It was one of the stranger sights Garrus Vakarian had seen on the Citadel. Odd enough to make him stop in place and wonder if he should be in amazed, confused, or slightly intimidated. Probably all three at once, he decided at last.
He had never seen so much pink in his life. Well, pink mixed with plenty of reds, whites, and the occasional smattering of purple. This was the third human shop he had seen with those decorations (although this was the gaudiest one to date),and if the crowds around it were any indication, he was going to have to admit that maybe Joker had actually been serious when he insisted that Valentines Day was one of the most important of human holidays.
When the pilot had first mentioned Valentines Day to him, Garrus had been more than a little skeptical. It sounds exactly like the kind of joke the man would try to play on a helpless turian. A holiday focused around love? Granted humans did seem to be slightly obsessed with the concept, but even asari didn’t go that far. Then the rest of the human crew had started to agree with Joker, and Garrus had done a bit of his own research. It hadn’t really been comforting to realize that yes, humans had a holiday that existed just to show appreciation for your partner. Still, he hadn’t been sure the human media was exaggerating until he saw the evidence with his own eyes.
Now it was the day, and he had to figure out what he was going to do, and fast.
He crept closer to the store, fully aware that he was the only turian there. Not the only alien thankfully, he could see a couple of asari and a salarain inside, but he still stuck out a little. This he tried very had to ignore as he studied the advertisements the store had put up. There was a bewildering variety of…stuff on display when you took in the store all up and down the area. Jewelry, flowers, cards, and chocolates all promising they would be ‘The perfect Valentines gift!’. Actually, if he looked closer, it became clear there were more chocolate advertisements in the stores than anything else.
A quick extranet search on him omnitool confirmed the yes, chocolate was considered traditional for humans on Valentines. He realized something as he shut down the interface. Chocolate was a traditional good on a human romantic holiday. Chocolate therefore, must have some sort of romantic meaning to humans as whole.
“..Crap.” Now Shepard’s odd reaction to finding out Dr. Michel had given him chocolate made a hell of a lot of sense. Granted it didn’t explain Tali’s reaction to it, but that wasn’t what he was concerned about right now. Garrus rubbed the back of his neck. Damn, this had just gotten complicated. Joker had said Shepard was probably looking forward to getting something from him, and now he really had to make up for his mistake. Talk about pressure.
“Focus Vakarian,” he muttered to himself, and started to take a deep breath to prepare to enter the shop. Then one of the pictures scrolling by on the advertisements caught his eye. It was a picture of a bunch of chocolates crammed in a box the same shape as the one Dr. Michle had given him a month ago. Two lumps at the top that lead down to a narrow point. He hadn’t known what to call it at the time, but the sign was proclaiming it a heart-shaped box of chocolates.
His mandibles flickered into a frown as he opened his omnitool again, and proceeded to lookup what a human heart looked like. A tiny voice in the back of his mind noted that he was just trying avoid setting foot in the store, but he chose to ignore it. Instead, he compared the picture on his screen to the one on the advertisement.
“That,” he said to no one, “looks nothing like a human heart. Or the heart of any other species.” The last he was only half-way sure of. Given how big the galaxy was, there might be something out there with a heart that looked like that.
It still wouldn’t explain why humans were using it.
“Spirits,” a flanging voice said from behind it. “That’s what it’s supposed to be? I’ve been seeing it up and down this strip but I wouldn’t have thought to name it a heart.”
“It’s humans,” Garrus said, “I’ve given up trying to explain why they do half the things they do.” He turned to see who the other turian was. It took him only a second to recognize the individual behind him. “General Oraka,” he said, trying to keep his voice even despite the fact that his stomach was squirming. Shepard had said he was on the Citadel but the General had still been the last person he expected to see. He was also one of the people that Garrus had hoped to avoid seeing. At least for a little while longer, until he could figure out a way to give something of an apology to the General. “What brings you out here?”
Oraka dipped his head in greeting. “Vakarian. Although I hear it’s Advisor now. Congratulations. That’s impressive for someone was young as you.”
“Yeah..ah, thanks,” Garrus scratched at the back of his neck again nervously. “Although I think I owe most of it to the Reapers. It kind of says how desperate everyone is if they’re shoving me into a spot with this much responsibility.”
“War shows what a person is really made of, Vakarian. I would think you of all people would know that,” Oraka’s subvocals were vibrating with silent laughter. “I’ve heard the reports of what you were doing before the Reapers struck, and of your efforts in the refugee camps here. Your actions are very commendable. I think the promotion was well-placed.”
“Ah, thanks,” Garrus was caught slightly off guard by that sort of confidence. Even after all this he still wasn’t used to people just assuming that he was up to the task.
“Although I assumed the refugee camps would be your goal this time around. Seeing you in the human quarters was unexpected.”
“Yeah, I guess it is,” Garrus said quickly. “I just had…stuff to do here. You were the one that was the real surprise. Shepard said you were trying to organize more of the Citadel’s defenses. Didn’t expect to see you in a human ward either.”
