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Dossier: Super Sweet Sixteen

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"You know," Shepard says dryly from where she's leaning against the open airlock, "I do actually hire an Armory Officer to do this sort of thing."

Garrus doesn't look up from where his rifle lies in pieces on the workstation, but he grins anyway. She'll see the movement of his mandibles from behind, and unlike most humans he can rely on Shepard reading that accurately. "You mean Taylor?"

"I do indeed. Pay him quite a bit, too."

"And you let him fix up your rifle?"

Shepard leans against the side of his workstation, her own grin coming into view from the corner of his eyes as he snaps the firing mechanism back into place. "Yep," she says, and he looks up at her then, all amused skepticism. She's still in the black undersuit she wears beneath her armor rather than her Cerberus fatigues. "Well, mostly."

"Really." He holds her gaze but she only grins wider.

"My point still stands, Jacob knows what he's doing."

"I don't doubt it, but Jacob hasn't spent as long on your crew as I have. He's got a few things left to learn."

Shepard folds her arms. "Like what, exactly?"

"Like," Garrus says, pointedly holding up a discarded part that's smoking gently, "how to repair damage from thresher maw acid. I don't think the Alliance training manuals cover that one."

"Not so much," she agrees, and takes the smoking part from his fingers with an admiring whistle. "You must've got one hell of a faceful. You ever heard of ducking, Garrus?" 

"Very funny. I was too busy trying to keep your adopted krogan teenager with a death wish alive."

"You've got to admire his enthusiasm," Shepard says, putting his busted scope down and bumping her hip against his as she reaches for the rest of the rifle, professional interest piqued. 

"Easy for you to say," Garrus says, acutely aware of the lack of space between them and willing himself not to focus on it. "He's not describing how he'd pull your fringe off one piece at a time."

"He's all talk," she says fondly, leaning across to pick up another piece of now-useless metal. "Lucky the heat sink stopped the whole thing melting."

"Because 'lucky' was definitely the word running through my mind when I was staring down a few hundred meters of thresher maw with a heat sink fused to my rifle."

She elbows him in the waist, not that he feels it when it's just her unarmored arm hitting the side of his hardsuit. "As I recall, it was Grunt staring the thresher maw down. Weren't you a bit further out of range?"

"It's called providing covering fire, Shepard," he tells her tartly, "although given how much thought he's put into how to pull my head apart, maybe I'm being too generous."

"He likes you."

Garrus just gives her a deadpan stare. "Krogan hate turians. Not sure if you've noticed, but -"

"Turians in general, not mouthy turian mercs specifically." She elbows him again. "Can you blame him?"

"Is that an insult or a compliment?"

"It can't be both?" she asks blithely, and gives him a sharp grin that certainly feels like both at once. Conversations with Shepard these days dance back and forth over the line between teasing and flirting, and he's never sure exactly where they've ended up. It feels like both. He hopes it's both. "Anyway," she continues, "you're part of his krantt now, Vakarian, so suck it up."

"Which means what, exactly? Apart from the complementary thresher maw acid bath, of course."

"Well," she says, still leaning over his rifle and frowning down at something, "funny you should ask that..." If it were anyone else, he'd have pointedly taken his rifle back, or bristled at the lack of personal space she's giving him. But - it's Shepard. The usual rules never apply, least of all with Garrus.

"So you didn't just come down here to break my guns."

"Who's breaking anything?" she says, and deftly snaps the blackened and fused heat sink out of place without further mechanical casualties, slotting the fresh one in place immediately and looking unmistakably smug. She picks the rifle up and Garrus takes a few steps back as she holds it up to admire her handiwork. Satisfied, she smirks and tosses the rifle at him.

He catches it. Just. 

"No need to show off," he manages, sounding suitably impressed nonetheless. 

"Just hurrying you along. We've got to do our duty as Grunt's newly victorious krantt, so grab your gear."

He cocks his head at her. "Trouble?"

"Not yet," she says, "but I've never been to a krogan party before, so who knows what could happen?"

"A krogan party," Garrus repeats flatly. "Hm. Think I'll pass on that one."

"We've got to show our faces as the krantt of the newest member of Clan Urdnot." Shepard folds her arms and grins at him. "Come on, don't you want to know what a krogan hazing looks like?"

"I don't know if you remember," he says, "but as we were just saying, there’s not a lot of love lost between krogan and turians -“

“Turians in general, not -“

“Mouthy turian mercs?” he finishes wryly, and there’s that sharpness flashing in her grin again.

“Don’t I know it. Anyway,” she says, picking up his other rifle and pushing it into his chest firmly as she walks past, “we’re heading planetside in fifteen.”

“Is that an order, Battlemaster?”

“Might want to work on that mouth of yours,” she calls over her shoulder. “I’d like to make it through a night with Clan Urdnot without some kind of inter-species incident.”

“You know I can’t help it if they go wild for the scars, Shepard.”

“Just gear up, Garrus” she says, and the last thing he sees before the airlock closes is her grin.

