I leaned forward and put my elbows on the workbench, dropping my head into my hands. It was days like this that I hated being an engineer. Days where the private had to do all the tedious gruntwork. I'd been wrestling with this damn Warthog's mounted gun for almost four hours now. I couldn't figure out why it would stick whenever the user went to swing towards the left. My muffled groan of agony echoed throughout the empty garage. Most of my jobs were terrible assignments in empty places. That was fine with me. I could talk to myself in peace.
"Thought you were supposed to be fixing that mounted gun, Private Lee."
I jumped up and to an awkward attention that put me off balance and madSe me stagger slightly. In front of me was Colonel Anya Jackson, the officer in charge of my entire huge unit, the 411th Engineer Brigade. She'd maybe said five words to me before this moment. Actually, it was four words. "At ease, soldier" and "hello". The point was, she was someone way too important to want to talk to me. And she'd just walked in on my slouched over a workbench instead of working. I wanted to take that screwdriver on the workbench and shove it in the nearest socket.
"I apologize, sir. I was taking a...short focus break."
Colonel Jackson raised an eyebrow at me. "Short focus break? Do those usually involve pulling your hair out? Because it looked like that's what you were about to do."
I shrugged. "Yeah, probably." I really needed to stop the shrugging thing. Why was she here? Why was the Colonel here to talk to me, one of literally hundreds of engineers under her command? What had I done? I didn't think I'd screwed up in any way that was terrible enough to warrant a visit from a Colonel. At least, I hoped I hadn't. I was pretty sure I hadn't. There was no way for me to screw up all the grunt work I'd been doing. It's hard to screw up grunt work. And there was nothing in my personal life to warrant a visit from an extremely superior officer. My personal life was 90% sleeping. The other 10% was showering, sending video messages to my family and trying really hard to be a functional human being at 5am.
Colonel Jackson cleared her throat. "I supposed you're wondering why I'm here to talk to one private out of hundreds of UNSC Army Engineers under my command."
I nodded again. She'd takent the words right out of my mouth. Or brain, I guess, since I hadn't actually said anything to her about what I'd been thinking. "I am, sir."
She folded her arms. "I'm here because you're being reassigned. You, a private. Have been reassigned. To a very specific position. And I'm here to find out why you, a private, fresh into the Corps of Engineers, were specifically requested by an important individual for this position."
All I could really do was stare at her. I didn't have any idea what she was talking about. I mean, I'd have loved to explain everything to her but someone would have to explain it to me first.
She squinted at me. "Yeah, you have no idea what I'm talking about." She motioned to a long bench sitting just off to the right of the work bench. "Sit down. I've been on my feet all day and I'm not talking to anyone important enough to care if I sit down, so I'm going to sit. And it would be very weird if I sat and you stood. So sit."
She leaned her arm on the back of the bench so she was mostly facing me. "So. You're being reassigned on a special request from someone who literally saved the ass of the entire human race. Why this individual is asking for you specifically, I can't fathom. Perhaps you could enlighten me?"
I stared at her for another second. "Uh. I don't know anyone who's saved the ass of the entire human race. I don't even know anyone remotely important. I mean, except for you but-" I cut myself off abruptly, before I kept going with that stupid sentence.
I saw a hint of a smile quirk her mouth, but it was gone almost instantly. "I bet you'll be able to guess who it was once you know where you're going." She shifted her position slightly, in what seemed like was an attempt to get more comfortable. "You're going to Sanghelios. And you're going to be in charge of a bunch of Sangheili who want to learn to be Engineers, and you're going to teach them, as well as manage the other Engineers who are there to help."
And just like that, everything made sense. "Oh fuck." I breathed. Then I realized what I'd said. Oh fuck times two. I just said fuck in front of a Colonel. Why was I like this? I slapped a hand over my mouth.
This time, Colonel Jackson gave a short laugh. "It's fine. That's a completely reasonable reaction, in my opinion." She eyed me. "I think you've figured it out. Care to tell me why the individual asked for you to do this?"
I sat back, stiffly. "I-well, if it's the individual I think it is-maybe it's because we talked? And I guess it was a good talk?" I said, awkwardly.
Colonel Jackson squinted at me. "You talked? When? Where? How did you manage to talk to the Arbiter? From what my sources tell me, you rarely leave this workshop, and if you do, it's to spend quality time in an empty room fixing something no one else wants to use."
