Garrus wasn't tired.
He wasn't tired at all, so he lay in the dark, glaring at the ceiling, resenting the light his mother had left burning in the hallway as if he were still a baby afraid of monsters. She just didn't understand. He was the big brother now, and big brothers weren't afraid of baby things like monsters or the dark. He knew there weren't any klixen in his closet, or Collectors under the bed. He kept telling her and telling her, but she only said things like, "You're still my baby, dear one," and she always left the stupid light on in the hallway.
All he wanted was to stay awake and see his dad—he didn't even remember the last time his dad was home longer than a few days; Garrus felt like he hadn't seen him in a million years—but Dad's shuttle was late coming in, and Mom had put him to bed at the same time as the baby, before his dad even got home.
That stung. Early bedtime and lights in the hall. It was like she didn't know anything at all.
He was still awake when he heard footsteps outside and knew they were too heavy to be his mother's. He almost jumped out of bed then and there, but he didn't want to get in trouble. Like a good boy, he closed his eyes and pretended to be asleep, but the door didn't creak open. The footsteps didn't come any closer, and after a minute he heard them walking away again.
Garrus curled his hands into fists, eyes still squeezed shut. When he opened them, it was dark. The light in the hall was off. He knew he was supposed to stay in bed. He could imagine exactly what his dad would say if he found him up now.
Garrus got out of bed anyway, and slowly, carefully, quietly padded down the hallway, toward the light of the half-open door and the drifting sound of his parents' voices.
"—Still with the light, Niva? He's too old for that. You're coddling him."
Garrus bristled, but he knew then they'd get mad and make him go back to bed if he said anything, and at least this way he got to hear his dad. Even if he had it all wrong.
"He's a child. Let him be a child. He won't be afraid of klixen in the shadows forever."
He bit down on his tongue to keep from yelling that he wasn't afraid of klixen in the shadows now. He wasn't afraid of anything. He was the big brother. He was brave.
"It's not klixen he needs to fear. We've enough real trouble. These… these aliens—"
Confused, Garrus took another step closer to the open door. He cringed when his foot scraped the bare floor, just loudly enough to make a sound he knew his parents had to hear. Holding his breath, he waited for them to scold him, but the lecture didn't come.
"The Council says it's over, Kaius."
He didn't know what they were talking about, but just for a second—a tiny second—he was almost scared. They sounded so serious. As serious as the time he fell out the window on the second floor and broke his arm. As serious as the time Solana got sick and they had to take her to the hospital in the middle of the night. Serious.
"Mark my words, Niva. Nothing good will come of this. They overstep themselves, and the entire galaxy will have to pay for their mistakes and their blunders. They're children playing with weapons they don't understand, and all their ammo is live. The last three months have been proof enough of that."
He expected his mother to raise her voice the way she did when Garrus did something he wasn't supposed to. Like climb the furniture or tease the baby. So he was surprised when she only laughed; a low, gentle sort of sound. Garrus peeked around the corner in time to see her lay a hand upon his father's crossed arms. He looked mad. Garrus hated when his dad looked mad. It made him want to squirm away and run back to his room. He didn't, though. Because he was the big brother, and he was brave. "We were all such children once, Kaius. Honest mistakes are no cause for the wanton destruction of an entire race. They're not the krogan."
His father scowled. "We don't know what they are."
She sighed. "They're humans, and in spite of what nearly happened, we are not at war with them. If the Council's welcomed them, you'd best at least make the attempt, love. I suspect more than one stubborn fool will lose his place if he's not willing to change with the times." She coughed lightly, and then turned toward the door. Garrus froze. "Now, perhaps we've talked enough of that. I think your son would like a word."
"You're supposed to be sleeping," his dad said. Garrus didn't step backward, but he wanted to. His father's eyes were sharp, and missed nothing.
Before he could start mumbling apologies, his mother lied, "I told him he could wait up for you."
Garrus blinked at her, then shuffled forward.
"Stand up straight, son."
"I'm not afraid of the dark," Garrus said, lifting his chin and squaring his shoulders. "Just so you know. Sol is, but I'm not."
His father smiled at that, and, at least for a while, the aliens were forgotten.
Garrus seethed as Pallin strode away.
Seethed, and already knew damned well he wasn't going to let the executor's order halt his investigation. Officially, maybe. Unofficially was something else entirely. Pallin could scold him all he liked; Garrus knew Saren was dirty. Hell, he was half-convinced Pallin was involved, somehow. Or in Saren's pocket. He heard rumors about the Spectre, and none of them good. Pallin thought he played fast and loose with the rules?
But then, Garrus wasn't a Spectre. And in a game where one side had regulations and the other didn't, he was pretty sure the side wrapped up in red tape was always going to lose. Saren could leave a trail of bodies a mile wide and all he had to do was say "Spectre authority" to make it all disappear.
Garrus needed some damned proof.
Exhaling sharply, he turned to leave, and only then noticed the trio of humans watching him. He knew human expressions well enough to guess they'd heard at least some of the argument. The male looked impatient. The darker woman standing beside him, uneasy.
The leader, though. She just looked interested.
She seemed vaguely familiar, too, though he felt fairly certain he'd never met her before. He made a point of remembering faces, and hair her shade was uncommon enough to stand out, even if her military posture or the scar cutting across her left eyebrow weren't distinguishing features enough.
Shepard. The name came to him in a flash, because he'd overheard Pallin complaining earlier about a Commander Shepard digging around for information he didn't care to give. It had been accompanied by an irritated little diatribe about upstarts, with a side of obvious distaste for humans. One of the Alliance's best and brightest, Garrus knew; her face was familiar from the newsvids. She'd been given a Star of Terra, and those weren't handed out for nothing.
Fine. Pallin wanted to be an ass? Garrus could play that game too. If she was looking into Saren, maybe he could find an ally in her. The executor would hate it.
"Commander Shepard?" he said, noting the flicker of surprise as he greeted her by name. "Garrus Vakarian. I was the officer in charge of the C-Sec investigation into Saren."
She arched an eyebrow as she replied, "Sounds like you really want to bring him down."
She sounded like she really wanted to bring him down.
And just like that, he had a feeling they were going to get along fine.