. . .
The Citadel was where journeys started, and journeys ended. Garrus didn't know which this was for him, yet. He'd been free for about three hours, after being held in a short series of brigs of varying comfort levels for about two weeks, with the last being the most cordial. Rather than a formal brig, he'd been locked into a guest room on Hackett's own vessel. It was roomy, with seats, much to his delight, actually designed for turian butts, and even allowed him a changeable view screen with entertainments. It was still a prison, however, as he waited to hear for certain that he had been seen and believed.
He missed the Cairo during that time. He thought less of Seiuus and more of the camaraderie the humans shared on Gabriel's relaxed ship, realizing that he had begun to move back into the present, ready to look onward. Whatever that turned out to be, at least Garrus was here and now. It was healing, of a sort. He knew it would be a long time before the scars were fully healed.
He scratched at his wrist as he looked down at a flowery patch of the Presidium down below where he leaned against a railing. It wasn't long before someone joined him, and he glanced over to see Admiral Hackett, the elder human man just as steely and rusty looking as his voice suggested. "Sir."
"Paid your comm fine?" Brusque good humor, rarely doled out. Hackett's advocacy of his case meant that as of this morning, all charges against Garrus had been voided out of the system. Save one, the minor infraction of barging onto a dedicated emergency line.
"Forty credits and a signature, sir." Garrus tilted his head, indicating the fines office behind them. "Now that's off my record, too."
"Forty credits for a bad phone call. It's robbery." Hackett grunted, folding his arms atop the railing and squinting into the distance. There was no trace of a joke in that statement, which meant it probably was. "I received official word this morning. James Haldrin is in custody." He glanced over to see Garrus studying him. "Sung like the proverbial canary." A tweak at the lip. "No offense."
"I had a friend that would have called that a great joke." Garrus's eyes went half-lidded. The ghost was only a memory now. He'd done his best by Seiuus, and now his spirit could breathe. "You would have liked him."
"He the one why you had, of all things, a damned Hawaiian shirt in his gear? That was a good one, too. An island original. One of my guys thought about trying to buy it off of you."
Garrus smiled. "Yes, sir. That was him. Seiuus."
"Where this started for you." Hackett grunted, not needing to expand on the matter. Garrus liked him. The terseness and easy understanding reminded him of some of his own turian teachers. "James casually gave up his grand-uncle, Peter Volansky, too, as if we didn't already have the admiral dead to rights. The loyalty Volansky gave to the boy was not returned. Bitter thing, isn't it?"
Garrus chewed on that. "It's a paradox, yes, sir, but maybe not as much for me. A turian caught between family and our people's honor has a hard choice, but a clear one. A human? There's a lot I don't understand yet." That was a loaded sentence. He let it sit there to be studied.
Hackett nodded, clearly understanding. "Volansky's been stripped of decades' worth of reputation, much less his title. Most of his friends have abandoned him. He tried to appeal to me, and he's the one that taught me in naval ethics, back when I was a young man and needed to find my own rudder. I'm afraid I looked disgusted with him, and that hurts us both. Prison is an afterthought in this case, agent. Volansky thrived on his duty in space. Without it, he's been given a life sentence harsher than any steel bars could illustrate. He won't last long."
"That… makes it sound much harder than what I had in mind."
"It is. It isn't perfect, but it will do. James will undergo formal sentencing next week. He won't get any leniency for testifying against Krent, and Krent isn't going to get a single goddamn thing in his favor. Both Captain Gabriel and I are seeing to that." Hackett shifted his weight against the rail, looking towards the false light source that made the Presidium gardens feel like a warm and early spring morning. "That good, Vakarian?"
Hackett nodded. "Gabriel sent an updated recommendation to Palaven last night. If it talked about you any brightly, it'd get outright sappy. You get the package he sent? He shot me a picture of it, without context."
Garrus broke into a laugh. "Three of the ugliest scarves in the galaxy. I told him it was cheating."
"Someone's going to have to explain the joke to me sometime." Hackett pushed away from the railing and locked his arms behind his back, jerking his chin by way of gesturing for Garrus to follow him. "He sent a copy to the turian ambassador here, too. Of the recommendation, not the scarves. That'd be an act of war, I reckon."
"Him. Not an easygoing man. Not a big fan of our people, if I may be honest, which is his right. But he seems approving of how everything went down." Hackett led them down a clogged market street, stepping deftly out of the way of a hurrying volus. "He backed a suggestion Gabriel had, which he'd already run past me and I signed off on. Your men at Palaven, too." Hackett shrugged. "So I suppose it has to go to the person that really matters, next."
"Let me ask you something." Hackett didn't wait for an agreement, and he didn't look back as they continued walking. "What drove you to keep looking after you locked down Krent? What made you sit down and say for certain that there was more here, and that it needed daylight?"
Garrus frowned, thinking about that. But not for long. "Real problems are rarely ended with one solution. Crime is no different. You stop one drug dealer, you stop one murderer, you clog up one trafficker's lane, that's a good day's work. But the next day, you're still out there, looking for the next broken link in the chain until you find the source. And even then, that won't end all the problems. There'll always be more to do, even beyond police. Mentors to help teach what's right. Services to make sure people aren't desperate. And people will still do terrible things sometimes. That's a digression, sir, but what I mean is - the job never ends, and I never feel like it does. I'm always looking for the next step. For the victims left behind, to get that pain at least to a minimum. To get as much safety out there.
