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The Quarian

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Shepard walked into the homicide department still half asleep but fully intending to enjoy her day once she woke up. She and her partner, Garrus Vakarian, had been blazing through cases with relative ease for two years straight. Not only were they the envy of all their colleagues, but they were also thick as thieves. She truly enjoyed every day she worked at his side, and he seemed to be just as happy working with her. Life was pretty damn good.  

Shepard only made it halfway to her desk before Detective Nihlus Kryik looked straight past Vakarian’s shoulder to spot her, his sharp green eyes full of intent locking in. 

“Shepard! Tell me about female human anatomy,” Kryik called out as Shepard neared her desk. 

“Any part in particular?” Shepard asked, taking a sip of her coffee. Her gut told her she’d need to be awake for this

“The clitoris.”

Shepard nearly spit out that sip of coffee. She managed to swallow it down, though, then let out a short laugh.

“Good morning to you too, Kryik,” she replied, her voice still hoarse in the early morning. She set her coffee down before sliding into her work chair and glanced across their desks to nod good morning to her partner. She then gave Kryik’s incredibly patient partner, T’Saris, a nod as well.

“Morning, Shepard,” T’Saris said in her typical low and sultry tone, which offered a much more soothing ‘good morning’ than Kryik’s greeting. 

“Where’s mine?” Vakarian asked, gesturing towards Shepard’s coffee. He looked tired and grouchy. Without any evidence, she blamed Livia. Sure, it was unfair, but more often than not, nowadays, his bad moods were directly related to his mate. And what kind of friend would Shepard be if she blamed Vakarian for any of it?

As for Kryik’s question, Vakarian gave no indication he had any idea that Kryik was asking about incredibly intimate anatomy. He must have never heard the term before because if he had, he’d be scowling at Kryik to shut up at that point. Vakarian wasn’t a prude, and he didn’t mind talking about sex in general. But, when Kryik talked about sex, he got personal. Stories were shared against Vakarian’s wishes because Kryik did everything full throttle and had little respect for Vakarian’s privacy. It probably also had something to do with Kryik teasing him incessantly, just as an older brother would harass his younger brother.  

“Sorry, meet me tomorrow morning at the coffee shop. We’ll get it together,” she told Vakarian. “It’ll be our little thing, coffee in the morning.” Seemingly happy with that answer, he nodded. They exchanged a smile, and he continued typing away at his console.  

With her partner appeased, she turned back to Kryik, who waited patiently for an answer as she logged into her console.

“So you want to know about mine in particular or….” she asked him, unable to hide the sly grin this conversation was giving her.  

“No. Unless there’s something uniquely important about yours…”

Shepard turned her amused smile to T’Saris, “Where is this coming from?”

“As usual, I have no idea what he’s talking about.”

Shepard turned back to Kryik, “Nope, normal clitoris. I mean, I’m more fond of mine than I am of others. You know that I consider myself strictly a dick type of woman.”

That got a reaction out of her partner. They knew each other well by now — three years at each other's side most days and many nights. So she was expecting the look, and she knew exactly what he said to her with it. Don’t get him started.  

“Sorry, big guy. But you know I can’t resist,” she told Vakarian with a somewhat apologetic smile. Vakarian glanced at her briefly before refocusing on work. That little glance told her he wanted to steer clear — a hundred feet clear — of this conversation but that he didn’t expect her to stay out of it just to make him more comfortable. At that moment, she realized they silently communicated, and often. They were officially two-peas-in-a-pod, couldn't-be-tighter partners. She felt proud. 

“Just in general. What do they do?” Kryik continued to press, breaking her concentration off her partner. He leaned forward in his chair, so earnestly interested he looked like a salarian when anything science-related came up. But there was also an intensity burning in his eyes, and there were only a few things that got Kryik this serious — sparring, being a detective, and sex. 

 “They don’t do anything other than give a female human an orgasm,” Shepard explained, not equaling Kryik’s level of respect for the matter. 

 “Well, that part is obvious…Listen, you tell me about the clitoris, and I’ll tell you about turian dicks. It’ll be a nice little cultural exchange.”

