Love hurts whether it's right or wrong
I can't stop cause I'm having too much fun
All my life I've been good,
I'm thinking 'what the hell?'
Avril Lavigne - "What the Hell"
Chapter 17 - Shepard Goes to the Movies
"No, drell. I cannot accept that!" I yelled, gesturing wildly, "I cannot allow myself to think for even a single damn second that a person can be anything less than completely responsible for the deaths they cause. If I do, it would be saying that it's alright to decide who lives or dies!" My voice had risen in spite of my determination not to let Thane shake me. Again. Just like the last three times we'd had this freaking conversation.
Maybe I should thank him for keeping me humble? I thought with a snort, attempting to once again give myself the calm that I was able to maintain with any other crew member under my command. The lizard in front of me just had the damn audacity to keep pushing my buttons...
"Is that not something you already do every day?" came his incredibly calm and somewhat condescending reply (okay, I might have been imagining the second. So sue me). "Every person who raises a rifle against you or someone you care for, every mercenary who wishes to earn a paycheck in order to support his loved ones; you already decide they deserve to die by taking the proverbial shot. I simply believe that my responsibility ends when someone else has given that order."
"Bullshit! Or you wouldn't be doing this mission in an attempt to 'atone'." Okay. Definitely still pissed. Something about the way he could keep himself so closed off and calm while I was simmering made it hard to remember my cast iron control over my own impulses.
His quiet sigh echoed through the room even more loudly than my yell had, his hands clasped behind his back as he turned away from the weapons he was examining. "You must learn to see things this way, or you shall remain just as disconnected as my son."
I frowned, tilting my head in confusion, my voice finally dropping below the level of a battle cry. "Disconnected? What are you talking about, Thane?"
He sighed again, meeting my gaze with those disconcerting onyx eyes. "Disconnected. The body is not your true self; the soul is. Body and soul work as one in a whole person. When the body is weakened by despair or fear—when the body is ill or injured, the individual is disconnected. No longer Whole."
I took a deep breath, forcing myself to meet his eyes in turn, to listen even if I didn't fully believe the things he was saying. To match his unwavering gaze in spite of the fact that the silent killer still unnerved me more than I liked to admit, even to myself. "Thane, I don't have your contacts and I don't have your tracking skills. Not that I'm not willing, but why do you need my help for this?"
Again, a moment of silence fell between us; the kind that always left me wondering if he would speak at all, or simply fall back into his meditations for good. But that was not to happen this time, his quiet voice emitting measured words, "I don't need your help. I want it. The last time I saw my son…" His eyes flew open once again, his mind dragging him into yet another memory of pain as he remembered Kolyat and his hatred for his father's absence, at Irikah's funeral, of all places. I stood still, waiting for it to pass, my heart going out to him as it did every time he endured this. I might not suffer from the curse of eidetic memory, but PTSD can break you down almost as much when it comes to horrors past. I could only thank the Goddess he could remember the happy ones with the same clarity.
As the memory passed, I placed a blessedly unshaking hand on his shoulder, and took comfort when he didn't shrug it off.
"I'm sorry," I said quietly, "I didn't mean to make you relive that."
"Perfect memory. Sometimes, it is a burden," his shoulders were slumped in unspoken pain, head refusing to turn to look at me as he came back to the present.
I snorted, though I did manage to sound sympathetic as I commented, "Hate to break it to you, but regular memories aren't such great things, either."
At that, he finally did turn, fixing those black orbs on me once again, determination now filling his often blank features, "Which is why you must learn how to make yourself Whole again, Shepard. So long as you not only remain disconnected, but continue to become even more so every day, your fear of those memories and the physical reaction they cause will destroy you. Only your ability to see yourself as a weapon will save you."
I clenched my teeth, trying to remind myself that he meant well, that he didn't know about Red, that letting myself become angry enough to lose control leading her to attempt to attack him would be like signing a death warrant. But there was one thing Thane had gotten right: the Widow was utterly terrified of him, and it may prove to be her weakness one day, something I blessed. I had also finally decided, after many a contemplative afternoon in his presence, that Red was also the source of my irrational aversion to him. She associated him too closely to the man who had created her, with whom she'd always walked a tightrope of fear and servitude.
Gathering my temper to me with a deep breath, I turned, walking towards the door slowly. After two steps, though, I fought my own emotions to face him once again, anger and sympathy at war. Sympathy won.
I looked studiously at the floor as the words left my mouth, as if I were going to be quizzed on the pattern of the decking after I spoke, "I will help. With your son, I mean. As to the rest? I can make no promises, Thane. But I will think about it."
