Chapter 1: Under the Weather
Garrus isn't feeling up to par, so Shepard decides to come by and cheer him up....
It turned out that turians got colds just like humans did. Shepard didn't know much about the specifics, or if the right kind of things would help, but she made her best guesses, dragged out a few supplies and then went to visit Garrus, who was still busily at work in the gunnery but looking uncharacteristically glum about it. She handed him her offering first.
"Hey. I thought you might need some of this," she said, over the steaming mug.
Garrus looked at it, then her, seeming a bit bemused. He also, when he spoke, sounded more than a bit stuffy. "Is that tea?"
"Korreleaf," she said with a nod. "I looked it up, should be fine. No clue if it tastes right, but I gave it a go. And I spiked it with some of your brandy." She gave him a lopsided grin. "Seemed the thing to do."
"Hah. Get me drunk while I'm already lightheaded and expect me not to cause a mechanical disaster. Not terribly sound strategy." He sounded amused, though, and he took the mug. "Thank you. And I'd say it smells like you brewed it right, except I can't smell worth a damn."
She leaned a little closer. "You smell just fine to me."
"That was terrible, Shepard."
"I do my best." She leaned against the console. "But really… how are you feeling?"
He took a sip of the tea. "Mmh. Well. Been better, but I'll live. I just don't recommend standing too close."
"Why? I doubt it's contagious between species."
"You do not," he said dryly, "want to be anywhere near me if I sneeze."
Shepard laughed. "I've faced down rampant brutes and screaming banshees. I think I can deal with a sneeze."
She laid one hand along his cheek, tracing the edge of his fringe. He leaned into the touch a little. "Still," he said, although he was clearly capitulating. "It's not anywhere near as cute as when you do it."
"Yeah." His eyes gleamed. "Your face gets all scrunched up, and you look all distressed like you're trying to hold it back and can't, and then I'm expecting an explosion, and instead it's this high-pitched little…."
"Don't you dare mock my sneezes, Vakarian."
"I only mock with love," he said solemnly.
Shepard smiled, feeling suddenly warm to the core, and stood up on tiptoes to kiss his forehead. "So do I," she said. "Dribble-nose."
He laughed and scrubbed the back of one hand under his nose. "Oh, Shepard," he said, giving his hand an embarrassed moment of study. "We're the very picture of romance, aren't we."
"I think we do all right," she said softly.
He gave her a long, tender look, spoiled the moment a bit by sniffling, and laughed at himself. Then he gave her a silent toast with the mug. "By the way? The tea's perfect."
She smiled. "Commander Shepard, victorious again," she said, and gave him one more quick kiss on the cheek before turning away, ready to let him get back to work. Still, she paused by the door. "Oh, and Garrus…."
"If there's anything else I can do later to help you feel better… just give me a call."
He chuckled. "I'll remember that," he said, and Shepard grinned with satisfaction as she jauntily walked away.
Chapter 2: Hauntings
Thane backstory, from a prompt on Tumblr.
He didn’t want to remember her most days, but she’d haunt him in the most unexpected moments.
During missions. In the marketplace. Quiet moments of thinking, disturbed by an odd reflection or a snatch of overheard music. Irikah was with him, indelible in his mind as all his memories were, and even in his coldest moments of disassociation, it took very, very little to bring her back.
Some days, despite it all, he’d give in and slide into reverie. And then sometimes he didn’t have much choice.
This moment — standing in the shadows and watching a middle-aged human woman curl her arms around her asari lover, one hand to the other’s belly, a oddly soft smile upon her hardened face — was one of those times.
Thane trembled where he stood, realizing what sort of private interlude he was about to shatter, and he felt his vision waver…
…into the gold-toned memory of a quiet, intimate morning, curling up behind Irikah on their sleeping mat, and hearing her contented hum echo throughout him as his fingers spread across her stomach, feeling the early stirrings of life within….
Thane squeezed his eyes shut, drew in a rasping breath and forced himself, painfully, back to the present moment.
Details filtered in, one by one.
The pistol in the human woman’s belt. The distinctive scar on one cheek. The profile he’d memorized after studying it in file after file from his employers, and the long, long list of crimes she’d had her fingers in, one way or another. He’d ignored all mentions of her personal life. Lovers, partners, children… they had to stay out of his consideration. Had to.
But the asari’s face told him everything he’d tried to avoid.
