Chapter 1: 'A' is for Adventure
All the little Adventures Saren and Shepard have embarked on together.
(See the end of the chapter for notes.)
“Let’s go have an adventure!”
The first time Saren had said the words to Faith, it had been mocking, filled with disdain and heavy amounts of sarcasm. They had watched an old Earth vid together, much at Faith’s insistence, and the protagonist had used that line multiple times to encourage his group of people into more and more dangerous situations.
As Faith stared at the towering mountain of fortifications and turrets that made up their current target, she silently swore never to give Saren that kind of verbal ammunition to use against her ever again.
* * *
”It’ll be an adventure.”
Saren grinned impishly at his human companion, enjoying her discomfort far too much. Faith glared at the Turian, silently hating him in that moment as she glanced down the cliff’s edge. The ground was frighteningly far away, lost in the swaying branches of the forest below. Shaking her head, she backed away.
“Oh no. I’m crazy, but I’m not that crazy. I’ll take the long way around. There’s a path leading down the other side, and it looks a whole lot more inviting. You can throw yourself off the cliff if you really want to. I’ll meet you down there via the safer route.” Faith glanced at the repelling equipment with disgust. Saren gave her an overly-dramatic expression of false sympathy.
“Poor, timid little human. I’m sorry, I hadn’t realized we needed to cater to your every whim. By all means, let me call a limousine to carry you in safety and comfort to the base we’re trying to sneak up on.” Saren bit off each word at the end of the sentence, a tone that brooked no nonsense. Faith seethed at him as he grabbed her by the belt, jerked her forward, and prepped her line.
“Tell me, is there any reason I shouldn’t cut your rope and just be rid of you?” Faith asked, only half-serious. Saren gave her a grin as he roughly smacked her cheek.
“Same reason I won’t cut yours.”
“And that is?” Faith crossed her arms, watching as the Spectre swung over the edge, settling himself for the long descent. He grinned back at her, motioning with his head towards the numerous pieces of equipment they were leaving at their base camp.
“I don’t want to have to carry all that equipment back to the ship by myself.”
With a sharp motion, he indicated she was to join him over the ledge. With a groan, Faith gingerly lowered herself next to him, holding onto the ledge with a death grip. Saren grinned at her.
“I hope I remembered to affix your line properly. It’s been ever so long since I’ve done this, and I’d hate to see the hole you’d make after dropping from this height.”
Faith swore long and bitterly the entire way down.
* * *
“The visual pleasantness of the ‘please’ will not sway my answer.”
“It’ll be an adventure.”
“Oh, in that case - NO!”
Faith watched as Saren stormed off, disappointed, but also slightly triumphant at having made him lost his cool. The fact that she’d been able to use his favorite mocking phrase against him was a bonus.
* * *
“I’m not liking this adventure anymore.”
Faith whimpered, eyes squeezed shut as she pressed a hand to her bleeding side. A lucky shot from a high-powered sniper rifle had torn down her shields in a single hit. Though she’d been quick to move back into cover, another enemy had rounded the corner at that exact moment and fired a few rounds at her. Saren had riddled the attacker with more shots than Faith would have guessed were necessary, then had cast a singularity above the sniper, pulling them off their perch and allowing them to fall to the ground in a wet splat. Faith hit her medi-gel, breathing slightly easier as the cool rush of healing fluid hit her system, temporarily numbing the pain down to a dull roar. As she struggled to sit back up, she was surprised to feel Saren’s hand on her back, pushing her back down.
“You’re bleeding too much for that to be a minor hit. Lay back down and let me look at it.” His voice was firm, but Faith swore there was a note of gentle concern in his subvocals. Must be the blood loss, she told herself as she lay back down.
“Are we safe here?” She asked, glancing around the room.
Saren snorted, shaking his head as he undid the armor on her side and cut away the under suit with his boot knife.
“No place is ever safe.”
* * *
“Does this constitute an adventure?”
Faith side-eyed Saren, her nose wrinkling in disgust despite the breathing filter on her helmet. The scent wafting down the maintenance pipes smelled strongly of sewage, dead bodies, drugs, and something else Faith couldn’t identify. Saren shuddered, turning his helmeted head away to cough thickly.
“I warned you: Batarian run whore houses are horrible places. However, since the rules are more lax here, it attracts a certain type of patronage. From what I was able to learn, there’s no size limitations for the whores at this particular establishment.” Saren glanced delicately at Shepard, noting the confused tilt to her head and suddenly hating himself for having to break her innocence in such a horrific way. “It...ahem….it means there are ladies and gentlemen at this place who will service unusually large species.”
Saren shifted uncomfortably.
“Oh.” Faith jumped slightly after a moment as realization dawned. She seemed to turn inwards slightly, the meaning of his words striking home. “Oh.”
Saren nodded. “Welcome to the wonderful occupation of the Spectres.”
“Is it too late to quit?” Shepard asked halfheartedly, gagging. Saren snorted.
“If I have to go into that horrible place, so do you. That’s what friends are for, or so Nihlus keeps telling me. Just try not to look into any rooms where you hear someone droning ‘with increasing pleasure: yes, right there, that’s the spot’.”
Faith sighed heartily, glancing back at their way into the building. Turning back to Saren, she lifted her fists in a display of half-hearted enthusiasm.
* * *
Saren leaned against the cool, metallic bulkhead of his bedroom. His entire body shook from the cold, his hide clenching painfully at the unusual abuse of it’s temperature receptors. The bathroom looked so inviting in so many ways, the door standing open with puffs of steam billowing out. He’d been enjoying the shower, the hot water caressing him gently, but it wasn’t the harsh scalding of the water that had caused him to flee to the relative safety of his room.
He’d allowed himself to become distracted, more interested in watching her move and run and twist and dodge than he had been in watching the terrain. Maybe if he hadn’t allowed himself to become so enamored with her, if he had maintained rigid control over his emotions as he had been trained, he might have noticed the unusual terrain of the Thresher Maw nest. The multiple juveniles had quickly destroyed what should have been a simple mission, and had almost killed Shepard as well. Saren felt his chest grown heavy at the thought.
She had always taken such good care of her skin, Saren mused, her only scars easily covered with a touch of make-up. She was considered quite lovely to many - he wasn’t blind after all - and had become even more popular as a model whenever they had enough down time between missions at the Citadel for a quick photo shoot. And now, because of his carelessness, she now sported a large, rippling acid burn across her left side, arm, and part of her back.
He’d been so dutiful in making sure her bandages had been changed frequently to keep away infection, cleaning the wound and slathering it with medi-gel and other salves to help it heal with minimal scarring. But despite his efforts, it was clear there would be a very visible scar - a permanent reminder of his failure.
As he’d wrapped her injuries that first night, he had vowed passionately never to allow his unwanted feelings to resurface, determined to bury his unwanted desires before they could allow anyone else around him to be hurt. But his years of meditation and mental training melted away as his rough, taloned fingers touched her smooth, cool skin. Her very scent broke the walls holding back the unwanted thoughts, and suddenly he found himself unable to do anything without thinking of her. He found himself giving voice to sorry excuses to help her with everything, despite the fact that there was little muscle damage and Shepard was as able a woman as he had ever met.
Now he found himself staring into the bathroom, the true horror of his uncontrollable lust crashing over him in waves of self-loathing and disgust. Inside the mist, he saw a movement of red and his throat went dry. Inside was Shepard, her movements as fluid as the water which trickled over her skin. He could tell from her silhouette that she was trying to see where he had gone, wondering why he’d so abruptly abandoned her after making such a show of insistence on caring for her while she recovered from her injuries. Injuries he had caused with his carelessness, his memories brutally reminded him.
“Saren?” Shepard called out, her voice running ghostly fingers of guilt and desire up his spine. “Are you okay?”
“I’m fine. I just...needed air.” Saren huffed, shaking his head. He almost keened at how far he had fallen. Once the most controlled, disciplined Turian - now he was worse than a desperate teenager harboring his first love. Saren was so busy hating himself that he failed to hear the water turn off, nor the light steps of the human female as she approached him, water dripping from her every curve.
“Hey, don’t lie to me, Saren.” Shepard smiled up at him, putting a gentle hand against his mandible and moving his head so he’d be forced to look at her. The affection and acceptance that he saw mirrored in her eyes only made him hate himself more. He hated the way he leaned into her touch, like it was the most natural thing to do. He hated that his hands moved of their own volition to rest on the unscarred crest of her hips, pulling her forward. He hated the way his heart rate increased, the flood of hormones rushing with pure ecstasy through his system. He hated the way his groin plates shifted as she stood close enough that he could feel the heat radiating off her skin.
But more than anything, he hated himself for the fact that he didn’t hate it at all.
Shepard continued to smile at him, slowly raising onto the balls of her feet to meet him as his head lowered towards hers, gently pushing against his forehead. They held that pose for several minutes, Saren’s muscles slowly unwinding as his guilt faded to be replaced by wonder at this incredible creature standing before him. Of all the things he had encountered in his years throughout the Galaxy, he never would have envisioned a human could be so...perfect.
After a moment, Shepard pulled away, and Saren felt a momentary pang of regret, believing it was over. Instead, Shepard’s hand found his, gently pulling him with her as she backed towards his bed. Saren hesitated, fear and guilt pausing his steps. Shepard just smiled at him.
“C’mon, soldier. Let’s have an adventure.”
Saren couldn’t have stopped the laugh that bubbled from his throat if he had tried.
* * *
Saren held Shepard’s limp, wrinkled hand, his cracked and worn thumb gently caressing the paper-thin skin of his mate. Knowing she lay lifeless and unmoving in a bed was more than he could bare, remembering a time when she had vibrated with energy, almost glowing like a fiery sun. Over the many years, he had watched her grow more beautiful and elegant, even when fine gray hairs had appeared at her temples and her smiles lingered in the lines by her eyes. Always she had remained vibrant and energetic, making him feel younger despite their age difference.
And then age had struck her down, and there was no recovering from it. Her lungs struggled to pull in enough breath, and she had been confined to a bed long enough that her muscles were gone, leaving behind the hollow shell of the woman she had once been. Even so, Saren never left her side, talking to her and touching her and reminding her that he still loved her. Though he had long since lost his sight, he never failed to tell her how beautiful she still was.
“Mari and Decennia have been winning at bridge every week since you stopped going.” Saren flicked his worn mandibles in a slight grin. “We need to start going back so we can put them in their proper place. Devinius said he managed to order some of those chocolate puddings you love so much. They should be here in another couple of days. Got to take care of the poor levo-girls. You, Anria, Vela, and…”
Saren paused, frowning. “I can never remember that other girl’s name. What was I saying again, dear?” Saren tilted his head, trying to remember. Why was it so easy to remember something from eighty years ago but he couldn’t remember something that just happened? “I’m only 121, I shouldn’t be this forgetful. We’ve both got another good 20 to 30 years in us. Once you’re up and about, we’ll go on that trip to Earth and visit Garrus and your sister. We haven’t seen them in so long. I heard they have yet another great-great-grandchild on the way. We really need to get on our own youngsters; we don’t have nearly enough little ones to spoil.”
The machines hooked up to his wife beeped steadily, unchanged for - how long had it been? It seemed like it had been awhile, though Saren swore it had to have been recent. Shepard never stayed down for long; always bouncing back lively and impish and ready to cause trouble. When they’d confined her to a wheelchair, she’d torn hell through the hallways, laughing maniacally while the aides chased the crazy human down. Saren had laughed so hard he’d collapsed.
Saren’s mind wandered as the aides came in, whispering to each other quietly as they went about tending to his mate. He felt a dreamy lassitude pull him towards sleep, memories of Shepard’s deep red hair billowing in the breeze like a banner. It was a small wonder why the Shepard twins demanded such respect when their very appearance tasted of great battles and victory.
A slight snore announced to the aides that Shepard’s husband had fallen asleep, and they smiled in understanding.
A change in something small woke Saren a few hours later. Despite having been retired for several decades, his senses were still sensitive to those minute signs of danger. Turning his head around, he sniffed at the air, listening intently for any sign that something was wrong. The sound of his wife’s heart monitor beeped steadily for several moments, and he was about to dismiss it when he realized the sounds were slowing, the beeps growing further apart as his wife’s heart...
Terror filled Saren as he stiffened, groping blindly for his wife’s hand. A few aides entered the room, though there was no rush or urgency to their movements. A sense of calm acceptance seemed to radiate from them, as one of them put a comforting hand on his shoulder. Irritably, he shook it off.
“Damn you, do something! It’s too soon!” Saren bellowed, his voice still powerful after all the years. The orderlies glanced at each other, one of them touching Saren on the forearm.
“Arterius, sir, don’t you remember? We spoke about this last week. Your wife is-”
“No, dammit, no! She’s alive! She has to stay living! We promised to stay together!” Saren panicked, his throat constricting. He ignored them as they mentioned something about a ‘do not resuscitate’ form he and his wife had apparently signed a while ago. He never would have done such a thing! Gripping his wife’s cold hand, he kept shouting at them to do something as he felt her slipping away. Desperate, he shook her hand, keening in distress as he failed to wake her.
“Shepard, please, you can’t do this. You can’t leave. Please.” Saren wailed, his head dropping to rest on the bed. “Please, meime, don’t go on an adventure without me.”
Saren continued begging and keening long after the beeping had turned into a single wail of loss.
It took me two hours to write the last part of that because I kept crying I'M A HORRIBLE PERSON I'M SO SORRY I WANTED TO STOP AFTER THEY WENT TO BED TOGETHER BUT MY MIND DEMANDED AN ENDING I'M SO SORRY SAREN I'M SO SORRY!!
Chapter 2: 'B' is for Buffet
After a difficult mission, all Saren wants to do is eat until he's unconscious. Sadly, nothing ever seems to be easy for the Biotic Spectre.
Takes place after Saren and Shepard are friendly, but not romantically inclined.
Saren’s legs shook to uphold his weight. They’d been forced to hold him upright for over thirty-eight hours straight, often running, sprinting, crouching, or performing complex fighting and dodging maneuvers to keep the rest of him alive. Now, as his adrenaline began to wane, Saren’s legs were very close to leading a mutiny against him unless he met their demands and took his weight off them for at least eight hours straight. Unfortunately for Saren, his stomach had already begun it’s mutiny several hours ago for not having been given anything to digest for so long.
Raising a shaking hand to the communicator located just behind his aural canal, he opened a link to his two teammates. “This is Arterius. I’m starving and about to collapse. So if you tell me you have failed to complete your respective missions, you’ll have to listen to my pathetic nagging cries until they are done.”
A tired cackle replied. “How is that different than usual, you big Biotic baby?”
”Nihlus, I will kill you. Trust me, I will do it one of these days…” Saren groused, though his lack of energy sapped his usual fierce edge. An exasperated human female sigh drifted over the line.
”Whenever you two are quite finished. I completed my task almost twenty minutes ago and I’m already halfway back to the shuttle and it’s luxurious seats and protein bars.” Faith Shepard’s voice came through clear and steady, giving no hint of the exhaustion Saren knew she had to be feeling. Irrationally, he hated her for being better at covering it than himself.
”First one back cooks?” Nihlus sounded hopeful. Faith barked a laugh.
”With what? We ran out of decent foodstuffs almost a month ago because someone was convinced that this would be a short mission-”
”Enough, I get it, I was in error believing that we would be finishing this mission in a timely manner. Now if you two don’t mind, I fully intend to eat whatever rations are left in the kitchen so if either of you wish to eat I suggest you get there first because I no longer care about chirality.” Saren snarled, though a faint trickle of amusement touched his ego as he heard Nihlus scrambling to move on the other end of the line. Though Shepard had served with Saren long enough to know how much of an appetite he had, she had no idea the true horror that was a Turian Biotic’s stomach.
* * *
Two days later, Saren’s entire digestive tract had lodge several complaints about the lack of abundant, satisfying food. Ration bars might restore his calories to an acceptable level, but they did little to alleviate his appetite. As the Daedalus made it’s way into dock on Digeris, Saren felt the urgency to get out and find real food was becoming near unbearable. As the docking clamps snapped into place, Saren was ready to run out the airlock towards the nearest restaurant. His human companion, on the other hand, seemed to take an unwholesome delight in making him wait.
”Here’s a list of the foodstuffs we’re going to need. It’s quite a bit, so in the event that they don’t deliver, you may want to take a few helpers with you to help carry.” Faith smiled as she handed Saren’s first-mate, Leonis Octavius, a datapad listing their needed supplies. She pointedly ignored Saren’s impatiently tapping foot, instead going over the necessary repairs, supplies, and other small things that needed taken care of in their absence.
Though Saren had been more than overjoyed to hand over the small details of daily management to Faith, her attention to detail, while normally welcome, was becoming a nuisance as his stomach loudly reminded him that food would be greatly welcomed. As it became obvious that Faith intended to take her job a little too seriously, Saren finally gave up waiting for the irascible human. Instead, he marched over, grabbed her, flung her over his shoulder, turned, and marched out, ignoring her protests and the laughter of their crewmates.
”So where to?” Faith asked after she’d admonished him thoroughly for his impatient display. Saren shrugged, holding the door of their taxi open for her.
”I could not care less. All I want is decent food in gross abundance.” The Spectre huffed, closing the door after she was settled and quickly seated himself on the driver’s side. Taking manual control of the car, he zipped into traffic as Shepard began looking up nearby restaurants.
”Here’s a place! Says it’s a buffet-”
Faith gave Saren an exasperated look. “Why not?”
”I have yet to see a buffet on a Turian world that will allow a Biotic inside.” Saren couldn’t help the disappointed sigh that worked it’s way out. Though he was normally a purveyor of fine cuisine, on days like today even the dry, overstocked bland food of a buffet would have been welcome. As he saw Faith’s questioning look, he sighed heartily. “Biotics tend to eat far more than normal, Turian biotics especially. Since this is a Turian colony, the only Biotics they are likely to encounter are going to be Turians. We tend to…,” Saren shifted uncomfortably, “...make them lose money.”
”That’s no reason to be prejudice towards them. Biotics deserve to be treated like everyone else.” Faith crossed her arms, looking belligerent. Though he didn’t outwardly react, Saren felt a small spark of appreciation for her opinion.
”You will not receive any argument from me, however, since I have neither the time nor the patience to argue the point with the proprietor, I would be exceedingly grateful if you would locate a premises where we could dine, preferably soon.”
* * *
”Absolutely not! We don’t want your kind of trouble. Now leave.” The Turian summarily dismissed them, ushering them outside and resolutely closing the doors behind them. Saren’s shoulders dropped slightly from sheer disappointment, though Faith’s inarticulate fury did help alleviate his negative emotions.
”I don’t believe it. I just can’t believe it!” The fiery red-head sputtered as she stormed back to their taxi.
”It happens. Sadly, today it is happening rather frequently.”
”’No Spectres Welcome’?!” Faith snarled. “What, in the name of every deity that exists, would make them think that that’s a good policy to enact?”
Saren shifted uncomfortably as they settled back into their skycar. “Actually, there’s a rather...embarrassing reason for it.” Saren turned the car into traffic, feeling Shepard’s gaze burning a hole into the side of his head. Clearing his throat, he kept his eyes on the road. “Do you remember our Hunt for Spectre Yorban?”
Faith frowned, a shadow of grief passing over her features. “It’s not the sort of thing one would easily forget.”
Saren’s subvocals filled with sympathy and comfort, though he knew she couldn’t hear most of it. “Good. He was a Spectre worthy of remembrance.” Saren sighed. “A short time before I became a Spectre, there was another Spectre Hunt, though this one was not voluntary. Felrius, a former Kabal and Spectre, had gone completely rogue. Unfortunately, he was quite intelligent, and kept hiding in more and more populated areas, trying to make us hesitate to attack him directly. The fight ended up wrecking a part of the city to bring him down. Guess which city it happened in?” Saren snorted, looking around. “I imagine no Spectre is going to be very welcome here for a long time.”
Shepard stared at him for several moments, then sighed and slouched down into the seat, rubbing her forehead with a tired hand.
”So where are we going to get you something to eat?”
”I don’t know. I’m heading towards Nihlus’ location. If he managed to get in, hopefully we can sneak in as well.” Saren huffed.
As they parked the skycar and walked towards the restaurant, however, Saren felt a weight pushing him towards the ground. The place looked homey, inviting, with it’s open storefront and a brightly colored partition pulled to the side and fluttering slightly in the warm breeze. The owner stood out front, greeting people and inviting them to come in and enjoy their all-you-could-eat buffet. Saren couldn’t help the whimper that worked out of his second larynx. He felt Shepard’s arm wrap around his cowl in comfort, and leaned slightly into it.
”I can’t seem to win today, can I?” He sighed heartily. Faith frowned.
”We’ll just see about that. Wait here.” Faith set her shoulders, ready to march towards the proprietor. Saren caught her arm, halting her.
”We can find somewhere else, Shepard-”
”Saren, we’ve been hunting for over an hour!” Faith sounded as exasperated as Saren felt. “If the sounds coming from your middle are any indication, your stomach is about ready to crawl out and find it’s own meal. Give me a few minutes to talk to the owner. If it doesn’t work, we can head back to the ship and I’ll try and make something for you. It’d certainly be faster than driving around and getting rejected from every place we visit.”
Saren had learned there was no arguing with Faith when she used that tone, so he released her and seated himself on a nearby bench. Faith walked up to the owner while Saren watched, unable to hear what was said. He had expected her to approach aggressively, making demands that any Turian would scoff at and turn her away. Instead, as the conversation between the two continued, he was stunned to see a coy sway to her hips as one of her hands gently stroked the owner’s forearm.
Does she truly believe she can flirt her way inside?, Saren mused. Humans were rarely seen as attractive to Turians, though he had to admit Shepard had a nice, thin neck and the right waist to hip ratio to catch any warm-blooded male’s attention. Nice legs too, damn, those gorgeous legs. Saren found his own eyes drifting down the curve of her back, the slight movements of her hips and buttocks underneath her thin clothing almost mesmerizing to watch. Saren found himself smirking slightly before he caught himself, shaking his head and turning his attention back to watching both of them, rather than just Shepard. Much to his continued amazement, the Turian proprietor seemed completely enamored with the human female, his expression one of open adoration.
The two of them walked inside, the owner holding a curtain aside for her. Saren knew his mouth was hanging open and his mandibles slack as his mind refused to believe what he was seeing. Was Shepard going to trade herself for a meal? Saren almost sputtered in indignant fury. She was a high-ranking Specialist, not some common whore! Saren stood abruptly, storming towards the storefront with every intention of ripping her away from there and giving her a stern lashing for her lack of dignity. However, he no sooner reached the front of the store when the two of them emerged again.
”It really would be in your best interests- Oh! Speaking of which, here’s my friend I was talking about.” Shepard winked at Saren, bringing him up short. They hadn’t been gone for more than a minute or two. Certainly not fast enough to- Saren realized he had to have been mistaken. Faith grinned impishly up at him, and he instantly knew that she was well aware of how he’d interpreted her behavior. For one brief moment he was torn between being proud of her and strangling her. Thankfully the proprietor interrupted his train of thought.
”I don’t see how it’s possible, but, never let it be said I’m not one to try something new.” The Turian shrugged, giving them both a welcoming grin as he bowed slightly to Saren. “Very well, I would be honored if you would dine with us Spectre Arterius and Ms. Shepard. Please, allow me to show you to a table.” The Turian offered his arm to Shepard, which she took with a smile. Saren glanced at the two of them in confusion, before quickly following behind.
The owner led them to a table in the back behind a decorative pillar, out of view of most of the rest of the restaurant but very close to the buffet. The sight and smell of all that food set Saren’s mouth watering. He found himself sitting on the edge of his seat, wanting to dash over to the lines of food and eat his fill right from the basin. Only a lifetime of etiquette kept him in place, waiting as the owner turned them over to their waiter, who took his time explaining their specials and the various drinks and food they had available for non-dextro diners.
Seeing Saren so occupied with staring down the food like a starving animal, Faith simply ordered his drink for him. When the waiter left to fill their drink order, Saren seemed to deflate a little.
”So, under what restrictions did you manage to convince him to allow a Turian Biotic to eat here?” Saren finally asked, dread filling his tone. At Faith’s amused chuckle, he finally turned away from the buffet and back to his companion. She smiled impishly, a gleam of understand to her deep blue eyes.
”Go. Eat!” Faith drank in the sight of his incredulous expression, hope and disbelief warring inside his gaze. With a movement so fast Faith didn’t have time to react, Saren stood, leaned over the table, and nucked her on the forehead hard enough to stun her. Saren didn’t waste any time moving towards the buffet, almost bouncing with excitement. Faith rubbed her now sore forehead, shaking her head while laughing.
”Happy Turians…” She giggled, then raised her voice to be heard by Saren. “Just make sure not to overload your plate. Reasonable amounts only, okay?”
”Yeah, save some for the rest of us, you glutton.” Nihlus teased as he approached the buffet. Saren paused in ladling on a heaping amount of some sort of meat to glare at his friend.
”You do not have the right to judge me, Kryik. I saw just how many empty plates were strewn about your table.”
Nihlus shrugged. “Maybe if you didn’t always overwork me I wouldn’t have to eat so much.”
Saren barked a laugh, moving to fill his plate. Faith idly sat by as she waited for her own food, a contented smile on her face.
* * *
”Mother have mercy! Where did you put it all?”
Faith stared at the pile of plates that had collected on the edge of their table over the course of two hours, her voice breathless with disbelief. Nihlus, who had eventually finished eating and had wandered over to their table to keep Faith company, couldn’t help but laugh.
”We’ve told you multiple times. Turians have high metabolisms. Biotics have high metabolisms. Ergo, Turian Biotics have black holes for stomachs.” Nihlus shrugged. Faith looked slightly pale and wide-eyed.
”Thirty-eight plates, though? All full?!” Faith shook her head, eventually leaning back into her seat. “Remind me to start prepping bigger meals after long missions.”
”Please don’t.” Saren almost whined from where his head rested on the table, cradled in his arms. “I have made a grievous error in judgement about the capacity of my digestive system.”
”Never.” Saren said dreamily before he burped, then settled back down. Faith chuckled.
”And to think there was once a time you refused to let me see you eat more than a small ration at any given time.” Faith reached over, fondly stroking the Turian’s fringe. Saren purred contentedly, though it was clearly strained. The owner came over to their table, his eyes looking slightly bewildered.
”I had heard of the consumption power of Biotics, but to see it in person…” He shook his head, then turned to Faith. “After observing your friend, I believe we can be accommodating towards Biotics as you said, with restrictions. There’s still some details that worry me.”
”As we spoke of before, a single Biotic might eat more than most, but never so fast that they drain an entire buffet. However, their appetites keep them going back for more, which means less food goes to waste on the line. There’s no reason your cooks couldn’t keep up with the demand, and your other patrons get to enjoy fresher food at no additional cost to yourself.” Faith smiled fondly at the proprietor, who seemed plenty flattered by her attention. “Why not try a five-plant maximum for the same price you’re asking now. That way, if a Biotic wishes to eat, they can, though they’ll know they simply have to pay more. Most of them expect it anyways, since groceries are expensive.”
The Turian considered it, then nodded. “It might not be a bad idea, though we’ll have to do some more market testing just to be sure.” The owner handed Faith a leather case containing the bill. “As agreed, here’s your bill. It was a pleasure being allowed to serve you, and I hope you come back again.” The owner bowed slightly and let them be. Faith opened the case and swiped her omni-tool over the little reader enclosed within, shielding the bill from Nihlus’ prying eyes.
”Okay, I gotta know,” Nihlus huffed, crossing his arms. “How’d you convince him to allow Saren to eat here?”
Faith smiled, sheepishly. “I told him I’d pay per plate. We haggled down the amount, though he said he doubted even a Biotic would eat more than eight or so plates, since most regular Turians average about three or four at a time.” Faith chuckled wickedly. “I bet him 100 credits off the bill that Saren could eat more than ten. Though we didn’t bet on that per 10 plates, he was nice enough to take 300 credits from the entire bill. Guess you impressed him, Spectre.”
Chapter 3: 'C' is for Couple
Saren and Faith are finally together. Now what?
Takes place just after they have become intimate with one another.
Faith sighed from the floor up, leaning her face onto her hand. The club she was seated at was bustling: people dancing, laughing, and generally having a wonderful time. Normally, Faith would have been reveling along with them. However, as her eyes lingered towards the bar and the black clothed Turian standing there waiting impatiently for their drinks, she felt the need for at least some sort of restraint. After all, this was new for both of them.
Her eyes drifted over his impatient and uncomfortable posture, obviously feeling out of place. Saren wasn’t one to frequent clubs unless he was looking for a one-night-stand. So for him to be there for a social reason was unusual. For him to be there on a date even more so.
Boyfriend? Lover? Shepard felt at a loss for what to call him. They’d finally broken a big rule of serving on board the Daedalus: No on board romances allowed. Both of them were slightly in shock, more so because the crew seemed to support it. Apparently when he was getting laid, Saren was easier to deal with.
Faith snorted with amusement. She couldn’t blame the enthusiasm of the crew. She’d gone out of her way in the past to hook Saren up with various people in order to have an easier time of dealing with him afterwards. And after sleeping with him herself, the crew had been given a week’s shore leave on the citadel.
Of course they were supportive.
The idea had seemed so simple: take some time to spend together and work out the repressed sexual tension between them and see where it led them. Shepard had been of the mind that it was just friendly sex; after having his fill, Saren would revert back to the bossy Turian she had come to call her friend. They had worked so long and hard to build their friendship to this point, and she didn’t want to lose it. The idea had worked at first. For three days, they’d been locked away in a hotel, barely leaving the bedroom, ordering room service, and generally having healthy, adult fun.
And then Tavos had ordered them to get out of that hotel room and meet her for lunch. It was an order because she’d been requesting for several days and finally realized they weren’t listening. She’d been happy for them, mentioning how well they worked together and how various people had been talking about them being together for ages. To see it come to fruition made her happy for the two of them.
Apparently, only Saren and Faith had been surprised by their mutual feelings.
The discussion had brought to light the need to sit down and discuss their logical next step with one another. That discussion had gone nowhere quick. Saren wasn’t used to feeling anything romantic towards a person and was constantly on the defense, and Faith was terrified of losing her best friend because of an ill-timed display of affection towards one another. After going nowhere fast, Saren had finally brought up the idea of going on a ‘date’.
It was a disaster. Faith felt her entire being clench painfully. Saren seemed unable to look her in the eye now, his every motion one of confusion and hesitance. It was driving Faith mad, and she found herself wanting to run away and reassure him at the same time. Neither action, however, would be welcome to the Spectre, and she knew it.
