A/N: And finally, the last chapter! (If you read updates by opening up the story and going to the latest chapter, also check out chapter 32, since that's the first part of the end.)
Huge thanks to Suilven for beta reading.
Shepard had gone through enough promotions and induction ceremonies to have a pretty good idea of what to expect from the Council's ritual of welcoming their new Spectres into their fold. And, indeed, most of the steps were rather familiar: the speeches about her and Garrus's accomplishments, the honor of the job, the responsibilities, the long list of rights and obligations, then the extraction of some the DNA samples, assigning their ID numbers, and swearing them in.
What she had not expected, was to have Udina stand right by her side the entire time, puffing out his chest and acting as though her accomplishments were all his own.
She wasn't even sure why he was there. She figured the Council must have sent him a note, letting him know about their decision, and he had demanded to be invited to the procedure so that he could witness the event as humanity's representative on the Citadel.
At least he kept his mouth shut (which must have been a first for him, she thought)—until Councilor Tevos folded her hands in front of her flat stomach, looked Shepard and Garrus in the eye, and made an unexpected suggestion.
"Before we talk about your assignments," she began, her voice soft, steady, as always, "we would like to discuss a recommendation both Spectre Kryik and Spectre Bau have put forward in their reports. Namely, the fact that, during your training, you two have developed a strong and effective partnership which, according to their assessment, has worked extremely well in your investigations and the conduction of your missions. As a result, both Spectres have recommended that you continue working as a team, if you are willing to do so."
Shepard bit down on the inside of her cheeks, willing her face to show some restraint and not break out in a grin. Well. This morning had turned out to be full of surprises—but at least this last one was very, very nice indeed, unlike the man standing right next to her and, at the moment, turning flaming red with fury.
"Absolutely not!" Udina shouted, raising an enraged fist in the air. "You are not going to diminish the first human Spectre's role by putting her on a team! She can do the work on her own."
"The decision is up to Commander Shepard and Officer Vakarian, not to you," Sparatus remarked, his eyes flashing with contempt. His tone, sharp and terse, made no secret of his less than cordial feelings about humanity's representative on the Citadel.
Tevos forced a patient smile on her face and raised a placating hand. "Such cooperation between a human and a turian Spectre would be good PR for all parties involved. It could also help cement humanity's status in the galactic community. And it wouldn't have to be forever; it could last as long as both parties agree, and could be amicably dissolved any time they no longer wish to work together."
"Not to mention the financial advantages," Valern, dispassionately silent until now, added with a tilt of his head. "Some of the missions that need to be done require a fair amount of resources, and combining the funds of two new Spectres who lack the benefit of years of accumulated weaponry, armor, and other assets, could accomplish more than going it alone."
Ah. Shepard's head dipped in a barely discernible nod. So, besides Nihlus's and Bau's recommendations, this was the main reason for the Council to jump on the idea of keeping her and Garrus together. Simple economics, really. It was cheaper and more efficient to equip one team with the necessary gear for some complex, faraway mission (which she supposed she and Garrus were about to get sent on) than to provide funds to two separate people and hope that they could make it on their own. She couldn't argue with that—not that she wanted to. This arrangement suited her fine. It suited her just fine.
"I think it's a great idea," she said. From the corner of her eye, she could see Udina whip his head at her, trying to glare blazing holes in her skull. She ignored it.
"I agree," Garrus jumped in. "Commander Shepard and I have developed a well-working routine. I am confident we could tackle any operation with great efficiency if we combined our resources and worked together as a team."
Tevos smiled, genuinely this time. "Excellent. We shall deposit the necessary funds in your accounts. And when we're done here, please visit the Spectre offices to make any weapon and armor purchases you'd like." She turned to Udina, her expression reverting to her usual neutral mask, and she waved a hand at the door. "Now, we'll need to talk about the assignments for our new Spectres. Thank you, ambassador, for having joined us for this memorable occasion. Have a nice day."
Udina made a strangled noise in his throat, cast one last disapproving look at Shepard, and stormed out.
Shepard could not be bothered to watch him go.
The missions the Council had selected for their newest agents did, indeed, require a fair amount of resources. Tracking down a dangerous gang of pirates that had been luring commercial ships into their traps to kill or enslave the crew and steal their resources (they sounded very much like the ones Tali had encountered, and frankly, Shepard could not wait to get her hands on them), finding Vido Santiago's brother and bringing him to justice for having kidnapped a Council Spectre (a goal Shepard could not have agreed with any more), infiltrating a ring of weapons smugglers that had recently decided to replenish their stock with stolen equipment from various military warehouses around the galaxy, and investigating a biotech company purportedly conducting illegal cloning experiments (on Noveria, of all places) needed a fast ship with adequate weapons and armor, a good supply of intel and ammunition, and would have had a much lower possible rate of success if attempted alone.