 “What can you teach me about turian dicks that I haven’t already learned from porn vids?” Feeling Vakarian’s eyes on her, she stole a glance in his direction to see him giving her an amused look, a browplate subtly raised — she was definitely getting teased for this later, once they were safe from Kryik’s interjections. She snuck him a smirk before turning back to Kryik, who was either unaware of their little exchange or chose to ignore it. 

 “You’re shitting me,” Kryik replied, mandibles agape. “You watch turian porn?” 

“Turian-human porn, to be exact,” she said, taking a decent chug of her coffee. “Look, you’re not the only one who’s curious.” 

His surprised expression slowly morphed into a sly smile. “Hey, Shepard. You just feel free to call me up if you’re ever at home and you decide those vids don’t satiate your curiosity.”

“Kryik, that’s so sweet,” she said, leaning back in her chair comfortably, getting an absolute kick out of Kryik’s fake flirting.  

His browplate rose seductively, leaning towards her and resting an elbow on his desk casually. “Oh, there’s nothing sweet about what I’m offering.” 

“No,” Shepard smiled from behind her cup of coffee, “I mean it’s sweet that you think you can handle me.”

Kryik let out a hearty laugh, his head rolling back for just a moment before he gave Shepard an approving look. T’Saris laughed along lightly as she typed away at her console. The only one not laughing was Vakarian, who stared at his console, trying to act oblivious to their conversation.  

“I kinda want to see this happen, just to see how much you’d wreck his little soul,” T’Saris said. “Oh, and by the way, Shepard, don’t bother with male turians unless you like being pinned down, licked from head to toe, and pierced in the most intimate of areas with razor-sharp teeth.”

Shepard laughed, a soft, naughty little chuckle as she tried to find the file she should be focusing on instead of bullshitting with her coworkers. “Sounds fun, actually. I’m just wondering if the nibbling is one-sided, or am I allowed to reciprocate?” 

Shepard and T’Saris shared a knowing look and a laugh before focusing back on their work.  

“You seem a bit rough for me,” Kryik said, leaning back in his chair while sending a quirked browplate in Shepard’s direction, making her think that maybe he wasn’t as into receiving when it came to rough play as he was in giving. “Although now I am very curious how rough female humans can get.”

“I’ll send you some porn,” Shepard said, which led to more laughs. 

As much as Shepard enjoyed bullshitting at work, Vakarian had steadily been sinking lower and lower in his chair, and she wondered how in the hell he didn’t realize that made him an even bigger target. 

“Listen, Kryik,” Shepard said with a grin, making sure his attention stayed on her instead of wandering over to Vakarian, “we can do sex ed some other time, but I have some reports to slave over. I’ll tell you all about orgasms and the clitoris later.”

“Flux, tonight?”

“Sure.” 

“Mind if I tag along?” asked T’Saris. “I wouldn't mind learning a bit more about female human anatomy.”

“Of course,” Kryik answered before turning to Vakarian. “You coming?”

“I don’t know. I’m supposed to see Livia tonight. 

“So,” Kryik said. 

“So she’s been in a terrible fucking mood lately. I don’t know if she’ll want to go out.”

“She’s always in a terrible mood,” Kryik said as if he wasn’t stating an obvious fact. Notably, though, Vakarian didn't react. He reacted to Kryik’s gripes about Livia a lot less lately. While Shepard was wary of her, Kryik had always hated her. Though he never shared that with Vakarian. That had been a drunken confession a few weeks ago when Livia threw a fit after Vakarian declined to leave Flux after a few women hit on him. Shepard understood Livia’s discomfort. Women frequently hit on Vakarian, and either he was oblivious to their flirting or was an expert at ignoring it. Livia didn’t ignore it well, though. 

“That’s not true,” T’Saris said, “she was a pleasant person when I first met her. Then she started dating you...” she added with a smirk.

“Funny,” Vakarian replied, voice monotone and eyes focused on his screen. “Did you steal that line from Livia?” 

