1. Biology the relation between two different species of organisms that are interdependent; each gains benefits from the other
“Belay that, Ash! That’s an order!” Shepard said in her most commanding voice. “We are not losing anyone today.” She turned to her teammates. “Garrus, Wrex, you go get Kaidan and the salarian team. I’m going back for Ash.”
“Commander,” Garrus said, “you can’t be serious. You can’t go back there alone!”
“I am serious,” she said. “I’m an N7, a Spectre. I’m trained for this. You two are the strongest fighters I have. You can get to Kaidan and get the STG team out of there and then rendezvous at the bomb site. I am not leaving Ash here to die without at least trying to get back to her. Now, go!”
“Give ‘em hell, Shepard,” Wrex said. “We’ll take care of the salarians.”
Shepard nodded. “Ash, I’m on my way. Do not arm that bomb yet. I don’t know how long this is going to take. Just hold them off.”
“Aye aye, ma’am,” Ash said reluctantly.
Shepard began to run. This wasn’t going to be easy. The facility was heavily manned and fortified and she had to get through on her own. She silently thanked Tali for the tactical cloak as she activated it and moved through the facility, seeking cover when her cloak fell and sneaking where she could. It was slow going and she was almost discovered by a pair of krogan when the wind shifted momentarily, but she finally made it to the bomb site where Ash was using the device for cover while fighting off the geth. Shepard drew her sniper rifle and took the flashlight head off of a geth that was trying to flank the chief.
“Didn’t think I’d ever see you again, Skipper,” Ash said as Shepard slid in beside her.
“You didn’t really think I’d leave you behind, did you?” Shepard asked as she shot a krogan between the eyes. “Who’d clean my weapons? Who’d recite poetry at odd moments? Besides, Garrus would be lonely with only Wrex for company.”
Ash snorted and fired on a geth. “Right. I say one nice thing about the guy and now you think I’m best friends with a turian. Next, you’re going to try to get me to make nice with Saren.”
“I doubt that,” Shepard said, rising to take a shot at another geth.
“Oh, shit,” Ash said. “Speak of the devil.”
Shepard cursed as she looked up to see Saren flying in on his hovering platform. She sent out an overload before swapping to her pistol and opening fire. His damn shields didn’t budge. “Get to cover!” Shepard ordered.
“What about the bomb?” Ash asked.
“It’s a nuke!” Shepard exclaimed as she grabbed the chief’s arm and ran for cover. “We aren’t going to give him time to disable it and if he sets it off, he blows himself up, too!”
Saren’s warp hit her shields and they flickered but didn’t go down. She heard a splash behind her as the turian leaped down off of his platform and began to stride toward her. Ash ducked into cover with Shepard behind her. She turned and fired on Saren again, but his shields absorbed the rounds. He stood as if in the center of the Presidium rather than the middle of a battleground.
“This has been an impressive diversion, Shepard. My geth were utterly convinced the salarians were the real threat. Of course, it was all for nothing. I can’t let you disrupt what I have accomplished here. You can’t possibly understand what’s really at stake,” he said.
“Why are you doing this?” she asked. He knew what Sovereign was. He had to know what was happening, what he was allowing to happen.
“You’ve seen the vision from the beacons, Shepard. You, of all people, should understand what the Reapers are capable of. They cannot be stopped,” Saren said.
He’s afraid of them, Shepard thought. He wasn’t just afraid. He was terrified. He really thought that his studies were accurate, that the results meant anything. He was wrong. Shepard was no scientist, but even she knew that there was no way to truly study indoctrination. When the test subjects were controlled by a thinking being outside of the study, there was no real control. Sovereign could twist the data to give Saren whatever it thought he wanted, whatever would make him the most comfortable, and it had. If only she could make him see that.
“Together, we can stop Sovereign,” she said. “We don’t have to submit to the Reapers. We can beat them!”
Poor bastard. Sovereign really had him convinced that he could save himself if he gave in. Turians valued honor above all else but even her appeals to that weren’t enough to break through. He was truly deluded into thinking that he could save people. She shook her head. Nothing was ever as simple as she wished it could be. He wasn’t the villain of the story. He was a victim just like all the rest the Reapers had taken. She felt sorry for him but pity wouldn’t stop her from putting a bullet in his head, so when he started firing on her, she shot back.