“That is what I’m doing yes,” Oraka locked his hands behind his back. “This human…romance festival has brought in a sudden surge of black market trafficking. Mostly of flowers of all things, but I had heard from a contact there might be a few weapons smuggled in as well. I had hoped to get my hands on them before everyone else did.” The General gave him a curious look. “I was waiting for my contact and noticed you arrive. You’ve been in front of the same shops for at least ten minuets. Are you waiting for someone?”
“Umm..well,” Garrus stammered, searching for an answer that wouldn’t make it seem like he was avoiding going into a human store because he had no idea what he was going. Because that wasn’t the case at all. Seriously. “I just got…distracted.” He settled on at last. “I mean, I knew the humans had an important holiday coming up but I didn’t think it would be so colorful. Or, you know, involve twisted versions of organs somehow factoring into the whole ‘romance’ thing. And that’s only what I’ve figure out so far!” He flicked a talon toward another advertisement. There was a thing there that looked something like a human infant with fluffy little wings pasted on it, holding a bow and arrow that had a “heart” shaped tip. “I’m honestly not sure I want to know why it’s there.”
Oraka, perhaps out of a sense of disbelief, or just curiosity, came up beside the younger turian and leaned over to examine the picture. “That is certainly…interesting. This wasn’t the first I’ve heard about this human holiday, but since there are more important things in the galaxy I didn’t pay it any mind. I’m amazed humans are still this enthusiastic about it with a war going on.”
“The war is probably why they’re so enthusiastic about it,” the younger turian commented as he turned to watch a pair of human women talking animatedly as they exited a shop. “With death so close, everyone wants a reminder of the few good things we have left in the galaxy,” He shrugged. “Of course that still doesn’t mean it has to make sense.”
Oraka was looking at him in something like consideration. “You sound like you’ve given this a lot of thought.”
The words caught the younger turian off-guard for a moment then he shrugged. A more human gesture than turian, but he thought it would fit with his words. “I’m serving on a human ship, remember? This is a major holiday for them, so I couldn’t avoid hearing about it.”
“And Commander Shepard allows this?” Oraka gave him a curious look. “I would have thought she needed her crew to be more focused than that.”
“She knows she has to let them let loose once in a while. She even arranged for her crew to have shore leave on the Citadel on today of all days. I doubt that was just a coincidence.” Although he didn’t mention that, according to Joker at least, it was because Shepard herself had wanted to celebrate the holiday herself. With her boyfriend, the pilot had suggested with an over exaggerated raising of his eyebrows that Garrus thought meant something in human culture. At first Garrus had dismissed that thought, but after doing something thinking of his own had started to doubt that it really was just coincidence. Shepard never did anything without a reason behind it. She was also very bad about asking anything for herself. Outright stating that she might want something like a present might seem selfish to her. So, he would do something just for her for once.
“I understand why the human crew would come here then,” Oraka was saying, and Garrus had the uncomfortable sensation of being examined by the older turian. “It does not explain you, however. Or why you’ve let it distract you so much.”
“That’s because I…” he scrambled for something to say to Oraka then just shook his head over it. “ Ah, what does it matter? I mean, I’m sure you have more important things to be worrying about.” He started to edge his way toward the shop. At least that would be easier than answering questions about why he wanted to celebrate a human romantic holiday. Especially when those questions would be coming from a very high-ranking turian that he had been…less than polite too. It might have been a few years ago, and Garrus wasn’t even sure the General even remembered what his words, but they were still stuck in his mind. Admitting that he really understood what had gotten into the General back then? That was going to be a bit embarrassing.
“I have…business, so I’ll just get on that. Excuse me, General Oraka.”
He slipped into the store hoping that the General wouldn’t want to fight through the crowds. Unfortunately head forgotten that part of Oraka’s reputation had been from him not backing down in the face of a challenge. “You aren’t very good at hiding your feelings, Vakarian,” the General said as they made their way up to the counter. “You’ve been avoiding my questions and somehow I doubt the reason has anything to do with operations against the Reapers.”
“I don’t see why it’s any of your business.” Garrus growled. “Don’t you have something far more important to do than bugging an honest, hardworking, advisor to the Primarch?”
“My contact called to say they had been delayed,” Oraka said conversationally as the younger turian started to flick through the purchase terminal. “Keeping you company seems like a good way to eat up time. Besides,” and there was amusement hidden under the subvocals there. “I’m a bit curious about this human custom myself.”
Garrus had absolutely brilliant and whitty reply to that, but before he could voice it human woman appeared across the counter from him.
“Hi!” she said brightly, “Can I help you?” Her eyes flickered to where he was messing with the purchasing terminal, and it was only then that he realized he had been aimlessly scrolling up and down on the terminal while talking with the General.
“Ah..” he dropped his hand and glanced at Oraka out of the corner of his eye. This was really something he would rather not be doing in front of anyone else, let alone a turian general, but he didn’t see what choice he had. He had told Shepard he would meet her later, and needed to get her a gift now before it got to late. Even if it meant Oraka would find out. When it came down to a choice between his own pride and Shepard, the choice was easy enough to make. “I, ah, yeah, I might need a little help,” he admitted. “It’s Valentines Day so I was told that I should get my friend a gift.” At the curious look the saleswoman was giving on him, he cleared his throats. “Ah, she’s human,” he said quickly and heard Oraka chuckle. Damn him. “We’re…close.”