Her sources had a point. It was all true. How was I even going to answer this question? "Well, I had to fix that one console in that meeting room no one uses, and he was in there staring out the viewing window. And I offered to leave, and he said I should stay and do my job, then he offered to leave and I was like, 'no, you were here first', and then we just kind of ended up having a conversation. And then I finished the console repair and I left." I shrugged. Fucking again, with the shrugging. Why was that always my default?
"What was the nature of this conversation?" Colonel Jackson said, squinting at me harder, then something appeared to dawn on her. "Wait, you fixed a meeting room console in the time it took to have a conversation? I've seen engineers and electricians both spend days on one of those. How did you-You know what? It's not important." Colonel Jackson threw a hand up in front of her face as if to clear the unimportant thoughts from her head. "Tell me about this conversation you had that seemed to make so much of an impression that your name was forever burned into the Arbiter's memory enough to make him request you for this incredibly important job?"
I thought for a moment. It had been several months since that had happened. It was a little hard to remember. At least, it was hard to remember most of the conversation. There was one part of the conversation I'd remember forever, but it would be weird to tell her about it because it required a metric fuckton of context that I'm really not sure she'd have wanted to hear. "Um. Well, he was kind of down because I guess he thought that his people were only going to be warriors and they'd all die out from not being able to sustain their society or whatever."
Colonel Jackson eyed me. "Heavy stuff for a casual conversation. I'm going to take a wild guess that you didn't start that conversation."
I shook my head. "No, I didn't. He just asked me about my job and then I asked about engineers on his planet and he kind of just poured out his soul like he'd had that shit on his chest for a long time." I winced at the swearing I'd done.
Colonel Jackson pinched the bridge of her nose. "For the love of whatever divine being exists out there in this universe, stop flinching every time you say "shit". I don't give two fucks if you swear, I just want you to tell me about this conversation."
"Uh. Sure. Sorry." I said, shifting my position awkwardly. "Uh...anyway...I ended up telling him I believe that his people were capable of doing stuff other than fighting, and that he should believe that too. Because if you can be good at war, you can be good at other stuff too. And I guess that was something he needed to hear, because he seemed like no one had really said outright to him that his people had the ability to be those things before." I shrugged again. "But yeah, that's about it. The whole conversation lasted like, maybe five minutes."
Colonel Jackson kept squinting at me. "No, that's not 'about it'. There had to be something else you said."
Did she want me to tell her the part where I'd told him the doctor thing was stupid? Because I would literally rather have ripped my own skin off than relive that moment.
"Uh..." I shook my head slightly. "No? I don't think so."
Colonel Jackson leaned back and studied me. "No? There wasn't a part of the conversation where you told him to negotiate with the UNSC to send people to Sanghelios to teach his people how to do that stuff?"
Oh. So that was what she meant. Oops.
"Uh...yeah, that might've come up in the conversation too." I grimaced. "It was just a suggestion that I didn't think he'd ever actually take."
Colonel Jackson looked me up and down like I was some sort of strange bug. "A five minute conversation and a suggestion made the Arbiter asks for you to head up one of the most important projects in humanity's alliance with Sanghelios? And you fixed one of those goddamned consoles during that five minute conversation? Either I'm missing something here, or you're a bigger deal than you look." She gave me a once over. "You sure don't look like a big deal, that's for sure."
Couldn't argue with her on that one. I was 5'4 and as average as they came, with my non descript blondish hair color and my completely forgettable face. I shook my head. "I promise, that's all it was. A five minute conversation and a suggestion." I shrugged again. "But I wouldn't say I'm a bigger deal than I look. I'm just a private, and an engineer who fixes stuff no one else wants to."
Colonel Jackson leaned back on the bench, facing outwards. "Well, I have to disagree with that. No one makes an impression on someone that important by just fixing stuff no one else wants to."
I shrugged again. I really had to stop shrugging. It was a really awkward thing to do, and I needed to stop doing it.
Colonel Jackson suddenly stood up. She took a step and stood right in front of me. I hastily stood up, almost losing my balance in the process. That small mouth twitch returned. "Well. I have other important things to do, and important people to placate who are always irritated that something is not functioning properly. As well as a performance review for a group of drunk engineers that decided it would be hilarious if the Infinity's intercom system doubled as a voice changer. So I'll head out. Get to the Valiant Force Loading Bay as quickly as you can, and look for First Lietutenant Hobbs. He'll tell you what to do. Good luck, Captain Lee." She said, giving a sloppy salute.