 

-

 

There isn’t a lot of love lost between krogan and turians, that’s true, but there isn’t a lot of love lost between krogan and any other species, either. The less said about salarians the better, the volus they see as beneath their consideration, the elcor too sedate, and the hanar too weird. Humans they resent for taking the place they feel was snatched away from them by the genophage, but the asari, despite their complicity in all of this, they tolerate. The cynical part of Garrus would say this is because they represent the krogan’s best shot at reproducing while their own fertility dwindles, but the less cynical part wonders if there’s a strange kinship in being the only two species to vastly outlive the others they share the galaxy with. It’s always been an unspoken tension amongst the Council races, the salarians practically living and dying in the blink of an asari’s eye. Even turian lifespans can’t compare to centuries and centuries; how could they? Even Liara, as a relatively young asari probably considered something close to his peer in maturity, is four times his age. 

People like to joke about the asari being aloof and superior, but maybe there’s something to be said for putting some distance between yourself and those you know you’ll have to watch die. Garrus has lost a lot of friends, he’s not sure he could put himself through that willingly, over and over again. If the alternative to that is being aloof, well - he can’t entirely blame them.

It gives him a whole new perspective on the krogan, one he certainly never had back on the SR-1, where he was decidedly scornful of Wrex for turning his back on his people and accepting their fate without argument. He thinks he might understand now, after Alchera, after Omega. Now that he actually knows what it's like to lose something. The krogan have it harder than everyone: centuries of death without even the promise of future generations to take the edge off the sense of loss.

Not that he’ll ever admit this newfound understanding to Wrex, of course. They’ve got a time-honored mutual air of disdain to keep going.

“The house special,” he tells Wrex drolly, sliding a glass of something pungent in front of him. “Although I’m pretty sure it’s just ryncol.”

Wrex’s mouth curls into a wide grin. “None for you?”

“Pretty sure that would actually kill me.”

“Least it would finish the job,” Wrex says, his grin all teeth, but there’s no real malice to it. Garrus is pretty sure, anyway. “Tuchanka mopping up the galaxy’s mess, as usual.”

“As usual?”

Wrex just laughs, a slow rumble that shakes the entire bar. Not particularly impressive when your bar is just a discarded sheet of metal propped up on rubble, but somehow matches the locale of the burnt out skeleton of a building they're gathered in perfectly. “What happened to your face, anyway? Not that it isn’t an improvement.”

“Rocket hit it,” Garrus says, with a shrug as careless as he can manage. “What’s your excuse?”

“Still a comedian, I see. Well, if you can survive a rocket to the face, you can survive Tuchanka’s finest liquor.” Wrex slides the glass back along the bar to Garrus. The krogan behind the makeshift bar turns his attention to them with thinly disguised interest, and Garrus doesn't feel threatened, exactly, but he does feel very much like the only turian on a planet full of a krogan. For one alarming moment he wonders if the best thing to do might actually be to drink the damn stuff and hope that Wrex is right.

He’s saved from death by toxic krogan homebrew by Shepard planting herself between them, and after his initial sigh of relief, a ripple of satisfaction passes over him when she perches on the same bench as Garrus, rather than Wrex, shoulder to shoulder. Of course, this does also mean that he can hear the disconcerting sound of her faithful Tuchanka shadow panting somewhere behind their legs. Trust Shepard to inspire loyalty even in a varren.

Shepard's cheeks are slightly flushed; he wonders if she wasn't able to dodge her alcohol sampling requests as neatly as him. Either that, or she's been headbutting more krogan. He wouldn't put it past her. “Hope you’re not trying to kill my gunnery chief, Wrex.”

“Looks like I’m not the only one,” he says, and gives Garrus another one of those wide, toothy grins. Back on the SR-1, he wouldn't have known what to do with it. Now, he just meets Wrex's gaze evenly.

“Along with everything else on this planet, apparently.” Garrus slides the glass back along the bar pointedly. 

“You need to celebrate," Wrex declares, smacking a fist onto the bar and spilling liquid from all the nearby glasses. "Show the kid a real krogan party. Drinking, fighting -"

Shepard just gives him a look, pointedly wiping at a smear of klixon blood on her cheek with a thumb. Like Garrus, she hadn’t had time to clean up before their presence was requested by Clan Urdnot, but this is a krogan party. Battle grime is probably part of the dress code. "Didn't we already cover the fighting part?"

Wrex grins. "Thresher maws, sure. But not each other."

"Each other," Shepard repeats, and Garrus snorts even as Wrex rumbles approvingly.

"C'mon, Shepard," Wrex says, "don't pretend like you don't want to." His eyes flicker across to Garrus. "You could even teach our turian friend some manners, go toe to toe with the pointy bastard."

"Funny," Garrus says, and catches Shepard's eye to share a look of amused exasperation, but the look she shoots back at him instead is sharp and mischievous.

"You know," she says, "that does sound like fun." 

