So beautiful, Shepard thought, drawing in a sharp breath. So very beautiful.
“I love clubs,” a voice as smooth as honey said. “People, movement – heat. I can still hear the beat, like the drums of a great hunt, out for your blood.”
*Why is this voice speaking to me? * Shepard wondered. In her mind, it felt like the tide was coming in, washing away her memories with each new wave of lust.
How did this happen to me? I’m just dumb trash from Mindoir. Someone so lovely shouldn’t have chosen me.
Those words seemed to echo other words, spoken by another voice. They set off warning bells in her mind, but the ringing was fuzzy, distant. The body before her was exquisite, curves outlined in soft, black leather. The heat of that body radiated in the cold room, warming Shepard to a fever pitch. She could smell something delicious in the air - apples or pomegranates, something sweet that made her mouth water.
“In here,” the beautiful voice went on, “the sound is muted. And you’re safe.” The body settled against Shepard’s side as if the two of them were made to fit together.
*Safe, * Shepard thought, exhaling. *Safe from pain, from hurt. Safe from loneliness. * She gazed into the bright eyes before her. They seemed to dance, to hold the promise of all the journeys into all the galaxy in their depths.
*No one has ever looked at me like this, * Shepard thought, like they hunger for me, like they want to crawl inside of me.
At that thought, the warning bells grew louder. Unease tickled along her nerves, sent fires through her mind. It joined with her arousal, unsettling her. She couldn’t tell where attraction ended and fear began. She hastily looked away.
“Safety is an illusion,” Shepard murmured, trying to hold onto some memory that eluded her. “This safety…is an illusion.” She shook her head as if to clear it.
“What’s the matter, love?” The honey-sweet voice murmured in her ear. “I wouldn’t have guessed you would grow timid on me. Not as boldly as you walked into that club.”
“I can’t…” Shepard struggled, forcing her eyes to stay on her lap. “I came with you because…” She couldn’t remember now, but there had been a reason, hadn’t there? There was something wrong here, but she couldn’t recall what it was.
“Surely you’ve gone home with someone before,” the beautiful voice said, almost laughing now. “Or are you hesitating because you’ve never been with an asari?”
Shepard tried to remember back, to recall if there had been other lovers. That all seemed so long ago.
“There was a man,” she murmured.
“A man?” the beautiful face broke into a teasing grin. Shepard looked up, avoiding the creature’s eyes. It was incredible to see that smile, but the laughter hurt. Shepard wanted to push away the mocking, to push away the reason for mocking.
“Yes,” Shepard admitted. “A man.” She ducked her head in embarrassment. It was wrong, certainly, to mention a mortal lover before a goddess. She couldn’t remember him well, anyway, she thought. His face was hazy; his body was hazy. It had been too hard, anyway, his body. More like earth and less like water, not as fluid and curving as the form melded to her side.
“Men have a fire in them,” the beautiful mouth spoke, “But it goes out as soon as it comes. They rush in, and then they are gone.” The dark lips curled into a devastating smile.
“Gone?” Shepard repeated. She seemed to remember the man, her lover, walking by her side. He marched with her, shoulder to shoulder with her, his gait steady and determined. But then, somehow, that memory didn’t seem right. She also had a picture in her mind of his back as he turned away. She tried to remember the man’s face, but in the memory, he wouldn’t turn around again.
As Shepard struggled to remember, other things returned to her mind as well. There was something she was supposed to remember. It had to do with the beautiful creature beside her - and with this place…
This place, Shepard thought, blinking. She looked around, seeing a dimly lit room, full of exotic treasures. There was a sword on the wall, ancient and beautiful. There were sculptures, costly as any gallery she had ever seen. On the table beside her was a full bottle of Hallix. Had she had any of those pills? she wondered. She couldn’t recall. There was something wrong with the walls here, it seemed. They were too dark, too metallic. The lone window looked out on a dingy city below. This wasn’t a museum, surely, nor was it a back room in a club. Where was she, exactly?
A hand touched Shepard’s cheek, sending shivers of biotic energy down her throat. That same hand slid down to rest against the swells of her breasts. She shuddered, looked down to see another hand resting on her thigh. The hands were blue. That wasn’t right, she thought. The hands were supposed to be tanned - strong and calloused.
Shepard shivered, feeling suddenly wrong. The hand at her cheek tipped her chin upward. She nearly caught the eyes of the one gazing at her, but then quickly looked away. She shivered as lips suddenly feathered her ear, sending waves of biotic fire pulsing down her spine.