Finally having obtained their drinks, Saren walked over to their shared table, giving Shepard an obviously forced smile, his entire demeanor awkward and uncomfortable. Faith gave him a sympathetic smile, moving further over onto the bench so he could sit next to her. Though he did seat himself, he kept a bit of distance between them, almost curling in on himself. Silence reigned between them, stretching into an uncomfortable tension that sapped away their confidence.
It was too much.
Downing her drink in one, quick gulp, Faith slammed the glass onto the table firmly, causing Saren to jump, obviously startled.
“This is ridiculous!” Faith exclaimed. “All we did was sleep together. Repeatedly and enthusiastically. Why is it suddenly so weird?!”
Saren looked like he wanted to slink away. “This is why I don’t condone on board relationships. It makes working together difficult.”
“No. No it doesn’t! Dammit, I am not going to let this grow weird.” Faith lightly punched Saren in the shoulder. “We’re both adults. Things were growing tense between us. We had our fun. Now either we need to explore a deeper relationship, or accept that it was just wild, amazing sex without purpose and move past it.”
Saren glanced around nervously. “Well, for a start, I would greatly appreciate it if you didn’t yell ‘amazing sex’ loud enough for the entire club to hear. It’s flattering, certainly, but I don’t believe everyone here needs to know about it.”
Faith grinned at him. “I don’t know, it might just get you a hook-up.”
“Considering our current situation, that would probably be in horrible taste. I thank you for the effort, however.”
Faith winked at him, pleased to see him relax somewhat as he leaned back into the seat, a long breath sighing through him as his muscles unclenched. Taking a long drought from his own drink, Saren smiled sheepishly at her, though it was less uncomfortable than before.
“I think the problem lies in myself. You were behaving normally until I became uncomfortable, and I apologize for that. I am not used to courting anyone, and the idea of moving beyond casual sex has me...intimidated.” Saren confessed. Faith was stunned, since Saren was usually not the type to admit any faults in his own actions. With the way he shuffled in his seat, looking nervous, he reminded her of the boys from her high school days. She couldn’t help but smile at the comparison.
“So you really haven’t dated at all before?” She asked. Saren snorted.
“When would I have had the opportunity? I developed my Biotics very early, so I was sent to special classes away from others. I entered the military at 15, was recruited into the Cabals where they watch you constantly, was recruited by Blackwatch where, at the time, there were no female members, then became the youngest Spectre at 20.” Saren chuckled lightly. “While I do not regret advancing my career as I did, there was little time for socializing. It is frustrating that there are people half my age who are experts at romance, while I myself have only ever studied the theory.”
“Well, if it helps comfort you at all, I think you’re doing quite well.” She laid a fond hand on his forearm, giving him a comforting squeeze. “At the very least you can rest assure that I care for you exactly as you are and I wouldn’t want you to change, bumbling romance and all.”
“Thanks, Shepard.” Saren droned sarcastically, shaking his head. “It is good to know my romantic clumsiness is appreciated.” Saren sighed, looking towards the dance floor, his expression serious. “What are we doing Shepard?”
Faith deflated a little for a moment, then straightened, smiling at him. “We’re over-thinking this. We’re trying to figure out a lifetime of problems in a single day, and it’s overwhelming us both. So what if everyone has been saying they’ve seen us as a couple for years? Our friendship has never been anything normal or rational, but it worked fine for us. It took time, patience, and a lot of thought on both our parts, and now that relationship is shifting and we’re at a loss as to what we’re supposed to do. Worse, we’re allowing their opinions and perceptions to pressure us into something I don’t think either of us are really prepared to deal with right now. There’s been too much going on - emotionally, physically, psychologically - and we need time to process that in a healthy, non-judgmental environment.”
Saren stared at her with a neutral expression for several moments, then she saw his mandibles flutter slightly in suppressed amusement. “No, I meant, what are we doing here, Shepard? I don’t even like clubs, yet I recommended this.”
Shepard laughed heartily, bumping Saren’s shoulder with her own. “I believe your train-wreck of reasoning was something along the lines of ‘I have no idea what couples do we need to do more couple things where have I seen couples before club Let’s go to a club!’.”
Saren scoffed. “I did not sound like that.”
“I have a recording if you want to see it.”
“No thanks, let me live in my denial.” Saren chuckled. He glanced around the club, looking bored. “So what exactly is it that human couples do?”
“Well, in a place like this, they drink heavily and then flail about on the dance floor, throw up, then stagger home with questionable people.”
“Because they can.” Shepard shrugged, suppressing her grin. “I’m told it’s fun.”
“I think I prefer the style of courtship I was raised to believe in.”
“Respect, dignity, honesty. And occasionally gifts of poetry and letters. Sometimes even serenading, if the young lovers are inclined.”
“Never would have thought Turians could be so romantic. You’re usually so blunt and straightforward.”
“Please, don’t let anyone know the truth.” Saren chuckled, only half-serious. “We’re the galaxy’s single most respectable force. If it were found out that we’re secretly wishful, romantic hopefuls, our reputation would be utterly ruined.”
“I’ll drink to that.” Shepard clinked her glass against his. Saren chuckled.
“With what? You already finished your drink.”
“Then I guess we’ll have to head back to the rooms and break open that bottle of wine they brought us with dinner last night.”
“We don’t have any glasses.”
“Then I guess you’ll have to lick it off me.”
Suddenly, Saren was no longer interested in the glass he held in his hand.
Chapter 4: 'D' is for Dress
Saren has a dress made for Shepard that she very much doesn't want to wear.
Takes place before they become friends, while Faith's still an apprentice.
The sigh that finally worked it’s way out of Faith began at the floor and built from a light winter breeze into a full blown blizzard as it rushed through her entire body before expelling her soul out of her mouth. Her entire body was sore, tired, cold, and more than anything, horrendously bored. Moving her stiff muscles in an attempt to bring blood to her joints caused her to grunt and wince as her numerous bruises, pale greens and vivid purples against her fair skin, were pulled and twisted painfully.
Saren looked up from where he was browsing through fabric swatches, frowning.
“You groan like a laboring space cow.”
“Thanks, Saren.” Faith glared back at him. “I’m glad my continuous pain and discomfort is amusing to you.”
“Do I look amused?” Saren scowled. Faith couldn’t help but grin.
“We’re clothes shopping, your favorite pastime. Of course you’re amused.”
Saren snorted. “Referring to it as ‘clothes shopping’ sounds so casual and disinteresting.” Saren turned back to the swatches, frowning as he held a few up. “I am attempting to find a style of cloth with the right color to match to your garish, natural pigments. By no means an easy feat since you’ve felt the need to allow yourself to become covered in those lovely markings.”
“They’re called bruises, you animal, and you put them there!”
“On the contrary, they are there because you failed to dodge properly. Don’t blame me for your inability to practice basic survival properly in a friendly spar.” Saren huffed. He separated a few of the swatches and brought them over to Shepard, comparing them to the skin on her face, her arms, her legs, and ultimately, her hair. A few of them he made disgusted sounds at, tossing them contemptuously to the side. Finally, he held up two of them, on either side of her head, frowning. When Faith attempted to turn her head to see the colors, he hissed at her, pulling her up short.
“Really?” She shook her head, warranting another warning hiss. Rolling her eyes, Faith held still, allowing Saren to fuss. Though she would never admit it aloud, even to herself, she enjoyed Saren fussing over her in this fashion. Going out of his way to focus completely on her, dressing her up like a movie star. He had impeccable taste, and inevitably, they were always the center of attention when they arrived at a place, with her hooked to his arm, and the two of them made up so well. Faith would never fluff his ego - it was already big enough - but she always felt if he hadn’t been a Spectre, he could have been very successful as a fashion designer.
Saren snorted, glaring at the colors as he brought them forward. Faith glanced at the two swatches as he seemed to mentally weigh them. One was a red that almost completely matched her vibrant hair, with a border of shimmering gold and an even thinner lining of sparkling white. The other was a deep blue that shimmered to green when the light caught it. Faith sucked in an excited breath.
“Oh, that blue is so pretty!” She grinned up at Saren, who gave her an unreadable look. “It looks like it would go well with a mermaid style dress!”
Saren shook his head. “Perhaps so, but the shade of green is a bit too strong for your skin color.” With a decisive nod, Saren tossed the blue swatch and held up the red, snapping his fingers. A Turian tailor ran forward, obviously having worked with the impatient Spectre before. He eyed Shepard, his distaste at working with a human apparent, but wisely kept his opinions to himself. Reaching for the tape measure wrapped around his thick neck, he lightly held it up in front of Faith, frowning as she stood there.
“Well?” He finally asked. Faith gave him a suspicious look.
The Turian sighed, rolling his eyes. “I can’t take accurate measurements while you’re still dressed. Must we go over this every time you’re here?”
Faith bristled. “You took my measurements last time! That was only a few months ago!”
Before the argument could start, Saren got between them, giving Faith a withering glare.
“Ms. Shepard, I realize this is all new to you, but when you have proper clothing made for you, you get measured before hand. It doesn’t matter if it’s been a day or a year. Now strip. Or do I have to do it for you.” Saren flexed his sharp talons. Faith held his gaze for several moments, her expression giving voice to all the horrible things she wanted to say to him. After a few moments, she snarled viciously, swearing under her breath as she unbuttoned her shirt.
“There’s a good girl.”
“Unless you want to carry your insides around in a bucket, you’ll stop talking.” Faith muttered darkly. Saren leaned forward, menace pouring through his every pore.
“You said something, human?”
Faith snarled, biting back her snarky reply. “Nothing.”
* * *
“I’m not wearing this!”
Saren grunted, muttering darkly to himself. Both he and Shepard were in the bedroom of the suite he had ordered for their stay on the Citadel. He’d insisted on her accompanying him so he could supervise her dress and accessorizing as needed. After all, this was a high profile event they were attending, and any fashion faux pas on her part would reflect badly on him. And he refused to have a mere human get the better of him, even if that human was fairly decent for their species. Turning, he glanced over at Shepard, who had folded her arms over her breasts, her eyes wide and almost frightened.
“Shepard, I’ve indulged your whims far too much as of late. We do not have the time to make you a second dress-”
“You didn’t even make me a first dress! You might as well let me go naked!” Faith blurted out, glancing back at her reflection.
“Do not interrupt me again, or I will have your sorry hide cleaning the bathroom with your tongue!” Saren snapped dangerously. Faith gulped, looking away, knowing he’d follow through with his threats. Saren motioned her forward, and she shuffled towards him, keeping herself as covered as she could. Sighing, Saren grabbed her arms, forcing them out and hissing at her when she instinctively tried to cover herself back up. He looked her over, shaking his head.
“While the hue of red was not quite what I was expecting, I see no problem with this attire. What are you blathering about?”
“Saren, most humans like their breasts and genitals to be covered.”
“And yours are.” Saren glanced again, shrugging as he released her arms. “Well, for the most part.”
“You might as well send me out in two bandaids and a cork!” Faith glanced back in the mirror, her face flushed.
The dress was made of a very thin, see-through material, with the white and gold trimmed red fabric cascading over it like flames licking her body. It left quite a bit of her body bare, but she had an impressive figure - for a human, Saren mentally amended himself. Saren couldn’t help but smirk somewhat at her apparent discomfort.
“It is interesting that you decide now is a time for you to be modest. After all, I recall more than one occasion where you wandered the ship naked.”
“That is totally different and you know it! Besides, it’s one thing if I choose to be naked; quite another when someone else forces me into it. And isn’t this dress somewhat inappropriate for a formal party thrown by the Councilors?”
“Not at all.” Saren felt a small degree of amusement for her exasperated sigh. “This style is currently favored by the Asari, though they are usually not so bold with their colors. They tend to use hues of blues and purples that match their natural skin tones to give the appearance of being naked without actually doing so. By matching the covering parts of the dress to your hair color, a very bold and striking color that is rare even amongst humans, it creates a very appealing contrast that will stand out. You’re going to be ever so popular tonight, my dear.”
“Great. So everyone will be ogling my near nakedness. Thanks, Satan.”
“That’s Spectre Arterius, young lady, and I expect you to remember it.” Though Saren knew who Satan was, he chose not to comment on her choice of comparison. She looked nervous enough as it was, and he didn’t have the time or inclination to argue with her further. Instead, he went to the closet, pulling out his own outfit to be worn that night. “There is another reason for the lack of covering fabric, if you’re finished with your fit and are ready to listen.”
“Oh, I can’t wait to hear this one.” Faith muttered, ignoring the vicious glare Saren gave her.
“You’ve become increasingly difficult as of late, Ms. Shepard. Watch it.” Saren snarled the warning, waiting until she ducked her head. He couldn’t tell if the flush to her cheeks was from her earlier embarrassment or if his chastisement struck home. Either way, he allowed her to stew for a moment, taking the opportunity to begin removing his normal clothing.
“As I was saying before you decided to be irate,” Saren huffed, tossing his shirt onto the bed. “This is a high profile event, attended by a number of important individuals, most notably the Councilors. Another Turian Spectre and myself were chosen to guard Councilor Sparatus’ person. Since you are my student, you are expected to act in a similar capacity.”
“Wait, wait.” Faith looked stunned, ignoring the exasperated glare from Saren. “You want me to play bodyguard wearing this?!”
Saren held her gaze for several moments, waves of displeasure and malice rolling off him to bath her in his spite. When he spoke again, his voice was deadly quiet, effectively silencing her.
“One more word, human, just one, and I will make sure you regret it for the rest of your pain soaked life.” Saren's words hissed. He was pleased to see her flinch, though she did not back down, bravely lifting her chin. Though he’d never admit to it, Saren was proud of her for not allowing her fear of him to get the better of her. As a reward for her response, Saren turned his attention back to dressing himself, allowing his voice to revert to a normal tone.
“As I said, you will be acting as a bodyguard as well, though it is unlikely you will be forced to do anything. The only way you’d be needed is if myself and the other guard were somehow occupied or otherwise incapacitated. It is, however, still to be a learning experience for you. You are to watch me and follow my lead in all things, no matter what. You have done well at other social events, so I suggested to Sparatus that you be allowed to attend, and you will not repay my generosity by embarrassing me in any way, shape, or form. Is that understood?”
“Yes, sir, Spectre Arterius.” Faith spoke firmly, making the mental switch from laid-back human to Specialist. Saren nodded once in approval, absently buckling his pants into place.
“Now, since this is to be a learning experience for you, I felt no opportunity should be wasted, and I had this dress designed to be difficult to effectively conceal a weapon within. Guns are not allowed inside except on specific individuals. I am one, you are not. Which means you must arm yourself with poison and blades only. No projectile weapons allowed. Understood?”
Faith nodded, though she looked skeptical. “So, you want me to try and hide a weapon somewhere on my body where it won’t be seen while wearing a near see-through dress?”
“No. I want you to actually hide a weapon somewhere on your person where it won’t be seen while wearing a near see-through dress. I will be visually and physically checking from time to time, so I suggest you put your creative skills to use.” Saren gave her a knowing smirk, intentionally leering at her. “Have a care where you choose your placement, Ms. Shepard. There will be dancing, which I expect you to take part in, and I’d hate to have you stumble around trying to hold anything in.”
The look of pure hate and disgust she leveled at him was delicious to Saren.
Chapter 5: 'E' is for Exhibitionist
Faith and Hope go for a walk through the Presidium.
Takes place a few months after they lose their family on Mindior.
“I’m telling you, Hope, nothing beats a good cloak when you want to sneak around.”
Hope Shepard rolled her eyes lightly as she looked fondly at her twin sister. The girls were lounging around in their shared dorm room. The fact that they lived in an Alliance run building on the Citadel was still unusual for the twins, having only lost their home and family on Mindior less than a year prior. Hope almost envied the way her sister seemed to have bounced back from their debilitating grief.
Hope still mourned, in her own way, and knew Faith was more likely to put on a happy, brave front in order to bury her feelings. However, something had happened recently to put Faith in a continuous good mood. Though Hope was curious as to the cause, and a little jealous when she privately admitted it, she respected her sister too much to pry. Instead, she shook her head and straightened her back, preparing for a good old fashioned debate. With luck, they’d be screaming at each other as usual within a few minutes.
“I’d have to disagree with you there, Faith.” Hope’s voice, nearly an octave lower than her sister, still sounded strange to her own ears. Powerful, commanding, respectful, but still strange. “I prefer honesty. If you shouldn’t be someplace, don’t go. Or carry a big enough gun that nobody will argue with you.”
“Ever the military minded one.” Faith grumbled, though the look she gave Hope was impish. “Why fight when you can avoid it? Better to use guile and stealth.”
“Give it up, trouble. You’ll never convince me to use a cloak.”
“They’re faulty! They only last a few seconds before giving out.”
“That’s not faulty, that’s movement speed. The faster you move, the faster the cloak goes down. If you walk at a slow, even pace, it’ll last you forever.”
“Doubtful. I bet you couldn’t even make it out of the building before it went off.” Hope scoffed, then spotted the glint in her sister’s eyes. “You already have, haven’t you?”
“Faith…” Hope groaned, covering her face with a hand.
“What? I don’t like having to ‘report in’ every time I want to go for a walk. Besides, they’ve got me restricted to housing 24/7 and I got bored with it.”
“If you’d stop causing trouble and running away, they wouldn’t have to restrict you.”
“If they stopped restricting me, I wouldn’t have to run away!”
The two glared at each other.
“Where did you even get a cloak?”
“Meh, not important.” Faith waved her hand negligently. Hope groaned.
“Faith, please just focus on your studies. At this rate you’re not even going to graduate!”
Faith made a disgusted noise. “I could test out of everything. Hell, if those asshole in charge-”
“Watch your language, Faith, you know how I hate hearing you swear!”
“When you find me a better word to describe them, I’ll use it.” Faith huffed, crossing her arms. “I’d have already earned my GED if it weren’t for the fact that all the school records got destroyed, and you know it. But oh no, the Alliance can’t fathom someone having any kind of intelligence, so they need to force us-”
“You know why they want us to go to school. It helps socialize us and gives us a sense of normalcy after everything that’s happened.”
“Meanwhile allowing the Alliance to further brainwash us with their warped version of history and current events. They don’t want us educated, they want us mindless and obedient.”
Hope groaned heartily, while Faith sighed. The two were quiet for several minutes, before Faith spoke up again.
“So, care to make a wager on how far a cloak can go at walking speed?” Faith grinned impishly. Hope shook her head.
“We’re supposed to be studying for AP History. They won’t let us out.”
“Fine, I guess I’ll just have to go out without you.”
“I’ll turn you in.”
“No you won’t.”
Hope ground her teeth, knowing her sister was right. The two stared each other down for several moments, trying to overpower the other through sheer force of will. Then Faith grinned, and she deliberately began to remove her clothing. Hope went cold, glancing around in concern.
“What are you doing?”
“I’m going for a walk, as I said.” Faith casually threw her shirt across the room, her hands reaching behind her to the clasp of her bra. Hope slammed her book shut, alarm written on her face.
“No you’re not! Especially not-” Hope dropped her voice into a whisper, “Not naked!”
“Oh yes I am.” Faith said with a firmness Hope would have envied had she not been fighting the urge to strangle her twin. “I’m going for a walk to the Presidium, completely butt naked except for my cloak. It’s the only way to prove to you how I’m right about them.”
“You don’t need to prove anything to me!” Hope blushed furiously from second-hand embarrassment. Her sister was the only one who could ever manage to shake her up like this, and she hated it.
“Apparently I do.”
“If it fails, you’ll get arrested!”
“Then I guess you’d better come along to make sure I have someone to hide behind in the event that it does fail.” Faith smiled at her sister, completely undressed as she activated her cloak. “Which it won’t.”
* * *
“You’re an idiot, and I hate you.” Hope growled.
“I’m a genius and you love me.” Said the nothing that walked beside her.
Hope could feel the electrical vibe coming off the cloak against her arm as the twins walked side by side through the Presidium gardens. Occasionally, she spied a slight shimmer, but otherwise, her sister was completely invisible. Having been walking for more than a half hour, Hope was forced to admit that her sister had been correct about walking speed affecting a cloak’s performance. She’d bite out her own tongue before allowing her sister the pride of hearing her say it though. Unfortunately for Hope, Faith had apparently adapted to become a mind-reader as Hope could almost feel her sister gloating.
“Hey, didn’t we have that one project in AP Science-?”
“You are not writing a paper on how walking naked with a cloak is a correct example of testing a hypothesis and finding a result through experimentation.”
Faith muttered to herself. “I bet a Salarian professor would approve.”
“Our teacher is human, Faith.”
The two fell into silence once more.
Hope glanced around the brightly lit Presidium, admiring the spectacular view and refusing to allow her sister’s descent into crazy to ruin the moment. She rarely felt the inclination to wander, preferring to spend her days at the gym or plowing through her school work. Normally, Hope wasn’t much of a school person, having spent her life as an average ‘B’ to her sister’s near perfect score card of grades. She had never envied her twin - Faith worked hard on her grades and her looks. Hope was simply more interested in athletic pursuits. However, the Alliance had urged to keep her grades up and graduate school directly into their Academy program. Hope wanted to be an Officer badly, so she sucked up her distaste and actually studied.
Why her sister had insisted on joining the Alliance as well still baffled her, given Faith’s apparent hatred of the organization. All she seemed to do nowadays was try to find ways to rebel against them, and yet she’d signed a contract with them. Hope shrugged it off, figuring Faith must have simply wanted to not be separated from her twin. Then why was she rebelling, rather than pursuing the Academy as well?
Hope shook her head, smirking. Trying to figure out Faith was about as pointless as nailing jello to a tree, as their mother would have said. The invisible form at her side gave her a slight nudge.
“What are you grinning about?”
“Nothing.” Hope shrugged, glancing over the landscape with a smile. A sigh rolled through her, easing the tension between her shoulders. The gloating sense of triumph emanating from next to her made Hope curious. Then it struck her.
“You did this on purpose, didn’t you?”
“Did what?” Came the overly innocent reply. Hope couldn’t help the grin that blossomed over her face as she shook her head in exasperation, chuckling.
“I told you that I was stressing out over our mid-term exams yesterday, and today we’re on a relaxing walk through the Presidium.” Hope smiled fondly at the nothing beside her. “Clever.”
“I have no idea what you’re talking about.” The form lied. “I was just trying to prove a point. Which I have. Cloaks are perfect in every way.”
“Fine, I’ll concede that they have some use, though hopefully I’ll never have an occasion to need one to hide my nakedness from the entire Presidium.”
“Stranger things have happened.”
“Sadly, true.” Hope chuckled as they turned to walk down a curved bridge spanning over the Presidium lakes. Walking opposite of them was a Turian C-Sec officer, followed by a younger Turian with blue markings and a visor over his left eye. Hope tensed slightly, a worried glance flickering towards Faith, though she remained invisible. Hope straightened, trying to put on a show of nonchalance that she most definitely didn’t feel. She silently swore that if her sister’s cloak failed, she’d simply throw the girl overboard. Faith wasn’t a great swimmer, and drowning her would be better than living with the knowledge of having been an accessory to gross exhibitionism, Hope thought angrily.
Faith, on the other hand, was staring at the young Turian. His eyes were originally straightforward, listening intently to whatever the older Turian, most likely his father, was saying. As the twins walked closer, however, the boy’s eyes riveted on her body, looking her up and down. Faith was growing more adept at reading Turian facial expressions, and the look the boy was giving her was of stunned amazement mixed with interest. Knowing her cover was blown, Faith grinned, waving coyishly at him.
Busy staring at the young woman as she walked by, the boy failed to watch where he put his feet and walked straight into a collection of bushes, falling on his face.
“Garrus! Watch where you’re walking, for spirit’s sake!” His father stood over the fallen and flailing boy as he scrambled to right himself, his neck flushed a deep blue of embarrassment. Faith stifled a chuckle as her sister and herself walked past, pretending not to notice. She couldn’t help add a slight sway to her hips, knowing the boy would spare her another glance as they walked away.
Once they’d reached a good distance from the officer, Hope turned resolutely to a skycar taxi stand and growled under her breath.
“You’re pure evil, you know that?”
Faith couldn’t help but laugh.
Chapter 6: 'F' is for First
A trip through time, viewing Faith's many firsts.
WARNING: Contains some material that might be upsetting for some readers. Verbal abuse, derogatory name-calling, underage sex, dubious consent, implications of rape. If you're uncomfortable about any of that, either skip to the last part of this chapter (that features Saren), or simply skip this chapter entirely.
True be told, this chapter has been written for over a month, but I've been debating whether or not to post it. There's a lot of sensitive material here, but in the end, it's all a part of Faith's character. I hope you're able to enjoy regardless.
The sound of mocking laughter was easily heard throughout the small, confined space of the school cafeteria. Being located away from the main settlement on Mindoir, the school’s student body was composed of only around one hundred students, all between the ages of thirteen and eighteen. Pretty much the entire school, staff included, had been there long enough for everyone to know everyone else. As such, rumors and gossip had the bad tendency to spread with ease.
Faith felt her stomach clench as several adolescent boys stared her down, undressing her with their eyes and thoughtless comments. Seated at the center of their attention was Ross Marcum, a fairly attractive youth with whom Faith had been seen frequently walking around town with. She clenched her teeth and forced herself to swallow the tears that threatened to fall.
She’d been mistaken in believing in Ross, naive to accept that his pose of defending her honor and dignity was genuine. She’d been flattered by his attention and apparent chivalry. Despite their slight difference in age, she had truly believed he was a good person. So when he’d suggested staying warm together out under the starry fields, she had complied willingly and eagerly.
Hope reached out and gently squeezed her twin sister’s hand, brushing a lock of long red hair away from Faith’s eyes with her free hand.
“Hey, screw that jerk.”
Faith laughed humorlessly, her voice thick with emotion. “That’s what got me into this mess.”
“Seriously, though, don’t worry about it. He’s just a mindless nobody. Ignore him.”
“A little hard to when he’s bragging to every able bodied male in the vicinity.” Faith clenched her teeth, ignoring the whispers from the other girls, who looked at her as though she was beneath them. Words like ‘slut’ and ‘whore’ were beginning to fill the air, crackling around her already raw nerves. It wouldn’t be too long before the rumors spread, reaching the ears of her family, about what their daughter had done with a local boy.
Might as well go all the way, Faith thought grimly to herself.
Over the ambient conversations, Faith easily picked out Ross’ voice, sounding magnanimous and amused as he spoke to one of his sycophants.
“Sure, man, help yourself. I’m done with her, anyways.”
Faith slammed her hands down on the table. Hard. The sound reverberated through the cafeteria, all conversation whispering to a close as all eyes focused on the fiery red-head. Hope groaned inwardly, giving her sister a pleading look.
“Faith, don’t do anything stupid…” Hope fervently prayed. Faith smirked at her, then stood up, mounting the table to survey the area around her.
“Ladies and Gentlemen, if I could have your attention for a moment, please.” Faith’s ringing voice could clearly be heard everywhere. Vocal training did have it’s uses, Faith mused grimly. “I would like to address a recent issue that has been brought to my attention repeatedly within the past day.”
The entire cafeteria, including the staff, fell into a hushed silence. Faith bowed slightly, then spread her arms for dramatic effect.
“There have been rumors flying thick lately about my recent activities with a certain Ross Marcum, seated over there amidst his sycophants. I would like to take this opportunity to explain that, while it is true that I did indeed sleep with him, it was not sex worthy of the bragging you have heard from him today. I would like this opportunity to tell you all that it was, in fact, more an act of charity on my part then any prowess on his, since someone as malformed and grossly underdeveloped in that department could never succeed in having sex with anyone without special aide.”
Several people began snickering, glancing at Ross, whose face had gone from overly smug to sheer horror as he realised what was happening. Faith smiled over at him as she continued.
“Now I know there are several tender hearted ladies who attend this school who would be inclined to extend the same charity that I have, however I would like to warn them away from Ross, as well as the entirety of the male populace that surrounds him. See how they hound together, like the dogs they are, to trade false stories of conquest? See how they bark vulgarities at those girls who would lower their standards once to appease them? How they offer and trade such women as though any woman would lower herself to their level more than once? These are not the actions we wish to encourage from our potential mates, is it ladies?”
Faith fell silent as several of the young women in the group began to nod, vocalizing their agreement. Several of the boys began to call her names, trying to shame her out of speaking out, but their desperate cries only served to strengthen her resolve.
“I say to the women of this school, let us SHUN these shameful bastards, and give them not a moment of our attention! Let us set the standard once and for all that we will not be shamed or manipulated by them! We will not allow these dirty and uncouth boys who think they be real men to dictate what we should look like and how we should act! Ladies! With me!”
Without another word, Faith grabbed her belongings, marching out of the cafeteria with her head held high. Scrambling, Hope picked up both their trays of food as well as her bag and followed her sister out. Within moments, the entire female student body had vacated the cafeteria, leaving a bunch of crestfallen young men to stew in their personal angst.
It wasn’t all that surprising that Faith earned herself a detention for her behavior, though the teachers treated her with an odd mixture of respect for her actions. Ross had been belligerent at first, but after over a week of being shunned, he was forced to admit defeat and ceased pestering the twins. The entire male student body treated the twins with a fearful awe after Faith had completely slaughtered Ross’ reputation, and the girls found themselves in an interesting standing with the town’s youth in general.
Thankfully, neither of their parents said anything.
* * *
“So, I was wondering if you’d like to walk back to my condo tonight? The Presidium Gardens are quite lovely right now with all the various flowers in bloom.”
Faith felt her heart rate triple at the invitation. A slight blush christened her cheeks, though she wondered if some of the wine had a play in her coloration. Smiling, she covered Lorik’s three fingered hand with her own, giving his blunted talons a slight squeeze.
“I couldn’t think of a better way to end my birthday.” Faith smiled, though there was a slight trace of guilt. She’d lied to Lorik about the date of her birth, since she had wanted to spend the day with her sister, as usual. However, having no siblings himself, Lorik didn’t understand the deep ties that kept her with her sister rather than with him. Of course, he didn’t understand birthdays either, since Turians didn’t celebrate them. To him, it simply meant another opportunity to spoil the lovely young lady who had so completely captured his attention.
And Faith certainly didn’t mind being spoiled.
The two of them stood, Lorik paying for the entire extravagant meal and the bottle of dextro-levo wine, and left the restaurant with their arms around one another. Lorik’s thumb caressed her side from where his hand rested on her hip, squeezing slightly now and then. It wasn’t an unexpected invitation; they had been discussing sex for a while now and had simply been waiting for the right moment, rather than rushing into it. She’d never slept with a Turian before, and found herself curious.