His treacherous mandibles flare out in response without his permission, and she grins back at him. It's just a brief moment before she looks away, but Wrex catches it, Garrus can tell. He eyes them both over his glass of ryncol before letting out a low chuckle, and then downs the glass in one and slams it back down on the bar so hard it smashes. The krogan at the bar looks briefly irritated, but seems to accept it as just something he has to put up with. No doubt he wouldn't be quite so understanding were it Garrus smashing his glasses.

“Guess I’ll have to do the drinking part for both of us,” Wrex rumbles, “where’s the kid?”

“Think he’s got that covered,” Shepard says, sounding both amused and exasperated, and gestures over her shoulder. “I’m, er, not sure he’s ever actually had alcohol before. I feel sort of responsible.”

“You’re on your own carrying him back on-board,” Garrus tells her, and she groans good-naturedly. 

“At least this part of adolescence I‘m familiar with.”

“Speak for yourself,” Garrus says, turning slightly to watch Grunt out the corner of his eyes, where he seems to be mostly reenacting some kind of battle to an enthralled and appreciative audience. If he occasionally seems a little unsteady on his feet, they just push him upright and roar louder.

Shepard raises her eyebrows. “What, turian teenagers don’t get drunk and make bad decisions?”

“Turian teenagers are at boot camp learning how to be respectable, productive citizens.”

“Yeah, but come on. A bunch of teenagers all cooped up in barracks together? You’re not seriously telling me they don’t smuggle in some booze after lights out.” 

“Not if they value their citizenship tier, no.”

“What?” Shepard looks positively outraged. “You’re messing with me.”

“Wouldn't dream of it. Turian adolescence is a lot simpler.”

“What about pimples? Door slamming? House parties when your parents are out of town?”

“This is really starting to explain a lot of the human vids I’ve seen on the extranet,” Garrus says dryly, “and I'm learning a lot about you too, Shepard. What's a pimple?"

"So what's all that bull you've been giving me about turians having greater personal freedoms but stricter operational ones? You don't let your recruits cut loose ever?"

"Not in boot camp."

"Joyless bunch of bastards," Wrex mutters.

"With the strongest military in the galaxy," Garrus says mildly, unable to resist having the last word but without much real feeling. He's not sure patriotism is something that fits him as well as it used to, if it ever really did. "So we must be doing something right. You’re welcome, by the way.”

Wrex sounds dangerously close to full-bodied irritation this time. “For what?” 

“Well, protecting Citadel space and, er -“ Garrus stops, and with a visible effort decides not to needle the leader of the largest krogan clan on Tuchanka about something he’s not even that invested in being right about. He’ll chalk it up to personal growth and the shit-eating grin Shepard is biting her lip trying to hide. “You know what? Forget I said anything.”

Wrex grunts. “First smart thing you’ve said.”

“Even a broken clock is right twice a day,” Shepard says cheerfully, knocking her shoulder against his. “You sure you didn’t slam any doors? I find it hard to imagine you ever obeying an order without complaining.”

“You wound me, Shepard,” he says with delight, not wounded at all. “Besides, I told you. I’m not a very good turian.”

“So boot camp worked out well for you, then.”

“About as well as C-Sec,” he says, and that gets a laugh from both of them.

“I don’t miss those self righteous bastards,” Wrex says, “they’d haul me in every damn time and try to pin anything they could on me. Pathetic.”

“The real irony is,” Garrus says, warming to the topic considerably, “even if they managed to pin something real on you, they couldn’t even do anything about it. Not while they ran around in circles with all those inflexible rules -“

“Well, we’ve established how you feel about flexibility, Garrus,” Shepard says mildly, but the look she gives him out the corner of her eye is anything but mild. He finds himself briefly but very thoroughly lost for words.

“Turians love their rules,” Wrex says, either oblivious to what’s passed between them or simply uninterested. 

“Only the good ones,” Shepard says, and with that, she winks at him and stands up, slapping Wrex carelessly on the shoulder. “A drink for the illustrious leader?”

“You read my mind, Shepard.”

“Not for me, thanks,” Garrus says, “I’m actually trying not to die at the moment, I’ve got this suicide mission coming up -“

“God knows how you ever survived in the Hierarchy,” she says, and maybe it’s his overactive imagination but he thinks she sounds fond. She slaps Wrex again and heads off across the room to the only thing in the wreck of a building that fills Garrus with more foreboding than the ramshackle bar they’re sat at: something that looks like it used to be an oil barrel attached to the wall with a long tube coming down to a tap. It seems to be dispensing some kind of drink. Whatever it is, Garrus feels that giving it a wide berth is the only sensible decision. Grunt certainly seems to have made good use of it, and look where that’s got him.

Urz follows her happily, his tail wagging. Shepard reaches down to pat his head when he bumps it against her calf. 

He turns back from watching Shepard to find Wrex studying him with as shrewd an expression as Garrus has ever seen on a krogan, narrowing his eyes and leaning thoughtfully on one elbow. Garrus just looks back at him, keeping his own expression carefully impassive.

