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The Quarian

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Vakarian stood at the skycar port near his parents’ Citadel apartment. They weren’t leaving to visit Palaven – his father had made that up to get him to come over because what they had to tell him and Sol had to be said in person. There had been explanations. There had been keening and hugs. They came together as a family and swore they would get through it. 

Vakarian wasn’t thinking of any of that, though. Numb legs and a single thought in his mind got him from his parents’ front door to the skycar port, where he stood as still as stone, waiting for a skycar to rescue him from this nightmare.  

He’d never felt this numb before. Maybe – once he was stuck on a planet covered in ice with no supplies and a quickly dying heating core in his suit – maybe that compared. A cold shiver ran up his spine, making him realize just how tense every muscle in his body was. He wasn’t actually cold, though. The shiver, the muscles — it was all just the adrenaline finally taking its toll on his body. 

It was dark where he stood, too. They needed to install a new light at that port. He felt uneasy standing there — as evidenced by the twitch in his trigger finger buried deep within his pocket — and could imagine how civilians would feel waiting for a skycar in the shadows and wondering who was lurking just behind a corner. 

And just like when he yearned for the warmth of the sun when he was on that planet close to succumbing to hypothermia, he craved the same warmth and comfort to chase away this pain – a real sun, not the fake Citadel sun.  

All he thought about as he stood chillingly still was how badly he needed to see the only person who had any chance at all of making him feel better. Years ago he would have wanted to be alone through something like this. He would have gone home and sat by himself to drink and keen in a dark, lonely apartment. Boxed himself in and pushed the galaxy back. 

He didn't want to be alone that night, though. He wanted someone by his side. For anyone else, that would have been obvious, normal, but he had pushed away anyone who offered an actual connection for years. Others were hurt, rejection, disappointment. 

His trigger finger itched again. To steady the anxious energy, he clenched both hands into tight fists within his pockets. His heart thumped along with the satisfying pressure against his fingers and palms. The breath he took was steady, calm. That damned sniper’s resolve to stay focused despite everything going to shit around you. 

He didn’t want to push the galaxy back, though, because he had someone to reach out to, didn’t he? His own little ray of sunshine who had the power to chase away the dark and the cold. Lift him up, make him laugh...make him feel . The numbness dissipated just a bit, just with the thought of her in his mind. Without even considering it, he felt something pulling him in her direction. 

Finally, after what could have been five seconds or five hours, for all he knew, the soft hum of a skycar pulling up caught his attention. With relief and the promise of seeing her racing to his heart, he felt his body move to crawl inside. He couldn’t even fathom driving, though. For once, he was satisfied with letting the skycar do all the work. 

Knowing that if he didn’t see her soon he’d unravel, he entered the coordinates to his destination and fell back against the stiff skycar seat.

Years later, he’d recognize that was the moment – standing at the skycar port aching to just be by her side – that he finally allowed himself to rely on someone again. That when the walls caved in, instead of ducking down, tucking himself in a safe little corner, he’d reach out to her to help hold them back. 

Over and over, she would help him push those walls back and give him the strength, the hope, to hold them up. And she’d do it with a smile on her face, blowing a wisp of hair from her forehead and giving him a little wink.

🔪🔪🔪

Shepard and Rocket’s evening ritual was more often than not nearly identical to their morning ritual. Both involved begging for treats, soul music, and dancing. While morning dancing was an energetic wake-up for a half-asleep body and mind, evening dancing was a nice little wind-down for Shepard’s aching muscles after she lifted weights or ran on the treadmill.  

Shepard’s muscles were relaxed, and Rocket was stuffed with too many treats, so it was time for them to settle down for the night. Just as she was about to turn the music off and throw on a lighthearted sitcom on vidvision her doorbell rang. Assuming it was a lost delivery person, or perhaps Uncle David on an impromptu shore leave (despite owning the apartment and having the access code he always waited to be let in) she set off jogging towards the door. On her way she pulled at the normally loose tank that was plastered to her sweaty, sticky skin, fruitlessly trying to air herself out before she forced her odor on whoever was on the other side.  

