Preface: So it looks like the Shepard/Morinth pairing isn't going to go away anytime soon. I feel like spamming if I posted a separate story everytime I come up with a decent idea and besides, they are all more or less in the same continuity. So The Demon and the Warrior (title may change, it's hopelessly clumsy) is a collection of one-shots and possibly mini-archs.
Both Desire and In Flames are technically part of this, but I've decided to leave them where they are. No need to mess things up more, right?
I'm making no promises on updates, I'll post when I have something. Don't expect everything to be as good as In Flames, either, as that one was a terribly lucky shot.
WARNING! The following one-shot is intended to take place after the events of Lair of the Shadow Broker. Therefore, there might be spoilers for the unwary. Read at your own risk.
— Idus Martii —
This is different. She has not seen Shepard like this before and the impression burrows itself underneath her skin to nestle and fester.
Her boots click, twice, three times before she stops, far enough into the room that the door slides closed behind her. The stars shift outside the window slowly, almost imperceptibly now that they have slowed in the approach of the relay. She likes watching them, imagines that sometimes she can see one suddenly wink out, the delayed farewell salvo of a sun that died infinitely long ago.
Today, however, her gaze passes over the view only briefly, incapable to hold her interest against the man now sitting on the bench in front of it. He has not moved when she entered, keeping perfectly still, as if it wasn't a legendary demon standing at his back now.
She has not seen him like this before and she can't even place it, not completely. His bare arms are spread out along the back of the bench, still glistening with a sheen of sweat, hand-wraps stark black against tan skin. Setting up a training ring in the cargo hold had been a good idea, giving the crew a chance to work out frustrations and stress before it reached a boiling point. Tension has been worse since coming away from the Collectors. It didn't feel like they had won anything, just bought themselves a little time in which to see and anticipate their ultimate fate. Shepard had called it 'in mostly turian tradition' with a quick wink at Garrus, who had chuckled back at it.
If he feels like talking, Garrus would be the obvious choice, Morinth thinks. There is a trust there Shepard shares with no one else on the crew, not even Miranda despite how she stays in the Captain's cabin every night.
For just wrestling with a krogan Shepard looks interestingly unmaimed. It comes hardly as a surprise, but there is a chance it may have something to do with it all.
She still can't place it, that sudden, odd sense of vulnerability she has from him. Strong muscled arms, slightly bruised but whole, the perfect arch of his neck from behind. He is looking out the window and into the past.
Morinth breaks into motion again, crosses forward and reaches around him, offering him the drink.
"Kasumi doesn't like me," she says.
Fingers brush her's when he takes the glass and the small contact sparks a little in her mind.
"Kasumi knows who you are," he replies calmly, almost boredly.
"I was careful," she counters. He either doesn't care or doesn't mind. He only shakes his head, puts the glass to his lips and drinks. Blue and red liquid swirl, refusing to mix, only verging into purple where they touch. She has mixed the cocktail to asari taste, odd to a human, too sweet and too bitter, but she thinks Shepard will appreciate the contrast.
He will reveal her to the crew, but the prospect doesn't daunt her. She has proved herself to them, there beyond Omega-4 and things changed for everyone.
Once - and Morinth can just see him - the Illusive Man hand-picked the members of this crew, for their skills, for their staunchness and - above everything else - the absoluteness of their loyalty to Cerberus. Thinking, certainly, how he will forever control them, pull their strings and use them to bring Shepard back to heel, should it have to come to this. And all those ties were severed, completely, when the Collectors attacked the Normandy. An old loyalty was erased, without a trace and a scar and a new one built in its place. After this, they all were Shepard's crew, body, mind and soul, for what he achieved in that no man's land, for bringing them all back home.
This new crew might be shocked with a revelation such as this, but all their alliances were chosen, irrevocably, and she already has her part in all of it.
She watches Shepard from the side, curls her legs up and folds them at her side, poised against the corner of the bench, cradling the cocktail in her hand. She hasn't tasted it yet, content to enjoy the anticipation for the time being. He doesn't return her gaze, stares out the window, drinks.
Indulging herself, she imagines herself sliding to the ground, uncoiling from her position, perfectly fluidly and smooth. She will let herself slide down, leaving the glass behind, and her perspective will shift with her new position. Hand in front of hand, she pictures herself prowl forward slowly, all the lethal grace, all the legendary power of her cursed race revealed in every move. She doesn't think Shepard will startle when she touches him, he will already have seen her, from the corner of his eye, senses alert for her, sharpened instincts wide awake. He will not move away, though, won't react at all at first. The material of his pants is durable and seamless for the sparring he has just come away from - thin enough that it drapes itself loosely along the lines of muscle and sinew on his legs.
She will move slowly, leisurely. Anticipation alone will make her skin prickle when she touches him, strokes her hand up his leg, letting it rest on his knee.
She will feel the tension through the thin fabric, muscles tightening under her palm as she glides her fingers up, rests them on top of his thighs and then stops for no more than a moment, lifting her gaze up, meeting his. His eyes are clear and dark at the same time, with sparks of demonic red burning in their depths. But there will be a different fire, new flames flaring up as his body responds under her hands. She will shift forward, close in between his legs as her hands slide further. Skin under her fingers now, the shirt easily brushed aside...
"Something on your mind?"
She moves her head a little, chuckles to herself and shakes her head. She puts the glass to her lips and takes a sip. "What brings you here?" she asks, watching him past the rim of her glass.