"So," Wrex rumbles, evidently having reached his conclusion, "back with Shepard, huh?"

"You jealous?" Garrus gives Wrex his sharpest grin in return. "Getting too old to keep up?"

Wrex growls at that, and maybe Garrus should be wary of it, but he just laughs. 

"Ha! You wish. Too busy and important, more like. You'll just have to manage without me." Wrex leans forward in his seat with an almost wistful sigh. "Can't say I wouldn't like to knock some heads together, but I've got plenty of that here."

"It's not the same without you, Wrex."

"No," he says, apparently amused, "it's not. You and her..."

Garrus looks back at him coolly and doesn't offer anything in response save a deliberately obtuse expression. Wrex narrows his eyes at him again.

"Playing dumb, huh?"

"Excuse me?"

Wrex considers him for a few more long seconds, before leaning closer and booming with his customary level of discretion and tact: "You're fucking. " It's both accusatory and triumphant: proud of his deductive skills but still slightly disbelieving. He leans back in his seat, nodding at Garrus as if waiting for confirmation. 

Garrus manages to keep his face straight, though he feels the heat creeping up his neck. The krogan at Wrex's other side chuckle, which is what breaks his resolve. They don't quail under his glare, but they do fall silent when Wrex waves a hand in their direction dismissively. 

"We're not," Garrus says levelly, because it's true. They're not. Potentially awkward plans aside, they're not actually - as Wrex so delicately put it - fucking. It's the truth. 

"Not what it looks like from here."

Garrus makes a show of unconcern, flexing a shoulder carelessly. "Well, we're not."

"Uhuh." Wrex leans on one elbow and gives him a considering look. "You sure?"

Garrus snorts. "Pretty sure, yeah. I think I'd remember something like that."

"Turians," Wrex growls, with a small shake of his head. His glower softens out into something a little more thoughtful. "You want my advice, kid?"

He wants to bristle at the 'kid', but it's hard to object when Wrex has a good millennium on him. "Since when have I ever wanted your advice?"

Wrex ignores him. "It’s not a bad idea."

Garrus blinks. "What?"

"Take it from a krogan," he says, "we don't have the luxury of no strings mating. You can't just have fun when you've got to worry about performing -"

"Please," Garrus says fervently, "please stop."

"- it's hard to set the right mood when you're on a contractually agreed time limit, sometimes you've got to warm up a bit first -"

"If you start talking about your testicles again, I'm leaving."

“All I’m saying is you could stand to loosen up a little,” Wrex says, “even by turian standards.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

Wrex’s appraisal of his face and the bandage over his mandible is unapologetic, and Garrus finds himself bristling under it. He’s vaguely aware that he’s only proving Wrex right, but there’s something about someone looking at him like he’s a crime scene investigation that just rubs him the wrong way.

“Hm. Where the hell did you end up getting shot at with rockets?”

“Omega,” Garrus says shortly, and fights the urge to turn away, glaring right back at the unblinking Wrex.

“And what were you doing on Omega?” Wrex asks, though oddly it hardly sounds like a question. He can’t know. He has no reason to know. Garrus turns away then despite his best efforts, trying to look disinterested. He’s not sure he manages. There’s something hot and angry prickling beneath his skin that feels almost overwhelming. Like looking down his scope at Sidonis. Like picking off the Blue Suns one by one and finding a savage satisfaction in every last bullet. Like knowing nothing he did even made a difference in the end.

Not for the first time, Shepard shows up before Omega can really get its claws into him. The relief, as always, tastes bitterly like guilt.

“For you, Wrex,” she says, and slides a drink in front of him. She sits back down beside Garrus again with a glass of her own, this time. He gives her a sceptical look, and she grins sheepishly. “Listen, I know what you’re thinking -“

“Wasn’t thinking anything, Shepard. Just to check: you weren’t served by a batarian this time, were you?”

“This sounds like a story,” Wrex rumbles, but he’s cut short by a krogan scout pushing self-importantly past the other krogan flanking him. It’s kind of funny to think of Wrex having a bodyguard, but that’s what it looks like. 

“Trouble?” Shepard asks, straightening up. The scout just eyes her suspiciously and beckons for Wrex to follow him, presumably to speak away from the outsiders. Wrex doesn't bother to hide his irritation, though he slides from the bench with a sigh.

“Don’t worry about it, Shepard. Clan business.”

“Sure,” she says, and although she looks like she relaxes again, Garrus notices she doesn’t touch her drink.

“How’s Grunt?”

“Still standing,” she says, and grins. “Hell of a sweet sixteenth.”

“What’s that?”

“Well, start by imagining the exact opposite of today, and you’re halfway there.” She casts a glance around the room - if it really qualifies as a room with only two walls - and raises her eyebrows. “I suppose I should be grateful he’s not slamming doors or having house parties. I like my ship the way she is.”

