”Oh red rose of Arcturus-”
Faith Shepard didn’t bother reading the rest of the poem, sighing in frustration as she wadded the paper and tossed it into the trash. It was situations like this that made Valentine’s Day such a trial for Faith. The week leading up to it was difficult enough, as little hopeful notes, letters, poems, chocolate, lingerie (that one had really surprised her), and other tokens of affections were left in her locker, at her desk, or even most disturbingly, on her dorm bed.
Faith’s mother had once lectured her on showing such tokens great respect, since they represented the hopes and fears of some young boy. Faith had dutifully treated each Valentine with respect after that, no matter how creepy or uncomfortable it had made her. As an adult, however, she had long since learned that accepting any of the gifts would be taken as a silent agreement that she was willing to engage in romantic activities with the sender. Since her mother was no longer around to lecture her, Faith had no trouble tossing each attempt into the garbage where it belonged.
”Another batch of flowers arrived for you.” Yeoman Hanners droned, a hint of bitterness to her tone, as Faith walked into their shared office. Faith sighed heartily, pausing as she walked past the woman’s desk. Hanners never received flowers, and for some reason had developed a dislike for Faith and her unwanted popularity.
”Great. Just what I didn’t need.” Faith felt burning tears in her eyes as she looked at her desk. It was covered by roses of various different shades and states of blooming, filling the air with it’s scent. Faith backed away, coughing slightly. “Yeoman, please. I’ve begged you to tell them not to deliver to me anymore when I’m not here!”
”If you don’t like it…” Hanners grumbled, leaving her desk. Faith scowled after the woman, then glanced back at the damnable flowers. Shaking her head, she turned and left, unwilling to deal with the unwanted flora at that moment. Outside in the relative safety of the hallway, she bumped into Captain Anderson, who smiled as he held a single red rose towards her.
”Happy Valentine’s Day, Faith. How’re you holding up, kid?” He grinned, then saw her backing away, her eyes watering. “What’s wrong?”
Faith couldn’t help the choking sound that escaped her throat. “I’m allergic…”
”I’m allergic to roses!”
”Oh!” Anderson quickly retracted the rose, looking slightly guilty. “I was wondering why your sister laughed when I told her I was getting one for you as well as each of the women I work with. Valentine’s Day must be rough for you.”
Faith made a weak gesture towards her office, standing back as Anderson took a peek inside and whistled. He looked back at her, sympathy and amusement written across his face.
”Really rough on you.”
”I’m not crying because I’m upset; I can’t breath in there!” Faith made strangling motions towards the flowers. “Whose bright idea was it to give roses as a sign of affection anyways?”
”Probably the flower companies.” Anderson patted her on the shoulder. Without another word, he walked into the room, gathering up the numerous vases and bundles containing roses. He spied a few different flowers, and half-turned back towards her. “Are you allergic to tulips or other flowers?”
”Just roses. I’m allergic to literally nothing else.” She paused. “That I know of anyways.”
Anderson grunted in response, juggling with the multiple long-stemmed flowers that now bedecked his arms.
“Let’s just get these as far away from you as possible. Mind if I pass them out to other folks? I was running short.”
Faith grinned at him, feeling a well of gratitude for his usually annoying protectiveness. “Just make sure to save one of the nicer ones for Kaylee. If she finds out you’re giving away flowers to everyone besides her, you’ll be in trouble.”
Anderson chuckled. “I’ve got a nice candlelit dinner all reserved at a hotel restaurant tonight. I think I’m safe.” Anderson grinned impishly as Faith shook her head, laughing. The Captain turned and left, taking the flowers with him.
Faith decided to give the confined office space a little bit of time to air out before she ventured back inside, though she made sure to write a quick sign telling any delivery person that might arrive to please not leave any more roses. She didn’t want to die. Instead, she made her way around the entire office, making coffee, filing reports, and other make-work until she felt a sufficient amount of time had passed. Upon arriving back at her office, however, Faith couldn’t help the groan of frustration that escaped her as she spied yet another vase filled with a dozen roses sitting on her desk.
On top of the sign she had written, no less.
”You’re a real git, you know that?” Faith muttered angrily to Hanners. The woman ignored her. Storming over to her desk, Faith grabbed the vase, took it outside, and dumped it’s contents into the garbage chute. Some of her coworkers gave her shocked and disapproving looks, but Faith didn’t care at that point. She was beginning to seriously consider calling off work owing to the constant threat to her health when she spotted a set of white Lilies sitting in a cute bundle on her office chair. Smiling to herself, she lifted the plant, reading the card attached to them.
