DISCLAIMER: Much to my chagrin, Mass Effect, its characters and elements don't belong to me.
SAY YOU WILL
The first time they met, she was helping C-Sec bust red sand dealers at Shalta Ward.
Shepard was posing as an addicted duct rat. She was so nervous she felt like throwing up and kept thinking about what a stupid idea it had been. She'd never done anything that risky before, not by her own choice, at least – it was a lot different than chancing being seen by the slavers while taking off running towards the Alliance colonial base with hopes of getting help (even though she knew the ten men garrison had already been taken down).
The memory made her shudder and she couldn't stop the shivering once it began.
Grounding herself in the present, she kept repeating the step-by-step of what she had to do to help solidify the case against the dealers. She had to get her hands on a sample of the product, first. She hated not being able to steel herself enough to hide the trembling of her hands when she met the dealer on his usual spot; luckily for her the shaking just corroborated her impersonation.
She gave the shady man a credit chit and waited while he'd run a check for anomalies. After he gave her the stash she felt a momentary dread that activating her omni-tool to turn on the chit's built-in tracer would give her away. Shepard held her breath while walking away to leave the alley, with a staged stumbling gait; she only started breathing again at the sight of the C-Sec squad, her contact among them, waiting nearby to put an end to the ruse.
Slipping on what she hoped was a panicked expression, she turned back and started running, shouting for help with a pair of officers hot on her heels. As was expected, the dealer took off without a backwards glance, taking the tracer with him. At the same time her contact within C-Sec tackled her to the ground and cuffed her; as they'd rehearsed.
"Everything in place?" he asked, receiving a single nod in reply before yanking her by the arm. He confiscated the red sand, took her omni-tool, with the tracer code, and tossed her toward another turian she was certain she'd never seen before.
She wasn't an expert in Turian features, but she would remember seeing one wearing a bright blue visor. "Vakarian, take her to the car and stay with her," her contact barked.
"Yes, sir," came the prompt answer. Vakarian got a firm hold of her and led her toward the vehicle, looking all the while scared that she'd try and escape him.
Shepard held back a laugh at the thought. All she wanted was to get back to the precinct, take a shower to get rid of the week old dirt covering her, put some clean clothes on and go back to her room at the orphanage. It'd been a hard long couple of days while they set the trap and she was missing her bed dearly.
Her escort opened the vehicle's door, guiding her inside and entered sitting beside her.
"I'm starving." She heaved a sigh and looked at the turian officer's bright blue eyes. "You wouldn't happen to have a levo ration bar around here, would you?" she asked him hopefully. He kept quiet, as she knew he would, but got a ration bar from a bag and gave it to her. "Thank you so very much!"
She ate the bar with gusto; it tasted like recycled-food, but she had gone the whole week with only the nutrient paste the homeless shelter served in the evenings. Of course, she knew what she was getting into when she agreed to help with the operation, but it was still difficult.
Closing her eyes, she rested her head on the back of her seat, relaxing for the first time since the ruse started. It was almost over now. C-Sec just had to bust into the dealers' base and arrest the lot of them. She only had a slight idea of what that would involve, but supposed it would take quite a while.
Now that the risk of making a mistake and being uncovered had passed, Shepard felt the week old tension starting to settle in. The satisfaction of helping out would come later, she was sure, but at the moment all she could think about and feel was how dangerous that whole ordeal had been and how easily she could get involved. She's been away from the orphanage with no contact from administration for an entire week.
Sure. She got authorization, but something like that would never happen around her parents; then again, she wouldn't be in such a situation if her parents were still around.
They'd be appalled if she even thought of doing something half as dangerous as that and, not for the first time, that knowledge made her question her decision of joining the Alliance. If she decided to get down that path, the danger would become an occupational hazard. They would never have agreed with it – they might've accepted, but never agreed.
As usual, thinking about her parents and Mindoir put a sour taste in her mouth, so she shook her head to dissipate those thoughts; it was too serious a subject for her to focus at with her current limited mind capabilities.
Trying to distract herself, she had to bite back the urge to talk to the turian beside her. She knew the rules: Chellick was her contact and C-Sec officers weren't supposed to talk to the people they take into custody except during interrogations.
"You should have bought some food." She jolted up abruptly and blinked the shock away looking intently at the officer. "Instead of wasting money on drugs, you should have bought some food."
His eyes were fixed on her and she couldn't help the blush that overcame her at the concern and reproach in his voice. Of course. She must look like the most pitiful thing this officer has ever seen, all covered on dirt and wearing ragged clothes and mismatched shoes; she didn't even want to think about what her hair might look like, plus, no one other than Chellick knew about her part on the operation; still, it was an odd and rare thing for a turian to care about any human.
She never ceased to be amazed whenever she found a turian who would treat her with any kindness.
And Chellick's the only one I can think of, really.
"Why are you smiling?" He sounded suspicious; she widened her eyes and felt herself blushing. She hadn't noticed that a silly grin was plastered on her face until he mentioned it and that made her heart beat a little faster too. "What's happening? Are you feeling ill?" He looked really distressed and at loss about what to do.