“Didn’t he put his head through the glass in Port Cargo?”

Her tone is amused but defensive. “It’s only a little cracked.”

“Interesting,” Garrus says with a flicker of his mandibles. “You slam a lot of doors in your adolescence, Shepard? Throw a bunch of house parties?”

Her smile is distant. “I did. But…”

But. But then Mindoir was raided and she spent the next eighteen months bounced from foster family to foster family before she finally turned eighteen and signed up. Garrus is furious with himself.

“I’m sorry, Shepard. Wasn’t thinking.”

“What?” she says, distracted, then shakes her head. “Don’t worry about it, Garrus. I was just - thinking.”

He answers quickly, determined not to leave a gap that might suggest he wants her to elaborate. That’s not his place. “That it would’ve been easier to buy him a dance on Omega?”

The smile she gives him then is back to full strength, to his relief. “That was your idea, wasn’t it? Someone has to give him the birds and the bees talk.”

“I nominate Wrex,” Garrus says, and she laughs.

“Nominate me for what?” Wrex ambles up to them, looking disgruntled. He doesn't wait for an answer. “I might need your help after all, Shepard. I’d handle it myself, but…”

“Too important for the menial stuff?” Shepard teases, and Wrex grumbles.

“I need to keep it quiet. If word gets out this night gets a lot more interesting, in a bad way. The clan leader leaving wouldn’t look good.”

“I’m listening,” Shepard says, and Wrex beckons for her to follow him. Garrus doesn’t need to ask to know to follow. Neither does Urz, apparently, making those weird, distinctly varren noises that Garrus still finds unsettling as he stays close to Shepard's heel.

“It’s Clan Gatatog.”

They reach the edge of the building, where they get an unimpeded view of the ruddy Tuchanka sunset and the noise of the party fades to a background hum. “The ones we killed?”

“That’s sort of the problem,” Wrex says approvingly, “they’re not too happy about that.”

Shepard rubs the back of her neck. “That’s… fair.”

“So they’re trying to gatecrash.”

Shepard chuckles quietly. “I’m guessing this isn’t a case of the more the merrier?”

“With a thresher maw.”

“Right.” She rubs at her forehead with a stunned expression. “And, er, how exactly do they plan to do that?”

“Maws love rhythmic sounds, didn’t you notice when we summoned that one earlier? You’ve got to build settlements on solid rock that goes down deep enough it doesn’t attract them. Not that they can’t get through, but it’s not worth the effort most of the time.”

“Most of the time?” Shepard says, sounding slightly strangled.

Garrus, meanwhile, looks at the ground beneath his feet with fresh distrust. “Just how solid is this one?”

“Few hundred meters. The plain to the side, though, that’s sand right from the surface.” Wrex’s mouth curls into another one of those delighted grins of his. “If they can get one to surface there, it’ll be close enough it might just think about heading our way. Much as I’d love to take a maw on and make this a real party, I don’t think anyone’s really in a fit state to do it justice.”

“All right. What do you want us to do about Gatatog?”

“Don’t much want them dead, but,” Wrex shrugs, “If they force the matter...”

Shepard sighs. “Right.”

“You want some of my scouts?”

Shepard shakes her head before she even looks at Garrus, but when she does he grins back at her immediately. “We’re good, Wrex. You enjoy the party.”

“Yeah,” Garrus says, his mandibles flicking out in a quick, smug motion. “You just take it easy.”

If looks could kill, he has a feeling there'd be turian entrails spread liberally across Clan Urdnot's territory.

"Okay," Shepard says, clearly holding back laughter, but she puts a warning hand on Garrus' shoulder. "We got this, Wrex. Keep an eye on Grunt for me, would you?"

Wrex drags his glare away from Garrus finally. "Will do. You know, in-between leading the clan that's finally reunifying the krogan after centuries of infighting caused by a biological weapon started killing us off. All that easy stuff."

"You're doing good work," Shepard tells him, still fighting that grin. "Have a drink on us. Garrus will pick up the tab."

"Will I?"

"It's either that or keep your mouth shut, but I'm not holding out hope."

"Been waiting for turian reparations for a long time now, Shepard," Wrex says witheringly, "I'm not holding out hope either."

"You do know I didn't personally deploy the genophage, right? I don't necessarily endorse every decision the Hierarchy- " Garrus winces as Shepard elbows him, hard. Turns out even through armor that Cerberus-augmented strength packs a hell of a punch when she wants it to. "Drinks are on me, Wrex," he croaks, thoroughly winded. "It's my pleasure."

"You're a generous soul," Shepard says dryly, then slaps him on the back as if unaware he's still recovering from her last point of contact. Wrex grins at him with at least three rows of teeth. "Let's head out."

 

-

 

The plain Wrex directed them to is a short distance from the clan territory, the route mostly through burnt out buildings like the one they just came from. Urz follows and Shepard doesn't seem inclined to send him away. He's quiet enough, at least, the only sound him panting and his claws clicking softly against the rubble.

