Title: Tentacle Lover

Summary: Garrus goes out for drinks with his C-Sec co-workers on the Citadel, and one of them makes the mistake of insulting the commander. Unfortunately for him, turians don't take that sort of thing lying down.

Rating: T

Pairing: Garrus/F!Shepard friendship, hints at future relationship

Spoilers: None

Timeline: post-ME1, pre-ME2

A/N: This is a one-shot accompaniment to my multi-chapter story, Commander Shepard, You've Got Mail. I don't think you have to read that to enjoy this, although it might help you understand some of the references. Basically, Garrus is back at C-Sec after hunting down Saren with Shepard, and he and Shepard have been exchanging emails every day since she left. Everything is canon, Shepard and Garrus are not in a relationship at the moment, they are just very, very good friends.

Tentacle Lover

It was five minutes to eleven and the damned heat sink mechanism still refused to budge. Growling under his breath, Garrus fired up his omni-tool and began feverishly hacking into the handgun's internal electronics systems in an attempt to disengage the offending software. Piece of crap C-Sec issue, sticky calibrations and painfully outdated mods, but it was the only model he had designed to fit into a concealed holster. It seemed C-Sec had downscaled its standard issue weapons in the year he'd been gone. He missed the rifles he had worn under Shepard's command-gathering dust under his desk, prohibited on C-Sec operations due to the apparently illegal mods he had installed during his time away from the Citadel.

"We're going to be late," observed his sometimes-partner, Johannes, in wry tones. Johannes was one of the few human officers in the division whom Garrus could stand to be around for more than ten minutes, which was why they'd been assigned the same office space and most of the same operations. C-Sec was trying to boost human-turian relations, under orders from on high, by assigning more cross-species police partnerships.

"It's this damned heat sink," Garrus said through gritted teeth. The handgun's internal software was proving difficult to manipulate, mainly due to the incredibly outdated coding. "It's jammed."

"Let me have a look." Johannes stepped closer, but Garrus turned his back on him.

"I've got it. Just give me a minute."

Johannes gave it up, which was part of the reason Garrus liked him. The human stood about five inches shorter than Garrus, with the brown hair and eyes that seemed rather more common than the other colours among his species. Garrus was still not very good at telling the differences between humans beyond the colours, but he had managed to identify Johannes' face as being bonier and longer than average. That was about the extent of his assessment of Johannes' physical attributes. More tellingly, Johannes was patient to a fault, methodical and a hair too slow for Garrus' tastes, but effectual all the same. He also had a dry sense of humour that reminded Garrus frequently of better, more entertaining times.

"There." With a satisfying click, he finished his calibrations and powered off his omni-tool. Not before doing a brief fly-by of his inbox, of course. No new messages. It took him less than a second, but Johannes' sharp eyes still picked it out.

"Checking your terminal? That has to be the twentieth time today."

"Drop it," Garrus said in warning tones, but Johannes ploughed on.

"Not just today, but the last couple of weeks, too."

"Now you're making us late," Garrus pointed out. Johannes glanced at the digital clock on the wall and sighed, presumably out of disappointment at having to postpone his interrogation until later.

"Let's go, then."

Flux had been fortunate, its structure untouched by the Reaper attack of less than a month before and its clientele still alive and intact, for the most part. With Chora's Den closed down and a replacement not yet in the works, most of the other club's shadier patrons had chosen to cluster here instead. Flux had grown darker and edgier as a result, with new bouncers glaring from every corner and a smoke-filled dance floor filling the space previously occupied by respectable dining tables. Some of the asari dancers previously native to the Den had come here looking for work, and writhing blue bodies captivated glassy eyes in side booths. One of the dancers reached out to Garrus as he strode inside, sensing the entrance of another eligible male as if by radar, her ageless face covered in smirk and seduction. Garrus gave her a distracted smile and moved on, following Johannes to the bar.

Two other officers were there already, waiting. That surprised Garrus-he'd thought this was his and Johannes' bust, a two-person job. Maybe it was more complicated than he'd thought. The pair were another turian-human duo, dressed in civvies; Garrus knew the turian by his face and the human by association. The human greeted Johannes with a friendly shoulder bump and a wide grin; apparently they were acquainted. Garrus gave the turian a polite, somewhat uncomfortable nod.

"This is my partner, Garrus," said Johannes. "Garrus, this is Alexandrei and Loraxes."

