Rain from the artificial weather system beaded on the skycar window as they drove through Eden Glen. Shepard and Vakarian dreaded getting to the scene, but for different reasons.
“Ground’s gonna be soft and muddy,” Vakarian drawled. “Hope you don’t have any plans tonight.”
She watched his mandibles clicking tight against his jawline and eyes warily surveying the rolling raindrops that traveled down the windshield as he maneuvered through traffic. Knowing he’d be more upset about the rain than her, a soft smile spread across her face.
“I have a date, actually,” Shepard replied dryly. She should have been looking forward to it because she hadn't been on a date in...hell, it was before she got shot. Two years, then.
Vakarian genuinely looked surprised, and she couldn't help but feel a little uncomfortable dropping the news. “You didn’t tell me,” his voice was quiet and careful.
“I only met him last night.” She watched his reaction carefully. His mood seemed to shift just slightly, but maybe that was just her hopeful thinking.
Silence fell between them in the dark skycar as they turned down a well-lit street. The neighborhood, Eden Glen, was fairly new, built up in the last six years for the humans working in Council Administration and the wealthy investors eager to reap the profits of intergalactic trade.
Large houses, by Citadel standards at least, sprawled on for blocks behind meticulous yards filled with lawns and trees from earth. The result was a carefully manufactured earth-like appearance. If Shepard forgot for a moment she was in space, she would have guessed they were driving through an ungodly expensive neighborhood in San Francisco or Chicago. Back on Earth, she would get jealous driving through neighborhoods that looked like Eden Glen – of all the wealth and comfort. Out here...it just made her miss her family’s home back in a little, rural California town.
Placed right across from the park, the houses they currently passed were the most expensive. A view of thick woods and a beautiful stream on a space station wasn’t cheap. Shepard felt a bit cheated that she had no idea such an extravagant park existed on the Citadel. If she’d known, she would have insisted on coming out here and just walking around. Now, though, it would be years before she’d be able to come back here and not think of the murder scene she was about to analyze.
“No one else has felt the need to replicate their homeworld on the Citadel,” Vakarian pointed out. She knew he didn’t really take offense or judge. Humans just intrigued him, even after five years of their presence on the station.
“Turians were one battle away from decimating humans before the Council stepped in. Give em a break.”
“That’s a bit of an exaggeration,” he drawled before getting back to his original point. “Gotta hand it to em, though, building this all in five years is pretty impressive.”
Unimpressed with her own kinds’ desperate attempts to make their stamp on the Citadel, she sighed. “These humans, the ones who live here, would sell their children to buy a little respect from the council races.”
Vakarian gave her a sideways glance, “Well you’re being pessimistic today. Back off, that’s my job.”
Seeing the flashing lights of the C-Sec vehicles pulled further into the park, Vakarian maneuvered the vehicle down a path and began to slowly weave through the trees to join the scene. Shepard anxiously watched as they neared the perimeter. Lights flashing. C-Sec officers and the forensics team milled about.
“I hate rain,” Vakarian grumbled as they climbed out of the car.
It wasn’t raining that much, just a light mist, but it had already established a light layer over Shepard’s fine hair.
“It calms humans,” she offered. “Makes us feel more at home, like on Earth.”
“Take a shower if you want to get wet.”
She smirked, “Not quite the same.”
“Does it rain this much where you’re from?”
She nodded, “More than the artificial weather of this neighborhood, actually. It’s like one long, wet shower. All winter long.”
His faceplates flexed and twitched, obviously turned off by the idea.
They heard the croaking whistle of a salarian as they approached the scene. The medical examiner, Dr. Solus, beckoned them over to the body. The earth scrunched under their feet as they approached the culvert where the body lay nestled in mud and grass. A thick layer of muck had already built up on their boots as they cautiously approached.
“Think he was already in the park, or did they dump him here?” Shepard asked.
Avoiding the inevitable, looking at the boy, she instead watched her partner’s eyes travel along the body. “Shoes were nice, no noticeable scuffs and no mud built up from walking through the soaked terrain. Dumped, definitely,” he muttered.
