I have, I have you breathing down my neck, breathing down my neck
I don't, don't know what you could possibly expect under this condition so
I'll wait, I'll wait for the ambulance to come, ambulance to come
Pick us up off the floor
What did you possibly expect under this condition so
Slow down, this night's a perfect shade of
Dark blue, dark blue
Have you ever been alone in a crowded room when I'm here with you
I said the world could be burning down
Dark blue, dark blue
Have you ever been alone in a crowded room well I'm here with you
I said the world could be burning 'til there's nothing but dark blue
Just dark blue
This flood, this flood is slowly rising up swallowing the ground
Beneath my feet, tell me how anybody thinks under this condition so
I'll swim, I'll swim as the water rises up, sun is sinking down
And now all I can see are the planets in a row
Suggesting it's best that I slow down
Dark Blue by Jack's Mannequin
"Let's go out tonight."
Shepard glanced at Garrus from the corner of her eye as she dished some dinner onto her plate. He was holding his own dinnerware, waiting for her to finish, his expression lively. He sounded a little too excited about the proposal, but still got a small smile from her.
"It's only been a couple days since Hyatt showed up. I would've expected you to be more paranoid," she mused, stepping past him to their dining table.
"The most he seems to desire at this point is to simply make us upset," he scoffed, placing the dextro-specific food onto his own plate. "And I can deal with that threat. Also, that's what Vrila is for."
"Hmm." Shepard chewed thoughtfully on her food as she watched Garrus sit down across from her. "Where would we go?"
"Just some bar or club," Garrus shrugged. "Some place where the people aren't too dense to know to leave us alone, but also not somewhere classy where they think they're cool enough to talk to us; right in the middle of that spectrum."
"So you want a bar filled with reasonable people who keep to themselves?" Shepard asked skeptically.
"Yes, a perfectly boring venue is what I'm looking for," Garrus agreed, being sincere though the humor was not lost on him. "I want to find the best, boring place we can and stay there as long as possible to make sure that nothing interesting happens. I think that sounds like just what we need, honestly." Shepard chuckled then paused to consider this.
"So... you've tried putting me in familiar scenarios at Spectre Status, with familiar people and in familiar places on the Normandy... how is a normal, but boring, night out going to fix me?" she asked. Now it was Garrus's turn to pause.
"The goal, at least for tonight, would not be to fix anything," he explained carefully. "I know you feel broken, and there's things you want to have change, but I also think it's fair to let yourself have an uneventful evening out with your boyfriend in the meantime."
Shepard wrestled with the idea. Her desperation to feel "normal" was front and center in her mind and only getting worse. But it wasn't like she had other plans.
"...okay. Can we also dress really boring?" she asked.
"As much as possible," Garrus confirmed with a nod.
Later, Shepard looked over her chosen outfit: jean shorts, a basic blue t-shirt with an Alliance logo, and her more plain glasses frames. She only had two pairs of glasses, but one was white and a more flattering shape; she went with black and average. She barely put on any make up, even.
"How's this?" she asked, turning to face Garrus.
"I am incapable of finding you anything but wholly fascinating, but I do trust that you've given it your best shot," he replied without missing a beat. Shepard tried to ignore the feeling of her cheeks becoming warm as he asked, "What about me?" Garrus was wearing the most basic turian bodysuit, in metallic Palaven colors.
"I'm pretty sure I've seen five other turians wearing that exact same thing just this week," Shepard answered flatly.
"Exactly!" Garrus grinned.
"How do you even have something like that?" she laughed.
"I spent a year with little desire for self-expression," he grumbled, then gestured dismissively and became excited again. "Watch, I'll even go completely incognito." He slowly brought his hand up to his visor, then took it off with a dramatic gesture. Shepard gasped and looked around the room, playing into the humor.
"Garrus? Where did you go, and who is this turian I've never seen before?" she asked, pretending to study him skeptically.
"I am now: 'Generic Turian'," he declared, then stepped forward and offered his arm to her. "Let's go see how boring we can be."
"Alright then," Shepard laughed, and off they went.
Through searching on their omnitool and the advice of a confused salarian cab driver, 'Generic Turian' and Roxanne chose their venue. It was actually fairly difficult to find something less-than-appealing, and so they had to travel quite a ways from Nova Plaza to end up at Small Crowd, a place reportedly krogan owned. Vrila would be arriving separately and spend the evening either at the bar or just outside. Upon entering, the two of them surveyed what it had to offer.