I felt him watching me as I left through the swishing doors, an itching between my shoulder blades as his quiet response followed on my heels. "That is all I can ask, Shepard. And thank you."
"I do not understand, Officer Moreau."
The voice of EDI broke through my angry and contemplative thoughts as I walked, and I realized that I'd ended up outside the cockpit of all places. I smiled, thanking my subconscious for taking me to one of the few places that was sure to cheer me up.
The sound of a song that was strikingly familiar, as it was probably pirated from my own playlist, wafted through the background as the pilot replied with exasperation, "Exactly what part of that didn't you understand about our movie day?"
The reply of the A.I. held an almost defensive edge as she responded, "I do not understand why the members of this ship would choose to spend time watching fictional accounts of danger and adventure when they already experience these things on a daily basis."
A heavy sigh, easily heard even over the dominating rhythm of Zoot Suit Riot that reigned over the speakers, was the only reply Joker made as he attempted to formulate a reply to this, his mouth opening and closing a few times wordlessly. I waited until his face was painted with complete consternation, obviously unsure how to respond, before I finally started laughing and stepped into the room more fully to make my presence known.
Still chuckling, I said, "That's the point, EDI."
Joker jumped at my words, recovering quickly and turning to meet my entrance with a grin. I winked conspiratorially at him before continuing, "When you experience those things for real, there's always a risk of someone getting hurt. When it's on screen? You know there's going to be a happy ending, or at least a nice, concise conclusion. Life among us organic meatbags isn't so easy."
There was another moment of silence, as if she were considering this, before she asked, "Organic lifeforms prefer to expose themselves to situation that are unlikely to happen rather than prepare themselves for events that may actually occur?"
Again, I couldn't help but chuckle, tapping my foot to the beat as I spoke, "It's called entertainment, EDI, because it entertains us with things that are at least a little unbelievable. Years ago, things like meeting aliens, performing magic, and space travel were considered not just unlikely to happen, but impossible. Now those things are basics of our lives, at least if you count biotics as a form of magic." I shook my head, "So who's to say movies like Nekyia Corridor aren't the truths of tomorrow?"
A snort from the pilot's chair caused me to turn my head in Joker's direction. He wasn't exactly looking apologetic, though. "Tell you what, I'll ignore the fact that you're talking about some simulstim about Asari religion, and focus on the more interesting topic. Did you kiddies have fun the other night? You must have, if you're buying him new armor already."
I crossed my arms, glaring, still trying to determine whether I was irritated or amused, "Tell you what, I'll overlook the fact that you are deliberately ignoring my instruction not to bring it up, and focus on not killing you. Now, what garbage are you spouting about armor?"
"Big crates delivered last port? Taylor helped bring them onboard, and was supposed to pass the message along." Joker smirked, "Are you sure Jacob didn't tell you about the prize?"
I rolled my eyes, ignoring him, not to be baited into trying to decipher what embarrassing joke he was making Jacob the butt of this time. "Um, no, cause then I wouldn't be asking you, would I?"
He sighed, though his mock exasperation was obviously his way of messing with my head, then yelled "Connors!" with a sarcastic grin. A startled yelp from behind me, closely followed by a cleared throat, then the crewman himself, came through the doorway.
"Y-yes, Sir?" The straw-haired navigator, by all appearances, would seem to almost be scared of our boisterous pilot. However, there was a twinkle in his eye that made me question exactly how subservient he actually was to Joker's orders and reprimands, and a slightly mischievous tone to his voice that would have been easy to miss if the eyes hadn't given it away.
"So nice to see you just standing there, instead of working. You know, for a change. But thank you so much for volunteering to bring that new gear up. Grab your little boyfriend and get it into the mess hall." He grinned at me, "I think you troublemakers'll want to see this, and since everyone should be heading there for our little Leia striptease..."
"Joker..." I sighed.
"Right..." He glanced at the doorway. "You're still here, Navigator? I could probably talk the Commander into giving you latrine duty, since you seem to be hanging around looking for something to do..."
Connor' quickly retreating footsteps weren't quite a run, but it was a close call.
Ten minutes later had the somewhat panting navigator and slightly more winded form of engineer Gregson bringing a heavily laden leviboard off the elevator, the silver boxes it carried all emblazoned with the Cerberus logo. I sighed, moving toward the load as the board settled, throwing open the first lid with exasperation.
"Great. What wonderful items have they procured to bribe us with this time... oooh..." my sarcasm and complaints trailed off as I took in the contents of the first container, a datapad carefully cushioned and positioned on the top. I hesitated, waiting on the poisonous insect that must surely accompany such a blatant trojan horse of gear and weaponry, only to have Lawson push past me to try and grab the datapad. I beat her to it, just barely, sticking my tongue out at her as I snatched it up.
