Takes place in between ME 2 and ME 3.
People have lines they will not cross, things they will not do. It turns their stomach even to hear, even to know that somewhere in the galaxy, unspeakable things are done. Crimes, in the general consciousness, too hideous to be forgiven. It's something that goes deeper than all the rhetoric of culture and civilisation and common morals — politicians always sprout those, regardless of where they crawled out from under their rock. Invisible lines, drawn like solid frontiers in some imagined sand at everyone's feet that keeps societies from turning on themselves. The simple fact that certain things, people just do not do. He has heard the rationalisations, but Shepard has never quite bought into them. He isn't bothered by transgressions of one kind or another, isn't repulsed and it puzzles him sometimes how fetishist it can become to others, how fascinating some perverted fantasy can become. He wonders, sometimes, where his line is. He has always entertained — always been rather enamoured with — the idea that he has found his line, once in the past, and never even seen it for what it was.
The public, he knows, will point to Torfan, would say this is it, this is where he fell and salute him with secret, callous, grudging admiration. He has never given Torfan as much weight, although he knows well enough how it stands out in his career. How one small event turned a talented soldier into something more; a man who might be made a Spectre, one who would stand on the crumbling ruins of the Presidium, one considered dangerous enough to move galaxies to kill and burn fortunes to resurrect.
In quiet moments, he realises what on odd thing it has become, this life of his and he tries to trace its twists and turns back to the dirty back alleys of his youth. It doesn't awe him, though he supposes maybe it should, sometimes. It awes others well enough.
Regardless of what the public might like to think, Torfan changed nothing. He was the same man, walking away from there.
"So, where have you been?"
He glances to the side, along the edge of his glass, taking his time in answering. It isn't the kind of bar where you'd want to meet people, he has no interest in new acquaintances, but he hopes there are ways to somehow overcome the Cerberus implants that foolishly take alcohol for poison that should be cleansed from his system.
An asari has sat down two stools away and he dimly remembers her calling her order to the bartender a moment ago.
He takes his time, considers. Can't well tell her about the Shadow Broker, can he? Or Bahak for that matter, only to launch into another Cassandra speech about the Reaper threat? Even he has grown tired of that one.
He smiles a little, shrugs and takes a slow sip from his glass. "Nothing special," he says finally. "Only through Omega-4."
They will tell you all asari are beautiful, but it's a stupid piece of bullshit propaganda if ever there was one. Asari rarely are genuinely ugly, but it's anyone's guess how you even begin to judge that across several species and their differing, subjective ideas of what beauty is actually like. Asari are a myth, however, a juvenile fantasy made available to all the galaxy like one nugget of kindness dangled before your eyes. Personally, Shepard has always suspected it has something to do with the startling, utterly rare blue of their skin. It's an uncommon enough colour in animals and sentients alike, startling and bright and so utterly alien the idea of touching it, of having, turns out just too irresistible.
"You don't say," the asari remarks and takes her bottle, lets it hover between two fingers above the grease of the bar counter. She doesn't believe him — she doesn't quite disbelieve him either. It doesn't seem to bother her either way.
This asari is not beautiful. She looks to have been in a firefight recently herself and although her clothes are clean, she carries herself as if she is still strapped in a deformed hardsuit. Her skin is dark, edging into sapphire and then purple. If he's had to judge her age — and asari are kind of tough — he'd say somewhere between an overaged maiden and a matron that couldn't get behind the idea of motherhood.
She has a scar at the side of her face, healed, but never properly treated to prevent the mark. Tough to find trustworthy doctors on Omega, and then, there are scars people sometimes want to keep. A fact Cerberus hadn't been too bothered with, putting him back together. It's always darkly amused him that he's always wanted to walk out on them just because of that. A tiny scar on his eyebrow, left there by a thrown piece of cutlery by a desperate batarian. Torfan. He wanted to keep that scar.
"It leads to the galactic core," he adds, lets something of the nonchalance bleed from his voice.
"Hmm," she makes. Drinks. Says, "Well, if you've got to show off, do it big, I guess. I respect that."
He sets his glass down. He props his elbow on the counter and rests his head in his palm, watches her from this altered perspective. "You don't believe me," he says bemusedly.
She laughs, "I think you look like someone who might do something like that. Who is to say? Me, I just want a drink."
He keeps watching her for a long moment. He has come to Omega only to drop Morinth off and he doesn't quite recall, now, how he had ended up here on the way back, how many wrong turns it had taken for him end up in this grimy bar.
