Thanks, Vega, but even your rhythm can’t do much for my hips.”

Vega wagged his eyebrows at Shepard, and Vakarian guessed it was supposed to be enticing. Shepard didn’t seem to react to it, though. 

“It’s more an issue with her arms, to be honest.” Kryik said flatly.     

Vakarian really wanted to help her out, but he also couldn’t help but tease her a little. “It’s very...spirited, though, Shep.” 

“Alright, alright. I could have sat outside C-Sec for another hour listening to Solus explain to me how important My Dear Asari was to Salarian musicals.” 

“Oh come,” Vakarian teased, “that would have just made you drink even more.”

Before Shepard had a good comeback for that, a human teenager appeared at Vega’s side. “Emilio, right?” the teen said, confidently. A sour look was plastered on his face that Vakarian had learned meant the kid thought he was hot shit. 

Vega looked over at Vakarian and Shepard as if he was too deep in conversation to look over, subtly trying to shield his face from the kid. “Nah man, got the wrong guy.”

Vakarian immediately assumed the kid recognized Vega from his undercover work, and thought Julio must have been his cover name. 

“It’s cool, man,” the kid said, pulling out his omni-tool and not looking at Vega. “I just want some dust. This should be enough credits.” The kid finished punching some numbers, then looked over towards the bar with a bored look on his face.

“Get lost, pendejo. I’m not a seller.”

The kid looked annoyed, and huffed impatiently while everyone at the table just stared at him. “Your culture is dying, dude, stop trying to talk a language no one understands anymore. And are you going to give me the drugs I just paid for, or what?” 

“He called you a dumbass,” Shepard said with a cool, disdainful look on her face. 

Vega finally looked over at the kid.  “You just wandered up to a table full of C-Sec officers trying to buy drugs. Detective Vega, nice to me you,” Vega said with a nod and a threatening look. Vega’s wide shoulders set,  looking intimidating even to Vakarian. 

A look of fear hit the kid’s face, before it was replaced with a smug grin. “My dad works at the embassy, you can’t do anything anyway.”

Vega smirked at the kid. “Yeah, maybe you don’t even spend the night in jail if I arrest you. But I can make you look real fucking dumb in front of your friends. So, ask me for drugs one more time, kid.” Vega gestured towards the kid’s nearby friends with the tilt of his head. “I’ll drop your ass in front of the girl that keeps eyeing you.” 

The kid made a point to glare long and hard at Vega, before he spun on a heel and marched off towards his friends in a huff, finally leaving them in peace.

“It’s good to know that human teenagers are just as annoying as every other species,” Kryik grumbled. “But I admire your resolve, Vega. I might have actually hit the kid.” 

“Thanks, man,” Vega said with an appreciative nod. “I’m happy I’m not in narcotics anymore, that shit was getting old.”

“I’m glad you’re here too, Vega” Regitus said with a laugh, “now I won’t have to spend my time helping Kryik fish bloated, rotting bodies out of the lake.” 

Vega laughed, his shoulders relaxing a bit. “Guess I’ll have to get used to seeing some disgusting shit, eh?”

Kryik cringed, “I swear, the stench that soaks into your clothes is a thousand times worse than going to the morgue.” 

Shepard groaned, “Do we really need to talk about rotting bodies while we have drinks?”

Regitus, ignoring Shapard, added with a chuckle, “I’m not sure which lasts longer, the stink or the images.”

Instead of taking part in the typical shoptalk that ensued, Vakarian watched Shepard closely. As Kryik and Regitus began to provide all of the gory details to Vega, all through bouts of therapeutic laughter, he watched Shepard slowly become smaller as the sadness pushed her down. When Kryik described the smell that seeped into his suit Shepard’s gaze locked in on her hands, wrapped around her drink. When Regitus joked that the victim would be horrified to see her normally beautiful complexion such a putrid color Shepard’s shoulders tensed up. And when Kryik and Regitus both described in detail just what was left of the Asari’s eyes after the fish got to them -- just bits and pieces -- a tremor ran up Shepard’s arm. Although he and Shepard would normally join in on inappropriate, but typical, coping-through-humor discussion that was proceeding without them, Shepard just wasn't in the right place for it. 

“What’s wrong, Shepard?” Kryik shifted towards her with a slightly inebriated grin. “You look pissed. Not in the mood for jokes tonight?”

“Not these kind, I guess,” she said, her voice softer than normal.  

That need popped up again, to make her smile -- to lighten her mood. Her tired eyes and sagging shoulders looked too sad, and he couldn’t just let her sit there like that when everyone else was having a good time. “I have a joke for you,” Vakarian drawled. 

That made her perk up, her eyes lifting up to meet his. “Oh yeah?”

He hummed softly, leaning closer to her. “A human, a Turian, and a Quarian walk into a bar. The Volus just walks under it.”

She erupted into soft giggles, and his own humming laughter quickly joined in. Her good moods were infectious...maybe that’s why he enjoyed them so much. 

“That’s terrible,” she said through laughter that slowly died out in light breaths. “I might even say it’s low bar.

Vakarian laughed, louder than he really should have. “No, that’s terrible.”

“Oo!” Shepard slammed her drink down, spilling it slightly, and waved her hands excitedly. “I have one for you.” 

“Alright,” he said, truly excited to hear whatever she was about to say because if her excitement was any indicator it had to be good. But he was mostly excited that her mood had turned so quickly, and all it took was a dumb joke. He could keep telling bad jokes all night if it made her happy.

“How many Turians does it take to install a light bulb?” Her deep green eyes lit up as she watched him, building up the moment so the punch line would stick. “Four,” she finally said, humor already dripping in her tone. “One to install it, one to inspect it, one to oversee the work, and one to -”

“File the report,” Vakarian finished, the amused humor in his voice just as thick as hers.

She puffed up, looking a bit defeated, but also amused. “Damn, you’ve heard that already? I thought I came up with it.”

“I haven’t heard it, but the only thing left to do was file a report. It was pretty good though, Jane.” 

“Thanks. I also heard one about a stick up the ass, but I can’t remember the setup.”

“You’re getting much better at species stereotyping,” Vakarian said.

“Aw, thanks. And my mentors back on earth said I wouldn’t learn anything new working for C-Sec.”

“Hey, I’ve got a good one.” Vakarian, having forgotten that three other people sat at the table with them, turned to see Vega leaning forward so that everyone could hear him. “A Quarian, Batarian, and Krogan are in a skycar. Who’s driving?”

Regitus laughed loudly, Vakarian assumed because she knew the punch line. “C-Sec, of course.” 

While Vega and Regitus chuckled, Kryik, Shepard, and Vakarian all groaned-- that was a bit too close to the horrible truth to laugh at. 

Regitus stood up at that point, her eyes flashing a look at Vakarian that made him happy he could’t hear her subvocal over he loud music. “Well, it’s been fun, but I should go spend some time with the people I actually came here to hang out with.”

Regitus exchanged simple goodbyes with Kryik and Vakarian, which they both returned. She then turned to Vega. “Congrats on the transfer.”

“Thanks, man,” he answered as he raised his drink in appreciation. 

Shepard stiffened, just as Regitus turned to leave. There was fire in Shepard’s eyes, and Vakrian held his breath, dreading whatever awkward exchange was about to happen. 

“Bye, Regitus,” Shepard said, because, dammit, she couldn't drop anything. Vakarian admired her ability to say it normally, when he knew she was fuming inside because Regitus planned to leave the table without acknowledging her. 

Regitus simply looked at Shepard, her eyes tightening into a cold stare, before she made the lamest attempt at nodding her head, then turned and walked away. Vakarian felt like leaping from the table and knocking her to the ground himself. 

 ***

As the crowd swallowed Regitus, Shepard’s eyes stayed locked on the last spot she laid eyes on the bitchy Turian. She allowed herself a moment to fume at Regitus before she turned that frustration on her Turian friends. “Why does she hate me? Seriously? She was so nice to Vega, so it’s not because I’m human.” She paused to take in a breath. “And stop making jokes that she thinks I smell, or that she hates my freckles.”

As she whipped her head back and forth to berate them each with her eyes, Shepard caught Vakarian and Kryik sharing the briefest, most subtle look. She couldn't tell what they were trying to communicate, but it was obvious they were hiding something from her. 

“They told you that?” Vega asked, a little bit of sympathy in his voice. At that moment she decided it was actually pretty nice to have another human around. Kryik and Vakarian were great, but being the odd man out got old. And at least now she had a human who would back her up in situations like this.

Kryik responded with a light chuckle, throwing a balled up napkin at her partner. “It was Vakarian that said you smell, not Regitus.”

“I’m never going to live that down,” Vakarian grumbled, despite the smile on his face. Shepard narrowed her gaze at him for just a moment, making sure he knew that he wouldn’t, but the sheepish grin on his face only made her forgive him in an instant...at least for that offense. 

“Welcome to being a human amongst Turians, Vega,” she growled. “They’re assholes who take pleasure in making you self-conscious.”

“Don’t worry about her, Shep,” Vakarian said as he nudged her side. “Not everyone is going to like you, and it’s not healthy to think that you can make them.” Vakarian knocked back the last drop of his drink and set the glass down. “I’m going to go get another. Bourbon or beer?” he asked Shepard. 

“Beer,” she answered. She vaguely recognized Vega saying something about going to talk to someone at the bar as she watched Vakarian walk away from the table in long, confident strides. Her lustful thoughts, inspired by the swing of his hips and that tiny little waist, made her frustration with Regitus melt away...just for a moment.  

She realized Kryik was watching her intently, so she turned slowly, and guiltily, to face him. A thought was obviously brewing in his mind, but it took him a moment to say anything. “You want to know, really?”

He didn’t seem to be bullshiting her. She’d been fooled several times before by the stoic look on Turian faces, but she could tell this time he was serious. He was going to tell her. “Yes,” she answered, hoping to finally get a real answer.

“It’s a really fucking dumb reason. I mean, I’m embarrassed to even talk about this,” he grumbled. “But I’m sick of you bitching about it.”

“If you and Garrus actually know, why wouldn't he just tell me?”

His eyes, carefully watching her, flicked with a curious little look. “Because it’s his fault.”

“What the fuck did he do?” Her partner said and did dumb shit all the time...pissing someone off was not out of the ordinary. 

“Funny enough, nothing actually, besides being his normal, irresistible self. Regitus doesn’t hate you. She just resents you. And it’s somewhat because you're human, but mostly because you’re female.” He took a drink from the bottle in his hand, leaned back in his seat and propped an arm along the back of the chair next to his. She grew impatient, waiting for him to get to the point.  Of course he’d ride this out, milk it all he could. 

“Because she wants him. Badly,” he finally said.

 And that settled it—she no longer cared that Regitus hated her, because she despised the very thought of Regitus. No wonder she couldn’t make it as a detective, with such immature and unreasonable reactions to people. What the hell would she do if someone called her ‘barefaced’ in an interrogation?

And then Shepard had to focus on the bit that made her the most uncomfortable. The mental gymnastics it took to simultaneously avoid the obvious implication of why Regits hated her, in particular, and also trying to ignore the fact that she was a bit thrilled by that began to drill a headache into her temple. Shepard shifted in her chair and ran her finger around the rim of her empty glass. “What does that have to do with me?”

“He doesn’t reciprocate those feelings.”

“How do you know?”

“Because if he did he would have fucked her a long time ago. And he hasn’t.”

“Yes, but what the fuck does this have to do with me?” she asked coolly. 

“Hm, Shepard, just think about that.”

“How can you tell she likes Garrus?” she demanded, forgetting her original question and that she knew how Turians communicated attraction. She guzzled a large swig of her drink, then ran a hand through her hair to cool herself off. 

“Subvocals, mostly, and pheromones sometimes…when Vakarian is looking especially attractive some days.” His wink made her want to smack his mandible right off his face. “But I’ve caught his subvocals firing up at someone else a few times –”

“I don’t want to hear it,” she blurted out while slapping her hand to her face. 

Kryik shrugged, thankfully dropping it.

Feeling a flush of confusion and anger warm her, she thought of stupid fucking Regitus tucking herself up close to Vakarian, revving up her subvocals and flooding him with her pheromones like a desperate…She caught herself at that point, before her derision went overboard. She had never been the type to pick at other women, and she wasn't going to start being that type now...no matter how much Regitus deserved it. 

“Alright Detective Shepard,” Kryik’s voice broke her thoughts, “you put it together yet?”

Embarrassment rushed through her when she turned to Kryik, suddenly remembering he was sitting there, witnessing her emotional rollercoaster. The amused look on his face told her he was waiting for her to say something. “Put what together?” She finally mumbled when she couldn't remember if he had asked her something. 

“Why she’s so damn rude to you. Spirits,” he grumbled, exasperated, “you weren’t even thinking about that anymore were you? Are you just upset now because you know Regitus wants to fuck Vakarian?”

“Why wouldn’t Garrus just tell me something stupid like that?” she demanded.

His eyes narrowed on her for a moment, silence settling between them. “Well, I don’t have the patience for this shit. There are some gorgeous humans over there who have been eyeing me.” He rose, patting Shepard on the shoulder. “Don’t worry about her anymore. She thinks that being a Turian gives her the right to other Turians. At least you know, now.”

After a moment of stewing in her irritation, all alone at the previously filled table, Vakarian came sauntering back over. The swing of his hips and his small waist looked just as appealing from the front as it did from the back. But at that moment, his typically confident smile that lit up his face sent an agitated twitch through her shoulders. Shepard wanted to yell at him. She wanted to hit him. But all she could do was stare at that cocky grin as she thought of how she was going to tell her partner he was being an absolute ass.

Chapter Text

“Did Kryik abandon you to go get laid?” Vakarian looked down at Shepard, his smile fading as his mandibles tightened in worry. Just for a moment, she felt bad for him -- he had no idea that Kryik had just told her Regitus hated her purely because Shepard was close to Vakarian, and Regitus wasn’t. Shepard’s heart thumped wildly in her chest as his eyes examined the look on her face. “You ok?”

She turned away from him, avoiding his gaze, trying to hide just how annoyed she was by looking anywhere other than at him. The first sight that caught her attention was two turians at a nearby table, nuzzling each other, reveling in each other's touch. Once a tongue slipped out and teased at the other’s neck, Shepard looked away, trying to avoid looking like a pervert. The dance floor, washed in neon shades of pink, purple, and blue from the club lighting, was packed with bodies of nearly every species writhing against each other. Vega was dancing with an asari -- thank God some humans were a better example of human rhythm. Kryik was nowhere to be seen -- probably already left with someone.

 All the people around, a sea of motion bathed in surreal lighting, the heart stomping music, the alcohol in her system and no dinner… it all made her head swim. Or, maybe that was just her frustration. “Hm?” she finally said, still avoiding his gaze.

He sat down next to her, close enough so that they could hear each other over the music, setting her drink in front of her and watching her another moment. He read her so easily -- she wouldn't be able to hide how annoyed she was. She knew she should probably just tell him. But if she said something, would she be able to stick to the fact that she was annoyed that he hadn’t told her why Regitus hated her? Kryik had called her out on why she was actually upset, but while there was some truth to his accusation, she was truly frustrated that Vakarian wouldn’t just tell her.

“Hmh,” his voice hummed, and she could feel it, despite the pounding music. Maybe she couldn't actually feel his humming, it was just her own body responding, vibrating with his voice. “You don’t look like you’re having a good time. Want to get out of here?”

“No, I’m fine,” she felt an eyebrow twitch, every muscle in her face fighting between her frustration, threatening to show all across her face, and trying to cover it up. Although she knew her efforts would be in vain, delaying the inevitable discussion was preferable.

As she gulped down an enormous mouthful of her drink, her tensed throat seized up around the burning alcohol, and it felt like she was trying to swallow a rock. Her throat throbbing and stinging, she focused on the two handsy, gorgeous turians a few tables over. One nuzzled the other’s neck, whispering something that made the other giggle. Shepard looked for Kryik once again. He was definitely gone. 

Vakarian leaned closer to her, trying to get her attention, stretching his neck to see her expression. “You don’t look very happy. You sure you’re ok?”

In an instant, she spun on him, “Why didn’t you tell me Regitus has a goddamn crush on you? I feel like a goddamn idiot. Worrying that she hates me when it’s your damn fault.”

His eyes dropped to the glass in his hand then he took a hard, long drink from it. “Fucking Kryik.”

  “No, not ‘fucking Kryik’. Fucking Vakarian. Why wouldn’t you just tell me something like that? It’s stupid, and that’s on you, buddy.” Her hand lept up so quickly it jostled her drink, pointing an angry finger at him. He flinched, worried she was going to strike him. 

After recovering from his fear, he said with a guilty grin, “It is stupid.” He used that look on his mom all the time, and Shepard refused to let it work on her too. At least in this instance, she wouldn’t. Because if she was honest it worked on her too... way too often. “And it’s not important. So why say anything?”

“You tell me everything.” The hurt that saturated those words was unexpected, and she hated showing it. 

“I also didn’t tell you that I hacked into the Spectre database, saw a tracker on Alenko, and decided to check up on you. That’s why you saw me outside of the restaurant when you were on your date.”

A string of disjointed and angry words popped through her mind in a frantic stream, but that was nothing compared to the anger and disbelief that welled up inside her, hitting her like a slap in the face. “Why?” she quickly snapped. “Why would you do that?”

“Just wanted to make sure you were ok.” He said with a charming smile, completely ignoring her fit of frustration. “You had no idea who that guy was. He could have burned down a drell colony or something.” He paused for a moment before proceeding. That look appeared in his eyes, the one that always gave away when he was about to say something dumb. “You know,” he drawled, feigning an air of insight, “my father always said you can’t trust a Spectre.”

Vakarian wanted to be a damned Spectre all his life...And then she realized why he brought up hacking and checking up on her. Distraction and charm always worked for him...but she wouldn't let it work this time. “You’d really rather I yell at you for hacking into Council files, and stalking me on my date, than talk about Regitus liking you?” 

A guilty chuckle leapt from his chest, his head hanging just a bit, “You know I appreciate your fiery spirit, Shep, but I like it a lot more when it’s not aimed at me.” 

“Oooo, Vakarian,” she nearly growled. “You really have out-dumbed yourself. Are you trying to piss me off? Hacking into Council files just to see where I was. You could have just asked where I was going, and you could have told me you were going to walk by to check on me.” 

“Fine, next time I hack confidential files and stalk you, I’ll let you know.” After that he dropped that teasing tone, and his face got a bit more serious. “And, listen, I know I’m known for being egotistical but I have to stop at ‘Regitus hates you because I’m so damn handsome’.” He watched her, waiting for her to accept that form of an apology. “Are we ok now?”

She watched him for a moment, fighting dueling desires to yell at him and to just forgive him and enjoy the rest of their night. Trying to move forward, she finally said, “What else are you hiding from me?”

“Oh nothing,” he shrugged, “just the stalking, and the…the Regitus…um, thing.”

“And that’s bullshit. You know it is…just to let me worry about someone hating me because….” Shepard stopped there, hesitating for a moment as she found herself unable to even get the words gathered in her brain to say what she should be saying. “Just because she wants…”

“You gonna finish that sentence?”

“Just because she’s jealous that I'm your partner or something,” she finally said. “It’s bullshit, and you know it. Which is stupid, because she said she doesn’t even want to be a detective,” she looked down to her hands, gripping the drink he just brought her. Her anger flared again as she realized she was so noticeably upset that her knuckles turned white gripping her drink. “That’s a really shitty thing for a friend to do. It’s…shitty.”

“Listen, I’m sorry. It’s embarrassing and I don’t want to talk about it. With anyone,” he clarified. “Not just you. So can we, uh, stop talking about it now?”

“Sure.” Shepard felt Vakarian’s eyes on her, but she refused to look at him. If she did, she’d end up punching him. 

“You gonna tease me about it as much as Kryik does?” His tone was amenable, teasing even. 

“Nope.” She certainly wasn’t. She never wanted to talk about Regitus or this ever again, that’s something they could probably agree on.

“Spirits, Jane. I didn’t realize it would upset you so much.”

Before she even knew what she was doing, her fist flew at him, landing on the soft spot above his elbow. Not only did she whack the hell out of him, she had the sense to hit him in a weak spot. A rush of satisfaction washed over her when her fist smashed into his soft skin, watching him flinch and recoil.

 His reaction, browplates winced and mandibles spread in surprise, only made her feel better. “Fuck, Shep,” he hissed.

The expression of betrayal on his face made her feel somewhat guilty. But not enough to outweigh the glee she felt in hurting him, just a little, because she felt hurt too. She figured that if she had to deal with the hurt, he should have to as well. “Don’t hide shit from me,” she threatened him with a pointed finger. 

“I just thought you were annoyed by it, I never realized it would hurt you like this. So what if an officer doesn’t like you?”

She flinched...he really didn’t get it. “I get enough side-eyes and outright glares from our fellow C-Sec officers because I’m human, with the darling of C-Sec for a partner. I don’t need another one piled on for no good reason.”

“I’m sorry,” he said, thankfully looking truly regretful. “I never saw it like that. But, I guess it would seem that way if you didn’t know how stupid the whole thing was.”

“How, um,” Shepard shifted and took a deep breath willing herself to act normal. Be a good friend, she told herself. “So how long has she been...?”

“I don’t know. When I was with Livia I noticed it, I guess.” He turned to her, looking like he was trying to explain something he was in trouble for, which was confusing. She wasn’t angry because Regitus was interested in him, she was angry that he didn’t tell her about it. “You know  I can’t stand species who don’t tolerate...um, who think that species have to stick to their own. She does, and she’s petty about it.”

“But she works with other species all the time,” Shepard argued, confused.

“Yeah, well, she seems to be ok with it until she thinks she’s missing out on something she wants.”

He watched her anxiously for a moment, gently clicking his talons against the glass in his hand, as she thought about that. Did Regitus want to be Vakarian’s partner or his mate? Shepard quickly decided it was safest to assume the issue was simply work-related, and that Kryik was making shit up to get a rise out of her... because nothing else was going on between her and Vakarian.

“Come on, Jane,” Vakarian finally said, “you’re a better person than her. Now that you know why she’s so rude to you, don’t you feel sorry for her, for being so small-minded?”

Instead of relaxing, and letting that smile on his face subdue what remained of her frustration, Shepard stared down at her clenching hands. 

 “Fuck no.”  

***

 

Vakarian eyed Shepard as she sat silently, huffing and fuming about his inability to fully open up to her, and tell her everything regardless of the uncomfortable discussions that would follow. That’s all it was, really -- if he told Shepard that their close relationship had inspired jealousy in another woman, then they'd have to talk about their relationship. Whatever it was. And talks always led to change.  

A few humans sitting at a nearby table waved at Shepard, and she smiled back at them briefly but looked back up at him almost immediately. Vakarian hoped they wouldn’t come over because he wasn’t ready for their night to be over...not when she was still angry with him. 

“Things go a lot better between us when we communicate,” she pointed out. Although her expression and tone had softened, he knew she was still angry about the Regitus thing, just a little. He nodded in agreement because she was honestly right about that, and he decided he’d learned his lesson. He should be able to tell her anything. 

“That was a good catch on the kid’s injuries,” Vakarian told her, trying to get their minds off of his stupidity. “I’m sure you’re right, like you always are.” He simpered, hoping his sucking up wasn’t coming off as deliberate as he felt like it was. “I’m sorry for getting so worried when you were working on it. ”

“It’s ok, I wasn’t handling it very well -- I’m still not handling it well, really. You weren’t wrong.”

“You’re not wrong either, though.” He sighed, “You’re a damn good detective. I never doubt you, you know?”

She nodded. 

“Speaking of the case...I don’t really get the feeling that Charles Udina killed his son, do you? I mean, he could surprise us…God knows so many have before. But he seemed just as distraught as the mom.”

He shrugged, “Maybe. Or maybe he’s just distraught for different reasons.”

“Don’t be so pessimistic. You always think that everyone is guilty.”

“They are. Of something.” Out of the corner of his eye, he saw her smirk, making fun of his vigilant sense of justice. She teased him about it all the time. He returned her smile without quite meeting her gaze. 

“Well I’ll worry about who’s guilty of this murder, you can dole out judgment to everyone else on this station. From that Hanar proselytizing near the coffee shop to the guy peddling faulty mods.”

“I’m a multi-tasker,” he drawled. “I can do both.”

“My little pessimistic avenger.” She nudged him with her elbow. “How do you have time to sleep while doling out all that justice?”

“Sleep? Pallin lets you sleep?”

He happily watched her shoulders relax as she chuckled.

“Think someone else could have gotten a hold of that biotic prototype?” he asked. “Someone else could have used it on the kid.”

“I don’t know. It’s always possible.” She glanced back over towards the humans who had been eyeing her just a few minutes before. 

“We’ll know more once we visit the lab.”

Vakarian glanced over toward the humans as well, and watched them get up and take a few steps in Shepard’s direction. Before he could deal with the way he was feeling about it, he was surprised when Shepard’s eyes locked on his, as if she were transfixed in conversation, while scooting closer to him. For a brief moment, he worried they’d come over and say something torrid -- call him a skullface or ask her why she was sitting next to a monster. A few years ago they probably would have, but relations were warming... or at least becoming more normalized. In the more upscale locations, outright problematic interactions were few and far between now. The humans must have gotten the hint because they turned towards the bar and were soon out of sight. 

“Did you just use me to get rid of those guys?” he asked, simply admiring her tactics.  

“Maybe. Do you mind?” Her voice was soft, and she shifted a bit, uncharacteristically brushing her fingertips back and forth over her arm. The action made her look shy. 

“No.” His eyes traveled over her delicate features, as he realized just how happy he was that she didn’t want to talk to them and that she scooted closer to him instead. Maybe he was reading too into that, though? “Is it bad that I’m glad you’d rather sit here with me?” he asked hesitantly.

“No.” Her breathy voice was a wave of warmth washing over him. People had told him all his adult life how much they liked his voice, and he never understood why he got such a reaction out of people... until he really listened to hers. It tickled his ears and warmed his chest. 

Suddenly full of more energy than before, he sat up straighter. Trying to busy himself, his hands twirled his glass around. “No more case talk. Tell me something.” Feeling a bit too warm, he rolled up his sleeves and caught her eyes glancing down at his arms. He usually rolled up his sleeves after work or wore short sleeves around her after work or on days off, so he wasn’t quite sure why she was looking at them like that. She’d seen his arms before. He glanced down at them briefly but didn’t see anything out of the ordinary.

“Tell you what?” She leaned a bit closer to him still, leaving little room between them. It had to be because the music was so loud.

“Hmh, tell me something I don’t already know about you.”

She sighed. “You know everything about me.”

“That’s impossible.” He thought for a moment, trying to figure out something they hadn’t already talked about in their five years together. There were so many moments. They talked about their lives, their families, she talked about her five years spent as a beat cop in San Francisco and he talked about spending ten years as a sniper and tech expert in Hierarchy Special Ops. It was true they already knew so much about each other that sometimes it felt like they’d known each other a lot longer than five years. He could even picture what she would have been like as a kid... then suddenly a question came to him. “What’s your favorite childhood memory?”

Her eyes wandered up and lip quirked and puckered. Long ago he’d learned that little lip quirk meant she was thinking. Then a soft smile developed and parted her lips. She said with a decisive nod, “Fishing with my grandparents.”

“Like with poles and strings?” he asked skeptically. “And you sit around for hours? Isn’t that how humans fish?”

She nodded while taking a drink, then smiled at him with such a happy, toothy grin that it rivaled a turian smile. Teeth were oddly flat, but it was endearing all the same.

He shook his head, grinning, as he tried to picture her sitting still long enough to catch a frantic creature. Finesse and patience were not her forte. Once, on a stakeout, he thought he was going to have to incapacitate her just to get her to stop humming loudly and thumping her hand against the skycar window. It wasn't like she was going to give away their position, but it had driven him absolutely insane. She’d been humming that damned soul music, too. “No, I can’t picture you fishing,” he finally mused. “You don’t have the patience.”

She laughed, a full, open-mouthed laugh this time that tilted her head back a bit. A jolt of energy sent shocks through him when her neck was stretched and exposed like that. Her eyes were lit up and there was something about her energy, the way she was looking at him, and leaning closer to him. Then he caught it...her scent. She smelled a bit...warmer. He could just imagine what her pulse would feel like against his tongue... 

“I didn’t fish,” she admitted, snapping him from his thoughts, reminding him that they were talking about fishing. “My grandparents did. I just ran around with my dog, climbed up hills, and picked flowers. Dumb kid stuff like that.”

“See, that makes more sense. Jane, running around the wilderness like a little varren. Probably throwing rocks and racing around until your legs gave out and you passed out in the shade.”

She smiled, a beautiful grin that colored her cheeks and made her eyes light up. He felt a gentle ripple in his chest, and worried that a subvocal was going to start up as he admired how her cheeks would swell when she smiled.   

“That’s exactly what I did.” She chuckled, her eyes falling on his arm again.

“I wish I could see little Jane. I bet you were cute, but trouble.” 

“Still am,” she said, her mouth was just a breath away from the bottle in her hand. She smiled from behind the bottle and then took a drink, all while eyeing him mischievously. Her voice was smooth, an octave lower than normal.  

There was that damn ripple again, popping up in his chest. As she raised her glass to him and winked, the ripple stuck in his throat for just a brief moment before he successfully choked it down, just like he had to in the elevator when they left work the other night. 

“What’s your favorite childhood memory, Detective Vakarian?” she asked, her voice sounding slightly sensual. He wondered if she was doing it on purpose.

He didn’t put much effort into thinking about her question. He was too busy trying not to choke on his stifled subvocals. All he could remember about his childhood was pissing off and disappointing his dad. “I don’t know, probably something involving guns or blowing something up that I shouldn’t have.”

“I honestly can’t believe that you ever blew stuff up when you were a kid. Not with Castis watching over you.”

“Why do you think I had to go to the shooting range every afternoon with Dad? Kept me out of trouble.” His chest puffed up at that, proud to have caused his dad a bit of a headache. Spirits knew that was a two-way street. 

They both took turns staring too intently at the drinks in their hands, and looking up at each other for short periods of time. After analyzing him carefully with discerning eyes for just a moment she finally said, “That’s not your favorite memory. What’s really your favorite memory?”

He thought for a moment, trying to remember something that really made him happy, and instantly remembered evenings outside with his mom. Memories flashed through his mind of sunshine and wandering around while going nowhere important. “Going on walks with Mom after school. Sol was there a lot, but they were really nice when it was just Mom and I. Afternoons I had to shoot with Dad, but after that Mom would take us on walks.”

“What did Sol do when you were shooting?”

“She volunteered mostly, at a food bank for a while, then at hospitals when she got older. Sometimes she came shooting with us, but not often.”

“I want to go on walks with Val,” she said.

“Come to Palaven, we’ll all go on a walk.”

“I don’t have any protective plates like turians, but I can just get a suit, right?” She was starting to talk a bit more carefully while her fingers wound around her glass and intertwined with each other -- she always got fidgety when she was buzzed. 

The thought of taking her to Palaven put warmth in his heart. He thought of riding there on a shuttle together, taking her out in a skycar showing her all the places he thought of when he remembered being a kid. He’d do anything to make that trip happen. “You’ll be fine in a little protective gear,” he told her. “I’ll make sure you’re ok.”

Her face lit up at that, and he could tell how happy that made her. Her eyes fell down to his arm again before they flicked back up to his eyes, a fiery look of determination in her. Just at that moment an image popped into his mind of her, pushed up against the bar, she was still looking at him like that, his body nestled between her open legs. He still wasn’t used to those thoughts, no matter how many he’d had by now. 

“Can I touch your plates?” 

“Excuse me?” he blurted out before his mouth and mandibles snapped shut, actually making a clicking sound.

She looked at him, completely innocent and seemingly unaware that what she said might be construed as something so salacious. “Can I feel your plates?” She said louder, as if he couldn’t hear her before because of the music, and pointed to the plate covering his upper forearm. “I’ve never felt plates before. I don’t know what they feel like.”

He felt his mandibles pull back into an amused grin. Watching her closely, fully recovered from the shock his filthy mind had put him through, he now relished teasing her for what she’d said. “Be careful when you say that to a turian,” his eyes scanned her, waiting for the realization to kick in as he continued to speak. “Remember, we have a certain set of plates. And what you just said could be taken the wrong way.”

Despite being the one with the raunchy sense of humor she flushed. “Oh God, no, that’s not what I meant. Wait, is that, like, a turian pick up line I’ve never heard before?”

His eyes refused to look up at her, so they rested on the bar, looking for the elusive Kryik. He just shrugged in response, not willing to start listing off ways to pick up a turian at a bar.

“You felt my mandible a few days ago,” he finally said.

“What?”

His heart fluttered a little at the memory of her tiny little finger brushing under his mandible. “While we were getting coffee, you, uh…you touched my mandible.” Before he knew it his hand was floating up to touch the same spot her finger had been...thankfully, he caught himself and scratched his neck instead. The transition wasn’t as smooth as he would have liked, though. He eyed her, waiting for her to point that out, but she didn’t.

“Oh, right.” She nodded. “Do they feel the same?”

“I don’t know,” he wasn’t quite sure why he said that. He knew what plates and mandibles felt like. All of a sudden he felt very stupid and wondered if his drinks were getting to him quicker than normal. “I mean, mandibles are usually smoother, but most turians use products that make their plates smoother too.”

She giggled. Sometimes he forgot how familiar she was with other species by now. Five years had flown by so quickly, but they’d been through so much.

“I know, Garrus. So, can I?”  Asking for his permission with a sparkle in her eyes, she reached out a single finger and teasingly inched it towards his arm. 

How in the hell could he, a 7 foot tall 300 lb turian, made of plates and fangs and talons, feel like weak-kneed, indefensible prey? And that one tiny little fingertip, not even the size of a single talon on his hand, was the predator threatening to bring him down. 

It’s just a finger, and it’s just my forearm, he told himself. And there are people with barely any clothes on nearly having sex in every corner of this club right now. It certainly wouldn’t look strange to anyone around them. 

He wasn’t sure it was a good idea to let her touch him. But, he had to admit that he wanted to know what her soft little fingers felt like roaming over his plates and skin. If it felt half as good as her finger did on his mandible, he was in for some trouble. And it was only a single, short stroke on his arm plate, right? Against his better judgment, he decided he couldn’t say no to the beautiful green eyes that belonged to the woman he trusted with his life. “Have at it.” He smiled and took a drink -- maybe for courage, maybe to distract himself from a sensation he was sure was going to be far more overwhelming than he was prepared for.

And while he still contemplated whether this was a bad idea or not her greedy fingers -- all ten of the wiggly things -- buzzed towards his arm like insects to a flower. A single finger pointed out and cautiously touched the surface of his arm plate first. The pad of her finger brushed over the length of the plate slowly, from end to end. Her finger was soft and warm, the sensation sent a shiver up his back and into his shoulders.

He thought about telling her it was only fair for him to feel her skin in return, but every time he tried to form a sentence that would sound playful, and not lustful or creepy, he realized just how unprepared he was to actually flirt with her without the pretense that they were just joking. Then he felt guilty for trying to figure out how to flirt with her. This was Shepard. His best friend. His partner. And a human.  

“Everything you hoped it would be?” he finally managed to say, feeling his voice cracking just slightly.

An awestruck smile, which had to be alcohol-induced, slowly parted her lips. He anxiously awaited the words that would flow from her small, beautiful mouth.

“Nice,” she blurted out. 

And then he didn’t feel so bad for not having anything smooth to say. His mandibles clicked in a giddy laugh as his chest swelled with delight. But before he could think of something sexy or clever to say her hands shot up to his mandible, cradling his face in both hands. He froze as her fingers smoothed over the surface of his mandibles, following all the curves from back to tip. Her eyes flashed and flickered between each spot, analyzing and forming little thoughts that he anxiously wanted to hear. 

“Plates are so soft, actually.” Her fingers brushed over his mandibles. “Well, not soft, smooth. You can feel all of this, just like if I was touching skin?”

He had to clear his throat to speak. Internally, his instincts battled, unsure whether he should pull away from her, or lean in closer. “Well the sensation is different. Our skin is much more sensitive than plates. But I, uh...feel it.” He cursed his damn nerves, every time a woman got close to him he turned into a stuttering fool, lost his voice completely. 

And just when he thought she was done, her impossibly tiny, soft fingers wandered up to his head. “What does your fringe feel like?”

She didn’t wait for a reply before her hands shot up to the top of his head and smoothed over his fringe. At that point, he wasn’t sure if he was a sexual conquest or a science experiment. But, honestly, he’d be doing the same to her if he had the chance...no, the nerve, to ask. And, Spirits, she smelled good...something about her scent had changed. 

His nerves had him frozen, unable to do anything but stare at her, amused by the confidence and fascination on her face and terrified that he was going to allow himself to lean forward so he could really smell the warmth coming from her. 

In reality, her face was no closer than a foot or so, but the energy hanging between them pulled him in. It seemed like her pink lips, and odd but endearing nose, and those sparkling green eyes, were mere inches away from him. He was close enough to see every little individual freckle that flecked her blushed cheeks.

Spirits, her hands felt good – warm and soft and soothing. She began to run them over his fringe repeatedly in soft waves, smoothing over him, sort of like she always did with her own hair. Purrs, spurred on by her sweet giggling, involuntarily rippled through his chest. This time he didn’t make any attempt whatsoever to stop them. 

He couldn’t tell if she was enjoying this, or if she was just teasing him, but either way, he wasn’t going to tell her to stop -- he couldn’t tell her to stop. She had lulled him into a state of complete calm and satisfaction. 

“What the fuck are you two doing?” Kyrik’s judging voice appeared out of nowhere, catching him off guard. Although his subvocals jolted slightly, he wasn’t disturbed enough by Kryik’s sudden presence to stop what she was doing. Just out of the corner of his eye Vakarian saw Kryik standing over them, just returning from talking to the two humans at the bar. His frame was within Vakarian’s eyesight just enough for him to see the puzzled, judging look on his friend’s face.

Vakarian couldn’t bring himself to look away from Shepard so they just stared at each other, giggling like fucking kids as she ran her greedy little fingers over his fringe. Somehow, just like him, she was completely unfazed by Kryik’s presence. She couldn’t just be buzzed, she had to be drunk.

“Alright, I’m just going to...go. You two have fun,” Kryik said before leaving. Spirits, he was going to have to explain this to Kryik later...but first he’d have to at least explain it to himself. Vakarian knew he was going to get so much shit for it, but he was buzzed and excited and he just didn’t care at that moment. She was just feeling his plates, there’s nothing wrong with that. Nothing overtly sexual or inappropriate. 

At that point, it seemed like Shepard’s hands had a mind of their own. They teasingly drifted off the tips of his fringe, brushed the underside, and floated to the back of his neck. He was too entranced by her touch at that point and didn’t even realize her fingers had landed on his nape, where they lightly stroked the soft, thin plates just under his fringe that were capable of sending jolts of warmth through his core and straight to his cock. And he definitely should have told her to stop... But he’d lost all sense by then. Her little groping, hypnotizing fingers pressed softly, causing all of his senses -- smell, touch, sight -- to jump as the jolt of electrified warmth began to spread.

Somehow his judgment came back to him -- it was probably the single flick of pressure behind his cockslit, but he didn’t want to acknowledge that right then and there -- and despite the fact that it felt so good that his knees shook, his hand found hers and pulled her away from his nape. 

“Woah, woah, woah…careful there,” he murmured, trying desperately to speak at a higher, more normal octave. His subvocals were thundering inside his chest, threatening to deepen his voice into a lustful, needy groan without his consent. Hoping she wouldn’t notice, he shifted his hips so that his pants weren’t pressing against him so tightly.

Her eyes shot wide. She must have just realized what she’d done. And the most beautiful blush developed across her cheeks. It was so much brighter and intense than any he’d seen. She’d never been with a turian before, but she knew enough about them to know that she’d just touched one of the most sensitive erogenous zones on his body. 

“Did I just…” she asked with a look of pure, genuine horror on her face.

He couldn’t speak. If he opened up his mouth at that point a desperate growl would have come out instead of words. All he could do was nod, and hope that his neck wasn’t as flushed as he felt like it was.

They sat there for just a moment, their startled eyes locked on each other. She was just as unsure what to do as he was.

“Oh. My god. I’m so sorry.” Her hand withdrew from his and slapped against her mouth in a vain attempt to cover her agape mouth. “Fuck I’m so sorry,” she said into her hand. “I didn’t mean to touch you there. I forgot.”

He comforted her with a laugh. It was a nervous laugh because he was currently trying to ignore the fact that it felt so good that every thought inside his mind right now was racing and telling him to take her hand and put it back -- beg her to keep touching him like that. But laughing was better than the alternative…telling her that she just made a big mistake, or let her know how awkward that really was. Because she might as well have started stroking his cockslit right there at the table. 

And if she had, he would have had a really hard time telling her to stop. 

“I just...I just…” she stuttered. 

Because there wasn’t much else they could do they burst out laughing together.

Her face was now nearly as red as her hair. “I guess it's a bad idea to ask your best friend if you can touch his arm when you’re two drinks in.”

“Two drinks?” he said incredulously, his mandibles clicking. “You are not drunk enough to explain what you just did.”

“Fuck off.” Her voice was a pleading little whine. The mortified laughter shaking her entire body began to die down a bit as her eyes fell to her glass and she ran her hands through her hair ruffling it up a bit, making her look a bit wild. “I haven’t had dinner,” she said, a grimace on her face as she anxiously ran her palms up and down her thighs.    

Damn, he thought, how in the Spirits am I supposed to forget about that?

***

 

Eager to move past the most embarrassing moment of her life, Shepard thought that eating would probably offer not only a distraction but sober her up a bit. “Kryik and Vega are both gone. Wanna just go back to my place. Have some dinner?”

“Sure,” Vakarian answered, to her relief. “Some food would be, um, good.”

She convinced herself that everything would be fine and that things were completely normal between them already. This was fine. They were fine, she told herself. They could just laugh it off and get some dinner and enjoy the rest of their night. Right? God knows that they’d made it through plenty of awkward moments throughout five years of getting to know each other, and getting used to each others’ idiosyncrasies. Despite crash courses in Species Training, they were horribly naive going into the partnership. But they made it through that, and they could make it through this too. 

They made it all the way back to her apartment without bringing up the incident, and while the subdued conversation made her a bit anxious, she kept telling herself that everything was going to be fine.  

As they exited the elevator on her floor she turned to him. “Fair warning, Miranda will be moved in soon. We’ll only have the place to ourselves a bit longer before I have a house guest for a week or so. I can’t believe she’s not just staying at a hotel instead of my place while her kitchen remodel wraps up. But, I guess my place is so big maybe it feels like a hotel.” She stopped there, realizing she was rambling and decided to shut up before he caught on to her nervous energy. 

She waved her omni-tool at her door and looked up at him, finally looking him in the eye after a long and awkward walk back to her apartment in which they both avoided each other’s gaze. 

Immediately, she was caught off guard by the raw, seductive way he looked at her. Frozen by those icy-blue eyes, just for a brief moment she thought that maybe he came back with her hoping they’d be doing something more than eating dinner. Warmth spread between her thighs, more than she’d felt in years. She caught herself, though, before that thought had time to become a hope, chastising herself for thinking her partner had followed her back to her apartment like a horny one-night stand.  

“Actually…I,” he paused, giving her enough time to think she just might drown in his gaze. “I think I should just go home.”

The disappointment those few words brought on sunk her heart and snapped her out of her trance. “Oh. Ok,” she said, unable to hide the disappointment in her voice. Whether she was disappointed that he didn’t want to eat dinner with her, or come in and fuck her brains out, she couldn’t quite tell. 

“It's pretty late already,” he explained, sounding disappointed as well. 

She nodded. “You feeling ok?”

He backed away from her a few steps. “Yeah, I just want to get some work done before I get to bed, and we have a lot of work to do tomorrow.”

He turned back towards the elevator. “Night Shep.”

“Night Garrus.”

Naively, she thought he’d just laugh off her slip up. Now, though, she couldn't help but get the feeling that she’d made a big mistake. The thought that she’d made him uncomfortable hit her straight in the chest. He’d always been there for her, providing comfort, from holding her hand in the hospital after she was shot to the small moments when he hugged her or rested a reassuring hand on her shoulder. And now she’d broken that trust with an unintended, unwelcome touch. Damn her stupid, excited hands. His plates just felt so unexpectedly smooth, and warm. And his subvocals made her feel so...alive.

She closed her front door and stepped into her lonely, dark apartment, letting her eyes fall on how empty and large the space truly was. Rocket, who’d been waiting anxiously at the door for her, wound himself around her feet and begged for food with clipped, insistent chirps. 

So she sat in her kitchen without the lights turned on, eating cold leftovers straight out of the take-out box as Rocket smashed his jaws at his crunchy food. 

The crunching and smacking traveled throughout the dark space, echoing off the walls, taking it over and sounding far too loud in her lonely apartment. She couldn’t help but think it was far too large for just her and Rocket as she sat there, wondering what in the hell she was doing with her life. 

 

Chapter Text

The morning after their unfortunate night at Flux Vakarian was running late. His morning workout somehow took longer than it should have. He couldn’t find his datapad. He stopped to answer a message from his mom. 

But those were all just excuses. He dragged his feet that morning to avoid Shepard, because he could still feel her fingertips brushing against his nape. That was all he could think about. That, and that he had made an absolute ass of himself at her front door. They were just supposed to order some dinner, but there he had been, hanging over her with barely contained subvocals, his tongue tingling as he drew in her scent. Just as he had allowed himself to think that maybe Shepard was interested, she had looked up at him with those beautiful eyes that always seemed to be saying something. But what?...He had panicked. 

Uncertainty and self-doubt had been his enemies since he was a kid. They prevented him from taking risks, going for anything that truly mattered to him. So, the only dignified thing to do had been to withdraw, abandon her at her front door, cut his losses and regroup.

 Because he was still regrouping from the moment he woke up and all throughout getting ready that morning, he missed getting coffee with her. But as he walked through C-Sec without her by his side, he still didn’t have an answer.  

Shepard was currently the lesser of two dilemmas to maneuver, though. Just as Vakarian entered Homicide Kryik immediately locked eyes with him, grinning so wide it looked like his mandibles would crack. As he walked towards his desk the longer he stared at that damned face, dreading the words that would inevitably spew out, Vakarian wished the bastard’s mandibles would crack. Kryik reclined back in his chair, obviously waiting for Vakarian to get closer before he began his onslaught -- a varren ready to lunge.

 “Have fun last night?” Kryik hummed as Vakarian neared his desk.

 Setting his underwhelming home-brewed coffee down calmly, Vakarian summoned the resolve to look at Kryik, steeling himself against those judging eyes and that self-satisfied grin. He’d spent all night trying to come up with something to say to Kryik that would make this all go away quickly...but he came up with absolutely nothing. Realizing he had no way of winning that battle, an agitated subvocal rippled in his chest as he said, “How about you keep your jokes to yourself, and I just go ahead and punch myself in the gut? It’ll be the same outcome, and save both of us some time.”

 Vakarian wasn’t angry, he wasn’t even frustrated with Kryik, he just wanted the nosy, cocky bastard to shut up. Kryik’s ear-shattering laughter rattled over him as his smug friend said, “What the fuck was that?”

 “She’s never felt arm plates before. She just wanted to know what they felt like.”

“Oh she was doing a lot more than feeling your arm plates out of curiosity. She gave your entire head a full frisk.”

 Vakarian tossed his datapad down, harder than he should have. “It wasn’t like that.”

“It was. You should have seen the two of you. I thought two horny teenagers had taken our table,” Kryik said through laughter, which was really starting to grate Vakarian’s nerves. “I’m surprised she wasn’t rubbing your nape right there, in front of the entire club.”

 It was a joke. Kryik was just trying to get a rise out of him. But, the fact that she had, in fact, rubbed his nape right there in public was the last thing he wanted Kryik to know. That incident needed to just fade away, forgotten by all parties. Going as stiff as a statue, and allowing a wild look to take over his eyes, was absolutely the wrong move, though, because Kryik’s eyes popped open wide and it was soon obvious that Kryik put two and two together. Kryik was bad at many things -- respecting boundaries, saying the right thing -- but he was damn good at reading people, Vakarian in particular. For Kryik, harassing Vakarian was an art form. 

Disbelieving glee overtook Kryik’s expression as his laughter became riotous, his mandibles now spread wide. “You’re kidding me!” he shouted. “Right there at the table?”

Vakarian worked at steadying his voice, trying to remain calm so he could explain away being felt up by his best friend, in public nonetheless. “She was drunk. It was an accident.”

“No she wasn’t,” Kryik was adamant. “She had two drinks, and Shepard can handle a lot more than that. And I saw that look in her eyes, don’t deny it. 

There was no look, Vakarian told himself, although he couldn't say that out loud for some reason.

Say she had been interested at that moment. Best-case scenario? Maybe they had teased each other with inexperienced, fumbling hands? Clumsy kisses that satisfied neither of them and embarrassed both of them? He had no idea how to touch her, or kiss her. Spirits, he’d never even been attracted to anyone other than turians. Before her. And that attraction was ingrained so deeply within him, it was such a part of who he was now, that he wasn’t even sure what to think of it. 

The worst-case scenario was enough to convince him his hesitation had been right. Say she hadn’t been interested, that she had just been joking around. After making an unwelcome pass at her he’d lose her, wouldn't he? He'd lose all that comfortable, precious intimacy they'd built up the last few years.

Holding back had been the right thing to do, he told himself with absolute certainty. He'd felt this way about her for years. It would just go away at some point, right?

“I hate you, Kryik,” Vakarian finally muttered.

Soon, an extra set of eyes and ears invaded their conversation in the form of Vega, as he walked past and sat down at his desk. Vakarian and Kryik both watched him drop a container that held some greasy human breakfast that burned Vakarian’s nostrils. Vega's eyes rose and looked right back at them while Kryik giggled like an insane man. Then it occurred to Vakarian that he wasn’t getting out of this without Kryik telling Vega what happened. Kryik would see this as bonding for him and Vega. Make fun of Garrus bonding. 

“What’s so funny?” Vega asked.

Vakarian accepted his fate by leaning against his desk and crossing his arms, refusing to say a word in defense for fear of incriminating himself even further. 

“Vakarian got groped at Flux last night,” Kryik announced loud enough for anyone within twenty meters to hear. Vakarian glanced around nervously, but thankfully the desks were only half full of their occupants -- the people who were sitting at their desks were either too busy or too tired to care what Kryik was barking about. So, with an audience that only included Kryik and Vega, he had to come up with some type of manageable tactic. But what? 

“Nice. You met someone?” Vega asked with a yawn. 

Somehow Kryik’s grin only grew wider. “By Shepard.”

Vakarian couldn’t hold his tongue any longer, quickly saying, “She wasn’t groping me.” 

“That was the definition of groping. And your subvocals were firing like thrusters.”

Vega joined Kryik’s chuckling, “Right on, Shepard’s hot. And she’s really into you, right?”

Perturbed that Vega assumed their platonic relationship was something more, and that he immediately believed Kryik’s version of the story, Vakarian grumbled, “That is not what happened.” A headache was brewing around in Vakarian’s head as he tried to come up with a way to get Kryik to shut up before Shepard came in. While Vakarian was annoyed...Shepard would kill Kryik for this. She was already mortified enough for both of them.

“Are you mad that you got caught, or that you enjoyed it so much?” Kryik asked with a wicked grin and as if he expected an honest answer. 

“Dios mío, good one,” Vega said as he took out his offensive breakfast and took a gigantic bite. Vega and Kryik looked less like detectives representing Council races, and more like pyjaks hanging out in a tree. Cackling, idiot pyjaks. All Vakarian could do was hum disapprovingly. Enjoying her touch so much, and being caught by Kryik near the peak of the whole encounter, were equally upsetting, to be honest.  

Kryik’s face dropped, a serious expression replacing the laughing, “I was certain you’d come in smelling like her today.” Kryik’s disappointment was written all over his face and subvocals. “What the hell happened?”

 “For some reason, I don’t think that having drunk sex with Shepard is how I want our relationship to progress.”

“But you do admit you want it to progress?” Kryik asked, as if they were in an interrogation room and he’d caught Vakarian in a lie. 

“That’s...not what I said,” Vakarian growled.

Vega chimed in, a mouth full of food muffling his words, “It kind of is, actually.”

Vega and Kryik burst out laughing when Vakarian stood, slack-mandibled, staring at both of them instead of offering an answer. Kryik looked over at his new human partner, a gleam of fondness in his eye, “I think I like having you around.”

Just as Vakarian was about to yell at Kryik to shut the hell up, the soft voice of his partner traveled from behind. 

“What are you idiots laughing about this early in the day?” Vakarian startled at the sound of Shepard’s voice, quickly approaching from behind. With her approach, he quickly lost all hope of dealing with this covertly. And damn, Shepard looked tired.  

Kryik cracked a devious smile without taking his eyes off Vakarian, who knew his old friend well enough to understand that the look was a threat. He was going to say something Vakarian absolutely did not want him to. “Vakarian’s sex life.” 

Shepard went stone-faced, and that was all it took to make Vakarian panic. Without fully thinking it through Vakarian picked up a datapad and chucked it at Kryik. It bounced off his keel before Kryik caught it, laughing the whole time.

“What the fuck are you idiots doing?” Pallin, suddenly appearing out of nowhere like he always did, barked before turning directly to Vakarian. “You think just because your dad gets a wing named after him you can ruin C-Sec property, Vakarian?”

Before Vakarian could think of an explanation Shepard stepped in, “Ah, come on Pallin, don’t try to tell us you’ve never wanted to throw a datapad at Kryik’s face before. Those markings are like a perfect bull’s-eye. I’m honestly surprised he made it through his enlistment without a dead-on shot straight to his nose.”

Pallin turned to Shepard, scowling. “Ah, so we have two funny detectives now,” he growled in his typical manner, confusing everyone as to whether he was joking or actually pissed off. “Not sure your partner’s ego can take the competition, Shepard.”  

Vakarian noticed long ago Pallin enjoyed balancing his prickly demeanor with a subtle sense of humor -- and in perfect combination, it confused everyone in Homicide so much that it shut them up...which was probably one hundred percent the intent. Proving Vakarian correct, everyone shifted around and waited for someone else to speak up. 

Pallin broke the awkward silence when he turned to Kryik and Vega. “I want a briefing on your asari. My office, 10 minutes.”

After Pallin left Vega and Kryik turned their attention to their case. Shepard and Vakarian agreed they needed to get over to Charles Udina’s lab to investigate the biotic prototype, and quickly got out of there. Even though they left a lot earlier than they’d planned it was a clean getaway as far as Vakarian was concerned. Thankfully, they would probably be at Udina Labs all day, so keeping Shepard away from Kryik would be pretty easy.

On the way to the skycar they didn’t say much to each other. Vakarian caught himself when he nearly placed a hand on Shepard’s hip to guide her into the elevator. Distracted by looking over notes in her datapad, she didn’t see the doors open. Which was typical for her. It was also typical for him to guide her in with his hand on her hip, or back, or shoulder. 

When did it become so normal for him to reach out and place a hand on her? She had never minded in the past, but, after last night... Feeling his hand on her would probably make her cringe. Spirits guide him, why did his hands feel so welcome on her body? 

Instead of nudging her in, he walked past her making sure not to even brush her with an arm or shoulder...but he could have sworn that he felt her lean towards him just an inch, as if she expected his hand to be there. When he stood at the back of the elevator and finally looked over to her, her face looked a tad red. She expected him to place a hand on her and was...embarrassed? Disappointed? 

They didn’t talk in the skycar either. It had been years since they had a silent skycar ride. And there they sat in the skycar, not speaking. As if they didn’t know how to talk to each other. 

 After an agonizingly awkward, silent ride Vakarian landed the skycar near the entrance to Udina Labs. Shepard, a faraway look in her eyes, tucked her datapad away, which he expected she’d used to avoid talking to him, and they climbed out in tandem. As they exited the vehicle he suddenly regretted not clearing the air while they were still in the car. They were going to be stuck in that building all day, with all of the strange energy hanging between them, unable to be themselves. It was too late now, though. They had work to do. 

***

On the walk to the entrance, Shepard and Vakarian scanned their surroundings. Just like Eden Glen, flora from earth had been imported and planted there. Specifically, it mimicked the north-west pacific coast with evergreens and lush ferns. It reminded her of home. Shepard took it all in, filled with jealousy. Maybe she could apply to work security there, she thought to herself. Probably wouldn't ever have to see a dead kid again. Or avoid talking to her partner because she was a damned pervert. 

Vakarian followed her into the main lobby, more distance between them than was normal. It was a large, bright room meant to subtly communicate the prestige of the company. An empty reception desk sat in front of them. Plush but sleek leather furniture was set to the side for guests to sit in. Images of past developments adorned the walls -- mostly agricultural achievements that increased crop production on human colonies and had made Charles Udina and Udina labs extremely important to the Alliance. Shepard recalled that Udina Labs had greatly improved upon medi-gel, as well, to increase healing effects on humans. In that moment she realized Charles probably had a lot to do with his brother’s position. 

While Shepard began to look for someone to talk to, Vakarian froze not two steps into the hall, his head tilted back dramatically towards the ceiling. Curious, she gave up her search for a warm body to follow his eye line. Suspended high above their heads was a full whale skeleton that took up the entire ceiling space from one end to the other. Admittedly, it was an impressive sight, but she had no idea Vakarian’s reaction would be so wholesome. When she looked back over to him she felt a wave of happiness and amusement wash over her seeing his awed, mandible-spread expression. He looked like a kid in a museum.

“What...what is that?”

“A whale skeleton. They’re sea creatures. They mostly just float around, eat tiny fish.”

“Spirits,” he muttered. “It’s hand is bigger than me.”

“Not a hand, they have fins.”

“Hm,” Vakarian hummed as he thought, eyes still taking in the great creature.

“What?” she asked as she looked from door to door for someone to come and assist them. 

“Keeping a dead creature displayed...reminds me of the watch we found at the scene. Keeping artifacts around.” 

“Nothing unique to humans about that. All species keep history.”

“No, nothing unique species-wise,” he hummed. “But it’s more of an individual characteristic, right? I’ve met a few asari who can’t stop talking about old statues, and turians who will tell you about Unification War artifacts until your ears bleed...but most people, in general, don’t give a shit about their species’ past.” 

Shepard contemplated that as a warm body in the form of Charles Udina soon appeared through a door to the side. Once he got nearer he looked up at them, slightly surprised.

Shepard spoke first, “Oh, hello Mr. Udina. We didn’t expect you to be here. We were told the lab has been partially shut down.”

“Mostly true,” he said, his hands tucked into his pockets. “But we have most staff here today wrapping up reports and documentation. I just came in to get a few things. Samantha is preparing to move back home…to Earth, that is. She can’t stand to be here anymore.”

Shepard’s eyes scanned Charles. From his heavy eyes to his slumped shoulders, and his unsteady hands visibly wringing inside his pockets -- he looked like every other parent who had lost a child. Studying his appearance, Shepard was struck by her own lack of empathy. She was usually the first to offer condolences, to ensure the family received the support they needed. But today? She just didn’t have the patience for it. She needed rest. She needed to recharge. 

“It’s normal sir,” Shepard said in a straight but sympathetic tone, “for partners to struggle through the loss of a child.” 

“Yes,” he said, his voice not much above a tired whisper, before pausing for a moment to stare off at nothing in particular.  “Samantha used to love procedural dramas. Ironic, really, isn’t it? We watched them together quite often. I couldn’t stand them, so macabre, but she enjoyed them. Liked to see justice served, the bad guy put away.” 

“In real life, detectives don’t always catch the bad guy, do they, though?” Charles looked them up and down for a moment, seemingly sizing them up. Was he asking for their assurance? An oath? Or was he testing them -- trying to rile them? He was used to being the richest person in a room, to getting what he wanted from those who answered to him. Maybe he simply wanted to know they were up for the job?

“We’ll do everything we can to catch this one,” Vakarian assured him, and Shepard was sure she heard a bit of threat in his tone. While she had nearly convinced herself fully that he was innocent, Vakarian needed solid proof. 

 “I was given information on you two, you know,” Charles said. “My people did some research. Very rare to have a turian and human show up to a crime scene together, so I have to admit I was curious. You have quite the reputation, though, don’t you?” Yeah, he just wanted to know they were up for the job. Shepard never felt like she needed to prove herself though...that kind of pressure only made their job that much harder.  

“We've, uh, worked very well together, sir,” Shepard answered evenly, hoping more of her stern detective voice was carrying through than her anxiety that she’d just violated her partner’s trust the previous night. This was not the moment she wanted their synergy examined. 

Turning to her partner, she watched his eyes narrow on Charles...who certainly wasn’t making himself look innocent with statements like that. Looking back at Charles, she said coolly, “It’s not typical to investigate detectives, Mr. Udina.”

“Seems sort of suspicious, even,” Vakarian added.

Charles quickly replied, “Oh I’m not harassing you, and it’s not a challenge. My, I sounded somewhat like my brother, didn’t I?” Charles took a shaky breath in. “I suppose...maybe I'm just telling you that I’m putting a lot of faith in you. Albeit in an indelicate way. I want justice for my boy. For Adam.” When he said his son’s name, Shepard heard it...he loved Adam. That much was clear. Love was always obvious when a name was spoken. It was in the way the name rolled off the tongue, the warmth used to coat every syllable, and the way their breath carried it out into the world. 

“We do everything within our power to solve cases, it’s worked out in our favor more often than not,” Vakarian added, the threat absent in his voice this time.

“Yes, and that’s what I’m hoping for. I may have lost hope in my work, and keeping my family together, but at least I can continue to hope that you will find whoever hurt my son. And make them pay for what they’ve done.” Shepard saw a bit of fire in Charles’ eyes and knew that Vakarian would be more willing than before to consider him innocent. Turians typically didn’t have much time for nerves or sadness, even their own, but they understood justice, and a desire to protect one's family. In that way, Vakarian was a very good turian. 

Vakarian just stood there, eyeing Charles, though. With a heavy, impatient sigh Shepard began to tell Charles, “You don’t have to lose hope --”  

“Well, the point is that is the stereotype, isn’t it?” Charles said. “Divorce caused by the loss of a child. It seems sort of inevitable.” 

Shepard looked to Vakarian, flashing a look at him that begged him to step in and say something encouraging because today she was spent.

Picking up on her signal, Vakarian softly cleared his throat, “The loss of a child causes stress, sir, regardless of species. It’s expected.” Shepard nearly rolled her eyes at his lame attempt at sincerity. He was never overly kind to people until he felt for certain they were innocent. Not that he was known for his ability, or interest in, comforting others. Well...other than her.   

 Let down by Vakarian’s half-hearted aid, Shepard attempted to finish the point she had tried to make earlier, “Just know that what you’re going through is normal. Your liaison should have provided information on support groups --” 

Charles avoided their gaze, and probably the emotions he’d been struggling with since his son’s death, by looking down at his omni-tool instead -- was his look despair, or guilt, though?  “Well, I need to be going. Help Samantha prepare to move back home… to Earth. My assistant will help you to the labs, where they will show you the prototype. I’d like to argue with you, throw a damned fit, because I can assure you my prototype did not leave this building, so there is no way it wound up in that park along with my boy. But...I trust you both are intelligent enough to realize that sooner rather than later.”

As Shepard made a note that Charles mentioned the prototype never left the building, she watched Vakarian’s eyes sharpen. “Before you go,” Vakarian said, “do you own any watches, Mr. Udina?” 

“No. I do know some humans who do, but most of them are back on Earth. I suppose a few acquaintances on the Citadel have worn them -- diplomats, a few Alliance brass. They’re strange objects, aren’t they? Why do you ask?”

“Oh, just curious about human culture,” Vakarian drawled as he pointed up to the whale. “Thought you might be interested in watches when I saw that.”

“If you want to learn about them, perhaps you should speak to my brother’s crowd. My interests have always lied in the natural sciences.”

Shepard spoke up after that, “One last question...What’s the prototype development stage?” 

“None,” he sighed, frustrated. “I don’t know. I can’t stand the thought of the thing now. Knowing Adam was killed with biotics… I think I’ll be abandoning development. That’s not what the world needs, is it? More ways to hurt people.” His voice was thick with sincerity. She heard a man who truly regretted spending his time on something that could cause harm.

“I thought you said it’s not powerful enough to do something like that,” Vakarian pointed out. 

“It’s not -- you’ll see that for yourselves soon. But, I suppose I’ve lost faith in my fellow humans. The galaxy is full of more darkness than I realized. Even if I don’t develop it for that purpose...someone else will, won’t they?” Charles paused, looking at them both square in the eye. “I wish I could just take it back, never make the damned thing.”

Before either Shepard or Vakarian could respond, Charles immediately turned away from them, raising his omni-tool and telling his assistant to meet Shepard and Vakarian at the lobby.

As the doors shut behind Charles, Vakarian mumbled, “If he thinks that he can take it back now, he’s a bit naive, hmm? Can’t pop the safety after the trigger’s already pulled.” 

She couldn't help but study Vakarian’s expression, wondering if he really believed that. And if he did believe the sentiment, what did that mean for her slip up and their friendship? 

“Did you hear what he said, though?” she asked. “He said the prototype never left the building. He assumes Adam was murdered at the park, but he wasn’t.” 

“Good catch. Doesn’t eliminate him as a suspect completely, though,” Vakarian pointed out. “There could always be something we’re missing. Something we’ll find out later.” 

As they waited in the lobby for the assistant to retrieve them, Vakarian continued to stare at the whale skeleton suspended above them, carefully studying it. 

“Humans…they always call Earth home,” he said. 

“Yeah, well, it’s where we’re from.” After considering that for a moment, she said, “You don’t call Palaven home though.” 

“Well, I grew up on the Citadel and Palaven, so home is wherever I currently live.”

“Humans aren’t used to life on a space station,” she replied. “It doesn’t feel like home for a lot of them.”

“You call Earth home too.” When he said that Shepard swore she could hear something slightly sad in his tone. 

“Do I?” 

He nodded while he typed ‘whale’ into his omni-tool.  

“I suppose I miss feeling...normal,” she said. “You’d think after five years I’d have life out here figured out, wouldn't you? I feel more lost than ever.”

“I think you’re doing just fine,” he said while looking back up at the whale. Even though his eyes didn’t meet hers when he said it, his voice was full of warmth. And that was enough to ease her worries a bit.

“Think it’s strange he’s investigating us ?” Vakarian asked.

“No, not really. I think he’s rich, and he’s used to being in charge,” Shepard replied with a dismissive shake of her head.

The assistant finally came along, guiding them through several corridors, passing through multiple security checkpoints, and finally arriving in a secluded room. Clinical metal walls covered three sides of the room. The fourth was glass, and it separated them from what looked like an observation room. An engineer, a young asari named Heyla Aros, stood diligently in the testing room, waiting for them. 

The prototype sat in a cradle to the side. It seemed so innocuous. Unremarkable, even. It seemed like two wrist attachments -- bulky bracelets -- and nothing more. No crazy cords hooking it up to equipment. No flashing lights or intricate controls that people would assume accompanied such a remarkable breakthrough in technology. The room was sparse, really -- the only other equipment in the room was a console and a table at the far end of the room. Shepard guessed that’s where they placed objects for testing. 

As the assistant left the room Vakarian asked the engineer, “You work with Mr. Udina frequently on development?”

The engineer seemed honest, kind...if a bit shy of people. Shepard still wasn't great at guessing asari ages, but based on the way she spoke she seemed young. “Yes, I’ve been present for most test sessions. With Mr. Udina and others.”

Eager to get to the point Shepard quickly asked, “What can you tell us about Mr. Udina?”

“He’s focused, and cares very much about this project. Aside from our conversations about work, I don’t know him that well.”

“Did he ever talk about his family? Adam?” Shepard asked.

“Not often, no. He focused on work when he was here. Adam did come in a few times so I got to meet him. Mr. Udina wanted to show him the prototype, but Adam never seemed interested in it, from what I could tell. He...” she hesitated, apparent sadness passing over her and dragging her entire demeanor down, “he seemed like a very kind boy. He enjoyed meeting the staff here. He seemed more interested in getting to know people, and he asked them about themselves. I got the impression he was more interested in people than he was in science or engineering.”

Vakarian took out his omni-tool to record notes. “You have any footage of Mr. Udina using the tool? Prior to the date of the murder, if possible.” 

“Of course. No one has used it since, anyhow. In addition to C-Sec orders, Mr. Udina has ordered us to halt development, so no one has touched it. I can provide door access logs as was promised. Would you like to see it, the footage I mean, now?”

“No, we’ll take all the files back with us,” Vakarian said. “Footage, access logs, and all development reports. Just show us the prototype for now. You received C-Sec’s orders to not alter any existing data, correct?”

The engineer nodded enthusiastically then showed Vakarian to a console, before explaining she would be in the observation room should they have any more questions. Vakarian began to extract the data as Shepard slowly walked over to the prototype and studied it. She took a few images with her omni-tool, just in case it might help later on in the investigation.  

After some time had passed, she asked Vakarian, “Can you tell whether they’ve wiped anything from the system?”

“Not here, I’ll have to run it through some forensic tools back at headquarters.”

More time ticked by, Shepard didn’t have much to do other than pace and run the evidence and interviews through her head. Ms. Aros eventually spoke over the intercom, “Would you like to see a demonstration of the prototype? I could even allow you to use it, so you can better understand how it works? Would that be helpful?”   

Shepard’s interest piqued, she was about to nod enthusiastically that yes, she would in fact like to use a tool that gave her biotic power when her partner, stern voice rumbling in agitation, interjected. “That’s against regulations, Ms. Aros. The tool can’t be handled, by anyone, until we clear it from our investigation.”

Shepard scowling at Vakarian mumbled, “You are absolutely no fun.”

