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Smoke & Mirrors

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Chapter 1: Where There is Smoke    

April 2169     

 

It was him. Blue clan markings and blue eyes. Features that she could vividly recall, along with many other lurid details from the night before, right there in front of her like some awful lucid dream. There was a moment when her composure slipped. She almost said oh fucking shit out loud; she said it in her head instead. Repeatedly.  

Nihlus made an odd noise, more vibration than anything, when the blue marked turian stepped further into the room. At least the turian had the courtesy to look as mortified as she felt. The room almost stood still with tension. If she could leave without making a complete fool of herself, Jane would be out the door booking it to the nearest bar. Forced to sit with her own poor decisions, she looked at everything in that room except her turian one-night stand. The turian one-night stand. He wasn’t hers. 

“I would like to introduce my two lead detectives on the case, Decian Chellick.” Pallin paused to gesture toward a tan colored turian with white clan markings on his chin and mandibles. “And Garrus Vakarian.” The Executor’s hand harshly cut toward the turian she had spent the better half of the early morning hours fucking and then cuddling in some bizarre twist of bad karma. Chellick waved and said hello. Vakarian made a noise and looked around the room. 

Garrus Vakarian. She rolled the name around in her mind. It suited him. 

“Thank you for your gracious welcome, Executor,” Kirrahe jumped in, interrupting any opportunities for pleasantries. 

Shepard settled in for the speech that was sure to follow, finding relief in the prattling distraction. Kirrahe, a veteran spectre, loved his long elaborate ‘talks’. He excelled at talking at people and missing all obvious social cues that no one wanted to listen to him. She liked him even still. He was honest and dedicated. It helped that his dull speech saved her from speaking. There was no guarantee Shepard could even open her mouth without something unprofessional coming out. Thoughts about her own shameless words last night stayed at the tip of her tongue. Please. His unreadable expression while rubbing medi-gel over her cuts. His talons on her skin.  Her tongue darted out to wet her lips nervously. She looked at the tile on the floor. There was nothing sexual about the tile on the floor. 

 “An efficient end to this will ensure a return to all of our normal routines.” Kirrahe started to pace the small space between the occupants of the room. “We all know what is at risk. If this is not dealt with now, there will be more violence on the Citadel, right under the noses of the council …” 

He droned on, demanding the bored attention of those in attendance. Shepard snuck a glance at the turian. Garrus Vakarian. Garrus. In her mind he safely stayed ‘the turian’. It was a nicely detached title. He was looking at Kirrahe now, focusing on the salarian’s words. Polite and attentive. She remembered how attentive he had been only hours before and flushed at the involuntary flip in her stomach when the thought lingered a little too long. That was when he looked at her. Oh fucking shit.  

 

-

 

There were very few times in his life when he felt so completely horrified. This exact moment took the premium spot at the top of his list of Garrus’s Most Embarrassing Life Moments. Pallin knew as soon as he walked into the same room as her. The white and black faced spectre knew and had even commented with a surprised chirp of intrigue, a sound unbeknownst to the other non-turians in the room. Chellick of course knew and relished in the pure chaos reverberating in that room. Jane Shepard knew and looked as if she found the mundane floor pattern the most interesting design ever encountered. The only poor fool so innocently unaware that Garrus smelled like he just had sex with the first and only human spectre, even enjoyed it so much that he had not bothered to shower her scent away, was the babbling salarian spectre. He couldn’t remember anything beyond “normal routines” because not looking at Jane Shepard took all of his will power. However, staring at the salarian did not stymie his fast flowing thoughts. She had showered. Did she not like their night? Did it really matter? He wasn’t into humans and it had been a stupid bet that backfired in his face. Garrus could feel Chellick’s vibrating energy next to him. At least someone found this funny. 

Was the salarian still talking? 

“We will need to assess the …”

Yes. Still talking. Garrus stared at the indistinctive face of the loquacious spectre. There were a million things to distract his mind. The perpetrator they chased the other night still needed to be interrogated. A coded threat was made against a turian dominated ward and needed further investigation. His sniper rifle needed to be cleaned. The grout in his bathroom also needed to be cleaned. If he counted really slowly to one thousand, maybe that would be enough. 

