It had been going on for a couple of weeks now, Garrus noticed. After their last stop on llium where they had picked up Thane and Samara. Or maybe it was Tuchanka. At some point Shepard had started to spend less time among her crew than before. Not significantly less, but enough to arouse suspicion in a former c-sec officer, whose attention may have been on Shepard a bit closer than usual lately. Shepard’s behaviour was enough to make Miranda’s gaze zero in on Shepard whenever she mentioned retiring earlier than usual.
Then there were those times when Grunt attempted to scent Shepard and open his mouth to say something, but would instead shake his head and keep going on his way. All this, coupled with Shepard’s incessant ship wide-status checks with EDI, made for a very curious Garrus.
After Shepard’s most recent inquiry into the ship’s status, even the usually patient AI seemed to have added a put upon edge to her monotone voice.
“If anything further comes up, commander, I will be sure to inform you. Logging you out,” EDI ended with finality.
Following the slight rebuke by the ship’s computer, Shepard seemed to have trouble settling down. Finally, she stood up and bid her crew a goodnight. Concerned, Garrus waited a good ten minutes lest he arouse suspicion himself, before following her up to her cabin, determined to unravel the recent mystery of Shepard’s behaviour. When he arrived in front of her door, he had every intention of telling her that he wasn’t going to leave until she told him what was bothering her and offered any support he could.
The odd snuffling and grunting sounds coming from within her cabin stopped him though, before he could even bring his hand up to the door. Shepard’s delighted laughter made him him turn and walk swiftly (flee) into the elevator and wait impatiently as the slowest elevator in the galaxy brought him to the crew deck, before quickly continuing to his quarters.
It seemed another had been quicker to be the shoulder for Shepard to lean on. No wonder Grunt had caught another scent mingling with Shepard’s and she was retiring earlier than usual. Though he couldn’t understand where the status checks with EDI fit into a new relationship; they could in fact be unrelated.
Garrus tried to put it all out of his mind. It was no business of his who Shepard spent her time with after all. Still, he found himself watching the interactions of her and the crew closer than usual. It was silly, he knew it was silly, but he couldn’t help the morbid curiosity (slight burning jealousy) as to what this other person could offer better than Garrus.
Balls, his mind provided unhelpfully. Now he knew for sure he was spending far too much time around humans. The word ‘balls’ though, ludicrously crept back into his mind once more and he spared a thought for how odd it was that humans should use male reproductive organs for shows of courage. Through the absurdity of it all however, Garrus was coming to terms with wanting to spend even more time around humans, or at least one in particular.
He had wanted to bring up the possibility of something more than friendship with Shepard, he had just never found a suitable moment. No, if he was being honest with himself, he had never had the intention of bringing it up with her. Floating it casually by in conversation, maybe. Keeping it as vague and impersonal as possible, definitely. How would he bring it up in any case? “Hey Shepard, feel like kissing a Turian and being a vanguard for another movement? First human Spectre, first high profile Turian-Human liaison.” In his mind’s eye, he imagined himself attempting a Turian approximation of a human wink. It left him cringing.
The time he had brought up reach and flexibility had been bad enough. ‘Just how good is your reach, Garrus?’ Shepard had asked in her gentle teasing manner and he had spluttered and nearly answered out of habit that she should be so lucky to find out. Those metaphorical balls though, had left him and he had seized up at the implications of such a comment and was left to give a stuttering ‘ Ah well, uh, you know.’ before quickly turning back and mumbling something or other about calibrating already efficiently running guns. From then the thought of romantic potential with Shepard had clung on to him better than balls of courage ever had. Now he was a muddled mess who seemed to have taken to staring at Shepard’s interactions and wondering just who had been in her cabin that—
“Garrus!” he heard Shepard yell before some unseen for knocked him to the side and left him dazed. As he tried to right himself and regain some control of his mind and body, the rest of the enemies were quickly dispatched by his team before they joined him behind the large crate he had been thrown behind.
“Are you alright?” Shepard asked.
“You—Shepard you Threw me!” he said incredulously, a little miffed about having been flung around by Shepard’s not insubstantial biotics.
“Would you rather I have let you take another rocket to that pretty face of yours?” she asked with a raised eyebrow and a note of warning in her voice.
