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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. 

Chapter Text

With Shepard in his arms, Vakarian forgot for just a moment all the anger that burned inside him. He forgot how much his trigger finger itched every time he closed his eyes and saw the bowels and blood. He forgot how easy it would be to take matters into his own hands, to take care of the monsters that would do something so horrendous to an innocent, defenseless person. Feeling her within his arms reminded him that he was a detective and that his job was to find them and put them away, even though they deserved less civilized punishment. They deserved to have their throats slit, bowels spilled, and to be left for dead without hope of surviving. 

And he could certainly give that to them. 

This little human in his arms had no idea just how much she changed him, saved him, from being the person that would give that to them — even while wearing his badge. There had been moments when he thought of telling her that, but every time logic and sensibility told him to keep his dramatically sappy, heartfelt revelations to himself. With those thoughts in mind, he held her tight; the warm embrace they shared sort of told her everything he felt, anyhow.  

“Alright,” Shepard took a shaky breath, her chest rising against his, and playfully pushed Vakarian away while wiping at her wet cheeks. “Let go of me. I don’t want to be the one responsible for making you question your turian-only sexuality,” she deadpanned, and a chuckle rippled through his chest. 

She looked up at him, feigning exasperation. “I’m not kidding. That’s a lot of weight to put on my shoulders.”

They laughed as he unwrapped his arms from around her small, soft human body and pressed the door release key on the elevator console. “You watch turian porn. I think I’m the one that needs to be worried about overly intimate contact.”

“Ohhh, you wish , Vakarian.” She gave him a tired half-smile that was so familiar and warm it made him smile for no reason other than he enjoyed these moments with her. Somehow, he got lucky with his human partner, and there wasn't a day that went by that he didn’t acknowledge that.  

Exiting the elevator, they were met by a few officers gathered around the doors. Dirty looks and a few huffs fell from the officers; they had to be angry about the hold-up that little hug-fest caused. Vakarian and Shepard glared at the officers with enough heat to convey that they weren't in the damned mood to be harassed, which was enough to make every last one of them glance away and hurriedly walk onto the elevator. Sometimes having a reputation around C-Sec as Homicide's best had its perks, like most officers at central knowing who they were and not to fuck with them when they weren't in a good mood. They all knew their bad moods were usually for a good reason, like holding a quarian's hand as she bled out. Telling her not to give up despite the slit throat and bowels casually resting in her own lap. 

They continued down the hall towards Homicide. “Just do me a favor and keep the erogenous zone talk to a minimum tonight. I can go the rest of my life not knowing what a clitoris is.”

As he said that, two human officers passed by, giving them queer looks. Shepard and Vakarian glared at them, too, because they weren’t even in the mood for suffering through queer looks from beat cops who spent all their time patrolling the wards hunting down kids swiping vid games.

“You never know. You may want to understand female human anatomy someday. Maybe some lucky lady will catch your interest.” She winked at him. And she would have pulled off the impish effect she was going for — had it not been for the red, puffy eyes.  

“Unlikely, Shep, I’ve never been attracted to any other species. But I’ll be sure to go to you for advice if that ever happens.”

They walked through the doors into Homicide. Most of their fellow detectives ignored their entrance because they had a mountain of their own work. You’d have to come in guns firing to get that group to pay attention to anything other than the stacks of reports and evidence, or whatever distraction they were using to give their crime scene wary minds a break. The path to their desks seemed agonizingly longer than normal. 

As they reached their desks, Kryik and T'Saris both looked up with sympathetic expressions. So, they must have heard about the scene.

“What the fuck?” T'Saris asked, her typically hardened demeanor rife with sympathy. “You guys ok?”

“You two look like shit. Have you eaten?” Kryik asked.

Detectives — especially turians —  rarely offered that kind of support to each other after working a scene. It had to be really bad. They must have gotten wind of some of the specifics, which wasn’t really surprising — it wasn’t every day someone was cut open like that and actually still alive. Word would have already gotten around. It was horrific. The energy buzzing through him, his tensing hands, and racing thoughts told him just how much this one got to him. And it was Tali’s cousin, too. Fucking bastards.

Shepard and Vakarian both shook their heads as they sat down, mimicking each other’s body language as they leaned back and allowed their bodies to succumb to the exhaustion. 

“I’ll order you guys some food.” T'Saris was already typing at her console.

“That quarian must be one tough motherfucker.” Kryik shook his head and let an astonished expression peek through his typically stoic demeanor. 

Vakarian and Shepard didn’t respond to anything else Kryik and T'Saris said. They didn’t have the energy, and honestly, what could they really say?

After a moment of silence, Vakarian looked over to Kryik without lifting his head. “Can we go somewhere a bit more low-key tonight? I’m not up for Flux.” Even he had his limits when it came to how much stimulation he could handle in one day, but he was still hoping for a welcome distraction after the day they’d had.  

After yawning, putting her strange little pink tongue and dull teeth on full display, Shepard chimed in, “I second that.” 

The reports could wait, they both needed a minute to either process what they just went through, or at least wash it from their minds. Shepard and Vakarian both looked across their desks at each other, and he was certain she saw the same worn out, emotionally exhausted, and horrified sight in him that he saw in her. They both sighed, smiled, and then let their heads fall back. 

A belated lunch eventually got them through reports and at the end of the day they wound up agreeing to go to an asari bar near the docks that was popular with humans, which Kryik and T'Saris both requested. He was pretty sure Shepard readily agreed to the bar because there was zero chance she’d get drunk and lured out on a nonexistent dance floor by Kryik, just so he could give her shit about her sloppy dancing. 

And in the back of his mind, Vakarian thought that maybe Livia would pass on going out to an asari bar near the docks. Maybe she’d stay home and he could just relax with his coworkers. He’d given up on Livia being the type of mate who could help him forget the bad days and offer a little sense of peace in a dark world. Wasn’t her fault. There were other things she was good at. 

He left his jacket at work and rolled up his sleeves — about as comfortable as he could get without going home first, and if he went home he'd’ stay there. But Shepard had left both her jacket and her shirt at work, choosing to go out in just a tight black tank top she always wore under work shirts. She also changed into some dirty sneakers she always kept at her desk that seemed to be meant for especially dirty crime scenes — or going out. He wondered if Shep had ever even been in a dress, but didn’t have the nerve to ask her. He got smacked for lesser offenses and wasn’t willing to take the hit just to find out. 

On the way to the bar, he told Livia where they were going, and to his disappointment, she was still interested, but he figured he could tell her they’d arrived after he had a few minutes to enjoy a drink with his friends. They used to have so much fun together, but lately, her mood started out negative and it took a lot of energy to get her comfortable and calm — energy he just didn't have at the moment. 

He and Shepard walked into the bar together — the relaxed atmosphere made it seem busy rather than overcrowded. The place explicitly catered to humans and asari, who valued comfort and the atmosphere reflected that. The wood counter had a warm finish to it and it was intricately carved with what looked like symbols from prothean mythology. Instead of cold metal seats or easy-to-clean fake leather, the stools were topped with rich asari velvet. For the docks, it was actually really nice. 

It only took a minute to spot Kryik and T’Saris sitting at the bar. Vakarian longed to sit down and enjoy a few minutes of peace bullshitting with his friends but just as they sat down in the seats Kryik and T’Saris saved for them a message pinged on Vakarian’s omni-tool. He dreaded looking down, knowing it was from Livia. He could still just ignore it for a few minutes…

“I like this place!” Shepard called out to T’Saris over the steady beat of the mellow asari alternative-synth music. 

Shepard and T’Saris shouted a few things to each other about the bar and the music, and Kryik argued that it was nice but Flux was still great. Listening to his friends talk and laugh, he pushed Livia’s message to the back of his mind so he could order a drink. 

The annoying thing about going out with Kryik and T’Saris is they were both flirts. But, the nice thing about going out with them was that they were very good-looking, fun flirts, so the bartender was usually nearby. As Kryik tapped his forearm to Vakarian’s in greeting, Vakarian nudged Kryik with his spur. “Mind letting the bartender serve us?” 

The bartender looked his way with a mandible-wide grin. When their eyes met, an interested trill traveled from her throat to his ears, sending an embarrassed wave of heat up his neck. 

“Oh don’t bother with him, he has a mate,” T’Saris shouted with a silly smile slapped on her face and two empty glasses sitting in front of her.

The bartender laughed softly, “Well fortunately for him, I can’t refuse service based on having a mate or not. What can I get you?”

“Horosk,” Vakarian said, trying his best to stifle an anxious trill that threatened to broadcast his nerves. Clearing his throat he looked over to Shepard, who was staring at the wood bar and running her fingers over the delicate carvings. “And what do you want Shep? Whiskey? Beer?”

She pulled her hands away from the carvings so she could place an elbow on the bartop and let her head rest in her hand. “Beer, but I’ll want a whiskey soon after.”

“Hmm, how about we save you some time,” he said to the bartender, who leaned into the bar, getting a bit too close. “Two horosks, a beer, and a whiskey.”

The bartender returned his smile, nodded with a slight tilt so that her neck flashed just briefly, then left. 

Irritation washed over him; the woman was a turian and should know better than to flirt with him when he had a mate. But, this was his fault, really, wasn’t it? Without Livia’s scent on him, he seemed available to others. Something about having another’s scent on him made his chest hurt and his stomach turn, though, so he always removed it, explaining to Livia it was for the job. It wasn’t. He was a liar and a coward. The only thing that made him feel less like an ass was the fact that Livia didn’t seem to mind. So long as they scented and she kept his, she said she was happy. He told himself he’d get used to wearing another’s scent someday, but so far that day hadn’t come. 

Once they received their drinks, Shepard clutched her beer so tight he wondered if she thought someone would wrestle her for it. Her hand reached out to gesture towards his omni-tool. “You got a message when we sat down.”

He almost growled when she pointed that out because now he wouldn't be able to pretend it didn’t exist. He sucked up his nerve and glanced down to read it. 

Livia: Are we going out or not? I’ve been waiting to hear from you.

He glared down at his omni-tool, trying to figure out what to do. Regardless of how long he delayed finally spending time with her, he’d still be more miserable than he already was. He was tired and grouchy, and she’d want him to be in a good mood. Because if he wasn’t, that meant she didn’t make him happy. And then they’d get in a fight, and he’d have to spend the next three days convincing her she made him happy. And that was becoming less and less an accurate portrayal of his feelings for her. He missed the early days, four short months ago, when they were happy, and she wasn’t constantly disappointed with everything he said or did.  

He took a long drink of his horosk, savoring the burn of the smoky alcohol on his tongue. He was supposed to be forgetting his shitty day, and instead, he was busy worrying about his shitty relationship. Before he fully thought through his plan, his fingers started making his decision for him. 

Garrus: Sorry, got caught up in work. 

Fighting the guilt eating away at him for tiptoeing towards a lie, he stared down at his omni-tool waiting for her reply. The longer he waited, his anxiety built. He could picture her sitting in her apartment, fuming and tapping her talons as she cursed and called him an asshole to herself. A ping came eventually, but only after he’d worked himself up worrying over what she was going to say. 

Livia: Sometimes I think you work late on purpose.

Garrus: Liv, please. I’m sorry. 

Livia: Fine. I’m going out with friends instead.

Her feelings were hurt — understandable. She probably wanted him to ask her to come out with him instead. He probably should. 

He didn’t.

Garrus: Sorry. I’ll message you when I get home, and I’ll make it up to you tomorrow night. 

“Ouch,” Shepard said, and when he looked up, fully expecting her to be watching some poor sap getting rejected, he saw her eyes glued to his omni-tool instead.

He closed the message and scowled at her, “When did I say you’re allowed to look at all my messages?”

She started surveying the room and took a giant gulp of her drink. Then, turning back to him, she shrugged and nudged him with her elbow. “Do you really care if I look at all your messages?”

No, he didn’t, actually. What he cared about was getting caught being an asshole to his mate. “Don’t let her find out about this,” he pleaded. 

Her brow rose in slight confusion. “About what?”

“Letting her think I’m still working.”

“Oh ok, when she and I get manicures together, I’ll be sure to keep your secret.” Shepard punctuated her point with a sly grin. 

Vakarian lifted his drink as Shepard made that smart little remark, and he was sure to give her a dirty look before he pressed his lips to the glass. 

He wasn’t actually mad at her, and she knew it, so she just smiled up at him. Her legs started bouncing as she sat on her stool. Her endless energy was impressive sometimes. 

“Sorry, I won’t read your messages if you don’t want me to. But if you need a break, you should be able to tell her.”

“I don’t care if you read my messages,” was all he said. He couldn't respond to her other point because she was right, he should be able to tell Livia he needed a night with his friends without hurting her feelings. Somehow he was too stupid to figure how to go about that, though, because no matter what he said, Livia was upset.  

“Hey, wanna go to the range tomorrow?” Shepard asked, casual concern on her face. How in the hell had a human become such a wonderful friend? He answered her with a nod. Already, his shoulders felt twenty pounds lighter. 

