“This is going to sound ridiculous,” Shepard warned Garrus. “And I’m sure it is ridiculous, which is why I’m asking you as a friend, not a commander.”
Garrus flexed his mandibles in a smile. “With all due respect, Shepard, spit it out.”
“I noticed that Boo—” she gestured to her hamster, contentedly chewing on food pellets in his little cage “—was acting a little off, so when we were at the Citadel I took him in to the vet there.”
“Is he all right?”
“He’s fine, or at least he will be. He got some kind of infection around his eyes, the vet thinks it’s something I brought back with me from Rannoch… nothing really harmful. But to clear it up, for twenty-four hours I have to give him eye drops and an oral antibiotic every two hours and change his litter every three hours, and…”
“And you can’t exactly stop being Commander Shepard for twenty-four hours,” Garrus said, and chuckled.
Shepard smiled ruefully. “That’s about the size of it. It’s been six hours and I’ve worked it out for that long, but I have to go meet with the Council, and I’ll be gone for the next six at least. Would you mind…?”
“Not at all. Just tell me what to do.”
Shepard gave him a relieved smile and turned to open the cage. One button-press slid back the lid, and she reached gently in and caught Boo before he could do his usual trick of squeaking and running for a hiding place. She cradled him between her hands, making odd little cooing and… clucking?… noises. “I know it’s not really entirely appropriate,” she said, “having a pet on board, but—”
“I don’t think anyone’s going to blame you,” Garrus said. “It’s not as if you’re not overcompensating by sacrificing hugely in other parts of your life.”
Shepard gave him a grateful look. “Thanks,” she said. “Now if you’ll hand me the little bottle—no, the clear one—that’s it, hand me that and I’ll show you how to do this. Drops first, then oral antibiotics.” He watched as she deftly dripped a single eyedrop in each of the hamster’s shining black eyes. Boo flailed his tiny pink feet in a clear protest. “It’s not hard, you just have to get kind of a firm grip. He doesn’t really like stuff in his eyes—can’t blame him—so he squirms around.”
“I don’t want to hurt him.” Garrus flexed his long fingers with their clawed tips.
“He’s fragile, but he’s not that fragile. Just wear gloves to blunt your claws and keep a firm but gentle grip. Then the other bottle, the yellow one, yes. Then you just have to slip the syringe into his mouth and squirt. Point five ccs is all you need. And that’s done.” She dropped a kiss on Boo’s aggrieved nose and deposited him back in his cage, where he immediately ran for his little house. “That’s every two hours. Then every three hours, just push the button here and it’ll cycle his litter.”
“That seems straightforward enough,” Garrus said carefully.
“It is. It’s mostly just the frequency that’s a problem. Anyway, the door is coded to let you in automatically, so you can come and go—or just stay up here and work from my terminal, if you want.”
“I really, really, really appreciate this.”
Garrus waved a hand. “Don’t mention it.”
Garrus decided to stay in Shepard’s quarters; he had nothing that pressingly required him to be physically in the main battery, and it seemed simplest. He caught up on his extranet messages, sent a note to his sister, ran some optimizing routines on his omnitool software, kicked off the backup process for the Thanix system logs, and generally enjoyed a quiet two hours. Behind him, he could hear Boo rustling in his bedding. The fish tank provided a soft blue glow, through which tropical fish swam in lazy circles. I could get used to this, he thought.
At the two-hour mark, his omnitool chimed, reminding him to take care of the hamster. As soon as it went off, he got to his feet and pushed the green button, waited for the lid to slide back, and reached in to scoop up the hamster.
Boo was light in his hands, so small that he almost vanished in the cage of Garrus’ fingers. Drops first—Garrus picked up the clear eyedropper bottle and tilted the hamster so that he could apply the eydrops. So far so good—with the hamster still gently but firmly held, he reached for the antibiotics, measured out point five ccs, and nudged the dropped into Boo’s muzzle and gave it a squirt.
Boo’s response was sudden and immediate. He flailed his limbs so suddenly and so violently that it felt to Garrus as if he’d grown two extra legs and at least ten extra feet. Then, with a maneuver that Garrus could not reconstruct even afterward, he seemed to levitate straight up, flip over, and flop wholly out of Garrus’ grasp and onto the floor.