Distracted again Vakarian.
“Ah, no. Thank you.”
“What’s up with you Garrus? It’s not like you to zone out in a firefight,” Tali added from her watch behind Shepard.
“Just, lost track of where my mind was for a minute.”
“Probably distracted by calibrations,” Tali threw over her shoulder to Shepard.
He sighed. One joke about his attention to the Normandy’s guns had been enough to make them old in his opinion and yet the crew felt it was necessary to continue. He gave Shepard an exasperated yet sheepish look, and wondered if she understood the intricacies of Turian expressions enough to read his triteness. What he found was Shepard giving him an appraising gaze, with an exasperated smile of her own but a slight frown on her brow. It seemed he wasn’t as much an expert at human facial expressions as he was about crude idioms. Grow some balls he may understand, but the bemused look Shepard was giving him he did not.
“Won’t happen again, Shepard,” he said as much to break the eye contact, as to give the half-hearted promise. At least he hoped he’s be able to get him mind under controlled before it got him killed.
“See that it doesn’t,” Shepard said, rousing herself back to command. “Let’s get back to the Normandy. Joker, we’re done here.”
“Aye, aye, Ma’am. Coming to get you,” came the pilot’s voice through the comms.
Looking back on that incident mid-week, he couldn’t decide if zoning out in the middle of a damned firefight was worse than what had happened in the armoury. If he was being rational, then yes it was considering the potential for loss of limb, life, and potentially endangerment of squad mates. But Garrus’ poor muddled mind seemed to have slipped off rationality and entered into full on lovesick. He supposed he should be concerned that these feelings had been creeping up relatively quickly since the reach and flexibility comment, going on three or so weeks now, and what that might imply about his state of mind regarding Shepard before said conversation. Certainly he had not anticipated a throwaway remark about the differences between Human and Turian military culture to escalate into such brain-arresting activity.
And now look where it had gotten him! If he had been a human teenage girl, he probably would have lain down in his bed and buried his face in a pillow to escape the mortification. Not that Garrus had ever seen an ancient movie about a teen growing up on pre-space Earth and ‘dealing with boys’ as her mother had put it. No, Garrus took the adult route and barricaded himself in the main battery to focus on calibrations, ignoring Tali’s joke to Shepard and Shepard’s appraising look in the aftermath of the firefight. He certainly tried not to see in his mind’s eye just how odd he must have seemed earlier today.
Returning from a search and rescue mission with Thane and Shepard, he had been in the armoury, carrying his gear to his locker. He had made the decision after the firefight to not let anything distract him—bury the ludicrous idea of him and Shepard, act like a real team player, and be the soldier she needed him to be. The Drell’s look of admiration to Shepard and a quietly spoken Siha, coupled with Shepard’s eyes softening and a small smile climbing to her lips had Garrus whispering ‘No!’ before the armour and gear he had been carrying tumbled from his grasp and clanged to the floor with an unnecessarily loud punctuation of sound. Shepard and Thane stopped and turned to see Garrus frozen, breath held in the hopes that it would freeze time as well, allowing him to slip away unseen. It almost felt as if the entire ship had heard the clang and stopped to listen to the frantic racing of Garrus’ mind.
‘No?’ Thane had asked curiously. Apparently he hadn’t whispered.
‘I was dropping the armour,’ he had said quickly. ‘So I said no,’ he had finished lamely, trying with all his might to turn himself into a singularity and disappear. ‘Right, I’m off.’ He had dumped his gear into his locker and walked as quickly as he could to the door.
‘Garrus, wait!’ Shepard had called after him, grabbing his arm to stop him from walking out into the CIC. ‘Can I talk to you for a moment?’
He could remember the warmth radiating from Shepard’s palm as if she were holding his arm now, mushy fingertips covered with soft skin. Thane had disappeared in typical assassin fashion. For a moment, he considered staring into her eyes for the next hour and contemplating just how long it had been since all he wanted to do was watch her on the battlefield, advancing with a single minded purpose and gunning enemies down with efficiency or watch her walk among her crew and directly inject a fighting and determined spirit into each of them. His mind provided the memories of the first time he had accompanied her on the Citadel in what felt like another lifetime. Picking up Wrex, Tali, becoming a Spectre, picking up Liara, all with a single-minded focus to some unseen goal by anyone but Shepard. She was like a prophet and he would follow her to any future she chose.
