Title: It's A Human Thing
Summary: "As the Mako trundled through hours of dark subterranean tunnels, winding its way slowly back to the surface, Shepard fell asleep on his shoulder." Shepard's driving is even worse than usual, and when Garrus convinces her to let him take over, he finds out why.
Pairing: Garrus/F!Shepard friendship, hints at future relationship
Timeline: Mass Effect 1, pre-Virmire
Garrus Vakarian had seen a lot of things in his career. Drunk human C-Sec officers warbling 21st-century Christmas jingles, serial suicide bombers (yes, the same guy, multiple times, and by the time they'd caught up to him he was dead for real), and Citadel-wide epidemics of the "common cold" (which was apparently so common that it was communicable across species, and even salarian medical researchers couldn't find the cure that had eluded humans for centuries) were less than the half of it. But in all his long experiences with the twists and turns of life on the Citadel, there was one thing he had never witnessed: a driver worse than Commander Artemis Shepard.
"I failed my driving lessons back in basic," she confessed once, to a Mako containing one rattled turian and one irate krogan. "Three times, actually. They would have sent any other soldier home, but my biotics were too good for them to waste. So they just... kind of made sure someone else was driving."
To give the commander credit, she'd learned fast. The first time they had driven the Mako, after landing on an uncharted world across the galaxy from the Citadel, Shepard had nearly sent them careening off a cliff to their deaths-and would have if the Mako's anti-grav thrusters hadn't kicked in. Garrus had spent the rest of the drive attempting to calm a traumatised Dr. T'Soni. He respected the commander, he really did, and she was a beauty to watch on the battlefield, biotic shields pulsing and guns blazing-but sitting in the passenger seat of the Mako was more terrifying than any firefight he'd ever encountered. The worst part was that Shepard refused to let anyone else drive. "I've got to learn sometime," she insisted when a patient Alenko tried to guide her hands away from the controls. "And now that I've got my own tank, now's the best time to do it. It's not like I can break this thing." Garrus always winced when she slapped the Mako's hood like that.
By a few months in, though, Shepard's driving had grown tolerable, if not perfect. She didn't flip the vehicle over trying to turn a corner or shear down cliffsides at the speed of light quite so often anymore. Garrus could almost go an entire drive without feeling his scales go clammy, and Dr. Chakwas wasn't so liberal with the motion-sickness pills anymore. Now he could pay attention to the guns without having to look over his shoulder to make sure Shepard wasn't about to send them screaming to their deaths anytime soon. It was a good feeling.
Until now. Because they'd been in these tunnels for what felt like days and Garrus was starting to worry if some sort of infectious subterranean moss had somehow penetrated the Mako's interior and was affecting the commander's reflexes, because that last collision had nearly knocked his gizzard loose and Shepard was still at it.
"Uh, Commander," he began tentatively. He was sitting in the passenger seat for once, instead of manning the guns. There didn't seem to be anything to shoot down here, and he could scramble up to the turrets in less than three seconds if he needed to. "Are you feeling okay?"
He couldn't see much of Shepard's face. Just the outline of cheekbones and a nose in the blue light from the Mako's dash; they'd turned off all other interior lights to conserve power, since they weren't quite sure how long it would take to get out of here. When the ground had fallen out from under them up on the planet's surface, sending the Mako careening for a full minute before the thrusters kicked in and set them smoothly down on the floor of an underground cavern, Joker had promised via radio that the Normandy's scans had picked up a network of subterranean tunnels that would eventually lead them back to the surface. The only problem was that the scans were so jumbled, the tunnels crossing and connecting at hundreds of intersections, that Joker couldn't tell how long it would take. He'd sent them a map via wireless and they were attempting to follow it. If worse came to worst, the Normandy would land and some of the crew members would set demolition charges to blow a crater in the planet's surface and lead the Mako back to daylight.
