This is a fic that was begun in 2009, during the original release period of the first Mass Effect game and accidentally abandoned a little over a year later, one chapter shy of being completed. This now-completed fic is a warning to all future abandoned WIPs that I iwill/i come for your ass. Eventually.
This is an enhanced, updated, and fully rewritten version, that contains not only that forgotten epilogue but an extra new chapter, too. A full changelog would contain notes like 'upgraded side characters with a personality.' 'unborked considerable amounts of exposition,' and 'i don't know what the fuck I was thinking here, but we fixed it.'
There is a lot here that remains curiously relevant as I switched fandoms into LOST and then, today, the MCU. A love of casefic, a tendency towards agents doing their best, a lot of emotional study. It may not be as relevant today, a decade on from the heyday of the fandom, but I hope someone gets a kick out of it.
. . .
"He who does not prevent a crime when he can, encourages it." ~ Seneca
This is the job, and Garrus Vakarian never complains: Fourteen weeks of paperwork just to track the suspect through multiple jurisdictions, scant but exciting hours of rustling grunts who were shocked and shamed to realize they had abetted a crime, and then the watchdog operation to see what their target did next. Then came the waiting. Followed by more waiting. It was the waiting that threatened to sneak under his skin, but he'd been prepared to be in that phase for the long haul, so he sucked it up. It was the nature of the job, the slow-beating heart under the bone, and Garrus loved all of it.
He'd let his partner, Seiuus, throw himself into the fun part. Going undercover and presenting himself as a bare-faced arms buyer, layers of expensive temp-skin hiding his family marks. It left Garrus to do what he liked best, preparing the real meat of the investigation. The dance that made up the final capture, the stakeout, the dusty solitude of necessary prep. At night, alone, waiting for the end, he let his neckflesh hackle to show a modest amount of private pride in his work. Sure, Garrus had risen up the civic ranks right after bootcamp like a rocket. Nobody gave him squawk about it, nobody rose that high if they couldn't handle it.
Nobody needed him to prove himself. Yet none of that, in that same, almost secretive privacy under the open sky, stopped Garrus from thinking about his father. About his father's history with C-Sec. About how, deep down, the man always wanted more.
Garrus had his own ambitions he wanted to live up to, although he knew they would always be caught up under the elder Vakarian's broad shadow. Too much pride wasn't his way, the family way, but ambition? Oh, he had a little. A modest dose, he would say. Just to keep him motivated. To match what had come before - and then, maybe, make a little of his own trail.
At the back of his mind dug the request to both the colony Primarch and to Citadel Ops. He knew he was still young. Too damned young to be making that jump for C-Sec already. He was three years out of boot, and only one year of it had been on civic investigation. All of it petty-crime local - except for this one. This one was the trailblazer. It was going to matter. It was the first chance he had to prove his chops in a world where his father's name alone would never take him far. Turians rose and fell on their own merits, their own pride, their own loyalties. Well, that was their life, bound up in duty.
Tonight, by those old rules, it was going to be his superior officer's ass if the arrest failed. The thought made Garrus go cold all over. It brought him back to ground.
Well, that and the hard rock wedged tight against his bony, thinly-armored ass. He risked a wiggle now and then for a more comfortable position that didn't exist, trying to not scrape the Haliat sniper rifle against the orange stone barely hiding him from sight. He'd try again later, and he'd fail later.
Garrus had been queezed into a tiny niche all night with his only company being his own breath, hissing silent and stale in the enviro-helm, and his own rattling thoughts. He was in the best vantage point for a stakeout, selected by his own perfectionist methods.
Worst place to sit on the whole beshitted rock.
Spirits bless, in time, he would probably come to hate the waiting. There were hours left before the deal would go down, even before any advance security flew by to be sure the scene was clear for dirty business. On reflection, he should have brought a book.
. . .
Seiuus landed on the scene right on time and just after down. The small, two-seater rovercraft they'd appropriated from lockup dropped into a neat landing at its designated location. A tall stand of jutting orange stone in the center of an unremarkable crater. The meteoroid they were on was airless, unindustrialized, and a clean hop away from Palaven itself. Probably not the first illicit thing the rock had witnessed. Spirits willing, maybe this would be the last.
Garrus raised his head an inch to see his friend and his partner, making damn sure he still had that perfect sightline to be sure it was all going to go down just fine. He smiled, unable to help it, at the sight of him.