Vakarian watched Shepard anxiously, his mandibles clicking, “Shepard, we have a dozen people we need to interview. Can we just go, get started on that?”

She laughed easily, staring at the tool as if it were an exciting toy. “Come on. Haven’t you ever wondered what it’s like to have biotic power?” 

 “No. I haven’t actually. Regardless of whether it can be used to inflict harm on others, this tool could be completely unstable, not to mention about thirty regulations you’d be annihilating.” 

“Charles Udina uses it. He wouldn’t use his tool if he didn’t think it was safe. Would it really be the end of the world if I tried it out, just briefly.” 

 Vakarian whispered, “Since when did we start blindly trusting potential murderers? And do I need to remind you of the--” 

“Regulations, yes, I know. And I don’t think he hurt his son,” she whispered back, patronizingly making fun of the fact that Vakarian was whispering.  

He stiffened. “You’re not always right, you know.” 

Only encouraged by his opposition, she inched a finger towards the tool, “Come on,” she goaded. 

Notably, he stepped forward instead of backing away from her, his hands outstretched as if he was ready to take action, but wasn’t sure what that action would be. “Shit, Shep, don’t touch it,” he said as he stepped forward again, and for a moment she worried he was going to reach over and force her hand away. 

His reaction, though, was much worse. “Why are you like this?” There was a tinge of anger in his voice. She noted his fists were clenched. 

“Like what?” She asked innocently, hoping to calm him down with her voice and chalking his concern up to being an uptight turian. If he hadn’t looked so upset she would have teased him for being too rigid.

“Why do you just do whatever you want? You always just rush into situations. Never concerned with the consequences, or making a mistake.” His eyes weren’t filled with anger, it was something more like frustration. And fear. 

His words made her freeze. She imagined he’d been holding them in too tightly and could no longer keep them back. Shame filled her gut and put a knot in her throat because she just knew deep down he wasn’t talking about the tool at that point. He couldn’t be. 

She was reckless, and he was careful. She was all fire and emotion, doing whatever felt good. He was calm and controlled. And she let her lack of inhibitions get the best of her judgment. It felt good to touch his arm and mandibles and fringe. But in doing so she’d ruined five years of trust and friendship in a single goddamn stroke. Charles Udina should have spent his resources developing a time machine because she would hand over every credit she had to just go back and tell herself to calm down, ignore his subvocals and the harmless satisfaction she thought her touch had induced.

She made a mistake, though. What began as a friendly touch became something far more sensuous when she brazenly ran her hands all along his plates, drowning in how smooth and warm he felt. In all honesty, she probably had crossed a line several moments before her hand landed on his nape. But it’s hard to stop what you’re doing when you’re caught in a dream. She had been transfixed and lost herself. 

Of course, it could all be put behind them, they could move past it eventually -- but it seemed like they could only move on if she pulled herself back. Gave him some space. Dammit, they were too close, and that’s why she thought it would be ok to touch him so intimately like that .   

Shepard drew her hand away from the prototype. Instead of indulging her instinct to grab his hand so she could reassure him, she tucked her hands in her pockets, feeling like an absolute asshole for crossing a boundary with him twice in less than twenty-four hours. She apologized, and he apologized in return, explaining that he was tired and had a rough morning. 

As he finished his work importing the data, she leaned against a wall opposite him, a million thoughts running through her head. Touching a friend’s arm was harmless. It was platonic. He knew what her hair felt like -- he touched it all the time. So touching his fringe should have been fine too. Touching his nape was a clear fuck up, but she had clearly been as upset about it as he was.  

She convinced herself that this was getting blown way out of proportion. His reaction far outweighed the actual issue. Why in the hell was he so upset? 

As Vakarian wrapped up his work, turning to face her and move on to question the staff, she peeled herself away from the wall and stiffened her shoulders. He was wrong. She worried about making mistakes, just like he did. She straightened out her hurt feelings just as she straightened out her jacket, resuming her rigid and professional demeanor. They had work to do.

Chapter Text

Vakarian’s scolding had put Shepard in a foul mood for the rest of the day. She held herself together, though, so she could focus her undivided attention on the case as they spent hours interviewing Udina Labs staff about the prototype and the Udina family. It was the type of work that Shepard loved, but it was exhausting in itself. Adding to that, the tension between her and Vakarian had sent her past her threshold. She relied on him to keep her going through grueling days. His support propped her up. Their jokes and pestering and ridiculous banter introduced necessary levity into their job. Without that, though, days were long.

“The watch…It’s interesting, isn’t it?” Vakarian said, breaking the silence as they drove back to headquarters. Nothing they learned in the interviews had caught their attention or immediately stood out, unfortunately. And reviewing the prototype evidence -- footage, reports, logs -- would have to wait until tomorrow. 

Even though Vakarian hadn’t mentioned the watch since that morning, Shepard knew her partner well enough to know that he’d still be stuck on it, and what part it played in the case. Shepard got stuck on the autopsy and suspect behavior. Vakarian got stuck on the little details, like watch mechanics and skycar thrusters. That’s how they solved so many cases when other teams would have run out of leads and given up -- they completed each other.  

His fascination with obscure details didn’t just solve their cases, though, it was one of the most endearing things about him. Vakarian’s penchant for perseverating on the small details, the ones that personally fascinated him, always made her smile. Like the whale skeleton. The way he looked so...adorable, gawking up at the remains of the giant creature. And then looking whales up on the extranet while they waited in the lobby. He needed to see one in person, alive, breeching over the ocean surface. He’d love it. 

“They are rare,” she conceded with absolutely no interest in talking about watches, nor with having a conversation about anything at that point, especially after Vakarian snapped at her. Worried they’d bicker if they talked about anything, she preferred to curl against the skycar door, her arm propping her tired head up while enjoying the absence of discussion. As Citadel Wards passed by, lights flashing and flooding into the skycar cabin, her eyes stared out the window at nothing in particular. They were moving at the typically slow pace Vakarian always set, giving her time to rest and think about the case.

Every conversation they had that day in which every employee said Adam was a sweet, extroverted kid replayed in her head. How did such a kind kid wind up in a muddy culvert, someone’s finger marks permanently pressed into and imprinted on his neck?

“It’s more than that,” he said as he watched a skycar maneuver around theirs. “Why keep an obsolete object like that around? What purpose does it serve for them?”

“Not everything has to have a purpose, you know? Some things are just for joy, just because you like having it. Fun is ok.” She had no idea why she was arguing with him. She wished she had just held her tongue to let him speculate. But for some reason, she felt like her own personality flaws were being judged

“I just think they’re interesting,” he continued with his point. “And, of course, humans like Ambassador Udina -- greedy, pro-human agitators -- own an obsolete fashion piece. To show off wealth...and display something that’s a uniquely human technology.” He wasn’t wrong about that observation. She wondered for a moment if her Uncle David owned one, before realizing that although he enjoyed finer things, he didn’t enjoy objects with no true utility. He was a lot like Vakarian in that sense. She missed her uncle and wondered when he’d come to the CItadel for a visit. 

“The watch, along with the car, is pretty much all we have right now. What does that really say about our killer, hm? Two expensive fashion pieces is all we have,” he mused. 

The watch, along with the car -- a K-31, driven mostly by wealthy humans and asari more concerned with looking rich than being comfortable -- was painting a picture of their killer. And those bits of evidence were all they really had at the moment. They were looking for a human or an asari -- the watch pointed them to a human, but they couldn't be sure. Asari were known for their fascination with other cultures, so the likelihood of an asari owning a watch wasn’t out of the realm of possibilities. They’d have to see what Vega’s contact back on earth was able to dig up on the watch.

But what about the evidence on Adam’s body? What kind of person slowly battered a kid to death? A kind, trusting kid. Punching, kicking, watching him cry and beg. He would have been in so much pain, and so scared. And what kind of person put their hands around a thirteen-year-old kid’s neck, closing the trachea with just enough pressure to suffocate him? It was slow. What kind of person owned a watch, drove a K-31, and used minimal power -- biotic and physical -- to take Adam’s life?

 And for what purpose? They didn’t get anything from the kid. Was it to lash out against humans, against the Udina family? Did they just do it for a sick thrill?

Those eyes flashed in her mind again. Adam’s kind, trusting eyes. She was going to need a whole bottle of wine to go to sleep tonight. If she worked out first, tired her muscles out, maybe just half a bottle. She looked over at Vakarian, opening her mouth, about to ask him if he wanted to get some take out and watch a dumb vid after work. But she stopped herself. Remembering him backing away from her last night, turning and leaving instead of getting dinner with her, she figured he’d probably say no to dinner again -- maybe they needed some time apart. 

The music on the skycar audio system filled the silence between them. Missing the sense of calm Vakarian always provided, just by speaking to her, she resented the music for filling the space instead of his smooth, deep, flanging voice. “This music is driving me fucking crazy,” she huffed. “It’s just beats and ominous tones.”

Vakarian, in turn, hummed with only a tinge of impatience that nevertheless made her regret complaining in the first place, “If you want to listen to something else, just change it, Shep.” She couldn't help but feel like a petulant child, throwing a fit just for a little attention. That’s what it was, wasn’t it? She just wanted to know he still enjoyed her company. 

“So you can complain about my music?” she tried to joke, but it came out much more bitter than she meant it to. She waited for his eyes to meet hers so they could both smile, a small sign that they were joking and everything was ok. But his gaze stayed on the traffic in front of them.

“I don’t care what you listen to,” he calmly replied, “as long as it makes you happy.”

Damn his calm rationality. Maybe that’s why she loved riling him up with her reckless behavior sometimes. She loved to see his cool demeanor break. And there went her filthy mind...What the hell was wrong with her? In the blink of an eye, she went from casually thinking Vakarian, her best friend, was an attractive male to constantly battling filthy thoughts. Somehow, she had to get that under control.

“Hey. I’m, uh, sorry…about last night.” Her voice, set against the soft tones and beats of the music, sounded too loud -- too out of place. Not only did she wish her voice were quieter, she wished she could just melt into the skycar door. Just disappear until they both forgot about her hand and how it drifted down to stroke his nape.  

 “It's fine, it was an accident.” Out of the corner of her eye, she watched him shift and worried that she was making him uncomfortable again. He’d ignore this forever if he could, but where would they go if they did?

 Feeling compelled to move past this terrible, awkward energy, she persisted. “I didn’t want to make you uncomfortable. It was a really stupid thing to ask.” She hoped he heard the sincerity in her voice, that he could hear how sorry she was for being so thoughtless.

 “Shep, listen, I told you it’s fine. You didn’t make me uncomfortable,” he said, and despite his humorous tone, she knew him well enough to hear the discomfort as well. “I just thought the people near us didn’t really deserve the show. Just do me a favor, hmm? Next time you decide to grope me in front of a thousand people just give me a heads up, if for no other reason than to prepare me for the embarrassment.”

Her head snapped to look at him, trying to figure out what he just said. He had to just be joking. Using humor to deflect was his thing. 

“Hah, I mean...it’s what a good friend would do,” he clarified, looking like he was trying to backtrack out of a room he wished he hadn’t entered, albeit as smoothly and with as much cool humor as possible. A nervous chuckle was the cherry on top -- he was having a hard time acting normal through this too. Somehow that made her feel better. 

“I won’t be asking to touch you anymore,” she quickly said, so eager to just move on that the words tumbled out of her mouth. “I promise. Just accept my apology, and we can forget it happened.”

“Avoiding an uncomfortable conversation? Correct me if I’m wrong, but you yelled at someone last night for that. And he was pretty broken up about it.”

She answered with a very pointed and heartfelt glare. 

“You hit me,” he accused with a toothy grin that melted away her glare. 

“Point taken,” she huffed, “but fuck off. And don't rub this in my face. Ever. Ok?”

His amused hum tickled the back of her neck. “You’re the one who has displayed an utter lack of respect for other people’s faces. But, sure.” A false serious tone accompanied by his sly smile set her at ease. He was joking -- they were ok. Back to normal. 

She couldn’t help but chuckle, even though she wanted to smack him for daring to take the matter so lightly when she was so broken up about it. While she used her omni-tool to switch to the station that played turian rock she contemplated how in the hell she was going to navigate the minefield she’d landed herself on. All she wanted to do was reach out a hand and touch him again. That smooth spot right under his fringe that made his subvocals thunder. The same spot that got her into this trouble.

***

 

As Vakarian left the C-Sec skycar dropoff, Shepard already on her way home, Vakarian saw Kryik sauntering up to him. 

“That must have been a shit day,” Kryik called out as he neared, “you’ve been at the lab all this time?”

Vakarain nodded, rubbing the tension out of his browplates and yawning. “Yeah. Mostly interviews. All damn day.”

“Any leads?” Kryik asked as they headed towards the 400 Block on Zakera Ward, where they both had apartments. 

“No, we didn’t even have a chance to look at the data collected from their console yet. Looks like Shepard and I will be stuck in evidence all day tomorrow. The footage alone could take days.” He sighed, dreading the task. 

As they turned a corner Kryik said with a lascivious expression, “Where is your partner with the roaming hands?”

Vakarian took a deep breath in, steadying himself. “Hey, Nih.”  

After Vakarian spoke Kyrik’s first name, he watched his friend soften. Every time Vakarian used Kryik’s name he remembered being a nervous, shy 15-year-old and how he enjoyed having Kryik by his side all throughout enlistment. Vakarian was wound tighter than a coil when he arrived in boot camp, and Kryik, a few years older and much more confident, taught him how to relax and have fun. 

Vakarian sighed while trying to gather his nerve, watching his feet carefully as they walked down the crowded street. Kryik had noticed his subvocals, mentioned seeing Vakarian checking out Shepard’s ass...no matter how much Vakarian wanted to ignore this, Kryik wouldn't. “I know you’ve picked up on it, alright. Just…back off a bit.” 

 Without a beat, Kryik replied, “Sure.” Vakarian could only see Kryik out of the corner of his eye, but the tone in Kryik’s voice and the way he nodded was all the reassurance Vakarian needed. The way he felt about Shepard was difficult enough, Kryik’s teasing was making it infinitely harder to navigate his way through those feelings. It was like turning on a bright light for someone lost in a dark room. Helpful intentions, but mostly it just shocks and blinds the unfortunate person stuck inside. At this point, Vakarian was basically crouched in the corner, refusing to open his eyes because he wasn't sure what he’d see if he did. 

 “I wish I could go back,” Vakarian finally said, “tell her not to. That was really stupid.”

 “The fringe rubbing? This is a lot of angst over a little alcohol-induced fun. Are you ever going to learn how to lighten up?”

Vakarian told him to drop it with a single look.

“Fine, but can I just ask why?” 

Why Vakarian refused to let his best friend seduce him at a bar -- whether that was her intention or not? Why he was so scared that her touch felt better than anything he’d felt before? Why he was certain that he’d lose her friendship and the only person he ever cared about, other than his family. And in return, he’d get what? A single moment -- a night at most -- of underwhelming sexual release? It wasn’t worth it. 

“I can list about a dozen reasons,” was all Vakarian muttered. 

Kryik just shrugged, fulfilling his promise to drop it.

They walked in silence a few minutes before Vakarian said, “The damn lab assistant tried to let Shepard use the prototype, and I think if I hadn’t stopped her Shepard would have actually done it.”

Kryik laughed with full approval for Shepard’s actions, “If you ever get sick of your partner, hand her over. She’s amazing. My own turian senses would never let me do something like that. But, damn it would be fun to watch her try it out.”

Vakarian grumbled, “I don’t even want to think of all the cases you two would fuck up together.”

Without a good argument, Kryik just laughed and shrugged, “She and I certainly wouldn’t make the team you two do. You’re really perfect for each other.”

“I don’t want to fuck up what we have,” Vakarian said before he had the sense of mind to keep his mouth shut. “We do good work," he clarified. "I don’t want to lose her because I can’t fucking relax.” 

“Why would you lose her for being too rigid?”

“I yelled at her for it. For wanting to use the prototype.”

“Well did you apologize for being an uptight prick?”

Shame filled Vakarian as he admitted, “No.”

 After walking past a few shops Vakarian finally muttered. “I admire you, you know? You just jump into situations, and you don’t even care about the consequences. You and Shepard both do. You never worry about what will happen if something goes wrong.”

“Things always go wrong. You should know that, ‘tactical expert’. Plan for all outcomes, right?”

“Yeah, well I’m a quick shot, so I can adjust to surprises out in the field. Not so quick with words, though. And you can’t shoot problems when they pop up unexpectedly.”

“You know, you always opened fire a lot quicker than others would have.”

As Vakarian hummed in disagreement an asari walked by, catching Kryik’s attention. He subtly watched her for a moment before she passed.

“Speaking of getting along with other species, have I ever told you about my first time with an asari?”

 Vakarian grumbled, “Why would I want to hear about that right now? Or, ever, actually?”

“Take it as a lesson in chilling the fuck out, about anything in life, but especially what’s particularly bothering you right now.” 

“I’m fine. Nothing’s bothering me.” It was a lie. Kryik knew it too, based on his patient sigh. 

Ignoring his argument, Kryik proceeded to tell his story, “I was 19, it was my first time with another species. She was like 350 years old – needless to say, she knew what she was doing, and I didn’t. Just like all asari, she was amazing and patient, and I was a fumbling fool -- way too aggressive and nippy. She kept smacking me and telling me to calm down.” 

“That’s more than enough info on a story I didn’t even want to hear.”

Unphased, Kryik continued, “We actually had to take a break after I pinched her nipple between my lips and she started bleeding like crazy -- it was running all down her stomach,” Kryik waved his hand down his own stomach for emphasis, as if that was necessary. “We had to grab some medi-gel it was so bad. And then, when I entered her...” he groaned like he was experiencing some kind of pain all over again.

As his impatience and frustration built up to a near boiling point, Vakarian almost begged,  “What am I supposed to be getting out of this story?”

 Kryik shrugged. “I don’t know, why don’t you let me finish and then you can meditate on it. My point is, It should have been humiliating. But, you want to know what I learned?”

 “Asari patience is detrimental to their health?”

Unphased by Vakarian’s joke, Kryik calmly said, “Your first time with a non-turian is just like your first time with a turian – you just have to take it slow, figure out what to do as you go. And remember non-turians are a bit more delicate.”

 A rush of emotions -- fear, desire, regret -- hit Vakarian. His frustration and fear boiled over, forcing him into a moment of pure vulnerability. Before his doubts and denial could tell him to keep quiet, his fear spoke for him, “You had one advantage there, Nih. I bet that asari wasn’t your best friend.” Vakarian’s heart froze as the words left his mouth, worried what Kryik would do or say after he let something like that slip. 

 “No,” Kryik quietly admitted, glancing around at the people around them as they walked down the crowded street. He finally looked up at Vakarian, a look of absolute seriousness on his face, although it was usually hard for Vakarian to take him seriously. “But,” Kryik said, “if she had been I would be a bonded man right now because that sex was amazing.”   

“You just said you didn’t know what you were doing, that it was embarrassing. And you actually hurt her.” The thought of hurting Shepard like that turned Vakarian’s stomach. He'd been covered in her blood once already, when she was shot, and it was honestly one of the worst days of his life. 

“Who hasn’t accidentally scraped, or bitten, a little too hard their first time?”

“Me. No blood was shed. At all.”

“Sex isn’t a proficiency competition, Garrus,” Kryik said, his browplates pinched. The fool actually thought Vakarian was trying to brag. If he was more relaxed, less wound up about Shepard, Vakarian would have laughed. 

“I’m sure there’s a fairly easy way to avoid lacerating or impaling someone with thinner skin.”

“Sure. And you’re a lot older than I was...Plus, I’m sure that if you ever did have sex with an asari...or a human...you’d probably care about them. You’d do some research, take it easy until you figured it all out. ”

Vakarian ignored the not so subtle way Kryik was slipping in advice on having sex with a human. With Shepard. He usually preferred Kryik to stay out of his business, but he had to admit that he needed some advice, even if the delivery was absolutely terrible and made Vakarian cringe.

 “Hey,” Kryik said as he rested a reassuring hand on Vakarian’s shoulder. “If you and I had sex and it was that amazing, I’d bond with you in a heartbeat.” The tone in his voice made it seem like he was serious, although the smile on his face told Vakarian that he wasn’t.

 Returning the smile, Vakarian stopped by the elevator doors. He wasn't quite sure what Kryik was trying to say there, but he had to appreciate the sentiment. “Well, I’m flattered. Thanks, Nihlus.”

After a moment of silence, while the elevator doors whooshed open, Vakarian flashed Kryik a wry smile. Never one to turn down a chance to make fun of his old friend, he said, “Although, after that asari story, there’s absolutely no way I’d let your talons or teeth anywhere near me.”

Chapter Text

As Garrus walked towards the coffee shop, trying to avoid running into other commuters on their way to work, he pulled up his omni-tool to type a message to Shepard. He only missed getting coffee with her one morning, but just once was enough. After his talk with Kryik, he’d thought about her all night while cleaning his favorite rifle, just so he had something to occupy his hands as he weighed every single option and outcome of pursuing something more with her. From total rejection to hurting her, to trying something that just didn’t work. A few times he allowed himself to imagine it going perfectly. Every possible scenario ran through his head until he was exhausted and had to go to bed, giving up on finding a path forward. At least for the night.  

Garrus: I missed my coffee yesterday...home-brewed is disgusting.

Jane: That’s what you get for being a punk and dragging your feet. 

Garrus: Won’t make that mistake again. Promise.  

Although he was eager to see her, they didn't say much once they met at the coffee shop. They yawned at each other a few times while waiting for their orders but spent most of their time staring out at the Presidium with tired eyes, only muttering about meaningless things like how crowded the shop was that day. When he woke up that morning, he imagined they would be back to their normal selves, laughing and teasing each other. Maybe she’d touch his mandible again and he could avoid freezing up and instead say something that would make her laugh. Or maybe even make her blush. With that goal in mind, they weren’t off to a great start.

The walk to the elevator was filled with awkward tension that Vakarian was just itching to resolve. At the elevator doors, as they waited, he looked down at Shepard. She’d barely looked at him all morning. Where were the affectionate glances? The looks they shared that silently communicated their inner thoughts and feelings? They’d only been off a few days, but he missed that connection with her more than he’d missed anything he shared with anyone else.  

He hated it, the missing looks, but also that he was so worked up over it. 

She looked up at him suddenly, as if she could sense his internal frustration Their eyes locked onto each other and he felt like time stopped, waiting for him to say the right words. She certainly wasn’t saying anything...just waiting for him it seemed. Why wasn’t she saying anything? Just as he was about to open his mouth to mutter something lame and unimportant, just to fill the silence, the doors slid open and he was interrupted by a honeyed voice.

“Detectives Shepard and Vakarian,” it said. As he turned away from Shepard towards the voice he saw Detective Heos, an asari from the arms trafficking unit, standing within the elevator, greeting them with a smile. Her partner, Detective Camus  -- a female turian who Vakarian knew way back from boot camp -- stood by her side. They were fun, but trouble. He always wished Shepard could spend more time with them -- they got along great.

“Saw you at Flux the other night, Vakarian. Kryik too,” Detective Heos said as he and Shepard entered the elevator, tucking themselves in the opposite corner from Heos and Camus. Shepard still made sure she didn’t get too close to him, though. She even avoided his touch when his elbow bumped into her arm and she quickly shifted away from him. The urge to reach out, take her by the hip, and pull her in tight up against him was so intense it caught him off guard for just a moment, delaying his response to Heos. 

After collecting his thoughts, Vakarian returned Heos’ friendly smile, “You should've come over, said hi.” 

Heos laughed softly, “My mate would have made a scene, he’s sweet, but jealous.”

“That’s a male turian for you,” Camus said while rolling her eyes, looking directly at Vakarian as if he solely represented all male turians, just to make sure he knew what a pain in the ass his kind were, before she turned to Shepard, “You’re finally starting to catch up with your partner, Shepard. Word’s even spreading around arms trafficking nowadays.” 

It was Detective Heos’ turn to roll her eyes. “Starting to? You turians are so full of yourselves,” Heos said, laughing at her partner. Then she turned to Shepard with a conspiratorial smile. “Be honest, it’s tough putting up with his cocky, know-it-all, by the book nonsense, isn’t it?” 

Not feeling threatened at all -- Shepard adored him, generally -- Vakarian looked down at his partner to watch her flash a smile up at him that lifted his spirits. After that brief little moment, her glance landed back on the asari. “Oh, the cocky attitude is the easy part. But I’m trying to figure out how the stick up his ass is so far in that I feel it.”

That got a chuckle out of everyone. As he and Shepard shared a few laughs with Heos and Camus he worried less and less about how he and Shepard were going to move on from the Flux incident. Their friendship was tight, always would be.  Nothing to worry about, he told himself. Although... the fact that she leaned away from him still ate away at him. Those casual touches that they shared were not something he wanted to give up. Hopefully, she felt the same. 

Walking down the dimly lit hall leading to the evidence room Shepard’s omni-tool pinged. Glancing down, her face lit up, “Oh, hey, it’s my Gran.” She picked up the call, and he could instantly hear her voice lighten. He was going to miss the hell out of her when she went home in a few weeks, but she desperately needed to be with her family, even if it was just a short trip.

Opening up the call, her grandmother popped on the screen. Five years ago, her hair had been as bright as Shepard’s, but flecks of silver were becoming more prominent. She was starting to wear her glasses more often too. 

“Hey Gran, what’s up? I’m at work, just heading into evidence to watch about 300 hours of footage.”

“Oh sorry,” Alice made a tsking noise at herself. “I still can’t figure out time differences. Is Garrus with you?” Shepard answered by turning her tool so that Vakarian’s face was visible to her grandmother. 

“Hey Alice,” he leaned over Shepard’s shoulder to fully fit within the frame, flashing a charming smile. He’d never been to Earth and her grandparents had never been to the Citadel, but from vid calls alone they knew each other well. They were sweet, and from what he could tell they spoiled Shepard rotten, which made him instantly like them. 

“Hi Garrus,” Alice waved her fingers and returned his smile. “Oh,” Alice remembered what she called for, “Janey, I just wanted to ask what time your flight will come in again. My gardening group is setting the date for our get-together.”

“Are you making peach cobbler? Please save me some,” Shepard pleaded. 

“I’ll make one especially for you, Pumpkin.” 

Shepard beamed at that, a pep now in her step. Whatever peach cobbler was, it made her extremely happy -- she talked about it a lot. 

 “Just have Papa pick me up.”

“No no, I want to be there,” Alice replied. “When you’re back home I don’t want to waste a single minute I could be spending with you.”

“Hang on, let me pull it up.” Shepard looked up towards Vakarian and gestured to the entrance to evidence. “You go ahead, I’ll be right in.”

“Wait. Wait,” Alice said. “Garrus, how has Shepard been? Just tell her to close her ears, and tell me. Has she been taking care of herself?”

Shepard rolled her eyes, “Gran, I’m fine.”

“Honestly?” Vakarian said, then looked down at Shepard, gauging whether he was going to tell Alice just how Shepard was doing. Shepard’s defiant look that said ‘You tell her anything and you’re dead’ just encouraged him. 

“Jane tried to use a piece of evidence, a prototype that gives humans biotic power.” The elbow he received for tattling on her was worth it. Someone needed to knock some sense into Shepard before she hurt herself. 

Horror spread across Alice’s face, her mouth fully agape before she made a little clicking noise. “Jane, it’s bad enough you’re out in the middle of space, floating around on some machine, and now you want to strap yourself to some crazy contraption that could kill you? Are you trying to give us heart attacks?

almost had a heart attack, Alice,” Vakarian said, bolstered by the fact that Alice took his side.

“Jane, be more considerate of your partner.”

“He’s not going to be my partner very much longer if he keeps telling on me to my grandparents,” Shepard grumbled, giving him a side eye. 

“Bye Alice,” Vakarian said with a smile. He always did like dropping chaos on people and sliding out of the situation.  

“Bye Garrus. Keep taking care of Jane for us.”

“Always. Tell Ed I said hi.”

After a few minutes, Shepard joined him in their evidence room, a small room with no windows and dim lights, but stuffed to the ceiling with consoles and equipment necessary for analyzing data. She settled into a chair next to his by propping up her feet on a table and holding her coffee tight to her chest, and they started up the footage showing Charles Udina and others using the prototype to manipulate small objects. The most frequently used, and heaviest object, was a model ship. 

After they watched a few test sessions Shepard, unimpressed by the show, asked, “How much does that model weigh?”

Vakarian opened up the reports, taking a moment to find the record pertaining to test objects, “0.725748 kilograms.”

Despite being a technological breakthrough, at the current development stage it just wasn’t capable of much. During one session, a lab assistant accidentally walked in between the prototype and the model ship. Watching looks of horror pop up on the assistants’ faces, Shepard and Vakarian both straightened up a bit, expecting something exciting to happen...and absolutely no harm occurred to the assistant, other than their lab coat flapped up as if a slight breeze had gone through the room. As the assistants’ concern subsided, Shepard and Vakarian’s excitement also subsided. 

“Well, that’s pretty definitive, right?” Shepard said, sliding back down in her chair slightly lower than she’d been positioned before. “I don’t think the prototype is capable of causing harm to a human. It definitely can’t be used to lift a kid and slam him against the ground.”

Vakarian nodded in agreement, “Seems so. They picked up the prototype yesterday and will run some tests here at C-Sec, but I don’t think they’ll find anything that contradicts Udina Labs records. All the data looks clean so far. I’d be surprised if that thing could lift Rocket.”

Because they both realized nothing exciting was going to happen in the footage, Vakarian decided to get a head start running the data through tools to ensure nothing had been deleted or altered to hide incriminating evidence. Shepard’s job was to watch footage while Vakarian looked through the data -- it didn’t require tremendous focus, and considering how tired she looked, he thought it would be a good job for her. 

In between running processes he’d look up to watch the footage with her. Eventually, Shepard’s eyes began to take longer and longer to open back up after blinking. He probably should’ve said something, or nudged her to wake her up gently. He definitely should’ve mentioned something when she tucked her legs up under her body and leaned too heavily against the stiff arm of her chair. But she looked so tired. 

Shutting her eyes for a few minutes wouldn’t do any harm. He’d just make sure he trained his eyes on both the footage and his analysis. Being a sniper from the ripe age of seven had prepared him for cautiously watching several spots all at once.  

She’d probably be mad at herself for drifting off at work, and that alone was a good enough reason to wake her up, but when her head gently lolled to the side, sliding from her hand and resting onto his arm, he wouldn’t have disturbed her for a million credits. 

He let her sleep like that for over thirty minutes, careful not to move a muscle and wake her. He wasn’t sure when his calming subvocals had started but considering she wouldn’t be able to hear them while she was asleep, he didn’t stifle them. The pressure and warmth were so calming that he just relaxed while watching both the console and his omni-tool.  

Eventually, though, she stirred, and once she opened her eyes, realizing where she was and the position she was in, she peeled herself away from him. She looked up at him, horrified. Unable to see the harm, he just kept watching the results roll by on his omni-tool.   

Oh my god ,” she breathed out while straightening her hair and rubbing at her widened eyes, “why didn’t you push me off you?”

“You were keeping my arm warm.” His eyes stuck to his omni-tool watching lines of text run by. 

“Shit, I’ve become a shit detective, haven’t I?” She sounded tired. Less sleep deprived and more worn out, though.

“You just need a break.”

“I’m so sorry.”

“For needing a break?” Seeing the look of concern on her face, and the way she was leaning away from him, he worried that she was more upset about touching him than she was about falling asleep at work. 

“No, for falling asleep on you.”

He looked up at her for a moment, wishing he could be honest and tell her how nice it felt, before looking back down at his data analysis. “Mmm, it’s not the first time, I’m sure it won’t be the last,” he hummed. His tool alerted him to an unusual segment of data. After verifying the checksums, he realized it was nothing to be concerned with and looked back over at Shepard. “Need some coffee?”

She shook her head as she leaned forward out of her chair, grabbing her half-finished cup. “No, this is cold and tastes like shit, but I’ll just drink it.” She settled back in her chair, sipping the coffee, a sour grimace developing from the taste. “Find anything?” she inclined her head towards his omni-tool.

“No. Files look clean. And I think I’ve seen that dumb model ship fly into the air and drop back down so many times that I have second-hand whiplash. It’s giving me PTSD to some bad Hierarchy missions. What do you say we pass this on to some lackeys to finish up?”

“Yes. Please.”

“Alright, I have a few more notes to make on the footage. I’ll run it and you can give me times and descriptions.”

Vakarian started up the footage, letting it run at twice the speed. They watched lab staff moving around the lab, the model ship bouncing around at a much more entertaining speed. Shepard propped her tired head up in her hand. 

“I'm cold. Put your head back on my arm,” he said, knowing she wouldn’t. He still hoped she would, even though he wasn’t quite sure what he’d do if she did. 

”It’s going to be really cold when I drool all over it.” She yawned, sitting back up and trying to straighten her posture, probably hoping it would bring some life back to her limbs. “You know, I have no idea how you get cold so easily when you’re always so warm to the touch.” She yawned again, her head tilting back and drawing his eyes to the delicate curve of her jaw.

Peeling his eyes off her stretched throat was difficult, but somehow he managed. After clearing his throat, he asked, with a bit too much concern in his voice, “Still not sleeping?”

“Not well. And Miranda moved in last night, kept me up late talking about her sister. She worries about her like a fretting mother. It’s pretty cute actually...knowing that Miranda actually loves someone.”

“Hm, maybe you need to work out harder before bed, really tire your muscles out.”

She looked at him as if she wanted to tell him he was a fool. “Hasn’t anyone told you women don’t like being told they should work out more?”

Chuckling at himself, he kept his eyes pointed to the footage. “Your ass has gotten a bit bigger…”

“Fuck off,” she said with a smile. 

***

As they watched the footage roll by, Shepard tried to refocus, gathering up the case details so they could move forward. Sitting still drove her crazy, whether the sitting still was her own body or the case they were working. She wanted to move forward. Get something done.  

“Ok, as far as suspects go, the father is out, right?” she asked him, making sure they agreed.

He nodded with a hum, “For now.” 

Stubborn asshole, she thought, and just as much said so with the look she gave him.

“So where do we go from here? We have no other suspects. What do we have?”

Vakarian paused the rolling footage to focus on her. Turning to her, then glanced up at the ceiling while he contemplated. “We have a watch and a car. But we still have no idea who owned either.

“Hopefully we’ll hear back from Vega’s contact soon on the watch. How’s the vehicle search going?”

“We’ve eliminated most models owned by Citadel residents. I’m starting to think it was a rental, but the rental companies are dragging their asses getting records back to us.”

“Of course they fucking are,” Shepard muttered bitterly. Money before morals, that was always the motto, regardless of species. 

“The watch didn’t belong to Adam’s family, but do you think that he could have gotten it from somewhere else? Maybe he borrowed it from a friend, and that’s how it wound up there?”

Shepard shook her head, “Yesterday at the lab, a couple of the staff said Adam was never interested in engineering or technology. So, I doubt he had any interest in the watch. It had to belong to the killer. Plus, the sizing was off -- it was set to fit on a much larger wrist than Adam’s.”

Shepard began to think about Adam -- who he was. They had no suspect, so they’d have to figure out what part Adam’s personality played in this. How did he wind up with a killer? Could he have made any decisions that put him in danger?  “You know, I keep wondering...would he have gotten in the car willingly? Or did they grab him? Interviews describe him as kind, trusting, wanting to get to know people. You don’t think he could have just gotten in a skycar with a random person, do you?”

“I mean, kids do weirder shit than that. Maybe somebody pulled up in a K-31, the flashy skycar caught the kid’s eye, and he got in just because he thought it’d be exciting?”

“Could be. I don’t know though, no one has said he was interested in money or fancy shit.” She rolled her head back, letting the tension in her shoulders release with a heavy sigh. They had fucking nothing...at least it felt that way. “So. Where do we go from here?”   

Vakarian’s warm eyes stayed on her for a moment before he spoke. “We just have to hope that the vehicle and watch lead us to the killer.” His voice was full of subtle optimism. He was a pessimistic person by nature, but he’d gotten damn good at faking positivity for her sake. Even though faked, she appreciated it. 

After they both had some time to quietly think, Vakarian turned back to the console and started up the footage. “So, uh,” Vakarian said, his voice had lowered an octave and his eyes seemed unnaturally glued to his omni-tool, “What are you wearing?”

Why the hell is he asking ...she caught herself before she could finish that train of thought. He was talking about the banquet. Her instinctive wariness concerning his intentions made her decide to go with the bullshitting route. What else was she supposed to do? Say she bought a pretty green dress that made her feel sexy, hoping he’d tell her how pretty she looked? Absolutely not. She glanced down at herself, then with a subtly sarcastic tone, said, “Ummm, white shirt, black pants…”

“No, smart-ass, to the banquet.”

Her second route was lying. “Maybe I’m just going to wear my normal work clothes.”

“Come on,” he said simply, “tell me.”

“Why do you want to know? What are you wearing?”

“A suit,” he replied simply. “See how easy honesty is?”

Her third route was pestering until he gave up. “What color suit?”

“Black.”

“Why not blue?”

He turned to look directly at her, a warmth flashing in his eyes that made her core stir. “Black makes my clan markings pop,” he purred, a vibration traveling straight from his chest to her heart, where it turned into a wild, consuming thumping in her entire chest. Yes, black certainly popped against his cobalt blue markings...and his gorgeous silver plating. “Why? You wanna see me in blue?”

She turned away from him to stare at the wall, anything to stop drowning in his cool blue eyes. “I don’t care what you wear,” her voice was low and over-controlled. Her lips barely moved as she took a sip of her coffee, paying extra attention so that her grip wouldn’t slip. 

She realized in that moment that there was one major difference between them. If he had been brushing his hands over her arm and cheek at Flux, and had reached out a curious hand to stroke her chest or her ass, she would have let him. Not only would she have let him, she would have crawled into his lap and begged for more.  

“I’ll wear blue for you next year,” she could hear the stifled laugh in his voice. He was teasing her. How in the hell did he not know what he was doing to her right now? As she thought of his arm wrapping around her waist, pulling her in, her pulse thumped and her breaths went shallow. 

“I don’t care what you wear,” she repeated, with a bit more grit in her teeth the second time. 

He turned back to the footage. “Then why are you asking me so many questions?”

“To annoy you, like you’re annoying me.”

“You’re the only one annoyed right now,” he said. And it was true, he was relaxed, his typical confident air obvious in his broad, loose shoulders and his easy smile. And there she was, flustered and irritated. Tight grip on her coffee and lips pursed. “Read me the time stamp on that shot,” he directed, pointing at the footage.

“18:23,” she barely managed to say.

“And?” 

Fuck , he was being a real shit with his cocky attitude. 

She sighed, just so he would know his attention to detail was something only he cared about, “18:23:46.”

As he recorded the time into his notes he said, “What color dress?”

“How do you know I’m wearing a dress? Did you stalk me to the shop?” It was a joke, but she was starting to wonder...

“No, but I could hack into your credit receipts. Track down the product code of what you bought. Hack into the shop system and look up the product code to get the brand and product description, then look that up on the extranet to get a perfect image of what you’ll be wearing. Or...you could just tell me.”

“Jesus Christ, why do you want to know now?” she huffed. If she told him what she was wearing he’d picture it, and then it wouldn’t be a surprise. She wanted to see his reaction as he first saw her. Admitting that made her feel a little stupid. A lot, actually. What was this, prom? He wasn’t letting this go though... “You’ll see what I’m wearing tomorrow night,” she finally said. She was flustered, and for some reason grinning like a damn fool.  

“You’re the one building this anticipation,” he said calmly, “by making it a big secret.”

“Well, I don’t think you can do all of that by tomorrow night...so I’ll just take the risk that you’ll see what I’m wearing for the first when I meet you at the bar.” Why in the hell does it sound like I’m teasing him? He’s the one pestering me.

A small smile spread across his mandibles as if he’d won something. “I can do it before then. But I’m sure it’s worth the wait.”

***

Feeling absolutely pleased with himself for getting her flustered, he looked up at her to smile and found her smiling right back, eyes filled with affection nonetheless. Sometimes when he teased her she would get huffy -- even though she still smiled -- but it would be clear he riled her up. While that was fun, it wasn’t his favorite reaction. Sometimes they would just look at each other, smiling, and never saying exactly what they were thinking. 

Which is what they were doing at that moment. They just looked at each other, smiling, for what felt like an eternity. Watching each other and smiling. And it didn’t feel weird, or unnatural. In the past, during those moments he would have thoughts like ‘she’s so funny or ‘she's so smart. Lately, he’d been admiring different things, thinking different thoughts. Like right now he was thinking ‘she’s so beautiful, her eyes are so green, and her lips look so soft. 

He felt like he’d been staring at her, admiring her, for too long. But she was still looking at him, smiling right back. This is what I’ve been missing, he thought. The expression on her face was enchanting -- her eyes sparkled and it looked like a million thoughts were rushing around in her head. Or maybe just one thought that was dug in real deep, taking hold and not letting go. He’d give anything to know what she was thinking. That was the really hard part of life, wasn’t it? Not knowing what someone was thinking. Especially when you wanted so badly to know. He could just ask her...

She looked so happy then, just watching him and smiling. Was she happy? Spirits, he wanted to please her. If only he understood what she wanted...

"Hey, why..." he started, then froze, wishing he'd just kept his mouth shut. 

"What?" she asked softly. His heart thumped in his chest, telling him to just stop, or pretend he forgot what he was asking.

"Why did you," he hummed, everything inside him telling him not to ask her what was on his mind. He was aching to know, though. 

"What, Garrus?" Her voice was even softer, cajoling, even. 

"Why did you go out on that date? Did you like him?" His voice almost caught, but he got his words out. His heart pounded as he waited for her reaction, all the while wondering how badly it would hurt if she said that she did, indeed, like the guy.  

A pained look fell over her. He got the sense she was trying to hide it, though. "No, not really."

Her answer only confused him even more. "Then why did you ask him out?"

For a short moment, her eyes fell and her fingers played at the edge of her coffee cup. Then she finally looked at him. The sadness in her called him to reach out to her, but he refrained. "Because it felt good knowing he liked me," she said. As her chest lifted with a gentle breath, his heart sank. "It's selfish and sad, but..." She just shook her head then shrugged. 

He watched her, anxious and heartbroken to hear her say that out loud. He wasn't quite sure what he expected when he asked her. Maybe she'd joke around? Maybe she'd say that she had been interested until she spent more time with him? Vakarian never expected her to say that, though – he hated himself just for a moment.

Either she had no idea how he felt about her, or she knew and she didn't feel the same way. At that moment, in that dark room, he'd never been so close to telling her exactly what he thought about her, like how her eyes melted his heart and her lips made his tongue tingle. He thought about telling her that she made him so happy he could spend the rest of his life in the dark and still feel warm. If she only knew a fraction of his feelings for her...well, he hoped that it would matter to her.  

Her cautious eyes watched him while she played with the coffee cup. Did she want him to say something? Of course she did. She just bared her soul to him and all he could do in response was gawk at her with twitching mandibles. 

"You're wonderful, Jane. You probably don't even know how many guys wish they had something more with you."

Her laugh was gentle, and he could detect only a hint of bitterness. "Maybe," was all she said. 

She sat so close to him, fidgeting while looking so defeated and vulnerable. The urge tugged at him to scoop her up, wrap his arms around her, and tell her how perfect she is. He wanted to say a thousand other things to her, too – but it just didn't feel like the right time. Not after he begged her to tell him why she went on a date with someone other than him. 

“Well, uh…” he cleared his throat, “what do you say? Wanna finish up and go see how Kryik and Vega are doing? I think Kryik was going to teach Vega how to do reports today.”

With a heavy breath, she said, “They’ve been getting along great. Maybe it won’t be so bad.”

“That’s what I love about you, how stupidly optimistic you are.” That finally broke the uncertain, somber mood between them. Her spirits seemed to lift and they shared a laugh.

As they both rose out of their chairs, she nudged him playfully with her hip. Just as the soft curve of her ass brushed up against his thigh he caught her hip in his hand, giving her a little squeeze. Damn, she’s sexy, he thought, stifling a rumble in his throat. For a brief moment, he wanted to let her hear that rumble. Would she be surprised? Would she enjoy it? It certainly wasn't the right time for something like that, though. he wanted to be more certain before letting her know how he felt. 

Back in Homicide, as Shepard and Vakarian walked towards their desks it was immediately clear, based on body language alone, that something was brewing between Kryik and Vega. They both sat at their respective desks, facing each other but staring at their consoles, shoulders set, and sour expressions written across their faces. If they had been the same species they would have looked like mirror images of each other. 

Vakarian heard Kryik’s agitated subvocals before he heard his equally agitated voice. “No, you need to put that in the next paragraph,” Kryik said in a clipped tone, his teeth slightly bared. 

“Why? It’s fine right there,” Vega replied, sounding equally upset, although his voice wasn’t so much agitated as burned-out. 

“Oh, sure it is. Let’s just go ahead and list eye color with the description of his clan markings as well. Let’s just go all out, since we’re already acting like absolute incompetents, and add what the first witness said about his clan markings in the same paragraph as well. Just shove it all in, right there. Fuck standards and systemization.”

“Sounds good to me,” Vega said flippantly. 

Spirits, they sounded like an old bonded couple. “Having fun, guys?” Vakarian asked while setting his datapad down, Shepard stopping next to him instead of going to her own desk so she didn’t have to take her eyes off the show. 

Instead of responding to Vakarian, Kryik looked at Shepard, “I can’t work with him. Take him back.”

“First, he’s a person,” Shepard said with a laugh, “not a botched food order. And second, I’m not the one that gave him to you, so I can’t ‘take him back’.”

“He’s a maniac,” Kryik roared as if his anger was justified and his opinion was normal. As if he wasn’t the one coming off as a bit maniacal himself. While Shepard chuckled, his eyes shot to Vakarian, expecting him to commiserate about how horrible humans were to work with. Their little argument was catching the attention of a few nearby detectives. Vakarian was just thankful that he wasn’t the cause for the gawking eyes for the first time in a few days. 

Vakarian’s eyes took in the scene. Kryik’s comment, the comical amount of anger in his eyes. Vega’s stubborn pose -- crossing his arms obstinately while watching Kryik like he was a hopped-up junky about to do something crazy. It made Vakarian laugh harder than he had in days. 

“You’re loco, that’s your problem.” Vega stuck out a finger pointing respectfully at Shepard, Vakarian, and then Kryik as he said, “Lola, Sweetcheeks, and Loco.” 

“If ‘loco’ means doing my reports correctly, call me Loco all day long,” Kryik spat, throwing his arms open like he was accepting a challenge.

“Come on man,” Vega groaned, throwing his head back in exasperation, “you need to chill the fuck out.”

Shepard and Vakarian chuckled together, offering absolutely no sympathy or advice.

Shepard turned to Vakarian while nudging him with her elbow, “Remember when you still redid our reports secretly, thinking I wouldn't notice? And remember when I found out?”

“I didn’t want to hurt your feelings,” Vakarian protested. 

“Ha!” Kryik laughed. “You didn’t want her to kick your ass. Had nothing to do with her feelings.”

Vakarian, ignoring Kryik, turned to Shepard with what felt like the sappiest smile, but he didn’t care. “Your reports weren’t so bad,” he told her in an ingratiating tone. 

“Don’t patronize me, mother fucker.” Shepard said, only half-joking. Her demeanor was the perfect balance between threat and humor. It was a skill that Shepard, and few others, possessed -- and it constantly made him laugh. He never knew whether she was going to bowl over laughing, or reach out and hit him. Sometimes she did both.

“No, really,” Vakarian replied playfully, “You would have never listed witness reports in physical descriptions. You’re reckless, but not a maniac .” 

Shepard puffed up and rolled her eyes at him. “Oh here we go with the reckless thing again. You know,” her eyes narrowed on him, her head slightly cocked to the side clearly showing she was lying to herself, “maybe I wouldn’t have even used the prototype. It was just a thought .” She was nearly convincing too. But he knew her too well. She would have strapped that thing on in a heartbeat, tossing model ships around, a greedy look of power in her eyes the whole time. She was not to be trusted with dangerous objects. Like skycars.  

Vakarian smiled at her for a moment, gathering his thoughts before saying, “How did their fight turn into our fight?”

“So,” Kryik caught their attention by changing the subject suddenly with a more relaxed tone and subdued rumbling subvocals, “either of you have dates for tomorrow night?”

A mocking laugh came out of Shepard as she took a protein bar from her desk, “Vakarian hasn’t been on a date in years. How about you?”

“Why waste time arranging a date when I’ll leave with someone no matter what?” Kryik answered. 

Vakarian turned to Shepard, stung by her betrayal. “How do you get to make fun of me? You haven’t even been on a date in years either.”

“Pffft, neither have you. Not since Livia. Two years ago.”

“Spirits, Vakarian,” Kryik leaned forward, actually looking concerned rather than amused. “It’s been that long? Really? No wonder you’re so uptight.” The look on Kryik’s face made Vakarian feel like he should be apologizing for something. As if he had done something to personally offend his friend. Almost guilty enough to unnecessarily, and to his own eventual embarrassment, admit he’d seen Octavia a few times since then. Which he really did not want to admit to in front of Shepard. Then he realized maybe there was a reason Shepard hadn’t told him about her date with Kaiden Alenko. At some point, talking about other people had become taboo.

“And I was just on a date,” Shepard argued with a superior tone. Turning to Kryik she said while wagging her brows, “With a Spectre .”

“That you left early,” Vakarian pointed out, no longer worried about the Spectre after what she just said. He turned to Kryik, for some reason feeling very pleased with himself and overly eager to prove a point, “She didn't even eat with the guy, she left with me to go eat take-out.”

“What were you doing there?” Vega and Kryik asked in unison, matching inquisitive brows to boot.

“That’s...not the point,” Vakarian said. Instead of feeling embarrassed that he was only there because he had stalked her, he couldn’t help but puff up a little, knowing she left her date to spend time with him instead of the Spectre. Vega and Kryik didn’t need to know exactly why he was there. It was probably one of those things that others found problematic. He did, however, take note of the delighted expression on Shepard’s face. She seemed to approve of his antics, at least...though she’d probably never admit to it. 

“Still a date,” Kryik said. The number of times that Kryik took Shepard’s side in arguments occurred way too often nowadays, and it bugged the hell out of Vakarian. He wanted to ask Kryik who had saved his ass by taking out three batarians with one shot. Because it sure as hell hadn’t been Shepard. “Good for you, Shepard,” Kryik said with an approving nod. The bastard had just been encouraging him to pursue Shepard, and here he was congratulating her for going on a date...

“A Spectre, eh?” Vega decided that was a great moment to butt in. “Nice, Lola.”

Vakarian looked between his co-workers, nearly at a loss for words, his mandibles slack. “One day, I’d like to come in and just work. One day.”

“Good luck with that,” Shepard said, sipping her coffee and taking a bite of her protein bar. “You’d have to move our desks away from Kryik,” the mouthful of food muffled her words. Watching her chewing lazily like that, Vakarian wondered how in the hell he was so attracted to her. Then her eyes innocently met his, and she smiled, and he could almost feel her hand at his nape...

“I’d just yell across the room at you,” Kryik pointed out while leaning back in his chair, barely breaking Vakarian from his thoughts. 

That was the moment, watching her with warming affection spreading through his chest, he knew that he had to say something. Vakarian adored his little human, even when she fell asleep at work or chewed her unpleasant-smelling bars too enthusiastically. Seeing her in a dress and heels was going to be worth the wait. And she was worth a risk, as long as she wanted to take a risk too. Vakarian decided he was going to have to do some research when he got home. Better to be over-prepared. 

***

That night, back at his apartment with free time and privacy to delve into the gritty details of human female anatomy and their sexuality, Vakarian jumped right into research with a dizzying mixture of enthusiasm and apprehension. Aside from extremely helpful anatomy lessons meant for sex-ed courses, he stumbled upon a vid of a woman finding a lot of pleasure from her own hands, which was not necessarily what he’d been looking for but actually found somewhat helpful. After he realized he was studying the woman like she was a complex machine he’d never seen before, he closed the vid feeling guilty for reducing her to a bunch of moving parts only worthy of his study. 

Overall, the research had him worried all over again. Shepard’s body was just so different. With all the worrying thoughts swimming in his mind, he had a hard time focusing on what would actually make her happy. He thought about taking out his rifle for the second night in a row, cleaning it for no damn reason other than to have something in his hands, something to keep him busy as thoughts about his partner, and their friendship, and her hips and tongue...and, damn. How in the hell was he going to figure this out?

One thing at a time, he told himself, finally deciding to take a shower, wash the day’s problems away. He'd analyze the complexity of human female sexuality, and what to do about Shepard, with a focused mind once he was relaxed and clean.

Under the water’s heat his shoulders relaxed, the steam building around him created the illusion of being somewhere else, all of his worries sliding away. After working up a lather in his hands he started with his fringe and crest. Moving from there to his neck, his hand naturally fell to the spot right under his fringe, his fingers brushing over his nape just briefly as he washed up. And damn, if her fingers weren’t the only thing he thought of when his own hand drifted over that sensitive spot. He’d been so stupid taking her hand off his nape. What would have happened if he had just let her? Would she have kept her hand there, kept touching him? Would she have realized, then, how much he wanted her? Maybe it all would have just happened, naturally. 

As he continued to run the soap along his shoulders and chest his mind stayed on the memory of her touch. Lost in that moment, his muscles clenched as a rush of need washed over him, beating through his chest and down into his core. Remembering the sight of her hip curving out to meet his thigh earlier that day in the evidence room, his pulse quickened. Her mischievous gaze, flashing up at him. His breath caught remembering the curve of her hip in his longing hands, his talons digging into her pliant flesh. 

His plates ached to spread. And remembering how the woman touched herself in that vid earlier, he thought of Shepard touching herself like that. Shepard teasing her finger against the soft flesh between her thighs. 

His muscles tensed at that thought. Without planning to, his hand had wandered down to his plates, a single finger teasing his cockslit, talon dragging against plate. His own touch elicited a soft groan that built in his throat, loosening his subvocals. If Shepard was in the shower with him, she’d be able to feel the thrumming, even if she couldn’t hear his desire for her. Already dripping, his fingers began to slide easily over his cockslit, thoughts of her curves flashing through his mind. 

With only a few more strokes, he was freed from his slit, his heavy cock falling into his hand. Wrapping his warm palm around the base he began softly stroking himself, thinking of Shepard. Her hips resting in his hands, manipulating her with a firm hold, placing her right where he wanted her. His grip traveled softly over each ridge on his cock as he thought of her hips pinned down beneath him, rolling against his plates and aching to take him in.   

As his grip tightened, strokes quickening, he saw her head tilting back, rapt in pleasure. His hand reaching up and wrapped around her little jaw, pushing her head back even further so that he could see her throat, stretched out and ready for his tongue. That was the thought that did it, sent his hungry growl rumbling through his chest and bouncing off the shower walls. 

Fuck, she's gorgeous. His pace quickened again. Every thought building his pleasure. He wanted her. Wanted to please her. Wanted to make her feel as good as he felt, stroking his cock and thinking about her eyes, her lips, her voice whispering his name and filled with need for him. She had to want this too, right? He knew he felt it. The way her breath caught when he had squeezed her hip.

With a quick breath, his free hand shot up to his nape, gently stroking the smooth, sensitive plate as she had. Spirits, her fingers would feel so much better, but his own would have to do. 

Stroking his cock, ache beating throughout as he tightened his grip, his rhythm grew sporadic. As his fingers pressed into the soft plate under his fringe, heavy, uncontrolled breaths filled his chest, his shoulders rising with each as he neared his breaking point. His cock swelled within his hand and hips bucked into his own grip. The memory of her soft laugh filled his ears. One last brush of his nape as he imagined her affectionate eyes locked on his...and one last tight stroke...his muscles tense and shaking as the ache that had been building for weeks finally crested. Heat and pleasure rolled over him in bursts, dulling his senses to anything other than the sensations on his cock and nape. Core tightening and his cock pulsing violently within his palm, he continued to stroke through his release until he collapsed against the shower wall, his shaking arms propping him up.   

With a few huffing breaths he drifted back, his orgasm-induced fog wore off and clarity came back to him. He couldn't help but smile. 

Well, he had wanted to do something with his hands...

Chapter Text

The Annual C-Sec Banquet was held every year in Quinctius Hall on Tayseri Ward. The massive structure was tucked right next to the Museum of Galactic History, Auxua School of the Arts, and Gaeron Botanical Gardens. Most buildings in the district were asari, some salarian, but Quinctius Hall was one of the few modeled on turian design. It was imposing and grand, featuring geometric shapes and symmetry, and all the art on the grounds focused on the idealism of militaristic glory. Which somehow meant a lot of statues of nearly naked turians in dramatic poses with ancient weapons in hand. It was all quite impressive, but also a representation of strength, perfection and everything beautiful about the turians. 

Even the grounds were clearly turian, and despite never necessarily seeing a turian garden she knew this is what it would look like. All the flower beds and walking paths were symmetrical, geometric patterns. Trees and shrubs were shaped meticulously with gardening shears, and plants from an arid environment were set in pots in logical patterns. God, even the flowers are planted in perfect rows, she thought while nearly chuckling out loud. Although she didn’t, because there were a lot of very stern looking members of C-Sec, from basic officers to Executor Rix, milling about the grounds and making their way into the hall.

Everything was immaculate, controlled, imposing... and very turian. It made her smile, and think of the beautiful, strong man that stood by her side every day. Something about the very turian surroundings made her feel closer to Vakarian.

Shepard walked past the statues and topiaries and into the hall, her confidence a mixed bag. The dress made her feel damn good – a deep emerald green satin that complimented her pale skin and red hair. She chose it because it was cut specifically to hug her ass in an incredibly obvious way. Putting it on, and standing in the mirror, she remembered Vakarian’s hand on her hip, squeezing softly, and could picture him reaching out to her at the banquet, squeezing her again. The thought alone made her knees weak. 

The dress was tight everywhere, with a wide open neck putting her throat on full display, but the way it cupped her ass basically put it up on a platter, an absolute feast for the eyes -- at least that was the desired outcome. It was as dripping in sex appeal as a dress could be while still staying appropriate enough to wear around colleagues.

She walked towards the bar where she knew she’d find Vakarian. The shoes were another story entirely. She took great care to not slip or wobble on the sleek stone floors that had probably been shined incessantly, making it even more slippery. But they were black and high -- adding a full six inches to her height. Most importantly, they brought about thoughts of leather and bondage. Which made the instability worth it. 

She couldn't see him, and even though he was seven foot tall and generally towered over everyone else, she leaned up onto the tips of her shoes to try to find him.  

“Well. Damn,” the familiar and smoky voice drawled. It was a smooth and sultry grumble, traveling from somewhere behind her. She froze to take a sobering breath -- his voice always took on some supernatural power to travel through the environment and warm her from the inside out. It reached out, grabbed her around her chest and stomach, and pulled her in. And that was before she had decided he was the sexiest thing she’d ever seen. Now, its effect grew in strength – it made her ache. Her chest tightened. His voice was better than friction between her thighs. 

Her heart leapt as she turned to find him, anticipation making her feel like a silly teenager. She saw her partner leaning casually against the bar, a clear line of sight between them. He looked like an absolute rake with a confident grin, a drink in hand, and eyes that transparently displayed all of the amoral thoughts swarming his mind. She wondered how he didn’t have some gorgeous turian woman hanging on to his arm. Or a couple. He definitely could have a couple all fighting for his attention. And he probably would, if he didn’t insist on being a smart ass all the time.

 “ Definitely worth the wait,” he purred. “Why haven’t I ever seen you like this?” 

 She shrugged, trying to play it off casually even though her heart was melting at the thought of him flattering her, really flattering her, as if he was actually interested in her. She flashed a shy grin, telling him not to tease her. “I’ve never had a reason to get dressed up.”

 “Don’t let Spectre Alenko hear you say that. He’ll be heartbroken when he realizes you made no effort to impress him on your date.”

 “Well luckily he’ll never know, because I plan on never seeing him again. And thanks for telling me I looked terrible on my date.”

 “I didn’t say that.” Despite the sincerity in his voice, there was a self-satisfied grin that alerted all of her defenses. Suspicion hit her like a slap to the face. 

 “What’s that grin for?”

 “He’s here tonight.”

 Her heart dropped straight to her ankles as the panic hit her. “Fucking liar.” Her head frantically turned as she scanned the room, hoping to find him so that she could stay on the opposite side of the hall. “I haven’t talked to him since I ditched him at the restaurant.”

 “You wish I was lying. And this,” he gestured with his drink in hand towards Shepard’s body, eyes lingering salaciously on her chest, traveling slowly up her neck, before finally landing back on her eyes, “is definitely going to break his heart.”

 “Stop teasing me,” she said through gritted teeth, no longer flattered by his fake ogling and smooth talking.

 “I’d never tease you about this. You know how important looks are to me.” He fiddled with a now empty glass in his hands.  

“Are you drunk already?” She snatched his glass from his hands and set it down on the bar.

 “Unfortunately not. Have to stay proper for Dad. Which means I’m sober tonight. Mostly.”

 She looked back to get her eyes on Kaiden, but unfortunately he’d seen her first and was already making his way over. A room stuffed from corner to corner with people and somehow he spotted her mere minutes after she arrived. 

 “Jane, it’s good to see you,” he called out as he approached.

 Turning to Kaiden, she slapped on a fake grin faster than she put on her shoes that evening. “Kaiden. Hello. How are you?”

He looked so happy with those puppy dog eyes. “Wonderful, thanks. You look beautiful.” His eyes wandered down to look her over, but he quickly returned his gaze to hers, clearly self-conscious about checking her out. 

“Oh thanks. You look nice as well.”

 He blushed, then pointed back in the direction he came from. “I came with my sister. Remember? I told you she works in C-Sec Administration.”

 Shepard nodded then found herself looking over to Vakarian for help getting through the conversation. Kaiden had followed her gaze and saw Vakarian as well, who was still leaning casually against the bar, watching them with a boredom that dulled his expression. 

 “I remember you,” Kaiden said in a chipper, eager tone. “You’re her partner. It’s nice to see you again.”

 “Sure,” Vakarian responded flatly. Kaiden didn’t seem to notice the dismissal, thankfully -- he was too nice.

 “Would you like to dance, Jane?” Kaiden suddenly asked.

Before she could think up a kind excuse, say anything really, Vakarian responded for her, “She’d love to.” 

 Without waiting for a response from Shepard, Kaiden lit up. “Hang on, let me take this drink back to my sister.” He sped away so eagerly that Shepard’s heart sank.

If it was possible to mock someone simply with an energy in one’s eyes, that was what Vakarian was doing as he watched Kaiden walk away. “Get ready to swoon, Jane... right after he takes his sister a drink.”

Shepard grimaced, not taking her eyes off Kaiden as he wove through people to get to his sister. She mumbled softly, “I don’t dance.” That’s what she should have said. I don’t dance Kaiden, sorry.

“I know,” Vakarian said, “You didn’t remember his sister works in C-Sec, did you?”

 She didn’t dignify his accusation with an answer, mostly because he was right. “I don’t want to dance with him.”

He shrugged. “Do something fun tonight.” 

 “And here I was hoping to just enjoy a nice evening being miserable with you.”

 “Oh you can spare a few minutes to be miserable with Spectre Alenko.” He took another drink. “It’s gonna be a long night. Let me give you some advice. Break it up with fun little activities. Have a drink, dance with Kaiden, eat dinner, clap for my dad…”

 “If we don’t end this night with me punching you, I’ll say a miracle occured.”

A coy smile parted his mandibles. “See, now you get it. Little activities you can look forward to.”

 She balled up her fist and offered a slow smile, a slow threatening smile.

 “Jane.” He paused, leaning towards her, which cocked his hip out even more. She took a sobering breath and gave him her full attention. “If you’re not interested, tell the guy. Lies always surface, you know that.”

 “I’m bad at dating, Garrus. And I don’t want to date him or hurt his feelings.

 “Seems like ditching him on a date is something that would hurt his feelings.”

 “You helped me, don’t judge me,” she hissed, as if they’d robbed a bank together and she was ready to take him down with her if caught. He was her co-conspirator -- and he deserved it, for spying on her while she was on her date. 

 He all but scoffed. “I don’t have any obligations to the guy.”

 “Then why do you care how I treat him?”

 “Sympathy, I guess. I’d be heartbroken if you left me like that on date.”

 She felt like her head was swimming, and she hadn’t even had a single drink yet. She nearly stuttered when she said, “ You’d be ?”

 His eyes shot behind her, then back over to meet hers. “Shh, he’s coming back. And this time, try to remember what he looks like.”

“Fu--”

“Ready to dance?” Kaiden interrupted her before she could tell Vakarian off.

Before she knew it she was on the dancefloor, trying to steady herself using Kaiden as leverage while also trying to avoid being overly touchy with him. 

In between awkward glances at each other, their eyes darting off when their eyes met, Shepard examined Kaiden’s face as they danced. Unlike during their date, he was being alarmingly quiet. He was handsome, she couldn’t deny that. Dark, well manicured hair, warm brown eyes, a strong jaw. But there was just something missing. 

Sharp teeth, for one…and his skin was alarmingly bare, no colony marking that swept beautifully across the strong curves of face plates. And his voice didn’t flange…God, the way turians voices vibrated just hit you straight in the... When did I become exclusively attracted to turians? A handsome human held her in his arms, and she had absolutely no interest in him. Not romantically. Not even sexually. 

 Her gaze drifted past Kaiden’s shoulder and fell on Vakarian, still standing at the bar but now talking to Kryik. There was no comparison either, between this man and her turian. It was like comparing a mortal to a greek god. And no...that was not hyperbole. Vakarian was seven foot tall, made of silver plates that made him look like a finely chiseled statue in the Louvre, possessed a tight ass, wide hips, tiny waist and hulking chest and shoulders, and possessed double the strength of humans and the grace of a predatory creature. He was perfect, in every way. 

As her gaze left Vakarian to look back at Kaiden Shepard felt for a moment like she was going to fall. Her damned shoes were too tall, and Kaiden wasn’t exactly offering her the best support. He was stiff, and his movements were a bit unpredictable. She feared she was going to fall on her ass and when looking up would see Vakarian and Kryik chuckling down at her. Granted, they’d both give her a hand up, but it would just be one more ‘Shepard can’t dance’ story...

As she finally stabilized herself, she looked back over to Vakarian and just as their eyes met he smiled -- warm and easy and...she melted. She found herself smiling at him without even thinking... a shy, easy smile. 

Kaiden, who didn’t seem to notice her near catastrophe or the fact that she was making eyes at her partner, interrupted her thoughts, “I, uh, realized I talked a bit too much on our date. I was hoping to make a better impression this time.”

 Her heart sank as the guilt hit her straight in the chest. She had no intention of pursuing anything with Kaiden, but she certainly didn’t want him to feel bad. “Oh, no –”

 Interrupting her, he laughed softly and said, “I hope you’re a better liar when you interrogate criminals.”

 His frankness, and previously absent sense of humor, caught her off guard, and she couldn’t help but laugh before saying, “I’m…sorry, that our date didn’t go so well. We just went to the scene of a bad case right before, and I’ve been a bit too focused on it. I haven’t been myself the past week.” It wasn’t the whole truth, but it wasn’t a lie. Shepard misstepped and her ankle teetered briefly before she caught herself. Again, Kaiden didn’t seem to notice her wobbling.  

“So what do you like talking about?” he asked. “Cases?” 

“God no, please.”

They laughed softly together for a moment, like strangers do when something awkward happens, before she realized how kind Kaiden was. He made her think of Adam. 

“Hypothetically,” she said, “when you were a kid would you have gotten into someone’s skycar if they offered you a ride?”

“A stranger? No, I’m not that nice.”

“How about if it was someone you knew, but you didn’t need a ride?”

“Sure, if I knew them well. Why wouldn't I get in a car with someone I know? Is this about a case?”

Feeling a bit ashamed for bringing up her case while dancing in a ballroom with a handsome man, she slowly nodded. “Sorry.”

“Hey, don’t worry about it,” he said with a slightly sad smile. 

After that they danced a while longer, talking about the weather back on Earth, dogs and cats, and a few other topics. When the song ended she quickly thanked him for the dance, and returned to the bar to find Vakarian. Her heart swelled when she saw him again, standing next to Sol. Shepard eagerly made her way over to them...she hadn’t seen Sol in months, and she was the closest thing Shepard had to a sibling. 

 “I hope I didn’t miss meeting your girlfriend,” Shepard said while sliding in close to Vakarian. His hand reached over to hover at her hip, the back of a talon brushing ever so lightly along the curve, before he tucked it back in his pocket. After willing her heart to keep beating, Shepard's only reaction was to naturally gravitate towards him, pulled in by the energy between them. 

 “You didn’t miss anything, she’s over there talking with Mom and Dad. I came over here to tell Garrus to behave himself .” Sol shot Garrus a warning look. 

 Vakarian smirked, then looked down at Shepard so they could share a look. Judging by his behavior so far, she assumed Sol’s mate was in for a very fu n introduction.

“I hear Castis is very impressed,” Shepard said. 

 Sol smiled, a glow lighting up her face, her affection for her mate already clear. “Oh Dad loves her. She’s soft spoken, and respectful, and so intelligent.”

 “Stop bringing your perfect mates around,” Vakarian mumbled.

 “Mom and Dad would be satisfied if you brought any mate around, you idiot.”

“I’m sick of spending time with mates I have no intention of bonding with.”

“How are you going to find a bondmate if you don’t date?” Sol pointed out, very much sounding like the little sister she was.

That was new from him. The idea that he was even contemplating bonding caused Shepard to panic for just a moment. Sol and Vakarian were exchanging childish insults like all loving siblings do, but their actual words passed right over Shepard.

While Shepard had been distracted by analyzing every detail of Vakarian’s face to decipher what he meant by that bonding comment, Sol’s mate had somehow appeared at Sol’s side.

