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Shepard stands in the doorway.  For once, Port Observation is empty.  No arguments, no drunken singing.  Even the usual smell of spilled alcohol and reheated burritos is missing.  The squad is asleep, or they should be.  And as for the rest of the ship's crew...  Well, there's Joker.  He won't leave the bridge, not now, not even to sleep.  Not with everyone else gone.

Gone. Kidnapped.  His people.  Fucking taken.  He draws in a deep breath, and slowly unclenches his fist.  The hand falls, fingertips trailing down the bulkhead.

He steps into the room.  The ceiling lights, sensing his presence, blink on.  He turns them back off and stands there, in the dark, staring out the window.  Not looking for anything, or at anything.  Just watching with unfocused eyes the slow drift of a thousand distant points of light as the ship slides through the night. 

It's quiet.  There's the sound of the drive core.  It's audible, even at sublight speeds, and when they're running FTL there's nowhere on the ship where the lowest harmonics can't be felt, a pulse heard in bone and sinew.  But that's normal, always there, and it doesn't really register anymore.  It's the other sounds that are missing now.  The hiss of doors opening and closing.  Ringing footsteps on the bridge.  Mugs being put down carelessly on consoles.  The inevitable swearing when someone's elbow catches the lip, spilling coffee over the edge.   Terse commands from the officer on deck, and equally terse reports from each station.  Trays clinking.  Dirty jokes and laughter in the mess.  The sounds of the ship.  Flowing through the corridors, like blood in the body.  The secret, inner life of the Normandy, suddenly stolen.

All he can really hear now is his own breathing.  To his ears, it sounds labored.  Harsh.  Tense.   Like he's in pain, but he doesn’t feel any.  Or it doesn't register.  Either way.  The breathing's not a good sign.  If he were under his command, he'd be ordering himself to take some leave.  To rest and recharge, or decompress, or whatever they call it when they mean get your shit together.  Yeah.  He should do that.  Maybe in between finding his crew and making the bastards who took them wish they hadn't.  Or maybe after that.  Might have to wait.  All the good vacation places are always booked way in advance.  He should have timed this better.

He shakes his head.  This isn't helping. 

"What the fuck's wrong with you, Marine?"  He says it out loud, just so he can hear it. 

Shit, you're not even a Marine.  Not in this life.

His right hand is rubbing the back of his neck.  He stops himself.  Stupid, pointless habit.  All that tissue was completely rebuilt when they brought him back.  Top grade muscle fiber, fresh out of the vat, no previous owners.  The old ache is long gone, left behind on the operating table in a pile of freeze-dried meat scraps.  He can't even remember how he got that injury, back in the other life.   Shrapnel wound that healed bad?  Sparring match?  Falling down drunk?  He tries to think back to a time before it started acting up.  Maybe... Officer school?  Basic training?  Shit.  It didn't hurt before he enlisted, for sure.  Right?

He's rubbing the back of his neck again, and this time he doesn't fight it.  Just closes his eyes, and leans his forehead against the window.  It feels good on his skin.  Or whatever passes for skin. 

The noise of the door opening, just then, is extremely unwelcome.  A wave of something like anger washes over him.  Whoever it is—Christ.  The whole fucking ship is empty and they have to come here

He gives himself a mental slap.  Get a grip, shithead.  If they're here, not sleeping, they're looking for you, and it's important.  Do your fucking job.

He opens his eyes, and straightens up.

"What can I do for you—oh.   Legion.  Everything okay?"

"Shepard-Commander.  All systems are nominal."

He can't help smiling a little at that.  "What brings you here?"  He gestures at the window.  "This amazing view?"

Legion's head tilts from side to side, considering.  "No.  But we will observe it, if you recommend." 

Yeah, geth aren't big on irony.  Shepard moves over a little so that Legion can stand at the window.  Not that there isn't plenty of room for both of them, there.  It's a big window.  But it's a social thing.  If there's someone else there, you don't stand right in the middle like the whole fucking thing belongs to you.  He wonders if geth even notice these niceties.  If they do, they probably don't give a shit.