Preparing herself to see a stranger or her uncle waiting outside her apartment, she opened the door’s console screen and was surprised to see Vakarian standing in the hallway instead. He stood still but was staring down to the ground, subtly shifting his feet. Whereas Shepard was a jittery fool when on edge, he rarely fidgeted. Son of a bitch, if he ditched Livia two nights in a row…

Her mild irritation at his escalating antics concerning his mate was tempered, though, by the joy that surged through her simply from knowing he was there. With a self-satisfied grin, she stared at his image for just a moment and attempted to dampen down the giddy energy bubbling up in her stomach.   

Shepard opened the door with crossed arms and a quirked brow, fully intending to give him hell before she’d let him in. As soon as the door slid open, she scoffed. “Please don’t tell me you are ditching your mate again. If she…” He slowly lifted his head, and when his eyes met hers she knew something wasn’t right. His tight mandibles, tired and sad eyes, and the way he looked to her as if he was lost rendered her speechless for just a moment. They just looked at each other for a long moment. He didn’t even need to say a word — his solemn comportment silently asked for her understanding, looking to her for a soft place to land.  

Immediately matching his somber demeanor, she asked, “What’s wrong?”

She stepped out of the doorway to let him inside, and his body moved like an anchor dragged and pulled him down. His heavy steps fell, but he didn’t explain. 

“Is Livia mad at you or something?”

He still didn’t answer. She watched helplessly and concerned as he only made it a few feet inside her apartment before he collapsed back against a wall. There was no way he’d be this upset about something involving Livia. Something else was the cause, she was certain. 

With a cautious, worried voice she said, “Come on, big guy, you’re scaring me. What’s wrong?”

“My mom...” He stopped there and looked up at her again, anguish and fear in his eyes. It was like someone had ripped his heart right out of his chest. 

“What about your mom? Is she ok?”

His voice was steady but pained when he said, “She has Corpalis. It’s terminal. My mom is going to slowly die in front of our eyes, and there’s nothing I can do about it.”

Oh, Garrus ,” a breath caught in her chest as the thought of Vakarian losing Valeria hit her straight in the heart. Sure, most people enjoyed a meaningful bond with their mother, but she’d never seen a mother so supportive and loving or a son so appreciative of his mother’s support. He needed her. 

“I’m so sorry,” Shepard finally said. Compelled to do something, she rushed towards him with quick purposeful steps. Once within his reach, though, she hesitated, unsure of what he needed. Would a hug comfort him? Should she pat his shoulder or take his hand? Joking and laughter had gotten them through so much together, but now he needed something more. But what?

With eyes that implored her for some comfort, he remained slumped against the wall. Her tentative hands lifted. But she was still undecided what to do with them, so they hovered, suspended in the air and without purpose. 

With a swift step, he took the guessing away by closing the gap between them and his long, strong arms encircled her and lifted her up. He held her with what seemed like all his strength. Her feet dangled down beneath her, swaying several feet above the floor. Her damp shirt pressed against her skin, but he didn’t seem to notice or mind. He held her like that for a long moment, her guilt building because she wouldn't have known he needed this from her if he hadn’t just taken the leap himself. To make up for her hesitation, she held him back as closely as her muscles would allow. Time ticked by. 

“How long?” she eventually whispered into his chest.

His voice shook. “Ten years. Fifteen at most. If she’s lucky.”

Her first instinct was to point out the positive — ten years was a long time, better than six months or a year. But that wasn't the point. Vakarian was still young — not even thirty yet — and had so much life to live, and he just found out his mom wouldn’t be there for so much of it. She’d be absent for so many life experiences — seeing him fall in love and get bonded, have children. Maybe she’d never get to be a grandma. Never watch Vakarian’s kids grow up and turn into beautiful, kind, happy turians just like everyone else in the Vakarian family.

And Shepard didn’t even know what Corpalis was, so she wasn't sure what Valeria would go through in those years. Would it affect her body? Her mind? Considering it was terminal, the answer was probably both. It was going to be painful. Vakarian had ten to fifteen years of pain ahead of him. And a life without a mom after that — something familiar to Shepard. That pain never went away. She wondered if he was keening. She wouldn’t be able to hear it if he was. 