“Close?” the saleswoman gave him an openly curious look.
Garrus heaved a sigh. “Very close,” he admitted, “Ah…that kind of close.”
“That kind of…?” The saleswoman looked confused for a split second then her eyes widened and her hands flew up to cover her mouth. “Oh! Really?” The saleswoman peered closer at him, and suddenly Garrus found himself hoping she didn’t recognize him. Some humans had a problem telling turians apart, but if she recognized him as Garrus Vakarian then it wouldn’t be that great of a leap to assume she would think of Shepard. They’re been rumors that the two of them were more than friends for years, but very few actually took said rumors seriously. If even one person managed to make the connection then well, things would get complicated. Not that he was ashamed of it, but it was simpler to keep things quiet at the moment. He wasn’t sure how Shepard was going to react if she found out he’d blared their relationship to the whole galaxy while buying her a gift of all things. Somehow he didn’t think that would match the sentiments of the holiday.
This was a bad idea. Listening to Joker at all was a bad idea. If Oraka wasn’t here then maybe he would have cut and run by now, done some research before coming back so he didn’t feel quiet so clueless about this whole thing..
“Oh, I’m sorry!” The saleswoman said, interrupting this train of thought. “I didn’t mean to be rude, but I think you’re the first turian we’ve had come in here.”
“Really?” He couldn’t help drawling. “Such a surprise.”
“Well, human/turian couples are really rare. I don’t think I’ve even seen one on the Citadel before,” the saleswoman said, and Garrus tried to avoid sighing. Sarcasm was apparently a dying art, and it Oraka evidently found it amusing, although he was positive the saleswoman couldn’t hear the subvocal chuckling coming from the older turian.
“Anyway, what can I help you with?” she continued. “What sort of gift were you thinking of?”
“Ah, that’s where I need help actually,” he admitted after a pause. “I’m not sure what to get her. I want this to be perfect. What sort of things are traditional for the holiday?” He looked at her expectancy.
“Traditional?” she blinked then smiled. “For Valentines Day, it’s usually things like jewelry or flowers, or you can never go wrong with chocolate! You should get her a card too. A Valentines Day card is a must have no matter the gift. Luckily we stock a wide variety of all gifts for you to choose from. I’m sure you’ll be able to find something that’s perfect for you.”
Garrus, meanwhile, barely noticed the sales-pitch lines. “Chocolates,” he repeated, heart dropping to somewhere down around his stomach. Damn it. Chocolates, even turian chocolates had never been his favorite sweets but now it seemed like the damn things were plaguing him. “Yeah, no chocolates.” At the looks he got from both Oraka and the saleswoman he cleared his throats. “Long story.” Well, not long but he really didn’t think that reminding Shepard of Dr. Michel was a good idea.
“Now, I’m curious,” Oraka said mandibles flaring out into a grin. “Care to share that story? I have time.”
“It’s classified,” Admitting that he didn’t want to give Shepard chocolate and inevitably remind her of the fact that he accidentally accepted chocolate from another human woman and that apparently meant something to them…yeah, that was something Garrus was had no intention of doing.
“Okay, if you don’t want to give her chocolate,” the saleswoman said quickly, “then there’s still plenty of options available. We have other sweet treats available for Valentines. Conversation hearts are always popular!”
Even though Garrus was fairly sure that the ‘conversation hearts’ were connected to the odd shape the humans liked, it still called to mind Shepard eating a very bloody heart and that was not an image he wanted in his head.
“Ah, no, let’s go for something besides food,” he said quickly. “Something a little longer lasting maybe?” Because now that he looked around, there were a lot of advertisements for sweet things, and half of them had that weird ‘heart’ shape. Also red, which considering the color of human blood was more than a bit strange. He wondered about this holiday, he really did.
“Oh, well then,” the saleswoman flickered through a datapad she picked up from behind the counter. “We did just get in a new selection of jewelry just for today! There’s bound to be something there your girlfriend will like!”
“Ah, she doesn’t wear much jewelry,” that one he didn’t even have to think about. The times he had actually seen Shepard wearing anything fancy would be counted on one turian hand. Always when she had been forced to dress up, and she had never seemed particularly fond of whatever jewelry she had chosen to wear. It had seemed like just another piece of armor for her to wear into that particular sort of combat scenario.
“Are you sure?” the saleswoman peered at him urgently. “It might be something you haven’t noticed about her. Maybe some piece she wears so often that you don’t even notice anymore. Does she have pierced ears? Humans sometimes do that you know,” she added the last in a rush. “Put holes in the bottom of our earlobes. It probably sounds strange to you but..”
“I know what it is,” he said, cutting her off as gently as she could. “And no she doesn’t. I’m sure of that. I, ah, know her pretty well. Jewelry would only get in her way on the battlefield.”
“A battle..field,” the saleswoman repeated faintly. “I..see. I suppose that would be…odd if you wore jewelry to fight.”
Garrus just nodded, allowing a small smile to form on his face. Well, that is until he heard Oraka speak up.