As they creep cautiously around the edge of a crumbling wall, they start to hear the sounds of krogan voices carrying across the slight valley they’re in, as well as some kind of mechanical whirring and thumping. Shepard gestures for Garrus to stay low, and he follows her to an empty metal frame of what presumably used to be a window, where they can peer out across the flat sand. There's no chance of getting any closer and remaining unseen; the terrain flattens out with barely a rock to hide behind.

 "Only five of them," Shepard murmurs, pressing her hand down firmly on Urz's head as he puts his front paws up on the ledge. " Down. Good boy."

His visor tells him much the same, although he has the benefit of knowing the exact distances as well. They’re all in range, all out of cover. "We could probably pick them off before they made it over here. Get up on the second floor and find some decent cover."

"Probably," she agrees, but without enthusiasm. "I feel like we’ve already killed enough krogan for one day.”

He watches her closely. “You got a plan?”

“Not yet,” she says, and hoists her rifle up to poke through the window, using the scope to get a better look. “What the hell are they even doing?”

There are four large machines spread out across the plain, the drag marks in the sand showing the krogan brought them with them. They’re pneumatic, solid looking contraptions, with a large splayed frame that anchors them securely into the ground. Running down the middle, visible through the parts that whirr on the outside, is a large metal rod with a rounded piece at the end that is being repeatedly pummelled into the ground once every few seconds.

“I’m guessing they’re designed to summon thresher maws,” he says, “but in that case, why are they all gathered in the middle like that -“

The krogan answer his question as a cry rings out and they all jump into the air simultaneously. He could swear he feels the thump when they land even from where they’re crouched.

“You've got to be shitting me,” Shepard says reverently, “Garrus, tell me you’re seeing this.”

“I’m seeing this.”

“Are they - are they jumping to try and create -“

“I think so, Shepard.” He taps the side of his visor, and it obligingly makes a few more estimations for him. “I… actually think they’re onto something, the combined weight and surface area when they land probably outstrips those machines by quite some way.”

“But surely the thresher maw would just surface right beneath them.”

“That does appear to be the case.” Garrus shares a look with her, both of them too stunned to even laugh.

“Krogan,” she says finally with a sort of awed fondness, “gotta love them.”

“There’s nothing quite like them.”

 “Sometimes, I think we have them all wrong,” she says thoughtfully, peering down her scope again. “There’s such a fine line between being really stupid and really brave.”

Garrus snorts. “You’d know, Shepard. You’re the one planning on flying through the Omega 4 relay.”

She puts her rifle down and grins at him. “You do remember you signed up to this when you joined my crew, don’t you?”

“It was either that or go back to C-Sec.”

“Uhuh. Because I can really see you going back to a desk job.”

“It’s a secure career,” Garrus tells her sarcastically, in what she probably doesn’t realise is a stellar impression of his father. “The pay’s good, too.”

“Public sector,” she says with a rueful smirk, “can’t compare to private, as you’ll see from your Cerberus paychecks, no doubt. What am I paying you, anyway?”

“Not enough.”

“Funny,” she says, giving him a sideways look. “Zaeed seems happy, and he charges the most of any merc I’ve ever met.”

“Maybe I've got expensive taste.”

Shepard looks across pointedly at the rim of his tattered hardsuit. “Uhuh.”

This is where he's supposed to have a smart reply. Something about firepower, or his taste in fancy gun mods. Maybe tell her something like just because it’s got holes in doesn’t mean it’s not expensive. He’s sure he’s made them before. He’s pretty sure she even laughed at them.

“Yeah,” he says instead, flatter than he’d like. “Point taken. I guess I should probably - well.”

It looks like he’s taken Shepard by surprise too, as she just watches him for a moment before she speaks. He knows what she’s going to say, but he doesn’t particularly want to hear it. Shepard always says the right thing, and this will be the right thing, but he doesn’t want to hear it. I understand, she’ll begin with, and then something like, letting go starts with -

“I kept the helmet,” she says instead, and he snaps his gaze back up from where he’s let it drop to the floor.

“What helmet?”

“From Alchera.” She’s the one who drops her gaze now. “Probably the worst moment of my life - or death, I guess - so why I’d want to keep a reminder of that is as much a mystery to me as it is to you. Pretty damn morbid to hang onto something like that.”

“I think nearly dying gives you a free pass on morbid,” he tells her, and she chuckles quietly as she looks up at him. “At least, that’s my excuse.”

"I'll have to remember that one," she says, and holds his gaze this time, her tone gentle. Oddly, it doesn't feel patronising. "I'm not trying to tell you what to do, Garrus, or how to feel. If you need more time, you need more time. But if you don't, then I'd feel a lot better having you in the field with fully functioning equipment, especially before we hit the Collectors."

"I… yeah. I know, Shepard, and I'm -" He shrugs his shoulders with a sigh. "Yeah."

She nudges his shoulder. "The Illusive Man can spring for it."

"Like he sprang for the Thanix?"

