It was late, but given the quality of her sleep lately, Shepard didn’t think too much of staying up on her downshift.
Mind you, Traynor tended to fuss (or worse, go tattling to Chakwas) when she caught Shepard skipping out on sleep. So Shepard was hiding in the war room with a steaming mug of coffee balanced on the desk next to her terminal.
The war room was largely deserted, except for a few guards and Primarch Victus. Wrex was off for his hourly paranoid status check on Eve. She was a bit concerned about the Primarch, but she wasn’t in much of a position to throw stones. He was probably burning the midnight oil for much the same reasons that she was, plus turians didn’t need as much sleep as humans did if Garrus’s example was anything to go by.
There was another problem to think about and one that was no less knotty than the issue of finding more engineers for the Crucible project.
‘…aaand that is exactly why the Alliance has rules about fraternization. Ugh.’ Shepard rubbed her eyes and took another pull of her coffee. Garrus was going to have to wait. ‘Pay some more attention to saving lives, soldier. Less attention to the mystifying behavior of your lover.’
Fuck. It was the Primarch.
Shepard scraped together a professional expression from God only knew where and turned to face the former general turned reluctant diplomat. “Primarch? How can I help you?”
The Primarch didn’t look particularly like he was about to send her on another fetch quest. He tended to have impeccable posture when he did that, drawing himself to his full height as a sign of respect and perhaps a little bit of intimidation. At the moment the Primarch had his arms crossed over his chest and was leaning against the edge of the round table surrounding the Crucible schematics. He looked curious, if anything.
“I’m given to understand that your species needs more down time than I think I’ve seen you taking.”
Oh, hell. Him too?
“I appreciate your concern, Primarch.” She told him. “However, there’s a lot to do and not a lot of time to do it in.”
“Understood, Commander.” However, he didn’t sound like he’d accepted that as a dismissal. “I have a question for you, if you don’t mind?”
“I’m happy to answer any questions you have, Primarch, within reason.”
The Primarch nodded his gratitude. “Your relationship with Garrus Vakarian.” He started and Shepard fought off an icy chill. These were dangerous waters the Primarch had steered them into. “What is the exact nature of it?”
Shepard took a breath and turned to face the Primarch directly. She knew to maintain direct eye contact and fought to keep her breathing regular and serene. Her xenopsychology courses had tended to favor negotiations of a different variety, but she had the sense that it was equally important not to show weakness in this particular confrontation. “Primarch, I hope you understand that there is no way I can answer that question without causing either a diplomatic incident or trouble for my friend. I hope you will retract it.”
“Perhaps it will help if I do not ask as a Primarch, then?” Victus unhooked something from his collar and set it down on the table between them; it was a platinum pin cast in the shape of the crest Hierarchy’s Imperial Crest. “Now I’m merely an older male turian who has observed a certain type of behavior in one of his subordinates –perhaps even a trusted friend- and is interested in preventing him from making an ass out of himself.”
“Behavior?” Shepard leaned back in her seat. “Someone once told me that turian crews had fewer, ah, personal restrictions than humans. If you’re referring to the fact that Garrus is my lover then you have to know that he has not let it affect his work even slightly. By human standards, Garrus is the epitome of professional restraint.”
“Maybe it’s more noticeable to another Turian, then.” The Primarch chuckled. Chuckled! “I am not trying to create a problem where there clearly isn’t one, Commander Shepard. Body language differs greatly between our species and while young Vakarian hasn’t been particularly subtle about his intentions, I thought perhaps you might have been missing some important social cues. More importantly, it occurred to me that you might have questions and no one to ask.”
“I…” Shepard cut her automatic decline off. She reminded herself that turians never did anything just to be polite. If the Primarch was asking if she had questions then he legitimately intended to answer them. “Perhaps I do have questions. Concerns maybe. Garrus has been doing something lately that confuses me.”
“I thought he might.” The Primarch nodded his encouragement. “Go on.”
Shepard paused, gathering her thoughts. “Garrus has been –leaving things. In my quarters. Small things like a tool or a bit of armor he doesn’t normally use. I’ve been finding them stowed in out of the way places, not that he’s hiding them. If he were a human, I’d say he was fabricating excuses to come back later, but we’re a bit past the point where he would need to do that.”
“I thought that might be the case,” was the Primarch’s cryptic answer. “Have you spoken to him about it?”
“Not yet. I’ve been trying to figure out the root cause before I broach the subject. Is there any advice you can give me?”
The Primarch turned slightly. “What he’s doing is… well, frankly it’s somewhat juvenile, but he’s young.” He shook his head. “Vakarian is young by our standards even if he’s a bit older than you are. Our males mature very slowly. It’s one of the reasons why we keep all citizens in the military until they’re thirty. I suppose by now you’ve probably noticed that we’re a territorial bunch.”
Shepard thought back to the way that Garrus had refused to leave the Main Battery except for missions back when the Normandy had (technically) been a Cerberus vessel. The only other place he’d spend time was in her quarters, but only at her specific invitation. She’d waited for him to develop enough faith in their connection to enter her space uninvited or when she wasn’t around, but that never happened.