By the time the briefing had come to an end and the Council had retreated from the chambers, leaving Shepard and Garrus to see themselves out, it was almost noon. Shepard's stomach growled, but she ignored it: her head was swimming with too many plans and ideas about the missions to pay attention to the hunger gnawing at her insides.
"We need a new ship," she said, heading to the door. "Something more suitable for combat than the Blue Nebula. And I can't wait to see what Spectre grade weapons we can pick up at the—"
"I know, but first..." Three strong fingers wrapped around her arm and she stopped, throwing a questioning gaze over her shoulder. Garrus looked around, found a spot behind a column, and pulled her along with him until they were outside of the cameras' range. He pushed her against the stone pedestal, lifted her armored body with admirable ease, and pressed his mouth plates to her lips. Smiling against his mouth, Shepard snaked her arms around his neck and let his tongue slip in, and he kissed her, slow, deep, before he put her back down on the ground and pressed his forehead to hers.
After a moment of silence, he pulled back and gave her a mandibles-spread-wide grin. "So, that went well."
Shepard huffed out a chuckle. "Yeah. Much better than I'd thought it would. Looks like you're stuck with me."
"I'm not complaining."
"Neither am I."
Still grinning, Garrus stepped away from her and gestured at the door. "All right. Now we can go."
Picking out their new equipment from Spectre Requisitions, then finding their very own, well-equipped, well-armored ship and stocking it with supplies took all afternoon. After that, the only thing left to do was to return their rented vessel to Kunn's Ships and Shuttles, but that had to wait until they'd moved all their stuff to the new ship and the four people still on board the old one had disembarked, whether to take up residence in Garrus's apartment or to wait in a hotel room for their flight off of the Citadel.
By the time Shepard and Garrus got back to the Blue Nebula, tired, hungry, but mostly just really, really happy, it was late in the evening.
They found everybody in the mess hall, in nearly identical positions as they had been the previous night, with Tali still picking at the old tech, Kenn reading the technical manual, Mordin working on some medical charts on his datapad, and Grunt eating something crunchy out of a box.
Shepard wondered where that had come from; it didn't look like anything she had seen before.
"What's that?" she asked, leaning over to examine the colorful packaging.
"Forgot what they're called," Grunt said in between two bites. "But they're good."
Tali put down the gadget in her hands and lifted her head. "Bau sent them to him. In the note that came with it, he said he'd promised to share some with him back when they were on Korlus."
"Oh. Right. Bau." Shepard shot Garrus a look. "He'd asked us to give him a call. We still have to do that."
Kenn held up a hand. "Wait. Before you go: how were things with the Council? You've been gone a long time."
This time, Shepard didn't even try to hold back the grin spreading across her face.
"Fine. You're looking at the Council's two newest Spectres."
Garrus pulled up a chair and sat down, nodding his head in thanks at the cheers erupting around the table. "We need to talk about what's going to happen now. Shepard and I have received our assignments, and that means we'll have to leave the Citadel soon. We've already purchased a new ship, so we'd like to return this one by tomorrow morning. That means that we all have to vacate the—"
Tali raised a finger in the air. "A ship? As in, one ship for both of you? You're not going to go off on your own on separate missions after this?"
Garrus glanced over at Shepard. She cocked out a hip and folded her arms in front of her chest.
"Yeah, well," she said, schooling her expression into a neutral one. "The Council, ah, suggested that we remain a team, and we agreed."
Her eyes slid to Mordin, catching his grin before he ducked his head to hide his amusement. Tali and Kenn nodded in acknowledgement, and Grunt said nothing, his mouth still full with whatever it was he'd been munching on.
"So," Garrus continued, "we'll need to move all our stuff out of this ship so we can return it to the rental place. I can take you, Kenn and Tali, to my apartment and get you settled in, and Grunt, we can try to find a hotel for you to stay at while you wait for Bau to recover. Mordin, since your flight leaves tomorrow anyway, you can wait for the departure on our new ship, if you wish. All right?"
"Yes. Thank you." Kenn tilted his head and cleared his throat, hesitating before he asked, "Any news about the jobs?"
"Oh. I've been so busy today I forgot to check." Garrus opened up his omni-tool and scrolled through his messages. "Nothing yet. Sorry. Maybe tomorrow."
"It's all right." Kenn's voice was as pleasant as always, but he couldn't hide the disappointment in his tone.
"So..." Tali started, eyes downcast as she began fiddling with the old gadget again, "did you get any interesting assignments? Or is it a secret?"
Shepard chewed on her lip for a moment, conducting a short debate in her head whether to tell her about the pirates or keep that information to herself and Garrus. Ultimately, she decided Tali deserved to know.