I almost lost my balance again. "What?" I stared at her, my mouth gaping so hard I had no way of pulling it back where it was supposed to be. Which was closed. Which is definitely not where it was.
She looked at me, and actually grinned, fully. "I said, go to the VF Loading Bay and find First Lieutenant Hobbs, because he'll tell you what to do."
"No, I meant-what did you call-my name-you said-what?" I stammered, like a total and absolute dumb fuck.
She laughed. She had a nice laugh. It was a laugh that made me feel like I wanted to laugh too, but I didn't laugh, because that would've been weird. I did smile a little bit, then cough awkwardly, because it was weird to suddenly smile a little bit.
Colonel Jackson took a step forward, so she was super close to me, put her hands behind her back and said slowly and clearly, "I also said, 'Good luck, Captain Lee.' Is that the part you were asking about?"
I stared at her. "Captain?"
"Captain." Colonel Jackson studied me, with a smirk on her face. She seemed like the kind of person who enjoyed dropping information on people in a way that left them shocked. Like she enjoyed the drama. "Yes, Lee. Captain. As in, two silver bars. As in O3. As in, get ready for a hell of a pay raise. And a hell of a lot more responsibility." Then she shooed me with her hand. "Get going. Don't keep the Arbiter waiting, my god."
I threw the screwdriver I'd been holding the entire time at the workbench. "Yessir, absolutely."
Then, Colonel Jackson put a hand on my shoulder. "Someone important thinks you're capable of doing this. I'm not entirely convinced, but I think you'll find it in you to be capable of this, too. Don't prove me wrong." She grinned at me one more time as she left the workshop.
I sat there, stunned. What had even just happened? Captain? I was now a Captain? I had to sit down.
No, wait. I couldn't sit down. I had to find this loading dock and this lieutenant. I wasn't even sure I knew I could find my way out of this workshop after that conversation, but I guess I had to try.
I somehow managed to wander my way into the loading bay. Once I was there, I just kind of stood there, looking around, trying to figure out who I was looking for.
I whirled around, almost losing my balance, and saw a fresh faced man who was probably in his thirties. Maybe younger. Maybe older. He had some facial hair, so I just assumed he was in his thirties. I always assume people with facial hair are in their thirties, for some reason.
"What?" I asked, a little too loudly. I coughed, and tried to act with as much dignity as I knew how. Which probably wasn't very much. Whatever. "I mean, yes. I'm Captain Lee."
"I'm Lieutenant Hobbs." He was standing at attention, the way one would stand in the presence of a superior officer.
Wait, I was a superior officer. I quickly mimicked his stance, but mine was way more stiff and unnatural. I tried to look like I was someone important, but I think I was failing miserably. Someone should give me a break though, I'd been "important" for all of ten minutes.
"I'm here to brief you, if that's okay with you, sir." He said, saluting crisply.
My salute was just as crisp, but I realized that I had no reason to really salute him back if I was a captain. Oops. Maybe I should just stick to shrugging.
"Uh, yeah. That's what Colonel Jackson said." I shifted slightly. "Can you not call me 'sir'? I just found out I was promoted like, five minutes ago. This is really crazy and weird and please just prentend I'm still a private for a bit. Like, if you could." I started to shrug, and then forced myself not to. Captains don't shrug. Do they? I didn't even know. I mean, I'd never seen a Captain shrug before. Then again, I hadn't seen many captains before.
First Lieutenant Hobbs visibly relaxed. "Really? You don't want all that pomp and circumstance?" He smiled at me, flashing his white teeth.
I winced. "Please, no. I was a private and now I'm not, and this is really stressful, so please don't. I don't know what to do with myself right now."
Lieutenant Hobbs laughed. "A perfectly reasonable reaction." He gestured towards a docked ship. It wasn't a UNSC ship. It was a Sangheili ship. A big one. A huge one. A very huge Sangheili ship. I knew the name of it somewhere in the back of my brain, but at the moment I was too overwhelmed to think of it. "You'll be getting on that ship, and you'll be informed as to what you'll be doing. And you'll meet your team in there, too. They're working on shipping your stuff to Sanghelios, so don't worry about that. All you need to do is board the ship and just have fun." He grinned at me. "I can't say I'm not jealous. Sanghelios is a gorgeous place. All those things carved into rock. It's really great. You'll like it."
