The wet sound of fresh blood splattered against the cold metal floor. The dull eyes of his reflection glowed back at Ulaz as he dragged the spiked thongs back over his shoulder, hoarse hisses of pain filling the room as the spikes dragged through the torn flesh. He should have handled it better; should never of looked. He deserved nothing but this just punishment for his actions. “Let Birgir reign down his righteous fury,” through the pain he lashed the thongs back over his shoulder, “and,” he choked, “let Hlynur bless me in blood,” he clenched his fist around the handle and pulled, his screech high as the metal ripped new lines through his lacerated skin. He panted, eyes heavy and body almost ready to keel over, “let Lilja purify me with her forgiveness.” He let the thongs clatter to the floor as his body fell, exhausted. Ulaz slowly reached for the large needle of quintessence and stabbed it into his collarbone. “Finally, let Unnur purge my body of sin.”
Thace entered Ulaz's dark apartment and made a beeline for the bathroom. He only ever came here when things were bad, and this was the second time since Ulaz had been grounded in Central he'd come to his aid. As he opened the bathroom door, he wrinkled his nose. The smell never got better – it never would. “You need to stop doing this to yourself.” Thace whispered as grabbed a towel and bent down, placing it gently over the shredded back. He wouldn't hear him – Ulaz was passed out cold on the floor like all the other times prior to this.
Thace turned the light on and carefully eased Ulaz into the bedroom, taking out the medical kit and checking the supplies had been replaced. Nodding to himself, he worked at cleaning and sterilising the wounds. He needed to be placed in a tank to heal properly, but Ulaz wouldn't allow it due to his religion. Thace narrowed his eyes as he massaged the healing gel into his short fur, pulling away the tufts stuck in the gouges. That religion would be the death of him if it didn't end up being through battle. He wasn't a fanatic like he said he was when he was young, but there were some things that he never let go of; this being the worst. “I hate how this way of thinking was forced upon you,” he muttered into Ulaz's ear, giving his neck a tender lick, “and I hate you won't let me in. You can't keep overburdening yourself.” Thace refocussed his efforts on sterilising everything. He knew Ulaz would have injected himself with quintessence, but he needed more then this. It was going to be a long day-cycle.
Ulaz stretched out his body, cracking his eyes open and yawning wide. He blinked at the mug that sat on the bedside table. He took it, appreciating the small gestures of kindness that Thace allotted him when he was like this. He blew the liquid and took a tentative sip, humming in gratitude. His back felt sore, but it was irrelevant whether he hurt or not. He'd gone against what he believed in, and there was no justification for feeling sorry for himself. Dragging himself from the bed, he wandered through the dark corridor until he made it to the kitchen, Thace leaning against the counter as something cooked in the pan. “You need to clean out your fridge more often. Half of it was inedible.”
“Good evening to you too.” Ulaz cracked a half smile before setting his mug on the side. “Thank you for everything you've done.” He leaned against the fridge, the two watching the pan.
“What transpired last night for this to happen again?” Thace finally asked as he turned off the heat and started to dish things up. He watched Ulaz bring his claws to his mouth. “Don't keep biting them.”
“Apologies, I don't realise.” He settled carefully in the chair as Thace pushed the plate towards him and set a tall glass of water down. “You need your strength.” He muttered as he settled opposite with his own portion. “Was his memories that bad?”
“They were terrible. I've never seen anything so degrading in all my deca-phoebs. His friend, gods...now I've seen and heard it all...I know why he willingly goes to Sendak.” Ulaz held his head in his hands, digging his claws in tight. Thace pulled his wrists away. “Please, stop hurting yourself.” He pleaded delicately. “That's not everything, oh gods no.” Ulaz sat chewing the food in his mouth, gaze fixated on the counter top.
“He's passed intelligence on to Champion – the same intelligence she submitted.” Ulaz finally said. He watched as Thace placed his fork down on the plate, head bowing as he to leaned on the table. “What did you do?”
“The only thing I could think of; threaten him and...I can't say the rest. It's too shameful.”
“Did he resist?”
“No, he was obedient. That doesn't make it better.”
“I know, nor would expect it to.” Thace sniffed as he stabbed his food absently. “I threatened to tell Sendak, told him to stay away from Champion.”
“How can he if he's going back to train? He can't avoid him forever.”
“I realised. More so after I found out they slept together. I made him swear he would break off any contact other than gladiatorial chatter.” Ulaz stared at his food, not feeling hungry any more.
“Are you going to do anything else to him?” Thace finally asked. “I'm going to avoid anything sexual in nature with him.”