Seiuus was a flamboyant, cocky turian with a set of foul jokes collected from every edge of the galaxy, a warped outlook that gave him a bad rep even among some of his own family, and a fondness for reveling in his own carefully cultivated bad taste. It had gotten him knocked around more than once during boot. Garrus had, not to make a pun, taken him under his wing, realizing that trying to change his fellow soldier was not only futile but something neither of them wanted, and found ways to to turn Seiuus's exuberance into a benefit.
Camp command hadn't been convinced by Garrus's pleas, but a few unorthodox yet wildly successful turns in some high-impact combat simu tests got Seiuus dropped into Garrus's comparatively elite squad permanently. And after that? Law enforcement partners that were equally effective playing off each other. Garrus was quiet and calculating, Seiuus brash and fast. It was new to Palaven, it was efficient and effective and it had been great fun so far. Less so on a few minor human deals they'd busted.
Not just one human had laughed in their faces, until one gentler crook took the time to explain the Earth cultural cliche of 'good cop/bad cop' to them. Seiuus, being him, hadn't been deterred in the slightest, throwing himself more deeply into the role and collecting old human vids on the topic. They were, universally, absolutely awful and Garrus would never turn down movie night, because there was so much joy in how awful they were.
Since then, however, he'd mostly just let Seiuus deal with the rare human incident. With him out of the occasion, Seiuus's seemingly bipolar and whirlwind approach to things shook problems out fast.
To be fair, six feet plus of seemingly - Seiuus could switch off into his affable self in a second, never actually losing control - wild, pissed-off alien was never something anyone wanted to deal with.
All of this meant Seiuus, to Garrus's tactical mind, really was the best option to present himself to their target as a young, awkward turian itching to make some credit on the black market. Someone who had been claiming to sell off-the grid topshelf Armax, fresh out of elite military stock and guaranteed untraceable.
Garrus and Seiuus had been on the trail for four months. They wanted whoever this was, wanted them bad enough to hunt and to wait for the right moment to draw the bastard out, and that led to today.
. . .
There was still no sign of the seller. Garrus watched Seiuus fidget, his suited feet tapping light against the orange sand. Garrus understood, felt real sympathy. But maybe only a little. His own ass had long since cramped itself numb.
Finally, a slightly larger craft than the borrowed rover began to settle itself haphazardly against the sharp ridge of the crater. It was a black ship with dimmed lights. No identifiable marking. Not their first such gig, clearly. Garrus's nostrils flared slightly. The waiting was over. Now it was time to get back to watching.
His sniper rifle was prepped with a soft shot energy pulse cartridge. Enough to stun, even hurt like the proverbial bitch, but not kill. So long as he didn't make a headshot. Nothing in the universe made a direct hit of hot voltage to the brain less dangerous, but zapping a leg meant your target wasn't going to go anywhere in a hurry. Maybe follow it up with a second shot in the ass, just for the irony of it. The cheek of it, Garrus might've said in his dry voice that many assumed was humorless. His jaw flexed at the thought of their target wiggling in the sand, muscles jumping uncontrollably. It was the least he would deserve.
The seller emerged from his ship. A short individual, it turned out. Too short for turian, too tall for volus, too stocky for quarian, and not stocky enough for krogan. That left Garrus plenty of racial options to yet pick through, but few of them walked that cocky. Probably human, though he wouldn't vouch it in court yet. Humans didn't corner the whole galactic market on attitude, that was true. What was also true was that human infractions in turian space were getting bolder and Systems Alliance weren't, in his educated opinion, doing nearly enough about it.
Garrus's jaw clenched, hard enough to click. Then he made himself relax, dumping his opinions in favor of resuming focus, and watched the figure approach Seiuus. Gait suggested male. Free-moving, not older or infirm. Walking like he was in good shape. Passing his partner a common digital earth greeting - palm out, fingers extended - sealed his guess. It was polite, that offer of a handshake. He stood firm, legs akimbo, watching the undercover turian twitch and jitter like a nervous first date.
There was no sign of backup from the black ship. No sign of crates or other usual symbols of an arms deal in view. This might turn out to be a feeling-out meeting, the seller sizing up his new buyer. Get eyes on him, check his reliability. Taste the air. Seiuus's credits would be fine, Garrus had damn near overworked himself getting a background set up for a 'Sei Lekundus,' a disowned and dismayed failure of a young NCO whose few saving graces included patience with volus accountants - and, more importantly, a talent for turning a blind eye to things turians generally found obscene to their civic-minded society.
Well, nobody was going to get shot in the ass today. There wasn't enough evidence, and probably more waiting to come as the target felt his way towards a second meeting. The thought didn't deter Garrus, not really. Patience was a universal virtue, and he was doing his best to cultivate it.