Her partner was trying to be funny, but the unmistakable insecurity and raw honesty in the way he said it made Shepard stop to look him over. Upon further inspection, he didn’t simply look grouchy, he looked downright miserable. That made Shepard angry and protective. Vakarian deserved a woman who appreciated him and didn’t insist on making his life so damned miserable. 

Granted, he seemed like he could be a real pain in the ass. But, Livia’s pain in the ass qualities made her mean, whereas Vakarian’s just made him a bit obnoxious. 

Livia certainly lacked his charm and sense of humor. Maybe that made her a bit self-conscious?  

Discussions died down around the entire Homicide unit as Pallin came out of his office, making his way towards their side of the room, and stopped just by Shepard and Vakarian’s desks. 

“Vakarian. Shepard. Get to the markets. Dispatch will send coordinates to your omni-tools.”

“What’s up?” Shepard asked as she and Vakarian locked their consoles. 

“Someone fucking eviscerated a quarian,” Pallin answered.

Shepard’s breath caught, and though she'd been reaching for her coffee to chug what she could before leaving, she instead dropped her hand. Her gaze shot to Vakarian, whose sharp eyes just flicked to meet hers. That brief look told her neither of them wanted this case. Their reputation as the best team in Homicide was starting to stack some gruesome cases in their corner. They’d spent the past few months convincing themselves and each other, a break would come soon — but so far, that seemed to be a pipe dream. 

“Hope you didn't eat a big breakfast,” Pallin continued. “The body’s in such bad shape that no one will go near it. We only have one officer at the scene, and Forensics is strung out between so many crime scenes right now they’re having trouble getting there. So hurry it up.”

Shepard held her breath as she and Vakarian rose from their chairs, grabbed their jackets, and checked the heat sinks in their pistols. Images of what they were about to see burst through her imagination. 

What exactly has to be done to a body to qualify as evisceration? What they were about to see wouldn't just be some stab wounds, and stab wounds were bad enough. With those, you had blood, maybe some fat layers leaking out, but you rarely saw the viscera. Depending on where it hit, the smell could be extra terrible. 

But eviscerated? 

The quarian would be cut open, side to side? Organs would have fallen out? Or pulled out? Why eviscerate a quarian? What kind of criminal or psychopath actually cut someone clean open and spilled their organs? Shepard had never dealt with a case like this, never seen a body in this condition, and she wondered if Vakarian had. In the elevator, as these thoughts ran through her mind, their omni-tools finally pinged.

Looking down at their message, he muttered, “Lower markets. We’ll get there quicker on foot, but we should hurry.”

Eviscerated .  

Shepard nodded while watching her partner. She’d been a cop for eight years, and she’d seen a lot of shit in those eight years. Vakarian assuredly had seen more, though, in an equal amount of years serving in special ops in the Hierarchy. But for all those years, he didn’t look any better off than she felt — that fact alone had her a bit shaken. 

“Christ, this is going to be bad,” she said, her nerves so wound up that she was drumming her fingers against her thighs. Eviscerated . It was all she could think. All that played through her head as they rode the elevator down in silence. 

Vakarian just nodded in response. 

Silent moments were odd and infrequent between them nowadays. They both shifted, mentally preparing themselves for what they were going to see. The walk through the markets was quick — they were in a hurry to get to the scene. Despite the din of noise, the people they had to weave through, the people trying to stop them when they saw the badges on their lapels, they moved forward quickly enough. Getting the site secure was going to be vital in preserving evidence. One officer could only do so much. 

That was one thing that shocked Shepard when she first started working for SFPD back on Earth — how so many regular, everyday people wanted to see a dead body, no matter how brutal the murder had been. Most regretted indulging their curiosity. Shepard never felt bad when she saw them tucked to the side at the crime scene, hands shaking and a distant look in their eyes. Call her cruel, but they deserved it.  

They were getting further from the markets and closer to the maintenance halls where Citadel maintenance workers accessed life support, plumbing, and other utilities. They were somewhat secluded, only visited off and on throughout the day and night cycles. Thankfully, there would be fewer people they had to contend with, she hoped. And that meant a more reliable crime scene for gathering evidence. 