The bar, dance area, and even music appeared perfectly up to par, but the rest looked like someone couldn't quite choose a theme and so threw many together without any kind of forethought. There was some Alliance and human-related art and decor in one area, but also flags from turian military in another. There was a table for poker, an area for a krogan puzzle game with small figures and holographic lasers, and even a salarian reflex game off to one side. A couple of screens were showcasing events from Spectre Status and other Citadel news. There was a moderate amount of patrons who were just as mismatched as the layout, but seemed to be having a well enough time.
"It's perfect," Garrus breathed in mock amazement, drawing a laugh from Shepard.
"Are we allowed to look at the games, or would that be too entertaining?" she asked.
"Eh, it's still pretty uneventful if we just play simple things like this all night," Garrus shrugged. Shepard headed for the salarian game first. It took up a ridiculous amount of room, being comprised of a large solid wall with projections of various landscapes and targets onto it. A salarian was currently playing, tossing small rubber balls at the targets that would move and flash sporadically across the screen.
"Have I played this before?" Shepard asked as she watched; the salarian was fairly good.
"I don't think I've even seen this game before," Garrus shrugged.
"It's like darts, but with complications," she observed.
"Oh, that makes it sound more boring than it looks. Well done," he commented, and Shepard chuckled.
They found out the game was called uhaf and both took a turn. Shepard scored higher than Garrus did, but not by much.
"I don't need to be good at throwing things when I'm good at shooting things," he playfully defended.
"Remind me not to play any sports with you that involve throwing if shooting is your substitute," Shepard teased, and Garrus chuckled.
Afterward they moved to the bar and, in an effort to be uninteresting, directed the bartender to bring them whatever drink was most common for their respective species and gender. Neither were surprised by what they were handed.
"Before you ask... yes, you have had that before," Garrus told her after Shepard took her first drink.
"Really? I'm fascinating in all ways except my drink choices?" she questioned.
"I didn't say it was your favorite," he chuckled softly. "And don't worry, you only have that when it's just your crew around."
Something about the nostalgia in his tone and wistful gaze that settled on his drink made Shepard suddenly feel self-conscious. She looked at her own drink; was she breaking some kind of personal code she didn't remember? She took one more drink and then set it down on the bar.
"So... what was my favorite?" she asked timidly. Garrus took a drink as well and then cleared his throat, pulling himself back to the present moment.
"You had various go-to options for different scenarios," he explained. "I don't remember each of them, but a few. I'm sure you'll figure out a system that works for you again."
Shepard couldn't help but be frustrated by his confidence, which some part of her knew was just misplaced anger at her lack of it. Leaving her glass where it was, she stood back up.
"Let's try out the krogan laser toys," she said flatly. Garrus followed and they found the table empty. They discovered the figures had limited movement, and the goal was to get their lights to reflect off of or reach certain objectives. Certain figures would recede into the table or emerge based on the difficulty of the selected level. It was a cooperative game, and they were both exceptionally good at it, so they took the time to work through every available stage as they also worked through a couple additional (more preferred) drinks.
Occasionally a fellow patron would comment on their skills or attempt to make small talk. Garrus was suave as ever, but Shepard kept feeling awkward and clunky. She dodged comments by hiding behind a drink or Garrus more than once.
"What now? Dancing?" Garrus asked, stretching his neck after the game was completed.
"I'm pretty sure I only dance to club music when my crew is around too," Shepard said thoughtfully. Garrus laughed at that.
"Despite your lack of finesse in that area, that hasn't always been the case," he corrected.
"Hmm." Shepard looked around the room, afraid she would see the remembrance on his face again if she looked at him. "Whether it's by myself and terrible, or with you and considerably better, that may draw us more attention than we want," she mused. "Why don't you settle in for a few rounds of poker?"
"Sounds good to me. Do you... not want to play?" Garrus inquired.
"I'll watch; I'm a little burnt out on bluffing."
Garrus's mandibles twitched as he frowned a little, and Shepard caught that expression, but couldn't come up with a worthwhile response to it. Regardless, they didn't have any better ideas, and so Garrus seated himself at the poker table, which was currently occupied by two human males, a female turian, an asari, a batarian, and a volus. Shepard sat on a long sofa against the wall nearby; she didn't want to hover too closely and get accused of helping someone cheat. Garrus offered up some credits and was dealt into the next hand.
Shepard idly studied the venue as she slowly sipped on what she'd decided was her last drink. She hadn't had anything particularly heavy so she still felt mostly normal, but wanted to be careful.