The next morning, Faith felt as though she’d been struck by a truck. A very large, dominant, toothy, sexy truck. There were numerous bruises on her fair skin - Lorik had been very sorry, not realizing how easily humans bruised as compared to Turians. Her thighs were badly chaffed from his rough hide, red and irritated. Overall, however, Faith sighed contentedly on his strangely curved bed. It had been different, but not bad. If nothing else, he deserved an award for creative uses for a long, flexible tongue.
There was a note left on the bed for her, written in obvious haste. Lorik apologized for having to leave her alone, but he had been called in to an emergency meeting at work. He informed her where medi-gel and other medical supplies were located in the condo and again he apologized for her apparent need for them. He promised to be more mindful of himself next time. He also asked that she lock up when she left. Unless she wished to stay - he certainly wasn’t opposed to coming back home to her.
Faith couldn’t help the slightly disappointed sigh that rose from her chest. She had hoped for a repeat of the previous evening’s activities, but by now her absence would have been noted at the Alliance dorms. More than likely, Anderson would be out on the hunt for her. The last thing she needed was to be discovered in a much older Turian’s bedroom.
Dressing herself quickly, she activated her cloak and walked calmly from the Presidium to the wards. Sure enough, she spotted a cross Anderson storming around, holding up her photo to people and asking questions. Had she not been cloaked, she would have laughed at him. Instead, she quietly made her way back up to her rooms, knowing her sister would call Anderson the moment Faith reappeared.
Sure enough, Faith had barely made it back inside their shared dorm room when her sister stiffened and growled.
“I know you’re there, Faith!” Hope hissed angrily, her short cropped hair almost standing on end. Faith released the cloak, giving her sister a cautious look.
“What’s got your panties in a twist?” Faith asked, trying to appear casual as she stripped out of last night’s finery. Her sister looked her over with disgust.
“I agreed to cover for you so you could go to dinner with this boy of yours. What the hell are you doing, staggering in here at almost noon?! And wearing the same clothes you were wearing yesterday?”
Faith got very quiet, leveling her sister with a disapproving look. “First off, I’m a big girl who can look out for herself. Secondly, I drank a little too much last night-”
“Only for another two days!”
“Drinking age is still 21, Faith. Not 18.”
“Yeah, well...” Faith faltered. Shrugging, she pulled out a robe and shrugged herself into it. “Anyways, my boy was nice enough to let me stay with him last night.”
“And helped himself to you to boot!” Hope slammed her hand down on the datapad she had been reading. “Give me one reason - just one - not to turn him into the authorities!”
“Would you keep it down, Hope! You’re throwing a fit over nothing-”
“Nothing?!” Hope bellowed, causing Faith to sigh. Anderson probably had heard them yelling and was coming to check on them now. Faith had been hoping to take a shower before he spotted her, but it was obvious Hope wasn’t helping anymore. “You sneak out to go party with some older man who gets you drunk and molests you, and you call that NOTHING?”
Faith felt her heart crash as Anderson barged into their room, opening his mouth to admonish her. Instead, everything fell deathly quiet, as Anderson very slowly walked up to Faith. Before she could speak, Anderson pushed her hair back and tilted her head forward, his face going pale. There, hidden by her hair on the nape of her neck, was the vivid red outline of several sharp teeth on either side of her spine. Faith could feel Anderson’s fist clenching and releasing, as her sister stared in horror at the mark. After several moments of dreadful silence, Anderson finally spoke, his voice no more than a whisper.
“Go report to the medical center. I’ll meet you down there. We’re going to have a very, very, long talk.”
Faith nodded, though she felt a strong sense of resentment at his tone. He wasn’t their parent, and had no right to be angry at her. However, Faith knew better than to argue when someone spoke with that tone. Fighting back hot tears of shame and humiliation, Faith made her way down to the medical center knowing full well they wouldn't let her shower until they were done with her. She resented the implications, but since she was still legally underage, she knew they would force the issue no matter how much she protested. After all, apparently until two days had passed she wouldn't have the necessary mental capacity to make adult decisions concerning herself.
A month later, Anderson finally caught Faith with her older Turian boyfriend. Though he’d taken away her omni-tool and heavily restricted her, even going so far as to put her under guard, Faith always found a way to sneak off. However, once she was caught, everything fell apart. She never found out what Anderson said to Lorik when Anderson forcibly separated them, but the next day Lorik dumped her, saying he didn’t need that level of drama and bad press in his life. Faith had been crushed, and a deep, abiding resentment grew towards her assigned guardian and the organization he worked for.
So much so, that when she saw Anderson’s most hated rival seated at a cafe with a friend, Faith felt fully justified in approaching the Turian Spectre and offering her services.
* * *
Faith watched with thinly veiled amusement as the female Turian turned and hissed at the cluster of male Turians that always seemed to be somewhere nearby. The troupe had arrived as part of some training co-op, and so far, Faith had yet to see the poor woman by herself. Anywhere she went, at least five or six young males were sure to be near, watching her intently. There was something about the way they all quietly watched her move that made Faith pity the poor woman. So when Faith saw an opportunity to grab the Turian female and run off with her, she took it.
The two of them ran through the compound, Faith holding the woman’s hand to help guide her, until they were safely out of sight from everyone else. Faith couldn’t help chuckling as several of the males could be seen from their vantage point, desperately searching for their female counterpart. As they caught their breath, Faith couldn’t help smiling at the somewhat confused woman.
“Hey, I’m Faith Shepard. Sorry for grabbing you like that, but you looked like you could use some time away from all that attention.”
The woman had a deep, rich laugh, her voice almost honeyed as she chuckled. “Nira Beloxi. I thank you, Ms. Shepard. I was beginning to wonder if I was ever going to escape them.”
“What’s that all about, anyways? I thought I understood most Turian behavior, but those boys had me baffled.” Faith noticed how uncomfortable Nira had become, and quickly held up her hands in a friendly fashion. “Sorry, you don’t have to answer if you don’t want.”
“No, it’s fine.” Nira sighed deeply, shaking her head. “It’s just ...a little embarrassing. I forgot to take my birth control shot before we left on this co-op, and the doctors here didn’t have any, so my hormones are currently on overdrive.”
Faith cringed in sympathy. “Oh.”
Nila nodded, sighing deeply through her nose. “Most of the senior staff is old enough that they’re just ignoring it, but those boys are just too young. They’re responding instinctively, so I’m not mad at them it’s just…” Nila growled slightly. “It’s starting to get on my nerves.”
”I can imagine. Is there anything you can do to cover up the pheromone smell at least? Maybe throw them off?”
”Unfortunately not. Anything I could have used would be back at our base, and by then I’ll either be over it or I’ll simply be able to wander down to the medical center there and get my shot.” The turian woman cracked her long, thin neck, looking tired and worn. “I’ve been told having sex is supposed to help tone the hormones down, but I’m not really interested in… boys.”
Faith smiled in sympathy. “I don’t blame you. Youth has enthusiasm and little else.”
Nila gave Faith an amused look, and slowly it dawned on the red-head why. “Ah, I get it.” She finally said, feeling a slight blush bloom across her cheeks. “Unless you’re into red-heads who like to run off with random strangers and occasionally speak before thinking, there’s sadly not much I can do to help you.” Faith sighed theatrically, causing Nira to laugh. The human glanced over at where the young male Turians had gathered, looking dejected and confused.
Nila also looked over at the youngsters, sighing again, though her mandibles fluttered with a slight smile. “It’s okay. Having a respite for a few minutes was enough.”
Faith chuckled. “Well, if you need someone to hang out with who’s not looking to get into your bed, you know my name.”
Nira nodded, her eyes thoughtful. “Thank you. I may have to take you up on that.”
The two girl grew close over the next few days, sitting together at lunch and gossiping as the hoard of young Turian males looked on in jealousy. The two women remained friendly for the first day or so, then friendly escalated into flirting with one another. Flirtation quickly led to affection. By the end of the week, Faith and Nira were spending quite a bit of time with each other, often spending the night in one another’s dorm room.
The group of young Turians quickly turned sour with disappointment. The older Turians seemed surprised, though watching the reactions of their young charges brought them some amusement.
Unfortunately for the two women, their fun came to an end when the co-op was concluded. Though they both promised to remain in contact, both knew there wasn’t much chance of meeting up again. Faith bid a fond farewell to Nira, causing whispers to circulate as they shared a brief forehead nuzzle just outside the shuttle waiting to take Nira away. Though Faith earned some odd looks over the next few days, nobody said anything. At least directly to her.
One thing Faith fervently swore was never to tell Saren about the incident. After all, he had predicted her leaning towards bi-sexuality, and there was no way she was going to confirm it and swell his ego any further.
* * *
Shepard slowly woke up, her entire body vibrating with warmth and comfort. Smiling slightly, she realised Saren must have covered her with a blanket sometime during the night. Despite his ship running at a balmy 88 degrees at all times, he felt the need to keep her covered because her surface temperature always felt so cold and clammy compared to himself. His constant fussing and driving need to take care of her health was always touching. Even more so when it resulted in her being allowed to sleep in.
Stretching happily, Faith allowed her senses to help her wake. Sure enough, the subtle smell of mint tea drifted lazily in the air around her, bringing a happy smile to her face. However, as she lay there stretching her legs and wiggling her toes, another scent, it’s aroma heart-wrenchingly familiar, began to ghost across her senses. Frowning, Faith sat up, sniffing at the air. The smell tugged at her memories, bringing up visions of green trees and flowers and lazy mornings. Something about her mother…
Resolutely Faith stood and dressed quickly, determined to discover the smell before the lingering feeling of nostalgia left her. Riding the elevator down to the kitchen, she was surprised to see Leonis Octavius there. Normally the Turian only came to the kitchen when meals were being served, and even then Faith had been forced to hunt him down and threaten him to eat something on occasion. To see him seated at a table, reading a datapad and drinking some kava in a leisurely way seemed so odd to her.
“Good morning, Octavius.” She smiled brightly. His eyes flickered up towards her, then back to his datapad.
“Shepard. What brings you down here so early?”
“I smelled something delicious.”
Octavius shook his head, and Faith swore she could see a hint of a smile to his mandibles. Without further preamble, Faith made her way into the kitchen proper, and was brought up short. Standing casually before the stove was Saren, humming tunelessly to himself, as he carefully flipped over a pancake in it’s skillet. Faith felt a wave of affection and appreciation as she watched her lover cook. Already, a small stack sat to the side, covered in fruit topping. Strawberries, of course.
Saren knew his human so well.
“This is a first. I don’t think I’ve ever seen you cook before.” Faith couldn’t help the loving smile that spread her full lips. Saren didn’t even look at her, though he smiled.
“Believe it or not, Ms. Shepard, but before you came along I cooked for myself on occasion. Though I must admit, this is my first time trying a levo recipe. Hopefully it passes as edible, but I make you no promises.”
“Perhaps I should make you eat the mistakes.” Faith teased, earning a look from Saren as they both slipped into a shared memory for a moment. Then he turned back to the stack, carefully adding the last flapjack to the pile. Faith felt slightly alarmed at the size of the stack, but figured she could just eat the rest later if she couldn’t finish it now.
Saren ushered her out, fussing about the kitchen as he set the table before her and brought her the dish. Faith nodded her thanks to him as Saren sat across from her, his own breakfast looking meager compared to hers. Faith took a bite of the pancakes, the texture perfect and fluffy, just like how her mother used to make them. She felt a slight heavy feeling in her chest as tears formed on the corners of her eyes. Saren looked at her in alarm, half-standing as he reached over to stop her from eating.
“Apparently I didn’t make them-”
“They’re perfect.” Faith laughed, absently wiping the tears away. “They’re just like the ones my mother used to make us on lazy Sunday mornings. We usually would get up, go to church, and eat breakfast at the community center, but some Sundays they’d let us sleep in, and we’d all eat pancakes together in our own home. I always thought those were the best Sundays.”
Saren sat back down, his head tilted ever so slightly as he watched her take another bite. She shivered, moaning with delight.
“So...they are good?”
“Very much so.”
The two of them ate their breakfast in silence, though Saren continued to glance at her, a mixture of worry and affection to his gaze. Faith found herself smiling foolishly as she helped him clean up the kitchen afterwards, a sense of love infusing her being.
Saren may not have been her first love, but she rather hoped he would be the one that lasted.
Chapter 7: 'G' is for Green
Another time-skip chapter, going over the various times Saren sees the color green in relation to his companion.
WARNING: Implications of torture in the third section. Please skip when you see mention of a Batarian if that sort of thing bothers you.
Saren resisted the urge to sigh as the human lay on her back, breathing heavily. Apparently, what constituted a difficult fight for her barely passed as light sparring for him. He quickly began doing his breathing exercises, as Nihlus had suggested, to keep his temper in check.
“You may rise anytime you’re done resting, human.” Saren spoke with heavy sarcasm once he had finished. Faith glowered at him, though she said nothing as she struggled to her feet. Saren gifted her with a few moments to set her stance before moving in quickly.
This time, it took him only three moves to get the human into a pin. She was growing sloppy. Saren snarled in disgust.
“Pathetic! You should be improving, and instead, you’re wasting my time. I do not appreciate it.” He growled, his tone taking on the menacing range that usually cowered his students into obedience. Not her though. He both admired her bravery (or was it stupidity, he wondered) while summarily cursing her stubbornness. After all, the longer it took her to give up, the longer she kept him from getting any real work done.
Faith pushed herself back up to her feet, wincing as her ribs creaked alarmingly. She knew better than to argue, though she wanted to point out that they’d been at it for well over 3 hours. Instead, she took a few breaths, then got back into a fighting stance.
Forty minutes later, Faith slowly regained consciousness, her entire body groaning like an abscessed tooth. She could feel her skin prickling to the open air, and it finally dawned on her that she wasn’t wearing any clothes beyond her panties. A rough, taloned hand was busy working a salve over her worst injuries, it’s stink offensive to her senses. She couldn’t help the whining mewl that worked its way out of her as that same hand worked over a particularly nasty bruise. The hand paused at the sound, and Faith could almost feel the condescending amusement that emanated from the figure.
“I see you’ve finally decided to grace us with your presence, human.”
Faith couldn’t help herself. “Always leave your audience waiting: it makes your entrance that much better.”
A sharp smack against the back of her thigh caused her to yelp. Still too early for back-talk, Faith noted with a wince. After it became clear that she had been chastised, she felt Saren working the salve back into her, massaging her muscles and injuries. It wasn’t completely unpleasant. After a few moments, Faith worked up the nerve to speak again.
“What is that you’re rubbing me down with? It doesn’t smell like medi-gel.”
“That would be because it is not. Believe it or not, medi-gel isn’t the only healing solution available, and it should not be used when there are other, more efficient medicine available.” Saren huffed, resuming his work. “Medi-gel is best used when a subject is bleeding, which, given your history, your are surprisingly not. This medicine was developed to treat bruising, which you are currently favoring. I suppose I should be pleased with your progress of self-injury, but I am not.”
Faith closed her eyes to keep herself from rolling them. By not bleeding everywhere, she was showing improvement at dodging and protecting herself. In Saren’s usual fashion, he was insulting her to motivate her. His tending to her injuries was his own bizarre way of rewarding her for a job well done. Forcing herself to relax her muscles despite the soreness that ran rampant through her body, Faith tried to enjoy the massage. Then she heard a disgusted noise from her companion.
“Is something wrong, Spectre Arterius?”
“Your bruises are usually a more pleasant color. For instance this lovely red and purple mixture here on your calve.” Saren impishly poked at the sore spot, making Faith yelp. Then he turned to her lower back, practically smothering the spot with medicine. “However, this offensive beast is a disgusting yellow-green. Truly, an unflattering color on any creature.”
“Wait…” Faith felt herself prickle slightly as she realized she was only partially covered in the medicine. “Are you only spreading that stuff on the bruises you think are ugly?”
Faith could almost hear the rumble of amusement in the Turian’s subvocals.
“But of course. I knew if I left you to tend to yourself, you’d wear all these bruises until they healed and I would be forced to look at them. At least this way the only ones I will see are the ones I care to look upon.”
Faith resisted the urge to make strangling motions with her hands.
* * *
“What do you think?”
Saren glanced over at the young woman as she carefully twirled. It was such a childish motion, definitely below the dignity of her current rank of Specialist. However, as Faith had struggled hard to have a dress made that would not offend his tastes, he could allow her the moment of triumph.
“Decent. I question the cut, however. What made you decide on one so restrictive of the legs? Are you not concerned about your inability to fight or run?” Saren crossed his arms, eyeing the way the dress clung to her every curve. The top portion of the dress was surprisingly modest for Faith, who had become known for her more bold clothing choices. Not that she’d chosen those particular dresses for herself, Saren mused, though she’d worn them rather well.
This particular green and blue gown covered her right arm in a tight sleeve up to her shoulder, then cut dramatically down across her chest at a diagonal, leaving her other arm and shoulder free. It hugged her torso, looking all the world like she would tear out of it if she breathed too deeply. The entire left side was open, the two halves of fabric held in place by delicate gold clasps all the way down to her knee. The fabric shimmered and flashed in the light, the minute differences in color showing the faint outline of scales printed into the fabric. The entire look was stunning.
Not that Saren ever would have told her that.
It was, however, horribly impractical for a Specialist to be wearing, even to a formal event. Saren frowned, crossing his arms. Faith, however, smiled in response. Without a word, she carefully bent down, unclasping the gold clasps on the left side above her leg, allowing herself a greater ability to move. Saren continued to frown.
“The fact that you have to spend precious seconds unclasping your dress could be a fatal error.”
“If there’s an emergency, I can move in such a way that the clasps will break open by themselves.” Faith shrugged, refastening the little gold clasps, apparently unworried. Saren sighed through his nose.
“Very well, if you’re that set on the dress I suppose it will have to do.” Saren saw the look of disappointment that passed over the human’s face, and quieted a groan. It was obvious that she had hoped to impress him. He forced himself to give her a slight smile. “The cut may not be optimal, but the color is impressive.”
Faith beamed at him.
* * *
Faith looked down at the Batarian, tied securely to a metal chair. Though she had no love lost for the race ever since they’d slaughtered her family on Mindior, the look of sick fear in all four of his large eyes made Faith’s stomach clench uneasily. Worse was the business-like way that Saren was moving about the room, setting up various tools and implements as though he was preparing to fix a console.
“The trick is to remain calm. If you get angry, you’re more likely to do something damaging.” He spoke aloud to Faith as he brought the small table of tools closer to the intended victim, apparently oblivious to Faith’s discomfort. “While damaging the person you’re interrogating isn’t necessarily a bad thing, you should only do that when you’re in control. If you’re angry, you’re more likely to sever a nerve or an artery.”
“Please, don’t let him do this…” The Batarian beseeched quietly to Faith, his expression mirroring his fear. Faith felt sick, unable to turn away as Saren casually punched the Batarian across the face.
“You made your decision already. If you hadn’t wiped all the data off the computer console, I would have simply killed you and received the information that way. However, you decided to play the hero, and now you must face the consequences of your actions.” Saren wiped a scalpel with a cleaning cloth before holding the thing below one of the Batarian’s eyes. “If you wish to avoid being tortured for information, then I suggest you answer all my questions honestly and promptly.”
Faith couldn’t help swallowing hard as bile rose in her throat. Unfortunately, Saren’s sharp hearing picked up on her distress, and he glanced her way with a frown.
“I already warned you this was a necessary part of working with a Spectre, Ms. Shepard.” Saren spoke calmly, though there was a hint of sympathy to his tone. Faith took a few deep breaths before she nodded, holding her chin up bravely.
“I know, and I understand. However…” Her countenance wavered slightly, her face taking on a slightly greenish cast. Saren watched her a few moments, then nodded in understanding, pointing with the scalpel.
“There’s a bucket under the table if you require the use of it.”
* * *
The uneasy quiet crept under Saren’s plates, making him paranoid. Ms. Shepard was a capable individual, Saren told himself as he tried to focus on his task. The most capable human he had come across, and that was saying quite a bit considering most humans were about as capable as a pyjak with a nuke.
He did, however, move as quickly as he could to finish downloading the information from the main computer onto his omni-tool. He resisted the urge to pace as it seemed to drag on, before the tool finally dinged, informing him that the download was finished. He was moving towards the exit before he’d completely shut the device down, casually throwing a grenade behind him to destroy what was left. Just in case.
He quickly made his way down the numerous hallways and past the bodies that he’d left where they’d fallen. Not one of his more subtle missions, but usually drug dealers didn’t require subtlety. Only bullets. Preferably between the eyes.
The Spectre began looking around the area where he had last seen his human companion. It had been necessary to separate since their enemy was beginning to surround them. Shepard had insisted on drawing them off while Saren, who was the only one privy to what classified information they needed to retrieve, was left with the task of finishing the mission. Having done so, he felt it appropriate to find his assistant and vacate the premise and return to the Citadel. Possibly get them both massages.
Sniffing at the air, Saren tried his best to follow the path of destruction and various clues left behind, continuously hoping that he would eventually hear his companion. After all, he had spent so much time training and preparing her. To find her dead, overwhelmed by mere drug dealers? Such an insult to his hard work would not stand. Therefore, she must be alive and still fighting somewhere.
The sound of heavy breathing drew his attention towards an open courtyard. Crouching down, he slowly made his way forward, pistol in one hand, a charging Singularity in the other. He paused at the doorway, his finely tuned senses telling him more about the situation than his eyes would convey. Other than the single set of lungs breathing heavily he heard nothing, meaning the figure was most likely alone. The pitch and depth of the breaths were at a higher register. That meant human female, Salarian, or Asari. Judging by the thick smell of various species’ blood that stuck to the roof of his mouth, he reasoned anyone else who had been in the room with the figure had been killed.
Cautiously he worked his way around the corner, taking in the visual blood bath strewn about the courtyard. A few of the bodies twitched occasionally, as though they had been electrocuted recently. His eyes quickly riveted onto the back of his companion, standing in the center of the destruction, her fists clenched and held slightly away from her sides. She was covered in the various liquid colors of her victims, the varying hues clashing horribly against her deep red suit and red hair, pulled into a military-style bun. What grabbed his attention, however, was the wavering nimbus of power, sparking green and dangerous, that surrounded her person.
Saren unconsciously breathed in sharply, the sight stirring something in him that he couldn’t comfortably name. Though a part of him was relieved to see her apparently unharmed, the state in which she stood amidst the bodies and destruction wrapped in her own deadly power filled him with a small sliver of something close to awe.
Though Saren would never say it to her face, the raw shade of vibrant green from her power was the most beautiful shade for her person.
Chapter 8: 'H' is for Holiday
Yes, I know it's August right now. Enjoy the obligatory Christmas chapter!
The first disturbance Saren noticed was around Shepard’s little ‘nest’.
After settling on board, the young human had claimed a small space between two secure sets of metal boxes. Initially, it had only contained a single blanket and a bucket for washing her clothes. Now, as he stared at the space, it truly had become a little home for the human. A small rope hammock spread between the boxes for Shepard to both sleep or sit on. Little fluffy pillows of bright yellows, pale blues, and mossy greens were scattered all over the hammock, and little trinkets and charms that Shepard had purchased here and there across the galaxy hung from the ropes to dangle underneath. Stretched all around the space like a tent was a pink bed sheet with little gold shapes meant to depict stars and planets. Currently, the two ends of the sheet were tied back with little beaded strings, meaning most likely that Shepard was out.
It didn’t bother him that she wished to decorate a space that she could call her own. If anything, he encouraged it. The work they did was high stress. Having a space, no matter how small, that allowed her a chance to decompress and relax was crucial for her continued good health.
However, as he stared in growing disapproval at the long strings of blinking lights draped around most of the storage area, he felt it might be prudent to discuss boundaries with the young woman. After all, it still was his ship, and this flagrant decoration of various spaces should be kept contained and controlled. Nodding once to himself, he glanced inside the tent, noting her absence, and immediately turned from the hold to find her.
It didn’t take him long to locate the human, red hair bound in a tight braid draping down her back with a large green bow holding it in place, as she puttered about the kitchen. Here too, he noticed more of those annoying, blinking lights, hanging from various hooks from the ceiling. His mandibles pressed close to his face, a scowl deeply embedded in his expression.
This simply wouldn’t do.
“Shepard, we need to talk. Immediately.” Saren spoke sternly, striding towards her. Shepard jumped slightly, then turned to face him. Whatever Saren had been about to say vanished at the sight of her and what she was wearing.
The sweater was about two sizes too big for her slight frame, making her look bulkier than he knew she was. The deep green color was a ghastly shade against her pale skin, and the fabric looked thick and heavy. Highly inappropriate attire for a Turian ship, since they ran several degrees hotter than what most humans found comfortable. He could see the slight beading of sweat across her brow, and privately wondered what possessed her to wear such a thing.
What brought Saren up short though was the garish patterns and colors woven into the fabric on the front of the sweater. He could make out various white geometric patterns interspersed by what he could only conclude to be archaic depictions of various prey animals. Strung throughout were little metal bells, which jingled merrily as she moved.
Faith couldn’t help raising an eyebrow as Saren continued to stare. After several moments of silence, he finally managed to find his voice.
“That is by far the ugliest piece of clothing I have ever seen. Please tell me you’re planning to put the poor thing out of it’s misery. Preferably using fire.” Saren spoke softly, his voice sounding somewhat sick. Faith snorted, rolling her eyes.
“It’s a Christmas sweater. It’s tradition.”
“It’s horrifying. I honestly think I’m going to have nightmares.”
“Be nice.” Faith chided, moving to put a large roasted meat dish on the table. Saren sniffed at the aromas, suppressing a groan. He could almost forgive her for scarring him with the sight of such an abomination. Almost.
“I’ll be nice just as soon as you remove that thing from existence.” Saren snorted, then decided to let the matter drop. Better to focus on the bigger issue, he told himself. “I’ve noticed you’ve been decorating quite a bit as of late. Is there a purpose behind it, or do I need to remind you that you are technically a guest on board this ship?”
Faith gave him a stern look. “Considering any time I do something you don’t care for you always remind me of my so called ‘place’ on this ship, I don’t think you need repeat yourself. As for the decorations, I’m simply following your suggestion.”
“Remind me?” Saren asked cautiously. Faith shrugged, turning back to the kitchen to pull out some fresh bread out of the oven. Saren couldn’t help himself. He groaned as he inhaled the heavenly aroma, causing Faith to smile somewhat. She managed to find space on the table for the last bit of food before calling over the intercom that supper was ready. Smoothing down the front of her sweater, she turned back to Saren.
“A couple weeks ago I made a comment on how sad I was because I was missing my sister over the Holiday season and how removed I felt because I know Turians don’t celebrate Holidays the same way we do. You mentioned that the next time one of these holidays rolled around that I should take a few moments to celebrate them, if only to keep me from whining about it.” Faith gave Saren a look that he was sure was supposed to be scathing, but did little more than amuse him. “Since Christmas was coming up, and that was a fairly big Holiday for me and my family, I decided to take you up on your offer. Have a plate.”
Saren took the plate she pushed towards him, stepping aside as his crew rushed down for the overly elaborate meal she had prepared. He snorted to himself as he watched them fidget, obviously wanting to dive into the meal before them but forcing themselves to behave in his presence.
“When I said that, I expected you to celebrate quietly and alone.” Saren groused, though he sat himself at the head of the table and liberally filled his plate from the numerous dishes. Faith shrugged as she went around the table, filling everyone’s glasses with a bit of wine.
“Christmas isn’t much fun to celebrate solo. It’s a friends and family sort of holiday. Don’t worry, I’ll take down the lights after we’re done, but I was sort of hoping you would indulge me in one or two little traditions tonight.”
Saren paused in the act of shoveling food into his open mouth, his eyes flickering to her sweater. “That depends. If the dress required to participate -”
Faith groaned, rolling her eyes. “No, you don’t have to wear a sweater.” Shaking her head, she sat down with her own small meal. “The two big parts of Christmas, at least for my family, was the big family meal, which you are participating in now, and the giving of gifts afterwards.”
“Gifts?” One of the crewmen perked up. Faith nodded.
“They’re nothing big or special, since I didn’t have the time or money to invest into them, but I did try to make everyone something.”
“I hope you weren’t expecting anything in return.” Saren tensed with concern until he saw Shepard shake her head.
“Of course not. The giving is the better part, in my mind. Once you guys are done eating and the table is cleared away, I’ll pass them out.”
The crew ate quickly, polishing off most of the dishes, before assisting Faith in the clean up. As soon as the last dish was put away, Faith pulled a bag out of the kitchen, handing little paper-wrapped bundles to the crewmen.
Saren sat back, a slight smile to his face as he watched his crewmen become excited like small children, tearing into their various gifts. There were a few hand-decorated picture frames, trinkets, and simple clothing pieces. He blanched slightly at the sight of an obviously hand-made headpiece for one of the crewmen who was constantly complaining about being cold. Saren wasn’t sure which punishment would be worse: Forcing the crewman to throw the horrible thing away or make him wear it at all times. He looked down at his own gift, heavy and rectangular. At Faith’s urging, he carefully undid the tape at the sides, then saw her amused expression and simply tore into the paper like the others.
It was a book, written in a human script he didn’t recognize.
“It’s Sun-Tzu: The Art of War. He was a Chinese general and strategist, as well as a philosopher, who lived hundreds of years ago. From what I was able to read, it’s a direct copy of the original, translated into modern Chinese. I figured that would allow you to read it in it’s closest to purest form.”
“You assume I know any of Earth’s languages.” Saren quipped with mild amusement. Faith smirked at him.
“I know how you love a challenge. Chinese is a difficult language to master. I figured it’d give you something to work on. Or if not, it’s a pretty book. It’ll look lovely on your shelf gathering dust.”
Saren scoffed in disgust. “As if I would allow any dust to linger within my personal space.”
“Then I guess you’ll just have to work on reading it, won’t you.” Faith grinned. Saren didn’t bother to point out the fallacy in her logic.
Later, as Saren lounged in his curved bed, he casually flipped through the thin paper pages of the book, a pleased rumble escaping his normally rigid control. He had a weakness for the ancient and archaic as well as anything remotely militaristic. Add to the fact that that he had an appreciation for art, and the almost calligraphic letters painted across each page were quite pleasing to him. He almost found himself looking forward to deciphering the book. And if it gave him insights into human tactics, all the better to use against them.
