Chapter 1: Mission Success
Shepard was still in her armor, filthy from fighting her way through the Collector base and destroying the half-finished Reaper. The few glances she caught of herself reflected in computer panels and viewing windows weren't flattering, but she kept going. Most of the support staff were still shaken. When she heard the tremor in Dr. Chakwas' voice as the doctor gave her thanks, Shepard stepped forward and put her hand on the woman's shoulder. Chakwas reached up and squeezed the commander's fingers before going back to work.
In Engineering, her dynamic duo were quiet but still grateful. Donnelly reached out to her, hesitated, and settled for grabbing her hand and giving it a firm shake. Gabby tried to put into words her thanks but only got out a teary smile. Tali simply wrapped her arms around Shepard's neck and laid her head on her commander's shoulder for a long moment.
Down in the hold, Jack kept her eyes on the floor grates and laced her fingers behind her neck. "No one's ever trusted me like that before, Shepard. You're one crazy bitch." They shared a tired grin, and Jane even managed a rough laugh.
She had at least one shadow at all times, usually two. Samura flowed into Garrus into, surprisingly Grunt. The asari ran the back of her fingers down Shepard's temple and smiled before gracefully floating off. Garrus hovered over her shoulder as she made her way through the crew, hugging and touching hands.
"Shepard," he started when they were alone.
"Thank you," she told him.
He grinned as much as he could. The bandages on the injured side of his face were freshly blue, and his burnt mandible was now chipped and hung a little limp.
"Always willing to follow you into hell, Commander." Instead of the salute she expected, the turian bent and leaned his forehead against hers. She let out a soft laugh and knocked their heads together lightly with a grin.
Grunt punched her in her bad shoulder, not bothering to hold back in the slightest. She felt her bones jar roughly together but tried to smile nonetheless.
"You killed the Collectors good, Shepard." He smirked at her, all teeth. "I think I hate them." And thumped off back to the cargo bay, the crew scattering in his wake.
The constant was Thane. He would slip away, waiting out in the halls when privacy was obviously needed, but always just there in reach. He made an effort to talk with more of the crew (maybe not the best time to start trying to make friends when they were all rather awestruck by the assassin on top of shock, but he tried) and did not push. It was...nice. He stood behind her with his back to the wall when she met with Miranda, Jacob, Yeoman Chambers, and Mordin about their next move. Miranda flicked her eyes toward him more than once during the conversation.
"What do you think?" Jane asked them all after their barrage of questions.
"We need to regroup. The crew is... shaken," Miranda summarized.
"I agree," Kelly said quietly. "I... I would suggest leave for much of the support staff. For some I will suggest their entire release from the mission. I'll need to do more in-depth interviews to be sure, but I can have a list of names in a few days."
"Blowing up that Collector station was a pretty spectacular way to say 'I quit'. We'll need a new revenue source. The ship needs a refitting, ammunition, fuel, stores need replenishing." Jacob shrugged. "I could go on."
"We're now an enemy of Cerberus. The Illusive Man will want to reclaim his investment," Miranda offered quietly. Shepard watched her with a still expression. Miranda had been incredibly loyal to Cerberus before this mission.
"Do they have a tracker on us?" Jane asked her.
"Three that I knew of." At Shepard's raised eyebrows, Miranda elaborated, "I disabled all spy systems that I knew of once we arrived back on the ship. I've asked EDI to track down anything that she found suspicious in her subroutines. It should, at least, buy us some time."
"Need safe harbor, supplies, income stream. Need to recruit. Need to expand support network." Mordin spoke a little slower (almost normal speed) and his exhaustion was reflected back at Shepard in his stillness.
Jane nodded. "We find safe harbor for a few days. Everyone is beyond exhausted. We're useless until we're rested. EDI!"
The blue holo sphere appeared at the main research station. "Yes, Shepard. With the Geth space station destroyed, there is minimal activity in several Far Reaches sectors."
"Right." Shepard stood. Her entire body was beginning to ache. She needed to get out of her armor soon. The rest of the team followed suit, and Thane pushed away from the wall to come closer to her. "We'll set course. Kelly, Miranda,: make sure those that need rest and any psychological attention are seen to first, and use the force you see fit if necessary to reach that end. Jacob, I want a full list of... everything. Needed repairs, stores, munitions, medical, anything. I want even more lists of things we could want. We're improved, but do we need more upgrades? Grab Garrus and Tali once you are all," she emphasized at him as he swayed slightly on his feet, "fit for duty. Mordin." She turned to the salarian scientist. He blinked slowly up at her. "Take a nap."