Me, spiteful? Well, I nev'ah.
Then I realized I would have to do something with that datapad, and turned it on with a sigh, eyes still wandering to the bounty of metal heaped in the crates.
Cerberus wants to make sure their assets are protected, and as much as it pains you to admit it, you are one of our assets. As are the crew you have gathered to you. The items we have procured for you in this box are our way of hurrying things along. After all, you of all people realize the protection of your associates shouldn't be hampered by things like structural integrity. Or sentimentality.
The Illusive Man
I tossed the datapad down onto the nearest table with an exasperated sigh, shaking my head. With a confused look, Miranda reached for the pad, and I watched her face as she read the message.
"What has he done to anger you now, Shepard?"
I rolled my eyes, smiling slightly none the less. "Miranda? As much as you try to play the chesty, ditzy stereotype, none of us believes you're stupid. So, you tell me. What could dear old Tim possibly be saying with all that politically correct and sarcastically vague wording?"
She watched me for a minute, noting my half-smirk with a small nod, before shaking her own head in turn. "Doesn't mean you shouldn't use it, Shepard."
"Well, what have we here?" The awed voice of my turian counterpart drew my attention for a moment, his eyes roaming the inside of the case. I took the datapad from Lawson, tossing it to him.
"Timmy dearest thought we needed new armor, since certain crew members haven't fixed theirs yet." He caught my gaze, serious beneath the laughter, and gave a small shift of his eyes to let me know he understood. The datapad's message of, 'we still have a mole willing to talk' was annoying, but not unexpected. We couldn't convince every person on the ship that we had their best interests at heart no matter what we said or did.
But the deeper message, the one that implied that the Illusive Man might know a little too much about how close Garrus and I were becoming, and didn't approve of me being distracted by attachments? Yeah. While the implication he thought he owned me was annoying, the farther insult that I couldn't even be bothered to look after my closest ally's basic needs? Well that just royally pissed me off.
I was distracted from that revelation as turian talons moved across my vision, moving the cushioning aside to reveal a set of armor that seemed to be meant for that said turian, a black and orange combo that would have been breathtakingly gorgeous, if only...
"Are they trying to get me shot?" Garrus' voice still held it's normal sardonically playful tone, but there was an edge to it that implied the question might not be all in fun. "It practically glows in the damn dark! How could I ever maintain a covered sniper position in that gear?"
I laughed, reaching past him to pick up the matching orange visor with a grin, "Hey, at least they color coordinated." I stopped, looking at it for a minute, before almost giggling as I anticipated Garrus' next response as I tried the device on experimentally.
"Since you do keep threatening to buy me my own visor, how do I look?" I tilted it to the side, balancing the too large band across my head as the visor tried to drop around my shoulders. Kasumi, who had come in almost on the heels of the leviboard, snorted. "Vibrant orange? With your hair?"
Another voice chimed in, "See EDI, what did I tell you? All couples end up dressing alike in the end." I glanced up in something akin to shock, momentarily taken aback as I stared at Joker, his actual form leaning against the wall and watching the proceeding with an amused expression.
Tali's comment was a reflection of my own thoughts as she said, "And what could possibly have drawn you out of your lair?" I smiled as I heard the teasing note in her voice, loving how it seemed everyone was getting into the spirit of the planned day. Tensions almost seem to drift away as we took the opportunity to relax around each other, under the forced rest of our continued repairs while we were docked at Omega (which may have been conveniently delayed to keep Lawson off my ass). It was giving the crew a chance to unknot their worried stomachs, forcing them to rest and recharge for the next set of disasters that were coming. And there was no doubt in my mind that those challenges were going to be tenfold worse than what we'd already faced.
My attention was drawn back to the pilot and the quarian as he responded, "Even I have to hit the head sometime. Care to give me a hand, Tal?" He winked, thoroughly enjoying his ever tasteless supply of innuendos, before his gaze shifted to the far right of the room. His expression dropped just a tad as he did so, and he cleared his throat experimentally.
Ignoring the change, I picked up the proverbial sword and parried, "So, you're saying that I should just go ahead and get you a Red Queen shirt and get it over with?" As I spoke, I turned slightly to see what had shaken him, and caught sight of Samara gazing intently in our general direction for a moment before closing her eyes in meditation once again. I turned a raised eyebrow to Tali, who shrugged, then Garrus, who had schooled his face into a mask of non-chalance even I couldn't read without effort.
"Your adrenal and stress indicators have risen at an alarming rate, Officer Moreau. Perhaps you should consider allowing them to resume their normal levels before initiating further disagreements?" The look of irritation on Joker's face as EDI spoke made her comment even more amusing, and I snorted, momentarily shoving the little episode with Samara to back of my mind.