“That's for the best.” They looked at each other before Ulaz turned away. He couldn't stand to look at those eyes; he was making Thace sick with worry. “Was it penetrative?”
“It wasn't sodomy if that's what you're asking.” Ulaz tapped his mouth and Thace nodded slowly. “I understand why this morning happened then.” He muttered, drawing his mug to his hands.
“I'm disgusting and sinful.”
“No, you were thinking about the mission. We all have...difficult sacrifices we need to make.” Thace rotated the mug on the table, watching the steam rise. Ulaz snorted. “The mission feels pointless when we have to hurt those we're supposed to be trying to free.”
“But what else could you do? Reveal you're role to Sendak's personal slave and pray he didn't accidentally let it slip?” Thace's voice was louder then Ulaz was expecting.
“I'm sorry, I just...I wish you didn't hurt yourself like this. I feel bad for Shiro, of course I do, because he means a lot to you, but you're my mentor, my lover and someone I'd let have me as a mate. I want to be there for you, but when you punish yourself like this it...hurts. I know you hurt, don't think I'm trying to make this about me.” Thace grabbed Ulaz's wrist, holding it tightly as he leaned over. “Please, Ulaz, let me in and help you. I'm scared you're going to punish yourself so much one day you never wake up. I...get that your religion means a lot to you, but it affects your welfare.” Ulaz slowly looked into his eyes, head moving to the side just like it always did.
“It's hard. Everything growing up was so strict. We had to adhere to it 'lest we all be flogged. It's why I started biting my claws.” Ulaz set his fingers out on the table and watched as Thace picked up each hand with care. “You're taking the skin off.”
“Is it not an improvement?”
“It...is, but still.”
“I don't want to push my problems upon you either.” Ulaz admitted, taking a sip of water. “You have your own skeletons.”
“Perhaps, but you go rummaging for mine and I allow you in. I want to spend my time helping you. What would you say if we had a sit down, like you and Shiro, and tell me about what's on your mind? You're allowed to switch off and be looked after.” Thace took both the plates and placed them on the side. “We'll eat later.” He squeezed Ulaz's shoulder, the older Galra offering a cracked smile. “Perhaps I could share some of my demons.”
“Then let me fight them off.” Thace gave him a small forehead lick, and he pulled Ulaz from the chair.
“You're free to take the slave with you. I am awaiting your Medical Officer's final report, and then you will receive the advisory one afterwards. I trust you will pay attention this time?” Haggar would be as condescending as she pleased with Sendak. She still wasn't happy with him for mishandling what could have been a perfectly good test subject if he hadn't been so desperate to break it. Nevertheless, if he could sufficiently rebuild it's psyche, like Sendak had mentioned to her, there might be other uses outside of the arena if it lived that long. “Thank you, High Priestess.” Sendak and the slave bowed to her, and she dismissed them with a flick of her wrist.
“You have been awfully quiet.” Sendak muttered, toying with the frayed braid that hung over his shoulder. “I'm tired, Commander.”
“Was it a bad night?” Shiro was glad Sendak couldn't see his face. “Yeah. You could say that.” They walked in silence until they reached the giant atrium signifying they were close to Sendak's quarters. “So...Commander Ladnok and Kaleska live opposite us, but who else lives here?” Shiro asked carefully, looking left and right. “The other members of High Command. Commander Janka and him live to the left, whereas Commander's Trugg and Gnov live to the right.”
“How come we never see them except Commander Ladnok?”
“Our clan homes mean something different to all of us. Gnov prefers to stay inside since she works constantly. Trugg flits between her clan home, Ladnok's and the Emperor's cruiser. Ladnok commands the High Priestess's cruiser, but is normally here. Myself and the other two spend a lot of time away from our clan homes, and if I had my way, I'd stay on my cruiser.”
“Why did you come home then?” Shiro cast Sendak a quick glance. He watched him carefully before ruffling the back of his neck. “The Emperor grounded me here as punishment.”
“O-Oh. I'm sorry.”
“What's done is done. It was partially my fault.” Sendak pressed his hand to the door and it opened.
Shiro had missed this space. He wanted to go back and sleep on the sofa, but he wasn't sure. He wandered over to the pool, settling down on the floor to stare into the bright liquid. It's light was comforting. “What're you doing sat there?” Shiro turned to watch Sendak pull the armour from his chest, casting Shiro a look that could be worry. He didn't know. “I'm just...I don't know.”