As they rounded a corner, Shepard’s gaze fell on the officer who arrived first to the scene. She stood at the entrance to a corridor, lights flickering around them, casting shadows. It was an asari, and she looked ill. Her skin pale, hands shaking, that distant look in her eyes. She was probably in shock. Gunshot wounds, stab wounds, strangulation, and broken necks were all commonplace. But evisceration? Not many officers were prepared for that. And even if they were, it would still stick. That poor asari would be wrecked for life now. 

As Shepard took a deep breath in, preparing herself, she heard a few deep sniffs from her partner. He probably already smelled the blood.  With cases like this, she certainly didn’t envy turian’s heightened senses. Although, maybe the smell didn’t bother them as much. 

Shepard and Vakarian both flashed their C-Sec badges. “Detective Vakarian,” he said before pointing to Shepard, “and Detective Shepard. Is the body behind you down that hall?”

The asari nodded, looking like she was holding back vomit. “I’m Officer Leos, sir. She — the body — is behind me. I set up barriers at each access point, and I haven’t moved from my position here since I arrived.”

Vakarian nodded again, and Shepard offered an encouraging smile as they reached the entrance to the corridor. Still, the asari’s eyes were decently glossy and unfocused, so she wasn’t quite sure the reassurance even registered. Shepard’s gaze looked down the corridor, and sure enough, about fifty feet away, the body of a female quarian rested against the wall. Bright red blood pooled beneath her, but not as much as Shepard expected. Maybe this wouldn't be so bad. The victim’s hand still held tight to her stomach, and even from their location, Shepard could see her bowels spilled out over her hand. 

“She…” Officer Leos’ voice shook, nearly as hard as her hands were shaking, “she wasn’t murdered there, I don’t think. I didn’t have a chance to follow it, but there’s a blood trail from somewhere deeper within the corridors.

As Vakarian took out his omni-tool, ready to start taking notes while they waited for the forensics team, Shepard took another steadying breath. “Any reason to believe the murderer is still in the area?” Shepard asked.

“No, I haven’t seen anyone, other than the guy who found her. A drell custodian.” Officer Leos pointed to the corner of the room they stood in where a drell sat, his head between his knees. 

“Stay here while we take a look at the body,” Vakarian ordered. 

As they walked down the hall, Shepard noticed the quarian’s helmet was missing. Long dark hair spilled out over her face, covering it entirely and blocking it from their view. They had to have those on, all the time, or else they’d exposed to all sorts of things in the environment that would kill them. Did the murder take it off to make sure she died? Shepard wondered. Like pulling someone’s bowels out wasn’t enough?

As they got closer, the extent of the damage became clearer. Blood trailed down her chest as well, her hair to skin and suit in clumps. They stepped closer then stopped a few feet away from her feet. Shepard noticed on the ground, written in red blood, were two names. ‘Achillus’ and ‘Traian’ — both male turian names. She wrote down the murderers’ names, maybe? Surely they wouldn’t write something using her blood. And the drag marks looked smooth like they came from a gloved finger, not one with a talon at the top.

Although hair draped over her face and spilled over her chest, Shepard saw enough of her neck to see they’d sliced that as well. Eviscerated, stab wounds to the chest, slit her throat, took off her helmet. Shepard’s stomach turned, the scene and the smell finally getting to her. A seasoned cop by now, yet she was ill, wringing her hands to keep them from shaking. She glanced down the hall, tracking the blood trail until it led around a faraway corner and to another corridor. 

“Christ,” Shepard muttered. “Did she walk here like this? All on her own?” 

Vakarian, whose eyes hadn't left the victim since they stopped at her feet, opened his mouth to reply, but his response was interrupted by the faintest wheezing sound. He froze, eyes shooting wide. Shepard barely heard it, but Vakarian would have heard it clearly. Doubt clouded Shepard’s mind as she looked between Vakarian and the victim. There was no way. The sound had to be a leak from the suit or something.  

Shepard and Vakarian stood side-by-side, waiting in the silent, dark corridor. Shepard had no idea what Vakarian was thinking, but he was as still as her. With her eyes trained on the quarian, she listened to another slow, bubbling wheeze. A bloody air bubble came from the slice in her neck.