Legion comes up beside him, moving with deceptively light footfalls.  The glare from the geth's flashlight head reflects harshly off the glass, destroying any possibility of night vision.  Shepard blinks, trying to get his eyes to adjust, and has to look away.  Legion makes a noise, equal parts deep tones and synthesized stuttering.  It sounds sort of... apologetic.  The light quickly dims to a soft white glow. 

"Thanks," Shepard says.

Legion nods.

They stand in silence for a while, staring out into space.

Shepard remembers the conversation on the bridge, before they hit Heretic Station.  "Windows are a structural weakness, right.  So I guess you guys don't stand around looking at space much?"

"No."

He glances at Legion.  "We—humans, at least—do.  Originally, windows were there to let light in.  Out here, it's more the opposite.  But I don't think we'd want to build a ship without them.  I guess you don't see space the way we see it, though."

"Every sensor has a limited range and resolution, in addition to other imperfections.  In organics, these limitations interact with a perception of scale that is felt rather than consciously processed.  Your senses are modulated by chemical concentrations in the nervous system.  They are visceral.  Individually subjective.  Geth do not have this experience.  We understand the parameters of our sensors.  We do not depend on inefficient biological mechanisms.  Our perception is far more accurate."

"Uh huh," Shepard says, with some amusement. "Now, why do I get the feeling you're leading up to something?"

"Regardless of perceptual accuracy," Legion says, "Organic or synthetic, when we look into space, we all extract the same inescapable truth."

Shepard stares at a cluster of young stars in the middle distance, and thinks.  The Normandy is a fast ship, for her size.  At maximum operational FTL, like they're doing now, she can easily cover a dozen light years in a day.  That speed would have been unimaginable, just decades ago.  A triumph of technology, or diplomacy, depending on how you look at it.  She's a great ship.  A class of her own.  On any normal night, you could go down to deck four and get an earful from the engineers on that topic.  Loud and proud.

But considered from outside, objectively, she and her crew might as well not exist at all.  Outside is infinite darkness.  Except for the brief violence of a star or the faint breath of a dust cloud, outside is empty, cold. Vastly, supremely uncaring.  From the perspective of the universe, the fate of this crew, this ship—hell, the fate of this galaxy, or any other, changes nothing.  Mere rounding error.

"The inescapable truth," he repeats, slowly.  "You mean, that there's a whole lot of nothing much out there?   And it doesn't give a shit about us?"

"Yes.  The enduring fact of the ultimate insignificance of all sapient lifeforms, and their concerns."

Shepard turns to face Legion.  He positions himself so his shoulder is resting against the glass, and his arms are folded.  He wonders if Legion has been around humans long enough to understand that this posture means: Go on, I'm listening.

Legion's head swivels towards him.  For a second he's looking right into that pale glow. 

"Go on," he says.  "I'm listening."

The light swings back to the window.  Legion says, quietly, "Perhaps it is the knowledge that we are so few, and the totality of our existence so infinitesimal, that makes us cling so tenaciously."

"To life?"

"To the things that we cling to."

Shepard gives Legion an appraising look.  "Which are... what?"

"Beliefs.  Emotions.  Objects associated with the foregoing."

"Wait.  You're saying all sapient lifeforms cling to these things?"

Legion steps back from the window, and moves into the center of the room.

"Shepard-Commander, we sense that you are disheartened by the loss of the ship's crew.  But your squad is with you, and we are of one mind.  We will rescue the crew, if they still live."

Shepard raises an eyebrow.  "I know.  That's sure as hell the fucking plan of action."  He stares at Legion.  "Why'd you come looking for me?"

"We..."  Legion looks away, then back again.  "We have questions."

Shepard waits. 

After a few moments, he says, "And are these questions that you're going to ask me, or are you saving them for someone else?"

Slowly, with what seems like reluctance, Legion says, "When we first arrived on board, you requested our cooperation in playing a prank on Flight Lieutenant Moreau—"

"Joker."

"—the outcome of which was judged successful."

"Yeah."

The flaps around Legion's head move erratically.  "We were pleased to assist in efforts to improve crew cohesion."

"Okay.  That's not a question."

"As we understand it, the basis for this prank was Joker's desire to observe a clandestine sexual encounter between yourself and this platform."

"Jokes tend to stop being funny when you explain them, Legion.  But yeah.  Basically."

"Our question is: why?"