"Call me Alex," said the human. He was blonde and fair, with a light dusting of tannish freckles across his nose and cheeks. Shepard had explained to Garrus once that pale-skinned humans usually sported some number of freckles, depending on their exposure to sunlight. Shepard had none, but Garrus had never asked why. In light of recent knowledge, most likely due to the genetic modifications she had mentioned in their exchanges.

"Shall I order drinks?" Loraxes didn't wait for a reply; he turned and flagged down the bartender, a human girl with long black braids that swung with her every movement. "Lager. Two dextro, two regular."

"I prefer stout," Garrus said.

"Three lagers, one stout."

"Coming right up."

"Do you have a tab, or do you want to put it on mine?" It took a second for Garrus to realise Johannes was talking to him. Right, had to keep up appearances. Difficult to stay undercover in a nightclub without drinks.

"Yours. I'll pay you back later."

Restless, keenly aware of Loraxes' amber-eyed stare from two seats down, Garrus opened his omni-tool and checked his terminal. Nothing. Shepard was still down for the count. She'd done this before, but he wondered every time. System failure? Crash? Attack? Unannounced groundside mission? It made him antsy to be out of the loop. Just a couple of months ago, he would have been right on top of whatever was going on, right there with her. Now he felt... disconnected. It was strange.

"Don't mind him," Johannes said from his left. "He'll be doing that all night, every few minutes or so."

"Doing what?" asked Alex, who hadn't caught Garrus' movement. He'd been too busy eyeing up the bartender as she moved between stations, brewing up multicoloured drinks in delicate shot glasses and stout tankards.

"Checking his terminal. He's got someone sending messages to him about every fifteen minutes. Face lights up like a Christmas tree when he gets one."

Garrus spluttered, unsure of how to deal with this particular accusation. Before he could defend himself, Loraxes interjected, tone peppered with curious subharmonics.

"Sending messages to a contact during work hours? Isn't that against protocol?"

"A contact?" repeated Johannes. His voice mirrored the confusion on Alex's face.

"Turian expression," explained Loraxes. "It means-"

"Right," said Garrus, finally getting his wind back. "There's our drinks." Grateful for the distraction, he passed out the glasses: blue for Alex and Johannes, transparent amber for himself and Loraxes. Flux was one of the more careful nightclubs, mostly due to its high percentage of turian customers; the bartenders colour-coded glasses to prevent accidents.

"Good stuff," said Johannes, taking a long swig from his glass. He glanced around the club. Scanning for their mark, Garrus guessed; he hadn't been briefed on the details, so he supposed Johannes was the spotter and he was the cover. The other three in their little group were doing a fantastic job of appearing relaxed; if Garrus hadn't known better, he would have thought they were just a few friends out for drinks. Loraxes looked a little tense, but with turians, most people couldn't tell the difference.

Speaking of which, Garrus could probably do with a little relaxing himself. He made an effort to loosen his posture, slouching a little and resting his arm languidly on the bar. The pounding club music was starting to give him a headache. It felt strange to be walking around in civvies; on the Normandy, he'd only removed his armour to wash. Getting used to not facing danger at every corner was proving difficult. Oddly enough, Shepard had never seemed to have the same problem; she'd stripped off her armour eagerly after every mission, complaining of the weight. And his mind had not just gone there.

This time he tried to be inconspicuous, sliding his arm under the bar before he opened up his omni-tool. It didn't work.

"Haven't you thought about setting an alert or something?" asked Johannes. "You know. My visor pings whenever I get a message. When I wear it, anyway."

"The messages are too heavily encrypted," Garrus replied without thinking. "My visor doesn't have enough processing power."

Johannes frowned, puzzled lines appearing between his fuzzy human eyebrows. It was only then that Garrus realised his mistake. "Too encrypted for your visor to handle? That's got to be triple layers, at least. Who's so important that they need that much security?"

Think fast, Vakarian! "Uh..."

Wait. Why did it matter so much? Shepard hadn't asked him to keep their communications a secret.

"My old commander," he finished, feeling a bit silly for having kept up the pretence for so long.

Johannes quirked a brow, looking interested. "You mean Shepard?"

"Shepard?" repeated Alex. "The Shepard?" He stared at Garrus as if seeing him for the first time. "You mean you're that Garrus?"

"Garrus Vakarian, yes," Johannes said before Garrus could open his mouth. "The famous commander's right-hand man, slumming in C-Sec with bums like us." Loraxes chuckled at that.