She grins. "If it's mission critical, Garrus."

"So are the fish mission critical too, or…?"

"How about," she says, raising an eyebrow, "you try running your mouth in a helpful way for a change? We've still got five angry krogan trying to crash a party with a giant acid-spitting death worm and no idea how to stop them."

Garrus adjusts the scope on his rifle unhurriedly before answering. "I thought you were in charge here, Battlemaster."

"The Cerberus dossier I got on Archangel specifically said something about 'strategic brilliance.' Time to earn your keep." She leans back against the wall and smirks at him. "No pressure."

"Well, I don't know that I've got anything brilliant, but there's always concussive rounds."

"Would that keep them down long enough?"

"Krogan?" He hums thoughtfully. "We could double the impact, probably. Even if it doesn't knock them out for long, that's a hell of a headache. You got any flashbangs?"

"One." Shepard pulls a face. "Didn't expect to need them."

"Better than nothing. I reckon with both at once, we might be able to knock them out. If we don't," he says, giving Shepard a sideways look, "you can always headbutt them."

"I'm hoping that won't be necessary."

"We'll see," Garrus says, adjusting his rifle with his omnitool. "I've never actually tried it at this pressure before, so if it ruins my gun, the Illusive Man's springing for that too."

"Sounds fair," she says cheerfully, reaching for her grenade pouch. "I'll add it to the expenses claim for fish food."

He snorts, positioning his rifle and steadying his breathing. "You ready?"

"Just say the word."

Shepard hauls herself over the window frame; it hardly matters if the krogan spot her now, and the better a position she can get the flashbang in, the smoother this'll all go. It's a shorter range solution than this usually, but Shepard hefts it in her hand and then curls in in a graceful arc with the kind of ease that suggests nothing of the sort. He forgets every time how damn good it is to watch her work, even on the simplest job. The krogan are grouped together obligingly, preparing for their next coordinated jump. It lands perfectly between them.

While they're still reeling on the ground from Shepard's blast, Garrus inhales and shoots, aiming for the largest first. The top of krogan heads is harder than the rest, but somewhat counter-intuitively it's the best place to hit. It's harder to actually penetrate, but any impact there practically makes their brain rattle. He hits his first mark square between the eyes.

Shepard activates her cloak and flickers out of view - not to Garrus, of course, since it's synced to his visor and he can track her signature if not her visuals - and starts heading towards the krogan. He's suddenly not sure if she really does mean to headbutt any stragglers, but there's no time to think more about it. He lines up the next shot.

It's a little odd firing without any real intent to kill. It's not how it happens in his line of work, the last time he can remember holding back with his firepower was when Shepard was making her impossible, unbelievable way to his hideout. He'd fired a few rounds across her mostly harmlessly even as his brain was telling him sternly that he'd finally lost the plot. 

He can be less gentle with krogan, though. However many Shepard stands off to and however many augmentations Cerberus sticks in her, she's only got one of each organ and that soft human skin, second only to salarians in terms of defencelessness. Krogan, he doesn't need to be so careful with. 

So far, it feels like everything's going to plan. Four krogan hit firstly by the flashbang and then secondly by Garrus lie still on the ground. He can't say how long for, but it's a start. The fifth is starting to stir but Garrus takes aim and fires. Of course, that's when Urz whines and bumps his head across Garrus' leg. It's not enough to throw him off, if he can keep his cool when he's staring down a thresher maw then he can handle a plaintive varren, but he's not entirely satisfied with this shot. It lands a little to the left of where he'd like.

He pushes Urz away and says down the comm, "Don't think the last one took. Your pet varren interfered."

"Excuses, excuses," comes Shepard's breathless reply, but he can see that she's approaching the krogan. Sure enough, the last krogan is stirring, getting back up onto unsteady feet. 

Shepard flickers back into view at the same time as she punches the groaning krogan square in the face. It takes him by surprise, and Garrus doesn't need his visor to tell him that's Shepard's really putting all her strength, momentum, and sheer enthusiasm into the punch. From your average human, it'd sting like hell. From Shepard, well -

The krogan wobble back and forth for a second or two, then falls back over. Shepard draws her pistol and aims it down at the prone bodies on the ground in front of her, but there's no movement. She turns her head in Garrus' direction. He can't see her grin, but he knows it's there. Something about knowing that makes him grin too.

"I went for the low tech solution," comes her voice over the comm. "Want to get over here and help me shut these machines down?"

"On my way."

Urz follows him with his tongue lolling out happily, the stupid creature. When they get closer to Shepard he bounds over to her and gets an absent minded scratch between the ears and makes that weird, raspy gargling sound that must be contented for a varren. 

It's only once they've disabled the machines that Shepard stops looking pleased and groans.

"What?"

"We should probably move them." She gestures at the bodies. "If we leave them out here, in the middle of everything -"

"Wouldn't a maw have arrived by now if it was going to?" Garrus says, although one look at Shepard's face tells him she's not about to take that chance. 

