Chapter 4 of The Candidate
Garrus couldn’t remember what he’d expected from the evaluation before the Spectres showed up, but he sure hadn’t expected it to be as exciting and as fun as it turned out to be. During the first two days, they had rotated as squad-leaders, and on the third, the leaders with the best results got to lead through the entire day. Of course Garrus had emerged as the best in his squad, and Lavena in hers. Lavena was perfect. She had the most intricate Rubori markings, going from her cheekplates up to the tips of her delicate fringe-blades in elegant purple spirals. She was only slightly shorter than him and deliciously lean. Every movement she made, a poem of strength and grace, every gaze she gave him, a fire in his loins. Everybody had a crush on Lavena, even the other females. She was impossible to resist, and Garrus, for one, wasn’t really trying at all.
He turned about. Ah; there she was. Dancing around Nihlus. Everybody had a crush on Lavena, but of course she had a crush on Nihlus. To be totally fair, everybody had an even bigger crush on Nihlus, even the other males. Only he had made it clear that he was unavailable. He certainly hadn’t slipped into lavishing anyone in particular with those impossibly green eyes. Instead he distributed his charm and sexiness and easy-going friendliness evenly among them all and they loved him, oh, how they loved him.
They had him to thank for both the excitement and the fun; for he had set up nearly impossible challenges for them. Such that they had to give everything, every last atom of their wit and strength and skill in order to come through. There hadn’t been a single fatality in the end, and of the several injuries, only Xien’s broken arm was hospital-worthy. Which was nothing short of amazing, but not entirely surprising, once you got the hang of it. The challenges were such that almost all could be met without shooting; if you succeeded in finding all the quirks. And Garrus had. In every single game. He was the best of them. Everybody knew it. Nihlus knew it. The awareness gleamed from his eyes as he raised his mug across the tables to Garrus. Garrus smiled and cheered back. It was Nihlus who invited them to make these little parties at night, in the blue haze of the giant planet. It was Nihlus who made what threatened to be the worst time of their lives, into the best time of their lives.
Garrus got up to fetch himself a drink; he glanced at Nihlus and saw that his mug was empty. So he fetched two and went over.
“Thanks,” Nihlus said. He was balancing his chair on the hind legs, and Lavena was standing in front of him, parading her perfect body and giving off signals of seduction on all channels. Garrus laughed; she raised a browplate at him, then shot a glance down at Nihlus and back to Garrus again. A question, and not exactly subtle. Garrus replied with a shrug: how the hell was he supposed to know if the Spectre was up for a threesome?
“I’m right here, you know?”
The two of them looked at Nihlus and laughed with him. Garrus drew a chair and sat down. Lavena preferred to stay upright; that way her beautifully curved profile appeared to the greatest advantage.
“So when is Saren coming back?” said Garrus in an attempt to move the communication past the sexual tension that was teeming everywhere around them. There would be a lot of fucking in the abandoned buildings tonight, he thought. His arousal found the idea agreeable.
“Mmm, Saren,” said Lavena. So much for removing sexual tension. She looked about ready to jump on anyone with high enough… stature. But as he turned to Nihlus, Garrus noticed that his face had darkened.
“What,” said Garrus. “Not too happy to welcome your colleague back?”
Nihlus raised his browplate in an expression Garrus couldn’t quite catch, and drank a good half of his beer.
“Ah,” said Lavena. “I get it. The two of you are…” And she gestured to indicate a connection at the hips.
“No,” said Nihlus and Garrus could tell it was the truth.
Lavena shrugged. “Well then, you won’t mind if I…”
“Not at all.”
And Garrus could tell it was a lie. Lavena wasn’t that observant, though. “So when is he coming back? Tonight?”
“I have no idea,” Nihlus said and got up. He downed the rest of his drink. “I think I’m going to go hide now.” And with that, he gave Garrus an almost imperceptible wink, well hidden from Lavena’s predatory gaze.
Garrus smiled. “Understood.”
He mingled with the others for another fifteen minutes so as not to raise suspicion, as apparently Nihlus didn’t want that. He then picked up a bottle of quarian tequila and traded the kinetic stabilizer that he’d won on cards the other week for a bag of red sand.
As he made his way through the camp, Garrus found himself thinking about how strange it was that they had become so close in such a short while. Not Nihlus and him in particular; the entire group. He’d served in two units before signing up for Spectre training; and making friends never came to him so easily. There was something altogether unusual about this entire experience, and he was more than ready to assign it all to the magic of a pair of emerald green eyes. The thoughts of Lavena vaporized from his mind, and from his loins; she was too obvious, too aggressive. Not that he’d usually mind. But the prospect of being with Nihlus eclipsed all other desires.
The building where they had talked for the first time was dark and silent.
“I thought you wouldn’t come,” said a soft voice from the shadows in the room up front. It was the same room. “Or that I got lost again.”
“Nah. Here.” Garrus offered the bottle, and Nihlus took a long drag.
“Spirits. Thank you.”
“I’m so tired. Are you tired?”