I stared at the ship. "I hope so." I suddenly remembered something. "Uh, they know I never fixed that mounted gun, right? Like, it's still stuck. They need to get someone else to fix it."
Lieutenant Hobbs laughed. "It doesn't matter. They'll find someone."
I frowned. "I mean, I just wanted to make sure someone knew so it could get fixed. Since I didn't get a chance to finish it." I really hated leaving stuff unfinished, but I didn't think a bunch of Sangheili would appreciate me taking a ton of time to fix something they thought was completely unimportant. I thought it was important though. That mounted gun would probably haunt me in my dreams intermittently for the rest of my life, like most of my unfinished projects did.
Lieutenant Hobbs laughed again. "I'm sure they'll understand why you didn't. Sudden promotions generally mean things get left for someone else."
I gave him an awkward salute. Then internally kicked myself for being weird again. "Okay, well, I'm gonna get on that ship. Have a good one, and thanks for the help." I walked away, stiffly.
"Good luck, Captain Lee!" Hobbs called after me. He was nice. Super nice. I hoped things went well for him and he didn't like, die or anything.
I tripped slightly on my way up the ramp. I was not making a very good show of being an officer. Nice. It's always the little things that remind you that you don't belong where someone has shoved you.
I made my way into the ship and was promptly totally confused about where I was supposed to go. There were Sangheili standing around, a few humans talking to them, and I didn't want to interrupt anyone, so I approached a Sangheili standing at a console, who was deep in concentration.
I coughed. "Um. Hi. I'm really sorry to bother you, but I was wondering if you could tell me what the hell I'm doing here?"
The Sangheili turned to me, and I made this noise of surprise in the back of my throat. It was the Arbiter. I recognized the mark thing on his chest, and the sizzling amber eyes that seemed like they could search the depths of my soul. I folded my arms again, unconsciously, protecting my soul. From what? I don't know...sizzling? Can a soul sizzle? Or does it do something else?
Oh my god, Kat. Focus. Please, for one second.
He made a movement with his mouth. Or mandibles, I guess. Does that count as one mouth? Or more than one? I didn't know. I didn't want to ask, because that would probably be super weird.
"Kat Lee. It is indeed a pleasure to see you again. How have you been?" He asked, in that same deep and dignified voice that I remembered.
And that wasn't the only thing I remembered.
"I have to. I have other things I have to do. Look, I've enjoyed our conversation, really, but I have to go." I said, gently trying to yank my wrist away.
He held it fast. "That, I know. But before you go, please allow me to tell you something."
I stopped pulling. "Okay. Go ahead."
He searched my face, amber eyes searing my own. "Do not think yourself so low, Private Lee, that you are convinced that what you think does not matter. Even the lowest individual can have ideas that may change the universe. Do not sell yourself short. Do not underestimate yourself. Your rank does not determine the quality of your mind."
"Not bad. I guess." I said, tightening my arms against my body as I tried to look literally anywhere else than at his wildly intense eyes. No soul sizzling. Not today. "I've been busy fixing stuff no one else wants to fix, so..." I trailed off, staring at the ceiling and gesturing slightly with my hand.
"And how has that gone for you?"
I finally looked at him. "I mean, I fixed it. So pretty well, I guess." I shrugged. Goddamnit I was being awkward and shrugging. The worst possible combination of things I could do. Pull yourself together, Lee.
That mouth movement happened again. Was it a smile? I didn't know, and again, it would be weird to ask.
I suddenly became aware that all conversation aside from mine and the Arbiter's had stopped. I felt a sudden need to fill the silence because I couldn't stand awkard silence. The only thing worse than small talk was awkward silence.
"I mean, I had to leave right in the middle of something and that sucks because I'll never know if it actually got fixed and I hate leaving things unfixed if I've started them, so I'm pretty sure I'm going to see that broken mounted gun in my dreams, constantly reminding me of my failure to complete the project, so..." I trailed off, suddenly painfully aware that I was being weird. And ranting. I was ranting a bit.
The Arbiter glanced over my head, somewhere behind me, then back at me. "I too dislike leaving things unfinished. However, I cannot say I've ever had weaponry haunt me in my dreams."
I rubbed the back of my neck. "It's-well, it's not as bad as I made it sound."
The Arbiter inclined his head, and gestured with his right hand. "Walk with me." He turned and started to leave the area. And he just expected me to keep up with him? With his long ass legs? Yeah, that didn't seem like it was going to happen.
