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one cell in the sea

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Shepard quirks an eyebrow and watches Aria and Nyreen face off. It’s not going to escalate into anything violent, but she feels like she’s about to be caught in the crossfire of something. She wonders if there’s popcorn in any of these crates. “You two need a minute?”

"No,” they snap in unison.

Shepard smirks and gestures her Valkyrie at the door and the legion of Cerberus troops beyond it. “Then shall we?”

Nyreen’s mandibles flare as Shepard walks past her to take point. Shepard files that away for later and starts the bypass.

They storm out into a Ceberus firefight, smoke bombs already deployed. Shepard picks off four assault troopers before a centurion catches her in the shoulder and she staggers backward. She shakes it off and crouches again, glad no one’s in her comms asking if she’s okay; she loves her squad, but it’s nice not having them around for once. The war’s gotten underneath everyone’s skin, and she’s been playing it safe and nice on missions lately so no one looks too worried about her. But Aria doesn’t give a shit and Nyreen doesn’t know her and she really needs to punch something, so she vaults her cover and takes down the centurion by hand.

"Shepard! Mech on your ass!” Aria shouts, ripping a guardian’s shield off.

In hindsight, leaving cover without another spot scoped out already might not have been her best plan. But with Nyreen’s help, she blows up the mech and makes it to safety behind a crate. “When the hell did they get these things?” She shoots the mech’s corpse with a cryo round just to get it to cool off faster. She throws a grenade into the cloud of smoke. “And enough with the fucking smoke!” she shouts; the order will probably have the opposite effect, but it makes her feel better.

"You kiss your boyfriend with that mouth?” Aria smirks as she and Nyreen start work on the Atlas while Shepard finishes off the engineer.

"Sure do.” Shepard pops out of cover to shoot off the engineer’s head and then shifts focus to the Atlas. “Why? You’d rather I be kissing you with it?”

Aria laughs. “You’re cute, Shepard, but you’re not my type.”

"Didn’t know you had a type.” She switches to her Black Widow and fires off a shot at the cockpit.

"Unattached.” Aria flares. “Ditch Vakarian and then come talk to me.”

"If you two are done,” Nyreen says, “can we finish this?”

The Atlas shudders and dies and the three of them sprint to the cannons before Cerberus gets any bright ideas about sending in reinforcements. On instinct, Shepard turns, firing blindly at a target she’s only partly certain is there. The trooper falls to the ground, but he came with friends. The cannons come to life, covering their exit, and the three of them turn and run toward Aria’s bunker.

As soon as they’re inside and Aria’s barked out instructions, Nyreen turns to Shepard, a little closer than Shepard would like, and her mandibles flare again.

Shepard raises an eyebrow. “Are you…are you smelling me?”

"Hm,” Nyreen says, “I thought I scented him.”

Shepard looks around for Aria for help only to find her deep in a conversation with Bray. She’s on her own with this one. “Feel like clueing the human in?”

"Astounding how your species ever became apex predators with your inferior senses.”

Shepard shrugs; it’s not the first time she’s heard that. “There are a lot of us. Now, how do you…oh.” She grins, snippets of conversation from last year finally fitting into place. “You’re Garrus’ flexible lady friend.” Nyreen blinks, and Shepard takes it as a personal victory that she set the turian off-balance. “Reach, flexibility, tiebreaker in your quarters…”

"Spirits, no. That was my bunkmate; I had to sleep on the floor in a friends’ quarters that night. Garrus and I go way back. Interesting that he chose a human, he never seemed too interested in your species.”

She’s not sure whether she’s meant to be offended or complimented by that, so she ignores it completely. “What do you mean chose?” She’s done her research on turians, but the low hum in Nyreen’s voice has her concerned that she missed something important.

Nyreen hesitates, uncertain of her place to inform Shepard of a very serious relationship upgrade she clearly doesn’t know about. “Turians mark their mates with pheromones to tell others that they’re off limits. You…smell like him.”

"Oh.” She mentally scans through everything she knows about turian relationships, which admittedly isn’t much. Mordin’s information packet had been limited to physical interaction, and her extranet searches kept returning impenetrable documents on hierarchy relationships instead of anything useful about personal ones. She would let it go, but Nyreen’s looking at her like she’s waiting for Shepard to catch on to some cosmic joke she doesn’t understand. “Spit it out, Nyreen.”

"Oh, for fuck’s sake, Shepard,” Aria shouts from the command post. “Turians mate for life, everyone knows that. Now, can we get on with it? I have a station to overthrow.”