Garrus laughed. “You’re joking, right? Fighting for three days without rest? Hello? And before that, seven months of merciless training. And another two with three hours of sleeping on average – in full armor.” He could see nothing but Nihlus’s silhouette against the window, but it was smiling. Nihlus was the smiliest turian he’d ever met.
“Is that a yes?”
“Yes. That’s a yes. But you know what? I’m so used to it by now, I don’t even notice.”
“I know. Boy, do I know.”
Somehow, Garrus doubted that. Nihlus was too perfect to be tired. A snort of disbelief must have escaped him, for Nihlus said, “What? You don’t believe me?”
“I’d never doubt the word of a Spectre.”
Nihlus laughed. An easy, infectious laughter, like a stream running down a cliff back home, on Palaven. Garrus had no defenses against that sort of laughter. He had to laugh along. “What?”
“I’ll tell you a secret. Can you keep a secret?”
The tequila was obviously working fast. Garrus was feeling it too. His teeth were numb. “Sure. Your secrets are shared with me. Safe! I meant, safe.”
“Right.” Nihlus chuckled, then leaned forward, and spoke into his ear, mandibles tickling and sending quivers down his spine. “I’m not a Spectre yet.”
It took seconds to process the statement. The tequila was really working fast. “Errr…?”
“You heard right,” Nihlus said, stepping back. “Saren says it’s only a formality now, but I’m not yet… appointed.”
“But he said…”
“And you said…”
“I lied too.”
Nihlus shrugged. “Who knows? This sort of thing bores him to no end. He saw the opportunity to escape and let me squirm, and he took it.”
Just what I would have done, Garrus thought. His smirk was without mirth, though. “So you’re his trainee? For how long?”
“Just over a year.”
A cloud of honest-to-Spirits envy fogged all his senses. There was no point in trying to hide it. “Damn, I’m jealous. I’d give every blade from my fringe to observe him for a week, let alone a year.”
“I used to think so too. Hell, I used to collect the extranet reports that mentioned him when I was younger. I guess he was something of a hero of my youth.”
“No shit,” Garrus breathed, his throat suddenly dry. “I used to do the same thing. Damn. I still do.”
There was a silence full of breathing and for a moment, he wondered if he’d said too much. But it was the truth. Nihlus looked like the sort to appreciate truth above pleasantries. Garrus took a drink and passed the bottle.
Nihlus took it, drank some, cleared his throat. “Well. I was actually about to say that it’s not all medals and honors in real life. He’s a difficult man. Hah, talk about an understatement. He’s an impossible man.”
“Personally or professionally?”
“Both? Well, I guess it depends. Professionally, we just don’t see eye to eye. He’s… He stops at nothing, you know?”
“Give me an example.”
“Hm. Ok. Let’s say there’s a very bad criminal hiding onboard a shuttle full of civilians, and you can either blow up the shuttle along with all the innocents, or let him go and catch him later. What would you do?”
Garrus took a second to think about it, but he already knew the answer. “I’d blow the shuttle.”
Nihlus choked and sprayed Garrus with tequila. “Spirits,” he laughed. “The two of you would make a fine couple. I’d spare the civilians, of course.”
“If the criminal is bad enough, you’d probably save more by not letting him escape.”
“Yeah, I know that logic. All in the numbers. But I just can’t work that way.”
The conversation took a wrong turn, Garrus could sense it in the tension forming in his shoulders, and just as he thought that, Nihlus massaged the back of his neck and said, “That bottle looks almost empty.”
“Pretty much, yeah,” Garrus said and took a step forward. Nihlus held position. He smelled of sweat and soap and radiated crazy amounts of heat. “But I brought other gifts.”
“Let me see.” Nihlus took the little bag of red dust and laughed again. “Spirits, Vakarian. You bought this for me? What made you think…?”
“Hey, no obligations. I told you I’m not into that stuff, but if you are…”
“Oh, you read that right. I’m definitely into sand. I’m into anything, really. Been quite a while, though.” Nihlus was fumbling to open the little bag with drunken fingers. “But… if this is your way of… you know… I have to tell you it’s really not up to me.”
Garrus was way too drunk to play guessing games. “What isn’t?”
“The decision. I’ve already put in a recommendation for you so it doesn’t matter if we… you know. But I have no idea if it will bear any weight. Saren is weird.”
“In all honesty, you’re pretty weird too.”
“Wait till you see me dusted.”
They laughed and Garrus stepped even closer. Nihlus’s proximity was intoxicating way beyond the superficial effects of alcohol. Garrus saw him sniffing in, and several beats later, he started glowing in soft blues. “Come,” he said, and Garrus gave in. He placed his hands on Nihlus’s waist, felt the muscles ripple under the fabric of his black civies as his own suddenly became awfully tight. He dove into the neck, inhaled, reveling in the gentle tickle of the biotic sparks.
“Damn, you’re hot,” he breathed into Nihlus’s ear.
“Mmmmh. Haven’t heard that in a while. What else?”
Garrus chuckled, lifting the back of the light jacket and making the long coveted contact with bare skin. The touch of it was electrifying. “Crazy?”
“Yeah,” Nihlus whispered, and a knowing hand found its way to Garrus’s crotch. “I’m jackshit insane.”
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