“Just who is this woman you’re buying for?” The general asked. “I realized that I haven’t even heard a name from you yet. I would think that knowing who you were buying for that would help in figuring out what she would like.”
“I don’t see how that would help…” Garrus growled.
“Oh, that is a good idea,” the saleswoman interrupted him eagerly “Knowing your..girlfriends tastes would go along way towards picking the perfect present for her.”
Garrus was tempted for a moment. Shepard was famous enough that if he said her name, the saleswoman would recognize it and might be able to come up with something worthy of her. On the other hand, if he said her name, and the saleswoman recognized then it would be all over the extranet in a few hours. Right now, that was more stress than she deserved to deal with.
“I don’t see how that would help,” he said instead. “Let’s just get on with it and I’ll tell you if anything sounds right for her.”
Oraka just snorted, and the saleswoman sighed a little. “If you’re sure, we can do it that way,” she said sounding disappointed. Maybe she was just after simple gossip, wanting to know the name of the woman who would be willing to date a turian. All the more reason not to tell her it was Shepard then. “Even if she doesn’t wear it much she probably wears some jewelry. What sort of styles does she like? You could get her something for a special occasion.”
“Uh yeah, I’m not sure about that,” Garrus rubbed the back of his neck. All the jewelry Sheaprd had been worn had been simple but elegant. No frills but perfectly capable of getting the job done. Rather like hear, now that he thought about it. He had considered getting her something fancy, something slightly expensive to show he cared, but he wasn’t sure what she would like. Even if she didn’t really like it, she would probably wear it because he gave it to her and he didn’t want her to be something she felt obligated to keep.
“Let’s just look at something else, all right?”
“If you’re sure,” the saleswoman gave him a look. “You know, most human appreciate jewelry. It’s nice to know someone’s willing to spend that much on you.”
“Most human women maybe, but not mine. She’s..not normal.”
Oraka outright laughed at that. “Really, Vakarian. Would the lady in question really be happy to learn you were referring to her as ‘not normal’?”
“Actually,” he replied after a moment. “She would probably think it was hilarious.”
The saleswoman had been glancing back and forth between them as they talked and finally swallowed. “Um, well, if you’re sure about the jewelry thing, you could always go with flowers. And make sure you get her a card.”
“Flowers?” Garrus tried to picture Shepard with a bunch of flowers, and the image was…interesting. Not bad, but he seeing her with something like that would be a bit hilarious. Then he looked around the shop and the number of people in it, several of whom were either staring at the two turians at the counter. “Just how much is that going to cost? I doubt the Citadel is going to let humans strip it’s gardens just for a holiday and, I imagine importing plants is the last thing most people are worried about.”
“Oh, don’t worry, we have plenty of synthetic varieties available,” The saleswoman said hurriedly. “They’re much cheaper, and our customers tell us that it’s impossible to tell them from the real thing! They come with the added bonus of not fading over time like real flowers would! It’s a token of your love that will last forever.” The last was said with an overly bright smile.
“Not that the war has stopped people from trying to get their hands on the real thing,” Oraka observed. “That would explain why smugglers have been trying so hard to get flowers into the Citadel. If they’re that important to this human holiday I imagine they’re making a killing selling the real thing. Reapers are shutting down most regular shipping routes so it’s become risky to bring anything in.”
“I can assure you that this shop does not stock anything of an illegal nature,” their saleswoman drew herself up straight. “Everything we have here has been approved by Citadel law and we have all the required permits.”
“And even if you didn’t, I doubt you would be the one to handle the…backroom merchandise,” Oraka said smoothly, and the saleswoman start sputtering. Garrus shot a glare at the General, who simply responded with a shrug of his own. “It’s probably the truth.”
“Let’s just ignore him for now,” Garrus said quickly and leaned forward onto the counter. “So. Flowers. Synthetic ones. They’re….traditional?”
“Oh yes very!” the saleswoman said a little too enthusiastically after a glance at Oraka. “Roes especially are considered the most romantic flowers. They’ve been the symbol of love for hundreds of years.” She looked so enthusiastic about it that Garrus almost regretted his need to ask the next question.
“And a rose is…what exactly?”
“Oh,” she blinked, “I suppose you wouldn’t know, would you?” She tapped something on her omnitool and the picture on the purchase terminal changed to that of a deep red flower. “There, that’s a rose!”
Garrus looked closer at the picture, and felt Oraka shift so he had a better view, as the saleswoman continued on. “We sell them in groups of two or twelve depending on your preference. Normally we don’t carry merchandise like this, but this is part of our Valentines special!”
“Wait, two or…twelve. That’s…interesting.” Garrus said flatly. He tried to picture Shepard with a dozen of the red flowers and failed. Two maybe, at least to show he had done a bit of research on the subject, but again he couldn’t really picture Shepard as being a flowers kind of woman. At least she’d never seem interested in plants before, even if she had gotten defensive about the ones in her apartment. Then again, that had been after he’d almost blown then up, so he supposed there was a reason behind it.
“The number are…symbolic,” the saleswoman said hesitantly, almost as if she wasn’t quiet sure of the reason herself.
“Yeah, I’ll think about the flowers,” he said straightening up. “You said something about a card? Is there anything else that goes along with this Valentines Day thing?”