"No, I'm fine." She looked away, watching him askance. "It's just… you're not supposed to talk to me, 's all."
One of his mandibles quivered a bit and he crossed his arms still staring at her. "I won't tell if you don't, and it's better to talk than getting into trouble due to unrest." She had no idea her earlier distress was so obvious, but didn't know how to answer to that. "I can do the talking, if you prefer." He looked scarily determined.
Then, as he started telling her about how stupid it was to disregard basic needs just to feed an addiction, in a stern and patronizing tone, Shepard had to turn her face to the window to hide the grin on her lips. Usually she wouldn't think of being scolded by something she didn't actually do as a good thing, but right now the distraction was welcome. So once she was able to school her face back, she chanced glancing back at him letting his voice wash over her.
He talked for a long time, about duty and responsibility and respecting oneself. Every time he stopped, she would make a commentary and he'd start anew. Bit by bit, his presence started to soothe and warm her inside; giving her a sense of security the likes she hadn't felt in a long time - by the simple fact that he seemed to care.
The situation was only interrupted when Chellick got back and they headed to HQ.
The second time they saw each other, he almost didn't recognise her.
Garrus ached for some real action as he filled out reports about an operation which he hadn't really taken part in. Drumming his armoured fingers on the table top, he stared disheartened at the three datapads, about the same operation, he still had to fill in before he could go home. You don't just make the transition from two years in the Turian military to a civilian security force wrapped in bureaucracy in the blink of an eye, and the light guard duty he got stuck on earlier that evening had been very frustrating.
He also couldn't believe how young that girl looked; he didn't know Human years very well, but even underneath all that dirt she looked even younger than him. It wasn't fair that someone would lose their way so early in life and he couldn't stop trying to figure out how she ended up in that situation.
How can humans allow children to remain in that condition?
There was something else bothering him about the girl, too; her eyes were very sharp and, though he could see the distraught on them, they were far too clear for an addict. She hadn't said much, but the few things she did say were keen and to the point.
He couldn't shake the feeling that there was something wrong in the picture. Of course, he also couldn't remark his suspicion on his report without mentioning talking to the detainee.
It also made his plates itch that as soon as they got to the Academy, Chellick took the girl to an interrogation room, completely dismissing him. Then he'd come back two hours later saying the girl had been released. Because apparently the product they apprehended with her (along with the crates of drug and illegal tech they found in the warehouse the gang was holed in) was all the evidence they needed to close the case.
He knew Chellick was operating within C-Sec guidelines: they'd only need to hold the dealer's client if they'd found no other evidence of the crime, but they did find it and therefore she was no longer necessary. He didn't like that, but that's how it is.
Besides, that feeling might very well be just his imagination. It'd been only two months since he started working with C-Sec and he couldn't even pretend to have his detective senses honed yet no matter whose son he was.
I'd better finish filling these things out or I won't be able to go home before my next shift starts.
He was just finishing his last form when someone knocked at the door of the cubicle he shared with Chellick.
"Come in." He looked at the door as it opened to see a red-fringed human girl peek inside. "Yes? Can I help you?"
"I'm looking for Officer Chellick," she said not looking directly at him.
"He isn't here at the moment." For some reason he couldn't explain his heart started thundering inside his chest and a knot had formed in his throat, making his subharmonics more pronounced. "I think he may have already left."
"Dammit!" She exhaled heavily looking up and staring timidly at him. His breath faltered for a second. He knew those green eyes. "He was supposed to take me back home and if I don't show up there in the next hour, I'll be in trouble."
"You…" He blinked several times. She was different; her fringe wasn't all dark and greasy and tousled anymore. Her skin was clean and bright, maybe a little on the pink side, but it was the same girl from the drug busting operation. He was sure of it. "What?"
She seemed to understand exactly what he meant by that, because she looked apprehensively around for a moment before staring back at him. "Can I come in?"
He nodded and she passed through the threshold, letting the door close behind her. "I'm surprised you recognised me," she said as she sat on the chair on the other side of his desk. "Most turians can't really tell humans apart."
"Usually I can't, either." He cringed as the words left his mouth. Way to make all turians look like xenophobic bastards, Garrus! He shook his head and cleared his throat. "It's just that I've been t-thinking about you… ugh, a-about the operation, I mean, and the fact that you looked so young to be involved and… uh, that is…" He stopped talking feeling his neck hot with embarrassment when he noticed she was covering her mouth, her shoulders shaking with laughter.
"I'm sorry," said she after a while, her face bright with glee. "You don't need to worry so much, you know."
"I'm just not used to dealing with aliens," he shook his head and saw her smile.
"You're new on C-Sec, aren't you?" She asked and he confirmed. "It's not really my place to say this, but: welcome!" She reached out her hand to him. "I'm Jane Shepard, by the way."
"Garrus Vakarian," he shook her hand in the human greeting. "It's a pleasure to meet you, Miss Shepard."
"Just Shepard." She winked and grinned. "You have a few questions about what happened today, don't you?"
"To say the least, yes."