It was the little things, Saren mused.
His door chimed, announcing a visitor, and he suppressed his grin. Shepard was just about the only person who traveled to his room nowadays, and she always rang first. Much better manners than Nihlus, who had always just barged in. Setting the book aside, Saren turned towards the door.
The doors moved aside without a sound, and Saren was pleased to see the human had removed the abomination from her person and was once again wearing normal clothing.
“Just wanted to check in before I checked out.”
“Have you removed all the excess decorations?” Saren asked. Shepard nodded.
“Everything’s been returned to normal. How’s the book?” Shepard asked with a grin. Saren lifted the book, looking at the pages again.
“The writing is quite visually appealing. One could almost believe it was written by a civilized people.” He teased. Faith shook her head.
“You’re impossible.” She groused without heat, then smiled at the Spectre. “Thanks for letting me celebrate, even for a moment. It was nice to indulge in my own culture for a change. If you don’t require anything else, I think I’ll get some sleep.”
“Just a moment, Ms. Shepard.” Saren rose from his bed, setting the book aside. Faith paused in the act of leaving, raising one red eyebrow. “As I understand, there is usually an exchange of gifts between people for this holiday, and, as I was caught unprepared earlier, I was unable to present you with one.”
Faith waited patiently, not bothering to tell Saren it wasn’t necessary to reciprocate - he already knew that and would just become peeved if she pointed it out to him. Instead, she waited as he opened up his omni-tool and typed in a few commands. Her own tool chimed as she received something.
“As you remarked earlier, this is a holiday meant to be spent with friends and family. It’s currently evening on the station where your sister resides. Use that code to break through the communications block. You have ten minutes.” Saren nodded his head, then gave the human a stern look. “I shouldn’t need to warn you, but you are forbidden to discuss the ship, it’s crew, or any mission info you have been privy too.”
“I know, Spectre. Merry Christmas! And thank you.” Faith breathed, gratitude radiating from her smile. On an impulse, Faith threw her arms around Saren’s surprised form, squeezing him once before she turned and almost ran towards the elevator, wishing him a good night. Saren stared after the human in shock at the violation of his personal space, then shook his head and returned to his bed. A slight smile graced his face as he looked down at the book once more.
“‘Merry Christmas’ indeed.” Saren chuckled.
Chapter 9: 'I' is for Impersonator
Faith demonstrates that she's a bit TOO good at mimicking Saren. Guest starring Nihlus.
"Is there anything in particular you wish to taunt me with, or were you just going to start ranting and see where the mood led you?"
The entire CIC fell quiet, several eyes riveting on Faith in stunned disbelief. Even Nihlus looked stunned, his mandibles hanging slack. It took about two seconds for Faith to realize that she had said that question out loud. Holding herself steady, she forced herself to look calm as she returned Saren's gaze. Oddly enough, he almost looked surprised, possibly even amused, though he disassembled well. Snarling, he leaned towards her, pouring all his menace into his words.
"I was wondering when you'd start talking back, human. Made brave by Nihlus’ presence are you? Do you feel safe having a Turian shield to cower behind, allowing you to bark and bay your defiance?” Saren scoffed. “Your species doesn't seem to be able to hold its tongue for very long. Tell me, does it cause you physical pain to hold your words in? Do you honestly think anyone finds humans clever or brave simply because they have learned to howl like rabid varren? I certainly hope your flippant comment was worth the effort, because, I promise you, it will bring you much suffering." He threatened, his tone purring with promise. Faith didn't even flinch.
"So business as normal, then? Should I get the mats ready for my daily abuse, or did you simply wish beat me down right here? If so, please allow me to get the cleaning supplies before hand as I've proven from your past beatings to be quite the bleeder." Faith drawled. Nihlus bit off a laugh, his green eyes dancing with amusement. Faith reasoned that Saren was going to beat her senseless regardless of whether or not she held her tongue. Maybe nobody else would appreciate her comments, but it did wonders for her. Saren sneered, and before he even opened his mouth, Faith knew which rant she was going to be graced with.
"Typical human. I brought you on board this ship -" Saren began, tensing himself. Faith rolled her eyes, finally snapping. After all, she mused, she was already in it this deep, might as well enjoy the journey.
" -as an opportunity for your species to prove itself, and as is your custom, you have done nothing but fail miserably at every simple task I have gifted you with." Faith intoned, perfectly mimicking Saren's menace and inflection, though she couldn't help the note of sarcasm that crept into her voice. She began pacing back and forth, gesturing angrily, pantomiming Saren at his worst as the crew watched, apparently enthralled.
"As always, humanity wishes simply to be given what every other race has been forced to earn! You cry and beg like unruly children, and throw tantrums when not catered to; undisciplined, undeserving! To think that I, Saren Arterius, the greatest Spectre to have ever existed-" Faith noticed the glower from Saren that accompanied that particular comment, "-would lower myself to offering to educate a lowly, disgusting, unappreciative human like yourself and expect something better than a simpering whelp? Truly, I must have been mad!"
Not even breathing could be heard as she crossed her arms defiantly, staring down the Spectre who most likely was going to kill her any second now. For several moments, nobody even blinked, the tension snapping dangerously through the air. Finally, Saren spoke, his voice no more than a whisper.
“Human, you have no idea what you have just unleashed.” Saren’s voice dripped with malevolence. Faith snorted, hardly intimidated.
“What’s to ’unleash’? Anytime I do something you don’t like, we end up on the sparring mats and you beat me up until I’m unconscious. What you fail to realize is that this teaches me nothing. Not fear or obedience and definitely not how to defend myself. If this is the best you can do, you’re a pretty rotten teacher.” Faith smirked, noticing just how much that last statement stung the Spectre, as he straightened and looked ready to murder her. Unable to back down now that she had the advantage, she continued to push. “In other words, every time you use sparing as a punishment, you’re allowing me the liberty of controlling you and your actions. There’s a certain pleasure in that.”
With a snarl, Saren lunged forward, obviously intending to discipline the human right then and there. For once, Faith didn’t stand down, tensing herself and getting into a defensive position. The idea of scrapping with a wild Saren in the CIC filled her with a kind of twisted glee. After all, he took such pains to keep it in pristine condition that tearing it all down would be almost as satisfying as riling him up had been.
Before Saren could get too close, however, Nihlus intervened, grabbing the Spectre and pulling him back. The two spoke in quiet tones for a moment, Nihlus’ eyes flickering to glare at Faith until she relaxed her stance. After several moments, Saren huffed, shaking his head. It almost appeared as though he was pouting, the very idea of which almost sent Faith into hysterical laughter. Nihlus storming straight at her sobered that thought, and she found herself standing at attention like a cadet determined to show no remorse for the heated lecture coming towards them. Nihlus lowered his head close to hers, dwarfing her easily.
“Alright, young human, that is quite enough.” Nihlus spoke firmly, obviously trying to intimidate her into some semblance of better behavior. Strangely, Faith wasn’t at the least bit perturbed. After having faced down an angry Saren multiple times, not much could scare her anymore.
One good thing to come out of his so-called teaching, Faith mused.
“You’re the one who said I shouldn’t hold back so much.” Faith pointed out, standing her ground unwavering. One of Nihlus’ mandibles twitched slightly with amusement, though his entire being radiated his disapproval.
“Be that as it may, while your performance was masterly-” Nihlus began. A loud shocked scoff from Saren turned their attention back to the petulant Spectre, staring at them in wide-eyed disbelief.
“I do not sound like that!” Saren protested. Before Nihlus could do damage control, Faith burst out laughing, a sound that caused Saren to growl in irritation.
“Yes, you do! You can deny it all you like, but I’ve had plenty of practice with acting. I know how to mimic a person’s mannerisms quite well. Why else would you be so upset? If I’d done poorly, you would have simply mocked me. The fact that you’re sputtering in rage right now just proves -”
“I am NOT ‘sputtering’!” Saren sputtered.
“Maybe we should-” Nihlus lamely tried to defuse the situation, once more getting cut off as Faith moved around him to return Saren’s vicious glare with hateful glee.
“You can posture and wail and use intimidation to subjugate those who work with you, but you can NOT hide from the truth, Saren! You’re a two-bit teacher and a complete failure at emotional self-control! The moment someone stands up to you, you resort to violence! You just can’t stand being wrong and you’ve convinced yourself that if your opponent stops talking you’ve won! You’ve got the mentality of a five year old child!”
“This coming from some human who has to hide behind insults because she’s too weak and pathetic to fight back? You’re nothing but a coward-” Saren bellowed.
“And you’re nothing but a sadistic bully who gets off on beating down those whom you know aren’t capable of fighting back at your level!” Shepard yelled back.
“Don’t interrupt me!” Saren lashed out with a backhand, but Faith dodged to the side easily. Having finally been released, Faith snarled her defiance.
“All you know is violence! You just proved my point by trying to hit me rather than argue! I may be weak bodied, but I’ll take that over being weak-minded any day!”
Saren was making strangling noises, resisting the urge to deck Faith across the length and breadth of his ship. However, in a rare moment, Faith had mentally outmaneuvered him. If he resorted to violence, he proved her right, and Faith knew Saren well enough by then that he’d sooner die then let her have that victory. However, her constant jabs had knocked him off balance, leaving him robbed of his usual keen mental edge. Unable to come up with a sufficient reply, Saren stood before her, shaking with rage.
“What gives you, a mere human, the nerve to speak so to me?! If you’re so done with me, why are you still on board this ship, mocking and belittling me?” Saren snarled in exasperation, flexing his hands in rage. Faith gave him a mocking bow before bellowing in his face.
“Because I hate you!”
What followed was more along the lines of two children having a tantrum. The entire crew watched, spellbound, as the two individuals poured out every vile insult and derogatory comment into the crackling air. Arms were waved, fingers pointed, and feet stamped, but strangely, neither side crossed the physical line. Nihlus stood back, his eyes wide as several cringe-worthy epithets left his usually urbane friend’s mouth. The fight drew on and became so loud that Nihlus felt as though he couldn’t actually hear either side. Instead, he swam in the thick hatred that pooled through both of them, terrified of being swept up into the current.
Eventually, Nihlus began to hear words again, the sheer stupidity that the two combatants devolved into bringing an incredulous smile to his face.
“Stop mocking me, human! You don’t even know how to do that correctly!”
“It’s not mocking if it’s the truth!”
“I don’t sound like that!”
“Well, why don’t we just put it to the test then?!” Faith challenged, and quite suddenly the once reverberating space became unusually quiet. The statement hovered there, begging anyone to speak up in the pregnant silence. The two glared at each other, before Saren turned his eyes towards the crew as if daring them to judge him.
“Leave us out of this!” Sellik’s voice warbled with true fear. The rest of the crew nodded in agreement, no one else daring to speak. Before Saren could admonish them, Nihlus stepped forward.
“Actually, that sounds like a good idea, if only to settle this before you start kicking sand at each other.” Nihlus drawled, ignoring the glare from Saren. The Spectre was breathing hard from his verbal workout, taking a lot of the heat from his gaze, though Nihlus still stepped carefully to avoid ruffling any more feathers. Saren was dangerous when backed into a corner, and all Nihlus wanted to do was diffuse the situation before it got worse or became aimed at himself.
“Terms?” Saren barked. Nihlus resisted the urge to laugh. This had to be the most ridiculous duel he’d ever been asked to officiate.
“A neutral party will judge Ms. Shepard’s impersonation and decide if it’s accurate or not. At which point, the loser will perform a task for the winner. Nothing humiliating or public, nothing dangerous or unhealthy, and no matter what!” Nihlus paused, holding both combatants with a steely gaze. “Once this fight is done, nobody is getting kicked off the ship, no violence is taken against the other, and you both go back to silently despising each other. Agreed?”
Shepard gave Nihlus the most incredulous look, as though the sheer stupidity of her challenge was finally sinking in. Nihlus gave her a stern glare, daring her to speak up against him, and she wisely kept her mouth shut. Nihlus had little sympathy for the human since she had insisted on irritating Saren further. Nihlus knew that once he got going there was little to nothing that would cause Saren to back down once more. Formalizing it into a contest was the fastest way to get results and allow them to leave the argument with any semblance of dignity.
“Alright, how’re we going to go about this?” Faith asked, a hint of defiance in her tone. Nihlus glanced over at Saren, who was still simmering with anger.
“Did you ever answer that urgent request from the Councilors?”
“No.” Saren bit off the word, before noticing Nihlus’ wicked grin. “Why?”
* * *
“I’m getting a little tired of your constant shunning of my calls, Saren.” Councilor Sparatus growled in irritation as Saren’s form wavered on the holographic interface. Saren maintained a rigid stance, almost appearing tense.
“My...apologies, Councilor. The human female requires near constant vigilance. She can be quite…vexing at times.” Saren seemed to stutter. Sparatus frowned. Saren never stuttered. Shrugging, he pulled up a datapad on his desk.
“Keep your little pet under control, Saren. I still don’t understand why you felt the need to drag her on board. The human ambassador has been breathing fire down my neck ever since you did. Finish up with her and dump her quickly.”
Saren’s eyes hardened, almost glaring at the Councilor.
“She isn’t a ‘pet’, Councilor, and I would greatly appreciate it if you wouldn’t speak of her in such a manner. She is, after all, a Specialist in training and deserves at least some modicum of respect.” Saren spoke firmly, crossing his arms and leaning back on one leg. Sparatus couldn’t help looking at Saren in an incredulous manner.
“Since when have you ever cared about respecting a human?” Sparatus asked, scoffing. Saren deepened his glare.
“Since one of them stood out and demanded it. Insulting her and calling her a pet insults anyone who has carried the rank of Specialist, demeaning the title. I won’t stand for that. If she fails to impress and is rejected from obtaining those duties, then by all means, insult her. Until then, shove it and swallow it.”
Sparatus seemed taken aback, blinking several times as he stared at Saren. The Spectre’s eyes seemed to flicker with what appeared to be amusement, and a suspicion began to itch in the back of Sparatus’ mind. Shrugging, he turned back to the datapad, though he felt himself becoming far more alert to this odd change in Saren’s behavior.
“As you wish, Spectre Arterius.” Sparatus huffed, then turned to the business at hand. “As I’ve been trying to tell you for the past few weeks, I need you to -”
Sparatus frowned, bristling. “What do you mean, ‘no’?!
Saren sighed, rolling his neck. “No, I will not drop everything and return to the Citadel simply to attend some boring gala the Councilors are throwing so I can babysit your person. I’m far too busy, and to be quite blunt, far too uninterested.”
Sparatus sputtered with indignation. “Y-you! How dare-!”
“If there isn’t anything else, I have a galaxy to protect.”
“Now wait just a moment, Saren-!”
Saren’s form blipped out of existence as he ended the call. Sparatus swore long and loud, extensive enough that his secretary brought him some Turian brandy instead of his usual kava.
Faith grinned impishly as the image of Sparatus winked out, pleased at having ruffled the irritating Turian so much. Pet human, indeed. From behind her, she heard Saren huff, though whether from amusement or irritation, she couldn’t tell. Nihlus, on the other hand, was hunched over, trying his hardest not to laugh.
“He never figured it out.” Faith turned, shrugging with a grin. Saren scowled.
“He was suspicious, though. You were being rather blatant about it.”
“That’s why I worked to make him angry. Angry people are less observant.” Faith grinned. She knew Sparatus irritated Saren almost as much as he did her. Saren’s expression, however, was one of displeasure.
“And now I’m going to have to mollify him next time we speak!” Saren snarled, shaking his head. “All that was asked of you was for you to impersonate me well enough that he didn’t notice and get me out of that damned invitation.”
“Which I did.” Shepard pointed out lamely. Saren glared fiercely at her. Clearly, he had expected her to be found out immediately, giving him the perfect excuse to punish her. However, the idea that she was able to mimic his behavior and tone so easily obviously didn’t sit well with the Spectre. After remaining quiet for several moments, Saren growled, the sound of which broke Nihlus’ tenuous hold on his laughter.
“You have to admit, accurate or not, that was a masterful performance.” Nihlus chuckled wickedly. “And considering your history with Sparatus, you’re probably the only person who could get away with talking to him like that.”
“Only I didn’t!” Saren snapped. “And now he’s going to be difficult until I pacify him! I’ll probably have to agree to attend one of those ‘boring galas’ as you so artfully put it. So all you did was delay my participation rather than getting me out of it!” Saren glared at Shepard, whose smile irritated him all the more. It took a moment before it dawned on Saren, and he swore sulfurously. “You did that on purpose!”
Faith laughed hard. “Enjoy!”
“If I have to go, I’ll drag your sorry, worthless carcass with me!” Saren thundered before storming away. Nihlus chuckled, shaking his head.
“Okay kid, to be fair, you did sort of give yourself away, so go clean the bathrooms the way Saren likes, and that should calm him down a little bit.” Nihlus gently chided her. “Also, I know I shouldn’t have to warn you, but you’re not allowed to use the Holographic Clone device without our permission and supervision. Understood?”
“Yes, Spectre Kryik, I understand.” Faith did her best to stop giggling, but failed miserably. “That was way more fun than it probably should have been.”
Nihlus just smiled at her.
Chapter 10: 'J' is for Jewelry
Saren and Shepard share a quiet moment.
Faith glanced across the courtyard to where a small garden was situated. Having been trapped on either a ship or on various military bases scattered around every corner of the Galaxy, she had learned to appreciate the rare occasion when someone took the effort of creating a welcoming space. There were a few trees, all local variety, along with a mixture of flowering plants, all in bloom. A small gazebo had been erected at the center of the space, creating a nice open environment for various workers to enjoy and forget about their horrible prefab home life away from home.
Currently there was a young woman standing in the gazebo, a hand held to her mouth in stunned surprise. Kneeling before her and wearing an expression of imploring adoration was a young man, one hand holding hers while the other held a small open box.
Shepard’s head was currently being held up her her right hand, a heavy sigh escaping her as she watched the enthusiastic couple. The young man swept the woman up into his arms as he stood, spinning around with apparent joy. The entire display was so… common.
“Troubled thoughts, my dear?” Saren purred with contentment.
Leaning back into her chair, Faith turned back to the datapad in her hand. In it, she was attempting to write a detailed report from her last assignment with Saren. Though he sat across from her currently, apparently oblivious to her presence, she knew asking him for assistance was futile. He was too firm a believer in doing it yourself to offer her aid. Despite the fact that they had been romantically involved for over two years, some things would simply never change.
They’d arrived at the base late last night, Saren grumbling once more about her current Alliance assignment. Not that she could blame him. When they worked together, she assisted so much; hacking difficult security systems, interrogating various VIs, hunting down high end drug dealers, slavers, and other disreputable beings that threatened galactic security.
To know that every six months or so, Saren had to stop what he was doing to drop Shepard off at a remote base so she could do office work because the Alliance refused to utilize any of her skills was frustrating to them both. She knew the Alliance didn’t trust Saren; he’d earned that reputation honestly. Her constant defending of his character, however, had landed her on the bad side of the powers that were, and now she was paying for it. Add to the fact that before the last mission it’d been found out that they were together romantically, and Faith was just happy not to be locked away in a sewer somewhere. Even so, the frequent looks cast her way - some disapproving, some pitying - were beginning to grate on her nerves.
“It’s nothing.” Faith answered quietly, one of her legs brushing against his spur in a teasing fashion. Saren looked up from reading a research paper on his omnitool, his expression skeptical. With a swipe of his hand, he closed his tool, and leaned forward, folding his hands in front of him. It was his silent way of saying she had his full attention.
It was also his way of pressuring her into speaking; he could hold that pose and stare at her for hours on end until she broke. Faith shook her head, setting aside her datapad.
“I was just watching that young couple become engaged. Horribly boring and cliche, but I’m kinda jealous. At least they’re having fun.”
Saren’s eyes flickered briefly, though whether from amusement or hesitance, Faith couldn’t tell. “I sincerely hope you’re not hinting at something.”
Faith couldn’t help but laugh. Smiling impishly, she bat her eyelashes at her lover.
“If I ever feel like getting married, trust me. I will not be subtle.”
“Why the jealousy then?”
“Dunno. Even though I despise the normal displays of romance, there are times I wish my life were that uncomplicated. To wake up and not have to worry about politics, fighting, training, studying. To just be normal and boring and content with life.”
Saren leaned back, a quiet sigh whistling through his nose as he looked over at the couple still standing in the gazebo. After a few moments of watching, he looked down at his gloved hands.
“I can sympathize. There are days where I wish I had taken the scholarly path; spending my days teaching and studying sounds far more appealing after having to wade through the muck and grime of a Spectre’s life.
“However, the only reason people can enjoy that style of life is because of people like you and I. We sacrifice our comfort and security, to suffer through pain and torment, so that they can live on oblivious and content. Rejoice for that happy couple, but do not envy them. Ours is a difficult life, but it is an honor to serve. Or at the very least, it should be.”
Faith smiled sadly, her eyes drifting back to the happy couple. Several other individuals had gathered around them, expression joy and excitement. Saren tilted his head, worry lacing through his subvocals.
“I know, and I wouldn’t trade being a Specialist for anything. No matter how horrible some of the missions you drag me on turn out, I’d take that over getting fat and lazy any day.”
One of Saren’s mandibles flickered with amusement. He followed her gaze back to the happy couple, the young woman extending her left hand to the new visitors. Saren frowned.
“What is she showing them?”
Faith grinned, turning back to Saren. “It’s the affectionate name for the diamond on the engagement band. The bigger the ‘rock’, the more the man apparently appreciates his bride-to-be.”
“Cynic.” Saren’s eyes glittered impishly. Faith gave him an incredulous look.
Saren guffawed, shaking his head. “So exactly what is involved in human courtship? I know little about it, other than that you seem to hate every part of it.”
Faith smiled at him. “Usually, after having spent a certain amount of time together, one member of the relationship, usually the male, will decide it’s time to go through with the proposal. He then goes to a credible jeweler and buys an overpriced, overvalued diamond ring. He’s supposed to spend somewhere between two to three months salary on it. Little fact: diamonds are essentially worthless and aren’t all that rare. A single company on Earth has control over the market there and intentionally inflates their worth. They don’t accrue in value at all.
“Once he’s bought the ring, he then sets up for the actual proposal. This is usually done someplace romantic or familiar to the couple, and sometimes friends and family are invited to witness the ‘happy event’. At which point, the one being proposed to accepts, and they are officially engaged to be married, or simply ‘engaged’.”
Saren grinned at his lover. “And you despise it all with a fiery passion.”
“Not all of it.” Faith shifted in her seat. “I like the idea of a proposal. However, I don’t like the idea of not talking about marriage and the future. Some people like to ‘surprise’ their partner, and to me, that’s poor planning. I also despise the idea of a ‘public’ proposal, since having friends and family watch the event puts pressure on the proposed person to say yes. The only time a public proposal should be considered is if the couple has already agreed to get married, which sort of makes the whole proposal a mute point.”
Saren grinned, causing Faith to rub the back of her neck. “Or I could just be horrible at romantic stuff.”
“At least you’re in good company there.” Saren looked away, though not before Faith caught the impish gleam to his eyes. He was baiting her, she could tell. “So no diamonds, and done in private. Anything else I should know?”
Faith gave him a guarded look. “Is there something I should know?”
“I’m fairly certain I have no idea what you mean.”
The Turian chuckled, his deep baritone voice almost bubbling. “Relax. I’m far too practical to try and ‘surprise’ you with anything. If anything, I’m the type of person to have had a few fledglings and live together for a time before proposing becoming bond mates. However, I do think it’s a good idea to know your mate’s preferences. Even if those preferences never come into play, I would prefer to have the knowledge than not.”
Faith couldn’t help smiling fondly at her Turian lover. “In that case, no ring is necessary.”
“A bonding gift is usually traditional, even for Turians.”
“True, but in that sense, any gift would do. I’m just not a jewelry person.”
“You seemed to enjoy wearing it when we attend high profile events.” Saren sounded surprised, though Faith just shrugged.
“True, but when jewelry is given under these circumstances, the idea is to wear it as often as possible. I don’t like wearing anything below the elbow when I’m working, so that means no bracelets or rings. Earrings would be okay, I guess, though they’d have to be small enough to fit under a helmet.” Faith laughed. “I guess I’m just difficult. The only piece of jewelry I ever wore for any length of time was my star necklace.”
“The one you lost while skating on a lake?”
Faith nodded, then shrugged again. “So if a gift of jewelry must be given, then I guess a necklace would be okay. Something sturdy, since I travel with you and somehow manage to get into horrible situations all the time.”
Saren flicked a mandible in quiet amusement. “It’s not my fault that you follow me into danger. You’re more than welcome to say no.”
Faith barked a laugh. “Since when?”
“Since you brought it up.”
Faith rolled her eyes and sighed heavily. Saren just smiled, pretending not to notice. Instead, he eyed the ground nearby.
“Are there any precious stones you are fond of?” He asked. Faith snorted.
“There are several I find pretty, but I don’t feel any particular attachment to anything. Any rock would do, really.”
Without a word, Saren stood up and went out the nearby door, Faith watching him curiously. He stepped outside into the garden, looking around. After a few moments, he picked something up and returned to her. As he sat back down, he dropped a mud covered stone onto the table. Shepard barked a laugh.
“I asked for that, didn’t I?”
“At least you can’t say I never gave you anything, meime.” Saren grinned as he picked up his datapad again.
Chapter 11: 'K' is for Kidnapped
Saren has just grabbed Faith and dragged her to his ship. ...Now what?
(See the end of the chapter for notes.)
The ship’s door shut before her eyes, the last view Faith saw before it closed was one of several humans looking towards her with a mixture of fury and concern. Not that the young human could blame them. The Turian standing rigid next to her finally released her arm from the death grip he’d used to drag her from the Alliance compound as the decontamination cycle ended.
Without a backwards glance, Saren Arterius, famed Spectre and anti-human activist, entered his ship, barking orders to the numerous crew members gathered just inside the door. Faith stepped forward slowly, holding onto the bag he’d thrown at her earlier. Her eyes swept over the open space of the command center of Saren’s ship, the differences between Turian and Human design glaringly evident. Her movement must have caught Saren’s hateful gaze, because the Spectre turned his sharp blues eyes on her and snarled.
“Human!” He barked, watching as she jumped slightly and cowered back in hesitation. “Take the bag up to my quarters, top level, then report to the medical center. Have yourself checked over for viruses and parasites.”
“I’m not diseased.” Faith protested, then saw the look Saren threw at her. It was obvious that he did not care for back talk. Realizing she was walking on shaky ground, Faith nodded. “Yes, sir. Right away.”
Saren sneered, then turned back to the CIC, bringing up a detailed map of the galaxy. As she walked slowly towards the lift, Faith paused, glancing at the map as she waited for the door to open. Barely turning his head, Saren hissed at her, causing her to jump, before he turned back to the map. The elevator opened, and Faith almost bolted inside, waiting tensely until the door shut again.
Once within the relatively safe confines of the lift, Faith allowed herself to sink to the floor, her strength leaving her all at once. She was on board Saren Arterius’ ship! He had grabbed her, practically kidnapped her! The reality settled coldly on her shoulders, making her shake while tears trickled down her cheeks. Overwhelmed entirely, Faith sat there, huddled next to the duffle bag, her arms wrapped around her knees, and allowed herself to cry. Faith normally hated crying, but she knew she needed it right then.
However, fate seemed intent on not allowing her to collect herself with any dignity. While she was busy sobbing, the door to the lift opened again, a rush of air blasting the hair from her eyes. She could hear Saren’s angry voice snapping through the air from where he still stood at the CIC.
“-Poking around in my room, feel free to break her legs!” He snarled viciously. The Turian who stood looking down at Faith had dark plates, almost a solid black, and dark hide. His face was bare, lacking in any colony marks, and his blue armor was polished to a mirror shine. Looking down at the wide-eyed human, the Turian did a good job of keeping a stoic expression.
“That won’t be necessary, Spectre Arterius.” The Turian droned in a booming bass voice.
“And that would be because, Octavius?”
“She hasn’t moved.”
“WHAT?” Saren’s voice almost reverberated. Faith curled up into a tighter ball as two very angry blue eyes riveted on her crouched form. “Are you ill, human?”
The force with which he asked, made Faith shrink further away. “Wha…?”
“Are. You. ILL?” Saren bellowed.
“Are you somehow incapacitated or feeble in some way?”
“Do you possess the mental agility to obey orders promptly and efficiently?!”
“Then why, by the spirits, are you still SITTING THERE?”
Faith scrambled to her feet. “I...I was just-”
“GET YOUR SORRY SELF TO THE MED BAY! Octavius, take my bag to my room since the human is apparently unable to.”
Moving at lightning speed, Faith scrambled to the door control, shutting it before Octavius could get into the lift with her, much to the Turian’s surprise. As it rose quickly to the highest level, Faith let out an explosive breath. Saren Arterius was all his reputation had implied, and so much more. As the doors opened, Faith remembered his comment about breaking her legs if she looked around his room, so she simply opened his door and set his duffle bag on the ground just behind the threshold. She then got back on the lift as fast as her legs could carry her and selected the lowest level, figuring the doctor would be closest to the docks, since that was where it was located on human ships.
As the doors opened on the cargo bay, however, Faith realized her reasoning was highly flawed. This was a Turian ship with a Turian crew. Of course nothing would be located where she was accustomed. The only soul lingering in the area was a single, lanky, light brown-plated Turian laying across a few crates. At the sound of the lift doors opening, the Turian moved quickly to behave like he’d been working the entire time. At least he did until he saw the very tiny, apparently defenseless human standing alone inside the lift.
“Huh….he actually did it.” The Turian muttered to himself, loud enough for Faith to hear. At her confused frown, the Turian lifted and spread his mandibles in a fair imitation of a human smile. “Well, welcome aboard, human. I trust your stay has been comfortable.”
Faith barked a laugh, overwhelmed at finding someone on board who wasn’t out to get her. The Turian dropped his smile, tilting his head as he looked past her.
“You may want to get out of the lift. Saren doesn’t like it being held up.”
Faith almost bolted out. As soon as she cleared the doors, they shut behind her, the quiet sound of the lift returning to the command deck fading away. Faith glanced around the cargo bay, and once again, the Turian smiled.
“Don’t worry, kid. We’re alone down here. Speaking of which, what brings you down to the cargo bay? Nothing but boxes filled with secret stuff we’re not allowed to poke around in.”
“I-I was looking for the, uh… med bay?” Faith spoke quietly, still horribly unsure of herself. The Turian tilted his head.
“That’s on the crew deck. Isn’t that where it’s located on human ships?”
