Life didn't change substantially after Cassia made her decision. The Fedissians weren't leaving the Citadel for another month, so Cassia continued to spend evenings and weekends with them, and Jun and Cassia both still attended school, did chores and homework, and otherwise lived their normal lives. The rhythm of life didn't change, but the way Shepard experienced it was completely altered. She felt a safety and security, a renewed confidence in her family and its permanence. Her heart no longer hurt every time Cassia walked out the door; she no longer felt a stab of doubt every time Cassia left to spend time with her uncle and aunt that she might never return.
She needed to express her gratitude to Garrus before he left the Citadel, but she was nervous to approach him. If she'd felt jittery and shy with affection for him before, now she was almost overwhelmed with how much he meant to her. With all the help and guidance he'd given Cassia, he almost felt like a guardian angel for Shepard's family, like the architect of Shepard's happiness. Cassia had needed a turian perspective that she trusted, and Garrus had stepped in to fill the gaps in what Shepard could do for her daughter. Shepard worried that the next time she saw him, all these thoughts and feelings would come gushing out and Garrus would be frightened by his unrecognizably emotional commander.
In the end Garrus made things easy for her by reaching out first.
G: Hey, still on the Citadel for Solana's birthday. She'll be leaving Tuesday, but I don't ship out until Wednesday. Drinks Tuesday night?
S: Sounds good. Meet up at Shangri-La?
G: Sure. Meet me at the bar.
"Mom, who are you talking to?" Jun asked from where he lay on the floor, holding a datapad in his hands and kicking his feet back and forth.
Cassia perked up. "Can he come over? I'd love to see him again before he leaves."
Years of training hid any disappointment from Shepard's face. She'd been looking forward to some adult recreational time, but family time with Cassia had been extra meaningful lately, and she knew how much Cassia looked up to Garrus.
"Sure, I'll ask him," she said before pulling up the messages on her omnitool again.
S: Actually, would you like to come over for dinner instead? The kids would like to see you.
He didn't respond right away, which was fine. He'd responded to her other messages immediately, but that didn't necessarily mean anything. A half hour passed, and Shepard spent it belligerently productive helping Cassia with her homework. Then halfway through a particularly tricky math problem Shepard's omnitool dinged, and she jumped to check the messages.
G: Sure, I can come over for dinner. But drinks afterwards, alright? I get the sense you could use a break. I already asked Tali if she could babysit.
Shepard grinned down at her omnitool. Sometimes it felt like Garrus could read her mind. It reminded her of sleepless nights back in the war when he'd anticipated her orders before they'd even begun to percolate in her mind.
S: Sounds great. You get me.
G: Great minds think alike. Ashley told me that one once. I always liked to think it applies well to us.
S: You're one cocky bastard, you know that?
G: Well all that unearned confidence came in handy during the war.
S: That it did. See you at 0600?
G: I'll be there.
"But Blasto is totally exploitive!" Cassia said.
"No it's not!" protested Jun from across the table, his mouth still full of sticky noodles. There was no way he knew what 'exploitive' meant, but he had to defend one of his favorite movies from an obviously negative attack.
Shepard, Cassia, Jun, and Garrus sat around the Shepard-Fedissian dinner table, cartons of dextro and levo-takeout spread across the tabletop in a glorious display of greasy intergalactic cuisine.
"Do you even know what that word means, Cass?" Shepard asked.
"Yeah, of course. It's like… taking advantage of someone. Anyway Blasto is exploitive because it treats the Hanar like their whole culture is entertainment."
"Hmm," Garrus said, his subvocals humming in thought. "What about the movies is taking advantage of Hanar culture?"
"Well, the Hanar are really serious about their religion, but in the movies everyone laughs when Blasto says, 'Enkindle this.'" Cass reasoned, holding her fork out in one hand as she explained. "And… Well everyone likes to watch Blasto, but then they make fun of Hanar in real life."
"That's a very thoughtful, well-reasoned take," Shepard said, impressed. Cass really was growing up so fast. Maybe she'd become a lawyer or a politician one day. Once that thought would have irked Shepard—those were not professions she particularly respected—but seeing her daughter's natural aptitude might help her change her tune.
"You make a good argument, but what would you say if I told you that four of the seven Blasto movies were written and directed by Hanar?" Garrus countered.
Cassia opened her mouth, then closed it, her mandibles floundering in empty air for a moment. "Is that true?"
Garrus nodded solemnly. "It is. So is it still exploitive if it's one of the Hanar doing the exploiting?"