He slips into the next seat, the one on her side, observes as she leans a little towards him as he does, almost close enough to bump her shoulder with his. He says, "Sounds like a plan. My treat."
"I won't say no," she nods. Looks away to catch the bartender's eye. Orders them a bottle of something whose name he doesn't recognise.
The constant that Morinth has been in his life is gone. He's not one for attachment, never was. He's learned early in his life that everyone — everyone — will one day be dead and gone. If she meant nothing, though, he would be back on the Normandy by now.
He wonders how likely it will be for him to find her again, out there, with a raging war tearing down everything civilisation has ever erected. But then, Morinth will be just another lost soul, a casualty like so many others. Whether she dies because he will have to burn everyone to save them all, or whether she dies because she has to fight on her own out there in the cold. He can't quite see the difference. He just hopes she'll take down a few enemies with her when she does, but somehow, he doesn't doubt that.
Shepard says, "So what's your story?"
The asari takes her time, drinks in silence and keeps looking back to him from the corners of her eyes.
This, Shepard catches himself thinking not much later, is too easy. Of course, soldiers back from the fray are never difficult. It has something to do with being alive, against the odds, an echo of physicality that has to be sated, like a need to compare scars and grin with bloody teeth. It's part of the game, part of coming back from the battlefield, of grounding yourself back into reality. The adrenaline will have to spend itself somehow, burn out somewhere else before the killing edge is lost. It never fades on its own, never stutters out. Shepard understands it well enough, can't quite tell where his own recent history factors into this, but he likes to think he has more control than that — evidence to the contrary notwithstanding.
But he has found people always easy anyway. Their motives are mostly transparent, their decisions writing themselves on their faces even as they make them. They are malleable, only looking for someone to tell them what to think, where to look and who to be. He has been like that, too, once. He remembers the Alliance recruitment poster, where seeing it and walking into the office had been almost the same thing. Inevitable. For no other reason than the promise that this meant he wouldn't have to die some insignificant death in a back alley with a dull, dirty knife buried in his gut. Such a life — and such a death — was not going to be his. He could marvel at the arrogance of that young thug, but he couldn't well question his success.
He smiles back at her when she wants it, keeps eye-contact and buys them drinks. It's easy, flattering her. None of that shit about lovely eyes or a beautiful smile. She wants to be told that taking down two turians in hand-to-hand combat is a feat, that taking off a salarian's horn as a warning shot is both impressive and clever. He listens to her description of some raid she's been part in and chuckles darkly about thermal clips rigged to explode and used as make-shift grenades.
She has seen her share, he can tell and she is skilled enough, fast and clever enough, to make it this far, but despite all that, she isn't interesting to him. But she is there, amiable and pliant enough. Willing.
She says, "So, I got a room not far from here. You want to come over for the night?"
In the end, he supposes, soldiers back from the fray are never difficult. He doesn't feel like being an exception.
The asari's room is small, not cleaned since the last dozen inhabitants, or since the Protheans moved out. There is the whiff of drugs in the air, red sand and others he can't quite name, cheap alcohol, dried sweat and old blood. Ventilation clatters irregularly above them, does little to clear the air. The asari's damaged hardsuit occupies a corner, looming in the twilight of a lamp flickers with low power. She drags him into the room, hand twisted into the collar of his jacket, pushes him against the door as it closes. Kisses him hard, sloppy.
They pull and tear at alien clothing to get rough hands to alien skin. They stumble across the small space between the door and the bed. She hits the edge with the back of her legs, snarls against his mouth, then laughs. "Sorry," she says. "Didn't think I'd be having a guest. Thought I'd only be crashing out drunk anyway."
She brings him around, trips him back into the bed, climbs after him.
"Good enough for me," he says, matches her tone. Isn't nearly as drunk as she is.
Clothes shed, she leans into his touch easily, moans and arches into his finger, says, "Not your first asari, am I?"
He snakes an arm around her neck, pulls her down above him, grips her hips with the other. "Do you mind?" he adds, playful smirk painted across his face. He knows there is enough left of his fading, cybernetic scarring, enough so she trails a hand down the side of his face, short nails tracing the marks. Blue flares in the wake of her touch, shoots down through his cheek and he's left breathless.
She chuckles, "Show me what you can do."
Sparkles again, all along his body. Pinpricks of sensation following her touch, burying underneath, flooding his very bones.