Faith shook her head. “It’s usually attached to the cargo bay, in the event that a crew returns from a mission injured.”
“Oh, I guess that makes sense.” The Turian shrugged. “Turians keep it on the crew deck. That way the crew has to pass it at some time and the doctor can snag them and pull them inside. You can’t avoid the doc’s office and your mandatory check-ups that way, unless you want to go without eating or sleeping.”
Faith laughed a little at that. “I’d heard of Turians working through pain and sickness…”
The Turian nodded. “All true. We’re taught from the nest to not show pain or fear or weakness, and visiting a doctor is considered a sign of weakness. So most ship doctors have to own a tranquilizer gun and use it liberally.” He chuckled, then walked up to Faith, extending a hand. “Name’s Sellik. I’m one of Saren’s communication officers.”
“Faith Shepard.” She shook his hand, gratitude pouring through her.
“Welcome to our little spot of trouble. Word of advice, don’t show Saren any emotions. He’s not moved by anything other than blind rage and hate. Also, there’s a flight of stairs next to the lift connecting the cargo bay and the med center. If Saren ordered you there, you may want to move. He’s a clean kind of person, and hates the idea of germs getting on board.”
“Thanks, Sellik. It was nice meeting you.” Faith spoke with sincerity as she turned to walk up the stairs. A small door was hidden away to the side of the lift, opening upon her approach. The stairway was just wide enough for two people to walk up, shoulder to shoulder. There weren’t many stairs, though Faith took her time climbing them. Upon arriving at the crew deck, she glanced around, noticing a decent size kitchen and eating area, along with a hallway between them. One side of the hallway had windows, with standard medical equipment seen inside the room. The opposing side had another door, presumably where the crew slept.
Faith glanced into the kitchen as she passed it, marveling at the economical use of such a tight space. There was a large oven, a good size refrigerator with freezer. And cabinets and prep space ringing the entire space. In the center was a small island with even more cabinets. Faith whistled with appreciation.
“Stop dawdling, human!” The voice cracked like a whip, causing Faith to jump slightly with guilt. Standing in the doorway of the med center was a robust, gray-plated Turian, arms crossed impatiently. He motioned with his head into the med bay, and Faith moved quickly to comply.
“Sorry for the delay, I was just-”
“This isn’t one of those human military luxury liners. This is a working Turian frigate, and when you’re given an order, you’re to obey it promptly and efficiently.” The doctor admonished fiercely, placing various implements on a small mobile table. “Now strip down and put your clothes on the tray by the door. Be quick about it.”
Faith glanced at the easily see-through windows on the side wall. The doctor, noticing her hesitation, sighed in exasperation. “Now, human!”
Blushing from chest to hairline, Faith quickly removed her military fatigues, suddenly concerned. Having not been allowed to pack before being kidnapped (Faith refused to think of it as Requisitioned), they were the only clothes Faith had. Gingerly, she folded them and placed them in the tray, standing in nothing but her undergarments. As she was about to turn back, she felt herself go cold as the doctor spoke.
“All of it, human.”
“Please tell me you’re joking!” Faith almost cried in exasperation. The Doctor glared silently at her. Almost in tears, Faith removed her undergarments as well, feebly trying to cover herself with her arms crossed and legs squeezed tight. The doctor motioned to the table in the center of the room, grunting with disinterest as he set up his implements. “Just tell me this will be quick.” Faith pleaded.
“I’m certainly not going to drag it out any longer than it has to be. Do you think I care to have a naked human in my presence? Lay down on your back.”
Faith did as told, watching as the doctor put the tray containing her clothing into an oven-like apparatus. What followed felt like a standard, if horribly exposed and invasive, health check. He went through her hair thoroughly, took innumerable scans, checked her teeth and gums, took a sample of saliva and blood, and various other tests. He was thorough, cold, and to the point, but at least he worked quickly, Faith mused. Everything seemed to run smoothly until he had her sit on the edge of the table, and glared at her legs still fused together.
“I need to check you for STD’s, and that means-”
“You can test for those with blood tests!”
“Not all of them!”
The two argued loudly, with Faith trying unsuccessfully to cover herself, her legs clamped tightly shut. No matter his reasoning, there was no way she was allowing a taloned hand anywhere near her lady parts. She’d learned the hard way with Lorik what could happen.
Their yelling continued for several minutes, until finally they were just worn out. However, the Doctor would not allow her to leave until he had completed his medical exam, and Faith began to realize what Sellik had been talking about. Turian doctors were used to patients who didn’t want to be treated, and had developed a stubborn streak. Muttering curses under her breath, she glared at her adversary.
“I’m really uncomfortable with this. I certainly don’t want your fingers anywhere near me.”
The doctor let out an explosive breath. “As if I would touch you if I could avoid it! I’ll use tools to get the sample I need. What kind of doctor do you think I am anyways?”
Faith didn’t bother to reply. Laying back gingerly, she forced herself to relax and remain calm, though she was filled with icy disdain.
“If I hear one comment about how I should have taken you out to dinner first…” The doctor threatened. Faith made an indelicate sound.
“As if I’d perpetuate the myth that buying a woman something obligates her to sleep with a person!”
Thankfully, the doctor moved quickly, and despite the near sub-zero temperature of his equipment, Faith barely felt a thing. All the tests and scans done with, the Doctor pulled her now decontaminated clothing from the oven-like apparatus. Faith almost dove at them to get re-dressed, the stiff, chemically fabric scratching at her skin. Before she was even fully dressed, the Doctor chuffed at her.
“You can leave now, human.”
“I despise you.” Faith muttered darkly.
“Good; the feeling is mutual.”
* * *
“So, should I report back to Saren, or can I stay here?” Faith curled up behind a few boxes. Sellik grinned over at her.
“Normally I’d say report back. However, I traveled up to the CIC and almost had my plates blistered off. I’ve never heard him that angry before, and I’ve served him for years now. Give him another hour or so to cool off. Remember, don’t let him intimidate you or see you with any emotions. It’ll just make him angrier.”
“I didn’t think that was physically possible. He looked downright murderous earlier.” Faith sighed, leaning back to lay on the ground. Sighing heavily, she began an intricate study of the ceiling. “I don’t know if I can be emotionless. I’m too used to being friendly and polite.”
“Polite will get you everywhere with Saren.” Sellik urged her. Faith glanced at the lounging Turian in surprise. He nodded. “Saren may have a reputation for being ruthless and brutal, but what isn’t as widely known is that he’s very civilized. He hates rudeness, and is appalled by swearing. If you show him politeness, even in the face of him giving you a hard time, you’ll earn his respect. Maybe not in an obvious way, but it will be there nonetheless.”
“I’ll keep that in mind. Any other advice for the newbie?” Faith asked, smiling. Sellik chuckled.
“Don’t let his yelling and belittling get to you. Despite being a Spectre, everyone on this ship, including Saren, spent time in the Turian Military. As such, this ship is run like a Turian Military frigate. When given an order, you’re only response should be ‘yes sir’, and you work hard and fast. It’s much more intense then what you humans are accustomed to, but if you pull your weight, nobody will fault you.”
Faith sighed again, her eyes returning to the ceiling. “Any idea how long I can expect to be here?”
“From the way I understand it, you’re here for two years, so long as you don’t fail out.”
Faith felt her stomach clench painfully. “I don’t suppose you’d be willing to show me mercy by shooting me in my sleep?”
Sellik laughed. “Now why would I do that? I’d just get in trouble with Saren, and you’d wind up on the Doc’s table with a bullet wound.”
Faith laughed in spite of herself.
* * *
Saren muttered to himself as he stormed his way to the lift. The human had completed her medical exam over an hour ago and had not reported back. Completely undisciplined! Worse, she had been found completely clean by Dr. Venicius, so Saren had no excuse to toss her out the airlock. As much as he wanted her assistance, he also wanted her gone. Hitting the button for his loft, he shook his head, snarling to himself.
So wrapped up in his own mental diatrade, Saren failed to watch his feet as he entered his room. The bag Shepard had left at the threshold tripped him, and Saren pitched forward and slammed into the metal floor hard.
A low growl quickly built into a full blown bellow of rage and hate.
“DAMN YOU HUMAN!"
I love the idea of the Turian Military looking down on other military organizations as being 'lazy' or 'undisciplined'. They're convinced they're the best the galaxy has to offer when it comes to these things, and the other races should look to them for inspiration and guidance. And then humanity came along. We really are the younger, obnoxious sibling in the ME universe, and I love it!
Chapter 12: 'L' is for 'Liar'
Saren lies to himself. A lot. Takes place after Saren and Shepard are friendly, but not intimate.
The air on board the Daedalus was still, barely a ripple in its currents. Saren leaned back in his chair, exhaling with frustration. Their temperature regulator was on the fritz, refusing to turn the heat off, of all things, and in a moment of gross stupidity he’d ordered Shepard to test her new engineering skills on getting it fixed. It was only after several hours had passed that he’d realized his error and ordered Helcius to assist the human. Already, the crew was beginning to lag in the excessive heat. He could only imagine how Shepard, used to a much colder climate, would be handling the rising temperatures.
Rolling his neck, he sat at the mess table on the crew deck, by far the coolest place on board due to its open design. The CIC, with all the bodies of his crew moving around, had become too stifling for him to concentrate, and his private room had become an oven. Even so, despite having moved to the coolest location on board and stripping down to his bare plates and hide, he was still panting with the effort to regulate his temperature.
He was beginning to doze off when he heard the lift open nearby, followed by the faint slap of skin against deck plating. Saren didn’t bother to open his eyes.
“I see you have failed to fix the regulator.” Saren drawled, unable to muster up the energy to sound angry, just disappointed. He heard a tired snort of disgust.
“It’s completely fried. How, I couldn’t tell you. It looks entirely internal, but after conferring with Helcius, we both agree it needs a replacement. Until then, there’s not much we can do. Our only option would be to turn off the air entirely. That wouldn’t cool us down any, but it would keep it from getting any hotter.”
“It also means we would suffocate from lack of air in about an hour.” Saren pointed out. Faith shrugged.
“True, which was why we didn’t do it. So right now our only real option is to head towards the nearest port for repairs. Where should I tell Octavius to point us?”
An amused snort worked it’s way through Saren’s parched throat. Rather glib of the human to assume that this repair was more important than their current mission. Then again, he had been mentally calculating how long he could survive airless space in order to cool off, so perhaps this delay would be advisable. Saren sighed heartily. “I honestly don’t care, so long as it’s a Spectre friendly port with a service area that can provide the parts we need. Though a pool would be a bonus.”
“I thought Turians couldn’t swim.”
“We can’t, but drowning sounds preferable to remaining in this blistering heat.”
He heard Faith chuckle, and he finally opened his eyes to glare at her. Instead, he was somewhat surprised to see her wearing nothing but a pair of skin-tight shorts and a bra, her hair held up in a tight bun. Her entire body glistened with sweat (and for once Saren envied her the ability), and she didn’t appear nearly as beaten down as he and the rest of the crew appeared.
Shepard turned and walked over to the intercom, sending a message up to Octavius. Saren found his eyes roaming over her bare skin, noting the curve of her back, the thinness of her waist, and the flare of her hips. While not as dramatic as a female turian, her proportions were not unattractive. Then he realized where his mind was going and roughly shook himself, resolutely turning his eyes away.
Damn Nihlus and his advice, Saren quietly seethed. He had been getting along better with Shepard and things were going about as smoothly as they ever did with him. Then Nihlus had called. Said that finding something ‘physically appealing’ about Shepard would help them get along even better. Anytime he got angry with Shepard, Nihlus urged him to focus his attention on whatever made her physically attractive to him, as though such a thing could be found, and his anger would dissipate.
Saren found himself silently cursing his friend’s bad advice.
Humans were not attractive. Saren snorted at the very idea. They were cold, clammy, smelled funny, and seemed to be the polar opposite of Asari. Whereas an Asari was built in such a way that all races could find them attractive, a human was about as ugly to every other creature in existence. Even Shepard, Saren mentally mused as his eyes roamed back to the near-naked human, who was considered highly attractive, did not appeal to him in the slightest. Sure she had a nice waist and hips, and her hair was a very vibrant color that in certain lights was fascinating, but she was ugly. Saren nodded to himself. Very ugly.
As she walked past him, Saren’s eyes once again roamed over the back of her form. She normally wore long pants, donning shorts only when they sparred. Now, with only a pair of skin-tight shorts to cover her nethers, he could clearly see the shape of her thighs and calves. The latter of which was holding his attention for much longer than he was comfortable admitting.
For someone who, compared to her Turian companions, never seemed to eat much, Shepard was amazingly curvaceous, Saren mused. Her legs in particular were nice and rounded. Despite the constant working out, she maintained a sleek and smooth look. As she rose on the balls of her feet to reach something high up in the kitchen, however, the muscles in her calves stood out in sharp relief. Saren found himself swallowing hard, eyeing those muscles for longer than was courteous.
A polite, attention-getting throat clearing pulled Saren abruptly from his meandering thoughts. Octavius stood before him, also naked in the extreme heat, holding a datapad in his hands. The dark Turian had a curious tilt to his head, but didn’t comment on Saren’s previous preoccupation. A fact that made Saren consider giving the discrete Turian a raise.
“I’ve laid in a course to the nearest port, but it will still be four hours before we arrive. I took the liberty of booking the entire crew rooms at the nearest hotel, and upon discovering an Asari bathhouse nearby, booked you an appointment for an hour after we arrive.”
Saren almost reached over and nucked the Turian. Instead, he straightened, nodding his head in approval. “Thank you, Octavius. That will be all.”
Octavius nodded, handing over the datapad and leaving without another word. Saren glanced over the pad, hearing the human approach.
“Four hours, huh?” Shepard sighed. “That’s gonna be rough. With your permission, I’m gonna make everyone as cold a lunch as I can. I think some drinks with ice would be appreciated.”
“Put the drinks in portable carriers.” Saren ordered, then noticed Shepard’s surprised expression. “Normally, I don’t allow food and drink in or around the CIC, however, exceptions for extreme conditions need to be made. I certainly don’t want my crew fainting before we’ve docked.”
“As you wish.” Shepard shrugged, moving back towards the kitchen. Saren tried to read the pad, but once again, his eyes betrayed him, roaming to glance over at Shepard’s legs. As she pulled out various cooking implements, Saren found himself feeling oddly warmer, a tightness spreading through his abs. His mouth seemed to run dry, and he had to force himself to swallow. Shaking himself, he blamed the heat, causing him to act and think strangely. Once more, he tried to turn back towards the datapad, forgotten in his hand. However, just as he was pulling his eyes away, Shepard bent over to grab something from one of the lower cabinets. Saren felt himself go stiff all over as the movement not only pronounced the muscles in her legs, but pulled the thin material of her shorts even tighter. He could almost see the outline of…
With a quiet groan, Saren forced his eyes away. Were the vents putting out some sort of toxin? Why couldn’t he focus? This was ridiculous! Shepard was not attractive! Perhaps he should order her to put on some appropriate clothing? Never mind the fact that she was more than likely the only person on board who was still dressed, Saren refused to punish her for his sudden inability to control his own thoughts and impulses.
Perhaps he just needed to get laid? Saren mused, trying to remember when he’d last had the opportunity. It had been awhile. He really needed to take better care of himself, it would keep him from embarrassing himself in the future. Nodding to himself, he decided he would forgo an evening trip to the local bar and simply hire a prostitute to come to his hotel room. Privately thankful that they were docking on an Asari world where they were far more laid back about those kinds of things than other races, Saren leaned back in his chair, willing himself to relax. In four hours, everything would begin to get better.
The slight clink of glass against metal brought his attention back to the present. A tall glass sat in front of him, filled to the brim with ice. The lower portion of the glass had a reddish liquid, most likely fruit juice, while the top portion was clear. A few pieces of chilled fruit had been placed around the rim.
Saren privately rejoiced at having urged Shepard to take a few bartending classes.
Chapter 13: 'M' is for Meliorism
Meliorism - "The belief that the world can be made better by human effort."
Slight Spoiler: This chapter gives a few details on the 'mission' Saren recruited Shepard for, as well as things that are supposed to happen later in 'Faith and Hope'. If you don't want to be spoiled for the later parts of that story, you may want to skip this chapter.
When Saren first ordered the crew of the Daedalus to make for a human world, they all had to stifle their desire to groan. It was well known that Saren and humanity went together about as well as rusty nails and small children, and any mission that occurred anywhere near humans or involved them in any way made Saren grumpy and difficult. And when Saren was grumpy and difficult, the entire crew suffered for it.
Sure enough, their arrival on Benning was met with harshly barked orders, scathing comments, and withering, soul-crushing stares. Worse, there was a delay that kept Saren on board his ship, leaving only to storm into the Alliance base for an hour or two at a time. If there was one thing that would always make Saren one hundred percent more insufferable, it was to cause him to wait for any amount of time.
Most of the crew was heavily stressed out, and more than one of them commented (as soon as it was safe to do so) that taking on an entire Batarian slaver fleet was preferable.
Finally, after waiting for two days, Saren departed for the base one last time. Though the crew had no idea what it was that Saren was waiting for, it had apparently arrived. They each took a moment to breath a sigh of relief, knowing that the moment Saren returned, they could leave and life would return to being relatively normal.
So when Saren stormed back on board his ship, dragging a poor, tiny, defenseless-looking human female with him, the entire crew could only stare in growing horror as they realized their problems had only just begun.
* * *
“I’m telling you Sellik, it’s only getting worse!” One of the younger crew mates, a relatively new recruit to the ship named Daelus, complained. “Everytime he goes and beats up that poor girl, he comes back even angrier! This can’t be normal...let alone legal.”
Sellik nodded his head in sympathy. “I know what you mean. I’ve only run with Saren a few years. Though he’s dragged recruits on board before, usually they only stay if they’re actual Spectre candidates. For him to fully train a Specialist himself is really rare. The fact that she’s human? Even more so.”
Acquiring the human female had, sadly, only been the beginning of the crew’s torment. While most of them shared Saren’s relatively negative views on Humanity, none of them seemed to have the same passion for it that their Spectre did. Where they were normally content to ignore the human, Saren seemed to wallow in his hatred and spite. Despite having received what he had sought, Saren’s mood continued to be difficult, and much of the crew began to feel the strain of working under prolonged emotional and psychological stress.
Both Sellik and Daelus straightened as Octavius walked behind them, glancing at them in disapproval. Gossip was looked down on amongst Turians in general, though there’d been a lot of discussion happening the moment Saren and his second-in-command were out of range. Strangely enough, Octavius paused in his pacing, then turned to stand in the center of the room.
“Everyone.” Octavius’ usually quiet voice carried easily in the command center. All eyes turned to stare at him. “I know the situation right now is extremely stressful, however I urge you to stand straight. We will weather this as we have in the past, and as always, I urge you to bring your concerns to me-”
“Sir, he’s killing that girl.” Venicius spoke up sternly, earning him a few surprised looks. It was strange enough for the doctor to be present in the command center. “She’s always bleeding and broken. I know working with a Spectre is both dangerous and strenuous, but we’ve all received extensive training. At this point, he’s just abusing her.”
“I agree.” Sellik grumbled, shaking his head. “I know he’s preparing us for this mystery mission of his, and we’re all ready to lay down our lives to see it through. But that girl’s barely more than a child - only served her military for less than a year! What could she possibly have to offer that a more seasoned veteran couldn’t? Perhaps one from a species the Spectre doesn’t hate with such viciousness?”
There were various mutters of agreement from the rest of the present crew. Octavius nodded, then held up a hand to hold off further arguments.
“I understand your feelings; I myself am highly disturbed by the human’s presence on our ship as well as the Spectre’s interest in her. I spoke with Arterius already on the issue, and he assures me she has an ability unlike anything he’s seen before that could be vital to the mission’s success. As for his abusive nature, he assures it’s an unfortunate necessity. The amount of time it would take to train her fully and properly, given her lack of experience, would push the mission back too far, so he is forced to push her much further-”
“With all due respect, Octavius, that’s a load of Varren shit.” Ship gunner Caenion growled, crossing his arms and scowling. “We’ve all borne the brunt of Saren’s wrath at some point. Each and every one of us was tried by him before we were allowed to serve on board. We know that. Spirits, we signed up for it! But that girl didn’t volunteer for this; he dragged her on board! Having us put stuff in her clothing, sabotage her food and drink? And then sitting back and doing nothing while he continuously thrashes her? It’s too much.”
“I know he needs to push her limits,” Variion, one of the ship pilots spoke quietly, “and we know he’s trying to see when and where she loses control, but the rashes are too far. It doesn’t make her stronger - it probably is making her more prone to infection and disease - and she’s miserable because of them. Can’t we at least stop sabotaging her clothing?”
Octavius glanced around at the crew, noting the overall displeased mutterings. Finally he nodded his head, his face carefully expressionless. When he spoke again, his voice had resumed it’s quiet tone.
“Are these issues strong enough with the entire crew that you feel I need to speak on your behalf to our Spectre?” He asked in a neutral tone. He looked at each crew member, pausing until he saw a nod or other confirmation. Finally, having received a universal agreement, he nodded his head as well. “So be it. When Saren returns from his spar I’ll-”
As if summoned, Saren stormed off the lift and into the CIC, his expression like a black thundercloud. Spying most of the crew, including those who had no business on the bridge at that time, Saren stiffened, a low growl escaping his throat. Immediately, all excess personnel departed the bridge while those left busied themselves at various tasks. Though Saren continued to grumble for a bit, he said nothing and focused on the task at hand.
After an hour of simmering, Octavius approached Saren, waiting patiently until the Spectre acknowledged his presence with a grunt.
“If you can spare a moment, Spectre, we need to speak. In private.” Octavius spoke politely, adding a salute for good measure. Saren’s electric eyes flickered somewhat, glancing over the crew before he finally nodded and gestured for Octavius to proceed him to the lift.
No sooner had the doors closed behind the two of them than a relieved sigh swept through the CIC, along with a few prayers that the nightmare soon end.
* * *
Inside the safety of his own bedroom, Saren slumped down into his desk chair, his head rolling back as he gave a defeated sounding sigh.
“I’m at a loss, Leonis.” Saren confessed, allowing himself to be seen in such a state by someone he trusted. Octavius stood politely, at attention, listening as Saren groused. “I am accustomed to training Turians. It is such a simple thing to research the notes their officers write about their general performance, their resistance training, and all the other, wonderful little tests that we must all endure before we’re allowed into the ranks of the military.”
Saren leaned forward, his expression incredulous as he stared at his second-in-command. “If I were to judge the Human military by what I’ve seen of this fledgling, they must spend all their time training their recruits to hide and avoid conflict. The harder I press her, the more time she spends hiding and avoiding me. She should be growing angry - attacking me! Only then can I truly train her.”
“She refuses to fight at all?” Octavius was somewhat surprised. While he knew the girl to appear meek, he had also seen that she possessed a strong will. He could understand Saren’s frustration at being unable to elicit a response from her. Saren nodded in confirmation.
“I finally riled her up enough to get her to attack today. Apparently, Sellik adding the cleaning solution to her undergarments was sufficient to make her angry enough to attack me. And she did well!” Despite his words, Saren seemed disappointed. “She knocked out my amps, my visual implants, even my omni-tool. Instead of immediately following up while I was blind and confused, she took the opportunity to try and hit me with her cleaning bucket. Which required her to waste time and the opportunity to go retrieve it.”
Octavius flinched. Saren sighed heavily.
“After a month, that’s the best response I get?” He shook his head. “I’m beginning to believe this is a horrible waste of time and effort. If the female would just fight back!”
“If I may, sir?” Octavius waited until Saren nodded in approval. “Perhaps it is not the female’s lack of boldness that is withholding her. As you said, you are adept at teaching Turians, and we expect a certain amount of, shall we say, roughness? We know in the long run this is only to toughen us and prepare us for what awaits us in the galaxy. However, she is human. They do not have the natural defenses we do. Perhaps a different teaching strategy might produce better results? One that does not involve sabotaging the female’s clothing or hygiene.”
“She is getting rather fragrant, isn’t she?” Saren shuddered. “I suppose she has proven that she can endure without basic supplies. Am I correct in understanding that this is the issue the crew was complaining about?”
“More or less, though I believe they don’t wish to partake in any training that involves injury to the human. They seem to believe we are abusing her.”
At the word ‘abuse’, Saren stiffened, his eyes darting towards his second-in-command. For several moments, he just stared, the silence stretching on uncomfortably. Finally, Saren spoke quietly, no emotion to his voice.
“And do you share their belief, Leonis? Do you believe I am abusive towards that human?”
Octavius swallowed hard, tensing with guilt. “May I be honest, sir?”
“I have observed you teaching for many years. Though you expect a certain level of progress from your students, it seems as though you have much higher expectations of her; expectations that would be very difficult for any of us to reach, yourself included. When she fails to reach them, you become very angry. However, when she manages to move forward and improve, you become very angry. To be completely honest, I am unsure exactly what to think of the situation.”
Saren seemed to deflate a little, staring off towards a wall. After a few moments he straightened, letting out a heavy sigh. “Thank you for bringing this to my attention. I will take your words to mind and begin researching other teaching techniques. Inform the crew that they need not do anything further to the human. Indeed, if asked, they should point her to our small reserve of non-dextro hygiene products.”
Leonis saluted smartly, leaving the Spectre in peace. As Saren sat and thought, he knew there was only one thing he could do.
With a heavy sigh, he opened his communicator and called Nihlus.
* * *
With the departure of Nihlus, life settled into a sort of domestic bliss for the crew. Faith had taken over the kitchens, and suddenly the crew had something to look forward to each day. Breakfast was usually simple; cut fruits, some vegetables, maybe a few pieces of slow roasted meat. Lunch and Dinner were usually quick and easily eaten. But the early evening meal was usually extravagant. A roast, a hearty soup, noodles; the crew never knew what to expect. Even Saren, for how picky an eater he was, could only hold out for so long. Though he griped about several meals right at first, no sooner did the human storm back into the kitchen to ‘fix’ the meal than Saren would eat roughly half of what had been offered.
To make matters even better, Faith seemed to delight in ‘special’ occasions. Though Turians did not care much to remember the anniversary of their births (at most, a good Turian might thank his mother for her hard work that day), quite suddenly the crew was willing to indulge in the more human-like celebration. Faith kept a list of each crewmates favorite meals and dishes and made that for their supper, as well as a small ‘cake’ just for the Turian in question. Saren frowned when Shepard did it for the first time, but kept his comments to himself. He also refused to divulge when his ‘birthday’ was.
The crew watched as Shepard grew stronger and more resilient, often goading Saren into fits of rage, though quite a bit of the bite had gone from his usual tirades. As it became obvious that the human had finally learned how to handle their Spectre, everyone on board was able to relax. Since Shepard inevitably assisted in the usual grunt-like chores around the ship, the crew was able to relax even further. To the degree that Octavius accused more than one of them of being ‘lazy’.
After what the crew had been through those first few months, nobody felt the slightest bit of guilt.
* * *
A month after the dreaded ‘mission’, all signs of the near two years of joy and bliss had faded so dramatically that most of the crew decided they could never have happened in the first place. Each and every one of them was willing to lay down their lives to assist their Spectre in his great work, but how do you fight an enemy that crawls inside your very head and banishes all thoughts?
Shepard had saved them all that day, taking control of the ship and turning it around and escaping. However, Saren had been furious about what he considered an act of cowardice. No sooner had they returned to Citadel space than Saren had thrown the human off his ship with numerous threats to remain away or he’d do any number of unmentionable horrors to her. The crew had watched Shepard leave, believing they’d never see her again. And just like that, with the human gone, their problems returned. With interest.
The entire crew applied for medical leave the moment they arrived at the citadel, none of them willing to deal with the horrors that they’d experienced. Saren, in a shocking display of altruism, had granted them all, and even taken leave for himself. Most of the crew suffered from headaches, paranoia, nightmares, and an entire laundry list of side effects from their brief run-in with.... Whatever that thing had been.
When it came time to report back in to the ship, less than half the crew returned. For once, Saren didn’t complain and instead requisitioned new crew members.
It was only a few months, however, before the Spectre ran into a mission that not only was beyond his abilities, but those of three other Spectres as well. Faced with a difficult decision, Saren quickly made his way to the one person, though he still despised them, that was capable of the level of sabotage he needed.
Though the crew was happy to see Shepard return to them, they knew the mission was a suicide run. Worse, they could tell by her expression that she knew it as well and even seemed to welcome it. Whatever had happened to her after they’d returned her to the Alliance was enough that she seemed almost eager to perform this mission for Saren.
For the new crew members, it was a non-issue. But for the old crew, the long, painstaking two hours it took before the Batarian slave ship was completely disabled, allowing the Spectres to board, was pure torture. Silently, they waited for confirmation that Shepard’s body had been found. The only comfort was that, with the slaver ship disabled, it was a successful mission, meaning Shepard would be remembered for her sacrifice for the betterment of the Hierarchy. A small comfort, but it was all that could be afforded.
When Saren charged through the airlock, screaming for Venicius to meet him in the medbay as he carried a blood smeared, limp but breathing form, the crew felt that small spark of hope that they hadn’t been aware they were missing.
* * *
“It’s always touch and go with you two, isn’t it?” Sellik teased as he and Shepard went through the numerous crates in the cargo hold for inventory. Shepard gave him a wan smile, the first she’d shown in awhile, but it was hopeful.
“I don’t mean to be trouble.” Shepard’s voice was raspy, hardly louder than breathing. Sellik winced inwardly, knowing the damage the Batarians had done to the poor girl had been extensive, though thankfully, nothing permanent. Physically permenant, Sellik mentally corrected himself. Shepard was still too quiet, prone to hiding much like when she’d first been brought on board Saren’s ship. Though no longer officially a student of Saren’s, he felt responsible for what had happened to her during the slaver mission and thus was resolved to take care of her.
“It’s not troubling. If anything, it’s a relief to have you back on board.” Sellik assured her, noting the glow that came to her eyes. She seemed almost shy as she glanced over at him.
“Yes.” He reassured her. “After you left, Saren returned to being his usual surly self, only now we didn’t have our nice human buffer to protect us.” He chuckled as she rolled her eyes. “Truthfully, he’s been extremely on edge since he threw you off the ship. I think a small part of him felt guilty for almost getting us all killed.”
At her incredulous expression, he grinned. “I know, right? But think about it from his perspective. He’d been planning and scheming about that mission for ages, even delayed it for almost two years in order to train you to go on it. Yet despite all that, it almost ended in complete disaster. You saved all our lives that day, including his, and Saren’s not the type of person who is used to being rescued. I think he was embarrassed.”