Sol’s voice was full of affection, but Shepard only stared at her stunning mate. “Garrus, Jane, this is Liara.”

Liara was absolutely beautiful, a demure and especially gorgeous asari. Soft features and a gentle, shy smile. It was clear why Sol was dating her, just based on looks alone.

“It’s so nice to finally meet you both,” Liara said with a breathy voice that was just as shy as her smile. “I’ve heard so much about you, from Sol of course, but from Castis and Valeria as well.” 

Shepard knew instantly why Sol had been hiding Liara from her brother...he was going to be an absolute brat to Liara purely because she was so shy and gentle. Not that he normally pestered shy, soft spoken people...but that paired with the fact that she was his sister’s mate set Liara up to be pestered until her last nerve snapped.  

 After some polite conversation getting to know each other Sol seemed to relax with Liara around her brother and asked, “Are you two working the case with that body they found on the Presidium in the water?

“No, tied up on the Udina kid,” Vakarian replied. 

“Oh Spirits. Of course Mom and Dad wouldn't mention you two are working that case.”

“Why do you ask about the asari in the water?” Shepard asked, hoping to avoid the topic of Adam Udina. She just wanted to have fun, relax. 

“Please tell me she wasn’t actually murdered there? On the presidium?” Sol asked.

 Vakarian shook his head. “No, they think she was picked up somewhere from the Fylis area of the Wards. Nihlus is on it, though, actually.”

 “Oh, well that’s a bit more comforting,” Sol replied. “At least it didn't happen on the Presidium.  

 “How terrible,” Liara, who had been quiet for a few minutes, surprised everyone when she spoke and gained their full attention. “I would never expect someone to be murdered in a neighborhood like Fylis.”

 Shepard and Vakarian snorted in unison, the only difference being Vakarian made no attempt to hide his.

 Poor Liara looked to Sol for guidance, “I’ve said something naive, haven’t I?” 

 Vakarian spoke before Sol could. “There’s an average of eight strip clubs and three brothels on every block in that neighborhood. That is exactly where murders happen.”

 “Oh, I had no idea.” Liara seemed genuinely surprised, like Shepard’s grandma when Shepard listed off a slew of hard drugs at the age of seven. She had an odd fascination with crime dramas at a very young age. “I thought it was an entertainment driven neighborhood.”

 “You don’t find stripping entertaining?” he drawled, a smart-ass grin on his face.

 Sol almost spit out her drink.

 Unfortunately, Shepard was not surprised by his comment. Liara, on the other hand was blinking rapidly, looking like someone just slapped her in the face. Thankfully they were interrupted, or saved, when Valeria and Castis joined the group, arm-in-arm. Shepard had been excited to see Sol, but she was absolutely elated to see Valeria and Castis -- everything she missed about her own parents, she found a little bit in Castis and Valeria. 

 “Jane, you look beautiful ,” Valeria cooed. 

 “Thank you, Val. You look beautiful as well.” She did. Vakarian’s mother was gorgeous. He got his pale tawny skin coloring from her, and his charm. 

 “I love the neckline of your dress,” Valeria giggled in approval as she drew her hand across her own neck, referencing the enticing exposure from Shepard’s dress. It made Shepard blush and caused her to make sure her eyes were nowhere near her partner. She did not need to see his reaction to his mother’s comments. 

 “I’m sorry I haven’t called you,” Valeria said, her voice easily conveying her disappointment. “I still want to take you to the museum. We’ll go soon, I promise.”

 “I’m looking forward to it. But you know I’m even more excited to see Garrus’ paintings.”

 “I’ll bring them back next time we go back to Palaven,” Valeria promised, smiling at Vakarian like an adoring mother who was also reveling in embarrassing her child. If they were at home, she’d probably be pinching his mandibles, and he’d be pretending not to enjoy the attention. 

 Vakarian glared at Shepard before calmly sipping his drink and watching the dance floor, probably wishing he was somewhere else right now.

 “Shepard,” Castis nodded stiffly in greeting. “How’s the case going?”

 “Your son does most of the work, so it’s going well.”

 Castis answered with a snort. “He says the same about you. Either the two of you are lying, or you’re not getting any work done.”

 “Well it’s clearly the first, but I don’t know why we challenge ourselves by trying to lie to Castis Vakarian.” She flashed a smile at Castis, who was nearly as handsome as his son, but not as tall. Her partner was a perfect mix of his mother and father, taking only their best features. And he somehow wound up much taller than either of them. She looked up at Vakarian. His eyes kept wandering to and surveying the dance floor. The thought that maybe he was looking for someone occurred to Jane, and made her heart sink a bit. Be a good friend, she told herself. As long as it’s not Regitus, she negotiated. As long as it's not Regitus I can be happy for him.

 Castis responded to her compliment with a smile, and she patted herself on the back. The list of people who could make the stiff turian smile was short, and she was proud to say she was one of the privileged few that repeatedly earned one of Castis’ soft smiles.

 “Shepard,” Castis continued, his steady voice only subtly conveyed his concern, “this case…”

 Valeria swatted his arm with the back of her hand, it was really more of a brush, squashing his attempt at conversation. “Stop that, amar. There’s time to talk about work later, but not tonight.”

 He responded by sweetly nuzzling her on the mandible, a turian gentle kiss, before turning back to Shepard. “We’ll talk later.”

 “Come for dinner soon?” Valeria said. “Maybe I’ll have picked up Garrus’ paintings by then.”

 “Sure,” Shepard agreed with a smile.

 After that Castis and Valeria excused themselves to talk to colleagues. Valeria looked healthy, and happy, which made Shepard happy. She worried about Valeria often, but worried about Vakarian losing his mom even more. Hopefully, that day would be far, far away. 

 With the eyes of a cautious predator, Vakarian carefully watched his parents walk away and then as soon as they were out of range turned to Liara. “So, Liara, we’ve established you don’t visit strip clubs for entertainment, what do you do for fun?”

 “Oh...” The beautiful asari appeared a bit taken aback, considering whether or not he was seriously asking and whether she should respond, or laugh at his joke. Liara’s hesitant eyes flashed to Sol, waiting for help. 

 Shepard wasn’t surprised to see that Sol was giving Garrus the same dirty look she was, pleading with him, warning him, to shut his mouth for just a minute .

 “My brother is trying to be funny,” Sol said through tight mandibles, “don’t mind him.”

 His mischievous eyes landed on Shepard. “You think I’m funny.” It was a confirmation, not a question. He already knew the answer.

 “Yes, but I think that says more about my flaws, than it does your strengths.”

 Garrus chuckled, trying to hide his wide grin behind his drink. She watched his free hand, dangling down at his side, flex before he stuck it back into his pocket. His hands were always steady, so she couldn't figure out why his hands were so restless.

 While they shared a smile the chime rang to indicate dinner would soon be served.

 “See you after dinner?” she asked as they began to go to their separate tables, which were still side by side. They’d be close, but probably wouldn't be able to talk much -- it was considered rude not to talk with the members of your own table. 

 He nodded. “Clap loud for Dad.”

 She nodded with a smile before turning away from him. And she definitely noticed his eyes on her ass as she walked away. The dress was a good decision.

***

Shepard sat back down after clapping as loud as was socially acceptable for Castis as he received his commendation, and proudly watched him walk back to his seat, as if she was watching her own father accept an award. Valeria touched her crest against his affectionately when he got back to his table, and Shepard couldn’t help but be a little envious. Turians called it a basium. It was the most affectionate thing two turians could do. It was like a kiss and an embrace all wrapped up in one. It confirmed love and devotion and she desperately wanted to know what it would feel like.

  Just as she settled she felt a bump against the back of her chair, soon followed by another. She whipped around to glare at Vakarian, seated directly behind her, who was staring straight forward and away from her, acting oblivious to her presence.

 She gave up and turned back to her table. But soon felt another bump, this time jostling her drink in hand. An asari officer across the table from her gave her a funny look, assuming there was something wrong with her.

 She whipped around once again. “Stop that,” she hissed, twisting her neck to look at him and get as close as she could manage without leaning into him, hoping to avoid drawing any attention from his family or anyone else sitting nearby. Unfortunately they’d caught his mom and sister’s attention -- Solana and Valeria glanced their direction with matching sour looks that were meant for Vakarian, not her. Even though they were meant for him, Shepard felt guilty for not keeping her partner under control. Thank God Castis is engrossed in a conversation with Liara.

 He finally turned to face her, slowly, with a gorgeous smirk spreading his mandibles. “Oh hi, Jane. Didn’t see you there.”

Coy bastard . She glared at him, trying desperately to hide her grin. “Hello, Garrus.” Somehow he possessed the unique ability to simultaneously infuriate her and make her burst out in laughter. But he wasn’t going to win this time by making her laugh so she’d forget about how annoying he was being.  

 “You seem to be bumping my chair,” she said through a sweet smile, although she knew her eyes were full of fire.

 “I’m nowhere near your chair,” he said with a polite smile.

 “We both know you can reach it.”

 “You’re imagining things,” he dismissed her frustration with a devilish smile and propped his arm on the back of his chair as he turned and settled in to talk to her. “Tell me, are you enjoying your evening?” 

“Oh yes. First I got to dance with a handsome but boring Spectre. Then I was thoroughly embarrassed when my best friend decided to discuss strip clubs with his future sister in law.”

 He looked honestly concerned. “Spirits, you think they’re going to bond?”  

Before Shepard could respond, the officer sitting next to her, a female turian she didn’t know, glanced over, and as soon as she laid eyes on Vakarian, stiffened up. Shepard had no idea who she was, so she just sort of gave her a queer look for intruding on their conversation.  

 “Pardon me,” the officer said, “but I wanted to say your father’s work inspired me to join C-Sec. You are so lucky to have such an amazing role model for a father.”

 Vakarian took a deep breath in order to recite his speech. “He’s a constant inspiration. I hope to someday live up to his model,” It was a line so worn out he sounded like an AI. A mocking tone was present but well hidden so only Shepard knew it was there.

 “Wanna go get some air?” Shepard asked.

 “Yeah,” Vakarian said, sounding a bit too tired considering the time. 

 Side by side they walked away from the tables and groups of chatting people milling about the room. They stopped just by the balcony, one of the only secluded spots, where the air outside the room cooled Shepard’s shoulders and the loud chatter of a thousand people was less intrusive. A breeze lifted her hair slightly, and she reached to brush it off her cheek. Vakarian watched her, finally looking a bit happier. He looked a bit dazed, though. 

 “What is with you tonight?” she asked. 

 “Besides the usual demoralizing self-reflection brought on by big events like these…Dad and I had a disagreement before I got here.”

 “Marriage? Your smart mouth?”

 He took a long thoughtful pause. His eyes were still on the dance floor, which was really starting to irk her. Why couldn’t he just pay attention to her? He finally shook his head. “No, the case.”

 “Are you looking for someone?”

 He finally looked down at her, confusion in his expression. “No, why?”

 “You keep looking at the dance floor.”

 His features softened at that. “I’m just trying to keep myself from staring at you,” he drawled. “You look beautiful.”

 “Stop teasing me.”

 He reached up and pressed his fingers around the bottom of one of her curls. “Your hair’s a different shape.”

 “Yeah, I curled it.”

 “And your eyes…the makeup is a lot darker than normal. There's more of it.”

 She shrugged, trying not to allow herself to believe his observations were compliments. “It’s an evening look, makes me look more attractive.”

 “I like it,” he reached up and brushed a stray strand of hair away from her forehead. She swatted at him, giving him a warning look to stop teasing her, which only amused him.

Maintaining the amused smile, he leaned a few inches into her, his nose plates subtly shifting as he breathed in. “You smell nice, too. What is that?”

She shrugged and smelled her shoulder. “I showered.” She was wearing a light perfume too, but honestly didn’t know if the scent would appeal to turians. 

“Oh. You should do that more often.”

“I guess this is the part of the evening where I punch you,” she said with a breathy laugh. “To be honest, I’m surprised it didn’t happen earlier.” 

He answered with a simple chuckle, his eyes wandering her face before he looked back at the dance floor. 

 “Why was Castis talking to you about our case?”

 “He wants me to stay out of it. Thinks it could get ugly because it’s the ambassador’s nephew. And he knows how ugly Udina can be.”

 “That’s not like him to refuse a case, though. Why would he tell you to?”

Vakarian’s eyes had been resting on the dance floor for a while by then. As the band began to play a new song he finally looked at her with warm eyes. Just as she was about to ask him what the hell was going on, he said, “Come on, dance with me.”

 “I can’t dance,” she groaned. Slipping out of his arms and crashing to the ground flashed through her mind. 

 “I’ll do all the work. All you have to do is look good. And I’d say that mission is accomplished.”

 “You saw me out there with Kaiden.” 

“Lucky for you I’m a much better leader.” He took her hand, gently guiding her forward. She followed closely after him, energy pulling her along. It wasn’t that she couldn’t say no, which is why she wound up dancing with Kaiden. With Garrus, she just didn’t want to say no. So she let him lead her out to the dance floor. His hand gently wrapped around hers and guiding the way, he looked back at her and smiled. He could drag me to hell with a smile like that

 They reached the dance floor and Shepard was a bundle of nerves. She attempted to take his hand, their fingers tangled as she fumbled around awkwardly when he didn’t take it as she was used to. It made her pause, feeling a bit foolish and insecure.

 “Turians don’t dance exactly like humans.”

 “Right, forgot,” she mumbled, trying to hide the nervousness in her voice.

 Garrus nudged her elbow with a finger, his talon skating along the sensitive skin just above her elbow and making her skin tingle as he positioned her arm in place. Without breaking his touch she felt his hand glide up the back of her arm, then his thumb ran along her wrist, as smooth as a raindrop, before resting flat against a spot that it seemed he was specifically looking for. Once his thumb was securely in place it only took a second for her to register that he’d been feeling for her pulse point.

His eyes had been resting on hers the whole time, and God it made her knees weak.

 His two fingers wrapped around the back of her wrist to hold it in place. The pressure wasn’t firm. It was secure, but soft. So instead of holding her hand, their fingers wound together, her wrist simply rested within his very large hand, her fingers falling lazily and grazing her own palm. 

“First, we don’t hold hands.” 

 She barely nodded, transfixed with the feeling of her wrist resting gently in his hand and knowing that her pulse was beating against the pad of his thumb. She could almost feel her pulse thrumming against his skin, though she knew it was her imagination. Somehow that feeling alone, his thumb pad resting over her pulse, was the most intimate feeling she’d ever felt. She had a sudden and overwhelming urge to press herself against him, wanted to feel his chest against hers.

Wondering how such a sensual display in public was normal for turians, she glanced around the dance floor. Many of the partners dancing simply rested their forearms against each other in a much less intimate pose. Sol and Liara were dancing a few yards away, though, and Sol held Liara's wrist within her palm, her thumb grazing Liara's wrist. 

 After taking a moment to gather a succinct thought, she held up her free hand. “What...um, about this one?”

 “Here,” he placed her hand on his hip spur.

 She felt so light headed that even standing still she was worried about her stability. Complicating the matter, with only his hand wrapped around one wrist there was no way he had a firm enough hold on her to keep her from toppling over. And needless to say her hand on his hip spur added no real support.

Nervous to begin moving, she suddenly felt the need to warn him about her precarious stability. “Careful,” she managed to say despite tingling lips. “These shoes compromise my structural integrity.” Words were getting hard. 

 “I’ve got you,” he drawled with a sly smile. And suddenly his hand was placed firmly onto the small of her back, just where her ass curved out, pulling her body tightly against his and sending a jolt of energy up her spine. His hand wasn’t simply resting there, it was holding on to her, pressing into her warm skin and tensed muscles. Her heart fluttered a little in response. With his talons just slightly pressed into her she was so incredibly aware of how thin the fabric of her dress was, and how little stood between her skin and his.

 Vakarian had started to sway with the music, but she was so distracted that she forgot she should be moving too, so she just stood as stiff as a statue within his arms. Before she could correct her mistake he grinned at her. “Well, I wasn’t being totally serious when I said I’d do all the work. You have to move just a little.”

  She chuckled, finding her feet, and began to sway along with him . “Ass,” she whispered. And she couldn’t help but let her feelings of absolute and overwhelming adoration well up in her chest. Looking deeply into his sharp, ice-blue eyes, she felt a flush warming her cheeks and glanced down trying to hide it from him.

 Soon they were gently drifting with the music, his hip swaying within her tight hold as she tried to match his rhythm. But because they weren’t doing any fancy step patterns or anything beyond her ability, all she had to do was follow the motion of his body that was tucked in so closely to her. A silence fell between them, but their eyes never left each other. 

That look on his face -- until so recently she always felt like they could tell exactly what the other was thinking. Lately, though, his looks confused her, and excited her...but it also made her a little sad, not knowing what he was thinking. She felt less in sync with him. 

But this...this felt good, being held. And his hands so intimately placed on her body. Hoping he didn’t realize what she was thinking about with his hands all over her, she glanced down at her feet to make sure she was doing this right, noticing again how small her feet seemed compared to his.

 When she looked up she caught his eyes hungrily lingering on her neck for just a moment, before they flicked up to her eyes. “I kind of like you this tall,” he told her. “I can see your eyes better.”

When he looked at her like that a flame leapt up inside her, allowing her to drop her guard for just a moment. “My eyes? If I’m not mistaken you were looking somewhere else.”

 A sultry purr rippled through his throat and he chuckled a bit mischievously. She waited for him to make a joke, to deny that he was looking at her like he wanted to run his tongue along her throat. She waited for him to deflect the attention. But he didn’t.

 Emboldened by that sultry purr, and wanting to give as good as he was giving, she allowed her eyes to glance down to his neck before rejoining his. “You know, you don’t look half bad yourself,” she purred, trying to make her voice vibrate just a little. 

“Damn, Jane.” Was all he seemed to be able to say as he drew her in tighter, guiding her hips and tucking them in next to his. Small vibrations were thrumming in his chest, and although she desperately wanted to know what it meant she was too afraid to ask. 

Something flashed in his eyes, and she knew that look. He had an idea. “I’ve got you, ok?”

“What--”

Before she could finish her sentence or prepare herself for a surprise he dipped her backwards, gently bending her torso back so drastically that she was nearly horizontal with the ground, and somehow he had also used his leg spur to hook her leg and bring it up behind his. His hulking shoulders and torso wound up hovering over hers, his mouth just inches from hers. Realization flashed into her mind instantly that she had no actual grip on him -- that one of his hands was wrapped around her wrist, the other rested on her back, and that her hand on his hip spur couldn't support her enough to keep her ass from winding up on the floor. Even still, her reflexes made her clench a desperate, tight hold onto his hip spur.

But she was fine, held within his arms and suspended beneath him, tucked right up against his chest and hips. Her body was held up entirely by his hand on her back, every bit of her weight resting in his one hand. He held her easily, as if she weighed nothing. And her heart was racing. 

“You ass,” she said, heavy breaths rising in her chest. “You could have warned me.”

He leaned into her, his eyes sparking with mischief. “Well if I had done that, I wouldn’t be staring down at a blushing woman whose eyes are shining brighter than the stars.”   

“Garrus,” she breathed...and then she forgot exactly what she was going to say next. Only having whispered his name, she gazed up at him unable to gather another word. All she could think about was how her body was now flooded with sheer infatuation for him. It was like a drug pulsing through her body.  

He waited for a moment for her to finish her thought, but when she didn’t he lifted her back up, pulling her tight up against him again. “I learned something this week.”

“Oh yeah?” She felt breathless. Her heart thundered within her chest. 

“Sometimes you need to relax, and do something that’s a little scary.” He smirked down at her. “Was that scary, Jane?” She couldn’t tell if he was teasing her, or comforting her, or coming on to her.

Her heart was racing, she suddenly felt a hot flash on her neck and chest. She didn’t answer him. She couldn't. And based on the way he was looking down at her, she didn’t think he needed her to answer. 

She did decide that she should probably make a better effort at breathing, though, because at that moment she felt like someone had taken her breath away. 

 ***

Vakarian left early, his father asked for help in making sure Valeria got home ok, and with him gone all Shepard wanted to do before going home as well was spend a little bit of time with Kryik, who she hadn’t talked to all night. After a short search she found him at the bar, surveying the crowd.  

Sliding in next to him at the bar, Shepard looked up at him with a sly grin on her face that she made no attempt to hide. “Kryik, you dirty mother fucker, where have you been hiding all night?” 

“Oh, around,” he replied, a steady voice wavering between amused and bored. “Saw you dancing earlier. Maybe you should stick to slow dancing, you’re much better at it. Didn’t look at all like a convulsing pyjak.”

“Yeah, that was not me at all. Turians are just good dancers, I think.”

“Not all,” Kryik gestured towards a couple nearby who were clearly not dancing well. “But our Garrus is actually very smooth, isn’t he?”

Our Garrus?”

“You’re just lucky I share him with you. That I don’t complain that he calls you his best friend now.”

“I am his best friend,” She didn’t try to hide the bragging in her voice one bit.  

“I’m not going to fight over him. Let’s just say he’s our best friend.”

“Sounds like the words of a loser.”

“You two are so damn competitive.”

Shepard wanted to point out that he was too, otherwise it wouldn't bother him, but she thought better of it and let it go. “Alright,” she started surveying the crowd, “are you scoping the place out or what? See anyone that tickles your desires?”

Kryik smiled, “That guy over there has a prime ass, but the asari...she’s gorgeous.”

“Well, you know I’m partial to turian asses. That guy is about a seven. You can do better.”

“Well then help me find a ten.”

Shepard grinned, “The only ten left about 5 minutes ago, and the best you can do is a nine anyhow.”

She wasn’t even worried that Kryik would call her out for saying Vakarian’s ass was a ten, but all Kryik did was crack a knowing smile at her. “Fine, let’s find a nine.”

 ***

“How was the banquet?” Miranda asked when she got back home and walked into the kitchen.

 “Why do I feel so…” Shepard ran her hand through her hair, ruffling the soft waves loose, “so uncertain, lately. About everything.”

 “I can put an implant in you that dulls the mind’s propensity towards negative thought patterns. It’s experimental, but I’m feeling very positive about it.”

 “Good to know. I’ll keep that in mind,” Shepard replied sarcastically. She had no intention of putting a happy chip in her head. A little bit of self love would probably do a lot more for her than one of Miranda’s experiments. 

Rocket sat on a stool, letting Miranda know just what he thought of her with a sharp glare and a flick of his tail. He wasn’t fond of many people, including Miranda, and wasn’t afraid of showing it. The thing about Miranda, though, was she wasn’t afraid of glaring right back. If she had a tail, she’d be flicking it with equal gusto. Shepard wondered how their night together had gone. 

 “Your trip home is coming up, maybe it will improve your mood.”

 Shepard agreed with a light hum. “Garrus had a rough night. He and his dad got in a fight, I guess.” She pulled some juice out of the fridge. “And…” she hesitated, “I think he was flirting with me.” 

Miranda’s eyebrow rose, clearly questioning Shepard’s assessment, as she sipped from her glass of wine. “Maybe you need to let him go out to Flux without you for a while. The man is probably lonely.”

 Shepard set the juice container down on the counter to focus her full attention on glaring at Miranda. “Oh you are very fun to come home to after a long night. Tell me the only reason a guy would flirt with me is suffocating loneliness.” 

“You want me to put on some fuzzy pajamas so we can giggle and talk about our hopes and dreams?” Miranda said in a mockingly sweet and feminine tone.

 “Yeah, maybe…” Shepard admitted as she drank her juice. After thinking for just a moment she added, “Minus the pajamas and giggling.”

“Why isn’t he here by the way? Doesn’t he usually trail home after you?”

“His dad asked him to help get his mom home safely. They left early. I stuck around a while longer rating asses with Kryik. Then he left with one of the asses. He was a seven, in my opinion. Nihlus rated him an eight.”

“Did eight have a name?”

“Adrian, or...Ali...I don’t remember. He was cute though.”

After some more talk, Miranda advised that Shepard try meditating to ease her anxious thoughts. Shepard then gave Miranda the finger and said goodnight. 

Upstairs in her bedroom, she peeled the dress and heels off, her skin alight with sensitivity so that the mere brush of the fabric gave her goosebumps. After washing the makeup from her face, and putting a baggy shirt on, she curled into bed with Rocket kneading the pillow next to hers. Just as she closed her eyes her omni-tool pinged. 

Garrus: Hey

Jane: Hey. Did your mom get home ok?

Garrus: Yeah. She was just tired. Sorry I ditched you so early. I didn’t plan on pulling a Shepard.

Jane: Oh you’re so fucking funny.

Garrus: I know. I forgot to tell you, your dress matched your eyes. It was nice.

Jane: The black suit was a good pick. 

Garrus: I know 

Jane: Goodnight Garrus

Garrus: Night Jane

She tucked herself in, snuggling in close to her pillows and felt the heat of Rocket lying next to her. The last thing she did before nodding off was bring her left hand up to her right wrist. She placed her thumb at the bottom of her wrist, softly brushing up the length and following the same path Vakarian’s thumb had traveled. Once she reached that small little spot where her pulse thrummed she rested her thumb against it, pressing it just enough to feel the “thum thum” pulsing through her. It was a cheap replacement for the feeling she so desperately wanted back. She couldn’t fight the realization that she missed the soft pad of Garrus’ thumb resting on her pulse. 

As she drifted off to sleep, she wondered if he had enjoyed it as much as she did. And she hoped that he did.  

Chapter Text

When Shepard awoke the morning after the banquet every inch of her body vibrated. She had fallen asleep thinking of Vakarian, thinking of his hand on her back, talons digging in somewhere between her hip and her spine, and his thumb softly pressing against her pulse. 

Despite being asleep, her body clearly continued thinking of him throughout the night. Stretching her muscles and yawning, she felt the ache and slickness between her thighs. Her arousal was glaringly obvious, and frustrating as hell.

A thought then ran through her mind...If his sense of touch was so sensitive that he could feel the pulse at her wrist so strongly, what would he feel if he placed a hand between her thighs? That ache turned into an outright mind numbing drive as she imagined his hand sliding into place, her thighs spreading for him. Her hips writhed with desire to be touched. She desperately needed to take care of herself. She was going to be a tragic, distracted mess all day if she didn’t.

Shifting to lie on her back, her hand slipped under the hem of her underwear. Quickly landing in the soft, slick flesh between her thighs she teased herself. She continued to think of his skin against hers. He had felt her blood rushing through her body. He had wanted to feel her blood rushing through her body. As she teased herself her hips tensed at the immediate shock of pleasure, then rolled into her own touch. 

Her folds began to swell as she stroked her finger once down the center, and then a second time while she thought of Vakarian’s voice humming against her ear. She could nearly feel the tickle on her skin, right under her earlobe. She thought of opening up a message he’d left her, just any random message would do, so she could listen to his husky voice while she did this...but fuck , that felt indecent.  

Pushing that guilt aside, her free hand rose to brush her neck, then her lip, caressing it softly then tugging gently while imagining his hands on her. She continued to stroke herself closer to the release she needed so desperately, each caress bringing her closer to the edge.

How would it feel, to be pinned down beneath him, his hands on my wrists. A desperate moan tickled her throat.  

Or pinned against a wall. She moaned again as her finger left the pulsing folds for just a moment to tease her clit with just enough pressure, thinking of him pinning her against a wall with a dominant hold. Spreading her legs with his hips and raising himself to her entrance. The thought of his dick drove her near the edge, twitching as he held it with a firm grip and teased it against her with a twist of his wrist. 

Just as she moved her finger away from her clit and pressed it deep inside, stroking through delicious moans, she imagined his dick in place of her finger. He entered her slowly, but the look in his eyes promised that he’d go deep and hard just as soon as he was seated. 

Fuck , she whispered as her teeth pressed against her bottom lip. Feeling the bite of her own teeth brought about thoughts of his teeth, and she could almost feel his mouth pressing down on her shoulder. If he wasn’t careful he’d pierce her skin. That really shouldn't turn her on as much as it did. 

Her pace quickened after that. Diving in steady, quick strokes she found that spot deep inside that made her toes curl. A gasp caught in her throat as she hit it, and pressed harder, and faster. 

Her free hand left her lips to rub her clit as she thought of Vakarian’s gaze falling down to her throat as they danced, a predatory spark flashing through his icy eyes. Then her toes curled. Her hips bucked against her own touch. She may not be able to fuck Vakarian, but she was absolutely going to allow herself to enjoy the thought of it. She needed this.

She thought of his arms around her, holding her tight and pressing himself against her...every inch of him. With one last stroke the muscles within her walls and lips pulsed, then clenched down like a vice around her finger. Shocks of heat rolled through every inch of her body, her back arching, breaths catching as she spent every ounce of her focus on enjoying her orgasm. God, yes, it felt so good.

Her release came so quickly it took her breath away for just a moment, it was like a flashback to being in his arms the night before. Him seductively leaning over her. Warm breath against her throat. Her finding it hard to breathe at all. 

Just as the last sublime wave of orgasm washed over her, she fell back against the mattress, exhausted and in bliss. As her hips relaxed, and fingers abandoned their work she took in a steady breath, and then another. Regaining her senses would take a few minutes, but she only had about thirty minutes tops before...before she had to be at the coffee shop to meet Vakarian. 

That thought made her cringe. “ Fuck ,” she muttered to herself while exhaling another deep breath and then realizing she hadn’t taken a normal breath since she danced with Vakarian last night. She’d been tense and aching ever since that moment. Damn him, how had he been able to hold her so confidently, and so calmly, when she had fallen to pieces?

Because he was just teasing me. Cocky bastard.

She removed one finger from its spot over her clit, and withdrew the other from its spot between her thighs as she thought about how incredibly mortifying morning coffee was going to be. How in the hell am I going to look him in the eye? She had definitely thought of Vakarian before while doing that, but never thirty minutes before spending an entire day with him. 

She peeled herself out of bed and threw herself in the shower, hoping some hot water would ease the worries out of her mind and make her forget all the smutty things she just pictured her partner doing. Well, she thought, at least tomorrow is the weekend. 

She’d just have to get through the day. Hopefully without melting into a starry eyed puddle as they looked over reports.   

***

From the very moment Vakarian laid his eyes on Shepard as they walked in to order their coffee, he couldn't help but think of how beautiful she looked. Still, even without the extra makeup and curled hair and sexy green dress that showed off her curves...she looked perfect. 

Had she always been this beautiful, and why hadn’t he seen it until so recently?

Last night, he held on securely to her wrist and let her pulse beat rapidly against his touch. That intimacy had caused his affection and lust to swell up and ripple in his chest, and he hadn’t hid that from her. He had gazed down at her with adoring eyes, and had allowed himself to believe she may have been looking at him with returned adoration. Surprisingly, and happily, he didn’t regret a single moment or question a single move he made. 

He had even wanted more. It had taken all the self control and turian discipline he possessed to keep her wrist wrapped securely in his hand, instead of allowing himself to fall to pieces and raising her wrist to his mouth. Spirits, the thoughts and sensations that simple touch induced. He had wanted to lap his tingling tongue along her wrist. He had wanted to feel her pulse beating against his tongue, and wanted to run his lips against the delicate skin. 

With all those thoughts flooding his mind and taking over his senses, he carefully watched every subtle movement she made and the slightest look she gave him. Already, he was anxious to know where they would go from here. 

They exchanged a few subdued pleasantries, ordered coffee, and then tucked themselves by the counter waiting for their orders. It was all so ordinary, considering how they had spent the previous evening. 

Just as he opened his mouth to say something about how nice last night was, and maybe get a hint about how she felt about the dancing -- and even maybe how she felt about him  -- a ping on his omni-tool interrupted him. 

Sol: Liara just asked how long you and Jane have been mates.

Vakarian could almost hear the mocking tone and laughter in Sol’s voice as he read the message to himself. He could picture her hands covering her chattering mandibles as she snickered.

He froze. His mortified mind grasped to think of something smart to say back to his annoying little sister when he realized almost too late that Shepard was leaning forward, her eyes peering to the text on his omni-tool. “What did Sol say?”

In desperation he quickly swiped at his omni-tool to close the message before Shepard could see it. Vakarian knew he was looking down at her like a fool, obviously flustered. But he was petrified that he hadn’t been quick enough, so he just watched her, anxious to see what she was going to do.  

Thankfully, Shepard just sulked back, looking mildly offended that he didn't share Sol’s message with her like he normally would. “Christ,” she huffed, “why are you acting so weird?”

“I’m not acting weird. You’re acting weird.” 

A hand shot to her chest as if covering a mortal wound he’d just landed on her. “How am I acting weird?” she blurted out, before shaking her head in agitation. “Are we going to just keep accusing each other of acting weird? Is this high school?” 

He crossed his arms and relaxed back against the wall behind him.“I’ve already told you, I don’t really understand what high school is. That reference flies over my head every time.”

“The fact that I have to use it so often around you says something about our relationship.” Her eyes glanced back down at his omni-tool. “Why are you hiding Sol’s messages from me?”

He had to double check that the message was gone. Spirits, I am acting weird

Despite acknowledging that he was, in fact, acting like an idiot he insisted, “I am not, she was just harping on me about giving Liara a hard time.” In his mind, that wasn’t a lie. Sol’s message wasn’t a blatant reprimand for the way he’d teased Liara, but it certainly was retaliation.  

Shepard shot a judging look at him. “You and your dad make up? Or are you going to keep acting like a moody little brat today?”

That last comment did it. They both fell silent, their eyes narrowed on each other, watching one another for a moment. They waited for each other to make the next move, discerning eyes measuring each other up.

 Was it going to be another insult, or was it going to be a smile? Would they keep ragging on each other, or laugh?

It was impossible to know who broke first, but soon enough matching smiles spread across their faces, followed by softened expressions. And, dammit, if the barista hadn’t set their coffees down he would have started foolishly giggling. What the hell was this human doing to him? He’d never acted like this with a woman before.

Vakarian picked up his coffee, but when he looked back at Shepard he saw her standing still, her gaze lingering on him a little longer than normal. Instead of picking up her coffee she simply stared up at him, the smallest smile parting her lips. He refused to assume what it meant, but she had that same gleam in her eye last night when they were dancing. And even though he refused to also make assumptions about the look she was giving him last night, the reocurring, simple sparkle in her eyes caused more excitement than he’d felt in years. 

“Come on,” he finally said, his voice thick with affection as he placed his hand on the small of her back, nudging her towards the bar, “get your coffee and let’s get to work.”

Instead of moving forward immediately, though, she leaned back against his hand...actually leaning into his touch. He found his hand moving without his explicit directions as it tensed in response to her body pressing against his. Guided by their own inclinations, his talons skated across the fabric of her shirt, tickling at the skin underneath.  

Afraid of overstepping, Vakarian backed off after that while he followed her to C-Sec and chatting to her about something cute Rocket did that morning. He listened to her story as she chattered on. She seemed nervous, and he hoped it hadn’t been because of how he had just touched her at the coffee shop, or how he’d held her wrist when they had danced. 

This was too confusing for him, and there was too much pressure not to fuck everything up. Without subvocals and the familiar scents he expected from turians, how in the hell was he supposed to know for sure what she wanted?

***

The day flew by as they worked through interviews and evidence, quietly plugging away at dead ends and obstacles. Shepard sat at her desk quietly reviewing interviews to see if there was something they missed while Vakarian pressed the rental skycar companies for their records. She tried to keep herself from glancing up too often, because the sappy, ogling look that had to be plastered on her face was going to ruin her. 

“Hey, uh, Shepard,” Vega said sometime in the middle of the afternoon. “I really want to try this Mexican food place that’s by the Alliance docks. Thought you could go with me, you know, because you miss good food too.”

She was reading through an interview with the person who spotted the skycar, trying to focus on comparing the information to another neighbor’s report. Someone had to see something more . Adam actually getting in, or something. “Sure, just tell me when you want to try it out,” she lazily replied.

“I could go for some good food now, actually. How about you?”

Not wanting to stop reading through the interviews, even though she was getting nowhere, she replied, “Bit late for lunch, isn’t it?”

Vega didn’t answer, but a ping rang on her omni-tool.

Garrus: Vega has been eyeing you for an hour. I think he wants something. And Nih’s subvocals are driving me crazy. Just take Vega out, for all the stars in the sky.  

Having been so focused on the case she was admittedly oblivious to what Vega had been really asking, but she finally looked at him and saw a worn out guy who needed a pep talk. Vega and Kryik hadn’t talked all day, and it was actually a bit uncomfortable. Added to that the way she and Vakarian had been avoiding each other’s sneaking glances and their corner of the department was brimming with awkwardness.  

Remembering how T’Saris had given her plenty of pep talks when she was trying to work out her differences with Vakarian, Shep conceded that she needed to pay that forward. “Fine,” she said, already rising out of her chair while tucking her pistol in its holster and grabbing her jacket. “But you’re buying,” she said to Vega. 

At the busy restaurant tucked in the corner of the Alliance docks, they both ordered and sat down with their food, which was surprisingly good. Vega had been pretty quiet, just talking about L.A. and some of his favorite places to eat, when Shepard finally felt like she needed to say something about that damned nickname that made her skin crawl every time she heard it. He wasn’t talking about Kryik yet so maybe clearing the air about the nickname would make him get to the point of their little excursion. 

“Look, what’s with calling me ‘Lola’, seriously?”

Vega looked a little confused, but still easy going. “It's a compliment.”

“I know I joke with Kryik a lot, but I barely know you. No inappropriate, sexy little nicknames, k?”

His shoulders spread defensively. “Woah, you got it all wrong. It’s not a sexual thing, it's…Lola, man. You know, Our Lady of Sorrows?”

“What?” She could feel her brows twisting in true confusion. “Why in the hell would you be calling me the Virgin Mary?”

“Because of everything you went through to get where you are. A lot of humans in C-Sec look up to you, you know? We all know how hard it was to make it in homicide. And it’s not like you’ve just put up with having a turian partner...you guys are actually really good together. You’ve thrived . The humans here appreciate that, you know? And, everything you’ve done here is fucking impressive, it gets around.” 

During Vega’s speech Shepard couldn’t do much of anything other than stare dumbly at him. Everything he said was technically true, but Shepard didn’t see why that made her so special.

“You fought a fucking krogan man!”

“And got fucking shot in the chest for it,” she replied bitterly, thinking of how she had whined like a damn child in Vakarian’s arms on the dirty sidewalk. All the admiring human C-Sec officers probably didn’t know about that part of her tale. Everyone imagined it was a heroic tale of duty and courage, but in reality it was a ridiculous story of stupidity and whimpering. 

“I don’t know a single human who would’ve thrown themselves at a krogan like you did,” he said, shaking his head in disbelief and misplaced admiration.

It was stupid. Pure and simple.  

But seeing your partner getting crushed by a biotic krogan makes you do stupid shit. 

“And the cases you two have solved are insane,” Vega continued, oblivious to her clear denial of being special. His voice was so filled with admiration it made Shepard a bit embarrassed. “We all know you guys are the go-to team. And you went through a lot to get here. I’m...” he paused at that point, making sure he was looking her square in the eye so he could bare his soul in an oddly intimate moment, “I’m honored to be working with you.” 

“Well, fuck.” She paused, setting her food down and returning his intense gaze, but hers was fueled by a bit of guilt. “Now I feel like an asshole.” 

He shrugged, as calm as ever. “No wonder it pissed you off so much.”

“Christ, that’s actually really nice,” she sighed, picking up her taco and continuing to eat. She was so used to navigating cultural misunderstandings between species, she forgot they happened between humans still, too. “Hey, why'd that kid say Spanish is dying? At Flux the other night.”

“Because it's not a fancy space language. All they see is the new, shiny shit here on the Citadel, and on Thessia. They don’t respect their parents because their parents are still scared of space and other species. And most of their parents are too busy playing soldier or politician, or trying to make as much money as possible, to keep an eye on their kids and make sure they understand this world. It’s like in the 1920s on Earth, kids have this new freedom and they look down on anything that isn’t novel. You know one of the things that disappointed me the most when I was around the rich, druggy kids? They would make fun of anyone dating a human. Like, if they weren’t dating an asari they weren’t cool. What kind of dumb shit is that?”

“Sounds like you’re a history buff.”

“Yeah, majored in it. You know another thing? All the kids in the 1920s were coming off the first world war. Just like these kids are coming off the incident with the turians, and there was this huge jump in technology…people getting crazy rich,” he stopped, thinking intently as he chewed. “Lots of similarities between then and now, actually.” 

As he stayed deep in thought for a few more seconds she couldn’t help but admire how smart he actually was. “Thanks for all the help on the case,” she finally said.

“I got you, no worries.”

“Hey, heard anything on the watch?”

“Not yet. I gave em your omni-tool info too, though, so you’ll get the update the same time I do.”

“So,” she decided to make the leap to talking about what was really bothering Vega. “How's everything going with Kryik?”

He sighed, relief washing over his expression. “That’s actually why I wanted to get out of the office. He’s driving me fucking crazy man. Please tell me you didn’t always get along with Vakarian. Cuz I’m not sure I’m gonna make it in Homicide with a turian partner.”

She thought for a moment, trying to think of something helpful to say. “Garrus is very different from Kyrik... He’s more subtle, and more likely to crack a joke when he’s uptight than try to control a situation.”

“So you’re saying I’m fucked, Kryik is just a grouchy pendejo and I have to put up with it.”

“No. Garrus and I got on each other’s nerves constantly. We worked with each other for months, saying stupid shit and pissing each other off. I called back home at least once a week, ranting like a fucking lunatic about how fucking crazy turians are. I wasn’t kidding about him doing reports behind my back, by the way. He was a sneaky little shit.”

“How'd you fix it?”

“I got to know him. We started laughing at each other instead of glaring at each other, first off. And I realized how smart he is, and...I guess solving our first case together really helped. I got to see how passionate he is about this job.” Shepard shrugged, not quite sure what else to say. “It just takes time.”

“You guys seem like you’ve been close forever. I don’t think Kryik and I will ever... fuck, man . How the hell have you two stayed partners for five years, when no one else lasted even half that long? Nobody understands it.”

“I’d love to say there’s an easy answer. Give you some kind of step by step guide to working with a turian. But it’s simple -- he didn’t see the point in complaining, and I’m stubborn. I refused to look like a fucking loser like the rest of the humans who could’t figure it out. Aside from that...we sort of just clicked.”

She chewed a moment longer while watching Vega. Judging by the steadily sinking shoulders she wasn’t helping much. “Start off by telling Kryik to stop complaining about your reports or he can do them all himself. And if it makes you feel better, I bet you he’s talking to Garrus right now with the same concerns, asking for advice.”

“Why doesn’t he just do all the documentation, like Vakarian? Does he not like it as much as Vakarian does?”

She answered with a snort that confused Vega, so she had to clarify, “Vakarian doesn’t like doing reports. But, like a lot of turians, doing something poorly isn’t an option. It’s like a tick they all have. You just have to learn to accept it.”

She thought for a moment while chewing and watching some Alliance soldiers disembarking a ship, wondering if they were coming from Earth. “Actually, you could use that. Either he gets used to your reports, or...”

Pings rang on Shepard and Vega’s omni-tools simultaneously. They shared a brief look, knowing what it had to be. By opening the message they’d discover who owned the watch that ended up in the woods with Adam’s blood smeared across the face. And maybe she’d get a break in the case that would implicate the murderer. The owner might in fact be the murderer.  

Her eyes frantically scanned the documents that were rushing in, searching desperately for a name. Time stopped when she finally found it and realized the impact this was not only going to have on the case, but on human political relations. Shepard’s racing thoughts pounded a path through her mind, trying to make a connection that very moment that would link all their evidence to that name. Finally, she glanced up at Vega saying, “Holy fucking shit.”

Vega had been waiting for her reaction, unsure what to say. “ Damn , that surprise you?”

She looked back down at the message, reading through the details once more, then again, just to make sure. Yeah, it surprised her. Maybe it shouldn't have, but it did. First things first, though, they had to go see the owner. “We need to get back to C-Sec. Vakarian and I need to visit the Human Embassy. Immediately.”  

“Think you should talk to Pallin about this?” he said hesitantly and shoving the last of his food in his mouth. 

“Yeah, probably. But Vakarian won’t want to. He doesn’t like protocols as much as you’d think.” 

“Not a perfect turian, then?”

“Hell no, not when it gets in the way of finding a murderer. Talking to Pallin about this will slow us down by days. If we go now, though, it might give us the upper hand here.”

“Guessing you want me to keep quiet too?”

“Yeah, if you can. At least until we have a chance to talk to the bastard.”

***

Vakarian tried his damndest to walk out of C-Sec as calmly and naturally as possible to avoid drawing attention from Pallin or anyone else. When he got the message from Shepard that she finally received documents pertaining to the watch he dropped the vehicle angle and turned all his attention to everything they had on the strange little human object. By the time he had his jacket on, pistol in place, and made his way downstairs she was already there, waiting for him.   

“I’m going to pull up the interviews,” Shepard said. “I don’t want to let anything slip by. This is our only chance to catch him off guard.”

He nodded as they sped down the sidewalk. They dodged oncoming pedestrians and tried to get through others without shoving them as Shepard read previous statements out loud, albeit discreetly, but nothing incriminating or suspicious stood out. He was just a self-important asshole, and that was already an established fact. 

When they climbed the steps to the Presidium, an older detective, one of his dad’s colleagues, nearly bumped into them. Recognizing Vakarian, the older detective stopped, catching him by the shoulder and immediately slowing them down.

“Ah, Vakarian’s son.” 

On Vakarian’s behalf, and probably because they were also in a hurry, Shepard glared up at his father’s colleague.  

“Hard at work, eh? Gotta get your own eponymous C-Sec wing, hm?” It didn’t matter to Vakarian that the tone was inadvertently patronizing, rather than explicitly so. And it didn’t matter that he was just trying to be funny. Vakarian never thought those jokes were funny. He didn’t laugh when he first entered C-Sec and everyone called him ‘Vakarian’s son’, teasing him about proving his merit. The jokes and ribbing were fairly infrequent nowadays, but that didn’t suddenly make them any funnier.

 “I apologize sir, but we’re in a hurry,” Shepard said in a clipped tone. 

The detective nodded as Shepard grabbed Vakarian’s elbow to guide him forward. “Tell your father I said hi,” he called out.

Vakarian only had the chance to nod a goodbye to his dad’s old colleague before they turned a corner and walked towards the elevator. 

“I’m really ready for those jokes to be over,” Vakarian said, watching Shepard press the elevator console key. 

 “Oh something else will happen that grabs everyone’s attention,” Shepard replied, closing the notes in her omni-tool. “Your dad’s accomplishment is a big deal, but it’ll blow over.”

“Think – what’s the name of the town you’re from, Lone Oak – think they have room for a tall, handsome turian detective on their police force?” The floors ticked by on the console as the elevator closed in on their floor. 

She rocked on her heels, impatiently waiting for the elevator, then turned to smirk at him. “I’m not quite sure they’re prepared for the sudden influx of sex appeal your presence would provide. But there’s a strip club in San Francisco that would love to have a turian officer on the stage.”

Entering the elevator, Vakarian watched her eyes roam the office listings to find the floor they were headed to. “Hmm, I think that verges on sexual harassment, Shepard.”

“You like it,” she said with a light laugh, pressing a console key. 

Absolutely elated with the flirtatious turn this conversation was taking, he leaned against the elevator wall, looking down at her with a little tickle in his throat that he wouldn't stifle if it erupted. “See, that’s exactly something a serial harasser would say.”

Her eyes falling to the floor, she let out a nervous laugh. “Sorry, you’re right, that was too much. Wasn't funny.”

“Shep, I was joking.” He sighed. Well, that hadn’t gone well . Strike one for openly flirting with your partner at work. 

That last line probably didn’t help. By all the stars, what made him think joking about sexual harassment after that incident at Flux was going to be a good line?  

Damn.  

Everytime she withdrew from him, he was drawn to her even more. It was like he couldn't stand to be apart from her, physically or in spirit. He’d felt some sort of confusing and unfamiliar affection for her for years now which he had tucked away. All the signals of his growing need to be closer to her he reasoned away as just simple touches between two friends. Casual touches between two people comfortable with each other, and nothing more. But he’d started to to place a hand on her, guide her, suck in a tight breath when his hand fell on her shoulder, years ago. It had all just snuck up on him, because she was human.

Maybe he hadn’t wanted to admit then that he felt this affection for her. But it was clear now. No wonder he had never been able to feel anything serious for Livia. He had been too busy falling for his partner. For years now, it seemed.

And then he realized where they were. The Embassies. Livia worked at the Turian Embassy. Damn.

“Hey, you ok? You went somewhere else for a minute.” Shepard had been watching his entire descent, as he slowly realized how much he cared about her, and then of how terrified he was of seeing his ex-mate. 

“I’m, mmm, a little worried about seeing Livia.”

Shepard’s shoulders slumped as she tucked her hands inside her pockets. “Garrus, what are the chances that you’ll see her? Thousands of people work in the embassies, and the Human Embassy is on the opposite side of the Turian Embassy.”

Just as she finished her last sentence the elevator lurched to a stop to let someone in.

“You’re right, I shouldn't worry,” he said, the elevator doors sliding open with a soft hydraulic sound.

And as they both turned their heads, looking out at the hall to the person waiting to get in the elevator, Livia stood staring right back at them. 

It had been over a year since he last saw her, but he’d known her long enough and well enough to still read her fluttering, agitated mandibles and her eyes that tried to burn a hole right through him. The anger that she held onto was clear, but he also saw sadness in her eyes. 

Ultimately, though, he saw one singular emotion scrawled across her face. That expression was one he became very familiar with at the end of their relationship— disappointment. 

***

Great . Shepard nearly died inside at the sight of Vakarian’s ex-mate while cursing to herself about how shitty her day was stacking up to be, at least personally. First, right after waking up she rubbed one out to numerous, filthy thoughts of Vakarian, then she sexually harassed him again, and now the woman that he spent a year of his life with, who had been wrapped around his finger and fallen in love with him, stood in front of them. Glaring.

Only making everything infinitely more awkward, Vakarian quickly reached for the control panel muttering, “Whoops, wrong floor.” Damn he’s a fool, she thought to herself . Why do I adore him so much?

His finger hovered over the ‘close door’ key, but Shepard caught his hand and pulled it away before he was able to press it. After giving him a reprimanding look, to which he answered with an impish grin, Shepard turned back to offer Livia a friendly smile. She wasn’t going to say anything to the woman, though, because that was Vakarian’s job.

Instead of smiling back, Livia’s glare quickly took on the power of a mass effect field as she carefully watched both of them. Glaring eyes flicked between the two of them for a short moment, leaving them with nothing to do but stand still and stare back at her, until she reluctantly entered the elevator.  

“Hello, Livia, Vakarian’s voice was careful, but friendly enough. “How have you been?”

“Oh wonderful, thank you,” she replied somewhat tersely. “And you?”

“Good,” he said while shoving his hands in his pockets. Shepard and Vakarian stood on one side of the elevator, both leaning against the wall with their hands in their pockets looking like mismatched twins. 

Shepard felt so awkward standing between them that she wished she could just melt into the wall and disappear. Glancing up at the ceiling to avoid staring at them, she thought escaping out the top through the maintenance duct was a good option too. And more realistic. Good plan , she told herself.  

“I assume you’re here for work?” Livia asked. 

He answered with a nod. The elevator fell into silence after that. She and Vakarian exchanged some looks, silently acknowledging the awkward situation and how insane it was, but nothing else was said between Vakarian and Livia, who stood as far away from them as she could. Shepard used to think Livia disliked her...but eventually she realized Livia didn’t even think about her enough to like or dislike her. After just a few floors the elevator stopped to let Livia out at her destination.

“It was nice seeing you, Livia,” Vakarian said politely.  

“You’re good at badgering witnesses, Garrus, not at being polite, so don’t bother,” she said coolly, sauntering out of the elevator as if she’d proudly set it on fire.

Shepard couldn't help but react to the insult by making a surprised and amused face at her poor partner, her mouth agape, which he answered with a chuckle. The look of shame on his face made her want to chase after Livia and smack the shit out of her, though. 

“You never did tell me exactly how you two broke up.”

“Well I’m not going to now ,” he muttered.

“Why not now?” she asked, genuinely curious what had so recently changed to make him refuse to tell her. He’d always played coy and changed the subject when she’d asked about the breakup, whereas now he adamantly refused for some reason. What had changed?

He shifted uncomfortably. “It’s...not that interesting of a story.”

“Oh it seems to be, based on how much she despises you and how uncomfortable you are right now.”

“Maybe some other time.”

“You’re never gonna tell me.”

“Not a chance,” he quickly replied, although the amusement in his voice revealed he appreciated her tenacity. “Let’s just focus back on how we’re going to handle this. You wanna start by asking the questions?”

“Yeah, he seemed to hate both of us when we saw him in Charles’ home office, so I don’t think buttering him up will work. Might as well just start with the tough questions. Wanna take a look around his office while I get him talking?”

He agreed with a nod. 

“Think if I go kinda easy on him we can prevent this from getting back to Pallin?” she asked. 

Vakarian’s eyes sharpened, a bitter expression rolling across his face. “Oh it’s getting back to Pallin no matter what. Might as well get everything we can out of him. So go ahead, push him.”

The elevator chimed, doors sliding open. Shepard took a deep breath while Vakarian stood up straight, his shoulders spreading wide. In an instant they were the epitome of authority and professionalism, walking side by side down the hall and up to Ambassador Udina’s receptionist. 

“How can I help you?” the man asked with a fake smile and even faker helpful tone. 

“Detective Shepard.”

“And Detective Vakarian.”

They both gestured to the C-Sec badges at their lapels. 

“We need to speak with Ambassador Udina,” Shepard stated flatly. “It’s related to a murder investigation.”

“Of course, Detectives, let me see if he’s in.”

Without Shepard’s consent, Vakarian had already hacked into the ambassador’s console while she made her way to C-Sec to pick him up. Based on the keystrokes that seemed to reflect Udina typing out a snippy letter to Dalatrass Linron, they already knew he was there.

They only had to wait a moment before the receptionist told them they could proceed to Ambassador Udina’s office. From the moment they entered, Udina began jittering in agitation. His movements were jerky, his eyes restless. Could be a sign of guilt, or just that he hated that they were bothering him. 

“We won’t take much of your time, Ambassador.” Shepard started, trying to set him at ease by making him think she was interested in helping him out. “We just want to follow up with a few questions about Adam.” As she started talking to Udina, and had him focused on her, Vakarian began looking around his office, pretending like he was bored. 

“Honestly, I’m not sure what else I can do for you. I didn’t know the child well.” 

Shepard and Vakarian’s eyes met, silently agreeing a loving uncle would be more interested in helping any way he could to find his nephew’s murderer. Well, he was at least self-possessed, if not guilty of something. 

“Anything can help, sir.” Shepard said. “What can you tell us about him? About your relationship with him?”

“Nothing, really. I don’t really like children. Perhaps if he had grown, we would have had more in common then and I would have spent more time with him. As it is…” He trailed off without finishing to the obvious conclusion that Adam’s death would prevent that from happening. She watched him, trying to find any inkling that Udina liked his nephew, or felt bad about his death. No sign of warmth or affection was coming through, though. Not in his voice or his mannerisms, and certainly not in his words. 

“Can you tell us anything about his interests? Cool cars, technology, sports?”

“I really don’t know,” Udina replied impatiently. 

“Did you like your nephew, sir?” Shepard asked. 

“What kind of question is that?” he snapped back. While he was focusing all of his agitated attention on Shepard, she saw Vakarian snap a few images of objects around his office -- which wasn’t typically allowed. Always the fucking rebel. When he turned and saw her eyeing him, Vakarian just gave her a little wink and a smirk.  

“One last question, sir, if you don’t mind. Did you ever spend any time alone with Adam?”

Instead of answering as any normal person would, Udina balled up his firsts and took two quick steps toward Shepard. In response, Vakarian eyed him cautiously and stepped towards her as well. 

“I’m a very busy man. I didn’t have time to ‘hang out’ with a child, and I certainly don’t have time for this.”

At that point, Vakarian stepped closer to Udina and brought up his omni-tool, selecting and displaying an image. Suddenly they were all staring at the watch, but not the image of it from the crime scene. It was an image that was sent over hours ago by Vega’s connection back on Earth.  

“This watch belongs to you, doesn’t it?” Vakarian asked, his voice clearly telling Udina he was sick of fucking around. 

Shepard and Vakarian watched Udina flinch, then look at both of them with a slightly wild look in his eyes.

“That…” Udina sputtered, then froze, watching them for a moment as he seemed to size up the situation. They already had him on the defense -- not a good sign for him. “What is this? Are you trying to frame me for something?”

“No one’s framing you, sir.” Vakarian said, a hint of condescension in his voice. “We received records this morning that this watch belongs to you. A sales record from Toronto, six years ago before you moved to the Citadel. And you’ve listed it amongst your valuables in an insurance rider every year since buying it. Last form filed was…” Vakarian looked down at his omni-tool, “9 weeks ago. No sales record since.”

“Yes, yes. You’ve obviously done your homework. It’s mine. What is this about?”

“We have reason to believe the owner of this watch may have information regarding Adam’s death, but hasn’t been forthcoming with that information.” Shepard squared her shoulders and sharpened her eyes at Udina. “And that would be you, sir.”

“This is ridiculous. I don’t know anything. I’ve already told those bumbling officers.”

“Well maybe we can clear this all up then,” Vakarian said, feigning an understanding tone, like he just wanted to help Udina out. “Where’s the watch?” 

“I’m certain it’s in my safe at home,” Udina’s voice wavered. “When I’m home this evening I’ll check. Now if that’s all --”

Shepard cut him off. “See, that’s not going to help us out. Because we know where the watch is, and it’s not at your home. Now think, where else could it be?”

Udina glared at Shepard, teeth grinding and jowls quivering. “You had better watch your tone. I can have you sent back to Earth.”

“Hmm, last I checked, C-Sec doesn’t send detectives back to their home planet for investigating cases -- and doing it well, I’d like to add,” Vakarian quipped, then turned to Shepard so she could continue. 

“Let’s say that watch was found in a place that connects it to Adam, in a very suspicious manner,” Shepard continued to press. “How does that change your story?”

“He…” Udina sputtered, his eyes darting between Shepard and Vakarian. “Adam had it? Maybe...he stole it.” His eyes flashed, betraying his racing thoughts. They both waited for him to continue talking. Waiting for him to say something incriminating. “That little bastard always was rooting around my house, always sneaking off. I’d find him lurking in rooms all by himself.”

The look in Vakarian’s sharp eyes matched just what Shepard was thinking, which was that Udina needed to stop making a dead kid, his nephew, look bad to save his own ass unless he wanted to really piss them off.  

“Well that just doesn't make much sense, Udina,” Vakarian said calmly. “We have several reports that Adam was not interested in expensive things, or in mechanics or engineered objects. We also know that he was an extremely kind, gregarious kid...so painting him out to be a sneaky kleptomaniac just doesn’t line up.”

“Any other theories that might help us put this all together, though?” Shepard asked, not quite managing to match Vakarian’s calm tone. The bastard knows something, she kept thinking.  

Udina glared at her, thinking to himself for far too long before he finally said, “I’m afraid I can’t help you any further. You’ve wasted my time, and you’re deficient investing skills will leave my brother indefinitely wondering who killed his son. Honestly, I’m surprised C-Sec took someone like you, Shepard. You seem lacking and unimpressive.”

Vakarian drew in a quick breath, and despite looking calm, Shepard could tell his protective turian instincts kicked in. He wanted to kick Udina’s knee in. Shepard had seen him do it plenty of times before -- another habit she didn’t approve of. 

Vakarian simply leaned back against Udina’s desk, though. “I’m curious how you assess human accomplishments and how that relates to who should and should not have been sent to the Citadel. For instance, tell me about that Council position you’re seeking, sir. Gotten any closer to sitting with the big guys?”

That really riled that ambassador up. “You turians ,” Udina spat, beginning to lose control, “all you’re good for is making war. I can’t imagine you’re adding much to this investigation either. Go on, investigate me based on nothing more than your insatiable hatred of humans.”

Vakarian just smiled. “Ambassador, if I may defend my own race, we’re also very good at writing reports about making war.”

Shepard anxiously waited for Udina’s response. Was he going to crack?  

But Udina turned in a flash, subjecting the Presidium skyline to his glare instead of Shepard and Vakarian, which was fine with Shepard. She’d been suffering his sour face long enough to paint a picture of it. When Shepard turned to Vakarian, scolding him with her eyes he shrugged, a sly grin plastered on his face that told her he couldn’t resist prodding the angry ambassador. She absolutely adored him. Every bratty, cocky, smirky bit of him. Even when they were working a case and focused on giving peace to a victim. 

“You two had better leave. Now,” Udina finally said.

“We’re going to send a few officers to your home,” Shepard said while walking towards the door. They’ll look over the area where you kept the watch, look for fingerprints and interview anyone who had access to the watch. We’ll follow up once they’ve completed their sweep.”

“And let us know if you come up with a better explanation for how that watch wound up connected to your dead nephew,” Vakarian added.

Udina didn't look at them, didn’t even respond, just continued to stare out at the Presidium. Yeah, they cracked him.

“Have a good day, sir,” Shepard called out as Vakarian rose from the desk and joined her at the door. They walked out together, silent, until they reached the elevator. Shepard tried to remain composed, tried to tell her fists not to clench into little balls and told her brain not to think of punching something with those fists. 

As the elevator doors closed, Vakarian spoke up, “That could have…” he stopped talking when he looked down at Shepard, his gaze fell to her hands before they landed back on her eyes. 

“Yeah, I know,” she said before he had a chance to point out that they had certainly acted with a bit more volatility than was tactically wise. Shepard really wished that they didn't share a personality type prone to anger. It was the one major flaw in their nearly perfect team. “We should probably just tell Pallin we’re coming to talk about it right now.”

“Think Udina’s on the phone this very moment?” Vakarian asked, trying to keep the mood light.

Shepard answered with a quick nod. It was silent in the elevator as they both mulled over what went down. Vakarian finally leaned closer to Shepard, “Think he did it?”

After thinking over all the evidence she shook her head. “I don’t know. What’s the motive? He has a shaky alibi, but that doesn’t mean a lot. And what about the biotic evidence?” She thought a moment longer before saying, “we just need more info.”

  ***

Back at C-Sec, they sat in Pallin’s office, silent and waiting for him to begin. He had glared at them from the moment they entered Homicide and started walking towards his office.

“Udina called me directly. Said you barged into his office, nearly knocking down the door and tried to harass him into confessing to a crime he didn’t commit.”

Vakarian shifted in his chair, trying to remain calm when he was aching to rant and rave about how suspicious Udina had acted. How he didn’t trust him. “His watch was at the scene, sir. With the boy’s blood on it.”

“While it’s suspect, it’s not proof. They’re family. Adam had access to the watch just through relation.”

“Yeah,” Shepard scoffed. “He accused Adam of stealing it.” The incredulity was obvious in Shepard’s tone, and while Vakarian agreed with her, her gut feelings and sympathy for Adam weren't going to win their case with Pallin. 

“Don’t get emotional about this Shepard. You may be right, but it’s not going to do you any favors -- especially when it comes to political matters. Udina is universally hated, but he still has sway. If you don’t handle this delicately, you’re going to fuck the whole thing up.”

“Does Executor Rix know about the watch?” Vakarian asked. 

“Yes,” Pallin said simply, without offering any additional information or hint at how Rix was handling the matter.

“Then he has to be on our side here,” Shepard said, agitation lightly flavoring her tone. 

“Rix has more to worry about than one murder case,” he patronizingly pointed out. 

Shepard flinched at that. Well, Pallin just wound up on her shit list along with Udina, Vakarian thought.  

“You’ll keep looking into Udina, but you purposely held that information back from me. I should send you both home on leave.”

“We got a jump on him, sir,” Vakarian attempted to argue their case. “He’s nervous now. And he should be.”

“And you can blame us for it,” Shepard chimed in with her best attempt at getting Pallin to look at the bright side, “instead of telling Executor Rix you knew about it and allowed us go anyway.”

“I wouldn't have allowed you go, Shepard,” Pallin chided, reclining back in his chair. His tone was forgiving -- they had a chance of walking out of there without so much as a slap on the hand.

“Fine,” Pallin finally said as his eyes landed on an image of him and his mate, “but stay away from Udina until I give you permission to proceed. I’ll let you know if they find anything at his home”

“Of course, Captain.” They chimed together. 

He huffed out an impatient breath, “Now go home. I don’t want to see your ugly faces until you have something that’s going to solve this case.”

They both mumbled goodbyes and thank yous to Pallin, then left his office.

Looking down at Shepard, Vakarian said in a humorous tone, “Well, if it’s any consolation, I think your face is pretty cute.”

Her lips curled in a shy smile, and her eyes flashed down and away from him. What would have obviously read as acts of sexual submissiveness in a female turian were just confusing coming from Shepard. 

Instead of a feisty or teasing comeback, she elbowed him, pretty hard actually, which in turn made him chuckle. That clarified absolutely nothing. 

“You, um...you wanna get some dinner?” Her voice was soft, and shy. It made him want to grab her and press his nose into the curve of her neck.

“Yeah, definitely,” he felt the rumble in his chest just starting...then they screeched to a stop, his flame doused with a giant bucket of water with his friend's name on it. 

“I can’t, told Kryik I’d spar with him after work.”

She looked as disappointed as he felt.

“You can come too, though, he won’t mind having you there. He’s just going to bitch about Vega the whole time...and flatten my ass into the mats.”

She answered with a sigh, and forced out a soft laugh, “No thanks. I’ll let the turians commiserate about their dumb, slow human partners. I’ll stay home and drink wine with Miranda.”

“That doesn’t sound like as much fun as hanging out with me,” he said, trying not to sound desperate. 

“Well, when Miranda gets tipsy enough she tells me about classified projects, and that can be kind of fun.” She wasn’t convincing. 

His subvocals huffed, which he appreciated her not hearing. It was so much easier to play it cool when a woman couldn't hear your subvocals. 

“Well, I hope you have fun sparring,” she said, stepping back. 

“Have fun talking about science with Miranda,” he replied as she turned, waving all of her fingers and saying goodbye.  

For the briefest moment he really considered cancelling on Kryik. But his friend needed him, so he watched his little human walk away. Her hips swayed, and her hair brushed across her shoulders as she ran her hand through it, ruffling it up. Maybe one day he’d get a chance to run his hand through her hair and ruffle it like that. 

Kryik was very lucky Vakarian was such a good friend. 

Chapter Text

Shepard stood at Vakarian’s door, gathering up the nerve to press the console key to ring his doorbell. If she did, she couldn't turn around. She’d have to go in. The entire way over to his apartment she told herself to turn around and go back home...or at least give him a heads up that she was going to come by to visit. But every time she raised her finger to her omni-tool, she imagined him telling her he was busy, or tired, or he’d give some other reason why they couldn’t see each other. 

But now that she was there, it felt like she was ambushing him. She just missed him, and was sick of spending nights away from him. Kryik had Vakarian all to himself last night, and she hadn’t hung out with him, alone, in days. Her eagerness to see him was so great that she sped out her front door in workout shorts and a tank made from an old, raggy t-shirt.

She stopped at his door. For some damned, infuriating reason she was a nervous wreck despite the fact that it was very normal to stop by your best friend’s apartment. She knew she wasn’t doing anything weird and wrong, but lately, so much of their relationship felt weird and wrong. 

To psych herself up she raised up both hands to shoulder height, let them fall limp, then shook the excess energy out — all the while cursing at herself, Just ring the goddamn doorbell. 

Feeling like it weighed ten pounds, Shepard’s hesitant finger rose up to press the doorbell key. She waged an internal battle to just push it. Push it, she told herself. Stop being weird. Her finger hovered just over the key, she just had to press it and…

The doors to his apartment whooshed open before she could force herself to press down. She stood in his doorway looking and feeling like an exposed peeper. 

“Did you come over to stare at my door, or me?” her partner drawled from the far side of his apartment. He was standing at a workbench facing away from her while he hovered over some project. How long had the bastard been watching me fidgeting and fretting like an idiot? And how did he know someone was even at his door? Did he have a motion-sensing camera rigged up that he never told me about?

Stepping inside, she immediately relaxed despite her embarrassment. They spent more time at her place than his, but she felt just at home in his space. It looked like him — orderly, functional, but comforting. Smelled like him — an herb garden bathed in sunlight. Despite the stereotypical discomfort and sparseness of his bachelor pad, it was his space. So naturally, she loved it.

She walked past the couch — the only seating in his apartment— and towards him. The main room was a small living room and open kitchen, but most of the space was dedicated to work areas he had rigged up. The living room was sparse...the couch faced a vid screen hung on one wall. Along the back wall, where he stood, two large workbenches were set up, dominating the entire room. He usually had something pulled apart and laid out on the kitchen counter as well — it looked like he’d been working on his favorite rifle recently. So something must have been bugging him.  Everything was organized, though. Tidy and precisely laid out so that everything had a place. It all would have looked chaotic if a hypervigilant turian didn't live there. 

“You’re welcome to just stare at my door, but I think I offer a more appealing sight.” His voice, even laden with humor, sounded like pure sex, but she knew that was just her own screaming hormones. 

“Ass,” she replied with an amused smile.

“Yeah, that’s part of the appeal.” She could hear the smile in his voice, and watched as his hips shifted slightly. Whether the shift was intentional or subconscious, it sent a tickle through her core. 

It certainly is, she thought as she stared at his perfectly firm and muscular ass that made her immediately think of swaying hips. And thrusting. A lot of thrusting. The pants he usually wore to work out in hugged every curve and dimple perfectly, so her current view was exceedingly nice. 

Trying to pry her mind out of the gutter, she approached his bench. She never had any idea what he was doing when he had devices or guns pulled apart, but he clearly did, and she loved watching him work. It was that damn, intoxicating masculine charm that made her melt and swoon like a fool. “What are you doing?” she asked softly as she neared his workbench. His sleeves were pushed up, exposing his forearms, she tried not to stare as he reached for a tool. 