She inhaled sharply, a soft subtle noise, but it was enough to shred his focus. Garrus couldn’t stop the rush of sensory memory. Her breathy moans and hot mouth. His eyes moved to her in that split second after the sound. A red hue covered her face and her eyes widened just enough to show her dilated pupils. Then she turned her face away with a severe scowl, shuffling her feet as if she were nervous. He had to hold his breath to prevent releasing a torrent of subvocals. Did he have a human thing? Spirits, this was maddening. 

Pallin looked at him now, irritation clear on his angled mandibles. Garrus wondered if he were about to be removed from this assignment and that thought cooled his growing unrest. With the way Pallin’s eyes slid from his face to the human's, it was a good assumption that Garrus wouldn’t be invited back. 

“My colleague is very eager to start this endeavor. I am sure you understand our desire to end this issue soon.” The turian spectre’s flanging voice interrupted his spiraling thoughts. 

“We all are, Nihlus,” Pallin snapped, irritation thick in his subvocals. 

Garrus knew the name. Nihlus Kryik. Highly respected and accomplished spectre. The turian standing before him was slightly taller than himself and surprisingly relaxed, considering the general mood permeating the room. He doubted Nihlus encountered many situations where he worried about much more than completing the mission. 

“I’m afraid I missed the names of the other spectres.” Chellick nodded toward the salarian and then the human. A jolt of irritation hit Garrus at the game Chellick played. 

“I apologize. This is Kirrahe.” Nihlus did not bother gesturing. Kirrahe stepped forward and bowed his head. “This is Jane.” 

“Shepard,” she said in a clipped tone, looking at the far corner of the room with a blank expression. 

“We have already gathered a great deal of evidence and suspects. What information do you have to give?” Pallin impatiently cut to the point. 

“Communications and transactions inaccessible with C-Sec clearance.” Nihlus’s tone was passive, but the bite in his words suggested derision. Citadel Security and Spectres were not common pen pals. The lines were very distinctly drawn. 

“I would love the opportunity to combine our files on possible suspects, Spectre Kyrik,” Chellick interjected, chumming up to the highly regarded turian. Garrus knew immediately what his agenda was. Chellick was a career man, aiming for the highest connections in the most smarmy way.  

“I can take Spectre Kirrahe to speak with our suspect. The one we haven’t interrogated yet,” Garrus volunteered, hoping for the best possible outcome. Kirrahe would be too busy talking at the suspect and he could avoid the awkward conversation sure to occur the moment he and Shepard found themselves alone. Even if he avoided it for just a single day. He was already on sensory overload. 

“That will not do. I requested to see C-Sec surveillance footage. Executor Pallin promised to give me access,” Kirrahe stated pointedly, eliciting a frustrated sigh from Pallin.

“Let me speak with my detectives before we begin combining our resources.” 

“We will wait outside,” Nihlus replied and led the others out promptly. 

Garrus kept his gaze fixed stubbornly on Pallin’s face as the three spectres left the room. The impulse to watch her leave was overwhelmingly strong and Garrus was not about to add more fuel to the fire. 

“Do I need to remove you?” 

The biggest case in his career and a stupid bet to bed a human would ruin it all. 

“No, Sir,” Garrus pleaded, “I can explain this situation.”

“There are not enough rocks on the Citadel for me to try and digest the sort of bullshit that is sure to follow that statement, Vakarian,” Pallin fumed, mandibles tight against his face and mouth slightly ajar to flash razor sharp teeth. 

Garrus knew well enough to keep his mouth shut and await his fate. 

“I really would like an opportunity to work with Kyrik, sir,” Chellick said, ever the ambitious suck up. 

“Vakarian, you had best keep it in your plates. You get to deal with Kirrahe. Nihlus can figure out what he wants to do with the human,” Pallin said with an air of resignation, as if he expected this entire endeavor to blow up in his face. 

“Yes, sir. Thank you.” 

Thank the spirits for Pallin’s deep hatred of beings that talked too much. Garrus could half listen to a salarian if it meant he could continue working this case.  

 

 -

 

Shepard watched as the three turians filed out of the room, starting with the over eager Chellick and ending with Vakarian. He refused to look in her direction, which was a feat in and of itself considering she stood right in front of him. Irritation rolled up her spine as he squeezed his large body past her, clinging to the wall like physical contact with her would result in instant death. Did he find her repulsive? Why the fuck did she even care? Her head was starting to hurt. 