Happy Unwanted Attention Day, Loser
Faith chuckled to herself as she arranged the plant on her desk.
* * *
The rest of the work day passed without horrific incident, with no more deliveries being made after the lunch hour had passed. Apparently everyone had scheduled everything to arrive early so Faith would have plenty of time to consider her options before she called the lucky sender and arrange their hook-up later that evening. Faith snorted with derision, knowing the only worthy person of spending time with had sent the correct flowers. Packing up her belongings and the lilies, she prepared to flee her office to the relative safety of the dorms. The other flowers that had arrived, despite not being roses, did not warrant her attention so she left them at the office to deal with later. She had a date for the evening already, and she wasn’t about to miss it
* * *
”Hey loser!” Hope grinned at her twin sister as they met up outside Hope’s dorm room. Having achieved a higher rank than her sister meant Hope had a room to herself, allowing the twins to have some well-needed privacy when they spent time together. Hope was already dressed in sweats and a ratty, over-sized t-shirt, throwing herself onto the low couch in front of a fair-sized vidscreen.
“Hey double. Did you like the chocolates I sent you?” Faith grinned. Hope chuckled.
“I hope you didn’t want to share; they were lunch. Are we being joined tonight?”
”Anderson is meeting Kaylee for dinner, and unless you have a boyfriend you’re bringing over, we’re all alone.” Faith grinned, setting down the flowers and unbuttoning her uniform into something at least moderately more comfortably. Hope gave her an odd look.
”According to scuttlebutt, you’ve found yourself a certain someone.”
”And yet, I’m still under attack from starry-eyed hopefuls all day long. Good to know they exercise restraint when I’m already supposedly spoken for.
”But you’re not spending Obligatory Romance Day with said person? Shocking.”
Faith giggled. “You of all people should know not to listen to scuttlebutt, even if it’s true this time around.” Faith sighed, rolling her neck. “I do have a certain gentleman who has earned my attention, but it’s still fairly fresh, and I don’t think his people celebrate any human holidays.”
”Another alien? Damned Xenophile.” Hope lightly punched her sister in the shoulder. “Honestly, I just don’t get what you see in them.”
”For one thing, they don’t try to kill me with flowers.”
”Toche’.” Hope snorted. “So who’s this guy? Another multi-millionaire businessman whose way too old for you?”
Faith grinned. “Hey, Lorik was a nice guy. Yeah, he was way older than me, and looking back it wasn’t going to last, but he treated me well. Isn’t that all that should matter?”
”You’re avoiding the subject. Talk!” Hope pushed her sister lightly. Faith shrugged, settling back into her seat.
”Fine. He’s a little older, but not much. He’s a bit of a stiff, and when it comes to romance, he’s completely inexperienced and it’s kind of adorable. He’s bossy, stubborn, and will argue at the drop of a hat. He loves fashion, music, art, and he’s got an excellent eye for details. He’s also brilliant - like Salarian doctorate level brilliant.”
”He’s not a Salarian, is he?” Hope looked worried. Faith shook her head.
”Turian. But he’s so smart. And better yet, he doesn’t make me feel stupid. He’s not overly patient, but he knows how to explains things in a way that I can easily grasp. Although,” Faith grimaced, “sometimes he gets frustrated, but I guess I can’t blame him for that.”
”How’d you two meet?” Hope asked, though there was a catch to her voice. Faith straightened, knowing that if Hope guessed who she was with, all hell would break loose. She smiled winningly, trying to set her sister’s worries aside, though her stomach knotted at the necessity of having to lie to her twin.
”He’s a contact of Saren’s. Saren dragged me along on a mission where we met with him, and apparently he was ‘horribly distracted’ by me.”
Hope seemed to relax a bit, even smirking a little bit as she mulled over what Faith had said. “I imagine Saren threw a fit.”
”Surprisingly, no. His attitude is ‘as long as it doesn’t interfere with the mission, I don’t care’. I know he has strong opinions on human-Turian relationships, but thankfully he’s learned to keep them to himself. It makes working with him so much easier.”
The twins turned to other subjects, putting on a movie that neither of them really watched. Instead, they both took comfort in the other’s presence, talking, teasing, and mock-fighting, knowing all too soon they’d be separated again. Faith was relieved Hope didn’t probed further into her fledgling romance, though she felt a sliver of guilt over having to lie. However, Faith was still trying to decide how she felt about Saren and their sometimes volatile relationship, and she didn’t need anyone else influencing her.