“It’s probably better if I don’t tell you,” he admitted with the hint of a sly grin as she peeked over his arm to see what had been gutted for his amusement. With a smile, she recalled the time she came over to find his kitchen torn apart when he decided he could make the oven cook faster if he recalibrated the heating core, so nothing would surprise her nowadays. 

“Got a new cooling unit, it’ll allow the system to run faster,” he explained while propping a tool in between his teeth to free his hand. God, that bite is sexy. She caught herself staring, and had to force her gaze back to what his hands were doing.

Something in the tone of his voice told her that he was purposefully avoiding any specific explanation. On his wrist sat an old omni-tool and his current, modded to the nines omni-tool was splayed out in pieces in front of him, completely taken apart. The bastard was definitely doing something he shouldn't be. “By ‘system’ you mean ‘hacking software’,” she accused.

Having better sense than to lie to her, he hummed a soft laugh.

“Planning on tracking my movements again?” she said, carefully watching him attach some component that was definitely not legal into the main unit.  

He impishly shrugged, his gaze focused on his omni-tool. “Only if you want me to.” 

Now that was certainly an interesting thing to say. How was she supposed to respond? Tell him that he was allowed to follow after her no matter where she was, or who she was with? Because as crazy as that sounded, it was the truth.  

“What are you up to?” he asked before she could come up with a quippy response. 

“Just wanted to get out. Do you have anything to drink?”   

“I’m pretty low, but you can check.”

“You gonna be done with that soon?” she asked on her way to his kitchen to peruse the cabinet, kicking her shoes into a corner as she went. 

“I just have a few more components to attach. But it’ll take an hour or so to calibrate once it’s back together.”

She groaned, “Seriously?” She just wanted all his attention. That wasn’t too much to ask, at least in her mind. 

“It doesn't need to be calibrated, I’m joking. But come here and help me. I can do this on my own, but I’ll finish quicker if you help.”

Before she could stop herself she looked back at him over her shoulder, giving him a saucy look.

He chuckled, then cleared his throat and focused back on his work.

Seeing nothing to drink, she walked back over to stand by his side and watch him work. “I’ll just hang out until you have a minute. I can watch a vid or something.”

“Stay and help me,” he said, his voice warming and tickling the back of her neck so vividly that he could have been caressing her tingling skin with his hand. She wondered if that’s how he felt when she touched his nape, or if it was even more intense. Before that incident at Flux she probably could have just asked him. 

Doubting there was anything she could do to help, but refusing to leave his side, she stared down at the device, wondering what the hell he was even doing. 

That’s when something sitting in a small bin on the corner of his workbench, nearly entirely torn apart, caught her attention. The round face, dozens of tiny little parts scattered about. Her eyes widened as she realized what it was. “Where in the hell did you get a watch? Do you know how expensive that is?”

He shrugged, taking the tool out from between his teeth to talk. “Good looks and charm.” Stopping to smile at her quickly, his teeth peeked through his open mandibles, sending a shiver up her spine. Before she could recover from the shock, or wipe the drool away that had to be forming at the corner of her mouth, he turned back to the omni-tool to continue re-assembling it. “Tarquin Victus, works in customs, had one sitting around that they confiscated off a batarian.”

“Garrus,” she chided, “that belongs to someone.”

“If a batarian had it I’m sure the human that owned it isn’t alive enough to miss it.” He put the tool back between his teeth. All the playing around with the damn tool in his mouth, resting it between his teeth, had her flustered and frustrated. 

Dammit, Garrus,” she muttered, quietly acknowledging he was right about the batarian. 

She watched his eyes gravitate towards something sitting on the benchtop on the other side of her. His hand went to grab it, but he paused before just pointing at it instead. “Hand me the gel there?” She looked down to find the tube of gel resting on the other side of his workbench and realized he would have had to reach past her to get to it, probably brushing up against her. Was he seriously back to avoiding physical contact?

***

Before reaching for the gel Shepard gathered her hair in her hands then lifted and twisted it up to the top of her head in a little ball. She then rolled her shoulders and stretched her neck from side to side. He couldn't take his eyes off her, they stayed trained on her neck the entire time, staring at the delicate curve where her neck met her shoulder, her exposed throat stretched out, the pulse rushing at her jawline... He imagined how soft her skin must be. The pulse beat rapidly, calling for his tongue to gently stroke her skin. How easy he’d be able to feel the blood rushing through her body. There. With his tongue.

He had to take the tool out from between his teeth because he’d been biting down on it so hard the pressure caused a jolt of pain in his jaw. 

It took extreme discipline to brush the thought of her neck pulse aside, but he eventually managed once she let the hair fall from her hands, letting it curtain her tender neck. With a hand that he barely was cognizant of anymore, he took the tube from her. A single talon brushed her finger and he grinned foolishly. 

Oblivious to his stupor her eyes stayed on his omni-tool, curiously exploring the machine's inner workings. She looked tired, chewing at her lip. 

He stopped working for just a minute to look at her and assess how she was doing. She looked tired. Beautiful, but tired. “Hey. How’ve you been?” he asked softly. 

Before responding she set her hands on the workbench, falling forward and letting go of all of her weight. Shoulders hunched, she said, “I wish Pallin and Udina had to figure out how to sleep through the night with Adam’s eyes haunting them. That’s how I’m doing. How are you doing?”

Without hesitation, he put his omni-tool down and slid behind her, wrapping an arm across her chest. His arm resting just above her clavicle, he used it to pull her back against his chest and keel. Her body softened in his arms, relaxing up against him. He was so used to hugging her when that little flash of sadness, or anger, flared up in her eyes that he never even thought about it anymore. Working homicide for five years at each other’s side had built a strong bond. Neither found that comfort in significant others, so they’d found they needed to comfort each other every once and a while. 

“We’ll figure it out. We always do,” he promised her. After a moment, with her still resting snuggly in his arms, a bitter chuckle lifted his chest so that it pressed against her back briefly, “Well, usually.”

“When is getting drunk not going to be enough?” She rested her head back against his chest, relaxing comfortably within his arms. The weight of her in his arms felt better than it ever had before. “I miss falling asleep sober.”

“My best guess? Another year.” His tone dripped with sarcasm as he wrapped his other arm around her waist. “Then we get mandatory ‘vacations’ along with free psych treatments for a few months. I’m especially looking forward to talking about my father.”

She laughed softly, her chest rising with every soft chuckle. Her back pressed firmly against his stomach and chest. Her warm body pressed to his didn’t really help him get rid of those thoughts he was still trying to chase away. His heart skipped each time she breathed in. 

She looped an arm around his, her skin sliding against his plate, linking their bodies together in a tight embrace that made him feel fulfilled and needed. Like he could never let her down.  

This embrace was different, though. He held her longer than usual. He just couldn’t let go, couldn’t pry himself away from her or untangle his arms from hers. 

Noticing her racing heart and hitched breaths, his senses perked. He inhaled softly, catching a change in her usual scent — it became warmer, spicier. 

Like when they’d been sitting together at Flux. When she had teased his nape.

And when they danced at the gala.

Suddenly Vakarian felt like a damned fool. He had ached for her, agonized over her, for years. What if she'd been there the whole time, just waiting for him? 

He had been holding her for far too long. He knew he should let go.

But he just couldn't, not now. Even if his mind told him to let go, his arms refused, adamant that she belonged there. He found himself inching closer to her neck, his nose hovering just below her ear, where he could drink in her scent — right where it clung to her, heavy and intoxicating. 

He took deep, slow breaths. To make sure his senses weren’t mistaken, but also to savor her scent. 

His eyes had closed at some point, probably to focus on the provoking warmth and arousal invading his senses. And he realized that his arms still refused to let her go. How would he explain this away? Hovering over her, holding her so closely, breathing in against her neck so slowly?  

But it was so much worse than that. Because at some point he stopped simply breathing in her scent and started nuzzling her neck, his nose and lips softly running along the delicious curve right behind her ear. He’d lost himself. Body, mind, and senses. 

Spirits she was close. Too close for this to just be a normal, harmless hug. He was nuzzling her. Nuzzling Shepard’s neck. And Spirits, did she smell good. He couldn't stop.

Because she was still there, allowing him to hold her and nuzzle her and drink her in. His breaths became ragged right along with hers. 

It took opening his eyes to realize that she was leaning into him, tilting her head and submitting her neck. Did she know what she was doing to him? How much he wanted her and what stretching her neck like that meant?

Her pulse thumped wildly just under her jaw, every muscle just begging to rest between his teeth...he couldn’t hold himself back. 

He continued to nuzzle against her neck as his hand smoothed over her stomach, wishing her soft skin was brushing against his. He listened to her heartbeat – rapid, exhilarating. Her breath deepened, causing her chest to rise and press against his embrace in a steady rhythm. He paused long enough for her to tell him to stop, or to shift away from him. But she didn’t move, and she didn’t tell him to stop, so he carefully inched his fingers under her shirt, sliding his hand against her impossibly smooth skin. 

Her excited breath caught, the muscles around her waist trembling as his hand found the waist of her shorts, and inched under the band. Again her breath caught as his hand continued to slide further down. Slowly testing. Slowly stroking her skin just beneath the fabric. 

He hummed contentedly as she leaned into his touch.

Her head turned and she brought her mouth against his chest, his subvocals trilling as her parted lips brushed against plate. Her warm breath fell against him. Her body swayed in his hands. With her mouth open she exhaled a soft pant then whispered, “Touch me.”

***

Shepard was quite familiar with Vakarian’s hands, she knew his touch, even knew what it felt like to have his talons pressing into her skin.

His hands had never been on her like this, though. She sensed the need in his breaths that warmed her skin, the urgency in his hands to explore the curves and flesh that were still unfamiliar to him. His hands almost vibrated as they inched to places she’d only imagined him touching. And she didn’t even question where this came from. She just felt it, and wanted it too.  

This close, their bodies pressed up against each other, she knew that he could hear her heart pounding in her chest, that he could smell her. None of the signals of her desire – her heart beating, her breathing, temperature rising – were hidden from his senses as he pressed up against her. 

He understood what her body said, and he still held her. But he didn’t just hold her, he dragged his mouth against her neck and behind her ear, making her melt in his arms. 

Everything was clear, wasn’t it? Refusing to ask questions that would ruin this, she pressed her ass against him in perfect time with a quick intake of breath.

With her ass pressed against his plates, his free hand grabbed a hold of her hip, digging talons in almost too roughly as a growl leaped from his throat. He actually growled, animalistic and thrilling. For her. He continued to nuzzle his mouth against her neck, her skin screaming to feel even more of him. His tongue. Or his teeth. 

Firm but pliable lips dragged against the skin at the curve of her neck. He really liked that spot. His nose, breathing her in heavily, tickled at her skin as it flexed and scrunched. 

She couldn’t hear him — his heart beating — like he did her, but his chest rose heavily against her back, and his warm, hitched breaths tickled her ear. With every inhale his response to her built. His arms pulled her in tighter, the cadence of his subvocals rolled out deeper and faster. After a particularly deep and quick breath, an unfamiliar pressure pressed at her back. Were his plates spreading?  

Only a moment later his fingers inched ever closer to her, creeping under the fabric of her shorts. She wanted him to just rip them off, throw them on the floor and bend her over right there. Her clit throbbed and lips clenched, impatiently awaiting his touch. 

But he was moving slowly, achingly slowly. Her mind raced and her body begged — if he kept going this slow maybe he’d wake up, realize what he was doing and stop. Wrapped tightly in his arms though, there wasn’t much she could do. He had her completely surrounded and tucked up tightly against his body. All she could do was wait for him to finally touch her. 

Eager to feel his finger on her, her hips rolled forward just slightly, desperately trying to get closer to the relief of his finger on her as she ached for his touch. As soon as her hips drifted from his, though, he tightened his grip and pulled her back, a rumble in his chest telling her not to move. It shocked her but just made her want him even more. And when he pulled her back against him his cock stiffened against her back. So, she could tease him too, then. 

He subdued her impatience with his velvety tongue, flicking it once against the nape of her neck, freeing her of all thoughts. All sensations other than his touch and his panting were a distant memory. But his damn hand still rested just below her waist, not moving or delving deeper, so close to where she wanted it. Teasing him in turn, she moaned and pressed herself against him.

And then she finally got what she wanted. His hand slid between her thighs, his finger slid against her. She wondered if he'd realize, just from feeling her, how much she wanted him. 

But the teasing didn’t stop... he drew his finger once against the outer edge of her folds. She almost moaned in frustration. His hips bucked against her when his finger quickly found her center, gently resting between her folds, already swollen and dripping. She moaned again, and her hips gently rocked into his touch, desperate to feel him closer, deeper. 

But that still wasn't enough, she needed him inside her. Dragging and stroking. That's when she couldn't hold back anymore. He needed to be inside her. Now. She moaned, loud and desperate, insistent hips rolling back against him. 

As if he was scolding her impatience, he nipped once, very lightly, at her neck while he gently plunged his finger inside her, dragging slowly past the warm, soft flesh of her slit. She was slightly startled by the joined sensations – his warm and firm finger diving into her and his lips nipping at her neck. The moan that escaped her was a more desperate and uncontrolled sound than she’d ever made. And he must have liked the sound, or enjoyed the feeling of her clenching down around his finger, because a soft growl gathered in his throat. 

That sound –the gentle growl – would frighten so many other humans, but it excited her. It made her feel like his mark. His quarry. His. The deep, animalistic rumbling told her just how much he wanted her, too. And fuck, it felt good to know that he – Garrus, her best friend – wanted her like this. She took a moment to savor his vocalization rippling through her chest and down into her thighs, goading all of her nerve endings. Once it traveled through her entire body it settled in her core, warming and electrifying. It was so dizzying and distracting that she forgot for a moment his finger was inside her. Just to remind her, he drew his finger out slightly, and slowly, before pressing it back in. 

Her clit throbbed so hard it was driving her crazy. The hand resting on his arm squeezed desperately around his rigid plate.

She cursed as his finger moved within her again, filling her and stretching her. Her dripping fluids spread with his thrusting finger, helping him touch her so perfectly but also leaving her hot and wet between the thighs. His touch was eager but also careful. Each drag was slow so that his talons wouldn’t hurt her. Which only meant that each drag, every push or pull of his finger, pleasured every inch of her walls and folds.

She panted as he moved within her, stroking her and coaxing out varied moans.  Breathy when he pulled out, and desperate when he pushed in. 

Her knees weakened as his caressing dared to go deeper, and faster. Her toes ached and she realized she was on her tiptoes to be closer to him. Afraid of falling, collapsing into his arms, she pressed her hands against the workbench. It offered her some sense of support, and with it she pressed herself against him even harder, rolling the top of her ass against his twitching erection. The satisfied growl that rumbled from his chest against her body nearly made her lose all her senses.  

Another breathy moan brushed past her lips as he slowly withdrew his finger. But instead of pressing back into her, he withdrew completely. She groaned as it slid out, it literally hurt, it ached, to no longer have him filling her. Before she could protest the maddening emptiness by teasing herself back against him, with his hands on her hips he turned her to face him. 

If he wanted her to beg, she would. She would get down on her damn knees and beg him right there to press himself inside her once again. 

Hot breath fell from his mouth against her sensitive, tingling lips that were eager to be touched. As if they had a mind of their own, her hips wanted to gravitate to his, but his hands held her back. Tightly in place. Just close enough to feel his radiating heat, but not close enough to feel him. 

His hands, wrapped around her hips, clenched down so tightly that the blunt pressure of his talons pressed into her as he held her back.

“Should we,” his voice growled with the effort to speak. He squeezed tightly down on her hips, making her heart leap as he tried to regain control over himself. As the growl vibrated off her chest she squeezed her thighs tight against her slit, so desperate for friction that she’d give it to herself if she had to. “...talk?”

She couldn't even look at him, she was so worked up and so desperate for more touch and tongue and nuzzling. “If talking means we stop doing this, then no, we shouldn't.” A sly smile parted her lips, hoping her levity would encourage him to relax. 

“I don’t even know how to touch you.”

She wanted to tease the big dope. Just seconds ago he was fucking her with his finger, and doing it so well that she was literally dripping down her thigh, and now he was saying he didn't know what he was doing? That was her idiot best friend. Really fucking oblivious for such a sexy, cocky bastard.   

Looking briefly at his worried eyes, and feeling his anxious hands on her hips, she realized this wasn’t the time for teasing. Taking a deep breath, and swallowing to loosen her vocal cords she said, “You were doing a pretty damn good job a minute ago.” 

She tried to lean forward, her movement once again prevented by his hold on her hips. Damn, he’s strong. He had complete control over her body, whether he pulled her closer or held her back. His denial made her head clear a bit. “Listen, it’s hard to be good at something you’ve never even thought about doing. It’s—”

“Oh, I’ve thought about this. With you. A lot.”

That stopped her heart a bit. “I’ve thought about this too,” the words spilled out almost embarrassingly quickly.

“You have?” Somehow he sounded surprised like she hadn’t been basically in heat the past few weeks over him. Oblivious, cocky bastard. 

She answered with a weak nod. Dizzy. Rushing urges and aching heat driving her wild. Her hands, desperate to touch him, reached out and landed on his hip spurs, mirroring his hold on her. With his body in her hands, she found some relief. It steadied her and made her feel a little less desperate. 

Allowing herself a moment to settle the coursing heat washing through her body, her hand then drifted over to one of his, loosened his grip on her hip, and raised it to her mouth. She took his middle finger and ran the tip along her bottom lip, dragging it so that it pulled at the tender flesh and parting her mouth slightly open. All the while his talon skated along her upper lip, catching her breath. That sensation, or the effect it had on her, at least brought back the thunder in his chest.

“I don’t…” he trailed off, and she could sense his hesitation. She tried not to stare at his erection pulsing beneath the tight fabric of his pants. God, it looks like it’s going to crawl out the top.

But something was holding him back, still. Their eyes fell on every bit of each other, except each other’s eyes. They were nuzzling and touching and rubbing up against each other and they couldn't even look each other in the eye. 

That had to be fixed. She didn't want this to stop, not if they both wanted it.

She finally looked up at him. And once she saw his eyes, still falling down and not meeting hers, her thoughts just spilled out. “Garrus, I will enjoy whatever you do to me. I promise. I have no idea what you think about me, but I think you are the sexiest man I have ever seen. Really. Watching your hips sway when you walk and you don’t think I’m watching you. The way the muscles in your forearms flex when you hold your rifle. Your chest and shoulders make me wish I knew what it felt like, for you to hold me still while you do whatever the fuck you want to me. Your ass…” she moaned, her eyes closing, “sometimes I close my eyes and just imagine your ass between my thighs.” The quick breath that she took eased her tensed muscles, which somehow allowed her to say what she really wanted to say. “ God, I want you to fuck me in whatever way that would please you because I guarantee you I will enjoy it.”

Sharp, worried eyes finally landed on hers and a rumble tore through his chest. “That,” he nodded enthusiastically, as soon as she stopped talking. His chin tucked in as he leaned in closer to her and placed a hooked finger under her chin, guiding her face towards his. “That’s what I think about you.” 

She wanted to dance. She wanted to sing. Mostly, though, she wanted their clothes off. 

With a flirtatious smile, she pulled her shirt off and let it fall from her hand to his floor. She hoped to see a hint of approval in his gaze at the sight of her bare shoulders, naked stomach, and barely covered breasts. But the primal look that flashed into his eyes was infinitely more satisfying. 

Fuck,” he murmured before pulling her hips against his with both hands, forcing her back up on her toes. “Come here.” 

His hips rolled forward pressing his thick erection up against her, between her thighs, the force and heat teasing her and coaxing her legs to part. Her hands played up his chest and keel, traveling along unfamiliar ridges of muscle and plate. Hard plates were so different, but his subvocals rippled at her touch, tickling her palms. Turian chests were so much better than human muscle. They were hard and thrumming. And his muscles and plates expanded, and shifted under her touch. 

Her hands traveled to his neck, and she wanted to touch his nape again, so badly, but she had done it before. That was a memory she did not want to recall. Hesitating hands and stiff fingers made contact with the soft plate. But she pulled back immediately, certain she was going to mess this up. Thanking God she didn’t make fun of him earlier, her eyes shot to his as she prepared to say she wasn’t sure how to touch him either. 

Embarrassed, she looked up at him, trying to figure out what to say. But he just smiled down at her. He was sure when she wasn’t. They fit perfectly together. “Here,” he said, taking her hand in his and guiding it to the soft plates at the back of his neck. He used her fingers to press lightly. “This feels good,” he said. 

Then he moved her fingers to a spot just below, where the plates ended and soft flesh and smooth skin began — his nape. When he brushed his skin with her fingers, a rumble that started in his throat found a place to settle in his chest. “And that feels really good,” he groaned. Every muscle in his body relaxed at her touch.

His hand left hers but she continued to stroke the skin lightly just with her fingertips, watching him fall to pieces in front of her. In her arms. Subvocals vibrating, head leaning back into her touch, his hips naturally gravitated towards hers, and he finally fell against her. 

His talons pressed into her hips, lightly piercing through the thin fabric to her skin. Letting the pleasure go to her head she gasped. His eyes opened with a start at the sound, and immediately his hands tensed and withdrew from her hips. 

“God, don't stop. I’ll tell you if anything hurts.” Her voice caught and her throat tightened as she begged.

Pressing herself back against him, his dick twitched against her. It crawled ever closer to the hem of his pants. She had to, she couldn’t resist. She hooked her fingers to the hem, now stretched within an inch of its life, and gently pulled. The stretchy fabric gave way and she pulled it down hesitantly, waiting for him to stop her. 

But he just rolled his hips into her hands, and lifted his arms up, his chest and shoulders stretching, plates shifting and muscles flexing as he took his shirt off and tossed it to the side. His movements, the most intoxicating display of masculine strength and beauty, took her attention off his dick and for just a moment she watched, fascinated and panting. She now had proof. Garrus Vakarian had the most perfect male form. In the entire galaxy. His body reminded her of the statues outside the gala. Strong and angular and chiseled to perfection. He was better, though. Because he was real and touching her, and he was her best friend. 

His hips hitched forward, calling her attention back to her original objective. Right. She closed her mouth, because she had been gawking as she stared at his chest and shoulders, and she got right back to removing his pants. 

Her hands slid from his waist, down and over the dips, and up to his hip spurs so that she could loosen the fastens. Once the fabric was loosened over his spurs, she slid her hands over his waist, feeling his sensitive skin and making him purr. She worked her fingers nimbly under the last bit of fabric so she could reveal his cock. Her heart pounded as his pants fell down past his thighs. And for some reason, she focused on his stomach instead of the part of him she was so eager to see. 

She gave him a chance to kick his pants down to the ground, watching him use each spur to unhook the fabric from around the other. 

And then she finally looked at him. Her anticipation did nothing to prepare her for the sight in front of her. He was already throbbing and slick. Each perfect ridge glistened in his arousal. Heavy and wet, his cock fell forward so that it rested between them.   

She knew she cursed, but she didn’t even have the presence of mind to know what she said or how it came out. 

Seeing him unsheathed, swollen, and slick from his own fluids was the most intimidating and exhilarating moment of her life, to put it bluntly. It was thrilling, how absolutely beautiful and perfect he was. And she wanted it inside of her, or in her mouth, or...anywhere near her. Immediately. She looked up to him and saw that his eyes hazy with desire were carefully watching her. 

Eager to show him how much she appreciated the sight of him, she wrapped her greedy but steady hand around his shaft, just at the base. She took a moment to simply appreciate the weight of him in her hand. While she applied slight pressure at the base, his hand smoothed up her back, talon skating her spine. The tickle made her pant and her back arch. Once it reached her neck, his hand rested and wrapped around her. 

As she traveled up his shaft, his grip around her neck tightened. When her palm and fisted fingers rolled gently over the first ridge a short groan escaped him and as she used his own slickness to roll over each subsequent ridge, his light growl grew in cadence. After roughly tugging the head of his cock she stroked back down his shaft, all the way to his base, and immediately stroked up once again making him groan again. Each ridge tickled her palm as they swelled at her touch. His free hand landed on her hip, his thumb gently caressed a line between her hip and slit. Before she knew it Vakarian’s hips writhed into her touch. The thrumming growl was so loud it traveled throughout the room, and his tight grip around her neck was demanding, but exhilarating. 

He was falling to pieces at her touch. Hoping to see that evidence in his eyes she looked up and saw his head tilted back, eyes closed. He was in absolute ecstasy. 

She wanted to be in his arms, now. She stroked him as she leaned forward and reached up to brush his nape in time with her work on his cock. After just a few perfectly timed strokes he growled, ripped her shorts down in one movement, cupped her ass within his hands, and lifted her up. When she gasped a brash smile spread his mandibles. 

She pulled her bra off and found a comfortable spot for her legs to squeeze down and around his hip spurs. Once she was steady he fisted a hand in her hair and pulled her head to the side. His long, velvety tongue traveled from her clavicle to her ear. His tongue pressed just beneath her jaw, right over her pulse. Her blood rushed so heavily that she felt her pulse beat against his tongue, so when his arms tightened around her, making her feel completely surrounded and taken over she knew it was because he could feel her blood rushing too. 

“Do you want me inside you,” he asked, his voice deep and smoky, tickling right up her spine and somehow transforming into a steady beat within her own heart. 

He pressed his tongue against her jaw again to feel her pulse just as she began to speak, forcing the word ‘yes’ to fall past her lips tangled with a needy moan.

As she pressed up against his keel and tenderly nuzzled his mandible with her nose his legs deftly carried them...somewhere. In one sudden movement, without putting an arm out to steady them, his legs stretched over the back of the couch. She tensed and almost screamed out, afraid they were falling backward, but before she could actually react she was resting comfortably on her back and he was hovering over her, somewhat alarmed but otherwise perfectly fine. 

His eyes flashed with humor. “Everything ok?”

“God, I thought we were falling,” she huffed, cursing his turian agility. 

He stretched out confidently over her, smiling. “I’ve got you.”

She would have laughed at herself, but she paused to focus on him instead. Vakarian. Her best friend and partner. Completely naked and leaning over her. Posed beautifully. Her breath was taken away and her mind stalled at the sight of his perfect body. His broad shoulders towering over her, strong arms reaching out, holding her down. Hands wrapped around her wrists. Each thumb pressed over her pulse points. His hips cocked forward and nestled between her thighs, pinning her down. His back arched so dramatically that it made his shoulders look even broader. He was absolutely gorgeous and the sight of him leaning over her was a dream.

That was nothing compared to the look in his eyes, though. Adoring and filled with need. She hoped he saw the same in her gaze. 

The next moments completely undid her. Sharp, icy eyes stayed trained on her as he pushed his hips along her thighs, spreading them open, inching closer and closer to her until the head of his dick just teased at her folds, his slickness meeting with hers. 

Despite her need to have him inside beating at her mind like a maddening song, she forced herself to patiently wait for him and to give all control to the man she trusted more than any other in the world. He held himself there, though, resting against her slit and denying his own urge to strike. 

Was his pace cautious, or teasing? Or, maybe he just wanted to savor the first time his cock slid inside her. 

The idea that he didn’t allow his evident need for her to take over, that he could pause himself in this moment and make every sensation and every second delicious and worth the wait, drove her inexplicably wild. So much so that she almost impatiently drove herself against him, ruining it all. But she held herself back. If he could control himself to savor this, she could too.  

As she ordered her mind to calm and submit to his pace his cock involuntarily twitched against her, stroking her outer folds. She drew in a quick breath, fisting her hands to remain under control. That nearly broke her will, but it ended up breaking his instead. His hands trembled around her wrists, seemingly unable to hold himself back any longer. He pressed into her, driving between her folds. Between their combined slickness he slid in easily, but he took his time. 

They both took in deep breaths as she stretched around him, her walls pulsing and taking him in deeper and deeper. He was only half seated by the time his eyes shut. He leaned forward pressing his keel against her breasts, plates scraping against nipples so that he could bury his face in the curve of her neck where he remained as he tenderly drove the rest of his length inside. Unable to keep still, she squeezed her thighs against his hips as his tongue traveled along her neck, from her clavicle to the crook at her shoulder, to her jawline and up under her ear as he dragged his cock out of her, only to drive right back in with controlled but urgent force. 

With his chest pressed against hers, his keel resting in the space between her breasts, every thrum traveled from his body to hers. Her heart pounded and her mind raced. She hooked her arms under his, wrapping them around his carapace and pressing their bodies even closer. He set a steady rhythm driving into her. Stroking her perfectly. Pressing his cock deeper with each thrust.  

His rolling growl became needy and it was the sexiest sound she’d ever heard. She knew she would hear it in the back of her mind while glancing up at him and across their desks at work. And when she heard it in the back of her mind she’d remember his perfect cock driving deep within her. How in the hell was she going to stay focused while working with him now? From this moment on, she’d be an absolute mess around him. 

As his hand flexed between fisting around her hair and dragging his talons along her scalp his growl mixed with her desperate moans, urging her closer to release. The pressure of his cock dragging and filling her made her incoherently breathe out his name, begging him to make her come. She could feel him all around her. His skin, or plate, or cock or breath touching every inch of her. She was already so close. 

The rhythm he set was perfect, though, and she wanted it to last forever and finally make her come all at the same time. His thrusts were insistent. Coaxing her. Demanding that she lose herself. Promising to make her come. 

She wanted him to succumb with her, though. They did everything together, and deep down in her subconscious, she ached for them to fall apart together too. Loving the way it made him fall to pieces she reached up and stroked his nape again. Immediately his hips lost their rhythm and bucked against her violently, driving desperately between her thighs. The head of his cock hit that spot that made her toes curl. She gasped and cried out for him. Hoping he wouldn’t worry that he’d hurt her, she moaned another ‘yes’ to tell him his touch was perfection.

Nipping at her skin, causing short, delicious shocks of pain that ran up her spine and arched her back, he quickly regained a rhythm that was more wild and unrelenting. After each nip, his tongue would soothe her skin with a tender, velvety flick. The joined sensations drove her wild, each moan that fell past her lips begged him for more.   

His breath caught when her walls involuntarily clenched down around him. She moved both her hands to his waist so that she could softly stroke his stomach with her fingertips, right above his cockslit that was spread wide open and brushing against her slit. His body was so perfect. And so beautiful. She ached to feel him come inside her. 

With that thought in her mind her muscles tightened throughout her entire body. Because he still didn’t feel close enough her hips rolled, matching his rhythm, and making their bodies both arch out. His cock jumped every time he thrust back into her. If his body's reactions were anything like a human’s, he was close too. Her hands moved to his hip spurs where she gripped down hard and pulled him against her. 

He snarled and nipped at her shoulder as her demanding hands urged him on. The shock of pain that was quickly becoming addicting made her cry out, every muscle in her walls and folds clenching down tightly. The welcomed release took her breath away and washed over her as she came with his cock incessantly stroking her through her release. To enjoy the final moments of pleasure her hips stilled while her hands gripped down hard around his hip spurs, screaming out and moaning until all her senses surrendered to the heat coursing through her body. 

His hand released her hair so that he could wrap his palm around the back of her neck, making her feel secure and adored. He rocked his hips coaxing out every last moan and gratified tremor coursing through her walls and slit with his cock until she was completely spent. Lost in the pleasure he just gave her her body lay still, but her breaths were desperate, her lungs aching for more air and chest pressing against his. 

Just moments after her body stilled within his arms he drove his hips against her just once as he released another fierce growl, then they drove in once again. A purr rippled out of him as he pulled his cock back, licked up the length of her neck, and just as he thrust back into her and was fully seated he came, filling her with an intoxicating heat. Muscles trembling, he fell against her, their huffing breaths the only sound left in the small room. 

Completely satisfied by the warmth inside her, she brushed his fringe, tenderly coaxing his body to still along with hers. The purring settled them both as their breaths steadied together. Her muscles trembled against his body. An odd but satisfying sensation intrigued her as his plates shifted, settling back into place over his relaxing muscles. His weight settled down on her, but it was a comfortable weight that eased her into relaxation. 

They both drifted back down, holding onto each other with entwined arms and legs as peace settled between them. His purring was so calming and beautiful that she realized sex with a human would just be so damned disappointing after this. They lay like that for some time, absolutely content in each other's arms. 

As their breaths finally quieted and returned to normal, a satisfied hum against her ear tickled and told her he was becoming lucid once again. She breathed out a soft, appreciative sigh to tell him she was lucid as well, then ran her lips against his mandible. 

His mandible met her jaw, plate brushing against skin. His soft hum soothing her. The sensation was comforting and simultaneously thrilling. As his nuzzles filled her with joy and appreciation she thought to herself that turian kissing was so much more intimate and preferable to human kissing. 

After a moment, he nudged his nose against hers, persuading her to open her eyes and look at him. When their eyes met, matching soft and serene smiles spread across their faces. 

“That was…” she began to say, her fingers teasing the smooth skin along his neck and her eyes exploring his handsome, bliss-filled face.  

His eyes traveled across her face in return, and she wondered what was going through his mind. She was thinking about how beautiful his face and body and soul were. Maybe he was thinking the same thing about her. 

She could feel the purr in his voice before he even spoke, finishing her sentence for her, “Really good.

Chapter Text

“I was going to say it was unexpected,” Shepard said, humor flavoring her voice and breath tickling his ear. Her perfect, small body was beneath him and folded around him still. His arms held her close, and his hips rested comfortably between her thighs. Being with Shepard, his best friend and partner, feeling her and tasting her...it was better than he imagined.

And it was so much easier than he thought it would be. It just...happened. One minute she was in his arms, and the next they were pulling their clothes off. There had to be moments in between, very important moments, but he couldn't recall them as he lay with her, still pressed inside her, their bodies tangled.   

“But...yeah,” she sighed, and almost giggled in a way that made it clear how happy she was, “good works too.” As his brain processed just how happy and calm she was in his arms, a soft purr rolled through his vocal cords. 

Vakarian didn’t want to think about what that was, or where it came from, other than to appreciate how fucking amazing he felt. All that mattered at that moment was how happy they both were, and how satisfying that had been. While her soft, honeyed laugh mixed with his low, smoky laugh they continued to nuzzle each other. 

He finally pulled away from her far enough to let his gaze explore her beautiful smile, the sexy, satisfied look in her eyes, and her fiery red hair falling in pieces around her face. He felt compelled to brush a wisp of hair off her forehead, just as he had before they danced together, but this time she leaned into his touch, eyes fluttering closed to enjoy the tender contact. 

After some more self-indulgent nuzzling and petting, they peeled themselves away from each other to clean themselves up. While she was in the bathroom he stood in the kitchen, wondering what in the hell he should say when she came out. They were so close that it should be easy, right? He still hadn’t come up with anything by the time she finally appeared, standing in the doorway between his bedroom and living room. But her naked body was a sight that deserved to be focused on and slowly appreciated. Words could wait.

Standing at the edge of the kitchen, taking in Shepard’s completely naked body as she stood framed by the doorway, he couldn’t help but also notice how different their bodies really were. He was all hard plates, taut muscles, spurs and talons. He was tall and lean, and the epitome of a predator. 

And Shepard? She was so small and pale compared to him. And her skin was so soft. And even though she was fit and strong, she was also curvy and her flesh yielded so intriguingly to his touch. Touching her was so satisfying. 

Looking at her was so satisfying.   

He watched her hips sway as her soft little feet padded against the hard floor and carried her to the couch where they both sat back down, close, but not clinging to each other like they had been before. 

She watched him for a moment looking like she wanted to ask a question, but after a moment of silence, she just sighed and said, “I guess I should…” while sliding off the couch and crawling down to the ground on her knees, looking around the floor for something. 

“What are you doing?” he asked while staring at her very round and very enticing ass, and the way her breasts swayed as she moved. Biology and turian nature be damned, all of his instincts told him to bury himself deep inside her, now. 

“Looking for my bra.”

“I’m, uh, not really opposed to you being naked a little longer,” he said with a sly smile while sliding down to his knees and by her side, joining in on her search.

After she returned his sly smile they looked together for a moment, but couldn’t find it. 

“I think it wound up on the other side of the couch,” she finally said, lips quirked and looking in that direction. 

Vakarian quickly scaled the couch on hand and knee to peer over the back. Sure enough, a little ball of black fabric sat bunched there on the floor. In one quick reach, he had it and went back to his knees beside her once again. “One more case solved by Detectives Shepard and Vakarian,” he said while grinning and handing her the bra.

She took it from his reluctant hands, because he definitely was not ready for her to be covered up again, and balled it up in her own as she smiled up at him with the most adorably soft expression that started up an excited tickle in his chest. 

It took him longer than he liked to realize that he was staring at her, star-eyed and dazed, like a fool. But she must not have cared, because she gently reached out and tenderly stroked the tip of his mandible with a fingertip. Just like she did when they were getting coffee. Maybe she had been thinking about this, and them, for a while. Little moments had led them here. Little obvious moments. He was a fool for not seeing it earlier. 

Taking the fact that she wasn’t putting her bra back on as a good sign, he reached out and scooped her up into his arms. With his hands cradling her ass, he lifted her up, moving her over to the coffee table. Placing her ass just on the table’s edge he buried his face deep in the curve of her neck, licking slowly against her beating pulse. His heart skipped in time with each beat, and smelling the salty, warm delicious scent that her body held in the crook of her neck made him melt. 

Falling back into her, holding her close once again, immediately he was swept back up in a rush of pleasure and happiness. He would have felt depraved, devouring her as he was tonight, if she hadn’t been humming in pleasure and brushing his neck with her soft little fingers. 

Her pale skin was so incredibly smooth; he couldn't stop dragging his tongue over every inch of her neck. He was desperate to keep feeling her rushing blood and tasting her. In one fluid motion, he licked from her clavicle up to her jaw. Again, it occurred to him that he was lavishing an embarrassing amount of attention on her body, but it felt so good. To think that he could enjoy something that felt this good, and so right, with his favorite person in the galaxy was just too much to ask for. 

He leaned her back slowly so that her back rested against the coffee table then drew himself up, straightening his back and staying on his knees so that he looked down upon her. His much greater height gave him a perfect view, from her fiery red hair to her plump hips and soft, smooth legs that were wrapped around him. Her arms raised up over her head, lengthening her body in a way that made him ache. He wanted to see every inch of her, even her knees and ankles because he knew he’d find delicious pulses there too, but he couldn't disconnect his hips from hers, they stayed tucked up against her. Hips resting between her thighs and his closed but sensitive slit pressing against hers, wet with her fluids and his own. He didn’t even want to break away from her this much, but he just had to look at her, completely naked and laid out for him. He wanted her entire body to bend for him like her neck did. He wanted to see her splayed out for him, desperate and needing. 

He imagined her body doing all sorts of things for him, yielding, bending, and flexing. He imagined her begging for him. He imagined taking her little jaw in his hands, wrapping a firm grip around her as she melted for him. Desperate to avoid hurting her or frightening her, though, he put his very turian drives aside. 

There was plenty he could still do with her, though. With one hand placed just at the curve of her back, supporting her and holding her in place for him he tenderly placed his other hand on her stomach, simply resting gently on her waist. Her chest swelled and stomach rose with each of her steady breaths. 

Awed by the unfamiliar yet fascinating human anatomy within his arms, he watched his hand raise and lower with her breaths. He decided then to take his time. To explore her with his hands and eyes. To memorize every curve. And all the ways her body moved. And all the sounds she made. 

Anxious to begin, he slowly smoothed his hand up the length of her stomach, the skin stretched and muscles taut. He marveled at her smooth skin, shivering at his touch. Her back arched as if her body was drawn to him. Shepard was too perfect. 

Now, whenever she laughed or took a deep breath in, he’d picture this...the muscles at her waist tensing and her chest swelling. He’d picture the delicate curve of her ribs and the way her breasts moved in a way he never thought would be enticing. So fluidly...her whole body seemed to move like fluid. Or smoke. Curving and surging and writhing at his touch. 

His fingers traced a line up the center of her stomach, up between her ribs and sweeping just under one breast to glide down the curve of her side. Her waist wasn’t as drastically small as a turians, but the delicate inward curve between her hips and ribs was still beautiful. Every inch of her strange, little body was incredible.  

And best of all, she was allowing him to do this. As he let his hand explore every surface and curve of her waist and chest she watched him, calm and trusting, and every sigh and moan and flash of pleasure in her expression told him she wanted more.  

After fulfilling his need to run his hand over her entire stomach, from hip, to rib, to waist and back, he took a deep, satisfying breath that filled his lungs, and let it back out while resting his hand just between each breast. He watched her take in steady, calm breaths for another moment, then he finally allowed his gaze to meet hers once again. “You are so beautiful,” he breathed out.

He wondered if she would get embarrassed, if she would shrink and try to cover herself, trying to shield herself from his over eager gaze, from his hands dragging along her skin that was so soft it should be illegal. And it looked like she just might for a moment, but instead she just stared up at him, smiling warmly. He smiled back, running his hand along her stomach once again, and as he explored her curves once again her head rolled back and she closed her eyes, humming lightly in a way that was damn near a satisfied subvocal.

“Does this feel good?” he asked.

“Yes,” she answered, her voice soft and sweet.

His heart hammered in his chest -- it was all too overwhelming. No touch was enough. Just when he thought he’d be satisfied he had to touch her somewhere else, feel her body and skin and watch how her smiles changed just slightly and how each hum or murmur was different. He wanted to know everything about her body and what she liked. 

Both of his hands moved to her back, right at the upper curve of her ass, and he pulled her hips upwards, forcing her back to arch for him and her stomach to stretch out before him once again. Spirits, she was a beautiful sight. And he hadn’t even broken her skin while nipping at her neck. Feeling a little more confident that he could avoid hurting her, he leaned down and wrapped his teeth around the bone protruding at her hip. He pressed down ever so softly, with only the slightest tension in his jaw, just so his teeth scraped lightly against her skin, eliciting a moan from her and a growl from him. 

Her hand wound up at the back of his neck, stroking enticingly and sending a shiver down his spine. Pressure built behind his plates once again. Afraid he couldn't resist pressing his teeth to more delicate areas, he moved his hands to settle just between her shoulder blades and pulled her back up to him, right where she belonged. While Shepard allowed him to maneuver her body around she sighed and smiled at him. 

Resting his weight on his heels, he sat her well-cushioned posterior back on his lap. Another thump of pressure pressed at his cockslit as he held her in his arms. He wanted to ask if she’d like to go for another round, but couldn't figure out how to say it without sounding like a desperate, inexperienced adolescent.  

So instead of saying anything he waited for her to and ended up watching her gaze flash between his teeth and eyes. Some devious thought was brewing in his best friend’s mind. “Can I see your teeth?” she said, her tone cautious but excited. 

Full of trust and intrigue, he opened his mouth, mandibles spreading and lips parted. His teeth exposed and tongue still tingling from tasting her, and from feeling her pulse beating wildly, he waited for her to make a move. He watched her, excitedly wondering what she was going to do. Her ass settled perfectly in the groove between his thighs and pelvis. 

Her eyes were on his parted lips, his teeth. Her finger skated cautiously over one piercingly sharp tooth then another, one by one, from the side of his mouth to the very front where she paused, her craven eyes flicked up to his, and she pressed down gently, testing the lethal sharpness.

A soft gasp parted her lips, and not a moment later a metallic sting hit his taste buds. Her eyes flashed, acknowledging the mistake she just made. She’d pierced her skin against that last tooth tip she’d touched. The scent of her blood wafted up, drowning his senses. For just a moment he was scared for her, upset that he had hurt her, even though she was the one in control at that moment. But then he caught her reaction -- a lustful intensity flashed in her eyes, her gaze locked on his, her thumb dragged against one of the teeth closest to his lips then dragged down his chin before she finally wrapped a hand around his jaw, nudging his chin upwards. He didn’t usually get off on being handled by a partner like that, but fuck , she was sexy. He might not mind a little bit of submission if she was the one asking for it. 

That was all it took. His strong jaw resting in her little hand. Clutching him with a hungry, carnal look in her eyes. A groan took his breath away as his plates parted and he was freshly unsheathed. His hot, wet cock fell against her thigh making them both moan and grind their hips against each other. The sudden heat and pressure of becoming nearly fully erect so quickly made him pant and his tongue beg for contact. He licked up the center of her throat to satisfy his urges. 

In one fluid motion she lifted her hips, grasped his cock, and pressed his head to her slit. Much quicker than their previous round, she took him in and seated herself on his swiftly amassing length. Gentle, needy growls rolled out of his throat for her while he tried to steady the primal drive that the sudden pressure and tightness of her core wrapped all around him sent thrumming through his veins. He wrapped his hands around her waist to steady her movements. If she wasn’t careful, he’d be coming again before they got to enjoy this. Refusing to pace herself, though, she leaned forward, and with an unrelenting drive landed her mouth on his neck and pressed her dull, smooth teeth into his flesh. He gasped, growl turning rough, while his hips bucked against hers. 

That was it, he was inside her once again and his heart beat so rapidly he had to take a moment to breathe. Sitting still, allowing her to take the lead, his cock came to life as she clenched down around him, moving up and down his full length with slow, purposeful thrusts. His hands were tangled in her hair, talons scraping her scalp. Tongue dragging along her neck. Nose drowning in her scent. 

He grabbed her wrist to lay his thumb against her pulse. He’d spent plenty of time exploring her neck, and wanted to spend an equal amount of time on her wrists. As her pulse beat against his touch her hips rocked into his, quickly begging him to already come again. He slowed himself, though, by refusing to meet her thrusts so he could prolong this delicious moment between them. It took every ounce of his consciousness to do so. 

Pressing her wrist against his nose he breathed her in. Fuck , her scent at her wrists was just as intoxicating as her neck. So incredibly slowly, he dragged his nose against her wrist, leaving his scent on her and taking hers onto him. He then licked her wrist once, his cock jumping as he felt her pulse beat against his tongue with a rapid pump. 

While she took in his cock over and over he did that several times, repeatedly dragging his nose then licking her skin, their scents tangling and mingling there on her wrist, just as he’d done to her neck. Her soft moans encouraged him as his tongue tasted her and felt her pulse jumping for him.

As he explored her wrist she found a steady pace grinding her hips against his and stroking his cock with her swollen inner walls. The powerful moans that fell past her lips, at first confusing, became just as exhilarating as everything else about her. Her sounds, her scent, the way the soft skin on her thighs hugged his hips...he felt dizzy. Suddenly taking in her scent and feeling her pulse against his tongue wasn't enough. He gently bent her wrist back, stretching her tendons so that he could wrap his teeth around her as they begged to feel pressure against them. Her muscles and tendons just began to yield to the pressure of his jaw. He couldn't indulge that need, though, so instead, he focused on the scrape of his teeth across her delicate skin and allowed his tongue to make up for the missing pressure by flicking greedily at her. 

With his tongue and teeth on her wrist, she gasped, arching her back and bucking her hips wildly against his, taking his cock even deeper inside her every time she lowered herself on him. As he opened his mouth, allowing her wrist to escape before he actually broke her skin, her hands shot to his fringe where she held a tight grip and continued to ride through her greedy thrusts. At this pace, seeing her gorgeous body undulating and taking him in, he wouldn't be able to hold on long. 

He felt it then, racing towards the edge. He wrapped his arms around her, pulling her chest and waist to him. As his talons skated over the back of her neck her walls clenched down, surrounding him and pulling him with her. Moaning, stroking his nape, her hips driving him absolutely mad, she finally came again while whispering his name against his ear. As if she was begging him to just give her what she needed. He gladly gave her every inch of him, his thrusts finally matching hers, hips rocking between her thighs. Stroking her through every last tremor raging around his cock. She moaned through her release, her breath bathing his neck in warmth. Then her head tilted back so that he could see her tendons stretched, her pulse pounding. Her wild moans subsided into short, appreciative cries as her nails dug into his skin.

And just as she began to slow he followed, his subvocals thrumming out for her, begging her to stay there with him. Just a little longer. Her folds and walls clenched so tight it made him gasp and groan. Pleasure rushing at him, he felt his teeth clench tight.

“God, Garrus, don’t stop,” she moaned against his neck. “This feels so good.”

Her lips pressed against his mouth. Her little tongue flicking against his lips lightly, just once, before she began to drag it seductively around the edges of his mouth, even flicking lightly against his teeth. Once. Then again. 

With a sudden force, she clenched down even tighter around him, pulling him deeper.  Deeper and deeper with each thrust. So tight and hot it made him pant. And before he knew it he was calling out her name. One quick jolt of his hips and he was buried as deep as he dared to go. Another quick thrust and she cried out for him, digging in her dull little nails into the curve of his neck. 

Every muscle in his body tightened as his cock jumped one last time before he spilled into her. Each pulse of his cock sent his release into her. Heart pounding. Filling her with his cum as he held onto her.  

His arms pulled her in so tight that his muscles strained from the effort. Finally, she felt close enough. With desperate breaths, their chests rose against each other. Her face fell against his, her nose gently nudging his mandible. He ran a hand through her hot, damp hair.

And just as they fell together, they rose together. Gathering breaths, letting their heartbeats settle. They ran their hands along each other's most sensitive spots.

His hands ran along the curve of her waist, the curve of her neck. He ran his hand through her hair, letting it drift in waves through his fingers. Watching, transfixed as if it were the lightest fabric drifting in a breeze.

She ran a finger under his mandible, cupped his jaw as she pressed her lips to his mandibles and chin. She ran her hands along his fringe, soothing him into a state of pure contentment. His subvocals softly thrummed for her. Whatever this was between them, however and whenever it ended, it was going to wreck him. 

Pushing that thought aside, he tried to focus back on how amazing this was and how amazing she felt. Still inside her, he took her wrist to breathe in her scent again.

Simply watching him with warm eyes and a soft smile, she allowed him to breathe her in and run his nose along her wrist for a moment. With curious eyes on his mouth and her wrist, she said, “That’s not something I ever saw in a porn vid.”

Confused, he stopped, but held her wrist next to his mouth still. “Well, it’s not really porn material, is it?” he said just as a thought popped into his head. “Wait, what kind of turian/human vids did you watch?”

“Is it kissing, like nuzzling on the face, but with wrists instead?” she asked, joining his state of confusion.

He nearly stuttered, mandibles spread out slightly in alarm as he realized she had no idea what he was doing. “No...Spirits.” 

Feeling a bit stupid for so brazenly scenting, when she didn’t even know what it was, he released her wrist. It was his fault though, not hers. Of course she wouldn’t know everything about turian sex and intimacy. Thinking nothing of it though, she cupped his mandibles and nuzzled her nose softly against his, her breath ghosting over his lips. With her hands so close to his face again, the metallic smell of her blood hit his nose. He picked her hand up to inspect it, finding a significant puncture in her fingertip that still dripped out a trickle of blood, though the flow was lower than it seemed to have been. 

“That was my fault,” she said, biting down on her own lip. “I got a little too excited.” Her eyes explored his mouth briefly before she leaned forward, her chest brushing against his, to drag her lips against his mandible. Then she nuzzled her cheek against his -- just like a turian would kiss. She was already kissing him like a turian, and doing it so damned well. That flipped his heart. “ Fuck , you’re sexy,” she breathed while nuzzling her nose against his. 

Seeing her reaction to him, and saying that, filled him with so many emotions he wasn't quite sure how to react. He wanted to squeeze her, hold her tight, and tell her how absolutely fucking ecstatic she made him. There would be time for him to fall apart and make a mess out of this later, though. First, they needed to get cleaned up. 

Smiling, he cupped her ass, much plumper than he was used to holding, with his hands. “Come on, let's get that sealed up.” Quiet, protesting groans came from both of them as he pulled out of her, and in one swift motion, he lifted them both off the floor. Her eyes shot wide again, just like they had when he’d taken them to the couch. He couldn't help but watch her with amusement. 

“You don’t need to hold on, I have you,” he promised. “Has someone dropped you before?”

The fear left her eyes as she returned his smile and she shook her head. “You just don’t put much effort into holding me up,” she explained. 

“That’s because you’re so damn light.” He bounced her in his arms gently, giving them both a chuckle. He recalled all the times he'd lifted her up at crime scenes, her hips in his hands. While nuzzling her neck he drawled, “I’ve held you up before. Plenty of times.”

Looking like she finally felt secure, she removed her hands from his carapace so she could cup his mandibles, brushing her soft fingers against plate. They made their way through his bedroom and into his bathroom, where he placed her on the countertop. When her bare ass touched the cold surface she hissed and bucked her hips up against him, making them both chuckle again.  

She began to rinse off the small amount of blood on her fingertip as he cleaned himself up quickly in the small room containing the shower. Then she took her turn to wash up while he went out to the kitchen to get them some water. 

He returned to the bathroom to see her sitting back on the countertop waiting for him, naked and smiling. She held up her finger to him, “Fix me up, doc. A scary turian attacked me and I think I’ll never be the same.”

He laughed softly, taking her finger in one hand and opening the medicine cabinet with his other to grab the medi-gel. While he was busy playing doctor, she kissed his neck by nuzzling him and pressing her fleshy lips against his skin. Just as his hand landed on the small tube, she hit an especially sweet spot. He froze, humming a sigh of contentment, then chuckled as a vigorous purr rippled up through him. 

“Hmmm, Jane. You should use your lips more, they’re wonderful.” This was absolutely perfect, he thought. Other than the bleeding . Focusing back on her finger, he said,  “Let me fix that.” 

He quickly but carefully patched her up, then they stared at each other for a moment, waiting for something to say. A long, uncomfortable moment passed without a word spoken. 

“Stay?” he finally asked.

“Do you want me to go?” she asked. 

They had basically drowned out each others’ questions.

They smiled at each other, shy and awkward. At least she felt as awkward about this as he did. But, she wanted to stay with him, and that was enough to set him at ease. His arms longed to have her back, so he wrapped them around her once again. Although her uncertainty disappointed him, he also felt a weight fall off his shoulders. At least his eager and fawning touches weren’t so overboard or obvious that she could tell he was dying to have her nestled up next to him in his bed. She was making a mess out of him, but at least she didn’t realize it. 

Without another word between them, he picked her up once again and carried her towards his bed, this time she didn’t squirm or worry about being dropped. She just rested easily as he took a few quick strides, and once they were there he drew the blankets back so he could lay her down gently. She seemed unsure for a minute when she sunk into the mattress, but once he leaned forward, bracing his arms on the mattress edge to climb in, she focused on him instead. 

Delighted eyes watched him while he slid in next to her, her eyes flicking between his arms, shoulders, and eyes. Together they gathered the blankets up around their bodies, and then he wrapped himself around her while she nestled in closely. After a moment of awkward, fumbling negotiations between their legs, they were settled and comfortable. Getting used to the angles and curves of a human body took a bit of effort, and he was sure it took effort for Shepard as well based on her huffs and soft giggles alone, but they figured it out. He pressed his mouth to her hair, letting the silky strings tickle his lips, then closed his tired eyes, purring contented subvocals. It felt good.

*** 

Looking up at Vakarian, her head resting against his shoulder, Shepard watched his eyes close. He looked as tired, but satisfied, as she felt. She just watched him and enjoyed how perfectly happy he looked at that moment. Her best friend, her partner, had his arms wrapped around her, their naked bodies tangled and pressed against each other. His purrs tickling against her skin and relaxing her. And he looked happy. 

But as wonderful as it felt, she couldn't help but worry about tomorrow morning. Would they ever do this again? Would tomorrow morning be awful? 

“Is this weird?” she said softly, staring at the soft curve where his mandible met his mouth. 

“Only if you want it to be,” he replied, sleepiness already setting into his voice and his eyes still closed.

“Who would want it to be weird?”

“Exactly,” he hummed as he placed a hand to the back of her head and held her tighter, his warm palm cupping her head and making her feel protected. She felt like he was trying to point out how silly her thought process was, and admittedly it worked. Why make this complicated or worry about it? That sex was amazing. And they’d always care about each other, no matter what came next. 

As she watched him settle in for sleep his face softened, mandibles relaxing, nose wrinkling slightly as he breathed in sleep-induced soft huffs of air. He fell closer to sleep while she examined the statuesque curve of each faceplate, how they perfectly met. His beautiful silver plate color set against the tawny tone of his skin. How beautifully his blue clan markings traveled along his nose ridge, swept across his cheeks, and down to the tips of his mandibles. She had realized long ago how handsome he was..and never thought she would be mere inches away from him like this, able to truly appreciate just how perfect he was. “You’re beautiful,” she whispered. 

His eyes, sharp and bright against the darkness of the room, opened to look at her. “I know,” he said with a smile, his teeth barely peeking through his lips but still making her heart leap.  

A goofy, overly-happy smile broke through, despite her best efforts to hold it back. “Cocky bastard,” she said as she lifted her finger and carefully traced along the line of his clan marking. 

“You tell me all the time. I can’t help if it’s gone to my head.”

“I do not,” she said indignantly and felt a blush warm her cheeks.  

“Yes you do. I keep track, log it every time you tell me.”

“Then why haven’t I noticed you doing that?”

“I do it at night. When I’m in bed. The exact time and what you said. Right before I go to sleep, I take out my omni-tool and I log it. ‘17:00 Jane said I’m handsome’.

She giggled. “You are such a dork.”

“10:00 over coffee, Jane said I’m beautiful.”

She giggled again, somehow her body pressing even closer against him as she raised a leg to wrap around his waist.

“15:00, driving to Presidium, Jane said I’m the sexiest man she’s ever seen, out of any species.”

Still giggling, he pulled her closer and flicked his tongue against her bottom lip, and she marveled at how this already felt so natural. Probably due to the fact that they'd been simply devouring each other for the better part of the night. Warmth flashed up her neck when she realized she had gone on a tangent about how sexy she thought he was, in great detail. “I called you the sexiest man, tonight, actually.”

“Hmm, you’ve said it a lot, so it's easy to forget every occurrence.” His mischievous grin parted his mandibles. “Honestly, I thought you were coming on a bit too strong. Bit desperate.”

“Good to know. I’ll try being a little more aloof,” she teased.

His arms squeezed her tightly in retaliation for teasing him. “Well, don’t be too aloof. I’ve gotten used to the attention. Might bruise my ego if you just abruptly stopped.”

“Have you ever slept with a coworker before?” she blurted out before she could stop herself. 

He paused, eyes still open and watching her with warmth and care, before saying, “Are soldiers coworkers?”

 “Yeah.”

 “Then yes.”

She knew that. Kryik teased him all the damn time for his escapades while serving in the Hierarchy. If Shepard was ever introduced to one of his sparring partners, she was pretty sure she was going to have a mental fit trying not to be jealous. She wasn’t sure of what, because Vakarian never allowed Kryik to get so far as to share specifics, but Shepard was pretty sure women, when he let them get close enough, were wrapped around his finger for a reason. And now she was going to be one of those women, wasn’t she? She caught herself quickly after thinking that -- she’d already been wrapped around his taloned finger for a long time, honestly. A silence hung between Shepard and Vakarian for just a while as she thought about that.

And then she couldn't help herself. “What happens after something like this? Between turians?”

“Let’s talk tomorrow. I just want to hold on to you tonight. Enjoy this, before you break my heart.”

A lump formed in her throat at that. “ Break your heart ?”

“Mhm, when you tell me this was just a one-night thing. Make me go back to staring at you across our desks, thinking about you. Constantly.”

“Well you’re welcome to stare all you want because I love that hungry look in your eyes, but just know that you’re going to have to beat me off you, big guy,” she said while running her hands along his back. His thick but smooth carapace felt solid and warm under her hands. Muscles and plates flexing and settling with his soft breaths. 

At the exact same time, they smiled and pulled each other close, and he tucked his hips in between her thighs as she tightened them around him.

He hummed a contented sigh as he closed his eyes. His chest softly vibrated against hers as he drifted off. She wasn’t sure if he was convinced by what she said -- that worried look in his eyes reminded her of when he fought with Castis, or when he saw Livia at the embassies. But he seemed at ease in her arms, so she tried to focus on that. To reassure him, and maybe her a little too, she ran her nose gently along the shallow curve between his chest and keel before tucking her head into the crook of his shoulder. Resting comfortably in his embrace, she slowly drifted off to sleep with him. Worn out, perfectly content in his bed, and in his arms.

Chapter Text

Vakarian woke up the next morning with a soft, warm ball curled up in his arms. A warm ball with limbs wrapped all around him. Shepard was asleep, curled up next to him. Her arm was hooked around the small of his back, a warm hand on his carapace lazily holding on to him. One long inhale and the smell of her, and him on her, invaded his senses. He could remember what it felt like to be inside her, what it felt like to have her greedy hands grasping for him, and her insistent hips driving against his. 

Her steady breathing even felt kind of like a purr, lulling him into a state of pure bliss. In response to the sound and rhythm of her breaths his subvocals started up, sending a gentle vibration through his chest. Just as they did she breathed in one quick breath, squeezed tighter, and buried her face even deeper into him. She looked more content than he’d seen her in a long time. Too long, really.  

To give her time to rest he watched her sleep for just a moment. Her lips slightly parted. But not in a seductive way. More like a dead to the world, unconscious sort of way. 

Despite the funny pout he couldn’t recall a time when he woke up to a more stunning sight. It was like waking up to actual planetside sunlight bathing his skin because she was so full of light and warmth. Always had been, but now she was in his arms. Every inch of his body thrummed with excitement. Just yesterday he woke up thinking about her and wondering if he’d ever figure out how to read her, how to tell if his best friend wanted anything more from him. And now she was lying in his bed, naked and beautiful, their limbs tangled just so they’d feel close enough. 

He’d seen her sleep before. But it was so much different with her in his arms, breaths falling against his plates and skin. He savored every inch of contact between them. Her naked hips and stomach pressing against his. Her ankles brushing against his legs. Her head resting against his chest and how it rose softly with every breath he took. He wanted to run his talons along every inch of her. He wanted to draw her close, nip and lick every pulse point across her body, from her ankles to her throat, bury his face in the curve of her neck where their scents now sank into her skin. 

Maybe they could lie like this all day. Not think about the case, or work, or anything else. His chest swelled at that thought, an excited breath escaping him. 

As his chest rose with that breath her head jostled slightly and her eyes shifted behind their lids as she took a steady breath in, finally waking up. Any second she would open her eyes and would see him watching her. With a stupid grin on his face. Damn

Before he had the good sense to pretend to be asleep to avoid the embarrassment of getting caught gawking at her, her eyes opened. Her eyelashes, those feathery, delicate little hairs, fluttered and he had the oddest desire to touch them. Just as her gorgeous green eyes connected with his he couldn’t catch hold of that second excited breath. This one was so sudden and came from somewhere so deep within his chest it felt like he could just drift right off the mattress.

“Uh, hi.” He tried to casually clear his throat to avoid looking like a sappy, lovesick fool, pouring his enamored rumbling over her after only one night together. 

“Hi,” she answered. Her voice was raspy with sleep. Anyone else would have tried to hide that. But she didn’t, and that little intimacy assured him that they were still friends, above anything else. She wasn’t worried about being perfect for him. Her muscles tensed and trembled for just a moment as she stretched awake. With eager arms he pulled her even closer. Tight and tucked in. As her body brushed against his he sighed in pleasure and felt a soft throb behind his plates. “Your bed is softer than I thought it would be.”

 “ You’re softer than I thought you would be,” he drawled.

They laughed together softly, then her eyes flicked back up to his. He thought he saw a little uncertainty in the way she looked at him. He understood, he felt it too. But he was adamant that this was going to be ok. He lifted a hand to brush her cheek with a talon, then traced a line from one tiny freckle to the next while admiring the strange little dots that decorated her cheeks.   

He noticed that her eyes looked brighter than he’d seen in weeks, and her breaths were calmer too. “Did you sleep ok?” he asked, hoping she finally had a good night’s rest. 

She nodded, a satisfied grin slowly parting her lips. “Maybe I should get a turian bed. Or maybe just a turian in my bed.”

“Are you inviting me over or trying to make me jealous?” he teased. 

“Definitely the former. Although jealous Garrus sounds pretty sexy.” A single small, soft finger teased at the collar of his carapace. Why had he waited so long to know what Shepard’s fingers felt like on his chest? 

“Jealous Garrus is an idiot. He hacks into Council files and stalks his partner on her date.”

“Is that what you were doing?” The amusement in her laugh was infectious and made him chuckle along with her. Unbelievably, she was honestly surprised. “You were jealous I went on a date?” 

“I was terrified you’d figure it out and chew me out right there on the street. How did you not know what I was doing there?” Then he teased while pinching his talons to her soft waist, wiggling her plump flesh, “I thought you were a good detective, hmm?”

Instead of joking along with him, her expression got a bit more serious. “I guess I was just so happy to see you, so I didn’t question it.” She sighed, her soft smile lighting up her face, cheeks blushing. “Kind of like I didn't question this.”

“I’m, mmm, glad you didn’t.” He felt a flush on his neck as he admitted that. Felt her hand travel up his back, fingers tease at a dimple between his hip and spine.  

“And I’m glad you stuck your hand down my shorts.” Her mischievous laugh filled him with joy as she buried her face in his chest, her hair falling against and tickling his plates.  

He laughed in return, while also marveling at the fact that he had in fact slid his hand between her thighs. How had lost himself so quickly and easily with her in his arms? It was crazy, actually. One minute he was holding her, comforting her, and the next he was nuzzling her and she was pressing herself against him. What in all the stars came over him?

“I can’t believe he took you out for Italian. Should have been steaks.”

“Well maybe you should take me on a date then.”

“Maybe I will,” he purred, brushing a finger under the curve of her jaw. Then he started working through the logistics of that prospect. What was her favorite restaurant? That one they went to for his parent's last anniversary? She really liked the steak there, and the wine. Maybe she’d want to go somewhere new though, somewhere different and more adventurous? What if he took her out and it was actually terrible? And it ruined whatever momentum they had going after last night? He’d ruined plenty of first dates before, and he didn’t like any of those women nearly as much as he did Shepard. 

A deep sigh escaped him as his mind bounced from one worry to the next, and it was too late before he realized how terrible it must have sounded. Shepard would hear it and assume he was upset or disappointed.

Her hand brushed over his shoulder. “You ok?”

“Yeah, of course.” He smiled down at her to show her that he was happy and content. “Speaking of food, are you hungry?” he asked, lightly pressing a thumb and fingertip around a strand of her hair and letting it slide past his fingertips. He wondered how often it was normal to touch a human’s hair, and as he wound a strand around a finger he thought that no matter what the answer was he was probably going to be walking right over that line. 

Chasing away all his worries in an instant with a soft smile she nodded then buried her head back in his chest. Lips softly dragging against plate. They’d get some breakfast then spend the day together, relaxing and...

The distinct sound of his front door opening made him freeze. Muscles tensing, he muttered, “Fuck.”

“What?” she looked up at him, only slightly alarmed. And he really regretted having to tell her, because she was going to be very alarmed. That’s one thing he knew about humans -- they didn’t take sex as casually as turians, at least when it came to family. And the only people with access to his front door were his family and Shepard. 

And just when he was trying to calm her insecurities, the memory of dragging his nose and tongue against her neck and wrist marched its way right into his head. Damn , why did he have to lose control and actually scent her? Anyone with a turian nose would smell the spice of sex anyway, but scenting melded their individual scents together and added such a distinct warmth. That wasn’t just casual sex for him, and everyone with a turian nose would know that. Scenting had its own distinct aroma. It was the smell of trust, affection, adoration. Absolute bliss between two people. 

It was the complete opposite of playing it cool.  

Nothing to be done about that now, though. Looking down at her, her eyes full of warmth and her arms holding tight to him, he knew he didn’t regret it. The comfort and need he felt when he smelled his scent on her would make up for any teasing his family would throw their way. Hopefully, Shepard would agree.

“Door just opened,” he told her, keeping his voice low. 

Not a second later Sol’s voice echoed through his apartment, “Garrus, if you’re still asleep I’m going to kill you.”

“Oh fuck,” Shepard hissed as her eyes shot wide, looking to him for reassurance. “ Oh fuck . My clothes are all over your apartment.” Her body tensed against his, holding him tighter, worried eyes landing on his. 

“I put your clothes in the sanitizer last night. But she’ll know you’re here anyway. Scent.” 

She tapped her forehead against his keel, softly groaning. Concerned for her poor little forehead and certain she didn’t realize how hard his carapace was he drew back just slightly. And just like it was already natural and normal for them, his hand wandered up to cup her head. He pressed his mouth to her forehead gently, fluttered his lips against her skin, then smiled down at her reassuringly.

“This’ll be fine. The only reaction you’re going to get out of Sol is anger when she realizes Liara was right.”

“What does that mean?” Shepard whispered, shooting him an impatient glance.   

“Liara thought we’re more than friends. That's what that message was about, the one I hid from you at the coffee shop. Sol was teasing me about it and I was afraid you’d see it.” He reluctantly untangled his limbs from hers, cursing Sol for ruining this wonderful moment with Shepard. 

As he slid out of bed Shepard flopped back against a pillow with a heavy sigh and puffing a strand of hair out of her face to reveal knitted brows. “This is like high school,” she muttered. “I have a crush on my best friend and he hides embarrassing messages from me and we have sex just like we’re two teens with unchecked hormones. And now his family walks in on us.” 

He pulled on some pants quickly, watching Shepard but ignoring her rant because that was way too much for him to try to figure out. In the meantime, Sol had gone suspiciously quiet. She probably already smelled Shepard and knew exactly what they had done last night -- she probably could hear Shepard’s rant too, and understood even less than he did. “Wait here,” he told Shepard as she stared up at his ceiling, looking resigned to some fate she wasn’t too pleased about. “I’ll get your clothes,” he promised her with a grin that flicked a mandible out just slightly. 

Despite her fit, she returned his smile. She looked gorgeous lying there in his bed, just like she belonged there. It was distracting, how perfect she looked. To the point that he narrowly missed walking into the door because he was staring at her like a fool. 