"Since when did that bucket of bolts start sounding like a damn person." The newest person to enter the room caused a frantic cough, quickly muffled, from the back of the crate where Gregson and Connors were patiently awaiting the order to discard the crates. While I wasn't entirely sure which of them it had been, I was almost positive the probably still healing nose of the engineer was the catalyst of said noise. I grinned again.
"She did sound a little smug, didn't she, Jack?"
"Yep. All worried about her breakable boyfriend..."
"She can't be smug," Joker muttered, "she's an A.I. program, not a person." I stifled a laugh, unable to help myself as my brain supplied a reference from its neverending store of quotes.
"Officer Moreau is correct. Emotional responses are outside of the behavioral blocks allowed by my programming."
"Which is why you sound so sad and annoyed right now, right NnB? Some blocks they are turning out to be," commented Tali, with only a small hint of the mistrust she still felt for the A.I. Still, she seemed at least somewhat amused by the conversation, more than I could have said when we picked her up on Haestrom.
The laughter, which had started as a small bubble, had been building to a point it was either share the reason or just fall helpless to the floor. I chose the former.
I barely contained my chuckles as I spoke, "So, let me get this straight. 'She doesn't get happy; she doesn't get sad; she just runs programs?'"
Joker facepalmed, groaning loudly. "I'm going to the bathroom, then I'm going back to my hidey hole 'til the movie starts. No way I'm sticking around if you're already making Johnny 5 references."
I laughed, gesturing towards the metal boxes with a flourish.
"Dig in, everybody!" I called gleefully, watching as Joker hobbled towards the elevator still shaking his head, "let's get this stuff distributed and out of the way. Need to get our little theatre put together. Last call for movie picks!"
"Okay. So I have to ask," I commented to Teandra as we sorted through the last of the gear we'd strewn about the floor in haphazard piles around us, sitting to examine each one. And yes, I was still eyeing the orange and black 'gift' warily. "Why is this day such a big deal to you? I understand that it is, considering how hard you fought Miranda for it, but I want to make sure I really get why."
She sighed, a heavy sound, but not without a certain amount of humor. "Didn't you ever wonder why I remember things, and know about things, most of humanity doesn't? How I know about all that outdated crap that the others laugh at?" She raised an eyebrow at me as she broke down a weapon as big as one of Wrex's arms, giving a satisfied grunt as she examined the inside.
I shrugged, "Not really. I've always just thought of it as a Teandra thing. Who you are."
She chuckled, "Typical." She paused, thinking, "Well, you already know about Jackson, and the way our little group looked out for each other. I think I may have even mentioned the fact that we lived in an abandoned library." She looked at me questioningly, and I nodded. She stared back down at the cannon-thing in her hand, something that must have been a prototype since it didn't resemble any weapon I'd ever seen before, as she continued.
"Well, that library was a remnant of a society long gone. The world, for the most part, had moved forward. Anyone who didn't? Well, that's where the gangs came from." She rolled her eyes, laughing somewhat as she reached up to play with her hair absently, "That library was everything a girl with no school could ask for, and Jackson and Elayne," a small, bittersweet smile touched her lips at their names, "took full advantage of everything we could finagle to work with the power we stole. The tech the library used was, well, ancient. But there were so many things it gave us in return: movies, books, games no one had ever heard of, history of a life no one but the scholars remember. I'm not sure if anyone could ever truly realize how many mistakes a species will repeat again and again until they have the history in front of them. That time, those people, were living, breathing things in that building, and they captured me like some lovestruck Casanova conquest. I devoured it all, hungry for a life that it seemed none of us would ever have a chance to know. It sang of happiness, and beauty, and peace... everything our lives weren't." Her voice had taken on an almost rhetoric-like tone; soft and sincere, nostalgia dripping from every word.
My mandibles twitched slightly, the equivalent of one of her half-smiles, "If I know anything of history as a whole, little Spectre, then I'm sure it wasn't nearly as fun for the people who lived during the time you longed to be a part of."
She snorted. "I know that, but back then? It was sometimes all I had. I loved the Irregulars, but deep down I knew that I'd have to grow up someday. I never figured I would be so young, though." She paused again, the silence hanging heavily in the air this time, as she set the now-reassembled weapon to the side and her hands dropped to her lap. Her eyes weren't far behind, "Is it so wrong that I just want to rest, Garrus? To have five minutes where everything I do isn't tainted by gang-banging or Reapers or fighting through gunfire to save a civilian who's already gone," she said, sighing once again. "I try not to ever let on, but the weight of saving the galaxy is almost always there, like my own personal One Ring. Then again, Frodo got to sit down at the end; apparently real heroes don't get the luxury. Even the everyday kind."