Shepard looked over to the officer that had first arrived on scene, a female turian, Alvinia Regitus. Shepard suspected Officer Regitus hated her, based solely on the constant look of disdain on her face when they spoke, but she had no idea why. “Any tracks?” Shepard asked, ignoring Regitus’ sour face.
Regitus shook her head, “No. No suspect tracks and no victim tracks. We do have disturbed grass from skycar thrusters though.” The officer’s sharp eyes examined Jane. She could only assume Regitus disliked her for being human, like half the force. The running assessment was humans weren’t as intelligent as the salarians, wise as the asari, or judicious as the turians – so what could they offer? With opinions like that, Shepard supposed the humans were somewhat justified in working so hard to catch up, and to prove themselves. She’d certainly spent the last five years doing just that.
Even if they tried to keep an open mind and suppress their suspicions, most questioned her ability to keep up with them and actually contribute to solving cases. Most of Shepard’s peers who got the chance to work personally with her learned how wrong they were forever doubting her, but it was still a bit irksome to be questioned so often despite her track record.
But everyone at C-Sec who didn’t know her, peers and superiors, chalked her success up to her partner, Garrus Vakarian. He was the son of the most highly respected C-Sec Investigator in recent times. His success was expected. She didn’t let it bug her that he got so much of the credit, though, because she knew that the pressure on his shoulders from being Castis Vakarian’s son pissed him off more than being over-looked frustrated her. He gladly took only the credit he deserved – but they didn’t really give him the chance to set the record straight. Everyone waved off his mumbling and groaning protests as humility, though. It only increased their admiration for him.
If she didn’t suck up her nerve, though, he would be doing all the work on this one. She forced her eyes to finally look at the body and examine the scene, slowly drifting from one detail to the next. Why did this one have to be a kid? The boy lay in the muddy culvert. All of Vakarian’s assessments were spot on – he was definitely dumped. Next, her eyes scanned the ground around the boy, then slowly scanned the ground out in concentric waves until she saw the grass that had been disturbed by thrusters. “No tracks. Pulled into the park and pushed the body out, then. Either they were in a hurry or didn’t want to get dirty.”
“Maybe both,” Vakarian offered, his eyes dissecting every detail about the body. “Looks like a rich kid from this neighborhood. Why would they pull up in a car to dump him here?”
“Maybe they’re not from here,” Shepard speculated. “Giving him a ride back, but something happened? Or picked him up here, killed him, and dumped him before leaving?”
“Anything missing from the body?” Vakarian asked.
Regitus shrugged, looking noticeably chipper now that Vakarian was asking the questions instead of Shepard. “Don’t know yet. Nothing noticeable.” She nodded, excusing herself, before quickly walking towards the forensics team gathered a few meters away.
Shepard watched her leave and as soon as she was out of earshot asked, “Why does she hate me?”
“You really want to know?” he asked while his sharp eyes diligently took in the scene before he paused to look at her, his expression somber.
She felt her muscles stiffen, readying herself to hear a harsh truth. “Yes, please,” Shepard said, eager to finally be told why Officer Regitus felt no compulsion to hide her disdain for her.
“It’s the freckles. Some turians just hate freckles.” His mandibles were slightly flexed into a smartass grin that always made her happy, regardless of how annoying he was being.
“Fuck off.” Her words were sharp and tone annoyed, but her grin told another story.
He shrugged, looking back down at the body. “Don’t be mad at me, I like your freckles.”
At that moment she really regretted the fact that she had a date that night. She’d much rather just go back to her apartment and eat take-out with her partner, just like they did most nights.
Shepard sucked up the resolve to do what she had been avoiding since they came upon the body, and looked at the kid's face. He was young, maybe 13 or 14. His features were soft and kind. Just a rich kid that probably only ever worried about his grades and the girl sitting next to him. He would have had a crush on her. Boys always had crushes on the girls that sat next to them. His eyes, gray, had been bright and trusting. Now dull and sad, they looked out to his dumpsite.