He was strong. Stronger than any enemy she’d faced to date. She and Ash couldn’t take him alone. He fired at her and her shields flared. Another round hit her in the stomach and the force doubled her over and knocked her to the ground. She pushed up to regain her feet and felt his hands close around her throat. Her feet kicked uselessly as he dragged her up and then raised her over the edge of the platform they were on. She gripped his hand, trying to work his fingers loose, and stared defiantly down at his cybernetic eyes. The blue glow had faded and they were a flat silver now. Ash groaned and tried to stand and he turned his head. It was enough of a distraction to allow Shepard to pull her fist back and when he turned his attention back to her, she punched him as hard as she could. His hand loosened as he fell back and he dropped her to the ground, her legs dangling over the edge. She tried to push herself back up, but he had recovered more quickly and he was striding toward her again. She grabbed his collar and gave a sharp tug, trying to pull him over. It worked but his hand closed over her ankle and then they were both falling.
Their fall was stopped when they landed in a thick stand of some type of flower she’d never seen before. The leaves were broad and thick and cushioned her enough that the stop was abrupt but not disabling. She allowed her body to roll down the incline to absorb the impact and heard Saren crashing through the same way. Dusty pollen puffed up around her and she sneezed as it coated her nostrils and the roof of her mouth. A moment later, Saren did the same and she would have laughed at the almost delicate, bird-like sound had the situation not been so dire. Shepard jumped to her feet with her pistol drawn and he did the same. They circled each other slowly and she tried to ignore the buzz growing in her head. And the heat blooming in her body. And the thoughts that flashed through her mind about how utterly sexy his confidence was. Wait…what?!
Saren had pollen in his nose. The damned flowers were all over this part of the facility and he had noticed that it did something to his krogan, but his interest in studying it had been overwhelmed by his drive to study the effects of indoctrination. Then Thanoptis had picked one and brought it into her office and he’d found her shortly thereafter, spread over her desk with the krogan scientist driving into her. She’d looked to be enjoying herself and it had been after hours, so he’d intended to simply tell her to take it elsewhere but then the scent of the flower had hit him, and with it, the inexplicable desire to join them. He’d left as quickly as he could and settled with demanding a report from her on the plant. He had ordered some of the geth—who, thankfully, weren’t affected by the stuff—to get rid of the damn things after reading the report, but they’d clearly missed this patch.
The pollen created by the blossoms seemed to be a strong aphrodisiac, and so far, it affected every predatorial species exposed to it. Thanoptis had postulated that it was meant to encourage reproduction of carnivores that would feast on the overabundance of herbivorous crab-like creatures in the area, but she had noticed something odd when applied to sentient creatures. The effect was not negligible no matter who was exposed and species didn’t seem to matter to anything but animals. However, the effects were stronger with some pairings than with others, and when applied to a larger group, the pairings that formed were not random.
People would often pass over those nearest to them in favor of a specific person. Strength, status, and appearance seemed to matter little. Rana’s own experience led her to theorize that the difference was emotional rather than physiological in nature, and when she tested that theory on several of the lab-workers, the results had backed up her theory. Any type of emotional connection between two people exposed to the plant resulted in the almost immediate, irresistible urge not only to mate but in species that did so, to bond. Had he still been a Spectre, he would have sent samples to the Council, but they’d turned their backs on him as he’d known they would as soon as they found out about the Reapers.
Shepard’s cheeks were flushed and she quickly shook her head as she continued to circle him. Her eyes were narrowed, but her pupils were blown wide and he could see her jaw working. The pollen was affecting her. That was an unexpected advantage. Unfortunately, it was affecting him as well. He felt the heat gathering in his body, a tremor running down his spine, and one single, feral thought entered his mind as he looked at her: Mine. The rush of possession was dark and primal. He would have called it instinctive if there was any instinct in the galaxy that could cause anything remotely like it for someone who was not only an enemy, not only not of his own species, but human of all things.
This was not the vague physical desire to join in with a couple having sex. This was an all-consuming need to possess her, to claim her, to make her his. He felt his groin plates shift fully and he pressed painfully against the inside of his armor. This was the type of reaction reported by those who’d claimed a pre-existing attachment to their chosen partner but that could not be possible. He had developed a grudging respect for Shepard, but he loathed her. He loathed her self-righteousness. He loathed her humanity. He loathed her self-assurance. He loathed that she truly believed that she could succeed where he could not. He wanted to kill her, not mate with her. His body, however, had other ideas.
Shepard kept her eyes locked on his as she leaned over and tried to spit out the pollen that coated the inside of her mouth. The sight should have been disgusting, but instead, he was focused on the mobility of her soft-looking lips and the way the position accentuated one of her hips. She straightened and her breath caught before she demanded, “What the hell is this shit?”