So they weren't in any real danger, unless there was some dangerous contaminant in these tunnels that had breached the Mako's air filters. Garrus couldn't feel anything, but his systems were different from a human's. For a moment he wished they'd brought the lieutenant with them or, Spirits forbid, Chief Williams-at least then Garrus could tell if it was a human-affecting problem or just Shepard. "Commander?" he said again, tentatively, since she didn't seem to have heard him.
"Fine," was her terse reply. Except it wasn't really that terse, which was worrisome. Actually, Shepard sounded different from usual. Her speech was slower, the words taking longer to connect in his translator. Garrus wasn't an expert on human speech patterns, and it was damned hard to pick up human emotion without the help of turian subharmonics, but there was definitely something there.
All right. The time had come for bluntness, it would seem. "With all due respect, Commander, you haven't driven this badly in months. Are you feeling okay? There could be some kind of contaminant in these-ouch." They'd just slammed into another protruding rock. Garrus had felt that even through the Mako's interior stabilisers. He hoped fervently that the damage to the vehicle wasn't too severe, or it would take days to repair once they returned to the Normandy.
"Sorry," muttered Shepard. "I'm okay, Garrus. It's these damned dark-scans. Hard to pick up distance properly. Driving in daylight is easier."
Garrus was reasonably sure that it wasn't the dark-scans. The Mako was fitted with the latest Alliance technology, and surely human scientists would compensate for their own species' weakness in low-light conditions. "I could drive," he said, trying to make it sound more like an offer and less like a plea. "Just until we get back to the surface."
"I said I'm fine, Garrus. Now just sit back and enjoy-oh, damn. Damn-" The commander proceeded to belt out a string of words that Garrus assumed were human expletives, since his translator wasn't familiar with most of them and kept replacing them with beeps. Not that he was really concerned with possible translator malfunction right this minute, since the Mako was currently bouncing down a sharp decline in the tunnel, jarring against rocky walls and actually tumbling hood-over-wheels in spots. The inside of the Mako was chaos, the blue glow from the dash dancing all over the place as emergency air cushions ballooned out from the seats to keep the vehicle's occupants from dashing their brains out against the interior. Garrus said the commander's name in a panicky tone, since she'd stopped making noise, and he didn't understand his own voice for a second until he realised he'd used her first name instead, which was wrong and no wonder it sounded so unfamiliar-
Then the Mako bounced one last time, shuddered, and ground to a stop. Garrus sat in absolute stillness for a moment, regaining his breath. Then his visor resumed full power, feeding him the vitals of every living body in the vicinity-which was just him and Shepard right now. Her heart rate and breathing were fine, a little fast, and he allowed himself a moment of relief before she stirred and let out a long exhale. "Okay," she said. "You can drive now."
"Thank the Spirits."
Switching seats was difficult in the cramped confines of the Mako, but Garrus didn't want to risk opening the doors and getting out, since he hadn't quite dismissed his human-affecting-contaminants theory just yet. So he sat still as Shepard crawled over his lap and wormed into the little space on his other side. For two turians, switching would have been next to impossible, but Shepard's human body was small and lithe and more flexible than he'd expected. Getting out of his own seat was harder, and he heard a surprised ouch from Shepard as his armoured elbow hit her in the face. "Sorry, Commander," he said.
The driver's seat smelled faintly of human sweat-unfamiliar, despite the last few months he'd spent serving on a human starship, but not altogether unpleasant. Turians didn't sweat; that was an attribute peculiar to only humans and salarians, as far as Garrus knew. As he manually adjusted the Mako's controls to fit his larger hands, Garrus heard a surprised sound from Shepard. "Problem, Commander?" he asked without looking around.
"This seat. It's really warm."