“Shepard!” Kryik called out from Vakarian’s right side to Shepard, who was on his left. Knowing they were about to revisit their morning discussion, he sincerely regretted sitting between them. “So are you going to just provide some general information, or are you going to give some tips too?”

Shepard’s head fell back as she laughed, “You actually think you can convince a human female to fuck you?”

“I’m just fascinated at this point. Based on what I’ve heard, the only thing I can compare it to is the nape on turians.” Spirits take him, Vakarian wasn’t sure if sitting with Livia in a miserable mood or listening to his friend and partner talk about erogenous zones was worse. Obviously, he’d thought sitting with Livia was, or she would be there to provide a distraction from those two. He ran a heavy hand over his face and took another drink.  

“Nape?” Curiosity and confusion twisted Shepard’s brows and quirked her lips. She had a wonderfully expressive and endearing face. 

“Thought you’ve watched turian porn?” Kryik taunted her with a smirk. 

“Like on your neck?”

“Yeah, most sensitive place on our bodies, other than the slit.” Kryik lifted a hand to point at the back of his neck, right beneath the soft plates and hovering just over his nape.

Recognition immediately dawned on Shepard’s face, “ Ohhh, that’s what all the licking and nipping on the back of the neck was about.”

Vakarian rolled his eyes, asking any deity that had the slightest possibility of existing to make these two shut up. Why couldn’t they just talk about normal, fun things, like weapon mods and optimizing algorithms?

Blessed silence passed between them for a moment. All Vakarian could hear was the chatter in the bar and loud music, which he could put up with. Even though she was silent, Shepard was thinking entirely too hard about this nape concept; he could tell because he knew her too well. The wheels in her head turned just as clearly as when she was working on a case. Out of the corner of his eye, Vakarian saw Kryik watching her, chuckling softly to himself. 

Almost startling Vakarian, Shepard threw her arms up. “So many overheard locker conversations are starting to make sense!”

When Vakarian turned to make sure Shepard saw the incredulous look he gave her he noticed a male human hovering over her shoulder. Although she was oblivious to the guys’ presence, the guy was gawking, watching her with lovestruck eyes, and clearly gathering up the nerve to talk to her. 

As much as it made him lose respect for the guy, Vakarian understood. She was energetic and blunt, and she seemed so much bigger than she was. Even though she was small, her body was strong, tight, and she carried herself and talked to people like there was no question she was in charge. It had pulled Vakarian in almost from the moment they met, too. If she were a turian, he’d probably react to her the same way. 

Eventually catching on that Vakarian was staring at something, she followed his eye line and looked over her shoulder to see the guy. As soon as she looked at him, he grinned so wide he could compete in a salarian smiling contest. 

As soon as she laid eyes on him, Shepard instantly smiled back. “Hi.”

“God, you are fucking gorgeous,” the guy blurted, making Shepard laugh in delighted surprise while Vakarian and Kryik exchanged a look. They were about to lose Shepard. “Alliance?”

Vakarian watched her body language; she liked the guy. And he looked like most of the guys she was into — fit with light hair. Blonde is what humans called it. “C-Sec,” she answered with a proud smile.  

“I could have sworn you’re Alliance.”

“Oh yeah?” Shepard tossed her hair over her shoulder and leaned forward a little bit.

“You look like you could be the commander of a ship.”

Kryik and Vakarian barked out laughing at the guy’s ridiculous line, but Shepard shot them both a dirty look over her shoulder. Vakarian might have felt bad for laughing if the guy wasn’t so wrapped up in Shepard; he didn’t even notice the two turians laughing at him. 

Quickly regaining her stride, though, she gave the guy her best smile. “Well how about I lead you to that corner over there, and we can get away from these idiots?” Shepard blinked her eyes rapidly — batting eyelashes was a flirting thing for humans, she had told him once. Vakarian thought she just looked kind of crazy. 

And with that, Shepard swept the guy off his feet and into a corner, where they quickly started making out. The poor enamored guy soon found himself in heaven, sitting on a stool with Shepard straddling his lap, and Vakarian was certain that whatever humans called kissing was certainly not conducive to breathing. 

Vakarian felt Kryik’s elbow in his side, nudging to get his attention because he’d been watching Shepard. He was always a bit protective when she wandered off with guys, but he was also staring because kissing was strange . He always caught himself staring when humans or asari wrapped their lips around one another's; but, when Shepard did it, he spent even more time trying to dissect just what it was about kissing that humans and asari found appealing — maybe because Shepard did it so enthusiastically. 

“It looks weird hm, kissing?” Kryik said. “It’s nice, though. Ever thought of making out with a human or asari before, just to see what it’s like?” 

“Not really, looks terrible.” Thinking of his mate sitting at her apartment, upset at him and alone, Vakarian shifted in his seat and took a drink. But he kept watching Shepard as she rocked her hips up against the guy. He sat under her, looking as if he was drowning in an ocean, wave after wave slapping over him. Granted, he’d never seen a guy so happy to be drowning. But still. 

Maybe the commander comment wasn’t so far off.  

Kryik broke Vakarian’s thoughts with a soft laugh.

Vakarian, peeling his eyes off Shepard, turned back to look at Kryik, “Hm?”

“She told me this morning I couldn’t handle her, and I think she’s actually right about that.”

Vakarian nodded with a tired smile. Shepard was such a little ball of fire, and she was going to engulf that guy.

“It’s always made sense why you and Shepard get along, you know?”

“Oh yeah?” Vakarian wasn’t interested in the answer; he was starting to wish he was at home. Shepard may have endless energy, but he didn’t.

“I’m surprised you’ve never thought of something more with Shepard, even though she’s human. She’s your type, you know.” 

“I don’t have a type.” Vakarian could barely get the words out, and for some reason, agitation built up within him as Kryik so comfortably delved into love and relationships, bringing up thoughts and feelings Vakarian always avoided like a thresher maw nest. Especially with Kryik. 

“You do, and it’s not Livia. When we were younger, you always chose women who were full of life, and funny, and tough as a fucking krogan.” 

Vakarian opened his mouth to deny that thoroughly, but Kryik just kept talking. “I get it. Livia was safe. I’m sure deep down, you knew there was no risk of losing your heart to her.”

“Dammit, Nih,” Vakarian muttered, letting his subvocals and clenched mandibles send the message since he didn’t have the words to express how angry Kryik was making him. 

“Where is Livia, hm?” And just when Vakarian was about to tell Kryik to back off, Kryik got a look in his eye that said he was fully aware Vakarian wasn’t going to like what he was about to say. “Shepard reminds me of Cama.” 

Anger leaped up in Vakarian faster than he could register it. Memories and images of the only woman he’d ever loved surged through his tired and slightly drunk brain. Her beautiful happy face as she rested in his arms. Her sad eyes the last time they saw each other and she crushed his soul. Five years had passed since they said goodbye, and he still missed her with every breath he took and every beat of his heart. It was low, and Kryik had to know that just mentioning her name would send him reeling.  

Vakarian found himself growling while trying to push memories of her deep down. “I spent all day at that crime scene. I don’t need your analytical shit tonight.”

Kryik wasn't listening though; he was too busy sharing his unwelcome opinions. “Shepard’s so much like Cama -”

“No, she’s fucking not,” Vakarian finally snapped. He loved Kryik like a brother, but the guy had no idea when to back off.  

He felt Kryik’s eyes watching while waiting for his growl to die down. And only a second after it finally did, Kryik said, “Well, I can’t imagine Shepard ever letting you down, so she’s not completely like Cama, hm?”

Vakarian was barely listening to Kryik by that point and didn’t feel obligated to respond anymore. Of course Kryik thought he was helping, but all he was doing was pissing Vakarian off and forcing him down an even darker and more depressing hole than he’d already been dangling over.

Vakarian didn’t want to hear it. Any of it. He didn’t want to compare Shepard to Cama because that would just make him start to pick apart Shepard’s personality and habits for no reason. Shepard was wonderful, and she didn’t deserve that. And most of all, he didn’t want to think about the only woman he had ever loved, the one who had broken his heart so deeply he swore he would never allow himself to get that close to anyone ever again. Shepard was starting to test that pact he’d made with himself, but at least she was just a human. And just a friend. 

And most of all, he didn’t want to admit that he’d never love anyone like he loved Cama. 

🔪🔪🔪

When Shepard saw T'Saris saying goodbye to Vakarian and Kryik, she wandered back over so she could join in on the ‘goodnights.’ 

After T'Saris left, Kryik turned to Shepard, “Not going home with the human?”

“No,” Shepard said coolly. Her cheeks were sore from grinning so much, and her lips numb from making out for so long. The guy was sweet and had been a nice little distraction. “He was pretty hot, though, hm?”

“Can’t say I’m attracted to human males,” Kryik said. “But if he was so hot, why aren’t you leaving with him?”

“When I meet a guy I really like I get stupid. I got his number, though, so I can always call him later.”  

After flashing Kryik a grin, Shepard glanced over at her partner, who was leaning over the bar cradling his drink. She knew her partner well, almost like the back of her hand nowadays. He was upset about something. Shepard read it easily in his tense shoulders and tight mandibles. “Why are you so quiet?” She nudged him with her shoulder and offered a playful smile, hoping to lift his spirits. 

She watched him sigh, then sit up straighter as if gathering up his energy. “It’s getting late, and I’m ready to be home.” Vakarian stood up then, looking like the weight of the galaxy was pushing him down as he raised his omni-tool to pay his tab. 

She knew it was something more than being tired and knew that if he went home alone, he’d just keep sliding down that slope and would wind up even worse off tomorrow. Vakarian was one to pull away and isolate himself, and the longer she let that happen, the thicker his shell would be and the harder she’d have to work to crack him out of it. “It’s not that late. Come on.” She playfully nudged him with her hip, which got a queer look from him. Sure, maybe it was too playful, but he needed some prodding. “Come over and hang out.”

Thankfully he agreed, and with Kryik in tow, the three of them left together. Only two steps out the door she saw two Alliance guys, dog tags clearly announcing their affiliation, leaning against the wall, eyeing her group. She noted the clear look of disgust and anger and wished she hadn’t because she couldn’t keep herself from glaring back at them. The bouncers, a female turian and an asari were at least thirty feet away arguing with a krogan who didn’t want to go home, even though he had vomit trickling down his chin in a putrid green trail of slime. 

“Fucking turians sure helps you get ahead out here, huh?” one of the Alliance guys called out. 

Without a beat, as if she was expecting it, the asari bouncer yelled over to them, “We told you assholes to stop harassing women leaving the bar. Knock it the fuck off.” For added effect, the turian bouncer shot the Alliance guys a very threatening glare before turning back to the krogan. 

Shepard should have just kept walking, just like Vakarian and Kryik were. She should have ignored the guy. But she was sick of it. Her day had been shitty enough, and she had enough alcohol in her to make her not give a fuck about the consequences of her actions. She’d been on the station three years and was entirely sick of the racist bullshit. She was sick of being accused of riding a turian’s coattails — or worse — to get ahead, and this asshole didn’t even know everything they said about her at C-Sec. Having enough sense not to use words, though, she let her middle finger do the talking. 

They only made it a few feet before the guy slurred, “Takes a lot of energy to let two turians tag team you.” It wasn’t just the words that struck her last nerve; it was the chuckling that bled from the humans like an auditory plague. It infected her, filling her with rage. Instantly the two Alliance men represented all the men they put behind bars for letting their self-hatred fester and rot until they took it out on women with vitriol and violence. Did the men who attacked Ziha shout obscenities at her? Did they treat her like she existed just for their amusement? Like she was an object to be debased and used? 

Shepard stopped. A quick glance told her the bouncers were tied up with the krogan who was starting to get shove-y. Although she could feel Vakarian’s hand gently grasp her arm to convince her just to leave, she stuck to her objective. Taking three quick strides towards the guy she shoved his friend out of the way and laid her fist into his jaw with enough force to make him stumble back. Stupid, sure. It hurt like hell and was a dumb place to punch someone, but it was oh so satisfying.  

“Fucking bitch,” the guy spat, swaying for a moment as he tried to catch his balance. Recovering, he stepped forward, his furious eyes looking her up and down. Shepard held her clenched fist at her side, trying her damndest not to let on that her hand was throbbing. More alcohol would fix that.

“I’m getting real sick of the cock envy,” Shepard calmly said, crossing her arms and staring the guy down. 

The guy’s friend eyed Vakarian and Kryik, thinly hiding the apprehension he clearly felt looking at the two muscular turians who towered over them. “You gonna tell your boyfriends to beat us up?” he mocked, a slight shake in his voice. Vakarian and Kryik casually stood behind her, and were barely interested in the guy..

Vakarian looked the two men over briefly. “I’m more than slightly offended you think we’re dumb enough to get into a fight with two Alliance soldiers,” he drawled, a single mandible flicking up just briefly as he crossed his arms and cocked out a hip. 

