Chapter 5 of The Candidate
Nihlus wasn’t half as drunk as he wanted to be. Or perhaps, twice as much. Or maybe it was the sand, coloring all his perceptions in crimson shades of lust. He felt teeth grazing softly along his neck and had to fight the need, the urge to call out Saren’s name. It wasn’t fair. Vakarian was a good sport.
Yeah. Twice as drunk was probably the better description.
Vakarian was opening up for him. A spike of excitement akin to stage fright went through Nihlus and woke him up a bit. How long had it been for him? Just over a year? Hah. He pressed his mouth against that proud cheekbone, ran his tongue along the first fringe-blade, and found himself expecting it to continue into a horn. It wasn’t fair. He wasn’t supposed to do this. He started to push the eager body away, when his earpiece beeped. It was configured to beep only for urgent messages.
He took a step back, keeping Vakarian at arm’s length, and lifted a hand to his ear. “Yes?”
“I’m back,” said Saren’s voice, shooting a bolt of desire into his guts, desire so acute that it actually hurt. “Come see me.”
The line went dead, and for a second, Nihlus wasn’t entirely sure that the ‘conversation’ had really happened.
“What is it?” said Vakarian.
“Yeah. Listen, I have to go. He doesn’t like to wait.”
Nihlus extended a hand and cupped Vakarian’s chin. “Sorry.”
“It’s ok. I mean, it’s not, but it is. Damn. I’m drunk too.”
“Tell me about it. Shit. He doesn’t like it when I’m drunk.”
“Sounds like an asshole.”
“You have no idea. But, you know, there’s also this whole other side to him… which doesn’t show up in those extranet reports but which is just as… amazing. And nobody knows about it. Nobody loves him like I do.”
Vakarian sounded like he was swallowing a big knot. “Strong words, friend. I’m… I don’t know what to say to that.”
“Well, that thing you just said. That you love him. I’ve never said that for anyone who isn’t family.”
“Did I say that?” Nihlus laughed, making ready to go, more than a little unsteady on his feet. “A slip of the tongue. Wanted to say, nobody knows him like I do. Though I suppose both are true, in one way or another.”
He saw Vakarian waving his head in the dark. “Man. I had no idea what ‘disarming honesty’ meant before talking to you. I wish I had the guts to talk like that. Think like that.”
“Thinking is the keyword, Vakarian. I don’t do a lot of thinking at all. That’s Saren’s thing. And yours, to a degree. You know, I have a feeling he’s going to like you a lot.”
“Do you suppose…? Nah. Never mind.”
“Do you think he could be my mentor too?”
And there it was, one of those rare things Nihlus had done some thinking about. More than some. “I suppose it’s possible. But not by design.”
“You mean, he can’t select who to train?”
“He can. But only once.” Article 102, Point 21, a senior agent has the discretionary right to make one request of mentorship over a specific candidate of their choice; repeated requests will not be considered regardless of resolution. “And he already has.”
“Let me guess. He chose you.” The notes of envy echoed in Vakarian’s voice, and clearly he hadn’t even tried to conceal them. Nihlus smiled a sad smile and allowed the silence to speak for him. He had thought about this many times indeed. And every time he allowed himself to believe he’d finally understood, something would happen to puzzle him, to throw him to some random new place inside the labyrinth. Calling Saren impossible had been just another understatement; he was fucking unknowable, that’s what he was, right next to the false gods of old, even if he only had the one worshiper.
“I see,” Vakarian said, pulling him back to the reality of his swimming vision. “Then I guess you better hurry up, eh? I’ll… um… I’ll go to my room now. Compound three, room nine.”
Nihlus nodded. “Compound three, room nine.”
“Come see me later?”
It took Nihlus some minutes to get to Saren’s prefab. Fortunately, the effects of the sand had already dissipated by then, or at least he hoped so. He tried to walk slowly and breathe deeply, but he was too eager and there wasn’t enough air. The door was open and he came in, panting.
Saren put down the pastry he was eating and studied him. The four hundred watts overhead light poked holes in Nihlus’s brain.
“You’re drunk,” Saren said.
Saren closed in, looked him in the eye and cocked his head sideways. “Sand, Nihlus? I thought you were over these… tantrums.”
“I’m off duty. I can do whatever the hell I want.”
“A Spectre is never off duty.”
“I’m not a Spectre yet.”
The colorless eyes narrowed on him and Saren sniffed the air. “Whom have you been with?”
“Vakarian. We just had a few drinks.” Shut up, you idiot. You’re making it sound like you’re guilty. Of what? Cheating? Ha-fucking-ha.
“Ah. The boy with daddy-issues.”
Nihlus had to chuckle. “Yeah. That’s the one. But how did you know…?”
“His father contacted me. He also contacted Valern.”
“No shit? Badass son-of-a-bitch.”
Saren held his eyes for a few more beats, then shook his head. “Go sleep it off. We’ll talk tomorrow.”
