AN- Thanks to Reikson
"I have no idea why I'm even doing this." Ashley grumbled as she sipped her drink. She was sitting at a darkened table in Flux, Garrus sitting across from her.
"I'm only playing a hunch, Williams," Garrus sighed, gulping down some dextro-amino drink with a name that she couldn't pronounce. "...but I think that, regardless of how pissed-off you are about Virmire, I doubt that you really think she's a ruthless and delusional war criminal."
"Look, Garrus, I get that 'Need-to-Know' is a part of our lives..." Ashley tried to defend her position. "...but we're a team. We have to be able to depend on each other, but she's kept things from us. Are you really that cool about that?"
The unconventional Turian just shrugged. "She's never denied that she's hidden things from you. She just feels that it's her call as Mission Commander. I assume that you disagree?"
"Garrus, that's different." Ashley protested weakly.
"No, it's not," he disagreed. "People react to the truth in different ways, and I can guarantee that not every person is as pleasant as the Normandy's crew, in regards to finding out that you're the granddaughter of the infamous General Williams."
Ashley snorted as she took another sip of her drink. "Okay, fine, people are stupid. But WE aren't people, Garrus." At his quirked brow ridge, she explained. "We're in the same squad. We're supposed to be on the same side, but we really aren't; it's Shepard, and her magic soldier Harris, saving the galaxy."
Sitting back in her chair, she sighed as she crossed her arms. "And if the rest of us get caught in the crossfire..." she snorted. "Hell, tough shit on us, right?"
"You want to know what I think really bothers you, Ashley?" Garrus drawled. "I think that you hate what it means, if they're right. You hate that, deep down, you know how evil and stupid people can be."
Ashley sighed, not really wanting to hear the Turian's words. "You think that you deserve their trust, but you know trust and respect are earned. Deep down inside, you wonder; what if they look at you and think that they can't trust you, and that's why they kept it a secret?"
"I got way too much noise in my head over this, anyway..." Ashley sighed. "How we gonna do this?"
"I want to talk to Chellick before we do anything else." The former C-Sec officer said noncommittally.
Garrus and Ash left Flux, only to find the local part of the Wards abuzz with loud and raucous shouting. Several people holding signs and yelling.
"No Blood For Aliens!"
Garrus ignored them and instead focused on a beige-skinned Turian, with white lines running along his mandibles and down his chin, in a C-Sec uniform.
"Chellick?!?" Vakarian shouted, trying to make himself heard over the noise.
Chellick turned and his mandibles twitched in a way that Ashley would've sworn meant that he'd swallowed something foul tasting.
"Vakarian..." Chellick drawled. "...the last person I wanted to see today."
"Answer my questions, then," Garrus sneered. "I was looking forward to this, as much as you."
"Do we have to do this in front of her?" Chellick grumbled, looking at Ashley.
Garrus ignored him. "A protest on the Wards... I'm guessing Pallin's not happy about this."
"When is Pallin ever happy," Chellick whined, "There's more and more idiots every spirits-cursed day; this one wants the concessions promised to that one, but that one has promised to surrender territory, but only if the other one pays them a portion of riches obtained. Whenever the Council can't be bothered to deal with it, they end up as C-sec's problem. They moved this one down here from the Presidium, Great for the barefaces in the Embassy Suites, not so good for us."
"What are they whining about?" Ashley asked, looking at the group.
"They're rallying to support some human politician named Saracino," Chellick explained, waving a claw towards the yelling sign-bearers. "He's campaigning for some Alliance Parliament seat, 'cept his message of empowerment seems to play to race politics... hardly surprising, really. Seems that's what everybody goes with, these days. They're Terra Firma."
"Terra Firma?" Ashley spat, disgusted. "Bunch of bigots and racists in expensive suits complaining about aliens doing the jobs that they wouldn't want to do in the first place?"
"Yes, fine examples of your people." Chellick sneered.
"As if Pallin doesn't have similar views." Garrus snapped. "Everybody knows he has a varren on his leg about Humans."
"He thinks they're too pushy, which they are." Chellick retorted.
"Compared to what?" Ashley snorted. "I mean, who decides when and how we get our piece of the pie? You? Pallin? Or should we trust the wisdom of the three idiots who manged to ignore Saren's crimes until their own asses were on the hot seat?"