“Spectre Kirrahe, it would be my pleasure to escort you to our surveillance office.” Vakarian forced the words out with too much false cheeriness. 

“This will have to do. I suppose you understand how to manage vid feeds?” Kirrahe followed the towering turian, continuing a barrage of questions and general observations about the poor quality of C-Sec facilities. 

“Chellick wishes to work on combining resources with you, Nihlus. I need to meet with the council and cannot continue this little meeting,” Pallin remarked snidely, walking past Nihlus and Shepard without a glance. 

“Where are we going, Detective Chellick?” Shepard asked, as she stepped around Nihlus, eager to find a distraction from the worst morning after in her short existence. Nihlus stepped in beside her, close enough for her to feel the vibrating communication for Chellick alone to understand. 

“Lead the way, detective,” Nihlus chimed in for her benefit, side-eyeing Shepard with such an intensity that she was sure her mentor knew and was only biding his time before he grilled her.

Ignoring him, she marched forward, unwilling to wait for Chellick to guide them through the many floors of C-Sec offices. Officers stopped to gape at them as they passed and the whispers that followed were poorly concealed. C-Sec officer opinions ranged from curiosity about the first human spectre to a downright hatred of spectre involvement. A few ex-alliance officers stopped to salute her. Most all of the human officers refused to approach her, either out of fear or intimidation, but their eyes followed her with a reverence that she had come to hate. Shepard pulled her shoulders back and held her chin higher as the blatant gawking continued onto the next floor, this time less human and more turian. Nihlus was greeted by name multiple times, some even reaching forward to physically welcome the older spectre. Respect like this wasn’t unusual in the social circles of humans, yet this display felt distinctly turian. In the time she worked with Nihlus, Shepard quickly understood how much meritocracy mattered in turian culture. Her mentor had confided one late evening, stuck in a mako chasing down a fugitive, that he was from a colony generally disregarded by other turians and that his start in the military was marred by prejudice and distrust. Nihlus had since proved himself worthy and gained the subsequent respect in spades. She found human’s obsession with idealism and fame frustrating in the face of turian cultural norms. Human eyes watched the image the Alliance created of Jane Shepard. That image was a cardboard cutout of the real woman. Propaganda. As long as she stayed in that perfect little box, she received praise, admiration, and promotion. If she strayed even a little, the real and created Shepard could misrepresent all of humanity and all of humanity could be very spiteful. 

“Spectre Shepard, turn right here please,” Chellick commanded some steps behind her. She stalled long enough to allow for the other two to catch up before she opened the door to a small room with a desk in the middle and omni boards on three sides of the room. 

Chellick tapped a few panels of the wall with his gloved talons. When the room flooded with light, Shepard noticed that Chellick’s talons were filed down. Nihlus did not file his talons, nor had Vakarian. She saved her curiosity for later when she could privately ask Nihlus for an explanation. Talons had never been something she thought much about, other than avoiding them in a fight. Now, the idea of talons brought a vastly different sensation in her. 

The security image of a man caught her attention. He appeared gangly, with long stringy hair and a gaunt face. Human. Mid-twenties. Poor. There was no way this man had business on the presidium. He looked familiar. A name tickled her memory, pulling up short of a full recall.

“Is this the same man we found, Nihlus?” She stepped closer to the image as she posed the question to the two turians behind her. 

“The suspect we chased down the other night. We think he is connected to the bombings on the presidium.” Chellick’s tone rippled with pride. C-Sec had knowledge the spectres did not. She understood the rivalry. It was an age old story. Citadel Security were the street cops doing all the work and gaining none of the respect. Spectres were the big guns with too much power and not enough restraint.

“It was the reason I reached out to Pallin. We have information on this human. He calls himself Bolsheviki,” Nihlus stepped in to crush the detective's proud moment. He stumbled around the Russian word, over enunciating the sh and dropping the vik.     

“Bolsheviki,” Shepard corrected, glancing back at her mentor with a pinched expression. “It is a human history reference. That is not that man’s real name. More like a title.” 

“So, what does the title mean?” 

Both the turians watched her as she thought about the best way to explain obsolete human history. 

