There was no rest for the wicked. It felt like Titus had walked the entire length of the Citadel, his feet dragging as each step pained him as much as his heart did.
The battle going on within his mind felt like nothing he had ever encountered. He had faced impossible odds within his career; facing slavers, smugglers, pirates, crazed biotics and even one psychotic general. Even as a child his condition had him fighting for his life, training on Palaven, growing up on a colony world where altitude sickness was as common as flu but in comparison, those moments were all child's play. This – he didn't know what to make of this.
His internal emotions were in turmoil. At first he thought it was guilt. He had taken advantage of the situation, forcing himself upon her. But somewhere in the middle of pacing the span of the Kithoi ward, he had come to realise that it wasn't the case. She had tried to stop him from leaving, grabbing for his hand, uncaring if it was taloned and scaly. Fewer digits less than her own.
Looking down at his bare hands, pale, withered, spilling as much blood as much as they had saved. He had lost another pair of gloves…but that was only a minute detail in the grand scheme of things.
How could he ever face her again after this?
What Cato would ever mix business and pleasure? He rested his head in his hand. Spirits, his mind was a mess. The last time he felt like this…well, that didn't end well.
Titus slumped down on a bench as his thoughts engulfed his strength and his legs refused to take another step.
He sensed someone approach him; expecting them to get bored of watching a turian wallow in their own self-pity, he didn't acknowledge their presence, ignoring them until they spoke.
"Hey there, want a little company tonight?"
Titus assumed he must of looked terrifying when he scowled up at the trespasser of his solitude, because for a brief second there was just a little panic in her eyes.
It was nothing more than an asari prostitute, skilled in picking out lost souls, looking for a moment's distraction from whatever their sordid path their lives had taken.
Tilting his head, he considered her proposition for a moment. Some company wouldn't be a bad idea. He could most likely work whatever this was out of his system.
As Titus rose slowly to his feet, he could tell that she was already regretting her choice to approach him as she shrivelled away from him and steeled herself.
Taking her chin between forefinger and thumb he inspected her; talons touching the surface of her skin ever so lightly. Her muddy green eyes gave his bare hands a nervous glance. It was well known that a natural turian claw could cause a nasty wound. Her eyes weren't the shade of gold he ached for, with their unjudging glances, filled with curiosity instead of fear. He could so easily, destroy what beauty this asari had.
His thumb caressed across the line of her jaw. It wasn't soft like velvet, or the right shade of bronze. Instead it was pale blue and leathery.
It wasn't what he longed for. It was all wrong…
Titus let go and started to walk away. He had left behind what he desired, in an apartment on the 105th floor.
What was he thinking? Tori was a human and he a turian, incompatible in every sense - right down to their biology. Given his allergies, she could possibly kill him. The memory of her lips against his mouth hadn't shifted. His hand rested there for a moment, unsure if he was willing the sensation away or begging it to remain.
He was the third son of Tiberius and Aurelia. Most likely the next in line to take over their rather successful business, especially since his eldest brother, Aegidius, had married and settled down - slowing the pace of the turian tradition of citizenship climbing - and Titus had since overtaken Aegidius twice over.
He needed an out. There was only one man who could understand the mistake Titus had made. He had saved Titus from disaster. He had done it before and he could do it again.
Looking down at his omni-tool, Titus checked the time. It was oh-five hundred hours Presidium time. A suitable hour to shoot his uncle a message. Family - one could always rely on family.
Something has happened
An hour later he received a rather efficient reply. His uncle said he would be waiting in his office.
Titus sighed heavily, running the words he would say over in his mind as he made it back to headquarters but the conviction he held when sending the email originally was fleeing him. This was a huge mistake - he would be judged, cast out and discarded.
Arriving at the headquarters, he made his way to the Executor's office, beeping once and awaiting permission to enter.
"Come in," came the cold tones of Venari.
Titus entered, his eyes lingering on the floor until he found the courage within to drag them up. He held his head as proudly as all his Cato pride could muster, feeling anything but proud as he stood to attention.
"Executor" he said his voice cracking where it hadn't been used for a while.
Venari said nothing in reply, just stared at him long and hard, waiting to hear the bad news. His face looked perplexed and slightly amused.
"You need to send me back to Palaven," Titus spat out instantly. There was no point beating about the bush, waiting for his uncle to draw it out of him.
Venari frowned and sat back in his chair, the main answer of why eluding him.