Faith’s eyes had grown heavy, her head leaning comfortably on her twin’s shoulder, when Hope’s door chimed with a visitor.
”Really? Who could it be?” Hope groused, divesting herself of her sister. Faith yawned mightily while she stretched.
”Maybe Anderson struck out with Kaylee and he’s waiting outside with beer and a sob story.”
”Only if I have to be.”
Faith grinned, craning her neck to see the door as it opened. A young man saluted Hope, looking slightly embarrassed.
”Sorry to disturb you so late, ma’am, but I was told Yeoman Shepard was here?”
Faith groaned, then stood and waved at the man. “Yes, I’m here. Please tell me it’s not more roses, I don’t think I can handle anymore.”
”Faith…” Hope gave her sister a remonstrating look that her twin just waved off.
”Yeah, yeah. So, what can I do for you, sir?”
”Uh...a shipment came in late today with instructions to deliver part of it to you, ma’am.” The man looked next to him, where a tall box stood on the floor, standing almost to his hip. One of Faith’s eyebrows went up as she looked at the man questioningly. He shuffled nervously. “It passed all our screening, but it’s organic and wasn’t recognized by our scanners. Though it isn’t registered as anything deadly, I have to be present to confirm it’s nothing dangerous…”
Faith took pity on the poor soldier, motioning him to bring it inside. Looking over the box as he set it on the coffee table, she saw Turian script written all over it, suspicion fluttering around her stomach. “Whatever’s inside is Dextro. I recognize the protein stamp.”
”That was our conclusion as well, ma’am. Since there are quite a few dextro plants that are poisonous to humans-”
”Well, let’s hope that’s not the case here.” Hope grinned at her sister. “It’d be a shame if your new boyfriend accidently tried to kill you.”
”It’d certainly make for an interesting story to tell later. And just think of all the guilt-gifts I could wrangle out of him for sending me something that poisoned me.” Faith winked at Hope, who rolled her eyes. Pulling out her blade from her pocket, Faith carefully cut along one of the bottom seams, ignoring the advice from her sister and the security boy about her level of caution. Once she’d cut away the bottom of the box from the rest, she gently lifted the container off. A honey-sweet scent filled the air as a dark blue plant with long, thick, spiny leaves was revealed. A few of the spines were snow-white, dotted with little flecks of something clear. Faith made a noise of surprise and joy at the sight of the plant.
”What is it?” Hope asked, stepping back suspiciously as the delivery boy scanned it, urging them away from the scent. Faith smiled and shrugged her shoulders.
”No idea, though it smells familiar.” Faith leaned in, inhaling deeply, despite the man’s protests. As she glanced at the large, clear vase the plant’s base was stored in, she spied a long, thin tube taped to the side. Pulling the tube off, she popped the end open and saw a rolled up piece of tanned paper inside. Tapping the tube against her palm, she pulled out a hand-written note, the words drawn with meticulous detail in a style that she instantly recognized.
Carefully, Faith held the paper up, reading over the script. It took a few moments, since Saren wrote in a closed dialect that Faith had only begun learning recently. Thankfully, Hope couldn’t read it at all, as evidence by her confused expression.
”From your boy-toy?” Hope asked, frowning. Faith nodded, then read aloud.
”I am to understand that today is yet another human holiday. Despite the overabundance of these days that your culture seems to revel in, I have discovered that this particular day is a celebration for lovers. Since we have but recently become such, I felt it was appropriate to take part in whatever manner I was able. As I am to understand, one of the customs of this holiday is the exchange of the severed reproductive ends of a plant to declare fidelity to one another. However, as these mutilated flora quickly wilt and die, I felt a need to improve upon the custom and send to you a potted plant that can grow and be of actual use.
”I recalled that during a trip to Oma Ker, you were quite enamored with the scent of the Raemisis Turastria. It is considered a handsome plant, and is often used as a sweetener, much akin to your sugar on Human planets. Since I know you often entertain Turian dignitaries in your Alliance duties, I felt this gift would be most appropriate. Simply break off a fresh, white leaf and place it in a cup of appropriate tea to sweeten it, or dry them and grind to create a fine powder for breads and treats.”
Faith couldn’t help the smile that blossomed across her face as she read the note again. It was so formal, so straight-forward, so serious. So very much Saren. Hope snorted, giving her sister a grin.
”I’ll give the guy this much.” Hope said sarcastically. “He certainly has this whole courtship thing down to an overly-practical art.”
Faith couldn’t help but laugh.