Shepard breathed through the emotions that were just a tickle in her chest before they became a storm. She held him as silence fell between them, giving him the chance to talk if he wanted. During that silence, she realized her apartment was very much not silent — her music drifted from the kitchen. Her soul music. The music he despised and that set his nerves on fire.

“Oh god, my music, I’m sorry. Let me...” She tried to pull back out of his embrace so she could turn off the guy singing desperate declarations of love, but he held her so tight she couldn’t and held her even tighter when she tried to pull away. 

“Don’t turn it off. It makes me feel like everything is normal.” He sighed. “I mean, I hate it, but I need normal. I just wanted to be here with you. Listening to your terrible music.” 

“Whatever you need,” she reassured. 

He laughed softly, sadly, waning energy leaving him sounding so small, so quiet. “It at least makes me upset about something other than my mom.”  

Garrus ...” she muttered, her throat clamping shut in grief as she held him tight.

“I don’t want to watch my mom die, Jane.” His mandibles flickered in such a way she could only relate to a lip quivering.  

“I know. I’m so sorry.” She squeezed him tight, as tight as she could, her arms pressing against his solid carapace. 

He moved to release her, arms loosening to let her body slide slowly down his until her feet eventually met the floor once again. She had to say something to make him feel...not better, because how could he feel better? Something to honor his mom, to make him think about her strength and beauty. Something to convince him that despite the darkness ahead, there would still be good days. His mom still had life ahead of her.

“Garrus, I haven’t known your mom long, but all I’ve ever seen her do is live. She’s going to keep living. All those years, she’ll be living. And you’ll be able to see it, and...and…” she faltered, losing faith in her ability to say something that would help make him feel better.

But after a moment, his face softened, and warmth bloomed in his eyes telling her that her bumbling speech actually helped. “Thank you,” he said. 

“If you need anything, it doesn’t matter what it is or when, I will be there to make sure you get whatever you need.” 

He nodded, acknowledging and accepting her promise, and took the first decent breath she’d seen him take since he arrived at her doorstep. 

“So tell me, what do you need? Another hug? Do you want to talk—” 

“I don’t want to talk about it anymore,” he said with a decisive shake of his head and worn voice. He looked repulsed by the idea, with good reason because he had probably been at his parents for two hours — he had to be exhausted, and out of things to say, so she didn’t push. 

She answered with a nod, and the soft breath he let out upon seeing her agree to his request was a confirmation that he needed a time-out from his thoughts and emotions, which didn’t surprise her. Garrus, although just about her favorite person in the galaxy, had a track record of avoiding anything he wasn’t prepared to handle.  

“Wanna watch a vid?” He took in a quick breath he didn’t let out, then in a shaky voice, said, “I don’t want to be alone.” She’d never heard him sound so weak. He sounded so incredibly small — so lost and sad and small for a beautiful, strong, seven-foot-tall turian. She’d give him anything to take that pain away. 

“Yeah, of course,” she answered simply and warmly. Eager to convince him she’d do anything for him right now, she added, “Anything you want. That Spectre one?”

“Sounds great,” he said, a look of relief washing over him so strong she could actually see it in the way his muscles relaxed, and his eyes brightened. Before they took a step, though, a chime rang on his omni-tool. Despite the music coming from her kitchen, the sound was piercingly, threateningly loud. He immediately winced but didn’t take his eyes off her. It had to be Livia, wondering where he was — waiting for him to start their date night. 

A heavy sigh fell out of him. Without saying anything, Shepard could tell he was overwhelmed and exhausted beyond the point of action. 

“You want to stay here?” Shepard asked him because she had to make sure. 

He nodded his head, and the dread she saw in Vakarian was so pitiful and so evident that it spurred her to take control of this little problem for him. 