I stared at her, rolling my eyes. "I doubt anyone would call you an everyday hero, Teandra."
"Yeah, well, YOU know I don't think they should be calling me one at all."
"Let's say we agree to disagree?" I countered.
She smirked, "Fine. But I'm officially naming you my Samwise Gamgee. He did all the fucking work anyway."
I stood, reaching down to help her do the same. We piled her gear, and all the weapons, onto the now empty levipad, then both grabbed an armful of my own stuff. "So, then who gets to be Gollum?" I asked jokingly.
She stopped, looking back at me contemplatively. Then, she grinned wide, and I echoed her with a chuckle as she opened her mouth.
That day, as movies rolled across the wall of the galley, will always stand out among my memories as a shining and unblemished example of how the galaxy could truly be, if only we'd all fucking shut up and let it get there. The cheers and groans (and the occasional foodstuffs, both levo and dextro) thrown at the screen bound us closer than anything except blood shed; and even that would have been challenged by the camaraderie which permeated the men and women of the normandy as the three Star Wars movies ended, soon followed by Blasto the Jellyfish (an apparently new favorite of Grunt's). After that, an old vid of Kasumi's called The Italian Job, which for some reason Joker seemed to enjoy almost as much as Star Wars. They kept elbowing each other throughout, laughing, until Joker had to make a run for the nearby infirmary because she hit him at the wrong angle.
Amid jeers and catcalls, the loudest of which seemed to be coming from Connors, Kasumi handed him off to Chakwas' care, the end credits rolling as she did so.
"Alright, guys. What do we want next..." I stopped scrolling the movie picks on my omni-tool, voice incredulous. "Alright, smart-asses. Who put Twilight in here?"
"What's the problem, Commander? Don't like sparkly vampires?" The dynamically destructive duo in the corner exchanged a look, Gregson watching me with particular interest as his partner baited me. I'm pretty sure he was waiting for me to draw my pistol.
"What kind of sick shit are you into, Connors? I don't know about you, but I prefer my movie choices to contain more entertainment than a teenage girl's delimma of choosing between necrophilia and bestiality."
"So, wouldn't that make Grunt Team Jacob?" Gregson called, to general laughter from some of the crew, and downright confusion from the rest. Guess my old-fashioned ways hadn't quite caught on with some of my shipmates.
Everyone's a critic.
"Does anyone mind if I choose the next selection?" came a quiet voice from Garrus' right, Tali's voice barely heard over the general clamor. I placed my fingers to my lips, giving an ear-splitting whistle to quiet the boisterous group.
"Hold up, guys! Got a possible movie choice!" I looked back to Tali, "What you got in mind, Tal?"
"Fleet and Flotilla," she glanced at Garrus intently, and I could almost see the mischevious grin that had to have been plastered across her face. I returned the unseen look, ignoring the general dissent at the choice of a movie touted for its realistic portrayal of "turian-quarian" relationships.
"I like this idea..." I responded, flashing a look towards Kasumi, who seemed to also be part of the joke the rest of us had already figured out. At least, those who had seen it.
Thirty minutes later found us with a somewhat less crowded galley, a sufficiently large crowd of giggling girls (plus Miranda, who couldn't help but crack a smile every now and then, giving me the impression I was right about her not being quite the Ice Princess she pretended to be) making up the majority of it.
"What do you know? Quarian anatomy looks remarkably similar to human, doesn't it?" I leaned my head to the side, eyes never leaving the screen. I couldn't speak for relationships, but I was certainly getting an education in turian-quarian relations as the two character continued their quite graphic display onscreen. "What do you think, Kasumi? Could that position be even remotely comfortable?"
The thief's voice rang of unspoken laughter, for all her incredulous tone, "I think the better question is 'would that position be possible?'"
I snorted. "Oh, no, it's possible." I glanced at Garrus salaciously, a look he deliberately ignored as he focused his attention straight ahead with determination. So I tried harder. "You just need flexibility." I turned my own attention back to the screen, munching on my popcorn, but just couldn't miss seeing a taloned claw gripping the chair beside me.
Shepard: 1; Vakarian: 0.
The day wore on towards evening, evidenced more by the slowly emptying galley than any sort of "time" determination, the final movie came up to be chosen. I had been saving mine for last, knowing the subject matter would send most of the crew running for their bunks in boredom. Just to be sure, I filled in the gaps in dialogue for Check and Mate with comments like, "That ben'jee should have never fallen for that knight's bluff. Such a damn rookie move." And, "Did they do any research into chess before sending this to final cut? I'm almost insulted."