Faith seemed to mull that over for a few minutes, then sighed heavily, leaning against the crate. “Ever since that day, I’ve questioned myself on whether or not it was the right thing to do.” She whispered. Without a word, Sellik stepped over to her, gently putting his arms around her and waiting for her to lean into him before tightening his embrace.
“Nobody here will ever blame you for what you did. You saved us. And because of that, we live to fight another day.” Sellik gently nuzzled her red hair. “At least now we know we’re horribly unprepared to take on whatever that thing was. Saren’s been frantic, studying the data we managed to collect. Not long after we returned, he was getting calls from the Council at least two or three times a day. Whatever it was, it had them in a frenzy.”
“Are we going to have to face it again?” Faith’s voice sounded even quieter, fear waiving her. Sellik gave her another squeeze before releasing her.
“No. The Council berated Saren because apparently he kept information to himself that should have been shared. There were other reasons as well, though obviously they’re keeping it all hush-hush. Not to mention that with the entire crew asking for medical leave and then half of them asking to be reassigned, and the Council decided to take Saren off the case. He was furious, but in the end, he knows better than to argue.”
Faith seemed to deflate all at once, as though the stress and fear that incident had caused her suddenly left her, leaving her weak and unable to stand. She clung to Sellik for a few moments before she began to cry. Not speaking anymore, Sellik held her until the storm had passed.
* * *
The return of Faith was shaky for the crew, but slowly they settled back into the routines they’d so sorely missed. Saren didn’t even have to be pressured to continue with Shepard’s training this time; her success with the Batarian slavers was enough that he did it regardless. For whatever reason, nobody talked further about the mysterious mission and the disaster that it had become anymore, and life returned somewhat to normal. Faith and Saren still fought on a regular basis, but it felt more like it was done out of habit and quite a lot of bite had gone from their words.
The Alliance wasn’t happy with what they considered kidnapping of one of their people, and raised a stink with the Council. To pacify them, they enacted a new rule that said any Alliance military personnel that held the rank of Specialist could only be recruited for six months at a time. Saren and Faith both scoffed at the new rule, but neither the Council nor the Alliance seemed inclined to listen.
As such, a new routine was established. Saren would return Shepard to the Alliance for six months and then pick her up again, regardless of whether or not he actually needed her. There was always a brief adjustment period when she came back on board, but the crew delighted in her return since it meant Saren would grow less irritable. Part of that reason might have been because Shepard made an excellent ‘wingman’ to the often blunt and unromantic Saren. Whenever Shepard was on board and they stopped overnight at a port, Saren was more or less guaranteed to end up in bed with someone before they left. And a laid Saren was an agreeable Saren, so the crew was able to relax more.
After a few years of the same blissful routine however, a subtle change came over the Spectre. Though Shepard had managed the impossible and become ‘friends’ with the grumpy and prejudiced Turian, nobody thought further on it. However, quite suddenly Saren became distracted whenever Shepard was around. He began to ignore the advances of other women, including those Shepard attempted to send his way. Stress levels on board began to build again, though the crew knew why. After all, there were some things a Turian couldn’t hide from other Turians; the smell of arousal and sound of seductive subvocals among other things.
With dawning awe, the crew sat back and watched as Saren struggled and denied what was so horrifyingly obvious to the others. His change in attitude was noticed by Shepard, who was about the only person on board who was clueless as to the cause. It almost seemed like everyone was holding their breath, waiting for everything to die down or for the two of them to spill over the edge and just go for each other.
It wasn’t until Shepard was almost killed by a nest of thresher maws that Saren finally realized how bad his obsession had become. Worse, Shepard had finally found out. Saren was all for sending the human away for her own protection. For once, however, Faith took the initiative and coaxed the Spectre into bed with her.
The crew was rewarded for their patience by getting an entire week’s shore leave on the Citadel.
In the end, the entire crew was firmly of the belief that having a female human crew member was the best thing that had ever happened to them, their ship, and the Spectre they served.
Chapter 14: 'N' is for Nightmares
Poor Saren can't seem to catch a moments rest.
Sand shifted underneath Saren’s feet, though not quick enough to be alarming. It simply gave him a feeling of always moving, sinking, never able to hold still. He didn’t bother looking down at his feet as they were slowly enveloped, instead choosing to glance around at his surroundings, or rather the complete lack of them.
All around him was a colorless, lifeless landscape. Neither dark enough to be black nor light enough to be gray. The monotone horizon seemed to stretch on forever. No matter where he turned there was nothing to see. However, the nagging sense of being watched slithered along his spine, almost seeming to laugh at his fear.
As though that laughter, more felt than heard, had broken some kind of barrier, Saren began to hear whispers. Nothing intelligible, but rather as though he was standing in a crowded space and couldn’t focus on one conversation. The sense he got from the multiple conversations though was an impression of great age, wisdom, and a malevolence that chilled him to the bone.
Sinking further into the sand, all too late Saren realized he was trapped. All conversation turned towards him, accusing, shouting, wanting him to suffer. The nothing around him gave rise to shadowed forms, reaching for him. Too late, he had sunk halfway to his spurs and couldn’t free himself, couldn’t run. As the forms grasped at him, shoving him further into the sinking sand, he beat at their formless limbs. With horror, he saw his own body pass through theirs to no effect. The sand continued to rise, and with it came a sensation of something crawling under his plates, biting and stabbing at his nerves.
Panic engulfed Saren as he struggled to free himself. In his fear, his eyes fell on a single form, the only one that seemed to have any substance to it. It reached out and grabbed Saren by the neck, pushing him further down. When Saren’s hand grasped the robed figure’s wrist, it glowed a sickly blue, and small streams of it began to crawl up Saren’s hands and arms, spreading a feeling of cold and dread. Only now he couldn’t pull his hand away, allowing the infection to continue spreading.
The sand having reached his face, Saren locked eyes with the figure, seeing only a pair of cold, dead, glowing blue orbs staring through him. A single voice, emanating from the frozen abyss rose above the others.
* * *
Faith Shepard glanced over to where her partner lay sleeping. Saren had been pushing himself hard lately, barely getting any rest and running from mission to mission. Being only a Specialist in training, Faith didn’t bear the brunt of the demands that came with a Spectre title. Even so, she was beginning to feel the drain. She knew Saren had to be feeling it as well, though he was so adept at burying his emotions that sometimes it was difficult to tell.
When they’d made camp, however, Saren had ordered her to take first watch, which was unusual for him. Given that he’d fallen asleep almost before he’d completely settled himself, and Faith concluded that he must be exhausted.
As she watched him she saw the tell-tale signs. His feet twitched, his mandibles were held high and tight against his face, and he was making unhappy whimpering sounds. Though Faith had only caught him fast asleep a few times, so far she’d never seen him not caught in the throes of a nightmare. Though Saren often pushed her limits on what she could tolerate, she felt nothing but sympathy for him. Faith had to resist the urge to comfort him, however, since any physical contact would cause him to awaken in a complete panic. Instead, she sat patiently, knowing he’d rouse himself eventually.
Ignoring Saren’s increasingly miserable keening, however, was pushing the bounds of her patience. She could only ignore a suffering person for so long before heavy guilt prompted her to do something. Looking down at her hands, she clenched her jaw, firmly making up her mind.
Very slowly, Faith moved to sit by Saren’s still sleeping form, being very careful not to touch or disturb him in any way. Taking a deep breath, she brought forward a green glow to her hands, doing her best to keep it small so no sharp-eyed individual could potentially see it. They were on a mission after all.
Focusing on thoughts of comfort and healing, she held her hands over his crest, mimicking a petting motion, allowing the green energy to dust over his head. She had no idea if it would work, but at least she was doing something. She hummed softly, a poor imitation of a Turian’s sub-vocals, but she hoped Saren’s unconscious mind would interpret it as such.
* * *
Saren was drowning.
Thrashing his arms did no good, since there was no room to move. His eyes couldn’t see anything, only pitch darkness, but something was constricting his movements. Every time he tried to breath, nothing but water filled his lungs. Struggling, Saren tried desperately to break free of whatever was holding him. If he could just get free, he thought, he could break for the surface and breath.
His bare hands weakly batted at something. It felt like canvas, something his talons should have easily torn through, but his limbs were so weak and frail and wouldn’t obey his mental commands.
Where was Desolas? Saren felt himself thrashing, his lungs burning, as he desperately wanted his brother to save him. Desolas was always there, always watching over him. Why wasn’t he there? Slowly, his oxygen-deprived mind recalled the look on his brother’s face as Saren had told him he would be mourned.
Desolas wasn’t there because Saren had killed him.
Saren stopped struggling. Instead, he welcomed death, welcomed the release it would grant him. Instead, his body continued to exist, drowning but not dying. A low keen escaped him, filled with longing. Saren wanted to die so badly, to reunite with his beloved brother and to beg his forgiveness.
A warm feeling touched Saren, a feeling of being held and comforted. Slowly, the water seemed to melt away, and he took a lungful of air. Rather than tight, constricting canvas, he felt a soft blanket wrap around him; secure but loose. He felt strong arms hold him, a steady, strong heartbeat in his auditory canals lulling him to sleep. His muscles relaxed, and he found himself sinking peacefully into that familiar embrace. For a brief moment, he wondered if he had finally died and was slowly becoming one with the spirits. Then he caught a faint whiff of flowers, and he could almost see red hair and pale skin.
* * *
Very slowly Saren came to, his bleary eyes adjusting to the growing light. Strange, he thought, that the rising sun would give off a slight green haze. Then his eyes opened fully and he realized who was seated next to him, one hand gently placed on his head while the other held binoculars to her eyes. The hand on his head glowed green.
A slight growl alerted Shepard to Saren’s wakeful state, and she immediately withdrew her hand. He scowled at her as he sat up.
“Before you snarl at me, Spectre,” Faith was quick to speak before he could muster enough mental control to lash out at her, “I wasn’t trying to control or manipulate you. You were making noise and obviously suffering from a nightmare, so I was trying to calm you. After all, we’re supposed to maintain near-silence for this mission, and the noises you were making were getting louder.”
“Then you should have woken me.” Saren snapped. Faith gave him an incredulous smile.
“And send you into another nightmare-induced panic? Where your very bright and visible biotics flare and you scream-”
“Enough!” Saren barked, then glanced around as he realized how loud he was now. “You’ve made your point.”
Saren huffed, pulling over a bag and searching for a ration. Faith kept her eyes on the building they were monitoring. As she heard him eat, she finally worked up her nerve.
“So….did it work?”
“Did what work, human?” Saren huffed. Faith resisted the urge to roll her eyes. He always seemed to forget her name when he was miffed.
“Did my little green energy trick help calm you? I know you theorized about it potentially being able to manipulate nerves and brain function, so I concentrated on conveying peace and calm. If it worked, we may want to experiment with the next person you intend to interrogate.”
Saren huffed, turning away. Finally, after a long silence, she heard him grumble his reply.
Faith smiled, but didn’t comment further.
Chapter 15: 'O' is for Omega
Shepard gets herself stuck on Omega and has to join up with some colorful characters to survive.
I wrote this chapter way back when I first started this exercise because it introduces one of my favorite head characters. You'll know him when you meet him. Be warned: strong language ahead.
Saren Arterius, a highly intelligent Spectre with multiple degrees in several different fields, stood slack-mouthed and dumbfounded as he stared down at his missing Specialist in training. Faith Shepard, whom he had come to know quite well over the past several months, was usually a clean and fastidious person - perhaps not as much as himself, but quite close. Though she could, usually on missions or when doing repairs, become unclean at times, she had never been one to wallow in filth.
As such, the sight of the young human sitting sans pants but still wearing boots and sprawled in a pile of sewer filth with oil, muck, and bits of food stuck to just about every inch of her person was enough to give Saren pause. Add to the fact that she was sat between an exhausted looking Blue Suns armored Batarian with a damp, unlit cigarette in his mouth wielding a flame thrower and an elderly, naked, and heavily scarred Turian with a pair of women’s pants on his head that happened to also be on fire, and Saren was left completely speechless.
The minutes dragged by as Saren stood over his apprentice, completely at a loss for words. Faith, to her credit, didn’t rush him, instead gingerly pulling a string of something slimy out of her hair.
After watching her flick the offensive substance away from her, Saren finally managed to force enough air through his vocal cords to quietly ask: “How…?”
Faith sighed, heavily.
“It’s...a very long story.”
* * *
Three months prior:
Faith glanced around at the room she was trapped inside. Though the lock wasn’t anything particularly difficult, it was going to take time to disable it. Time she didn’t currently have. Her ear buzzed angrily, and Saren’s voice, sounding irritated and somewhat desperate, growled at her.
“I need an answer, Shepard! Now!”
Faith felt her stomach clench painfully. There was no way she’d make it to him in time. Taking a deep breath to calm herself, she said the words that would nail her coffin shut.
“I can’t make it back to you. Leave without me.”
Her radio was quiet for a moment. Then she heard Saren, his tone betraying none of his thoughts or emotions.
“Understood. Stay alive, Shepard.”
And then, nothing but quiet. For a moment, Faith thought she might cry. Alone and abandoned was bad enough, but on Omega?
There were few places worse to be trapped.
It didn’t take long for Faith to free herself from the room, taking a moment to sweep through it for anything salvageable. She had limited funds, after all, and there was no telling when Saren would finish with the mission and return to pick her up. If he returned.
Finding nothing of value, Faith slipped out, tucking her helmet in place. Thankfully none of the Blue Suns mercenaries had seen her face, though they might recognize her by her armor. Checking to make sure nobody was watching (this was Omega, after all), Faith bolted from cover to cover, making her way through the slums. She needed to find a place to hunker down for a few weeks.
As she continued to poke around, however, she realized that squatting was a station-wide pastime on Omega. Nearly every derelict building was stuffed full of the Galaxy’s finest scum. After over an hour of crawling and dodging the Blue Suns constant patrols, she finally found an alcove, far out of the way, far up above normal foot traffic, and too narrow to be comfortable for most people. Thankfully, she was fairly small. The fact that there were several pipes running along the edge of it, one of which was steaming, provided a warm, relatively safe place to lay down.
Provided she didn’t roll off the edge in her sleep, Faith amended mentally, glancing at the great distance below her.
Stowing her armor away, Faith believed her under suit was relatively benign looking. Certainly she couldn’t be identified as a Council Specialist from just that, she hoped fervently. Stripped of anything she felt could possibly give her away as anything other than just another random person, Faith set out to locate some food.
The only reliable place to scavenge for food, she soon found, was in the central part of Omega. Unfortunately, that meant there was always a mingling of not only the Blue Suns, but also Eclipse and the occasional Blood Pack mercenary. Aria, the aloof Asari ruler of Omega, kept things relatively peaceful, at least in the central zones. Outside that small area, Omega was broken into sections controlled by the various mercenary factions. She might have to start paying ‘protection fees’ if she was to make her way safely through areas. That meant getting money somehow.
As if thinking of it somehow summoned trouble, Faith rounded a corner and smacked straight into the blue chest armor of a Batarian Blue Sun merc. The merc reached out and grabbed her shoulders to steady her, but his grip was just a bit too tight.
“Watch it, red. What’s your hurry, anyways?” The merc growled at her. His buddies closed ranks around her, effectively cutting off any means of polite escape.
“I’m late. I’m meeting a friend.” Faith lied, trying to pull away. One of the mercs put an arm around her shoulders.
“This friend of yours, is she cute?” The batarian leered. Faith gave him a withering look.
“I’m sure he’d be flattered.”
“Don’t be like that.” Another Batarian intoned, pulling a lock of her hair through his fingers. Faith snarled. Before she could do anything, the first Batarian gave her a little shake, bringing her attention back to him.
“I’m more concerned with your lack of insignia. Who’re you paying for protection, little red? Wouldn’t want you wandering around unprotected.”
Without another word, Faith twisted and ducked under his grip, grabbing and twisting his arm as she went behind him. With a firm kick to his rear, she sent him stumbling into the other mercs. Before they could disentangle themselves and give chase, she had bolted into the eating area.
Knowing it’d take a little while before they caught up with her, Faith got in line at a random food shack, noting there was a mixture of Levo and Dextro lifeforms there. Unfortunately, it was difficult for Faith to blend in when she was one of only six humans in the immediate area, and by far the only red head. She ducked around the Krogan who stood in front of her as the Batarians ran past, looking for her. Faith only had a moment to breath with relief when the Krogan brusquely pushed her back, growling about her dodging in line. Faith did her best to apologize, trying to stay out of sight, but people kept looking her over, eyeing her like a slab of meat. She had to fight the urge to fidget. Saren wasn’t there to watch her back anymore.
She was on her own.
Arriving at the front of the line, she saw a very greasy, dirty, wild-eyed Turian taking orders and cooking. Towards the back was an indifferent Batarian with a cigarette, occasionally putting the ashes out on the counter or floor. Faith swallowed her ire. Beggars couldn’t be picky.
Putting on her most winning smile, Faith waited patiently until the Turian turned to look at her.
“Hello! Can I-”
“WHAT CAN I GET YA SWEET TITS?”
Faith was momentarily knocked off her momentum by the bellowing Turian. Staring at the Turian and wondering whether she should simply run away or not, Faith failed to notice the Batarian Blue Suns had returned. Grabbing the red-head, they pinned her to the food stand.
“Should have kept running, bitch!” One of the Batarians snarled at her. Before Faith could attack, a three fingered hand snapped out and clawed across the Batarian’s startled face. With a shriek, the Turian behind the stand jumped up on the counter, brandishing a long, curved knife.
“GET YER FUCKIN’ FLABBY FINGERS OFF MY WIFE!” The Turian shrieked. Several of the onlookers began laughing as the apparently crazy Turian chased off the Blue Suns mercs. Even though Faith saw several other Blue Suns in the immediate area, nobody said anything or tried to stop the Turian.
As Faith tried to recollect herself, the indifferent Batarian approached, not bothering to remove the cigarette.
“Uh, do you have a menu?”
The Batarian stared at her without changing expression for several moments. Faith felt herself shriveling.
“That’s a ‘no’, I take it.” Faith cleared her throat uncomfortably. “How about rada'at alttaeam?”
“You eat Batarian food?” He asked, though his tone hadn’t changed.
“Not often, but I do like that dish, and as I understand, it’s fairly common and easy to prepare.”
Faith smiled at the man, which quickly felt strained as he stared at her. Finally, he rang her up, then turned to make her food. Meanwhile, the young human began to weigh her odds of surviving on Omega for more than a day. As she stood fretting, the old Turian came stomping back, one fist covered in blood. Without washing, he wiped a smear across his apron, then turned back to her.
“WHO THE FUCK ARE YOU?”
“YER HOLDING UP THE LINE, SWEET TITS!”
Faith turned and saw the vast emptiness behind her. When she turned back, she yelped and jumped back, as the Turian’s face was less than an inch away.”
“You smell pretty…” The Turian somehow managed to not yell, instead sniffing heavily at Faith’s neck and shoulder. After a few moments, he leaned back, staring at her (or rather, one eye stared at her, while the other apparently decided to do it’s own thing). He continued to stare at her for a moment, uncomprehending. “WHO THE FUCK ARE YOU?”
This was going nowhere fast.
Thankfully, the Batarian returned with her food, dropping the bowl down on the counter without ceremony, before turning back to his quiet lurking in the back. Faith grabbed the bowl, noting the complete lack of anything resembling an eating utensil, and quietly found a spot to sit down and eat.
The food was greasy, overcooked, and hardly had any flavor, but it was filling. Faith watched as other patrons approached, a few yelling back at the Turian behind the counter, while others simply barked orders at him. Considering the Turian kept wandering off mid-conversation, it made taking orders pure chaos. An idea began to flicker at the back of her mind.
Faith finished as much of her food as she could, before approaching the spot to deposit her dish. It was crammed with dishes, all in need of a thorough scrubbing. With disgust, she saw the Batarian grab one, give it a single wipe of his dirty apron, and then proceed to ladle food into it.
She almost lost her nerve and ran away.
Steeling herself, she waited for a lull in business. She didn’t have to wait long; apparently this place had a reputation. She walked up to the crazy Turian, putting on her most winning smile.
Once again, a single dull, steel blue eye followed her while the other chameleon’ed around.
“WHAT’LL YOU HAVE, SWEET TITS?”
“A job.” Faith replied.
“I DUN THINK WE SERVE THAT.” The Turian bellowed, before turning to his companion. “DO WE SERVE ‘JOB’ HERE, FLAPPY?”
The Batarian looked over at them with disinterest. “No.”
“THERE, YA SEE? NO JOB. PICK SOMETHING ELSE!”
“But you want to hire me!” Faith poured on the charm.
The Turian snorted. “WHY? FLAPPY’S GOT BETTER TITS THAN YOU!”
Faith ground her teeth, forcing the smile to stay in place. “To run the register-”
The Turian immediately pulled out a shotgun and pointed it at Faith, causing her to back off. “FUCK YOU TRYIN’ TA ROB MEH! FUCK OFF!”
“No no no!” Faith attempted to placate the man. “I’m merely trying to free your time! A culinary genius like yourself shouldn’t have to deal with customers. Let me deal with the register, the cleaning, the dishes, the prep work, so you and your fine friend can focus on doing what you love.”
The entire speech was artful, in Faith’s mind, but the Turian wasn’t buying it. He shoved her back, causing her to stumble somewhat. He was much stronger than his frail frame spoke. Faith knew she was on dangerous ground.
“FUCK OFF, RED! YER NOT WELCOME HERE!”
“We’ll get rid of her for you, Osai.” A Batarian purred behind Faith as her arms were pinned to her sides. Turning her head, she saw the same group from earlier, leering wickedly at her, though one of them looked roughed up and slightly nervous. “Thought you could run off and hide here, bitch? Osai’s crazy, but he forgets easily. Now we’re gonna go back to the base, and you’re gonna pay for that scene earlier.”
Given that one of the Batarians was fingering a wicked knife, Faith was fairly certain they meant to do more than their leering implied. With a shriek born of rage and frustration, she kicked backwards, thankful for all of Saren’s in-depth teaching of various species’ anatomy and weaknesses. The Batarian stumbled back, while the others lunged at her. Faith punched and kicked and gouged and bit, slamming one of their heads against the counter of the food shop. The crazy Turian watched with apparent mild interest, humming tunelessly, as Faith proceeded to smear the floor with the Blue Suns mercs. Strangely enough, though there were a few Turians in Blue Suns uniforms standing nearby, they didn’t join in or aid their fellows, content to simply watch and laugh.
Finally, after knocking a few teeth loose, the Batarian Blue Suns made a break for it, cursing and spewing threats to the heavily breathing red-head. Faith turned and marched back towards the Turian proprietor, who still held his shotgun handy, shoved the weapon aside, grabbed the Turian by the cowl and pulled him forward so they were nose to nose.
“Give. Me. A. Job.” Faith snarled quietly in his face. The Turian blinked for a few moments. Then he deliberately licked her across the face with a long, wet, blue tongue. Faith was so startled she let go. The Turian bustled back to the fryer, humming happily.
“WELCOME ABOARD, SWEET TITS!”
* * *
And that began Faith’s employment at Osai’s Food Shack. For the first week or so, Faith was forced to remind Osai that he’d hired her, as he’d usually pull out a weapon when she came near. After a time, however, she began ignoring his threats and just went through with her morning duties rather than arguing with the crazy person. The Batarian cook’s attitude began to make a lot of sense to Faith after that week.
At first, Faith was only allowed to clean and prep, which she did with gusto. Apparently, nobody ever cleaned anything on Omega, so the idea of having a clean working space was foreign to her new employers. The customers were also very pleased to no longer have foul-tasting mystery bits in their plates and bowls.
The crazy Turian, for whom the shack was named, allowed Faith to run the register after watching her intently for the first few days. Apparently his method for ‘watching intently’ meant standing within a half foot of Shepard with his face breathing near her neck, watching her every movement. Within a week, they began wracking in more business then ever, with a friendly, and pretty, face to deal with rather than a screaming Osai. Many of the customers expressed their pleasure at getting to deal with Faith. A few even went so far as to offer to show her how happy they were.
Faith firmly declined each time.
The pay was horrible, but it provided Faith with a relatively safe place to stay and food to eat. After only being there a week, she realized her choice of employment came with an unexpected benefit.
A few Blue Suns mercs approached, led by a very large Turian sporting a wicked scar from his crest to his mandible. With the way his green eyes riveted on her, Faith knew they were here for her. Before she could grab the shotgun under the counter, Osai jumped up and let loose a scream that could probably be heard back on the Citadel. After emptying his lungs, he sniffed, glanced around, and then hopped down like nothing had happened. The Turian leading the procession was severely confused and wary after that point.
“So, you’re the little girl who was working with that Spectre a week back?” The Turian gruffly said. “My friends and I-”
A large lump of rubbish smacked the Turian in the face. Faith glanced over, but Osai was puttering around as though nothing was happening. The Mercenary snarled in frustration, but surprisingly did nothing.
“As I was saying, the Blue Suns have some questions-”
This time, an entire bowl of cooled, used oil was tossed, coating the poor Turian in muck. Snarling with rage, he made a lunge at Osai, only to be stopped by a few of his fellow Turians. Faith could hear them talking him down, glancing at Osai in concern while she watched in fascination. After a few moments, the Turian glared at Osai.
“Alright, old man, you’ve had your fun and you’ve paid your fees, so I don’t want anymore trouble. The young lady is coming back with us-”
“GO SUCK A CLOACA!”
The Turian visibly brought his anger under control. “Osai-”
“Uh, maybe you should come back later?” Faith held up her hands, side-eyeing Osai as he dipped a ladle into the boiling fryer oil. The Mercs all took a step back.
Clearly Osai had a reputation.
* * *
For three months, Faith worked and toiled at the little food shack. After two weeks of trying to catch her alone, the Blue Suns gave up trying to get to her at the food stand. Osai, for all his crazy, kept an eye on Faith, and the Blue Suns obviously didn’t want to piss him off. Faith had caught sight of a Blue Sun tattoo on the old Turian’s neck, and figured he must have run with them at one point. Asking him about it had earned her a half hour screaming session on how Krogan-Hanar sex worked. Faith had prudently never asked again.
Traveling back to her little corner was becoming increasingly difficult, however, as the Suns kept circling the immediate area, waiting for the stand to close and for her to leave. She had just about exhausted all her infiltration knowledge to avoid them, and they were growing wiser to her tricks. As she stood near the back area of the food stand, she could see numerous Suns loitering, waiting for her to leave. Sighing heavily, she had half a mind to ask ‘Flappy’ (who had never bothered to tell her his real name) if she could go home with him and crash at his place instead. Before she could formulate a definitive plan, she felt her hair pulled sharply, dragging her out of the stand. She caught a strong whiff of cigars and hard Turian whiskey.
“Osai? What’re you doing?”
The Turian didn’t bother replying, instead dragging the poor human around by her locks. Faith gave up struggling, her eyes going to the Suns watching her. They looked shocked, but didn’t follow. In a way, they almost looked like they pitied her. Osai continued to drag her into one of the worst areas nearby, but oddly enough, nobody bothered them. Once more, Osai’s reputation kept any persons away; sane or not.
Osai came to a rickety, rusted down door and finally released his captive. He glanced around without real recognition, then his eyes fell on Shepard and he gave a high pitched shriek of surprise. Having slaved under Osai for quite a while now, Shepard barely even twitched at the noise.
“WHY’RE YOU FOLLOWIN’ ME SWEET TITS?!” Osai blared, then tried to look suave. “OH, I GETS IT! NO OFFENSE, SWEET TITS, BUT YOU AREN’T MY TYPE.”
Faith was very proud later that she didn’t slap him. “I know. You dragged me here to protect me from the Blue Suns that’ve been haunting me lately. I guess I’ll head home now. Thanks Osa-”
Without another word, Osai opened his door and yanked the girl in. Faith rolled her eyes, but resigned herself to spending the night at his place. At least it was safe.
Or that’s what she’d have thought had she not been bowled over by the horrendous smell of the place. A mixture of rotting garbage, standing sewage, and other flavors she’d rather not identify, Faith almost vomited and ran back out the door. The room he’d dragged her into was so dark she could barely see, but despite that she could tell a part of the roof was sagging so far down it almost touched the garbage scattered on the floor. A gigantic stain covered the collapsed roof, and it steadily dripped what Faith fervently prayed was just water. Large grates covered a portion of the floor, and she could clearly hear the sound of sluggish fluids moving.
With horror, Faith realized Osai lived and slept in an abandoned Sewage Maintenance room.
Faith tried to edge back towards the door, but Osai had a firm grip on her arm. Glancing around, Osai gave her a smile that almost turned her stomach inside out.
“NO PLACE LIKE FUCKIN’ HOME, RIGHT SWEET TITS?!” He finally released her, and Faith staggered somewhat as she watched him kick and shove some rotten furniture pieces out of the way. “JUST SHOVE YOURSELF A BED AND GIT COMFY!”
“I think I’m going to vomit…” Faith uttered weakly, resisting the urge to lean on the walls when she noticed them covered in sludge. Osai pointed towards a corner.
“USE THAT CORNER. IT’S WHERE ALL MY VOMIT GOES.”
Faith began to feel faint. Only her willpower kept her on her feet. That, and after spying a few pieces of garbage that moved, Faith didn’t want to lay on the floor with whatever was living there already. Osai ignored her, traipsing over to where a few rotted, torn bed sheets were hung up. Her morbid curiosity getting the better of her, she followed him, and was stunned to see a pile of filthy blankets and pillows. Apparently, that was Osai’s bed. One of his eyes glared at her balefully.
“I DON’T SHARE! FIND YER OWN SPOT!” He snarled, hugging the pillows to him possessively. Faith groaned, knowing that his pile of dirty linens were undoubtedly the entirety of clean space in the horrific room. Glancing around and forcing down her rising gore, Faith noticed that the overhead pipes disappeared upwards in a steaming cloud. Frowning, she noted that a few of them looked vaguely familiar. Since nothing but excessively loud snoring could be heard from Osai’s oasis, Faith decided to try climbing. Maybe she could find someplace more livable if she traveled upwards.
Or at the very least escape the horrid smells.
Glancing around the horrid space, she saw a rusted, slime-covered ladder. Gingerly stepping around the piles of garbage and their occupants, Faith pulled on her gloves before making the climb; she definitely didn’t want tetanus.