Garrus swore and began to lunge after him—and then just as abruptly stopped as a scene flashed across his imagination. “So, Shepard, you know that little animal that you dote on unreasonably, that is one of your painfully few escapes from the realities of leading a horrifying and possibly unwinnable interstellar war? Yeah. I stepped on him and squashed him flat.”
He proceeded more carefully. Boo had fled half a meter and was currently crouched under Shepard’s desk, with a surprisingly wary look from something that was basically a fuzzy ball with feet. Garrus hunkered down, moving slow, and extended his hands. “Hey, little guy,” he said. “Hey, hey. C’mere.”
Boo hesitated, nose twitching as he sniffed the air. With the same exquisite care he used on his rifles, Garrus extended his hands a millimeter at a time, closer and closer, closer and—
“Gotcha!” he said, closing his fingers…
…around thin air, as once again the hamster made a physically improbable vertical leap and then bounced like a hyperactive rubber ball into the back recesses of the desk.
Garrus sat back, staring into the dark. His visor wasn’t really designed for Earth biometrics, and especially not small and useless domestic mammals, but he could make out a shimmer of life sign readings… and a pair of gleaming black eyes that seemed to be mocking him.
Tali was testing out a self-optimization algorithm on the Normandy’s drive core simulator when she got the buzz from Garrus—on her personal comm, this time, rather than over the ship communicators. She didn’t think much of it, though, as she keyed in and said, “Garrus, hello.”
“Tali,” he said. “I need your help. It’s kind of urgent.”
Tali immediately shut down the simulator, back straightening and one hand falling by habit to the stock of her shotgun. “What’s going on?”
There was a taut pause, and then Garrus gave a self-deprecating chuckle. “No, not urgent like we mean urgent. Not Reapers-urgent. Urgent like urgent in a normal universe.”
She relaxed a little, letting her hand settle back on the console. “Spill, Garrus,” she said, smiling.
“So Shepard asked me to give some medication to her hamster when she was off-ship, and I kind of, well… lost it. Him.”
“You lost Shepard’s hamster?”
“Well I didn’t lose him very far,” Garrus said, with that wounded Garrus voice that made Tali’s smile widen. “The Loft’s sealed, so he’s got to be in here somewhere. I just could use some help, uh, finding him.”
Tali muted her helmet output in order to have a good, thorough laugh without Garrus knowing.
Nonetheless: “You’re laughing at me,” Garrus accused.
“You know me entirely too well,” she said. “And yes, of course I’ll come help.”
“Thank you,” Garrus said, his voice breathless with gratitude. “Now I’m going to go back to tiptoeing around to make sure I don’t step on him.”
“I think he’s under the bed,” Garrus said, when the doors hissed open to admit Tali. “I’m pretty sure he’s under the bed, actually. But I’m afraid to flip it up, because I don’t want to—”
“Squish him,” Tali finished, and Garrus was fairly sure she was laughing again, behind the smoky dusk of her mask.
“Right. And I can’t crawl under the bed because of this.” He tapped his cowl with a fingertip. “So….”
Tali looked at him, looked at the bed, and sighed. “You owe me one, Vakarian,” she said, although so lightly he knew she wasn’t serious. “Not least because I know that ten years from now when we’re all writing our memoirs, you’re going to tell the entire galaxy about the time you got me to crawl around under Shepard’s bed.” But she got down onto her hands and knees and managed a respectable Marine crawl until all he could see was her feet.
“Can you see anything?”
“My helmet’s got a built-in thermal imager so I can make him out pretty easily. Standard issue. And a lot of biometrics, too, I can tell everyone’s heartbeat if I feel like it.”
“That’s a little creepy, Tali.”
“Oh, don’t tell me your visor doesn’t do the same thing.”
“That’s not standard issue, though, I had to hack it in.”
“I don’t see how that makes it better—ah!” There was a brief scrabbling, a thump, and then Tali said, “Got him.” Within moments she had re-emerged, Boo clasped between her hands.
Garrus breathed a deep sigh of relief as Tali rolled up to her feet, still holding Boo carefully between her two hands. “Thanks,” he said. “You’re right, I really do owe you one.”
“He’s sort of cute, you know,” Tali said. “I’ve never seen him so close, I always just sort of thought of him as a vague scuttling noise in the corner of Shepard’s office. Oh, he has a wiggly little nose!”
Garrus was not about to note that he’d found Boo’s pink feet quite charming. Instead, he said, “As long as he’s not hiding under the furniture he can be as cute as he wants.”