“Weeeell,” the saleswoman drew the word out as she looked thoughtful, “you have to understand that Valentines Day is mostly about showing affection for your sweetheart. You don’t have to go traditional for it, although a lot of people do. You could just buy her a present that you know she would enjoy. As long as the sentiment is there, that’s all that matters!”
“That…is both a good thing and a bad thing,” he said, scratching distractedly at his neck. “Now I have no idea what to get her.”
“So she’s hard to shop for?” the saleswoman said, not without sympathy. “I have an aunt like that. Never know what to get her.”
“Yeah, somehow I think it’s probably a little…different,” he said at last. “Just a tiny bit.” He was pretty sure her aunt was a galaxy-wide heroine Oraka chuckled and he glared at the General.
“Hmm,” the saleswoman was tapping her lip with one slender finger, and action that Garrus watched in fascination. “Why don’t we start with the gifts you’ve given her that she did like and work from there?”
“Ah, gifts,” he fidgeted for a moment before finally getting up the courage to reply. “I really haven’t gotten her anything like a gift yet. That’s why this,” he gestured around the decorations at the shop, “is such a big deal to me.” He didn’t mention that Joker had brought that up to him when mentioning the holiday. Shepard was always buying things for everyone on her squad, but barely any of them had thought to get her something in return. After all she had done, with all the pressure she had on her, the least he could do was make sure she could celebrate today.
“You haven’t gotten her anything at all?” That made the saleswoman’s eyes go wide. “How long have the two of you been together?” she paused for a second. “Or do turians give gifts to each other? I mean, it’s pretty important to humans, but I understand..”
“Oh we do that,” Oraka answered. “Or at least most of us do. Vakarian is just…special.”
“I’ve been planning a war,” he snapped at the General. “It’s not like I haven’t wanted too, I just haven’t been able to find the time to run out and go gift shopping.” He shook his head. “And it’s not like I’ve never bought her anything. I bought her a weapon mod she’d been eyeing. Although that didn’t turn out too well.”
“You got her a weapon’s mod?” the saleswoman said in a faint voice. She sounded like she couldn’t even begin to contemplate something like that.
“Yeah,” Garrus wondered what could have caused that sort of reaction from her. “She’d wanted it, and she’d bought some for me before so I thought it was only fair that I return the favor.”
“Then what went wrong?” Oraka asked the question. “If she wanted it I fail to see how she couldn’t have been happy with it.”
“Because when I got back to the Normandy, I found she’d already bought the mod for herself,” he admitted. “Giving it to her after that seemed a little weird, so I just kept it. Not that I have much use for a stunner mod, but I didn’t want to let it go to waste.”
“A stunner mod?” Oraka made a disapproving clicking noise. “I still fail to see the use in that. You would have been much better off getting her something to extend her clip size.”
“She already had that, I installed it on her shotgun myself,” Garrus said. “And it works for her, since she’s a crazy vanguard who seems to like punching people as much as shoot them. Nothing I say can convince her that bullets are a little more useful than her fists.”
The saleswoman had been looking back and forth between them in utter confusion. “Well,” she started to say, but someone from the other shop called out to her. She paused, nodded at her coworker, then turned back to them. “I’m sorry, I’ll be right back. Try to look though the terminal while I’m gone, you might find something that would be perfect. I’ll be back as soon as I can.”
Garrus watched her walk off and shook his head. “That’s not very effective salesmanship.”
“I think you just scared her off,” Okara said, chuckling. “You were proving to be a bit of a challenge to her. Or is Commander Shepard just that much of a challenge to you? ”
Garrus sucked in a breath, glanced around hurriedly, then turned back to the General and growled. “how the hell did you know that?”
That got a laugh from the older turian. “Vakarian, you’re all but transparent. I’ve had my suspicions since Shepard helped me with securing weapons. The tone of voice she spoke of you with was one I know well.” He flared into a grin. “Besides, she is the only vanguard currently in serving on the Normandy. It wasn’t that great a trial to figure out who it was.”
The younger turian groan and dropped his head into his hand. “..Don’t mention it to anyone else. Things are complicated enough without having the media swarming over us.”
“Don’t worry,” Oraka pushed away from the counter. “I’m not here for idle gossip. I was genuinely curious about a turian who was willing to go so far for a human. Particularly a high ranking turian who has so much to lose by being with one.”
“Shepard is more than worth the risk,” he thought about asking Oraka if this was all some strange form of revenge for years ago, then decided that it was best not to know.
“I think I would agree with that,” the General said after a moment of thought. “I will also admit to being a bit envious. Having something like that, especially now of all time, that is something precious.”
“I know,” Garrus responded quietly then shook his head. “Although knowing that doesn’t make finding a gift any less…difficult. How the hell do you find a present for the savior of the galaxy anyway?”
Suddenly there was a slight electric ‘pop’ next to him and a black clad human suddenly appeared. “I think you’re making this way more complicated than it has to be.”
Garrus took a deep breath and prided himself on not jump, growling or otherwise reacting to the thief. It was a struggle though, and one Oraka had clearly lost since he gave a startled hiss at her appearance.