I tried to follow him without half running, but failed. I had to jog slightly to keep up with him. Good thing I was in good shape, I guess. Why did he have such long legs? I was going to get really tired really quickly if I was going to walk with him a long distance. Maybe I should ask him to slow down? Make some really passive aggressive wheezing noises? Nah, asking would probably be better.
"Why did you ask for me?" I demanded, to his back, because I was still struggling to keep up. Like, really struggling.
He kept walking and turned back slightly to look at me, then turned back around and made a noise that sounded like a laugh. "Why not?"
What was with him and trying to play twenty questions? Was this the way it was going to be forever? I would ask a question and he would answer my question with a question I was supposed to answer? Because no. That was not going to happen.
"I can think of so many reasons." I threw a look up to the ceiling. "So many. Way more reasons for why not than for why." I winced. That last sentence sounded a little screwy, but it was too late to take it back.
He abruptly stopped moving, and turned to me. I stopped abruptly too, a little too abruptly, and staggered slightly. He put a hand out on my arm, to help steady me, I guess. His hand on my arm felt hot. Maybe it was me. Maybe it was him. I didn't know.
I instinctively latched my hand onto his forearm to help myself stay standing. I looked up at him, and noticed we were both kind of gripping each other.
I let go, quickly. He didn't let go.
"You are the exact person needed for this project." He gently pulled on my arm so I ended up stepping a little closer to him. I was definitely in his personal space. Like straight up completely in his personal space. There was no separation between my personal space and his personal space. I felt my face heating up. Maybe it was all the body heat he was radiating, or something.
The Arbiter tilted his head slightly and searched my face. "You're the exact person I needed, because you are..." He briefly looked away for a moment, searching for the words, then looked back at me. "...because you are you. You say things that others wouldn't think to. And you say it without your words being tarnished by pride. You have a wisdom that is far beyond your years, and you don't know it. You are quick to encourage. To offer hope where there is none, not in flowery speech, but in practical and realistic words. And you listen." He made that noise that I thought might've been a laugh. I hoped it was, because I didn't know what else it would be. "You listen."
"Well, I don't really ever have anything to say, so...the only other option I really have is listening." I said, awkwardly, looking at the ceiling, at literally anything other than the huge Sangheili who had a grip on my arm, because maybe if I didn't look at him he wouldn't see that I was blushing like a maniac. I didn't take compliments very well. They made me feel super weird and I really hated getting them.
The grip he still had on my arm wasn't a vice grip or anything. It was the kind of grip you'd keep on someone who you were afraid would wander away and get lost or hurt. And I guess that was pretty possible with someone like me.
"Do you really not have anything to say?"
I looked back at him, confused. He was still looking at me, but there was something different about the way he was looking at me. I didn't know what it was, because I'm actually just used to people not looking at me, because people don't notice me, because I've perfected the art of being invisible. You can't say the wrong thing if no one sees you because no one will ask you anything because they can't see you. Or something like that. Anyway, I just wasn't used to people looking at me with anything other than an "oh, I guess that is a person" kind of a look. So the way the Arbiter was looking at me right now was a totally unfamiliar look. Because it wasn't an "oh, I guess that is a person" look, it was a different look. Like he actually saw me, or something. I wasn't sure.
Oh, crap. He'd kept talking and I'd missed every single word. I stared at him like an idiot, trying to wrack my brain for any record of what he'd said in hopes that I could figure out enough to bullshit a reply.
Yeah, that wasn't going to happen. I'd missed it. All of it. Every word. Goddamnit.
I blinked a couple times and then coughed. "I, um...Can you repeat that? I completely missed it."
The Arbiter shook his head, making that movement with his mouth (mouths? I don't know, he moved more than one mandible this time) and turned me to face him. I was now standing super close, right in front of him, with both his hands gripping my upper arms. Oh, god.
Then, he leaned down to my level so that his forehead or whatever was almost touching mine, his eyes staring into mine. I fought back a shiver. His eyes were so intense. "I asked you a question. I asked you to tell me what the last thing was that I said to you when we met."
It was super hard to focus while he was staring at me. I wasn't used to being stared at. I broke eye contact and started looking wherever else I could as I tried to think straight. "Um...don't sell myself short? Don't underestimate myself?"
I felt one of his hands leave my arm and then felt that same hand gently grasp my chin and then my head was tilted so I had to look at him. "So why are you still selling yourself short and underestimating yourself?"