Kryik, in a similar stance, added dryly, “She can handle you two.”

Vakarian then laughed, deep and rumbly, “We’re just here to look pretty.”

Shepard knew her turian friends had no interest in fighting the guys — mostly because Pallin would nail their asses to the wall. But, also because no one would be pleased with two retired Hierarchy special ops picking on Alliance soldiers at an asari bar. That one might even make the news. Otherwise, Kryik would take them both out, all by himself, before either saw him coming.  

Both guys glanced at the bouncers, probably hoping they could rely on them to step in. They had to know by now they picked a fight with the wrong people.

The guy she had already punched looked back at her. “Go on home, honey, so your skullface boyfriends ca—” but the guy didn’t get to finish because Shepard had already nailed her fist into his stomach. Much softer than the jaw and more damage to the asshole. Better choice, and the way the guy lurched forward made it just as satisfying as punching his jaw.  

“They’re my co-workers, you limp-dick bitch, but if I want to take them both home and let them fuck me until I can’t walk, that’s none of your goddamn business. Fuck off.

While he righted himself, his friend looked over to Kryik and Vakarian again and did nothing to help the guy with a mouth bigger than his balls. And that big-mouthed asshole didn’t know when to shut up, either. Holding a hand to his gut, a smart-ass look on his face made it clear he would say something else that would piss her off even more, and she wanted to shut him up before he had the chance. She raised her fist, ready to land another blow, anger burning, and blood pumping. In her mind, she could see his dumb face and her fist breaking his damn nose.  

Just as she pulled her fist back, she faintly heard one of the bouncers shout something their way while a large turian arm wrapped around her waist and three turian fingers wrapped around her balled-up hand. Suddenly she felt weightless as Vakarian’s arms pulled her body back and her feet off the ground. 

“Alright,” Vakarian drawled, the amusement flavoring his tone in stark contrast to her fuming rage, “I think we’ve had enough fun tonight. Come on, Shep.” For the second time that day, his arms saved her from a tricky situation, just when she needed him. 

Laughing softly, Kryik turned to the bouncers. “It’s alright. We’re getting her out of here.”

And that was that. Shepard’s turian partner kept her from kicking an Alliance soldier's ass. Vakarian didn’t put her raging body down until they were down the block and around a corner. She may have been outwardly throwing a fit about the whole thing by wiggling around in his arms, but inwardly she was thankful Vakarian was always there for her — even when she would have preferred kicking a dude’s ass and paying the price for it. Vakarian had her back, though, and helped her keep her head on straight.  

A short skycar ride and an even shorter walk gave her enough time to calm down. Shepard and Vakarian walked through her apartment door, taking turns stepping around Rocket. The cat wove an intricate pattern from Shepard’s legs to Vakarian’s and back, like a little fluffy worm, while he chirped some nonsense that only he understood. Shepard smiled, realizing Vakarian had gotten just as good at delicately stepping around her silly cat, who fully expected creatures much larger than him to not step on or trip over him.

With the cat fed and appeased, and Shepard and Vakarian fed and appeased, they each poured their drinks and wandered over to the living room together. Shepard turned on the fireplace for the little cat and the large turian, who both appreciated the warmth.   

They settled in, Shepard nestled in the deep couch cushions, and Vakarian sat down on the floor by her legs and as close to her fireplace as possible. As they sat in peace, the warm glow illuminated the dim room and cast shadows that danced on the walls, the furniture, even on Vakarian’s solemn face. It reminded her of the way the overhead lights kept flickering as they sat with Ziha and waited for CEMS. Away from the distractions at work and the noise of the bar, Shepard couldn't get images of the poor quarian out of her head. No matter how hard she chased them, they hammered back in, unwilling to let her relax and forget about the horror. Bowels sitting in her lap so casually, like it was normal for them to be there. Her blood seeping from stab wounds across her stomach and chest. Her throat sliced open. The way her chest struggled to rise and was all too quick to fall. And that look in Ziha’s eyes as she watched Vakarian telling her it would all be ok.

“What’d Kryik do to piss you off back at the bar?” She knew it had to be something Kryik said because he constantly said something that invaded Vakarian’s comfort zone. If they weren’t completely different colorings with drastically different clan markings, she would have thought they were brothers when she first started working with them.  

“He thought tonight would be an excellent time to make me think about the only woman I’ve ever loved.”

Shepard huffed in response, acknowledging how dumb that was. She didn’t know anything about that story, but she at least understood Vakarian well enough to never ask about it. Then she realized that he never hid that stuff from her because he trusted her not to talk about it. 

She watched Vakarian’s strong chest rise and fall slowly, steadily, and remembered how horrible and anxious she felt watching Ziha use her last remnants of strength to keep breathing. There was something surreal and terrifying, watching someone, expecting each breath to be their last.  

Amidst the cloud of alcohol dulling her senses, Shepard finally realized the sobering truth — those images would never go away. Not tonight, not ever. 

This was the case. Every detective had that case, the one that changed them forever. Shepard let out a shallow breath, watching Vakarian relax with his gaze on the fire, and propped her tired head up with a hand. The room was quiet, but Shepard couldn't decide if it was unnerving or cozy. Her hoarse voice finally sliced through the silence, “Have you ever seen someone die?”

The look on Vakarian’s face instantly made her realize what a stupid question that was. Of course he had; he was a goddamn sniper in special ops. A better question, though she’d never ask it something so horrible and personal,  would have been ‘how many people have you personally killed, and did you ever cut someone clean open like they cut Ziha open.’ A shiver ran up her spine.

He took a slow drink from his glass. “You never have, hm?” 

Shepard tucked her legs up under her even tighter, drawing within herself for warmth and comfort and probably to keep her legs from bouncing around like they constantly ached to do when she thought about stuff she didn’t want to. “No. I’ve only seen people alive or dead, no in-between. No confusing moments that make me question just how long we all have on this…” she stopped there, realizing just how slow her brain was getting from the alcohol. “I’m not on Earth. You know what I mean.” She waved her hand in the air, “How long we have, wherever we are.”

Then she asked what she should have from the start of this conversation. “Are you used to it? Seeing shit like that?”

He was quiet for a moment, and she hoped he was going to say no. Because she wasn’t quite sure what she’d think about herself and her ability to keep doing this job if he made any indication that what they just went through that day was normal for him. That it was ok and he’d just go on like it hadn’t happened.

His eyes stayed on his drink. Or maybe he was looking at his hands. “I’m used to seeing a little speck of a person,” he held up his fingers to indicate how small a body would look to him through his scope, “dropping down after I pull a trigger. I’m used to snapping a neck, letting a body fall as I walk away.” He took another slow drag from his glass. “You never get used to holding someone’s hand as they fade away, though. The crying, the begging...I hate it.”

“Is that why you left the Hierarchy after enlistment? You couldn't take it anymore?”

“Ten years is enough.” He sighed, seemingly thinking of something. Then his eyes hazed, some kind of dark thoughts invading his consciousness. He looked at her for a moment, and she could tell he was considering whether or not he should say whatever he was thinking. 

“I got sick of shooting people,” he eventually said. “And there’s only so much you can do to challenge yourself after ten years. You can only nail a person between the eyes so many times before you start wondering what would happen if you shot them somewhere else. And ten seconds after I indulged that curiosity by shooting a drell in the throat, I decided I’d get out when my conscription was up.” 

Shepard nearly choked on the brandy she was trying to swallow. After taking a moment to force her drink down and wipe at her wet lips, she looked at her tired, worn-down friend. “Fuck, Garrus,” she said, her voice just above a whisper. 

His head turned to look up at her, and after making sure he hadn’t completely scared her off, he continued, “I ended it a second later with a clean shot that took him out. I’d also like to mention that he was part of a merc group that set off an explosion at a colony. Took out a couple of families.” He paused and ran a hand over his fringe. “But...guess I shouldn’t have told you all that.”

His story ran through her head as she remembered how much fun they always had at the shooting range together. How lighthearted he always looked. The joy she saw in him when they shot targets didn’t seem to match up with the darkness he just revealed. “But you like shooting. You love it.”

Vakarian shrugged, staring down at his drink, “I like being good at things.”

“Please tell me you’re not thinking like that when we’re at the shooting range, laughing and bullshiting.”

“No. I don’t think much of anything when I shoot. It clears your mind. Blank space. No worries, no doubts. No thoughts. Just breathe, click, pop. Repeat. Sometimes there’s a living body on the end of your scope, sometimes just a target.” 

Shepard only realized she was staring at him with mild shock written all over her face when he turned to face her, and he looked truly sorry for what he said.

Fueled by guilt she gently nudged his shoulder with her knee because she hated seeing him doubt himself. “It’s ok. You don’t have to hide that shit from me.” He didn’t say anything, but she swore she could see him relax a little like a load had been taken off his shoulders. Hearing him confess that to her, and how just telling him he didn’t have to hide from her, all his dark thoughts and weaknesses, made her feel awful for thinking she couldn't cry in front of him. He trusted her, and she should have known he’d never judge her for her weaknesses. 

They sat in silence a while longer, enjoying the peace and comfort her home offered them after a grueling day. The flames flickered. Periodically, they heard the soft padding of Rocket’s footsteps as he patrolled the apartment. 

Vakarian finally sighed, trying to ignore Rocket, who had eventually wandered over and was dancing in circles on his tiptoes, asking for attention. “Killing people...you get used to it, Shep.” 

Shepard accepted his truth with a nod and would have protested the loss of silence if Vakarian’s voice wasn’t so warm and soothing. 

He continued, “Just like you’re used to seeing dead bodies and treating them like evidence instead of people. But... it just makes me wonder who attacked Ziha. What have they done that led up to doing that to someone? Can you imagine what they’re used to?”

“We should check records, see if there are any similar attacks. Might lead to some suspects.”

Vakarian finally petted Rocket, then picked up a nearby toy and dangled it for the excited cat, whose eyes dilated to the size of dinner plates. “It’s someone else’s problem now. Unless she dies, Assault & Battery will take it over.”

“Fuck...I keep forgetting that she’s alive,” Shepard said, shaking her head. “Isn’t that horrible? It’s like my brain can’t believe she could live through that.” 

“To be fair, your brain is swimming in enough alcohol to tell you that nuzz...kissing that creepy, unattractive guy was a good idea.”

“Hey, he was attractive.”

“He had a weird eye thing. I’m surprised you didn’t notice.”

“Fuck off, no he didn’t.”

“And his nose looked like someone dropped a bowl on it.” 

She had said that once — a story about dropping a bowl on her nose when she was a kid, he’d asked her what it looked like (like someone dropped a bowl on it). It had mutually become their favorite insult for strangers, people who pissed them off, or anytime they wanted to make each other laugh. It instantly made them laugh — a little inside joke between them. Every time. Including this one.

“Alright,” she said between boozy chuckles, “now I know you’re fucking me.” 

His browplate rose, and he looked at her like she just proved his point. It made her pause, carefully replaying what she had just said.

“Fuck, I mean fucking with me.” She chuckled again. “Dammit, I am drunk. But he was attractive. And he wasn’t creepy — what’s so wrong with wanting someone who’ll worship you, anyway?” 

“A lot, unless you worship them right back,” he quickly replied, suddenly dry and bitter.  

“Garrus…” she sighed, wishing she could understand where to go with that comment. Somehow, homicidal confessions were easier to navigate with Vakarian than those of a romantic nature. Waiting for her to finish her sentence, his head turned to look up at her attentively, and he seemed more vulnerable than she’d seen him all day. It brought up a desire to protect him instead of berating him. “I adore you and all the weird and wonderful things about you.”

He smiled at that while slowly swirling the dwindling liquid in his glass. The look on his face told her he knew it was true.

“I just want you to be happy,” she said.

“I am,” he replied honestly.

No, not just now, all the time.

With a heavy sigh, he returned to the case, “Let’s keep hoping it’ll be handed off to someone tomorrow, but we’ll pass along everything we have.” 

He finished off his drink and set the empty glass on the coffee table — and even to her drunk ass, she could tell his depth perception was off. “Mind if I stay here tonight? I don’t think I’d make it much further than your door, and I’m sure you don’t want to step over my hungover body on your way to work in the morning.”

“Yeah, can you make it to your home away from home, or do you want me to bring you a blanket?”

“I can make it.”

Shepard paused, realizing just how often he passed out in her spare bedroom, either drunk or exhausted from working late. “Livia never gets upset about you staying here?”

“Why do you think I’m dumb enough to tell her when I stay here?”

Shepard let out a huff of a laugh, and she momentarily forgot about her promise to protect him instead of berating him. “Real strong relationship you’re building there, Garrus. Built on trust and respect and…”

“Fuck off, Shep,” he muttered. 

“Fricken tell me to fuck off,” she mumbled, only a hint of threat in her inebriated, pouty voice. She nudged his shoulder with her knee, which he answered by shoving his elbow into her thigh. They went back and forth like that, nudging and elbowing each other with just enough force for it to be annoying until they both lost interest or got too tired. 

