A/N: I'm so sorry that this final chapter has taken this long to upload. I decided that I didn't like how it was written originally, so I wanted to re-write it, but unfortunately an acute case of writer's block (plus some RL stuff) interfered with those well-laid plans. But now here it is, with a little trim here, some expansion there, and hopefully improved enough to have made the wait worthwhile for those of you who are still interested in the story.
As always, big thanks to all of you who have reviewed the previous chapters, and also to those who have favorited and/or put the story on alert.
Thank you to The Red Celt for beta reading and for her very helpful suggestions.
Disclaimer: BioWare owns Mass Effect and its characters. I do not make any money from the writing of this story.
The next day they went to a park; the day after that Claire dragged Silus to an art show, then he took her on a dinner boat ride on the Presidium. He showed her all his favorite places and they discovered some new areas together.
When the latest Blasto movie came out there was no question what they were going to do that night; as it turned out, they were both big fans of the series, especially Blasto 2 and 4 (though Silus was partial to the latter on the count of it having a most exciting party scene involving a plate of poisoned shatha stew, several clueless guests and accidental mix-ups with the sitting order).
They left for the theater well ahead of time so that they could get some snacks and drinks before finding a good place to sit but even so, by the time they arrived, the big holo room was already filling up with members of virtually all the races that called the Citadel their home. Blasto was a popular character and everybody had to see his movies at least once, and apparently half the space station had decided to come to opening night for their first viewing. Luckily, Silus and Claire managed to snag two comfortable chairs at a good distance from the screen so they settled down, excited for the show to start, and Claire snuggled in as close to Silus as the chair allowed. She rested her head on his shoulder and took a bite out of her Nutrino bar as she looked around, observing the people around them.
She noticed, with a bit of a surprise, a turian male and a human female sitting several rows in front of them, huddling together in quiet conversation. They looked vaguely familiar, though it was hard to see clearly from the back, especially with other audience members blocking her view as they moved around the theater, searching for the best chairs (though the room was designed in such a way that virtually every seat provided an optimal viewing experience—at least according to the advertisements of the establishment, which were ubiquitously plastered all over the Citadel).
Even so, judging by the little glimpses she could catch, the pair seemed to be getting along really well, the woman bursting out in laughter every so often at the jokes of her partner, so she nudged Silus and leaned closer to his ear canal as she whispered excitedly, "Look, there's another turian-human couple over there! It's nice to see that we're not the only ones."
He glanced in the direction towards which she had nodded her head, but all he could see was a turian male sitting next to a black-haired human female, so he shrugged his shoulders as he replied, "They could be just friends who came to see the movie together," then he took a sip of his drink and turned his attention back to stroking her arm with his free hand.
"Well, he's just kissed her, so that theory's out the window," she laughed, then she suddenly grabbed his hand and sat straight up in her chair. "Wait a minute! That's... Etarn and Anna!"
"Really?" Silus whipped his head back towards the couple, his eyebrow plates raised in genuine surprise. Ever since their first unofficial date in the Dark Star lounge he'd spent most of his free time with Claire and hadn't really had the chance to talk to Etarn like he used to; apparently, once they got together again they'd have a lot to catch up on. "Did you know that they were dating?"
"I knew that they'd become friends and did things together, like going to a shooting range and stuff," Claire replied with a chuckle as she cuddled up to Silus again. In fact, Anna couldn't stop talking about their rivalry whenever she'd mentioned Etarn to her; Etarn and Anna had ongoing bets about who was a better shot and constantly tried to outdo each other with their shooting skills. "But I didn't know it was more than that. I guess you didn't either?"
"No. But I'm not surprised."
"Oh? How come?"
"Because turian males are irresistible," he said with a confident smirk, as if he was only repeating a well-known fact of the galaxy.
"Right. And how about human females?"
"They are wonderful," he purred, rubbing his chin against the top of her head in an affectionate gesture.
"I thought so, too," he laughed, then added after a short pause, "Speaking of wonderful women, I've heard your birthday is coming up."
"How did you know?" She looked up at him with wide eyes; they'd talked about a lot of things during the last couple of weeks, but this was something she had not shared with him before.
"Anna told me. The other day, when I bumped into her in the Wards after work. And I'm glad she did, because this gives me an excuse to treat you to a dinner and dazzle you with my cooking skills. At my place, if that's okay."