"No way." Alex's eyes were wide and light blue, like Shepard's, but the colour seemed flat and somehow lacking in vibrancy. Shepard's eyes were always alight and glittering; Garrus had seen them go dull and glassy only once, after Virmire. "You killed Saren!"

"Shepard took the final shot," Garrus said tightly. It had seemed only appropriate at the time; Shepard had been on fire during that whole fight, body blazing with biotic glow as she spewed bullets from a pistol in one hand and kinetic thrusts throbbing with raw power from the other. Garrus, whose speciality was long range, had taken cover and kept up a continuous stream of suppressing fire, sensing that this was Shepard's show. The... thing that had once been Saren took an agonisingly long time to kill, while the Citadel shuddered around them and Alliance dreadnoughts fought a war of giants above.

"Garrus." Johannes sounded concerned. "You okay?"

Garrus shook his head, pulling himself out of the memory. "Yeah. Fine."

Alex, whom Garrus was quickly profiling as a rather careless individual, had observed nothing. "Man, that is so cool. I'm honoured, sir."

"I don't technically outrank you," Garrus said dryly. Although a promotion could not be far ahead in his future, if he kept up his current operation success rate. To be honest, he was a tad overqualified for C-Sec. Shepard's command had moulded his already formidable skills into something worthy of respect. That wasn't being egotistical, it was just the truth.

"Be quiet, Alex," Loraxes said, taking another swig of dextro-alcohol. The bored expression on his face told Garrus that this was something he dealt with all the time. C-Sec higher-ups tended to assign partners who balanced each other out. Johannes' steadfast patience was the ideal counterpart to Garrus' quick-moving going-in-hot strategy, while it looked like Loraxes had been designated to keep Alex's childish effervescence under control.

"So you're messaging Commander Shepard," Johannes said, sounding satisfied. He leaned back and swirled the cup in his hand without drinking. "That normal turian protocol? Keeping up constant communication with a former C.O.?" He addressed the question to Loraxes, who shook his head.

"In active command, maybe. But not after leaving the fold. Not for professional relationships, anyway."

"Ooh." Alex could not be restrained. "So that's what a 'contact' means? A girlfriend?"

"Yes," Garrus admitted. "But it's not like-"

"I've seen her on the vids," forged Alex, assuming a dreamy expression. "She's walking media bait, she is. Porn on legs. The red hair, the skintight armour..."

"Alex," Johannes said sharply. "Don't disrespect the commander."

Garrus uncurled the fist he had made unconsciously, reasoning that punching Alex out cold might blow their cover. Good thing Johannes had come to the rescue before he could lose his temper. "Johannes is right," he said through gritted teeth. "You shouldn't talk about her that way." Or I might knock out some of your teeth.

An awkward silence ensued, with Alex looking mulish and Loraxes calling for refills, even though neither Garrus nor Johannes had finished their drinks. Garrus found his eyes wandering over to the dance floor and the asari contorting into impossible shapes on the far side of the room. He didn't dance as a general rule, and asari weren't really his thing, but he was starting to seriously consider going over there, if only to get away from Alex. He glanced at his omni-tool, the sudden flickering orange glow making several nearby dancers glare at him in irritation. To his surprise, nearly two hours had passed since they'd arrived at Flux. And Shepard had still not responded, even though it was almost twelve hours since her last reply.

That started his brain down uncomfortable trains of thought, so he shot off a quick message to distract himself. I hate nightclubs. That would no doubt inspire a brand new line of questioning when she got back, but Garrus didn't care. In fact, he almost looked forward to it.

To his annoyance, Alex had started talking again. "Damn, I can't believe Riley's not here yet. It's the man's freaking birthday and he's late to his own drinking party."

Garrus looked sharply at the human, feeling ill at ease. Could be part of the cover, but Alex had sounded sincere and Johannes hadn't reacted in a way that might indicate a signal of some sort. He was starting to have doubts about why they were here. Johannes hadn't mentioned the drugs bust once since they'd arrived, and neither had the other two. "Riley?" he said cautiously. "Who's that?"

"My brother," Johannes said succinctly. He was avoiding Garrus' eyes.

"Hang on." Garrus looked at each of the three faces. The humans were damn near impossible to read, all that shifty skin and fluid muscle, but Loraxes looked confused. Garrus seized on the turian as his only lifeline. "Loraxes? What's going on?" He decided to speak plainly. "Is this a drugs bust or not?"