While the comments themselves were somewhat true, their real purpose? To clear out the room completely. Why? Well, Shepard underestimated exactly how much I was onto her little game. Tali may not have realized it when she teasingly added her favorite vid to the list, but I'd already seen Fleet and Flotilla more than once, thanks to it being one of Jintah's favorites. But, why spoil their amusement? And ok, seeing exactly what she'd do when I didn't respond to her baiting would also make an educational experiment in reading her, a valuable commodity when her teasing began.
As it was, by the somewhat anti-climactic ending of Check and Mate, it was just the two of us left. We were studiously avoiding each others gazes, identical expressions (if not actual facial indicators) of stubborn amusement on our faces, watching the credits roll. A silence ensued, and with a grin I increased my breathing pace slightly, knowing she'd pick it up, until finally I heard the words I'd been waiting for.
"Fuck this. You win."
Before I could react or respond, she was on top of me, legs straddling me as she kissed me deeply, somehow avoiding the sharpness of my teeth as she found my tongue, biting down on it as she grabbed my shirt and pulled me upright. Her mouth left mine reluctantly as we gained our feet, but that didn't stop her taking first one step, then another, back towards the elevator with me in tow, mandibles flaring in a grin.
"What gives, Shepard?" I asked teasingly, "Not that I'm complaining, but I have to wonder if you've been drinking again."
She took another step, her blue eyes never leaving mine as she replied with an answering smirk, "Nope, just craving the touch of this sexy guy I know. A bit of a tease, but I can make him regret that..."
"Is that so?" I stopped moving, forcing her other hand to move to my shirt to pull me farther, making her work for each step as I gave her a playful grin. "Will this be a repeat of last time? You know, some drunk, alien chick sticking her tongue in my..."
"TMI, people. TM-fucking-I!" Jack's boots stomped by on the way to the food storage cabinets, snorting in annoyance. "Get a goddamn room! I'm planning on eating in here, and dinner and a show weren't on my agenda. Find somewhere else to fuck. "
Teandra chuckled, unperturbed, "Jealous, Jack?"
The biotic grabbed a beer and flipped her chair around, straddling the back as she took a swig. The girl's feral grin was almost a smile, at least, the closest that Jack ever got when not destroying things, as she thunked her bottle down on the table. "If you'd ever fucked a turian Shepard, you wouldn't be asking that."
Teandra opened her mouth to respond, but I never gave her a chance, pulling her around the corner to the elevator and silencing her with a kiss of my own as we waited for the doors to open. I drank in her softness, her warmth, as Jack's laugh followed us around the corner and Teandra grinned against my lips.
"Distraction tactics are beneath you, Vakarian."
"So shoot me," I responded, tracing a talon down the side of her shirt, "Assuming I don't have you begging me before the night is over." My brain, which should have been whirling with doubts, was consumed with one thing: need. A fire for Teandra's body, to feel her flesh against mine all over again, and the very memory of that shower was bringing to mind all kinds of things we hadn't done or explored.
And this time? There was no alcohol to keep us from indulging in all those fantasies.
The door pinged open, and we both almost fell into the elevator, her spinning me as we did so until it was my back against the wall this time, her hands burying themselves beneath my fringe forcefully as her mouth found my left mandible, drawing a moan from me as my clawed talons grabbed her from behind. I indulged in the velvety softness of her mouth for a moment before shoving her back, pressing her against the opposite wall with the bulk of my body as my mouth found her neck almost instinctively, nipping lightly as traced the outer edge of a single breast slowly but forcefully with one hand, trying to drive her beyond ability to counter by forcing my dominance on her bit by bit.
I moved farther downward, breathing across her collarbone, talons now tracing the the softness of her inner thighs as I traced them under shorts, forcing another gasp from her.
I've got you now, the more primal side of my turian nature thought, mine...
No sooner had the thought crossed my mind before her hands moved to my waist, scratching forcefully as she gripped my top once again, dragging it over my head frantically, soft lips moving to kiss along the plates of my chest. She gripped my waist again, turning to shove me against the wall she'd just left, no tenderness in her motions. She wanted me, needed me, and I craved her in a way I had never lusted after any woman before. Gentleness was not on the agenda as she clawed and bit her way back to my other mandible, nails and hands kneading from the back of my waist to the front, my body almost succumbing to the animalistic nature of her seduction. But I held on, and once again, as the elevator slowed, the door kept us from our games.