The answer Venari wanted was there on the tip of Titus' tongue but he couldn't bring himself to say what he did, what happened. Instead it came out a cryptic mess.
"I've been compromised"
Vernari's brow raised high on his face in alarm. "Compromised how? Were you not careful with your mission?"
Titus hung his head. He was almost certain his uncle didn't fully understand what he meant. But the weight of his words had their own meaning. Titus hadn't thought about the mission, especially over the past few weeks. Even before last night he had doubted Tori was planted in C-Sec.
Titus was cautious by nature, these decrepit feelings had swept over him suddenly like a wave, taking him over and currently taking him under. He was drowning. He raised his eyes to meet the confused appraisal of his uncle.
Venari instinctively knew he wasn't telling him everything. "Go on," he encouraged with dangerous low undertones.
"Emotionally compromised," Titus confessed, exhausted. He wasn't lying but he just couldn't bring himself to say the words that were screaming in his head. He thought if he ignored them long enough, fought against them, they would eventually silence. 'I'm besotted with her.'
"Ah…" his uncle eventually said, sounding understanding, strange. Titus snapped his gaze back to his uncle to confirm what he was hearing. He looked like he was reflecting on something.
Pallin sighed, and seemed to scoff briefly and bitterly. "You really are your mother's son…"
Titus didn't know what to think from that, he also didn't understand what his uncle truly meant but before he could even contemplate asking, the subject matter changed as Venari turned his head to stare him down.
"That doesn't warrant a return to Palaven, Titus. Request denied."
Those words fell upon him like a hand across the face and a fist in the gut. Titus closed his eyes as he realised he had to endure this feeling. How could his own kin deny him something that was so clearly the solution to this problem?
As if Pallin read his mind he sat back in his chair and folded his hands together. "Titus, you don't get to be in C-sec as long as I have, even as Executor without hearing about how the officers here get themselves involved in some emotional entanglement - and dealing with it accordingly. You've already fallen down this step before."
Opening violet eyes to look back at his commanding officer, Titus was frowning. He didn't understand.
"If I got paid for every time I heard how one officer got another pregnant, or about illicit affairs between partners I would be a very rich turian," Venari recalled, sounding more than slightly amused. "Getting close to people, developing trivial fascinations in this line of work is only natural. We count on these men and women with our lives, if anything; one could argue you have done the job of getting her to trust you completely. Maybe even perfectly."
Titus felt sick. He hadn't been given permission to sit but he didn't wait or ask for it as he sunk down on the chair in front of his uncle's desk. He had been used, by his own blood.
"You knew?" Titus mumbled, unable to say words that felt more alien to him than his own feelings for Tori. The Catos always put family first, before platoon, before duty but his uncle wasn't a Cato. Titus was unsure what made his mind reel more.
"Not exactly. I know your history, Titus. That mercenary girl was your first incident. The fact you have your mother's failings also led me to believe it would happen again." Venari explained it so casually as if he was reciting a mission debriefing. "Aurelia always wore her heart on her sleeve; she was soft and gentle as the female sex should be. The way she coddled you as a child was bound to do one of two things; pass on more of her personality traits or make you incompetent. I know my twin too well to know she would raise an incompetent son."
There were no words. Titus stared back at the Executor, mouth agape and frozen with shock. Beneath that there was disgust. How could the women who birthed him share the same womb with the man in front of him? He was her twin, yes, but they were as different as the sun and the moon. His mother was the icon of his education, she taught him to read and write, what was right and wrong and finally the most important thing to any Cato son. Family comes first.
To be used in this manner for his failings, not his triumphs was almost too much for him to bear. His uncle didn't stop talking there. Titus assumed he was reading his stunned silence as acceptance.
"As for your original problem, it doesn't matter. Shaw is out for at least a few weeks and it will be months before she can get out there on the beat. Perhaps I'll put her on customs until she has recovered - keep you two apart for a bit until your infatuation disperses."
Titus' mouth felt incredibly dry as it soured with his uncle's plot, but he managed a grunt and a nod of his head.
"In the mean time I have the military's best at my disposal. Since Vakarian left for his fantastical space adventure,' he muttered derisively, 'I am one experienced detective short. I do have a few high class projects that could use your attention from Vakarian's cold cases. Worthy of your experience. It will keep you busy and your mind on your purpose."
An awkward silence fell in the room as Titus defragmented all the information that just been relayed to him. He couldn't believe it.
"And another thing, Titus. I think you should go see the medical officer. You look unwell."