He tore his gaze away from her, trying to focus only on the human. (Only the father.) Only his target.
Forgive me, he thought, but the ritual prayer died half-formed, for in that moment he didn’t know who to ask it from — the gods, or his victim, or the mother about to lose her partner, or Irikah herself, still golden in his memory, and turning her head to watch him.
She sees me, and the future shines so bright in her eyes, and she smiles—
“Forgive me,” he said aloud this time, and stepped out of the shadows, and struck.
Chapter 3: 26 Letters: Thane
More Thane backstory and headcanon, from an alphabet fic prompt.
They congratulate him for his first kill, for the clean shot and the quick strike; and Thane supposes he ought to be grateful, although he discovers in that moment that while he's been expertly trained on how to take a man's life, he has no idea how to respond to someone smiling at the news.
Kyah forgives him, eventually, for using her as distraction and a lure while he picks off the Michare mercenaries one by one -- but he remembers the look in her eyes afterward, and for months after that in their group training exercises, he's still very carefully watching his back.
The first time he goes diving off the Karcel coast, he discovers the riot of color and life that is their barrier reef, and he stays there a while to marvel, filing away another piece of the hanar's world that outsiders so rarely even began to understand.
He ends his targets' lives merely as a part of business, an act impersonal and cold, but it isn't until he loses the one he loves most that he truly understands the heartlessness of death, and its ability to step past anyone's control to take whatever it will.
He sees a picture once of her planet's deserts, and imagines that he'll take her there, to stand together under the open sky and let her sun become his, if only for a little while.
In the midst of battle, he's the only calm and centered thing; it's a hard-won skill, but one he values, to be able to focus through all that chaos and remain fluid, untouchable, quietly extinguishing everything in his path.
Only one or two people alive remember what Thane had to wear while undercover at Kalrikan's fateful campaign party, and someday, he jokes wearily, he'll take care of those last few loose ends before anyone else can remind him again.
From the first moment his eyes adjust to their surgical enhancements, he finds the bioluminescence of his masters' speech oddly beautiful -- although eavesdropping as an aesthetic exercise, he soon finds, is only looked upon with any humor once.
Of all his memories, the most powerful is simply of her eyes: warm, intent and knowing, as golden as the evening sky, and as clear as if she understood his soul from the very first glance.
Samara is an unexpected kindred spirit upon the Normandy: someone whose morality is clear and absolute, whose hand is sure, and whose eyes have seen even more death than his own.
The night his son is born, Thane arrives to find him sleeping in his mother's arms, tiny and peaceful and perfect, and he stays silent, almost breathless, while he watches and waits for the right moment to greet Kolyat at last.
The hanar teach him diplomacy, his elder assassins the art of the kill, Irikah both love and loss; but it's his own solitary sessions over a dozen societies' greatest books that teach him some of the hardest lessons, and those are about how to come to terms with his years alone, and what, after all of it, he's become.
He doesn't make errors often, not on the job, and it's in no small part because the missteps he has made haunt him as vividly as all the ghosts he's ever created.
...on Kahje is heralded by heavy rains, pouring down the dome of the city he's left behind him, and tracking down his skin as he lifts his face to the open sky, hoping it can wash away the last of what's happened here before he leaves home behind for good.
It's hard even for a jaded professional to resist high drama in a place like this, which is why his target dies in a perfect fall from the balcony, followed by the petals of her admirers' flowers, and his own disappearance behind a flourish of rich red curtains -- an indulgence, he knows, but he's not entirely without a sense of twisted humor.
Thane's training masters never tell him so, but there's something almost disquieting about him, in the relentless precision of his movements and the clean severity of his kills, and the way he'll drill himself harder than even they would require, to refine even the remarkable just that little bit more.
Asking too many questions isn't always wise in his line of work, but he still ponders over everything, silently if he has to, slowly building up his analysis of people and philosophy as he observes the universe from every quiet, unseen corner.
...is anathema to his very character, but as time goes on, as the missions grow more meaningless and his resolve begins to crack, Thane becomes far less willing to make his own safety a priority, and he begins to feel death creeping through his own defenses at last.
Some nights he gives in and lets himself remember her -- the taste of her kisses, her weight in his arms, the intimate warmth as she takes him in -- and his body sings with such pleasure from it that it's always painful, even now, to let her go.
...doesn't cure much, not for his race, but at least he can see the changes in the worlds around him and how some things, less indelible than memory, simply fade and pass beyond care -- a pale sort of perspective, perhaps, but one that dulls the edges when past tragedies creep close.