“We can’t have any pets on the Flotilla,” Tali said, lifting Boo closer to her mask to study him. “No space and no resources. Did you ever—?”
“Yeah, Solana and I had a karenus. They’re about so big—” he held his hands half a meter apart “—and have a thulium-permeated exoskeleton, so if they get stressed they just roll up in a metal ball. So they’re a little bit less worryingly squishy than hamsters.”
“Hmm,” Tali said. “Aw, look at those little ears. Hey, little guy,” she said, detaching one hand to stroke between Boo’s ears.
“Watch it—” Garrus said with sudden alarm—
—too late, as Boo managed another feat of levitation, out of Tali’s hands, onto the floor, and under the bed.
“I tried to warn you,” Garrus said, but his shoulders were shaking, his eyes dancing.
“When I’m laughing at you,” Tali grumbled, “at least I can hide it.”
“Yeah, but I always know anyway,” Garrus said.
“Well,” Tali said, and couldn’t think of a counterargument. “—True. But let me just say that if someone had told me that one of my duties as an Admiral of the Fleet would be to crawl around under someone’s bed looking for a small animal, I would not have believed them.”
“I tried to warn you,” Garrus repeated, and now he was laughing outright. Tali laughed, sighed, and got back down to crawl under the bed.
It was true that she could fit where Garrus could not even remotely fit, but it was still a tight squeeze, and she had to more wriggle than crawl to get her torso under the bed. Her visor immediately detected the low light levels and switched to other inputs, and the hamster snapped into glowing relief on her thermal scanners.
“Come here, you little bosh’tet,” she said, and she could hear Garrus laughing again. With the same care she would have used when repairing a fried circuit, she reached out—
—and Boo scrambled out from under the bed.
She swore, and managed a fast squirm-crawl out herself, in time to see Boo racing up the stairs with Garrus in hot pursuit. She followed, watching for the opportunity to use a pincher movement to trap the little animal. Boo leapt up on the chair. Garrus lunged for him and missed by a split second as Boo leapt up on the desk. Garrus lunged—
—”Watch it!” Tali said—
—and crashed the edge of his cowl into the rack holding all of Shepard’s model ships.
One of the brackets holding the models gave way. The whole set tilted precariously; Tali leapt to try to brace it, but not fast enough. The second bracket popped loose and the entirety of Shepard’s model ship collection slid to the floor.
Garrus looked at Tali. Tali looked at the ships, and then at Garrus. Garrus looked at the ships. Tali looked at the Garrus, at the ships, at Garrus, and then sat down on the stairs and began to laugh.
“It’s not really funny,” Garrus said.
Tali laughed harder.
Garrus gave in, sat down in Shepard’s chair, and began to laugh himself.
Boo, seated calmly on Shepard’s terminal, began to wash his face with his paws.
“So, we should probably… do something about this.”
“Right. I’ve got some epoxy in the engineering stores.”
By the time Tali returned with the epoxy, wire cutters, trimming blades, sanding paper, miniature clamps, protective sheets, and a plastoid patching kit, Garrus had cauht Boo, dosed him with his medications, and returned him to his cage, where he was placidly eating his food pellets. A quick inventory revealed that most of the model ships were undamaged or mostly undamaged during the short fall and could simply be polished up and hung back up on their support rods.
(”Can you remember whether the geth fighter was above or below the liveship?”
“Don’t even start with me, Vakarian.”
“Heh. Seriously, though.”
“No, I don’t… It’s a shame Thane isn’t here, he’d remember right away.”
The few that had sustained damages needed more work, and Tali and Garrus spread protective sheets over the desk and sat down to make the repairs.
They worked in companionable silence for a few minutes before Tali said, “I think you have that on upside-down.”
Garrus frowned at the ship, adjusting the piece he’d been about to glue down. “You mean it goes here?”
“Who puts an airlock there?”
“Hanar,” Tali said serenely, applying a line of glue and carefully pressing a wing back on a frigate.
“…how do you know where the airlocks go on hanar ships?”
“Nobody else wants to buy them, so they’re cheap, so the Flotilla has a lot of them.” Tali snapped on a clamp to hold the wing in place. “Do you have any idea how much of a pain it is to retrofit a hanar ship for bipeds?”
“I am very happy to say that I do not,” Garrus said.
“I think I glued my arm to the desk.”
Garrus stared at her over the top of the model Shadow Broker base he was repairing. “You did what now?”