Tension rippled through his shoulders as he saw the man suddenly put his hands up, as if waving Seiuus off. Seiuus looked entreating, hunkering down to placate him. Garrus grunted to himself, ignoring the way it echoed inside his helmet. Something had taken a bad turn, and he couldn't pinpoint why. He took a risk and flicked the modified transceiver on. It was running on low pulse energy, meaning he had a delay on what he'd hear. Not the best, but least likely to get picked up on enemy scan. If anyone else was in the other vessel. Operations meant he assumed there was.
"No, no, it's a clean buy! I've got a reseller lined up less than two clicks away, far from the Citadel. I don't know what you've been told!"
Garrus swore to himself, his breath hissing soft fog against the faceplate. Just in case, he leaned into the rifle, his finger dancing light across the trigger. Okay, partner. Pull off. If he gets paranoid, this is going to go nowhere today and nowhere tomorrow.
"I'm sorry, man, but my boss doesn't like how we're feeling. You gotta understand. Trust means a lot to him."
Great. It gets better. We don't even have the primary target here. Garrus swore again.
"Look, I've got my throat on the line for this deal. If I don't tell my clients tonight that I can provide for them, I lose face. Do you know what that means for a turian? For me? I can't lose anymore honor, even like this." Seiuus pushed his weight to his other foot, head cocking downward as he made himself the picture of earnest desperation. Trying to lure the main guy out.
A sizzle-pop of static meant Garrus missed the response. The intermediary shook his head and stalked off several meters. Seiuus ran a gloved hand over his own faceplate, what Garrus considered a pointless symbol of aggravation and defeat. It must have meant something to the human. He paused, then turned back to Seiuus. "Hold on. Let me send a signal."
The human climbed the ridge and ducked out of view behind the ship. The connection between Garrus and Seiuus cut off abruptly. Possibly normal. Just local interference, or a sender's pulse from the ship. A trickle of worry went down Garrus's back anyway, even as Seiuus used a hidden pad to transmit a coded ping to Garrus, a single vibration that said hold, developing situation.
Several minutes later, the ground rumbled underneath the crater. Garrus felt it vibrate through his suit as he steadied the rifle with one hand, scanning the empty horizon for cause. Then he saw why, hitting him in the gut like a rock. A much larger craft, still unmarked, still dead black, moved to hover above. Lights winkled along its bottom to mark an activating bay. A podcraft dropped from it, a small one seater.
Instinct overrode tactics, then tangled irretrievably from it. I don't like this, he thought. I think this just got a whole lot bigger than the two of us can handle right now.
With a vessel that size in proximity above, he couldn't transmit a scratch code for backup. All he could do was hope Seiuus could handle what was about to happen, then get himself out safely. With a single sniper to watch over him.
Someone emerged from the pod, unfolding himself from the cramped seat in a black suit that seemed to gleam with some dim inner light. Garrus squinted at the figure for a moment, realizing he recognized the 'aura' that came from the figure, a way of moving, a way the air interacted with him. His muscles paradoxically tensed and then went slack in shock. Biotic!
Seiuus kept playing along, dipping his head in greeting and offering an open hand towards the newcomer, an offer to continue negotiations. The figure - Garrus still couldn't make out details beyond the mundane. Bipedal, taller than the intermediary, nothing else of note - remained stoic and cast in the crater's long shadow. Garrus had no clear shot.
The crawling sense of unease threatening to choke in his throat, Garrus monitored the silent transceiver as Seiuus attempted again to make contact with this new presence, cocking and lowering his head, shuffling gently towards him to show his desperation. Garrus had no real biotic talent and didn't believe in old legends. Still, he tried to send the telepathic message with all his soul - Break off, Seiuus!
It came to nothing. The black figure continued to regard him in what felt to Garrus like a dismissive silence. Then, with shocking abruptness, Seiuus was tugged in biotic stasis, casually thrown back against his own rover like so much dirt. Before he could scramble to his feet, beg, play the role any further, before Garrus could finish his silent shout of warning, the followup shot hit. Pure, concentrated energy, the signature flare of the pistol, a murder for show committed with their own illicit product. Garrus's eyes had slammed shut, knowing nothing was going to be left of Seiuus's head, nothing left of his life, all of it gone before he could react, avenge him, do anything. All that training, those years of readiness, Seiuus's cocky smile, those terrible movies, those laughs. All of it gone in a second.
Stones grated in Garrus's gizzard, threatening to drop into his belly and stir the acid there into pain fit to match the scream in his throat, a scream of loss and fury, knowing he was too alone, too helpless in his sniper's nest to do anything but watch the ship depart with the intermediary and the faceless man that had turned part of Garrus's life to dust.