“Come here.” Sendak motioned for him, and Shiro pushed himself from the tiles as he wandered over, awkwardly fiddling with his fingers. “Are you ill again? Do I need to call Ulaz-”
“No! No, I'm fine. I'm just really, really tired.” Shiro snapped. He flinched, drawing himself away as Sendak turned, the gauntlet catching in the light. “I-I'm sorry, I didn't mean to snap. I'm sorry-”
“Silence. Sit.” Sendak ordered. Shiro complied, but remained rigid on the seat. “Stay.” Sendak gave him a curt nod and left the room. He returned a few dobosh's later with two glasses and a bottle of what was likely alcohol.
“You look like you need a drink.” Sendak poured Shiro a glass, something he didn't expect, and pushed it towards him. Shiro reluctantly picked it up and took a sip. “I brought more of what you drank a phoeb ago.”
“I thought it tasted familiar.” Shiro studied the floor. “I'm sorry for snapping.”
“You're forgiven.” Sendak watched Shiro intently as he drank. He wished he had pupils, at least then he'd be easier to read.
“Are you relieved to be out of the labs?”
“Yeah. The Druid's creep me out.”
“Unsurprising. Many Galra fear them for their powers.” Sendak mused, swirling the clear liquid. “The Galra fear something?” Shiro picked his head up, that was strange for Sendak to admit. “Yes. We may not fear death, but we still fear things. We are a multi-faceted race, if you would believe that.”
“I do, to an extent.” Shiro looked to the bottle on the table, wondering how drunk Sendak planned on getting him. He downed the rest of the drink and reached to pour a second glass. It was another short-term fix, but it would help him forget for a while.
“Something troubles you.”
“Whaddya mean?” Shiro rolled his head forward, struggling to keep it from lolling back. They'd been having meaningless on-and-off chatter for the past varga and a half, a second bottle on the table between them almost empty. “You've been looking like you're ready to weep at any given moment.” Sendak leaned forward, watching Shiro carefully. “You're not acting like yourself.”
“I dunno who I am right now.” Shiro hiccuped, groaning to himself.
“You're Lieutenant Takashi Shirogane.”
Shiro frowned, brows knitted together as he lifted his head to Sendak. “Whatcha call me?”
“Lieutenant Takashi Shirogane. That is your name, correct?”
“Lieutenant's my title. Was.”
“I gathered.” Sendak studied him, sipping again at his drink.
”How do you know my name?”
“Are you really asking me?”
“Yeah. It's always been 'slave', or 'champion' for all of twenty vargas. Just guessed ya didn't know and never wanted to ask.”
“Oh no, I've known it since you came aboard my ship.”
“Why use it now?”
“You asked who you were.” Sendak shrugged his shoulders, “I thought it an odd thing to forget.”
“Don't mean it like that.” Shiro murmured. “I just don't know who, or what, I am. Not in a literal sense,” he looked at Sendak before he could answer 'human', 'alien', 'slave', or at worst 'whore', “it's like I'm a different person.”
“Events since your capture have changed you, yet you still persist being stubborn.” Sendak pulled his legs up on to the sofa as he propped himself up on his elbow. “To presume you'd remain the same is odd. You still do some of the same things, like quietly observe and get annoyingly loud-” Shiro snorted, and Sendak cracked a half-smile, “you take less coaxing to follow simple commands, however that's better for the both of us I think. Ah, yes, your sharpness in conversation; that's not really changed.”
“Sounds like you're talkin' about a kid.”
“There's an example right now.” Sendak smirked and Shiro groaned, hiccuping again. “I suppose the biggest thing is your inability to place your own life over others. At times I wonder if you just want to throw it away.”
“Few reasons for that.” Shiro closed his eyes as he leaned back into the sofa. “Might as well tell you at this point.”
“Only if you wish.” Sendak poured himself another glass and proffered Shiro a top-up. Reluctantly he nodded in agreement.
“Cut a long story short, my dad had a genetic condition I inherited. Was diagnosed as a teenager with it, on a shit-ton of medication to help the pain. Condition would cause my muscles to slowly decay, and then likely affect my organs as I got older. They were tryin' to ground me. Fuckin' fiancé ended the relationship 'cause I wanted to go out and live before I lost my independence – work tried to stop me.”
“If you were sick how did you make it to space?” Sendak was actually quite intrigued, so much as he knew the general idea of this from his notes and what was sat in front of him. “Matt's dad, you know, the one I threatened to throw out the window, he wouldn't do the mission unless I was the pilot. Saved him a few times out there. So cuz millions got spent on it, and Sam's literally the best scientist in his field back home, the top-brass caved to his demands. Anyway,” Shiro waved his hand, “I went off-course. So eventually Ulaz claims that he's cured my condition, and you know, I don't believe that. Why should I? I accepted I was gonna die, probably just like my dad maybe in my thirties if I was lucky?” He ran his hand through his long hair, pushing it back against his scalp.