Then she felt herself slipping into a terrible habit she’d been trying to drop for months, but she could never quite shake the impulse. At a scene, staring at the body, she would imagine the last thing they saw. What did Adam last see? Was it his killer’s face? Was it the sky, or trees, or the inside of the skycar? She imagined his poor, kind eyes focused on the material of the skycar seat, his face violently smashed into the surface.
She found herself thinking about that a lot lately, even old cases that were solved and she’d moved on from – what was the last thing the victim saw? She still hadn’t decided whether it would be better to see something happy, or something bleak and terrifying – something that told them exactly what was about to happen to them. Her heart sank, and a knot balled up in her stomach.
Uncertainty was really getting to her lately. Having the reputation of possessing nerves of steel, and a sense of certitude that Vakarian always teased her for, the issue was new to her. Ironically, she wasn’t quite sure how to fix that. She felt unsure about a lot of things.
Staring at Adam, she thought that out of those two options, seeing something beautiful as they took their last breath had to be worse. The sadness that tightened her throat and made her shoulders feel heavy was more intense, at least, when she thought of that. Why tempt them with beauty, or hope?
“What’s that in the grass over there?” Her partner’s deep, easing voice interrupted her distracted thoughts, finally allowing her to peel her eyes away from the boy’s. Vakarian stood just a few feet from her, rain dripping down from his fringe – he looked miserable. Maybe she should cancel her date? Take Vakarian back to her place and turn the fireplace on for him.
“Where?” Regitus called back.
Vakarian pointed over to a concrete ledge, about 10 feet tall. The culvert protruded from the ledge, dumping water into the wooded park. “Something is in the grass.” He flashed a light from his omni-tool in the direction, and sure enough, a glare reflected off something nestled in the grass.
Shepard and Vakarian walked over to the ledge together. Without a word between them he placed familiar hands on her hips and lifted her up to get a better look. She took her omni-tool out, stable in his tight grip, and began to take pictures.
“Looks like a watch.” She turned to Regitus, the turian officer that hated her. “We need forensics over here. We’ve got a watch. Looks like some blood on it, too.”
She soon slid out of Vakarian’s grip as he lowered her back down to stand on her own feet. Side by side, they carefully walked back to the body. Dr. Solus had been busy when they first arrived, but he stood, looked at them briefly, before typing notes into a datapad.
“Strangulation could be cause of death,” Dr. Solus began. “Hemorrhaging along the throat. May find more when he’s on the table. Will have full story for you then, help you get justice for the boy, Shepard.”
It took a while for Shepard to get used to Dr. Solus’ unusual speech patterns that burst from his mouth at a somewhat frantic pace. But he was the best medical examiner they had, so she made sure she could work well with him. They had become fairly close, actually. He wouldn’t have told any other detective he’d help them get justice -- not that he didn’t care about it himself, he just knew Shepard gave her heart and soul to cases. And he thought of her, and Vakarian as close friends.
“You think they did more than just strangle him?” Vakarian asked. “His clothes are neat, orderly. Perfect even.”
“Maybe too perfect,” Shepard replied. “What’s the likelihood his shirt would be straight, buttoned, and tucked in after being strangled?”
“Anything else?” Vakarian’s mandibles drew tight as he spoke, a turian grimace. He wiped a hand over his fridge, flinging the rain off. His frustration with the cold and rain was affecting his typically calm, cool demeanor.
“Bruising on both wrists,” Dr. Solus motioned towards the kid’s wrists slightly protruding from the long sleeves covering his arms. “Light cylindrical reddening of skin around the jaw. Probably finger marks from holding head still. Come see me after autopsy, will know more.” The salarian sighed, as the three of them looked the kid over, their eyes examining every detail carefully. “Poor kid,” he finally said, large dark eyes blinking quickly. “Couldn’t have deserved this, whoever he was.”
Vakarian’s eyes roamed over the whole scene once more as Shepard nodded solemnly.
It took about an hour standing out in the drizzling rain to gather all the evidence and wait until the body had been removed. Shepard and Vakarian huddled so closely that the steam from their breath drifted out into one unified cloud as they mulled over the evidence that popped up, throwing ideas back and forth.
