Diagnosis

By Misfire Anon

It is done.

Saren lies quietly on the floor, listening to the hum of the machinery, the beating of that enormous and ancient heart. He feels it pulse, impossibly, in rhythm with his own organic copy. Oh, he realizes, probing the bare metal on his chest with a certain degree of absentmindedness, he is the copy now. Synthetic life forms are the originals. He is convinced of this. His hand touches the cold floor gingerly, as if he were really lying on a thick-walled chamber of Sovereign’s heart. There is a light beneath the floor, a cool blue in colour, shining through the translucent material. This material feels strange; too hard for metal, too cool for glass. The flesh of a Reaper.

The chamber is perfectly cylindrical. He rolls on to his back and looks at the ceiling, far above his naked body. The Spectre in him would have analysed the room thoroughly; it is large enough to fit most sentient beings, its wall strong enough to contain their rage and their terror. But he is no longer a Spectre, just another creature to have passed, to have been passed through this room. The door has not reappeared. He curls up on his side, not bothering to reach the blood-splattered clothing in a pile near his feet. And then Sovereign speaks.

YOU ARE NOT READY.

He trembles. It is cold, his new sensory arrays inform him.

For the past—he does not remember how long—he has watched himself through Sovereign’s eyes. No, Sovereign’s cameras. He watched the sleek, impossibly advanced tools slide from the previously smooth walls, watched and gave the slightest of winces when they excised his spine and rebuilt another inside the cavity. It was far from the only thing replaced by a mechanical counterpart. Far, far from it. Blue lights lit his skeleton from within. He has an epiphany. The same blue radiates from the floor of this chamber. He does not know what this means.

YOU WILL BE.

It begins with the palms. They hurt, but with no visible wound. He clenches them to no effect. He stands up, shakily, and makes it to the wall before his legs give out. The black wrap he usually wears around his fringe lies nearby. He grabs it and stuffs it in his mouth before he can let out a moan and utterly destroy the image he has so carefully constructed and presented to Sovereign. It is too late. Sovereign is inside his brain in an instant. He shuts his eyes tightly, every neuron screaming.

Even with asari—especially with asari, with their ability to glimpse into what might be sentimentally called his soul—he had always kept some part of him closed. His lovers didn’t know, and did not have the right to know, who he was, is, and wished to become. There is no such distance here. The other is close, so close, making him burn beneath his plates and skin. Not inside his body, but inside him, all that he is, at once. At the same time, it is also infuriatingly far. He lashes out and grabs handfuls of air; there is nothing concrete to hold. Talons screech against the wall and make no mark. He tears the black cloth into shreds.

The door opens and Sovereign steps in.

Not the Reaper—not exactly. A geth mobile platform. But it is Sovereign without a doubt. For an instant, Saren sees through its processors, observes the shaking turian at the far side of the room. The organic form is swallowed by pleasure, in so deep that it is almost in pain. He smiles at his own helplessness and is shoved back into that turian body.

Saren dives for the mobile platform. Calculating trajectories is laughably simple for the machine. It grabs his outstretched arm and shoves him against the now closed door, removing the remains of his wrap from his mouth in one fluid motion. He finally, finally, moans. And wants more.

His tongue extends of its own accord. The geth tastes like metal and oil and he decides he likes it. He continues licking the metal carapace, well aware that it probably does not contain any form of receptor. The machine—his machine, he thinks briefly before shoving that woefully outdated idea away—does not give him reprieve, either, and presses a knee between his legs. It lifts him using that knee. The metal is very, very cold, especially when it comes into contact with the thin-skinned regions of his body. He bears it, but not in silence. He is loud, if incomprehensible, as he attempts to put his voice to use. He throws his bare arms around the geth’s neck.

Some small part of him picks up what remains of his resolve and dares to question this. Why? It asks. Why do I like this? Why can’t I stop? It is not immediately silenced—no, Sovereign has its idiosyncrasies; it watches the objections grow in number, perhaps waiting for Saren to quash that spark of rebellion himself. He does not. Sovereign intervenes.

Because you must. Saren’s eyes widen. The voice does not come from without; not from hidden speakers, not from the receiver he isn’t wearing, not even from any implant, old or new. It is his own. It is Sovereign’s through and through. It is both. He has barely the time to realize this fact before the resolve that he has been carefully reconstructing shatters into an untold number of pieces once more. See how inadequate the senses millions of years of mutation have given you; neurotransmitters, synapses, receptors, chemical pathways so slow, so insensitive. And so simple to manipulate. It is true. He is purring. Saren Arterius does not purr. He isn’t supposed to enjoy whatever the mobile platform is doing with its hands, either. Come to think of it, he isn’t supposed to be many things—naked, vulnerable, purring, damn it, purring, and Sovereign’s thrall.

Sovereign hushes him with whispered thoughts and delicate movements. Why does he bother to think, anyway, when he can lean against the curved wall and wrap his legs around Sovereign’s waist? The synthetic offers a finger. He licks it until the surface is warm, treating it as if it is the only thing that matters at the moment, during his entire life, for all of time. A quiet chuckle sounds somewhere in his head. He laughs along with it. If only all organic life had the capability to feel this. May the Reapers have mercy when they arrive.

Dimly, he recalls a figure in his past. He doesn’t remember the face or even the species. But this one told him important things. Things like how anyone can maintain their composure under pain, under torture, but few can do the same under pleasure. He thinks this may be applicable to his current predicament. But his consciousness cannot hide now, not in the way he was trained. Sovereign scoffs at the memory and wipes it away with a calculated stroke; Saren temporarily forgets to breathe, let alone dwell on the matter.

Trying to maintain coherent thoughts is like trying to grab slips of paper in a hurricane—completely impossible. And through the whirlwind of thought and emotion, Sovereign gathers the shards of resolve and sculpts them, presenting Saren with a singular vision so similar to what existed before, yet utterly different. A vision of strange beings, organic life twisted into unrecognisable things, and, flying high above them in a crimson sky, an enormous fleet. Like the Prothean vision. Like his own plan. Not a compromise; something infinitely greater. The turian bites and scratches the geth that cages him with its limbs, scoring its armour. He sees the vision as a gift, and his response is euphoria. Sovereign, he shouts silently, Sovereign, Sovereign. Reminding himself of the identity of his benefactor, the owner of the leg he perches on and the one manipulating him with those skilled hands. Sovereign.

“Nazara!”

With the voicing of that name, the spell breaks. He lowers his legs with some trouble, toes touching the floor for the first time in forever. The geth unceremoniously pries his interlocked arms apart and leaves him to slide down the wall bonelessly. “Nazara?”

The abyssal mind of the Reaper has dissected his for years now. Yet, this is the first time Saren has dared to look back and find something for himself in its immeasurable depths.

Some time later, when he finally leaves the room, he would have no recollection of it.

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