He arches his eyebrow. He can push the point. She doesn't doubt he can read in her face, see through her if he tries hard enough, but she doesn't expect him to. The moment isn't right and her impression of him still frazzles on the edges, seems off somehow, faded and pale in a way that has nothing to do with appearance.
She laughs. "While I like to think I mix the best, I don't believe you. You are here because…" she lets it hang for a moment in deliberation, "…because of Liara."
He looks away from her, a tiny, involuntary movement and telling just because of it.
Liara's love for him is transparent, more obvious and more devastating the more she tries to hide behind work and duty. Now she can spent years hiding inside the Shadow Broker's archives without having to face him. There is a war coming and maybe Liara is right to be level-headed, to put survival first, but Liara is not so cold-blooded. No, Liara loves him with as much desperation as anyone ever felt. And living in these days, under these shadows, Liara understands that she can never have him.
Shepard himself is harder to read - now and always. Morinth isn't certain of his feelings, whether there is love or whether his mind is too complex, too intricate for something as simple as love.
"Liara," he repeats. She almost believes his incredulousness. Almost.
"There is something between you," Morinth observes. Idly, she traces her finger along the edge of the glass. It makes a sound, she is certain, but both their ears are not sensitive enough to hear it.
"Liara is a friend."
"You are alive today because of her."
It was Shepard's turn to chuckle, but he doesn't answer.
"You love her," she continues, she doesn't make it sound like the challenge it could be.
He jerks his head back, choking back a caustic laugh, than looks at her sharply. "It's all going down, Morinth." He hisses her name, long-drawn snarl, she can easily imagine it in some other situation, slithering along silken sheets.
"The whole shit," he continues. "Nothing I did makes a damn difference. Liara bringing me back from the dead? Pointless. Might as well have left me for the Collectors, it'd be good to be on the winning side for a change."
Growling, he sat forward, stared at the half-empty glass in his hand. "Saren was right. We can't win this."
Carefully, she dips her voice low, letting it waver with the air. "Rachni, krogan, geth."
He looks at her sharply, but once more he says nothing.
"Not one but two powerful asari," she adds.
"Saren's army," he concludes and she thinks she detects a hint of bitterness there.
"But Saren wanted that army to bow to the Reapers," Morinth says. She thinks she would have liked to meet Saren in those days before he was blinded and then bested. She corrects herself, "Saren wanted that army to force everyone to bow to the Reapers."
A slow smirk crawls onto his features, then and maybe he can really read her mind. He says, "A pity you and Saren didn't cross paths. Would have saved us all a shitload of trouble."
She shakes her head, smiles at the thought and finally puts her own glass to her lips to drink. The irdani slides down her throat, liquid starlight, cold and merciless and perfect, like the colours that shift in the glass, to perfect to let themselves be soiled. "If I had killed Saren in some chance encounter, what warning would we have had?"
He shrugs, downs the rest of the drink. She does still not know why he has come here.
"We are all dead," he says as he turns to look back at her. "I cannot unite this galaxy against the Reapers. They will fight me like I fought Saren. And sooner or later, they will find someone who takes me down, like I did with Saren."
The thought seems ludicrous for a long moment, spinning delicately between them. She tries to picture it, in her head, tries to evoke some distant feeling to go with it. He has a point, she supposes, from where he stands. Saren was a legend, the greatest of all the Spectres.
Worthy, perhaps, even of being brought back from the dead, had his goals been different.
And the galaxy is too large to comprehend, to anticipate how genetic chance will play on that scale. It brought two great people into existence already and then fate pitted them against each other, leaving only one to walk away alive. Shepard knows that story, has played it and been the one to walk away. There is always a chance it will be his turn next time, beaten and broken by another young pretender. Ultimately, all worlds move in cycles.
"So?" Morinth prompts.
He shakes his head once more. "I'm just saying. Don't get your hopes up for an after-victory celebration. In the end, we'll die on our knees. But I'll make it as bloody as I can before that."
Morinth feels like smiling. The sudden savagery of his tone feels almost like a touch and she wants to purr. "You make the best promises, Shepard."
He smiles at her, teeth bare and eyes cold. He gets up in one smooth movement, turns and walks to the door.
She calls him —quietly — by his first name and he stops, as if frozen by her voice, half a breath away from where the door's sensors would pick him up and part for him.
He does not look back and his voice is low. "No one calls me that."
Morinth gives her glass a little shake, so the ice jingles against the glass. "Not even Miranda?"
He tilts his head back. She cannot see his face, but she thinks he might be amused. He says, "Especially not Miranda."
He waits, Morinth lets the seconds tickle away in silence, waiting until it crushes either of them, but there is an odd sense of comfort now. He trusts her, enough to reveal himself as he has just done. The truth feels hard and remorseless now, once evoked it cannot be put to rest, there, in his own words, the cold, calculated assessment of their situation and the probability of his failure.
She breathes in. She says, "Shepard…" but he lifts his hand and she stops.
He glances at her over his shoulder, frosty eyes and gleaming scars.
He says, "He is a dreamer; let us leave him. Pass."
He steps forward and the doors open for him, sounds from the corridor flood into the room like the tide, surge and break against him. He walks away and the door hisses closed behind him.
End of Idus Martii
Idus Martii (The Ides of March), the day Julius Caesar was killed.
"He is a dreamer; let us leave him. Pass." - from Julius Caesar by Shakespeare. Caesar dismisses the warning of the soothsayer. We know how well that worked for him...