Yeah, working with her was not going to be easy now. 

Not a second after he stumbled through the doorway into the living room he saw Sol standing just inside his front door, a tick in her subvocals telling him she was in a mood. “Spirits Garrus, of all days,” she chided as soon as she saw him. There was a judging look in her expression that immediately rankled his nerves. 

“What are you doing here, Sol?” he asked with a hint of frustration in his voice that he didn’t try to hide. She was barging into his apartment, and had the nerve to be annoyed with him ? Returning the ticking subvocal he shot a mildly annoyed glance at her as he made his way to the kitchen to grab Shepard’s clothes. 

“Is Jane asleep?”  

“No, she’s up.” He pulled Shepard’s clothes out, bundling them up in his hands, and then stood in the kitchen where he waited impatiently for Sol to tell him why she was in his apartment so early in the morning and throwing a fit.  

“I sent you messages,” Sol accused with a hiss. She was really starting to piss Vakarian off. “Do you not have your omni-tool on?”

He glanced over to the bench and looked at the omni-tool, still missing just a few components that he had totally forgotten about after he and Shepard had... gotten distracted. “No, it’s torn apart. I have my old one on but the comm isn’t active. Why are you so damned agitated?”

“Mom went into the hospital last night,” she finally said.

His heart stopped, and he immediately felt like the biggest shit in the world. The worst son and the worst brother. Hoping Sol heard the apology in his tone he asked, “What happened?”

“Just a bad spell.”

“Is she ok?” His grip tightened around Shepard’s clothes, which were a poor replacement for the feeling of her own soft, warm, comforting body beneath his hands.  

“Yes, but hurry up. I want to get there quickly.”

He nodded and was back in his room in just a few quick strides. 

The look on Shepard’s face as she sat in his bed, his blankets pulled up around her chest, told him immediately that she’d heard about his mom. “I can just get dressed and get–”

“Come with me?” he blurted out, before he realized that after last night she might not want to and he shouldn’t ask. How was she going to act after last night? Were humans so uncomfortable about sex that she’d want to go home, put some distance between him and his family? Would she need some space? He distracted himself by tossing her clothes across the bed to her. 

“Are…are you sure?” She pulled her bra and shirt on, her face disappearing momentarily behind the fabric as he tried to carefully watch her, trying to figure out what she was thinking and feeling. But she made sure her eyes never left him for more than the briefest second. Somehow that meant the world to him.  

“I mean…if that’s ok.” He anxiously waited for any sign that she didn’t want to go with them, but all he saw was his closest friend, the one person he trusted most in the galaxy, looking right back at him with concern in her eyes.  

“Of course.” She immediately slid out of bed and pulled the rest of her clothes on, then walked over to stand by his side. Spirits, he needed his best friend right now and really hoped that last night hadn’t messed up anything between them. It was good, but not worth losing her in times like this. 

“It would help. I…it would be nice to have you there.”

“Garrus,” she stopped him by placing her hand on his keel and he knew she’d feel the soft, anxious vibration in his chest asking her for comfort, “of course I’ll come with you. Just like I have nearly a dozen times before. Nothing’s different.” As she said those words their eyes locked on each other, the vibration stopped abruptly, and he took her in his arms. He held her close for just a moment, running his fingers through her soft hair. 

Before leaving his bedroom he grabbed a C-Sec sweatshirt draped across a nearby chair, not even considering whether it was clean or not, pulled it over his head, and put his shoes on. Shepard watched him while she ruffled her hair a bit, probably hoping to hide the fact that she had just rolled out of bed. 

Back out in the living room Vakarian grabbed everything he’d need to get his omni-tool back together as Sol explained that their mom wasn’t in any danger and only had mild pneumonia, listed off vitals, and reported that she seemed alert and happy on a vid call. His mom had probably tried to call him too and he didn’t answer. He was a terrible son. 

Turning to look at the two women standing in his living room, he saw them sharing a brief look. Sol finally spoke up with a careful but bright smile when she said, “Good morning Jane.”

“Hi Sol.” Shepard waved quickly then moved to pull on her beat-up tennis shoes instead of interacting with his sister anymore. He watched Shepard, worried this would be too much for her. Then he noticed the familial subvocal thrummed in Sol’s chest, and at that moment Vakarian was filled with appreciation for his sister. Then he remembered Shepard couldn’t hear it…she didn’t even know about it. He decided he’d tell her today – if he had a chance. 

Standing there, waiting for him, Shepard ran her hands up and down her arms quickly and shivered. Her skin was covered in those little bumps that made her skin look strange. Her clothing sure wasn’t covering much. He’d spent plenty of time the last two years at hospitals and knew she’d be cold in what she was wearing. “Here,” he went to the couch, picking up her C-Sec sweatshirt she’d left a few weeks ago. She smiled at him appreciatively and pulled the sweatshirt on. 

They all shuffled out the door. After only a few steps he felt a nagging feeling that he forgot something. He checked for his omni-tool on his wrist, the one torn apart and in his pocket, his hextool. He had everything he needed. Everything except Shepard. Somehow she wasn’t at his side, right where he expected her to be. Turning to look for her he was surprised to see that she was several paces behind them and still standing at his door. Locking it. Because he forgot. 

In a few quick strides she caught up with them, smiling up at him. “Got it,” she confirmed to him, like it had been her job in the first place. Spirits, she was amazing. 

Placing his hand on the small of her back, right where it felt at home, he relaxed and returned her smile. “Thanks.”

Once they were at the hospital Vakarian went in to see his mom first. Like normal, they were only allowing one person in at a time to give the hospital staff room to work, and Sol said he could go in first while she waited with Shepard and his dad right outside in the waiting room. Without Shepard by his side he felt small, but walked into his mom’s room trying to hide his concern so she wouldn’t worry about him.  

Walking into her room he saw her resting upright in the bed, tubes attached and monitors beeping steadily. She was looking out the hospital window, smiling and watching a small fluffy animal from Thessia hopping along a tree limb –he couldn’t remember exactly what they were called. Poulis, maybe?  

He’d never get used to seeing his mom lying in a hospital bed. Nothing made him feel more useless or lost. With those thoughts dragging him down he tried his best to act positive and casual when he said, “Hey mom. Sorry, I had my omni-tool torn apart.”

“Ah, my boy.” She turned to him. “It’s so good to…” she stopped, and he cringed as her eyes widened while she drew in a deep breath, nose plates shifting. The entire way to the hospital he’d been so anxious to see her he forgot that he was drenched in all of Shepard’s scents. And that damn look in her eye, the way she tilted her head like she was about to reach out and pinch his mandible, made him want to give her a lecture about respecting his boundaries. “Oh Garrus. Finally, hm?”

“First of all, don’t talk to Jane about it, ok? Humans are different, more private.”

“She knows that we’ll know, right?”

“Yeah.”

“Then why can’t we talk about it, if everyone knows?”

“Humans are strange, Mom. You know that.” He sat down in the chair next to her bed and fought the urge to bury his crest in her shoulder and ask her to wrap her arms around his carapace. She had another fifteen to twenty years, most likely. And while others would feel blessed for such an optimistic prognosis, he just knew their final hug and the last time she’d look at him with those loving, approving eyes would come up on them in a flash. 

“Hm, you’re somewhat like a human then, aren’t you?” Right when he was about to make a snappy comeback she coughed lightly, then with a hand gesture asked for a cup of warm tea on a bedside table. Instantly he felt guilt for wanting her to feel bad for asking about his life. He quickly, but carefully, handed it to her and was relieved once she took a few sips and her cough seemed to ease.  

She settled back, looking more comfortable. “How could you not tell me,” she chastised with that perfect motherly look that made him feel guilty and also made him want to appease her. He placed his hand on the bed next to hers, nudging her fingers briefly with his and staring at her perfectly manicured talons. 

“It just happened.”

“You look happy,” she nudged his fingers in return. 

That made him look up at her. “I’m worried about you.” She shouldn’t be thinking about him right now, and whether or not he was happy. She should be resting, trying to get better. “Have you been careful with your diet? You really need to be careful with stimulants and processed foods.”

 “You can be worried about me and still look happy. You’re capable of complex emotions.”

He sighed in frustration. His mom was in the hospital, hooked up to tubes and machines and she still found time to lecture him about his self-deprecating tendencies. “What happened?” he asked, changing the subject back to what they should be talking about. “Are you ok? How do you feel?”

His eyes quickly scanned the console checking her oxygen saturation, respiratory rate, and heart rate. Each was ok. Not great – she was in the hospital with pneumonia, so of course they were all low. But she was doing ok. He felt a little better. 

“I’m fine. They’re just monitoring me to make sure everything’s ok. I just feel a little tired.” She patted his hand. “We’ve been traveling a lot…”

“And Dad shouldn't be dragging you around so much.”

“I’m dragging him .”

“Still, he should be taking better care of you. Are you doing your physical therapy?”

“Hey, it’s no one’s fault. And yes, I’ve been taking care of my diet, and doing my physical therapy. I got pneumonia. It will happen. But I want to spend my time with my amar, traveling and enjoying life. Someday you’ll understand more, when you finally allow yourself to feel love again–”

He felt his shoulders tense. “Mom, not now,” he warned. 

“You and Shepard…”

“Are very good friends.”

All that declaration got him was a smug nod. “Mhm.”

“Her contract with C-Sec is up in five years.”

“Ok.” She looked even smugger – if that was possible. 

“So I’m sure she’ll go back to Earth. To her family.”

“What else?”

“Hm?” he asked, honestly confused about what she was trying to say. 

“I know you’ve compiled a click-long list of reasons she can’t be your mate. So, what else?” 

They don’t love like turians do. He let out a breath he didn’t realize he’d been holding.

His chest got heavy, and he was especially aware of his rapid heartbeats. Forcing a smile he said,  “I’ll enjoy the time I have with her. However I can.” For some reason the words were harder to get out than he expected them to be. “You and Dad are lucky. Not everyone finds someone that sticks around for life. I’m lucky I found a friend like Jane…And that's...mmm...all I need right now.” 

Her discerning eyes just watched him as he stifled subvocals that would tell her everything he actually felt. And the longer she just watched him, motherly eyes waiting for him to either admit the truth to her, or to himself at the very least, the pressure from holding back the agitation began to ache. 

And the silence was awful. “How did you get pneumonia? I want to know how you’re doing.”

“Garrus, I love you dear, but don’t you think I want a break from talking about being sick? If you’re not going to talk to me about things that are actually interesting, then just send in Sol or Jane.” She offered him a teasing smile to soften her smart tongue. 

“Does ‘something interesting’ have to be what Jane and I do on our nights off?” he all but pouted. 

That got him a look. And a ticking subvocal warning him that her patience was wearing thin. She coughed lightly again, and he offered her the tea before she asked for it. 

“Alright, alright…” He set his elbow on the armchair and propped up his heavy head. “I installed a new cooling component into my omni-tool last night. Pretty excited about it.” Anticipating a reprimand for changing the subject he averted her gaze and took his omni-tool out of his pocket.

As he casually took out the hextool to put everything back together his mom’s hand flew through the air, swatting at him. Flinching to avoid her blows, he couldn't help chuckling along with her as she made exasperated faces at him.  

“Fine,” she settled back into the upright bed and sipped her tea. “Show me the damn mod. Don’t hack the hospital though. I don’t want to get kicked out of here.” 

“No promises,” he said with a sly smile. He and his mom laughed lightly together. It was a sound that he savored – his mom laughing. Because he knew one day he was going to miss it and everything else about her. The thought almost made him keen. 

 *** 

As Vakarian stepped in to visit with his mom, Shepard sat down in her usual chair, right across from Castis’ usual chair. It was odd how familiar this hospital had become over the last two years. 

Sitting across from Castis was a bad idea, though, because his sharp blue eyes immediately drilled right into her soul. She’d never personally been on the receiving end of that look before, and damn was it unsettling. Those eyes, so similar to Garrus’, were the eyes of an expert interrogator. They were the eyes of a man who could make you confess to every wrong you ever committed. He didn’t just ask for the confession, he expected it. As she lowered herself into the chair his nose plates flexed and a browplate rose up. Shit.

A moment of silence passed between them and all she could think was ‘What the hell is going on? Turians are supposed to be cool with this stuff’.

“This puts me in a very awkward place, Shepard,” he finally said while drumming his fingers against each armrest just as Sol sat down, his talons clicking against the leather-like material.

Her heart skipped, eyeing Sol out of the corner of her eye asking for help, but Sol was messing with her omni-tool and unbothered by her father’s antics. “I’m–” Shepard started. 

“I have two options here.” He crossed his arms, and let out a heavy sigh. “Either I make fun of you straight to your face, or I find someone else to make fun of Garrus’ mate with. I’m somewhat confused about what the protocol should be. And to be honest, I’m not fond of either option.”

There was a slight pull to his right mandible. Amusement danced in his eyes. He was fucking with her. And damn her nerves, because otherwise she would have known straight away that he was joking. 

She let out the breath she’d been holding and relaxed into her chair, wishing she could curse him for fucking with her like that. It was really wicked. He was teasing about made up protocols and she was sitting there, actually confused about real cultural protocols. 

“Just call Nihlus up,” Shepard quipped as she crossed one leg over the other. “He loves making fun of me.”

“How about you make fun of Jane with Liara,” Sol chimed in, a bit too smugly for Shepard’s taste. “Jane has had it easy for too many years, picking on Garrus’ mates with you.” 

Shepard laughed, relieved, but feeling no less awkward. His family already called her his mate? Talking before they got this whole thing started might have been good. Less sexy, but definitely smarter. She’d at least be more prepared for this conversation with his family if they had. “Or you can make fun of me to my face,” she said lamely. “I won’t mind.” 

Sol laughed, then patted Shepard on the arm. “He won’t make fun of you, Jane. Everyone loves you too much. For once Garrus has chosen someone that’s good for him.” Sol got out a datapad to read a lifestyle post, making Shepard realize she had nothing to do while they waited. Glancing at the datapad, Shepard saw that Sol was reading advice on decorating with an asari mate. She smirked at that, then realized she had no distraction from this awkwardness with his family. 

Castis sighed, eyes flicking to Sol first then looking directly at Shepard with subtle mischief in them. “Mostly I’m worried about poor Liara. She’s not going t.o take being replaced as my favorite very well.”

Understanding perfectly what he was doing, Shepard shot back while meeting his direct gaze, “She’s too nice to be upset.”

“She’ll probably apologize for no longer being number one,” Castis replied, a wry smile clicking his mandibles out. 

That’s when Sol looked up from her datapad, finally catching on to their game and indignant about it. “Are you two making fun of my mate now?”

Shepard and Castis chuckled together while Sol looked back and forth between them, mandibles slack in astonishment. Shepard thought she sort of deserved it, because throughout the years Sol certainly egged them on when they made fun of Vakarian’s mates, even though she’d deny it. 

“Find someone better than Shepard and I won’t,” he teased. 

“Dad, finding the love of your life is not a competition. Now you see what it’s really like having a turian dad, Shepard. Everything's a competition,” Sol playfully huffed while Castis just laughed softly. Looking back down at her datapad she added, “You two are a pain.” 

Shepard took a moment to allow her nerves to relax as her laughter died down. The familiarity of sitting with Vakarian’s family, joking and teasing, calmed her uncertainty. Taking a deep breath Shepard felt her stomach rumble.

“Val ok?” Shepard asked. She knew they didn’t want to talk about it, but she had to ask. It felt wrong not to.

Castis nodded, affection for his wife evident in his expression, but he looked unconcerned. “Just a little cough. They’ll get her vitals back up and she can go home soon. Maybe tomorrow.”

Shepard nodded in response, feeling some relief, and then felt another rumble in her stomach. She wouldn't last long enough to get breakfast with Vakarian like they had planned. Knowing he'd be in with Valeria for a while longer she stood up, telling Sol and Castis, “I need to get some breakfast. Maybe grab something for Garrus too.” 

Sol stood up as well, “Oh I’ll come with you. I’m starving.” 

They made their way through the hospital, taking the more direct route that only hospital staff and regulars knew about. As they walked on, a comfortable silence falling between them, Shepard kept thinking about how Castis and Sol had teased her. It wasn’t that bad, really, she could put up with it. But the one thing that kept irking her was that one little word they had used – mate. At least Vakarian hadn’t been there to hear it and, hopefully, they weren’t oblivious enough to tease him the same way. 

Once at the hospital’s coffee shop Sol gestured towards her sweatshirt. “You two are nerds, you know? You wore matching sweatshirts.” Sure enough Shepard was wearing her C-Sec sweatshirt, the same exact logo as the one Vakarian put on before they left. So they were, in fact, wearing matching sweatshirts. They were standard issue, though, all officers got one during training. And they were actually comfy. 

Unsure what to say, Shepard smiled softly and shrugged. Thankfully her coffee and breakfast bar, along with Garrus’ to-go breakfast bar, were placed down on the countertop, so she distracted herself by grabbing them and taking a much-needed drink of coffee.  

Sol’s eyes watched her, seemingly amused. And they just kept watching her. Shepard expected Sol to give up, look away, but she just kept smiling, and gawking. That’s when Shepard realized it would just be better to get all of this awkwardness dealt with. “Can we just for a minute pretend that Garrus isn’t your brother?”

“Ah, my favorite game. I’ve been playing that one since I could walk.”

After sending Sol a reprimanding but also understanding look, Shepard continued, “I don’t quite understand what is normal for turians. I don’t know…” she paused, just looking at Sol and sort of pleading for help. But it didn’t seem Sol knew exactly what she was trying to say. “We…” 

How in the hell do you tell his sister that they just starting fucking mindlessly

”It just happened last night. I don’t know what’s going on between us right now. We haven’t talked about it. At all.”

“Oh,” Sol replied simply, then thought for a moment as she retrieved her own coffee and breakfast and they made their way to a table. “Well I suppose none of us are surprised. I mean, we’ve wondered if you two would...but I don’t think any of us thought...well he’s never shown interest in other species, but…” 

As they sat down Shepard waited patiently for Sol to get to some kind of point she could reply to.

“Listen, I suppose after the banquet I assumed something would happen. I mean, you two were sanguis sensum.” Sol just shrugged. As if that explained everything. 

Shepard’s eyebrow shot up and she stopped chewing her mouthful of food while trying to figure out what Sol just said.

“Oh,” Sol touched her fingers against her wrist, “The pulse touching. Blood feeling, if you want a literal translation. Only mates or sexual partners dance like that. It’s very intimate. You knew that, right?”

Shepard shrugged, “I suppose I gathered that, yeah.”

“And you scented.” Sol gestured towards Shepard as if her body was a piece of evidence that just settled a case. 

Shepard froze, memories of his nose, mouth, and tongue brushing against her wrist flashed through her head. That’s what he was doing. She wanted to shrivel up in a little ball. How was she still so ignorant about normal turian stuff like this? He scented her and it was extremely intimate, and affectionate, and she just asked if he was kissing her. Fucking hell. How did he not immediately regret having sex with an ignorant, ridiculous human?

 “I’m just trying to say that we all saw the way you two interacted at the banquet. You’ve always been so close but it was different that night. You were fawning over each other. No wonder you scented after just one time together.”

Shepard scoffed, “I don’t think we were fawning…” she trailed off, because Sol rolled her eyes dramatically and smiled. No point in arguing, then.   

“You two have looked at each other with googly eyes for months now, I think longer, actually. But it was so noticeable that even Liara saw it. And you know I adore my sweet amar, but she is not observant when it comes to matters of love or attraction.” 

Shepard listened to Sol, and what she was saying was all well and fine. But whether or not Shepard and Vakarian had been flirting with each other for months or longer was not the real issue here. The real issue was what was going to happen now, and how everyone around them could make this even harder for them to navigate whatever it was they were doing. Adamant that she was going to make her point, Shepard tapped her finger to the table as if pointing to a piece of evidence. “The thing is, Castis called me Garrus’ mate. I think that’s kind of jumping the gun. Unless I don’t understand turians as well as I thought.” The scenting popped into her head again. And the groping incident. Of course she didn’t understand turians. But she understood her best friend. 

“Dad adores you, I think he’s been subconsciously hoping for years it would happen.” Sol flashed Shepard a commiserating look. “Now you’ll know what my dad is really like. You’ll see how pushy he is! Like we won’t find our own way in this world unless he...” Sol trailed off after that, her frustration fizzling out as she sipped her coffee. 

All Shepard could do was watch Sol, because the same nagging thought was drilling into her brain but she didn’t want to give it a voice. Didn’t want to give it any power. Castis and Sol were just joking, just teasing. Which she was used to. But now the teasing was about her and Vakarian, and there was inherent pressure there. Pressure that might make Vakarian bolt before she could promise him that she didn’t expect anything out of him. That she wasn’t going to demand anything from him. “The ‘mate’ jokes should stop. Because I just want to keep whatever I have with Garrus. And I don’t want this to turn into…” Livia’s poor face popped into her head. “We need to take things slow. And it’s hard to do that when...” 

Despite Shepard’s valiant attempt at spinning that confession in the most lighthearted and upbeat way she could muster, Sol's face dropped. Was she really that transparent, or was Sol just that good at reading her by now? “My brother is an idiot. But he cares about you. Don’t worry, I’ll tell Mom and Dad not to joke or pester him about it.” Sol reached out and offered a comforting pat on her hand. 

Shoving the rest of her breakfast in her mouth Shepard tried to imagine her own family talking about sex this openly, and nearly laughed out loud, which at least got her anxieties to settle down a bit. “Thank you. I’m sorry for talking about this today, and for–”

“For having sex with Garrus the same night Mom went to the hospital?” Sol smirked at Shepard, knowing that it would make her squirm. And it did. “Jane, Mom is sick, but life goes on. She would never want anyone else’s life to just stop because she’s not feeling well.”

Shepard nodded, “I know.”

“I’m glad you're here. For Garrus, of course, but also because you mean so much to us all. Liara is visiting Thessia on a project right now and I miss her so much. But it’s nice to have you here with the rest of the family.”

“She’s beautiful. And very nice,” Shepard replied, then offered an apologetic smile. “I’m sorry Garrus was a brat at the banquet.”

“You can’t always keep him on a leash,” Sol snickered. “And you know, if he all the sudden stopped acting like such a brat it just wouldn't feel right. Even when he’s a crusty old grandfather he’s still going to be a brat.”

God, what a thought. Sure, it was funny and accurate, but in complete opposition to her outburst about keeping this casual the thought of Vakarian as a grandpa also made Shepard’s heart swell in an unfamiliar way. The thought of making a life with someone...She’d never even really considered it before. 

Speaking of the big dope, she wondered how he was doing. The look in his eyes as he went in to see his mom broke her heart. As Sol started telling Shepard about the latest happenings at the university where she worked, in the back of her mind Shepard started thinking of something she could do for him to help him relax. When Sol brought up an argument she had with a marine biology professor over the department coffee machine, Shepard remembered something she’d thought of days ago, and she knew it’d be the perfect way to relax that night. That was, if he wanted to hang out. 

She missed him, even just sitting at the coffee shop with Sol. They’d spent all night wrapped around each other and now she felt empty without his arms around her, or at least his hand resting on her hip. She’d gotten used to constantly thinking about his touch and wishing he’d touch her more. Months of pining over him had made it feel normal to constantly wish he was closer. After last night, she thought maybe that yearning would die down a bit. Maybe she’d finally feel satiated. But that constant hunger to be close to him only intensified. 

This was her new normal then, wasn’t it? Constantly pining over him like a lovesick fool. God help her. 

 

Chapter Text

Fully enjoying her chance to chew with wild abandon without Vakarian around to harass her by acting grossed out, Shepard shoved her breakfast into her mouth down to the last morsel, not giving a rat’s ass how loud or sloppy she was chewing. 

Just as she began to swallow Sol looked up at her. Shepard stopped chewing, convinced Sol was going to say something and waited for the wise-crack. But the gooey look in Sol’s eyes immediately said she wasn’t concerned at all with what Shepard was doing. 

“Do you mind if I call Liara?” Sol asked, her subvocals buzzing enough for Shepard to hear. “If I do it in front of Dad he’ll just take over the conversation.”

Shepard waved the little lovebird on as she finally swallowed. “Of course, go ahead.”

Sol raised her Omni-tool and typed with such giddy enthusiasm Shepard even got a bit excited. 

Liara’s face appeared, her soft and delicate features filled with the same giddy happiness as Sol’s. They were so in love. For a very brief, and very gloomy moment, Shepard wondered what that felt like –being in love. It had turned Sol into a gushy mess of a turian. It had wrecked Vakarian’s heart and soul, even years later he felt the effects. It had also created a beautiful, strong bond between Castis and Valeria, and between her grandparents.

Shepard wondered what love was going to do to her if she ever experienced it. Would it make her a mess, turn her into an ogling, googly-eyed lovebird? Or would it just be easy and natural?    

“My darling,” Liara gushed in her breathy voice, so soft and enchanting that it lured Shepard out of her contemplations. 

“Zuccarum,” Sol gushed right back, using a turian endearment. Shepard had picked up over the years it was some form of ‘sweetie’ or ‘sugar’.

“How is your mother?” Liara asked.

“She’s doing well, zucca,” Sol answered. Shepard wanted to roll her eyes at the sickeningly sweet endearments, even though she couldn’t quite understand them. Sol and Liara definitely were baby-talkers, that much was clear. “Just a cough that’s still bugging her. Her vitals are all pretty good.”

“That’s wonderful, my love. I hope she continues to improve quickly.”

 “Thank you, zu zu. I miss you so much! How is your research going?”

“Fantastic, really. I do regret being away from you for so long, especially with your mother in the hospital.”

“Oh Jane is here too,” Sol quickly added, and Liara immediately turned to look at Shepard as Sol positioned the camera to include her in the frame. 

“Oh hello, Jane. It’s good to see you again. How have you been?“

Without so much as a warning, Sol blurted, “Jane was at Garrus’ last night.”

Shepard’s head whipped over to Sol, slack-jawed in astonishment. Betrayal. That’s what that was. What happened to backing her up? What happened to making this less awkward? If Sol had been her own sister, Shepard would have just reached right out and pinched her.

Sol flashed her a grin and shrugged, like saying she couldn’t help it would make up for putting Shepard on the spot like that. 

“And that is my cue to find somewhere else to be,” Shepard said with a smile while standing up, gathering Vakarian’s breakfast up, and leaving the trash for Sol. Committing a betrayal like that had to sting – even if it was just having to throw Shepard’s empty coffee cup away. 

“I couldn’t help it, I'm sorry. Sit and talk, Jane,” Sol said, apologetic and pleading. But the thinly veiled snicker in her voice made Shepard think she wasn’t so sorry. 

“I’m going to go make fun of you with Castis,” Shepard replied, as snottily as a 30-year-old detective could muster and still remain a respectable adult. “You two enjoy chatting.”

With that, Shepard left the baby-talking lovebirds to themselves and started walking back to the waiting room on her own. The last bit of their conversation she caught was Liara saying, “I’m afraid I’m not quite sure what just happened there.”

Damn, she was way too sweet. She was going to be a very odd duck in that family, Shepard mused. They all liked to tease Vakarian for his bratty behavior, but he certainly learned how to tease and harass from somewhere. 

Once back in the waiting room Shepard paced around a bit, looking at brochures about stress relief and coping mechanisms, which were surely meant for grieving family members. Admittedly Shepard could use some relief and mechanisms herself. She hated to admit it to either one of them, but she was starting to think that Miranda and Kryik were right to recommend meditation. Last night had been the first night without a drop of alcohol in months...and it felt good.

Maybe that was just the amazing sex, though, and not the temporary sobriety.   

Shepard paced over to stand next to the window to look out at a beautiful garden while thumbing through one of the brochures about meditation when she noticed  Castis giving her an inquiring look. “The news is starting to turn negative regarding your case.”

“I avoid the news like the plague,” she huffed, stepping over to her chair and melting into it. She hadn’t had a chance to ease into the waking world, and it hit her just as she sat down. Then, just as she fully sunk into the seat it also occurred to her, in the form of a deep ache, that Vakarian was very large and they hadn’t been as careful as she thought they had been the night before. Stifling a yelp, Shepard quickly lifted her hips. 

She immediately felt stupid. The finger issue had been her fault, and this probably was too. Trying for some relief, she shifted her hips and thighs before letting her hips back down and prayed that her awkward scooching down into the chair wasn’t noticeable. All of this in front of his dad, who was trying to talk about the damned news. For fucks sake. 

“Smart,” Castis remarked, reminding her they were talking about the damned news. “It only ruins your focus, and cases are never solved in the headlines. But you know that, after all these years.” He shot her an approving smile, and in turn she thanked him for the support with her own.

A deep breath settled her nerves as she tried to forget her physical and social discomfort. Trying to relax, and get a little rest while she waited, she folded her hands over her stomach and stretched her legs out. 

She shot him a smirk. “Anyhow, who has time to watch the news? Other than old, crusty retired people?” 

That teasing got a smirk out of Castis and he immediately followed with his own teasing. “Be honest. Which takes up more of your time, your case or keeping my son in line?”

Shepard huffed and rolled her eyes. “Not doing a great job of that, according to Sol. You be honest, was Liara utterly mortified at the banquet?” 

Castis laughed. “Oh, Liara just isn’t numb to Garrus’ smart mouth like the rest of us are. Mostly she felt insecure because she doesn't have his quick sense of humor. But you like his smart mouth. Hm?”

A smile slipped out before she even knew it was coming. “I do,” she admitted with just a hint of sheepish softness in her voice.  

“Maybe you’d be better at keeping him in line if you weren’t so busy encouraging his antics.” Castis was teasing her, sure, but she was a good enough detective herself to know that there was more to his teasing. He was feeling her out, trying to discover just what was going on between her and Vakarian. Knowing what he was doing, though, didn’t keep her from falling to pieces at just the thought of his son. So much so that she felt a little guilty for making fun of Sol and Liara. 

Shepard shrugged, fully accepting the affection that was welling up inside her, “Well he’s kind of fucking adorable, isn’t he?”

That made Castis laugh, so much so that his mandibles flared out and his head rolled back. It wasn’t so much that it was funny, as it was probably a moment of relief for him. She got the feeling, quite clearly actually, that Castis was very pleased about the prospect and his son and Shepard being together.   

They shared a moment laughing together softly before their attention eventually drifted to other points of interest in the room. It was going to be a long day, staying at the hospital and keeping Valeria company. They both relaxed a bit more in their seats and settled into whatever was on their own minds. She knew Castis was a people watcher, which is what he started doing – watching, taking mental notes, ever intrigued by behavior and communication. Vakarian was sort of like that too, but instead of watching people, he was fascinated by things, like tools and guns and watches. 

She started thinking about Vakarian, and his mom, and how Vakrian really should stop wasting time by not talking to Mordin Solus about the rumored Corpalis research conducted at the Helos Medical Institute. Solus had contacts, and getting Valeria involved in the program could add years – a decade, even – onto her life. Vakarian found out about it weeks ago and there was no reason to keep avoiding it. He was just too scared and kept putting it off. Maybe now was the time. Maybe she needed to give him a little push, just to get him to reach out to Solus.  

“You look tired, Shepard.”

She looked back over at Castis, who had been people watching her, it seemed. But he didn’t look intrigued or amused, he looked casually concerned. “I am tired,” she said as she propped her head up in her hand. 

His eyes briefly fell on the pamphlet still in her hand, before landing back on her. “Is that because you didn’t sleep well, or because you need a break?”

“The second one,” she said as she chewed at her lip, casting the pamphlet aside and acknowledging that before vacation came she’d have to solve this damn case. There would be no trip back to Earth without finding the monster that beat Adam to death. Pallin would have to force her on that shuttle back home, and she’d have to be a raving mess before he would do that. 

But where were they, really? How close were they really to figuring this out? She was already anxious to wrap it up, but their box was currently empty. 

As if he could read her mind, in his persistently calm and confident tone, Castis asked, “How’s the case going?” Somehow Castis always sounded like a colleague and a father, all at once, when they talked about cases. She appreciated it. And him. Vakarian didn’t appreciate it quite as much, as evidenced by their argument the night of the banquet. Castis had probably given him advice, and Vakarian had probably promptly told Castis to stuff his advice.  

Castis’ eyes turned curious as he waited for her response, but he still sat at ease. He was always so comfortable talking about cases. It was like discussing the weather, or what to have for dinner. It all came so naturally for him. 

To gauge his level of involvement she finally said, “You ask like you haven't already talked to Executor Rix about it. I assume you’re consulting on this one?” 

“I consult on all the big ones. And this is big. But Rix doesn’t know what you know.” Castis crossed his leg over his knee and casually brushed something off his pant leg. “So, how’s it really going?”

Resting her head against the back of the chair and staring at the ceiling, the frustration of the case returned to her in full force. Suddenly, she wasn’t just tired, but drowning in that frustration. Autopsy photos of bruises littered across a pale little body, skycar reports, images of the watch nestled in the grass. Udina’s smug face. It all came rushing back into her consciousness like a nagging bug. A giant, nagging bug that was stealing all of her sleep and driving her closer to alcoholism by the day. Ignoring it for at least a day, or night, rather, with Vakarian had been nice though. A nice little reprieve. A moment of respite.

Shepard sighed, starting to mentally gather their evidence for a little impromptu analysis with Castis. “We don’t have much, but what we do have isn’t great. An object only a human would possess, most likely. It was found at the scene, and I won’t mention in public who it belongs to…” she glanced over at Castis, and the look on his face told her he already knew. “Yeah, so that’s a shit show waiting to happen. Already kind of was when Garrus and I stormed into the guy’s office…”

Shepard looked back at Castis at that point, and could tell by the subtle disapproving scowl that he had already heard about their trip to Udina’s office. He didn't look upset though. He certainly didn’t always agree with their tactics, but he knew they never really fucked anything up. Just another reason they were great partners -- they kept each other in line every time they were tempted to do something the easy way instead of the right way.

She continued, “And we have a car with no driver, has to be a rental, probably some rich asshole to be holding up records this long.” 

“Mhm,” he answered with eyes focused on the floor. She could tell his wheels were turning right along with hers. This was all information he already had, of course, but hearing her take might bring up something he’d appreciate knowing. Might give him and Rix a heads up about something they’d need to consider when wrapping this all up. If Udina was involved, the Council would have some opinions and Rix would have to deal with that  

Shepard and Castis both sat and thought a bit, each mulling over details and considerations to be made. He stared down at the ground as he thought. She stared at her shoes. There was something comforting about talking to Castis about cases. It wasn’t just his expertise, but he shared his son’s calm determination in his demeanor. The same piercing focus in his eyes. He wasn’t as much fun, of course, but she didn’t hold that against him. Not many held a candle to his son. 

He finally looked back up at her. “You think the person who owns the object you found in the grass is the same person who rented that skycar?”

She shook her head, feeling a sting on her lip as she bit down on it in frustration. “He doesn't seem like the type to rent a K-31, but who knows…”

She thought a moment more. It wasn’t just the skycar that didn’t line up, there was the biotics used to beat Adam. Shepard froze. Her brian stuck on that for a moment. Udina had to be involved, but how? Deep in the pit of her stomach, she knew that if she could figure out the presence of biotics, and a link to Udina, they just might get somewhere.  

Udina. He couldn't have personally done it because of the biotics. They knew that. But maybe he knew a biotic? 

That’s when a conversation with Udina slammed into Shepard's head like a hammer. Udina and biotics. There was a connection. They had asked him how he felt about biotics. The day they first met him at Charles and Samantha Udina’s house. When they first met Adam’s parents.      

“Do you have a problem with biotics?” she had asked Ambassador Udina. 

He had been angry, riled up even, for no apparent reason when he had responded, “I never said that. My son attends Grissom Academy, of course I don’t oppose the use of biotics.”

“Oh shit,” Shepard said, the breath knocked out of her lungs. She sat straight up and locked eyes with Castis, who had been patiently watching her the whole time. But she just sat still, recalling the conversation. Replaying it in her head, over and over, making sure she remembered it right. Making sure she could picture exactly what Udina looked like and how he reacted to them. He had been impatient, smug, angry. His emotions seemed so raw...so personal.

Castis’ browplate quirked as he carefully watched her. “What is it, Shepard?”

“His son,” she muttered, adrenaline pounding through her body so hard that her hands involuntarily clenched down on the arms of the chair she was sitting in. “Oh shit.” 

“Who’s son?” Castis unfolded his leg and leaned forward, his attention fully divested in her as he waited for her revelation to be made clear. 

“Udina’s. Ambassador Udina. We…” Shepard glanced around quickly to make sure no one was within hearing range. Despite the room being empty, she still lowered her voice as she sat up straight and leaned forward. “Biotics were used to kill Adam. Weak biotics belonging to a human or young asari.”

“Or perhaps a young human,” Castis shot her a knowing look, he was clearly catching on to where she was going. 

Udina’s son would have weak biotic capabilities, access to his father’s watch, and maybe, just maybe, would be the type to rent a flashy K-31 model skycar. Because the Udina’s were so well-known on the Citadel she knew his kid was late teens – driving age. It fit. Right?  

Shepard nodded, “Udina said the first time we met him that his son is a biotic. He’s at Grissom.” She whipped out her omni-tool, fingers furiously typing. “Dammit, I can’t believe we didn't think about this until now. We were so focused on questioning Udina on our last day at work. And I wasn’t thinking about the case yesterday.”

Castis shot her a look at that comment that made her blush. Yes, she was preoccupied yesterday. With his son. No need to call her out on it. 

“Well does he have an alibi? Was he at Grissom the date of the murder?”

“I don’t know, he wasn’t on our radar when we first looked at people. Fuck if I know why. We’ll have to look back through notes. I’m looking the school’s schedule up now, though.” She had to tell Vakarian. Get him to start looking at all their notes relating to the Udina’s. He...no, not now. Not while he was worried about Valeria. She stopped briefly, looking up at Castis, “Don’t tell Garrus. I don’t want him to worry about this, not today. I’ll look into it and fill him in when I get something. Or tomorrow morning when we’re back at work.”

“Sure,” Castis agreed. “I didn’t hear a thing.” He settled back into his seat, outwardly confident that Shepard was onto something.

Shepard got the school schedule pulled up on her omni-tool, but what she saw wasn’t great news. “Fuck, the school was in session that day. I guess I’ll have to contact the school to see if he was actually checked in.” She looked back up at Castis, “I’m gonna make a call into C-Sec, get someone looking into it. If Garrus comes out just tell him I went to the bathroom.”

Castis nodded with the proud smile of a mentor. She leapt out of her chair, and had already dialed into C-Sec before she was clear of the waiting room. She wasn’t going to leave Vakarian’s side while his mom was in the hospital, but she had to know where Udina’s kid was the night of the murder. Someone at C-Sec could start requesting records for her. And then all she’d have to do is wait to hear back.

As soon as Shepard got off her call with C-Sec and returned to the waiting room Vakarian was leaving his mom’s hospital room just as a nurse was going in. As his slow and careful steps carried him into the waiting room and he lowered himself into a chair Shepard swelled with sympathy. The sight of her poor friend, worried and sad, gave her the urge to gather him up in her arms and hold him tight. Today might not be the best day to do that, though. With the nape groping incident and scenting mess-up fresh in her mind, she thought it was best to keep more strict boundaries until she knew exactly what he needed from her. At the very least, she knew he needed her full support, so she shoved the case to the back of her mind so she could focus on taking care of him.  

Minding her still sore nether regions, Shepard carefully slid down into the seat next to Vakarian and offered him the breakfast bar, which he took with an appreciative glance her way. Castis had picked up a datapad and was fairly engrossed, so they all sat in silence for a moment. Castis read, Vakarian chewed his breakfast, and Shepard sat next to him trying to not perseverate on every one of Ambassador Udina’s facial expressions when they first met him 

Vakarian eventually looked at her, opened his mouth to say something, then obviously stopped what he had planned on saying. His eyes slowly traveled up and down her awkwardly reclining body. “You ok?”

For fucks sake, she thought, hoping he’d just drop it if she played it cool. She answered with a casual, totally unconcerned nod. 

“You look uncomfortable,” Vakarian said, his eyes glancing at her slouching body once again. 

“Nope, I’m fine.” She shot him a bright smile. Hopefully not too bright. Hopefully not suspiciously bright. 

“Why are you slumped so strange then?”

She wanted to kick him. Tell him to shut the hell up. Her eyes darted back and forth between Castis and Vakarian. Taking full opportunity of Castis’ focus on his datapad she casually took out her omni-tool while Vakarian’s browplates quirked in confusion. 

Shepard: I’m sitting funny because last night I rode my best friend's giant cock like my vagina has no end. 

Just as she sent her message off Vakarian looked down at his omni-tool, and not a second later started choking on his food.  

Of course, that got Castis’ attention. “Forget how to chew, Garrus?” he teased his son dryly. All that got him was a glare from Vakarian, though. 

Vakarian ignored his dad to pull out his own omni-tool.

Vakarian: Are you ok? 

Shepard: Yes. Sorry. It's my fault, just like the finger thing. Guess you just bring out the wild side in me.

Their eyes met after her last message, and they smiled at each other for a moment. She eventually nudged his knee with hers. After just a second he nudged her back. They nudged each other back and forth a few times, all the while smiling stupidly at each other. 

Yes, Garrus Vakarian, her partner and best friend, was fucking adorable.    

Hours passed as they took turns visiting Valeria and relaxing in the waiting room. Getting into dumb or funny conversations. Waiting for reports from nurses. Valeria was doing fine, great even, she just needed rest and care. Eventually, Vakarian said he wanted to go speak with his mom’s doctors and disappeared, leaving Shepard and Castis to pass the time bullshitting about their worst cases when they were novices and got stuck with cases no one else wanted. 

Sometime in the afternoon, Sol came out of Valeria’s room. “Your turn Jane. She’s getting tired, though,” Sol warned. 

As Sol passed behind Vakarian she reached out and batted annoyingly at the tips of his fringe. He swatted back at her, which turned into some minor shoving. He shot her a look so intimidating only a little sister who had won countless battles as children would find non-threatening. Undeterred that she was unimpressed, Vakarian continued to give her that evil eye as Sol sat down next to Castis. Shepard and Castis both mostly ignored the siblings who couldn't keep themselves from fucking with each other, even as adults. 

“Get ready for the real interrogation,” Castis said as he smirked at Shepard, which got him an elbow and a look from Sol, backing up Shepard just like she promised she would. Although not as subtly as Shepard would have liked. 

The Vakarians were the smartest, most accomplished set of fools Shepard had ever met. And she adored them all. 

Shepard got up to go see Valeria, trying her best to avoid looking at Vakarian because she didn’t need his face in her mind when she saw Valeria for the first time. To her surprise, Vakarian got up at the same time.

“Hey, where do you think you’re going?” Sol protested to Vakarian. 

“I’m not sitting here with the two of you,” he drawled as if Sol was stupid to even ask. 

Sol tsked her tongue in protest, “What’s more fun than sitting and talking with your sister and dad?”

“Oh, I can think of plenty of things. Getting stuck in a malfunctioning elevator, tripping on a sanitizing machine and breaking my spur, a kid throwing up on me. I’m going to just wander around for a while and see if I get lucky.” 

Shepard couldn't help but laugh softly after he said that. Encouraging his antics indeed . And then he looked at her, and their eyes met, and they smiled like no one else was in the room. Then a wave of warmth washed over her, and that might have been happiness, but was almost assuredly a blush warming her neck and cheeks. 

And that’s how she floated into Valeria’s room, a pep in her step and affection coloring her cheeks.    

“How are you feeling?” she asked Valeria as she entered the room. 

“Not you too, Jane,” Valeria groaned. “I want to talk about more interesting things.” 

That made Shepard smile. “Hmm, more interesting?” Shepard thought for a minute as she sat down. “I found out this past week that your son has an affinity for large sea creatures from Earth. Or, maybe from any planet, and I just never noticed it?”

Valeria’s browplates quirked. Then she shook her head softly while thinking about that for a second. Shepard and Valeria talked about a lot of things, but Vakarian was obviously their favorite subject. “No, just Earth I think. How big?”

“Oh, I don’t know. The size of a small space shuttle?” 

Valeria’s eyes widened. “That is big. But my son has never been one to be easily impressed.” Then Valeria’s eyes softened and warmed, and she probably thought she was making a subtle point there, but she wasn’t being any more subtle than Castis and Sol who had just blurted things out that day. Only ruining her guise of subtlety even more, Valeria reached out and patted Shepard’s hand, her mandibles flexing in a soft grin like they were sharing some kind of secret.

There was no secret. Shepard and Vakarian had sex. Maybe openly talking about this would be so much better. As it was, with all of the unspoken looks, the gentle teasing...Shepard was practically squirming inside.  

After letting that little moment pass a comfortable silence fell between them as they both looked out the window, watching some cute, fuzzy little creatures Shepard had never noticed before on the Citadel.    

Valeria eventually turned back to Shepard with a smile on her face. “I am so happy you are my son’s partner. He didn’t want to work for C-Sec, you know?”

Shepard nodded. She knew, but she guessed she didn’t know the full truth. They didn’t know each other well at the beginning, only talked about their cases, but he hadn’t seemed thrilled to be at C-Sec, and after a while she realized it wasn’t because of her. But over the years if she ever brought it up he’d just mumble something about making his dad happy. 

“He did it for his father,” Valeria spoke slowly, carefully, as if it took effort to think of the words and then to get them out. Despite knowing Valeria was getting tired, Shepard knew that keeping her talking about whatever was on her mind was better for her mental health than forcing her to rest when she didn’t want to. 

“What made Castis push him into C-Sec?” she asked, genuinely curious to hear Valeria’s perspective. 

“He wanted Garrus to be safe. Castis helped him become a sniper, so he felt like Garrus owed him some peace of mind once his enlistment was up.” Valeria paused, taking a deep breath before she kept going. “But I think Garrus stayed because of you. He’d be gallivanting across the galaxy in some rebel, do-gooder ship, getting into who knows what kind of trouble right now, if it weren’t for you.” 

Shepard couldn’t help but smile at a mother’s exaggerated worries. “I’m surprised being one of the unfortunate few to be paired with a human didn’t make him bolt. Should have pushed him away, not made him stay.”

Valeria’s head tilted just slightly, a mother’s pride written all over her face. “Maybe I helped him realize he wasn’t the only one who felt out of place. Just as he never planned to join C-Sec, you never planned on moving by yourself to a space station full of species that were all aliens to you. We all are set on paths, even chosen paths, that we never planned for ourselves.”

“He is so lucky to have a mom like you. You and Castis...it’s clear you love him. You guys raised a very good man, Val.” 

Valeria reached out for Shepard, her three fingers wrapping around Shepard’s hand. She squeezed lightly, then leaned her head back to rest. “Castis made him a strong man, I gave him the heart to use that strength for good. And you, Jane...you hold him together.”

Shepard wanted to deny it, that she could make such an impact on him. But there was that look in his eyes when he asked her to go with him that morning. They needed each other. That much she knew. Shepard just nodded slowly, letting that sink in. They needed each other. Probably even more that they understood. 

“I’m happy for you,” Valeria said. Shepard looked up to see that despite her body finally accepting she needed some rest, Valeria’s eyes were filled with excited warmth. 

And there it was. It should be illegal to have to sit next to your best friend's mother the morning after having sex with him for the first time. What the hell was she supposed to say? 

“Don’t blush, Jane. There’s no need.”

“I just…I don’t know what to say. Turians are a lot more comfortable with stuff like this.”

Valeria squeezed Shepard’s hand again, this time her grip wasn’t so firm. “You don’t have to say anything. All I want to hear you say is that you’ll take care of him, no matter what happens.”

A lump caught in Shepard’s throat, and she squeezed Valeria’s hand back. “Always, Valeria. You know I will.” And she meant those words. She would take care of Vakarian, no matter what. 

“There, that’s all I need to hear.” Looking pleased, Valeria took a slow, tired breath before saying, “Now, tell me. How was the sex?”

Shepard choked. Her throat literally tightened so suddenly and with such force that she choked and she couldn’t breathe for just a moment. With her free hand she covered her mouth to cough, but she couldn’t take her eyes off Valeria, who was using the last bit of energy she possessed to laugh. It was a wicked, teasing laugh. “I’m kidding, Jane. I’m sorry. I’m just kidding. But it’s good to get the embarrassment out, isn’t it?”

Shepard let her own relieved laugh come out, and they laughed together for a moment before the huffs slowly died out.

Sick or not, Valeria deserved some payback for that one. Shepard straightened up, feigning a curious look, and asked,  “Actually, I was wondering, is it normal for male turians to…”

Valeria’s face froze, absolutely horrified. “Oh spirits Jane, please don’t tell me anything about it. I was joking.”

Shepard couldn't help but flash Valeria a victorious and devilish grin, which sent them into a second fit of laughter.

“Turians aren’t that open,” Valeria said before gesturing to some lozenges on her bedside table. “Give me one of those before you send the nurse in here reprimanding me for having too much fun.” 

As she handed Valeria the lozenge, emotion welled up in Shepard’s chest and she was suddenly hit with a sting in her eyes and tightness in her throat telling her she was just about to cry. She sat next to one of the most beautiful people she’d ever known, but Valeria looked so weak and tired. And it just wasn’t fair. 

There was so much of Valeria in Vakarian. Not just her beauty and coloring, but a heart that made life worth living. She could just imagine all the beautiful little moments between mother and son as he grew up, navigated the world, and became the most amazing man Shepard had ever met. He had to talk to Solus about the experimental treatment. The sooner the better. 

Adamant that Vakarian keep his mom as long as possible made Shepard realize just how much she missed her own mom. Because if she was alive, she’d be able to help Shepard through all of life’s dumb, difficult obstacles. Like sleeping with your best friend. Your best friend, who was terrified of getting close to someone and losing them. 

“Hey, what’s wrong? Hm?”

Shepard shook her head, wishing she could just wipe the sad look away, hide her own troubles from Valeria. But Valeria knew her better than that. She’d learned to read Shepard so well in just five years.  

“I’m just... I’m scared, you know?” 

That’s all she had to say. Valeria nodded, telling Shepard she understood perfectly what Shepard was thinking about –Vakarian. 

“His heart always overcomes his fears, with you by his side. Everything will be just fine.”

Just then Vakarian’s warm, drawling voice traveled from behind her, “What are you two laughing about?” Shepard turned to see Vakarian as he walked in with slow, confident strides before he sat down next to her, finally looking a little lighter. Apparently, and thankfully, he didn’t hear that last exchange between her and his mom.

Maybe he missed it because he was too tired. He looked absolutely exhausted -- he was probably dehydrated, and she knew the only thing he’d eaten was that breakfast bar. Shepard mentally planned out what they would be doing as soon as they left the hospital. Food, a movie, and a nap.   

***

Near dinner time they finally walked out of Huerta Memorial side by side and yawning. The streets were fairly empty due to the time of day -- most people were at home preparing for the start of the week. Vakarian’s gaze fell down to look at Shepard, and just as he opened his mouth to say something she found herself admiring the delicate line of his mandible while he smiled down at her. Her eyes wandered down to his C-Sec sweatshirt, for some reason finally blushing at the thought that they were matching. It was kind of cute. 

“I’m sorry I kept you there so long,” he said, his smile fading. “I should have stopped and let you know you could leave. I’m sure you didn’t want to be there all day.”

“It’s ok. I wanted to be there.”

As Shepard admired the way the last sunlight of the day cycle hit the trees while they strolled down the street she couldn’t help but also notice his gaze fell down to the sidewalk. “No, I should have taken the time. I’m sorry.” That worry was in his eyes, that terrible look he got.

“I enjoyed sitting with Sol and Castis,” she said, trying to remain casual to show him she wasn’t upset, and to get him to ease back on the guilt trip he was giving himself. She added with a playful smile, “Unlike you, I’d rather talk to Sol than trip over cleaning equipment.”

He just nodded. No smile, and no laugh. “Thank you for coming with me. You must be starving. I was going to get you breakfast.” He glanced at his omni-tool, defeat clouding his expression. “Spirits, it's not even lunchtime anymore.”

Suddenly, Shepard’s mission shifted from getting him fed and rested to preventing his self-inflicted guilt trip from getting any worse. 

“It’s ok. Sol and I got coffee and some breakfast when you were with your mom. And your dad got us lunch. You were talking to the doctors then, I think.”

“I’m so sorry. You didn’t have to stay that long,” he repeated.

“It’s ok, Garrus.” Shepard stopped abruptly and caught him by the arm, pulling him back to stand still and look at her. “Hey, you don’t have to thank me and you don’t have to say that you’re sorry. I’m here, for whatever.”

His eyes locked on her and for just a brief moment he froze, looking heavy and defeated, before he scooped her up in his arms and held her close. In turn, she held him as tightly as she could. He could hold her as long as he needed.  

“Always will be,” she added, sliding her hand along his chest to tap a single finger against his solid keel.  

He put her down sooner than she expected, then looked down at her with the most serious expression that caught her off guard. At that point, she was really starting to worry about him. She’d never seen him quite so worked up before. “I need to tell you something,” his voice was steady, and grave.  

She looked up at him, outwardly patient, solid as a rock and a beacon of support, but inside her nerves were sending frantic little pinpricks throughout her body.  

“Turians have a subvocal that…” He raised his hand and tapped his fingers to the lower part of his neck. “It’s like a low and deep thrumming; you can’t hear it. It’s more like a song really…”

Where the hell was this going? And why were subvocals important now? Important enough to stop them in the middle of the street when they were both starving and tired. She pulled them out of the way of a few impatient pedestrians that he didn’t even notice were trying to get by.

“The subvocal is involuntary and it happens when we see family members. My family makes the subvocal when they see you. My mom, and my dad, and Sol. They call you family. Have for a while now.”

Relief washed over her and she let out a breath, just in time to take in another quick breath because that was one of the most beautiful things she’d ever heard. His family loved her. Like she was family. “That’s…” his eyes watched her, anxious to hear her response and she realized that it was just as important for him to tell her as it was for her to hear it. “Thank you, for telling me. It feels really good. I love them, you know that right? Do they know that?”

“Yeah, I think they do.”

They fell into each other's arms again, and just held each other. It was quiet enough to hear the leaves dance in a gentle breeze, washing them in the sweet scent of nature that was few and far between on the Citadel. With a talon under her chin, he lifted her head, beckoning her up on her toes so they could gently nuzzle. 

“Where’d you learn how to nuzzle like a turian, hm?” he asked, voice humming.  

She shrugged, smiling up at him, “Guess I just feel it, when we’re close. I don’t need to think about it. I just feel how you nuzzle me and I think about making you feel that good. I kind of get lost actually, because I love how it feels so much.”

“Hmm, well you’re good at it.” He opened his mouth to say something else, then he tried to swallow, but she could tell by the way his body tensed that he had a lump in his throat that had caught his words. She gave him a moment, watching him and running her hands along his arms, but to her disappointment, he never finished what he was about to say. 

“Are you hungry?” she finally asked, reaching up to smooth her hand under the strong line of his mandible. As she cradled his chin for just a moment his mandibles flexed, a little sign of contentment that filled her heart with affection and a strong need to take care of him. “You must be starving.”

He nodded, leaning into her touch and closing his eyes.

“Wanna get some food?” 

He nodded again, letting a heavy sigh relax his shoulders as his hands squeezed her waist. She felt like his anchor, keeping him grounded. 

“How about we get some food and go back to my place?” She nuzzled her nose against his chest and breathed in his scent, trying to see if she could notice a difference in how he smelled after they scented the night before. Maybe it was just her imagination, but he smelled warmer, spicier. More...like her, maybe. 

When she looked up at him he was watching her, and if she wasn’t mistaken he looked happy as he watched her take in his scent. Maybe because it was a very turian thing to do? Maybe she was starting to get this scenting thing.

“Why are you so goddamn beautiful, hm?” she teased affectionately. 

He looked down at her with a sparkle in his eye for the first time since they woke up that morning. “I was just thinking…” his arm wrapped around her waist pulling her in close by his side as they began to walk down the sidewalk towards the skycar platform. She leaned into him, eager to hear what thought elicited that sparkle. 

“Hm?” she asked. 

“What it would be like if I bent you over that couch in your living room.”

That made her instantly grin from ear to ear, filling her mind with a plethora of filthy images. “You were just thinking that, hm?”

His cocky, gorgeous grin spread across his mandibles as he looked down at her, that single sparkle turning into a couple of sparkles that danced around his beautiful blue eyes.  “Well, I first thought about it a few weeks ago when we were eating take-out from The Gardener Grill, and you were wearing those tight black shorts. The ones where your ass almost peeks out of the bottom. 

She scoffed, “My ass cheeks do not peek out of my shorts.”

He chuckled. “ Oh yes, they do. Especially when you bend over. And that night you bent over to pick up one of Rocket’s toys…” he finished that thought with a sexy smile that made her heart jump.  

“Who would have ever thought you would like my ass so much.”

 “Your ass is just one of your very enticing features.”

A passing human gave them a funny look. Not a disgusted look, not even a judging look – it was more like curiosity and confusion. But it was enough to remind her that human/turian couples were a rare sight. 

Back at her apartment, they ordered food, took showers and changed clothes, and then took turns playing with Rocket while eating dinner. She couldn’t help but worry about his depressed demeanor. He wasn't just tired, he was worried. His movements were slow, reactions were over-thought. Everything was so perfect between them right now that she didn’t want to ruin it by bringing up his mom, though. And didn’t he deserve a break, after worrying about her all day? He took her disease so much harder than everyone else...

But ignoring it wasn’t fair. She had to say what was on her mind. Not only for Valeria, but for Vakarian too. 

As they packed up their leftovers Shepard finally got up the nerve to ask what she’d been thinking in the back of her mind all day. She steadied her voice, going for a calm and logical approach. “Have you thought any more about asking…”

Before she even finished his face dropped, and a mixture of sadness and anger washed over him. He expected it, then, and still didn’t want to talk about it. Maybe he’d been dreading this conversation all day, just as much as she had been. But he needed this. He needed Shepard to push him, for her to be strong and insistent when he wanted to run and hide.   

 “Ask Solus about his STG contacts, he won’t mind,” she urged, striving to make sure her tone was heavy with encouragement and not disapproval, or nagging.

“I know he won’t. I just…” he busied himself with sliding the food containers into the fridge, closing the door slowly, and fiddling with putting some trash in the trash can. 

She stepped closer but didn’t reach out for him because she wanted to give him his space during this. And maybe she also kept her distance because she wasn’t quite sure whether he’d lash out or not. Bolstering her nerves with a steady breath she leaned on the counter and finally said, “Do it before you regret not doing it sooner.” 

He didn‘t snap. He didn’t yell or push her away, and he didn’t turn tail and run. He set his arms against the kitchen counter and let his body slump and his head fall, looking worn out. But she could detect a sense of resolve in the way he set his shoulders as if he just might accept the dose of truth Shepard had just provided. Relief washed over her when he answered with a stiff nod, looking less afraid and more determined.  

Figuring that was enough of a push for the night, and hoping to finally relax, she gently said to him, “Let’s lie down on the couch and watch a vid.” She was equally relieved when he followed her out of the kitchen instead of pulling away from her and saying he was going home. Weeks ago he probably would have if she’d been that pushy. Together, they made their way into the living room, her bare feet padding and his thick pedi-talons clicking quietly against the hardwood floors.  

“Fine, but I’m not in the mood for one of those human romances,” he told her, the lighthearted humor in his voice easing the worry that had gathered in her gut. 

“Come on. I already have something in mind, and it’s not a silly human romance. I think you’ll love it.” While sitting with Sol earlier that day she came up with this plan and downloaded the vid while they were passing time in the waiting room.  

As she turned the fireplace on Shepard crawled onto the couch, propping a pillow against the arm and reclining back with her legs stretched out in front of her. She fully expected Vakarian to take the other couch, but to her surprise, he walked over to her,  threw his body – all 7 foot 300 pounds of him – over hers, and crawled onto the couch right next to her. Without so much as a word, he tucked his enormous body between her and the back cushions and wedged himself in comfortably. With a heavy sigh, he rested his head on her shoulder and simply waited for the show to start. So there they were, cuddling on the couch and watching a vid. This unspoken closeness was all so new, and so sudden. But, in complete contradiction, it also felt like they had been doing this – cuddling, holding, comforting each other – for years. 

She wrapped her arm around the back of his carapace to hold him in close against her. When he looked up at her with appreciative eyes she ran a finger affectionately down his nose, and her heart skipped when he leaned into her touch, closing his eyes and savoring her touch. 

“Alright, you ready for this?” she asked as she turned on the giant vid screen hanging high up on the wall. He opened his eyes, and it seemed like he didn’t want to take his eyes off her, but he reluctantly turned his head just as the screen lit up.

She was giddy with anticipation when the first shot appeared, exhilarating music playing, a giant whale breaching and crashing down into the water, then a second shot of whales swimming, the brilliant blue depths of the ocean dancing in the sun's penetrative rays. After a few more shots of the entire length of a whale, maneuvering majestically in the water, Vakarian’s chest rose in excitement – she figured he realized that the creatures were the same thing as the skeleton he’d seen at Udina Labs and had been fascinated with. The look on his face made Shepard’s heart melt. He looked like a damn kid. A big, beautiful, kid. 

“Hmm, whales ,” he mused, his voice so soft and tired it wasn’t much more than a mumbled whisper. 

Just after he spoke the narrator’s voice started, Tonight, on Wonderful Planet Earth, we explore whales, in all their glory, it said. 

Swept up by the music and Vakrian’s happiness, Shepard felt her own excitement gather in her chest. “I thought this would make you happy,” she beamed. 

He nuzzled his face against her shoulder and wrapped an arm around her waist. She experimentally stroked his fringe tenderly, eliciting a soft purr. “Mmm, very happy.”

Continuing to stroke his fringe with featherlight touches, just like you'd run your hand through someone’s hair and over their scalp she asked, “You like this? Does it feel good?”

He answered with a tired and contented nod.

“I thought you weren’t a cuddler.”

His talons skated across her waist. “With you, I am.”

Only a few minutes after the documentary started, Miranda wandered in, stopping at the back of the couch opposite of the one they were lying on and crossing her arms across her chest. Her quirked brow was the only sign she was amused at the sight of them snuggled up and petting each other with affection. “So I guess he was flirting with you at the banquet,” she said, tapping her fingers against her arm. 

As his head rose to look up at Shepard a flame tickled her chest, amusement lighting up his tired eyes so that he looked cocky, but also extremely adorable. He drawled, “You told her I was flirting with you?”

Shepard wanted to insist that she had said no such thing, that she certainly hadn’t been anxiously hoping her best friend was flirting with her. But as every inch of her body buzzed with a bashfulness that was absolutely not her nature, all she could do was stare down at him, the affection welling up inside her gut and stealing away her thoughts and words. With a shrug, she finally said, “I thought maybe you were.”

He grinned, triumph in his expression as he nestled his head back on her chest so he could look at the vid screen once again. “I was,” he said proudly, and Shepard melted as thoughts of his thumb on her pulse and the way he had been looking at her and smiling all night. And how he’d been watching the dancefloor all night until he finally asked her to dance. His thumb on her thumping pulse. Sanguis sensum.

Shepard let herself get lost in those thoughts for just a minute, then finally realized Miranda had been staring at her, smirking and looking at them like she thought they were sickeningly sweet – just how Shepard felt about Sol and Liara.  

With her eyes on the vid screen Miranda asked in only a slightly judging voice, “Jane, why are you watching a kid's show about whales?”

Shepard continued to stroke Vakarian’s fringe with one hand, and placed her other hand on his keel to feel his chest rise and fall with steady breaths. “Garrus just found out about whales. Thinks they’re amazing.”

His tired eyes blinked once, glued to the tv and mandibles slightly slack, then they blinked a second time. His voice was soft, betraying his distraction, as he said, “They’re the strangest things I have ever seen.”

Out of the corner of her eye, Shepard saw Miranda sitting down on the couch opposite theirs, and despite her judging tone her eyes focused on the vid screen with the same amount of attention as Shepard and Vakarian’s. She drew her legs up under her and wrapped the blanket from the back of the couch around her shoulders, and was soon just as tucked in as comfortable as them.

The narrator continued. Did you know that whale vocalizations can reach between 180 and 230 decibels depending on species? For reference, an omni-saw is only 120 decibels!

They may seem majestic, but be careful! A sound near you at 150 decibels can cause your eardrums to burst. At 185-200 decibels, you can die! That's one killer voice!

“Spirits,” Garrus muttered, eyes glued to the screen. “That’s insane.” His mandibles dragged just lightly against her chest as they fluttered in as much astonishment as his tired mind and body could muster. Shepard couldn’t help but softly giggle. 

To complete the comfort party, Rocket walked into the room, glared at Miranda with a short glance, then jumped up to lie next to Shepard, tucking into her side not already occupied by Vakarian. Surrounded in warmth between her two boys, Shepard had never felt better. Vakarian was soon running his hand over Rocket in short waves, mimicking the way Shepard was washing her hand over his own crest and fringe.  

The documentary was two hours long, so Shepard wasn’t quite sure when they had fallen asleep on the couch, but she knew it was late when she gently woke Vakarian up and they moved to her bedroom. Miranda, who had been there when they fell asleep, was already in bed herself, and Rocket was making his nightly round, prowling around in the dark hunting for boogeymen.

Once they were upstairs she pulled Vakarian into her bed, tucked the covers around him so he was warm, piled pillows under and around him so that he was comfortable, and then finally situated her body right into the crook of his with her arms and legs wrapped tightly around him so that he felt safe. He showed his appreciation for her care with gentle thrumming that traveled from his chest into hers.

“Thanks, for today,” he murmured. 

“Always, big guy. I’ll never let you down,” she promised. 

“What am I gonna do when you leave in five years, hm?”

That caught her off guard. Five years. He was counting down. 

He meant it to come off as a rhetorical question, she knew that. But she watched the worry dance around in his eyes, felt his hold tighten just a little too firm. He tried to hide it with a smile and a joke, but she knew exactly what he was trying to say. He thought all day about his mom dying, eventually. And about his best friend leaving him and not being there when he’d need her most. 

Holding him in her arms she said, “You really think Pallin will let me go home?” She offered him that joke and a reassuring smile and dragged her finger down the center of his flat, smooth nose. She watched his nose scrunch as he breathed in the scent she imagined was wafting up from her wrist. 

Maybe it was her words. Maybe it was her scent. Or maybe it was the way she looked at him, but he closed his eyes and looked satisfied with her response. 

For the second night in a row, Shepard slept great, with her arms wrapped around her best friend and his subvocals purring her into contentment. It wasn’t the turian bed, then, that helped her sleep soundly. It was the turian himself. 

 

Chapter Text

 

Shepard woke up in Vakarian’s arms. And the only thing that was weird about it...was how natural it felt. He was so familiar to her – his touch and his presence, and his warm, comforting scent that was now in her bedding and on her skin and in her hair  

While he was deep in sleep she watched his handsome face, admiring the strong lines of his cheekbones and mandibles. But she couldn’t wait to see his bright blue eyes on hers, so she lifted a hand ever so slowly and as lightly as she could she ran her fingers along the line of his neck, from his ear all down the length, and by the time her fingers reached his shoulder a soft inhale told her he was awake.

With his eyes still closed his lips flexed like he was trying to hold back a smile. She couldn't resist running her finger along his top lip, starting from the bottom of one tip, curving up to the center peak, and back down to the other tip. Just as her finger lifted from his lip, his tongue flicked out and lightly licked at her.

“Wake up,” she whispered as a giggle rolled out of her. “Time to go to work.”

Not getting a response, she nudged him with her leg. “Listen, I had a thought yesterday, and we have to follow up on it.”

He finally opened his eyes, slowly, one at a time. “Is it good?”

“It’s just a hunch right now. Come on, let’s get up and get dressed. We can go over it on the way in.” She couldn’t resist tickling his waist as he stretched and yawned, his sharp teeth flashing and mandibles spreading wide. He looked absolutely adorable for a deadly predator.  

Serious eyes fell on her. “I forgot to ask you last night, are you ok? Was it too deep, or was I too rough?” His anxious hand traveled over the curve of her hip. 

She stroked his mandible softly. “I’m fine.” Then, to make her claim perfectly clear, she playfully quirked her lips as if she was unsure while she shifted around, making a show of rolling her hips and shifting her thighs. After watching her a moment, slightly amused at her antics, a relieved smile crossed his mandibles. When her hips shifted forward far enough her thigh pressed against Vakarian’s slit, eliciting a soft groan that made her smile seductively at him. “I just needed a little rest.”

“Can I do something to be more careful?”

She shook her head “I think I went a little too hard. I've never been with anyone who had, uh, so much to offer.”

As she wiggled her eyebrows at him he pulled her in closer and rocked his hips against hers. She laughed playfully, reluctantly saying, “We don’t have time. Tonight, maybe?”

After a few pinches and some laughter, they dragged themselves out of bed and went their separate ways. Vakarian went down to her lower-level spare bedroom to change into clothes he kept at her apartment for instances where he passed out at her place after a late night working or drinking, while she got ready in her own bedroom. They met downstairs, fed Rocket, grabbed breakfast bars and were out her front door. It was all normal for them because he slept over so much, but so different too because every once and awhile one of them would reach out and touch the other. Fingers would tickle at each other, hands would pinch or grasp at curves and muscles. It was fun but incredibly distracting.  

Finally, they made it to the elevator, both chewing on their nutritious but boring breakfast. Vakarian’s smelled oddly of cured meats and strong turian spices that reminded her of Mediterranean food, and hers smelled like blueberries. 

“So, you solved our case?” he asked, his eyes watching the floors tick by. 

“I love your faith in me, but not quite yet. It could lead to nothing, but I thought of something yesterday while you were in with your mom. And I’m sorry I didn’t bring it up but I wanted you to focus on your family…”

He didn’t say anything, but she could tell he was a bit put off by that in his slight scowl and clicking mandibles, which she expected. “And I don’t want you to feel bad that I didn’t talk to you yesterday about it.”