“So this date of yours…” He stopped there to let out a huff, pulling his hood down even tighter. He then shivered, looking even more miserable than Shepard expected he would. She couldn’t help but wish she could do something to warm her poor turian partner. They didn’t do well in the cold.
Despite the sympathy she felt for him, she nearly groaned when he brought up the date again. She peeked out from under her hood, “You know, you’re more interested in this than I am.”
“I’m eating take-out tonight and going over omni-logs from that Presidium hold up.”
“I’d rather be doing that.”
“You don’t want to be single forever, do you?”
“I’m only thirty. Not quite an old spinster.”
“It seems to be for turians,” he responded, bitterness souring his voice.
“Your mom and dad don’t have you married off yet,” she said encouragingly. “Maybe you’ll sneak into old bachelorhood and they’ll leave you alone.”
“Vakarian. Shepard.” Regitus finally called over, interrupting their conversation. “They’re done here, you’re good to go.”
His eyes, the most comforting thing she had on this station, warmed as they traveled across her face. She couldn’t help but think he was examining her like he would a crime scene. Another puzzle for him to solve.
“Thought I’d get your mind off this case while we wait around. Talk about something more pleasant,” Vakarian said.
She ignored him, allowing silence to fall between them. As odd and horrible as it was, to her this date was not more pleasant. She rubbed at her eyes then allowed them to wander up to the simulated sky above them, thick with clouds. She found herself wishing they were real clouds, not an image, aching for the comfort of home right now. Her legs bounced anxiously, and despite not being cold, she wrapped her arms around herself.
Vakarian noticed Shepard’s sunken shoulders and tired eyes. Her lips were tight – humans’ lips got tight when something was bothering them. And he knew her eyes hadn’t looked that tired when they got in the car to head over here.
Her eyes landed on his like a slap to the mandible. They pulled him in closer, at least he felt closer to her, even if he hadn’t moved an inch. It looked like she was aching to tell him something. As the moment between them passed he almost convinced himself to just ask her to skip her date.
“Aren’t you sick of seeing dead kids?” she finally said.
“Yeah, but I’m not quite ready to take on the riveting world of investor fraud,” he drawled as he motioned for her to follow him to the car. “Come on, let’s get you home and ready for that hot date.”
He watched her eyes as they made their way through the muck and back to their car, hoping to see them spark back to life as they got further and further away from the scene. On the way over they had been bright and happy as she told him about a comedy vid she’d watched the night before. A krogan and a turian had to team up to save a colony from batarian raiders. She hadn’t understood all the jokes, but she was starting to get cultural stereotypes and catch eccentricities often enough to enjoy watching comedies by herself. Her progress made him proud.
Watching action vids with her when she first moved to the Citadel was all right, but comedies were tedious. They usually ended up laughing at each other’s ignorance and misunderstandings more than the vid.
They climbed into the car and were soon traveling at a slow pace back to the academy. His eyes carefully watching the traffic, he asked, “So, who is this guy?”
She looked over at him, a suspicious eyebrow quirked up, “Why?”
“I need to know something about him. What if he abducts you? I’d rather find your mangled body before it reeks of rot.”
She chuckled, “You’re an ass. And I met him at a coffee shop. He’s a Council Spectre. His name is Kaiden Alenko. He has a dog that his sister takes care of when he’s on missions. And he likes Italian food.” She recited as if she was going over the details of a case.
“Spectre huh? No wonder you said yes. You like the smooth and dangerous types, mmm?”
She snorted, “I had to ask him, actually. He just kept hovering around, talking about random crap. I knew he wanted to ask me, but he couldn’t get up the nerve to say something, so I did it for him.”
“Ouch, no quad. Must be good looking then?” His throat tightened when he said that. Acting like this didn't bother him turned his stomach just a bit. But what was he supposed to do? Ask her to spend the rest of her life wasting her nights with him when she could find someone who would make her happy?
“What do you care?”
“I need a physical description. For the APB. Please don’t make it hard for me to find your murderer Shep. I’ll be emotionally distraught so it’ll be hard enough.”
“Oh, ok,” she jokingly conceded. “He’s alright. About my height—”
“5’8” is pretty tall for human women.”
“But not men.”