"Oh. Yeah. Turian body heat, you know." Shepard's vacated seat felt cold in comparison. "Hold on, Commander, I'm getting us upright." The Mako had landed upside-down at the foot of the decline, and Garrus spent a few tense moments recalibrating the anti-grav thrusters before managing to flip the vehicle right-side up. He felt a momentary flare of pride-he was pretty sure Shepard would have spent at least ten minutes trying to do the same thing-and glanced sideways to see if she'd noticed. To his concern, the commander looked dangerously close to passing out. Her eyelids looked droopy-droopier than normal, anyway, human facial muscles were so much less rigid than turians' under normal circumstances-her lips were slightly parted, and she was staring dazedly at the glowing dash. Garrus resisted the urge to ask if she was all right; the commander tended to get snappy once she was asked that question more than twice.
The Mako ran quite smoothly despite the beating it had just taken. Garrus hadn't driven for awhile, but he quickly readjusted to the controls and guided the vehicle more smoothly along the tunnel than Shepard had ever done. He was worried for a moment that she might think he was deliberately upstaging her-showing off in front of his superiors had earned him some heat back in the turian military-but she still seemed kind of out of it. I'd better get us out of here fast, so Dr. Chakwas can have a look at her.
Garrus had always liked driving. It was relaxing, as long as nobody was shooting at them. He liked the feel of the Mako's engine rumbling in the seats, the way the vehicle responded effortlessly to every movement of his hands on the controls. It was a love that he and Shepard shared, even if she wasn't very good at it. In a way, her utter lack of safe driving habits was refreshing. It was a reminder that the commander wasn't perfect, that Garrus was better than her at something apart from sniping. Shepard was always so in control, winning people over with her smooth tongue or with bullets if necessary, staying in tune with her team and never. Failing. Anything. If she were anyone else, Garrus would have hated her.
But she was his commander, and it felt right for her to be strong and persuasive and energetic. Before, Garrus had done everything on his own. Taking out targets, breaking up crime syndicates, confiscating smuggled goods-all he'd needed was his sniper rifle and his targeting visor. But now he'd stepped into something too big to handle, and Shepard was there. A powerful ally, someone he could turn his back on, someone he could trust.
And apparently, someone who trusted him. Because as the Mako trundled through hours of dark subterranean tunnels, winding its way slowly back to the surface, Shepard fell asleep on his shoulder.
He didn't have much warning. Just a light, unexpected pressure on his shoulder that made him jump and his hands still momentarily on the controls. He turned his head carefully to the side. Shepard's body was slumped into the seat, eyes closed, head cushioned on Garrus's shoulder-which couldn't be too comfortable, since he was in full armour. As he watched, bemused, Shepard made a small, untranslatable noise and nuzzled her face further up, past his shoulder armour and into the crook of his neck. The soft human skin of her nose and cheek felt indescribably strange against his plates.
Okay, Garrus reasoned with himself. Re-evaluate. Shepard isn't sick. She's just tired.
It struck him that he had never actually seen the commander sleep. She had her own quarters onboard the Normandy, of course, and presumably she slept there, away from prying eyes. Even on extended groundside missions that required them to make camp somewhere, Shepard always insisted on double watch-herself and another member of the squad. Garrus had never really thought about it before, but now he realised that she must take regular stims to keep going. Sleep disorder? Unlikely. Garrus had hacked into the Normandy's medical records once, to read up on Joker's condition without the awkwardness of actually asking the crippled pilot himself, and Shepard's medical file had been completely clean apart from a few mentions of various injuries and childhood illnesses. Not that Garrus had been spying, of course.
He would have to ask Dr. Chakwas later. At least his concern for Shepard's well-being was partially allayed now; she was sleeping too peacefully to be suffering from any contagion. And the way she was using his neck as a headrest was just the tiniest bit... cute. Even if Garrus would never say so, or indeed speak of this to anyone.
For a while, Garrus worried that another collision might wake the commander, so he drove extra carefully. The tunnels seemed to be getting smoother in any case, with fewer protruding rocks and potholes. The slight but steady incline was reassuring; from the holo-map Joker had transmitted before, Garrus could tell they were nearing the surface. The pilot hadn't contacted them for awhile, but Garrus carefully removed the transmitter from Shepard's ear regardless. The commander probably hadn't slept in days and he didn't want a sudden burst of radio static to disturb her.
