A/N: This was originally a self-insert fanfic for a Mass Effect collaboration a few years ago, but since it was never completed, I've revised my portion of the collab into its own original sci-fi themed romance story. Also, be aware that Kani is bisexual, and there will be some femslash and smutty content littered throughout the work. (Fun fact: my avatar is a drawing I did of Kani in 2013.)

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(Kani)

Her movements flowed in time to the pulsing rhythm of the music, slanted brown eyes sharp and focused. She caught the two metal tumblers spinning in midair and juggled them one-handed as her other hand reached behind her to toss a liquor bottle smoothly into the rotation. The spectators cheered at the transition in her routine, and her mouth quirked appreciatively at the applause as she promptly chucked the mixing equipment toward the bar counter. A collective gasp sounded when the tumblers stacked together, the bottle having landed squarely inside them, and skidded to an upright halt two inches from the glass she had been mixing.

And just when the crowd prepared to clap at the end of her performance, she reached up, flicked open a Zippo hidden in her palm, and blew a mouthful of vodka toward the glass, sending forth a brilliant fireball that set the rim ablaze to complete the drink.

Makani—"Kani"—Blancarte bowed her head to the ovation that erupted throughout the Prism Star Lounge. She tugged on the collar of her sleeveless blue hoodie to cool herself and brushed back her short, layered black hair from her damp forehead. When the audience began to disperse, she winked at the beautiful blonde seated at the opposite side of the bar and slid her newest concoction toward her. Kani had noticed the woman the instant she'd walked in, and this drink numbered the third she had sent her way.

"This one's on the house, gorgeous," Kani said, the natural husky tenor of her voice alerting the woman to some sort of revelation.

"Wait… so you're a girl?"

The bartender's grin was full of amusement. "Don't go spreading it around, now."

Petite but decidedly boyish-looking, Kani had chosen the androgynous appearance out of preference, although it often brought on double-takes and uncertain glances from the Prism Star patrons. At twenty-four years of age, she knew she looked more like a male teenager than anything else.

The blonde woman stared at her with renewed interest as she reached for the glass and blew out the flames without breaking eye contact. "You're Kani, right? Come find me when you get off work. I'll be here."

The silent bells of victory echoed in Kani's head as she leered quite pointedly at the other's impressive cleavage. "Sure thing. What's your name?"

"Sierra Eldridge."

"See you in a bit, Sierra."

Kani hurried back to her post, where several of her female regulars had appeared to chat (or rather, flirt) with her. As she mixed drinks for each of them and engaged in lecherous conversation, she could feel a familiar gaze burning into her back. The instant she managed to send the regulars away and catch a break, her smile faded, and she turned to meet the sharp blue eyes fixed on her from one dark corner of the lounge.

Jesper Erikson, or "Krieger" as he was more commonly known, stood with his arms crossed, glaring at her. An imposing figure of towering height and a heavily muscled build, the thirty-six-year-old German man could give even the most hardened space marine pause with just one glower. Faded scars crisscrossed the skin of his face, and his black armor hid the worst ones that covered his body. His kept his blond hair buzzed close to his head, and the trimmed whiskers of his beard added to his weathered look. He shifted then, his movement reflecting the precision and grace of a skilled fighter, and crooked a finger at her as he stalked toward the backroom.

She exhaled in irritation and caught one of the other bartenders by the elbow, informing him that she was going to step away for a few minutes. At his glance toward Krieger's direction and subsequent nod, she followed the way the hulking man had gone. As soon as she stepped inside the cold room where shelves of their stock lined the walls, the door slid shut behind her. She felt the heat of his body even before his large hand clamped over her shoulder and spun her around to face him.

"Liebste, we must talk," he rumbled in a deep, accented voice. He had switched off his translator to speak to her in English.

"Krieger, I told you not to call me that while we're working," Kani chastised, brushing his hand away. "Part of my selling point is my reputation. My customers can't know I have intimate relations with my bodyguard. My intimidating, dangerous, and possessive bodyguard."

He curled his lip at her, but didn't argue. They had settled into their roles as bartender and bodyguard nearly a year after they had relocated to the Solarus space station. Kani's success as the flair bartender of the Prism Star Lounge was attributed not only to her flairing talent, but also to her widely known availability. While her vague gender attracted mostly privileged women looking for a thrill, and thus established them as returning patrons, men had also expressed occasional interest.

"That robotboy 'canister' hitting on you earlier escaped death only for having the brains to leave," Krieger growled, referring to Reaver, a male-bodied android who sometimes showed up at the beginning of her shifts to harass her. "But that blonde woman. I see the way you look at her all night. You bring her back to our apartment, I will be very angry."

Kani frowned at him. "You know I wouldn't do that…"

"I will also be very angry if you go home with her tonight."

Kani opened her mouth to issue an indignant protest, but Krieger cut her off.