“I don’t want to go.” He only became aware of the amount of yearning that had come out on his subharmonics when the words were already out. And Saren picked it up alright. His chin lowered, gunmetal eyes beaming under the furrowed browplates.
“This was a bad idea,” Saren said. His voice was carefully schooled as always, but the eyes told a different story.
“It was your idea to leave me here without saying a fucking word.”
“No. You left without saying a word.”
Nihlus wanted to laugh, but found that he couldn’t. “Left? I didn’t leave. You practically spaced me.”
“I don’t like melodrama, Nihlus. If you had only waited an hour, I’d have apologized.”
“So apologize now.”
They stared at each other for what seemed like an eternity, and Nihlus only got more and more aroused. He wished he had the courage to go down on Saren right there, right now, but he knew it was the alcohol speaking. Saren had to make the move. Until he did, it was all futile. Nihlus wished he could be certain that Saren would make a move, eventually. But nothing was certain with Saren.
“You should go.”
“That’s human for coward.”
Saren’s expression darkened like somebody turned off the light and the look in his eyes changed from… something… to murderous. “No more games, Nihlus. Go before I do something I’ll regret. Again.”
Nihlus became aware that his chest was heaving. His heart was pounding. He spoke in a wild whisper. “Come on, Saren. I know you want this as much as I do. Tonight. That’s all I’m asking. Be with me tonight, and I won’t ask for anything else. Ever again.” Because he knew, every cell in his body was screaming in testimony of the dreadful knowledge that once this was over and he became a Spectre, they might easily never see each other again.
He thought he could see Saren’s chest heaving as well. But all he said was, “No.”
Nihlus started to discuss it, but Saren lifted a hand. There was no talking back to the hand. It would have to wait. For how long, Nihlus wondered? And was his fucking youth worth it?
Nihlus wanted to be a good protégé, listen to his mentor, go to his prefab, and sleep. But his prefab was nowhere to be found. He had made a full circle around the camp, which was now deathly quiet, and found nothing familiar. Things were painted in suspicious pink tones, maybe that was the reason? He’d taken sand many, many times before, but in truth, it had been several years since the last time. All with that quarian tequila… he was positively intoxicated.
Somehow his feet lead him back to the empty side. Funny, that. Half the camp was simply – empty. Now, why was that funny again? He turned around, tried to recognize the building where he’d met with Vakarian. All the buildings looked the same. And what did it matter anyway? He wouldn’t stoop so low as to sleep on the floor in one of them. Would he? He was a Spectre now. An almost-Spectre. And a Spectre was never off duty. Yessir.
Shit. He must have been walking around like an idiot for hours.
That thought was sobering to a degree. He looked about in earnest, and thought he saw a familiar landmark far to his right. But then he realized he needed to take a leak, right now. He’d water the nearest building. Yeah. Not that there was anybody around to see him.
But as he approached, he heard noises. Female noises, and male noises, making noises. At first, he smiled. People come here to hide, sniff, and fuck, right, Vakarian? He discovered with some amusement that he could recognize the female noises. It was Lavena. He couldn’t resist, and took a few steps towards the voices, which were apparently coming from a sort of alley between two long-houses. And then he discovered that he could recognize the male noises too.
All of the sudden, he was perfectly sober. Sick in his stomach, but all himself. His heart was pounding like never in his life and he could feel, oh yes, he could feel just how thin the air was. He didn’t want to see it. He didn’t want to hear it. Yet his legs carried him forward. Don’t go, he pleaded with the driver of his body. Please don’t go? If you don’t go, maybe you can persuade yourself it was a dream. Sand-induced fantasy. Delirium tremens. Whatever.
But the body kept going.
He reached the corner of the building; the huge gas planet was behind his back and shining conveniently on the scene of the ultimate transgression. It was Saren alright. Pounding into Lavena like there was no tomorrow.
Nihlus watched in silent, helpless, horror. Horror mixed with the most unwelcome sensation of moisture between his legs. Saren had Lavena pinned against a wall, supporting one of her long legs with a hand; her other leg rested on his hip, and his other hand was on her face. Covering her mouth. He was moving at an unrelenting, tireless pace. Flap-flap-flap-flap of skin against skin, with his nh-nh-nh-nh rumbled in a tone Nihlus had never heard before. His heart broke into pieces, and the sharp shards ripped his soul to tattered shreds. And yet, he couldn’t stop his plates from opening. He couldn’t stop his eyes from looking.
Their bodies worked well together. He could see when she started twitching. He could count the spasms, ten, eleven? A good fuck. His breath caught and still he could not avert his gaze. Saren came a bit later, in a series of fast, short, close-up strokes. No moaning; it sounded like he was holding his breath. Bad practice, Nihlus advised, feeling ripe to throw up. Breathing is the key to prolonging the orgasm. Lavena had a good grasp of it. Saren… he obviously just needed to blow off some steam.
Nihlus-induced steam. There was no doubt about it. But it was no consolation.
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