"Actually," she said, watching the quarian carefully, "one of them involves some pirates who sound pretty much like the bastards that attacked the salarian ship you left Illium on."
Tali's head snapped up. "Really?" She stared at Shepard, her fingers tightening around the metallic object in her hands. "I... would very much like to participate in that mission. Please."
Shepard's brows puckered into a frown. "It's going to be dangerous. I don't think—"
Tali dropped her toy onto the table and surged from her seat, flattening the palms of her hands on the metal surface in front of her as she leaned forward, her eyes glowing with agitation within the confines of her mask. "I can fight. You have seen me fight. I need to find out what happened to my shipmates. Help them if I can. I owe it to them."
Shepard glanced at Garrus. He'd turned his head so he could look at her, and he gave her a slow nod. She sighed, rubbing her forehead, and rolled her eyes up at the ceiling before she settled her gaze on Tali again. "All right."
Before she could say anything else, Kenn piped up. "If Tali goes, I will, too."
"And me," Grunt rumbled, popping the final piece of his snack into his mouth. "I'd much rather have a good fight than sit in some stupid hotel room."
Garrus huffed out a sharp exhale and shook his head. "Great." He turned to Mordin. The salarian looked up from his datapad and smiled. "Don't tell me you want to come, too."
Mordin's smile stretched into a grin. "Would love to, but need to get back to patients on Omega. Afraid you'll have to do this one without me."
Shepard dropped her arms by her side, a sudden wave of exhaustion shivering through her muscles. She pulled out the chair next to Garrus and sank down onto it, resting her forearms on the table's surface. "Okay. The help is... appreciated. We can't pay you much, though. We got some funds, but not a whole lot." Her future team members waved her concern off, and she went on. "And we'll probably be gone for quite some time." Which reminded her of another issue, one she had not considered before. Now she really wanted to slam her forehead into the table for not having kept her mouth shut. "And, uh, there's something else."
She looked at Garrus. He turned his head to look back at her, his eyes searching her face for a hint of what she was going to say. "I..." she started, and swallowed. "If we're going to share accommodations again, I don't want to pretend anymore."
Garrus's mandibles spread out in a grin, and he slid his long fingers across the table to grab her hand. He gave her an approving squeeze, and continued where she'd left off. "Shepard and I are... more than just teammates. We're going to share the captain's cabin on our new ship. If that bothers you, you can still back out of this. No hard feelings."
There was a moment of silence before Tali spoke. "That's the big secret?" She laughed, sat down again, and leaned back in her chair. "I think we all knew it already."
Kenn nodded. "I know I did."
"Heh." Grunt's lips stretched into a wide-lipped smirk. "Me, too."
Shepard's eyes snapped to Mordin. "You told them."
"Mordin? No, he didn't." Tali waved a hand. "He didn't have to. Even the blind could see the way you looked at each other."
"Or smell you on each other every morning you crawled out of your room," Grunt added.
Shepard's cheeks heated up with a blush. "Oh."
"All right, then." Garrus bumped her knee, cupped her shoulder, and rose from his seat. "Let's make that call to Bau. Then all of you, gather up your bags. We're moving to our new place."
The topic Bau had wished to talk about with them turned out to be Grunt.
"I'm a bit concerned about him," he said, drumming his fingers on the desk in front of him, his holographic image flickering with bright colors in the air. "I imagine you'll be leaving the station soon, and with me in the hospital and both of you gone, I'm not sure how well he'll tolerate being cooped up in a hotel room all by himself. I'd rather not have to deal with complaints of broken furniture and worse, an enormous bill, when I get released. So I was wondering if you could take him to Tuchanka—provided it's not too big a detour from your flight plan."
Shepard scratched the back of her neck. Right. Tuchanka. They probably should have talked to Jondum Bau before agreeing to take Grunt on their mission with them. On the other hand, Grunt, despite being just a few weeks old (a few months at most, depending on how you looked at it), was a grown person, not a child. He could make his decisions on his own.
"Actually," she said, "Grunt has asked to come with us. And we agreed."
"Oh." Shepard couldn't tell if the Spectre was relieved or disappointed. Perhaps both. "Well, then. That's... good. Good luck. And if you need anything in the future, please don't hesitate to contact me."
He stretched out his arm to disconnect, but stopped when Shepard held up a hand.
"You, too. And... Spectre Bau, we'd like to thank you once again for everything you've done for Garrus and myself. Including your suggestion for us to, ah, stay together as a team."
Bau smiled. "I noticed you two had developed a liking for each other. In our line of work, having someone like that to fight alongside with, to spend your day with—it's precious. I'm glad the Council agreed with my recommendation."
"Yes. So are we." Out of the view of the vid camera, Garrus squeezed Shepard's knee. "Good luck with the surgery."
"Thank you." Bau reached forward, and with a light pop, his image dissolved into thin air.