“No. But they’re all short compared to you. Most turian men are shorter than you.” As he maneuvered the car into the right lane, nearing the academy, she continued her description of the Spectre, “Black hair. Medium build.”
He pulled into a stall and they climbed out of the car as she thought, then said, “I don’t really remember anything else about him.”
“Hmm, great sign. He really made an impression on you then,” he teased in his drawling tone.
“I’m pretty sure that’s how people end up meeting their spouse,” she argued, and it was nearly convincing. “It’s the ones that give you butterflies that end up burning bright, and burning out, right?”
“Sure. Every time I ask a happy couple how they met they answer ‘No fucking clue, can’t remember a thing about it’.”
She shoved him with her elbow as they chuckled. Selfishly, he’d been annoyed ever since she said she had a date. He’d become accustomed to their routine, most nights eating take-out together and either working on cases or just hanging out. What the hell was he supposed to do? Just go home? Eat by himself?
They both inhaled big breaths of air at the same time, watching each other. He didn’t want to say goodnight and imagined maybe she didn't want to either. “Go on and get home,” he finally said. “I’ll start the reports. You can look at them tomorrow morning.”
“Yeah.” He ran his fingers, talons dulled so he could safely work with humans, along the end of a strand of her soaked hair. “If you want to impress this guy you have your work cut out for you.”
“Fuck off,” she groaned but still smiled.
His mandibles flicked out in a grin. “Don’t fall in love too fast. See you tomorrow, Shep.”
If she had looked back she would have seen him watching her, protective eyes unable to leave her. They were great partners. A perfect team.
The reports went fairly quickly. Turians were precise and to the point, but keen to all the details. Humans, the few that worked with C-Sec, still hadn’t caught up to the turians in terms of precision and professionalism. A few had taken offense to it, claiming racism. It usually wasn’t. Just cultural differences that he assumed would fade away as humans adjusted to the intergalactic community and their still new and untested place alongside the asari, salarians, and turians.
Shepard usually let him start the reports and she looked them over later, polishing them by offering her perspective and additions. Sitting at his desk, he smiled, remembering that it used to piss her off when he insisted on starting them without her. She never thought it was racism, but she did take it personally. She quickly realized, however, that their time was better served when she allowed him to start. After only a year or so they found a perfect system that worked well for them.
Many turians and humans had been paired up initially when the first round of humans arrived in C-Sec, but he and Shepard were the only original pair that were still together. They got a lot of attention because of it, good and bad.
Two hours had passed since Shepard left to get ready. He couldn’t hold back the itch any longer, and soon found his fingers typing out Kaiden Alenko’s name into C-Sec databases. He didn’t find anything too interesting, and thankfully nothing alarming.
Unsatisfied with basic information anyone could get on the guy, though, he used the illegal programs loaded on his omni-tool to hack into Council files and jumped down a boundary-pushing, and possibly career-damaging, hole. He didn’t care too much, though. It was nothing he hadn’t done before for a case. And this was his partner. Keeping her safe was worth one of Captain Pallin’s lectures. What if the Spectre was known to massacre hanar colonies? He had to know…Shepard, deserved to know that.
Unfortunately, all he found was some uninteresting psych evals and information on his family and past relationships. The most interesting thing he discovered was that the Council kept trackers on all Spectre’s, even when they were off duty. Alenko was currently sitting at an Italian restaurant a few blocks from Shepard’s apartment. The selfish prick took her to eat his favorite food. Jane preferred steaks and bourbon, which he would have known if he’d asked.
“Go home Vakarian,” Pallin shouted from the hall and on his own way out of the building. With a quick glance around the room, Vakarian realized that the lights had been dimmed and everyone else already left. The only ones left in the room were the night cycle shift.
He shut his console off, satisfied with his reports but still irked by the thought of the unknown Spectre eating pasta with Jane, and slid his arms into his jacket. He decided to grab some take-out before heading home, and refused to admit to the real reason he planned to go by a specific place on Silversun Strip that served decent food that was safe for levo and dextro species. He convinced himself he’d just take a little peek into the restaurant, just to make sure she looked safe and happy, and then he’d go home.