"Drugs bust?" Loraxes echoed, subharmonics erratic with bewilderment. "Johannes, what did you tell him?"

"You wouldn't have come otherwise," Johannes muttered.

Garrus gaped at him. He thought suddenly of the jammed heat sink, the scratchy civvies and how stupid he must have seemed. "You sneaky bastard."

"It's your night off." Johannes was still talking into his drink. "You didn't realise."

"I would have-" Garrus cut himself off, realising uncomfortably that he probably wouldn't have come if Johannes had told him the truth. Too much paperwork, too many reports to file, and his own crippling avoidance of idle time. On the Normandy, life had rushed ahead at a fever pitch, leaving the blessed ache of exhaustion in his bones-and despite his complaints, he had never wanted to give that up. "Your brother?" he finished awkwardly.

"Yeah. He's turning twenty-one. Wants to apply to C-Sec next year."

"That's... nice."

Alex was looking between him and Johannes, eyes wide and lips parted, and Loraxes was drumming his talons on the bar, watching the bartender's back as she mixed up his third drink. "Don't pretend, Garrus," Johannes said sharply. "My brother's a fan. He wanted to meet you. But I won't make you play the hero if you're not interested."

"I..." It seemed juvenile to turn around and walk out now. He'd deal with Johannes later. "I'll stay," Garrus said sheepishly. Another drink was sounding like a better and better idea. He flagged down the bartender and tipped his hand against his lips, earning a nod and smile.

After the fourth drink, meeting Johannes' little brother didn't seem like such a bad idea anymore. "Where's the kid?" Garrus asked. He'd been discussing rifle mods with Loraxes, who had revealed a surprising knowledge of non-standard issue weaponry, and the question imposed itself without warning. Johannes turned around.

"You mean Riley? Dunno. He's not the most consistent. Might have got lost."

"Hey, Garrus," slurred Alex. The bar behind the fair-haired human was littered with drained shot glasses. "What was it like?"

"What was what like?"

"Working with... you know... her. Shepard."

Garrus felt a vague tinge of something like anger, but he was getting too sloshed to really pay attention. Alex didn't seem to have meant any harm by the question. Maybe if Garrus stopped getting so defensive whenever anyone mentioned Shepard, they wouldn't tease him as much. The plan seemed fairly logical at the moment. "It was fantastic," he said wistfully, waving down the bartender for another refill. "She runs a tight ship, but she's not... y'know, excessive."

Alex's right eye twitched. Possibly he was making a clumsy attempt to wink. "Heh, never would have guessed it," he said, leaning closer. "On the vids, she always looks so... stern."

"To everyone else, maybe. But not to her crew."

It was only when Alex's eyes widened comically that Garrus realised he might have said something incriminating. "Oh yeah? So she lets down her hair behind closed doors, huh? Bit of stress relief in the captain's cabin after lights out?"

"I don't know what you're implying," Garrus said stiffly, feeling a little of his alcohol-induced content leaching away.

"I heard that some girls like turians," Alex said, wrinkling his nose. "Can't imagine why."

Johannes snorted. "A little sensitive, Alex? What, did your girlfriend leave you for a turian or something?"

"Of course not," Alex snapped. His bubbly manner from earlier seemed to have changed, morphed by alcohol into something a little more violent. Garrus could sense trouble. "Turians got nothing on me. Just wondering if Shepard was as much of a xeno...xenoph...alien-lover as they all make her out to be."

Garrus went still. "What did you say?"

"Shut up, Alex," Loraxes said warningly.

"You heard me," slurred the human. "Everyone's saying it. All those aliens on her crew. This just proves it. All those messages she's sending you. She's nothing but a tentacle-licking bit-"

"Garrus!" shouted Johannes.

The punch took Alex so off guard it was almost funny. Garrus' fist slammed into his jaw like a plated missile; the human's arms flew wide and he shot backwards off his seat, completely unbalanced, propelled at least a meter before crashing into a couple of asari dancing next to the bar. As Alex struggled and groaned on the floor and the asari squealed in shock, Garrus slid off his seat and stalked over. He planted his foot on Alex's solar plexus and levelled his cheap standard-issue handgun at the middle of the human's forehead.

"Take it back, you scum."