“Pollen,” he answered.
“I figured that out,” she said derisively, but the bite in her words was minimized by the way she bit her lip.
He smirked. If he could just keep his own reactions under control, he could use this. “The plant is native to Virmire. It seems to be a potent aphrodisiac to predatory species.”
“A potent…fuck,” she groaned.
“Yes,” he said, unable to avoid a smile. “That is generally what occurs upon exposure.”
“So we’re either going to fight or fuck if we stay here,” she said.
“Yes,” he said.
“Then let’s get out of here,” she suggested, “before fighting turns to fucking.”
“Location has no bearing on the effects, unfortunately,” he told her. “And I have no intention of letting you go.” If there was a double meaning to his words, he ignored it.
“Fighting it is, then,” she said and shot him. His shields absorbed it and she attempted to overload them. He warped hers and they flickered. She fired again and he overloaded her weapon. She glanced from the useless pistol to the recharging omni-tool on her wrist and he saw her hand flutter as if considering going for her sniper rifle, but their quarters were too close. She charged him instead and he was surprised by her strength as she slammed into him and delivered another painful punch to his already bruised mandible.
If she’d thought that it would be enough to take him down again, though, she was wrong. He wrapped his arms around her shockingly small frame and hooked a foot behind her knee. It buckled and they went down. More of the damned pollen flew up around them and she struggled uselessly against his weight. He put the pistol in his bionic hand to her head. Rather than freeze, she looped a thigh over his hip and pressed against his waist as she bucked her hips in an attempt to dislodge him. Rather than pulling the trigger, he groaned and grasped her hair in his right hand. The real hand. The one that could feel the silky strands against his ungloved skin.
He pulled her head sharply back and closed his teeth over her throat. Now, she did freeze, but rather than a sound of fear, he heard her moan. Deliberately, he rolled his hips. The sensation was muted by the armor between them but the motion must have pressed hers to her in the right way because her leg tightened around his waist and when she brought her hand up again, it clasped around the back of his neck. The other, however, pressed her pistol against his head. He growled against her throat and she moaned again. Desire overcame fury and sank its talons into him. He released her hair and knocked her pistol aside before dropping his own and licking her throat. He could feel her pulse pounding beneath the soft, delicate skin. Her fingers tightened on the back of his neck and her now-empty hand gripped the collar of his armor.
“Saren,” she gasped as her hips bucked again, this time seeking friction rather than to get him off of her. Hearing his name in her smoky voice was too much. He released his grip on her to run his tongue along her salty skin as he looped an arm beneath her waist. He wanted her. Now.
“Pop your seals,” he ordered without removing his mouth from her. She turned her head and nipped at his mandible with her flat teeth and then those soft lips were trailing over the side of his neck. Her hand moved down to work the seals on her armor. He popped the ones on his own and cast them aside as she applied pressure with her palm to turn his head. Her lips met his and he was taken aback for a moment when her tongue slipped past his teeth to tangle with his own. Turians didn’t do this, but he’d seen asari and some humans do it, so he knew what she was doing if not how to actually do it. He copied what she was doing with her tongue and she groaned into his mouth. He had to admit that, while extremely strange, the sensation was not unpleasant as he’d always imagined it to be.
Finally free of his armor, he parted his undersuit and breathed a sigh of relief as the pressure over his cock eased. He returned his attention to her and ran his hand over her strange human body. The prosthetic arm registered the touch as data rather than real sensation, but her reaction was unmistakable. She bowed up into his touch and he felt her slick, hot center slide along his length. She felt similar to an asari and he sheathed his talons before sliding his fingers along her entrance.
Shepard moaned again as Saren’s thick finger parted her folds and slid into her, stretching her around him. She had forgotten about Ash, forgotten the Normandy, forgotten the Reaper somewhere on the planet. All she knew was this burning heat that demanded that she join her body with his. She didn’t care that he was her enemy. She didn’t care that they should be killing each other rather than kissing like they were drinking each other in. She only cared that his finger was moving inside of her and he was beginning to work a second in. Her hands ran over the exposed hide of his neck, feeling the suede-like texture before running up the line of plates covering his spine and indulging her curiosity by trailing them over his fringe. It was hard on top but soft underneath and he groaned and buried his fingers deeper into her before withdrawing and replacing them with the tapered head of his cock.