“So yeah, I accepted I was gonna die sooner then what I hoped, so why not do it earlier on my own terms instead of when it slowly stripped me of everythin' I enjoyed in life? No brainer.” He poked himself in the forehead, a look of self-loathing on his face. “Now, well life has gone to shit, really. This is nice for maybe a few movements, and then it'll cycle. Again and again and again. So why not just give up? Ain't gotta purpose any more. I let Matt suffer, I've made you livid with me...I've messed up so many 'good' things that was happening slowly and I'll probably end up dead in the arena. So yeah, what's the point. Just get it over with, I'm weak and a waste of your time.” The slave flopped to the side, staring glassy-eyed at Sendak.
“If you don't bother, I'll do it myself.”
“How do you think you'll manage that?” Sendak rose from his seat and padded over, rolling Shiro over onto his back. “I'll find a way. What humans do, ya know?” He laughed, but there was no joy there. “You will do no such thing, and I will not kill you.”
“Please, just do it.”
“Just pretend it was an accident.”
“I won't do that. You're drunk, and I'm not having a repeat of last time. You're going to bed.”
“I'm not,” Shiro dug his fingers into the side of the sofa as Sendak went to pull him off, his grip tightening as he was tugged, “going to,” his knuckles were going white, but his prosthetic had a better grip it seemed, “bed.” The sofa came with him as Sendak pulled harder, a growl from behind him. If he wound Sendak up enough, then he'd hopefully do it. “Another thing that hasn't changed is your petulance.” Sendak snapped, dropping his legs and pricking him between the ribs with his prosthetic claws. Shiro hissed and rolled instinctively, and was slung over the Commander's shoulder.
“Put me the fuck down!” Shiro screamed, trying to flail his legs but failing. He curled his fists up, striking the Commander's back. Every blow seemed to just bounce off. “Why won't you react?” The scream caught in his throat and his eyes burned. He pressed his face against Sendak's shoulder blade and shouted into it, the tears finally free. Sendak remained silent as he placed him down in the sheets. Between blurry eyes, Shiro watched as he removed his gauntlet and climbed over to him. “I'm not rising to this again. You are drunk and emotional.” He pulled Shiro tight against his chest, his organic hand teasing the frayed braid out and began to rake through his soft hair. “I command you to rest, Lieutenant Shirogane.” Shiro sobbed harder, wrapping his arm around Sendak's waist and pushing his face into the body suit.
“I'm sorry. I'm a fucking mess.”
“Here.” Sendak passed the mug to the slave as he groggily sat up. He stared at Sendak, then the offered drink and slowly took it in both hands. “Thank you.” His voice was delicate, much like his actions. Sendak nodded and settled down beside him. “Are you feeling less sensitive?”
“I see.” Sendak picked up the tablet and considered the alien language before him. These were apparently the slave's work evaluations, and he was curious about their contents. So much as he could understand the slave through speech, the variety of human language was difficult to translate due to no understanding of the multiple alphabets. Human's had far too many languages. “I would like you to read these to me.”
“Can I be sick first?” The slave pushed the cup into Sendak's hand and vaulted over his legs off the bed. He stumbled, but ran through the door. Sendak heard his feet hitting the metal, then the bathroom door open in the distance.
After ten dobosh's, he returned, leaning against the door frame for support and coughing. “Better?”
“Come, read these to me.”
“What is it?”
“I was hoping you could tell me.” Sendak patted his lap and Shiro slowly climbed up beside him. Sendak pulled him close, slowly rubbing the prosthetic as he handed him the tablet. “I imagine you will recognise it.”
“I...yeah.” Shiro's hands trembled, of all things, as he held the tablet. The level of information had gone beyond uncomfortable at this point. “They're my bi-annual evaluations. Why do you want me to read these?”
“I am curious what your superior officers thought of you.”
“Still, what use is it to you?” Shiro flinched when the hand pulled away and slipped under his chin. He let his head get tilted back, to look at golden and orange eyes. “You said last night you didn't know who you were, so perhaps this would help.” Shiro felt his mouth open, but chose not to speak. Is this his attempt at helping? No, no that's not...but, we're...trusting him. Give him a chance. He didn't beat the shit out of you for last night when he easily could. “Okay.”
Periodically, Sendak would pause Shiro to make sure he drank. Eventually the two got hungry, and Sendak carried him to the kitchen so he could continue reading. Occasionally he would ask questions, and while they ate, he asked plenty more about what enemies of Earth existed if it was at peace with itself. At times he would laugh about how weak the planet's defences were, but would then explain the problems with using the equipment. The amount of knowledge the Commander had about warfare and technology was terrifying, but at the same time it made perfect sense considering his age. Even Shiro had questions he wanted to ask about the Galran's military, but he didn't want to come across that eager.