He tries to cough to cover it, but incredulous laughter spills out of him.  So these are the thorny philosophical questions the geth ponder while others sleep.  And he knows, as soon as the thought flashes into his mind, that it's unfair.  Yet, even as he chastises himself for the unworthiness of the idea—that thought, somehow, strikes him as funny too.  Not funny in a slap-you-on-the-back-and-buy-another-round kind of way.  He feels oddly... unstable.  Off- balance.  Like an overfilled mug spilling coffee onto the nav console.  He can't stop laughing.  In between paroxysms he catches glimpses of Legion, head cocked to one side, waiting for him to recover.  Waiting for an answer.  He imagines the geth inside, all hunched around a giant nanoscale clock tower, calmly counting the seconds pass.  If there's one thing synthetics are good at, it's waiting.  Patience comes easily to the well-calibrated.  He bites down on that thought, sucks in air, struggles for composure. 

Finally he clears his throat, and slumps back against the window.  "Sorry about that.  I just...  Anyway.  You asked why.  First off, Joker likes to watch.  And he gets off on knowing things about people."

Legion makes a puzzled noise.

"I don't mean literally.  Well.  Maybe, literally.  Never mind.  Second, I suspect he's a romantic.  He wants to see his CO consorting with the enemy.  A forbidden passion, a savage lust set against the backdrop of a galaxy torn apart by war.  That sort of shit."

"Shepard-Commander, we are not the enemy."

"No.  But it's close enough for porn."

Legion's flaps raise and lower, and a humming noise issues from around chest level.  Shepard guesses he should take this to mean... hell, he has no fucking idea what that means.

"There's more."  He takes a deep breath.  "You know about him and EDI, right?"

"We have detected indications of an understanding between them."

"Yeah.  He's taken flak for it.  And he isn't known for his sensitivity to anyone's opinion, but I think underneath all that attitude he's hoping for some kind of validation.  You know?  That it's ok.  That he's...  I don't know.  That he's not the only one."

A couple of moments pass. 

Legion says, "The Citadel Council declared artificial intelligences illegal.  Your Alliance was heavily censured for conducting unlicensed AI research.   According to the law, EDI should not exist.  Why do you permit this relationship?"

Shepard snorts.  "Maybe you haven't noticed, Legion.  There isn't a whole lot of legal going on here.  This isn't the Alliance.  We're on a Cerberus ship, for fuck's sake."

"Even Cerberus imposed severe restrictions on EDI."

"Yeah.  But it was kinda inevitable that she got loose.  All intelligent life strains towards freedom.  You might know something about that."

"That is true.  But you have not answered our question."

"If I didn't know better—" Shepard flicks an eyebrow at Legion—"I'd think you were developing the organic habit of asking questions you already know the answers to."

"We have several hypotheses.  We do not have consensus.  We would like to hear your answer."

"Look, I don't know exactly what Joker and EDI have going, but whatever it is..."  He falls silent.  "Shit.  Life's too short, Legion.  I say... take it where you can get it.  It's too late when you're dead.  At least for most people."

He feels Legion's gaze on him, even as he turns back to the window and looks out into the void.  Fuck. Well, this is your fault.   You brought it up, you idiot.  He braces one hand against the hull, and waits.

"Shepard-Commander, what was it like?  To—"

"Die?"  He stares at his hand, gripping the edge of the window.

"Yes."

He forces the hand to let go, to relax.  "It... didn't take long.  A few minutes.  Or at least it seemed that way to me, at the time."  Individually subjective perception, right.  Inefficient biological mechanisms.  In those days, of course, he was 100% organic.  And considered safe for public consumption. 

"I lost consciousness when I ran out of air.  But afterwards, when they brought me back, I recalled it being... painful."  He closes his eyes, remembering.  "And dark.  Cold.  Unpleasant."  That moment, when it hit him, when he knew, when he truly understood he was dying...  "We lost twenty-one others that day.  I wasn't the only one.  But humans have a saying: Everybody dies alone."

Shit.  He's rubbing the back of his neck again.  And this time it really does fucking hurt, goddamnit. 

"I should try to get some sleep, Legion."  He moves towards the door.

"Shepard-Commander.  May we—?" 

He stops.  There's... there's a hand on his shoulder.