When he was young he dreamed once of drowning, of the seas coming to flood everything away, and the dream lingered on in other forms for years, like waves of enemies he couldn't defeat or the creeping onset of his disease -- one expression after another of the inevitability of fate.
Despite Thane's profession, he isn't gratuitously violent by nature, and that makes Ryel doubly sickened by the bloody, torturous end of the slavers who killed her sister -- because either they have an unknown madman on their hands, or it truly was Thane's hand that took them down, and somehow, that thought feels infinitely worse.
The disease comes over him slowly, gradually, and he wonders in grim moments where it might end: stealing all his breath away until there's nothing of him left, his grace stolen and his body wasted, and his voice nothing more than a whisper goodbye.
He's never been attracted to another species before he meets Shepard, and he's not prepared for the strangeness of it -- not just the differences, but also the painfully sweet reminders, and how right she feels in his arms, despite all that should have come between them.
He means to propose to Irikah in the normal way, but in the moment, injured and adrenaline-flooded and overwhelmed with her, it's the ancient vows that spill from his lips -- and even as stunned as she is she answers with utter conviction, with her voice and her hands and her body all telling him yes, yes, yes.
When he returns to the Citadel years later, it's to find little changed but everything new, now that Kolyat's willing to speak again -- presenting possibilities where there had been none, and something, thanks to Shepard, he might even dare look forward to.
Chapter 4: Embrace
A quick one for Thane Appreciation Day over on Tumblr, inspired by this screencap of Thane and Shepard's reunion at Huerta Memorial: http://25.media.tumblr.com/tumblr_m42795wsFu1qa5z04o2_1280.png
He knows he won’t have long to hold onto this memory, which makes him hold even tighter onto her.
Everything Shepard is, everything he thought he’d lost, is here in his hands — her roughened breath against his own, the racing of her heart, the salt and sweetness of her skin when his lips brush against her cheek. Her hair smells like another planet’s dust and fires — likely from a battle recently fought, something she’d rushed back from and hadn’t even bothered to scrub away, but it makes him think of the desert, makes him want to gasp her all in on a breath and lose himself in her blazing sun. And even though she’s trembling with emotion, too, she’s holding on with such willful strength that he almost believes her determination alone can keep him anchored against his fate.
Shepard never was one to accept the inevitability of the tide. At the end, it’s this that he loves most about her. For as long as he has left, he vows he’ll draw from that strength and give as much back as he can, to help her through the struggles ahead — his Siha, his beloved, his brilliant flash of light across the endless waves.
Chapter 5: Dreaming Alone
Set between ME2 and ME3.
Sometimes, on the edge of sleep, she dreams that he’s still there.
The weight of Thane’s arm curled around her, his presence behind her in the bed… she remembers the feeling so vividly it might as well be a memory just like his own, perfect in every detail. If she lies still enough, keeps her breathing steady and her eyes shut, she can almost fade back into their time together, so that she can feel the press of his lips against her neck and the warmth of his voice in her ear.
But she’s waking up alone these days, no matter how hard she tries to let those dreams linger.
Morning brings the daily monotony, the essential uselessness of her time in lockdown, and she wastes as much of it as she can in exercising. It gives her an excuse not to think. To stay prepared for whatever may come, if they ever let her out. And sometimes she’ll remember him there, too, but it’s fleeting: just fragments, like a soft critique of her form, a hand guiding hers, and—
— their bodies moving together, so close, so intoxicating….
She shuts her eyes, slamming one hand against the punching bag.
She doesn’t want to think of how far she is from him now, how ripped up and scattered her team is — and how needless it all is. Some days it makes her furious; some days, utterly defeated. She makes herself fight hardest on those days, trying not to let it all drag her down. At least she’s got Vega around; he’s all right, under the circumstances, and she suspects some strings were pulled to get someone that sympathetic keeping an eye on her. She also does have to admit that she’s treated well here. She just wishes more communication was allowed to get through. Certainly her old team seems… suspiciously quiet. And she never does hear from Thane, or get any answers on what’s become of him.
She fears she’s already too late to find out.
In the meantime, in this frustrating limbo of hers, the memories are all she has.