“After you reading what you have, you would certainly make an excellent soldier for the Empire. Your loyalty, tenacity and ability to push yourself is admirable. You'd also get to see much more of space, like the quadrant I patrol.”
“So you have patrol routes as well as prisoner transport?”
“That's correct.” Sendak placed the mug on the table. “I sense you have another question.”
“I do. I...uh.”
“Sorry, Commander. You're the Emperor's right hand, and you're part of High Command, yeah?”
“So, to me because of how things were back home, I would have thought you'd be stationed here, because that's important. So, why does such a high-ranking Commander who's probably loyal to a fault, have a job like prisoner transport? It seems beneath your position.” Shiro made himself small in the chair, eyes transfixed to Sendak's expression watching for any tiny changes. Please don't say I overstepped.
After several painfully long ticks, Sendak exhaled. He thought the slave would ask about his arm before this, but he'd underestimated his perceptiveness it seemed. “That is quite a story, and I think one I shall regale to you.”
“Even though last night I was a piece of shit?”
“As you said, you were tired. As you shown, you are emotionally delicate right now. It is forgiven, except you will not try to harm yourself. You will not die dishonourably.” Sendak growled, noting the slave turn rigid under his gaze. Sendak motioned him to follow, and the two wandered through the atrium to go into the right wing. They ended up in the training room, Sendak settling on the bench and held out his prosthetic arm.
“Hundreds of deca-phoebs ago I lost my arm.”
“He...said he took it.” Sendak clenched his claws and noted the squeak beside him. “It is humiliating, but correct.” He grit his teeth and exhaled again. “Back then, I was commanding a mighty fleet. We would take planets in the name of the Emperor and fight in ferocious battles with our enemies. I had been doing that for four thousand deca-phoebs, and I loved every dobosh. Feeling my blood surge in the midst of battle; the thrill was exhilarating. It was not to last, however.” He fell silent as he felt the phantoms he'd kept at bay for deca-phoebs crawl out from the cracks in his mind.
“A battle cruiser had been over-ran by rebels and the Blade of Marmora. They wanted to make a trade; the vessel and it's contents, for the freedom of some planets. It was nothing but a supply vessel; but it had our soldiers and valuable quintessence aboard that the High Priestess demanded we retrieve. For myself, though, something far more important was on board that vessel.” He felt a warm hand touch his, and he looked down to see the slave lace his fingers between organic ones. “Sorry, it looked like you needed comforting.” He muttered, looking to the floor. Sendak gave his forehead a small lick and pulled the slave into his lap. “I was not in a right mind to lead that mission and should've deferred, however I was...reckless and enraged. I took the fleet to the meeting point, and as we fell out of our hyper-jump, we found the cruiser we were supposed to retrieve, and something so much worse. A creature called a weblum.”
“Wait, a creature?”
“Weblum's consume dead planets.” He could have laughed at the whispered curses, but persisted with his story. “The weblum saw the fleet and attacked. It can fire such a mighty energy attack that it vaporised over half the fleet in a single strike. The vessel was also caught in the blast. The remaining fleet scattered, and for the first time in my life I was at a loss. I had no strategy; no plans. In haste I brought the fleet into a trap and suffered heavy losses, and thus Ranveig, a lesser Commander in one of the cruisers, challenged my leadership. The Emperor and High Priestess were incandescent at my failure, and allowed the leadership challenge. You can see the outcome.” Sendak raised his prosthetic bitterly. “As punishment, I was removed from the front lines and placed in a quiet part of the Empire – it barely has any advanced lifeforms, maybe two species? Nothing is an actual threat. It's an insult to my skills, but a reminder of my errors. Transporting prisoners is a way for the Emperor to keep an eye on my behaviour, since I must return to the main fleet rather frequently.”
“What's your question? I sense you have another.”
“I...I'm trying to understand how someone like you could make a tactical error. When you talk about warfare so expertly. I just...can't grasp what could make you act so rash? What was so important on that ship?” Sendak felt his body tense against his chest and he let out a long exasperated sigh. “I'm not going to hurt you.” He gently placed him down and rested his organic elbow on his thigh, placing his painful head in his hand. The wails and screams of the ghosts grew louder. He'd be having nightmares again tonight. “This is the last thing I'll tell you before I require to be left alone until I come for you, you can do as you wish in the house, but under no circumstances are you to disturb me.” Sendak rose and moved to the door. “The most important thing on that vessel was my son.”