Shepard hesitantly reached for his omni-tool, waiting for him to tell her to stop, but he stood still, allowing her to take his wrist in her hand so that she could carefully type out a reply to Livia. She read Livia’s message first, which expressed how excited she was to see him soon. It hinted that she had been mad at him, but this would make up for the mistake he made in not messaging her the night before. He just needed to put in the work to once again earn her affection . The tone — whiny, manipulative, and self-centered —  in the message made all the guilt Shepard felt fly out the window and only encouraged her to carry out her plan. 

She knew exactly what her friend needed — she’d pretend to be Vakarian in her reply and make up some reason he couldn’t come over. 

Vakarian’s wary eyes watched her the whole time, slowly blinking but never saying a word as she explained to Livia that his parents’ front door was acting buggy, and he had to stay to fix it so it wouldn’t fly open in the middle of the night. It would take hours to fix it, but a maintenance engineer wouldn’t be available until tomorrow morning. It just had to be done. Hope you understand. And other general relationship placations she was out of practice using. Then she turned his messages to silent, knowing his family would contact her if they found they couldn’t reach him.     

Once she typed her message, she looked up at him, waiting for his response, but all he did was look at her with gratitude. She gave him a reassuring smile. The deed was done. He was free to relax, and focus on himself. At that moment, Shepard realized she’d do anything to make him happy. Someone had to.

Rocket made his way into the room, strutting with soft steps that carried him straight to Vakarian’s feet where he stopped, looked up at the turian that towered over him, and pawed at Vakarian’s legs with a soft ‘mow.’ Vakarian smiled, picked Rocket up, and placed him in the crook of his cowl where the cat sat proudly, accepting wonderful scratches from talons made for pleasing cats.

“Are you sure you don’t want to talk? I can just listen if you don’t want me to say anything.”

He shook his head. “I don’t want to think about it right now. I just want a break. I want to forget for a while.”

“Is she —”

“Really, Shep, I don’t want to say anything else. Later. Just not tonight.”

She nodded. “I can do that.” 

A moment of silence passed. Neither of them moved. 

“Mind if I take a shower before we start the vid?” she finally said. “I just worked out...”

Vakarian nodded, slowly and hesitantly, like he didn’t want to say yes. Of course, he said he didn’t want to be alone, and he meant that. And she promised to do whatever she could to be there for him. She took a strong inhale, got a whiff of herself, and knew she’d have to take a shower, despite his reluctance to let her out of his sight. There had to be a way for her to get cleaned up without leaving him alone.

“Hey, why don’t I take a shower with the privacy setting on the glass? And you can just sit on my bed. We can still talk while I’m in there, or you can just sit with Rocket and wait until I’m done.”

All her thoughtfulness got her in return was his judging look that accused her of being crazy. Vakarian was so opposed to her offer that he stopped scratching Rocket, so the damn cat turned and glared at her as well. As if he knew it was her fault.  

“Hey, you soldiers, males and females, shower together all the time,” she carefully pointed out. “And you won’t even be able to see me.”

“I don’t…” he looked at her as if she was talking nonsense, “that’s different. No, I can just sit down here.” Vakarian resumed scratching Rocket, who leaned into the turian’s touch and slowly blinked at Shepard as if bragging about his good scratches. 

“It’ll be fine, you won’t even be able to see me, but we’ll be able to talk. Just pretend I’m folding laundry or something.”

“It’ll be weird.”

“It won’t be weird.”

“Come on,” she said as she turned away from him and took a step. But his hand wrapped around her forearm, talons pressing into her skin and holding her nearby before she could get far. It caught her off guard enough to make her turn back and look at him. She saw fear and sadness in his eyes that caused her to reconsider whether she really needed a shower. What would he do down here by himself? He’d go stir-crazy, start to take apart her vidscreen or something.  

“Hey, I have an idea. Why don’t you fix that light for me in my closet?” She took his hand, the one that had grabbed her arm, within hers, and gave it a reassuring squeeze. Without another protest, his other hand held Rocket steady within his cowl, and they made their way upstairs. She could tell that he was still hesitant because of how his enormous body dragged behind her, and she had to tug him along. But they made it upstairs to her bedroom.

“Here,” she led him to her closet and touched the console to turn on the light, except one didn’t turn on. “See, a dud. You don’t have to do it, but the task is there if you want it.”