“Say yes, Shepard,” he muttered against her lips. When she groaned in response to her name in his voice, he said, “You have no subvocals to consent. You must say it.”
“Saren, I—” she gasped and arched into him, trying to draw him in.
He growled. “Spirits, Shepard, if this is how you plan to kill me, it is working. Say yes or shoot me now, damn you, but end this torment.”
“Yes,” she gasped again. “Oh, god. Please, Saren, fuck me. Fuck me hard.”
He snarled and gripped her hips before slamming himself into her to the hilt. She gave a muffled cry as her body stretched almost painfully to accommodate his girth and then he was pounding into her, his hips snapping sharply as he threw his head back and fucked her hard. She wrapped her legs around his waist and met his almost frantic thrusts with her own. Gods, she had never felt need like this before. None of her past lovers had ever driven all thought from her head and left her desperate for his touch. She didn’t just want to fuck him. She wanted to absorb him into her. She wanted him so deep inside of her that she couldn’t tell which parts were him and which parts were her.
She scraped her nails along the underside of his fringe and he snarled and locked his teeth over her throat again as he continued to pound into her. She felt the solidity of his groin plates as they slapped against her ass and brushed over her clit and heard her voice change pitch as she cried out, needing the release that only he could give her. His talons pressed into her skin and the knowledge that he could more easily bury both them and his teeth in her flesh than hold them without piercing as he was did something to her insides.
“Saren, please!” she cried out and his talons scraped lightly over her hipbones as he released them and looped one arm under her hips, angling her up to seat with him more fully and fisting the other hand in her hair again. She could feel the vibrations in his chest against hers and hear the needy, almost desperate rumble. His hot breath bathed her skin in quickening pants as his thrusts grew sharper and her body drew as taut as a bowstring beneath him. Her orgasm rocked her, crashing into and over her as her tense muscles trembled and her walls convulsed around him. He gave a shout and buried himself inside of her. She felt his hot seed pulse into her and raked her nails down the back of his neck.
Saren collapsed onto his elbows, breathing heavily, and Shepard relaxed below him. His mind was still fuzzy from his release and the effect of the plant. She seemed to be similarly affected because she kept her legs around his waist and made no move toward her weapon. Her hot, tight core was still wrapped around him and her walls fluttered in a way he’d never experienced before even with asari. Without thinking, he dropped his forehead to hers and then froze.
Spirits, what was he doing? What had he done? She was human! She was Shepard! She was tasked by the Council with killing him and he by Sovereign to do the same. Instead, here he was, lying tangled up with her in a bed of flowers, openly declaring himself to her like she was some kind of bondmate. His eyes darted over to his pistol. It was lying within reach, but when the voice in the back of his mind whispered for him to take it and use it on her, he felt himself recoil at the idea. Harming her was suddenly the most distasteful thing he could think of. He rolled onto his side, carrying her with him and putting his back to the gun. He could see hers and would stop her if she went for it, but he would not kill her.
Her hand moved, but rather than reach for her own weapon, she brought it up and his mandibles slackened in shock as he felt her soft fingers stroke lightly, almost tenderly, over his zygomatic fringe. No one touched him there. No one had ever touched him there. His mother, when he was very small, would stroke the fringe on his head or scruff him by the back of his neck, but she ignored the spines on his face. Most turians who were unfortunate enough to be born with them had them removed as they were seen as a defect that detracted from the uniformity of their species, but Desolas had kept his and Saren had worshiped the ground his older brother had walked on, so he’d kept them as well. His lovers—as few and short-lived as they were—ignored them as well and pretended not to notice. That Shepard had sought them out was unprecedented and unexpectedly touching. He felt himself nuzzle into her hand and cursed the Spirits-damned flowers even as he sought out more of her touch.
She obliged him with a chuckle, running her fingers over the length of him as she said warmly in a tired voice, “Who’d have thought? Saren Arterius, notorious human-hating former Spectre, has an affectionate side. Don’t worry; your secret’s safe with me. You have a reputation to uphold, after all. Not that anyone would believe me anyway.” Her hand returned to his face and she gently ran the tip of her thumb between his jaw and the end of his mandible. That was another spot no one had ever touched as it was a simple matter from there to rip the mandible off entirely and it was suitably sensitive. He heard himself purr as she stroked him and wondered what the hell those flowers had done to him. She sighed contentedly and nuzzled his throat. He felt as if he’d been kicked in the gut. His arms tightened around her as instinct demanded that he protect her. The irony of the situation did not escape him. Only a short time ago, he’d been the biggest threat to her on this island aside from Sovereign.