“A couple hundred years ago there was a violent revolution in a country on Earth. This party, the Bolsheviks, led this violent revolution to rule said country. They were frequently referred to as the Red Terror.” 

“Why red terror?” Chellick leaned in to study the man on the screen. 

“They executed a lot of people.”

“Oh.” 

Shepard chuckled at the nervous oh from the kiss ass turian. Nihlus hummed his thoughts without verbalizing for her. 

“They do not represent humans as a whole,” Shepard said, sighing with frustration at the old discussion. Nihlus did not reply, but his mandibles flared in a way that gave away his normal argument. There were always outliers that made the whole look bad. He didn’t have to speak. She knew his thoughts. Turians were collective in their social structures. Humans were individualistic. No turian, according to every turian she encountered, believed that a turian was capable of radicalism. Bullshit. They just hadn’t caught a turian yet in any of the terror attacks in the lower wards.  

“Since you are so knowledgeable, I want you to interrogate the human. Maybe he’ll be more receptive to a human,” Nihlus suggested, with more of a dismissal than a request. “I will work with Detective Chellick here to combine our files and build up a base here. Meet back at your skycar at fifteen hundred hours.”      

“Go down to sub level and ask to see prisoner 2080. I’ll send approval ahead of you.” Chellick sounded as if he too had the right to dismiss her. Shepard aimed a well practiced scowl at him and left without another word. 

 

-

 

“I can see that C-Sec still uses outdated technology. This will not do. I can take it from here Detective. If you wish to learn …” 

Garrus didn’t wait around to hear the rest. Sure it was poor form to blatantly ignore the salarian spectre, but there was only so much backhanded comments a turian can take before enough was enough. Well, he had less patience than most turians. 

Before the unsettling appearance of his human one-night stand, Garrus had genuinely looked forward to an interrogation session with the human they ran down in Tayseri. Bulshiviks. Bolsheviky. Something human and ridiculous. His informant hadn’t been entirely sure how to spell the odd name. It had to be the same man on the security vid right before the presidium bombing. The gaunt and malnourished human had spit in Garrus’s face when they dragged him in. He had every intention of disabling the cell feeds and getting some real work done. 

The decision to not shower this morning no longer served as a morning after bask in good sex; it was a distraction that had every single one of his plates burning with pent up frustration. This interrogation was a much needed distraction. There was nothing about Jane Shepard in that tiny four by six cell. 

Bailey sat behind the front desk of c-sec holdings that morning. The human had no qualms with other species and generally viewed all things procedural with a blasé attitude. Garrus could like anyone that didn’t kneel to the rules like a religious decree.

Perfect

“I’m going in with 2080. I’d like a little more privacy before we go on record.”

“You got it,” Bailey deadpanned, barely glancing up at Garrus before waving him in.   

The door security pad flashed green. Shouts and jeers greeted him first, then the smell of unwashed bodies. He always hated entering the holding cells. Half were full of drunk or high men and women, all poor, faceless members of the couple million that lived in the lower wards of the Citadel. 2080 earned the moniker through his cell number. An easy recall on a busy night of arrests and the night they chased down the suspected human terrorist had been one of the busiest. 

By the time Garrus made it to the second floor of cells, nearing 2080, Chellick sent a long list of questions and attached another unknown person to the message window. He scrolled through the questions, head bent toward his omnitool as he rounded the corner for 2080.

ChellickCitadelSecurity: Ask about his name. Ask about “Red Terror” and Revolution ideology. Ask about anti-turian hate groups in the human dominated wards .

Garrus rumbled a string of curses at Chellick’s audacity. He didn’t know who the other person was, and he could only assume Nihlus was involved in the interrogation now, but Chellick knew that Garrus graduated from their academy class with top scores. Chellick had yet to get a perp to talk without resorting to something especially illegal. Garrus could get them to sing. 

[Unknown User]: I assume you are telling this to someone else who doesn’t know what they are doing. 

He chuckled at the message that followed Chellick’s list of demands. He should have been the one to write that. 

“Go fuck yourself.” 

Garrus glanced up sharply as he neared 2080’s cell door. The lock glowed red. The man’s throaty shout rang out again. You bitch. His mandibles flattened against his face as the words bounced around in his head. Humans had a lot of foul names for turians. Bitch was a new one. The door blinked green and opened before Garrus could make the connection that Shepard stood in the room, hovering over a glowering human male.  