The words fell on ears that weren't listening. It was as if his body had gone into autopilot as he rose to his feet and nodded respectfully to his uncle, standing at attention.
Titus felt foolish. He was a turian, his future nor was his person his own. He belonged solely to his people as all turians did. Guilt and betrayal mixed with the shame of his own selfishness. He saluted his superior with his honorific title. "Executor…"
Even Titus wasn't able to hide the bitterness in his tones as he excused himself out of that clinical office.
Once outside he called up his onmi-tool, the forward facing camera pointing at his face. It was then he realised what the Executor meant. The tingling feeling on his mouth, which he assumed was the residue memory of Tori's mouth on his, was actually purple mottling. A rash…
Incompatible even down to their very biology.
Victoria jolted out of her sleep, feeling a little worse for wear. How did she fall asleep on the sofa? She didn't know.
Trying to push herself up from where she fell asleep, forgetting that her arm was strapped down in the process, she gasped as the pain ripped through her chest. Cradling her wounded shoulder, she sat up and looked around her apartment. Something wasn't right…
The unmistakable remains of dread still clung to her. While she couldn't quite place why it was there in the first place, she could liken it to a nightmare that she had already forgotten. She attempted to roll the stiffness out of her shoulder, only to find it was a terrible mistake.
The pain medication the hospital had kindly given had worn off hours ago. Now it felt like her arm was about to fall off of its own accord. She untangled her legs from beneath her and stood up, only to feel something light fall from her lap and land softly at her feet.
Snapping her gaze to the objects, she saw they were blue and black gloves. C-sec blue and black, and turian in shape.
"Titus…" she whispered softly as she stared at them lying on her feet.
That was right he had visited last night. It couldn't be any other turian. She cared so little for the others that she worked with. It couldn't be any one else but him, however this wasn't the time to wonder why his gloves were here in her apartment, and not on his hands. The pain from her gunshot wound wouldn't let any other thought stay within her mind long enough for her to ponder on it. Tori needed to take her medication now and wonder later.
She crossed the room, limping slightly. Her sleeping position on the sofa had not been that refreshing; every muscle was knotted with every tendon. Once at the kitchen counter, she easily located the orange vial of pills among slate-black work tops. Glancing at the label, it read 'one every twelve hours'. She shrugged this off, working out that she could take two and it would cover her for the day. Tapping out the selected number, she fetched herself a glass of water and took one at a time.
It would be at least ten minutes before Victoria started to feel better. Holding the glass' cold rim to her lips, she looked back at the gloves, wondering why they were there in the first place. She had always seen turians with their hands covered. Her mother always said it was to hide the fact they were still beasts beneath the material, 'masked horrors' of untold danger.
Shaking the xenophobic words from her mind, her eyes fell on another strange object in her apartment. A blue visor lay discarded in the middle of the room. Not so far away from it sat the box it had been housed in.
'It's just a little something I got for you.' The memory of his voice felt so faded it could have easily been a dream.
Tori crossed over to the visor and gingerly picked it up, examining it in her fingers. The evidence clearly said he was here, so why did she still have the sense of something being terribly wrong? A pity she didn't have that much practice reading crime scenes, however Victoria figured she had enough power of deduction to piece it all together.
She placed the visor on her face. It fitted like a glove. Such a thoughtful gift, but it would be weeks till she could utilise it in the fashion it was bought for.
It was then in the corner of her eye, at the bottom of the visor screen, she spotted a little blinking light. It was a notification that a playback of a recording was ready. Carefully feeling around the frame, it didn't take Victoria long before she found the navigation buttons.
She clicked play.
Titus' voice was unmistakable as the visor still lay in her hands facing him. They were sitting at the window seat. She could tell as the glow from the Serpent nebula had coloured them in a soft shade of purple.
"No, not at all. It's just for the first time in my life, I feel like I truly belong somewhere. I never found this in the Alliance, N7, nothing. I was a serious outcast on Horizon, being a biotic and all. My mother ran a small security firm and if she didn't carry weight…well, let's just say I got into a lot of fights."
Victoria scoffed as she listed to how slurred her words were. Titus seemed to sigh, and his head hung a little as he gave a gentle nod of his head in acknowledgement.
He then reached out to poke her in her side and Victoria squealed with surprise and batted his hand away. One of his hands was bare.
They were not the monstrous hands her mother depicted. Yes, they were clawed but also strangely elegant, with long tapered digits that graced the end of his wrist.