Sometimes, instead of trying to resurrect the past, she dreams of things they never got to do — things far away from politics and the shadows of war. One night she dreams of the desert, and Thane standing beside her. His eyes are closed and his face lifted to the sky, peaceful, almost transported. The warmth within and without is wonderful, and for the first time since she’s known him, his breathing sounds clear.
She can almost hear her name on his lips. She feels like she can almost reach him. Instinctively, she stretches one arm out, grasps for his hand —
— and meets the hard surface of her wall, jarring herself awake.
Disorientation makes her struggle to focus. The dream’s already broken and gone, but the room she’s in barely seems any more real. The only sky she can see here is a flat, gray expanse beyond her window, where raindrops, again, are slowly tracking down the reinforced glass.
Her fingers curl in against her empty palm.
“I’m sorry,” she says, her voice cracking, as she stares out at the sky neither of them belong to. And when she finally shuts her eyes against it, for what little good it will do, she wishes she’d never had to learn what it was like to be just as haunted as he was.
Chapter 6: The Fire Beneath
Shepard takes the next step with Thane, in a fairly literal sense....
It's easy to think of him as a creature of cool, deep waters. Forgetting the fire beneath is a mistake.
Thane's dangerous even in vulnerable moments, like when she finds him bare-skinned over a basin of water. He's holding a damp cloth, and rivulets of water run down his body, accentuating his sleek, hard musculature and the markings that pattern every inch of him. He's stripped of everything, and yet confined by nothing: not the calm veneer he keeps over himself, the layers of civility and reason. There's just him, and the red-tinged water dripping from the wound he's cleaned. New battle scars. Fire still flickering at the core of his dark eyes.
She should leave. Or help. Or do something besides stare as his hand slides down his torso. What she chooses is to step forward, knowing that once she clears the door fully it will seal behind her, and that this will happen. He may still be alien to her but she'd know that reaction anywhere -- the quickened breathing and tensed muscles, that focus. And she can see, the way he's turned, how he's hardening under her gaze.
"Thane," she says hoarsely. He doesn't respond except to drop the cloth and face her fully. Then he makes a long, almost unbearably intimate study of her face. Whatever he sees there makes him take a step forward.
She holds her breath. She knows she still has time here; she could change her mind, make him stop, wrest control of this situation back. But she doesn't want to, and he clearly knows it. After watching him in that fight, knowing what he's capable of and what he would do for her --
-- and what he could do to her….
It's been so long, she thinks, while she runs through a dozen indecent scenarios in her head. Besides, she wants to -- has to -- put her trust in someone. In truth, her mind was made up the instant she walked through this door. The next step is really just formality.
She gives it her all regardless.
With a quick, sure stride, she meets him midway, seizing her hands around him to pull him close. The groan he makes into her mouth is unbearably satisfying. The kiss as it builds from there is even more so. And if it's paradoxical to think of this as like drowning in fire, it also encapsulates him perfectly -- everything he is, and everything she needs. So she takes it all in, greedily and gladly, and finally lets herself burn.
Chapter 7: Under Desert Skies
Because I still can't get Thane out of my system. A pre-ME3, post-Arrival ficlet that lets Shepard and Thane visit the desert once before the end...
In the desert, his skin gleams iridescent in the sun.
Shepard watches as Thane turns his face upward, drinking in the warmth. It's hot enough even in the early hours that sweat prickles on her skin; she looks at her pale, unprotected hands and knows she'll burn, but he's reveling in it, home at last.
Strange that a people so suited to a place like this would speak so romantically of the sea, she thinks. But it's light glimmering off water she sees when she looks at him.
"Siha," he says softly, raising his hand. "Look, out past the rock formations -- there's a bird taking wing."
"You can see it better than I can," she admits. The distance is hazy and sand-scoured from here. Not for the first time, she wonders what the world looks like through his altered eyes.
But he offers his hand then, and she takes it gladly.
"It's a sandskimmer, I think," Thane says. She can just pick it out now, glimpse the shadowed arc of its wings. "I can hear the last of the morning insects. These tracks, here…" He points at something closer, a trail of four-footed scuffs heading roughly southward. The estrehal have begun their migration in search of water."
"You know this place well."
"It's been a long time since I've come. It was only for a mission, then. I… might have studied the setting more than was strictly necessary to get the job done." A tiny smile touches his lips. "I always wished I could have returned… and could have seen it with you. But I didn't think we had the time."
They don't. She doesn't care. She squeezes his hand tightly. "This was important." He doesn't ask why, but he watches her intently. She closes her eyes and leans against him. "You're important."