“You gonna be able to sleep?” he asked, his voice filled with warmth, reminding her of how safe and comforted she felt when he wrapped his arms around her in the elevator. 

“Like a fucking rock,” she knocked back the last of her drink. “I've never had trouble sleeping, once I pass out at least.” 

They sat together a bit longer, watching the flames dance in the dim room. As Shepard leaned in against the back of the couch, Vakarian tucked in so that the couch cushion supported his fringe but didn’t push against his carapace. Shepard mused to herself how strange their bodies were. Turians were beautiful, strong, and strikingly elegant, but they were still strange to her in many ways. 

He looked so peaceful. As he closed his eyes she felt such a comfortable bond with him that the urge to reach out and smooth a soothing hand over his fringe, just like he did when something stressed him out, sparked up in her. 

Watching his handsome face soften with complete relaxation, she blinked, realizing a hug was enough intimate contact between them for one day. Deciding she needed to sleep off the day and those thoughts, her legs shot her upright before she was ready. She swayed a bit as she nearly barked out, “Well, I think I need to get to bed.”

“Night, Shep,” he casually called to her as she took deliberate steps out of the room to ensure her drunk ass didn’t wind up on the floor. She took one last glance back at him to see his eyes still closed and his body reclined back in peace. Offering him a safe place where he could relax and just be himself made her happy. She accepted him just as he was, and after her little episode in the elevator, she realized that he accepted her as well. All her faults and quirks. Even the fact that she went from crying, to making out in a bar, to beating the shit out of an Alliance asshole in a matter of only a few hours. 

With those thoughts in mind, she navigated the staircase leading to her bedroom carefully. And she nearly made it without incident. But, right when she placed her foot on the last step, Rocket shot under her feet, nearly tripping her and knocking her down the entire flight of stairs. She wobbled precariously for just a moment before grasping the railing with a death grip. 

“Fucking cat!” she hissed, but he couldn't even be bothered to look back at her. The wrecker of havoc. In a flash, he disappeared into her bedroom, his black body blending in with the darkness.   

What a fucking day.

Chapter Text

“Wakey wakey,” Shepard’s voice sang through Vakarian’s barely operating consciousness.  After only a moment, he remembered being at her apartment, drinking, and then passing out in her spare bedroom. That’s where he was — sprawled out on a bed — with blankets and pillows haphazardly tucked and twisted around him. Quick tapping followed her cheerful voice. 

He peeked an eye open to see her standing in the doorway, a bright smile on her face as she lazily chewed on a breakfast bar. An irritated, tired drawl rolled out of him. He rested his head back on the pillow gently, careful not to jostle his poor brain, while closing his eyes for a few more seconds of rest in the warm, familiar bed. “I have a headache. How do you not have a headache?”

“I’ve been up for an hour,” she replied, her voice verging on downright chipper. “And I already took my pain reliever and guzzled about a gallon of water.” She was way too awake and happy for hydration and pain killers to be the only explanation. There was something more to her cheerful energy. 

That’s when Vakarian heard the explanation for her chipper mood — the one thing that would make his headache infinitely worse — wailing, crying, pleading vocals set to soft, steady beats traveling from her kitchen. Soul music. 

Although telling her to turn off the music caused even more pain, he needed the torture to end, so he groaned in complaint. Her energizing, happy, wake-up music was his nightmare. 

No relief came, though. She simply stood there, chewing so loud she sounded like a rutting krogan.

“I need some coffee,” he grumbled when she didn’t offer to end his auditory torture. 

“Come on big guy, drag yourself out of bed, and we’ll get some coffee. My treat.”

In defiance, he pulled the blanket up over his head. “Turn the music off, and I’ll come out.”

“You’re such a baby.” She laughed softly, but Ii still pierced his ears. Her footsteps sounded as she walked away, the door sliding closed behind her.

As soon as Shepard left, he peeled himself out of bed, cleaned up, got dressed, then made his way to the kitchen to join her. Coming around the corner, he was about to complain that the music was still playing but seeing her immediately caused an amused tickle to run through his chest. 

She belted out declarations of love along with the song’s lyrics, and while her execution was out of key (and honestly absolute murder to his hangover sensitive ears), she sang with all her heart. Her hips swayed, almost in time with the music even, as she danced around and teased Rocket with treats. The fluffy little animal turned in circles and shifted around on the tips of his toes, his tail vibrating excitedly. It almost looked like he was dancing along with her. Seeing her so happy, so relaxed, and so... herself , made him forget his physical misery and appreciate moments like this with her instead. 

It only took a few pleading grumbles, albeit made while he still smiled at her, to get Shepard out the door. As promised, she took them to a coffee shop just outside the entrance to C-Sec headquarters, but it was technically located on the Presidium. C-Sec and Embassy staff crowded inside the shop, waiting for their morning fix. A few officers they worked with on cases every once and a while waved good mornings to them. The morning sun sparkled over Presidium Lake, and trees lined the sidewalks. It was obvious to him why she came here for coffee — the location offered an energetic but easy introduction to the waking world. 

They ordered their coffee and tucked themselves into a corner. While energizing everyone else around him, the Presidium morning sun was enough to kill him. He looked down at the floor to get a little relief from the light that pierced his sensitive eyes. The only thing he could see was their feet, and with nothing better to do, he took a moment to consider how small and flat Shepard’s odd feet were. Right there on her feet, he was horrified to see those filthy shoes that she wore to the bar last night. 

If there was one thing he’d break his hangover-induced silence for, it was mocking his partner. It came from concern, of course, but was still mocking. He just didn’t want his partner walking around looking like a duct rat. “You need some new shoes, Shep. Those are repulsive. And I think you’re getting holes in them.”

She shifted her feet around, looking her footwear over. Looking unconcerned, she said, “They’re not actually that dirty. They’re just really faded.” She used the toe of one shoe to rub a small spot on the side of the other, then mumbled, “Mostly.” 

He barely held in his teasing grin and fabricated a disgusted look. “Is that vomit from last month’s drell case?”

She smacked him in the shoulder — not as gently as he would have liked considering his hangover – with the back of her hand. It was hard enough to knock his restrained grin loose so that his mandibles lifted in a toothy smile. Bearing her physical retaliation was worth it, though, because riling her up was just about the most enjoyable part of his day.   

“Well, I don’t usually wear these to the office. But I left my boots in my desk, and I had to wear something in.”

“So they’re not good enough to wear to work, but they are good enough to pick up guys at the bar.”

She rolled her eyes. “Guys don’t give a fuck what’s on my feet.” 

“I wouldn't pick up a woman who wore shoes like that.”

“Well, if I ever want you to pick me up, I promise I’ll wear a clean pair.” She shot him a teasing glance and a cute little smile that easily coaxed one out of him in return. Her voice softened when she said, “I like these. They were brand new when I moved to the Citadel, so they have sentimental value.”

“Can’t you get a new pair on the Citadel? Asari styles must fit you.”

“I don’t want asari ones. I want these.” As she inspected her shoes, sadness fell over her features. It was like she was contemplating the state of the galaxy, instead of merely inspecting something that deserved to be tossed in the garbage bin. That sentimental look instantly made him regret making fun of them, though, because they obviously meant something to her. 

Just as he was about to apologize and withdraw his advice that she buy a new pair, his omni-tool chimed. He immediately let out a hissing curse as his heart leaped up into his throat because he knew exactly who the message was from and could pretty accurately guess what it said.

“What?” Shepard looked up, alarm pinching her brows.

“I forgot to message Liv before I fell asleep. She’s going to be pissed.” Looking from the message to Shepard, Vakarian’s mandibles clicked in tight. “I don’t even want to see what this message says.”

“Want me to look?” She stood up on her toes and peered over to take a peek. “I’ll tell you how bad it is.”

“No, I’d rather you keep thinking I’m perfect. Any message from Livia may lower your opinion of me.”

“A disparaging message from your mate isn’t enough for me to doubt your undeniable perfection,” she flashed a wide, teasing smile at him that stole his focus. She made it so easy to ignore anything unpleasant because she was so bright and happy — like sunshine itself. Natural sunshine, not the fake sun rays created by Citadel tech. A flush of warmth shot up his neck when the term apricus popped into his mind – full of sunlight. That’s what Jane Shepard was — and not just to him, to everyone in her life. 

As he stared at her, letting her easy, natural happiness transfer to him, she playfully nudged his waist with her elbow before retrieving their order from the counter. And just like that — with a simple smile and nudge with her elbow — Shepard lifted his spirits.   

“Stop teasing me,” he told her, taking his coffee and following her through the crowd and out of the shop. “I’m a sucker for flattery, even when it’s fake.” 

“Believe me, your vanity is well-established at this point. And who says I’m teasing?” 

“Clearly my mother is paying you off. It’s not normal to be this nice and supportive. Unless you’re getting something out of it.”

Shepard laughed at that. “If that were true, your mom would be in some serious debt.”

He gave her a dramatically suspicious look — sharp eyes and pinched brows. “She did just say she’s thinking of selling that asari landscape piece she loves.”

She shrugged and glanced over her shoulder. “You caught us. Your mom is selling her beloved belongings to fund the supplementation of her grown-ass son’s self-esteem. Impeccable detective work, Mr. Vakarian.”

He felt like reaching out and playfully pinching her for that one, but he gave her a dirty look and a smile instead. 

As they walked down the street, her words repeated in his head. Undeniable perfection. For some reason, that rang through his head. And her smile looked sincere rather than teasing. His hand lifted to rub at his chest, where a warm knot settled. 

Trying to ignore that knot, he kept joking with her. “Three years of constant flattery. What’s the going rate for that?”

“Annually? 100k credits, at least.”

“Ouch, pretty steep.”

“Oh, I have to charge extra because I have to lie so much. The lies are big, too, let me tell you. You are so good at hacking into things, Vakarian. You’re the best shot I’ve ever seen, Vakarian. You solved that case all on your own, Vakarian.

To keep their game going, he held back the light laugh that tickled his throat. “Hm, must be exhausting. Does she tell you what to say, or do you have to come up with it all on your own?”

“She gives me general ideas to work from, but a lot of my compliments are sort of spur of the moment and topical.”

“Ah, so it requires a great deal of creativity.”

“Yup.”

“Well, you do good work. Obviously, my mom’s debt is worth it because my self-esteem has never been higher than these past three years being your partner.” 

“Listen, if you're going to do something, you have to do it right.” She winked at him then. 

He was about to tease her for sounding like his father (which had been her intent) when they turned a corner heading towards the elevator, and a C-Sec officer stumbled into him. The fool was in such a rush and was so oblivious to her surroundings that she nearly knocked his coffee out of his hand. He steadied it, though, just as the officer’s hand landed on top of his to keep it from spilling. 

“Spirits,” the officer muttered. “I am so sorry. I’m in a hurry.”

“No problem,” Vakarian replied, then looked down at her badge, “Officer Regitus.”

She smiled — awkwardly and eagerly — while her mandibles fluttered nervously. Despite saying she was in a hurry, though, she stood still, gawking up at him like she wanted to say something else. Or maybe she wanted him to say something? Finally, she removed her hand from his. He cleared his throat and excused himself to follow Shepard, who was already three steps ahead of him.     

“That was weird,” he muttered. 

“She couldn't stop staring at your pretty blue eyes,” Shepard teased, her own green eyes flashing at him in amusement. 

“Hm, another compliment. How much did that just set my mom back?”

“That one? Only 50 credits. I don’t make much on compliments when I don’t have to lie.” She took a sip of her coffee as he caught up with her, her eyelashes batting from behind the cup.

A trill threatened to leap out of him, but instead, a nervous chuckle came out. A sound that hadn’t come out of him since he was fifteen. There was something about Shepard complimenting him, even when she was only joking, that made him feel like a foolish fledgling. He never got flustered when turians told him he was attractive, so maybe it was because she was a human. That was the only explanation that made sense.

 “Alright,” he said as if he was asking a suspect to give up a ruse, “Vakarian Appreciation Hour is over. Give my mom’s credit account a rest, and I’ll thank the night sky that humans lie so easily.” 

She pretended to huff. “I do something nice for you, and I get accused of being a liar.”

“Hey, that reminds me,” he said, “have we watched that vid yet where the turian Spectre falls in love with an asari teacher, and he thinks he needs to keep lying to her about being a Spectre or she’ll break up with him?”

“A lying turian? I think I’d remember that. Add it to our queue, and we’ll watch it on our next vid night.”

Damn, that sounded good, just relaxing at Shepard’s place, watching a vid. “Can that be tonight?” he asked. 

“Sure,” she said, to his relief. They’d been spending a lot of nights and weekends together lately — most nights and weekends, actually — and he was convinced one of these days she was going to tell him to stop hanging around so much. She probably wanted to invite that guy from the bar over at some point.

They spent the rest of the journey to Homicide talking about their favorite meals to eat while watching vids, making him even more excited to get through the day so he could just relax that evening. As they sat down at their desks and said good morning to Kryik and T’Saris, a second ping sounded from his omni-tool.