Cassia's eyebrow plates furrowed in concentration as she considered Garrus's question. "Well…" she started slowly, "I think that would depend on-"
"-Uncle Garrus, don't pay attention to her," Jun said. "She just wants an excuse to watch The Fault in Our Envirosuits instead of Blasto 7: A View to Enkindle."
Garrus's pale blue eyes widened, and he turned to Cassia in overacted shock. "Is this true?"
"Well, um," Cassia said sheepishly. "We always watch what Jun wants to watch!"
"So the truth comes out…" Shepard said seriously.
"It's not fair! I'm sick of Blasto!" Cassia said.
"But it's my turn! And I want to watch A View to Enkindle!"
Garrus shook his head solemnly and looked first to Jun, then at Cassia. "It looks like you two will have to learn to compromise."
"I compromise all the time-"
Garrus caught Shepard's eye across the table-turned-battlefield, a distinctly-Garrus twinkle in his blue eyes. Shepard couldn't help but grin. The four of them enjoying a meal together, laughing and teasing and breaking bread—it felt right. Not only did it feel right, it felt familiar and almost eerily similar to the dreams Shepard had long harbored in the most private, guarded part of her heart.
Shepard's grin fell, and she rose from the table to get dessert from the kitchen. She couldn't let herself get carried away. Garrus would be a great uncle to Cassia and Jun, but she shouldn't wish for anything more.
Tali arrived soon after dessert was served, and Shepard changed into something more appropriate for the club before saying goodnight to the kids and getting into a skycar with Garrus.
Shangri-La had been rebuilt from the burnt-out husk of Purgatory, and its layout was roughly the same. Colorful lights and upbeat music lent the club a lighter, less oppressive atmosphere than its predecessor, which Shepard appreciated. The unceasing tension and dread that had always seemed to hang over Purgatory felt like a distant, unwelcome memory, and it was comforting to see that same space transformed into something more hopeful.
Garrus and Shepard walked into the club and made a beeline for the bar, bypassing the dance floor that felt too much like the realm of the young now.
"Turian brandy, neat," Garrus practically purred to the bartender, then looked to Shepard for her order.
"Hmm… I guess I'll also have brandy. Got any Serrice Ice Brandy?" Shepard asked.
"Sure do," the bartender said. "You've got some expensive taste."
The corner of Shepard's mouth quirked upwards in a wry grin. "Gotta use all that retirement money for something."
The bartender served them their drinks and they turned back towards the dance floor, both leaning casually against the bar with drinks in hand.
"So, what do you think Shepard?" Garrus asked after taking a moment to enjoy his brandy. "Is Blasto 'exploitive'?"
Shepard laughed. "I don't know. It all seems in good fun to me, but I honestly don't know that many Hanar. What I'm more curious about is how a twelve year old like Cass got to thinking about this."
Garrus shrugged. "It probably came up at school. Her last group project included a Hanar classmate."
Shepard raised her eyebrows in surprise. "She talks to you about her projects?"
"Yeah," Garrus said casually. "It came up when we got lunch that last time."
Shepard's heart twinged and the image of the two of them sitting around the table with Cassia and Jun returned with full force to her mind. Maybe it was the brandy, but a sudden surge of longing nearly overwhelmed Shepard. Maybe she should tell him about this vision of hers. He was single, right? What's the worst that could happen?
"Hey Shepard," Garrus said, "think she's checking me out?"
Shepard jolted from her reverie and looked in the direction Garrus indicated, towards a young turian woman with striking red markings who was looking in their direction. Shepard's gaze darted back to Garrus, and she quickly downed a hefty swallow of brandy.
"Um, I don't know. I'm not very good at reading turian body language."
Garrus scoffed. "That's bullshit. You can read me better than my own father."
Shepard crossed her arms over her chest and looked down into her glass, fidgeting uncomfortably. "I can read you, maybe. But not other turians." She chanced another glance towards the female turian on the dancefloor. "She's a little young for you, isn't she?"
Shepard wasn't really sure if that was true, since age was a little difficult for her to tell on turians, but Garrus looked abashed.
"Not that young. Besides, it's not like I'm an old fogey yet. I'm gonna go talk to her."
"...Godspeed," Shepard said, immediately hating herself for it. It was one thing to pine away in silence for years, it was entirely another to help Garrus get laid. That was a bridge too far.