The ladder took her over the room, the smell improving only marginally. The steam made it difficult to see around her, but what she did notice continued to look vaguely familiar. After a few minutes, she managed to reach a break in the steam and glanced at her surroundings. With amazement, she saw several Blue Suns loitering outside Osai’s apartment. Apparently they were waiting for her to run screaming from the building.
Faith mentally weighed the options between sleeping in that mess or being captured. Neither option seemed optimal.
Shrugging, Faith continued to climb the short distance left on the ladder. At the top was a small alcove with multiple pipes running along it. Stored just under the pipes was a small, stolen trunk, filled with various weapons and supplies. Folded on the ground was a single hand woven blanket. Faith felt herself go stiff with shock.
It was her nest.
With a slight chuckle, she shook her head. She couldn’t help but wonder if Osai was truly mad or a genius.
* * * *
The looks people were giving Faith the next morning made her realize just how well known Osai must be. The looks ranged from awe to disgust to outright pity. A few customers even asked if she was okay or if she needed to see a doctor. Faith just smiled and mentioned the lovely decontamination shower she had taken that morning.
Even though she hadn’t actually slept at Osai’s, she’d felt it was necessary.
Oddly enough, Faith hadn’t seen anymore Blue Suns mercs loitering around either his place or anywhere on her way to work. The lack of their presence made her skittish and on edge. Thankfully, the crowds at Osai’s shack kept her busy so she wouldn’t wallow in worry. That, and firmly denying Osai’s excessively vocal claims to the crowd that they’d been fucking for their honeymoon last night.
The day ran smoothly; much more so than Faith figured it should. As they closed down the food shack, Osai reached over to grab Faith and drag her along again. Faith managed to duck and escape his numerous jabs, eventually grabbing his offending hand and holding onto it. To anyone watching, it must have looked like a romantic walk for two lovers. Osai hummed as they walked, while Faith sighed heavily, exhausted. Trying to keep up with Osai’s crazy moods was draining to Faith, and she looked forward to curling up in her loft bedroom. The fact that it was directly above Osai’s sewer hovel was both worrying and convenient.
The two of them paused just outside the entrance to Osai’s home while the old Turian dug for his keys. Quite suddenly Osai stopped, a low growl emanating from his throat, both eyes sweeping the surrounding area. Faith took an involuntary step back, not having seen the flighty and often psychotic Turian behave quite like this before.
“Osai?” Faith asked, trying to bring his attention back. “What’s wrong-”
A dark bag fell over Osai’s upper body, which caused the Turian to panic and flail wildly. Before Shepard could respond, something sprayed across her face, making her vision go blurry. A pair of rough arms grabbed her from behind, laughing as she weakly struggled.
“Make nice human, or I mace you next.” A Salarian voice threatened. Faith tried to focus around her, noticing that several yellow armored mercenaries had appeared and were holding Osai to the ground. A pained whimper came from the struggling form, and Faith felt her heart lurch. She hadn’t meant to get anyone else in trouble.
“Osai….I’m so sorry.” Faith muttered weakly as she passed out.
* * *
Nothing but pain.
Why wouldn’t the voice shut up? Her head was pounding horribly.
Painfully slow, Shepard began to regain consciousness. She was laying on a dirty floor, her wrists bound behind her and her ankles tied together. Opening one eye cautiously, Faith could make out a small cell-like room without windows and only a single door. The wall looked rusted and none-too-clean, and there was a pervasive but familiar smell to the area, meaning she was most likely still on Omega.
“Dammit Shepard, you’d better not be dead!” The voice bellowed in her ear. Faith winced.
“Saren?” Faith’s voice cracked, sounding very weak. A heavy exhale of air greeted her answer.
“Took you long enough to respond. Am I to understand that you have failed to evade Omega’s less reputable persons and are currently in some state of duress?”
Shepard groaned, letting her head sink back to the floor. “Small words. Please.” She begged. Saren snorted.
“Are. You. In. Trouble?” Saren responded with heavy sarcasm.
“You could say that.” Shepard forced herself to sit up, glancing around the dark room. “The Blue Suns have been hunting me from day one, but I managed to out maneuver them.” Shepard wiggled her hands to see if there was any way to break free. Unfortunately she was held fast. “As I was walking to a safe house with a... friend, yellow armored people jumped us.
“Eclipse. They’re the only merc band on Omega who wears yellow. I would reason they intend to bargain with the Blue Suns for your life.”
“That’s what I figured.” Shepard groaned, looking over the tie used around her ankles. Off in the distance, she could hear voices arguing, but other than that it was dead silent. “Anyways, they sprayed my face with some sort of drug. Made me go all wibbly and pass out.”
“Describe your symptoms.” Saren ordered. Faith blinked, then tried to think back.
“Uh, dizziness, weakness in my limbs, some confusion. I’m definitely groggy right now, and it’s tough to concentrate.”
“How long were you out.”
“I’m not sure. It was around 2am local time when we were walking to his house.”
Things fell quiet for a few moments, and Faith imagined Saren typing things into a database. For some reason, the idea of him looking after her made her smile. Somehow, Saren always managed to pull her out of bad situations like this.
Then again, he was responsible for getting her into these situations more often than not.
“It would seem you have been unconscious about 13 hours. I believe I have found the substance they poisoned you with. Try building complex math equations in your mind to combat the confusion and do your best to remove yourself from the Eclipse base. I will be most displeased if I am forced to come rescue you from your own incompetence.”
“My ankles and wrists are bound. Suggestions?” Faith asked, very worried at the prospect of breaking out from a mercenary base. Fervently, she hoped this was just a safe house with a handful of mercs.
“Find a way to untie yourself and escape. I should reach the outside of the mercenary base in roughly thirty minutes, so don’t dawdle.” The line in her ear went silent. Faith swore sulphurously, planning the diabolical demise of her less-than-helpful mentor.
Faith attempted to bring her arms under her feet so she could at least see what kind of binding they’d used on her wrists, but her shoulders protested loudly, pain lancing along her nerves to make her fingers go numb. Grinding her teeth in frustration, she realized whoever had tied her had twisted her arms in such a way to make pulling them under her feet near impossible. Forcing herself to stay calm, she tried to remember the various ways Saren and Nihlus had shown her how to escape from this type of binding. As she tried to concentrate, she heard multiple soft ‘booms’ in the distance. Frowning, she listened as several voices drifted past her room, sounding alarmed and angry. Silently, she hoped Saren had grossly exaggerated how long it would take him to reach her position, but she knew that was unlikely. Perhaps the Blue Suns were attacking the base in an effort to retrieve her?
Desperately, Faith looked around the room for something sharp to help free her.
The sounds of fighting drew closer, riddled with what sounded like heavy gunfire and another sound she didn’t recognize. Faith renewed her struggles, contemplating whether or not breaking her thumb would allow her to slip through whatever tied her wrists together.
Much to Faith’s horror, the sound of fighting continued to grow louder and closer, until she could clearly hear it just outside her door. Backing herself into the narrow corner just next to the door, she knew she was next to powerless against whoever barged inside. The door swung open, the nozzle of a weapon she didn’t recognize entering the room. Holding the weapon was a Batarian in very old and unkempt Blue Sun armor, a lit cigarette in his mouth. All four eyes riveted on Faith’s cowering form. As the cornered human looked at the Batarian, however, her eyes went wide with disbelief.
“Flappy?” She asked, incredulous. His only response was a grunt as the disgruntled cook turned around. Faith hopped out after him. “You wouldn’t happen to have a knife on you, would you?”
The Batarian pulled out one of his chef’s knives, slicing through the thick substance holding her wrists and ankles together. Faith glanced at the remains, noting that they looked like electrical wires, before Flappy sheathed his weapon/cooking utensil and began limping away. Without a backwards glance, he passed Faith the shotgun from under the counter, which she accepted gratefully.
“They bagged Osai when they captured me. Is he okay?” Faith asked. As if on cue, she heard a loud, maniacal laugh from the direction they were walking, followed by gunfire.
Apparently Osai was just fine, Faith concluded.
Sure enough, as they passed by a corridor littered with burning bodies, they came across an open area, littered with the dead and dying forms of multiple Eclipse and Blue Suns. Standing in the center of the room, laughing so hard he sounded like he might pass out, was Osai. Completely naked, sporting a modified assault rifle, and with small tendrils of smoke coming off his body.
Faith didn’t want to know.
As the old Turian turned to face them, his face broke into the largest grin Faith had seen on anyone. “HEY SWEET TITS! HOW YOU DOIN’?!” He bellowed as Faith approached. Without a word, Faith reached up and gently pulled Osai down to eye level, planting a kiss on his dirty, soot-covered forehead. She was rewarded for her gesture of gratitude with a rough three-fingered hand goosing her. Shaking her head, she couldn’t help but laugh.
“If I live to be a hundred, I will never understand you.” Faith said, giving Osai a look somewhere between amused and perturbed.
“THERE’S NO TIME FOR SMALL TALK, SWEET TITS!” Osai bellowed after giving her backside one last squeeze. “GIMME YOUR PANTS!”
Faith stared at Osai for several moments, unblinking. However, in light of all the crazy things he’d said and done over their short three months of knowing one another, this was relatively light. Caught up in the moment, and unable to find a reason to care further, Faith shrugged, then tugged off her boots, pulled off her pants, and handed them to Osai. As she slipped her boots back on, she watched as Osai pulled the pants on - not over his legs as she’d expected a sane person to do, but instead over his head, wearing them like a ridiculously long hat. He then grabbed a jug of something that was sitting innocently on the floor next to him and doused himself liberally. The smell of old, used cooking oil infused in the Omega air.
Unwilling to get further caught up in the insanity, Faith stepped out of immediate range.
After a brief adjustment of his new pants-hat, Osai turned to his Batarian companion. “LIGHT ME, FLAPPY!!”
Faith stepped even further away.
* * *
Saren stared down at his human student in horror, his eyes wide. “Do I….even want to hear the rest?” He asked breathlessly. Faith wasn’t completely sure he was talking to her specifically. Next to her, a very crispy Osai chuckled.
“GOOD FUCKING TIMES!” He bellowed, pulling the burnt remnants of Faith’s pants off his head. Faith sighed heavily.
“I just want off this station.” Faith mewled. Osai leaned heavily against her, almost knocking her down into the sewer filth they were currently sprawled in.
“You can never leave~.” He hissed ominously. Faith shuddered. Without a word, Saren backed up, apparently believing it would be better to leave his student and flee before the insanity was inflicted on himself. Faith pushed Osai off, getting to her feet unsteadily.
“I’m going to need the use of the hose outside the ship.”
“It’s not within the airlock.” Saren spoke quietly, eyeing his student with pity. Faith felt her lower lip trembling.
“I’ll bring you a bucket to douse yourself with. Possibly several. Then you can head straight for the showers. Then the med-bay. Then back to the showers.” Saren said, his tone indicating he was completely serious. Faith sighed heavily. Behind her, Osai and Flappy got to their feet, Osai cackling madly. Turning slightly, Faith caught the two men into a rough hug.
“Thank you both for everything. God willing, I’ll never see the two of you, or this horrible station, ever again.” Faith spoke fervently, then took off after her highly disturbed Spectre. Osai watched the girl go, then shrugged, picked up his broken and battered weaponry, and began walking back towards his food shack.
“REAL GOOD FUCKING TIMES!”
Chapter 16: 'P' is for Parenting
Faith and Saren become parents together.
Faith stretched as she slowly came awake, her entire body sore from having slept on a couch meant for another species. Though she had been sharing Saren’s apartment with him for several years now, most of the furniture was designed to be comfortable for Turians. When they had officially begun to cohabitate, he had insisted on going shopping with her to pick out a few comfortable chairs that were for her and any Asari gusts they might entertain. Much to Shepard’s chagrin, none were large enough to sleep in. Both Saren and herself had assumed she would always sleep with him in his large, soft bed. However, events of late had forced her to relocate.
Sighing deeply, Faith rubbed the sleep from her eyes and face, wondering, as she had a dozen times lately, if it might not be better to seek out a therapist after all. She had discussed it with Saren, but he had hesitated before saying they should at least try to work things out themselves first, and she respected his decision. After all, this was his son.
His seven-year-old son, Tirius Arterius.
The information was still a shock to Shepard. Never in her wildest dreams had she imagined Saren having a child. It had been a shock for him as well, since he had given up his parental rights and fully expected never to see his son again until he was full grown. Now, however, the sturdy little boy recovering from severe trauma and trust issues that put his own father’s problems to shame was now upstairs, curled up with his father in the place Shepard normally occupied.
She was trying her hardest not be jealous.
The poor child had cried and clung to his father in fear when he’d introduced Tirius to Faith. After what the poor child had been through, she could hardly blame him. It complicated things between her and Saren, since Tirius seemed bound and determined to keep Shepard and all other humans as far away from his person as possible. Between that and the fact that Saren was now suspended from Spectre duties by order of the Council, the future of house Arterius-Shepard was looking rather bleak.
Forcing herself off the uncomfortable couch, Faith folded and put away the blankets and pillows she was using before heading to the kitchen to begin making breakfast.
It was odd, being the only one awake, since normally Saren woke several hours before she even began to stir. Tirius suffered from nightmares still, however, and Saren always woke up to comfort him. As such, Saren hadn’t had an unbroken night's rest in the month since they brought Tirius to the Citadel. Now he slept in, leaving Faith to cook breakfast for the little family. She didn’t object since she enjoyed cooking, but Tirius steadfastly refused to eat anything Faith had a hand in. In fact, he refused to go near anything she touched. It made living with the youngster difficult. So far, they’d indulged his prejudice to allow him time to heal, but it was getting a little ridiculous.
The kava had reached Saren’s prefered temperature by the time Faith heard any other life signs stirring. She heard the quiet taps of little talons against tile and a startled gasp, and knew Tirius had spotted her. Despite previous issues, she still scooped out a healthy portion of the breakfast she had made onto a plate.
“Good morning, Tirius.” Faith tried her best to sound friendly and warm. Just keep treating him like family, she told herself, and maybe he’ll give you an opportunity to show you’re trustworthy.
An angry grunt was the only answer she received. Setting the plate down on the kitchen table, Faith slowly, but noisily (so she didn’t startle him), made her way over to where he was crouched next to a large potted plant. As she approached, he began to scoot away, so Faith stopped and crouched down so she didn’t tower over him.
“Are you hungry?”
No answer. Tirius kept his eyes averted.
“Is your daddy awake yet?”
Still no answer. However, she noticed Tirius shuffle a little, and could tell he was worried. Taking a deep breath, she tried a different tactic.
“Do you want me to call your Uncle Nihlus or Aunt Benezia?”
Nihlus, upon hearing that his best friend had reproduced and not told him, had gone between yelling at Saren about keeping secrets and gushing about Tirius. Though the two hadn’t met in person yet, Nihlus had insisted on Saren sending him a vid call so he could meet the little guy. Surprisingly, Tirius opened up to Nihlus and took to liking him immediately. Though he was out on a mission at the moment, Nihlus, after learning what the little boy had recently endured, had promised to keep his comms open in the event that Tirius needed him.
Matriarch Benezia, on the other hand, had known about Tirius all along, though she had been surprised to see him in Saren’s possession. Her presence calmed Tirius during his worst fits, and already she was coaching him in Biotics. Though the youngster wasn’t as open with her as he was with Nihlus, Benezia had assured Faith that Tirius would come around and accept humans in time. She just needed to be patient.
While Faith waited, watching the boy closely and waiting for an answer, she feverently hoped that his acceptance would come sooner rather than later. The strain on her and Saren’s relationship was beginning to show.
To her surprise, Tirius finally nodded his head in confirmation. Quietly nodding back towards him in reply, Faith got up and walked over to where the wall communicator was located, bringing up a list of contacts. Dialing Nihlus, she left for a moment to grab Tirius a step-stool, since the communicator vid screen was set to Saren’s facial height. By the time she returned, Nihlus had answered, though his reply was voice-only. Faith assumed he must be somewhere he didn’t want the youngster to see.
“Alright, Tirius, Nihlus is available. I’ll be in the kitchen if you need anything.” Faith called out, knowing the boy wouldn’t move until she was out of sight. She busied herself in the kitchen, humming loud enough he could hear that she wasn’t able to listen in on their conversation. Though she burned with the urge to eavesdrop in order to understand him better, she knew if he even thought for a moment that she was listening she’d lose any trust he might have eventually shown her. Instead, she stirred the skillet, keeping the bottom from burning.
After almost a half hour, she heard a slight shuffle behind her, and turned to greet who she thought was Saren. Instead, Tirius stood there in the doorway, his eyes averted and looking downtrodden. Faith felt it was prudent not to be invasive, so instead she smiled.
“You must be hungry, right? I hear your Aunt Benezia has been pushing you hard to learn ‘lift’. That’s a tough one. You’ll need lots of extra calories.” She spoke as conversationally as she could, not surprised when Tirius neither moved nor acknowledged her question. Glancing at the plate of now cooled food, she spoke as gently as she could. “You don’t want to eat anything I’ve made, correct?”
After a few moments of uncomfortable silence, Tirius nodded once. Faith allowed herself a silent cry of triumph at his responding to her questions. Baby steps, she told herself. Out loud, she said, “Well, you should probably eat something, so let’s try this instead.” Taking the plate, she scraped it’s contents back into the skillet to rewarm. Setting the plate to the side, she opened a nearby cabinet and pulled out a box of overly sugary dextro cereal that was Saren’s food of choice when he was feeling lazy but needed a high amount of calories quick. Setting it on the table, she also pulled out a bowl and a drinking glass, then moved to the refrigerator to grab some fruit juice. Setting it all on the table, she set the stove to a very low heat for the skillet, washed her hands and wiped them on a towel, then turned and smiled at Tirius.
“There you go. I didn’t make any of it, and only touched the outside of them so they should be safe. I’m going to head upstairs to the bathroom, and then I’ll wake your dad to come join you, okay?” Faith paused a moment, looking down at the boy. He didn’t budge, holding perfectly still as though he was afraid any movement would bring him harm. Nodding once, Faith walked far around him, glancing back only once as she went around the corner.
By the time she woke Saren and they arrived downstairs, there was a dirty bowl set on the counter next to a drinking glass with fruit juice still in the bottom.
* * *
Faith held the fork with the purplish vegetable before a steadfastly-closed mouth. “Please?”
Faith sighed heavily. She wanted to yell how terrible starvation was and how this small, difficult person needed to eat rather than play, but it was a losing battle. Faith knew this. She also knew that within ten minutes, this same difficult child would begin pestering her about being ‘hungry’. Resigning herself, she unstrapped the squirming Turian from his booster seat, allowing him to join his ‘brother’ on the ground.
“You really shouldn’t give in to him, you know.” Saren gently chided her. Faith turned and gave her husband a level glare.
“Says the Turian who can’t seem to say no when the twins ask for a ‘toy’ whenever you take them out.” Faith retorted. Saren at least had the courtesy to look somewhat guilty.
“I didn’t have many toys growing up.” He offered lamely.
“They have an entire playroom. There are toys in there they’ve barely touched. Between Tevos and Nihlus constantly sending them things, they don’t lack for entertainment.” Faith sighed, cracking her neck. “And don’t worry. I haven’t given in entirely. I’m going to keep this plate of half-eaten food in the refrigerator. When Decimus starts keening for food in about five or so minutes, this is what he’s going to get.”
Saren chuckled quietly as he glanced over to where the two youngsters were rough housing. “Now you sound like a true mother.”
Faith couldn’t help smiling. “You’d think I’d be used to that by now.”
Saren came up and wrapped both arms around his bond-mate, resting his head on top of her, being careful not to put too much weight against her. The war had left them both sore and heavily scarred. Faith reached up and squeezed his artificial arm, sighing contentedly as they both watched their youngsters romp. Both of them thinking the same thing.
They’re youngest children were fortunate; they were both too young to remember the war very well.
A little over a year ago, Faith and Hope had brought an end to the Reaper threat. Though most of the great cities still lay in waste and only a fraction of the relays had managed to get repaired in that time, life was slowly returning to normal. Saren and Faith had both retired from the Spectres and moved their growing family to Saren’s home planet of Aephis. A small prefab home out in the middle of nowhere was an adjustment for them both.
A bedroom door opened, and the lanky teenager finally emerged from his slumber. Tirius was beginning to look more and more like his father, though there was a leanness to him that his stockier parent didn’t share.
“Morning Tiri. Breakfast?” Faith asked. The youngster blinked away his sleep, rubbing a hand across his eyes.
“Jus’ kava please.” He mumbled, slumping into a chair. His mother shook her head as Saren chuckled and made for the kitchen to aide his son in waking up.
“It frightens me how similar you are to your father.” Faith spoke fondly, running a hand over Tirius’ growing crest. Puberty had struck the poor boy hard, and already he sported the long crest horns his family name was known for having.
Tirius only grunted, lifting his head only when his father sat a large steaming cup of kava in front of him.
“Don’t worry, boy, these exhausting nights will pass soon enough. Your body is growing at a rapid rate and needs it’s rest.” Saren quipped, giving the boy a pat on the shoulder. “However, though kava is good for awakening the mind and keeping it sharp, your body also requires nutrition.”
Tirius gave a slightly pained groan as he looked towards his mother in supplication. Faith held up her hands in defense.
“Don’t look at me; I’ve been telling him to use small words before caffeine has a chance to take effect for years. If he hasn’t learned to listen to me yet, he probably never will.” Faith teased, ignoring Saren’s scoff. “He’s got a point though. You need food.”
No sooner had she brought the teenager a plate piled high with breakfast goodies then she felt a small taloned hand tugging at her leg. Glancing down, she saw the imploring blue eyes of Decimus.
“Mari, I’m hungry.”
Faith sighed heavily as she turned back to the refrigerator to begin the battle anew.
* * *
“Of course. Let’s meet the young lady.”
Faith glanced at her husband, stunned at his words. Saren sat beside her on a seat obviously not meant for a Turian, looking far more relaxed and comfortable than she would have thought, given the circumstances. The woman behind the desk opposite them smiled wide, either oblivious to Faith’s reaction or prudently ignoring it.
“That sounds great. Give me a few moments, and I’ll bring her to the playroom next door.” The woman didn’t pause as she got up and went out the door, leaving Faith and Saren to stand at a slower pace. Faith couldn’t help the odd look she kept giving her husband, who finally turned and grinned at her.
“I’m just a little surprised. I mean, the school is almost finished, and we’ve already got three kids of our own. When we got that call from this human adoption agency, I figured we’d simply be making a public appearance for publicity reasons and making a hefty donation. I didn’t think-”
“That I’d be willing to consider bringing a small human child under our care?” Saren teased, a glimmer in his eyes that she hadn’t seen in a long time. Faith huffed, putting hands on her hips.
“Hey, can you blame me?” Faith pouted somewhat. “When I first met you, you weren’t exactly pro-human anything.”
“And yet, I married you, settled down to raise children with you, and helped you save your home planet, along with so many others, to repelled an ancient evil.” Saren grinned wider. “Honestly, Shepard, adopting a human infant is hardly as terrifying a concept as I once thought it might be.”
Saren held open the old fashioned door for his wife, allowing her to precede him into the brightly lit playroom. Several well used toys were scattered about, the smell of over-used sanitation products lingering in the air. Saren gagged silently, choosing to stand while Faith sat herself on a small plastic chair obviously meant for someone half her size. She couldn’t help but fidget, her nerves not allowing her to settle. It seemed odd that Saren was the calm one in this situation. Of course, Faith had always assumed that any children they adopted would always be Turians, and she had been fine with that.
However, several months ago, Saren had watched the news and seen the report on how many human children were left without parents still. That had led to Saren confronting Shepard about possibly having a human child of her own. She’d been surprised when he’d asked her if she wanted a biological child like her sister was doing with her husband Garrus. Faith had mulled it over, but decided against it. She had prefered adopting, thinking that it would be some years down the line before they got around to it. After all, with Saren’s school opening in only a few months, she’d thought they’d be too busy to take on another child.
Instead Saren had done all the calling and paperwork and surprised her with how quickly he convinced the adoption agency to consider them as parents. Faith could only imagine how much money he’d had to promise them, considering his being a biotic Turian and a former Spectre. Then again, Faith was considered a war hero now. She wouldn’t be surprised in the slightest to learn that Saren had used her status to push the adoption forward.
All other thoughts vanished as the door opened and the woman reappeared with a chubby eight-month-old seated on her hip. “Here she is! She was found near a refugee camp, but nobody within claimed her. We’ve named her Hannah, and she’s approximately eight months old.” The woman held out the little girl to Faith, who took the wiggling child and cuddled her close. Faith couldn’t help the swift stab of pain that went through her, nor the sad smile that lit her face.
“That was my mother’s name.” She spoke quietly. Saren gave her a supportive hum, crouching down to be eye level with the little girl.
“Charming little thing, isn’t she?” Saren smiled. At the sight of the sharp teeth behind an alien face, the little girl shrieked, burying her face in Faith’s shoulder and crying. Saren was slightly taken aback as his mate comforted the suddenly distraught youngster. The adoption agent gave Saren a sympathetic look.
“She’s probably never seen a real Turian before, but the area where her bunker was located was overrun by Marauders.”
Saren winced, then glanced over at the discontent child. After a few moments, he slowly leaned forward, allowing his subvocals to rumble with comfort and compassion. Faith smiled at him, leaning towards him so the little girl could hear, stroking her back slowly to calm her. At first, she continued to hiccup and whimper. Ever so slowly though she began to relax, leaning heavily into Faith’s shoulder. Saren moved forward, placing his head next to Shepard’s so his throat was by the little one. Faith could feel his whole body vibrating, the rumbling of his second larynx steady and calm.
A tiny hand reached up and patted his throat, forcing Saren to hold still. Under any other circumstance, Saren would retreat and protect the softer, more vulnerable hide of his throat. However, as two brown eyes looked up and stared in wonder, hands seeking to understand, he had to suppress his instincts. Hannah gave a little coo as she roughly stroked at his neck, then sighed and settled against Faith’s shoulder, falling asleep in a matter of moments, her hand still resting on the neck of her new parent.
“What else do we need to do?” Saren asked quietly, his eyes looking towards the agent in question. She stared at them both, a look of wonderment to her expression.
“I think you two will do just fine.” She smiled, then looked down at the folder she’d brought in. “We still have a few things to process, but if all goes smoothly, you should be able to take her home by next week.”
Saren smiled, leaning in to nuzzle his new daughter’s soft, blonde hair. “Welcome to the family, Hannah Arterius.”
Chapter 17: 'Q' is for 'Qui'in'
Warning: This chapter contains adult content, rough sex, dubious consent, and public humiliation.
Faith meets Lorik Qui'in, and believes she's found her way out of the Alliance.
“Why so great a sigh, young miss?”
Faith started, surprised by the gentle tone to the flanging voice. Turning, she saw a tall, broad shouldered Turian, watching her with a look she didn’t recognize. There was something in his manner that triggered her silent alarm, and without thinking, she shied away. Immediately the Turian stepped back, holding out his hands in a non-threatening fashion.
“It’s alright, miss. I mean you no harm.” The Turian spread his mandibles. It was a rather terrifying look, but Faith realised the man was trying to imitate a human smile. Shrugging, she silently told her alarm to calm down, and half-turned back towards the Presidium lake she had been staring at.
“Sorry, just a little tightly-wound right now. Life has become...complicated as of late.”
“Understood. Life has an irritating habit of doing that from time to time. Sometimes sharing a burden can help to lighten it, if you’re of a mind.” The Turian offered. Faith smiled, leaning against the railing.
“It’s family related.” She shrugged, the smile falling off her face. “My twin sister joined the Alliance without talking to me. The same recruiter then bullied me into signing papers as well. It’s only now that I’m alone that I’m able to reflect on what a bad idea all of this is.”
“Military service should be an honor, not a burden. Why the worry?”
Faith grimaced at the Turian’s curious tone. Though she hadn’t had much experience with the species before moving to the Citadel, she knew enough about them to know their views on Military service. As urbane as this gentleman seemed, her problems were likely to seem petty. Still, she shrugged again, looking away.
“I know it might seem childish, but I think Military service is a very bad idea right now.” Faith sighed heavily, noting in passing that the Turian waited politely for her to continue. He seemed genuinely kind and interested. “My sister and I have always done just about everything together, even when it was something the other wasn’t interested in. I’ve taken martial arts for her, and she’s taken singing lessons for me. Usually, however, we discuss things before hand. She wanted to take boxing, for instance, and I was really against it, so she let it drop and we did soccer instead.”
Faith paused, stepping closer to the rail as a family of Salarians passed, greeting them as they walked by rapidly. Faith smiled and gave a slight wave to the three little children romping after their parents.
“Last month a group of Batarian pirates hit our home.” Faith continued in a sober voice, her eyes sad. “Our parents and little sister were killed, our home destroyed, and my sister... “ Faith shook her head. “She hasn’t been the same since. She’s constantly feeling threatened and looking for trouble to jump out of every shadow. She’s awoke screaming from nightmares more times than I care to remember. Hell, she even shaved her head on an impulse because she’s terrified someone would use her long hair against her! I can follow her line of thinking, but I don’t think the Military is actually going to help her with her problems. I’m worried she’s just going to get worse.”
“It could also make her feel more secure and comfortable. Train her how to defend herself so she doesn’t have to fear the unknown anymore. Myself?” The Turian shrugged, giving her another toothy grin. “I used to be terrified of space travel, to the point of nearly passing out. Having done my Military service, I’m now only marginally catatonic when I have to travel.”
Faith chuckled, appreciating the man’s humor. “My dad used to have a saying” ‘Liquor makes the trip quicker.’”
“Sounds like a man after my own gullet.” He chuckled. Faith blinked in confusion, but didn’t ask.
“I just worry so much. And that recruiter was a complete jackass, so my faith in the Alliance isn’t too strong right now.” Faith huffed, deflating a little. The Turian cocked his head curiously at the young woman.
“When do you ship out?”
“Not for another year and a half. So there’s time to make sure my sister’s going to be okay. I just worry.”
“Since you have some time before you leave, perhaps I could buy you a drink some evening?”
The offer came out of nowhere so fast Faith felt like her head should be spinning. A soft blush crept across her face, and she had to stop herself from fidgeting under the tall Turian’s intense gaze. Almost instinctively, Faith returned his questioning look with a coy one.
“A bold offer from a gentleman who has neglected to provide his name.”