Even after he returned to the Normandy after Menae, he headed straight for the familiar and started making it his own again. Since then she’d caught him shooting the shit with Liara and Ensign Copeland in the lounge. She’d taken that as a hopeful sign that he was more comfortable now that there was an Alliance crew manning their ship… but still, he stayed away from her personal space unless she asked him up, which made his new behavior even more confusing.
“I have.” She agreed out loud, not pointing out the fact that the Primarch himself pretty much lived in the war room.
“Our females? Are about ten times worse. There’s a reason you never see them outside of the home system.” The Primarch made a sort of sketchy gesture in the air that didn’t quite translate. “Courtship is an incredibly thorny process, especially considering the fact that sex doesn’t necessarily imply the formation of a bonding relationship the way it does with your kind. Vakarian is treating you like a turian female and testing your relationship.”
“Testing?” Shepard couldn’t hide her frown. Relationship head games were absolutely the last thing she needed to be dealing with at that moment, not with the Reapers poised to lay waste to her entire species.
The Primarch just nodded. “He’ll be watching you to see how you react to his encroachment on your territory. If you reject his presence in your space, he’ll back off. If you ignore it, well…”
The Primarch fixed her with a serious look. “If your actions imply that you are comfortable with him as a permanent fixture in your personal territory then he’ll probably move for commitment. He’s been displaying signs of it when you’re around other males. General Corinthus told me that he claimed you in front of his entire platoon.”
Shepard blinked. “Primarch, he shook my hand.”
“Instead of saluting you and in front of about twenty other soldiers plus a general. Then he held it.” The Primarch coughed (it sounded suspiciously like a laugh). “The only thing he could have done that was less subtle was to stamp his personal sigil on your ass right then and there.”
Were her cheeks heating up? Shepard hoped to god not. Up until that very moment, she’d been impressed and sort of touched by the restrained affection that Garrus had displayed when they’d met up on Menae. Now she was beginning to realize that she didn’t have quite the lexicon necessary to parse everything he did.
“It must be very strange for you, being on a human vessel.” She observed.
Victus just shrugged. “I’ve made a study of human behavior. Most generals do, especially after the Relay 314 incident. I know that not every person on this ship is having sex, although sometimes it seems like it. Your kind has a much greater tolerance for public affection than the average turian.”
“Comes of being a social species. There might perhaps be a larger spectrum of context for casual touches among humans than turians.”
“I have always thought so.”Victus agreed. “Hence my concern. Vakarian isn’t as much of a hothead as he once was, or so his fitness reports tell me. However, I have come to regard you as a friend, Shepard. I felt it might be necessary to intervene if there were any… interspecies communication failures going on.”
“I appreciate your concern.” Shepard said and meant it.
“Just be careful for a while, Commander.” Victus picked his pin back up off the table. “If you decide to accept him then be wary around other males –especially those of your own kind. Don’t put Vakarian in a position where his instincts overwhelm his common sense. This is something you must know as his commanding officer. You can maintain your relationship and your honor, but be prepared to navigate a few minefields in order to do so.”
“I’ll bear that in mind, Primarch.”
The Primarch paused a moment, halfway through putting his insignia back on. “Thank you, Commander. I… regret not having trusted in you before this. My son might have lived if you had had the necessary information. I hope that in the future we will not be so foolish.”
“I hope for that as well.” Shepard replied quietly. “I hope that we have a future to be foolish in even more.”
“As do I, Commander. As do I.”
Later- much later since wars increased bullshit paperwork rather than reduced it- Shepard finally retired to her quarters and gave Garrus a ring. He showed up in civvies carrying a couple of bottles of beer that he’d probably filched from the observation deck, but drew up short when he saw the folded up clothes scattered across her bed.
“Huh.” He set his contraband down on the coffee table and went over to see what she was doing. It wasn’t lost on Shepard that one of the first things he did was take a covert glance under the couch where he’d stashed a pair of armax gauntlets that were in mid-repair. Was it her imagination or did his shoulders droop a little when he realized they were gone?
“Got the cleaning bug, Shepard?” He asked in a suspiciously casual tone of voice.
“Sort of.” Shepard replied. “Been finding stuff around my cabin; under the couch and on the top shelf of my workspace. It’s got me twitchy so I thought I’d clear out a drawer or two to make room for it all. Otherwise something in my hindbrain keeps insisting that Gunny Ellison is going to pop out of the drainage system and bust my ass for having a non-regulation billet.”
If a turian could gulp then Garrus did so. Shepard pretended like she hadn’t heard and added, “You should bring up a change of clothes while I’m at it. I bet I could find room for all your stuff, if I tried.”
“I’ll do that.” Garrus’s voice was really close, practically in her ear so it wasn’t a surprise when his hands slipped around her waist.
Shepard relaxed into the embrace. She’d spent a lot of time thinking about what the Primarch said, how she felt, and where she wanted this relationship to go. If Garrus didn’t –agitate for commitment, then that was OK. She’d survive –but if he did. Well.
She had her answer ready.