Her lifted eyebrows and expectant look was all he needed to rouse himself and clear his thoughts with a shake of his head. Her now furrowed brows and slight look of hurt had been enough to make him realize she had taken it to mean he hadn’t wanted to talk. Spirits, he had though, was he ever going to right his world? As he had gone to correct the mistake, Mordin had walked out of his lab and into the armoury.
Spell broken, Garrus had muttered ‘Later.’ not as kindly as he would have liked and pulled his arm from Shepard’s grip, walking out into the CIC to the elevator and not meeting her eyes when she followed him.
At present, Garrus banged a Turian form of a human fist on the side of the console, damning the calibrations that simply would not cooperate with his distracted mind. When the screen distorted from the force of his hand, he decided to take a momentary break before he let his temper run away from him.
Every few minutes or so, he would imagine what it would be like to make his way up to Shepard’s cabin and confess everything to her, any other company present be damned. In most scenarios, he was left with intense embarrassment and a broken heart as Shepard kindly apologized that it wasn’t how she felt. In other, secretly hopeful scenarios, she responded with similar feelings to Garrus’, which inevitably led to the next step; figuring out how a Human-Turian relationship would work. This was enough to freeze Garrus into place and resulted in the acceptance that even if by some miracle Shepard returned his feelings, it would no doubt end in disaster and one awkward meeting where they would call it off and never be able to look at each other again. He let out a heavy sigh. Garrus knew that they were consummate professionals—or at least Shepard was, as Garrus had been a fizzing core of nerves and confusion lately—but there were some things that he was afraid would never settle away and allow them to resume their old friendship. Not that he had felt hopeful after this week.
Sighing once more, he glanced down at his omni-tool, almost ready to return to the distraction of calibrating large guns, when he noticed a message that was timestamped to early this morning, before their mission. Opening the video message, he saw a tired looking Shepard give a small smile.
‘Hey Garrus,’ the fuzzy recording began and Garrus could hear what he had long learned to interpret as sadness in her voice. ‘So uh, things have been a bit weird between us lately and I wanted to clear the air. We’ve been through a lot together and I feel like--’ The recording skipped and in the next clip Shepard gathered herself up. ‘I, well I miss my friend, Garrus. So if we could talk…If not, well I guess that’s okay too. And if you don’t want anything to do with me or the ship anymore--though I’d rather you stayed.’ She paused, ducking her head for a moment. ‘Right. See you on the mission later.’ He heard the sigh just before the recording cut off.
Spirits, but how had he not noticed just how bad things were? How much had he withdrawn lately for her to send him a message like that? It sent him to his feet and out the door to the insufferably slow elevator in a matter of a few breaths, determined to grab the balls and right the situation, come what may.
From within Shepard’s cabin he once again heard the grunting and snuffling noises, but the look of tired sadness on Shepard’s face was enough to spur him on. He walked out of the elevator and raised his hand to the door, which opened before he ever got near enough to it. The sight before him had him frozen in place, mandibles and mouth hanging open.
“Shepard, what the hell is that?” he asked, after a moment of trying to find words.
“It’s a Varren, Garrus, what does it look like?”
“It looks like Urz.”
“It is Urz.”
“You stole a Varren? How did you even get it on the ship?”
“I didn’t steal a Varren. I ordered a crate of small guns and arranged with the Krogan shop owner to have them delivered in a very large crate.”
“So you bought a Varren. Much better.”
“I couldn’t just leave him there! His master had died and he followed me around like a sad puppy.”
“A sad what—nevermind. Is this why you’ve been so distracted? Oh Spirits, he was making the noises wasn’t he?” Garrus asked, a sick sense of realization creeping up on him. “I thought—Spirits, this is all too much.”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about, Garrus,” Shepard responded, slight irritation creeping into her voice.
“I, uh,” he said eloquently. Well now he had really done it. Sighing, he resigned himself to whatever fate lay before him. “I was concerned about you the other night, so I uh, came up to check on you and I heard the noises and I thought, well, that you were, ah… blowing off steam,” he finished awkwardly.