Fuck, she’s breathing. How the fuck is she breathing.

Shepard’s pulse pounded throughout her body, sending adrenaline rushing. She’s alive.

Shepard lifted her omni-tool as Vakarian fell to his knees beside the quarian. “Headquarters, Detective Shepard, Lower Markets. We have a live victim. We need medical support ASAP. Female quarian in critical condition. She’ll need an enviro safe stretcher.” She typed quickly, for some stupid reason proud that her hand wasn’t shaky, as she reported some of the most evident and life-threatening injuries into her communication with Dispatch. Ziha’s chances rose if the medical team knew what to expect before arriving on the scene. 

As Dispatch confirmed her call and notes, the victim lifted her hand to Shepard’s absolute shock, reaching out for Vakarian. Without hesitation, he quickly took it, squeezing lightly. “We have help on the way. You're going to be ok,” his soothing, steady voice told the quarian, and despite Shepard’s best efforts, she couldn't help but think about the woman’s chances. Even though she was miraculously breathing and still had the energy to lift her hand, her bowels were spilled, her chest and neck ripped to shreds, and no helmet. 

The victim was a quarian with her suit sliced open and helmet off — she might as well be dead. 

 “Where’s her helmet?” Her partner’s voice was steady but tense. “She needs her helmet.”  

The trail of blood. Shepard turned, legs racing and feet pounding against the floor, following the red drops and smears. Down the corridor they’d found the body in, she jumped the barricade, rounded the corner, and further down that hall for another 200 feet, at least. A small object came into her sight, sitting amongst pooled and splattered blood covering the ground and the walls. That had to be where it happened. Shepard grabbed the helmet while doing her best to mind the possible evidence that had to be everywhere at the scene as much as possible. She raced back to where her partner sat with the victim. 

Not knowing how to attach it, she threw Vakarian the helmet, knowing that even though he wasn’t looking at her, he’d catch it. She stood to the side and watched Vakarian pop it back on, sealing it — whatever good that did. The victim’s suit was compromised. Would the helmet even help? 

They waited with her, her golden eyes open and watching them from behind the helmet. Despite not knowing quarians, Shepard saw so much fear in those eyes. They pleaded for help and for her life — what Shepard would have given to be able to promise her that.

 She didn’t move again or try to say anything. She just held on tightly to Vakarian, watching him with a weak gaze and occasionally glancing over at Shepard. Her breaths were shallow, her chest barely rising, then falling with way too many seconds in between. 

Would she even make it until the medical support arrived? This woman walked all this way, after everything they did to her. Watching her die slowly, knowing everything she went through to stay alive, was tearing a path right through Shepard’s gut. 

It was inevitable, though — the woman was dying. Shepard wracked her brain thinking of something else she could do to help the poor woman live. They’d done all they could, though. 

Shepard watched Vakarian as they waited in silence. She had trouble looking at the horror that was the qaurian’s body, and she couldn't bring herself to get closer than a few feet away. Her body shook, and her stomach continued to turn. Heat radiating from ducts and the thick, musty smell of blood packed a one-two punch, making Shepard uncharacteristically dizzy.

But her partner was calm, seemingly unshaken, and held a steady gaze with the victim while he encouraged her with soothing words. He told her she was strong. He promised her she was going to be okay. That he’d be there holding her hand the whole time. That he wouldn't leave her, and he wouldn't let anything happen to her. 

Shepard had never been more awed by another being. Not only the quarian, who was still alive, somehow. But her partner was acting with more courage and care than she knew he possessed. Somehow, he was able to sit with her and speak with a deep, soothing voice despite horrendous gore resting mere inches in front of him.

Backup officers arrived soon after, but they remained down the hall and close to Leos. No one seemed to want to get close to a quarian knocking on death’s door. Already one foot into heaven, or the quarian equivalent. Shepard wanted to be mad at them for their cowardice, but while she was sticking to the woman’s side, she certainly didn’t feel strong enough to kneel beside her side and talk to her as her breathing steadily grew more shallow. Minutes ticked by, but Shepard couldn't bring herself to do anything other than stand and wait.