"Tell you what: if you'd give me a ride home, I'll gladly tell you everything you want to know."
"You drive a hard bargain," said he, dryly. Then he looked at the clock and saw that it was half an hour past the end of his shift. He saved a copy of the document he was working on in his omni-tool, turned off his terminal and stood up. "Alright, let's go."
"Thank you, Vakarian!," she said, jumping to her feet and, Spirits, she looked so young!
"Please, call me Garrus," he said, wincing a bit. "Vakarian is my father." Her smile faltered for a heartbeat. It was so fast that he wondered if it really happened.
"All right, Garrus," she said and followed him in silence to the Academy parking lot.
"Where to?" he inquired as they settled on his Skycar.
"Shin Akiba, on Zakera," said she buckling up. "Near the Alliance's IAD."
"That's on another Ward! You're a little far from home, aren't you?"
She shrugged and shifted in the seat. "So, what do you wanna know?"
He thought about that for a moment, there were a lot of things he didn't understand, so he decided to start with something basic. "How old are you, exactly?"
"I'll turn eighteen in four months," said she with an edge of anticipation in her voice.
"It seems like you really want to turn eighteen," he chuckled.
"Yeah, well," she rubbed her neck uncomfortably and her eyes shone with determination. "I've been counting the days until I'll be able to enlist ever since I got to the Citadel two years ago."
"And just why is that?"
"I want to be able to help people." Her voice had shrunk and he almost couldn't hear her over the engine's noise.
Garrus thought the way she looked away and seemed to shrink in herself was curious. For a second, he wanted to prompt her to talk about that, she had offered to answer whatever he wanted to know, after all, but then he thought better of it and decided to change the subject.
He also wasn't sure what kind of lines he'd be crossing if he decided to press the issue, and preferred not to ruin the first good opportunity to talk to a friendly human he ever had. "How did you end up involved in a C-Sec investigation?"
She looked up at him, her eyes were shinier than before, but she didn't shed the moisture that he could see there. Instead, she opened a little smile. Garrus smiled internally, happy he made the right decision.
"I volunteered to help after one of the kids I knew had an overdose. I knew Chellick from the self-defence class C-Sec offers to civilians," her voice had returned to a measured tone. "And as there's nothing in the C-Sec rulebook saying that civilian help can't be recruited from time to time, we decided to give this a shot."
"Hm, interesting approach, but it seems a bit… unconventional…"
"Yeah, not everybody agrees to let civilians get involved…" She said carefully. "Chellick said that doing this is stretching the regulations to near the breaking point."
He grinned lazily listening to her explain a few details about what was done and all the security measures taken to ensure the criminals would be convicted. He could easily imagine his father's opinion over the subject. No wonder he never heard of such operations.
Garrus admired his father greatly, he could easily say he was Fieras Vakarian's greatest fan growing up; but more recently he found it hard to agree with the old turian's point of view about procedures, especially when the procedures would work against the law instead of backing it up. It also didn't help that his father usually brushed his opinion aside, saying it was 'just a youngster's impatience' and that 'he'll eventually learn'.
She stopped talking and turned to him, narrowing her eyes. "I hope you understand this isn't supposed to be widely known. That could invalidate the whole investigation…"
"Don't worry, no one will know it from me," said he, relaxing his mandibles in a sly grin. "But, if it's not supposed to be spread, then why did you tell me?"
She shrugged. "Because you didn't need to give me the ration bar, yet you did," with her eyes glinting she squinted at him. "And you even went as far as breaking protocols to chastise me about the ill-advised use of money and the malefices of doing drugs." He grunted and she giggled. "I had the feeling you could be trusted and, well, I'm seldom wrong…"
"Is that right?", he asked, surprised that she seemed willing to trust him so quickly.
"Yes, I'm a very good judge of character and my gut tells me you're okay." She beamed him making him laugh softly.
"You're something else, Shepard," he said, seeing her sigh and chew on her lower lip.
She seemed preoccupied and something she'd said earlier came back to him.
"Wait, you said you'd been undercover for almost a week, right?", he stared at her in shock. "Do your parents know what you've been up to? Aren't they worried?"
"Nah," she shook her head and shrunk her shoulders again. "I've got authorization to stay away from the orphanage for about a week." She grinned at him, but the smile didn't seem quite natural. "Of course, I haven't told them what I'd be really doing, but it's not like they'd check on me anyway."
"Oh, uh, I suppose it makes sense," said he just to fill the silence as he rubbed his neck feeling a bit uncomfortable. He hadn't thought of the possibility of her being an orphan.
"That building there," she pointed to a simple construction with both the Alliance logo and the Human Embassy blazon stamped on the walls. He parked the car on the other side. "Thanks for bringing me." She looked at him with a soft smile on her face.
"It was my pleasure," he watched her open the door and get out. "Good night, Shepard."
"Good night, Garrus." She smiled at him before closing the door and turning away. He stayed there counting his own heartbeats until she went past the building's door. Then he set the car into motion again.
a/n: I'd like to thank ChaosofNightMoonlightKiller and theherocomplex for their help and support.