"We got Krent. That's millions of credits worth of real damage off the spacelanes, lives saved and avenged. Krent had that support network. Some of it'll fall apart on its own. Alliance will uncover the rest. But I saw a part of it in action. Saw a part of it that kept going unnoticed, began to wonder why. So I hunted it down. Until I was done."
"No matter the risk to yourself."
"No, I knew it was risky. I didn't want to be the one in trouble for it. I'm still… maybe upset that's how it went down. That to get justice, I had to look like a criminal first. That a human thought to use me, strike at my reputation, to save himself. I wouldn't do that to someone else, sir. That's not who I am. It's a different kind of treason. But I felt what I was doing was right." Garrus trailed off, thinking over his words. They were a little more passionate than he usually liked, but maybe it was time to change. For the sake of things he'd learned and the people he had known. "I wanted to do my best. For the truth. And damn the rest."
Hackett nodded, looking as pleased as he could under the natural hard crags of his face. They went up a wide public staircase, through another botanical garden. The chatter and smells of street food and day-hour markets faded. Garrus realized he had no idea where he was. Hackett began to talk again. "That's a valuable thing, agent, no matter the species. That urge to do what's right, no matter what. It can't always be trained. Sometimes it's just got to be there, born in the bones and in the soul. The spirit, if you prefer."
"I'm not exactly religious." He couldn't help but sound wry. "But I take your meaning, sir, and I agree."
"I haven't been to a service since I was ten and my mother dragged me by the ear. But some things will always give a man comfort, and I'll respect that, too." Hackett dismissed the tangent with a shrug. "Point I'm meandering towards is, when you see someone doing their best, going above and beyond their ability, using what's been given to them and more to do what's right, well, the wise thing to do is give them more tools to get the job done."
"Technically Captain Gabriel is one sponsor, a valuable cross-species one, considering the local politics. Your commander on Palavan, Tureth, is another. But off the books, I pushed for advocacy here. Your casework impressed me, agent, no less because of it being under some extraordinary duress."
"No matter the hard answers, sir?"
"Volansky was a friend." Something softened in that rocky voice. "It's hard to acknowledge that, now. But he was, and he crossed the line for reasons that I suppose I understand, but would never approve of. Not like this." Hackett sighed at the top of the stairs, letting Garrus realize they were in a municipal and judiciary sector, one of much higher prestige than the tiny office that handled small-claims fines. "It makes it all the more important to recognize the truth. Because it's difficult sometimes." He shook his head. "I'm rambling."
Garrus thought he understood. "It always feels the same, losing a friend. Whatever the reason, there's a hole after. It's important to find a way to honor that emptiness, and move on in a way that makes that loss meaningful."
Hackett gave him a stony look that dissolved quickly into a warm, wry smirk. "Thought you just told me you weren't the spiritual kind, Vakarian."
"I'm fucking with you." Hackett snorted. "Don't tell anyone. They wouldn't believe you, anyway." He gestured at the gleaming offices beyond them, as a shocked understanding dawned on Garrus. "Come on, agent. We've got an appointment, and we're right on time."
. . .
The Executor's office reflected the stoic, almost righteous nature of its occupant with stark brilliance. Venari Pallin rose from his seat with a cursory but polite glance at the human admiral first, and then with something like real warmth towards Garrus. Then he looked back down at his documentation. "Vakarian, Garrus, Palaven boot 4453. Father, Castis."
"Castis is still one of my active agents." Executor Pallin paused, letting that fill the air. "This interview was not arranged or suggested by him." He looked at Garrus, wanting his answer.
"It would be a surprise to me if he had, sir." Garrus dug around for a good, tactical way to put it. "My father believes in earning a place on your own terms."
Pallin studied him, humming low to himself as he assessed the answer. An almost imperceptible nod revealed that it had been a good one. "Several advocates have suggested that you have done precisely that, Garrus Vakarian. What is your answer to that statement?"
"I am… greatly honored and humbled by that belief, and I would continue to work to be worthy of it." He resisted the urge to fidget like a child, to clack his talons or shift a foot claw. All these things would be noticed. Next to him, the admiral was a statue.
"Hmmmmm." Pallin sat back down with regal posturing, hands on each armrest and his eyes still fixed on Garrus's.
Inspiration hit. A little dramatic, but important moments like this one called for it. "It is a work that I think would never be completed, but is forever worthy of the attempt, sir."
In his mind, Seiuus flashed him a thumb's up and a cheeky grin. The lost turian wore his ugly flowered shirt, and three even uglier scarves draped around his thin neck. Long ago and from far away, his old friend beamed at him, telling him he was doing it right, and to always follow his heart, his soul - and his hunch.
Damn the man. Garrus felt something tremble inside, and kept the tear hidden away for later.
Executor Pallin stared at him, clearly pleased by the followup. He leaned forward, an arm outstretched in a traditional beckon. "Agent Garrus Vakarian. I welcome you, formally, to Citadel Security."
. . .
But where knowledge of trickery is evenly distributed, honesty not infrequently prevails. ~ Dashiell Hammett
. . .
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