His arm goes around her, and soon they're folded into a proper embrace. The only thing she can hear is his breath and the dry, swirling wind -- and, unexpectedly, her own voice. She hadn't meant to tell him everything until they have to leave, but something about this place, naked and open as it is, makes it impossible to lie. "Thane, I have to explain."
He sighs, lightly touching her hair. "I believe I might already know."
Of course, when it comes right down to it, he would. He must have known ever since the explosion of the Alpha Relay. He always could read her too well not to notice. "Do you know what they'll expect me to do?"
He doesn't say anything. Shepard holds onto him, her fingers clenching tightly. "Thane," she says again, reaching for all the things she has to tell him before she loses him, but he silences her with a finger to her lips. Then, inexorably, he kisses her. It makes her blood rush and her knees weak, and in a wave of dizziness her eyes fly open again to see the whole world turn coruscating gold.
It is beautiful here, Shepard thinks, as she stares dazedly at the sky. With him.
"We can stay until nightfall," she says. "Long enough to see the stars…."
And she wants to; she's planned for this, and made all the arrangements despite everything trying to pull her away. She wants to stay with him here and ask him to show her the desert as he sees it. Instead he pulls her closer, leans his forehead against hers and quietly breaks her heart.
"You'll have to forgive me, Siha," he says roughly, "if all I can look at here now is you."
She turns her face into his chest, sighs and holds on, drinking in as much of his warmth as she can -- more important to her now than any sun on any world there is.
Chapter 8: 26 Letters: Garrus
Another spin on the alphabet meme, this time with our favorite turian. Some Shep/Garrus included, some gen.
Secretly he hopes that the graffiti art's still there on Omega, showing an anonymous silhouette of a winged avenger that looks twice as righteous as he'll ever truly be.
Shepard talks him into seeing the latest film, and he discovers it's even worse than he'd been warned to expect -- but for that much laughter, and that many excuses to toss Shep's inedible popcorn at the screen, he knows the trip's more than worth it anyway.
No matter how much he hasn't missed his C-Sec days, he's never going to forgive Cerberus for the wreckage left of headquarters and the bodies of old friends, leaving one more memory bloodstained, and demanding its own revenge.
He's never been overly fond of doctors, but between Solus giving Shepard that sort of advice and Michel sending signals that Tali had to painstakingly explain, over vast amounts of brandy, Garrus is feeling awfully nervous about whatever new and fascinating ideas they might come up with for him these days.
Garrus has to admit there's something satisfying about traveling with Shepard's crew, because as big and bold and diversely brash as it is, they do make one hell of an entrance.
Grenades like this are death to snipers -- the concussive shock, the light, the ringing in his ears -- but the first thing he does see once he comes to is Tali blasting a trooper away from him, and he's positive that underneath that visor, she's wearing a satisfied smirk.
This word slipped past his translator one day, since he'd misheard it for his own name; and as tongue-tied as he can still get around the woman who'd said it, the translation still makes him chuckle, all things considered.
He hadn't thought of Palaven much over the last several years, but now, seeing it in flames, memories are haunting him at every corner, bittersweet and painfully indelible.
If he has to admit it, Garrus hadn't always expected this... thing with Shepard to really work, but if there's anyone he's ever known who could make the impossible possible, of course, of course it would be her.
They've reached a comfortable truce by now, as if they're finally in on the joke with each other -- and it's a good thing, too, since they all desperately need something to laugh about these days.
There's still, every time, a tiny flare of pride and satisfaction every time he does it right -- quickly, cleanly, with no pain or fuss, just one more enemy down and one more chance his team will get to keep going.
He doesn't suppose he'll ever get used to it, this business of losing people he not only knows, but is responsible for; he remembers their faces even better than his own family's some days, and he feels strangely guilty about that, too.
He was pretty sure Vega was pulling his leg about the kinds of animals they had back on Earth, until EDI helpfully provided him with footage -- but even if he's come to terms with the manatee, he's still convinced that that platypus thing is somebody's idea of a joke.
He's pretty well used to the new ship now, although that's by dint of getting his fingers in everywhere, asking EDI about the new systems and calibrating every little quirk he can until everything feels just like home again.
It was a hopeless situation, really, and a bigger problem than anyone could have fixed, but Garrus had followed Shepard too long into supposedly impossible battles not to at least try.