He tried to sound as casual as he could, and hoped that Claire was not going to notice the quiver in his sub-harmonics or the dark blue tint of his neck as he waited for her answer. After all, this was going to be the first time that she would be in his apartment—provided that she accepted his invitation—and he wasn't sure if it would mean as much to her as it did to him. He wasn't exactly the most social person on the station, and he almost never had anyone over, but Claire... she was different. He never would have thought that it would be a human that one day he'd have these feelings for, but he wanted to share everything with her (including the quiet sanctity of his home) and he waited with bated breath to find out if she felt the same way.
Apparently the Spirits were in a good mood that day, for Claire replied with a blush, her own voice suddenly hoarse and a little shaky, "That would be fun. Thank you."
"Tomorrow night then?"
"Yes. Tomorrow night."
The movie started soon after that, but for the first time ever he couldn't care less about Blasto and his adventures; all that mattered was Claire sitting right next to him, her five delicate fingers entwined with his own three thick digits, her head on his shoulder, and the promise of the next night in his heart.
His apartment was spacious and bright, with a big kitchen full of pots and pans and various cooking utensils. It was usually an organized, clean place, but right now the counters were cluttered with bowls and plates and containers, the sink piled high with dirty dishes—the casualties of his frenzied chopping and stirring and stewing and braising. He pureed this, blended that, added a pinch of salt or sugar here and there, bringing out the perfect flavor in every dish and soon the most wonderful aroma filled the air.
By the time Claire arrived everything was ready: the table set, candles lit, music playing in the background.
"Mmmm... Something smells good," she said as she entered his apartment and sniffed the air.
"I think it's you." He flared his mandibles in a smile and pulled her close, then he bent down and nuzzled the crook of her neck. Her happy little chuckle drew out a soft purr from his chest, and he had to force himself to pull away before his body would decide to demonstrate his desire for her in other, more visible ways.
He took her by the hand and showed her around and as they walked her eyes scanned the room, taking in the furniture, holos of friends and family (there were several of her, too, she noted with a smile), a few alien-looking plants, and a big picture window showcasing a breathtaking panorama of the Citadel. She stopped at the glass and stared at the view; her own place was on a lower floor, with not much to look at but some treetops and more apartment buildings in the distance. This, though, was something to admire and capture in paint; the warm yellows and cool blues and greens with the fiery reds of the sky cars as accent colors—her artist's eyes couldn't stop drinking in the scene in front of her, memorizing every little detail, lost in her own world until two strong hands settled on her shoulders and brought her back to reality.
"It's beautiful," she said as she leaned back against him with a sigh.
"Just like you," he replied with a warm rumble, then he reached inside his pocket and pulled out an exquisite necklace. He carefully put it around her neck and clicked the clasp closed. "Happy birthday, Claire," he whispered into her ear, his hot breath sending chills down her spine and tickling her skin.
She reached down and lifted the medallion to look at the stone encased inside, sparkling green, just like her eyes.
"Wow. Thank you! It's beautiful," she exclaimed, admiring the way the colors shifted from green to blue to teal depending on the way the light illuminated it. "What is this stone?"
"It's from Palaven. It's a precious gem found only in a few places on the whole planet. I'm glad you like it. So... are you hungry?"
"I'm starving! I can't wait to see what you've made," she chuckled then turned around and kissed his cheek plate.
He'd made levo dishes for her and dextro food for himself; her dinner started with a cold fruit soup which she enjoyed a great deal. It reminded her of something she used to have back at home: sweet and sour and creamy, with little bits of fruit blended in. Once she'd scooped up every last drop of the liquid he brought in the salad and the main dish, all covered with a dome shaped top.
"All right. Ready for the main event?"
"I can't wait!" she said, fixing her gaze on the tray.
When he finally lifted the top, her eyes opened wide and her jaw dropped as she stared at the food in front of her. It was chicken paprikash, with sour cream and spaetzle, just the way her grandmother used to make it.
"Oh my god! You've made it the way I like it!"
"Well, dig in and tell me if it's the real thing now."
She eagerly took a bite, closed her eyes and let out a blissful sigh.
"It's wonderful. Yes, this is the real thing. Thank you so much! So, you changed the ingredients!"
"I did some research and found the original recipe, and I'm going to make it like this from now on. I'll call it 'Claire's Real Chicken Paprikash'." His mandibles flared in a wide grin and his eyes glinted warmly in the candle light; he couldn't have been more pleased with her reaction to his surprise.