“Not funny Kasumi,” he said to the thief. “You scared General Oraka.”
“Just me?” came quietly from the General’s direction. Kasumi flashed the older turian a grin.
“Sorry, but I had to say something before poor Garrus gave himself an aneurysm. Can that even happen to turians anyway?” She shrugged, “at least it means I get to spare that poor little shop girl having to deal with indecisive turians.”
“Why thank you Kasumi. You truly have my best interest at heart,” Garrus drawled. “Now just what did you mean by ‘over thinking’? I’m trying to find something for Shepard…”
“….and completely overthinking it,” the thief finished for him. “I know, I’ve been watching you since you walked in here. Like the nice lady you were talking to said, Valentines Day is more about the emotions than the gifts itself. Believe me, as long as you try Shepard is going to love whatever you get her.”
“I know that,” Garrus said patiently. “But I want to get her something perfect. Something that she’ll love no matter what, not just because it’s a sentimental gift for her.”
“You never do anything halfway, do you Vakarian?” The comment came from Oraka. Garrus chose to ignore it.
Kasumi sighed slightly. “Okay, fine, you’re one of those guys that has to make everything perfect for Valentines. I get it. Just…what’s with all this ‘traditional’ stuff? I mean it’s sweet and all but you seem just a tad stuck on it.”
Garrus gave the human a blank look. “But it’s Valentines. I wanted to make it something that Shepard would..”
“Uh, Garrus?” Kasumi shook her head, “You’re a sweetheart and all, but this is Shepard. She’s dating a turian. I don’t think traditional is exactly a word that would be used to describe her.”
“Her service record hasn’t been remotely traditional either,” Oraka said from his post. “I believe stealing an entire ship only to return and just in time to save the council would be considered just a bit irregular.”
“All right, all right, I get it.” He glanced around nervously at the humans, some of whom were looking at their odd little group curiously. “Do you have anything like, I don’t know, actual suggestions or are you just here to mock me?”
“Touchy,” Kasumi all but sang teasingly. “If you keep that up then I won’t give you any advice at all.”
“I could point out that I’ll owe you if you do help,” he said, although he was fairly sure that the thief would have helped anyway. He just didn’t want to take the chance. Not with this.
“You really are the desperate, aren’t you?” Oraka said and Garrus growled in reply.
“Aww, how can I say ‘no’ to you when you’re like this?” Kasumi grinned at him. “So, let’s ignore all this traditional stuff. What do you know Shepard likes? And no,” she added quickly, “gun mods don’t count.”
Garrus didn’t even have to think about the answer to that. “Her ship models,” he said, “She’s always messing with them when she’s off duty. They had to move her old ones when they retrofitted the ship and she dragged me all over the Normandy so I could help her find out what they did with them.”
“For some reason that’s not the first image that comes to mind when I think of the great Commander Shepard,” Oraka said. “Although the thought of the galaxy’s greatest hero fiddling with tiny model ships is rather amusing. Perhaps I’ll bring it up the next time I see her.”
“Please don’t,” Garrus said quickly at the exact moment Kasumi spoke up.
“I remember those things! She was obsessed with them, and always had to buy a new one whenever we docked.”
“She hasn’t gotten any better,” he had to admit. “She’s still buying every new one she can. I think she even has a Reaper model for some reason the spirits only know.” Garrus shook his head. “It’s either messing with her models or her fish when she’s off duty.”
“Fish?” Oraka said.
“You mean she’s still killing fish?” Kasumi sounded surprised. “Or has she gotten better about the whole fish death count thing?”
“She got a VI for her aquarium,” Garrus admitted. “That seemed to have helped. A lot. She adores the fish, and that space hamster of hers.”
“Okay, fish and model ships,” Kasumi said and laughed. “Okay, now, I think I have an idea of where we can start.” Then she held up a finger. “Just one question first. Why won’t you get her chocolates? I don’t remember Shepard having anything against chocolate the last time I ran into her.”
“That’s..” he fiddled with his claws for a moment. “There was someone I helped a few years back, a doctor named Chloe Michel. She turned up with a box of chocolates the other day and..”
“Oh, so that’s what Tali was talking about,” Kasumi was grinning. “Seriously, you’re actually worried about something like that?”
He looked at the thief in confusion. When had she had time to talk to Tali? “But I took them. I didn’t know chocolates had romantic significance to humans. I wouldn’t have touched them if I had known! I don’t want Shepard to…”
“Okay, look, did Shepard even say anything about it?” Kasumi crossed her arms. “Because somehow I can’t see her as being petty enough to worry about something like that. It’s really not that important. Friends give each other chocolates all the time. It doesn’t mean anything at all.”
“Ah, no, she hasn’t brought it up at all,” he was forced to admit. Look back now, he remember her giving him a searching look when he handed the chocolates over to Tali, but nothing beyond that. Maybe getting rid of them had helped a bit. Or maybe Kasumi was right and he was just overthinking things. Again.
“Then stop worrying about it,” the thief said. Then she clapped her hands together and looked gleeful. “Now, let’s get started!”