She leaped up, wrapping her legs around my waist, forcing her mouth against my throat as I moved forward without hesitation, the layout of her quarters almost as familiar as my own. The steps posed little obstacle as my hands once again gripped her behind forcefully, my body collapsing against the wall next to the couch. Her shoes had disappeared somewhere along the way, and the pliable skin of her feet dug into my already sweating back as I stayed forced against them, unable to find the willpower to move those last few inches to the couch. The inviting feel of her hot and wet through her shorts, of her own frantic breathing and small whimpers of need, were almost driving me insane with the craving to touch her skin to skin.
I nibbled my way across her shoulder, occasionally allowing myself to taste the sweetness of her skin with my rough tongue, ylang-ylang filling my nostrils as I took her shirt gently in my teeth. Too distraught to bother figuring out the workings, I fumbled desperately for a minute before she dropped to her feet with a small smile, reaching down and hooking the bottom with her own hands, her chest bouncing slightly as her arms lifted over her head with what felt like an achingly slow speed. The red material of her remaining clothing gave her pale skin a flush to it that begged me to press myself against it, to rub the roughness of my skin against the lace, to reach out and trace the sensitive nubs I'd discovered during our shower with light pressure from sharp talons.
With the memory of her face as I had tortured her drawing a sharp heat towards my plating, somehow still in place, I couldn't resist giving in to this desire; my hands moving to rake a thumb across them as I moved to stroke down to the outside of her waist, one final moan of pleasure making my final doubt drown in passion. I pulled us both to standing, my hands moving to the clasp on the front of the remaining clothing over her upper body, wanting to free her breasts completely, to see if I could arouse her as much with my teeth as with my talons.
As the magnetic clasp came apart with only a small pull, her skin exposed more fully in all its soft, strange, and exotic glory, I felt more than saw something fall between us, a thunk drawing both our gazes downward.
There, on the multicolored carpet that separated us, lay the pink switchblade I was more than a little familiar with already. The blade had swung free of its housing, sitting at an angle that showed the black and shining blade, glinting with all its evil and destructive history. I heard an intake of breath that had nothing to do with passion, that tasted strongly of fear and hatred, and I looked up to see cerulean eyes that were glued to the knife like it was a lifeline that would save her.
Or an enemy that would betray her.
I stared at the fallen weapon, fighting with everything I had as my world began to crumble, my surroundings disintegrating in front of my eyes as the memory took hold. It buried me in emotions, in the horror and revulsion of my childhood, in sensations both wonderful and sinful as my hands moved of their own accord.
Sex is a weapon… a tool. The most powerful one in your arsenal. Not many are strong enough to use it as such, but you will have no such qualms, my Widow. You will be better than all of them…
The figure in front of me, my afeni, he was fading, to be replaced by a kaleidoscope of images, mirage of murders committed for my teacher. Blood, and sweat, and tears, and the scent of passion filled me from the core, but Red always demanded a tribute for being called forward to use the weapon of seduction.
A death, a sacrifice for the violation of self. This she only tolerated for a price, and her shackles only held if I had a means of hiding the key.
A means that was removed by sobriety.
The almost unbearable heat my body had held began to be replaced bit by bit by a frigid and familiar rage, my teeth clenching into a barely concealed snarl as I moved towards the enemy in front of me, determined to exact my revenge for his insolence. Then barely, just barely, a flash of grey caused me to pause as the angry detatchment gripped me with insistence.
I heard a returning growl from within my head. He's had his fun already, while you held me at bay during that shower. Now, he dies.
A new sound, a new entity, cut into our mental tango. "Teandra, are you okay?" That voice, I knew that voice. It tried to permeate the frigidity of my soul with warmth, with love.
I couldn't see him, though, couldn't see anything other than a blood haze that had begun to encompass me completely, wrong and yet so agonizingly familiar.
He doesn't love you… she whispered, he's just like all the others, under it all. One day, he'll betray you, and you'll be all alone with me once again.
I railed against that thought, trying desperately to put a face with that voice, a name to my companion…
"Little Spectre, answer me…" There were hands gripping my shoulders insistently, but I shook them off, still wrestling against the instinct to respond to the touch with violence, my hand starting to move reflexively towards my fallen weapon. But there was a slowness to my movements that my adversary saw, kicking the blade away.
My adversary… NO… my partner… he was my partner…
Do it now. Kill him, before he realizes what he's up against. They trained you for this, remember? Turians have a weak spot that requires almost no pressure, just under the auditory canal on the left side of the throat. One hit…
Wait... turian… she said turian…
My hands had already started moving, my body tensing to launch at the man in front of me, but as my mind latched onto that single word his face suddenly became clearer, just as I readied myself to spring.