For a moment he worried that he was getting soft. He had to reassure himself that feeling protective instincts toward one's commanding officer was perfectly natural. He respected Shepard and wanted her to be comfortable. It was so rare for her to make herself vulnerable like this, anyway. Garrus thought about using his omni-tool to take a picture, just in case he needed blackmail material later, but quickly dismissed the idea. He really was a bad turian.
The clock read fourteen hours and twenty-one minutes since entering the tunnels when the Mako finally reached the surface. Bright light poured into the tunnel's mouth and enveloped the vehicle, prompting Garrus to turn on the shades. The Mako's interior fell into darkness once again and Shepard made another contented noise in her sleep, breath whispering along the underside of Garrus's jaw. Yeah, that definitely felt strange.
Garrus was tempted to keep driving a little longer, but it was only a few minutes before the transmitter crackled in his ear and Joker's voice came through. "Hey Commander, the Normandy's just picked up the Mako's signature on the planet's surface. Glad to see you made it out okay. I was just getting Ash and Kaidan set up with the demolition charges."
"We're out," confirmed Garrus, glad that he'd thought to pull the transmitter out of Shepard's ear. "Ready for pickup."
"Vakarian? That you? Is the commander all right?"
"She's fine. We'll be waiting." Garrus ended the call. He'd managed not to wake up Shepard; evidently she was exhausted enough to sleep through the noise. The human had shifted position slightly; now she was curled right up against his side, unconsciously pressing closer to his body heat. The armour they both wore made the situation a little awkward, but Garrus didn't really care. It felt... nice.
He parked the Mako in the shade of a nearby overhang and turned off the engine. Everything was abruptly still and quiet; Garrus couldn't hear anything apart from his own breathing and the commander's. He hadn't been this close to anyone, turian or alien, in a long time. When Shepard woke, she would either give him a curt apology or pretend nothing had happened. Either way, things would go back to normal, and this would probably never happen again; Shepard hated to admit weakness and she would probably start carrying extra supplies of stims on missions. The thought made Garrus feel strange-like he didn't want Shepard to wake up, at least not for a long time. Like he could sit here listening to his commander breathe forever.
Fifteen minutes later, the Normandy landed and Garrus guided the Mako into the sealed decontamination chamber in the cargo bay, where the ship's systems spent a further ten minutes removing traces of alien contaminants from the vehicle's exterior before allowing them access to the rest of the bay. The Mako had barely ground to a rest before Garrus's visor warned him of swift-approaching life forms outside the vehicle. Then the door lifted away and Lieutenant Alenko filled Garrus's field of vision, looking surprised to find the turian in the driver's seat. "Oh. Garrus? Is the commander with you?"
"Right here," Garrus confirmed, indicating the sleeping commander with his free arm-namely the one that wasn't currently being snuggled by said sleeping commander. "She, uh... mind giving me a few minutes to wake her up?"
"Sure," said Kaidan, looking dazed. Garrus strongly suspected that the lieutenant had never seen Shepard sleeping, either. "I'll just, uh... tell Ash you're both okay."
Garrus sealed the vehicle doors after Alenko left, and the Mako plunged back into quiet darkness. "Commander," he said tentatively, not quite willing to touch her. "Commander, we're back onboard the Normandy."
The subharmonics in his voice were enough to wake her; Shepard was forever remarking that he sounded like he was talking through a washing machine. Her eyelashes fluttered-now, that felt incredibly weird against his neck-and her whole body gave a restless twitch. She mumbled something that sounded like mush; even the translator couldn't make sense of it. Then her eyes opened, she lifted her face away from his neck-sending an inexplicable little pang scurrying through Garrus that he put down to loss of body heat-and she said something translatable, even if she still sounded gluey. "Garrus?"
"You fell asleep," he said, pointing out the obvious. "The Normandy picked us up a few minutes ago."