He laughed, sounding slightly confused by the sound, so he did it again and Victoria repeated it. The visor then slipped out of her lap and landed on the floor, among the pillows that she had found earlier. Now there were a pair of turian feet and one human one. It looked like he continued to attack her with pokes and Victoria had wriggled herself completely off the sofa in jerky, clumsy motions. As she tried to defend herself, she landed on the floor with a harsh bump.
No wonder Tori felt like she had been rattled through her bones this morning.
Titus had followed, unrelenting as they play-fought, thoroughly enjoying the game. The two of them were in perfect view on the floor of her living room, both laughing as Titus pinned her good arm above her head, completely over her and incredibly close.
Tori's breath caught in her chest as the memories slowly resurfaced, blurred and fuzzy. But she didn't need the memories; she had the proof right here in front of her.
It was Tori who had stopped laughing first and stared at him with such intensity.
It made Victoria's heart slow to almost stopping.
Titus's laughter rolled off naturally as he noticed she was no longer laughing. She could see the awkwardness in his body language as he studied her, all of her not just her face. Titus turned to get up before that one free arm grabbed him by his cowl. He turned back to her, startled and surprised. Until Tori pulled herself upwards from off the floor and planted a kiss on his maw. Titus seemed paralysed in that second, like he didn't know what to do.
Victoria gasped and raised her hand to her mouth as it all came flooding back, like the banks of her memory had been overloaded until they burst. It was so vivid – blurs of white, laughter and then… She closed her eyes tightly, trying to will it all away.
His mouth was surprisingly cool, smooth and more malleable that it appeared. She recalled that the turian exoskeleton was made of mixed-parts bone and cartilage. Their mouths must be a part that wasn't all bone. His breath against her face, heavy and warm. She remembered feeling his heart beat hard against his chest almost as fierce and loudly as her own.
She opened her eyes to continue watching the video, only to find he had lifted her completely onto his lap, her legs wrapped around his hips.
"No, no no…" Tori whimpered as she continued to watch the travesty happening in front of her eyes. Titus had pulled off his other free glove and tossed it aside, before his bare hands traced up along her waist and back.
Looking beyond the screen, Tori caught her reflection in the surface of her walls. Turning and lifting her shirt to examine her back, it looked like she had been attacked by some angry kittens and she was the ball of yarn.
Her eyes darted about her apartment, looking at the gloves and the window seat where it had all happened before falling on a picture of her father. Her heart sank at the realisation of the betrayal she had committed.
"Father," she whispered softly as she moved to the picture. Her fingers that clutched the holo tightly tried to clumsily caress the man she barely knew. It was a standard military picture, his face was meant to be stern, unsmiling but his eyes, the same shape and colour as her own, smiled. They beamed as proudly as the man that possessed them as he stood in his dress uniform, finely pressed and starched to perfection.
His skin was darker than her own, his hair tightly curled as it was shaven into a standard military crew cut. She didn't recall how tall he was; she just had this image of a dark shadow that to her child self seemed a giant among men. But the shadow wasn't scary. It brought joy, laughter and exotic gifts from across the universe.
He had been killed in action in Shanxi. It was the reason her mother was desperately alone, the reason she grew up on Horizon and the reason for everything in her life being thrown off-course.
And yet there, in that visor, she was entwined in the arms of a man who was the same species who had caused it all.
His hand entangled in her hair and head deeply buried in her neck.
What had she done? This crossed every line imaginable.
But then suddenly, Titus broke off his embrace. He held her tightly by the shoulders as he stared at her with the same kind of horror Victoria was feeling now. He got up and Tori slid off his lap with a thud and cry of pain. She could see him flinch towards her, as if he wanted to make sure she was alright. But he shook his head and retreated, his entire body trembling from the event.
Tori saw herself reach out and grab for his hand, but she missed and Titus left with no words.
Taking off the visor, she set it on the coffee table, stunned and disgusted all at once. What had made her do that? What had made Titus? It had all been horrifically awkward and sudden, like the two of them had made a desperate grab for something at the wrong time.
She had to fix this. Titus most likely had the entire wrong idea about the whole situation.
Feeling around her sling, Victoria tried to locate the hand held device that summoned her omni-tool. Placing it in the bound hand, her fingers felt so weak holding the smooth oval object. They clumsily felt about the edges, looking for the standby button.
Eventually she got it working and with her good arm she tried to call him. She had to apologise for her actions last night, to laugh it off as friends should. The call rang once before being cut off.
She was too late…