“You don't need to coddle me, Jane,” he muttered, half annoyed and half grateful – ever the perfect representation of complicated masculinity, regardless of species.  

“It’s ok to take a day off work, you should get to focus on family.”

He huffed a little but didn’t argue anymore. 

“Anyhow,” she continued, “I just realized when I was sitting there, that the one thing that really eliminates Udina is biotics, right?”

“Mhm,” he answered as the elevator opened and they made their way to the skycar platform.  

“So I was thinking, there had to be some sort of connection to him, because of the watch, and the murderer. So I started thinking about the people around Udina. And, don’t you remember when we asked him how he felt about biotics? He said…”

Vakarian stopped abruptly, and she could tell he was remembering the same conversation that struck her memory when she was sitting at the hospital talking with Castis. He swallowed his food to speak quickly. “Fuck, his son’s at Grissom.” He shot her an annoyed glance. “That’s big, you should have said something.”

“Listen, I wasn’t going to add the case on top of everything else you were dealing with yesterday, especially when it was just an idea. It could all just be a coincidence. I wanted to wait for more information, which I haven’t received yet.”

“Still…” he said irritably.

“Hey, I handled it. I’ll never keep anything big from you, promise.”

They shared a long look, and he eventually conceded by cocking his head and flaring his mandibles just slightly. “Fine, but only keep something like this from me if it's because of my family. So, the kid – he’s what, eighteen – is at Grissom.”

“Yes and yes. School was in session then, I already checked, so he should have been at Grissom the day of the murder. I asked someone to send in the attendance records request yesterday. And they’re also checking Citadel Control records to see if he came in on any ships.”

“And you haven’t heard back yet?”

“Nope.”

“Mm, depending on how swamped they are with requests, Citadel Control records should be faster to get a hold of than the school records.”  

“Yes, but…”

“But Udina will argue that the turians running Citadel Control forged the record as an act of discrimination.”

“Exactly. As if a turian would ever foul a document with inaccurate information…” Shepard feigned a scoff, which got him to smile at her and pinch at her hip. She took that as a good sign he wasn’t bent out of shape that she hadn’t talked to him yesterday about her breakthrough. 

“Hopefully Grissom isn’t one of those schools that cater to the rich parents,” she said. “And we’ll hear back soon. Both documents together will be a solid enough lead to bring him in, I hope. When I sent the request yesterday the night cycle just began at Grissom, so we’ll probably get something today.” 

“Well let’s spend today looking for anything else that may give us a lead while we wait.”

It only took a short skycar ride to get them to the Presidium where they always got their coffee and where they stood waiting for their morning injection of caffeine, just like they always did every morning before work. But this morning felt different. 

As they waited in silence Vakarian was looking at her. Just looking . And he had a sparkle in his eye and the most subtle yet infectiously happy smile on his face. She wanted to make fun of him, call him a nerd, and tell him to stop smiling so wide with all these people packed in around them. Trouble was, she was pretty sure she was looking at him with the same look in her eyes. And the same stupid smile. 

“What?” she finally asked through that silly smile. She was trying very hard to act normal, but it felt like bubbles were bouncing around inside her. 

“Hm?” he asked, his smile only growing. 

“What is that look for?”

“Oh, I was just thinking that this is so much better,” he drawled, his low rumbling voice making those bubbles bounce around.  

“Better than what?”

“Better than the last few days of getting coffee. I don’t have to stand here pretending that I’m not checking you out. Thinking of how beautiful you look in the morning light.”

“Oh god, stop that.” She rolled her eyes as warmth heated her cheeks, so badly she thought she’d need to dunk her head in cold water. 

“What? It’s true. Or how good you smell. Or the fact that I want to nuzzle you until you beg me to let you go.”

She rolled her eyes again, a grin peeking through her lips despite desperately trying to hold it in. “Well, that’s just stupid. I’d never let you stop.” 

They both leaned forward to pick up their coffees from the counter and his palm landed on the small of her back, sending shivers up her spine. Walking away from the counter they smiled at each other...again... looking like absolute idiots. And here they were surrounded by Embassy and C-Sec professionals. If she could take her eyes off Vakarian, she might know whether or not people were staring. As it was....

Walking out of the coffee shop and joining the foot traffic of people trying to get to work she took a quick breath in, convincing herself that if she just took a few more breaths just like that one and collected her giddy thoughts that she’d be able to walk in to work and focus. Then her eyes met his, again, and that plan was shot to hell.  

***

As they left the coffee shop he watched her hips sway and felt a flutter in his chest. Before they picked up their coffee he had already been worked up, feeling drunk as he watched her lips part when she smiled, or the way her green eyes caught the light. And then their eyes met...again...and he was lost. He reached out, wrapped his hand around her elbow, and gently pulled her out of the throngs of people trying to get to work. “Come here a minute before we go in.” He guided them to a tree so they could avoid all the other people, right by the railing overlooking the lake. 

He watched her eyes close while she dragged in a deep breath of air. “Mm, I love the smell of these trees. I miss nature. I hear the trees in the Council Chambers are flowering right now, and that they resemble cherry trees from Earth.”

“When we get a chance, let’s go see them.”

That made her smile grow even wider, and even brighter, as she nodded. “Why are we standing here? Can’t get enough of me, hm?” She was trying to sound sexy, and she did, but she was also breathless, which convinced him that she was just as lost as she was.  

“No, I can’t.” He wrapped an arm around her tight waist and felt her hips gravitate to his. Soon she was pressed against him, wrapping her free hand around his waist to pull him right back. “And I need to get this out of my system,” he added, “before we have to go in there and act like normal adults and solve a murder case.”

She smiled up at him, bright as the morning sun. Her lips fell against his mandible and soon they were nuzzling each other right there on the Presidium. Careful not to spill their coffee they held each other. He slowly dragged his mandibles against her while she slowly dragged her jaw against him. Parting after every few slow drags to drown in each other’s eyes. 

“You coming home with me tonight?” she asked, her voice soft and low. 

Again, he nuzzled his nose against her cheek and jaw, slowly dragging against her smooth, sweet skin. “At this rate, I don’t know if we’ll make it into work.”

“Heh, you’re just gonna have to wait, buddy. We have work to do.”

“Let’s solve this damn case then.”

“Sounds good.”

Smiling wider than he’d ever seen, she nuzzled her nose against his. He was drowning, absolutely drowning, and lost to anything and everything around them. His heart swelled and all he could think about was how good it felt to be touched by her like this. To have her hands and lips and jaw pressed to his skin and plates. 

He opened his eyes to look down at her, tell her or show her how happy he felt, just in time to see her lean forward and start to tuck her chin in. Her eyes closed as her forehead inched closer. Too close. If she didn’t stop she was going to accidentally touch her forehead to his crest. But she just kept leaning forward, like she was trying to share a basium. 

It was like everything was in slow motion, her leaning into him, him reasoning that she couldn't be. She knew what a basium meant, right? Undying devotion and affection. Only established mates did it. It was a declaration of giving yourself to someone. She knew. She wouldn't try... 

Oh spirits no. 

Heart thumping in terror, his hand sprung from her waist so quickly her weight shifted and she stumbled forward. But just in time, his hand slid in her path, palm protectively smacking to his crest. She fell forward, forehead smacking against the back of his hand. But not his crest. Thankfully, her forehead didn’t touch his crest.

As he watched her, absolutely shocked and terrified what would come next, her eyes popped open, wide, and equally shocked. And the heavy look in her eyes broke his heart. This. This is what he was so worried about. They were going to break each other’s heart, sooner or later. It happened even sooner than he thought it would, too. And it was his fault. He rejected her and stomped on her heart. Spirits, what was wrong with him? Why was he such a piece of shit? 

Instead of yelling at him, or crying, she stepped back and their eyes locked on each other. He had no idea what to say and was at a complete loss where to go from here. 

As he stood gawking, her palm slapped over her mouth and it looked like she was just going to break down, right there. “Fuck, fuck, fuck. Fuck fuck. That was an accident. I didn’t mean to basium.” 

Relief washed over him at those words. Thank the spirits she didn’t actually mean it. That would have been infinitely more awkward than that groping incident at Flux. 

Then he felt like the worst fucking asshole in the whole galaxy, for being relieved that she wasn’t actually trying to do something so intimate. And so soon.   

“I know it's really important and meaningful to turians, but for humans, it’s just like nuzzling. I know what it means to turians. But I fucking forgot.” 

Damn, he still hadn’t said anything to her, had he? He had to say something, make her feel better for doing something so incredibly embarrassing. “It’s uh…” he mumbled.

Emotion welled up in her eyes. “Fuck, why do I keep fucking up.”

He finally removed his shielding hand from his crest. “Hey, stop. You’re not. It’s fine. I didn’t hurt your feelings, did I? I just panicked.”

“No, no. Not at all. I know what it means for turians. And I promise you I was not trying to basium. God , how embarrassing would that be if I did? I would never get pushy like that. Did I make you uncomfortable? I did, didn’t I?”

No. Spirits, no. I just don’t want you to think…” he finally let a breath out. “I’m going to fuck this up, hmm? I should have...” Spirits, what would have made that any less awkward? Nothing, really. Sure, he was emotionally stunted, but it was way too early for something like that. 

“No, you won’t,” she said, her voice reassuring. “And I won’t either. We just have to be open and honest with each other.”

She was right, honesty was best, even if it made him look awful. He had to open up. Even just a little was better than leaving her feeling like she had ruined anything. “It’s been a long time since I did that with anyone. It’s not you, it’s me. And it’s ...been a long time. But, you know how much I really…Dammit, I think you’re wonderful and enjoy every moment I’m with you. You know that, right?”

She nodded, and seemed satisfied, happy even. The sparkle in her eyes and easy smile on her face told him so. “See, honest and open,” she said. “We just have to keep that up.”

 “Mhm,” he agreed. Wrapping his arm back around her waist and pulling her towards him again, right where she belonged. “And forgive these strange, stupid moments.”

Her body relaxed again in his arms. “Exactly,” she replied while she rested her cheek against his keel. 

He brushed his finger under the curve of her jaw, pulling her gaze toward him. “Right.” Their eyes connected and they told each other just with their looks that everything was ok. Same adoration was there. Spirits, she was beautiful. Immediately, he fell into admiring her freckles and how the morning light cast a golden hue across her cheeks. By the way her eyes moved he guessed she was following the pattern of his clan marking in return. He’d never felt so satisfied just looking at someone before. Satisfied, but wanting so much more with her. Maybe someday...

 “What in the dirty krogan quad are you two doing?” a smooth, honeyed voice called out. 

They both froze like they’d been caught naked in public and looked towards the familiar voice. T’Saris, Kryik’s old partner, stood ten feet from them with a smartass look on her face. “You two start fucking or are you checking each other’s makeup?” She cocked her head pretending to check their faces. “Your eye makeup looks great, Shepard, but your marking is a little crooked right here, Vakarian.” She swiped a finger across her cheek.

Shepard and Vakarian both laughed, easing as they realized they’d only been caught by a good friend. 

“My markings are perfect,” he responded with pride in his voice while letting his hand fall from Shepard’s face to her hip, where he held her in place close to his side. 

“Ah, must be your face that’s crooked then,” T’Saris quipped, squinting her eyes and cocking her head, as if she was trying to figure out what was wrong with his face. Shepard and Vakarian both laughed again as she leaned in close to him. 

“It’s been a while,” Shepard turned to their old friend and offered a smile. “How’s the night shift going?”

“Ugh, just leaving now. Finally. Someone nearly fucked up some evidence and I had to swoop in and play cleanup.” A saucy look flamed up in her eyes. “Now I’m glad I got stuck though, so I could catch you two mauling each other’s faces out here. Why didn’t you tell me this was going on? I feel so out of the loop lately. Kryik didn’t even tell me! Oh by the way, just met his new partner. I’m jealous, of course, but Kryik clearly still prefers me, so there’s that.”

Vakarian felt his grin fall, internally cursing himself for not thinking about Kryik earlier. He looked over to Shepard, and he could tell she was thinking exactly what he was. With the sobering realization that they were about to walk into a barrage of jovial mocking hitting them full force, Shepard and Vakarian said goodbye to an unsympathetic and teasing T’Saris, then finally headed in to work.

They couldn't have moved more carefully as they slinked into Homicide, side by side. Vega and Kryik were both at their desks, quietly working. Vakarian shot daggers at Kryik, even though he couldn’t see. Bastard was going to make a scene, or say something that someone didn’t want to be said. That’s when Vakarian realized he and Shepard had never addressed the scenting. Dammit

Vega blew their covert crawl to their desks when he called out, “Hey! It’s Lola and Sweet Cheeks.” 

Neither of them said anything, just kept walking, as if staying quiet would delay the inevitable.  

Undeterred by their silence, Vega just kept talking. “How was your weekend, guys? Mine was pretty good. Boring, but it was nice to get some relaxation, huh? You guys get to relax at all?”

Shepard and Vakarian both lowered themselves into their chairs, ignoring everything Vega was saying while trying not to obviously eye Kryik in anticipation of his reaction. 

But it was impossible to ignore him for too long. The bastard was unnervingly quiet. As Shepard logged in to her console, fingers typing quieter than normal, Vakarian decided to look the beast head-on. Kryik would tease them – so what? They’d already faced his family at the hospital, and that had been alright. 

Kryik was reclined in his chair, a single talon tapping his desk. His eyes shifted from Shepard to Vakarian and back. All the while, his nose scrunching. 

“Hey guys,” Shepard said, still completely ignoring Vega’s friendly greeting. 

“Weekend was good, Vega,” Vakarian answered, but all he could think of was whether or not Kryik was going to call them out in front of Vega and everyone else within listening distance.

A gentle grumble came from Kryik before he finally spoke. “So do I still have to pretend this isn't happening, or can I talk about it now?”

In unison, they sighed as if they were already exhausted by this conversation.

“No, really,” he persisted, “are you going to keep pretending nothing is going on?”

“Shut up, Nih.,” Vakarian said, hoping to delay the teasing until after work. “You can harass us later.”

“So we still have to ignore this, then?”

“What are you guys talking about?” Vega interjected, confused and clearly feeling left out of something. 

This time Shepard turned to Kryik and tried to get him to hold off. “Goddamit Kryik, can we just focus on work. Just one    single     day.”

“Shy about sex all the sudden, Shepard?” He leaned forward, resting his elbow on his desk and cocking a grin at her. “So Vakarian’s scent isn't the only thing rubbing off on you, hm?”

Shepard promptly picked up a small cartoon cat figure her grandmother sent her to make her feel more at home and chucked it at Kryik. She laughed, watching it soar through the air and then bounce off his nose. Kryik let it hit him, all the while laughing as well. Vakarian couldn't keep himself from chuckling along with them. 

“Oo, nice arm Lola,” Vega said, joining in the laughs. “Have no idea what you all are talking about, but…”

“Make fun of us later,” Shepard said, getting back on her console. “We really have work to do.”

“Fine,” Kryik conceded. “You solve your case, then I’ll ask how it was.”

Shapard rolled her eyes at him without looking away from her console while Vakarian told Kryik to drop it with his subvocals.  

Meanwhile, Vega was still sitting there, watching them all. The look in his eyes seemed to show he was thinking pretty hard and trying to figure out what was going on. “Is this as awkward for you all as it is for me? Or is it less awkward because you all know what’s going on?

“Just as awkward,” Vakarian mumbled. 

“At least tell me now,” Kryik said, “because I have to know...did you mean to stroke his nape at Flux, or was that an accident?”

Shepard sat forward so quickly the back of her chair snapped forward after her, jolting to a stop just a few inches from her back. “You told him about that?” she snapped, and he wasn’t sure if she was more embarrassed or angry. 

“I did not ,” Vakarian swore, then turned to Kryik scowling. “This is why you and I don't talk about this shit.”

Kryik, looking straight at Shepard, said, “You act like you’re the only good detectives around here. He didn’t have to tell me, I figured it out. Just because you two are oblivious about each other doesn't mean the rest of us couldn't tell.”

It was like a heat sink popped over Vega’s head. “Ohhhh, I get it. You two...”

“Yes,” Shepard and Vakarian answered dryly, both trying to get past this and focus on the case. 

“I mean, I could tell you guys were into each other,” Vega said, like any of this needed to be talked about. “My first day here I noticed it.”

Kryik turned to Vega and scoffed, “I had to tell you about it – when you said you were into Shepard.”

“Well yeah, she’s hot,” Vega said plainly.

A low rumbling growl, deep and unexpected, shot up out of Vakarian. The possessive warning was so sudden and came out of nowhere that it even surprised him. And it was so menacing that even Kryik froze alongside poor Vega, who’s smile immediately dissipated as he visibly flinched, dropping whatever object he’d been playing within his hand. A few nearby detectives even glanced over, curious what had set him off. 

Gathering himself together, Vakarian shoved down that anger that leapt up in his chest and caused every muscle to tense, but too little too late. He’d already made an ass out of himself. 

The persistent subvocals that rippled in his chest weren’t as easy to stifle as the growl, though. There he sat, like a dumb pyjak, growling and threatening his co-worker when all he did was say Shepard’s hot. Spirits guide him.  

There was a big difference between human jealousy and turian jealousy, he’d learned that working in C-Sec easily enough. Humans got jealous, sure, but turians were territorial. And if he felt jealous that meant he felt like she was his. That required more thought and self-reflection than he was prepared to handle at that moment. And everyone was staring at him. 

As unhelpful as ever, Kryik chimed in, “Scenting and growling, hm? Things are moving fast, but I’m happy for you two.”

Ignoring Kryik and startled just as much as Vega by the involuntary response, Vakarian sheepishly looked over to Shepard, expecting an embarrassed or reprimanding look. 

To his absolute surprise and relief, she was just blushing, though. As their eyes met she winked at him with a flirtatious smile on her soft pink lips. And that was enough to get his heart to leap and his subvocals to stop. 

Vega finally laughed, a bit nervously and picked up whatever it is that he dropped. “Shit, Vakarian, you’re scary. Don’t joke like that.”

Kryik looked at Vega, wicked amusement in his eyes. “Ever hear the joke about the possessive male turian?”

“No,” Vega answered reluctantly, clearly acknowledging he was walking into a setup. 

“Of course you haven’t, because no one laughs about possessive male turians.” 

Vakarian shifted uncomfortably in his chair. “Uh, sorry Vega.” He took a moment to clear his throat. “Caught me off guard with that.”

Vega held up his hands in appeasement, “No worries man.”

Vakarian promptly turned to get on his console, never more excited to start working. “We do actually have work to focus on,” he told Kryik and Vega. “Shep realized Frank Udina, Ambassador Udina’s son, might be tied to the murder.” Kryik and Vega started to mumble surprised expletives but Vakarian’s attention suddenly landed on Shepard as she leaned forward quickly. She was hovering over her desk and her eyes locked on her console. She had something. 

Yes,” she exclaimed, her voice unnervingly quiet for how excited she sounded. For one brief moment, he watched her eyes dart around her screen before he opened his own messages on his console.

“What came in?” He asked, anxious to hear the good news, because he knew it was good news based on her focus and excitement.

“Ship with Frank Udina came in two night cycles before the date of the murder. Annnnddd,” her eyes darted around again, “one left with Frank Udina on it the night of the murder.”

“He was here,” Vakarian said, subvocals ticking as he joined in her excitement. He took a moment to read through the report, then added, “Outgoing ship left at 16:45. Early. They were originally scheduled to leave at 17:00 but Chanda Udina, Frank’s mother, demanded they leave as soon as her son was on board.” Vakarian took a moment to look up at Shepard. “I love turian record keeping. That is definitely information we like to have. I’ll start working that departure time into our timeline, make sure it’s plausible that he would have dumped the body at 16:00 and left on a ship at 16:45.”

“That’s a pretty tight timeframe,” Shepard said, a little doubt in her tone. 

“Well the car sighting at 16:00 was an approximate. We can contact that witness and see if we can get a more solid time. Maybe he had more than forty-five minutes.”  

“Need help with anything?” Vega asked.

“Yeah,” Vakarian answered while pulling up the witness testimony about the skycar sighting. “Get a hold of those rental companies and tell them we want the damn records now, they’ve delayed long enough. If we can prove Frank Udina rented a K-31 we can make a plausible case that he could have dumped the body at the park.”

“You got it,” Vega answered, turning to his console like someone lit a fire under his ass.

Vakarian turned to Kryik. “Wanna help –”

“Fucking yes,” Shepard said, even more excited than she was just a minute ago. “School records just came in too. He checked himself out, reason listed as ‘personal trip to Citadel’.” 

They needed to bring this to Pallin now, get approval to move forward. 

“Kryik,” Vakarian said, “help me look at the timeline while I message Pallin.”

A quick message to Pallin explained they had something big and needed to see him, and within minutes they were walking into Pallin’s office, sitting down while watching his stern eyes travel over both of them. 

“What do you have?” he asked. “Tell me it’s something good, I’m not liking what the news is starting to say about our lack of progress.”

The boy had been found just over a week ago, but cute kids from rich families always got a sense of urgency buzzing on the Citadel. The fact that it was a human kid only made the story that much more exciting as everyone postulated what humans would do if the boy was murdered by a Council race. Vakarian couldn’t help but curse the news outlets, knowing that all the dead sex workers, street kids, and everyday people in the wrong place at the wrong time when someone violent came along, never got that much attention.

“Wipe that sneer off your face, Vakarian, you know you get these cases because you can wrap them up sooner than –” Pallin paused, nose scrunching. Out of the corner of his eye he saw Shepard shift a little and she started tapping on her armrest. “I’m sure you will handle yourselves appropriately,” he said, as professional and to the point as he always was. “If you start to let your relationship affect your work you know you’ll be assigned new partners.”

They both nodded. 

“And I also have to add, because you’re an inter-species couple, you know you may face some scrutiny at best, discrimination at worst, from the public. Maybe even your fellow C-Sec officers.”

They both nodded again. 

“You always represent this department, and me. If you let racism get in your head, you put our jobs at risk.”

They answered again with quick nods. And Vakarian immediately thought of the night, years ago, that Shepard punched an Alliance soldier multiple times for accusing her of fucking turians. And it wasn’t even true then. He immediately thanked any deities that may exist that he could so easily pick her up and carry her out of sticky situations her temper wouldn’t let her walk away from. Spirits, she was amazing, temper and all. He almost grinned. 

“Good, now what do you have?”    

“We don’t have to report this to the Environment and Culture Department?” Shepard asked.

”No. Just don’t spend more time fucking in the sanitation closet than you do working cases,” Pallin quickly quipped. 

Pallin looked over at Vakarian like he couldn’t understand what Shepard was asking. Another ‘strange humans, hm?’ look that he gave Vakarian almost every time they sat in his office, still, even after five years. Before he could catch himself Vakarian shrugged at Pallin, then turned to Shepard and gave her a ‘later’ look. He could explain how turians treat work relationships later when they weren’t trying to solve a murder. 

“Alright, the case. You both look like you’re itching to say something,” Pallin said. 

Shepard spoke up, “Udina’s son, Frank Udina, is a biotic at Grissom. And, he would have presumably had access to his father’s watch. We just got records from Grissom and Citadel Control proving Frank was on the Citadel the day of the murder.” 

Fuck,” Pallin spat, then paused. His talons tapped at his desk and was briefly the only noise in the room. “Couldn’t have just been easy, hm?” He leaned back, dread clearly rolling over him as he worked through all the implications. If Frank really did murder his cousin – if Ambassador Udina’s kid turned out to be a murderer – this was going to have to be handled delicately. Ambassador Udina was a representative of the human race. If his son was a murderer, discrimination against humans could return with renewed enthusiasm. Undeservedly so, but when was racism ever truly deserved?

“Did officers find anything at the Udina residence pertaining to the watch?” Vakarian asked. 

“No.” Pallin sighed. “No one knew it was missing, or at least that’s what they said. The ambassador and his wife both accused Adam of stealing it. Again.”

“Fucking prick,” Shepard mumbled. 

Ignoring Shepard’s comment, Pallin said, “Well, we have no DNA evidence, and all this is just circumstantial.” Shepard opened her mouth, but before she could get anything out Pallin raised his hand telling her to keep her argument to herself. “It doesn’t look good, but it’s not proof. So, we need to gather more. evidence.”

“Let us go to Grissom, sir,” Vakarian proposed. 

Without even thinking it over Pallin immediately spoke, “Absolutely not, you could blow this, give them a heads up we’re looking at him.”

Vakarian kept his excited subvocals under control to prove to Pallin they could handle this with care and discretion. Show him that they woulnd’t go charging in guns blazing and emotions buzzing. “Not to interview him, just to meet with staff, get a feel for who he is.”

Shepard chimed in, and he could tell she was purposefully keeping her voice neutral, presumably for the same reason he kept his subvocals stifled. “We can do that, we can ask without asking. Maybe make them think we’re just gathering info about biotic powers in general.” Spirits, she was smart. That made him have to stifle his subvocals and his smile. 

Pallin paused, thinking for a moment while staring up at nothing in particular. Finally, he looked at them and said, “I could contact Grissom staff, tell them I have two detectives coming in to get general information, not to announce your presence to students because it could distract them.”

Vakarian answered first, “That would be perfect. And if we’re lucky, we’ll get something on Frank.”

Pallin glared at both of them, a threatening rumble rolling out of his chest. “No asking about Frank. I don’t want you to say his name, I don’t want you to look at him, I don’t want you to even point to his name on a console or datapad. As far as the staff knows he doesn’t fucking exist in your minds while you’re at Grissom.” 

They both nodded, and Vakarian wondered how he didn’t get a sore neck every time they were in Pallin’s office, with all the nodding they always did. 

“Go, I’ll make sure you guys get on a shuttle tomorrow. Figure out your game plan in the meantime. And…”

“Don’t fuck this up,” Shepard and Vakarian answered in unison.

***

They made it to lunch without much else happening, besides getting their travel information sent to them. Shepard was anxious to get to Grissom and learn about Frank Udina, but she was even more anxious about getting on a shuttle. She hated traveling and thankfully only did it when she made trips back to Earth.

Shepard chewed her lunch while she tried to forget about their impending shuttle ride, and for some reason, her mind landed on that morning, when she almost touched her forehead to Vakarian’s and ruined everything before things ever really started. Then she remembered the scenting and recalled that Kryik had mentioned something about their relationship moving fast. He could smell it, just like Vakarian’s family had. 

So, Vakarian did something affectionate – scenting – but basiums were too affectionate. She needed to prove to Vakarian that this all made sense to her, even if it didn’t really. She just had to show that she could handle this, so he didn’t get scared or put off. 

Shepard turned to Kryik, quietly eating his food at his desk. Vakarian was switching out heat sinks in their pistols in preparation for their trip, and Vega had run off to get them all coffee. Now was her chance to get some of this figured out. “Would it be weird if I…” she said, and Kryik looked up at her. But for some reason, his stern face made her pause. “If I…well. Garrus...” She tried to continue, but failed, feeling like a moron for having to talk to Kryik about this. That was when she realized she was tapping her foot at a pace that was annoying even to her. 

Kryik just watched her for a second, analyzing her. Judging her, probably. “For fucks sake, Shepard,” he said. “I’ve never seen you like this over a guy.” He looked appalled. Like she was losing his respect by the second. 

“I know, goddammit. I’m used to seducing guys in bars, feeling confident. But I have no idea what I’m doing with Garrus. And for the first time in my life, that matters to me. I don’t just want to walk away from this one if either of us starts to have doubts. I want...I want this to work, whatever it is.”

“You gonna take care of him?” he asked. 

“Always, Kryik. You know that I take care of him. And he takes care of me.”

“Good, now what in the goddess are you trying to ask?”

“Is…” she put her sandwich down so she could run a hand through her hair…“ would it be weird if I initiated scenting? Would that be weird, or would he hate that? Should he always start it?”

Thankfully, Kryik didn’t laugh. “No, I think that would be fine. If you think he’s feeling affectionate, why not?”

“Well, if I do, I just do the same thing he did to me? Just, like, run my nose on his wrist? Or neck?”

“Yeah. Licks are good too,” he said simply. Supportive, even. 

She was still full of doubt, though. How many fuck ups were too many? They needed something to go right. “Maybe I need to look into this more. Do some research…”

Kryik laughed lightly at that point. “You two are perfect for each other.” 

“What does that mean?” She couldn’t help but feel indignant about that. Sure, research wasn't really like her, but when something was important...

“Just do what feels good. You’ve never been like this before. You’re like me, you let your instincts make your decisions.” 

Shepard slumped forward, feeling defeated before she even got anywhere. “That led to me groping him at a bar, insulting his display of affection when he scented me, and trying to basium him this morning.”

Kryik froze, giving her a really judging look. “Are you fucking kidding? You know that's basically telling him 'My body and spirit belong to you', right? After one night of sex.”

She slumped even further. "Not on purpose. And he put his hand up in time to stop me."

An unsympathetic laugh burst out of Kryik, then he shook his head as he dug his fork into his lunch. "That had to be so embarrassing," he managed to say through his chuckles. 

The dread and mortified ache in her chest she experienced that morning returned in full force. "Fuck off. It was embarrassing. And touching foreheads is a lot more casual for humans. It’s just like nuzzling, kissing. We were just nuzzling this morning and I slipped up.”

Kryik shook his head, clearly disappointed in her for messing up that badly. “You’re right. Better research scenting. And maybe wrap something around your head in case you slip up again.”

She nodded, fully accepting his judgment and unable to laugh at his joke. “When I have a damn chance, I’ll research scenting. I think I need to research the basium too. Just to figure out how embarrassed I really should be.”

Kryik shrugged, only thinking about that for a brief moment. "If you had done that with anyone other than Garrus? Mildly embarrassed. With our intimacy averse friend, though? Let's just say I'm surprised he scented with you." 

Shepard thought about that for a moment. She thought about sex, and basiums, and scenting. She thought about how dating another species would be hard enough, without that other person also being your best friend and partner. Not that she regretted it – at all. If she just didn't have the damn case wearing her down... 

"I've got some advice for you, Kryik," she muttered, only slightly bitter. "Don't have sex with your partner when you're trying to solve a high profile murder case."

Kryik just looked at her plainly, as if he was the only one who understood the world and really wanted to say something. She waited, anxious to hear whatever wisdom he was preparing to bestow upon her. But whatever he was thinking, he seemed to think better of it and instead just asked, “How do you feel about the case?”

She shrugged as she picked her sandwich back up. “I’m feeling sick over it. Deep ache in the pit of my stomach like I need a drink. So, I’m feeling pretty positive it’s Frank.”

“Wrap up this case, Shepard. Then you can worry about basium and scenting.”

She nodded. 

“You think that an eighteen-year-old human could use his biotics to kill the boy?” he asked as they finished off their lunches. 

Shepard shrugged. “Guess we’ll find out tomorrow if it matches up. I need to look at the autopsy report and images again.”

“You poured over that stuff for days. I’m surprised the images aren’t ingrained in your memory after that.”

She felt herself tense and her lungs tighten but tried to breathe through it. “They are. But I’m not sure what’s real and what’s the nightmares at this point. I’ve been trying to forget the autopsy for a week now...the opposite of what I should be doing.” 

He looked up at her, and she could tell he was trying to hide his concern for her in the way his mandibles clicked just slightly. “Meditation, Shepard. Start it now, before your head gets too messed up. It was rough seeing you so frazzled last week.”

“Meditation?” she pretended she didn’t know what he was talking about like she’d never heard of it before. “Hm, lot’s of calling out deities’ names and moaning and all that right? Pretty sure that’s what Garrus and I did the other night. And I’ll admit, I felt great afterwards.” She smirked at him.

“First of all, turians chant during meditation, we don’t moan. And kids fuck away their problems, Shepard. You’re getting too old for that. You need real stress relief techniques.”

“I’m not fucking away my problems,” she argued, defensive but lighthearted. “I’m using mind-clearing physical exercises with my partner during late-night work sessions.”

All her joking got her was a scowl. 

“Fine, I know,” she said. “I need to try meditation or something. Guess I’ll just pick it up while I solve this case, figure out how to convince my partner I’m into him but not trying to drag him to a bonding ceremony, and pack my bags to go visit my family who I see once a year.”  

“You can start tackling all of that once you breathe,” he pointed out calmly. 

Realizing he was right, she let out the breath she’d been holding. 

“Meditation will solve that little breathing problem you have,” he said, more condescension in his voice than support at that point.  

She accepted it though – she knew he was right. “Good advice, Kryik, like always. About meditation, and the scenting.”

Kryik smiled softly, once again emanating support. “I know.” 

“Sorry for throwing that cat figure at you,” she said, her wide grin betraying her apology.

“No, you’re not.”

They shared a smile for a moment as Vega walked in, balancing four teetering cups of coffee in his hands. Soon after that Vakarian came back, pistols ready for travel. He’d only been gone thirty minutes or so, which was probably a record when it came to how much time he spent fiddling with their weapons. Despite the short trip, she missed him after only a few minutes. Missed his smile and his eyes. They’d been so focused all morning on the case that they hadn’t taken a second to even really look at each other.  

Vakarian took long strides as he approached their desks, and her eyes stayed on his hips and thighs the whole time. Before she knew it he was right behind her chair, so close she could feel the warmth of his body. Then he leaned over her and placed her pistol on her desk. His hand landed on her shoulder, then she suddenly felt his finger snake under her hair and his talon tickled her neck. As she tried to collect her tongue off the floor he made his way over to his own desk, but on his way he looked back at her and winked. 

It had been the first time they touched since entering C-Sec that morning, and it sent shivers up her spine and slapped a stupid smile on her face. Thoughts immediately drifted to what she wanted to do to him that night. The afternoon was going to be pure torture. But at least they had the case to keep them busy. 

***

Vakarian kept his hands that were tight and itching with energy trained on the steering wheel as he navigated Citadel traffic from C-Sec to Shepard’s apartment. They discussed interview tactics for the Grissom kids, teachers, and staff. What they could say, what they definitely shouldn't. It was important to go over, but the slow, nagging heat building within him didn’t care about any of it. 

As she spoke, Shepard’s voice nuzzled at his ears. He had to shift several times feeling aching throbs behind his plates as the words fell from her lips. How in all the stars was she not as worked up as he was? Sitting at work all day, trying to focus on their case with her in front of him. It had driven him...well, to this point. He could barely focus on what she was actually saying as he tried to stop imagining her tongue licking at his skin. Tried to tell himself she wasn’t looking at him like she was about to tear his clothes off.

Somehow he made it to the elevator without giving himself away, hopefully. She was still talking about getting ready for the shuttle ride when they walked into the elevator side-by-side. While Shepard walked the rest of the way in, he stopped just a step into the elevator to punch Shepard’s floor code into the console. Everything was moving in slow motion at that point, his senses buzzed. Blood and hormones raced through his body, telling him to just grab her already, take her. 

Turning to Shepard he saw that once inside the elevator she had leaned against the back wall. She stood there watching him with a wicked grin on her face. It immediately made his plates spread, just slightly, but enough to send heat rushing through him. 

“What’s that look for?” he asked. He wanted to convince himself, for the sake of a publicly decent elevator ride, that she wasn’t as worked up as him. But her legs shifted, sending an intoxicating shot of her arousal straight into his nasal passages. He dragged a breath in slowly, savoring the spice invading his senses. To keep from grabbing her or touching her he folded his arms across his chest. It was hard to control himself when she looked like that. And smelled like that. 

“That growl this morning?” Her grin intensified. “Never heard anything like that come from you before.”

Facing her, he leaned a shoulder against the back wall, as close to her as he dared to be in the elevator – someone could get on any minute. This close she had to look up at him, her neck stretched out but frustratingly hidden behind her shirt collar. With his eyes trained on her neck, he said, “I’m, mmm, sorry about that. I know humans don’t necessarily approve of possessiveness. It’s pretty involuntary for turians, I swear. Although, everything is controllable, really…”

She shushed him, her lips plump and parting. All he could do was stare dumbly and smile as her hand rose up to her shirt collar, fingers slowly unfastening the top button while her eyes stayed trained on him. A heated gaze danced behind her hooded lids. While he was still trying to recover from what that first unbuttoning did to him she undid another button. “I liked it,” she purred. As the second button came undone his subvocals kicked into high gear, thundering in the elevator and vibrating off the walls. Though they were mesmerizing him, his eyes were enticed away from hers when she undid a third button and pushed her collar aside to reveal her pale, tender throat. Her chest rose with one quick breath when his hand betrayed his resolve to snake around her waist. Spirits help him, she was going to kill him...or at least get him arrested. 

“Don’t tease me now,” Vakarian drawled, his voice nearly drowned out by rippling subvocals.

“It’s not a tease. I fully intend to let you take me however you want.”  

And there went his plates, spreading wide and wet.   

He couldn’t take his eyes off the delicate, irresistible skin just below her jaw begging for his attention. His tongue tingled, begging to make contact with her skin. “I’m going to take you right here if you don’t stop flashing your throat at me.”

She laughed, low and sweet at that threat that was closer to the truth than she probably realized. He couldn't wait, he had to take her, press himself against her and draw in that soft scent. 

Thankfully, just as he did that, the doors to the elevator opened and their path to her door was unobstructed by any potential gawkers. They instantly fell onto each other, stumbling out and down the hall. Nipping, licking, grabbing. She backed down the hall toward her door with him towering over her using strong legs and insistent hips to push her on.

Inside her apartment they continued to stumble, her short legs tangling with his in a way that he wasn’t used to. Frustrated that they weren’t moving quickly enough, he swooped her up in his arms, wrapping her legs around his hips. Quick, purposeful strides took them from the front door past the kitchen.

“Not watching a kids show tonight, then?” Miranda said to a laughing Shepard while he buried his face in her neck, nipping her skin between his lips and nuzzling his nose into the scent gathered at the curve of her neck. Not giving a damn about Miranda being there, he continued on his path. 

“Feed Rocket?” Shepard laughed out.

“Oh sure, I can see you’ve got your hands tied.”

She did, unfastening the top clasps on his shirt. 

They were up the stairs in a second and behind her bedroom doors in another. It still wasn’t fast enough for him.  

As soon as the door slid closed he set her down, flicked the button on her pants open, and pulled them past her hips with his hands, then past her knees using his spurs. 

"Excited to get me naked, hm?" she smirked at him, watching his quick and agile movements. 

"You have no idea," he hummed as he picked her back up and pressed her against the wall, driving her thighs open for him. He rocked his hips against hers, teasing both of them. After the frantic rush into her bedroom, his slit pressing against hers with only his pants now in the way, he remembered that she’d been sore after their first time. With that on his mind, he slowed himself. Instead of tearing his pants open so he could drive into her, he took a moment to enjoy this. With his face buried deep within her neck, he took the time to breathe in her scent, deep within his passages.  

Breathing her in, aching for her like this. He’d never felt desire like this before, not for anyone. 

She had to enjoy the rush of satisfaction as well as they pressed against each other because as he breathed her in, slowly dragging her scent in, she panted. Her muscles tensed under his touch. But she held herself still for him. Body still but anticipation prevalent in the way she held her thighs tight against his hips. He felt her, everywhere, just through her scent. He paused to let that sink in, to savor her. Jane smelled like him. His Jane. He remembered that growl, and how much his mind told him she was his. That thought had him fully pressed past his plates and aching to be inside her. 

She had to feel closer, he wanted to feel her life beating into him. He opened his mouth, rested his lips against her skin, an anxious nip at her pulse below her jaw, followed quickly by his greedy tongue. Her pulse pounded a path through his body after he goaded it. It sent heat down to his slit and a sharp gasp came from her. That nip was a bit aggressive, but he needed it. 

“What does it feel like?” she asked, breaths falling heavy against his neck. “My pulse? Against your tongue?”

“I can feel your heart beating inside me.” A low pitched growl deep in his chest lept into a needy groan. He hitched his hips, spreading her thighs open even further. Dragging his throbbing erection against her and enjoying the way she moaned, her breath falling against the curve of his neck. 

He nipped at her skin, then his tongue took another long lick against her jaw, hesitating over her pulse point so he could feel it beat wildly and then flicking greedily the rest of the way. He nipped again at her throat and flicked his tongue as they both groaned. “It feels like your blood is rushing through me.”

With one hand squeezing her ass, his other settled against his erection, and with a bend of his wrist and flick of his talon, he unfastened his pants.

“It feels just as good as pressing inside you,” he drawled while tugging his pants open. When he fell against her, resting in the bundle of hair just above her slit, she moaned and encouraged him by teasing her fingers against his sensitive stomach.

 “And almost as good as feeling you come when I’m inside you.”

An appreciative giggle escaped her as her chest swelled, “You’re good at dirty talk, Vakarian.”

“You're more than welcome to join me.” He nipped at her jaw, just by her chin, then nuzzled his nose against hers. “Your voice is so sexy,” he told her as he took his cock in his hand, stroking himself just once. Her lusty, greedy eyes fell to his cock as he slowly dragged his hand along the length. Her hands squeezed around his biceps like she wished it was her hand jerking him off. 

“Your cock is the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen,” she took a quick breath after saying that. The words had fallen out so quickly. Like she didn’t even realize she was saying it out loud.  

He grinned at her, teasing her. “While that may be true, I think you can do better.”

Her eyes narrowed, gaze burning into him while the tip of her tongue flicked out and licked at her bottom lip. “Fuck me. Slow. I want you to tease me, even if I beg you to go deeper or faster.”

He laughed soft and low, his eyes on her as his hand traveled up his shaft. Once he reached the head he guided it to her slit, settling between her folds. “You asked for this.” Her eyes flicked down as she bit her lip and moaned. “Are you ready?” he asked. She answered with a long lick up his throat.

The feeling of the head of his dick nestled between her folds had them both panting. He inched slowly into her, spreading her open gently and focusing on the steady beats of her wild breaths to keep himself from diving into her.   

Half seated, he let his cock go, his hand moving to her ass to hold her still. He fed his cock into her, inching in slowly and waiting patiently for her to adjust. It was difficult to go this slowly after waiting for her all day, but she asked to be teased. He nipped her throat and felt a rush of satisfaction when her hands shot to his neck and began to tease his nape. 

She wasn’t as patient though. Her hips teased against him, her moans begging him. Maintaining control, he pressed in deeper, teasing into her one slow inch at a time. 

When he was finally buried fully inside of her he tightened his hold on her hips and stilled his movements. Taking a moment to enjoy being completely surrounded by her. She stretched around him, tight and warm. They exchanged panting, heavy breaths that fell on each other’s skin.

Neither of them moved an inch but his cock suddenly jumped, making them both moan. He brushed his nose against hers. “Spirits,” he breathed, mouth parting, inundated by thoughts of dragging his teeth against her throat, “why does it feel so good to be inside you?”

The breath from her satisfied sigh warmed his lips. She clenched down around him, making him groan before finally indulging his thoughts and dragging his teeth against her throat. “You are so tight,” he breathed out while her heartbeat a steady rhythm in her chest. Anticipation burned in her gaze, showing she was ready for him to start dragging in and out of her. 

He pulled his hips back, dragging out of her just as slowly as he had pressed into her. Her head shot back as a moan rolled out of her. Her neck was bare and exposed. If he buried his teeth on her throat like he was dying to, he'd hurt her. 

He couldn't do that, so instead, he wrapped a hand around her throat, feeling her fragile little jaw resting between his fingers. Her throat against his palm. He could feel her muscles tense under his touch as she swallowed. There. He could feel her pulse on his fingertips. And that was just as thrilling as her skin resting beneath his teeth. Almost.

The look that sparked in her eyes when he wrapped his hand around her jaw made him immediately forget about what he wanted to do with his teeth, though. One little heated look, her eyes locked on his, told him how pleased she was to be fucked like this. Pressed against her wall. Throat exposed. Trusting. Submitting. Pleading for him with desperate moans. 

His hips wanted to buck right into her, but he reigned in his need to gently rock into her instead. Teasing her, just like she wanted. 

Despite the control, despite rocking into her gently instead of giving in and diving into her over and over like he wanted, they didn’t last long. The slow, steady, but deep dragging and pressing only made them breathe harder. And want more. He could feel it in the way her muscles tensed, the way her thighs dug into his hips.

With his hand still nestled around her jaw and throat, he tried to ignore her teasing fingers on his nape, just to hold on a little longer. But his vocals told him he couldn't. A steady growl rippled through his chest. Heat was building, his cock throbbing and ready to release. She tightened around him, hugging every ridge tight. So much tighter than he’d ever felt before. And before he knew it she was clenching down around him, moaning and whispering his name with his finger pressed to her lips. 

Her fingers dug into his neck as she came, her back arching out and thighs holding him in tight as he pressed in deeper, coaxing her through her release and sending him spiraling into his own. They came together, hard and fast. 

She was still panting when he released her jaw and slowly pulled out of her to set her down, her legs still shaking and arms grasping to stay wrapped around him. It hurt to let her go so quickly, but he’d been thinking of her bent over and moaning for him for weeks now. And he was finally ready to indulge that little fantasy.

    ***

Shepard stood, barely, on quaking legs with her back pressed against the wall. Vakarian had just pulled out of her, leaving her empty and aching for him. His gaze burned into hers, though, telling her he wasn’t quite done. 

“Stand at the end of the bed,” he told her, and she did without hesitation or question. Somehow she made her way to the bed, legs shaking and barely useful. In place, she turned to see him stalking after her, slow predatory strides. He unfastened his shirt and tugged it from his chest, over his broad shoulders, and with it in hand, tossed it to the side. 

Toe-to-toe he towered over her, his chin didn't even meet the top of her head. So she was forced to look up at him, heart racing. Waiting for him to tell her, or show her, what to do next. His hands moved to her neck, and she held a breath thinking that he might wrap them around her throat again. But his talons began to slide over the remaining buttons fastening her shirt closed. The buttons slid out of holes quickly, one after the other as he made his way down between her breasts then down the center of her stomach. Slide, pop. Slide, pop. Every once and awhile a talon brushed against her skin and her breath caught every time. 

She watched him, eyes locked onto his gorgeous, icy blue eyes as he used both hands to brush her shirt off her shoulders. He was quick, gently jerking her body around as he undressed her. With her shirt off he slid his hands under her bra, she obediently lifted her arms and he worked her bra over her head, tugging it up the length of her outstretched arms until it was off and on the floor. She watched his every move, the lean muscles in his wrists twisting. Bulging forearm muscles flexing. His shoulders stretched. Muscles in his tight little waist tensed as his hips gravitated towards her.  

“Get on the bed,” he drawled, tugging his pants off his hip spurs. “On your knees, looking at me.” He unhooked his pants over each leg spur and they were soon pooled around his feet. Now completely naked, his thick erection stood out, catching her attention and making every muscle between her thighs clench, aching to feel that length sliding into her again. 

Her eyes flicked back up to meet his and without breaking eye contact she backed onto the bed, folding her legs under her and scooting back just a few inches so that she kneeled at the edge of the bed. Before she could wonder what he would do his hand landed on her throat, bending her neck back and in one fluid motion he licked a line from the base of her throat to her jaw. His lips nipped just below her ear, his tongue quickly followed to feel her pounding pulse. 

He placed his free hand inside her thigh, talons dragging against her skin as he moved higher, and higher, slowly inching his way upwards. She moaned as his finger pressed to her swollen, saturated folds and slid in easily. 

He fucked her like that, his finger sliding in and out of her, working her into a state of pleasure so intense her knees shook and her hips rocked into his hand. Her folds began to tense around his finger tighter and tighter, already begging for release. 

He stopped, suddenly, dragging his finger out leaving her lips clenching down around nothing. A protesting groan escaped her, surprising her and making him laugh wickedly at her.  

Her eyes narrowed on him, “You better be replacing that with your dick real soon.”

A devilish grin parted his mandibles. 

“Turn around.”

She glanced down at his dick to see it hard, pulsing and dripping. He laughed again, low and roguish, making her realize she had licked her lip and bit down. He’d been watching her eye his dick since he got it out, and frustratingly, he was amused by her hunger to wrap her lips around it. “With a look like that in your eyes Jane, I just might let you put your mouth on me. Someday. Now, turn around.”

She did as he told her, and not a moment after she was turned away from him he wrapped an arm around her shoulders, a hand placed between her thighs. She reached behind her, wrapped her hand around the base of his cock, and worked her hand over each ridge, teasing him. By the time her hand reached the head he growled out a deep moan while his face fell to her shoulder. Teeth pressed down ever so lightly.

“Sprits, Jane, you make me feel so good.”

He wrapped his hand around hers, dragged over his cock one last time then guided her hand off him so he could tuck his hips up against her ass. He pressed himself against her, hard chest plates and hot cock pressed against her back. With his arms wrapped around her, he easily lifted her up so that he could crawl onto the bed behind her.   

Once they were both on the bed, on their knees, he leaned back and bent her forward so that she rested against his arm, giving him access to the length of her back. His tongue touched the base of her spine, and in one long drag his velvety tongue licked up her spine, and god, if he had been inside her at that point she would have come. As it was, she moaned, cried , while bolts of energy snaked from the center of her body to every toe and fingertip. She melted into his arm like that as his tongue continued its path up her spine. 

As his tongue finally came to rest at the base of her neck she panted, wild and needy. His lips brushed her ear. “Mm, you like that?”

“God, yes,” she moaned as her head rolled to give him better access to her throat and neck. 

His hands slid up her thighs, one teased her by gliding over her slit and up her stomach until he placed them on her hips. 

“You don’t have hip spurs,” he whispered against her neck, emphasizing his intentions with a tongue flick over the pulse just under her ear.

“Mhm,” she agreed. Her head was spinning. She had no words, no thoughts, other than what his hands were doing, what his tongue felt like dragging up her spine. 

“I’m going to fuck you, and I need to know where I can hold on.”

Oh . She took his hands in hers, guiding them to her hip bones, and helped him dig in for a solid hold. “I’m studier than you think,” she told him. “Dig in, you won’t hurt me.” She teased her ass against his dick, an excited growl traveled from him and through, hitting her right in the clit. 

He nipped her neck once again. Stole a moment to tease his tongue against the back of her neck. She melted all over again. With one of his hands on her hip, she felt the other graze over her shoulder. His palm pressed in between her shoulders. Purposeful pressure bent her forward. Slow, as if he were watching every muscle in her back bend for him. Full of trust and aching for him, willing to give him anything he wanted, she stretched her arms out in front of her and laid her head against the mattress. Back arched and hips raised for him.  

He placed both hands back on her hips, right where she told him to. With her in place, he pulled back on her hips once, testing her. When she moaned a satisfied growl thundered through him, tickling her ears. She began to drip down her thighs.

“Harder,” she moaned.

She could feel his hips swaying and brushing up against her as he lined himself up with her entrance. Wet heat pressed against her slit as he used his head to tease her. She thought she'd have to beg him, tease herself back against him just to feel him inch inside her again. 

“Garrus…” she pleaded. He dug his talons in deeper, jerking her back against him again. The sudden jolt made her giggle. As her mouth opened she felt her sensitive and swollen lips drag against the sheets.. 

“You look fucking beautiful like this, Jane.” 

He growled as he finally pressed inside her. A slow, begging moan escaped her. And when he was only a few inches deep he stilled, his hands gliding up along the curve of her waist. “Your waist,” he murmured. “And your ass.” His palms slid down to her ass, talons dragging against her skin, then he cupped her hips again to give her another tug. That had her smiling. Her best friend looking at her bent over for him like this. She’d do so much more for him. She’d show him. In time.   

His hands tightened on her hips, tilting her up just so, and in one quick thrust he seated himself inside her. She cried out so suddenly her voice caught and her cheek pressed into the mattress. 

His cock was immediately deep and right where it should be. His head repeatedly kneaded back and forth, lightly massaging a sweet little knot buried deep inside. He stayed right there, deep and pressing in perfectly, sending out waves of uncontrollable moans that strained her vocal cords. She panted, heavy and hot against the sheets. His hold on her hips firm, talons digging into her flesh as he drove in and out. Ridges sliding past her folds. He was going to tear into her skin if he held any tighter. She wanted him to, though. She longed to feel his talons digging into her hips. Marks on her left from their fucking. 

His hips bucked against her while his grasping hands snapped her hips back against him. Without seeing him she knew he was staring down at her, hungry and admiring. She could hear it in the way he growled for her, the way he groaned as he buried himself in her. Over and over. The way he panted she could tell her name was on the tip of his tongue.  

He kept that pace, steady and driving. He used his tight hold on her to roll her hips back into his thrusts. Her arms trembled. Her lips clenched down tight and greedy around him. A sharp growl ripped through his chest and rolled into her in waves and suddenly with a few twitches of his cock he filled her with a wet warmth that sent her over the edge. As he came into her he hit her just right and she fell apart panting and screaming. 

He fell against her, panting wildly, subvocals rippling through his body and into hers. On shaking arms, she lifted herself up and looked back at him over her shoulder. Their eyes met and they smiled, exhausted and spent, but perfectly happy. He took another deep breath, pulled out of her, and in one swift motion gathered her in his arms and pulled her down to lie on her side. With a flick of his mandibles he licked a short trail along her jaw. 

“You’re so perfect.” he huffed a heavy breath out. “So beautiful.” She watched his head fall down against the bed as if those words took the last bit of energy he had.    

They laid side by side like that, her body tucked up against him, her head tucked under his chin as they both allowed their bodies to still and their breaths to steady. 

The room was dark and silent other than their soft, steady breaths. In the silence, she wondered where all of those beautiful things he said about her came from. Where all this attraction and passion came from. It seemed to have come from nowhere. Of course, she’d felt this for him for a while. But he’d never been attracted to humans. And here he was in her bed, telling her how much he wanted her. 

“Is that true?”

“Hm?” he asked lazily, not opening his eyes.

“What you said,” she said hesitantly, worried that he was just saying it to get them both worked up. She’d certainly had guys tell her much worse things to force their own orgasm. Not that she wasn’t guilty of disingenuous dirty talk. “You’ve never thought humans are attractive.”

A single eye opened as he snuck a peek at her. “Of course I think you’re beautiful, I’ve told you before.”

“At the banquet?”

“Mhm.” Both eyes opened.

“I thought you were teasing me,” she teased her fingers against his chest.

“Jane, you’re gorgeous,” he said as he nestled his face in her neck, dragging his nose against her warm skin.  

“Where did this all come from, hm?” she asked.

“I have no idea, but I like it,” he told her, his talons skating along her back. 

Their eyes stayed on each other for a long moment, watching each other.

“Is it, uh, weird…” he started, and she couldn't help but smile at him before she even knew what he was trying to ask. Sexy Vakarian was amazing, but shy Vakarian was pretty great too. “To ask to touch your eyelashes?”

She giggled. “No,” she answered, and closed her eyes so that he could indulge that little desire. “Just be careful.”

She felt the pad of his finger brush over her eyelid, then her eyelashes, tickling just a little. “They’re so soft, softer than the hair on your head,” he whispered, sounding awed and fascinated. He brushed his fingertip over her eyelashes once more then dragged his talon down her cheek, stopping to pull lightly on her lip. She slid her tongue out between her lips, a teasing lick trailing up his finger. 

“You really want my dick in your mouth, don’t you?” He smiled down at her, eyes sparkling with amusement. 

“Yes,” she grinned, imagining her lips wrapped around his swollen dick.

“What else do you want, hm?” he asked, voice deepening. 

She pressed her lips to his chest, dragged slowly against the plate. “Your tongue on my nipple.”

“Absolutely not,” he nearly barked, and she felt his muscles tense under her touch. 

She didn’t say anything, just watched him, wondering what that little outburst was about.

“Sorry, but I am never putting my mouth anywhere near those.”

“That grossed out by breasts, hm?”

“No, I mean, they’re fine.” He sighed. “Kryik told me a story, thinking he was encouraging me to have sex with you by the way, where he bit down on an asari’s nipple and she bled all the way down her stomach. I’m not doing that to you.”

Shepard couldn’t help it. She busted out laughing. “Well, you don’t bite them. Turians especially. Jesus. Just a little licking would be nice.” She ran her lips against his chest. “You’re good at licking.”

“Hm, maybe some other time,” he drawled, sounding unconvinced, as her laughter died down. 

She shrugged. “Whatever makes you comfortable.” 

Her hand reached for his and they wound their fingers together, gently entwining them. It was strange, only two fingers and a thumb wrapped around her five fingers, but only for a minute. Soon, it felt just as natural as everything else they did together. 

She closed her eyes and took a deep breath in, finally feeling like she could breathe normally again. “This is the best sex I’ve ever had. Like, ever.”

He smiled at her, just watching for a moment. Thinking, maybe, before he said, “It’s the best for me too.”

“Really?” She felt that stupid grin come back. How in the hell did it feel so good to be with him like this?

He hooked his arm around her and pulled her right up next to him to nuzzle her. “Yeah. You are beautiful and sexy. I’ve never been this excited to be with someone. Being with you, like this…” he sighed, “I’ve never been so happy.”

“Humans aren’t so bad then, hm?”

“Well I don't know about all humans, but you’re more perfect than anyone I’ve ever known. The brightest little thing I’ve ever seen. Apricus.”

Her curiosity perked up at that last word. She’d never heard it before. “What is that? The last word you said.”

“Mmm, translator didn’t catch that? It means ‘full of sunlight’. I’ve thought that about you, for years. Always felt too embarrassed to tell you, though. Thought you might think I was strange. Or that I was...”

“What?”

An ironic smile spread his mandibles. “That I was pining after you.”

She reached for her omni-tool. “Turn your translator off, and I’ll turn mine off. I want you to say that again, but without the translators in the way. I want to hear what that sounds like in your own language.”

While excitement bubbled around in her stomach they both turned their translators off, and for just a moment looked at each other. Just waiting. He smiled, shyly, and leaned down so that his lips were closer to her ear and then he spoke. The word rolled off his tongue like honey. It sounded much like it did before, but it was lower, and so drawled out and half rumble that she couldn’t believe it was actually a word. Her eyes closed as the sound traveled through her entire body, tickling her from neck to fingertips and down into her ankles until her toes curled.

He leaned closer, lips dragging against her skin when he said it again and this time her back arched, as if he had just spoken a spell that lifted her body and bent it to his will. His lips nipped her skin, and then he was saying something else, something longer because the sounds just rolled out in a deep and sensual thunder that fed her senses. It wasn’t just sound, though. She felt his words in her body.  And, god, the way he spoke made her so very aware of his mouth. His tongue, especially. She could imagine his tongue touching against the roof of his mouth just lightly, flicking and lapping. And then she could imagine his tongue flicking and lapping at her skin. Every muscle vibrated at that thought. Completely under his spell, her body writhed with his magical tongue in mind.   

He laughed softly while he turned his translator back on, then reached over and turned hers on.  

“How is your voice even sexier with your translator off? How does it roll and rumble like that?”

“If you’re good, maybe I’ll turn it off next time we have sex.”

That thought made her moan, and her moan made him laugh lightly, wickedly. 

Their eyes danced around each other for a short while, not saying anything with words and only with looks. That’s when a thought crawled into her mind. It could be awful, it could be a replay of that morning when she almost accidentally forced a basium on him. But maybe, if she did it right, it would just make up for that stupid slip-up. And she just felt like it was the right thing to do at that moment. 

Fuck research. 

She laid back and took his hand in hers, tenderly turned his wrist over and guided it to her mouth. He watched her, amused and trusting as she brought his wrist right up against her lips, warm breaths fell against his smooth skin. She pressed her lip slightly, just above where she thought his pulse was. Just as her lips pressed into him a deep, thunderous subvocal started up. 

The way he looked down at her, filled with trust and affection burning in his eyes spurred her on. She dragged her nose against his wrist, flicked her tongue against his pulse even though she couldn’t feel it like he could hers. She held him securely in her hand, repeated his motions when he scented her. The small, delicate plates of his nose scrunched as he softly inhaled. She watched the beautiful sweep of his clan marking shift as his nose moved. 

“You think you’re just mimicking it, don’t you? But you’re scenting. How’d you know?”

“Am I?” she asked, affection warming her voice. “Well, even better.” She flicked her tongue against his pulse, even thinking that maybe she could feel the beat of his blood that time, then nuzzled the curve of her jaw against his smooth, warm skin. “I’m a good detective, Garrus. I figured it out.”

A satisfied sigh fell from his chest as he watched her a moment longer. Nuzzling his wrist, light licks against his pulse. Pausing every so often to look up at him and see his adoring eyes just watching her. After just a moment longer he leaned down over her and nuzzled his face into the curve between her shoulder and throat. Then, as she continued to nuzzle against his wrist, with a breath she felt brush against her neck, he whispered into her ear, “Damn, Jane.”  

 

Chapter Text

Vakarian nearly dove out of the skycar as it pulled up to the transit depot. He was running late. Departure was in fifteen minutes, but he promised Shepard he’d bring the coffee. They were desperately going to need it, considering they were leaving the Citadel for Grissom Academy at the crack of the morning cycle. They were, in fact, leaving so early that all the night shifters at C-Sec were grabbing coffee before heading home, which severely slowed down his errand.   

Finally at the dock and in a hurry to join Shepard on board their ship, he took the corner faster than a top-heavy turian should without leaning down to balance his center of gravity. He almost spilled their coffee because of it. Thanks to his steady hands though, he didn’t lose a drop. 

After muscling his way through the security line and flashing his C-Sec badge to cut in front of the poor saps in back of him, Vakarian jogged to their departure dock, making it just in time – there were just a few people left to board. Instead of already sitting on the ship and waiting for him, though, he immediately spotted Shepard standing near the entrance to board. Her back was to him, but he could tell she was staring intently at the ship they were about to get on, her arms crossed. 

Seeing her standing there filled him with a familiar calm and happiness. Catching sight of her after they’d been apart was always a nice moment, and for months –maybe even years – he’d felt a curious itch in his hands to touch her once he finally got close enough. To satisfy that innocent need he used to just place a hand on her shoulder, or wrap an arm around her in a friendly embrace. But he didn’t just feel a little itch to touch her, anymore. His body ached to press against her, to lean in and smell his own scent all over her. 

With that energy buzzing in his chest and down into his fingertips he shifted both coffees to balance in one hand while he walked up behind her and placed his free hand on her hip,  pulling her in close and ready to give her a little nip on the neck to say good morning.  

And she hit him. She whirled around, pulled her hips away, and landed her open palm right in the middle of his keel. It not only pushed him back but knocked the wind out of him, dragging out a little groan as he stepped away from her to protect his chest and a little bit of his dignity.  

He brought his hand, the one so excited to rest on Shepard's hip, up to his chest and rubbed lightly right where she got him. “Damn, Shep. Eight years in special ops, top-ranked in hand-to-hand combat, and I’m still scared of you.”

“I’m anxious,” she explained, her voice a bit defensive. And not as apologetic as he’d like considering that her violent tendencies ruined his sweet good morning greeting. “It makes me jumpy.”

“You still hate flying?” he asked as she took her coffee from him. 

“Yes. I still hate flying around in space. I always will.” The way she said the word space almost made him chuckle – like it was Tuchanka or some other spirit forsaken place. “I would have become a soldier if I wanted to be in space. Cops stay on the ground.” 

That was why she wasn’t already on board, he guessed. Made sense. She was waiting for him, then, in a comfortable environment. 

“Ready to board?” he asked. When she answered with a stiff nod he guided her forward with a hand on her shoulder.  

“Well, the Citadel is just ‘floating around in space’ all the time,” he pointed out as they got in line, hoping some logic would help with her fears. “You’re just going from one floating vessel to a flying one. They’re both just vessels out in space.”

Obviously logic wasn’t helpful. He got a deadly stare for that little dose of reality, and decided against also pointing out planets technically just float in space as well. “Why would you tell me that?” she groaned, her brows knitted. “That doesn’t help. At all .”

“Come here,” he said, wrapping his arm around her waist and pulling her close to his side. Shepard was tactile, like he was. She responded better to physical distractions to relieve stress.

When the line inched forward he held her back just a moment and leaned down to speak right next to her ear, low and rumbly. “My bed smells like you.” He stopped talking to take a long drag of her scent in. “Drove me crazy when I got up this morning.” He topped off that confession with a suggestive squeeze to her waist.

She replied with a wink before her eyes flicked to his crotch and back up. “Glad to help you rise this morning.” 

His heart thundered. “Spirits, you’re a tease.”

She shot him a playful look over her shoulder. “Sorry, I’ll wash your sheets next time I come over.” He could sense a giggle threatening to sneak out of her. 

“Only if I get to strip you naked and throw you right back in.”

“How did you go from complete indifference to my body to not being able to keep your hands off me? Did you hit your head or something?”

He pretended to think that over then said, “Hm, maybe.” One mandible flicked in a half-smile.

Once a volus, who had spent ages complaining about his cabin assignment, stepped forward they promptly held up their omni-tools to the turian checking them in. She gave them directions to their cabin and seemed relieved when they didn’t also complain. 

As they walked down the corridor he waggled his browplates at her, and deepening his voice said, “Private cabin, you know?”

“You wish, Vakarian,” she purred back.

With that thought in mind, he watched her hips sway as she walked down the corridor just a few steps ahead of him. His subvocals trilled excitedly. When she smirked at him over her shoulder, surely hearing his body reacting to her, he took a few quick steps to catch up to her and wrap his hand back around her hip. 

“At some point you’re going to recover from this temporary brain injury and remember you aren't attracted to humans.”

“If that’s true, you have my full permission to hit me over the head again.”

“I want that in writing,” she said as they reached their cabin door. “I’m so addicted to you that I might be tempted to give you a good whack if you get this out of your system.”

“Here,” he took her hand in his and lifted it to his mouth to nip her wrist playfully, but hard enough to leave a slight indentation in her skin. “That’s as good as a turian signature.”

She let out a lusty sigh, fully enjoying the contact, prompting him to nip again a little harder. Just as his lips pinched down, though, her eyes flashed up to his and she let out a quick yelp that stopped his heart. Dammit, why couldn’t he just stop at the first nip? It was light, and harmless. And now she was probably bleeding and they’d have to ask the flight staff for some medi-gel. He was going to be the turian freak who bit his…

What the spirits was she to him? They hadn’t talked about what they were now, if anything more than just friends. 

He quickly wrapped his hand around hers and pulled it close to his chest. “Spirits, did I hurt you? I’m sorry, that was stupid.” Just then their combined scents wafted up from her wrist, a reminder of the calm affectionate scenting they shared the night before. Despite his fear his heart soared for just a brief second. She was absolutely perfect. More than his nippy, awkward ass deserved. 

Her eyes softened and she smiled up at him, reassurance in her expression. “ No. You didn't hurt me,” she told him, earnest eyes on him. “I’m so sorry. I was just playing.” She pulled his hand to her lips and pressed a light kiss on his knuckle. It made his heart leap, wondering what her lips would feel like against his. He actually wanted her to kiss him, like humans and asari kissed. There was so much exploring left for them to do.

Determined to make their relationship work, he opened the cabin door and then guided her into the room for some privacy before saying, “Let’s just set some ground rules here. Don’t joke about me hurting you.”

“You won’t hurt me.” She seemed somewhat dismissive, like she didn’t fully understand the extent of damage a turian could inflict on a human. “God, Kryik’s story really got to you.”

He watched her move to the center of the room where a large round table was placed, several chairs tucked in all around it. “It didn't help, that’s for sure. But, no, I was worried about it before.”

She crossed her arms and her eyes narrowed on him...teasing eyes. “Exactly how long had you been thinking of nipping me, hm?”

“That’s...mmm…” he finished that sentence by simply clearing his throat, unwilling to tell her right now how long he’d been staring at her ass while they were trying to solve murders.  

As he moved to the opposite end of the table, she set her hands on the back of a chair, leaning forward on it and looking across at him. “I promise not to joke anymore, alright?” 

“Seriously,” he said, eyes resting on hers for a moment, imploring her with just a look to understand how important this was to him. “I can’t stand the thought of hurting you. I never want to get carried away or lose myself. I never want to look down and see you torn to shreds.”

“I trust you. Ok? And if you start to get carried away I’ll say something.” Spirits, how was she so confident that he wouldn't hurt her? If he could just borrow a little of that confidence they’d have a better chance at making this work...

“Hey.” She moved over to him as he stared at her, dumb and speechless, and she wrapped a hand around his hip spur and tugged gently, rocking his hips in a nudging way. “I’m not as fragile as you think. You’d really have to bare down and bite into me. And I know you would never hurt me.” 

He nodded, even though he wanted to argue. He wanted to tell her it wasn't a matter of trust. You could trust someone with your heart and body and they could still hurt you. Cama had taught him that. And he had taught Livia that. 

He laid his datapad down on the table and opened up his omni-tool as he sat down, ready to stop thinking about his failures in love and start checking reports and taking notes for their case. They had four hours before they’d land at Grissom, so they might as well get cracking.   

Every time they got close to wrapping up a case the old fears set in. Pallin and his dad popped into his head, their faces telling him not to fuck this one up. He dreaded the eventual day he did. The day his dad would turn on the news and see that his son had let a murderer walk away because he wasn’t smart enough or quick enough. Because he wasn’t as good as C-Sec’s legendary Castis Vakarian.

The pressure used to tie his stomach in knots at work. If it hadn’t been for Shepard he would have run away from it all years ago. Hopped on a ship headed to nowhere and disappeared. But she effortlessly made him feel like he could handle it. Little by little, day by day, she made him realize that together they could solve their cases, do it the right way. And not only was Pallin impressed, but his dad was actually proud of him. 

Shepard had changed his life, and him. And that’s what really worried him about trying for something more with her. He’d lose so much more than a partner and friend if he wound up disappointing her, just like he had disappointed every mate he’d ever had.

That old feeling of not being good enough, that familiar fear that made his skin crawl, sunk its teeth in. Instead of working he was staring at Shepard, his anchor, while his nervous thoughts ran through his head. He figured she must be worrying about the flight because she was staring out the window. Just then one of the docking components unlocked, jolting the ship just slightly and sending out a loud, but completely normal, hydraulic sound. Poor Shepard jumped and gripped her coffee. He flinched, instincts telling him to scoop her up in his soothing arms. 