She watched him carefully. She certainly didn’t want him to fix it on her behalf. But she knew her friend well. She knew he liked to keep his hands busy. Working on tasks like this gave his mind a chance to focus on something else. If he didn’t have a distraction, he’d sit and brood. “Probably just a loose wire,” he said. “These boxes were popular five years ago when this building was constructed, but the connectors are weak. I’ll grab some tools and reattach it to the terminal block.”

“If you want, or you can just sit on the bed. It’s up to you. Either way, I won’t be long.” She paused, assessing him and wanting confirmation that it was ok to leave him, “That ok?”

He nodded, eyes fixated on the light as he shrugged his jacket off and threw it on her bed. Taking that as her cue that she was free to shower, she gave him a reassuring smile. He began to roll up his sleeves with subtle flicks of his fingers and wrists as she snuck some underwear inside a pair of shorts, grabbed a baggy cropped tank top, and headed towards the shower. Just as she stepped in, she turned on the privacy setting for the glass walls. Only a second later, she heard his voice coming from behind as he walked through her bedroom. He stammered for a moment, then he explained he’d go look for the tools he kept in her kitchen cabinet.

It dawned on her as she peeled her gross clothes off and flicked them over the top of the shower stall that she should feel hesitant to strip naked and shower with her partner in the other room, but she just didn’t. For one, she’d never been shy about her body around him. She frequently wore nothing but tight shorts and a sports bra when hanging out, because she was unwilling to skip workouts even though they were working late or watching vids. 

Besides, it’s not like he was interested in seeing her naked. Unlike Kryik, he found nothing attractive about humans. So, completely unworried about what they were doing, she flicked a console control and sighed as the hot water rushed over her sweat-sticky skin.   

She showered in silence for just a moment, running shampoo through her hair as thoughts of Valeria and the whole Vakarian family crept in. Her heart broke for them. She wanted to call Valeria, but they needed space. And what the hell could she say right now that would help at all? She heard Vakarian return and fiddle around with the light panel. The electronic hum of a drill echoed through the master suite as he got to work, and Shepard tried to chase away her sorrowful thoughts because how could Vakarian forget his pain if Shepard looked at him with pity all night?   

After only a few minutes, the drill sound stopped. Then, while running soap over her body, she heard Vakarian’s voice carrying from the direction of her bed. “Mmm, does Rocket usually sit outside your shower?”

Shepard glanced over, wiping water from her eyes, and sure enough, a little black blobby shadow of a cat sat on the other side of the glass. “Yeah, that’s normal.”

“You really don’t care about your privacy when you’re showering, do you?” Vakarian asked with thinly veiled yet lighthearted judgment. 

“He’s a cat. He doesn’t know what naked is.”

Rocket pawed at the shower door, then threw his head back and let out a quick, protesting ‘mow’. 

“Knock it off, you big baby,” Shepard told him with amusement in her voice. 

“Wanna talk about the case?” Vakarian asked. 

“Sure, if you do. What‘s on your mind?”

“You worried at all about it? About dropping the ball on this one?”

“No, not really. We have two names, which pretty much hands us their identities – if she got their actual names. And there has to be some CCTV footage showing them in the area. We should have it in the bag, really, don’t you think?” 

There was silence on his end.

“Are you worried about something?” she asked.

“Before Pallin told us why the case was staying with us? No. The case seems pretty easy. But now that I know the Council and Executor Rix are watching us...” he paused. Then in a slightly frustrated tone said, “Knowing the Council is watching us seriously has no impact on you?”

Still unphased, she answered, “Not really. To be honest, I’m still not sure exactly what the Council does.”

He replied dryly, “General sentiment of the populace is that they don’t know what they do either.”

She laughed softly, “Good to know I’m finally fitting in with Citadel citizens. But this is just any other case, in my mind. Why should it be different?”

“Oh, because Executor Rix, Councilor Sparatus, and Primach Fedorian have lunch once a week with my dad, and I guarantee this case will come up. The four turians most capable of really fucking up my future have lunch once a week, and this week they’ll be discussing the case I shouldn’t even be working.”