Garrus stood from the bed they'd been sitting on, and offered his hand to Shepard to pull her up. She accepted.
"Let's get packing, then." He walked over to his locker and pulled out his duffle bag.
Shepard followed his example, but stopped when her omni-tool pinged. She raised her arm to check the mail she'd just received, opened up her messaging program, and groaned.
The message was from Udina.
"What is it?" Garrus asked, his body twisting backwards from his locker to look at her.
"Udina wants to have a party tomorrow night to celebrate my appointment as the first human Spectre. With lots of dignitaries and the press, of course."
"I'm guessing you don't want to go?"
He chuckled, and turned all the way around. "Well. As one half of this team, I think I have a say in our schedule. And I insist—absolutely insist—that we leave tomorrow morning. I'm sorry, Shepard, but our mission is just too urgent."
She snorted a laugh, and put her hands on her hips. "Unbelievable. Is this how it's going to be, then? You interfering with my very important political functions?"
"I'm afraid so."
"Fine." She walked over to him, wrapped her arms around his waist, and planted a quick kiss on his mouth. "Thank you."
"For you, anything."
"Aww." She buried her face in the crook of his neck and tightened her grip. "I can get used to this."
"Me, too. But you'd better stop that or else we'll never get out of this room. And I'm guessing the bed will be much more comfortable on our new ship."
She gave him one more kiss, let him go, and started packing.
The next few hours were spent transferring everybody's belongings to the new ship, returning the Blue Nebula to her original owner and settling their bill with the volus attendant on call (which involved some arguing about a few extra fees he tried to slap on to the final amount), setting up all the access codes to the computer and engineering systems in their future home, and coming up with an actual name for the spacecraft they were going to spend the majority of their lives in from here on out.
It took some discussion, but they settled on The Intrepid, which made Grunt enormously happy.
It was late into the night cycle when they collapsed into bed (Shepard and Garrus in the captain's cabin, Tali and Kenn in the crew quarters, and Grunt in the cargo hold, as usual). Mordin stayed up, not needing more sleep than an hour a day, sitting in the small mess as he plucked away at some scientific dissertation on his datapad.
Morning came sooner than Shepard would have liked, and brought with it a flood of messages about her new position. Half were requests for interviews from an assortment of reporters (al-Jilani, of course, sent two), and the other half consisted of congratulations from Captain Anderson, Admiral Hackett, and Shepard's friends on the Normandy, the latter laced with good-natured jabs at her new job. Shepard planned to reply to these later, when she had a moment to breathe. al-Jilani and the rest of the press, on the other hand, she was going to ignore.
Before they could leave, they needed to do some additional shopping for food and ammo, given that their crew had expanded significantly the day before. Garrus and Kenn volunteered, leaving Tali to check out the engines and Shepard to do a test run of all the onboard systems. Shepard wondered if the arrangement, which Garrus had suggested, was to spare her the annoyance of having to ward off news-hungry reporters. She didn't ask, and he didn't say, but she appreciated the gesture nonetheless.
A couple hours later, Garrus and Kenn were back on board, and with all the supplies finally put away, it was time for Mordin to get off the ship and for the rest of them to prepare for departure.
"Good-bye, Professor," Shepard said, enveloping the salarian's tall frame in a hug. "Thank you for everything."
Mordin grinned, patted her on the back, and when she let go, he reached into his bag and pulled out a large bottle. "For bedroom activities with Vakarian. Much better than that cheap stuff you got from who knows where. Can supply more when needed."
Blushing, Shepard took the bottle from his hands. "Thanks."
"Happy to help."
He gave a wave to the rest of the group, and strolled off the ship.
Shepard watched his back until he airlock door closed behind him. Once he was gone, she walked into the cockpit to join Garrus, sat down in the pilot's seat, and gave the turian a smile.
"All right. Ready?"
"I've been ready for hours," he drawled.
She chuckled, started up the engines, and eased The Intrepid off the landing pad. They glided away from the docking bay and soared through the air, gradually leaving the Citadel behind, and as they began their journey, she couldn't help but smile when she remembered her irritation, so many months ago, upon first meeting the man sitting beside her now.
So many things had changed since then. She'd found a friend, a lover, a confidante, and, unexpectedly, a new crew as well, along the way.
Maybe the universe did not hate her after all. The way she was looking at it now, her life had actually turned out pretty nice.
Pretty nice, indeed.
A/N 2: Aand, that's the end. This story took me almost 3 years to write, and I couldn't have done it without my wonderful beta readers, KabiViolet and Suilven, and the support of all of you who have followed and favorited this story, and most of all, those of you who took the time to leave encouraging reviews on my updates. Thank you! Seriously, you are the ones who made me want to finish this fic even when I didn't feel very motivated to write anymore. So, big hugs to all of you. :)