“Fuck,” he hissed, suddenly feeling like he was trudging through deep water with his mate. “I forgot to answer Livia.”

Shepard winced. “Oh my god, I’m so sorry. I distracted you the entire way here.”

“Believe it or not, I’m not angry at you for giving me something more pleasant to do than answer my mate’s angry messages.”

“You answer your mate before she breaks up with you, and I’ll see whether Ziha made it through the night or if we have a murder to solve.” 

After thanking Shepard for stepping in while he managed his plummeting relationship, he looked down to his omni-tool to read the message Livia sent when they were at the coffee shop. Dread made his throat feel tight. 

Livia: You never messaged me, Garrus.  

And then the one she just sent:

Livia: Please don’t make me beg for your attention, Garrus. 

A pang of shame ran through him. He immediately messaged her back after reading the last message.

Garrus: Morning Livia. I’m so sorry I forgot to message you last night. How’s your morning going?

He knew he was a terrible mate. He just didn’t know how to make any of this better because telling the truth — that his job was draining and sometimes he just didn’t have the energy for much else — always led to her heavy sighs and hurt feelings.    

He waited a moment, but no message came back. She was disappointed in him. Again.

Garrus: It was a long, rough day. I’m sorry.

Livia: You can still make time for me. Don’t use your job as an excuse. 

No ‘good morning’ or ‘how are you?’ in return — she was probably too angry at him.

Garrus: I'm sorry. It’s not an excuse, just a fact. Yesterday was a rough one.

Livia: I never forget to message you. And my job is important. I have ambassadors on my neck day and night.

He felt his browplates knot and mandibles click in tight. She did forget – all the damn time. And not just because of work — it also slipped her mind when she went out with friends or when she went shopping. The only difference was his spurs didn’t get bent over little shit like this. 

What did get him riled up was feeling like he was going crazy. Did she honestly not remember instances when she messed up, or did she think he wouldn’t notice?

Garrus: I remember a few times when you did, but that’s not the point. Let’s just focus on something else.  

Livia: I can’t remember a time that I ever forgot. 

He held himself back from responding — doing so wasn’t going to lead them anywhere good.

Livia: Well, I suppose I can’t argue with a detective, can I? 

Livia: How did I find such a handsome, smart man? Always keeping track!  

The real question was how in the hell she was capable of making a compliment seem like an insult. 

“Good news,” Kryik’s slightly astonished voice broke through Vakarian’s focus on smoothing things over with Livia, “looks like you guys don’t have to solve the quarian’s murder. She’s alive. Bad news is, it looks like the news cycle is picking this one up.”

Vakarian looked up and over to Kryik, then followed his eye line to his console screen, which displayed a news story covering Ziha’s attack. Vakarian was surprised the news covered an attack on a quarian in the lower wards — a poor single quarian gutted in a maintenance corridor wasn’t a threat to their way of life. The general population usually ignored attacks on people they didn’t care about in favor of stories about pretty, young asari, or hate crimes. In other words, crimes that scared the rich, comfortable people who made and watched the news. 

“Well, that’s awesome,” Shepard said, sounding pleased and staring at her console. She probably had the case reports pulled up already. “Ziha is alive, and we don’t have to find those fuckers. Assault and Battery can handle it. And they can handle all the media scrutiny, too.”

Vakarian nodded, eyes glued to Kryik’s console and watching the shots of the dark, crowded lower wards tactically placed to frighten viewers interspersed with shots of Huerta Memorial where CEMS took Ziha. He thought of poor Tali, and hoped she wasn’t watching the coverage. 

Vakarian began to list off everything he’d have to do — he’d have to call Tali soon to make arrangements to see her while she was here taking care of Ziha. And he’d have to finalize their reports so they could hand over the case to Assault and Battery. That was all after he smoothed things over with Livia. Vid night was going to be essential at the end of the day.

A chime rang out on his omni-tool. 

Livia: Garrus! Stop ignoring me. Spirits guide me.

He growled, feeling less sorry for all the negative thoughts he had about their relationship lately. This — this is why she exhausted him sometimes. 

Garrus: Liv, I'm at work. I can't reply as quickly as you want. Let’s make plans, hm? Dinner this weekend?

There was a long pause. He stared at the screen, waiting for her reply. The clacks of console keys, Shepard sipping her coffee, and Kryik and T'Saris giving each other shit about something surrounded him. The sounds were all a comfort to him, though, rather than an annoyance. They were familiar. They were the sounds that surrounded him when he had purpose. While he was an absolute screwup at relationships (and it seemed he always would be), he was good at his job. 

As he debated whether to focus on Livia or to go back to work, he grew more agitated because he knew he had to help Shepard with the casework. However, he didn't want to piss off Livia any more than he already had. Was it normal to feel this bitter towards your mate? 

Right when he gave up on Livia and leaned forward to log into his console, a chime rang, and he simultaneously felt relieved that she wasn't going to give him the silent treatment but also feared what her reply would be. 

He dismissed a nagging thought resting deep within his mind that they needed a break — he needed a break. 

Livia: I’ll forgive you for not messaging me. We can have dinner tonight and just relax. Maybe watch a vid. That sounds nice, right? I have a summit this weekend, so after tonight we won’t be able to hang out for a while. 

Damn all the spirits . He’d have to cancel his plans with Shepard now. The hopes of having a relaxing night with his friend flew out the window. 

He sighed.

“What’s up, big guy?” Looking over at his partner, he saw Shepard’s bright smile shining his way and was thankful for their friendship because it offered him a little reprieve from life’s frustrations.  

“You ever just want to disappear for a few days?” he asked. 

Shepard’s reply was interrupted by a chime on his omni-tool.

Livia: Well? I’ve missed you. 

Scolding himself for his mopey thoughts, he told himself to focus on how much he liked Livia and how much fun they used to have. It made him miss the early days when they watched every palae game together, relaxing on the couch and cheering on their team. 

Garrus: Yeah. You pick the vid. 

Livia: I can’t wait to see you, zucca! 

Garrus: Me too, Liv. Hope you have a good day. 

Despite forcing himself to be more positive, his chest didn’t feel any lighter. And even though a part of him wanted to see his mate, somewhere deep inside he wished he had some excuse not to go over. He just wanted to run from all of this — ignore their arguments and their problems for as long as possible. 

He looked back up at Shepard, who was patiently waiting for him to help out with the case finally.

“Sorry,” he told Shepard, ashamed that his personal problems kept him from pulling his weight at work. 

“No problem. Want me to start compiling all the reports?” she offered.  

Her focus on work gave him the energy to lift himself back up. Work would be a great distraction and get his mind off his problems with Livia for a while. As he scooted closer to his console, he said, “You wanna work on organizing our notes, and I’ll start working them into the report?”

“Sure, who’s writing up notes for the images of the crime scene?”

“Rock paper scissors?” he offered. She’d introduced the little human game long ago, and he was actually really good at it, which pissed her off. But she couldn’t just admit that he was better at it than her. Her eyes narrowed, a look of determination that was simultaneously threatening and adorably endearing fell over her. She leaned forward in her seat and raised her hands into position. He leaned forward with all the intensity of accepting a physical challenge from an adversary.  

“Rock, paper, scissors,” they called out together, knocking fists into upturned palms. 

At the count of three, their fists slammed down in finality. She went with rock, and he went with paper. Ha, he won. He opened up his mouth to declare just as much.

“Ha!” she exclaimed before he could say anything, loud enough to catch Kryik and T’Saris’s attention. “I won,” she declared with a smug little look on her face.  

He couldn't help but look at her, baffled how she thought she won. This may be a human game, but the rules were simple. “No, you didn't, Shep. Paper beats rock.”

She let out a frustrated shout, flung herself back into her chair, then immediately sat up straight again. “This game isn’t fair with you! I can’t tell your paper from your scissors. Your hand looks completely the same!”

“Completely different,” he told her confidently. Then to demonstrate how right he was, he offered his open hand to represent paper. “That’s paper.” He spread his two fingers a bit further apart. “And that’s scissors.”

“That’s exactly the same.”

“Well, regardless, I still won, whether you realized it right away or not.”

“How do I know you didn’t just say paper when you saw that I did rock?” 

“That would be dishonorable, wouldn’t it?”

For some reason, his explanation based on logic and facts just made her angry — her brows knitted, and her lips drew tight— probably because she knew just how wrong she was. Excellent tactic, though – cheating by accusing him of cheating first. “This,” Shepard thrust her hand out towards him, palm forward and fingers stacked tight, “this is paper.”

“Only if you have too many fingers,” he shot back. 

Both of them had their mouths open, ready to fire off another insult or accusation, but T’Saris’ smooth voice beat them to the punch. “Has anyone told you two that you’re absolute idiots?” 

T’Saris’ intervention was enough to end their lighthearted bickering. They stared each other down for just a moment before they both cracked a smile. Shepard’s eyes fell to his omni-tool, then raised again to look at him. She took in a deep breath, and in a flash, her face softened. “I’ll do the notes for the crime scene images.”

He was getting off easy because Livia was giving him a hard time. Shepard’s body language was a clear giveaway. He’d feel guilty about that, but he’d done the same for her in similar situations. He couldn't wish for a partner more perfect for him. And she was a damn good friend, too. 

With his mate placated, they quickly dug into their work, carefully organizing, compiling, and building on their notes so that Assault and Battery had a robust case that would ensure not just that they’d find the attackers but get a conviction. Tali wouldn't get a promise from him that he’d personally find whoever attacked her cousin, but Vakarian would make sure the detective they handed this to start on the best foot possible. 

Near lunchtime and elbow deep in datapads, the only voice as nerve-wracking and authoritative as his father’s rang out through the department. “Vakarian, Shepard!” 

Vakarian’s attention shot to Pallin’s door to see the captain‘s imposing form taking up the entire doorway, his face characteristically unreadable, as he waited for Shepard and Vakarian to set aside their work and look at him. When they both looked over, a slight jerk of his mandible told them to join him in his office. Odd, since they didn’t have a case to catch him up on. 

Regardless, they both rose and made their way to his office, where they immediately sat down. Their body language wasn’t stiff, but they certainly didn't relax into the two chairs set up across from his desk. 

“We need to go over the case.”

“Just prepping it to hand over to Assault and Battery,” Vakarian answered, hoping to confirm they were competent enough to handle a case transition without Pallin watching over them. 

“You won’t be handing it over,” Pallin stated. “I’ll need a full briefing, and I need it now. I have a meeting with Executor Rix in thirty minutes.” 

Confusion fell over both of them, Shepard’s brow rose, and he could feel his browplate quirked as well. They didn’t ask questions or protest, though, just waited for Pallin to explain. 

“Yes, she’s alive. And doctors are confident that they’ve done the impossible by saving her life, and they'll keep her alive. However, Ziha‘Zorah’s aunt is bonded to Councilor Sparatus’ brother. Councilor Sparatus called me personally and made it explicit that Homicide’s best team will be on this case.”

Shepard shifted forward, “Pardon the question, sir, but why doesn’t the councilor want Assault and Battery on this? They won’t be too happy we’re taking their case.”

“That’s Rix’s problem, not yours.”

Vakarian gave her a look, admiring her nerve to speak out. If he had, he’d be getting a call from his father riddled with subtle accusations that he was a difficult turian — still, even as a damned grown man. 

Pallin looked between the two of them with contemplative eyes, then sighed. “This doesn’t leave this room. Are we clear?”

They both answered with a grave nod.

“IA is standing on Assault and Battery’s spurs right now. Someone inside might be tied to some foul stuff going on at Chora’s Den. So, Rix’s confidence in that department is low, and he’s certainly not going to let them fuck up a case involving a councilor’s family.” 

As they listened, he continued. “You two are the best I have, and you just so happen to be the ones I sent yesterday. So, lucky you. Not only do you get the chance to impress Executor Rix, but you get the chance to impress a councilor as well. 

Yeah, lucky them.

Pallin continued, “Tell me, do you have anything? Assault and Battery will be pissed we kept this one, but they’ll be downright livid if we don’t solve it. Not to mention Rix will make my life a living nightmare, which means I will make your life a living nightmare. Are we clear?”

They answered with quick nods. 

Dammit. Pallin saw this as an opportunity. Pessimistic as always, Vakarian only saw this as a way to disappoint Rix, piss off Pallin, and ruin the Vakarian name as far up as the damned Council. And then there was Tali. He’d have to forget all his self-doubt for her and her cousin.  

Vakarian cleared his throat. “Sir, I have to divulge that I know Ziha’Zorah’s cousin, Tali’Zorah.”

“Close?” Pallin asked.

Vakarian shrugged. “Friends. We ran quite a few joint missions together when I was enlisted.”

“Shouldn't be a problem, right?”

“No, sir, but I wanted to make sure you knew.”

Pallin nodded, then watched them with a flat look on his face as if he was expecting something. Right, briefing him on the case...