They were homicide’s best detectives – and they were two nervous fools. 

They just stared at each other for a long moment. Their worried eyes faded to slow smiles that turned into light laughs. As if they were linked they each inhaled softly to calm their nerves. 

“Hey,” he said,  his voice inflected with calm despite the flirtatious path he was about to take, “you just feel free to crawl into my lap if you need a little bit of comfort...or maybe a distraction.” 

“Thanks, but I’ll stay right over here. As much as I appreciate a good session of stress relief , being at work and in a very public place are no-gos for me.” Despite turning him down she looked like she sorely regretted it as a flush bloomed across her cheeks. She gripped her coffee tight and stared down into it, presumably to distract herself from his charm and good looks. 

“Alright,” he reclined back in his chair and focused back on the reports, “but just know, the offer stands. And feel free to stare at me instead of out the window. I’m much prettier.”

For the next few minutes he teased her mercilessly...and subtly. She tried not to watch him while he moved his body purely to entice her, but she stole looks. She shifted in her seat when he stretched his arms out, expanding his broad chest and shoulders. When he rolled his neck and pretended to yawn she pulled at her pants and shot him a dirty look. It was cruel, of course, but at least she was looking at him instead of staring out the window. 

A frustrated huff that was absolutely sultry fell past her lips, telling him she was turned on and angry about it. “I’ve never wanted something so much in my life,” she whined, looking impulsive and pained. “It actually hurts . I’d rather be dropped in a desert without a drop of water, or…anything, than sit this close to you, without you inside of me.”

“That’s beautiful, Jane,” he drawled, caught off guard but entertained by her unexpected rant. “A desert without a drop of water? You should put that in a poem. ‘An Ode to Garrus Vakarian’s Cock’.”

She rolled her eyes at his unsympathetic teasing. “Fuck off.”

“No, really, I’m flattered.” His clicking mandibles betrayed his weak attempt at sympathy as he reached out for her hand across the table.

She shot up straight out of her chair, glaring down at him. “You’re a dick,” she said and started walking towards the bathroom, fire in her eyes, her lips pulled with a barely restrained smile. Her hand ran through her fiery mess of hair. Damn , she was adorable.

He just couldn't stop teasing her. It was stress relief –a distraction – for both of them, the back and forth taunting. “You used to call me an ass. And now you call me a dick.This whole time, you’ve just been calling me your favorite part of my anatomy, haven’t you?”

“I’m going to go dunk my head in some cold water. I might just write a terrible poem to your glorious anatomy if I don’t.”

He laughed mischievously as she disappeared through the bathroom door, and decided to take the opportunity to start working on the case with more diligence.  

***

Shepard hadn’t gone in the bathroom to dunk her head in cold water, but getting away from him for a moment was helpful. She was anxious about the case and anxious about flying. Adding in anxiety about getting caught having sex on a business liner would not help any of that. Regardless of how much she wanted to have sex on a business liner, to make his subvocals roll through their cabin, they were absolutely not going to. She was adamant about that.  

When she sat back down across from Vakarian, ready for more teasing, his pinched browplates and focused attention on his datapad told her he had moved on to the case. 

“Some info just came in. Frank has a rap sheet, but most of it’s sealed because he was a minor at the time.”

“What kind of stuff?” she asked. A history of violence against kids, maybe. If only they could discover a clear connection like that. 

“I just started looking through it, but a few cases of theft – like vid games and food when he was younger. Threw rocks through a window. Right before he turned eighteen he got caught breaking into a shop to steal an omni-tool. Just a bunch of pathetic juvenile thrills so far. But I’ll keep looking.”

Shepard couldn't help but give him a questioning look. “Just how many records does he have?”

“Sixteen, but some of them were dropped.”

Udina had to have worked pretty hard to keep his son’s record under wraps. A kid from a different family would be in jail with that many offenses. Or shipped off to boot camp. 

“So he’s a punk,” Vakarian said. “But is he capable of murdering his cousin? The death was slow. Dragged out, remember? Big difference between breaking windows and choking your cousin to death.”

“I don’t know,” Shepard shook her head, staring down at the autopsy file open on her datapad. “Guess we need to know Frank to start asking those questions. Maybe they got in a fight. Maybe he always hated Adam for some reason. Answers are endless if we don’t know who he is or what makes him tick.”

“Ambassador Udina clearly didn’t like Adam. Maybe Frank just hates kids as much as his dad,” Vakarian said flippantly. 

They contemplated to themselves silently a while longer before Vakarian finally settled back in his chair and focused on his datapad. “You look over the autopsy again while I look at his rap sheet. Maybe we’ll find something that points us in the right direction.”

She nodded but chose to think about Frank and Adam being cousins a little longer, just to prolong her inevitable dive back into the worst element of this case. Adam’s beaten little body. His sad, trusting eyes.

Trusting. While dancing she had asked Spectre Alenko about trusting people and getting in cars with them. Adam trusted his killer, didn’t he? Probably got in the skycar himself. He would trust his cousin, probably, and would have had no reason not to get in.  

She looked up at Vakarian, “At the banquet I thought about Adam and whether he was kidnapped or got in the car willingly. He would have got in with his cousin. Makes sense.”

Vakarian feigned a perturbed look and scoffed, “Am I a boring date?”

“First, you never asked to be my date. And second, no one would call you boring. It was when I was dancing with Kaiden.”

A smug laugh crept out of him, causing her to realize she just called Kaiden boring. Looking a bit more puffed up, Vakarian said, “Ouch. Guess I don’t need to worry about competing with him for your affection.”

Like he even had to worry. She didn’t know whether to smile or roll her eyes. “You know you don’t.” 

“Can I, uh, assume you won’t be going on a second date with him?” he asked, and he actually looked a little nervous. As immature as that was, she got a little thrill from his jealousy.

“Why would I go on a date with him, when I could be at home with you, gathering inspiration for my lewd poems?” 

He smiled about that, cocky, and also relieved – the most adorable mixture of awkwardness and self-assurance. And it made him very sexy. She thought of him pinning her down, confident enough to take her how he wanted, but so very eager to please. 

On that note, Shepard finally opened up the autopsy. She knew it all by heart, of course. She knew the bruises across his back and stomach from getting kicked and punched. She knew the bruises from getting lifted up by biotics and slammed back down. She knew the finger marks on his neck from being strangled until he let out his last breath. And most of all, she knew the cold, sad stare of Adam’s kind gray eyes.

Still, she took her time going over the details. She lasted a little over an hour until she finally realized how tired she was. It was the exhaustion that came along after struggling to focus when your body and mind didn’t want to. But she forced her way through it. Pushing and trudging along through every sentence and every image until her brain pushed back, and told her no more. 

She put her datapad down and stretched her anxious muscles. It wasn’t fair, but she wanted to take some of Vakarian’s strength. Sure, he’d struggled these past few years, too. You could see it in the way his tired shoulders slumped more than they used to. The way he moved, sometimes, like he expected someone to bowl him over, try to knock him down. The two of them together looked like a team that had the crap kicked out of them and were fixing to lose the game. She knew it, because sometimes she caught their reflection in an elevator panel, or a shop window.  

But he still looked like he had some fight left in him, whereas Shepard sometimes felt like that imagined attacker would be able to take her down with one pathetic push. She looked up at Vakarian, sitting there in the cabin. The epitome of calm, collected strength, despite being just as tired as her.    

She wanted to crawl into his arms. Her beautiful, resilient best friend sitting there with a look of determined concentration. She wanted to fall apart and land in those strong soldier’s arms that had delivered death to so many, but only offered comfort and calm to her, and let him promise it would all be ok. She wanted to hear him say he’d hold her and protect her. That he’d take care of her forever, even when she wasn’t strong enough to tough it out through the rough cases. 

She wanted to hear him say that she was his…

And then she remembered the basium, realizing how much she wanted to feel whatever comfort it provided. Just that simple touch, her forehead against his crest. It made no sense, though. She’d never even felt it before but wanted to so much. And it broke her heart a little, just then sitting in that cabin – because when he had originally slapped his hand to his head and blocked her she didn’t care.

Maybe she was being selfish and didn’t understand what a basium was, not really. 

With a flick of her eyes she made sure Vakarian was fully engrossed in Frank’s rap sheet and quickly searched ‘basium’ on her own datapad. Her heart immediately flipped when she saw an image of two turians gently pressing their crests together. She couldn't help glancing at Vakarian then, her gaze focused on his crest and how beautiful the soft curve of his plates there were, imagining him lowering his head to meet hers. 

She had to convince herself how stupid she was being, that she didn’t understand what it really meant. The words she read sunk in as she quickly consumed them – ‘affection’, ‘adoration’, ‘giving yourself body and soul’. ‘Not a sign of love, necessarily, but of trust.’ It was a bit confusing honestly, and obviously a physical expression of an emotion that wasn’t entirely human. 

Some more xenophobic articles described it as ‘ownership’, but Shepard knew turians well enough to disregard that information.

“I see you finally decided to look at my handsome face to take your mind off the autopsy,” Vakarian’s beautiful voice purred across the table to her, making her eyes dart to his like she’d been caught red-handed. 

Their eyes rested on each other for just a brief moment, his teasing, and she could only guess hers were panicked and desperate. It felt like the world stopped during that brief moment, because all it took was studying his affectionate yet uncertain eyes to stop and really consider basiums and understand them in a way that could never be learned from an article. Basiums were about giving, trusting, joining yourself to another. Loving someone and allowing yourself to be vulnerable with them didn’t always go hand-in-hand. But that willingness to make yourself vulnerable to someone paired with being in love? God, losing that had to hurt. 

Letting someone in that could hurt you all over again just wasn’t an option for Vakarian, was it? Yes, she thought he was unbelievably strong and resilient, but he was also just as fragile as her, in his own way. 

“You ok over there?” he asked, looking slightly concerned, and all she could think about was crawling into his arms for some comfort. 

Guilt hit Shepard straight in the gut. Even after realizing all this, she still wanted to share a basium with him. But the guilt came from somewhere even worse – just for a second, she was unjustifiably angry with him for not being able to give her what she yearned to share with him. That was so incredibly unfair though, wasn’t it? She had never been in love, so she had no idea what that heartbreak felt like.

She nodded, and bit her lip to distract herself from the growing ache in her chest. “Just tired. Let’s solve this case, hm? I’m ready to go see my family.”

She felt his foot nudge hers, then brush lightly against her ankle. That little touch, the little comfort he offered her and the beautiful, calm expression on his face filled her lungs with air. It was enough to renew her appreciation for him, and for whatever they had together. Even if this was just short, she’d make sure it was sweet. Asking for anything more was selfish, and would only push him away. 

“All of his offenses are minor, really,” Vakarian said while still teasing his foot against hers, “stealing cheap crap, throwing rocks through windows. He’s a delinquent, but nothing too violent. Only real incident was a fight at Flux. Too young to be there, but that didn’t keep him from getting into a fistfight with a young asari. Also, he has a buddy - Miguel Pena is mentioned in most of the reports.”

“Someone back at C-Sec can start looking into Miguel Pena for us. Did Frank use biotics at all?”

“Already messaged C-Sec about Miguel. And no, he only got a few punches in before security pulled them apart.” Vakarian shook his head as he answered, then rested his mandible in his hand, looking at Shepard thoughtfully. “Report says he shouted some pro-human nonsense at her, then swore his biotic capabilities were superior to hers.” 

Shepard snorted. “So he’s an idiot, just like his father. I wish we could meet him while we’re there.” Running a hand through her hair, she watched Vakarian’s sharp blue eyes intently track her movement. When they first met he just had an odd fascination with her hair, but lately his gaze stayed intently on her like he wished it was his hand running through her hair. To tease him she wound a finger around a strand hanging near her neck and tilted her head just slightly, getting an absolute thrill from seeing him lose his ability to concentrate.

“Mhm,” he agreed absentmindedly, still focused on her hair. The grin on her face must have given away her intentions because he regained his focus and shot her a chastising look.

Fully recovered from her playful seduction he said, “We’ll get what we can from the trip,” then shot her an easy smile that calmed her nerves. He continued to lazily brush his foot against hers every so often as they dug back into their research. His soft touches and sure smiles kept her calm the rest of the flight. And just like so many times before, she was thankful for her frustratingly smart-assed, beautiful, caring turian partner.

Chapter Text

Once they got to the Petra Nebula a shuttle ferried them from the ship to Grissom Academy. Immediately after they disembarked the shuttle the school director, Kaylee Sanders stood waiting for them. Shepard had called in a favor to her Uncle David the day before, knowing he was old friends with Ms. Sanders, and a word from him would get them more access than they normally would. They kindly accepted her offer to escort them to discreetly observe a biotic combat class and set off down the corridor towards the Orion Wing, where they’d meet up with the instructor.

Just as Ms. Sanders finished telling them about the school and its mission, they reached Orion Wing. Some students, all ranging from early to late teens by the look of them, milled about in small groups, laughing, talking, and one hundred percent oblivious to the fact that adults were around in a way that only teenagers could be. It had to be passing period, before classes started. Shepard immediately panicked, worried that Frank Udina was among them. Out of the corner of her eye she saw Vakarian’s eyes darting around the large hall –he had to be looking for Frank too. Thankfully, she didn’t see him. And it seemed that Vakarian didn’t either. 

Ms. Sanders left them in the hall just as a chime rang. Groans, squeals, and general chatter erupted at the sound, students either excited or dreading their next class. It brought back memories for Shepard of her own school days. 

“You two my leeches for the next class?” Shepard and Vakarian turned towards the smokey, feminine voice that came from behind them to see a short woman marching towards them. She moved like she expected to have to break through a wall to get to where she was going. “Well come on, I fucking hate being late,” the woman said. She was wearing a negligent amount of leather attire considering she was an instructor. Every inch of exposed skin was covered in a dizzying array of tattoos. And she had so many piercings her skin would look like swiss cheese if she took them out.

The instructor had a look about her that made it seem she was ready to take on the galaxy, actually. It made Shepard wonder what the hell the galaxy had ever done to her. 

They introduced themselves as she kept up her steady pace towards them. 

“Detective Shepard.”

“And Detective Vakarian.”

“Yeah yeah, we all have fancy titles,” she called out over her shoulder as she walked right past them. She wasn’t much more than half the height of Vakarian, but somehow Shepard believed that this little instructor could probably take him. 

As the strange little instructor led the way, weaving in and out of students who parted pretty easily to let her through – clearly out of fear rather than reverence – Shepard caught Vakarian looking over at her. By the look on his face, he was telling Shepard he couldn't believe this tiny woman was an instructor anymore than Shepard did. 

“Wanna tell me why I got stuck with two pigs? Sanders wouldn't tell me anything other than you’re curious about combat biotics and I’m supposed to be helpful .” Shepard sensed that she was just itching to roll her eyes just then, clearly ambivalent about her assignment 

“You, uh, dream of being a teacher when you were a little girl?” Vakarian asked, a smile evident in his voice. 

“No,” the instructor sneered. “Alliance picked me up…” she paused and looked up at Vakarian, “doesn't matter. Alliance wiped away my rap sheet, ok? I teach now. And I like it, so mind your goddamn business.”

Vakarian threw up his hands in surrender and offered a charming smile, but by the look on the instructor’s face, Shepard wasn’t sure if the smile was appreciated or not. 

“Excuse him, he thinks he’s pretty enough to make up for his smart mouth,” Shepard explained. “I apologize, Ms. Sanders neglected to tell us your name.”

“Jack,” the instructor answered, her voice softening a bit while her eyes carefully looked both of them over. Maybe Vakarian’s charming smile did help. 

They walked down a corridor briefly, Vakarian easily matching Jack’s pace. Shepard, on the other hand,  struggled to keep up with the energetic woman and long-legged turian. They took a quick left turn into a small room.

Inside, Jack pointed to a corner. “You can sit over there. They won’t be able to see you. I don’t want them trying to show off and getting themselves hurt, so keep quiet when I have the screen on.” She pointed to the window between the room they were in and a large training room, set up to mimic a real combat area with dummies, stairways, and interconnected rooms that they could maneuver through. “I shut it off so they can’t see me while they’re training. Makes it feel like I’m not there to save their asses when they fall.”

Shepard and Vakarian tucked themselves into the corner Jack directed them to and turned to look out the window. The students, about twenty, were all filing in from some adjoining room, probably a locker room considering they were wearing athletic clothes fit for endurance training. 

Jack checked to make sure they followed her instructions by keeping themselves out of sight, then turned to the window overlooking her students. “Welcome to class princesses, cheerleaders and those who wish they were good enough to be considered a useless sack of meat,” Jack’s voice echoed through speakers hung up throughout the training room. “Time to show me you’re not going to die two minutes after the Alliance drops your delicate ass off on your first mission.”

There was some jovial shoving and teasing mumbles from the students, giving each other a hard time and bragging about how well they were going to do. 

“Do we get to run a simulation today, ma’am?” a feisty redhead asked. 

Shepard almost snickered at the student calling the tattooed, leather-wrapped woman ‘ma’am’. Not because Jack didn’t deserve the respect, but because it was hard to believe anyone who looked like her would let someone call her ma’am. Jack seemed to enjoy it, though, judging by the way she brightened up.

“Run some drills first, I’ll see if you deserve it.”

A few groans rang out, but everyone quickly got into familiar positions, paired off, and started gathering up crackling biotic energy in their hands. They took turns creating barriers and trying to break their partner’s barrier down.

“So, what the fuck are you hoping to see here?” Jack asked. 

Shepard opened her mouth to offer an explanation, but Vakarian caught her attention instead. His eyes narrowed, focusing on something inside the training room where the students were gathered. She followed his gaze and instantly realized it wasn’t something, but someone. 

On the edge of the group and throwing up a barrier on himself was Frank Udina. Damn, they were lucky

They had to focus, get the instructor talking. Loosen her up so that she would reveal something, anything, that would confirm Frank was their killer. She seemed to really respond to her role as a leader to those kids, so Shepard chose to pursue that path. Good teachers loved talking about their students. 

“You said you like teaching?” Shepard asked while covertly sneaking peeks at Frank. 

“Yeah,” Jack answered as if it was less of a question and more a judgment.  

With every quick look at Frank, Shepard understood him more and more. He threw a barrier up and when his partner broke it indignation flared. When his partner threw up a barrier and Frank broke it with intense effort, a sick delight danced across his features. He was enjoying that a little too much.  

“This is the only group at Grissom with combat training?” Vakarian asked. Shepard saw that he was stealing looks at Frank as well. 

“No, I have another, but they’re younger. Fourteen and fifteen-year-olds. We only practice defensive shit with them – barriers, endurance, that kind of stuff. This group you're watching is sixteen to eighteen-year-olds.”

Jack turned away from Vakarian to the students and after watching only a brief second leaned forward against the console in front of her with a deadly scowl on her face. She tapped the speaker channel open with a hard jab of her finger. “Rodriguez! Keep your lazy fucking hands up! Think a batarian fucking slaver will hold back because they have a goddamn crush on you like Sweitzer does? Switch partners, now!”

Then she turned to Shepard and Vakarian, “Never fuck who you work with, right? Makes you sloppy.”

Shepard felt a wicked grin creep across her face without her consent. Glancing up to see Vakarian’s reaction she was tickled to see he had one as well. They shared a little devious, heated look before turning their attention back over to Jack. 

“Would you say these kids feel pressured to meet performance expectations?” Shepard asked. Maybe Frank was under unusual pressure lately that would cause him to act out. 

Before Jack could answer Shepard sensed Vakarian tensing and saw his sharp eyes narrow. When Shepard followed his gaze she saw Rodrigez and Sweitzer switching with Frank and his partner. Jack was watching the exchange as well, and that scowl on her face got even deeper. She even let out a short grumble. They watched her, curious to figure out why she was so agitated about that.    

“Some feel the pressure, yeah,” Jack answered Shepard’s question, irritation bubbling in her voice...well, more irritation than had been present since the moment they met her. “Others are too goddamn dumb or egotistical to realize what they’re getting themselves into.”

As Frank and Rodriguez got into position Frank glanced up at the window into the observation room a few times. Cautious, animalistic eyes revealing the monster behind them who was waiting for his moment to pounce. It was like he knew Jack was watching him now. Knew he had to restrain himself even though the crackling energy in his tense fists showed he was aching to do something he couldn’t. 

These moments always felt like they happened in slow motion for Shepard. Analyzing every movement, every look a suspect made.  

While Jack was still focused on Frank and Rodriguez, Vakarian asked her, “So for this group, what do they practice? Barriers, of course, but what else?”

“I teach them to use their biotics to lift and throw, and we go over stasis. If they’re capable enough we go over charging and how to send out shockwaves.” 

“And how many are capable enough?” he asked.

“Just a few. Sweitzer is and…” Jack trailed off, focused on Rodriguez and Frank. Her lip quivered just for a second as Rodriguez threw up a barrier just in time to stop Frank’s aggressive attack. Something had Jack distracted, nervous, even, but it was hard to tell exactly what the cause was. Did she sense Frank was going to actually hurt Rodriguez? Or was she just worried because Rodriguez wasn’t strong enough to keep up with her classmates? 

“What exactly is it you two need to know?” Jack grumbled, her patience diminishing by the second. “We can get this little trip of yours over with quickly, and let me focus back on my kids, if you just tell me what you want.”

“We have a case,” Vakarian answered while Shepard continued to watch the students. “Biotics were used. We’re just trying to learn more about how individuals with low, or unmatured, biotic combat capabilities operate. Grissom was a quick trip for us and Kaylee Sanders was kind enough to let us visit.”

“You think a human biotic did it?” Jack asked. 

Vakarian answered her flatly, “It’s too early to determine.”

“Takes a lot of energy to kill someone with biotics,” Jack said. “Kids this age, they can’t maintain their biotic energy very long. I’ll have to tell them to rest in ten minutes or so, make them drink some juice and eat some energy bars. It would take them a long goddamn time to beat someone down enough to die, and I can’t imagine someone just lying around waiting to die like that.”

The autopsy flashed into Shepard’s head. The slow, brutal beating of Adam. The break in between when his injuries occurred and when the killer finished him off. That’s why it took so long. Frank had to take breaks. Vakarian was probably thinking the same thing – he nodded slowly then shot a quick look letting her know just as much.  

A flash of light, brighter than any that had seen come from the practicing students so far, caught everyone’s attention in the observation room. While Shepard and Vakarian looked over to the students with piqued interest, Jack’s head whipped around like a mother whose kid just walked into traffic. 

It wasn’t quite clear what happened, but Rodriguez was on her ass, clutching her side, and Frank was towering over her with a grin on his face. Shepard recognized that grin instantly. It was the sick pleasure of hurting someone, especially when that person was weaker and not capable of protecting themself. Shepard had seen that grin hundreds of times by this point in her career. On it’s own it was the sign of someone dangerous. But the indifferent stare that rested in Frank’s eyes indicated so much more. It was the look of someone capable of murder. 

The boy Frank was originally partnered with walked away from Sweitzer and whispered something into Frank’s ear. 

Then Frank laughed. The delight – the pure and unsympathetic joy in his laughter – sent a shiver up Shepard’s spine. It made her gravitate towards Vakarian, her body naturally seeking some sense of calm. 

Goddammit , what the fuck just happened?” Jack’s voice rang out through the training room. It made every student freeze and snap their heads in her direction. She looked like she was about to crawl over the console and straight through the glass separating her from the students. 

Frank’s friend, the one who had whispered in his ear, turned a charming, soft smile to Jack. The change in his demeanor was like someone had flipped a switch. Like he had just put on a mask. “I’ll watch him, ma’am, make sure he’s more careful. You’re sorry about that, right Frank?” He patted Frank’s shoulder.

Frank copied his friend’s smile, not quite pulling off the charming effect as well. He just nodded in agreement, but didn’t speak. 

“See, he’ll be more careful,” the friend explained. Shepard watched Jack’s shoulder’s tense, and her jaw tighten. The boys weren’t as charming as they seemed to think they were. They hadn’t quite perfected this little show of theirs – at least not well enough to fool two pessimistic detectives. Or Jack, as far as her body language could be interpreted, at least.  

“It’s ok, ma’am,” Rodriguez said, who was the only student not looking at Jack because her eyes were locked on Frank. He stared down at her, smug and taunting. The fear coming out of Rodriguez was easily detectable, even from a distance. “I just wasn’t quick enough,” her shaky voice called back. 

Jack growled, “Break,” then watched the students disperse. All the students watched Frank and gave them a wide berth as they moved to a table set in a far corner with snacks and drinks set up.   

“What just happened there?” Vakarian asked conversationally, gesturing to Frank and his friend with a nod of his chin. Shepard recognized he was trying not to sound too interested, but his mind had to be racing just like Shapard’s. Frank was a sicko, and they just witnessed him picking on someone. He had the nerve to do it in front of his instructor, too. In the middle of class, surrounded by others. How the hell did these two act when they were alone?

“Little fuckers,” Jack growled, punching the console with a sparking fist, blue energy dancing around her palm and fingers.  “Your eyes may be pretty but you're goddamn blind if you have to ask me what happened.”

That got a sincere chuckle out of Vakarian. 

“Who are those two?” Shepard asked, hoping to finally get Jack talking about Frank.

“Privileged little shits,” Jack muttered, then looked Shepard and Vakarian over. Shepard got the sense that Jack was just itching to let out a slew of curses and insults against Frank, but was biting her tongue. Maybe because they were strangers to her, or maybe because they were cops. 

“Are the rich kids as much trouble here as they are on the Citadel?” Shepard asked, hoping to come off as equally disgusted with their behavior. Didn’t take much acting, though. “The rich kids cause a lot of fucking headaches for C-Sec. Drugs, stealing shit, destroying property.”

“They do whatever the fuck they want,” Jack snapped. “The location doesn’t matter to them.”

“It’s bullshit,” Vakarian added, and Shepard knew he said it to egg her on. Tease out more info. Shepard and Vakarian had to commiserate with her to open her up, but that didn’t mean they didn’t agree with her. “I’m guessing those two have important parents. They must if they get away with acting like that.” 

“Frank Udina’s the human ambassador’s kid. He took down Rodriguez. Miguel Pena is the little fucker who egged him on. Parents are rich, that’s all I know. I’ve tried to kick them out of my class a dozen goddamn times. But...”

Shepard nearly lost her composure at the mention of Miguel Pena, the other kid mentioned in Frank’s criminal record. How were they this damn lucky?

Shepard crossed her arms to settle her excitement. “Sanders can’t let you, because their parents will raise hell,” she conjectured.

“Yeah,” Jack said, sounding pissed off but defeated.

“Those two seem like real shits,” Vakarian said, commiserating with Jack, who’s worry was written on her face in pure fury.

“They are. They pick on the weaker kids, like Rodriguez. They get off on it. And the real fucking trouble is Alliance is going to pick them up real fucking quick.” She shook her head. “Those two never hesitate. Perfect for the front lines.”

“Are their biotic capabilities powerful?” Shepard asked, curious whether they were particularly gifted.

“No, but they think they’re hot shit. Kids more powerful than them, like Sweitzer, just don’t want to fuck around with two rich kids who aren’t afraid of hurting people. All kids are fucking dumb, but my students at least know to stay clear of the head cases.” Jack stiffened. “And Frank and Miguel have been extra fucking trouble since they got back from their trip to the Citadel. They probably went fucking wild, all in the lap of motherfucking luxury.”

Shepard and Vakarian shared a look. The likelihood Miguel and Frank were together when Adam was killed was looking pretty high.

After that, Shepard and Vakarian remained quiet so Jack could keep a better eye on her students. Shepard knew it in her gut that Frank was capable of killing Adam. Not every murderer had that look in their eyes that gave them away – most hid it well, actually – but Frank’s eyes were drowning in detachment and sadism. 

As the class ended the students filed out of the training room, looking absolutely exhausted, then Shepard and Vakarian followed Jack, who was pissed and still shaken by the incident with Frank, out of the observation room. But just as they were about to leave, Shepard had one last question that was nagging her, and she was fairly certain Jack would be able to help her understand. “Can I ask you something personal, Jack? Have you ever killed anyone using biotics?”

“Yeah,” she answered unapologetically. “More than you want to know. Why?”

Shepard considered Frank and Miguel, and the pure pleasure they displayed when they used their biotics against their fellow students. “What’s it like? Killing someone using a power that comes from your own body like that?”

“It’s a fucking high,” Jack said, surprisingly transparent and unapologetic. “Feels like you’re a motherfucking god.” Then she crossed her arms asking Shepard with so much heat it sounded like a challenge, “That help you with your case, Detective?”

With thoughts of psychotic teenagers high on their biotic capabilities, using them to hurt people smaller and weaker, Shepard had to take a breath before replying, “Yeah, I think it does.” 

“Good,” Jack said as she turned and started walking away from them. After a pause she turned back to them and continued walking backward as she said, “Sometimes I wonder if people like me should just be running around, unchecked. It’s a lot of fucking power for someone who might not be right in the head. Set us loose in this strange fucking world, bad shit happens, doesn’t it?”

With that she gave them a sarcastic salute, and turned back around, disappearing through a set of doors marked with the letters ‘Instructor’s Lounge’ overhead. 

As the doors snapped shut Vakarian chuckled at Shepard’s side. “Well, she was charming,” he drawled while stuffing his hands inside his pockets. They turned together, side by side and made their way back towards the shuttle dock. 

“Trying to make me jealous?” Shepard said, smiling up at him and nudging him with her elbow. 

He smiled back down at her, teeth flashing for just a moment and sending a tickle up Shepard’s neck. “If you’re actually getting jealous, then yes.”

They nudged each other playfully a few times before they made their way to the dock where a shuttle would be picking them up in about thirty minutes to take them back to the ship parked just outside the mass relay. The walk was quiet, both of them taking time to think about everything they saw and heard. They came to the school hoping to find enough info to move forward with Frank, but now they had Miguel to consider as well. And not only did they get enough to move forward, they witnessed a whole damn show. 

One thing was certain, though – with instinctual certainty Shepard knew they were close to solving this case. They just had to tie everything together. But first, Shepard had to get back on a horrible ship and fly back home to the Citadel. They got to the docking bay and sat down on a leather-like couch in between large tropical plants that gave them a little bit of privacy. 

As soon as they sat down Vakarian spoke with a lowered voice, “You feel better? Now that we’ve laid eyes on the kid who probably killed Adam?”

“Yeah, feels like we got somewhere real, doesn’t it?” She thought a moment, remembering the sick look in Frank’s eyes when he used his biotics. “You got bad vibes from him too, right?”

Vakarian leaned back and checked his omni-tool, probably looking at the time. “Yeah, there was something off about him, hm?”

“Thank god they gave us access to that class.”

“We got lucky, that’s for sure.”

Shepard’s agitation grew as her brain began putting all the pieces together. It fit so perfectly. “We should have seen this sooner. A close relative, biotic capabilities...what the fuck is wrong with us, to miss something so obvious? Are we losing our touch?”

“First, it hasn’t even been two weeks. And second, he wasn’t around, at least we didn’t think that he was.”

She shook her head. “It took us too long. And he’s just been here, this whole time, beating up on his classmates and getting away with all of it.”

“You need a break, Shep.”

She couldn't argue with that. If she did he might tell her to meditate or something, which she was sick of hearing. 

She rested her head against his shoulder for a short moment, taking a deep breath and wishing the day would just be over already. Space flights, psychopath kids... she needed a drink and a nap. 

When she finally pulled her head from his shoulder he raised his hand up to her, palm flat and facing her. “We got him,” he said, hand hovering awkwardly in the air near her face. “We have to prove it, but we found our guy.”

“Are you giving me a high five?” She pulled her head back because his hand was so close she could feel the warmth of his hand..

He nodded and pushed his hand even closer to her face, waiting for her to give him a high five.

“You’ve never offered me a high five before,” she said, surprised but entertained. “You think they’re stupid.”

He gave her a good-humored shrug, and started to lower his hand, withdrawing the offer. “I thought you’d appreciate the gesture.”

She certainly would, so she quickly grabbed his wrist to hold his retreating hand in place and slapped her palm to his, smiling. They looked at each other for a while, eyes dancing as their fingers wove in and out, tangling with each other. She experimentally played with his talons and he traced his knuckle along her palm. In that quiet, happy little moment they just enjoyed being there together. 

Moments passed, silence settling between them as they waited for their shuttle to arrive. She stared out the window to the dark, oppressive space that surrounded them and immediately let out a heavy sigh thinking that they couldn't be back on the Citadel quick enough. It caught Vakarian’s attention, who leaned in close and hovered over her, his hand moving to and resting on her lower back, just where it curved in a slight arch. “Can’t wait to get back on that ship with you.”

“Oh no, you are not teasing me anymore,” she warned, crumbling under his seductive and teasing gaze. She got the distinct feeling he was trying to distract her from her growing nerves. Honestly, it worked. 

He cleared his throat, then spoke as if reciting a poem. “I’d rather be dropped in a desert without water, than go a day without being inside you.”

She shoved him, annoyed but also smiling, because he was such an idiot. An adorable idiot. “That doesn't even rhyme.”

He casually reclined, a self-satisfied smile on his face. “Hm, it does in my language.” 

“You are such a nerd.”

“A nerd that’s going to be between your thighs in about an hour.” He grabbed at her waist, making her giggle. She’d giggled more in the last few days with him than she had since she was a kid. It wasn’t just the handsiness that was making her giggle so much, but paired with that insatiable, playful look in his eyes...it just sent tingling energy from her head to her toes that made her feel giddy. Foolish and giddy. 

Maybe she felt so foolish because they hadn’t talked about what exactly was going on between them. It had been days since they first had sex. And yes, she had joked about not talking about it at first, but they probably needed to. 

“This is turning into a very strange friendship,” Shepard said, carefully watching him for his reaction. 

He leaned in to press his nose against her cheek. She wasn’t sure if the warmth came from him or from her rushing heart and subsequent flush across her cheeks. “Hmm, maybe my translator just bugged,” he drawled, a sexy and confident drag in his voice. “I think you meant to say ‘this is turning into a very hot and exciting friendship’.”

Just then a Grissom staff member emerged from a corridor and gave them a queer look, like they were damned teenagers getting in trouble for making out in the bathrooms, before she continued on her path and disappeared around a corner. 

“Stop it,” Shepard whispered through a smile she couldn't contain as he nudged her cheek with his nose, then nipped just below her ear. She squirmed a bit, knowing she should push him away, but it felt so good having his face buried in the curve of her neck. The flight home was going to be torture at this rate. 

A sparkle caught in his eye, one she was quickly starting to associate with his salacious thoughts.

She couldn’t help but smile so wide it actually hurt her cheeks. And she felt shy for no damn reason. He had her wrapped around his thick, taloned finger. Caving to his charm was her only future, so why fight it? “You know, once we’re off the clock, I might just pin you down in that ship cabin and subject you to some very intense nuzzling.” 

She watched for his reaction, hoping he’d melt at her words. Instead of melting, though, he gave her a sly, patronizing smile. “That’s adorable, Jane, thinking you won’t be begging me for more than some heavy nuzzling.”

“We’ll see, Vakarian,” she said to her cocky turian. And she just kept grinning like a damned fool as they waited for the shuttle. 

Chapter Text

Once the shuttle ferried them to the ship Shepard and Vakarian went straight to their cabin, exhausted and in no mood to interact with others. They’d only been at Grissom for a couple of hours, but it was more draining than Vakarian had expected. There wasn’t anything unique or intriguing about Frank Udina. He was cruel. He was a bully. And he had most likely murdered Adam Udina. They’d met a hundred criminals just like him – worse, even. 

What was different, though, was that Shepard seemed uncharacteristically disturbed by what they witnessed. If they didn’t have this case solved by the time her flight left for Earth, he’d convince Pallin to send her on vacation anyway. Years ago she would have been cracking jokes about the little psychopath, instead of exhibiting a faint look of defeat. He just wanted to see her smile, and laugh.  

As they walked through the cabin doors she stretched and shook the tension from her shoulders. “I’m taking my shoes off,” she said. “I just want to put my feet up and relax.” She plopped down in her chair and began to unlace her boots. When an infant screamed out in the hall Shepard shot him a fed-up look. “I fricken hate babies. And,” she paused to show him an icy stare clearly directed at the baby out in the hall and not him, “I thought this ship was all business travelers.”

He offered her a sympathetic smile and hum but held back what he was thinking. Although he wanted to point out that she liked his cousin’s baby just fine every time they visited the Citadel, he was currently unwilling to agitate Grouchy Shepard. “You can take a nap if you want, I won’t tell Pallin.” Vakarian pointed to the plush couch. “That should fold out to a bed.”

“We have too many warrants to submit.” She tossed her boots aside then rubbed at her eyebrows. “Wanna send in the warrant for more info on Miguel and I’ll contact Pallin? I’ll make sure he’s ok with us requesting Frank’s extranet history. Maybe he said something damning in a message to someone, or–” 

“Are you hoping he searched something like, ‘how to strangle a thirteen-year-old human’?”

Shepard just rolled her eyes. “He seems dumb, but I don’t know if he’s that dumb. 

“He told an asari he’s more powerful than her,” Vakarian said flatly, then stopped making his point until she looked up at him, just so he could be sure she understood how unbelievably dumb the kid was. “The notes stated she clearly warned him she was at Flux celebrating her initiation as a Commando. And he still spouted out nonsense about being superior to her.”

“Point taken,” Shepard replied dryly. “I’m going to need a hard drink tonight.”

Vakarian would have groaned and complained about having to send in warrants for records if he wasn’t so tired. Reports were one thing, looking over intricate details, organizing everything precisely so that it all fit and made sense. But warrants? He despised them, to put it bluntly. 

Vakarian always fucked up asking an authority figure for approval or favors, because he never provided enough justification. Or deference. Shepard had actually banned him from filling out the more delicate warrant requests after he simply wrote out on one something along the lines of “If you care at all about the administration of justice you’ll turn over the records”.

There might have been a subtle threat in another warrant request.

Pallin reprimanded them both for those incidents. Hence the ban. 

Instead of complaining, he propped his feet up on an empty chair. Shepard folded her legs up under her. And they got to work. 

About halfway through their flight, and nearly done with his work, Vakarian glanced up at Shepard to check in with her progress and was intrigued when he caught her gawking at him – based on her eye-line he guessed she was staring at his forearms. Interesting. 

When she caught him looking back she shifted as if uncomfortable. Irritation heated her gorgeous green eyes when they fell to her datapad, then out the window, then back down to her datapad. 

She spent the next hour eyeing him, and it was an informative hour in that he learned which of his body parts she favored. Among her favorite spots were his neck, chest, and shoulders. He once caught her gazing at his hands as if transfixed at one point. More than anything else, though, she seemed to be particularly fond of his forearms. And he might have just brushed it off, assumed she was thinking about the case and giving her strained eyes a break from staring down at her datapad...but every time she realized he caught her looking at various segments of his anatomy she’d blush and quickly look away.

He could only sit by silently for so long as she worked herself up stealing glances at him. Teasing was absolutely necessary. Eventually, he started to provoke her. “You look tense, Shepard,” he drawled.

“Just trying to stay focused on work, Vakarian,” she stated. Her voice lifted upwards just at the end, though. The distinct tell of someone hiding the truth for many species. 

His amused subvocals rumbled just slightly. “Having trouble with that?”

“I’m fine, thanks.” That had a little more heat in it than strictly necessary. She was hiding the truth and she was flustered. Getting her to admit that she was thinking about him was going to be easy. 

“Because if you are, maybe I can offer a little break.”

Nothing. No reaction. He’d have to work a little harder, but what could he do or say to trigger her?

“We still have work to do.” She tilted her wrist to consult her omni-tool. “And we also have twenty minutes until we’re off the clock.”

Ha, there it was. That little reveal said a thousand words. 

She may not have reacted to his offer, but she was counting down the minutes until they were no longer considered on duty. Also, she didn’t adamantly refuse his teasing proposition like she did earlier that morning. That was enough to convince him that she wanted to at least fool around a little, even though she was trying to hide it. He’d get her to admit that she wanted him just as much as he wanted her. This was going to be fun. 

He slid his feet from the chair they’d been propped on, straightened up, and leaned forward. His forearms seemed to be the best tool, so he folded them and propped them on the table in front of him. If she liked looking at them so much, he’d give her the chance to stare. “I can’t help but notice you’re keeping track of the time. Pretty diligently. Any reason?”

Her lip twitched. “No,” she said, still staring down at her datapad and trying to ignore him.  

“Hm, it’s almost like you’ve been anticipating the end of our workday for some reason.”

“Nope.” Her lips pouted out slightly. 

Time to press a little harder. “That blush that’s been adorning your cheeks for the past hour is beautiful. Reminds me of some very memorable moments between us.”

Her eyes flicked up and she glared at him as if he’d caught her committing an embarrassing or disgraceful act. He’d seen that look hundreds of times in the interrogation room. It was the intense glare of someone who was pissed that they’d just been found out. He answered her glare with a cocky flex of his mandibles. 

The two of them fell silent at that point and got back to work. She sneaked looks at her omni-tool and he watched her, satisfaction growing with her every glance. Ten minutes probably passed when he shot her a seductive gaze. She made a valiant effort at ignoring it, too, but she very noticeably tilted her datapad and her head so that she could see him without making it obvious she was looking. She must have caught a good look at him because her breath hitched. 

Time to provoke her, get her to break that cool demeanor. Elicit a little reaction. “I have something on my mind, Shepard. Curious to hear what that is?”

Her eyes flicked up to look at him. He had her. He’d lay on the tactics, get her flustered, and make her confess that she was aching for this just as much as him. 

“I’m thinking that you have no idea how much I wanted to touch you when I woke up this morning. Your scent was all around me.” He put his datapad down to roll up his sleeves. Taking the time to slowly unfasten one cuff, then meticulously folding the fabric to reveal the length of one arm. Just as she took a breath in, he repeated the process to expose the other arm. Her eyes watched his movements with such rapt attention he felt downright smug. 

“Your scent is embedded in my sheets,” he said, just as he flicked the last bit of fabric up and settled his bare arms back on the table. She tore her eyes from them and just as they rose to meet his, he said, “And my skin.”

With a batting of her eyelashes that focused look left her eyes. “Yeah?” To his disappointment, her voice was provoking, rather than enraptured. She gave him a self-satisfied smile, her eyes tore straight through him, and in a flash, she was the embodiment of her detective persona. Memories of working in the interrogation room at her side flooded his mind. Her deftly pressing criminals for details, confidently manipulating them into revealing their secrets. For the first time in his life, he felt a bit of sympathy for them. “Is that why you were so late getting to the ship this morning? Tell me, Vakarian, would you say you had to release some tension?”

He had to grin at that one. She was using her interrogation skills too. She’d try to work him down, tease and provoke him until he was begging her for some relief from the tension building between them. And damn, did he need some relief. 

“I should have, considering you’re making me wait until we're off this damn ship.” Dammit, that sounded way too petulant. She was getting to him. 

“Keep pouting about it and I’ll make you wait longer.”

“You think you’re more patient than I am?”

She gave him a confident grin. “Yeah, I do.”

“I’m a sniper, Jane. I can track you down for days, waiting for the perfect shot.”

“Is that why it took you so damned long to finally make your move on me? Waiting for ‘the perfect shot’?”

He laughed. Damn her unerring observations. And damn her for knowing him so well. Of course he’d been waiting for his perfect shot. If she hadn’t been pressed up against him, breathing heavily, baring her neck, and dripping in the scent of arousal he never would have made a move.

Her hands gently placed her datapad down on the table, then rose to her neck. Time slowed then, achingly slowly, as her palms tenderly brushed straight up her throat, then cupped her jaw. He wished it was his palm touching her like that. His tongue tingled as the tips of her fingers stroked at her pulse point tucked just below her jaw. Her other hand wound in her hair and gathered it up. With her neck left bare and exposed he was certain he was just as enraptured by her movements as she was when she had watched him roll up his sleeves. She knew just how much this was getting to him, too, because she batted her eyelashes at him and bit her lip just before she closed her eyes and rolled her neck side to side. 

His pulse began to pound a steady beat throughout his body. He glanced at his omni-tool and felt his body tense in impatience. Five minutes to go. When he looked back up Shepard was all too pleased to see that he was also watching the clock at this point. 

“You know,” she said, letting her hair fall. That was good, without the distraction of her tender, long, vulnerable neck he’d have a better chance of getting the upper hand back.

But then she stretched, her chest swelling out towards him. Images of her naked and writhing body underneath him pounded through his mind in time with his heartbeat. She sighed softly and at that moment it was the sexiest sound he’d ever heard in his whole damn life. “Sometimes you have to give in. Get it over with. Quick and sloppy.”

This wasn’t fair. He was already worked up. She didn’t need to tease him anymore. He steeled his nerves, adamant that he’d win this little game. “I don’t do sloppy,” he said, flashing a heated look at her as he leaned back and casually parted his legs. Her eyes flicked to his forearm as he propped an elbow up on the table and rested his mandible in his palm. Calm and collected, that's how he needed to appear. 

The corner of her mouth quirked up in a smug little half-smile. “Don’t I know it.”

They sat still, staring into each other, time ticking by. Outwardly, they were both patient. But internally he was near crawling with desire for her, and he just knew she felt the same. They willed the other to break down with just their heated looks. Spirits, he was ready to leap across the table and take her. 

Vakarian watched Shepard look down at her omni-tool. He was dying to look too, but reading her expression would tell him what time it was, so he gathered all the patience he had left in him to keep his gaze trained on her. Excitement leaped up in his chest when she smiled, then she slowly took her jacket off, folding it carefully on the back of her chair. That was it then, they were off the clock and free to spend the rest of the flight however they pleased. He wanted to lunge at her. Start devouring her with his mouth and tongue and hands. But the little game they’d been playing was too much fun. And dammit, he was going to win. 

“Come here.” He beckoned to her with a subtle flick of his hooked finger. Amusement tickled at his chest and he couldn’t contain his grin.

“Nah,” she said. Her nose scrunched. A look of delight bloomed across her face. “You can come and get me. If you really want it.”

A little growl leaped up in him at her playful impertinence.

“I wanna see you get sloppy, Vakarian.” Her voice was so breathy he could nearly feel it caress his skin. A tick started up in his chest. His body would be calling out for her soon, and he’d have no control over his needy subvocals. Once his subvocals started, he’d have to really focus to keep his hands from reaching out for her.  

She unfastened the top button on her shirt and ran a hand around her throat, teasing him. “Show me how much you want me.”

A thundering subvocal ripped through his chest, surprised and excited and demanding. He teetered on the edge of maintaining his composure and being absolutely ravenously feral in his need for her. One little nudge might send him spiraling over the edge and he’d lose what little control remained. 

She didn’t do or say anything else though, just watched him intently with a wicked little grin on her face. He wasn’t sure if five seconds or five minutes passed. It could have been an eternity, considering the way his entire body was aching for contact with hers. 

That was it. She did absolutely nothing other than smile at him and he cracked, promptly standing up and taking her by the waist with both hands. With little effort, he lifted her light, curvaceous body out of her chair. When he pulled her straight up against him, his plates pressing to her slit, a light moan fell past her lips. He felt her breath warm his lips as their mouths almost touched. Then he set her on top of the table with enough strength to force a strangled gasp to come out of her. It was sudden, and quick, and it had her taking in a desperate breath once it was over. 

Satisfied by that manipulation of her body he stood at her knees. Placing an arm on each side of her he leaned in close, and had to will his plates not to spread right then and there. She shot him a cocky smirk, but she couldn’t hide the surprise in her eyes. 

“I said come here, Jane,” he half growled the words through his own cocky smile. She looked so small, and submissive, but so incredibly sexy. And damn if she wasn’t really the one in control at that moment. Despite towering over her, despite grabbing her body and placing her where he wanted her, he was falling to pieces in front of her. 

She steadied her hands on her thighs – he could only imagine to recover from the shock of how he just handled her. After only a beat her spine arched as her entire body gravitated towards his. Although he wanted to grab her and force his body against hers, he just stood there, waiting patiently as her body writhed towards him like a wave lapping at the shore. The way she moved, though, severely tested his ability to stand still and just look at her. His hands needed to be on her. Her thighs needed to be wrapped around him.   

Refusing to lose control, he trailed the back of a talon over her knee, both to settle his eager hands and tease her, and said to her, “I don’t get sloppy. But I do get demanding.” He hooked his hands around the back of her knees, parted her legs, and jerked her to the edge of the table, making sure her ass hung over just enough to make it easy to get her pants off. 

Garrus… ” she breathed out as her body jolted forward, any more words she planned to say were lost. Triumph bloomed inside him, knowing he had her speechless. He took the moment to tuck a strand of hair behind her ear, letting it pass through the tips of his fingers. It was so incredibly soft, and he could feel each individual strand. He couldn't help but watch as the cabin lighting danced over that segment within his fingertips.  

“You like my hair, don’t you?” she said. The look she gave him was so affectionate it caused his stomach to knot. It had been so long since someone looked at him like she had been the past few weeks. He wasn’t sure he could handle how good that made him feel.

“Yes,” he said, unable to contain the awe he felt when he really took a moment to admire the unique, precious features that made her so beautiful. His eyes fell to her mouth. “And I like your lips.”

She placed a hooked finger under his chin, guiding him forward ever so tenderly while leaning into him. Slowly, they grew closer and closer, until he could feel her breath on his lips. He melted as she pressed her impossibly soft, plump lips tenderly to his mouth. They moved so delicately, so precisely. Heat spread to his cockslit. The galaxy stopped for just a moment and all he could sense was her lips pressing, dragging, brushing against his. 

When she pulled away it felt like she took a piece of him with her. “How do you like kissing, hm?” she asked. The kiss left his lips begging for more. And then the galaxy started spinning again. They were going to have to do that again.   

To feel a bit more grounded he wrapped his hands around her waist and jerked her closer. “Pretty nice,” he purred. “Waited too long to try that out.”

“Yeah, you did.” She leaned forward and pressed her lips to his once again for a sweet, slow kiss. 

After they pulled out of that kiss they simply gazed at each other, so much heat in their eyes and tension in their muscles that you could feel it in the air around them. 

“Wanna take those off for me?” he asked, using a persuasive tone in his smooth voice to tell her just how pleased he would be if she did.

She gave him a seductive little smirk, then unbuttoned her pants, lifting her hips off the table just enough to sneak them over the soft curves between her waist and thighs. Her hips shifted enticingly, beckoning him to press himself to her. She left her underwear on, though. His eyes flicked to the tight black fabric, then back up to hers, asking with a simple look why she left them on. 

“If you want those off you’re going to have to remove them yourself.” The suggestive, challenging look she gave him made his cock jump behind his plates. A strangled groan coming from his tight throat told her just how much her tease got to him. 

He couldn't help but laugh softly, releasing a bit of tension in his chest. “You’re testing my patience, Ms. Shepard.”

Good,” she breathed, her chest rising suddenly, straining the fabric that was pulling tight over her breasts as the word passed her lips.  

He slid a hand between her thighs, his talons skating over her smooth, warm skin on their path towards her slit, then parting her legs once again after she’d closed them to remove her pants. She opened them willingly and tilted her hips forward when he snuck his hand under the thin strip of fabric to feel her. Immediately, his finger was wet and thickly coated. Feeling how wet she was for him had his aroused subvocals rumbling throughout the small room. The noise must have alarmed her because she tensed. “Think they’ll be able to hear us out there?”

“They might, yeah. Hey,” he wrapped a hand around her hip, “we can wait until we’re back on the Citadel. No pressure.”

She shook her head and scooted closer to him. “No. I want to. I need this .” She rocked her hips against his hand, a strangled moan escaping her as he slid a knuckle over her wet slit. “But, let’s be as quiet as possible?”

He couldn’t quite contain the incredulous tone when he said, “I have dual vocals and you’re telling me to stay quiet?”

“You’re not worried about someone hearing?” she asked, tone equally disbelieving. 

“Turians don’t really try to hide the fact that we have sex...scent gives it away anyhow.”

She nodded, then smiled as if she had realized something. “I know that. I guess, seeing how you react to me...it still surprises me. I never expected this. And I feel like…” her gaze dropped and she shook her head, “like I’m forgetting things I used to know, and don’t understand simple things anymore. You've turned me into a fool, Garrus.” 

“I never expected this either.” He grabbed her hips and squeezed tenderly. “But...now I don’t know how it took me so long to realize this is what I wanted. You make me so happy, Jane. Always have.” 

She hummed in satisfaction at his words, then forced a serious yet playful look. “Elaborate on that, please, Mr. Vakarian. I’d appreciate having that sentiment on the record.”

He smiled at the return to their play and hummed in reply, “Are you saying you like it when I tell you how good you make me feel? Please be as clear as possible.” He nuzzled the delicate curve of her jaw.

Her head tilted just slightly as she melted into his touch. “Yes.”

“No one has ever made me feel like this.” He rushed to say those words in a single breath and just as soon as the last syllable left his lips he nipped at her skin. And damn, those words were the most truthful thing he’d ever said to anyone. She moaned and worked her hips against his while his fingers teased her wet folds. Pressure built behind his plates at the thought of pressing himself past them. “Tell me what else you like,” he drawled, then fisted his hand in her hair so he could pull her head to the side and drag his mouth over her neck.

She leaned into him, but still felt a little tense. Worried about making her uncomfortable he pulled back, ready to advise again that they slow down. But she just held tight to him, refusing to let him withdraw.  

“Show me that you don't care where we are," she said, "and how much you want me. Right here in this cabin.”

“I can do that,” he said slowly, trying his damndest to contain how excited he was by where this was going. He was only somewhat successful because his voice was mostly subvocal.  

Anticipation built as she leaned in closer, her breath falling against and warming his neck. Her breath tickled his skin when she whispered into his ear, “I want to see you stroke yourself.”

A soft groan came from his throat as he finally pressed past his plates and felt the delicious friction as his cock slid past the sensitive lips of his slit. Muscles tensed in his thighs and abdomen, begging for contact. 

With that unrestrained lust in her voice she didn't need to ask twice. He moved his hands to unfasten his pants, slowly, because her dark, heated eyes watched him like she was about to pounce on him. He may be losing control, but so was she and he still wanted to tease her.

Her breaths quickened as he slowly worked the fasteners open by bending his wrist and flicking his finger. “Fuck, I love watching you unfasten your pants.”

“Yeah?” he asked, smiling down at her and moving even slower than he had before.

“The way your wrists bend, the muscles in your arms bulging, tendons tense, jerking the fabric aside so I can see you.”

Just hearing those words sent his subvocals rippling and his heart pounding. He rubbed a hand along himself, groaning at the satisfying friction. Excitement built as he felt how unbelievably hard he already was. He jerked the fabric to the side, releasing his dick into his eager hand. Her hungry eyes watched him settle his fist around the base. Eager to please her, he watched with anticipation for her reaction as his hand, slickened from touching himself, slid slowly up the length. 

The irony didn’t escape him, he meant to be the one in control, teasing her and making her beg for him. And here he was greedily jacking himself off for her while she sat on the table, watching him with appreciation. And damn if it wasn’t working for him, that look of approval she was giving him only made his dick ache even harder.  

His eyes stayed locked on hers as she watched him stroke himself like that. Slowly dragging from base to head, teasing every ridge as he went and watching her get as worked up as he was. When he began to pant with each drag, a soft moan fell from her lips. His cock twitched within his grip when the thick scent of her arousal reached him.  

A delicious, suffering look settled in her eyes when she finally dragged her gaze from his cock to look up at him. “You are so fucking sexy,” she told him and bit down on her lip, making it pucker and swell out. It was odd how quickly he’d started to think the unique parts of her human anatomy were becoming synonymous with sex. Lips were a perfect example. He stared at them –pink and plump and beautiful, stroking himself more vigorously and absolutely loving the way she was watching him. 

He ached to bury himself in her and he wanted so desperately to see her. Still stroking himself he strained his rumbling vocals to say, “Spread your legs for me.”

Her tongue flicked out, licking her bottom lip to tease him while she lifted her hands off her thighs, placed them behind her, and leaned back, arching her spine. The way she looked was enough to speed up his strokes, but then she slowly, achingly slowly spread her legs. Her thighs opened wide and a shot of arousal drowned him in her scent. He stroked quicker and groaned. That damned little strip of fabric between her legs barely hid her slit from his view, though. If she didn't do something about that he’d fall to his knees and tear the fabric off her with his damned teeth. 

As if reading his mind she took a hand and slid it over her underwear right along her slit, moaning and eyes watching him intently as he jerked himself for her with increasing tenacity. She drew her hand back, snuck a finger under the fabric, then pulled it aside to fully reveal herself to him. He growled at just the sight of her – swollen and just as slick as he was. 

Fuck, Jane, ” he groaned through thundering subvocals, rolling his thumb through the silvery fluid just starting to bead at the tip. With her open wide in front of him he couldn't wait any longer. He leaned his hips forward, arching his spine, and pressed himself to her slick and swollen folds while she held the little strip of fabric aside.

Another growl, deep and loud, burst out of him as her warm folds wrapped around the sensitive head of his cock. Settled enough to start pressing into her he let go of his cock and grasped her hips in his nearly shaking hands to hold her right where he wanted her. Her folds clung tight as he drove into her, but his typically slow and cautious entry just wasn't enough. Barely able to contain himself, he thrust into her, forcefully but also careful not to give her too much too quickly. Balancing his lust with the control necessary to keep from stretching her too quickly was maddening. Her head rolled back and a desperate cry rang out. It was loud, and briefly he knew deep down that he should do something to quiet her, but all he could do was stare at her neck. It was fully displayed for him and just beckoning to be nipped.

It took time, stretching her, but they both worked to get him as deep as possible. He dragged out of her and she gasped. Pressed back in and she moaned, her hips rolling to accommodate him. And damn, it was sexy to see her body working to take every inch of him in. 

She moaned again and again, each time getting louder and louder. He should say something or do something, to remind her to be quiet or she’d get too loud and all of this would end. Her cries were so damned sexy, though. He watched her lips, just barely parted, her tongue sliding past her teeth and flicking against the bottom lip with every moan and cry. Over and over. 

After one incredibly delicious moan, he lost control and thrusted into her so quick and deep that a piercing cry shot out of her, shocking her back to her senses. Her head whipped up straight and her concerned, wide eyes locked on his, showing him that she had put her walls right back up. 

Shit, that was so loud,” she whispered.

Unbothered by the lewd vocalizations they were certainly projecting at least half-way down the hall, he stilled his hips to give her a fake chastising look. “Spirits, Jane, I hoped having sex with you on a business liner would be a bit more classy. And here you are moaning so loud the pilot can probably hear you.”

“Shhh,” she smacked him, but couldn’t hold back her gentle laughter. 

“Bit late for whispering,” he teased, and then laughter rolled through both of them as she leaned forward, falling into him and burying herself against his chest while his arms wrapped tight around her. 

“Stop teasing me,” she said, her thighs tightened around him, urging his hips to thrust into her once again. 

“Jane, I think it’s become incredibly obvious how much I enjoy teasing you. And I won’t be stopping anytime soon.” 

She batted her eyelashes at him, a beautiful little half-smile on her lips. “Don’t make me beg,” she told him, her voice nothing more than a soft, sultry whisper. 

Taking her queue, he rolled his hips, his cock throbbing at the sudden return to feeling her tight, slick warmth clenching down on him as he slid deep into her.  

“Why?” He trailed nips up along her neck. With each nip, her skin pinched between his lips, and her muscles tensed within his hands. “I like it when you beg.”

She moaned and clung to him, hands gripping his waist, nails digging in through his shirt, He thrust into her, a bit rough and completely calculated to make her lose control. There was something so enticing, knowing that she was letting go of her inhibitions for him.   

She almost cried out again as he gently rolled his hips and pressed in even deeper than before, but as the pleasure fueled sound began to escape her she wrapped her mouth around the edge of his carapace and bit down just enough to stifle her cry. And that would have fulfilled her purpose, masking the sounds of their sex, if the feeling of her blunt little teeth nestled into his carapace didn't just make him cry out in pleasure instead.

That little slip made them laugh again, but he didn’t slow down this time. He held her tight, her mouth pressed against his chest to muffle her cries and moans as he buried every inch of himself over and over. Slow, and rough. Her thighs straddling his hips with desperate need. Her arms clinging to him, digging into his muscles and plates. Her teeth scraping against the fabric of his shirt. 

Spirits, it felt good. To fuck her. And laugh with her. It felt so fulfilling. He felt whole with her and it had been so long since he wanted to be this close to anyone.

His throat tightened at that thought. He could let that scare him. Or he could just keep laughing and fucking.

Her greedy moan returned his thoughts to her. She looked so beautiful beneath him and wrapped around him. Completely carefree, she moaned and panted, loud and hard as he stroked her right where she enjoyed it the most. It was a waste to let his fears ruin these moments with her. 

Suddenly she ripped his shirt open, her small, wet tongue licking a trail up his throat. The need to explode into her had his hips rocking with frantic urgency. Her body jolted with each quick thrust. 

He buried himself in every way possible. Mouth in her neck inhaling her scent, dick deep inside her and stroking, arms wrapped tightly around her feeling her body’s warmth and her tensed muscles. He lifted his head to nuzzle his nose against hers then slid his tongue out between his lips to lick lightly at her bottom lip. She whimpered, her tongue teasing his back, flicking hesitantly against the tip. He slid his tongue into her mouth, brushing along her wet tongue. Her blunt teeth clamped down on his tongue, hard enough to make him whimper and his cock jump in overwhelmed pleasure. That shock was enough to send him towards the edge, every inch of his body begging for release. Begging to finally spill into her.    

Stars filled his consciousness as his hips began to rock sporadically. She tightened down on him, muscles began to quiver and he could feel her release nearing as she held him close. Giving her this satisfaction was absolute perfection. His tongue licked a trail up her throat and she gasped his name, clenching tight around him and holding on to him as if she’d die if she didn’t. 

They didn’t last much longer. He came with her panting against his chest, exploding in a rush of thrilling pleasure. Relief pounded through him like a hammer while shooting into her. She came just a moment later bucking her tense hips against his. And spirits, it was loud. The cabin filled with moans, and cries, and growls. He was pretty sure some of those growls weren’t his, too.

Through their huffing breaths they both laughed, not quite as loud as their moans, but neither of them cared about the racket of their lovemaking anymore. Discretion was a lost cause at that point. 

“They’re going to come reprimand us for public indecency,” she said, still laughing and placing light kisses on his chest where she had torn his shirt open. 

He shrugged, looking down at her, his heart soaring at the beautiful smile parting her lips. “Probably.” His hand reached up to her hair, savoring the way the strands tickled his skin. Then he ran his hooked finger along her jaw to bring her in to lay a soft kiss against her flushed, plump lips. The contact sent his heart thumping. “How was that for stress relief, hm?”

“Good. ” She nodded, happiness so clearly written over every inch of her face. Energy vibrated between them as she looked up at him. Happy, giddy, energy coursed through his own body, too, from fringe to talons. ”Very good.”

Suddenly he had the urge to feel even closer to her, to show just how much he adored her, and appreciated how willing she was to trust him and give herself like this to him. It wasn’t just that though, he had to show her how good this felt, to be accepted by her, and to be adored by her in return. A knot clenched down in his stomach just as he realized warmth was spreading in his crest and recognized that old desire to affirm his feelings for someone in that way. By pressing his crest to her. He almost reached out a talon to tenderly stroke a line just over the curve of her eyebrow. 

He choked that desire down, though, and instead he pressed his mouth to the same spot, touching his lips gently to her skin. The tiny hairs of her eyebrow tickled his lips, making him smile. Then he tenderly took her wrist in his hand so that he could lap at her delicate skin with his tingling tongue. She smiled at him, satisfied and happy. Maybe someday, he told himself. He felt her pulse beat against his tongue, then she took his wrist in her hand and returned the affectionate scenting. Today, he’d let go of his fears, as much as he could. He’d let go,  just like she had, and simply enjoy this.    

Chapter Text

Back on the Citadel Shepard and Vakarian stood at the port waiting for a skycar to take them back to her apartment. It was a long, exhausting day – traveling to Grissom, witnessing first-hand Frank’s alarming behavior, then traveling all the way back to the Citadel. She very much appreciated their little stress-relieving session, though. Laughing and fucking was a hell of a way to forget how drained she felt – for a moment, at least. 

They stood side by side, shoulder to shoulder, staring blankly out towards the landing. Through the general din of noise at the crowded docks Shepard overheard a couple in an innocent argument over dinner. A mother telling a whining child that they’d be home soon. Another couple cooing to each other, mumbling declarations of love and seduction.

It all made her wonder, for the first time in her adult life, what was in her future –their future – as she glanced at Vakarian out of the corner of her eye. She’d never worried much about marriage, or kids, or building a life with someone. And, she and Vakarian already had a pretty nice life together. Work was fun, fulfilling. They enjoyed each other’s company. And the sex was just a nice little cherry on top. Despite generally being satisfied with her life, with their friendship, she heard faint little whispers wondering if there could be something more.

Vakarian suddenly looked down at her, and she felt herself sink, illogically worried he could sense what she was thinking. Her nerves settled, though, realizing that he only looked down at her because he had something on his mind, and was trying to get it out. She simply met his gaze, patiently giving him the time to say whatever was on his mind. 

“Hey,” he finally said after taking a quick, tired breath, “I have a favor to ask.” The hesitation in his voice had her concerned, but she let him continue. “Come with me to meet Solus for coffee tomorrow before work? And I can fix that sensor in your thermostat for you.”

She shifted closer to him, and knowing immediately that he planned to ask Solus about treatment for his mother, quickly said, “Of course.”

“Thanks.” He shoved a hand in his pocket, looking just as tired as she felt.

She answered with a nod, hoping he saw how proud she was that he was finally facing something so difficult for him to accept. And reaching out to Solus had to have been hard. “You know, though,” she said, “that you don’t have to formally barter to get my help, right?” She shot him a playful smile and nudged his shoulder with hers. 

He winked at her, “I’m a turian, of course I do. Everything is formal.” The charm was cute, but she wasn’t going to let him get away with sidestepping the emotional guilt he was playing around with. 

“Really,” she insisted. “It’s just a given that I’ll always be right by your side, ok?”

His face dropped, mandibles pulled tight. It broke her heart, how small and vulnerable he looked. “You’re going to find out pretty quickly why all my relationships fail, hm?”   

She tried to think of a way to reassure him, make him stop worrying like this. But intimacy was frightening, painful even for him. She knew that, as much as she wished it wasn’t true.

There was one way she could tell him how she felt. One display of affection that he’d understand. A light press of her head to his crest and he’d know what he really meant to her, and that she’d do anything for him. That she’d give him her soul if he wanted it. 

Reeling that thought back in, she reached out for his hand to wind their fingers together and with a steady gaze and soft smile she said to him with affection in her voice, “Jokes on you, because I’m fully aware of your remarkable capability of being an absolute nerd at times. But I still think you’re wonderful.”

He squeezed her hand back, and smiled softly while a noticeable flush traveled up his neck. He didn't say anything, but he didn’t need to, because he looked lighter, and more at ease. 

After that, her eyes fell, catching the sight of his forearm out of the corner of her eye and mind wandered to having sex in the cabin. To how incredibly hot it was, the tension that built as they teased each other. And then how beautiful and intimate it had been. Kissing him. Pressing against him as they both came. She laughed lightly, recalling the way he teased her about how loud she had been, and his joke about sex on a business liner being classy. 

He looked down at her, amused even though he didn’t know what she was laughing about. “What?” he asked with curiosity. 

“You said sex on a ship is classy.”

“It is,” he said confidently, but laughed softly along with her. “One of the classiest places to have sex, actually.”

“Oh yeah? I wasn’t aware there were classy places to have sex. I think I need some additional examples.”

“Gardens,” he said without having to even think about it. “Museums. The back of a skycar, but only if you’re in formal attire.”

Her voice hummed with amusement. “Formal attire, hm? Like, what you’d wear to a banquet?”

His heated gaze shot her way, icy blue eyes piercing straight through her. He leaned in close to quietly say for her ears only, “You have no idea how much I would have enjoyed having sex with you after that banquet, in a skycar. Make you hike up that green dress around your waist.”

“Maybe hook those heels around your leg spurs for a little leverage?”

An impish grin spread across his face. “Damn, Jane.” His hand squeezed hers. “Wanna wear that dress when I take you on a date?”

“Yeah, I think I can dig it back out of my closet. But only if you promise to take me for a skycar ride after dinner.” She winked up at him, getting a little purr right back from him. As they waited for the skycar they kept stealing little looks at each other, and each time they’d smile and find some little way to touch each other. Eventually, she leaned over and pressed herself against him, only meaning to press her forehead affectionately against his arm. But just as she allowed her body to relax against his, it hit her just how heavy her body felt, and how tired she really was. 

🔪🔪🔪

Back at Shepard’s apartment, they ate dinner with Miranda. Shepard had antsy legs that kept banging against the kitchen counter, annoying both Miranda and Vakarian. Miranda shot her assessing looks while Vakarian just kept reaching down and stroking her leg with a firm, comforting hand. She tried to ignore their reactions, and finally admitted to herself that her anxious energy had to be pretty annoying.

“Jane,” Miranda looked at Shepard sharply, impatience souring her voice and the look on her face. “Do I have to beg you to meditate with me?”

“I’m fine,” Shepard said flatly, hoping to evade the motherly proddings Miranda was about to send her way. 

“You need some stress relief,” Miranda countered. 

“I have stress relief,” Shepard nodded to Vakarian as he finished poking a skewer of meat into his mouth and biting down with a delicate snap. “It’s scientifically proven sex relieves stress and fills your body with serotonin and endorphins.”

“First of all,” Vakarian paused to tilt his head back slightly and swallow his food. “My ‘glorious anatomy’ may inspire your poetry, Jane. But it’s not going to heal you or fix all your problems.”