“How did I not know this? Why does your dad have lunch with them every week? For work?”

“No, they’re all friends, pretty close, actually. And I don’t know how you don’t know. I’m sure he’s mentioned their names before.”

“Well excuse me for not assuming your dad’s friend Cyrus is Primarch Cyrus Fedorian .” Shepard couldn’t contain the disbelief she felt when she said, “You know, you could have clarified that for me.”

“Why does it matter? Honestly, I try to forget.”

“Jesus, I joked about punching him. You have to tell me these things, so I don’t make an ass out of myself.”

“Shep, you know I accept you, ass behavior and all,” he joked. She rose onto her tiptoes to shoot her middle finger at him over the top of the shower stall, which made him laugh — it was small and sad, but it was a laugh. “Besides, you just said it to me. It’s not like I’m going to tell him.”

“No, last month when we had dinner with your parents.”

Vakarian sighed so loud Shepard could hear it over the soft rush of water flowing from the showerhead. “Why do you constantly threaten to punch people?”

“Your dad was talking about some Hierarchy policy that affected a Cipritine case he was consulting on, and I just said it to be funny. To show Castis a little support.”

“I’m sorry,” Vakarian said as soon as she stopped talking. So quickly, in fact, she was left confused. 

“For what?” she said, stepping out of the water flow to rub body conditioner over her skin. 

“Being an asshole. At the skycar port.”

“Ohhh, for yelling at me because you are delusional and the worst detective ever for thinking Kryik and I flirt?”

“No, I’m sticking by that one. It’s weird, and you should feel bad about it.”

“Well, I don’t feel weird,” she said, a bit of brattiness in her voice. “Because I wasn’t flirting. I’m not even attracted to Kryik.” She said that last bit loudly, adamant that he heard her. Then, she muttered to herself low enough so that he couldn't hear, “What is this, high school?”

A moment of silence passed. Rocket pawed at the door again, which she ignored. 

Vakarian’s voice, softer than before, broke that silence. “I…” he cleared his throat, “mmm...” he paused.

“Christ, spit it out, big guy. Did the privacy setting on the shower walls fail?”

Before he could answer, she turned off the water, then grabbed her towel to dry off, squeezing water out of her wet hair while waiting for Vakarian to get to his point.

“No, I’m still apologizing,” he grumbled. With the water off she heard the rough breath he took. “I’m trying to say that everyone makes me feel like shit but you — Pallin, Livia, my dad...even Kryik sometimes. So, I guess I just hate hearing that I’m upsetting you...or that you don’t like being around me. Doesn’t excuse snapping at you like I did, though. Certainly doesn’t make you want to be around me, either. I get that.”

“Garrus, I always want to spend time with you, even when we’re snapping at each other. I’m sorry I said you’ve been miserable to work with. I just said that to be an asshole back. I say mean things when I get yelled at — which is awful, I know. And I should have realized you didn’t want to talk. I just wasn’t paying attention or respecting your boundaries.”

She grabbed her clothes and put them on while still in the shower. It felt weird, but the alternative was to shock her partner with a lewd shot of her fleshy, pale body. Fully clothed in her shorts and baggy cropped tank, she stepped out of the shower and turned towards her bedroom to see Vakarian lying on his back at the foot of her bed. The sight of him immediately made her smile. With a pillow folded and tucked under his neck, arms stretched out and folded above his head, one leg dangling off the end of the bed and resting on the ottoman underneath — he looked pretty damn comfy for someone opposed to being in her room while she showered. Exhausted, but comfortable. 

“Have you eaten?” she asked, making her way towards him and choking down the inclination to ask him if he was ok. It just didn’t feel right not to talk about it, but that’s what he wanted. 

He looked at her, turning his head slowly side-to-side and looking increasingly tired, “I’m not hungry.”

“I’ll get you some snacks and some water, just in case.”

She went downstairs to get a plethora of dextro and levo snacks and a bottle of water. When she reached the top of the stairs, she overheard him talking to someone, and just as the bedroom door slid open, she recognized Solana’s voice.