Shepard shifted, then began to speak. “Our biggest lead so far would be the two names written in what we assume was her blood. Achillus and Traian . I think our next step will be acquiring her records from Huerta Memorial to go over her injuries. We’ll revisit the scene, as well.”

Pallin turned his gaze to Vakarian, so he took over without even being asked to, like a good turian. “I’ll start looking at those names, cross reference any instance where they’re found together in housing, criminal, and port authority records. And I’ll take a look at CC vids. Maybe we’ll get a good shot of the perpetrators.” He looked at Shepard to bolster himself up – usually, they had a chance to chat about the case before a briefing. Their success came from their teamwork, and without prepping with Shepard, his confidence teetered a bit as his brain worked through their next steps. After a quick breath, he finally said,  “Probably should look at her credit account history. I assume she was in the lower markets visiting shops.”

Shepard agreed with a tilt of her head. “Let’s see who we can pull in to grab her movements since she arrived on the Citadel. Cross-reference the names written in blood first. Then we can figure out where she’s been and track her on CC vids.”

They both took in a heavy breath, gathering up the energy to get cracking on a new case, then they looked over to Pallin, hoping to be dismissed.

Pallin reclined in his chair and stroked a mandible, looking satisfied with what they had. “Looks like you two have it under control. Ziha’Zorah is in an enviro-tank now that’s healing and flushing her system of all bio-contaminants, but they’ll take her out in a few days. I want you there. She hasn’t had a chance to say anything to anyone, so when they take her out and she’s able to speak, we need to hear everything she says. It could be vitally important.”

They both nodded, and as Vakarian answered with a simple ‘yes, sir,’ Shepard answered, “Sir, yes sir.” She said it completely seriously, too. Sometimes she overdid it on the military speak. It used just to be funny. Now he couldn’t help but think that it was kind of cute, though. Three years ago, when he first met her, he never would have dreamed he’d believe anything about her was cute. Intimidating? Sure. Strange? Absolutely. 

“Yes, well,” Pallin spoke slowly. Vakarian and other turians in the department picked up that Pallin was working on communicating better with humans. But they clearly still confused him sometimes. “That’ll be all. Brief me again after you visit the victim.”    

They quietly rose from their chairs and left his office. As soon as the door slid shut behind them, Vakarian looked straight down at Shepard with the widest grin on his face. She just glared up at him.

“Not a word, Vakarian. I can’t fucking believe I just barked ‘sir yes sir’ to Captain Pallin.” She shook her head and muttered, “So fucking embarrassing.”

Even though he was itching to tease her, he just continued to grin down at her, and just like she asked, he didn’t say a word. The blush on her cheeks told him she was embarrassed enough as it was. He simply grinned at his funny little human partner and got a gentle elbow in the side for it.  

🔪🔪🔪

Busy work took up most of their afternoon — getting everything lined up, requesting warrants, filling in a few spare detectives who’d help them look through data and evidence. The real work would start tomorrow, which meant that they should have a relaxing evening to themselves to hang out. 

But sometime near the end of the day, Vakarian muttered an explanation that Livia wanted him to go to her place, which wasn’t a surprise — since he stood her up the night before. It didn’t mean that Shepard couldn’t secretly sulk to herself because Vakarian would be spending the evening with his mate instead of her, though. 

She’d never let him feel bad, so she told him not to worry about it — they’d hang out on the next free night they had. She got a strange feeling that he was more upset about it than she was. 

At 3 o'clock sharp, they packed up and left together (like they did every day) but didn’t say much as they walked to the skycar port. She watched him for a moment — his shoulders dropped, hands in his pockets as if he wanted to bury as much of himself as possible. She convinced herself he was just tired. They’d been up late drinking the night before and were pretty damn drunk by the time they went to bed.

She didn’t want to think about the case anymore and wanted to get her mind off the damned horrific images of Ziha’s body taken when the medical staff at Huerta cleaned and prepped her for surgery. Shepard’s thoughts fell to a conversation she’d had with Kryik when Vakarian ran to get them coffee between warrant requests. She was trying to figure out why Kryik was so suddenly interested in humans, but he hadn't offered any explanations.   

“Hey,” she said to Vakarian, who sluggishly lifted his head to look at her, “is muscle definition as important to turians as it is to humans?”

“I don’t know, Shep,” he muttered, then looked back down at the ground. 

Assuming he also needed to get his mind off the case, she continued talking. “You don’t know what turians find attractive all of a sudden?”

“Why do you care? Trying to find a mate?” he asked with a  voice that sounded salty rather than tired. 

“There’s nothing wrong with being attracted to turians, you know,” she pointed out as she rocked back and forth on her heels, choosing to ignore his saltiness rather than return the sentiment. 

“Why are we even fucking talking about this right now?”

That wasn’t salty; it was outright snappy — they never snapped at each other. His response caught her so off guard she couldn't help the childish, hurt feelings that welled up inside her. It made her feel like a kid again, and Gran would yell at her for running in the kitchen.  

She couldn't help it — she snapped back, “I’m just curious, Christ. What’s with the bitchy mood?”

He didn’t answer, just kicked at a crack in the skycar port platform. She expected him to snap back and say something quippy. And she honestly would have preferred that to silence. Silence meant something was really bugging him. 

She sucked up her hurt feelings and looked him over. Maybe he was more worn out from finding Ziha than she had expected. “You look tired,” she said as a peace offering. 

“Isn’t Kryik your go-to for sex talk?” Though he tried to play it off as a joke, there was more heat in that reply than she felt was warranted. She sulked backward from him, their arguing making her feel too close. 

“I wasn’t asking what makes a turian hard , just what they’re attracted to – what they think is beautiful. And you don’t need to be such a jerk.”

His reply came quickly. “I don’t like you flirting with Kryik, okay?”

She almost recoiled; her reaction to that hit her straight in the gut. “I don’t flirt with him. We just talk, that’s all.”

“It’s weird.”

“Yeah, it would be weird. If I was flirting with him.” 

Silence settled between them for a moment. And as that moment grew so did her anger at him for snapping at her. And for accusing her of flirting with Kryik, of all people. Sure, she was attracted to turians, but not Kryik. He was a friend. The thought of even having sex with him was just...no. She’d never even had random sexual thoughts, fantasies, or the occasional dream about Kryik. 

Vakarian, though? All the damn time. Not that she’d let him ever know that...because those thoughts were meaningless. It wasn’t her fault she’d been partnered up with the most attractive turian on the Citadel. 

“I’m not even attracted to him,” she tried to point out subtly. For some strange reason, she needed to clarify that. “We’re just having fun. What’s wrong with that?”

After a quiet, tense moment, he eventually said, “Maybe that’s why it bothers me. I can’t stand to see people having fun.” He sounded bitter, and she wasn’t sure if it was a sad bitter or angry bitter. Was he snapping at her again? 

That’s when it hit her, and she felt like such an ass. He was miserable because of whatever was going on between him and Livia, wasn’t he? And here she was asking about turian attraction. It must have prompted something in him. 

Which, to be honest, was bullshit. Just because his relationship was a steaming pile of shit right now didn’t mean he should be a shitty friend and snap at her or accuse her of flirting with Kryik. A knot balled up in her gut, and a flash of heat traveled up her chest and neck. She loosened her shirt collar for some relief.    

She leaned against the skycar port console casually. Her body language was a stark contrast to how she really felt, which was put off and rebuffed. 

“Don’t take this the wrong way,” she said, “but I’m excited for you and Livia to either break up or figure your shit out. You’ve been miserable to work with for months.” 

“I don’t need your shit right now, too,” he told her. But instead of angry, he sounded... well, sad. 

In the bat of an eye, she pivoted from frustration directed at him to anger directed at his mate. “Is she giving you shit?” 

His head turned, and his eyes finally found her. There was mild amusement in the way his mandible gently pulled. “If she is, are you going to beat her up like you did that poor Alliance piece of shit at the bar?”

“Maybe,” Shepard mumbled, her tone more threatening than it should be. And, considering she was literally talking about beating up his girlfriend, he should not be so amused. “You, uh, should probably be pissed at me for saying I’m going to beat up your mate.” 

“Yeah, probably,” he muttered. But didn’t say anything else. She couldn't help but wince because this was honestly getting a bit awkward. She tucked her hands in her pockets and slumped back against the skycar port console, just then realizing she’d stood up straight at some point. Probably when she started thinking about Livia being an ass to Vakarian. 

Silence settled between them, all while Vakarian’s face portrayed his steadily growing agitation. His browplates knitted, then his mandibles clicked in tightly. His chest eventually puffed up just before agitated subvocals trilled loud enough that she heard them. Just when she was about to ask him if he was okay, he spoke up.   

“I just…” he started, paused, then started back up again, “can I just get a break when I’m with you? When we’re working or hanging out, I just want to relax. You’re my break from everything. From....”

Shepard froze for just a moment, absolutely bewildered by his snapping and why they were standing at a skycar port fighting. 

She slumped even further on the console, shrinking as she recognized she wasn’t acting as supportive as she could be. “Hey, I’m sorry. I never want you to suck it up. I’m here for you. I just...I hate when you’re in these moods. It makes me want to punch someone.”

“As much as I appreciate your fists for backup, sometimes I need less violent support.”

“Always, big guy,” she said while patting his back, which felt odd at first. It felt more like she was trying to keep him from choking rather than comfort him.  

Maybe he wanted to talk? Maybe she should encourage him to talk about Livia? 

Shepard didn’t want to push, though. She had a sneaking suspicion that the ‘everything’ he needed a break from was the people who pushed too much —his dad, Kryik, and Livia.

She’d wait. Vakarian would seek her out when he was ready. 

Instead of pushing, she offered him an easy smile. “I could hug you. Or...I could sing to you…” 

He laughed lightly, easing her worries. Then, after a moment, he let out a sigh. “I just need a vid night. That’s all. Just me, you, Rocket...and your fireplace. And sober this time, as much fun as last night was.”

“Me, my apartment, my cat, and my vidscreen are available whenever you want.”

“Thanks, Shep.”

“But...just so you know, I would punch the Primarch for you.”

She brightened hearing his chuckle. ”Let’s just hope that none of my problems ever require assault on the Primarch as a solution,” he said. His omni-tool chimed, and just as Shepard was about to actually plan an assault on Livia, Vakarian looked down and read the message.

“Damn, this day just keeps…” he trailed off, shaking his head. 

“What?” Shepard asked.

“My dad. Asked me to come by.”

“Why?”

“Said they’re leaving in the morning to stay on Palaven for a few weeks and want to visit before they go. Which means I’ll be late getting to Livia’s.”

"Bit weird, isn't it?" Shepard asked.

"Yeah, they usually give me more of a heads up than this." He sighed, and his gaze drifted up to watch for a skycar.

“Sorry, this is probably my fault,” she deadpanned. “I just sent your mom the bill from this morning’s Vakarian Appreciation Hour. They must be going back to sell off all their assets.”

Without a beat, a snorting laugh came out of him. As their eyes met, it steadily grew to a huffing, rolling laugh that noticeably lifted his spirits. They simply stood together on the platform a moment longer, laughing and lightly nudging each other playfully. 

Everything was fine. They were fine. 

A skycar eventually came by and whisked him away, and off he went to visit his parents while Shepard tried to come up with something to occupy her time that night. Maybe she’d make herself a nice meal, home-cooked from scratch, even. Start reading that book Miranda had recommended. Do some laundry and go through her closet to get rid of stuff she no longer wanted. Donate them to that program helping the duct kids start a normal life.

It only took a moment before she realized she was kidding herself. She’d work out, eat something delivered, and listen to some soul music while dancing with her cat until she passed out on her bed in a wrinkled, baggy shirt. Just like she usually did. 

Single guys on the Citadel, eat your heart out. Jane Shepard is a prime catch, and she won’t have any of you. 

She smiled to herself, amused by her own joke, then looked down at the ground. That’s when she noticed them — those nasty tennis shoes were still on her feet. She must not have changed out of them and into her work boots. A normal response would be abject mortification, wearing repulsive footwear all day long at work, but she just laughed, much too loud and too hard for a woman standing at the skycar port by herself. She immediately took a picture of her shoes and sent it to Vakarian, then excitedly awaited a teasing reply while she tucked her hands back in her pockets and rocked back and forth on her heels, waiting for the next skycar to roll in and take her home.       

Chapter Text

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.   

 

Chapter Text

That morning Shepard woke up to quite the sight. Through blinking eyes and blurred vision, she saw snack wrappers littered across her bed. Rocket sat at the edge where he batted one of those stray wrappers around, probably because it made a funny crinkle sound — which had most likely woken her up. 

The memory of last night came back in a wave of emotions rather than pictures. Vakarian’s quiet sorrow that he asked her to ignore. How she felt protective of her partner and wished she could take away all of his pain. At Vakarian’s request, instead of talking about Valeria’s diagnosis, they stayed up late watching vids, eating junk food, and talking about nonsense. 

