A/N: I wrote this as a gift for TinderWulf over at AO3, but I thought that maybe a few readers would enjoy reading a femShep/Sparatus story here as well.
Thank you to The Red Celt for beta reading.
Disclaimer: BioWare owns Mass Effect and its characters. I do not make any money from the writing of this story.
It was getting late, but the ball room was still full of people, talking in groups with drinks in their hands, their voices merging into a numbing murmur and their collective body heat warming up the air to an unbearably stuffy state.
It wasn't the temperature in the room, however, that sent Sparatus to the balcony in search of some relief (after all, he was a turian, and all turians loved heat) but the fact that he had just about had enough of the irritating small talk he had to endure all evening with the ambassadors and representatives of virtually all the races that had managed to procure an office on the rebuilt Presidium. He cut through the crowd, making a beeline for the double doors that led outside, anxious to get away from all the people clamoring for his attention.
He glanced around to make sure that none of the annoying petitioners was following him, and once he was satisfied that he had managed to avoid detection he stepped through the exit into the quiet coolness of the terrace.
His hopes for a solitary respite evaporated, however, when he realized that he wasn't the only one who had sought refuge here from the crowds. Shepard was standing at the balustrade, her upper body bent over and her elbows resting on the ledge, apparently absorbed in the colorful lights illuminating the park underneath them. It didn't seem like she'd noticed him yet, so Sparatus decided to attempt a silent retreat through the doors, his jaws clenched in irritation at the failure of his quest to be left alone—at least for a few minutes. Before he could make his escape, however, she turned around and looked straight at him with a weak smile.
"Councilor," she said in greeting, nodding her head.
There was something unusual about her expression and her body language; she seemed to be uncharacteristically subdued, and Sparatus couldn't resist the temptation to step closer and reciprocate her gesture, if only to find out the reason for this sudden change in her behavior.
"Captain," he uttered the formal greeting that he was still struggling to get used to; even though it had been over a year since Shepard had destroyed the Reapers and earned her new rank, it was hard to think of her as anything but the young and brash Commander he'd butted heads with so often in the past.
He stopped by her side at the ledge, staring off into the distance, wondering how to start the conversation, when she broke the silence with a small chuckle. "Had enough of the pomp and circumstance?"
"Indeed," he replied in a rumbling voice; he should have known that if anybody would understand his distaste for these official gatherings and the inevitable, annoying and long-winded chit-chat that went with them, it would be Shepard. "I take it you had your fill of long speeches and incessant hand-shakings with all the dignitaries as well?"
"Yeah. It's not exactly my idea of fun." The corner of her lips turned up in the same insolent smirk that used to irritate him so much; her eyes, however, lacked their usual spark—something was definitely bothering her, and he couldn't help but wonder what could have made this fearless warrior, this seemingly unflappable and annoyingly cocky human so... sad.
"I was, uh, pleased that you accepted the Council's invitation to participate in the induction ceremony of the new Spectres," he said. He was actually quite surprised that she'd complied with their request, given her busy schedule and well-known distaste for official functions—though, the fact that several of the new Spectres were human probably had something to do with her willingness to travel to the Citadel for the occasion.
"Well, we all have to do whatever we can to further the hard-won cooperation between the different races," she replied in a determined voice. "If that means that I have to sit through another boring meeting, or attend another lengthy event, then so be it. I'm not going to let things get back to how they were before the war; we all have to work together to rebuild the galaxy and make it a better place."
"I feel the same way." Sparatus cast a sideways glance at her, expecting her to make some witty remark about how unusual it was for them to actually agree on something, but she was quiet, absorbed in her own thoughts as she bent over the ledge, resting her elbows on the cool surface as she turned her attention back to the scenery in front of them. They stood side by side in companionable silence for a while, until he couldn't bear it anymore, and asked, against his better judgment, "Shepard. Are you all right?"
"Hmm? Why do you ask?"
"You look... it seems like something is bothering you."
She straightened up and looked into his eyes with a sad smile and, instead of answering his enquiry, she put forth a question of her own. "Do you have a mate, Sparatus?"
"What?" His eyes widened and his mandibles went slack; this conversation had suddenly taken an entirely unexpected turn.
"Sorry, didn't mean to pry." She rubbed the back of her neck in embarrassment, then went on, "It's just that... there was this reporter... asking some questions, and it got me thinking."
"Love... life... duty." Her eyes bore into his, as if searching for a sign of comprehension on his part, but all she could see was bewilderment, so she continued her explanation with a barely audible sigh. "You see... Valentine's Day is coming..."
"Yeah. It's a popular holiday in many human cultures; lovers and loved ones give each other gifts to show their affection and dedication to each other. That reporter I mentioned asked who my Valentine was going to be... and I couldn't answer her."
"That's a rather personal question. I wouldn't have answered her either." Sparatus folded his arms in front of his chest and shook his head disapprovingly; he'd had to deal with his fair share of pesky journalists in his long career, and he could certainly understand Shepard's distaste for them.