She looked disappointed when he entered the room, mouth poised to say something before he interrupted. 

“I’m not talking to some bird motherfucker either.” 2080 spat on the ground, looking up through strings of blonde hair that clung to his sweaty face. The door slid shut behind Garrus and the room grew quiet.

“You both going to fucking just stand there and look at each other.” 

“You talk a lot for someone that nearly pissed themselves earlier,” Shepard snapped, moving her icy gray gaze away from Garrus back to the restrained man. Garrus watched the lines around her fleshy, plump mouth deepen with irritation. 

“Do we call you Bosheveek?”

“Bolsheviki.” The two humans said the word at the same time. Shepard shot Garrus a curious look, sizing him up silently in a way that made his insides squirm. 

“Did your mother not like you or something? That is a terrible name, even for a human.” Humor always worked for Garrus. Deflect with something witty. It worked now. Shepard softened a little, her mouth lifted some. 

“Fuck you, birdshit.”

“For how much your little revolution touting group hates turians, you sure do fall short on the insults,” Shepard tartly replied and leaned against the wall opposite Garrus. “Let’s not demean all the Earth birds in the name of hate speech.” 

“I know who the fuck you are, bitch.” He spat on the ground again. Garrus stayed quiet, in part out of intrigue at Shepard’s ease in the room and in part because his nerves got the best of him in that exact moment. The woman in this room, all steel and grit, and the woman pleading for release in his bed, with surrendering softness, directly contradicted each other. 

“Tell me what you think you know,” Shepard muttered, showing off her white teeth in a sneer. 

“You think you’re some hot shit running around with the white faced birdman. Alliance talks big about you. Some war hero. I say that's all bull about an ugly bitch that just knows how to suck dick really well.” He laughed after the insult, throwing his head back as if the words were comedic gold. Garrus stepped forward and grabbed the man’s face with his talons. 

“As much as I find human cultural exchanges charming, I had plans today,” Garrus growled as he pressed his gloved talons into the man’s face, eliciting a yelp of pain. 

“Detective, I hardly think that is necessary.” Shepard watched Garrus warily. Her face clearly conveyed her dislike of his more direct approach to interrogation. Garrus ignored her. 

“If you like this face, I strongly suggest you tell me about last week’s bombing.” Garrus dug his talons in a little to drive the point home. He felt Shepard’s fingers wrap around his wrist and squeeze. Her palm was hot and moist. 

“Enough.” 

He let go reluctantly, more to avoid her touch than to spare the human trash can. 

“There is no reason to hurt him.” 

Garrus turned away from her, feeling anger bubble up inside him. Of course, of all the damn spectres on the Citadel, this spectre wanted to follow rules. Following the book never benefited the investigation. And he was stuck with this spectre strutting her unwanted authority in his case. 

“Whatever you think is best, spectre. When you're done babying him, I’ll do the real work.” 

He reveled in the way her back stiffened and her chin lifted in defiance. Good

“Fuck you two and your good cop bad cop bullshit.”  

“I am not a cop, but I am the reason your face doesn’t have puncture wounds in it. For right now that is.” Shepard moved to stand directly in front of the sitting suspect. “Now that we can move on from these lovely formalities, I want to hear about your wonderful little friends. Bolsheviki is an adorable title. Your friends like revolution, huh,” she said sweetly, her voice pitched to a fake girlish high. 

The suspect only glared at her. 

“I have nothing else to do. I can wait for your small brain to formulate an answer.” She used the same sickly sweet tone. Still silence. 

“Maybe try saying please. You're pretty good at it, if I remember correctly,” Garrus said from the corner of the room. The words had spilled out without thought and he regretted taunting her immediately.  He tried to play it off by leaning against the wall and crossing his arms over his chest. The look she gave him would have sliced through the strongest metal. 



-

 

“A word please,” she said, nearly wincing at the use of “ please” right after he taunted her. 

“Sure, spectre.” 

Oh, she wanted to slap him. Her back muscles tensed and cramped with barely suppressed rage. Shepard stepped around him and gestured out the door. The confused look from the human shit stain didn’t make her any calmer. 