"I'm honored!" She laughed then took another bite, delighting in every bit of the meat and sauce.
Her happy smile was enough to make him purr contentedly, and the evening wasn't even over yet.
When the food was all gone he got up, strolled into the kitchen and brought out another bowl.
"And now for the finale," he announced as he put the dish in front of her with great flourish.
"This... this is... it's ice cream! Cookies 'n cream!" she gasped, staring at the soft peaks. "Where did you get this?"
"I had it flown in from Earth—" he started, but the words froze on his lips when he realized that her eyes were suddenly welling up and her mouth curved down in what he could only interpret as discomfort. He knelt down beside her, cupped her face and turned it towards him with great concern. "What's the matter? Are you all right? Did I do something wrong?"
"No, not at all," she replied, sniffling and wiping away her tears. "I'm just happy, that's all."
"You cry when you're happy?" He was quite confused about this concept. He knew humans and asari leaked water from their eyes when they were sad and this was called "crying". But he'd never heard of them doing this when they were actually happy.
"Yes, sometimes." She laughed, put her arms around his neck and touched her forehead to his. "Nobody has ever done anything like this for me. Ever."
He didn't know what to say to that; he was glad that he could make her happy, though he felt strangely responsible for having made her cry, and his heart ached at the thought that others hadn't treated her the way she deserved. So he followed his instincts and reached out to stroke her silky hair as he let his sub-harmonics rumble a soothing tone, just like his mother used to when he was little and hurt.
She put her hands around his neck; she could feel the vibrations through her forehead and her fingers, and an incredibly warm and comforting sensation spread out through her body right down to her toes. Her lips sought out his mouth plates and pressed against them, and when his tongue darted out she deepened their kiss with a contented sigh. Her hands slid down his back, found the hem of his shirt and wiggled under it, then moved up again along his plates and patches of soft leathery skin, dragging her nails along in long strokes.
He let out a little growl and forced himself to pull away from her lips. "Claire," he panted, "We don't have to do this. I didn't invite you just to get into your pants . . . no matter how much I'd like to," he added with a breathy chuckle.
"But I want to. I really, really want to get into your pants." She giggled and kissed him again.
Her words sent a jolt of hot flash right to his seam, loosening his plates, and he couldn't resist anymore. He arose from his kneeling position, lifting her up with him, then he grabbed her legs and hooked them around his waist while he supported her bottom with his hands, and started to head towards the bedroom.
"Wait!" she exclaimed and she squeezed his arms hard.
His heart sank and he froze as he was, unable to move or breathe for a moment. Did she change her mind? Or did he misinterpret her words?
"The ice cream! I'm not going to let it go to waste," she declared with fierce determination. "Let's put it back into the freezer first."
She bent down and picked up the bowl while he was still holding her (he couldn't believe how flexible humans could be—it would have broken his own back to twist and turn like that), then he carried her into the kitchen, relieved.
By the time they got to the bedroom she had already kicked her shoes off and covered his face, neck, mandibles—any part within reach—with a thousand kisses. When he carefully lowered her onto the bed she pulled him down with her and held him close as she ran her hands along his fringe and traced his mouth with her tongue, and she let out a happy little moan when he kissed her back.
He growled softly as he turned his attention to her throat, licking her skin from her ear down to her collarbone then back up to her jaw. Her hair, that silky hair that he loved so much, spread out over her shoulder and onto his pillow and he reached out to brush it away and reveal her skin underneath. He nuzzled the crook of her neck then let his hand wander down and lightly graze the swell of her breast. His touch sent shivers down her spine and he felt a little bud harden under her dress; his attention duly drawn, he gave a soft squeeze, then bent down to gently nibble the mound with his mouth plates.
She let out a little gasp at that and dug her fingers into the sensitive skin on the back of his neck which, in turn, dispatched a rush of heat straight to his plates, opening them almost all the way now. He searched for a way to get rid of her dress and when he finally found a zipper in the back he carefully pulled it down, loosening the clothing enough to allow him to push the straps off her shoulders.
As he proceeded to slowly peel the cloth off he followed its path, inch by inch, with little licks of his tongue, tracing her shoulders, her breasts, her hip bones, all the way down to her thighs and legs, until he could pull the dress entirely off and drop it on the floor by the bed. He did the same with her underwear, nibbling through the fabric first before dragging it off then returning to run his tongue over her bare nipples, her stomach, and her center.