Shepard nursed her brandy as Garrus went off in search of his would-be paramour, her eyes staring blankly out at the crush of bodies of all species on the dancefloor. The optimism and good cheer of the early evening disappeared, and Shepard grew increasingly disappointed with herself for it. Garrus deserved to find someone and be happy, and she needed to find a way to be content with the friendship they had.
Garrus weaved his way back towards Shepard sooner than she'd expected, a pleased look on his face.
"How'd it go?" Shepard asked with forced cheer.
"Got her contact info," he said with a smirk. "I'll talk to her later though—I came here to spend time with you, Commander."
Shepard couldn't help but smile at that, and together they turned back to face the bar. She ordered another brandy, and Garrus switched it up with a Drossix Blue.
"To old friends!" Shepard said, raising her glass to his.
"To new families," Garrus responded.
The brandy was doing its work, and Shepard was starting to feel better again when Garrus got that excited look on his face, the look he mostly reserved for fancy sniper rifles or giant cannons. It was so achingly Garrus that Shepard couldn't help the easy grin that spread across her face.
"Shepard, I shouldn't be the only one to go home with an omnitool address," he said eagerly. "We need to find someone for you too."
Shepard's easy grin faded somewhat, but the brandy had her feeling good enough that she mostly brushed it off. "I'm fine, Garrus. I have everything I need."
"I'm not saying you don't, but why not add a nice guy to the mix too? Or girl, I don't know. Nobody could ever really get a read on your type."
Yeah, and that was very intentional, Shepard thought to herself wryly.
"Look, I haven't even talked to a guy in-"
"Oh, so it is guys?" Garrus cut in with a sly look.
"Maybe," Shepard said, her eyes challenging. Maybe she could hint at it? Maybe this was her chance? "What's it to you?"
"Well what about that guy?" Garrus said, jerking his head in the direction of a middle-aged professional type a couple seats down from them at the bar. "He's been making eyes at you all night."
Shepard laughed into her drink. "No he hasn't you filthy liar."
"Hey!" Garrus yelled over to the man. Shepard panicked and elbowed him in the stomach, but he continued, undeterred. The man looked up. "Hey you! Why don't you buy my friend here a drink?"
The man looked first at Garrus in surprise, then turned his smiling gaze to Shepard as Garrus's words sank in. Shepard looked back down into her drink, her cheeks heating despite herself.
The man made his way over to where they sat at the bar, sidling up next to Shepard farther in her personal space than she would like. Despite the unnecessary closeness, he had a warm presence about him that was pleasant, and his open appreciation of Shepard was flattering. Shepard tugged her black, knee-length dress a little farther down her knees, always conscious of the line separating her natural leg from her prosthetics. Though with her body, whose to say which parts were natural and which weren't? She was so used to feeling different and somehow defective in her body, it was nice to have someone see it and obviously like what they saw.
"What would the lady like?" the man asked, an easy grin gracing his features.
Shepard had to admit, Garrus had picked well. The man had thick dark hair that was just long enough to reveal a wave, and salt-and-pepper stubble added texture to his well-defined features. He reminded Shepard of what she'd always imagined Kaidan would look like older, which made her sad.
"I'm really fine, thank you."
"No, no!" Garrus insisted. "Ignore that. She'll have an Old Fashioned."
"What!?" Shepard said.
"I remember what you like! Don't tell me you don't want one," Garrus said.
"One Old Fashioned for the lady," the man said to the bartender.
The bartender started mixing the drink for Shepard, but she held out a hand to stop him.
"No, really," she said, turning towards the man. "Thank you, but I'm fine. I'm not really ready for… all this."
"I understand," the man said gallantly, though she could see the disappointment in his eyes. Maybe she should at least talk to him… It might help her get past the giant turian in the room.
"Shepard, you gotta give the man a chance," Garrus protested.
The man had started to leave, but stopped and turned back towards them. "Shepard? As in Commander Shepard?"
"Ah, shit," Garrus said.
"I thought you looked familiar!" the man said. "Can I just say what an honor it is? I have to get you a drink now, just as a thank you."
A frown established itself on Shepard's face, and she remembered why she had decided not to do this kind of thing. "That's really not necessary-"
"No, it's the least I can do."
"Shepard?" a Quarian sitting next to them at the bar said, looking over at them. "Did he say Commander Shepard?"
"Is that really her?"
Awareness of Shepard's presence spread throughout the club like wildfire, and she shrank down into her barstool, clutching her near-empty glass of Serrice Ice Brandy tightly in her scarred hand.