I tried to say something, and nothing would come out. All I could do was stare at him and not say anything. Mostly because I couldn't form a sentence, but also because I knew he wouldn't like my answer.
He looked back at me, and the look in his eyes became less intense and far more gentle. I felt the grip on my face loosen, and his hand gently stroke the side of my face.
Nope. Too much. I was out.
I pushed backwards, away from him. He let go and I staggered back a little bit, because I hadn't expected him to let go so easily.
I fell. Backwards. On my ass. I looked up and saw concern flood his eyes and he took a step towards me, but I put a hand up to stop him. "I'm good, I'm good." I quickly scrambled to my feet and straightened my uniform.
He folded his arms as I tried to recover what was left of my dignity, which I'm pretty sure I'd left most of on the floor. "You haven't answered my question."
"Uh...what question was that?" I said, coughing awkwardly and looking at the floor.
"I asked you why you were still selling yourself short and underestimating yourself?"
I sighed and folded my arms too. I looked up at the ceiling, trying to decide whether to answer honestly or tell him what he wanted to hear. Or maybe he didn't want to hear it. Maybe there wasn't a right answer. Anyway, he was starting to irritate me, with his staring and face stroking and trying to make me answer questions I didn't want to answer.
"Maybe I'm not selling myself short or underestimating myself." I was aware that I'd just assumed a head titlted, hip cocked position of a kid with a bad attitude, but I didn't really care. "Maybe I'm just accurately assessing who I am and you're the one who has it all wrong."
He leaned back slightly and narrowed his eyes. "Are you suggesting the Arbiter is wrong?"
No, he didn't get to play that card on me. "I'm not suggesting anything. I'm telling you that you're wrong." I lifted my chin and stared at him. "Your move, 'Arbiter'." I said, with more than a little disdain on the word 'Arbiter'.
He studied me. I stared defiantly at him. Say something. Do it. Make my day. Fight me. I'd already been frustrated for hours by that mounted gun, and getting a sudden promotion and transfer was stressful and he wasn't helping by putting me through the damn Spanish Inquisition or whatever.
He made a noise that sounded like a laugh. Then he turned away from me, and started walking back down the hallway. "Keep up." He threw a glance back towards me. "If you can, Captain Lee."
"Private." I said, through slightly gritted teeth.
I made a strangled noise in the back of my throat and jogged to where he was, tried to fall into pace beside him and failed.
We ended up in a viewing room much like the one we'd first met in. The window panel was open, showing a breathtaking view of endless space.
We ended up right in front of said window, and I frowned. Waited for him to say something. Of fucking course he didn't. Apparently he didn't talk unless he was asking questions or spilling his soul to a stranger.
"What do you see?" He asked, quietly.
"Space." I answered, frowning. What was I supposed to see? Some constellation of a bear or whatever? I saw space.
"No, not out there. Right here." He put his hand on the window right in front of my face.
"Still space." I said, slightly gritting my teeth again. He was really starting to get on my last nerve.
"Your reflection, Kat Lee."
Oh. So that's what he was talking about. Okay. Well. Good to know.
"I see...I don't know. What am I supposed to be seeing?"
He made that laugh noise again. "Look at yourself. Tell me what you see."
I stared at my reflection for a moment. Well, for longer than a moment. I saw myself. I saw someone who, in the grand scheme of things, really didn't matter. "I see someone who's good at fixing things no one else wants to."
"Good at fixing things no one else wants to? Like my people, perhaps?" He said, gently, turning to face me.
I looked up at him, in shock. "Wait, what?"
He stepped closer again, and put his hand back under my chin, tilting my head up towards his. "That's the one thing you have always said about yourself. You are good at fixing things no one else wants to. I believe Sanghelios falls under that category. Which means, to me, that you're the most qualified person for the job of teaching my people. Because the things that no one else wants to fix, you do. You fix them, and you do not stop until you have finished fixing them." He did the thing with his mouth again. "Which is why, I presume, your dreams are haunted by various pieces of weaponry."
I laughed. "I can't argue with that." I stopped, then gestured with my hand. "Well, the haunted dreams of machinery thing, at least."
We were standing face to face. Him looking down at me with an almost affectionate gaze, me with my neck at a super awkward position because he was so fucking tall. Like, at least three feet taller than me. Maybe more. Probably more.
