The original kinkmeme prompt for this was:
A no-reapers AU where Shepard is tutored by Nihlus, who of course has a history of troubled friendship (and maybe more than friendship) with Saren. The three Spectres end up on the same mission, and cramped into a small ship, stranded in space for a length of time. Now, I'd like to see Saren secretly lusting after Nihlus, and Nihlus secretly lusting after Shepard, where Shepard is openly trying to seduce Saren.
Thanks to S for proofing this. All mistakes are mine, of course.
If things had gone according to plan, it would have been a simple mission.
Shepard sighed. So few missions ever were.
She had joined her former mentor, Nihlus, for a straightforward retrieval, bringing in a fugitive, a suspected conspirator in some complicated political game. It wasn't that Nihlus had really needed the help, of course, but they both enjoyed working together from time to time, and this had just been one of those occasions.
Currently, Nihlus was at the controls of the ship, closing the distance to their rendezvous point. The moon that was their destination was looming ahead, and she idly studied her fellow Spectre's profile. The orange glow from the control interface gave his dramatic white markings a reddish cast.
Shepard suppressed a grin at the sight. There was something to that colour scheme, the contrast of dark plates, white markings and green eyes, some symmetry to his alien features that made him quite pleasant to look at, alien or not. He tended to attract more than his share of appreciative glances from members of his own species, and quite a respectable number from aliens as well, and of course he was aware of that. Fortunately, he wasn't vain, although he sometimes pretended to be, just for fun. He didn't take things like that very seriously. Then again, she mused, when he wasn't on duty, there was little that he took seriously at all.
She remembered their first meeting well; she had reported in with him at the beginning of her Spectre training, having read up on what little unclassified information there was on him, and expecting a typical rule-abiding, by-the-book turian who would make the next months of her life as difficult for her as he was able to, just because he could.
Instead, he had just given her a look out of remarkably friendly green eyes that the holos she'd viewed hadn't done any justice to, and shaken his head with an almost self-depreciating laugh. "Well. Seems we are stuck with each other for a while. I read your service record, and from what's in there and what's implied I can assume you already know how to handle yourself in a fight and how to think on your feet. I see little point in playing boot camp instructor with you. So, tag along with me, and figure out how to do things and how to stay alive from that. We'll see whether that sort of work suits you." His mandibles had drawn aside, baring his teeth in a cheerful grin. "And whether you can keep up."
He'd been true to his word, and their time together had been more of a cooperation between equals than a formal mentor-student relationship. She had learned from him, but the opposite had also been true, and after a few weeks they had already become very efficient at working together. Their skills were well matched, as well as their personalities, and they had become friends even then.
Nihlus wasn't a typical turian, which was probably why she got along with him so well. In combat and when on duty, he was precise and cool and very practical, if the situation warranted it, and his tactics were creative enough to make him unpredictable to their enemies. His reputation proclaimed him as one of the best even in an elite force as Spectres were, and she had quickly come to the conclusion that it was well deserved. She had watched him settle conflicts with diplomacy as easily as with liberal application of force, just as the situation demanded, and while he could be a ruthless killer if the situation required him to be, she found that he didn't have a taste for killing, and tended to care about and avoid collateral damage if possible.
Once off-duty, however, he would switch to being playful, easy-going and generally fun to be around in a heartbeat, and it had been that side of him that had won her over initially, made her see beyond the image of an alien with unknowable reasoning and reactions.
He really wasn't a very typical turian at all, and the one time she had made a remark about that to him, instead of being offended, he had laughed and agreed.
They had remained friends once she had made full Spectre, and had started to earn her own reputation. She normally worked alone, but a few weeks into her Spectre career, a message had come in from Nihlus, inviting her along on a mission where two were more efficient than one, and she had accepted. It had been satisfying both on a professional and a personal level, because they still worked well as a team, and now that they were equals in name as well as in practice, they got along even better than before. It had become something like a habit between them to join forces every few months or so, if something interesting came up.
They had finished their latest mission successfully, and had been just about to turn their way towards the Citadel for handing in their reports and doing some informal debriefing over a round of drinks at some pub or another before splitting up again, when a message from Nihlus' own former mentor, Saren Arterius, had come in, asking for Nihlus' help.
It had been urgent, and there simply had been no time for Nihlus to drop her off somewhere else while he went on to lend his fellow Spectre a hand. It would have made no sense, either, because if Saren could be bothered to ask for help, things were tense, and it wouldn't hurt to have one more Spectre to see them through. So she was along for the ride.
She sighed again. She didn't mind coming along, but she really regretted that it had to be Saren, of all people.
Nihlus threw her a sidelong glance, then laughed, quick to guess the direction her thoughts had taken. "Don't be like that. If he's really in trouble, he'll be glad enough to see you."
"No," she disagreed, under her breath. "If he isn't in trouble, he'll be merely annoyed. If he is in trouble, he'll never forgive me for that."