"That... wasn't exactly the issue," she said in a low voice, turning away from him and staring at the lights across the lake. "The truth is... there's no-one I could share Valentine's Day with. I've spent most of my adult life in the military; first in basic, and after that on different deployments—fighting batarians, thresher maws, the geth, the Collectors, you name it. And then, of course, the Reapers came." She ran her fingers through her short hair with a sigh; the memories of the war and the painful weeks she'd spent in the hospital afterwards, recovering from her extensive injuries, were still fresh in her mind, though things were slowly getting better now.
"So you're, uh, untouched?"
"What? No!" Her eyes snapped back to him with an awkward chuckle and she could feel her face getting so hot that she thought it was going to burst into flames; was she really discussing her love life with Sparatus, of all people? What the hell was she thinking? She was certain that he was about to make some insulting remark about humans and their emotions then stalk off with a shake of his head, but he just stood there, looking at her with what seemed like sincere interest and understanding, so she took a deep breath and went on, "I had... umm... some encounters here and there, but it's not easy to have a serious, ongoing relationship when you never know where your next assignment is going to take you. It would be hard for a civilian to accept that, and there are strict rules against fraternization in the military. So I've spent all these years fighting for everybody else, and now..."
Her voice trailed off and her eyes lost their focus on the councilor, searching the patterns of the floor at her feet instead, and for the first time since he'd known her Sparatus felt like he'd finally met the real Shepard—not the reckless and disrespectful human, or the all-powerful savior of the galaxy, but a regular person with emotions and needs—needs he could identify with.
"I... understand," he started, a bit reluctantly, not sure whether it was wise to share personal details of his life with the same person who used to be a thorn in his side, but he couldn't stop himself. It wasn't every day that he could share thoughts of this nature with someone—someone who would know exactly what it was like to sacrifice your own desires for the common good. "Being a politician, and especially a councilor, has similar... restrictions, and, uh, drawbacks. I've dedicated my life to serving the Hierarchy and the galaxy. It gets... lonely... sometimes."
"Yeah." She looked into his eyes with a sad smile, but her heart suddenly felt a little warmer. Maybe Sparatus wasn't so irritating after all; apparently they had more in common than she'd ever realized. She was actually sorry to end their conversation, but it was getting late, so she reluctantly pushed away from the balustrade and nodded her head towards the doors. "Well, I should get back to my ship, so—"
"Yes, I need to go, too." His eyes darkened and his shoulders stiffened as he remembered the crowds he'd have to fight through to get out, and he didn't even want to guess how long that would take. "Which means I'll most likely get ambushed by somebody lobbying for some kind of favor on my way."
"I know what you mean," she chuckled, then she looked up at him with that mischievous smirk that he was so familiar with. "Though there's a way to avoid that."
"What do you mean?"
"These balconies connect to each other," she said, pointing in the direction of the neighboring unit. "We could climb over the balustrade and get out through the next door office."
"You're not serious!"
"Yes, I am," she snickered as she headed to the dividing wall. She'd never been happier than now that she'd resisted wearing the evening gown and high heels that she was supposed to put on for the reception and opted for her dress blues instead. "But, if you prefer to leave the old fashioned way and spend another hour chatting with whoever blocks your way..."
"Point taken," Sparatus groaned, then he followed her example and clambered over the wall. "What about the door here? It seems to be locked."
"Please," Shepard rolled her eyes at him. "You think I could have gotten this far in my career if I wasn't able to decrypt a simple door lock?"
He watched, with a mixture of horror and admiration, as her deft fingers danced over the panel, hoping that she'd never have the desire to hack into his own office, then followed her through the outside door, then the indoor one, and finally out into the hallway. They sneaked away, like two scheming co-conspirators, but when they were finally out of the building and could have said their good-byes and go their separate ways he unconsciously fell in step beside her as she started to walk through the park to get to her transport.
She didn't mind his company at all; in fact, she enjoyed trading stories with him about their lives and careers, likes and dislikes and the rebuilding efforts as they strolled past the transport hub, ignoring the awaiting cabs, and walked on until they finally found themselves at the docking ports.
"Well, here we are." Shepard stopped and turned towards Sparatus, extending her right hand to him. "Thank you for the conversation and keeping me company. It was fun."
He took her hand in a strong, three-fingered grasp and gently shook it; he held it for a little longer than he'd intended to, seemingly reluctant to let it go, but he soon caught himself and withdrew his hand with an embarrassed flick of his mandibles.
"Yes, I've enjoyed our time together as well. Umm... when do you depart, Captain?"
"Tomorrow morning. We've received reports about some pirate activity in the Attican Traverse. They are attacking shipments of medical and food supplies and the situation is getting quite desperate for the colonists. I guess things will never change," she added with a disgusted shake of her head. "I should have known that as soon as the war was over those bastards would crawl out of hiding."
"Indeed." Sparatus nodded thoughtfully; the Council had been receiving similar reports from several other systems as well. "I wish you luck on your mission."
"Thanks. Well, good night," she said, then she started up the ramp to the Normandy.