The door closed behind them and locked seamlessly with a wave of Vakarian’s omni tool. Without waiting for him, she stalked down the rows of cells to the stairwell. When they walked into the bottom of the stairwell, and after she took a few seconds to check if they were alone, Shepard turned on him, brandishing her finger like a weapon to point at his face. He was too tall and she had to raise her arm up and press forward on her toes to threaten him. The move hardly affected him. The turian simply blinked at her with a bemused flick of his mandibles. 

“We need to create some ground rules if I am to continue to work with you under any capacity.” 

“And here I thought spectres loved breaking the rules.” 

She grinded her teeth to prevent herself from snapping at his stupid, snide comment. Their proximity was entirely too intimate. Vakarian postured to tower over Shepard’s slight form, appearing so much taller and larger than her.  He was close enough that she could smell the familiar scent of burnt-match and gun oil. The heat that settled in her groin made her even angrier. When had she become so sex deprived that a smart ass turian could enrage her and arouse her at the same time? 

“Listen here you smug asshole. What happened last night stays in the past. It won’t happen again. Ever.” 

“Are you sure about that? Because you seem a little unsure.” Vakarian leaned over her as he spoke, causing her to take a hasty step back. 

“Don’t.” She swallowed and tried to form a cognate phrase. “Don’t bring up anything to do with last night again or I will make damn sure you are removed from this case.” That got his attention. The relaxed look of nonchalance shifted to annoyance swiftly. 

“Just because you're a spectre does not give you the right …” 

“I’m not done talking. We are work acquaintances now. Nothing more. I’ll give you the respect a detective deserves, Detective Vakarian. I expect the same courtesy.” Her face felt too hot and her jaw hurt from clenching her teeth together. A long moment passed as she waited for Vakarian to confirm that he understood the ground rules. She knew he wasn’t stupid. His knowledge about Bolsheviki, however rudimentary, showed more initiative and investigative skill than she witnessed with Chellick. There was no way he did not understand the implied meanings in her words. They had a job to do. She had a job to do. 

“If you want to pretend like nothing ever happened and we are simply acquaintances, so be it. I’ll suggest another rule. This is my case and my suspect. I tracked him down and I arrested him. You can stand and watch.” His voice flanged wildly. She found herself looking at his sharp row of teeth and the way his mouth plates stiffened on the last few words. There were other words too, vibrating sounds she couldn’t hear but felt in their closeness. 

“Hurting suspects will not get the information you want. People lie to escape pain,” she hissed the words between her teeth, refusing to break eye contact. 

“Sorry to ruin your little fantasy of turian violence, but I never hurt him. I did not plan on hurting him. A little fear goes a long way.” Vakarian stepped forward again, pushing her to instinctively move back again. Her back hit the wall. She bit her bottom lip to stop herself from shouting at him like a belligerent fool. He chuckled then, a dark, humorless sound. “After you, Spectre.” 

The walk back to the cell took ages. She felt every second of his eyes on her back, burning a hole in her skin. Slapping the shit out of the suspect didn’t seem like a bad option now.  

 

-

 

Garrus found her audacity to demand ground rules extremely irritating. He could play along, sure, but she tied her little rules up with his involvement with the case. If he slipped, she had the potential sway to destroy his chances to make a noticeable difference in the lives of Citadel citizens. He doubted she cared about anything beyond the promised power of the council and human interests.

Upon opening the security door, Shepard pushed in and moved to the corner, glowering at Garrus with enough venom to drive home her feelings about the entire situation. He chuffed in response, eyeing her just long enough to make her uncomfortable. The human sitting on the floor grumbled something obscene. More bird nonsense. Garrus never understood the comparison. Humans loved the insult, right along with skull face and cuttlebone.  

“Thank you for waiting.” Garrus tried ‘polite and nice’ first. Reset the tone of the interrogation. 

“Fuck you.” Polite and nice never worked. He shot another meaningful look at Shepard. She rolled her eyes and opened her mouth to say something. He wasn’t interested in giving her the opportunity. 

“Why do you think you're here?” Garrus moved forward decisively, keeping his tone neutral. He stepped into the man’s personal space. Humans generally disliked turians on principle. Turians felt much the same about humans. Over a decade of peace meant nothing for the bad blood shared between the species. This human acted no different from the norm; he blanched as Garrus took another step, brushing his two-toed boot against the human’s leg to add to the effect. He noticed the way the man’s nostrils flared and chin trembled. Typical human fear response to a more powerful predator. He could smell the man’s fear. This was what should have happened when Garrus crowded Shepard in the stairway. The thought interrupted his intimidation tactic. Her smell had never conveyed fear. Maybe there was no flight response in her nervous system. She watched him as if she were a predator herself. 