He adored her body and her skin; he'd been with asari before, so he thought he knew what to expect, but she was so much softer and smoother than he could have imagined. He couldn't stop purring as he traced her sensitive areas with his fingers and his tongue and his heart almost burst with joy when she arched her back into his caress and moaned and sighed at his touch. "You're so beautiful," he whispered as he nuzzled the inside of her thigh and nipped at it gently.
She shivered then pushed him off and climbed over him with the same movement, her voice husky and deep as she said, her eyes locked onto his through her hair falling into her face. "My turn".
She bent down and kissed him, then she moved down his body and started to roll his tunic up along his torso, revealing his tough plates and leathery hide, exposing them to her inquisitive fingers and lips. He clutched the sheets and let out a ragged moan as she traced the hills and valleys of his waist and stomach and chest, and he lifted his upper body helpfully when she tugged on the shirt to remove it. Once it was gone, she turned her attention to his pants, continuing the torturously slow pace of her explorations, and when her fingers ran over his loosened plates he couldn't hold back any longer. His erection emerged into her hand, a deep rumble erupted in his chest, and his hips bucked unconsciously as she ran her fingers over his length then squeezed it lightly.
For a moment she almost forgot to breathe as she marveled at the ridges and intriguing texture of his shaft. It felt a bit thicker and longer than the men she'd been with (not that she'd had that many lovers before), but still it was familiar and more than ever she really, really wanted to feel him inside her. She pulled his pants down and dropped them on the floor beside their other clothing items, then climbed over him again, straddling his waist, then sank slowly down and took him all the way in with a soft moan. Holding onto his cowl, she started to rock back and forth, her spine in a graceful arc and her eyelashes fluttering closed as he reached up and cupped her breasts then slid his hands down to her waist, then her hips, and held her tight.
He joined her movements with his own, but he let her set the pace until she cried out his name and collapsed on top of him, her inner channel pulsing around his shaft and her body trembling in his arms. When she went limp he flipped them on their sides, straddling one of her legs and hooking the other one around his waist, and began to gently glide in and out, his hand roaming over her body as he buried his face in the crook of her neck. He inhaled her sweet scent, then carefully dragged his teeth and tongue over her ear and throat as he drove into her, a bit harder and deeper with every stroke, and when he felt her own blunt teeth scrape the skin on his neck under his mandibles and her fingernails scratch a path down his back and dig into the skin on his waist he turned them over with a growl until she was under him and he could pound into her with all the force he thought she could take. He was well aware that she was smaller and more fragile than a turian woman, and tried to hold back as much as he could, but it was getting harder and harder; the way she moaned his name and her inner muscles clenched around him was enough to set his blood on fire and threaten to rob him of all his self-control.
His movements hit all the sensitive bundles of nerves inside her and she met his thrusts eagerly, letting him bury himself to the hilt as she cried out with every push. She clutched his arms but soon released her hold, only to move her hands to the back of his neck, stroking the sensitive skin; her fingers slid down to his back and her nails scratched the softer areas between his plates, urging him to go faster, deeper, harder. He finally let go and gave her his all, pushing and thrusting and grunting with all his might, until a hoarse cry escaped her throat and he felt her body go rigid for a second before her channel clamped down and started to convulse around him. He didn't need more than that for his own release; after a few more erratic thrusts all he could see was a white hot flash of stars as he exploded inside her with a loud grunt, then collapsed onto his elbows and bent his head down to press his forehead against hers.
He couldn't open his eyes for a moment as he lay above her, panting, trying to keep his weight off of her as much as he could while he waited for his shaft to recede. His chest rumbled with a happy purr that he knew she could feel right through her own body, and when he could finally crack his eyelids open the first thing he saw was her warm smile, followed by those beautiful, green, sparkling irises that he always found himself lost in.
She reached up and stroked his face plates and the words she muttered, breathless and sated, filled his heart with so much warmth and joy and love—yes, love; he never would have thought that he would have these kinds of feelings for someone outside of his own species, but here he was, head over heels in love with this human—that he was afraid his chest was going to burst:
"Best birthday ever."
His mandibles flared in the biggest grin she'd ever seen, and when he rolled onto his side and she snuggled in next to him, stretching her arm across his stomach, he thanked the Spirits for leading him to this incredible place and letting him meet this wonderful woman. And most of all, he thanked them for the one thing that made all this possible; the one thing without which this never would have happened: the amazing, delicious, unbeatable chicken paprikash.