Nihlus laughed again, but she didn't join in.
As well as she had gotten along with Nihlus himself, the same couldn't be said for Nihlus' own former mentor. During her own training, they had crossed paths with Saren once, purely by accident, and it hadn't been a friendly meeting.
Of course she had heard about Saren before, both about his work attitude, which could only be described as utterly callous, and his open and rather vocal disapproval of humanity in general and the moves her species made in galactic politics in particular. He was considered the best among the living Spectres, with a reputation of getting things done and a service record to match. True, his reputation also mentioned ruthlessness and a complete lack of concern for any collateral damage, but that didn't take away from his status. His voice carried considerable weight.
Nihlus had never said it outright, and she had had enough tact not to bring the topic up explicitly, but she knew that Saren had strongly and outspokenly disapproved of Nihlus taking over her training from the beginning. From his offhand remarks, she had gotten the feeling that the two Spectres had been friends, as unlikely as that might have sounded, given the differences in their character. As open and outspoken as Nihlus was with apparently everything else, Saren had never been a subject for discussion, and she had respected that.
Shepard had learned quickly that Saren's disapproval of humans was actually bordering on downright hatred. He had made no secret of his distaste of humans in general and her as a Spectre candidate in particular. She had taken the sneers and barely veiled insults for a while, but then she had, perhaps, reacted with less diplomacy than she should have. The only thing that had saved the situation from degrading into physical violence had been Nihlus, who had walked into the verbal crossfire with the same attitude that he showed when faced with actual fire: apprehensive, but calmly determined.
In the end, Saren had left, disgusted, and without the topic ever having been brought up, she knew the episode had damaged relations between the two Spectres considerably. As far as she could tell, Nihlus' choice to accept her for training, and furthermore, his refusal to discard her after that clash, had created enough of a rift between them that to the best of her knowledge, they hadn't even spoken during the time she had been Nihlus' trainee.
It had gotten marginally better once she had reached full Spectre status, and Saren had been forced to admit, however grudgingly, that her performance as a Spectre was in no way inferior to that of any of her peers, and in fact often surpassed it.
Their ways had crossed on one mission, and while it had been an uneasy truce, they had completed that assignment successfully. Any other outcome would have been shameful, really. After all, they were both professionals and able to work together if required, personal disagreements notwithstanding.
If Saren had asked Nihlus for help, it meant that they were talking again and maybe had settled their own differences. Things might actually remain civil, then, which was at least some relief. Nevertheless, she was not looking forward to this.
"I wonder what he's doing out here in the first place," she complained. "This isn't Council space anymore. Technically we don't even have any authority here."
"I have no doubt the explanation for that will be long, colourful and entertaining." Nihlus still sounded like he was enjoying himself, and she envied him a bit for that.
The readings from the instruments showed nothing of interest on the coordinates that Saren had sent, save for some depressions and burn marks on the ground from a ship which had been there recently. Shepard frowned. "He's not there. Where is he?"
"Had to move, I suppose." Nihlus grinned, a quick flash of teeth behind dark mandibles. "Let's just follow the trail of destruction."
Shepard had taken Nihlus' words for humorous exaggeration, but they weren't far removed from reality. It wasn't necessary to do any tracking by eyesight, since Nihlus got a reading of emissions indicating a serious firefight not too far off the original landing site, but it would have been possible to follow the course Saren must have taken by the wreckage on the way. There were two downed dropships in pieces on the ground, smoke curling up into the still air from several larger pieces that were still on fire.
A third one, damaged but still in one piece, was parked rather haphazardly on the uneven ground. There was not much chance that anyone had walked away from the first two, but this one could have deployed some troops.
"Ah. There we are." Nihlus still didn't seem too worried, but then again, he rarely did. He pointed ahead, and sure enough, there on the ground below was a ship the same make as Nihlus', currently under siege by a considerable number of foot soldiers. The hatch to its airlock was open, but she could detect no movement in it at this distance.
Even at a cursory glance, it was clear that Saren's ship was too badly damaged to move on its own, and it wasn't clear how he had even made it that far. It was impossible to say how long this battle had gone on already, but the rocky terrain provided enough natural cover, and the soldiers had spread themselves out well.
She wondered briefly about their identity. It wasn't obvious from their heavily armoured figures, but the scanners read them as batarians. There were no identifying colours or insignia that she could catch, which was uncommon for mercs, and their armour and weapons seemed too good for common criminals.
"Oh dear. They got his ship." Nihlus shook his head in mock sadness. "He's going to be really, really cross about that."
"Like anyone will even notice any difference in his mood," Shepard muttered under her breath, already readying her weapon. "You going to set us down here?"
He nodded, closing his helmet. "Let's go." He hit a control to engage the autopilot, then ran a preprogrammed sequence to take them down.