“Are you ok? You’re not alone, are you?”

“No, I’m not alone.”

“Did you go to Livia’s?” Solana asked, and the cautious inflection fairly transparently told Shepard that Solana had some thoughts concerning that.

“No, I’m at Jane’s.”

“Oh good,” Solana said, sounding relieved.  

Not wanting to interrupt them, Shepard set the snacks and water down and moved into her bathroom to blow dry her hair, a soft whir starting up that drowned out most of Vakarian’s conversation with his sister, giving them some privacy. 

After a few minutes, her hair was nearly dry and Shepard whipped it to the side to dry the last little bit. To check up on him, she glanced at Vakarian’s reflection in the mirror and was caught off guard to find him off the call with his sister, his eyes carefully watching her. If she wasn’t mistaken, his eyes were transfixed on her with something like fascination. He must have been fixated on her hair – he’d always been intrigued by it, but the affectionate smile that played at his mouth and mandibles took her by surprise and made her wonder. 

Their eyes stayed locked for just the briefest moment before his flicked away, then he shifted. She looked back to her reflection, convincing herself that he was tired and grieving. And, that the look he gave her was simple xeno-fascination. 

Pushing those thoughts aside — and the odd way they made her heart flutter — Shepard flipped the hairdryer off and turned to him. “Sol ok?” 

“Yeah, she’s staying at a friend’s tonight. She just called to make sure I wasn’t...”

“Alone?” 

He shrugged. “I got the feeling she called to make sure I wasn’t at Livia’s.”

Shepard eyed him, trying to get a reading on what he was thinking or feeling. After a moment, she said, “I’ll leave it alone tonight, but I’m going to eventually ask you what’s going on with you and your mate. You guys seemed happy when you first got together.”

“Nothing’s going on,” he said and stiffened. His eyes fell to the floor as he contemplated something, then he looked back up at Shepard. “Well, nothing more than my fragile ego,” he admitted. “She says stuff all the time that gets to me. I don’t know why it does, though.”

“Like what?” she asked. 

His words fell out quicker than she expected. “The other night, she said that C-Sec was full of failed Spectre candidates.” Shepard stiffened, immediately incensed. It seemed like that had been sitting on the tip of his tongue. He was trying to act like it didn’t, but Livia’s words clearly upset him. And the look he gave her broke her heart — he agreed with Livia, which was the saddest part.   

Shepard scoffed, knowing that the irritation she felt for his mate was souring her expression. “What a way to a man’s heart. Insult his career path and tell him he’s a failure. So are your feelings hurt, or are you just upset that your mate’s so fucking stupid?”

Shepard walked to the closet and grabbed a spare blanket. She folded her arms around it to hold it close to her chest while her blood boiled at the thought of Livia saying that to him. How fucking dare she? Whereas she was fairly neutral on their relationship just yesterday, in almost an instant, she had jumped on board the Livia hate ship along with Kryik. 

Despite that, she asked Vakarian in a neutral tone, “Did she say it on purpose or—” 

“No,” he answered quickly, “I don’t even think it crossed her mind that she was referring to people like me.”

Shepard wanted to tell him that anyone stupid enough to say something so obviously hurtful to their mate was probably also mean enough to say it on purpose. And Livia might even be smart enough to hide her intentions. 

But maybe Shepard was too generous on that last point. Livia was stupid enough to push a wonderful man like Vakarian away. 

“You didn’t fail,” Shepard said, frustration in her voice because she hated when his self-deprecation came out like this. “Your dad talked you into choosing C-Sec.” 

When he didn’t say anything, Shepard shrugged. “I guess I am going to have to beat her up.”

Appreciative eyes fell on her, but there was gentle chastisement in his tone when he said, “She just doesn’t think about the stuff she says.”

“Hm,” Shepard pretended to think, quirking her brow and pursing her lips, “isn’t diplomacy, like the act of carefully crafting how you interact with people, sort of a requirement to work at the Embassy?”

Vakarian’s mandible fluttered outwards in a reluctant grin. “Never said she’s good at her job.”