“Is that why you’ve been avoiding me? Because you thought you heard me having sex?”
Realization grew in her face, mouth opening in slight O, before settling into a smirk and Shepard’s face morphed into her ‘well isn’t that interesting’ expression that left Garrus with dread for what he had gotten himself into.
“Did this bother you, Garrus?” she asked and he could practically see the word coyly float through his mind. She may make him pay for his erratic behaviour this past week, he realized with resignation. He supposed there was a sort of fairness to it since he did drop the balls mid-firefight.
She looked at him expectantly. He sighed. This wasn’t how any of his scenarios had gone. At least there was no other company present.
Well except for the Varren that had just launched itself into the fish tank on the wall, sufficiently distracting Shepard long enough to give Garrus a moment to collect himself.
“Urz no!” she chided. “Honestly, this is the third time he’s done this. I’m going to have a concussed Varren and I don’t think even Chakwas will be happy fixing that.”
Garrus chuckled, which had the startling result of bringing all of Shepard’s focus straight back to him. Spirits but she was a force of nature that left him unbalanced.
“So, you were telling me you’ve fallen for me head over heels,” she said to Garrus.
Momentarily confused by what she meant, he had clearly not fallen as he was standing perfectly well (on some very shaky legs) in front of her. This momentary confusion however, seemed to have been long enough to give Shepard the wrong impression once again. Quickly realizing what she meant, he endeavoured to end the cycle of misinterpretations between them. If only never to see the uncertainty and hurt in her eyes as she began to turn away. He lunged.
“No! Yes!” he blabbered in a very un-Turian way as he took one of her hands in his, warmth spreading through them. “What I mean, Shepard, is yes I’ve uh…fallen in a heap?”
The crinkling in her eyes and huffed laugh was enough for him to gather his balls of courage and spur him onward.
“You’re amazing, Shepard. I can’t stop thinking about you and this past week, it’s been hell thinking I’d lost any chance with you.”
She smiled up at him and tugged him along to the couch. Both of them seated, she turned serious eyes to him.
“I would be lying if I said I didn’t feel the same way, but Garrus…” she began. His stomach dropped out of its physiologically preferred space. “I’m not gong to risk anything if it causes distractions. It’s too dangerous.”
“Shepard, listen to me. I’ve spent this whole week thinking that I would lose my closest friend in the world because I didn’t, what is it you humans say?, grab life by the balls.”
“By the horns, you grab life by the horns.”
He looked at her dubiously, unable to understand why human idioms included grabbing random objects for strength. She laughed softly, about to speak but it was time to truly clear the air.
“I’ve lived this week in regret, Shepard. Every time I thought of the moments I missed with you, the chances that we could have taken but never saw in front of us. You’ve always been a good distraction, a purpose, and this week I’ve felt like I’ve lost it. Give us a chance, take off your command armour, and your Spectre responsibility, Collector and Reaper hunter. Let’s take something for ourselves because fighting for others at the expense of, of love…it’s not going to get us far enough.” He paused and finished with a half smile, “Controlled distraction.”
She looked at him for a long moment, eyes a bit moist and shining.
“You’re asking a lot there, Garrus.”
“I’m asking you to choose happiness, whatever that may be,” he said, stomach tight and preparing himself to accept a no.
She sighed and leaned against him.
“Why can’t anything ever be easy?” she asked.
“That’s what you get for touching Prothean junk,” he answered, chuckling. “Would you have it any other way though? Give the responsibility off to someone else if you could?”
“Big questions, Garrus,” she replied, world weary.
“You’re right. Better question, what are you going to do with the Varren?”
“I don’t know, do you think I can teach him to patrol the Normandy?”
“I think it would make Grunt’s day.”
“Hear that, you big lug,” Shepard said to the Varren who had been eyeing the fish once again. It cocked its head, watching her. “We’ve got a job for you.” It wagged its tail and she grinned back at it.
“Leave it to you to wind up with a pet Varren,” he said, trying to tone down the affection that wound its way through his sub vocals.
“Why? The Krogan make them pets all the time.”