"Shepard!" he called after her, but when she turned back with an expectant look in her eyes the words almost got stuck in his throat. He swallowed hard and stammered, trying to sound as casual as he could, "I... hope you'll come back soon. I would like to, ah, talk to you again."
She tipped her head with a gentle smile, her eyes sparkling with a kind of warmth that he'd never seen from her before, then she turned around and headed for her ship.
"Good night, Shepard," he murmured as he watched her disappear in the docking tube.
Shepard was sitting at her computer, sipping her second cup of morning coffee while she was going through the reconnaissance data they had received about the attacks when Joker's smug voice came over the comm system.
"Captain, Councilor Sparatus is requesting admission to the Normandy. He says he has some urgent matter to discuss with you."
"Let him in and send him up to my cabin," she replied, trying to ignore the sudden quiver of her stomach at the mention of his name. She'd spent the night tossing and turning, unable to get him out of her mind, and now, when she'd finally managed to convince her brain to focus on other, more important things, here he was again—and she wasn't sure how she felt about that. Why was he even coming onto her ship now? He'd never done that before; if they had to talk in the past it was either through a vid screen or on the Citadel, and always on official business.
She put her coffee down and hurried to the bathroom to check her appearance in the mirror above the sink, smoothed down her hair as much as she could, then went back to her office and started to pace up and down as she waited for his arrival.
After a short time she decided that it would be better if he found her buried in work and not at all anxious about his visit, so she sat down at her computer and tried to turn her attention back to the report she'd been reading just a couple of minutes ago. This time, however, she couldn't even see the words anymore; all her senses were focused on the noise from the elevator outside her door in an attempt to gauge when it was going to stop on her floor.
When he finally strolled into her quarters she managed to keep her eyes on her datapad for a few seconds before she looked up at him. He was wearing a nice suit, which, she had to admit, fitted him quite well, and he was carrying an official looking briefcase. She couldn't help but feel a bit disappointed that apparently this was only about some secret Council assignment or something, but when he reached inside the case and took out a big heart-shaped box of chocolate, all covered in luxurious crimson velvet, she almost fell out of her chair.
"Shepard, I, uh, did some research, and... I know I'm not a human, but I was wondering..." He put the briefcase down and stepped closer, offering the box to her with a nervous twitch of his mandibles. "Will you be my Valentine?"
Her eyes opened wide and her mouth hang in astonishment; she'd seen these kinds of things on vids before, but nobody had ever done something like this for her—and she certainly never would have expected it to come from the turian Councilor. But here he was, presenting her with an enormous box of Valentine's Day candy, looking as shy and nervous as she herself felt at this moment, and she couldn't hold back the huge grin that started to spread across her face.
She stood up and walked over to him, took the box from his outstretched hand and put it down on her desk, then turned back to him with a wicked smirk.
"Yes. The answer is yes. But do you have any idea what you're getting yourself into?"
She stepped closer—so close that he could see the golden speckles in her green iris and inhale her sweet scent.
"I... uh, I thought –" he sputtered, his mind feverishly racing over the possible outcomes his extranet search had come up with. In a split second he realized, however, that, this being Shepard, he had no idea what was going to happen next. So he swallowed hard, waiting for her to go on, and when she put her arms around his neck and pulled his head down until he could feel her hot breath on his face, his stomach jumped up into his throat and his heart thudded so hard that he thought he was going to have a heart attack.
"Well, now I'll have to kiss you," she whispered, her eyes locked onto his, and at that moment he decided that those were the most wonderful words he'd ever heard from her.
"I have no objections to that," he purred, his chest swelling with the kind of warmth and desire that he hadn't felt in a very long time.
He pulled her into his embrace as her mouth pressed against his; her lips were hot and moist and wonderfully soft, and when her tongue started to trace his mouth plates he couldn't hold back a desperate moan as he reciprocated the gesture. He lifted a hand, sliding it slowly up her back, and buried his shaky fingers in her silky hair as they deepened the kiss; it all felt so warm, so natural, and so amazing that he wished that they could stay like this forever.
Of course, all good things must come to an end, but still, he couldn't help but let out a disappointed groan when she pulled back. She chuckled and rested her forehead against his chest for a second before she looked back up at him with a sad smile.
"I'd show you around, but unfortunately we have to leave in half an hour. But maybe we could... keep in touch? I could give you my private extranet address... if you want."
Her face turned a deeper shade of pink and she bit her lower lip as she waited for his answer in what he could only interpret as anxious anticipation; she looked so adorable that he had serious trouble resisting the temptation to pick her up and nuzzle her neck, then nibble her ear lobe and run his tongue over it. But this wasn't the time to start something like that, so he opted instead to trace a talon along her jawline and press his forehead against hers as he answered with a rumble, "I'd like that."
They exchanged contact information and promised to talk to each other every day, and soon it was time for him to leave. They kissed one more time, then he picked up his briefcase and strolled through the door and into the elevator, and, for the first time since he'd met her he asked the Spirits to protect her and bring her back safely—not for the sake of her mission or for the good of the galaxy, but for him. After all, she was his first and only, amazing, incredible, lovable Valentine.