Part of him has always hated how this made him feel, too goddamn good, this melding of spirits, all nerve-ends coming alive. Compared to this, all other sensations, all other experience pales. It means nothing at all. He understands Morinth well enough, this addiction of hers, what this would give her, when she is so much stronger, so much fiercer than any of these unremarkable asari. There is effort, jarring, pulsing pleasure that lures him to just let go. It asks a surrender, of control and promises something infinite if only he would let himself fall.
He grips her tighter, kisses her back and his teeth sheer across her lip and draw blood when he rolls them both around, a graceful, levered motion on the narrow bed. She tastes different, drops falling from his teeth and she laughs. He grazes his teeth along her jaw, doesn't bother to be careful this late in the game.
"My mind's my own," he tells her.
She's struggling, he can tell, the connection already blossoming on its own, but hacks her nails down in his back, draws them down. "Sure," she finally forces out and the connection fades slowly, reluctantly. "But get moving, stranger."
Asari. Looking like human women, but there is nothing really human about them, nothing familiar. Part of their appeal, he supposes. Exotic game and all that. Her body feels alien. Different heat against and around him, different, flexing muscles. More responsive than humans, easier to play like an instrument. She arches her back, wraps her legs around his waist. Catches his gaze as her eyes fill with darkness.
It's stale, spikes of gratification at each thrust, but no thrill, no texture, no fire. He lifts his hand to her face, smears the blood from her split lip along the side of her jaw. Open-mouthed, she laughs again, throws her head back against his fingers, paints a streak of dark on the smooth, fascinating cerulean of her skin.
He has been falling for a very long time and the crash is so very long overdue.
It does not, after all, take too much. He shifts his grip on her only slightly, feels her writhe into the touch at first, her body becoming even hotter where she squeezes around him. His fingers find a proper grip around her throat, caress her for a moment, long enough to make her shudder and tilt her head back as far as it can go, exposing herself like this, far too inviting to resist. He closes his grip, hard.
She bucks under him in a pleasant, rippling motion that lets her whole body vibrate and the pleasure tips into a sharp spark of pain for both of them — there is always some connection with asari, no matter how much they try to hold back. There is always a breaking point, when the need to meld and join becomes too strong to fight. It goes too deep, this instinct. He should scoff at the invasion of privacy and throw her back onto herself — it's not like he hasn't learned anything from Liara, after all — but this time, the sensation is both new and fascinatingly familiar. She realises, on some subconscious level how her air is running out, how it wasn't going to last and how there wasn't going to be another breath at all. It lashes back at him like a bad memory, something better off forgotten, too close to fear and bitter as any defeat. Now, though, the suffocation filtered through her mind has a different texture, when it won't be his own death he has to face.
He presses tighter and her body shudders again. He digs the fingers of his other hand into her hip, feels the resistance of bones there, stops just short of breaking them and thrusts hard into her. Her thoughts scatter with the impact and he does it again before they can begin to reform. There is no reason to stop after that.
The asari is a battle-hardened warrior, though, and the shock and white hot pain-pleasure won't hold her down. She drives her nails into the arm at her throat, scrabbling to free herself from the choking agony, but she lets up, realising the futility of it. She rams her hand into his chest and a biotic blast pushes him back a fraction. She hasn't mustered enough strength to push him off completely, only a tiny sound hissed past her constricted throat.
Her whole body flares up with wisps of blue, building up pressure against him, making movement difficult. He stills instead, buried as deeply inside her as he can possibly go. He pins her hips down, holds them both still until he feels the fight going out of her slowly. Her biotics still flare around them, whispering along his skin, struggling for a hold, a hook with which to free herself, but she cannot grip him when he's inside her and her concentration doesn't hold against the force of his body.
He once died of asphyxiation. The sensations feeding back to him are the same, remembered agony, pain and panicked breathing for as long as it could possibly last, knowing all the while that it would not and the crushing silence of infinity, all of space spreading out around him. But this is different, neither his fear nor his pain, it's just an echo, beating at the back of his mind on cresting waves. This pain has a different taste, this suffering is delicious. This time, he is the one in control and it makes for a heady combination. He has defied death often enough, it neither rouses nor impresses him any longer, but he has not faced this dying again, hasn't had a chance to try and stare it down. He stops breathing, too, for a moment when she finally does, because he can, because it's a choice he has the power to make. The asari's body locks up, cramping in death or rapture or both. Their connection lights up between them, bright and sharp, overheated in his mind and his nerves sting and sizzle, then it tears, slowly like ripping skin. He growls low in his throat, the sound of an animal even to his own ears.