Citadel emergency medical services arrived quicker than Shepard thought possible, sirens and flashing lights traveling from the upper level where they parked the shuttle. Several asari and salarian appeared with a circle and two lines, the galactic symbol for medical aid, and the letters ‘CEMS’ emblazoned across their uniforms. They rushed down the stairs and to the victim, pushing Vakarian and Shepard aside and almost immediately securing the quarian in a medically sterile bag. It was a rush of frantic activity for a few minutes before they disappeared as quickly as they came, transporting her to the hospital. 

Shepard realized how much easier her job seemed compared to theirs. They operated under real pressure. They had to save a life. Compared to medical staff, who could actually do something for the living, a detective wasn't much more than a bloodhound, sniffing out the criminal to bring them in so they could face whatever hollow justice the courts doled out. That sad thought made her realize she was spending a bit too much time with her pessimistic partner. Still, emergency medical support were miracle workers, asked to do the impossible. 

After they left, Shepard expected to get a message on her omni-tool letting them know the quarian didn’t make it. It had to be coming. 

Forensics finally came next, processing both scenes and all the quarian’s steps in between. All the while, Shepard was in a daze, and Vakarian didn’t look much better off. 

It was so much easier when they were dead, and there was nothing you could do but treat their body as just another piece of evidence. 

With the victim gone and out of sight and Forensics quick at work, Shepard and Vakarian focused their energy on the scene. Nothing forensics presented surprised them, though. Only a psychopath could have treated another living thing so cruelly. It was brutal, mindless, destruction of life.  

As Shepard remembered the pleading, terrified look in the woman’s eyes, she realized it was more than that. It was the destruction of the poor woman’s body. It wasn’t enough to just kill her; they wanted her to suffer. They wanted to ruin and violate her. 

Officer Leos, who Shepard was surprised to see still floating around, approached them as Forensics began to pack everything up. It was well after lunch, but Shepard didn’t think she’d be hungry for days. 

“We got an ID on the victim from CEMS,” Leos said, sounding absolutely exhausted. “Looks like her name is Ziha’Zorah nar Rayya. At the docks, she listed her reason for her  visit as ‘trade’ —”

“Zorah nar Rayya?” Vakarian interrupted, sounding like he’d just had the wind knocked out of him. Shepard watched him, anxious to find out what had her partner so upset, especially after what they just went through. After Leos answered with a nod, he muttered,  “Fuck. I need to make a call.”

Vakarian stepped away, leaving Shepard alone with Leos. Their eyes met, and for one long, terrible moment they just looked at each other. Words seemed elusive. What could they honestly say?

Finally, Leos let out a shaky breath and looked like she was fighting off guilt or pain. “I stood there the whole time. She was alive. I walked past her. Set up a damned barricade.”

Shepard gave her a sympathetic look. “You had no way of knowing. I thought she was gone too. No one would have thought…” Shepard shook her head, the disbelief still clouding her thoughts, “...looking at her, that even an ounce of life was left in her.”

Leos shook her head, refusing the comfort, and accepting her guilt. “I just stood there waiting for you to arrive. Doing nothing to help her.”

Shepard wanted to tell Leos the quarian was dead the moment they gutted her, slit her throat, and took her helmet off. Reading the look in the poor asari’s eyes, though, she knew that’s not what the poor officer wanted to hear. 

“We can only hope CEMS comes through.” Shepard finished that sentiment with a stiff nod. 

Anytime Shepard was away from Vakarian for more than a short while she always got an itch to at least get her eyes on him. Thanks to his height, locating him was pretty easy. Her seven-foot-tall partner leaned against a nearby wall. Whoever he was talking to, he looked upset and apologetic. When Leos provided the victim’s name his reaction had been odd. Shepard could only assume he’d recognized the name, though he didn’t say so. She watched him for a short while before their eyes met, and he sighed, shaking his head. Whoever it was, the conversation wasn’t pleasant.  