Shepard lifted an arm from the pillow held tight to her chest so that she could lightly rub the tired from her eyes. That allowed her to focus on the oddest sight of all – Vakarian passed out and tucked under the bottom half of her comforter with the blanket she gave him the night before wound around the top of his head. She didn’t know how he could still be cold enough to wrap an entire blanket around his head because she’d left the fireplace going, and the room was a damn oven. 

Shepard always slept curled up tight, a pillow held to her chest with desperate arms. When she was younger, a stuffed animal had been in the pillow’s place. But somewhere around the age of twenty, she told herself to grow up. Doing so was easier for her mind than it was her heart, though. Hence, the pillow. 

Vakarian seemed to be the complete opposite, though. His arms were splayed loosely at his sides and his legs kicked out in a massive ‘v.’ It looked like a comfortable — if slightly obtrusive — pose for a seven-foot-tall turian. Good thing she had a king-sized bed. 

Despite the massive size of the bed, Vakarian took up a good portion of it. His long, lean body was resting at her feet — so close that with every breath he took, the blankets pulled just slightly against her bare legs. While asleep, he looked so peaceful, so handsome (even with the blanket wrapped around his noggin), and so very large

And, despite the way she cursed herself immediately for the thought, it felt right for him to be there. Her breaths eased as she watched him breathe in and out and heard air fill his lungs, then slowly drag out. There was just something so basic — so instinctual — about hearing someone dear to you breathe. 

They must have both fallen asleep during the second vid they started watching – one from Earth telling the story of a cursed vampire who fell in love with a mortal. They shared an affinity for vampire vids.

At the end of the bed, Rocket batted the wrapper with one good whack so that it soared off the bed then drifted to the floor, swaying gently on its way down. He watched its entire journey with rapt attention, then got a crazy look in his eye that signaled some mischievous intentions were brewing, like taking off across the bed or attacking something...probably Shepard’s feet. 

Or Vakarian’s.  

Shit. Shepard had to subdue him before Rocket did something to make this any more awkward. 

“Hey,” Shepard whispered, praying that she didn’t disturb Vakarian. God, what a way to wake up – in your friend’s bed, her ridiculous cat playing with your feet. 

Based on the look on the cat’s face, her first attempt wasn't enough to wipe the mischief out of his mind, though. “Psst, stop it,” she tried again. 

As typical with most cats, Shepard’s attempt to reign in his behavior had the opposite effect in that he rebelled against her efforts in the most cat-like way that he could. Rocket turned to her, a gleam in his eye as if delivering a wicked threat. With their eyes locked, time stood still. He flashed her a wild look, and she willed him not to act like an idiot. 

From there, it all happened too quickly. Rocket took off, tearing his feet into the comforter for traction and making an absolute ruckus in the quiet room. A startled ‘humph’ came out of Vakarian when four paws landed right in the middle of his chest. Then, and worst of all, Rocket used Vakarian’s keel as a springboard to leap off the bed like a damned action star.

Fuck ,” Vakarian wheezed at the same time Rocket landed on the bedroom floor with a thud. The way poor Vakarian shifted with tensing muscles made Shepard guess that the little stunt was Vakarian’s good morning to the galaxy. 

Shepard held her breath while a soft grunt of air came out of Vakarian. “Was that you or the cat?” he asked.

“Rocket,” Shepard groaned from behind the pillow, which she’d pulled from her chest up to her face and hid behind, only peeking out slightly over the top. She’d probably be less mortified waking up naked than by what just happened. 

While Vakarian continued to stretch, shifting his body so that the mattress bowed under his weight, Shepard took the opportunity to stretch her legs out — even wiggled and curled her toes.

There was something so intimate about that moment — Vakarian waking up in her bed and the two of them so close in a space that they’d never shared before. And mixed with the terrible evening before, Rocket’s blunt insertion of a ridiculous moment...it all had her tongue-tied. What was she supposed to do with such a mish-mash of tragic, ridiculous, and the sincere comfort of friendship? 

“Guess you fell asleep in here after all,” Shepard finally said as Vakarian rubbed at the spot on his chest that Rocket had turned into his personal launching pad. As she watched Vakarian slowly unwrap the blanket from around his head, she experienced the uncomfortable realization that it had been years since a guy slept in her bed. Throughout her adulthood, she had convinced herself that she could never sleep with anyone else present. Other people were large, hot, intrusions compiled of elbows and feet that assaulted you throughout the night.

With that on her mind, she tried to recall any point in the night when he had woken her up by making her too hot, or shifting around too much, or pulling the blankets off her — but as far as she could tell she slept perfectly. Maybe the hope that she’d be able to share a bed with someone in the future wasn’t a lost cause.  

“Guess so,” he murmured.

“Sorry about Rocket.” 

With a resigned sigh, Vakarian replied, “It’s ok, he’s done it before.”

Shepard watched as Vakarian arched his back, lifted his chest, and stretched his long arms out as he yawned. His mandibles spread out wide, flashing his sharp teeth and blue tongue in such a frightening display of predatory features that really should be more unnerving — and less adorable. 

As he finished stretching, one of his elbows landed hard on her foot by accident. 

“Ow,” Shepard said and drew her foot up as pain shot all the way up her calf. 

“Oh, sorry,” Vakarian mumbled. His deep voice, raspy with sleep, soothed her tired mind, making waking up a bit easier.  

“S’okay,” Shepard said through a yawn.

They’d certainly seen each other fall asleep before and had woken each other up just as many times across the last few years. So there was nothing awkward in seeing each other wake up that morning. But Vakarian had never woken up in her bed before. He was curled up so close to her that she felt the heat of his body warming her feet. 

Unsure of what to say, she stared at him as he finished stretching. He stared up at the ceiling, probably giving himself a moment to wake up and let his senses come to him after his harrowing wake-up call. 

After a deep, tranquil breath that he let out slowly, Vakarian’s head tilted towards her slightly. Their eyes met. It was such a quiet, unsure moment between them – but one that felt special nonetheless despite the sinking worry that this was going to make things awkward between them.

Shepard tensed when a dreadful thought occurred to her — about an entire night cylce too late. What in the hell would Livia say to him if she knew where he was? Livia didn’t even know he slept in Shepard’s spare bedroom on nights when they worked late. She would probably be livid if she knew he sat on her bed while she showered and then slept at the foot of her bed all night. 

But he looked so peaceful lying there. And Livia told him he was a failed Spectre candidate. It wasn’t considerate or fair, but Shepard figured if someone wants to know where their mate is — or have any say in how close they are to a friend — they should probably treat them with more kindness. Respect was a two-way lane and based on how Livia talked to Garrus, she didn’t respect him. 

With that in mind, Shepard swore that Vakarian could hide out at her apartment as often as he wanted. He’d worked so hard, grown so much. Aside from the past few months, he was more relaxed, more confident, and happier than he’d been when they first met — and she’d be damned if anyone took that away from him. He was no failure.

Granted, Shepard had never really been in a successful relationship. She was the last person who should be doling out relationship advice or tallying up offenses to lay blame. 

Realizing that she still held the pillow drawn up to her nose, she lowered it back to her chest. With a soft half-smile, she simply said, “Morning.”

His left mandible flicked out just lightly, returning her smile. “Morning,” he replied. 

Another quiet, unsure moment passed before she said, “Are you staying home today? I can get the case going and let you rest.”

He tilted his head to stare at the ceiling again, his smile fading and breaking her heart a little as it did. “No. I’d just be miserable.”

She answered with a solemn nod because she knew that was true. He’d go stir-crazy and just turn despondent if he sat at home with nothing to keep his mind off his mother’s diagnosis. Shepard wished that weren’t true. Everyone should get a break when something life-shattering like that happened, but Vakarian wasn’t like most people. Her friend liked routine and distraction. 

“Can you do me a favor? Just don’t let anyone know for now? Not even Kryik.”

“Of course,” she answered without question. 

A discarded memory drifted into her consciousness of sitting in her room – her new room, at her grandparent’s house. Her parents had just died. She heard her Gran’s soft voice drifting from the living room, telling someone — a neighbor, maybe — not to mention their deaths. Shepard had told her grandmother days before through a quivering lip that she didn’t want anyone to talk about it anymore. Even as a child, she rejected the sympathy that everyone piled on top of her like a suffocating blanket. 

She couldn't blame Vakarian for wanting to avoid that.  

They exchanged a few more awkward glances before he gave her a warm smile that almost convinced her nothing about their morning was strange – that his mom wasn’t sick and it was normal, perfectly ordinary even, for him to wake up at the foot of her bed. 

Their silent, solemn moment ended when he cocked his leg out and playfully shoved her foot with his knee.

“Ow,” she complained even though it didn't hurt. “You and Rocket are monsters. I need new friends.” She gave him a good shove in his knee with her foot, which only made him laugh and gently drive his knee into her again.

“You need to toughen up. Maybe I’ll throw you in the ring with Kryik.”

“You wouldn’t dare. Last time you sparred with him you limped for a week.”

“Did not,” he answered. There was a pause. “It wasn’t that noticeable.”

“Then why did everyone call you ‘Shuffles’, hm?”

“Only you and Kryik called me that.” 

Light chuckles and minor insults about one another’s devious nature were exchanged. The moment eased her worries —  if just for a while. They both got out of bed to go their separate ways. As he ambled out of her bedroom — his work clothes from the previous day rumpled and pulled at his body in various spots — she felt an unfamiliar urge to scoop him up and hug him. 

She let him go, though. He went to the downstairs guest room to clean up, and she got ready for work in her bedroom. 

🔪🔪🔪

Vakarian quietly stepped through the spare bedroom doorway in fresh work clothes thanks to his generous stock of spare outfits that he kept at Shepard’s. He made his way down the hall towards the kitchen, moving slower than normal. He felt the gravity of his mom’s diagnosis weighing him down and was eager to get back to work. Finding the people who assaulted Ziha would be the perfect distraction from the pain and sorrow he couldn’t shake. 

Shepard’s soft voice traveled from the kitchen. He rounded the corner expecting to see her dancing with Rocket, but the sight in front of him — well, the sounds, more than anything — caught him by surprise. Shepard stood at the counter with Rocket in front of her, propped up and sitting like a little primarch. The cat shut its eyes slowly to enjoy the kiss she placed on his furry little head. 

“Listen, what you did was probably fun, right? Gave you a pretty big thrill. A tiny little guy like you taking on a huge turian and making him startle like that.”

“Mow,” Rocket answered, his intent eyes trained on her. Vakarian immediately grinned and stopped to watch this moment transpire.

“Yeah," she said as if she just agreed with a valid point. "But the thing is, it was really embarrassing. Like...really bad. I haven’t had a guy wake up in my bed for years, so I get why you weren't sure how to act. I wasn’t sure either. Let’s just say what you did is the opposite of what you should do, though. You gotta play it cool.”

“Mow.”

“Sorry, but that was not cool. The jump was, sure, I’ll give you that. Real action star material there.” She placed her hands on the counter and leaned forward with a sigh. “But I think he was already uncomfortable because he didn’t want to sleep there, and I told him it wouldn't be weird. Well, it turned out to be slightly strange. While I will take a little of the blame for that just because I convinced him to stay, I think it’s mostly your fault.”

“Mow.”

“I don’t care if it was funny. Sometimes you need to respect other people's feelings if you want them to care about yours.”

The cat leaned forward and rubbed his head against one arm, then the other. 

“Nope, no treats for you today. Gotta earn those. But you just had to make Garrus uncomfortable, and you embarrassed me.”

Vakarian couldn’t stand back and watch this cute little moment any longer; he had to interject at that point by stepping into the kitchen and clearing his throat. The little start she gave at the sound of his voice only made his grin even bigger. 

“Aw, come on, Shep, it wasn't that bad, was it?” he said as he walked over to them then leaned against the counter. “And I’m sure this little talk taught him a lesson.”

Rocket turned to Vakarian and, with a flick of his tail, said, “Mow.”

Vakarian turned to Shepard. “How many times does a guy have to say he’s sorry, hm? Go on and give him some treats.”

Once he got a good look at Shepard’s face, he noticed her skin nearly matched her hair. Just that simple sight made him chuckle. Vakarian stepped forward and grabbed a dextro breakfast bar from the cabinet next to her. 

Shepard’s gaze rose, but Looking him in the eye seemed to be hard for her. 

“Since when have you been so quiet, hm?” 

“I was in special ops. I can be quiet.”

“Could have fooled me,” she lightheartedly grumbled. Her gaze drifted up to his, and once they looked each other in the eye, something changed in her. Her demeanor softened, and that flush dissipated. She nudged his elbow with a forced casualness in her voice and said,  “Are we getting coffee at that place?”

The realization that she was trying to act normal and positive for him — because his mom was dying — sent a tickle of agitation up his spine. This is why he didn’t want to tell anyone or talk about it. This awkwardness. This pity. This reminder that his mom had Corpalis. 