Miranda took a sip of her wine, her quizzical brow indicating she had a question on her mind that she chose not to ask, which was probably best. Shepard and Vakarian’s conversations probably looked downright idiotic to bystanders. There was no way jokes about lewd poetry would land well with Miranda. “That’s very big of you Garrus,” she said, “to admit you don’t have a magical appendage. You’re better than half the people I work with.”

“And the other half?” he asked.

“The other half are women,” she said, then took another sip of wine. 

Vakarian chuckled then got up and began to gather everyone's plates. “And second,” he continued making his point, “a hobby might be a good idea, Jane. Cooking, or gardening, or…”

“Cleaning and assembling guns?” Shepard quipped.

“I was going to say puzzles, but sure. Something to keep your hands busy while you clear your head.”

All of those activities sounded absolutely terrible. Boring. And actually frustrating. Yeah, she wouldn’t be doing any of those things. Shepard began to think of some way to tell them both to drop it, but everything she thought of saying involved some cursing and unkind language. 

“Why do you have such a sour look on your face?” Miranda asked, looking actually put off by whatever was going on with Shepard’s face. It was just then that Shepard realized she was actually grimacing.

Not even turning to observe what Shepard’s face looked like, because he knew her too well, Vakarian said dryly, “She’s thinking about how much she hates every activity I just told her to try. Because they take patience, and she’d have to sit still.” Then he gave Shepard a little look over his shoulder, clearly challenging her to prove him wrong. 

While Shepard and Vakarian shared teasing glares, Miranda set her glass down with decisive flair. “Come on Jane, we’re meditating.”

“She won’t like that either,” Vakarian warned as he loaded the dishes into the dish sanitizer. 

Miranda’s judging eyes flicked between Shepard and Vakarian. “Stop being so pessimistic. Both of you.”

And with that Shepard was whisked away to the office with only enough time to grab her water bottle. As they walked through the office doors she eyed the bar longingly, and could nearly taste the whiskey in her mouth, then considered that maybe she wouldn’t drink so much if there wasn’t alcohol in every room on the bottom floor of her apartment. 

“Alright, sit down here,” Miranda said as she gracefully lowered herself to the floor and crossed her legs, then waited for Shepard to do the same. Shepard went down to the ground like the dense, lean muscled woman that she was – with a quick and controlled flop. 

“Mediation is about breathing,” Miranda began. Shepard sat and listened, blowing a strand of hair out of her eye with a puff of air.

“Focus on the air going in and out with every breath. It’s about blocking out all the thoughts that diverge from that focus. You shouldn't think about the laundry you need to do, or the flight you need to schedule, or work–”

As if on cue, the office door slid open and Vakarian stuck his head through while Rocket darted in like he was a looter on a raid. 

“You won’t believe this,” Vakarian said with an excited breath looking straight at Shepard. She caught Miranda’s glare out of the corner of her eye as she turned to him. “I was just checking the photos I took of Udina’s office and there’s a family photo that shows Frank wearing that watch.” His mandibles excitedly flicked. 

“You sure it’s the same one?” Shepard asked, equally excited.

He nodded, so energetic Shepard could almost feel it as he stepped into the room. “Yeah–”

Get out , Garrus.” Miranda said, interrupting him with enough ice in her voice to freeze everyone in the room. Ever the little ball of havoc, Rocket just made matters worse by jumping up on the desk and instantly knocking something over. Whatever the object was, it fell to the hard floor with a thud, then rolled for what felt like an eternity making an obnoxious whirring sound as it dragged along. “And take the damn cat with you.”

A sly grin developed on Vakarian’s face. “Wow, Miranda. You’re pretty uptight. Might want to try some meditation for that.”

Shepard avoided the daggers shooting from Miranda's eyes at Vakarian and offered him an affectionate smile. “Sorry, I’m meditating right now. It requires focus, and I’m not allowed to think about work. That is amazing though, let’s look at it when I’m done.”

“Sure,” he said, then nodded and smiled. In a few strides he quickly scooped up Rocket, who complained about his ill-treatment with a pathetic whine. Then they were out the door as quickly as they’d entered it just seconds before. 

“Now,” Miranda started right back up. “Place your hands comfortably on your legs. Close your eyes, and begin to focus on your breaths.”

Shepard did as she was told, closing her eyes and taking her first steady breath in, but wondered how being ordered around was supposed to be conducive to relaxing. She followed orders though, telling herself how proud Castis would be to see her fall in line so quickly, like a perfect turian. She thought of joking about that with Vakarian, but he wasn’t there. And she wasn’t supposed to be thinking about jokes. And she wasn’t supposed to think about work. Or the case. The case that they should have solved a week ago. 

She probably shouldn’t be thinking about how inadequate she felt, either. The answer had been there all along. And Adam’s parents just waited around, wondering what happened to their boy while she twiddled her thumbs. 

Miranda’s calm voice interrupted her thoughts. “Your breaths are erratic, Jane. What are you thinking about?”

“That I should have realized sooner. It shouldn’t have taken me so long.”

“What are you talking about? The case?”

Her eyes shot open to look at Miranda. 

“He told us. The first damn day of the case, Udina told us his son was at Grissom. We just came from the autopsy report and knew that biotics were used.”

“There are thousands of young asari and humans with biotic ability coming and going every day on the Citadel. Don’t be so hard on yourself.”

Shepard shook her head, her pulse thumping. “We were too hung up on the father and a flashy device. We’re usually better than this. We don’t fall down the wrong path like other detectives.”

“You need a break, Jane. Garrus probably does too. You’ve both been through a lot the past few years. Which is why it’s important to learn some stress-relieving techniques. Like meditation.” 

Shepard nodded at Miranda, more so to appear agreeable than because she actually accepted the judgment.  

“Jane?”

Shepard realized she had just been staring at Miranda like an idiot. “What?” she asked. 

The corners of Miranda’s mouth turned down, and Shepard immediately felt horrible, like she wasn’t trying hard enough. “Perhaps we should take a break,” Miranda said, then shrugged. “You made it a whole minute, could be worse.”

“No, I’m fine. I can fucking meditate,” Shepard huffed, then closed her eyes and took a deep breath in, trying to get her shoulders to relax.. 

“You have to clear your head. And perhaps now is not the best time. I can tell you’re trying though.”

Shepard took another breath in. “Shh, let me try to relax.”

“Fine. Regain your breathing first. Listen to mine if it helps.”

Shepard felt every muscle in her body tense so she clenched her hands to her knees. Probably too hard, it wasn’t relaxing, she knew that, but it was grounding. It made her feel like she wasn’t going to fall over or start shaking or just take off running for no goddamn reason. Sitting still was absolutely maddening. 

Shepard forced herself to listen to Miranda breathe. She could make it at least five minutes. All she had to do was focus on breathing. 

In. A rush of air hit her lungs 

Out. Her lungs were achingly empty.

In. 

Out. 

Over and over. She tried to synchronize their breathing, but it felt so goddamn slow. So slow it made her skin crawl and her muscles itch. 

Her brain wandered at that point, waiting in between Miranda’s next inhale or exhale. It wasn't fair. Death. The permanence. The loss. 

She heard Garrus moving in the kitchen. The fridge closed. Rocket meowed. Garrus told Rocket he’d had too many treats already. Rocket meowed again, disagreeing. Miranda inhaled. Jane mimicked it. She was going to mediate. It would work.

She felt a sharp sting on her knee, and realized her nail had dug in. Damn her hands were antsy. Sitting still was a pain, literally.  

Adam was dead, just waiting for someone to find his killer. And she should have been quicker, but her brain was too scattered right now. She was burned out. If she didn’t figure out how to mediate how would her next case go? What would she miss? How slow would she be? How long would that victim have to wait?

Adam’s dead gray eyes stared back at her through empty black space. Soft wisps of sandy hair across his forehead. Waiting for her. She wasn’t giving this enough. She had to focus or Frank and Miguel would walk. The rich kids would get away with it like they got away with everything they’d ever done. 

Adam’s parents would probably be told Adam’s own cousin brutally beat him to death. She remembered when her grandparents had to sit her down and tell her that her parents died in an accident. The loss filled her with a grief that struck her right in the heart, still. 

That’s when she felt the sting in her eyes. And only a half-second later the cool, wet roll of a tear down her cheek. It was fine, though. Just one stray tear that would soon dry. She could get her emotions in check. 

She sucked her breath in, attempting a soft inhale to match Miranda but her chest muscles squeezed tight and quick, seizing up. Her inhale was so hard that the air filled her desperate lungs too quickly and she felt her chest clench and shudder. She panicked, gasping so suddenly you’d think someone dumped a bucket of ice water over her.

Her eyes shot open and were immediately met by Miranda’s, which looked at her with sympathy.

“Jane, truly, that’s enough. Let’s take a break. Listen to some music, perhaps?”

Shepard felt fury well up, heat flaring at her temples. She couldn't even meditate – a simple, easy task. Before she knew it, Shepard’s hand shot to her water bottle and in a flash the bottle soared through the air, smacked against the wall with a sharp, satisfying crack, and water burst everywhere. Drops showered down all over the wall, floor, and even the chairs. 

She took two heaving breaths in. That noise, the crack, and the explosion of water gave her angry, primitive brain a thrill. Just like hurting Rodriguez gave Frank a thrill. 

Humans are such monsters, she thought to herself. Destructive, evil, sadistic monsters. Every muscle in her body tensed from the ache to shout, to scream and cry. She struggled to keep herself in check.

Shepard gasped for air and tears fell freely from her burning eyes. As Shepard sat there, cross-legged and struggling for air, tears trailing over cheeks and lips, falling from her jaw, Miranda simply sat across from her – composed and cool. 

“Break,” she said calmly, a delicately curved eyebrow raised just slightly. 

All Shepard could do was nod stiffly in response. “I’m sorry,” she said, feeling fairly embarrassed for her outburst. She’d lost control, like a confused, scared little girl.  

Only a second later the office doors slid open and Vakarian stepped through. Pausing just a few feet into the room his eyes landed on Shepard, then the result of the thrown water bottle, then on Miranda. All Shepard could do was sit and watch, horrified and crumbling, as he analyzed the scene.  

“Dammit, Miranda, I told you,” he snapped.

Miranda’s shoulders fell in defeat and with a frustrated voice said, “Perhaps you know her better than I do, Garrus. Congratulations.”

Seeing him standing there, worried and angry with Miranda, because of something Shepard did, filled her with immense, unreasonable shame. Shepard felt her shoulders shake as the tears kept coming. She swallowed and tried her best to steady herself. “I’m sorry,” she said, raising a shaky hand to wipe at the tears. “Miranda was only trying to help. I just had a long day, I guess.”

“You don’t need to say you’re sorry, Jane,” Miranda said, her voice soft and supportive, while Vakarian took slow, calm strides towards her. "I'm sorry for pushing you."

“I fucking suck at meditation,” Shepard blurted out to Vakarian with a desperate, sad little laugh. Her anxious eyes watched his, searching for reassurance while Vakarian kneeled down next to her. His long, strong arms were around her in an instant.   

“It’s not you. Meditation is stupid,” Vakarian said, his warm breath washing over her neck.  

She couldn’t stop the tears that rushed down her cheeks, no matter how hard she tried. 

“Come here,” he said with a soothing voice. He picked her up, arms scooping under her hips then guiding her thighs around his waist as he rose. She immediately grasped tightly to him with desperate arms and legs, not afraid that he’d drop her, but certain that if he didn’t hold her she’d fall apart.   

Once in his arms the crying died down pretty quickly. As she clung to him, her head buried in his chest, he carried her out of the room taking slow, smooth strides that instantly made her feel calmer. Her eyes were closed, but she could hear Rocket meowing beneath them, most likely wrapping himself around Vakarian’s feet and making the route treacherous, but Vakarian’s strides remained steady.  

“How about some good old-fashioned vid watching to relax, hm?” 

“I want a drink so bad.” The begging, desperate words left her lips before she knew she was thinking them. 

“Me too, he said, his voice deep and soothing, “but maybe tea is more our speed tonight. Tea and a vid, hm?”

Shepard nodded her head in agreement, trusting that Vakarian felt the gesture and knew she meant ‘yes’ to the tea and the vid watching. The sound of his pedi-talons clicking against the floor as they made their way through the kitchen was both familiar and comforting. Rocket’s soft little padding walks followed right along with them. He was just a cat, but he always showed his own sense of concern when she was upset. 

“What do you want to watch, saccha? Your pick.” 

Miranda’s voice traveled from behind them. “Since we watch kids shows around here on stressful days, how about ‘Dragon Destiny’, Jane? If Garrus gets to watch whale shows…”

“What’s Dragon Destiny?” Vakarian asked with  Shepard resting securely in his arms as he easily lowered them onto the couch then leaned back against the arm. Rocket bounded onto the couch with them, jumping over them and perching himself on the back of the couch.

“God,” Shepard sighed, “that actually sounds wonderful. I haven’t seen it in years.”

She could feel him lifting his arm to pull up his omni-tool, then he said, “Actually, Miranda, can you find that?”

“Sure,” Miranda said. “We both watched it when we were younger. It’s a cartoon. An animated show.”

Miranda excused herself, explaining she’d clean up the water, which made Shepard feel even worse. She locked eyes with Rocket, who did his part to reassure her with slow blinks.  

While they waited for Miranda to return Shepard wiped at the tears on her cheeks and allowed herself to sink into Vakarian, holding on tight. Her arms rested on his chest, and her legs were tucked up under her torso, straddling his waist. “What does that word mean?” she asked. “I’ve heard it before but I’ve never known exactly what it means. It’s an ingredient too, right?”

“Saccha?”

She answered with a weak nod. 

“It’s a powder turians use to sweeten baked foods, usually. Comes from despis plants.” 

“You called me sugar.” Her entire body swelled with elation, toes and fingers tingling, a smile threatening to make her cheeks burst. It was enough to take away a little of her shame and the sharp pain in her chest.

“Hm, maybe. I mean, yeah.” He swallowed so hard she heard the gulp. “Is that, mmm, ok?” 

“Yeah.” She nuzzled her nose against his chest, breathing in the soft scent of an herb garden in summer. The scent of him. Vakarian. The only man she’d want to hold her like this. “How do you say sweet? And do you call someone ‘sweetie’ as an endearment?”

“Sweet? We just say sweet. Like ‘you’re so sweet’?”

“No, in your own language.”

“Sweet and sweetie,” he answered flatly. 

She reached down and turned her translator off, then turned his off. “Sweet,” she repeated.

“Zweedt?” His voice was a soothing, seductive rumble. Syllables dragged out smoothly. It made her feel all sorts of things, warm and affectionate being the most innocent.  

She nodded enthusiastically at his attempt to say sweet. 

Taking the hint, he said, “Dulca ah zweedt.” 

She pointed at his chest, “Sweetie.”

After a brief moment of thought he said, “Zwheeddt-ee?” He hummed in thought, the vibration traveling through her chest and soothing her.

“Sweet is dulca,” she said. “Sweetie is...?”

“Zweedt ah dulca,” he repeated. “Zwheeddt-ee ah dulcas?” 

Hearing terms of endearment in his own language gave her an intense smile that pulled at her cheeks. She pointed a finger to his chest, and said, “Dulcas.” She tried to replicate the delicate thrum that accompanied the syllables, but was afraid she came up terribly short. There was no way she could make every syllable roll and rumble like he could. 

But the smile that flashed his teeth and spread his mandibles reassured her. Not only did he approve, he seemed to have a little reaction to her speaking in turian. A gentle purr thrummed throughout his chest and traveled into hers.

He pointed a finger to her chest, talon skating across her skin. “Dulcas.”

They just smiled, watching each other with dancing eyes. She’d already felt close to him. They were partners, best friends, together always. But this...this was something so incredibly precious and so very different. Deeper. It was such a beautiful, pure and completely novel feeling. 

And it relaxed her in a way that meditation couldn’t. It was easy to forget everything while in his arms, even work. 

Her heart sank as the case returned to her thoughts. She should be working, not enjoying these moments with him. They had to make up for time they’d wasted. She flicked their translators back on, then laid her head back down on his chest, trying to convince herself to get up and grab a datapad. The thought of disconnecting her body from his and looking at reports, though, made her shudder.  

She took in a soft breath and tightened her hold on him, savoring the pressure of his boy pressing against hers, and how secure that made her feel. “Do you ever feel like you’re not good enough? Like you're about to drop the ball no matter how tight you hold on?”

He hummed in amusement. “Hi, I’m Garrus Vakarian, nice to meet you.”

She huffed, then looked up at him, wondering what the heck he was trying to say. 

“What? Asking a question like that shows you obviously don’t know me, so I thought I’d introduce myself.”

She laid her head back down and her hands and fingers wrapped around the rim of his strong, warm carapace, and squeezed gently. She just needed to feel the pressure against her skin and muscles. He squeezed her back with both arms wrapped around her. 

“Garrus…”

“What is it, Jane?” The way he said her name hit her straight in the chest. It was so soft, so warm. No man had ever said her name like that before. 

After savoring the sound of her name coming from his lips like that, she brushed a hand along his shoulder. “You’re good enough. For me, you are.”

The purr in his chest deepened. “You’re good enough for me too.” His hand brushed up along the line of her spine, a wave of relaxation following his motion. It then settled on the back of her head, where he pressed her down gently, cradling her close to his chest. She realized she’d never really laid like this with any lover before. She’d never been so vulnerable and honest with any of them. 

Out of the corner of her eye, Shepard saw Miranda walk back in the room, then stop and give her a queer, but amused, look. 

“Jane, you look like a dead toad sitting on him like that.”

“Fuck off,” Shepard said with a scowl on her face. “You don’t know what you’re missing out on. Turians are excellent cuddlers.”

Miranda crossed her arms and said flatly, “You’re right. I’m heartbroken.”

“I’ll call Nih up,” Vakarian said. 

Miranda let out a wry laugh then said, “Oh I don’t think so. He has hit on me one too many times.”

Vakarian laughed and held Shepard tighter. “He hits on everyone. He told me last week he’d bond with me.”  

“He proposed?” Shepard said with mock surprise in her voice. “I have a problem with that, unless he’s ok with our little arrangement.”

Vakarian laughed softly as a chime went off in the kitchen. 

“I made tea,” Miranda said and turned to get it. Shepard called out a ‘thank you’ to her as she left.

Shepard trailed a single finger up the curve of his neck, and took a deep, relaxing breath as his talons gently skated through her hair. 

Jokes about him bonding scared her, though. Even though they were nothing more than jokes, she felt this desperate pull in her chest as she thought about how much she needed him, all of him. The thought of him with anyone else physically hurt. 

All of this uncertainty wasn’t like her. She felt weak, and she hated it. So, she sucked up her nerves. “Speaking of you getting proposals from other people,” she said, her fingers playing with the edge of his carapace. “I told you that you don’t have to worry about a certain boring Spectre. Can I assume that you won’t be going on any dates with anyone else either?”

“Are you saying you’d be jealous if I did?” His voice was deep and playful. 

“Yes,” she said with a bit of heat.

“Think you’d get so jealous that you’d growl?”

She softened, recalling the way he turned on Vega with a growl, instinctively telling the poor, unsuspecting guy to back off. “I just might.”

He looked down at her, pure affection in his eyes as he played with her hair, brushing it between his fingertips. His affectionate look soon showed a bit of discomfort though, like he wanted to say something but was afraid to. “The, um...scenting.”

“Yeah? Do I need to do something different?” 

“No. It feels amazing,” he said quickly, then sighed. “Explaining all this stuff is so uncomfortable. I’m sorry I did it before making sure you knew, but…”

“Out with it, big guy.”

“You only do it, really, if you’re exclusively, mm, dedicated to one person. Is that ok?”

“Are you trying to tell me I have you all to myself?” She tried not to sound too excited, just to maintain a little dignity, when really she felt like she was going to melt into a little puddle from which she’d gaze up at him like he was the damned stars. 

“Maybe,” he said, a shy smile cracking through the insecurities she knew were just swimming around the surface of his mind. “The scenting would have clearly told you how I felt...”

“But I’d have to know what it meant,” she finished for him, a bit haughtily. 

“Yeah,” he admitted, sheepish in response to her haughty prodding.

“Good,” she settled back down, the worry washing away. “Because I’m tough but I don’t know if I can take on a turian woman.”

“I'm certain you can.” The affection was back in his eyes and voice, and he returned to playing with her hair. Twirling, looping, sliding gently through strands that hung around her face. 

“Yeah?”

He nodded, which immediately made her smile from ear to ear.

“At the banquet, I thought you were looking for someone. But I was trying so hard to be happy for you, if you found someone that made you happy, I was just going to be happy for you and...”

How many times did she just say happy...

“What?” He looked down at her as if they hadn’t even been at the same banquet. “When?” 

“You kept looking at the dance floor.”

Recognition flashed through his eyes and a soft smile spread across his face, teeth just peeking out from behind his lips, mandibles fluttering nervously. He was so damn adorable. “I was so anxious to ask you to dance. I was sure you’d say no. But it was all I could think about. Took a lot of psyching myself up before I got the nerve to ask.”

She brushed her fingertips along the underside of his mandible. “I could never say no to you. Not about anything.” 

They held each other a while longer, sounds coming from the kitchen as Miranda took cups out of cabinets, a spoon clinking against ceramic as she stirred. 

Shepard took another soft breath in, feeling nearly perfectly relaxed already. “You are so good at making me feel better. Do you know that?”

“I…” he hesitated. “I hear the words, but it’s hard to believe. I know how to be a friend. I’m not so good at...this.” 

“You are. You may think you’re not. But you are.”

She looked up at him and pointed a finger to her chest. “I’m still Jane.” Then she pointed that same finger to his chest. “ And you’re still Garrus. And we’re still friends. And still partners.”

He nodded, more like he was trying to convince himself than he really accepted what she said. Then his hand froze in her hair. “Hmm, I’m supposed to be making you feel better.”

“We can make each other feel better. We’re a two-way skycar lane. You take care of me. And I tell you you’re good at it. And we’re both happy.”

“How do you make everything seem so easy?” he asked, appreciation in his voice.

“Because I’m more sure of how much I like you, and how that will never change, than I’ve ever been about anything. You are beautiful, inside and out. And I need you.”

“I’ll always be here. Promise,” he said.     

For just a moment she felt bad, again, for not diving into the case with gusto. They usually stayed up late on nights like this. But she was exhausted, and Vakarian’s arms were so warm. 

Plans to move were futile, anyhow, because she was pretty sure he’d hold her down for hours simply so he could play with her hair to his heart’s content. Well, if he enjoyed playing with her hair so much, she’d have to get him to learn how to braid it. Might as well do something useful with his fingers wandering and winding around. She’d just have to convince him.

Shepard pulled her head up to look at him and ask about that. Just as their eyes met, though, his deep, dark gaze pulled her in and made her lose her thoughts. She leaned forward slowly, her heart beating and breaths heating her lips until they met his. She kissed him with all the care and heat that she felt for him. Slow at first, and delicate, their lips pressing and dragging. She adored the way his stiff lips fluttered against hers. 

They soon fell to slow, deep kisses that made her heart swell and her hands search out contact. They rested on his mandibles, cupping gently to feel them excitedly flexing along with the movement that was certainly still foreign to him. His hand tensed on her back, the other hand pressed against the back of her head, and she knew the kiss meant as much to him as it did to her. It took her breath away, not because it was fast or intense, but solely because it captured her heart in a way that no other kiss she’d experienced before. And he felt it too, it was written all across his body, from the way he held her, the way his muscles tensed and the way his breath caught. And he was purring, more deep and steady than she’d ever felt.   

It was pure and sweet, and she never wanted to kiss anyone else ever again. No human, no turian, just Garrus Vakarian.

Certain Miranda would soon return, Shepard fought off the urge to spend the whole night kissing him by reluctantly pulling her lips from his. With her nose just barely pressed to his, she watched his eyes slowly open like he was waking from a beautiful dream. Once open, filled with heat and haze, they searched hers as if he needed something more. 

Some indescribable look flashed over his face. It seemed like he had an idea but didn’t want it to take shape. She couldn't tell if he was happy, or scared...and for once she was truly concerned about where this path they were walking down together was headed. With that look on his face, his gaze drifted up to her forehead. A question hung in that careful gaze like there was some mystery located somewhere between her eyes and her hairline that he needed to solve. As Shepard held hers, he took in a heavy breath. 

Unsure of what to do, and what he was thinking, she simply watched him and waited. His hand rose so that he could tenderly place the back of a talon to her forehead, just above her eyebrow and right where he had kissed her back on the ship. A resolute smile passed over his lips, then his talon brushed along the curve of her eyebrow, then down along the curve of her temple and cheek, tickling her skin. 

His touch was so gentle and soothing that her eyes fell closed. She felt his hand land on her jaw and guide her forward. His mouth pressed against her forehead, perfectly in the center, where he kissed her with softly fluttering lips.

The simple sound of his deep, affectionate voice warmed her when he said, “You’re beautiful, Jane. I hope you know how beautiful I think you are.”

An easy, relaxed breath filled her lungs, and as she exhaled she opened her eyes. Their gazes searched each other for a moment before she smiled and nodded. She really did, deep down in her heart she knew, and she felt beautiful in his eyes.

Miranda walked into the room, balancing three cups of tea in her hands. “We should look at those images from Udina’s office,” Shepard mumbled.

“Mm,” Vakarian hummed, sounding just as tired as her, “if you even think about moving I’ll tie you down.” He took two cups from Miranda, who then made her way to the other couch. “Now drink your tea like a good little burned out detective. Plenty of time to solve the case tomorrow.” She took her cup from him and his free hand immediately rose up to wander through her hair. “Just rest with me tonight.”

The tea warmed her hands. As she took a slow slip she had to admit the warm, smooth liquid traveling down her throat felt better than the burn of whiskey. Lifestyle changes were necessary. This felt like a good first step. “Fine, but we’re going to solve the case tomorrow, find some proof that they did it. Something solid.”

“You got it,” he said. “Now shut up and rest.”

 

Chapter Text

Shepard and Vakarian sat across from Mordin Solus at the diner where they usually grabbed greasy food when they needed a break from work. Today they only had coffees in front of them. Vakarian was nervous and wasn't hungry, but he suspected Shepard wanted to stay focused on supporting him. While he felt bad about that, he appreciated it too because he’d been putting off this conversation for months. 

They shared a few pleasantries, good morning, how have you been, how’s the case going, that sort of stuff. Interestingly, Solus was the one to drive the conversation forward. Salarian impatience, Vakarian figured.  

Solus looked from Shepard to Vakarian, eyes slowly blinking and hiding whatever thoughts he had bouncing around in that mind of his. “Was hoping you’d reach out. Wanted to approach you, but was afraid of causing social discomfort.”

Vakarian nearly laughed out loud – at least Solus understood his awkward speech and the way he looked at everyone like they were science experiments came off as a bit, well, off. Shepard clearly could tell what Vakarian was thinking because he felt her knee reproachfully nudge his.

With Shepard smiling sweetly and Vakarian staring blankly, Solus continued, “Volunteer at clinic in off-time and see a lot of bad stuff come through, so I can offer advice on safe turian-human sexual experience.”

Vakarian nearly spit his coffee out. 

“Happy for you two, of course. But want to keep you out of hospital. As close friend, very concerned. Have too much personal experience treating the terrible results of turian-human coitus gone wrong. Very bad, very upsetting to see.” 

While Vakarian tried to think of a way out of this conversation a sympathetic huff came from Shepard. “ Ugh , how bad is it?” Shepard watched Solus with anxious eyes and grimaced as she took a sip of her coffee, no doubt imagining the worst...and now completely focused on Solus’ conversation.  

“Won’t say specifics, too gruesome. Providing advice most important for you two. First. Perhaps Vakarian can provide oral stimulation.”

That’s when coffee did spill out the side of Vakararian’s mouth as his mandibles flared in disbelief. He grabbed a napkin to wipe away the dribble of coffee trailing down his jaw while Solus just kept going.

“...tongue only, of course. Human vaginal cavity seems too small for turians. Therefore, must recommend non-penetration gratification.”

Vakarian’s heart leaped into his throat along with a sharp trill as he looked around self-consciously to see if anyone had heard. Thankfully, everyone nearby was focused on their food and their own conversations. Once satisfied that no one was looking, and adamant it stay that way, Vakarian spoke out of the corner of his mouth, “We don’t have that issue, Solus, but thanks for your concern.”

Solus turned to him, either unaware of, or disregarding Vakarian’s obvious embarrassment. 

“Ah. Understand. Small penis size curse when mating with turians, but blessing when mating with humans.”

“That is not… Vakarian nearly growled, entirely exasperated but still trying to keep his voice low. “ No ,” was all he could mutter. He scanned the diner again to make sure no one was listening. They were supposed to be talking about experimental treatment for his mother, not his dick size. 

“He’s teasing,” Shepard said, calm and completely, frustratingly, unphased. A reassuring hand landed on his thigh. This was one instance in which he did not appreciate her confident, calm attitude. 

An impish grin spread across Solus’ large mouth. Having never pegged Mordin Solus as one for dick jokes, Vakarian was even more caught off guard by the trajectory of this conversation. 

“Being serious, though,” Solus said, “Recommendations I’m providing are very important. Don’t want one moment of pleasure to cause hours of pain.” 

Spirits guide him, Vakarian was having terrible flashbacks to mortifying talks with his parents before boot camp. Terrible, awkward, embarrassing conversations about body parts, respecting the other person, and ensuring both people found pleasure. At least those talks had been necessary, this one on the other hand... 

As Vakarian sat stupefied, reliving his awkward fledgling years, Shepard stepped in to help. “Listen, Solus, turians are on the large end of what can fit comfortably in a human, but humans just need to be sufficiently aroused, and their vaginal walls need time to adjust. Garrus and I, uh, we know how to deal with that issue. Perhaps you can make sure your patients know that?”

Vakarian stared at her, trying to tell her with just a little look that she was supposed to be helping him, not Solus, who hummed in thought and said, “Ah, tell patients to use ample artificial lubrication if not sufficiently aroused prior to penetration,” he proposed. His eyes then brightened with an idea. “Will recommend relaxation techniques to help vaginal walls expand. Stretch.”

“Spirits take me,” Vakarian muttered.

“Well, sure,” Shepard said as she casually drank her coffee. “But that’s not what we–”

“Great idea, Solus,” Vakarian quipped, “tell all the human sex workers to meditate before their shift.”

Solus looked over to Vakarian, appreciation in those large eyes. “Yes. Perfect. Fantastic advice, Vakarian. Wish you two had entered copulation phase of relationship earlier, but late better than never. Will prescribe meditation. Always prefer preventative care. And will be elated to pass this information on to patients. Expect decrease in analgesic and antibiotic prescriptions, surely. Good for sex workers, especially.” Solus looked back and forth between Vakarian and Shepard, supremely pleased. Good, maybe they could drop this and steer this conversation back to... 

“Honestly, it is a good idea,” Shepard said. Vakarian could tell by her sympathetic look that Solus' story about his patients tugged at her sympathies. Which was understandable, and any other day he’d get caught up in it too. But surely they weren’t the best people to help Solus with this problem. “And male turians just need to go slow at first, most human females will stretch to accommodate their size if they take time when they....” Shepard paused, looking at Vakarian out of the corner of her eye, and she must have seen something on his face that made her realize how opposed to this discussion he was because she stopped there. “Sorry, Solus, maybe we can talk about this later?”

Unfortunately, Solus realized she was looking at Vakarian and quickly whipped out his omni-tool, determined focus in his large black eyes as he said, “Hmm, describe specific motion while entering, Vakarian, please. Feel knowledge regarding penetration technique is key.”

“Nope.” Vakarian shook his head, finally waking from his stupor and catching up to these two, adamant that this stop here and now. But when he looked at Shepard to back him up she just offered an apologetic smile. His mandibles fluttered in astonishment. “Why are you even talking to him about this?” he asked her. 

“I’m just trying to help,” she said, voice soft and apologetic. Like that was enough of a reason to be discussing precisely how he inserted himself into her while seated at a coffee shop with a C-Sec medical examiner. 

Now decently frustrated, Vakarian said to Shepard, “Good to know when you get sick of this whole detective thing, you can take up a career as a sex therapist.”

“Listen. You are being a bit of a pill,” she shot back.

“Funny thing, this whole discussion isn’t making me feel comfortable talking about my mom.”

Shepard’s face fell, which made him feel bad for getting upset with her and letting it show. “You’re right, I’m sorry.” Her hand returned to his thigh as she turned to Solus. “Thanks for worrying about us, Solus, but Garrus actually just wanted to talk about…”

Regaining his composure, Vakarian took over from there. “My mom is sick. Corpalis–“

Solus nodded and spoke over Vakarian. “You want to send her for experimental treatment. Utilize my STG contacts.”

Vakarian’s heart fluttered, nervous subvocals rumbling lightly in his chest. Shepard helped with that, though, when she squeezed Vakarian’s leg under the table, giving him a little nudge of encouragement. “I was hoping–” he started. 

“Done,” Solus said simply. 

So full of tension and excitement, Vakarian had to set his coffee down for fear of busting the cup with his hand. “I’m not sure what I’d have to do –”

“Consider her in. Don’t need to do anything but ask.”

Vakarian froze, heart now steadily thumping. “Wha...” he swallowed the lump in his throat, “...really?”

“Yes. Will have contact arrange everything. Tell her to pack and prepare to enjoy the beautiful tropical environment of Sur’Kesh. Will be like vacation, aside from medical treatment, of course.”

Vakarian barely listened to Solus and tried to stifle his excitement, reminding himself there was more to work out. “Listen, I’m not sure about the costs, yet. I still have to figure that out. Once we have a better idea what–”

“No costs. Will handle it.”

“Mordin...” They’d never been close enough to justify something like this. Sure, he and Shepard met him for dinner sometimes. Had coffee every once in a while. But this? “I can't ask you to do that. I’m sure between me, Dad, and Sol we can–”

“You are friends,” Solus said with a quick blink of his eyes as he looked between Shepard and Vakarian as if that explained everything. 

“Spirits, Mordin. I don’t know how to thank you.” Shepard squeezed his leg again, and he was filled with so much appreciation for her presence and her encouragement he almost took her up in his arms right there. They shared excited smiles.

 “No thanks. No need,” Solus said as he brought up his omni-tool, his fingers furiously typing something. It only kept his attention for a moment before he glanced back up at them. “Oh, one last thing. Must tell you.” 

“Yeah?” Vakarian asked, expecting some strange condition. Something he might not like or something that might be impossible to accomplish. But whatever it was, he’d do it. Whatever it took. He was now indebted to this strange, awkward, wonderful salarian for the rest of his life.  

“Very important,” Solus said, tone grave and to the point, only increasing Vakarian’s anxiety. “No biting. Human skin no match for turian teeth.” Then, with an inflection of hope and positivity, he said, “Will make for easy bondmark, though.”

Mordin Solus had just outpaced Kryik – who would be laughing his ass off right now – for awkward conversations in a matter of five minutes.

Vakarian exhaled, frustrated but simultaneously relieved. In the span of a few seconds he reminded himself not once, but twice, that this salarian just promised to give his mom another five years, maybe even a decade, of life back. 

Thankfully, Shepard picked up the conversation for him by simply saying, “Thanks, Mordin.” She offered a kind smile as Vakarian thought of a dozen things to say, and none of them were thanks. Reminding himself a third time of the debt he owed Solus, Vakarian kept his mandibles tight and just nodded.

They spent a while longer listening to Solus talk about the musical he saw the night before. It was the least they could do, considering the extraordinary kindness he had offered Vakarian’s family. It almost made Vakarian consider actually providing some penetration techniques. Maybe some other time, though... and anonymously. 

They left, eager to get to work and wrap up the case. As they walked along the sidewalk, weaving in and out of others, Vakarian’s irritation over that conversation persisted. Who the hell just went around offering sex advice to their friends? And why in the hell did Shepard feel obligated to talk to him about it?

He couldn't help himself when he muttered, “Well aren’t you just a regular old Lucinia.”

“What is that?” Shepard asked. 

“Cabal priestess. She died helping the sick and poor during the Unification Wars.” He turned his head to her, looking her straight in the eye while they maintained their pace. “It was an insult,” he clarified.

She held up a hand telling him to drop it but didn’t look up at him. “I got it.”

“You called me a pill, what does that mean?” he asked.

“Like a pill stuck in your throat. Hard to swallow.”

“Oh, I don't think you'll have trouble swallowing me. What with my small dick.”

“You don’t have…Jesus, how did our relationship turn so quickly into me reassuring you about your dick size. You literally have the biggest dick I’ve ever seen.”

A passing salarian couple glared at them. Shepard glared back. He ignored them, and also regretted bringing this up again. But it at least made him and Shepard both laugh a little.  

In a much lighter tone, he said, “To be fair, you’d never seen it until recently. Any previous reassurances would have been disingenuous. And, also very awkward.”

Probably as ready to stop arguing in the middle of the street, she gave him a little smile. “I’m hungry. Are you hungry? Let’s get something to eat.”

“Funny thing, what with talking about torn up sex workers and my sick mom, I kind of lost my appetite.”

“We’re picking up food before we go in because we have a long day ahead of us. Come on.” She took his hand to pull him along, her fingers threading within his. They were soon walking down the street. Holding hands. Like mates. And spirits, that felt good. Maybe they’d wrap up this case soon, and they’d have a few days to just rest together, take a few days off, even, before she went back to Earth on her vacation.

Filled with more happiness than he’d felt in a long time, he turned to her, leaned down, and kissed her on the very top of her head. She leaned into his kiss then looked up at him with a smile just as warm as sunshine. 

“You should call your mom.”

“I will, but let me get the poor, mishandled sex workers out of my head first.”

As they rounded a corner towards some small restaurants where they could get some breakfast a message came in on his omni-tool. Expecting to see it was from work, he was surprised to see it was from a Helos Medical Institute administrator providing in-take information for his mother. 

“Spirits,” Vakarian muttered, “Mordin’s fast. And she has to be on a ship for Sur’Kesh in four days.” 

“There, now you can stop worrying so much. You did it, and she’ll be taken care of. That’s such good news.” Her hand gave his an encouraging squeeze while his heart soared, knowing his mom would be getting the best, more advanced treatment soon. And, yes, Solus was to thank for that, but he never would have had the guts to ask if Shepard hadn't been there, gently nudging Vakarian along for weeks.  

He turned to her. And took a moment to really see her. Shepard, his partner of five years, best friend, his ray of sunshine. Just a week ago he was still yearning to have her in his arms, wondering what it would feel like to have her lips on his skin. And now they were walking hand-in-hand. She was his mate now, wasn’t she? They were mates. Maybe. They should probably talk about that.

“Hey,” he said, affection warming his tone, “sorry I got so bothered at the diner.”

She looked up at him apologetically. “It’s ok. I let Solus side-track me worrying about the women at his clinic. I’m sorry. And I had no idea he’d get that...personal.” 

“It’s ok. Hopefully, he can help them figure out some safer practices.” He thought for a moment. “Except, tell me why you are you so embarrassed about people hearing you have sex on a ship, but you can talk about detailed logistics with him?”

“Well, talking about logistics is...less intimate.”

“That makes no sense to me.”

You make no sense to me. Letting everyone on that ship hear you growling and moaning. But a simple little question about penetration technique gets you all flustered.” She sent him a teasing glance, and her smile melted away any residual frustration.  

“Hm, guess that's the thing about dating an alien. Cultural and biological differences.” 

“Some of those differences are good, though.” She shot him a sly grin. “Like how big your–”

“Ah, Shepard, Vakarian,” they both stopped, that conversation immediately abandoned to attend to the smooth, dual-toned male voice and looked over to see Executor Rix walking towards them. Side by side, they straightened up. 

“Making progress on the case?” he asked. 

“Yes, sir, we think we’re very close,” Shepard answered as Rix inhaled and his eyes fell to their intertwined hands. Vakarian’s dad would be calling him soon, awkwardly congratulating him on their relationship progress. 

“Good. I saw the request you sent in yesterday and made sure approval was expedited. We want this one wrapped up soon.”

“We couldn't agree more. Just a few more pieces and we’ll be there,” Vakarian said with a wide grin that he couldn't contain, knowing Shepard was looking up at him with an affectionate smile and Rix was giving him an approving subvocal in response to seeing them holding hands and scented on each other. 

Rix clapped his hand to Vakarian’s shoulder and gave them both an approving tilt of his head. “Good to hear. I’ll let you two get to it. Please, reach out to my office if you need anything.”

They both nodded and said goodbye to him. 

“So, Rix, Sparatus, Fedorian, and your dad will be gossiping about us next time they have lunch, hm? You ok with that?”

“Is anyone ok with their dad gossiping about their personal business?” He asked, only a hint of dryness in his voice because he was currently lost in her deep green eyes and nothing seemed too bad with her by his side. “I just hope you’re not scared off by jokes about bonding ceremonies.” He winked at her and wrapped his arm around her shoulders, knowing full well she’d laugh something like that off. On the other hand, he would be nervously trilling through many social engagements in their future. 

🔪🔪🔪

With their flirting and touching and longing looks checked at C-Sec’s main entrance, Shepard and Vakarian sat down at their desks and dove into work with gusto. Breakfast take-out boxes open and ready to be devoured, coffee in their hands. An air of focused determination that Kyrik and Vega must have picked up on because they just exchanged simple ‘good mornings’. 

And Rix came through, thanks to their reputation and the notoriety of the case. They had full access to Frank and Miguel’s extranet history, credit account records, omni-tool messages – everything they needed. Shepard took their extranet history, Vakarian their personal messages and credit account records, and they dove in. 

They meticulously combed through everything in silence for a few hours, breakfast devoured, another round of coffees slowly sipped. At this stage in investigations, when an avalanche of evidence fell into their laps, they never shared what they found straight away – that slowed progress and got them caught on tangents. No, it was best to focus, scoop up everything into their welcoming arms, and eventually, they’d have to come up for air, that’s when they’d stop and share. 

Just about lunchtime Shepard leaned back, rubbed at her eyes, and yawned. She glanced over at Vakarian, who peeled his eyes off his screen and met her gaze. He leaned back, crossed a leg over his knee, and propped a mandible up in his hand, giving her a cute little grin.

With a tired but hopeful voice, she said, “Tell me that’s the smile of a man who just solved a murder case.” 

“Nope, just the smile of a man who realized he has a good life.”

Vega made a gagging noise, Kryik grinned at them like a proud father. It all made her blush and flash him a look telling him to stop, but also not to really. 

“Nothing in Frank and Miguel’s messages or credit account records?” Shepard asked. 

Vakarian took a deep breath in. “Nothing obvious in Miguel’s so far. He purchased a ton of fast food right around the time we think Adam was picked up. He sent quite a few messages to friends throughout the day. They stop around the time he purchased the food and then start again once they’re on the ship taking them back to Grissom. Most are just him flirting with his friends, talking about himself – a lot. A few messages where he’s actually deriding Frank. That’s interesting.”

“What do you mean?”

“Oh, he just says some snide comments about Frank’s intelligence and gullibility. For example, he messaged a friend, ‘Frank is such an idiot sometimes. Has absolutely no self-control. I wouldn’t hang out with him so much, but he’ll do almost anything I tell him to’.” 

“Hm, so they’re not as close as they seem?”

“Probably as close as two psychopaths can be. But, Frank’s message history is a bit more interesting. Frank didn‘t talk to anyone throughout the day – he actually only messages Miguel or his family–”

“Not very social then?” Shepard asked.  

Vakarian answered by shaking his head. “Doesn't seem to be. The interesting thing is he sent a message to his mom telling her that he and Miguel had to get off the Citadel, and quickly. Ordered her to get a ship lined up for them. Would have been within minutes of the time of death. And, his credit account shows that he paid for a car wash, deluxe service, twenty minutes before the ship took off. They charged him extra, a note on the receipt says that the skycar was filled with fast-food wrappers.”

“What skycar, though?”

Vakarian shrugged, “Not listed. Has to be the rental vehicle. Sure would be nice to get those records we requested. But, just from this information, we can tell that they ate a bunch of fast food, communicated with no one during Adam’s murder – because they were a bit busy. They paid for a skycar wash, even though rental companies take care of that when you drop it off, and then Frank’s mom got them the hell off the Citadel in a hurry.” 

“And that all fits within the timeline,” Shepard said. 

Vakarian nodded in agreement. “Unfortunately, though, nothing so obvious as a message saying ‘strangling 13-year-olds is fun’. What do you have?”

“Oh, nothing short of proof that they’re terrible little fucks. Their motivation is spelled out in months of bragging about their violent tendencies. They may not have talked about killing after Adam’s death, but they sure talked about it before.”

“You have something that shows they planned it?”

“Not clearly,” Shepard propped her feet up on her desk, her boots making a soft thud, “but they talk a lot about murder. They both belonged to a group, Uberman, on a social discussion site that centers around human biotics—“

“Please don’t tell me they belong to a pro-biotic hate group.”

“Fraid so.”

“How predictable of them,” Vakarian said dryly. “Privileged rich kids who can never be special enough.”

“Oh but this is more than pathetic upper-class exceptionalism. Uberman’s motto is “we are the evolution of humanity”. Lots of talk about how they’re superior to all other humans, who will inevitably bow to their innate talents.”

“Dammit, how do they expect anyone in the galaxy to take them seriously saying nonsense like that?”

“Kind of reminds you of the shit Frank said to that asari at Flux, hm?”

Vakarian answered with a nod.

“Both Miguel and Frank joined in discussions threatening militant action to declare biotic superiority, and they discussed in detail how they enjoy using their abilities against weaker opponents. They have the power. They’re in control. They reiterate that over and over.” 

“Little shits are delusional,” Vakarian scoffed.

“In the bigger scheme of things, of course. But they weren’t delusional when they were slamming Adam around. They had the power and control, didn’t they?”

“They talk at all about why?” Vakarian asked as he lifted his cup of coffee up, then realized it was empty and plopped it back on his desk in disappointment. “I mean, we’re going to have to prove that they wanted to hurt Adam. Why would they want to hurt Frank’s cousin, an innocent thirteen-year-old?”

Shepard put her feet back down and scooted her chair closer to her console to look back over the messages, at which point Kryik and Vega turned their full attention to her and Vakarian’s conversation. “We can tell that too from the Uberman chats. Frank and Miguel both say over and over, other humans, regular humans, just aren’t as important as them. They can hurt them, abuse them, kill them even, simply because they want to. Of course, they don’t call it ‘abuse’, they speak like self-righteous psychopaths – using phrases like ‘asserting control’ or ‘perfecting their power’. At one point, Frank even said that it doesn’t matter if they kill someone while they’re developing their powers. It’s worth the cost of increasing their potential. He’s vague on intent there, though. He doesn’t differentiate between killing someone by accident, or on purpose.”

Kryik’s mandibles snapped tight. “Those kids need to be locked in a room for five minutes with an Eclipse merc. See how much they agree with offering a life in exchange for target practice.”

Shepard turned to him, and dryly said, “As Miguel put it “who’s to judge the price of transcendence?”

“Transcendence?” Vakarian asked, a flutter of his mandible giving away his curiosity. 

Vega chimed in, once again offering his unexpected history knowledge. “Ah, yeah, weird human shit. Uberman, the name of the group. It comes from a philosopher on Earth, hundreds of years ago, who came up with this concept that some humans are superior to other humans, more creative, intelligent, rare – you get it. People read too much into it, though, twisted it into proof they were meant to have more power than others and didn’t have to act like other humans. Laws and values were for common people, not special people like them. Or, in other words, they transcended above all others.”

Kryik scoffed, looking personally offended. “What kind of asinine nonsense is that? Transcended? And they never have to earn their position?”

Vega shrugged, “Humans ain’t turians. Lots of them try to justify taking everything from the weak and poor. Always have. Always will.”

“People are still reading crap that old?” Shepard asked, leaning on her chair arm and burying her chin in her fist

“Seems so.” Vega shrugged. “It’s old and tired, but all philosophy that crazy people get hung up on is, ya know?”

Vakarian spoke up, “Idiots with ego trips. Makes me almost miss cases about revenge or drug deals gone bad.” 

Kryik hummed doubtfully, “Is that enough of a motive though? It certainly is suspect, but you can’t get a conviction just because two teenagers brag about their biotic abilities and enjoy their power. What biotic doesn't get a trip from what they're capable of?”

Vakarian turned to Shepard. “He has a point. What did that instructor say when you asked her about killing people with biotics? ‘I feel like a fucking god’.”

Kryik chuckled, “She sounds charming.”

Vakarian turned a sly grin to Kryik while Shepard turned to her console, finding and focusing on a specific line. “This is from Frank – ‘I saw a student at the cafeteria the other day with bruises all over her shoulders. At first, I was grossed out by how ugly they were, then I realized it was the girl I’d used slam on the day before. When she saw me looking at her this hilarious fear was in her eyes, and it was the same way she looked at me when I was slamming her into the ground over and over. I got such a thrill from that. Knowing what I had done to her, and seeing the bruises like a sort of trophy, it was a sort of triumphant thing. The next time we’re paired up, I’m not going to want to stop'.”

Fucking pendejo ,” Vega muttered as Vakarian and Kryik stiffened. Then, giving away just how new he was to investigating murderers, said with mild astonishment in his voice, “That’s a future serial killer right there. Right?”

Ignoring Vega’s moment realizing just what he got himself into coming over to Homicide, Shepard continued, “And this is from Miguel, ‘I don’t really feel anything when I’m practicing with someone and they get hurt. Mostly I’m thinking about how annoying their cries and complaining are, and I have to distract myself by thinking about dumb stuff like tennis or food just so I don’t snap. It actually makes sense that so many people who get assaulted or robbed are killed. I bet whoever killed them just wanted them to shut up’.”

With that they all fell silent for a moment, Shepard guessed that they were all silenced by the brazen homicidal confessions of two eighteen-year-olds. No matter how many years you work in a career like theirs, if you still keep your own sense of benevolence, your own kindness and sympathy for others, truly contemplating the depravity in other beings is never easy. Especially when they’re so young. 

Eventually, Vega turned to his console, typing quickly. He must have had something come in that needed his attention. Or, maybe he was typing up a plea to his old supervisor to move back to Narcotics.  

Shepard and Vakarian shared some more information, posited scenarios, and worked information into the timeline. About five minutes passed before Vega made a little excited noise, catching Shepard and Vakarian’s attention. “ Hallelujah ,” he said, turning to look at them with a quick spin of his chair. “Hey Lola, Sweetcheeks, got something for you.”

“Back to that nickname, hm?” Vakarian drawled. 

Vega shot them a self-congratulatory smile. “You’re gonna be callin me ‘Sweetcheeks’ when you hear what I have. Got the rental vehicle records. Did a quick search and found a K-31, rented from B’eyn Imports the morning of the murder,” Vega paused for dramatic effect, “to Matias Pena. Father of Miguel Pena. And Miguel is listed as the driver in the rental agreement.” Vega spread his bulky arms open wide, and with a cocky tone said, “ Denada .  

Shepard shot up straight in her chair, now fully paying attention, heart thumping and brain racing. They had Frank and Miguel. This was the last piece, she just knew it, deep down. 

“Send me the plate,” Vakarian said, his focus tampering down his own excitement. “I want someone to start looking for CCTV footage.” 

“That can wait a minute. Let’s go to Pallin so we can pull them in for questioning.”

“It’s still not undeniable proof. We need more,” Vakarian argued. “We should wait until we have more on the skycar and a chance to look for DNA.”

“Come on. You’re usually the one going all gung-ho.”

“Yeah, and you have to tell me to settle down until we have it all lined up.” He gave her a sympathetic look, like the one he kept giving her last night as she laid in his arms. “We don’t have to rush this, Shep.”

Even though it annoyed her that he was giving her that look at work, she understood why. She hadn’t been the calmest or most collected lately. But that aside, she was confident about moving forward. “We’re not rushing,” she insisted patiently. 

“Catching these guys off guard with infallible proof might be the only way we get them,” he pointed out. 

“We have enough to proceed. It’ll take at least a day to get them both here for questioning anyhow, so we have time for tech and forensics to get us more evidence.”

After a tense moment of thought, Vakarian finally relented and agreed with Shepard to message Pallin to discuss their progress. Only a moment after he sent the request to Pallin, and Shepard sent the initial requests to forensics and tech, Pallin stood in his doorway beckoning them to come see him with a pleased look on his stoic face. 

Just as they all sat down, Pallin said, “What do you have?”

Shepard spoke up trying her best to stifle her excitement and project a careful tone instead, “A detailed history of their involvement with pro-biotic groups via extranet chats where they express their desire to prove their biotic strength and their pleasure in using their abilities to hurt and control others. An urgent message from Frank to his mother asking her to get them off the Citadel sent at Adam’s time of death. Frank paid for a skycar wash before they boarded, and Miguel’s father rented a K-31, the skycar model that was driven to the dumpsite. Miguel was listed as the driver in the rental agreement.”

Vakarian added, “Don’t forget the watch. We know there’s an image in Udina’s office showing Frank wearing the watch.”

“You have that in evidence?” Pallin asked. Nothing ever got past him.

“Well,” Vakarian grinned and Pallin gave him that chiding look he always gave him, “I might have taken an image of it myself when we were there. We’ll get a warrant to search his office and get an admissible copy, though.”

Pallin’s muscles eased, looking as if weight fell off his shoulders. He knew they were close, he had to. Then after only a short moment, he tensed back up all over again. “ Dammit , Ambassador Udina’s kid is a murderer.”

“Seems so,” Vakarian answered. “I’ll work all this evidence officially into my timeline, but it fits. We’ll have the tech lab grab CCTV footage of every location we can link to their path, too.”

“No DNA yet, though,” Pallin said.

“We just sent a request to forensics to grab that car,” Shepard said. 

Pallin nodded in acknowledgment. “So, we have a timeline, circumstantial evidence, and their expressed desires to hurt others.” Pallin thought about it, one tense second turning to the next as they awaited his assessment. 

Shepard, itching to get his approval, couldn't hold back any longer. She leaned forward and clasped her hands tight. “We saw them, sir, at Grissom. Frank attacked a fellow student in a biotic combat training class. The instructor said he and Miguel do it all the time. They’re hurting other kids, and Grissim can’t do anything about it because of who their families are.”

I told you not to make contact with them,” Pallin growled through clenched mandibles. 

“We didn’t,” she said calmly, determined to keep her cool even though she felt like yelling, begging, to get Frank and Miguel brought in. “We were hidden behind a partition the whole time. And we didn’t ask anyone at Grissom about them. My uncle, Admiral Anderson, is friends with Kaylee Sanders and asked her to give us a tour. He just said we were interested in combat biotics and nothing more.” 

Vakarian quickly added, “We were lucky, not stupid.”

“Isn’t that always the case with you two?” Pallin said with just a hint of snark. Seemingly appeased, though, Pallin thought another moment, then looked over at Vakarian. “And what do you think?”

Vakarian sighed and tapped his talon against the armrest. “I think we have enough evidence to make two eighteen-year-olds with personality disorders squirm. They’re cocky, entitled, and have run their mouths off on the extranet so they don’t have many secrets.” Vakarian paused, ostensibly assessing their chance of success, and making Shepard nervous the whole time. Then finally with a nod, he said, “And I’m certain Shepard can squeeze more information from them during interrogations.”

“You two sure? There’s no going back from here.”

Shepard and Vakarian nodded in unison. 

“Vega and Kryik have helped, right?”

“Yes,” Shepard answered, “they have, sir. They know some of the details as well as us – the watch, the skycar, and the timeline.”

“Fine, reserve one of the case preparation rooms tomorrow and pull them in to help. The four of you can compile all your notes and discuss their strategy to get the kids talking. Will that be enough time to prepare?”

“Yes, sir,” they said together.

“Alright, I’ll message Rix. And –” he gave them that grim look that always made them squirm. 

“Don’t fuck this up,” Shepard and Vakarian said together. 

Pallin nodded, but only after his eyes flicked to Vakarian just briefly. One of these days she’d let that shit piss her off. But she just didn’t have the emotional capacity to cross that bridge that day. They had a day and a half to get all their evidence and an interrogation strategy together. Every message, every moment in the timeline, every little bit that lined up and painted a picture of Frank and Miguel slowly beating Frank’s cousin, Adam Udina, until one of them finally wrapped their hands around his neck and took his last breath right out of his little lungs. 

🔪🔪🔪

Shepard, Vakarian, Vega, and Kryik worked together all afternoon assembling their case against Frank and Miguel up until the very last minute of their workday. They all left together, too, but Shepard rushed back inside the building because she forgot to send one last request. She was working so damn hard. Vakarian was proud of her, like always, but he also worried just a little that they were moving too fast. 

As they waited for Shepard to return, Vega met up with one of his friends from Narcotics and left. That’s how Vakarian found himself standing outside C-Sec, leaning against a railing overlooking one of the major skycar thoroughfares, with Kryik giving him a look .  

“So,” Kryik started. “You know I’m going to ask. Sex with Shepard?”

“I am not providing you details,” Vakarian said decisively, warned him, even. But just the mention of sex with her gave him flashes of Shepard’s gorgeous body, the way she moaned for him, the way his heart fluttered when he saw her, and the way his slit swelled when she touched him, hitting him like a concussive shot. Before Vakarian could catch it a wild grin broke out on his face, making Kryik chuckle. 

“That good huh?” Kryik asked.

“I’m crazy about her, Nih, you know that. I always have been. I’ve never...I’m just…” Vakarian took a steadying breath because his heart was pumping. 

“Spirits, Garrus, don’t get so flustered,” Kryik teased him. “You’re acting like you’ve never had sex before.”

“Honestly, yeah. But it’s more than that. It’s...” He felt the distinct heat of a flush flaring up his neck, realizing just how much she meant to him, and that’d he’d give anything to keep her happy, make sure their relationship stayed like this for as long as possible. 

“I’m proud of you,” Kryik said. “For putting yourself out there with Shepard.”

Vakarian replied, bemused, “Damn. Didn’t realize your respect was so easily gained. I thought I had to beat you on the sparring mats or something, but all I had to do was have sex with my partner?”

“No,” Kryik chided him for his smart-mouth, “for giving it a chance. Shepard is amazing. More amazing than, uh, anyone else, I think.”

Kryik was trying to say something there without saying it, but Vakarian wasn’t sure what. More than anyone else? “I hate to ask, because it's you, but what are you trying to say?”

“I mean, just in my humble opinion. But I won’t say another word. Just that she’s more amazing than anyone from your past,” Kryik said carefully.

Vakarian looked over to the skycars speeding past. “Well, Livia was not a great choice. That was doomed to fail.” 

“Dammit, Garrus,” Kryik growled. “I’m not talking about Livia. I’m…nevermind.” He waved his hand dismissively. “It’s not important who I’m talking about.” 

It finally hit Vakarian, embarrassingly late, who Kryik was talking about. Cama. There was no one else Kryik knew he couldn't bring up unless he wanted Vakarian depressed or angry. 

“Shepard takes care of you like no one else ever has, and I appreciate that.” 

“Thanks, Nih,” was all Vakarian could say. It wasn’t that he didn’t agree, but he didn’t want to think about Cama, or whether or not she took care of him well enough. He was happy with Shepard, hopeful. Why poison that? 

Silence passed between them for a short moment then Kryik shook his head, disappointment in his voice, and said, “Gonna be stuck in that prep room with Vega all day tomorrow, and two fuck buddies.”

Vakarian gave Kryik a sympathetic smile. The new turian-human partners hadn’t talked much throughout the day. While it wasn’t awkward, it was noticeable. “Still struggling with Vega?”

Kryik grumbled, “He’s been getting on my nerves since the day we did reports.”

“Remember that Shep and I didn’t always get along so well. Just be patient.” Then, with a comedic authoritative voice that mimicked all their favorite COs, said, “He lacks discipline, not intelligence. And discipline you can teach.” 

“Thanks, Garrus.” Kryik gave him an appreciative nod then leaned against the railing as well, watching the skycars along with Vakarian. “Wait. That doesn't scare you, comparing Shep to Cama?”

Vakarian sighed, deep and thoughtfully. Instead of getting angry or frustrated, Vakarian couldn't help but laugh softly – Kryik had worked so hard to avoid Cama’s name, and then it just fell out like that. 

“Fucking terrifies me. But I’m going to ignore it like I ignore everything else in my life that scares me.”

“Sure,” Kryik said simply, “why worry today when you can panic about it later, and then fuck everything up.”

Vakarian froze up, abject horror falling over him as he turned to Kryik, who laughed and slapped his shoulder. “Relax, it’s not like either of you are thinking about bonding, or kids, or anything serious like that. You have time.”

Just as Vakarian was about to tell Kryik to fuck off for putting such worry in his head, and then telling him not to worry, Shepard jogged up to them, huffing out a few breaths before saying, “Sorry, it’s sent. Ready to relax now.” She smiled and hooked her arm in with his.

With Shepard’s arrival, Kryik rose up. “Don’t work too late guys.”

“Oh we won’t,” Shepard told him. “We’re going to focus on stress relief more often now.”

“Meditation?” Kryik asked hopefully. 

Vakarian quickly said with a chuckle, “Shep can’t meditate tonight, she doesn't have another water bottle to destroy.”

Shepard smacked the back of her loose hand against Vakarian’s keel and turned to Kryik. “I tried your stupid meditation last night.”

“And you ended up destroying a water bottle?”

“Yes.” She said that like it was a challenge. A sort of ‘so what?’, which made Vakarian chuckle again.

Kryik let out a hearty, rumbling laugh. “Shepard, you need to learn how to relax.”

Her chest puffed up indignantly, but her face was nothing but joyful. “Well, I’m taking baby steps. First step is drinking tea instead of whiskey.”

“Well, then I wish you luck and a restful evening.”

With that they all said goodbye, then Shepard and Vakarian walked arm in arm to the skycar port.

“What were you and Kryik talking about? You looked upset.”

“Nothing really, he just wanted intimate details of our sex life. Never realized Kryik and Solus were so much alike.”

“And you just told him it’s the best sex you’ve ever had, right?” She looked up at him with a beaming smile and tucked herself tight against his side, pressure and heat from her body making him feel secure and washing all his worries away.  

“Damn straight,” he kissed the top of her head, her hairs tickling his lips. She made everything look easy – asking Solus for help, convincing Pallin to let them proceed – why couldn’t their relationship be easy too?

“What sounds good for dinner, saccha?” she asked with a sparkle in her eye.

“Mm, you pick, dalcas.”

A satisfied, happy little noise came out of her when he called her that. Yeah, this would be easy. How could it be anything but when they were both so happy?

“I never thought you’d be the type to use endearments,” she said. “At least I never heard you use them before."

“I’m not. Never have been, at least.” He shot her a charming and aloof look. “Too cool for all that.”

“Oh of course you are,” she teased, a patronizing lilt in her voice and a simpering smile on her lips that made him want to pick her up and bury his face in her neck, just to make her laugh and squirm. “At least you were. Seems you’re just an endearment-using nerd now.”

He couldn't deny that, so he simply laughed softly and tickled her waist with just the tips of his talons. “You have that kind of power over me, hm.” 

They laughed and teased the entire way to their destination for the evening, which was her apartment, where they would drink tea, watch a vid, and cuddle in front of the fireplace. A perfect ending to their productive day. 

Chapter Text

Case prep had gone perfectly. An entire day spent locked up in a room with Vakarian, Vega, and Kryik had served its purpose well. And tech lab and forensics had done their jobs with alarming speed, most likely due to Rix’s instruction. 

They received footage of Miguel and Frank in the skycar traveling around the Citadel then pulling in to Eden Glen just minutes before Adam was dropped. And forensics found Adam’s DNA in the skycar. It was agreed upon amongst the team that they had enough evidence to charge Frank and Miguel. 

So they all stood – Pallin, Vega, Kryik, Shepard and Vakarian – in the dim, quiet observation room. A light hum of electronics was the only noise other than their voices. The lights from all the audio and vid equipment cast an unsettling orange glow on everything. After so many years anytime Shepard saw an orange light cast on anything she immediately felt her heart rate pick up and muscles tense as her body instinctively prepared for a mental battle with a suspect. 

Just a mildly annoying occupational hazard. 

Everyone had focused hawk eyes studying Miguel and Frank who sat in their separate interrogation rooms. Frank on the left, Miguel to the right. A third room was currently dark and empty. 

As Shepard watched Frank and Miguel, every disgusting little chat message in her head, every bruise on Adam’s body, she knew the evidence wasn’t enough. Sure, it was enough to prove they killed him. But Shepard was determined to get those two to admit they did it with pathological, malicious intent. 

While Pallin asked questions that mostly Vakarian, Vega, and Kryik answered she stood at the glass, just watching Frank and Miguel. Her hands were shaky, so she had her arms crossed and fists balled in at her sides to hide how anxious she was about this. Vakarian was at her side, leaning over a console and going over notes and images, all the facts he’d rely on to make these two teenagers crack. 

Teenagers. They were so damn young. Kids, really. Soft faces that hadn’t hardened with adulthood yet. Skinny limbs. Chests and shoulders that hadn’t filled out. They’d be eaten alive in prison.  

The room had gone silent as she contemplated that. “You ok, Shepard?” Kryik asked. 

“They’re fucking kids.” She heard the softness in her voice, and knew she sounded sympathetic. And sad. It wasn’t like her. Which was probably why Vakarian’s eyes rose from the console to look at the boys as well, then his gaze fell on her, concern in his look. 

Kryik took a short moment before he replied. “They’re legally adults.” And then, with a cold, hard voice that she envied, said, “Take them down.”

With that, Vakarian closed the console interface with a few taps against the keys that were hard enough to make her flinch. He stood up straight and stiff. He was as worked up as she was. This case had been hard on both of them. They needed to calm down, get themselves together or they were going to fuck this up and miss a confession. Vakarian’s chest rose with a steady inhale, calculation that she admired in his sharp eyes. “Old enough to spend two hours beating the life out of Adam one breath at a time,” he said.  

Something about the case had Shepard worried. Without a confession, and lawyers paid for by rich parents, they could get off. Couldn't they? Lawyers, if they were good enough, could cast enough doubt to get the boys off with a slap on the wrist. They could even argue that the boys had been messing around, Frank and Miguel didn’t understand their own strength, it was an accident. Vakarian’s work was tight, but lawyers could make it seem circumstantial. 

And those two monsters, kids or not, would be set loose. Free to do this again.

Pallin interrupted the silence in the room, looking at Vega. “I want you watching Shepard and Vakarian. If you get to be half as good as them you have a place in Homicide for life.”

Vega answered with a respectful nod.

Vakarian touched a talon to her elbow, waking her physical senses, and somehow soothing her at the same time. “Ready?” 

And with that, they headed towards Frank’s room because he already looked agitated. The plan was to let Miguel sit a stew a bit longer, give him a chance to break down a bit. 

Shepard and Vakarian sat down across from Frank, who immediately glared at them. He was clearly a rich kid – nice clothes, the right haircut, perfect teeth and good skin. He wasn’t handsome, though, and it was easy to tell by the way his shoulders sagged and his limbs were tucked in tight against his body that he wasn’t popular. 

Now that she was only a few feet from him it was striking how much Frank looked like Adam. A knot balled up in Shepard’s gut when her eyes met his – grey eyes, the same grey eyes that looked out to the world from Adam’s soft face, and the same eyes that had been begging for help in her dreams.

But Frank’s were cold, empty. They were the angry eyes of someone who blamed all their troubles on others. Which completely matched the profile they compiled the day before. Frank hated everyone in his life, blamed his father for being too hard on him and his mother for not loving him enough. Could be true, but usually with people like Frank those were the self-serving rants of a narcissist. 

Unfortunately they couldn't get anything out of Frank at first – he responded with sullen glances, answers that contained only a few words at a time, and grew combative in tone the longer they spent in the room. 

They decided to allow him to sit alone a while longer, and headed to see Miguel, hoping a conversation with him might be a bit more productive. 

Within seconds they were entering the room that held Miguel, who was put together, neat. His clothes fit perfectly, collar close to his slim neck. His hair was perfectly styled. And his demeanor was confident in a way that made you feel comfortable. He was fit too, for a teenager, an athletic build. Their research indicated he played a lot of tennis. 

It was clear just by the sight of him that he was popular. He smiled easily at them, met their gazes with self-assuredness. So why in the hell did he hang out with Frank?

While Vakarian asked Miguel some general questions Shepard’s eyes traveled the datapad in front of her checking details over – mostly to make Miguel think she had something particularly interesting in front of her. It was working. His eyes kept falling to the datapad then darting up to look at Shepard. Just based on the way he watched her she could tell he was a quick kid, and that he was quite used to studying people. 

Listening to Vakarian and Miguel converse Shepard actually caught herself starting to like Miguel, softening her perception of him just from being in his presence. Genuinely laughing when he said something funny, or wanting to believe the things he said.  

Getting slightly nauseous because of that, Shepard finally put the datapad down and looked up at him.

As Shepard and Miguel eyed each other, Vakarian spoke up. “So... it’s a pretty sad case, a kid like that just dumped out in the park.” 

Miguel’s charm staggered just a bit when he answered almost dismissively. “You guys see stuff like that all the time. Murders don’t really bother you, right?”

“You’re interested in murder cases?” Vakarian asked. They already knew he was. His entire reading history consisted of crime procedurals and true crime novels. Which wasn’t unusual. Shepard’s library looked exactly the same when she was Miguel’s age. Only difference was she wanted to solve crimes, not live vicariously through the murderer’s actions, which is what they figured Miguel had been doing. 

He shrugged. “Yeah, I guess so. I read a lot, and watch crime procedural vids.”

Shepard said, “A smart guy like you, you must see all the mistakes that the criminals make. Criminals make a lot of really dumb mistakes, don’t they?”

“Yeah. Most criminals lack intelligence, though.”

“Mistakes like leaving items behind,” Vakar