By the time Forensics packed up, Vakarian had finished his phone call, and they headed back to C-Sec. Walking through the markets, he told her that the victim was related to someone he knew — a friend, even. The day was just full of one shock after the next.

“How is the victim’s cousin holding up?” Shepard asked as they entered the elevator up to Homicide. 

“Pissed, but glad that Ziha is alive.”

“I can’t fucking believe she was still hanging on.” Shepard let her shoulders fall, ready for a nap or a drink. Maybe both. “Think she’ll actually make it?”

Vakarian shrugged. On a good day, he was a realist. On a bad day, a pessimist. So a shrug was probably as positive as he’d allow himself to get considering what happened to the quarian. 

“How do you know Tali again?” Shepard asked, hoping to keep her mind off the spilled bowels and pleading, terrified eyes that glowed from behind her helmet. 

“Worked with her and some other quarians on some geth missions years ago.” He rubbed at his browplates. “A lot, actually.”

Shepard offered a weak nod to show him she heard, but she couldn't think of much else to say. The adrenaline crash, and lack of lunch, was probably getting to her. Her mind was getting fuzzy, and her limbs felt like they each weighed a ton. 

The way the poor quarian lifted her hand to Vakarian popped into her mind. “Ever seen anything like that before?” Shepard asked. 

He nodded, “Yeah. A lot worse, too. Doesn't mean I’m numb to it, though.”

“Sick, cruel mother fuckers,” she muttered, fisting her hands and rubbing her fingers along her palms. “What did you do to relax after days like that?”

“Depends on how bad it was. Drink and fuck around with rifle mods. If it was really bad, drink and just fuck until I forgot about it.” 

Shepard started fiddling around with the hem of her jacket, rolling it between her fingers. She had a hard time sitting still when stressed, even when she was exhausted. Maybe that’s what she appreciated most about her close relationship with her partner — she didn’t hide that piece of her anymore.  

“What would you normally do, back on Earth, after a day like this?” he asked.

“See my Gran, get a hug.” She sighed, missing Earth and being around humans who weren’t Alliance military or embassy staff. Neither were her kind of people. “But drinking and fucking works too sometimes. Mostly just swallow it, stuff it down. Guess I have something in common with you turians, hm?”

He offered her a tired smile. “Well, I’m not a grandmother, but I can give you a hug.”

She returned the smile, knowing hers communicated her lack of energy just as much as his. Without breaking eye contact, his large, muscular figure towered over her as he leaned in a bit closer to her, entering her space to offer her that hug, probably. 

“Fuck off,” she said. With her hand placed on his shoulder, she gave him a light push. “I don’t need a goddamn hug.” The thought of needing a hug from her partner made her hate her feelings even more. They were professionals. Adults. She’d been a cop for nearly a decade. She wasn’t a damned inexperienced rookie and didn't need her partner to console her. She needed to buck up and deal with it like everyone else in Homicide dealt with it: a drink and a nap. 

Letting her push him back, he crossed his arms and leaned back against the elevator wall but said, “Look, either take a hug from me or settle for getting drunk and fucking Kryik.”

Caught so off guard by the joke, a laugh burst out of her. “Oh, God. Fuck me ,” she groaned, falling back against the elevator wall, despair and exhaustion wreaking havoc on her state of mind. How the fuck would she forget the sight of bowls resting haphazardly in that woman’s lap?

Vakarian shook his head, a smartass grin on his face. “Sorry, all I can offer is a hug, and I’m not attracted to begging.” She smacked his arm with the back of her hand, though she knew it would only encourage him. “Sounds like Kryik is interested in your clitoris, though, whatever it is.”

She laughed again, then nearly doubled over from the sudden onslaught of chuckling. As usual, her partner didn't leave her hanging for long. After watching her for just a moment with smiling eyes his slow, easy laughs joined her silly chuckles.

They were two idiots standing in the elevator laughing with what little energy they had left in them. What started as a rolling chuckle, though, grew to a desperate and loud laugh that washed all the stress out of her and made her cheeks hurt. 