How drunk did Shepard typically get?
She frowned at the thought. Every time she thought of 'Shepard' as separate from her by default, it felt uncomfortable. She was tired of examining everything she did, wondering how 'Shepard' she was or wasn't being, but once she started it was hard to stop.
Somewhere in the middle of Garrus's third round of poker, she realized someone was trying to get her attention.
"Roxanne? You're Roxanne, right?" The tone implied she'd already been unresponsive to a previous address.
"Oh, I'm sorry," she said, focusing now on the human male in front of her. He was tall, blonde, attractive, and well dressed, but she didn't recognize him. She suddenly felt nervous; if she was supposed to know him, this could get sketchy. "Yes, I'm Roxanne," she replied carefully.
"It's Dolph Mincer, from Spectre Status," he introduced himself with a cheerful grin.
"Oh! Right," she said, feeling better now that she knew the context.
"Don't feel bad for not recognizing me; you've only seen me briefly on a screen and the lighting is terrible in here," he said, gesturing dismissively. Shepard smiled gratefully.
"I'm just sorry I didn't realize you were trying to get my attention," she replied, then added honestly, "I guess I zoned out a bit... and I wasn't expecting to run into anyone."
"I know, this doesn't really seem like it would be one of my regular hangouts, huh?" Dolph chuckled, taking a seat on the sofa as well. Shepard was grateful he turned the attention back to him.
"Now that you mention it, no," she agreed. "It is kind of... eccentric. What's the story with this place?"
"It's run by a krogan that got some business grants. The Citadel wants to boost economy and show good favor to less represented races, and the krogans want to increase their presence and reputation here, too. Unfortunately this guy is kind of apathetic about the opportunity, and so puts only half-hearted effort into it," Dolph explained. "I'm not sure how he was the one who ended up with the funds."
"Seems like the process for selection may have gotten a little lax," Shepard mused. "Krogan with this kind of interest and expertise can't be that hard to find." She didn't know how she was so sure of that, but she was.
"You know a lot of krogan?" Dolph questioned, raising a brow.
"Well..." Shepard hesitated. She first thought of Wrex but she couldn't talk about that; other diplomats would work though. "Councilor Lyric talks about the krogan a lot, and I've met a few of their diplomats. I'm also friends with her krogan assistant, Vrilakir."
"Oh, that's right, I forgot you were tight with the Councilor," Dolph said, nodding.
"Yeah. So, what draws you here, then?" she asked, eager to keep the attention on him.
"Ah, my buddy bartends," he shrugged, gesturing to the bar and then the drink in his hand, which was already half empty. "I come out when he's on shift when I can."
"That's a nice thing to do," she told him, and Dolph graciously accepted the comment.
"That being said, I've never seen you here before so I know this isn't your usual spot," he pointed out with a smirk.
"You're right, it's not," she conceded.
"I also would've expected Vakarian to be with you," he added. Shepard laughed.
"Now you're the one not paying attention," she teased, still chuckling. "Did you think the turian at the poker table was keeping his eye on you for no reason?" Dolph blinked and Shepard watched as he turned and made eye contact with Garrus. His identity may not have been easily discernible, but there was no mistaking the 'that's my girlfriend you're talking to' expression that was both smug and a warning. Dolph gave a short laugh, then nodded his head in greeting, which Garrus returned before pretending to turn his attention back to the poker game.
"Wow. That visor is practically a superhero disguise, huh?" he chuckled.
"Yes, except he always has it on," Shepard agreed.
"That's because he's always a superhero, right?" Dolph joked.
"I'm going to tell him you called him that," she laughed. "Also, I think he'd prefer vigilante."
"I'll take your word for it," he shrugged, then looked back at Garrus. "Vakarian is... pretty intense, isn't he?"
"I'd say that's an accurate description," she nodded.
"Do you think Shepard was just as intense?"
She tensed at that and looked down into her drink.
"She would've had to be," she replied quietly. Dolph looked back at her and realized his mistake.
"Oh, sorry, I didn't mean it like-- I mean--" he stammered, then paused to catch up with himself. "I wasn't trying to make you compare yourself to his past girlfriend. It's the whole war hero thing."
"War hero thing?" she repeated curiously.
"Yeah," he sighed. "Look, I appreciate and respect those in the military life, but I admit that any one of them would consider me some soft, shallow brat with a cushy lifestyle."
"I'm sure the entire military force doesn't dislike you," Shepard said, calling him out on the generalization.