“You, my love,” the beautiful voice whispered, “The moment I saw you, I wanted you. You marched into that club cautious, yet determined. Virgins go as sacrifices to their goddesses in such a way.”
Shepard felt the hand sliding slowly up her thigh, felt the hand reaching down to cup her breast. She tried to think, tried to remember…
“There was a man,” she murmured. She squeezed her eyes shut, trying to hold on to that memory. But all she could recall was his back as he walked away.
“Then why isn’t he here?” the voice asked. The tone went from honey-sweet to utterly cold. It was like ice against her skin.
Shepard looked up, startled, into the speaker’s face. Before her were fathomless eyes, black from pupil to lids, like the void of dark space.
“I can’t remember,” Shepard whispered.
“Then don’t remember, love,” Morinth commanded, her eyes promising both pleasure and oblivion. “You don’t need to remember anything anymore.”
“You really ought to get out more. You know, meet other kids. Maybe meet some nice boys.”
Shepard took an apple from the bowl on the kitchen table.
“There aren’t any nice boys,” she said with knowing authority.
“How do you know? Do you ever talk to any boys?”
Shepard glared at the tiny woman bustling about the kitchen. It was amazing to her that someone so small could make such a nusance of herself. Even the sweet way that she smiled was annoying. She was smiling now, her almond eyes crinkling at the corners.
“The other kids don’t talk to me, Suki,” Shepard said flatly. “Boys especially.” She grimaced and bit into the apple.
“Well, if you stopped walking around in torn combat pants and dirty old t-shirts, they might,” Suki said. “We bought you new things after Min - After everything that happened to you. I don’t know why you won’t wear them.”
“I like this better,” Shepard said. She hugged her arms over her chest, over the t-shirt that had once belonged to her brother. It was falling apart at the seams, but she didn’t care. Shepard took another bite of her apple.
“And you should let your hair grow out,” Suki went on. “Such a pretty color. You could look so nice if you didn’t frown so much.”
Shepard responded to that comment with a frown.
“Boys don’t like girls who frown,” Suki informed her.
“I don’t care about boys,” Shepard replied, lifting her chin.
“You like girls then?” Suki asked. She was obviously trying not to make a judgment about that fact. Trying and failing, to judge from her expression.
“No,” Shepard said, coldly. “I don’t like anyone.”
“Aw, now that’s not true,” Suki said, smiling so that her eyes crinkled all the way to the edge of her face. “You must like someone.”
“No,” Shepard said. “I don’t. Everyone at that school is scared of my biotics and no one talks to me.”
“They probably don’t know what to say,” Suki said. “The way you frown all the time, they probably think you’re mean.”
Shepard made a face and continued to eat her apple.
“What about that one teacher, Ms. Kyjinski?” Suki asked. “You like her.”
“It’s Lieutenant Kyjinski and she’s not a teacher. She’s a recruiter for the Alliance.”
“But you like her, don’t you?” Suki pressed.
“I guess,” Shepard said, as she took another bite. “She doesn’t think I’m a freak.”
“If you tried, Sophia,” Suki told her, “You might get people to like you. Instead you push them away.”
Shepard glared at the woman, swallowing hard. “Don’t, call me that,” she said coldly.
“Don’t call you what?” Suki asked, bewildered.
“Don’t call me ‘Sophia’. It’s ‘Shepard’ now.”
“But that’s your last name,” Suki said, frowning.
“Yeah,” Shepard said. “And I’m the only one left.”
“There are other Shepards out there in the galaxy,” Suki told her.
Shepard snorted with disgust and looked away. Suki wrinkled her forehead and went for a gentle tone: “If you tried to look nice, Soph…Shepard, then maybe people wouldn’t notice the biotics. If you grew your hair long enough to cover the scars…”
“You don’t see past the biotics either, do you?” Shepard snapped, glaring at the tiny woman. “You think that somehow if I look like everyone else and act like everyone else that I’m going to fool them into thinking that I’m normal like them. But I’m not like them, and I never will be.”
“I don’t understand why you don’t try harder to fit in,” Suki said, frowning at her.
“Yeah,” Shepard said, scowling. “You don’t understand, do you?”
Shepard stared at her foster mother for a long moment, her eyes full of fury. Suki stared back at the tall, pale girl and found nothing to say.
“Whatever,” Shepard said, rolling her eyes. She tossed the apple core into the garbage and stomped out of the room.
Shepard wrapped her arms around her waist, fighting back tears that threatened to fall at any moment. She looked out of the window at the view of Omega below. Behind her, Samara pulled a blanket over the body of Morinth and began murmuring a low prayer.