Hours later, Garrus stood in Shepard’s apartment, adjusting the placement of flowers in the dinner setting he had just finished carefully putting together. This has been partially Oraka’s idea, although Kasumi had backed him up in the end. The older turian had suggested taking Shepard out to dinner if he really wanted to be romantic. The way Oraka had gone all wistful had as he talked about it made Garrus wonder if it was something the General had been planning for the consort before well…before everything had happened. He had very carefully decided not to ask about that, but said that he would consider the possibility. Kasumi had even said it might be a good idea. Apparently it was another popular thing to do on Valentines Day.
He had actually thought about taking Shepard to a nice restaurant for once. Dropping either of their names would likely get him a table at even the most high-end places on the Presidium at short notice, but he didn’t want to do that. Both of them going to dinner would attract a lot more attention than he wanted at the moment. Besides, he didn’t feel like putting on a lot of fancy clothing and being noticed tonight. He wanted tonight to just be about him and Shepard. The two of them having a few peaceful moments alone together in the middle of this war. Moments like that were in very short supply at the moment. Between their duties, and Shepard’s position as the forefront of the war, they sometimes didn’t even get to spend any time together.
So he had decided that they would eat in tonight. Make it a romantic home cooked dinner. Only to then realize that he was only a barely tolerable cook at best, and knew absolutely nothing about how to cook levo food. The chances of even someone as skilled as he was being able to master cooking food he couldn’t even digest in a few hours was slim to none, and since he didn’t want to mess this up, he had swallowed his pride and ordered levo food for her.
At least he could make his part of the meal himself. It didn’t matter if that was anything fancy. Shepard wouldn’t know the difference anyway.
Once the food had come, he had ran into another problem. The dining table didn’t have any chairs. Or at least he assumed the table off to the side of the kitchen was supposed to be a dinning table. At least it was in a place where you would expect the dining table to be. There was just a distinct lack of chairs and a model ship in the center of it (that Shepard had stubbornly insisted she didn’t put there) that said Anderson may have been using it more as a conference table than for it’s intended purpose. Fine, he would improvise then. The coffee table in the middle of the great room worked just as well. It was even kind of cozy with the view of the fireplace and all.
He had changed into out of his armor and into regular clothing before the food had arrived. Since then he had been busy making everything was perfectly arranged around the beautifully wrapped presents sitting in the middle of the table (The wrapping was something Kasumi had been forced to help with as well). After a last check, he adjusted a single flower then stepped back to check the effect, just as the door to the apartment switched open.
“Shepard,” he purred as his lover walked through inside. “Hey.”
“Hey yourself,” she smiled tiredly and walked over to him. He couldn’t resist grabbing her once she was close enough and leaned down to press their foreheads together. “What’s the big rush?” she asked. “You sounded pretty excited when you asked if you could meet me here.”
“Ah yeah, over here,” he tugged her the last few feet until they were around the couch and then he stepped aside with a flourish of his arm. “Happy Valentines Day, Shepard.” He waited expectantly watching her face.
His heart fell when he realized there was nothing but confusion there. Maybe a little confusion mixed in there but it was far, far from the normal reaction. “You don’t like it do you? Crap, was this too soon?” he said suddenly realizing that something this extravagant on a human holiday devoted to romance might imply more than what Shepard was comfortable with. “Look, if it’s too much just don’t worry about it. It’s my fault, I should have done more research…” he was starting to babble and shift uncomfortably. Not quiet pacing yet, but it was coming. This was stupid, he should have put more thought into this and not risked alienating the one person in the galaxy that meant this much to him.
Shepard raised a hand and cut off his flow of words “Wait.” She said at last. “Valentines Day. That’s what you said, right?””
“Uh, yeah?” he said uncertainly, unsure what direction she was heading in. “Why are you even asking?”
She appeared to be only half listening to him and ran a hand through her hair. “Crap. I didn’t know that was today!”
“Wait, you didn’t know?” He asked as she brought up her omni-tool to check the date.
“I just said I didn’t,” she said as she shook her head and looked up at him. “I’ve been so busy running around for every damn politician in the galaxy that I lost track of the exact date.” She sighed and dropped her arm. “It explains why everyone was so…bouncy up in the Presidium today. I just didn’t think that you would have been affected too.”
“But I thought you knew,” Garrus couldn’t help blurting out. “Joker said that you’d arranged for the Normandy to be in dock on Valentines Day because it was such an important human holiday and that meant you were planning something or hope that I would be planning something…” he trailed off suddenly realizing how stupid that sounded.
“Garrus,” Shepard said and raised an eyebrow at him, “you were actually listening to Joker on this? You realize that he was the one who said we need more supplies right? I just said to head over to the Citadel as soon as possible.”
“Okay, maybe that wasn’t my brightest moment,” Garrus admitted and rubbed the back of his neck nervously. “I did do research on my own but..okay, yeah, that was stupid. We can forget all about this if you want. I just wanted…” he couldn’t figure out how to voice the rest. Wanted to give her a chance to relax. Wanted to show how much she meant to him. It just sounded…sappy. Weak.
She just shook her head and too a step closer to him, her hand coming up to rest on his cheek. “I never said I didn’t like it, Garrus,” she said fondly. “Hell, I didn’t even know turians did Valentines Day.”