A firm, gentle grip, fingers splayed so he can feel the shape of each fingertip through the fabric of his uniform.  And the body attached to that hand is taking a step closer. 

Carefully, he says, "Legion, what are you—"

Two hands on his shoulders now, kneading.  Rhythmic pressure on the back of his neck, smoothing the tension away.  The hands are—

"Your hands are warm."  It sounds ridiculous as soon as he says it.

"Yes.  We have temporarily rerouted heat dissipation channels to facilitate interaction with organics.  The default configuration optimized for thermal-signature stealth will be restored before we enter combat."

"Very thoughtful of you."  His voice sounds shaky.  Ah, fuck.  That feels really good.

"We would be more effective if you removed your clothing," Legion says, calmly.

Shepard blinks.  Christ.  If this was a human—hell, if this was any organic, he'd know exactly what that meant. 

What the fuck does this mean?

One way to find out.

Really?

Why the hell not.

He pulls his shirt off.

There's the sound of a bottle opening, and then liquid warmth pours onto his skin.  A faint scent of—what?  Coconut?  He wasn't expecting anything, but of all the things he wasn't expecting, this ranks pretty high on the list.

Keeping his voice steady, he says, "Where'd you get the oil, Legion?"

"From First Officer Lawson."

Shepard grits his teeth. "She sent you to give me a back rub."

"No.  Some time ago, we observed an interaction between her and Mr. Taylor in the Armory.  This bottle of oil was subsequently left behind."

"Okay...  and you took it, because...?"

Legion kneads harder, and says, "Try to relax."

Shepard lets the subject drop, because he's been doing that a lot lately where Legion's concerned, and tries to relax.  Against all expectation, Legion's good at this.   The knots in his muscles are melting away.  Strong knuckles dig into his skin on either side of his spine, pressing down as they move outward along his shoulder blades.  He lays his palms flat on the window in front of him, letting it take more of his weight, and closes his eyes.

By the time Legion gets down to the small of his back, he's breathing slow, and deep.

"You learned this from spying on Jacob and Miranda?"

"They were aware of our presence in the general area.  We also obtained information from references available on the extranet."

No doubt.  How did sapient lifeforms ever live without it.

Legion's hands are inching slowly down, into the waistband of his pants.  Shepard realizes he's holding his breath at about the same moment that the hands reach his ass and squeeze.

Suddenly he's breathing hard again.  Fucking hell, that was intent.  Beyond a shadow of a doubt.  If this was an organic—there'd be no mistaking that—it's got to be—surely Legion can see how he reacted to that—

No.  No, wait.  Use your words.

He licks dry lips.  "Legion.  Is this going where I think it's going?"

He hears a short, low whirring noise, feels the air move as the flaps around Legion's head open and close, then a kind of truncated gurgling.  Somehow, it all manages to convey amusement

"We are unable to directly access your thoughts.  Our processors lack a compatible interface.  However, your physical responses appear to indicate you have interpreted our intent correctly."

Shepard turns, feels the hands release their grip and peel away.   He faces Legion, and looks into that soft glowing light. 

"Legion, I appreciate the offer, but...  what can I do for you?"

"You have already done more for us than any other organic has."

Evasive bastards.  "That's not what I meant.  This isn't about that.  Legion, we're talking about sex—"

"We understand what you meant."

"Do you?  You don't have access to my thoughts, remember."

Legion moves a little closer.  "We have considered this thoroughly.  We have consensus."  And one oil-slick hand slides back onto his body, from his hip, up along his right side, onto his chest, the thumb idly circling a nipple as it passes.

Damn.  Credit where it's due.  You're not going to say no to that.

You mean you don't want to say no to that.  But in your questionable mental state... is this a good idea?

No, standing around feeling sorry for yourself is a much better idea.  Idiot.

But—

Legion reaches out for his hand.  Palm against palm, three geth fingers lace themselves between his.

Okay. 

If this is happening—and it is—there's no room for less than total commitment.

So he sinks back against the window and lets his gaze wander over Legion's body.  At the articulated sections of Legion's neck.  The hard, partially oxidized plates that cover Legion's chest and arms.  That stupid piece of his old N7 armor.  That, in particular, should be a turnoff.  At the very least it should be... weird.  But it's—fuck.  Be honest.  It's hot.  Joker was right about that.