Blood and spittle gleamed dark and wet at the corner of Alex's mouth. He was gaping like a fish, face contorted in pain-now that was one human expression Garrus could read. The other conversations in the club had gone abruptly silent; Alex's harsh breathing and groans of pain were the only noise audible over the pounding music. "What the fuck," he whined. "What the hell, Vakarian..."

"Garrus." Johannes was behind him, keeping a safe distance, no doubt aware that if he tried to approach Garrus would probably knock him down, too. "Don't do anything stupid. He's just an idiot. A drunk idiot."

Garrus felt light-headed. The alcohol had got to him and now adrenaline was flooding his veins like a double shot of stims. He expected Loraxes to interfere, go to his partner's defence, but the turian hadn't even risen from his seat at the bar. "I don't want to ever hear you say her name again," he said coldly, his gun hand still and steady as stone. "You aren't-you aren't good enough to say it. It's Commander to you. Nothing more."

Alex sniffled. His nose was bleeding, too. Garrus felt a savage satisfaction at that. "I knew it. I knew it. I knew you were fucking her-"

Garrus knelt down, putting his full weight on Alex's chest. He laid the barrel of the gun gently between Alex's eyes and flicked off the safety. Johannes made a troubled noise behind him, but made no move to interfere. "You get one more chance."

Tears welled up in Alex's eyes. "I'm sorry," he babbled. "I'm sorry, I didn't mean it."

Garrus considered that for a moment. "Good," he said finally. The human's heartbeat had spiked in his visor readout and the automatic targeting had zeroed in on vital spots. Neck, heart, lungs... "Now, I never want to hear you mention her again."

"Got it. Got it. Now please, let me up..."

"I'll keep him out of trouble," Loraxes said, sounding bored. "You're going to crush his ribcage if you stay on there much longer, Vakarian."

Garrus didn't much care, but he got up anyway and slid his handgun back into its concealed holster. A hush had fallen over the club; everyone was staring at him, dozens of pairs of eyes watching his every move. Somehow, that just made him feel better. "Well, now that's taken care of," he said easily, leaning against the bar, "I'd like another drink."

The bartender dumbly slid another glass his way. Garrus drained it in one gulp and pushed it back for more. The second drink sent fire burning through his gut. He liked it.

"I'm out of here," he said aloud. Johannes snorted and Garrus looked at him. "Oh, hang on, didn't you say your brother was a fan? Right. Here." He pulled a spare datapad from his pocket and scrawled his signature on the touch-screen. It didn't look as graceful as it did when Shepard signed autographs, but maybe that was because he was drunk. "Tell him happy birthday." He dropped the datapad in Johannes' lap.

"You should go home," Johannes said wryly. "Deal with the assault charges in the morning."

"Right," said Garrus, swaying a little. He smiled at Johannes and Loraxes and shot a disdainful look at Alex, who was still lying on the floor, holding his bleeding nose. "Good night."

Maybe he'd drunk a little too much. He couldn't seem to recall how many glasses, and the stairs leading down from Flux seemed steeper than he remembered. As he walked over to the rapid transit station-walked, he wasn't stumbling or staggering, he was perfectly fine, thank you-the image of Alex lying on the floor, cradling his broken nose, bloomed in his mind's eye again and he couldn't help but smile. Thinking of how the human had insulted Shepard still sent a heady rush of anger through him, but the satisfaction at a job well done outweighed it. Johannes was right. He'd deal with the assault charges tomorrow.

On the transit ride back to his apartment, still inordinately pleased with the night's events, he dashed off another message to Shepard.

I LOVE nightclubs, Shepard.

When he woke up in the morning, groaning at the painful intrusion of his screeching alarm clock, the first thing Garrus did was check his terminal. It had become a habit over the last few weeks. His inbox was brimming over with the routine messages, late reports and inspection notices, and he thought he spotted something from Pallin about "decorum not befitting a C-Sec officer," but far more importantly than anything else, Shepard had sent a reply.

Sorry, system malfunction. Extranet connection went off for a while. Were you having fun without me?

Loads, Garrus typed. I broke my co-worker's nose for calling you a tentacle lover and drank so much dextro-alcohol I almost took the wrong transit home. He deleted the draft. Shepard didn't deserve to hear what that drooling idiot had said about her. Sorry, hungover, talk later? didn't sound right, either.

It wasn't a drugs bust, he ended up typing. Had the night off and I didn't realise. Co-workers took me out for drinks.

There. That sounded fairly innocent.