A silent scream beats in his mind, the backlash of her dying flaring halo-bright, shooting back through their fused nerves with so much more force than he could have imagined. It breaks his own power, his rhythm stuttering as white-heat filling his vision before it dips into darkness. He shares her dying — again — feels her go under and the cold coming in, freezing him in place above her.
It takes effort to move, to relax his muscles — never hurt like this before, doesn't seem to be making sense — to clear his vision. Has to blink a few times to do it, difficult to sort out sensation in his mind. The asari has gone limp, still with the sick, lingering heat of pulsing life and soaked arousal. Her eyes are wide on him, empty and pitch-black, deep enough to get lost in.
He snaps away from her, suddenly incapable to bear touching her any longer. He stands away from her, still breathing hard — harder than he can remember and it takes longer until it begin to even out. It's freezing with the cool-down, unrelenting air against his naked skin, carving into him like razors.
He doesn't look at the asari, has no desire to figure out why this might be so. She is sprawled out wantonly on the bed, motionless and ravished. Unexpected disgust closes his throat and he catches himself on an unfamiliar line of thought, wondering how to hide this, how to cover it up, so the galaxy might never know this about him. It's an odd thought, utterly alien for a man of his track record. He's never cared for what anyone thought, doesn't waste time on gossip or rumour. His reputation, good or bad, it's none of his business at all. He will do as he wants, or as he must, and let those who think themselves worthy be the judge.
So this is the line, he thinks, not Torfan, not Bahak. Just an unremarkable asari and the way she's died.
How unremarkable, he adds, trivial. Something he has never been, never wanted to be, or thought himself capable of.
He stands there, listening to his own heartbeat, breathing the badly filtered Omega air. Every breath is precious, even here, but he has always known that. He stands and his breathing slows and the memory of dying turns in his head. His death. Hers. Cerberus had forgotten more than just a scar and two tattoos when they brought him back. He has been human only until he died.
He flexes his neck and shoulders, strength flowing back in his limbs, like afterglow. Once the border is crossed, there is no reason left for vertigo.
This is Omega. There are worse things happening everywhere right now and no one cares.
He goes to take a shower, leaves the dead asari where she is. He'll let Aria handle this, no doubt she will enjoy thinking him in her debt.
Morinth finds Omega newly distasteful. Boring and bland, its dangers nothing compared to where she has been, who has known and what she has done. The mercs have no sting, the dreary lowlife in this place offers no attraction. She secures herself an apartment, but she does not intend to stay long.
Then she goes to book herself passage away from this dead rock. Any direction will do, any destination. She feels oddly exposed, being this lone hunter again, now that there is no one there any longer to watch her back. No one who might be willing to catch her if she slips up, no one at all to play with, no one worthy at any rate. It's not what she wants, not what she needs either.
She stands outside a black-market trader's seedy office and takes a deep breath of the vile air around her. It will be good to leave all this behind, find some greener pastures somewhere else. Maybe she has forgotten who she is, it will take some time until she can regain all of that. Shepard has left her, thrown her back into the chaos where he once found her, a victim left by the wayside, disregarded and meaningless, the way she did with all her past lovers. Perhaps he should have killed her, she thinks, to lend symmetry to both their existence.
Her omni-tool announces a message, send anonymously, but when she opens it, she is instantly at peace with so many things. She opens the picture that accompanies the message, lets it paint itself with blazing lights into the gloom around her.
It's a titillating image if ever she has seen one. An asari, strong-limbed and smooth-muscled, spread out on a bed soiled by the glistening fluids slowly leaking from her slackened body. The angle is blatant, leaving very little to the imagination. Purple imprints of a hand mark the asari's slender neck and her head is tilted back, mouth opened in a unvoiced scream. Morinth imagines the sound she would have tried to make, then, of death and utter, hopeless bliss. Her eyes are a perfect black.
The message itself is short, but oh so sweet.
Wish you were here. — S
Morinth stores the image away, suddenly content in the storm she feels gathering all around them.
She contemplates for a long minute what option she has left, what choices she might be able to make, but in truth, the decision is quite easy. She cannot quite comprehend how she ever entertained other options at all. She regrets walking away, but she knows her time on the Normandy has always been finite.
She turns around on her heels, returns to the trader, arranges passage to Earth.
She will keep an eye on Shepard as well she can, watch him from afar as if he was still her prospective prey; she'll watch over him like the lover she cannot quite be.
Shepard will be set free again, she knows. The Reapers will come with all their destruction and they will vindicate him, proof him right, once and for all. Shepard has always been great, but the Reapers will exalt him so much further.
Among the flames and ruins left in the wake of his victory, she will find his side again.