“The Kogran, she says nonchalant as anything. Do you sometimes forget you’re only human Shepard?” he asked teasingly.
She laughed then and he gave her a bewildered look.
“Only human is what humans say when they don’t measure up. ‘You did all you could, you’re only human after all.’ I need to be more than human if I’m going to stop the Reapers. Hell I might already be more than human after what Cerberus has done to me,” she said with not inconsiderable bitterness.
“I was joking Shepard, I—”
“No, I know. Some days I wonder what I am, other days I try to remind myself I’m only human.”
“Only human is a pretty daunting thing, Shepard. Within thirty years, you’ve caught up to species who’ve spent thousands of years perfecting space flight. Humans don’t know quit, you don’t know quit. You’re like the essence of humanity, the spirit of it, wrapped up in one dainty little fleshy cage.”
“Some prejudiced Turian you are,” she said, half-hearted.
“I always told you I didn’t make a good one. Too much influence from a human who wants to save everyone,” he teased. “Turians count it a win if just one is left standing. You’d try to save everyone if you could, wouldn’t you?”
“I am going to save everyone, Garrus. We’re going to save this whole damn galaxy even if it stonewalls us the entire time.”
He looked into her fierce eyes and couldn’t help but believe she would move mountains and whole stars to make it a reality.
“I’m with you, Shepard,” he vowed quietly. At least there was one thing that was simple in all of this. “Down to the last unhelpful Vorcha.”
She smiled and he hoped it wasn’t a trick of the light to see some of her weariness dissipate.
“But first, the Collectors,” she said.
“Ah, I think first the Varren actully.”
She gave him an amused look as she went to pet Urz’s head and pull him away from the fish, once again. When he was sufficiently distracted with what looked like a large prehistoric bone, she straightened up and watched Garrus for a moment.
“What?” he asked, a bit off balance once again. He rallied. “Is it the scars?”
“Okay,” she said, walking back over to him.
“Okay?” he asked looking up at her.
“Let’s try this,” she said, smiling and sliding into his lap.
He brought his hands up to her hips and his heart began an assault on his chest.
“You’re sure?” he asked. “Even if you say no, I won’t leave the Normandy’s crew and I won’t be distracted. I promise this, Shepard.”
“I’m sure of two things, Garrus,” she answered. “You.”
“Reapers,” she finished, grinning.
“Well, considering the council’s concern for your singleminded belief in Reapers, I’m going to take that as a compliment,” he said, squeezing her hips.
She laughed again, suddenly dipping her head down to give him a kiss on his scarred mandible. His heart took up its assault in his chest again, swelling in a way it never had before.
“And people think Cerberus is just a bunch of alien haters,” Shepard joked, splaying herself across his chest and laying her head on his shoulder.
“Shepard,” came EDI’s voice, “we will be arriving at the Citadel within the next two hours. I have forwarded the coordinates for shops that have Varren friendly food, though I suggest you do not outright bring up the fact that you have a pet Varren. Citadel authorities make not look favourably upon bringing one into port.”
“So that’s why you kept asking EDI for status reports,” Garrus said.
“Yes, Garrus. Shepard asked me not to reveal the presence of a Varren in her cabin.”
“Do I detect a note of disapproval?”
“It is not my purpose to provide evaluation on the commanding officer’s decisions, even when they may compromise ship security,” EDI responded.
“Urz is happy as long as there’s fish to watch,” Shepard said dismissively. “Thanks for the information EDI, let us know when we’ve arrived.”
“Very well, Shepard.”
“Do you ever get the feeling that she’s developing a little too much sass?” Garrus asked.
Shepard gave a half shrug.
“A life’s a life, organic or synthetic,” she answered, as if she had already come to terms with the possible sentience of her ship.
“Don’t let the Quarians hear you say that.”
Shepard smiled her amusement and sat up.
“So, intrepid Turian, what should we do for the next two hours?” she asked, bringing her face close to his once more.
“I don’t know about you, but I’ve got some calibrations I need to take care of,” he joked.
Garrus began to sit up, but was firmly pushed back down by Shepard.
“Not this time,” she said, bringing her lips to meet his approximation of lips.
Mystery solved. Spirits, now there would be a whole set of other distractions to deal with.