Title: Tellin' Me Stories

Author: DareDelvil

Rating: PG at most

Pairing: FShep/Samara, FShep + Liara friendship

Wordcount: ~2,800

Disclaimer: Mass Effect series? Yeah, that's Bioware's. Samara's fable is a conversion of Mike Nichols' A Tale of Two Witches, which you should read. Jess is my Shepard; her voice is her own. I'm just playing with beautiful things that aren't mine.

Author's Note: Had to get something down, and this was it. What can I say? The internet's lacking Samara love. Not totally happy with it, but not so unhappy that it won't do for a start. Possibly the first of many; I'm not short of ideas, just structures. Starting points. All kinds of reviews welcome - this house is cold, I could do with a few flames around the place.

A wise woman once told me, "see everything as an opportunity". Guess I do my best at that: hell, I've decided that even getting my ass killed has paid off in the long run. It may be Cerberus, but they rebuilt me well. Not that I wanna go join up with the Reapers or anything, but the cybernetics...they're good. I like them. And the suicide mission? Another opportunity. How often do you find yourself with a crew so full of experts - jam-packed with this many smart people to tap into whenever there's a problem to solve? Or, come to that, when there's a fact of life your poor semi-intelligent ass needs explained?

Example - Tali and I got talking about the upgrade process a couple days ago. Mostly I listened. It's her field; her people's survival depends on techs like her, so they have to know their stuff. And guess what: today it turns out she knew best again. The new shielding's in and running - chalk one up for the good guys - but the upgrade didn't exactly go off without a hitch. She told me to expect some hiccups. A straight switchover to a new system is never without its dangers, and there are only so many things you can catch in simulations and testing. One of the things we didn't catch this time was the effect on the rest of the ship's systems. Power draw? Fine. Stealth system? Green. Environmentals...that's where it starts to fall down. Don't get me wrong, life support's doing fine; I'm not writing this from an environmental suit or anything. No, the problem's a lot less vital than that - but, sadly, that means fixing it is that much further down the communal To Do list.

The problem, you see, is the heating.

You're an educated lady, Doc. I don't have to tell you that space is cold. Really, really cold. Keeping a spacefaring vehicle like the Normandy nice and toasty, or at least vaguely comfortable, is no picnic. When the shields were installed, they somehow managed to make the job that bit harder. The way I see it, it's testament to the skill of our engineers that we're not all flash-frozen right now.

Nobody else wants to hear that, of course, but given we're out of hot water and the air temperature's dropped to twelve above freezing I guess the complaints are legit.

I've risen to the challenge. Yesterday I spent my downtime reading that novella Shiala rec'd me; today I spent it handing around hot drinks and those thick blankets I thought we'd never need. Kelly got to told-ya-so me about that, which I guess I deserved after blaming the Normandy's "over-packing" on her. I don't mind. She's sweet to me, which is rare these days; I can afford to let her take a few shots at me now and then. Besides, she helped. She braved the bowels of Engineering to take hot soup and a blanket to Jack, and if that's not walking into the fire for your Captain I don't know what is. Goddess love her, though - she'll brave Jack, she'll brave Grunt, she'll even look Miranda in the eye without flinching, but she couldn't get up the nerve to tap on the door to Starboard Observation and offer a little warmth to the Justicar. She was standing outside looking lost when I got there, and all she could stammer out was that Samara's got these eyes. I know what she means. I remember when I was a kid, maybe seventeen, and I saw my first asari - she smiled at me, and spoke to me, but I couldn't say a word. I stood there like a moron for a few seconds, and then I turned and ran. Just flat out bolted. Makes me laugh to think of it now, but I just couldn't bear to say a word to her. I couldn't bear for her to see me, much less hear me. Sometimes you just feel...so small. Like the tiniest little insect. You know?

Anyway, I rescued Kelly. (I managed not to laugh, too, because that would've been the cruelest thing to do to her no matter how fondly I'd meant it.) Blankets under my arm, flask of cocoa in my other hand, and a door swishing open in front of me. There's no point in knocking; Samara never answers. You just walk in, if you've got the quads to, and she's always sitting in that same spot, that same position. So I walk in, and I wait for her to acknowledge me - those seconds drag out. I feel a bit of what I think Kelly must feel, standing there and waiting for her to speak. But she speaks, saying just my name like always, and I go to her side with a smile and a blanket unfolding in my hands. The light goes out of her eyes, shimmers around her for a second as she drops out of her meditation, and there's a smile playing at the corner of her mouth as she turns to look at me. I'm amusing her, that tiny smile says. I bet it's the terrycloth bathrobe I'm wearing: sure, it's black, but it's still huge and fluffy and drags on the floor. It's made for a regular-sized man, and I'm not the tallest of women. But it's warm, and it makes her smile. That's worth looking a little silly.