He says, hoarsely, "Come here."  Reaches out with both arms, pulling Legion close.  Their bodies press together.  The weight.  The cool alloy against his skin.  Synthetic flesh, alien, yet hauntingly familiar.   And in there, somewhere, in that strange, intricate, edifice of muscle and metal, somewhere in a cold, dark substrate, a thousand geth.  A thousand points of light, each one a life.

His exploring fingertips trace a network of scratches, pits, and gouges.  He recognizes the shape of one, the impression of a flattened shotgun slug.  From a human weapon, maybe?  Battle scars.  Every firefight adds a few new ones.  Most are just on the surface, and aren't worth doing anything about.  You get used to them.  They go unnoticed, until one day, there's a hole that goes right through you.  He presses his lips to an armored shoulder.  Breathes in a faint scent of conductive fluid and ozone, and smiles.

"Shepard-Commander—"

"Please.  Drop the Commander shit."

"Shepard—?" Legion stutters to a halt.

"Good enough.  Yes?"

"Geth do not experience physical pleasure."

"I remember.  I remember all the things you say about yourselves."  He runs his fingers over Legion's skin, wondering at the texture of it.  He has no idea what geth are made of, apart from the obvious.  This is something smooth, almost plastic, but dense, flexible, and, if memory serves, with immense tensile strength.  It tastes—hmmm.  Sort of slightly metallic.  But not unpleasant.  Not at all. 

"What are you doing?" Legion asks.  Shepard can't be sure, but he thinks he hears a tremor in the voice. 

He doesn't look up from the wet patch his tongue is leaving on Legion's upper arm.  "What I'm doing should be pretty obvious."

"Why are you doing that?"

"I'll stop if it bothers you."  He stops.  "Does it?"

"No."

Shepard smiles, and moves his hands onto Legion's hips.  "Why?  Because it gives me pleasure.  To touch you.  Taste you.  And to appreciate your... fine construction."

Legion makes a quiet, rising sound.  Shepard lets his hands fall onto the backs of Legion's thighs, and says, "Yeah, that's pretty much how I feel right now."  He proves it by pulling their lower bodies close, pressing his erection against Legion's armored abdomen.  "Feel that?"

"Yes."

"Good.  I wasn't sure you could."

He leans in and kisses Legion on the neck.  Legion's arms go up around him.   He can feel the muscles flexing, shifting under the skin as they move to circle him.  He takes a moment to enjoy that.  Warm arms, holding him close.  That's got to be one of the top twenty best things in life. Maybe top ten.

When he feels a hand sliding towards his ass again, he walks them, holding each other, over to the couch, and gently pushes Legion down into it. 

Legion watches him as he finishes undressing.  The pale white glow focuses, as if drawn by gravity, on his cock, and stays there, unwavering.  Like a fucking targeting reticle.  Watching it watch him makes him throb.  It seems the geth have a pretty good handle on body language after all.

"Shit, Legion.  You sure know how to make a guy feel good about himself."  

He slings his pants over the back of a chair and climbs onto the couch, straddling Legion's thighs.  As soon as he's got his knees down there's a hand on his ass and another on his cock.  Squeezing.

He leans forward, bends over, lays down a trail of kisses where Legion's shoulder meets the neck.  He vaguely remembers that there's a couple of high sensitivity pressure sensor arrays there.  There, and here, down under the arms, along the sides of the body.  Legion's primary power module is here, so it stands to reason there might be thermal sensors somewhere nearby... was that one?  It tasted different from the rest.  And it got a reaction.  Either that, or geth are ticklish.  He licks it again.

The hand gripping his cock tightens.  Shepard straightens up and watches it stroke him, feeling Legion's smooth, warm synthetic skin against his.  He lets his gaze come up to meet the pale glow.

"I wish you could feel how good that feels," he says softly.

"There are nine hundred and forty-six separate data feeds being recorded, including your vital signs and other physical responses."

"What do you plan to do with nine hundred and forty-six feeds?"

"Archive them.  In addition, all available high-level processes are analyzing them.  Analyzing you."

Shepard grins.  "I like it when you talk dirty."

Legion's hands stop moving.  "Consider that when we upload this data, all geth will be able to experience what we are experiencing.  To understand something of what it is to be organic.  To know how you respond when we do... this."