The strange thing is, he doesn't have a clue what he's going to do with himself if this war ever ends; it's everything he's fighting for, and yet still the biggest mystery he's ever faced.
He's not too fond of most of the quarians they've met -- mostly because they've met too many politicians -- but Tali's a refreshing exception, and he is grateful to have someone on the ship to share things with, whether it's food, debates or friendly bickering, or best of all, all of the above.
Garrus heard once that rosé is Shepard's favorite wine, but it isn't until Kasumi brings him a bottle that literally has his name on it that he really understands why.
[Author's note: no, I'm not kidding. Look up Caves d'Esclans wine and be amused.]
Garrus's relationship with his sister has ranged from teasing to loving to fractious over the years, but now, in the midst of this horrible war, finally hearing from her and getting the chance to speak again is the greatest gift he could imagine.
They don't have much of it, and Garrus knows it, which is why he plans that Citadel outing with Shepard while he can -- and why it's the best time he can remember having in years.
In the aftermath of the coup, Garrus finds himself standing in Udina's office, glaring at the empty chair as if he can aim a perfect shot back through time and space to stop this whole disaster before it started.
Vega, of course, gives him endless crap about that Shepard VI on the Citadel, but even if the voice isn't quite the same, and the dialogue frankly ridiculous, the smile's just about right, and in the midst of this crisis he'll take all the reassurance he can get.
He's got an unreadable poker face where his human compatriots are concerned, which serves him well on game nights aboard the Normandy -- but his companions have also found out where he's sending his winnings, and no one seems to mind losing to him anymore.
He's never been much good at playing politics, let alone playing host and being responsible for the occasion, but this task force of his can require it; he just keeps to himself how much he wishes sometimes for a good fight to break out just so he'll have something to shoot.
Some days, Garrus can barely even remember being young, and watching these refugee children in the Citadel who all seem old and sad before their time makes him wonder if anyone in this generation will.
At the end, he knows that even if everything's lost, even if they slip or one critical bullet goes astray or things simply break down around them, he'll always be grateful he was there with Shepard's crew to make their last stand against the darkness, and he'll stand firm until it's time to line up his laser and make that final shot.
Chapter 9: Scars
Garrus comes to comfort Shepard in a moment of bone-deep -- and cybernetics-deep -- stress. Set mid-ME3.
Garrus found Shepard in her cabin that night, staring bleakly at her reflection.
She was at her desk by her private terminal, distracted from the mail and everything else by the ghostlike image in the display case before her. Something about her looked unmistakably stark. Her dark hair was tied back from her pale face, making her features even more pronounced: her too-bright eyes, her scars cutting in sharp lines down her cheeks. Garrus could see the telltale red light of the cybernetics beneath. So, obviously, could Shepard, who was touching the lines and looking, he thought, more than a little haunted about it.
"Shepard?" he ventured, his voice quiet.
She didn't move for a second. Then he stepped far enough inside for the door to close. She sighed and turned towards him. "Garrus. Did you need something?"
"No. I was more concerned that you might. You've been up here a while."
Shepard leaned against the desk. She was still entirely too tense, and the words seemed forced. "Sorry. I was... just thinking. It's not important...."
"Hey," he said, gently cutting her off. "You don't have to play stiff-upper-lip with me."
A tiny, weary smile flickered at the corners of her mouth. "Especially when you've got a hell of an advantage."
At least she'd gone for the joke, Garrus thought, but she was also staring into the glass again. Garrus followed her gaze, watching how she'd just tilted her head and tugged at an eyelid, exposing a tiny glint of metal beneath. "Well, I guess I can't pretend that the stress doesn't show," she murmured.
Garrus stepped close and took her hands without hesitation. Shepard sighed, holding on tight. "Those scars are bothering you, aren't they," he said quietly.
She grimaced in agreement. "Dr. Chakwas keeps telling me it's all about -- I don't know, positive thinking. That I can heal up again. But... I don't know how I'm supposed to, in the midst of all this. Thousands of people are dying every second, and...."
"Shepard." He rubbed one thumb over her skin, wanting to reassure her, not quite knowing how. She glanced down and shook her head.
"Besides, those scars... that's the truth of me, isn't it?"
"What do you mean?"
Something darker and more broken was creeping into her voice. "That's what I am, Garrus. That's what Cerberus did to me. All those cybernetics and rebuilt parts and things that don't belong... what's the good of plastering over it and pretending? Doesn't make it any less real."