"Aye, Commander," they all agreed.
"Are you going to be my first crewman to order on bed rest, Shepard?" Miranda asked her with a hint of a smile as the meeting broke.
"There is no need." Thane appeared just beyond Jane's shoulder.
Jane let out a huff of laughter and rubbed at the back of her neck. "I was wondering how long I had before you all turned on me. One more thing, then I will listen to my own orders." She turned, but Miranda stopped her with grip on her wrist.
"Shepard." Her eyes darted to Thane then back to Jane's face. Her shadow companion melted out of the room. "If you're-"
"Stop." Jane put her hands on Miranda's shoulders. "I don't question your loyalty. You've earned imine/i, Miranda. I'm not going to ask you to stay with us, if you feel you need to return to Cerberus. I'm not going to ask that of anyone here. But, I want you to know, I want you here. We have a place for you here."
"...Shepard." Miranda started again then shook her head. "You are... I'll never be able to understand you, but I will always follow you."
Thane fell into step beside Jane once she and Miranda separated. She looked over her shoulder as they made her way around the injured CIC toward the cockpit. Jacob's back was just disappearing behind the closing doors. Good, she thought to herself.
"One more thing," Thane repeated for her once they reached the bridge.
"Are you going to be my nursemaid, now?" she teased him.
"In a way," he demurred. He trailed his hand down the back of her neck, along her spine, and slide two fingers under the space between the plates of her armor at the small of her back; two very warm spots she could feel through her underarmor. "I have an interest in your well-being, siha."
Thane's hand dropped away when Jane leaned over the tall back of the pilot's chair in the cockpit and looked down at the top of Joker's head. He was hunched slightly over the main console, not looking at her.
"Commander," he addressed her after a long pause, and slowly looked up at her. His eyes were bloodshot, the bags under his eyes were dark enough to be a bruise, and his skin tone had a yellow tinge to it.
Jane did not say what she was thinking: you're so exhausted, you are unfit for duty. He was daring her to do it. Instead, she bid EDI bring up a universal map. "We're going to hide the ship for a few days. Get the crew rested and start what repairs we can while we reassess the situation. We've narrowed down the choices." She waved her hand over several of the Far Reaches clusters and they glowed brighter. "What are your thoughts?"
Joker squinted at the map and finally pointed to the most far-flung cluster. "That star gives off weird bursts of radio waves. It'll disguise us even when we take the stealth systems offline. There's a gas giant there we can park ourselves on the dark side of. No one will ever know we're there, ma'am."
"Make it so." She swiveled Joker's cap around on his head until he sputtered and slapped at her hands. "EDI? Once we've made it through the Mass Relay, lock him out of the console for sixteen hours. Unless there's an emergency, of course."
EDI's blue sphere appeared next to the command console. "Yes, Commander. Really, Jeff, you are not a machine. That is why you an exceptional pilot. You will rest, and I will keep you advised on the situation." AI soothed over Joker's continued sputtering.
"Great. Great! It's another episode of Joker has two mommies! Next you're going to start picking out my clothes and straining my peas and carrots-"
"If I might add, white is not your color, Jeff. Might I suggest a more masculine shade to better align with the cockpit interior now that you are no longer required to wear the Cerberus uniform?" Shepard could almost detect an inflection in the AI's tone. That was a new, terrifying thought.
"I am not some decoration for your insides, EDI!" Joker pounded his fist on the AI's mute button, while Shepard made a hasty retreat back to the elevators with Thane in tow. Her flight crew could worked out their own squabble.
She leaned against the elevator wall and pressed the button for the captain's quarters. "See?" she said to Thane. "Following command's orders." She needed to scrub down her armor, switch out any plates that needed more than a quick touch-up, and do a more through check-list of repairs. She needed to write up a report on the destruction of the Collector base, even if she was no longer part of Cerberus, because she was going to send a copy of the damn thing to every single government body in the galaxy. There were things she needed to do right now, but if she was ordering everyone off their feet for a few hours, she was going to do the same. Before one of her squad decided to drug her coffee.
Thane watched her placidly and followed her out of the elevator on her private floor. "I see, siha," he agreed after she opened the door to her quarters.