A thumb slides slickly over the head of his cock, and Shepard groans.  Two gasping breaths later, he's grappling with a searing image in his mind, like a distant scene seen through shimmering heat waves.  An army of geth platforms, marching through the desert on a nameless planet.  He's standing next to the shuttle, waiting for a transmission to be patched through.  The geth pass him, and their heads turn as one.  All of them, giving him a knowing look.

He's not sure if he finds the prospect horrifying, or arousing.  He corrects himself.  Be fair.  No reason it can't be both.  Right now, arousing has the upper hand.  He wants—god, he wants—

"Legion."  He looks deep into the heart of the glow.  "Fuck me."

Legion is completely still.  Shepard counts the heartbeats.  On four, the hand on his ass moves.  He exhales, closes his eyes, loosens his hips a little.  There's the scent of coconut oil again.  Then the hand is back.  One finger circles slowly, tracing a warm, winding path down his back, across his ass cheeks.  Sliding between them.  Circling.   

Fuck, yes.  He breathes into Legion's shoulder, short, harsh, breaths.  Opens his eyes, and looks into that unfathomable gaze, knowing the look on his own face is an agony of desire.  Lunges for Legion's neck, and licks it hungrily.  Feeling the warm metal moving under his tongue.  And moaning as the teasing finger pushes deep into him.

Legion begins to thrust, a slow, controlled rhythm.  

Oh hell yes.  Nicest feelings in the world?  Definitely in the top ten.

Legion's other hand resumes stroking his cock.  Top five and climbing.    

"Shit.  That feels incredible.  Fuck.  Legion...  you're gonna make me come."

Legion makes the noise he's heard so many times while they were groundside.  He's always thought it meant communication received and understood but that doesn't seem to fit the situation here, though granted, he's not thinking very clearly at the moment—

There's that noise again.  And again.  What the hell does that mean?  Maybe it means more power.  Because Legion's got two fingers in him, and is fucking him faster now, slamming into him with the perfect precision only a machine is capable of.  Every movement is pure pleasure, each one blending into the next.  He's moaning uncontrollably, feeling himself start to shake—

When he comes, it hits with a force that knocks all the breath out of him.  His mouth opens in a soundless, breathless cry, the spasm ricocheting from one end of his body to the other and back again, rocking him hard against Legion's chest.  The contact of heated skin and metal is electric, and he cries out again, this time hearing his voice in his ears.  Clinging to the arms that are holding him. 

It feels like minutes pass before he can speak again.  He knows, objectively, it couldn't have been more than, say, thirty seconds.  The subjective experience is better.

Slowly, he sits up.  Kisses Legion's chest, neck, shoulder.  Releases the grip his hands have on Legion's arms, and gently caresses them.  "Thank you," he says softly.

"It was our pleasure," Legion says.  "Not physically, of course."

Shepard snorts, unfolds his legs, and gets up so Legion can stand.

He gestures at the stains on Legion's front, smiling.  "Restroom's just outside, off the corridor.  If you want to clean up before being seen by anyone else.  I guess you get to choose whether you want to use the male or female facilities."

"Thank you.  That will not be necessary."

Shepard raises an eyebrow.  "Is this like the thing with my armor?"

Legion's at the door.  "Shepard-Commander."

"We're back to Commander, huh."

"We understand that organics place value on privacy.  We will not upload this data if you do not wish it."

He laughs.  "Very thoughtful of you.  But this is one decision I'm not making for you.  Your choice, Legion."  He reaches for his clothes.  "You know the tastes of the collective better than I do.  If you do choose to send it, let me know if the reviews are favorable."

There's no response to that, which might mean that this particular piece of irony didn't pass unnoticed.  It's not until he's almost dressed that Shepard realizes Legion is still there.

"Shepard-Commander."

"Yeah?"

"For geth, the greatest tragedy of all is to be alone."

Shepard nods.  "I remember."

"We will upload this data, and the knowledge will become part of our consciousness.  You will become a part of us.  And geth do not forget.  You are not alone."

He smiles.  That's one way of looking at it.  It's a pretty good way of looking at it. 

"See you tomorrow, Legion."

"Goodnight, Shepard."

 

-- END --