The Turian chuckled with good humor. “Where’s the fun in readily providing what can easily be discovered? I suppose I can indulge a fair lady like yourself this one time.” Extending his hand in a friendly fashion, he waited until Faith accepted it. To her surprise, instead of shaking the offered hand, he raised it to his mouth, nuzzling the thin skin of her fingers gently. “The name is Lorik Qui’in. And to whom do I have the delight of entertaining?”
* * *
“I know that look!” Hope’s eyes seemed to dance merrily as she gazed at her sister. It was a look at that Faith hadn’t seen in a long while, and it gave her hope for her sister’s recovery. Faith put on a face of feigned innocence, batting her eyelashes coyly.
“I have no idea what you’re talking about.” Faith parried. Hope glanced around the dorm cafeteria, but all the Alliance soldiers were busy with their own food and friends. Even so, Hope leaned in, her eyes staring straight through Faith’s carefully held walls.
“Oh yes you do. Who is he? What’s his name?!”
“The boy who's been flirting with you!”
“Has someone been flirting with me? Strange that I hadn’t noticed.” Faith suppressed the grin at her twin sister’s scoff.
“Don’t play cute with me, Ms. Trouble. You’ve got that smug look you always wear when you’ve ensnared some poor boy into your web.”
“Truly, what a mighty predator I must be to have caught prey I wasn’t hunting.” Faith teased, accepting the playful punch her sister dove into her shoulder. “Okay, okay! I give! No need to resort to violence.”
Faith huffed, pretending to be defeated. “First off, don’t freak, but it’s an older gentleman.”
“How much older?”
“Old enough that I’m urging you not to freak out.” Faith pointed out, but immediately reached out to reassure her sister when her twin’s face shifted with disapproval. “Don’t worry; nothing inappropriate is happening. We just started talking one day, and since then we keep running into each other when I sneak out of the dorms.”
“If you say so…” Hope didn’t sound convinced, but Faith wrapped her arms around her sibling and gave her a quick hug.
“He’s really sweet and polite, and he treats me like a real lady!” Faith assured her sister. Hope snorted.
“Only ‘cause he doesn’t know you.” Hope bantered.
“Be nice.” Faith chided. “He’s a businessman who works somewhere in the Presidium, and we usually meet by one of the lakes. We’ve had lunch a few times, and we discuss politics, business, and philosophy quite a bit.”
“So long as it doesn’t go beyond friendship, I’m okay. If he lays a hand on you, I’m screaming ‘pedophile’ to the nearest authorities.”
Faith rolled her eyes. “Have some faith in me, Hope. I can guard myself well enough. He won’t put a hand on me unless I want him to, and right now, I don’t.”
Hope’s expression darkened, but she shrugged, turning back to her lunch. “So long as you keep up with your school work.”
Faith just smiled.
* * *
Faith almost purred with pleasure as she curled her body under the thick, heavy comforter sprawled across the strangely curved bed. Lorik hadn’t owned a comforter when they’d first begun dating, but had quickly warmed to the idea when Shepard had dragged him to a bedding store. Now he owned three, and cycled through them whenever his lover decided to stay the night. Which was happening with increasing frequency.
After Faith’s 18th birthday, their relationship had escalated quickly. Already she spent more time at Lorik’s spacious condo than in the cramped military dorm she shared with her sister. It drove her Alliance guardian up the wall every time she snuck out and stayed out, but until Anderson figured out how to disable the cloak on her omnitool, she was free.
Slowly, Faith unwound from under the covers, relishing the sweet burn of her muscles as she stretched. The silk-like material that covered his bed clung to her bare skin like the lingering fingers of a lover as she slowly rose. With slow steps she made her way to the bathroom to begin applying medi gel to the numerous bruises and bite marks. Lorik wasn’t rough, by any means, but she did wish he’d tend to her after sex rather than letting her sleep sore. After fixing up the worst of her injuries, Faith went to the wardrobe to dress herself. Her normal, uninteresting clothing provided by the Alliance lay in a heap on the floor, while the fine dresses and other pieces of cloth Lorik had bought for her hung near his suits.
Faith couldn’t help the soft smile that came to her lips. It had been so overwhelming the first time Lorik had surprised her with an expensive gift. She had felt that it was unnecessary, but Lorik had seemed so crestfallen when she had tried to tell him. Instead, she now greeted every gift with enthusiasm, knowing this was simply Lorik’s way of showing his great affection for her.
Plus, she loved being spoiled.
Faith sighed deeply, knowing that Lorik was going to be busy for most of the rest of the day, alone in his office. Anderson was most likely on the hunt for her, and if she returned to the dorms he’d just give her hell. Ever since he’d seen the bite mark on her neck a few days before her 18th birthday, he’d been hell-bent on finding her Turian lover and slowly murdering him. Faith snorted, the memory of Anderson pressuring her to get a rape kit done filling her with a cold rage. Thankfully, when she had protested against it, he’d stood down. Still didn’t stop him from grounding her and trying to keep her confined to the dorms. There was no lock he could devise that she couldn’t unlock.
As she glanced over at the crumpled, plain clothes on the floor, she felt adamant about not going back to the dorm. Technically, they couldn’t force her to remain now that she was an adult, but that wouldn’t stop them from trying. She still had a few months before they shipped the twins to basic; long enough that she felt she could still get out of her contract. She’d found out after she’d first begun dating Lorik that if she married a Turian, she’d become a member of the Hierarchy, and could potentially back out of her contract since it was considered a conflict of interest. And Lorik was a fine gentleman whom she wouldn’t mind settling down with. Now, if only she could get him to propose…
Her smile transforming into a wicked smirk, Faith reached into the closet and pulled out a short silk robe.
* * *
Lorik looked up as the door to his office opened. He frowned as he saw nothing, the door closing after a few moments. Must be a short, he told himself, making a mental note to call maintenance later. Sighing, he turned back to his computer.
A moment later he was on his feet, hand reaching for the drawer with his firearm as the long window on the front of the office shuttered close, darkening. Lorik felt a growl building in his throat until he heard a familiar giggle. Frowning, he glanced around.
“Faith? Is that you?” He asked cautiously, and suddenly Faith was there, the shimmering after effect announcing louder than words that she’d used the cloaking program he’d given her. She was also dressed only in a flimsy robe.
“Hey there, handsome. Busy day?” Faith spoke coily, looking up at him through long, thick lashes. The growl in Lorik’s throat turned to an interested pur as he looked her over.
“Sadly no, though I have a feeling it’s about to become more interesting.”
Faith gave her lover an impish grin, placing gentle hands on his waist. Lorik shuddered at the contact, the pur intensifying as she slowly pushed him back towards his chair. Seating himself, he leaned back to accept her into his lap, but she just smiled wider as she opened the robe and let it fall to the floor, leaving her body bare. Lorik trilled, a slight smirk to his mandibles as he looked her over. Faith smiled fondly at him as she knelt before him, then accessed her omnitool and opened the windows again. Lorik started with surprise, until he saw Faith kick her robe under his desk then crawl underneath with it. His mandibles fluttered slightly before he pulled up his chair, effectively blocking anyone who came in from seeing the young woman.
Faith couldn’t help grinning as she ran her hands eagerly along Lorik’s legs and across his sensitive spurs. A shudder ran down his body, a slight groan escaping him as her hands reached for the clasps that would free his hips and groin from the tight pants he favored. Already, there was a bulging to his plates that spoke of how aroused he was. Faith couldn’t help herself as she ran the tip of her tongue along the seam between his groin plates. Lorik’s moans became breathy as she teased him, occasionally apply pressure against his sensitive areas with her tongue.
Slowly, his seam eased open, the tip of his blue cock peeking through. Faith trailed kisses along the silky skin as it left the confines of his sheath, until his entire length was free. Licking her lips, Faith nibbled at the ridges underneath, relishing the sound of Lorik’s soft gasp. She could feel him resisting, wanting to maintain his usual calm demeanor. The ability to bring him out of it with just a touch filled Faith with a thrill she’d never expected.
Things progressed easily for a time, but inevitably, given how busy and important Lorik was, someone eventually walked in to discuss something with him. Lorik straightened, pulling his chair in further to effectively block Shepard into the cramped space beneath his desk. Faith listened with a smile as Lorik spoke calmly to his subordinate, obviously thinking that Shepard would wait for the person to leave before continuing. Faith could tell the person was on the opposite side of the desk, and thus couldn’t see Lorik from the waist down. Grinning impishly, Faith deliberately grabbed his swollen cock and squeezed.
Both of Lorik’s legs twitched in shock, and she could see him straighten in his seat as his voice warbled for only a moment. One of his feet nudged her as if to tell her to stop, and Faith grinned bigger. After waiting a moment, her hand still wrapped around his length, she ran her thumb along his ridges. She knew they were his weak point, and after a moment, the muscles in his legs relaxed. Taking that as an invitation, Faith proceeded to lick and suck his blue length, making sure to keep her noise level down. Lorik spoke with his subordinate for several minutes, and Faith could tell he was very close to losing his control as his tone became more irritated.
After what felt like an eternity, the gentleman left, leaving the two of them alone. Lorik quickly moved to lock the door, darken the windows, and shutter them. No sooner was the room secure then Lorik pushed his seat violently back and grabbed Shepard to pull her out from under the desk. For a moment, Faith worried he was angry with her by the intense look on his face, until he grabbed her by her backside and lifted her onto the edge of his desk. Without any preamble, he pushed himself into her and began pounding her with abandon.
Faith gasped at the sudden intrusion, her bones melting as he took control, hefting one her legs over his shoulder to widen the angle of penetration. One hand gripping the edge of the desk to keep him from shoving her off, the other was placed against her lover’s belly as he grabbed her by the hips, his talons pricking her not unpleasantly, as he ground his plates against her softer flesh.
“Damn woman, I’ve been wanting you all day!” Lorik growled, thrusting hard. Faith bit her lip to keep from crying out, knowing full well that the room was not soundproof. However, as Lorik set a hard, fast pace, Faith felt herself slipping. He always seemed to manage to hit just the right spots with her. More sounds escaped her as he mercilessly ravished her, her eyes fluttering shut as her body seemed to lose all sensation other than the overwhelming pleasure mixed with pain.
Lorik was growling, breathing hard and lost in the moment. Faith could tell he wouldn’t last long for the first round. She was grateful for the fact that Turian males could often go multiple rounds before exhaustion took them. She could feel her own climax rising as the desk shuddered with each heavy thrust.
One of Lorik’s hands made it way to the far edge of the desk, gaining a grip on it to keep it from tipping over. Once he had a good hold on it, he allowed his other hand to join. With such a grip, he was able to pull himself and the desk together, giving him an even harsher pace. Faith was unable to stop herself from crying out, her back arching as he abused her sex.
No longer caring if anyone overheard them, the two lovers lost themselves in the moment.
“Faith…! “ Lorik breathed her name, the strain in his voice screaming louder than words that he was ready to peak. Just the sound of it was enough to bring her up with him, her stomach muscles clenching hard as her orgasm tore through her. As her internal muscles clamped violently around him, Lorik cried out, thrusting deep as he spilled inside her.
Her thighs shaking from the exertion, Faith went limp on the desk, her skin prickling in the cold air. Lorik's breathing came in ragged gasps, his form slumping until he rested across her length. Slowly, reality began to return.
“Spirits, I needed that.” Lorik fervently prayed. Faith nodded in agreement. The two of them lay there for several moments, his length slowly retracting. Though Faith normally didn’t mind going multiple rounds with her enthusiastic lover, it was probably best to keep this visit short and sweet. Better to save it until he returned home.
It took a few minutes before the lovers could collect themselves, a slightly embarrassed shuffle to their gait, though Lorik kept glancing at Faith with a small smile. Faith quickly redressed herself, giving her lover one last, lingering kiss before she re-cloaked and quietly escaped his office, leaving Lorik to move his very large, heavy desk back to where it’d been before.
Faith couldn’t help but smile at that sign of her lover’s enthusiasm, though she knew she’d be very sore later.
As Faith left the building, however, the glow left her cheeks as she felt eyes on her. Glancing around the Presidium, she couldn’t see anything overt. Further, she was cloaked, and other than that one boy ages ago, nobody ever had seen her, and he’d been wearing a visor. Pulling her robe tighter around her figure, she forced herself to keep a relaxed pace as she walked back to Lorik’s condo.
As she stepped into the safe confines of the building, she almost ran for Lorik’s private elevator. The feeling of being chased was unbearable, and she’d reached the point where safety mattered more than dignity. No sooner did she press the button to call the elevator than her cloak shimmered and failed. Thankfully, unlike the ancient lifts that the rest of the citadel employed, the modern elevator in the building reached the ground floor quickly. Faith felt a sigh of relief wash over her as she heard the chime alert her to the arrival of her passage to safety.
Before the doors could open, however, she was grabbed roughly from behind. With a shriek, she kicked and struggled, but was no match for the strong arms around her. Her wrists were handcuffed before she was spun around to face her attacker. At the sight of the black armor and N7 logo, her eyes went wide.
“Anderson? What the hell?!” She exclaimed. His frown spoke volumes.
“You were given strict orders not to leave the Alliance compound. You disobeyed. You’re no longer a child, and I shouldn’t have to waste my time hunting you down! A few days in the brig might give you a little perspective on what disobeying a direct order is like for Alliance personnel.” He growled, marching her out through the lobby. Faith felt her face turn red from anger as people looked at her. He was deliberately - publicly - humiliating her! Grinding her teeth, she threw an angry look over her shoulder at her captor.
“I’m not some Alliance bi-”
“But you are!” Anderson snapped, pulling Faith up short. “When you signed those papers, you became a member of the Alliance Military, and we expect certain behavior to be observed while you represent us. You may not have left for basic training yet, but you’re still one of us and you will learn to follow orders!” Anderson barked, effectively silence her. Faith still seethed inwardly, but she knew it was no use arguing.
As they arrived at the brig, she backed up to the door to be uncuffed, rubbing her wrists as they came free. “I don’t suppose you’d be willing to share how you managed to locate me?”
“You’ll have to do better than relying on a cloak if you want to escape an N7 operative.” Anderson gave her a smirk, then sighed. “I’m not doing this to punish you, Faith. It’ll be much worse later on if you don’t shape up now. Take your time in here to think about what you really want.”
He hadn’t even said two words before Faith was rolling her eyes, turning away with a sneer. Of course he didn’t see this as punishment. Nevermind that he’d just marched her across the Presidium, to a taxi, across to the Ward base the Alliance used, and then through the compound to the brig, all while she was wearing nothing more than a skimpy robe, no undergarments, and her activities with Lorik dribbling down her legs.
She would not be forgetting, or forgiving, this humiliation anytime soon.
* * *
Anderson left the fiery redhead to simmer, sighing heartily. No sooner had he exited the entrance to the brig then he saw her counterpart, looking forlorn and downtrodden. With a smile, he placed a familiar hand on her shoulder, causing her to look up at him.
“Thanks for the tip, Shepard.” Anderson grinned. “I would never have guessed certain visors allow you to see through cloaks.”
“Don’t tell her I told you?” Hope begged, fear in her eyes. Anderson nodded in sympathy.
“I won’t. I promise.” He patted the thin girl awkwardly. Her muscles seemed to tense, and her eyes took on an unfriendly note as she looked at him.
“What about her ‘boyfriend’?”
Anderson’s smile melted away, replaced with a similar look.
“I’ll make sure he’s taken care of.”
* * *
Faith was balled up in misery. After two days, they’d brought her fresh clothing, all bearing an Alliance logo on it as if she needed the reminder who she belonged to, and allowed her to shower before depositing her back in the brig. On the third day, they’d escorted Lorik down to she her. It was bad enough she’d been humiliated publicly, now they had to parade her lover in front of her to rub salt into the wound. Lorik was visibly shaken and refused to look her in the eye as he’d told her he didn’t need this level of drama in his life. He thanked her for the wonderful time they’d spent together, then left without a goodbye.
Faith had been crying since, torn between humiliation, depression, and white-hot rage. Though the fact that Lorik had dumped her rather than standing by her meant that the relationship had only ever been superficial to him, she still resented the Alliance, and Anderson in particular, for butting into what was none of their business.
Faith was released from the brig after a week, and she continued to simmer in quiet anger. Though the Alliance once again attempted to restrict her, Faith learned how to sneak away without needing her cloak. She scrambled around, desperate to find some way out of her contract. As the days ticked by and their ship out date approached, Fath felt the first flutters of panic.
Much to her continued dread, the day finally arrived. In less than twenty-four hours, she’d be leaving for Vancouver, where they’d shunt her off into a room to be tested and experimented on, or worse. Anderson stopped by, all excited that the two of them were shipping out and giving Hope all sorts of encouragement and advice. To Faith, he only reminded her to behave herself, advice Faith fully intended to ignore.
As evening descended on the Citadel, Faith decided to escape one last time. Feverently praying to whatever Gods would listen, she set out for the Presidium, hoping to find her salvation.
Chapter 18: 'R' is for 'Relax'
Saren requisitions Shepard for a very important mission.
Saren felt his entire body move behind the pained groan that finally was freed from it’s long confinement buried deep inside his chest. Every muscle seemed to complain all at once, reminding him of every painful dodge, near-miss, and acrobatic maneuver he had done over the past few months. He was exhausted. Bone weary, muscle aching, stomach growling, head swimming, eyes blurring, joint grating exhausted.
As he pulled himself back into his shuttle, setting the automated driver to return to his ship in orbit, he all but collapsed into a chair. It’d been a long while since he’d taken a break. For the past year he’d been on the move, pausing only long enough to drop Shepard off with the Alliance so she could be useless to them once more.
Thinking of the redhead caused rumbling anger to seep through Saren’s tired form. He could have really used the human female’s assistance these past few months, though he would never admit that to anyone besides himself. The idea that he had to return her to the Alliance every six months or so as part of their agreement, knowing full well they were going to stick the energetic young woman behind a desk, made Saren’s blood boil. He hadn’t spent so much time and effort training the young woman just so she could be wasted in mediocrity. Why the Alliance wouldn’t, at the very least, utilize her many skills for themselves was a continued source of bafflement for the Spectre.
The more he thought of the injustice of it all, the more firm he became in his belief that he needed to do something; anything. Before he’d even returned the shuttle to his ship, he’d made up his mind.
* * *
“Sir, you already had the use of Yeoman Shepard for-” The orderly had to pause in his objection as Saren all but stormed through him, heading in the direction his omnitool told him Shepard was hiding. Several Alliance officials had already objected to Saren’s presence, but as had become his custom, Saren ignored them and proceeded towards his objective. The orderly stopped following Saren, calling towards his superiors that Saren was on his way in. The Spectre couldn’t help but snort at their futile efforts to impede him.
As Saren marched through yet another set of doors, he could easily make out his young assistant standing at the end of the hallway, arguing with her ‘superiors’. Her bright red hair was pulled into a tight bun, a style he knew she didn’t care for but did so because of the Alliance’s many ridiculous rules. Saren marched down the hallway, not glancing as people dove to the sides to get out of his path. As well they should; pathetic humans.
A slight smile tugged at Saren’s mandibles as he spied a small bag by Shepard’s feet. Good, she’d received his message and was already prepared to depart, meaning less time would be wasted.
“-obviously here for a reason!” Shepard’s irritated voice reached Saren’s auditory canals. He considered pausing to hear what they were discussing, but realized he really didn’t care. He was there to retrieve Shepard and leave, nothing more. Shepard turned as she heard him approach, flashing him a quick smile before turning back to the officers standing before her.
“Saren Arterius.” One of the officers spoke. Saren noted the lack of his Spectre title and considered carving the man up the middle for his insolence. “As previously stated, you only have the use of Yeoman Shepard for six months out of a year and you’ve already- hey wait!”
Saren didn’t bother to acknowledge the Alliance officials as he bent quickly, grabbing Shepard's bag and then hooking her elbow with his own, effectively dragging her back the way he had come. Shepard stifled a giggle, her storm blue eyes dancing with merriment as the officials didn’t follow them, instead opting to shout complaints and objections after the two.
“Well, this is certainly an improvement.” Shepard teased. Saren snorted.
“An improvement of what, Ms. Shepard?”
“Rather than delving into your hatred of humanity and smearing the wall with those insulting bastards, you ignored them with great disdain.” Shepard mimed wiping a tear away. “I’m so proud of you.”
Saren sighed, his shoulders sagging slightly before he realised they were still being watched and straightened. Shepard raised an eyebrow curiously at the sound, but Saren shook his head. Nodding in understanding, the two were quiet as they made their way back to the docks.
* * *
The flight to the Citadel was done in silence, the entire crew respecting Saren’s strained mood. Faith wanted desperately to ask about whatever mission he had felt was important enough to risk admonishment from the Council for breaking the rules they’d set down about acquisition. However, one glance at Saren’s tired and wan form, and Shepard had busied herself spoiling the poor Spectre, cooking up a lavish meal large enough to feed a small army in an attempt to mollify his dark mood. Whatever mission details she would need, he’d tell her when he was ready. Either that or she’d have to play yet another guessing game as Saren judged her performance.
As Saren marched through one of the many shopping districts on the Citadel wards without pausing, however, Shepard couldn’t help but wonder. They’d already passed their usual stores for restocking without Saren even glancing at them. Instead, he seemed intent on whatever goal he had in mind. As they entered the area where Saren tended to have clothing tailored to his tastes and shop for high-quality accessories, Faith finally spoke up.
“Another high-profile event we need to attend? Kinda last second notice…” Shepard commented, looking up at Saren to see if he was finally ready to clue her in. Instead, he bustled past the stores, and Faith resisted the urge to scream. To make matters more confusing, Saren finally came to a stop, turning to enter a store with muted lighting and a friendly Asari standing behind a wooden counter. A small waterfall tinkled just behind the Asari, tumbling over natural rocks.
“Spectre Arterius and Ms. Shepard, welcome! You’re eagerly awaited. Please have a seat in our tranquility room, and your therapist will be right with you.” The hostess smiled, motioning with a smooth, blue arm towards several seats and couches positioned in a loose circle. Without a word, Saren sank into one of the chairs obviously made for a Turian, his head falling back as he let out a long sigh. Rather than seating herself, Shepard crossed her arms and stood in front of the Spectre. Silence reigned for several moments before Shepard finally spoke up.
“There’s no mission.” It wasn’t a question. Saren frowned at the Specialist’s tone, resenting the accusatory sound of it.
“One of the more difficult things to learn for a Spectre, and those who work with one, is to respect one’s limitations. It is often humbling to remember that nobody, no matter how talented or intelligent they are, can work forever. Turians especially have difficulty with this concept, preferring to work tirelessly until they eventually collapse and are forced into vacation by their physicians. I myself am guilty of overworking myself frequently, and occasionally must force myself to tend to my psychological and physiological needs.”
Faith continued to stand, a single, red eyebrow raised in an incredulous manner. “And I’m here because…?”
Saren shrugged, settling more comfortably into his chair. “I hate getting pampered alone.”
Faith laughed quietly, shaking her head. Saren flicked a mandible into a grin. “Besides, you’ve more than earned a day of self-care after everything you have put up with the past several years, both from myself and the Alliance. Add to the fact that the Alliance officials were being quite rude towards me, and I’d say this trip was more than worth the lecture I’ll get from Councilor Sparatus later.”
Faith finally took a seat, lounging comfortably. “So exactly what are we having done today, Spectre Arterius?”
“I’ve booked us both ninety minute massages, after which we’re getting facials, then what you humans call ‘mani-pedis’. We should finish in enough time to make it to the dinner reservations I booked us at a very nice restaurant, and then we can collapse at my favorite suite.”
Faith grin had continued to spread as her Turian counterpart had spoke. When he finished, Faith nodded with satisfaction, seating herself and lounging back comfortably.
“Best. Mission. Ever.”
Chapter 19: 'S' is for Star
Shepard shares a little piece of her history.
Faith frowned as she read over her report yet again, a hand unconsciously raised to a spot just above the center of her breasts. Her fingers massaged the top of her breast bone, thumb and index finger circling one another as though she was playing with something between them.
Saren watched her, a disapproving frown plastered on his face.
“That’s the third time you’ve done that, Shepard.”
Faith jumped slightly, his gravelly voice loud in the quiet space. Even Nihlus, who had been napping at the kitchen table, sat up suddenly and blinked owlishly.
Saren made a scratching motion with his hand on his chest. “It’s obviously a habit you learned somewhere, one you should take care not to indulge. Physical habits can be a horrible give-away when you’re working under cover. While it’s good to mimic a false one, better to break a habit before it betrays you.”
Faith quickly dropped her hand to her side, blushing. “Sorry, just… I hadn’t even realized I was doing it.”
“Hence the reason I’m bothering to vocalize my awareness of it. Be mindful of your own behavior and body language, Shepard.”
Faith couldn’t help grinning impishly. “Such as leaning back on you right leg and crossing your arms when you lecture?”
“Or placing one arm behind you while the other gestures constantly as you pace?” Nihlus added gleefully. Saren snarled.
“She doesn’t need your help, Nihlus.” Saren growled, before turning a baleful eye towards Shepard. “And I can do without the snide comments, human. I know how to control myself. You do not.” Saren leaned back and began to cross his arms, then caught himself and settled uncomfortably against the wall. Nihlus started laughing behind him, and almost instantly an argument broke out between them. Since it was all screeched in a closed dialect, Faith couldn’t understand what was being said. Given how heated the argument got, she was somewhat glad.
As the fight quieted down, Faith prudently brought Saren a glass of wine, knowing it would help to mellow him. He was still struggling to control his temper, and any embarrassment on his part caused him to become waspish. Wine helped to mullify him, and Faith considered it a slight apology on her part for instigating the fight. Saren grunted as he accepted the glass, as close to a thanks as she’d ever received.
“I used to wear a necklace all the time.” Faith explained. “Pretty much daily from the day my parents took us to pick them out when we turned eight, until I lost it at fourteen. I used to fiddle with it all the time, and I guess the habit stuck.”
Saren finished his drink, passing her the empty glass. “I take it that this necklace had some significance since you wore it so often.”
Faith nodded, a fond smile on her face. “We were born and raised on Mindior, as you well know. It’s mostly a farming colony, but there’s some ore or something that they mine there as well. The way I understand it, there’s this opaque rock that they were finding along with the ore, and rather than just chucking it, they gave it to jewelers to see if it could be sold. It wasn’t the sturdiest of stones, and wasn’t considered very pretty, but they were apparently determined to sell it for something. So they made star pendants out of them and marketed them to kids. ‘Every Mindior girl should have her star’. They began a tradition that when a girl born on Mindior turned eight, she should get her star necklace. It was a way of telling the galaxy where she came from.” Faith barked a laugh. “In all honesty, it was just a way of making some quick money. Even so, it caught on. All the girls in our class had them.”
Saren snorted, giving Faith an odd look. “ I didn’t think you were the type to get swept up into that kind of mentality. You’ve been quite outspoken about other types of socially enforced behavior.”
Faith laughed. “Very true. But I kind of liked this tradition. No matter what they were trying to sell us, it actually was a nice tradition, one I was happy to take part in. Going to pick out your star was a big deal. Each girl would examine dozens and pick out the one they thought best. Hope wanted us to have identical stars since we were always doing everything together, but I kinda wanted one that reflected me and my personality. And wouldn’t you know, I found mine in the discard bin.”
Both Faith and Nihlus jumped slightly as Saren burst out laughing, his head thrown back as he sagged against a wall. Faith stared at him in surprise, an expression that slowly melted into irritation as he continued on. Finally, he shook his head, looking back at the human in hateful glee.
“I’m sorry my dear, that was horribly rude.” Saren said, sounding completely insincere. “You were saying?”
Faith glared at him, then smiled sweetly. “Yes, I got my star from the discard bin. And yes, I dealt with uncreative, uncouth, immature individuals teasing me about that for most of my childhood.”
“One for her side.” Nihlus grinned. Saren snorted, shaking his head. Faith just continued smiling.
“All the stars looked exactly alike. All opaque with very slight variations of color. My sister insisted on finding one that was flawless. Me? When I passed the discard bin, the light happened to catch on a certain star. I pulled it out and saw the flaws inside, shaped like lightning fanning out from the center. It caused light to refract inside it, flashing colors when you moved it from side to side. It was beautiful. So I took it. My mom tried to talk me out of it, but my dad thought it was perfect too.
“I wore that cheap chain necklace every day, thinking that it was appropriate to take a small piece of Mindior with me wherever I went. I got teased a lot about it, but I felt that it really reflected me. Nobody is perfect, and my flaws make me beautiful. At least, that was the idea.”
Saren scoffed, shaking his head. “Childish.”
Faith shrugged. “Maybe so, but I’m not ashamed of it.”
“So you wore a necklace every day from when you were eight to when you were fourteen? No wonder you developed that habit.” Nihlus smiled at her, one she returned. “What happened to it? Outgrew it?”
“Sadly, no. There was a huge pond near our town, and every winter, if it froze enough, we’d go skating on it. There was a section of the pond that was much deeper than the rest, and usually it didn’t freeze enough to make it safe, so they’d rope it off. In an act of adolescent stupidity, I sailed under the rope and onto the unsafe ice and fell through. All the ice around me broke, and even though I could kinda swim, I was wearing clothing not really appropriate for the activity. Thankfully, my sister takes looking out for my sorry, clumsy butt seriously and she jumped in and rescued me. It wasn’t until after we were out of the water that I realized my necklace had come off. When it got warm enough to go swimming in the pond, I went diving a few times to try and find it. Even bought some snorkeling gear to help me stay under for longer. But it was too deep and too murky. I never found it.”
“Foolishness.” Saren looked at her disapprovingly. Faith put a hand on her hip and eyed him critically.
“And you never did anything stupid or silly when you were a youngster? You were always obedient and perfect?”
“For the most part.”
“Why am I not surprised?”
“He’s lying.” Nihlus grinned impishly, ignoring the reproachful look Saren threw at him. “All Turian boys go through a misbehaving phase. It’s called being a kid.”
“Of course I misbehaved, but I was not disobedient. I respected my brother and his authority.” Saren shook his head. Faith laughed with good humor.
“One of these days I’m gonna find out what you were like as a kid.”
“That day is not today.” Saren gave her a smug look. “As it stands, my original comment is important: suppress these physical habits. To that end, I would suggest wearing a necklace covered in blue oil that you normally would ‘fiddle with’. If you touch it, you’ll get the oil all over your fingers. That should deter you from touching it.”
“That’s amazingly tame for you.” Faith mockingly complimented him. Saren sighed, rolling his neck.
“Or we could coat it in a contact poison. That would work even better.” He drawled sarcastically. Faith chuckled.
“That sounds more like you.”
“Oh shut up.”