She lets me drape the thick blanket around her shoulders. It's hard to know how much she'll let you do - or so I've found, anyway. She has that air of the untouchable about her; there's always that fear of crossing some invisible, unknowable line. But she lets me into her space, more so now than ever, and that feeling warms me through like good cocoa. She smiles a little more. Her hands are like a dancer's, soft in elegant gesture as she reaches up to take the edge of the blanket from me. Tugging it closer around herself, she admits - to me, to herself, to the universe - that reality exists, and can touch her. It's odd, seeing that. If anyone on the Normandy should be exempt from this latest trial, it's Samara - if only so the rest of us can continue to think she's some kind of demi-goddess, untroubled by something so mundane as a cold snap.

I pour out the cocoa, glad I've got two mugs with me. She takes the white mug with the chip on the handle, wraps her hands around it and curls in towards the heat. She looks mortal now. It's strange - beautiful and strange - to see her tucking her body into the shelter of the blanket, gently breathing across the steaming surface of her drink, taking the first tentative sip.

We sit, savouring hot cocoa and silence.

I'm not sure how the conversation starts. I can't remember - it flows so seamlessly from the quiet that the words are lost to me. By the time I realise we're talking, we've been talking for a while. I've made a point of never forcing anything with Samara, and it's worked well. She lets it work well. Everything between us, ever since the world-shattering weight of "by the Code I will serve you", has been smooth like buttercream. Her voice is that smooth now, painting the picture of how she almost cut a Spectre off in his prime. And me - I'm like a child, listening at her feet.

It's so easy, drinking in her words with the cocoa. For once, the easy thing is right.

Half way down the first cup, she asks me about the thresher maws. I don't mind dredging the memories up for her - sometimes it was too close for comfort, I'm sure you remember, but by the time we stole the good old Normandy and high-tailed it to Ilos we were old hands at taking those monsters down. So I tell her how we used to do it, you and I and the old crowd. She listens, smiles when it's right to grin, gently presses me for how this gambit worked or how that technique gave us the edge, and it's so good to have an audience like this again. I never imagined anyone like her, but she's perfect.

And then our mugs are empty, and I'm pouring more cocoa from the flask, and we're talking about the Goddess. I'm not sure how or why. All the words just blend together; what we say means less than the fact that we're talking, sharing time and warmth when both are so rare. But this part I do remember: the story she told me, an old fable from before "pureblood" was ever called a dirty word.

"In a time both far and near, there were two asari - the huntress and the diplomat. They were once followers of the same Matriarch, before they went on to seek their own fortunes, but two more different asari you cannot imagine.

"The huntress was a creature of battle, always the first to rise in defence of her people and always the last to retreat. Her physical skill and biotic might made her a worthy ally and a formidable foe. And there was mistrust in her heart for the diplomat, for she saw her caution as cowardice, her clever words as lies and her compromises as battles lost.

"The diplomat was a gentler beast, defending her people with words instead of weapons and seeking a lasting peace for their future. Her quick wit and creative mind made her a deeply reassuring ally and a deeply troubling foe. And there was mistrust in her heart for the huntress, for she saw her strength as brutishness, her directness as lack of manners and her joy in a well-fought battle as a thirst for war.

"In the time of which I speak, the two seldom met. Their paths had diverged, and only a few times in a decade did those paths cross. Whenever they did, however, there was an attraction between them that neither could admit: their ideologies were so far removed from one another that they could never, so they both knew in their hearts, come to any kind of understanding.

"It happened that the Matriarch, their former Mistress, called all her followers past and present together for her nine hundredth birthday. And so the two answered her call, the huntress and the diplomat, and their paths crossed once again. And after the feasting and dancing was over, and all of their friends and comrades had retired to bed, only these two sat by the fire, troubled by their differences. They began to discuss, and then to argue - any topic would do, so long as they could disagree about it. And so they came around to the topic of the Goddess, and how each saw her: and, being still quite young, they took to quarreling over which was the "true" image of Athame.