Chellick made a disgusted sound. "You're here about the human, al-Jilani, aren't you? You want to know about the Council Chamber footage."
Garrus crossed his arms. "al-Jilani managed to smuggle a hover-cam past the detectors." His flanged voice deepened, betraying the depths of his irritation. "That shoud be impossible without C-Sec involvement, which ultimately means Pallin."
"Look," Chellick groaned. "Pallin's got a varren up his ass about how much heat C-Sec's been taking, ever since your Human Spectre friend came along."
"What does Shepard have to do with this?" Garrus asked, suspicious.
"Did you see Emily Wong's report on Fist? 'Cause Pallin did." Chellick snarled. "Basically, she said that C-Sec sat idle while your friend Shepard closed a half-dozen outstanding cases, including MY illegal mod case."
"Pallin's jealous of Shepard's press?" Ashley sputtered in disbelief.
"Fist was an annoyance," Chellick explained. "We were building a case against him, but these things take time. Then your Spectre friend comes along and guns him down and pretty much stumbled ass-backwards into enough evidence to link him to a chunk of our outstandings."
"Pallin closed the case against Saren, what was Shepard supposed to do?" Garrus grumped.
"Pallin was pressured by the Council to close the case. Then that barefaced embarrassment, Valern," here, Chellick spit a loogie into a nearby trash can before talking again. "...well, Valern turns around and makes like he didn't have anything to do with your aborted case, when the Quarian's evidence pops up."
"So, Pallin's using al-Jilani to take his frustrations out on Shepard and the Spectres." Garrus deduced. Then he turned to Chellick, glaring at the other Turian with suspicion. "You already knew about all this, didn't you?"
Chellick simply whistled a wordless string of notes that made Garrus twitch visibly. "Pallin SHOULD be investigating al-Jilani, pulling the security records from the Council Chambers to see who let her in, but he's not doing either." Vakarian glared thoughtfully, "No matter how you look at it, it's suspicious."
"Pallin's feeling like his balls fell off." Ashley added, sneering at the politics miring such a dire situation. "He makes trouble for Shepard, and maybe he gets his balls back."
"That's yet another human saying that I pray to never get an explanation for." Chellick sighed, turning his gaze to the Terra Firma protesters again.
But Garrus only nodded. "That tells us why Pallin pressed the case. But why work through Kolnar? What's his connection to this?"
"al-Jilani's been trying to find an in with C-Sec," Chellick replied absently. "Pallin ignored her until Emily Wong embarrassed him. He's not al-Jilani's biggest fan, but still supports her somewhat because-"
Garrus interrupted him, "...because she talks trash about Shepard. I'm thinking that Kolnar has a human fetish. I guess that he hopes that by doing enough favors for her, she'll become his best friend "
"You know this whole thing will end badly, Chellick," Ashley warned the C-Sec cop. "Shepard doesn't leave missions half-done, and that woman's a walking, talking, Scorched-Earth policy."
"Don't I know it," Chellick grumbled, scratching a brow ridge. "But you know that if she does anything to defy the Council, then it'll just prove everything that al-Jilani says."
"Are you really going to give US a lecture on procedure?" Garrus drawled condescendingly. "Especially when you and Pallin allowed a fellow officer to disgrace his position, just to soothe Pallin's vanity?"
"You used to care about the job," Chellick pointed out. "Your father did, anyway."
"My father cared about Justice," Garrus snapped. "Do things right or don't do them at all; I had to hear my father say that, plenty of times while growing up."
Crossing his arms, the former C-Sec officer glared at Chellick, "Now, Kolnar disgraces himself so that a raving propagandist can humiliate the Council, and all with Pallin's permission. What, in any of this, seems right to you, Chellick?"
"Pallin was looking out for C-Sec-" Chellick began, but was cut off.
"The C-Sec that my father served in? It's gone; dead." Garrus barked, interrupting his former coworker. "C-Sec used to be an organization to be proud of, even more so than the Spectres. Now, it's all about rules and procedure. Now we don't stop crime, or help people anymore, we file reports about it. It's all about covering our ass, not risking it."
"Spirits, you're starting to sound like her." Chellick groaned at the real bitter cynicism in Garrus' voice.