Jane paused just over the threshold when she realized that she was no longer being followed. Over her shoulder, Thane had stopped and folded his hands behind his back. "Not going to tuck the patient in?" she smiled.
"I do not wish to assume."
"Most men would after last night."
"I am not most men."
The slight emphasis on the last word made Jane turn about fully. She needed to remind herself again that this was not a human man that would take her teasing for the permission that it was; Thane had been straightforward to the point of rudeness in his interest in her.
He started to make a gesture, then curled his fingers into a fist and put his hand again behind his back. "It is... common for those such as us to need time alone after a battle. To step out of our battle sleep and reawaken in this world."
Jane let the words turn over in her head for a moment before she responded. "Is that what you need right now?"
"What I need-" It was quick, the step forward he took. There was no space between them now, and she felt his fingers brush against her wrist and withdraw again. "I need to clean my guns, check my suit, restock my ammunition, do repairs. I must mediate. I have survived this mission with you and I am-" He wrapped his fingers around hers and looked down, "-I am glad for it in ways I can not put into words, for which I know I should feel shame but I do not. I can not. It gives me the chance of more time with my son, with y-" Thane cut himself off again.
Finally, he looked up and meet her eyes. They were not entirely black: the ring around his pupils was a deep brown that drew her in and held her. He brought his free hand up to her face and lightly traced the curve of her cheek with his thumb. "What I want, siha, is to be of service to you in the way that you need."
She understood. At least, she thought she understood. He had been very blunt about his interest in her when they had gotten to know each other. Now that the mission was done and they were at loose ends before going off to save the galaxy once more, he was both giving her a way out and, as subtle as always, a declaration of his very serious intentions. With her choosing which way to interpret his words.
Her hand covered his, tracing the webbed connection between his ring and middle finger that he explained was especially sensitive. "You do like your speeches."
"Forgive me, my social skills-"
"Yeah, they've atrophied. I remember." Jane held back a laugh, took his hand, and started back into her quarters with Thane in tow. The door closed behind her with a hiss, and she pressed the locking sequence. "I think I might like the company."
Jane started popping the locks that held her armor plating in place. Shoulders first, arm gauntlets next. Thane flipped open her cowl neck joining and tugged it free. She sagged and sat on her bed, bent to drag off her calf and knee guards and fight off her boots. It took her longer than normal. Thane's hand appeared out of the corner of her eye and took the last of her armor from her limp grip. She could see that he had draped his jacket over her captain's chair and tucked all of their prehensiles neatly in her footlocker. Maybe dating a widower wasn't going to be so bad.
A weight settled next to her hip. Thane had one knee on the bed and was leaning over her. With a hand behind her head, he started to guide her back.
"I should-" Jane started.
"Siha." Thane cut her off and laid her down. "I will rest if you will rest."
She let out a real laugh at that. It was a tired laugh, but still very real. "You've already learned how to play me."
"Yes," he agreed and kissed her.
Chapter 2: Getting Older
Jane awoke many hours later from a deep, dreamless sleep. That was not a joy she experienced often. Nor did she often wake to have company in her bed. Surviving suicide missions had even more positives than she first thought.
She was laying on her stomach, her head pillowed on her partner's bicep. She opened her eyes slightly. Thane was on his back and still very deeply asleep. Something unexpected, he took up a lot of room in his sleep. It was cute; a wholesome thought she never thought she would have in connection to this man.
Both sets of his eyelids opened, and he blinked with the inner set several times. "Siha," he whispered and reached out for her. Jane let herself be pulled closer and tucked her feet around his calf as they settled on their sides, stomach to stomach.
"Hi," she greeted tiredly.
"You are awake."
"You're a bed hog," was her answer.
He blinked at her then offered a tired smile. "I am... very comfortable with you, siha. Did you not sleep?"
"Yeah. I slept so deeply, I didn't even dream."
Thane ran his hand over her check, down over her neck and breast, and settled about her hip. He moved in and kissed the line of her jaw, the corner of her mouth, and both her eyelids.
"Do you dream often?" he asked with his mouth next to her ear.
Jane let out a pleased sound at his rough voice vibrating against the bones of her ear. Her hips rolled forward involuntarily, and she felt him still for a moment before pulling their hips tight together. They had more enjoyed each others' presence than anything more adventurous so far (she had discovered, pleasantly, that their biology was similar enough there were no worries about the very basics). It was still a nice reminder to have: Thane not only respected her and liked spending time with her; as alien as she was to him, he liked the look and the feel of her. Dipping his head to kiss along her collar bone, he began to hum deep in his throat. His entire chest cavity was vibrating. The noise was a deep bass sound that made her hair stand on end and her entire body tingle.