He put a hand on my shoulder, and bent down slightly, like he was about to make a point. He probably was. The intensity in his brownish, yellowish whatever eyes made it seem like he was about to make a point.
"Even I considered my own people a lost cause. They have never been that way to you. With that, and your experience in fixing things that no one else cares to fix, makes you the perfect person to teach others. I know you can teach. You taught me one of the most valuable lessons I have learned."
I squinted at him. "I think you're exaggerating."
"I am not." He took another step closer to me and put the hand that had been on my shoulder on my side. His hand was warm, his grip seeming like it was another part of him trying to tell me something. "You, and you alone, gave me a solution to a problem that had been weighing on me for years. In one conversation, you managed to tell me exactly what I needed to hear to bring hope to Sanghelios. You."
I opened my mouth to say something, gestured wildly and then sputtered, "I still think you're exaggerating."
His other hand came up to grip my other side. Now he had both hands on me. I wasn't sure if it was friendly or threatening. Maybe he would start shaking me if I didn't get whatever it was he was trying to convince me of. I wouldn't blame him if he did.
I was so busy focusing on where his hands were and the possibility of being shaken that I missed the first half of what he said next, but managed to get the "being the kind of person who looks at others without judgment of skill and experience, the kind of person who listens and offers solutions, the exact kind of person I and Sanghelios need" part.
I held up a hand. "Could you...could you repeat the first part? I missed it."
He threw a look towards the ceiling. "And here I said you were the kind of person who listens."
I shrugged. "Well, I live to disappoint."
"I regret to inform you that you've failed."
"You say that now, but-"
He interrupted me by leaning down. "Hush."
He said it with such authority that I immediately shut up.
Then, he gripped my sides with a much firmer grip than he'd had before. "I think, Kat Lee, that what you need is to do is apply the passion you have for fixing things no one else wants to fix and see for yourself that you are not unimportant, but a person who will change the fate of an entire planet.
I put a hand on his chest. More like his abs, actually. I'd have to reach up uncomfortably high to put a hand on his chest, and I wasn't going to put in that much effort. "I still think you're exaggerating."
"I don't." He said quietly, his eyes burning with the intensity of something. I didn't know what it was. It was intense, though.
I snapped my head to look at the door to the room. A UNSC soldier was standing there, his brows furrowed, staring at the two of us.
Well, this had to look super weird. The Arbiter holding me and me having my hand on him and shit. Yeah, this probably looked super weird.
"Yes?" The Arbiter answered, turning his gaze from me to the guy at the door.
"Uh..." The UNSC soldier shook his head. "They're asking for you."
"I will be with them in a moment." The Arbiter jerked his head at the soldier as if to tell him to go away.
The UNSC soldier took one last uncomfortably long look at us, then disappeared.
The Arbiter turned his attention back to me. I was pretty sure I was blushing like a maniac. I dropped my hand down to my side and stared at the floor.
"Look at me."
Again, with the super authoritive command thing. I looked up at him.
He pulled me a little closer and leaned down even closer. "Fix things that no one else wants to, and see where it takes you." Then, he let go, stepped back, turned from me and started to make his way towards the door.
"Yes sir." I said, choking on the words a little bit.
He looked over his shoulder at me and moved his...mouths? I should really have asked. It would've been the least weird part of this whole thing, honestly.
"Call me Thel." He said, then left the room.
"Okay-" I yelled weakly at his departing form. "-Thel." I mumbled.
I jumped. A tall girl with blonde hair was standing at the door, jabbing a finger at me. "Come on, let's go. We have some stupid meeting thing. You're the engineer, right?"
"Uh, yeah." I said, hastily making my way to the door.
She stuck out her hand. "Nice to meet you, engineer. I'm the doctor."
I grabbed her hand. "Nice to meet you, doctor. I'm the engineer."
The girl gave me a strange look. "Good god, you're an awkward little thing." She shrugged. "Cute, though." She withdrew her hand and gave me a critical once over. "Like, super cute. Just so small. With those doe eyes that makes it look like you're an easy person to talk to about your problems."
I sighed. "You have no idea."
"You're probably right." She snorted, then grabbed my arm. "Come on, engineer. We're wasting time."
I let myself get yanked down the hallway by this aggressive doctor girl. She walked just about as fast as the Arbiter.
Thel. Or whatever. It didn't matter. I didn't have anymore time to think about it because I was busy struggling to keep up. Again.