For his part, Garrus just sighed. "Chellick, I've done more good in the last few months while riding around the galaxy with Shepard than anything that I ever did at C-Sec."
Chellick only frowned slightly at Garrus' explanation. "If that's what you really think, then maybe you don't belong in C-Sec. Maybe you never did."
"Considering what you and Pallin have turned, what my father helped to build, into... whatever C-Sec is now?" Garrus grumbled. "I wonder if either of you belong in C-Sec anymore."
Garrus stomped away, Ashley rushing to catch up with him. When she finally caught up with him, he was looking out a window. The Destiny Ascension could be seen cruising slowly past, and people nearby were pointing at the dreadnought in amazement.
"If it makes you feel any better, I think you were right to call his useless ass out." Ashley tried.
"Thanks, Williams," Garrus sighed. Then he changed the subject. "You know that I know about what you said, right? Back when I first came aboard? I heard a couple of servicemen talking."
"Look, Garrus, I barely knew you back then..." Ashley tried to explain, but Garrus cut her off.
"I went to Shepard about that," Garrus drawled, absently rubbing his fringe. "I asked her why you didn't come talk to me, let me defend myself."
Turning to Ashley, the tall Turian rumbled, "Shepard told me that if I wanted you to respect me, then I'd have to earn it. She trusted that, in time, you'd change your mind and make the right call. I suggested that maybe I shouldn't go on missions with you. You know what she tells me?"
"This is a multilateral mission, and you have to learn to work together." They chorused, grinning at each other.
Garrus sat down on a nearby windowsill, Ashley joining him only seconds later. "Look, Williams, "I know that you think I'm blind to what Shepard is, and what she's capable of doing," Garrus sighed. "But I'm not blind, Ashley. I get that you're pissed off with Shepard and Xander, but..."
Turning to look at the other Wards of the Citadel, he seemed to sag. "Working here on the Citadel, with idiots like Chellick... sometimes I felt ashamed of myself. Like I was looking the other way and hiding behind rules, while crimes happened and people needed me."
Scratching a mandible, he added, "Now, with Shepard... I don't just sit back, filing reports about bad guys. No, I track them down and take them out, no matter what the cost. I like that feeling and I don't want to let that go. I won't."
He looked at her, "If you can honestly look at the good that we've done since signing on with her, and then say that it doesn't mean anything to you, then... by all means, leave." He finalized, gesturing impatiently and waving his hand dismissively in the general direction of the Normandy's berth.
Looking out the window again, Garrus stared out at the other Wards. After a minute or so, he said, "But I'm staying to see this through; do things right or don't do them at all and all that. This fight against Saren..."
He seemed uncharacteristically pensive as he continued to look out at the other Wards. "What we're doing... trying to save the galaxy, that's the right thing to do. Everything else, including whatever secrets that Xander might have... that's just a distraction."
Finally, he stood up and caught a cab. Ashley went with him, heading for the Normandy and leaving Chellick alone with his thoughts. The beige-skinned Turian had heard the whole conversation, and he found himself lost in thought. A few minutes later, having had an epiphany and making a momentous decision, he made a comm call.
"Bailey, you know that Duct Rat whose paperwork that you like losing track of?" Chellick said into his radio.
A brief response later, "Yeah, him." Rubbing the back of his neck, Chellick added, "I'd like him to find me someone who can hack the restricted files. I want to know everything there is to know about our boss and the Spectres."
Ashley thought about what Garrus' words, all the way back to the Normandy's docking cradle. She slipped past the guards and the repair crews finishing their daily shifts. Wandering through the corridors of the ship, lost in thought...
The truth was that she'd done more good aboard this ship in the last few months, more so than anything else that she'd done her entire career. She was a part of the Normandy's crew, which was important to her.
But, still... like a burr under a horse saddle, the thought nagged at her. Could she trust Shepard?
Did Shepard trust her?
Shepard came across Ashley organizing her station, pulling out her person effects and stowing them in a duffel bag.
"Going somewhere, Gunnery Chief?" Shepard's quiet voice startled her.
"I'm just getting my things squared away, Commander." Ashley said, still packing her stuff. "I'm sure that you'll want your next Gunnery Chief to hit the ground running."
"I'm not aware of any personnel changes, Gunnery Chief." Shepard sighed. "Would you mind explaining?"