"I, ah. Yeah. I dream. A lot. I, ah. What are you doing?" Jane was having a hard time concentrating enough to get out words. All she really wanted to do was wrap her body about Thane and order him to never, ever stop making that noise.
He stopped, and Shepard groaned and went entirely limp.
"I apologize. It is a sound my people make when we are... contented."
Jane was still a little cross eyed. "Don't apologize. I might never get out of bed again," she told the skylight overhead. There was a pause before Thane had to smother a snort of amusement in the valley of her breasts (he was fascinated by them; apparently they didn't come standard on drell women). "I don't think I can move," she added at length.
"Your crew will be pleased. It might mean you will be partially rested. Tell me of your dreams."
Jane laughed. Thane hadn't moved from his very intimate position of using her as a particularly beloved body pillow, she had just admitted that he made her weak in the knees, and he was now asking her about her dreams as if it were the weather. She had to laugh.
"I'm going to be well rested? I'm almost disappointed."
Thane lifted himself onto his elbows. They stared at each other for a long moment. Jane's smile started to slip. Had she said something wrong?
Finally, Thane slid a hand into her thick hair and kissed her until her toes curled. He knew how to kiss. It wasn't like with some men she had known: all pounce and no plan or trying to make up for their lack of skill with eagerness to please. Thane was all skill and tactics. He started at her bottom lip, a soft and chaste kiss that feathered until it was her whole mouth and it wasn't an invasion but a slow, calculated march of tongue and hands. It almost embarrassed her how much she enjoyed this man.
He pulled back and kept himself just out of reach when Jane made to follow his mouth. "When I make love to you, siha, I will not have you limp beneath me from exhaustion." He wrapped her thighs around his hips and pressed forward so she could feel him harden against her belly. "It will be days," and the word was stretched out into a hiss when Jane protested his denial with a twist of her hips and pleasant drag of her skin intimately against him. "Days of you and I locked together in a test of endurance; and I assure you, I will not stop until I know your expression when you are at your limits, your hair damp with sweat and loose down your back while you ride me to your completion."
"God, you're speeches." Jane couldn't help herself: she hit him with a pillow. It was either that or pounce. Or bury herself under the sheet in embarrassment at such a frank admission of what he wanted.
Thane laughed. It was this wonderful deep sound that was almost on the edge of her hearing, and she adored it. He touched her face, tucking back a bit of her hair, before he settled down next to her. Jane scooted over and laid her head on his chest. As exhausted as she was, she was happy. There were plenty of other things she wanted to be doing right now (she could still feel him, at half mast, against her thigh, and she itched just to run her hands along him), but as much as the spirit was willing, she didn't think she could get her body to move enough to make things happen.
"You okay?" she murmured into his neck.
Thane's fingers threaded through her hair, and she felt him smile against her forehead. "As beautiful as you are, siha, and happy I am to be alive, I do not think my strength has returned to me enough to worship you properly."
"Sure?" Jane asked, reaching down to tease her fingers over his length before taking him in a gentle grip. "I'm not up for anything yet but..."
Thane let out a huff of air against her hair. His grip on her hip flexed in time to her slow strokes, and she felt him grow slightly more in her hand.
"...no," he said at length, and tugged her wrist until her hand settled on the small of his back. "A few hours," he promised her with a kiss.
Jane laughed against his mouth. "So this is what its like to be old and saving the universe."
Chapter 3: En medias res
"You made me go all the way to Omega so you could drag me around half the galaxy in a fucking shuttle with a fucking igeth/i?" Operations Chief Ashley Williams was not happy. Not in the least.
Garrus tapped his talons on the console, looking almost pleased with her annoyance. "Your vocabulary has improved, Chief."
"I'll fucking shoot you."
"I'd expect nothing less."
She had been trapped in the shuttle for the last four hours with the turian in the pilot seat. In the back, with a wall between them (not thick enough, Ashley thought darkly), was a powered down geth. That Garrus insisted was part of Shepard's team, so she couldn't shot it until all lights stopped blinking. Along with a rather boobie-tastic asari justicar, and she thought she understood what that meant. ("Samara, she won't actually kill Legion; she's crew, she understands," Garrus had to keep explaining. Samara had still watched her coolly before settling in the back of the shuttle with the geth.)