"Wouldn't wish facing a thresher maw unconscious on anyone," she says wryly, "wouldn't wish facing one conscious, come to that."

"Any suggestions on how we move the two hundred kilo unconscious krogan?"

"Good old fashioned elbow grease," she says, and grins sharply at him. "Come on. You grab the legs."

They don't lift the krogan fully from the ground, taking an end each and dragging them across the sand unceremoniously. Garrus really wouldn't want to be on the receiving end of a krogan waking up to this sort of indignity, but it looks like his concussive rounds are holding up.

"Good practice for carrying Grunt back," Shepard says, as they drag the fifth and final one across the sand. "Although I don't know if we could get him up the ramp."

"If he passes out, he's Wrex's problem," Garrus tells her. "I dealt with enough drunk krogan at C-Sec for a lifetime."

"Do krogan even throw up? I mean, they've got two livers."

"Oh, they throw up." Garrus pinches his mandibles in with remembered disgust. "Not as much as humans, though. You're a very... sickly species."

"Do turians?"

"Not exactly. Haven't got the muscles for it."

"Lucky you." They let go of the krogan now he's on solid rock, and Shepard bends over with a wince, out of breath. "So what, you don't have an esophagus?"

"We do, but there's this sort of pouch above the stomach which stores undigested food, so it would just get stuck there."

Shepard looks at him with her head cocked curiously. "Right. That's… weird."

"Those in glass houses," he says smugly, "please tell me about the appendix again."

She points at the prone krogan at their feet. "You want to talk about redundant organs?"

"Having back ups isn't the same as redundancy, Shepard. That's just planning ahead."

“Speaking of planning ahead,” she says, looking down at the neat row of unconscious krogan with a small huff of amusement, “we should make ourselves scarce before they come round. Reckon we’ve got long?”

“If they didn’t wake up after we dragged them all that way, I think we’re probably good.” Garrus nudges one with his foot. “Especially this one. Remind me never to get in a bar fight with you.”

“Even if Wrex asks nicely?”

Especially if Wrex asks nicely.”

“Don’t worry, Garrus,” she says, and there it is again: that half-teasing, half-flirty edge to her voice that pulls the ground out from under him. “I’ll take it easy on you.”

“Thanks” he says dryly, managing to meet her gaze without giving too much away. “You know, there’s a decent chance Wrex will actually ask.”

“Yeah, I was getting that impression from him,” she says, and beckons for Garrus to match her stride as she makes her way back across the plain towards the jagged silhouette of Clan Urdnot territory. “I think he does that a lot, getting people to fight each other. I don’t know that it’d work for humans but it seems to work wonders for krogan. Look at Clan Urdnot - the largest clan on Tuchanka, and they seems to be getting along pretty well. It must really let them work out their aggression, or tension, or whatever.” Shepard shrugs. “Whatever works.”

His mouth is moving before his brain has engaged, as per usual. “But it’s not like there’s tension between us.”

“Isn’t there?” Shepard says, looking over at him sideways with the shadow of a smirk still on her face. Garrus feels suddenly like he needs to be immersed entirely in a vat of icy water when he meets her eyes. There’s not really any question about this being teasing or flirting. They’re firmly into uncharted territory now, and she's looking at him as if to say, your move

“Well,” he says eventually, voice low, “not that we’d solve by fighting, exactly.”

“Hm.” Shepard grins at her feet as they keep walking, and he really hopes he's not just wishing the slight flush on her cheeks into existence. “I’d kick your ass anyway.”

“You would not.”

“You just keep thinking that,” she tells him, and then turns to look back across the plain, still thankfully empty of any sudden thresher maw appearances, with the krogan lying in a neat but comical row. “That’s what I call a job well done.”

“I’m not sure the krogan would agree.”

“I think Wrex might actually do it,” she continues thoughtfully, as if he hadn’t spoken. “I actually think he might.”

Garrus is skeptical. “Unite the krogan?”

“Sure, why not?”

“I don’t know, Shepard,” he says, “that sounds an awful lot like optimism, and you know where I stand on that.”

She smiles at him, bright enough that he doesn’t even believe himself. “You’re so full of shit, Vakarian. Pessimists don’t sign up to suicide missions.”

“Well, don’t go spreading it around,” he says, “and definitely don’t tell Wrex. His head is big enough already.”

“Come on,” she says, and bumps her shoulder against his. “Let’s finish up being a respectable krantt for his newest recruit, then I’ve got a bottle of turian brandy tucked away on Normandy with your name on it. I want to hear all about teenage Garrus.”

He chuckles. “Sounds like a deal.”

They pick their way back over the rubble, Tuchanka’s sun painting red across the sand, and Garrus lets the optimism seep into his bones. They shouldn’t be alive, and it shouldn’t be possible that he’s even considering making it through the relay, or that the krogan might yet recover from centuries of fragmentation.

But it’s Shepard, he thinks simply. That’s enough to make an optimist out of anyone.