“You chased me down.” The words came out shaky. Unsure. 

“You were seen on surveillance footage exiting the Diplomat Café moments before the bomb detonated.” 

“So, I was eating lunch,” the human muttered as he pushed his back hard against the cell wall. 

“What did you eat?” Shepard asked quietly from the corner. Her arms were crossed over her chest and her face was cast in shadows in the poorly lit room. 

“None of your business.” 

“It is a simple question. Answer her.” Garrus pressed his foot further against the fleshly leg of the human. She didn't protest or move to interfere. Instead, she watched with bored interest. 

“Fish sandwich.” 

Garrus’s laugh vibrated in his chest. The sound startled the human. Shepard smiled tightly. 

“One of my least favorite jobs in C-Sec was keeping all the idiots out of the presidium pond. One night I had to pull a krogan out of the water. The poor fool thought there were fish in the water. Fish.” 

“So what,” the human said nervously, trying desperately to inch farther away. 

“The café does not sell fish. It is a rare protein on the Citadel. You have to have a special license to sell real, edible, fish. A terrible lie to be sure.” Shepard smiled in the same way a mercenary smiles right before he takes the kill shot. 

“The spectre knows her Citadel trivia. You are not from the Citadel, human. Why are you here?” 

“Humans are allowed to visit the presidium, right? Look, I had nothing to do with that café shit. I don’t know anything.” His voice sounded whiny. Garrus stared down at the filthy man as his nose plates moved to pinch together. 

“You knew enough to lie.” Shepard pushed off from the wall as she said this, moving her armored body gracefully to crouch down at face level with the human male. “Who are you willing to throw your freedom away for? Is this little group of yours really that important to you?” 

“I know nothing. Nothing.” He repeated the word nothing a few more times, moving his wide eyed gaze between Garrus and Shepard. 

“I guess you can’t help low intelligence as a human,” Garrus shrugged in exasperation, more dramatic than what was needed. The man snapped his head up to look at Garrus. “Since you know absolutely nothing, I’ll let you go.” 

“What?” Shepard yelped the question a second before the man did. 

“That’s right. I’m innocent. I don’t know nothing.” 

Garrus stared at her, willing her to argue and not argue, as she opened her mouth to say something. He wanted too many different reactions from her. Fighting with her thrilled him just as much as silencing her defiance. The rush of conflicting emotions colored her expression in a way that deeply fascinated him.  He knew that he pinned her in exactly the same way she cornered him. He could run his mouth about their night together all he wanted at the cost of this case and possibly his career. She could step aside and let him do his job or run the risk of him running his mouth. Rules sucked that way. 

“I’ll go sign the paperwork right now.” Garrus said, feeling victorious in their secret battle of wits. 

The human would scurry back to his rat hole with trackers following his every move. The bomb fragments found were sophisticated. This bolsheviki would report back to whatever actual brain ran the operation.  

He left the cell and walked briskly down the hall with Shepard hot on his heels. Her fingers curled around his forearm to slow his progress. Anger rolled off of her in waves. It was not the place for this nonsense. His temper flared too. Garrus turned to face her and then swiftly pulled her out of the holding area and into the lobby, ready for the verbal fight without all of the leering onlookers. Bailey stood witness to their face off and Baily could be easily ignored or shut up. 

“Are you stupid? Why the hell would you let him go?” 

“I know your opinion of me must be low, me being a turian c-sec asshole and all, but I know what I’m doing,” Garrus responded, voice dipping into multiple levels of frustration at her hand that still clasped his arm and her quick to argue temperament. 

“You being a turian has nothing to do with this,” she growled between her teeth, decidedly not defending the c-sec asshole part. “You will run that man to his death for nothing.” 

“He has to run home somewhere. What happens after that is his problem.” 

It was then that they both noticed Chellick and Nihlus. Shepard shoved his arm away like it was his fault she still gripped it. Garrus turned to Bailey and requested the release papers, shutting Shepard down on any further argument. She left the room before anyone could say another word. 