"Are we there yet?"
"Almost," Garrus answered her.
"You said that an hour ago."
Garrus just grinned at her, his one working mandible flickering against his cheek. She wanted to ask him about the large missing portion of his face, but some people didn't like to talk about their scars. May be when they were on the ground where he couldn't space her for asking about a touchy subject.
"Why didn't Shepard meet me?" she asked instead. Shepard had included Ashley in her mass communication to every alien government and Council ambassador with her report on the destruction of the Collectors. No sanitized information for her. Included at the bottom of the missive was a short note, 'Alive. Not Cerberus. Contact me.' It had taken almost two weeks before Shepard got back to her: met Garrus on Omega. The computer hadn't been able to trace where the message had originated, only that the voice and facial structure had been Shepard.
"Same reason she rerouted all her messages through six different relays. We don't want anyone knowing where she is right now." He looked at Ashley out of the corner of his eye and then back to the console. "She wanted to come out herself. We convinced her not to."
"'We'?" Ashely poured her aggression into the single word.
"Tali, myself. Miranda, Jacob. Thane. You'll meet him. He's with Shepard."
"You'll see. Hang on!" Garrus took hold of the controls again and steered the shuttle toward an angry looking little red planet, swirling with thick cloud cover. There was a massive defensive array in orbit. The guns turned toward the shuttle as it flew closer and targeted. Garrus opened communications. "Shuttle to Pirate King, coming in."
"Pirate King," a very deep and alien male voice countered. "Pass phrase?"
Garrus made a face down at the planet. Grudgingly, he quoted, "Shepard had a little varren, its scales as white as snow. And everywhere that Shepard went, Urz was sure to go."
"Accepted." The vid screen lit up, and Ashley could now see a drell blinking at her with both sets of eyelids. She had never actually seen a drell before. "Good to see you again, Garrus. It will be a pleasure to meet you, Operations Chief Williams." He even freaking bowed to her! Through a vid screen! The screen switched off, and Garrus began their descent into atmo.
"Hey back there!" Garrus banged on the cockpit wall. "ETA, ten minutes!" Looking ever so pleased with himself, Garrus told her, "Almost there, Chief."
Ashley kicked him.
They came in low over a deep red desert. The whole sky was a blend of pinks and purples, becoming almost velvet on the horizon where the sun was just starting to set. The desert gave away to sharp cut mountains, and Garrus flicked the controls, taking the shuttle down into a long, winding stretch of canyon. Nestled deep in a twisting maze of rock, and almost impossible to see from the air, was a complex of peach colored buildings set into the canyon wall. Garrus set them down roughly on the make shift landing pad, a distance from any of the buildings. Ashley kicked him again.
"Hey, hey! I bruise easily! What was that for?" he rubbed at his shin as he popped the main hatch of the shuttle and offered a hand to Samara.
"Learn to fly, you horny bastard!"
Legion blinked to life and uncoiled himself. "'Horny'," it repeated. "Most often used as a human slang word meaning desiring of sexual intercourse."
Garrus gaped a the geth. "What is Mordin giving you to read?"
Samara gave Ashley a long look after she gracefully climbed out. "...You are not what I expected for such an intimate friend of Shepard's." Ashley was not entirely sure if that was a compliment or a rebuke, but she didn't have time to ask. Samara turned and addressed Legion, "Stop teasing Garrus. Please forgive him. Mordin is a horrible influence."
Ashley took in her surroundings. It was a massive complex. It was also gorgeous. The main building was four stories, almost all windows, tinted against any view inside. There were several balconies and the main door was surrounded by landscaped terrace covered in rich, multicolored tile with a huge firepit as its focal point. Scattered away from the main building were several outbuildings, she could only assume the power and water centers.
"Urz!" she heard from inside the main building, and out came a purple striped varren followed closely by a very tan red head and a drell.
Ashley didn't recognize her commander at first. It was a shock: she had never seen Shepard outside of armor or combat fatigues. The barefoot woman waving at them had long, loose hair, a loose top that showed off some of her well-muscled stomach, and low slung pants. The drell with her was shirtless, barefoot, and looking at Shepard; Ash finally got what Garrus had meant when he said this Thane was "with" the Commander.
"Fucking hell!" Ashley let out at her epiphany.
Shepard laughed. "Good to see you, too, Chief!"