Her eyes cleared. "Oh." She sat upright, reaching for the holster at her waist; visible tension bled away as her searching fingers closed over the butt of her gun. Garrus pretended not to see the movement. "So we're-okay. Oh, jeez. I'm sorry, Garrus. I didn't mean to... I should have stayed awake."
Garrus didn't really have an answer for that. It was a little unprofessional for an officer to fall asleep during a mission, even if Shepard had a good excuse. He wasn't about to tell her off for it, but he didn't think saying "it's fine" was going to cut it this time. So he ended up asking, "How long? Since you last slept, I mean."
"Oh... I don't know. It's not important." She was still a little out of it, Garrus saw, speech slurred and movement slower than normal. But her commander persona was quickly reasserting itself, locking down physical giveaways like the fluttery fingers and putting the steel back into her voice. "Good job getting us out of there, Garrus. How long did it take?"
"Fourteen hours and twenty-one minutes in total. Approximately five hours after you fell... uh, after I started driving." Shepard's lips quirked a little at that. Apparently she appreciated his feeble attempt at Pretending It Didn't Happen. Regaining confidence, Garrus decided to lighten things up a little. "Good thing you talk in your sleep. I might have been bored otherwise."
Momentary flash of something unreadable in her eyes-Garrus thought it might be panic, but he wasn't sure, since he didn't see that expression on the commander's face very often. "Very funny, Garrus," she said in clipped tones, though the smile betrayed her. "Nice try, but I know I don't talk in my sleep."
You do other things, though. Human things. Like snuggle into my neck and make noises. "We'd better get out of here," Garrus said, though he wouldn't have minded watching Shepard smile for a little longer. "This damned seat is giving me a backache, and I think the lieutenant is getting a little antsy. Wondering what we're getting up to in here, probably."
"Right." Shepard pushed the button that made the doors swing out, blinding them with the cargo bay's bright garage lights. "Ouch." She brought up a hand to shield her eyes as she climbed out of the Mako. Garrus watched her closely, waiting for her to stumble, but she looked like she'd recovered her balance.
Sure enough, Lt. Alenko was standing a few paces away. Garrus didn't miss the faintly suspicious look the human sent his way, but he ignored it. After giving Shepard one last once-over to make sure the commander was okay-the way she brushed off the lieutenant's offer of support reassured him-Garrus took the elevator up to the medical bay.
One conversation with Dr. Chakwas later, Garrus had his answers. Most of them, in any case. His commanding officer suffered from voluntary insomnia; she had no physical trouble falling asleep, as Garrus had witnessed himself, but psychological blocks made it undesirable for her to do so. It had something to do with the attack on Mindoir, her home colony. Garrus supposed he shouldn't be surprised. People didn't become as great as Shepard without a few issues. Now he knew two of them: bad driving, insomnia. Dr. Chakwas had made him promise not to mention the latter. Not that Garrus would have, anyway. He respected the commander's privacy too much for that.
He didn't see Shepard for the rest of the day. Even though he knew it was unlikely, he hoped she was in her quarters, catching up on the rest of her sleep. Five hours wasn't much.
By the time simulated night hit the cargo deck, Garrus was feeling the aftereffects of his long day. The bunks up on the second deck weren't built for turians, so he slept down in the cargo bay like Tali and Wrex, on makeshift bunks built into the wall. His was on the far side of the Mako. It was only after he had settled in for the night that he discovered yet another unique feature of humans: his shoulder armour was covered in something that looked suspiciously like drool. Hoping that human saliva wasn't somehow toxic to turians, he used a polishing rag from his Mako repair kit to clean his armour.
And yet, despite everything, he still thought he wouldn't mind if it somehow happened again.
A/N: This is my first Mass Effect fanfic. I'm in love with the Shepard/Garrus pairing and it's got me back into fanfic writing again, after an EXTREMELY long hiatus. Tell me how I did via review, and look out for more Shakarian fic from me!