 

-

 

Nihlus paced in front of the skycar twenty minutes after their agreed upon rendezvous time. The events of the morning had been inconvenient. He had never known Shepard to mess up so spectacularly. First, the turian that smelled like her in an obvious display of attraction and then her fuming fight with the very same turian in the holding cells lobby over something as innocuous as release bribing a suspect for more information. He approved of Detective Vakarian’s methods. The human was scheduled to be released the next morning. It was no surprise that the son of a famous and well respected ex-executor would be intelligent and cunning. He had thought of Jane Shepard as much the same: observant, resilient, wicked smart, and highly capable. Her outburst at discovering Vakarian’s intentions to set the suspect loose disturbed him. Emotional was not a word Nihlus would use to describe Jane Shepard. In the twenty minutes he paced in front of the skycar, Nihlus worried that Shepard needed to be removed from this entire situation. Maybe this was not her sort of battle. 

Her heavy footsteps announced her arrival. She still looked upset, face red and stiff. Even her mouth disappeared into a thin line of restrained emotion. He sighed heavily. 

“Get in. We need to talk.” Nihlus gestured toward the other side, refusing to let her drive. He caught a look of anxiety flash over her features. 

They sat silently as he punched in the coordinates to her apartment. Nihlus had every intention of dropping her off at her apartment, contacting Anderson for an off-world assignment, and returning to the c-sec station to continue the investigation.

“Don’t. I suspect you know. The guy is a pompous, know-it-all, dickhead. I can manage it. Don’t kick me off this,” she pleaded gently, turning her whole body to face him.  

“I do know. All of us knew the second he stepped into that room. He smelled like you. Do you even know what is going on? I had no idea you were even into turians.” Nihlus exhaled deeply, feeling beyond frustrated at her lack of foresight. 

“I’m not. It was a mistake. I got drunk. We agreed on some ground rules.” Shepard shifted nervously as she watched his face for a reaction. Nihlus doubted that Vakarian felt the same way or that whatever ground rules they agreed upon would be adequate. “You know I am a professional.” 

“You did not act like it when Vakarian asked for the release papers.” It was a statement more than an accusation. He saw her flinch and look down in shame. The action reminded him that she was still young, in her mid twenties, and youthfully reckless. Nihlus had been no different at her age. 

“I know you both plan on following the man afterwards, but it will not help us find the group associated with the presidium bombing. He will all but disappear.” 

“Why do you think that?” Nihlus knew her knack for uncovering the truth was uncanny. He had followed her career as an N7 under Anderson’s command and he joined her on many missions aboard the Normandy. To say he knew and understood her was too simplistic of a statement. Picking her as a spectre and then personally mentoring her had been controversial. It cost him a lot of favors, but she was worth it. 

“The vid feeds in and around the café the day of the bombing were manipulated. Avina recorded nothing. No one can mess with a VI like that without serious connections, Nihlus. This man, which we have no real name to identify him by, will run off into the sunset scot-free right up until they kill him for risking their operation. Another bombing will occur, I guarantee it.” Her eyes were bright as she promised the inevitability of another terror attack. 

“Your human phrases are silly,” he muttered as he thought over her words. “I trust you on this. Can I trust you to keep your cool around your turian lover?” He couldn’t help the jab. 

“He is not my lover. We made ground rules,” she snapped, ignoring his bemused chuckle. “I need to do this. Another human attack on the citadel and my species can forget acceptance across the galaxy, let alone a damn council position.” 

Nihlus silently examined her and then the passing scenery as he thought about his decision. He certainly felt dubious about her insistence that Vakarian’s involvement would not cause further issues. She kept saying they made 'ground rules' as if that banished the whirling pheromones that surrounded them both. He doubted she even understood her own involvement in this situation. It was only a matter of time before Shepard or Garrus broke these so-called ground rules. It didn't matter that Nihlus had no idea what sort of agreement the two made. It wouldn't work. She had to learn the hard way. 

“I’m happy you can compartmentalize so well. I expect you to join Vakarian tomorrow morning. You’ll both stake out the human’s movement immediately after release.”  Out of the corner of his eye, Nihlus saw her expression fall from relief to dismay before she quickly turned away to look out the passenger window.