Shepard shot him a playfully astonished look — wide eyes and pursed lips. “Ooo, I’m gonna tell her you said that.”

Vakarian’s grin grew, and he reached out to shove her, his hand landing on her hip and giving her a good push. She stumbled back, regained her balance, then lifted her foot to shove his hip with it. They chuckled and shoved each other a bit, all the while her heart swelled to see him smile.

Once he got his last good shove in, his smile faded, sentimentality taking over as he looked up at her. “Why are you so damn easy to be around?” 

She shot him a confident smile. “Because I’m so awesome. And I mean it, I always like being around you. I’d rather hang out with grouchy, moody Garrus than with anyone else.”

Shepard left his side to walk to the head of the bed, drew down the covers, and began to crawl in. He watched her the whole time, horrified, eyes wide and mandibles twitching. 

When she leaned back against her fluffy, comfy pillows, he said, “What are you doing? Aren’t we going downstairs to watch the vid?”

“Turians don’t do sleepover parties?”

“I’m not sleeping on this bed with you,” he declared as if she asked him to commit murder. Ignorant of Vakarian’s declaration, Rocket jumped up on the bed and curled up somewhere between Shepard’s feet and Vakarian’s body, tucking himself in comfortably. 

“I’m kidding. You don’t have to sleep on my bed. Just watch the vid here. We’re already comfortable.” She tossed him some snacks and a bottle of water. “Relax. Once the vid’s over, you can either go sleep in the guest bed or go home.” She used her omni-tool to turn the fireplace on, then turned to Vakarian and, with a raised brow, challenged him to leave now that a fire would be radiating heat, making them all warm and cozy. 

He sighed, giving in to her temptation of a soft bed and warm fireplace, and relaxed back into the mattress. “I don’t even want to argue anymore. I’m too tired. Put on the vid.”

“Good,” she smiled, “what’s it called?”

“Necessary Lies.”

“Oh my god, what a perfect, cheesy title,” she said while using her omni-tool to search for then stream it to her vidscreen. She tossed him the spare blanket she’d retrieved, which he promptly wrapped around his gigantic body that took up the entire end of the king-sized bed. She could already feel the warmth radiating from his legs and warming hers. She watched him for just a moment, perfectly comfortable and seemingly happy for this distraction, so she stifled that heavy urge she felt to ask him just once more if he wanted to talk. Even if it felt wrong just to pretend everything was fine, that’s what he wanted.  

As if he could tell what she was thinking, with a quiet voice, said, “Thanks, Jane.”

“For what?” she asked. 

“Everything,” he answered simply, his eyes stuck on the vidscreen as the vid started up. He had picked up one of the snacks she gave him and was lazily nipping and leaning back his head just slightly to swallow a small bit. Taking her focus off him, Shepard’s omni-tool pinged with an incoming message. She took a moment to tell him ‘you’re welcome’ and nudged her foot towards his leg under the covers before she looked down to see that the sender was Solana.

Solana: How is my brother?

Jane: He’s ok. We’re watching a vid, and he’s eating some snacks. 

Solana: Thank you. You’re a wonderful friend, and you’re always there for him when he needs you. 

Jane: I’d do just about anything for him. How are you?

Solana: I’ll be ok. I’m more worried about Dad and Garrus.

Jane: If any of you ever need anything, I’m here.

Solana: I know. You’re an honorary Vakarian, Jane. I’m doing dinner this weekend, to give Mom a break. I’ll see you then?

Jane: Of course. Now get some rest.

Solana: Goodnight, and thank you again for taking care of Garrus. 

Jane: Always. 

It was then that Shepard realized, embarrassingly late, that Vakarian had come to her when he needed someone. He hadn’t gone to Nihlus or Livia. He needed someone who made him feel safe, someone who could listen if he asked for it or distract him if he needed it. And he chose her. 

Years later she would look back and remember that moment — him lying on her bed, struggling to cope with the news of his mother’s terminal illness but finding comfort in Shepard’s presence — as the moment she knew that whenever she faltered, whenever she hurt, she always chose him too.