"I accused my commanding officer of screwing us over." Ashley laughed bitterly. "Last I checked, that wasn't exactly conducive to a harmonious work environment."
"In case you weren't paying attention, there's no official record of that conversation." Shepard said helpfully. "What helps is that you were doped up after having just been shot. Plus, seeing Saren kill your team members can't have been easy to see."
"You knew that I was totally ready to give my life for any one of those guys, but having them die right in front of me..." Ashley trailed off.
"That's Saren's fault," Shepard hissed. "And I intend for that son of a bitch to answer for their deaths, along with all the other crap he's done."
"Well, I guess that's it for him," Ashley quipped. "I'll say this much for you, skipper, you don't screw around."
"Touching..." Shepard said dryly. "So what's your opinion of the last mission?"
"Excuse me?" Ashley managed, nonplussed.
"You're still my Gunnery Chief, and I'm asking for your tactical appraisal." Shepard replied, all matter-of-fact.
"About the AI Dreadnought or the batshit-crazy Turian who wants to kill us all?" Ashley asked dryly.
"Kaidan and Ellison both said that you have a good grasp of squad dynamics, and you spent time with Alenko. Why do YOU really think he did what he did?"
"Permission to speak freely, ma'am?"
Shepard nodded wordlessly.
"You scared the shit out of him. You scare the shit out of most people."
"Ma'am, everybody's heard the stories. What you did at Torfan, mostly," Ashley shrugged. "But, honestly? Seeing you in action is... well, the sight of you fighting is something else. People say things like 'do what it takes to get the job done,' but you'll actually DO whatever you have to do to in order to win. I guess that, on some level... that scares some people."
"Does that scare you?" Shepard asked quietly.
"What scares me is how often you seem to be able to turn situations that seem hopeless into victory." Ashley said, as she began taking apart a sniper rifle. "I honestly think that Kaidan got a little nervous that winning isn't just everything for you, but it's the only thing."
Shepard nodded. "I thought it might be something like that. Come to Flux tonight Chief, we can raise a glass to absent friends and then I can show you just how much respect i have for you and the crew."
"If I can ask, ma'am?" Ashley ventured. Shepard nodded wordlessly, so the Gunnery Chief asked, "About Xander... how did he manage to convince you to keep his nature a secret? 'Cuz that's a Hell of a judgment call."
"When we were on Noveria, Peak 15's security detail activated a Neutron Purge system, with all of us still in the blast zone. So Xander goes and shoves his hands into an elevator power coupling." Atypically, Shepard took on the thousand-yard-stare that Ashley vaguely remembered seeing on her grandfather's face.
"He takes a gigawatt charge through his whole body in order to get the elevator moving out of the affected area, and he does it to save my life and the lives of the squad." Shepard shook her head vigorously, trying to snap herself out of the ghastly memory. "And whatever else that I might think of him, Williams, something like that still takes balls."
"He can't die, ma'am," Ashley reasoned. "Risking his life... it doesn't have quite the meaning that it would with someone who can actually die in combat."
Shepard just shook her head. "You didn't see the look on his face just before he did it, Williams. Let alone hear the way he screamed as he fried himself. Xander might not be able to die, but getting killed still hurts. A lot."
The former farm girl sighed. "Trust me, Williams, he's risking just as much as we do, every time he steps onto a battlefield, and he still does it."
"How come you aren't pressuring me to make nice with him?"
"Not my business if you make nice or not," Shepard shrugged. "But this is still a multilateral mission, Williams, and I expect you to work with Xander like I expect you to work with Wrex or Garrus or Tali."
"If trust is your big issue, then come to Flux tonight," Shepard sighed, suddenly looking pensive. "Anderson has a plan for getting us off the Citadel, but there's an element of risk; both personally and professionally. I'm willing to burn my own life and career because... well, you're right, Williams. I don't have a problem risking anything and everything to win. But this... what he's planning and what I'd have to do... It's not fair to make that call for all of you."
"I'll be there, ma'am," Ashley vowed, saluting her CO.
Shepard stared at the Gunnery Chief for a while before smiling and finally saying, "You're a smart woman, Williams, and a good soldier who knows her own mind and her own worth. Those are qualities that I need, especially now that we're so close to the end. But that has to be your choice."