"Maybe not," he conceded with a chuckle. "But I'm okay being that. What I mean is I just can't even imagine what it would take to go through some of the stuff Vakarian and Shepard went through. Everyone in the military is made of much tougher stuff than myself for sure. You're Alliance too, right?"
"It used to be my life," she replied quietly, trying to keep her balance between her reality and her cover story. "I have a medical condition that got me honorably discharged."
"I'm sorry to hear that. I bet you've had to make a lot of adjustments."
"Did you see a lot of tough stuff too?" he asked. Shepard's brow furrowed as her mind searched for the memories of her combat experience and only came back with a dull ache.
"I, uh, try not to dwell on the past too much," she dodged.
"I can understand that," he nodded.
Before either of them could speak again, there was a series of disgruntled complaints from the poker table. They both looked over to see Garrus smugly collecting winnings and many of the others expressing exasperation, to the point that the volus stood up and left.
Shepard was about to laugh, when the energy in the room slowly began to shift. It felt like a sleeping giant slowly coming into consciousness. Her eyes darted around, trying to understand, and the room got quieter as others became sensitive to the same thing. Then it was quiet enough for her to hear; the main TV by the bar was broadcasting highlights of the Cyno-versary, which included snippets of the memorial where they'd declared her killed in action.
The solemnity wasn't hers, it was theirs. All throughout the venue, patrons were turning their attention to the presentation and lowering their voices. They were bowing their heads, sharing in military pride and victory, celebrating unity and the one who gave them that chance: Commander Shepard. Due to the synthesis, the emotions were spreading like wildfire and touching nearly everyone there. The DJ even lowered his music.
It was almost too much to take in. All this emotion others had, shared with her through heightened emotional sensitivity, was for her? She was the one responsible for that?
Shepard typically tried to avoid these broadcasts as much as possible. The views others held of the Commander and her view of herself were too much at odds, and it caused her head to hurt. She had no choice now but to listen to the words being said, and somehow she couldn't look away. Steadfast? Bold? Revolutionary diplomat? Mastermind tactician? Her jaw and hands clenched, one around her glass and the other into a fist. How could she possibly be that person?
She realized Dolph had said something to her, but she'd missed it.
"I'm sorry, what?" she mumbled, barely turning her head towards him.
"That wave of emotion! You felt it too, right?" he said incredulously. "I wonder if Commander Shepard knew that would be a product of synthesis."
She didn't. Wait, did she? Maybe I just forgot.
She looked to Garrus. He, too, was looking at the broadcast celebrating all that she used to be and had accomplished. Usually he would anticipate or sense her discomfort, but this time he wasn't. The wave of emotion must have swept him up. His twitching mandibles and wistful expression fixed on that other version of her felt like a vice grip on her chest.
"Are you alright?" Dolph asked, sounding slightly concerned. "You're all tense."
"I need to stretch my legs," she mumbled, dismissing herself as she stood up. But she didn't know where to go; interrupting Garrus's reverie would simply remind him how disappointing she was now... right?
She turned toward the exit. She thought Vrila was out there, and perhaps the fresh air could help her get a grip on herself before others could sense the tension in her body.
Shepard made it two and a half steps and then, somehow, tripped over nothing. She was able to put her hands in front of her, but forgot she was still holding her drink, and forgot to let go on the way down. She cringed as the glass shattered and sliced into her left hand. She held herself up with her opposite hand, something more than the pain stunning her.
"Are you okay? Oh, um, your hand..." Dolph drifted off, sounding uncomfortable at the sight of the blood slowly pooling under her palm.
"What happened?" Garrus asked in alarm. He abandoned the winnings at the table, rushing over as Shepard carefully shifted her weight and sat back on her knees, grimacing as the glass in her flesh shifted.
"Can we get some first aid over here?" Dolph was calling towards the bar.
"What happened?" Garrus repeated, kneeling beside Shepard and gingerly placed his hand under hers.
"I... fell," Shepard replied, flat and dumbfounded. Her hand began to tremble, and her brows furrowed deeply as she met Garrus's eyes. "I don't fall, do I?" she asked, and Garrus knew what she was really asking. He placed her hand in his lap and took the first aid supplies.
"I've tended to your wounds many times," he subtly reminded her.
"Wounds from... clumsiness?!" she challenged, her tone harsh but low. He was dodging, but she knew he couldn't be specific in public. They hadn't drawn a lot of attention, but a handful of people were still close by and watching.