"First the huntress challenged the diplomat, what is it that you see in the waters of the Temple? Who is your Goddess? And the diplomat said, she is loveliness itself. She is the archetype of a maiden's beauty, slim and smooth with sparkling eyes, and her clothes are like silk and gossamer as they cling to every curve of her body. I see her dancing at the shoreline by moonlight, the waves caressing her feet, her silver anklets adorned with soft ringing bells. I hear her calling to her lover in a gentle voice, soft and sweet, intoxicating as good honey wine. And her lover goes to her, for she is Matron and Maiden alike, the mother of us all.

"And the huntress laughed and said, your Goddess is all sparkle and no substance - a dancer in a bar, tempting anyone who walks by. What of our strength? What of our warriors and defenders? When I look into the water I see a very different Goddess: the embodiment of strength, wisdom and courage. She is a living symbol of the power of our race - tall and muscular, at the peak of health and fitness. She wears armour, not silk. Her face is marked with the signs of a huntress, not a whore. I see her dancing as a huntress dances on the battlefield, swift and strong, deadly to her enemies. And when she calls, she calls out in defiance to any who would oppose her daughters: though she may be the All-Mother, she is also the Matriarch whose power and wisdom is justly feared.

"And the diplomat laughed and said, your Goddess is all strength and no subtlety - a brute barely raised above the animals. What of our compassion? What of our lovers, our architects of peace and prosperity?

"And so their quarrel went on, until at length, between them, they woke the Matriarch. She came to the fireside, looked from one to the other, and decided what to do. She sent them each into the forest, each down their own path, there to meditate by moonlight and seek a vision of the Goddess. This they both agreed to do, each ashamed that she had allowed her quarrelling to disturb the Matriarch.

"For some hours they each sat alone in the quiet forest, meditating and praying to the Goddess for insight. And then it happened that at the same moment, each one saw a light through the trees: a light that took shape, took form, took meaning. The Goddess Athame had appeared to them - and she had appeared in a clearing directly between the two, so that neither could see the other. And the huntress called out, you see, I was right! at the same instant that the diplomat called out, what did I tell you? Neither heard the other's voice, for they had called at the same moment - and each was absorbed in her vision of Athame. The huntress saw the Goddess as a shining matrix of strength and power, reaching out to embrace a comrade in arms. The diplomat saw the Goddess as a siren, the zenith of feminine beauty, reaching out to beckon to a lover.

"From opposite sides of the clearing, they ran to the Goddess, each desiring to be held in her embrace. But at the very last moment, the apparition vanished. The huntress and the diplomat were startled to find themselves embracing each other. And it was then that they both heard the voice of the Goddess - and to each it sounded exactly the same.

"It sounded like laughter."

...Picture me. I'm speechless. I haven't a damn thing that could match her words, nor her soft smile. It's only when I see a tiny flicker of uncertainty in her eyes that I finally pull my own words out of my throat, that I finally speak, and all I can say to her as I start to grin is this:

"...God damn, Samara. Now you're telling me stories."

And I guess that does it. She's so subtle, but still I can see the relief flowing through her as her smile grows warmer. That's all she wants: to know that, in some way, she's touched me.

The heating's managed a few more degrees over freezing by the time they call dinner, and we leave Starboard Observation together, two blankets in tow - one slung around my shoulders, the other folded neatly and tucked into the crook of her arm. People look up as we walk in. They look from one of us to the other and swallow whispers. Kelly gives me a cheeky little grin, and I want my free hand back from these mugs to smack her over the back of the head because damn her, she's right. There is something between us, the Justicar and me. Neither of us names it. Maybe we never will. I'm not gonna push it when not pushing has worked so well. And it's so good just to say nothing, to let the air crackle around us, to be at once as tense and as relaxed as I've ever been.

But in the end I have to say something - and, as always, I'm saying it to you.

I think I've got something here, Liara. I don't know what it is, but I think I've got something special and I'm damned if I'll let it get away from me.

Write me soon, or whenever you can. I'm wishing you safety and happiness, as much as you can get of either in your line of work, and hoping all your clients - and your leads - are good ones. Save the Broker a bullet from me, Doc; he's sure got one coming.

Ever your devoted

- Jess

You know where the button is, folks. Be awesome - take a moment outta your day to click it. Say hi, say "welcome back" if you want to. I've been away a long time.