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Serve and Protect

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He was a good turian.

He followed orders, even when the person issuing them changed hour to hour. He worked for the greater good, revered the Spirits, and donated most of his paycheck to the war effort. He never questioned an order, never stepped out of line. He ranked as a sharpshooter with seventeen different firearms and trained in three different styles of hand to hand.

It was a good war for a good turian. The entire world was black and white, simplified. Maybe the diplomats had a harder time of it, maybe the councilors and the generals and the Primarch would disagree, but down on the docks of the Citadel, it was simple. Help whoever you can, dammit, and keep the peace, Bailey told them. Orders he could follow.

But he didn’t know what to do with her.

The first time he noticed the human girl, he’d asked if she needed help. It was automatic, as route as slamming home a new clip. Ask if he could help. Help if he could, pass them to someone who could, if he couldn’t. Keep the peace. He hadn’t even looked at her until she answered.

She was old enough to sneak into Purgatory without an issue, but she didn’t look like the sort who would try. Some turians had trouble with human ages, but none of them had taken shifts as a stand-in bouncer. He’d picked up the trick of it long ago.

She held the promise of beauty, for a human. He listened to the thread of fear in her odd, shallow voice, but he was watching the asari commandos behind her. Fresh from the front lines, their eyes were predatory and hungry.

He’d met the commander’s gaze and flared his mandibles in warning and just like that, the world became much more colorful.

She slept by the desk, the first night. He knew, because he swapped shifts twice to stay on duty the entire night.

He told himself it was because they were stretched so thin, because he wasn’t really tired, because he didn’t like the look of the group of batarians who’d arrived an hour before his shift originally ended.

He couldn’t convince her to get breakfast with him. It was probably just as well. She’d probably miss her parents arrival.

Instead, he went home. Cleaned his gear. Ate. Watched the news reports on Commander Shepard, the war on Palaven, Cerberus’ latest attacks. Slept.

She was gone the next day, when he came on shift. He didn’t have time to think anything of it, because a friendly poker game had ended in bullets and he was the closest officer. (Had her parents come? Had those asari come back? What if that grifter had found her?) He took a left hook to the jaw, helped a salarian find his sister, explained that no, he didn’t have any news to three... no, four different families with desperation in their eyes. Reunited one couple, thrumming to himself with pride as he watched the soldier embrace his husband.

She was waiting when he returned to the desk. He wondered if she recognized him-- humans had trouble telling ‘alien’ faces apart. But her smile was relieved and bright.

“Did you find your parents?” he asked, rubbing his jaw.

His question fell over her like the Reapers blocking out Trebia. The smile disappeared completely, blocked by his own thoughtlessness.

“No,” she said and he watched her put bravery on like warpaint. Her smile returned suddenly in a way Trebia’s rays never would. “But I’m sure they’ll be here soon.”

He nodded, wanting to reassure her. Her parents certainly would be there soon, he wanted to say. Instead, he hunted behind his desk and found the ‘apple’ he’d bought off one of the refugees.

“Here,” he said, setting it on the desk. “One of the officers gave it to me, but I can’t eat it.” The lie came easier than false reassurances.

He was called away before she could answer. When he came back, (by the Spirits, Zaeed Massani was the last person the Citadel needed showing up,) she was sitting with her back to the desk, legs bent, nibbling on the core.

He eventually swapped enough shifts that Bailey noticed, came down from his Mountain of Headaches and Paperwork and Bullshit to ask what the Hell was going on, the last thing he needed was an officer dead from exhaustion. He assured the commander that he was just trying to do his part. That had earned him a very suspicious look.

He made her a nest next to the desk, using blankets from home. None of the other officers commented on it. They all had things they didn’t talk about, like the way Jorva always took patrol in the commons to watch over a grieving asari. How Amanda took every request from the nurses, no matter how small. How all of them found small rays of light to wield against the darkness.

She would sit in the nest and smile and chatter on. Some of it was inane, (who even knew that there were still new Vids coming out? And what did Zetta Rad mean?) but she had a sharp eye, (hey, isn’t that the guy from that file you were reading earlier? He just went down that alley, there,) and an inquisitive mind, (do turians have cosmetology schools? What do you do if you smear your paint? Why are you waving your face-things at me?) But the glare of the sunshine in her voice hid the decay of despair.

He tried to stop time. He tried to hold it back, to keep her safe from the suspicions of sorrow, tried to fight every passing minute and worried glance. Some days he succeeded, distracted her from every dark thought, every hammer that tried to shatter the shell of her hope.

She wouldn’t leave the desk and, as time marched mercilessly on, he found he couldn’t leave her.

He ran himself to exhaustion, worked past his limits. The early hours of the morning often found him asleep in the nest with the girl, one hand on his rifle, head rested on her thigh, her fingers curled around his fringe, both of them snoring softly. He only went home to change and bathe.

He woke by degrees, fighting years of training that demanded instant alertness. The early hours muted the Citadel, left it as warm and pure as her belief. He listened to her off-beat heart and quiet breath; inhaled the powder soft scent of her. Felt the changes as she woke, the way her breath sped up, then slowed back down. The way her fingers flexed in his fringe, then began to stroke it.

“Wh-what do I do if they don’t come?” she whispered. He felt the tremble in her voice and in her fingers. Knew her warpaint bravery to be as smeared as his own.

She didn’t know how to handle the world without her paint. But good or not, he was a turian, and turians knew smearing the design didn’t change the color.

“I’ll help you find a guardian,” he said. “Someone will take you in.”

She was silent long enough that he thought about lifting his head to see why. When she finally spoke, he barely heard her.

“It won’t work. It’s my birthday,” she said. “I’m not a kid any more, but I don’t know what to do.” Her voice cracked and shattered into pieces around him.

He felt her start to break and sat up to catch her. He was awkward in armor, uncertain how to hold a body so soft, but large enough to wrap around her, hard enough to protect her from the world.

He pressed his forehead to the top of her head and flared his mandibles. Felt silken strands of her hair catch on his rough skin.

“Then I’ll keep you safe,” he promised.

He was a good turian. He kept his promises.