He took a deep breath to settle his nerves. She was just trying to help and was doing a damn good job of it, actually. No one else could have comforted him the way she was — only family could. “Yeah, if you want,” he answered.  

While she reached past him to grab a breakfast bar from the cabinet, her shirt lifted up, exposing a bit of her back. 

And her pale, delicate skin. 

And her gently arched spine. 

Spirits, he had actually thought about her last night while she was blow-drying her hair. 

No. That was just too much to handle — finding out about your mother’s terminal illness and contemplating what your friend's skin would feel like against your tongue all in one night was too much to process. 

And he had a mate. Vakarian began to realize he was an even bigger piece of shit than he had already accepted. 

Dammit. He pushed that thought about Shepard to the deepest recess of his mind, where it belonged. 

Her many dexterous fingers scrambled at the food wrapper, making a crinkling noise as she peeled it aside before taking a large bite. “Just how much of that conversation did you hear?”

He cleared his throat and was happy to move on from that terrible, confusing thought to focus back on her silly relationship with her pet. “Oh, a lot, I think,” he answered.

That flush sure did come and go. Vakarian turned to lean back against the counter and gave Rocket a little pet and scratch. “It’s ok, Rocket. I don’t think you did anything wrong. You're a cat, and I think it’s pretty normal to do weird stuff like that.”

“Mow.”

“Exactly,” Vakarian answered the cat with a light smile and scratch to the head.

“How in the hell were you still cold enough last night to wrap a blanket around your head?” she asked. 

It was Vakarian’s turn to flush. Hopefully, the heat traveling up his neck didn’t cause a blue-hued flush to match. “I...mmm,” he gulped down the mouthful of breakfast bar he’d just bit off, all the sudden feeling very tight in the throat.

Her face dropped. “Was that not about being cold?”

“No, it’s…”

Her hands raised, stopping him there and excusing him from any further explanation. “You don’t have to tell me. It’s fine. I feel stupid for assuming. And for asking.”

“No, it’s fine. Don’t tease me, though.”

“Of course not,” she said, but there was something in her half-smile that made him hesitate for just a moment. 

“I think I probably do it for the same reason you hold onto a pillow all night while you sleep. More of a comfort thing.”

“Oh, gotcha,” she answered. Then her brows knotted. “Wait, why is wrapping a blanket around your head comforting?”

“Why is holding a pillow comforting for you?”

“I suppose because it's like…” her shy, gentle sigh filled him with curiosity and pulled in his attention. He stopped before taking another bite to watch her carefully. “This sounds so pathetic. I guess it’s like a hug. It’s like holding someone all night.”

That made something start up in his chest, right by his heart. She’d been hugging someone all night. Shepard had never been a touchy, feely type of person. Anytime she actually dated anyone for very long she was never overly affectionate. She’d make out with guys, of course, but never really hold hands or hug or do anything that made it seem they shared any type of affection. He eventually had assumed she just wasn’t fond of physical affection or comfort. 

But, she held a pillow to her chest to sleep. 

So, she did need affection and comfort. He felt even better about giving her that hug in the elevator. She probably really needed it. 

He realized she was watching him, looking a bit perturbed. Probably because she just made herself vulnerable and was waiting for him to either acknowledge what she said or because she wanted him to answer her about the blanket, 

Right, the blanket. The comfort of something pressing against your crest. Humans didn’t feel that. 

“The blanket, its, mmm...well, I wrapped it around my head to keep it in place while I tossed and turned. The reason for it is, mmm, pressure is comforting. Against the crest.”

Recognition dawned on her features, making his explanation a bit easier. “Oh, yeah. Is that like the thing you guys do with your crests?” She patted her palm to her forehead. “The bumping? Basi...” she trailed off without finishing the word.

“Yeah, basiums. They can provide comfort, so when there’s no one around to basium, a blanket will do.” 

She agreed with a gentle hum. “Just like a pillow will do when you need someone to hold.”

“Yeah,” he agreed. 

She nudged his elbow with the back of her hand, “Well, it’s a good thing my bed’s stocked with plenty of pillows and blankets, hm? Who needs a boyfriend or girlfriend when you have bedding?”

They both chuckled softly — tension he didn’t realize he’d been holding rolled off his shoulders. Spirits, it felt good to have a friend like her. 

They watched each other for a moment, some quiet recognition and understanding — something really intimate — settled between them. He couldn’t recall the last time he was this open and vulnerable with someone. 

But with Shepard, he wasn’t afraid that intimacy would lead to any kind of hurt. Shepard was...well, she was safe. She was an understanding friend who was never disappointed in him. 

Irritated with him sometimes? Definitely. But he never felt like he had to pretend to be something he wasn’t. 

Sure it had been awkward waking at the foot of her bed. But it wasn’t anything that they couldn't handle. Friends passed out in living rooms together all the time. Spirits knew he and Shepard passed out on her couches several times a month – him on one and her on the other. Why would it matter if this time they had passed out on the same piece of furniture? 

He looked down at her as she ran her hand over Rocket’s head, smoothing his ears back over and over as he purred to her. She leaned down and kissed his head. 

“Alright, I’ll give you some treats. Only because Garrus pleaded your case, though. You're lucky. Not all victims plead for their attacker’s mercy.”

“What a kind judge you are, Shep.” Vakarian drawled. He placed a hand on her shoulder and patted gently. She stiffened at first, then relaxed. “Ready to get to work?” he asked, anxious to get his mind stuck on casework — and thankful that Shepard and he were doing just fine, despite waking up in an awkward situation.     

“Yeah, let me grab my shoes.” She turned to flash him a half-smile with her head cocked to the side and pointed her finger at him. “Not my disgusting tennis shoes, though.”

As she turned from him with a pep in her step, an urge hit him to take her by the arm and pull her in for a quick hug. He let her go, though. Waking up in her bed was probably enough intimacy between two friends for one day. 

Hugging her could get addicting, though. It just felt nice. She was so soft and warm. Spirits, maybe he needed a pet. How expensive could a cat be? They were small, so they had to be cheap, right? 

As if reading his mind, Rocket bumped his head into Vakarian’s arm. Vakarian smiled, and gave him a little scratch, before picking him up and placing him in his cowl where he held him and showered attention on the adoring little guy. 

Once Shepard returned and they were out the door, they headed to the same coffee shop she had introduced him to the morning before. It was only their second trip, but it already felt like a comfortable little habit. 

The shop, however, was so packed when they arrived they had to wait outside until it cleared out a bit. 

Vakarian felt oddly well-rested, considering he slept on the foot of Shepard’s bed all night. He recalled waking up a few times, but something other than his exhausted mind and body kept him in her bed. Even in the dead of night, mind still half asleep and body achingly tired, he realized he didn’t want to be alone. He’d never admit to it, of course, but just being in the same room with her while they slept was comforting. His spirit needed it — just like it needed the blanket pressed to his crest. 

He felt properly ashamed for wanting to sleep in her bed, but she didn’t seem to mind. That was the thing about Shepard — she was so easy-going and quick to offer whatever support someone needed.  

Outside, tucked in by a structural column, they waited for their opportunity to grab a coffee while burying their hands in their pockets and watching the people coming and going. Shepard kept stealing glances at him, which he tried to ignore. He knew she wanted to ask him if he was ok, or if he wanted to talk, or if he needed anything.

But he still just wanted to forget that his mom was sick and that he’d lose her so much sooner than he was prepared to. 

“Hey, you wanna talk yet?” Shepard asked. 

A knot welled in his chest for just a moment, selfishly agitated that she actually asked. But she was doing it because she had to — because she cared. And how could he be angry at her for caring?

“No, but thanks for asking.” He wanted to say so many other things to her. But most were embarrassing. And some of them would make him keen. 

She nudged his arm with her shoulder. “Of course. When you’re ready, I’m here.”

All he could muster up was a nod before he turned his attention back to watching the people hurrying to work. 

After just a short, silent moment between them, Shepard stood up on the tips of her toes and leaned towards him. With a quick, odd movement, her hand hovered in the middle of his face before her fingers brushed his nose. Absolutely dumbfounded by what she was doing, but not feeling threatened at all, he leaned away from her reach just slightly. 

His confusion only intensified, though, when she pulled her hand back and presented it to him, showing him that her thumb was tucked in between two of her other fingers and just peeking out. It was some sort of little display. The only thing he understood about the situation was that she clearly wanted him to see her thumb, despite it being poorly concealed. 

“What the hell was that?” 

“Got your nose,” she explained with a hint of pride in her voice.  

What ?” His mandibles fluttered in his confusion. 

She wiggled her thumb just slightly, still stuck between her fingers. “I got your nose, stole it off your face.”

There was that pride again like she had accomplished some magical feat. Was her thumb supposed to be his nose? Bewildered beyond reaction, he simply stood back, desperately reading every little quirk of her face and running through every last bit of his human knowledge to figure out what the hell she was doing. 

Eventually, though, exasperated and out of ideas, he blurted, “What did you just do?”

“I mean, it’s pretty self-explanatory. Why are you struggling with this concept? I got your nose.” His mandibles jittered again when she waved her fisted hand around.

“Oh, probably because it makes no sense. That’s supposed to be a nose?” He pointed at her silly list fist that was all balled up. 

“Yeah.”

“That doesn't even look like a nose.”

She inspected her thumb through her fingers. “Yeah, well, it kind of looks like mine.” She held her hand up to her face to show the side-by-side comparison between her nose and thumb. “A human nose.” 

He could only guess that she realized how ridiculous this was when she laughed, causing him to laugh right along with her. “My grandpa used to do it to me when I was little and upset,” she said.

“You are so weird,” he said through his chuckles, teasing her while imagining the adorable, strange sight of her grandfather pretending to remove her nose from the small, round face she had as a child. He’d have to ask Ed about it the next time he was at Shepard’s and she called her grandparents. For some reason, he loved hearing stories about Shepard when she was little — it always filled him with nostalgic joy. 

For a moment, they simply laughed together, then gave each other funny looks. The funny looks made them laugh all over again, only to repeat the process. Their laughs were never particularly loud or boisterous – it was the sheer length of time they spent just looking at each other and laughing that made the two of them look a bit mental. It even earned them a few judging and bewildered looks from the embassy and C-Sec staffers passing by who were usually too rushed and self-involved to notice anything going on around them.  

Eventually, their laughter died down, and he took her short, conciliatory shrug as an admittance that the situation was absurd. While leaning comfortably against the pillar, she shoved her hands in her pockets and said, “I’m just trying to make you feel better.”

His mandibles continued to flutter in amusement. “And how exactly is stealing my body parts supposed to make me feel better, Shep? Humans are so weird.”

“Because it’s silly,” she explained simply. Her voice was light, and her smile warm. “Hey, you’re laughing, aren't you?”

“You got me there.”

Their ridiculous exchange was interrupted when they both received pings on their omni-tools – a hospital administrator providing the time and location they planned to remove Ziha from her enviro-tank. The removal would be tomorrow, so Shepard and Vakarian had all day to work on the case. He already started going through the explanations he’d have to give Livia, begging forgiveness for having to work late. There was no way he’d get off on time with a case handed to them at the Executor’s order, though.  

Instead of worrying about how upset Livia would be, he thought about his mom. He looked over the pristine Presidium grounds – artificial sunlight casting a soft, warm glow on the trees, lakes, and people. It was beautiful, but his heart hurt too much to enjoy it. 

The galaxy around him felt new. But not in a good way. New in the same vein of getting deployed to a planet you’d never been to, and you didn’t know what the weather would be like or what supplies you’d get. The only thing you knew for certain was your mission was going to be tough and the likelihood of someone getting hurt, or dying, was high. But, you were completely helpless to change any of that.   

His mom had a terminal illness, and he’d lose her. His life would never be the same. 

Finally, the coffee shop emptied enough for Shepard and Vakarian to squeeze their way inside. He followed Shepard’s lead, admiring how everyone here, regardless of species, made room for her. She had no idea she was parting the crowd with a determined stride and warm smile, though. She had no idea the effect she had on people. 

They ordered coffee and received it while his thoughts stayed on his mother.

Everything he knew had suddenly changed last night. And he’d woken up to this new galaxy on Shepard’s bed — relaxed, comfortable, accepted. Without a doubt, he knew that she’d be there right by his side through hospital trips, doctor’s visits, and test results. That would be his life for the next decade. But she’d be there.

“Listen,” Shepard said, a thoughtful, serious weight to her voice as she glanced back at him and chewed at her lip. The sea of people parted on her way out of the shop. “It’s not like I’m opposed to new tennis shoes. But that pair got me through my move.”

He watched her bounce her way down the sidewalk, talking to him about shoes and moving and how unexpected things keep you grounded through tough times. In a few strides, he caught up to her. They sipped coffee while walking side by side and he hoped nothing would ever change between them. 

Watching his mom grow weaker and sicker was going to take every ounce of his strength. At least he wouldn't have to do this alone, though, because he had a stellar friend at his side.