“We ah, mostly, don’t,” he admitted as he leaned into her touch. The feeling of her soft, slightly cooler, human skin against his place was a delicious sensation every time she laid a hand on him. “I just heard someone talking about it, and looked it up after Joker mentioned it. Just to confirm things.”
“So, you went thought all that trouble over a holiday you don’t even normally celebrate.” Shepard smile then, that softer smile that he was sure very few people ever had the privilege of seeing. “That’s probably one of the sweeter things anyone has ever done for me.”
“Hey,” he said and reached up to cover her hand for a moment. “Joker got one thing right, at least. You do deserve something like this.” Before she could respond to that, he pulled her hand away, still keeping his around it, and tugged her toward the couch. “So on that note, why don’t you just enjoy it.”
“All right, all right,” she laughed, letting herself be pulled for once. He sat down next to her when they reached the couch. She looked at the spread on the table in front of them and shook her head.
“You really set all this up by yourself?”
“Hey, it’s our first Valentines Day, and you’re more than worth it,” he said flaring a grin at her. At the knowing look and half smile she gave him, he sighed. “Kasumi may have helped with a bit of it. But just a tiny bit.”
“Why am I not surprised Kasumi is involved in this somehow?” Shepard chuckled and reached out to grab one of the packages off the table. “She always did have a talent for finding gossip or other embarrassing personal stories. Still, I suppose I should to thank her.” Garrus watched as she turned the package around her hands before looking at him. “Can I..?” she sounded almost childishly eager, and that caught him off guard. ‘Childish’ was the last word you would think would be associated with the great Commander Shepard. Somehow he felt privileged that she could relax enough around him to show that part of herself.
“It does belong to you,” he drawled and settled back. “Unless of course you want to eat first…” the sound of ripping paper was all the answer he needed. “Or you know, we could not.”
There was a moment of silence, then laughter came from the woman seated next to him. She shook her head then raised the package at him. “Fish, really?”
“Fish-shaped chocolates,” he grumbled only then noticing the teasing grin. “But you knew that, didn’t you.”
“I’m just surprised you found any like this,” she said as she looked over the box. “And fish? What possessed you to get me fish chocolates?” She was still smiling though so Garrus allowed himself to relax.
“Oh I don’t know….I just felt like it. It couldn’t possibly have anything to do with your obsession over the aquarium in your quarters. It’s not like I noticed that you come back with a new fish every time we dock, or anything.”
“Laugh all you want Vakarian,” she said and hit him lightly on the arm. “I noticed you never tried to stop me.” She put the chocolate on the seat next to her and reached for the other package.
“That’s because I’m not insane. Even I know better than to deny Commander Shepard anything.” That caused her to flash him a grin before she opened her other present. “That’s a hanar diplomatic vessel,” he said nervously as she held the box. “I wasn’t sure if there was a specific type of model you were collecting, and you seemed to buy anything you came across so I wasn’t sure if you wanted…”
Her lips touched his mandible. He stopped talking. “Relax, Garrus. I like it just fine.”
“I, ah, thought you might,” he rumbled as he relaxed again. “Those ships of yours are the only things you seem to love more than your fish. Besides me, of course.”
“Of course,” she chuckled. “You have an awfully high opinion of yourself, don’t you Vakarian?”
“Only because I know I’m right.”
That brought out a quiet chuckle. “Can’t really argue with that, even though it will give you a swelled head.” She leaned against his shoulder, and he couldn’t resist putting an around her as he buried his nose in her hair. He adored her scent. “Still,” she continued, “it makes me guilty that I forgot about today. Now I don’t have a present for you.”
“Shepard,” he rumbled letting his voice drop into the lower registers he knew she loved, “don’t. I don’t want you to feel guilty or even think about anyone but yourself tonight. You spend all your time worrying about everyone else. Just let me worry about pampering you tonight.”
She still for a moment then turned, so quick he barely ever saw her move, and then her lips were against his. When she finally broke the kiss he found himself staring into her eyes. “Trying to earn the ‘best boyfriend in the galaxy’ award, Vakarain?”
”What you mean I don’t already have that? I must be slipping.” He tried to pull her back to him, but she twisted, and suddenly he found her on his lap, straddling his hips. “Shepard,” he said softly, letting his hands settling on that amazing waist of hers.
“You know,” she said heavily, leaning forward to brush her lips over his mandible. “It occurred tome that even if I don’t have a present, there’s still something I can give you. Something very..memorable.”
She dragged the last word out in a tone that made him shudder, and was pressing against him in such a way that it was making it hard for him to even think clearly. “Uh, Shepard, not that I would disagree with that at all but uh, I made dinner..”
“It can wait,” she said huskily, and then she was kissing him again. He found that he agreed with that statement. Besides, like he had said, it was nearly impossible for him to deny Shepard anything. Especially in cases like this when he couldn’t figure out why he should stop it.
His last thought before he gave up thinking about anything but Shepard was that Joker might have been right in a way. Even if the pilot had mean it as a well, a joke, it did mean something to some humans.
And Garrus was pretty sure that somehow, he had managed to master this whole Valentine’s Day thing.