The ride up was long enough that their laughter eventually died down, and silence enveloped the small, enclosed space. During the last moments of their ascent, they regained their composure. It wouldn't look quite right if they came back from a horrendous crime scene in the throws of laughter, would it? She crossed her arms. The last huffs of laughter left her, and her chest settled down while they patiently waited for the doors to open. 

But before she could tell it was coming, a single tear dropped from one of her stinging eyes. She hadn’t even realized she was on the edge of crying until it was too late. She desperately wanted to hide her pathetic display of emotion, but Vakarian took a breath in, and based on the way he stiffened, she knew he already smelled her tears. God damn turians and their super senses.  

“Fuck, sorry,” she said while turning away from the doors that were about to open. Once they did her fit would be on full display for anyone waiting on the other side. She roughly wiped at her cheek, smearing that single tear. If she didn't get herself together before anyone out in the hall saw her, she'd be mortified. 

She didn't want Vakarian to pity her, either; or worse, lose confidence in her. She was fine, but that crime scene was unlike anything she’d worked. She had never cried at work before, and she was proud of that. A few times, she cried after work, but mostly in her Gran’s arms. And, far from anyone who’d judge her soft heart. 

Without saying a word, though, her partner stepped closer, punched the key to keep the doors closed, and rested a hand on her shoulder. He waited there, his comforting hand grounded her and his soft eyes showed her sympathy, but no pity. 

He stood still, neither moving forward nor drawing back. Maybe he was waiting for her to push him away again while telling him she didn’t need a hug. But she didn't want to. She wasn’t fine. What they saw was fucked, and the victim's poor, pleading eyes played at the edges of her mind. 

She didn't want to accept his offer out loud with words, but a hug sounded perfect, and he was her best option out here on this damned space station. So she also stood still, eyes locked on the floor and internally begging him to wrap his arms around her without having to ask for it.

As if he read her mind, Vakarian’s strong arms enveloped her and pulled her tight against his chest. He was a lot warmer than she expected. With the adrenaline rush over, she realized how cold she felt, how shaky her hands were. But Vakarian was like a warm comforter wrapping around her and chasing the chill away. The stress from being at that horrific crime scene, and the fear of seeming weak by accepting an embrace from her partner, had her tense. She willed her muscles to relax and buried her head in his chest.     

For the first time since transferring to C-Sec, living and working on an unfamiliar space station surrounded by alien species who she didn’t even know existed when she was a kid, she knew she wasn’t alone, in any sense. She knew she could rely on Vakarian. For a long time, she’d known that he’d fight for her, get drunk and bullshit with her, watch vids with her and laugh until her cheeks and his mandibles hurt. But after seeing him with the victim as they waited for CEMS and how he was holding her so securely in the quiet elevator, she now realized he could be relied on in other ways. She didn’t have to hide her weaknesses from him. She didn't have to pretend like she could handle everything on her own. 

He wasn’t just good for laughs and petty distractions from the hell of their job. He could comfort, and he could soothe, and he could promise that everything would be ok. And if it wasn’t going to be ok, his promise was enough to make Shepard think that it could be. 

But it meant so much more than that because she didn’t feel ashamed for accepting this kind of support. It felt natural, like the comfort provided by a family member or best friend. She let him hold her a bit longer, her arms settling around his carapace to return his warm embrace — because, hell, maybe he needed it too. 

Why had she been so silly about this? She’d stop a bullet for the man in her arms, so she might as well feel comfortable hugging him. 

They held onto each other as a light flashed on the elevator panel, reminding them the doors were still shut tight, keeping the world out and giving them a moment alone. It was a little slice of time when blood and death and wheezing breaths didn’t nag at the corners of her mind, and instead, all that existed was the trust, support, and honesty that she felt for her partner. Theirs was a friendship she’d never quite felt before — with anyone. He was more than a partner and more than a friend. He was the man who sat beside her as she coaxed confessions out of killers. They saved lives together, saw each other at their worst, and encouraged each other to be their best. 

They walked through hell together, every damn day; of course she would need a hug, and who better to give her that comfort than the man currently holding her in an elevator. The sad, sick, world that lurked behind the elevator doors — and didn’t show its beautiful side nearly enough — could just wait a fucking minute.