Garrus plucked the drink from her hand and set it on the table, then quickly paid the bartender, including a generous tip, and pulled Shepard from the bar.
"Sorry, friend, we've got to get going," he said to the man, and dragged Shepard through the crush of people and towards the exit.
"I'm sorry, Shepard, I shouldn't have-" Garrus said, cutting himself off with a heavy sigh. "You ok?" he said, looking back at her with piercing eyes.
"Yeah," she said, letting herself be pulled through the crowd. "But I wouldn't mind getting out of here.
"Of course. Of course," Garrus said.
They left the club and the cool air hit Shepard with sobering force, providing both relief to her flushed features and a return to normal, everyday life where she didn't consider flirting with strange men at bars or confessing her years-long infatuation with her old friend.
"Well, I should probably get home," Shepard said, checking the time on her omnitool.
"Come on, Shepard, the night is still young and Tali said she'd watch the kids until tomorrow morning! Don't let my mistake ruin your evening." Garrus protested.
"It's fine, Garrus. It was really nice to get out of the house, but I'm feeling tired." She shifted her weight from one prosthetic to the other, and she didn't have to feign the ache in her artificial joints.
"Well, why don't we go to my place first? I have drinks there—dextro and levo. We can just… relax and reminisce for a bit. Please? I'm leaving tomorrow—probably won't be back to the Citadel for a while."
Shepard let out a heavy breath, but nodded. How could she say no to that? "Let's go, then. I'm curious to see your place."
Garrus's apartment wasn't flashy or big, but security and quality were evident in the tinted windows, anti-bugging security system, and sleekly modern furniture. Shepard floated through the entryway in a pleasantly buzzed haze, following Garrus to a couch in the living room. She sat down while he went to retrieve some beers from the fridge, and soon they were both leaned back on the couch, drinks in hand and memories on the tips of their tongues.
"That brandy, that was Chakwas' favorite, right?" Garrus asked.
Shepard nodded. "Sure was. Remember that time we got totally wasted in the medbay of the SR2?"
"Do I ever. You know the main battery was right next door, right? I was an unwilling audience to your multiple renditions of the Alliance anthem."
Shepard couldn't suppress a laugh. "Those were good times! We had to find some way to have fun on a suicide mission."
"Oh, I don't begrudge you the singing. Everyone needs to unwind and take some of the stress off. Which is why I still think you should have accepted that drink at Shangri-La."
Shepard shook her head lazily before taking another pull from her human-friendly beer. "Why? You saw how he reacted when he found out who I was. I was never gonna… he was never gonna… it wouldn't have worked."
Garrus sighed and stretched, his arm resting on the top of the couch behind Shepard's head. "Maybe he would have gotten past it after a little. Or maybe you'll meet someone else who won't react the same way. That doesn't mean you should never try."
Shepard screwed her eyes shut, her head swimming pleasantly, and nestled further into the couch. The movement incidentally moved her closer to Garrus's side. "Not worth it."
"Look, Shepard. I don't mean to be a nag but everyone can see that you've been lonely. Why not, you know, let someone in?"
"I do. I let you in. Liara. Tali. Joker."
"Yeah, but there's a difference between what a friend can do and… something more. Besides, even with us there's a wall."
Shepard's mood sobered, though she remained chemically very much inebriated. "I know. I'm… I'm working on that."
Garrus let his arm drop down from the top of the couch to rest on her shoulder, and his talons gently pressed into her skin as he squeezed her to his side. "It was hard, during those last few months of the war. Everyone, everyone, could see how hard it was for you, and you wouldn't give yourself any breaks. Wouldn't give anyone the opportunity to share the burden."
"Well it worked, didn't it?" Shepard, snapping as much as her slow tongue would allow. "I got the job done."
Garrus pulled back, his hand releasing her arm. "You're right, I'm sorry, I… I just wish it hadn't been so hard on you."
The hurt in his alien features was obvious, and Shepard felt like a bitch. She sighed and grabbed his hand, pulling it back over her shoulder before nuzzling further into his side. "I'm sorry, I know what you're saying."
Garrus hummed happily, the vibrations resonating with her bones as she closed her eyes. They fell into a companionable silence for a while, arms and legs shifting every once in a while to wrap their bodies further around each other. It felt damn good, although Shepard knew Garrus was just being his drunk, overly-friendly self. She wasn't complaining.
"Your legs look good," Garrus said after a while, and Shepard looked up at him in confusion.
"Damn," he said, scratching the side of his head with the hand not wrapped around her. "I mean, the prosss… prosthetics. You look comfortable. Are they working well?"