Shepard blinks, stunned. Her confession on top of the Presidium had gone unreturned and she hadn’t realized how much that was bothering her until now, when she knows he’s said it in his own way. But she’s also annoyed that he didn’t just tell her; all things considered, they’ve overcome significantly weirder interspecies problems than pheromones. She packages that information and her feelings away for later, when they aren’t about to storm through Omega. She checks her guns and heat sinks, getting her head back in the mission.

"Shepard,” Nyreen’s voice is quiet. “I know Garrus, and he would not have marked you if he had any doubt you felt the same way.”

She nods and switches out a scope for an omniblade. “Thanks.” She follows Nyreen to meet Aria by the door. Aria’s smirking at her. “What?”

"When’s the wedding?"

"You want to liberate your station or you want to give me crap about my boyfriend?” She primes her rifle.

"I can do both."

"Just open the door.”

"Officer Vakarian, you asked me to inform you when Commander Shepard has returned to the Normandy. She has just cleared the airlock.”

"Thank you, EDI.” He finalizes his current calibration and then turns for the main battery door.

"She would like to see you in her quarters in one hour.”

The slight lilt to EDI’s voice, suggesting she knows something he doesn’t, gives him pause. Some days he misses the old EDI, the one without personality subroutines. She was easier to predict. “Did she say why?”

"Something about ‘interspecies awkwardness.’”

Garrus rings the bell outside her quarters exactly an hour later. There’s no answer, but EDI tells him that she’s in the shower and lets him in.

He only has to wait a few minutes before the bathroom door opens and Shepard walks out in shorts and hoodie, followed by a cloud of steam.

"How’d it go?”

"The queen is back on her throne,” she says, toweling her hair. “And I have a chess set.”

"I didn’t know you played chess.”

"Badly.” She hangs the towel up in the bathroom and runs her fingers through her hair in an attempt to sort it out.

"Funny place, Omega,” she grins. “You run into all sorts of people.” She’d had a lot of time on the shuttle to think about what Nyreen had said, and her emotions had run back and forth a few times between why the hell didn’t he tell me before he marked me (though I didn’t exactly give him any warning on our date) to my boyfriend loves me and wanted everyone to know it (but apparently couldn’t tell me) before settling on I love this idiot so much it hurts.

He raises a brow plate. “Such as?”

"Such as Nyreen Kandros.”

Spirits, he hasn’t heard her name in ages. Last he heard of her was a rumor that she’d left the Cabal. He tries to keep his voice even. “How is she?”

"Hurt, but going to make it.” The Talons had dug Nyreen out of the fire and with their own doctors and some of Mordin’s clinic staff working together, they got her stabilized. “How’d you and Nyreen meet, anyway?” Old friends sounded like more than just serving together.

He scratches his head, not really wanting the images that just came to mind, “I accidentally walked in on her and my sister.”

Shepard’s eyes widen; she’d been expecting school or boot camp. “That must’ve been awkward,” she laughs.

"You have no idea.” Solana still hasn’t let him forget it.

Before Garrus can detour the conversation, she jumps. “Well, according to Nyreen, I smell like you. You wouldn’t know anything about that, would you?” She smiles; she’s been edgy and unpredictable lately, and wants him to know that he doesn’t need to tiptoe - she’s not angry. Shooting her way through Omega had actually done wonders to improve her mood.

"Shepard, I…” he looks down at the floor.

"Hey,” she walks over to him, all teasing gone from her voice, and cups his scarred mandible. “It’s okay. I feel the same way, you know that." She pauses and strokes her thumb across his scar. "Why didn’t you tell me?”

His subvocals rumble with uncertainty. “Did she also tell you what marking you means?”

"That I’m your mate, and turians mate for life? Yep.”

He steps away from her and stares at the fishtank, watching the eel slither past. “I know humans don’t. And with the war on, and you’ve been so stressed lately.” It sounds even stupider coming out of his mouth than it did in his head and he stops talking without completing the thought. His shoulders droop.

The room’s silent for a while, broken only by ambient engine noise.

"Humans don’t," she whispers, "but I do."

He lifts his head and turns to her. “I’m an idiot.”

She nods, and smiles widely. “Yes. But you’re my idiot.” She walks the three steps over to him and lifts up onto her toes, bumping her forehead against his.

He hums in the back of his throat and returns the bump. “It’s one of the ways turians show love. I’m sorry I didn’t tell you.”

Shepard shrugs, still smiling. “It’s a good story. Remember that time my boyfriend’s sister’s ex-girlfriend told me I smelled like him, and that’s how I knew he loved me?”

Groaning, he tugs her toward him into a hug.

"There’s nothing else I need to know about this mate thing, right? You don’t have to physically mark me or anything?”

He leans in for a kiss. “Not unless you want me to.”