"Hey," he purred, pausing briefly to stare into her eyes. Shepard didn't know how he managed to make her heart race with a single word, even if it was said so soothingly. "It's okay. We'll get you patched up and head home... before this place becomes even more eventful." After taking a moment just to smile, he focused back on her bandaging and added, "Good call with the boring clothes, by the way. If there's too much blood on them, we could just throw them out."
His comment was more comforting than she expected it to be. Soon he had finished, and so he packed the first aid kit away and helped her back to her feet. Dolph caught Shepard's eye again; he looked relieved that her wound was under control.
"Thanks for the chat," she told him sheepishly. "We're... going now."
"Yeah, no problem, good talking to you," Dolph said. "See you around, Vakarian."
"See you Dolph," Garrus said with a nod, then he and Shepard turned toward the exit.
"Hey, wait," the batarian at the poker table called. "What about your winnings?"
Garrus paused, glancing at the good-sized pile of credits still on the table, then Shepard, then back to the table.
"...at the risk of making this evening very exciting and starting a bar fight, have at it," he shrugged.
"...wait, did that guy just call you Vakar--"
A scramble for the credits ensued before the asari could finish stating her realization, and Garrus and Shepard slipped away without further detection.
Shepard sat on her side of the bed in her pajamas, running her fingers over the bandage on her hand. Garrus had also changed for the night, and was staring at her back and slouched shoulders. He could tell her thoughts were racing and she wasn't likely to rest soon if they didn't stop. Bracing himself, he attempted to stop her cycle.
"What's on that mind of yours?" he asked gently.
"I just... I feel so confused. Fate made a very clear point for me to do something so very un-Shepard-like in the middle of everyone worshipping her," she scoffed.
"That was a very effective way to keep your cover in tact," he replied, attempting a joke.
"I'm serious, Garrus," she sighed. Garrus's mandibles twitched and he felt his own shoulders slump. He'd successfully pulled her out by jokingly making light of things before, but not this time.
"Okay," he acknowledged, defeated.
"I'm so tired of wondering if what I'm doing is right. Why don't you just tell me what you think Shepard would do, and I can do that?" she asked, feeling her wound ache as she clenched her fist.
"Well I could tell Joker to do that too, but I think that would defeat the purpose because he's not you," he replied.
"Am I me?" she asked, then sighed in exasperation at herself. "I feel like I'm never reacting how you would expect me to." For a moment, Garrus paused, and Shepard turned to look at him.
"You, and others, see me as the authority on who Commander Shepard is," he began carefully. "Probably because I was there for your most recent defining moments. But what many forget is that I've known you for only a small fraction of your lifetime, and that time was spent nearly being entirely absorbed by war and conflict." Shepard brought her gaze down to the blanket, unable to meet his intense, compassionate gaze as he continued.
"If Admiral Anderson or your mother were still alive and we asked them if you'd ever tripped or broken a glass, they may have a very different answer. Shepard, you are more than my perception of you. You are more than anyone's perception of you."
Shepard considered this, but it didn't take long for her mind to find a rebuttal.
"That doesn't mean I know who I am," she mumbled.
"I don't think anyone figures that out all the way until you get to be Wrex's age," Garrus said with a slight smirk. "Which neither of us will. Chakwas and Councilor Lyric have similar lifespans as us, but even their lives have changed drastically since the beginning and the end of the war. They're decades ahead of us, but they're still having to evolve."
"But I know I'm missing something, Garrus. This isn't just about evolving if I can't even remember where I've been," she pointed out.
"You're absolutely right," he agreed with a nod. "But being at war with where you are now will not lead you to what you lost."
With a heavy exhale Shepard brought herself closer to him and leaned her back against his torso, relaxing as his arms came around her and he began to purr.
"...I don't know how to stop," she admitted weakly.
"There's time for that to evolve, too," he assured her, speaking into the curve of her neck in a way that made her shudder.
"So... I'm just impatient?" she grumbled.
"You're captivating," Garrus replied, causing Shepard to turn and raise a brow at him. "...oh, I guess that's not what we were talking about," he added, clearing his throat. This time his humor got a chuckle out of her, and he grinned triumphantly.
"I suppose you could talk about that if you wanted to," Shepard said with a smirk.
"Hmm, is showing you an option?" he asked, resting his forehead against hers and running one hand up and down her arm.
"I'll allow it," she said, pretending to be hard to get. Unphased, Garrus adjusted his grasp and shifted her onto his lap as he purred.
"Show and tell, coming right up."