"The perverted persona when you are on the clock is fine. The many women who shove breasts in your face is fine. Hell, even the occasional troublemaker I must knock out with one punch is fine." He advanced on her while he spoke, forcing her to retreat until her back bumped into one of the shelves holding several bottles of liquor. "But I tell you this before. Off work, I am more than your bodyguard."

"What? When did this happen?" Kani demanded, her cool façade completely slipping. "We agreed to live together with certain… benefits. That doesn't mean we're in a relationship."

Krieger slammed his palms against the shelf on either side of her, the sound making her jump as several bottles fell and shattered on the floor. She glared up at him in defiance even as he dwarfed her with his size. He leaned in close, eyes locking with hers, and then brought his lips a hair's breadth from her ear.

"Lotusblüte, mach mich nicht wütend."

She shivered involuntarily at the gruff sentence spoken in German and swore under her breath. She understood it without a translator and knew he spoke it on purpose to leave a more significant impact.

Lotus flower, do not make me angry.

Had they been at home and she wasn't feeling so resentful toward him, she probably would have jumped him on the spot and dragged him to bed. However, since neither of the two parameters applied to their situation, and she had been starving for a woman for months, she slipped under his left arm and went for the door, resolute.

"Don't put these kinds of restrictions on me, Krieger," she told him over her shoulder. "You're my bodyguard foremost. Please just do your job."

With that, she left him behind and made her way back to the bar, the suave mask back in place. She disliked interference in her private affairs, and this marked the first time he had openly opposed one of her trysts with another woman. The change in his attitude unnerved her, and she couldn't help wondering whether he had developed genuine romantic feelings for her along the way. If so, he was only setting himself up for disappointment.

She wasn't capable of falling in love.

The night went on without further incident. As the pace of the lounge slowed and people staggered on home, Kani snuck a glance toward the dark corner, where Krieger had resumed his stoic—and now very tense—position. A brief stab of guilt throbbed in her chest at the way he refused to look directly at her, though she could tell he kept her in his peripheral vision. She braced herself on her elbows against the bar counter as she continued to watch him, this sullen, complicated individual who had entered her life two years prior.

Back on Earth, in the midst of an island paradise called Hawaii, a tortured man seeking some form of redemption and release had come to her, and she remembered clearly the very first words he'd uttered in English, the sentence that had burned itself into her soul.

"Please, save me."

And she had tried her best.

A tap on her shoulder interrupted her musings. She turned to find her boss, Aron, telling her she could go.

"That woman you were hitting on shamelessly all night is waiting for you by the door," the grizzled lounge manager said, vocal pitch ringing with laughter behind his breathing apparatus. "I'm guessing Krieger scolded you for your free spirit making his job a lot harder?"

Aron, like everyone else, saw the relationship between Kani and Krieger as that of a bratty, adventurous child and an exasperated, overprotective guardian. When Kani had been hired at Prism Star, Krieger had been accepted as her accompanying bodyguard, provided that he doubled as the lounge bouncer. No one had asked why she even needed Krieger's services, which suited them fine since coming up with a plausible explanation that strayed from the truth would have been a tedious process.

"He'll get over it," Kani grumbled, failing to convince herself.

"You know, I'll never understand how you always manage to push that guy to his limits without him tossing you right out of the airlock."

She stuck her tongue out at Aron, the silver ball of her tongue piercing glinting in the dim lighting.

He cringed at it. "And I'll never understand the fascination you cyberpunk types have with drilling holes into your bodies to wear pieces of metal. You have enough jewelry on your ears to set off a planet scanner on a frigate."

"Says the guy whose body is half made up of cybernetics," she returned, smirking.

He chuckled at that and left her to wipe down her section of the bar counter. Once finished, she cast one last glance at Krieger, whose gaze flickered to her in warning. With a renewed sense of stubbornness, she turned on her heel and marched in the opposite direction, where Sierra stood in wait.

"Who is he to you, anyway? He's been glaring at me the entire time," the blonde woman huffed.

"Hm?" While focusing on Sierra's assets after realizing she was practically at eye level with the taller woman's chest, Kani had almost missed the question. "Oh, that's Krieger, my bodyguard. I told him to buzz off for the night, so he's a bit peeved at me. No need to worry about him. So…" She drawled, grinning in unabashed anticipation. "My place is kind of unavailable right now. How about we take this to yours?"

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A/N: The story is primarily told in Kani's perspective, but there will be concurrent chapters depicting Krieger's view of things. Also, it's centered on the characters and their relationships rather than the sci-fi setting. Let me know if some aspects seem rushed or not described enough. Since this used to be a Mass Effect fic, it didn't go too much into detail with the surroundings and location. The original version is still floating somewhere on FFN, but honestly, I don't think anyone outside the collab read it. If you have any comments or critiques, I very much love feedback.