I pulled back, stumbling, and instead launched myself over the coffee table, making for the couch. I scrambled into the corner, almost falling off once as I desperately fought Red with everything I had, fought the memories, fought Finch and all his training in order to save the one thing more important to me than anything else I had ever known or encountered. I felt my sanity slipping in leaps and bounds, and called it a price well paid as voices assaulted me from all directions, but remained unable to control my actions.
You shouldn't have done that… her voice cooed.
And yet it's so adorable you keep trying at this… His voice berated me, disapproval radiating through the playful tone.
"STOP IT. LEAVE ME ALONE," my bellowed cry was met with a laugh from both parties. "I won't let you do it!"
I buried my head in my knees, hiding from everything, and felt sanity leave completely. But if Garrus, my afeni, my dear one, walked away alive? It was a price worth paying.
I'd never regret the loss.
She sat on the corner of the couch, arms around her knees and head buried as she rocked back and forth, but at least the shouting had ceased.
"Teandra..." She shook her head, not looking up. I had to get her attention, had to break through whatever horror gripped her so forcefully. With Mom, calm reassurances had always worked when she forgot where she was, or who she was. I needed to make sure she didn't notice my uneasiness while I tried to bring her back.
There was one thing I hadn't tried yet as I watched her spiral downward, worried about upsetting her all over again. But under the circumstances, I didn't see where I had a choice. It was the only thing I had that she would associate with her life before it fell apart.
"Tandy." She looked up, eyes desperately wide in whatever nightmare she now inhabited, still rocking. But at least we'd made progress.
"Tandy, it's okay," I repeated with a little more certainty. She still didn't answer, though, and I was reaching for my omnitool when she finally spoke.
"You called me Tandy. You're his friend, aren't you?" Her face flashed something I'd only seen a few times before, an emotion I could only guess was the unadulterated love she'd been able to feel before her childlike innocence had been stolen from her. Her voice was that of a youngling as well, high-pitched and full of wonder and fear.
His friend... Jackson. Had to be, considering his wife was the origin of the address I'd used for her.
"Yes, Tandy, I'm his friend."
"Shhhh," she said forcefully as she placed a single finger over her lips, still not ceasing her back and forth movement, before regripping her knees. "Can't be too loud. Then He'll find us. I don't like it when He finds us."
"Who, Tandy?" I took a careful step forward, but this time she didn't notice.
"Daddy... no. Not Daddy. But He says He loves me, that I'm special... His special girl. Does He love me? There's so much pain, and I'm so confused..."
She wasn't even talking to me anymore. I had to get her attention again, get her focus back on the present.
"Tandy... little Spectre... can you hear me?"
She looked at me again, and her face seemed to age by ten years at the second address, though I couldn't tell you how she managed it. She snapped her head away from me, head almost turned completely to her left; but her eyes cut to the right as she did so, keeping me in her sight, eyes still wide in her madness.
"You might be his friend... but I'm supposed to kill you. Do you know why?" Her voice was back to its usual pitch now, but held a vehemence and confusion that confused me. She hadn't even sounded like that the few times the Widow had surfaced.
"I... don't know," I answered truthfully, actually scared for the first time since the whole incident had started. We had been sparring a long time, but if she were actually focused on killing me a victory would not be so easy to attain. I might end up hurting her, and that wasn't something I could force myself to do.
"I don't know either," she responded, then said rebelliously, "but I'm not going to. You seem nice," she started shaking her head back and forth frantically, saying, "I won't do it. I won't let them make me do it."
She stopped rocking, hands clenching almost reflexively as she started murmuring. Coming closer by a step, I realized it was her saying over and over again, in a sing-song lilt, "No, no, no I won't."
She kept repeating herself, again and again, until I finally took another step, bringing me only one last foot away from her. Apparently, though, that was too close once again.
She started screaming... a high, keening sound of pain and fear unlike anything I'd ever heard from her, more like an animal cry than a human voice. Then, she stopped, though only long enough to whisper, "Don't come any nearer. I can't keep her bound with you so easily within her grasp."
I started to reply, only to be interrupted by her screams once more.
That's it, I thought, backing away again in hopes of easing her panic, I'm in way over my head here. Even Mom's episodes weren't like this.
I que'd up my omnitool, saying, "EDI?"
"Yes, Officer Vakarian?"
"Get..." Who? Mordin? Not a chance. He'd just want to dissect her emotional response, and would probably set her off all over again with the frantic nature of his diagnosis. Chakwas? This wasn't a physical problem, and that was that woman's specialty. Specialty, wait… the answer was almost as clear as a supernova when I realized that.
"Wake up Chambers. Tell her it's an emergency."
"Right away, Officer Vakarian."
I only prayed Kelly would get here in time.