“You heard me the first time,” Tali said, sounding frazzled. “Look, there’s a lot of glue, and not a lot of room. Mistakes happen.”
“Anyway.” She tugged at her arm, which remained firmly stuck. “Solvents aren’t a good idea, they interfere with the nanoelectronics. I’ll have to cut it free. My suit, I mean, not my arm.”
Garrus’ voice grew alarmed: “You can’t do that. It’s definitely not clean in here, especially not with epoxy and the hamster and—”
“It’s just the cloth bit that’s stuck. It won’t damage my suit integrity. Here, hand me the shears.”
“I cannot believe that this is my life,” Garrus said, as he handed over the shears.
Tali jerked her arm up to pull the cloth taut and began to carefully cut around the stuck patch of purple fabric. “That makes two of us.”
Tali had to stand on the desk to slot the last ship into place. She hopped back down and folded her arms in an attitude of satisfaction with herself. “Do you think she’s going to notice?”
“Uh,” Garrus said. “I’m guessing yes.”
Tali glanced at him and started to laugh, and this time there wasn’t much pause before he joined in.
“I guess that’s that,” Tali said, finally, when they had mastered themselves. She was heading for the door. Garrus stopped her with a hand on her elbow.
“Thanks,” he said.
“I’m fairly sure I made things worse,” she said, amused, “so I’m not sure why you’re thanking me.”
“No, I mean—just, thank you.”
Tali’s eyes softened behind her mask. “Shepard does so much, and the hamster and the ships—it’s such a little thing. She should be able to have small things like that, normal things, without having to worry about them.”
“Yeah. That’s why I—well. Yeah.”
“So if I can help with that, it’s important to me, too, Garrus.” She tipped her head. “Thanks for thinking to call me.”
“Sure,” he said. “Like you said, she doesn’t have much personal besides the hamster and the ships, and….”
Both of their gazes drifted to the huge glowing blue bank of the fishtanks.
“I’m sure the fish are fine.”
“Yes. Let’s not go there.”
When Shepard returned, Garrus was sitting in her desk chair, tinkering with his omnitool. He snapped it off and got to his feet as the door closed behind her. “Shepard.”
“Sorry I’m late.” She crossed to Boo’s cage; Boo was sitting up amidst fresh litter, nibbling a sunflower seed held between his delicate paws. “Little guy didn’t give you any trouble, did he?”
“Naw. Nothing more than I could handle.”
Shepard leaned her hand on the desk. “I really do appreciate it. It means a lot to me that I….” She paused, rubbing her fingertips over the desktop. “…can rely on… hang on.”
Garrus was looking at her, all blue-eyed innocence. Entirely too innocent. She kept scratching at the whatever-it-was stuck to her desk until she peeled it up.
There was a moment of quiet.
“Garrus?” she said. “This may be a stupid question, but why is there a piece of Tali’s suit glued to my desk?” The scrap of fabric between her fingers was small, but the swirling purple-and-white patterns were unmistakable.
She could see Garrus’s subtle wince. “Damn, I thought we got it all.”
“Or do I not want to know?”
“So… it’s… kind of a long story.”
Shepard took pity. “Should I invite Tali up to help you explain?”
“That might be a good idea.”
The explanation took twenty minutes; it would have been faster except for Tali’s propensity to act bits of it out, a tendency that Shepard didn’t discourage in the slightest. (Tali’s rendition of ‘Garrus running up stairs after a hamster’ had Shepard howling with laughter and Garrus loudly insisting that he did not run like that.) It was also worth the price of admission to see Garrus—Archangel of Omega, killer of Reapers, he who was saluted by generals—shuffling his feet and looking abashed as they described the process of attempting to remove glued-on quarian suit covering from a desk.
“—I’m really sorry about the ships,” Tali said. “I know you worked hard on them, and—”
“No, it’s fine. It’s sweet that you fixed them, actually.”
“Well, it was sort of our fault. My fault,” Garrus said.
“Hey, if I hadn’t dropped Boo the second time, it wouldn’t have happened,” Tali pointed out.
“Anyway, I definitely owe you both dinner,” Shepard said, getting to her feet.
“We’re the ones who almost lost your hamster and then almost broke all your models,” Tali protested. “I think the owing goes the other way.”
“The key word is ‘almost,’” Shepard said. “But all right. How about I buy dinner, you two buy drinks, and we call it even?”
“Sounds like a plan,” Garrus said, and Tali smiled.