Samara had just killed her daughter, Shepard thought, gritting her teeth. That other woman – the woman from the slums – had also lost a daughter. Both of them were mourning, mourning a loss Shepard could not even begin to understand. And yet, all she could really think about was how badly she wanted to get out of this dress, take a shower, then strap herself into her armor and fall asleep in it. She had never felt so vulnerable, so completely laid bare.
But that wouldn’t help, Shepard thought. No physical armor could have saved her from Morinth. She would have stripped herself of every defense at a single word from that creature. The thought disgusted her. Shepard had always prided herself on being “remarkably strong willed” as Liara had once said, but even the most strong willed people had a breaking point. She knew that from study, from active combat and from prisoner of war trainings. She knew that it was always only a matter of time before someone snapped. No one could hold out forever. She just hadn’t thought to find her breaking point so easily.
Lost, Shepard thought. That’s what it was. She had lost herself tonight. It wasn’t facing death that had rattled her. She had done that many times before - hell, she’d even died. But she’d never lost herself quite like that. She had been lost to lust, lost to her own need for someone – anyone – to look at her with adoration. Morinth had hit upon a weakness Shepard thought she had buried long ago. But apparently, that desire was still within her – the desire for someone to want her for herself – not the rank, not the skills, not what she could do or accomplish. It was the desire of a girl on the brink of womanhood, of a child abandoned to a world that didn’t understand her or want her. It was a human desire. Shepard knew that and yet her own weakness frightened her. That weakness had nearly destroyed her. If Samara hadn’t reached this place in time…
Shepard shuddered. She thought she had gotten over her aching need for love and acceptance from others. That desire had run her into all sorts of trouble in Basic and brought nothing but heartache after Elysium. And as for Horizon - Shepard thought of the half-memories of Kaidan for one instant and then shoved them aside.
She didn’t like being alone, she thought, lifting her chin. But she wasn’t afraid of being alone. She couldn’t afford to be afraid of it.
“Are you alright?”
Shepard didn’t turn at first, not realizing the question was directed at her. Then Garrus repeated the question. Shepard turned to him, blinking up into his piercing blue eyes.
“Yeah,” she murmured, tucking a strand of her hair behind her ear. It was too short by far and fell back into her face at once. “Yeah, I’m…fine.”
Garrus stared at her for a moment.
“I don’t like that armor,” he said at last, frowning at her.
“It’s not armor,” Shepard told him. “It’s a dress.”
“That’s why I don’t like it,” Garrus said. He waved a three-fingered hand at her bare legs. “You’re too soft, Shepard.”
Shepard gave him a blank look.
“I’m sorry,” Garrus said, hastily. “I didn’t mean to insult you. It’s just that you’re all pink. You look like someone peeled a turian down to the muscle.”
Shepard’s forehead furrowed a little. Garrus twitched and made a face. “I’m making it worse, aren’t I?” he asked.
“It’s okay,” Shepard replied, feeling too dazed to be insulted. “Humans are pretty squishy when it comes down to it.”
Garrus watched her for a moment, then said slowly, “I suppose turians look strange to humans, too, don’t they?”
“No,” Shepard shook her head. “In fact, right about now, I kind of wish I had armored plating like you. Not that it would have helped.” She shuddered and turned her attention to Samara. The asari was now standing at the window, her face impassibly stern.
“You don’t find turians strange?”
It took Shepard a moment to register the question. Her mind had been some where else entirely.
“Strange?” she asked, still watching Samara. “No. Aliens are different, but not strange.” Garrus shifted on his feet and swallowed. Shepard did not notice.
“God, Garrus, did this really help her?” she murmured, motioning to Samara. “Or did we just make things worse?”
“You stopped a killer,” he told her. “And she asked for your help.”
“Yeah,” Shepard said. “I guess. If Morinth really had been on a killing spree for four hundred years…” She thought of how she might have been just one more victim and shivered.
“Are you really okay, Shepard?” Garrus asked her.
“I’ll be fine,” Shepard replied. “Just…thanks for being here, Garrus. You had a lot of guts walking back onto this station after what happened the last time you were here.”
“I wasn’t about to leave you alone,” Garrus said. “I didn’t like Samara’s plan at all. She had to hold me back from following you into that club.”
“I didn’t like the plan, either,” Shepard agreed. “But it worked. I guess that’s what matters.”
She took a deep breath, then gave Garrus as bright a smile as she could manage.
“Let’s get out of here, Garrus,” she said. “I think I’ve officially decided that I hate Omega.”