Sovereign. The Reaper wanted her dead. Saren most assuredly did not. It was not possible that a part of his mind would be telling him to take advantage of her display of trust to snap her neck. Turians were societally and instinctively driven to protect subordinates and by rubbing her face against his throat the way she had, she’d silently declared herself not only submissive to him in status but in need of his protection. He could not deny that. The voice in his head telling him to do so was not his own and that meant that it was Sovereign’s. And if Sovereign was in his head…. When he reached back for his pistol, it was not to put it to her head but his. She tensed at his movement and then looked at him in disbelief. “What are you doing?” she demanded.
“You were correct, Shepard,” he said. “I am indoctrinated. That means that my logic cannot be trusted. My conclusions are its conclusions and, therefore, incorrect. It is using me not to save my people but to destroy them. This is the only way to be free.”
“Fight it,” she said, gripping his waist tighter with her legs and gripping his wrist with her hand. “Benezia broke free and she was deeper in than you are. You can resist it.”
“Benezia broke free?” he asked, stunned. Sovereign had said she’d died loyal.
“Yes,” she said. “If she can do it, then so can you.” The conviction in her voice made him hesitate. It was enough to allow her to disarm him. She threw the pistol out of reach and rolled him onto his back with him still inside of her. “Fight it,” she said again, framing his face in her hands.
Before he could answer, he heard someone call her name. She looked over her shoulder and then back at him with wide eyes. “Come with me,” she urged. “Let me help you. We can beat the Reapers together. Help us do that.”
“They are too strong,” he said miserably. “Even you cannot defeat them.”
“Watch me,” she said confidently. “They’re just machines, Saren. Machines can be broken.” Her voice vibrated with certainty. If she had subvocals, they would be ringing with it. The voices calling her name grew closer, but she didn’t break eye contact with him again. Freeing him was more important to her than the growing probability of being discovered joined together with him.
Could he do it? Could she do it? She had won every battle thus far. She knew what the Reapers were, what they intended to do, and she still was not afraid. He saw nothing but determination in her eyes. Wasn’t it worth trying? He had sworn an oath and had a duty not only to the Council but to the galaxy as a whole. He had a responsibility to do everything in his power to protect as many people as he could and he had thought that he was doing that in joining with Sovereign, but if he was wrong, then he was foreswearing his duty and his oath. He had betrayed his people and his honor. Slowly, he nodded.
“Good,” she said. “That’s good.” She rose, disconnecting herself from him, and reached for the pieces of her armor as her crew drew closer. “Get dressed. Hurry. And stay behind me.”
“I am taller than you,” he pointed out as he reached for his own armor and began to replace it. “I think your value as a shield is somewhat lacking.”
“It’s not my height I’m banking on,” she said and stepped in front of him as the turian, krogan, and human male in her squad came running down the slope with their weapons drawn. “Hold your fire!” she commanded. “He’s with us now.”
“Shepard?” the other turian asked, confusion and betrayal ringing in his subvocals. Saren recognized him as that C-Sec whelp who’d been investigating him, the son of Castis Vakarian.
“You can’t be serious, Commander!” the human male shouted. “He’s with the Reapers! He killed Nihlus!”
Saren let out a mournful trill as the man’s words slammed into him. He’d been aware of what he’d done, but the full force of it hadn’t hit him until now. He had murdered his protégé. He’d shot him in the back in cold blood. He had not been lying to the Council when he said that Nihlus was a friend. Nihlus had been his only friend and Saren had used his trust to murder him. He was not worthy of the salvation she offered. “Shepard,” he said with grief clear in his voice. Vakarian’s mandibles slackened and his eyes widened. “He is correct. I killed Nihlus. I do not deserve absolution.”
“Sovereign killed Nihlus,” she said firmly. “You were just the tool he used to do it.”
“I did not fight it,” he said. “I did not question. I shot him in the back, Shepard.”
“I know,” she said, turning to look at him. “Would you do it now?”
“No!” he exclaimed.
“Then come on,” she said.
It was that simple for her. He wondered if there had ever been a time when things had been that simple for him. She reached out a hand and he took it. Her crew looked shocked but she gave them a look that clearly said that she was finished discussing it and they didn’t protest. The sight of this tiny human woman subduing an angry krogan and turian with a single look made him feel strangely proud. She was going to save them all and she was his now. There was no going back. As her ship flew away from the planet and its detonating bomb with him aboard, he thanked the spirits for those damned flowers.