Shepard's heart rate returned to a normal pace, and she nodded. "Yeah. Not like my old legs, but they're pretty good. Can't complain." She looked down at her legs, a large expanse of her scarred thigh visible where her dress had ridden up, and rubbed at them absent-mindedly. "Scarred to hell, but they work alright."
Garrus chuckled. "I know a little something about being scarred to hell," he said, a single talon tapping ruefully against the rough and mottled carapace of the right side of his face.
Shepard leaned forward, her nose almost touching his mandible. She tilted her head, inspecting the scars carefully. Almost of its own volition, her hand raised to the scar tissue, fingers just ghosting over the wound."
"Do you have any sensation here?" she asked.
"Not like your skin," he said with a low, nervous chuckle.
Shepard considered the scar for a moment longer, then leaned even farther forward and licked the damaged tissue with her tongue. She dragged her tongue slowly down the length of his mandible, taking the time to soak in every piece of information her senses were feeding her. She'd wanted this for so long—maybe not specifically the licking, but some kind of contact. It was smooth, with a bit of fascinating texture mostly provided by the scar, and not as warm as she'd expected, given what she knew about turian body temperature. The few times she'd let herself wonder what it would be like to feel him, she'd always thought it would seem alien and exciting. But strangely, this didn't feel foreign. It just felt… nice.
Somewhere in the back of her head Shepard knew she was crossing some kind of line, but she didn't allow the thought any conscious purchase in her mind. Garrus was here, and close to her, of his own volition, and it felt so nice.
"Uh… It's not as sensitive as your skin, but that doesn't mean I can't feel anything, Shepard," Garrus said, his voice wavering a little.
Shepard's tongue reached its final destination at the bottom of his mandible, and she angled her head so she could close her mouth around the end of it. She brought her other hand to his hip, quickly sliding up the sharp indent of his waist and to his chest. He felt solid and strong under her hands, and she wanted to touch more of him.
"Shepard!" he gasped, jerking away from her.
She tumbled inelegantly off of his lap, landing somewhere on the other end of the sofa in a blinking, muddled mess.
"Shepard, you've- you've obviously had too much to drink," Garrus said, first helping her to sit up, then getting as far away from her as possible on the long couch.
Shepard sat obediently where he'd placed her, looking back at Garrus with growing horror as she realized not only what she'd done, but how he'd reacted. Drunk and feeling exposed and vulnerable, all of her emotional defenses were gone. Big, fat tears started to fall from her eyes, and she hid her face in shame.
"I'm s-s-sorry, Garrus. I'm so sorry."
"It's… it's fine, Shepard, please don't be upset. It was just unexpected, and… well it's my duty as your friend to protect you from drunken regrets."
Regret? A part of Shepard definitely regretted this, because now she had that definitive rejection—the one she'd always expected but never confirmed to be 100% inevitable. But another part of her thought, since she'd never have Garrus anyway, at last now she'd always know what it felt like to hold him, to touch him romantically. Did that make her a bad person? It probably did.
Feeling even more unworthy of Garrus's friendship at the thought, Shepard staggered to her feet.
"I'm sorry to bother you, I should go," she slurred.
She took one step towards the door and immediately tripped, Garrus leaping to his feet to catch her. He steadied her a moment, then looked her in the eyes.
"I don't think you want Cassia and Jun to see you like this. Tali will still be with them for a few more hours. Stay here and sleep it off, then I'll take you home."
He spoke slowly and clearly, lifting up her chin when her head started to droop to make sure he kept her attention.
"Fine," Shepard said after a brief internal struggle.
It wasn't like any of her decisions today had been any good. Might as well let someone else be in charge.
Garrus swung her arm around his shoulders, then walked her to his room, helping her fall into his bed. She lay sprawled out on it for a moment, then started to cry again. This wasn't how she'd imagined getting into Garrus's bed.
".. Are you alright, Shepard?" Garrus's voice asked from somewhere above her.
She wiped first her eyes, then her snotty nose with her sleeve, then nodded.
"I'll be fine."
"Ok. I'll be in the living room—let me know if you need anything."
The door closed, leaving Shepard in total darkness in Garrus's room. The darkness was the same no matter where she looked, but she still directed her sight up at the ceiling, her hazy mind careening wildly between guilt and embarrassment and horror at what she'd done. The last thing she remembered thinking was a fervent prayer to whoever might be watching over the universe that this not end her friendship with Garrus.