In that moment, Garrus realized anew how expressive human faces were. Shepard's was communicating so much: guilt, revulsion, worry, bitter loss. It hurt to see it all laid out so nakedly on the same beautiful face she was professing to hate. "Hey," he said, letting go with one hand to cup her cheek instead. "No. Don't think like that."
"It may be part of you, but you're more than that. You're stronger, and you're fighting for your own cause, and even if the scars show... they just make you look defiant of it all. Like you're blazing from the inside out."
"The Reapers glow, too," she said grimly. "And with me it's red. Pretty much the universal symbol of creepy evil cyborg."
Garrus stepped a little closer. There was something unnerving about that shade sometimes, he had to admit, enough to make him wonder if Cerberus had engineered it specifically to mess with her. But it was also striking, and fierce as hell. Nowadays, he just saw it as the fire in her. He wished he could make her see it that way.
"If you want 'evil cyborg,'" he said gently, "how about the Illusive Man? What color are his eyes? Because the last I checked, they're nothing like yours." Shepard hitched one shoulder in a shrug, still not quite looking convinced. He brushed back the one lock of hair that had escaped her ponytail, and tilted her chin up so she could meet his gaze. "You're still your own person, Shepard. And you're still beautiful to me."
She said his name again, more softly this time. One talon traced the edge of her longest scar, making her shiver.
"Besides," Garrus said, his voice going lower, "if you say my scars turn you on... is it so hard to believe it works the other way around, too?"
This time her first response was wordless, and sounded more pleased. She pressed closer into his touch. "That's sounding more like it," she said.
"I'd hoped so."
She touched his own scarred face, letting her fingertips linger. "So that's us," she murmured. "A couple of battle-scarred warriors, huh?"
"We've earned every one of these scars, Shepard. And I think we've all earned a little forgiveness for not being perfect. Who can manage that, anyhow?"
"I don't know," Shepard said, verging on a real smile at last. "I think the two of us together get pretty close."
Garrus chuckled, leaning in to take her fully in his arms. And judging from her response, he was willing to bet there really wasn't anything in this sorry old galaxy that was better than this -- scars and flaws and all, no questions asked.
Chapter 10: Comparisons
More snippets of Thane backstory. Someday I will stitch these all into the plot that's threatening to eat my brain, I swear... ;) Set pre-series, shortly before he meets Irikah.
Thane didn't always work alone.
Rizu Mayak, unlike him, was the kind of assassin who was meant to be seen. She'd dyed and studded her skull into an intimidating visage, stood a handsbreadth taller than even he did, and communicated lithe, careless strength with every move. He knew she was fierce with blades, preferred a little artistic license over the quick kill, and although she wasn't of great biotic talent, she had just enough to let crackle around her fingers at the right moment -- just enough to make people very, very nervous.
That above all was her greatest gift, and in the shadow she cast, he could do some of his finest work.
They'd been sent this time on a contract for the Primacy that didn't even necessarily require a kill; many such contracts didn't. But these trade negotiations were sensitive enough, the goods just questionable enough, that a little extra assurance was needed -- and so Thane, having maneuvered into the best, most private vantage point the room provided, could watch as the hanar negotiator entered the room, accompanied by a silent, smirking Rizu. The batarian arms dealers quickly lost their own looks of smug amusement, and became more than a little on edge.
As well they might, Thane thought, while considering the bodies of the dead security guards beside him.
"What is this?" growled one of the two batarians. "You insult us by bringing -- this--"
One extended finger pointed at Rizu. She spread her hands in a "who, me?" gesture.
"This one believes it is important to communicate the importance of this trade," the hanar said calmly. "Planetary security may depend on its completion. To ensure the safety and security of--"
"Safety!" the batarian shouted, shooting straight past the hanar's point. "We're not idiots! You brought an assassin!"
Thane glimpsed the tiniest luminescent flicker across the hanar's body, one that, if you knew him very, very well, might suggest irritation. "This one would remind you of the disruption at the last meeting."
As ever, the hanar was putting it mildly. The batarians' rejection of the original terms had been disastrously, violently abrupt, and the hanar left with nothing. This meeting was meant to... correct the matter. By any means necessary.
Rizu had made those means more than clear by her mere presence. It was considered the proper thing to do, in a twisted sort of way -- a chance for these dealers to come to their senses, and capitulate without anyone having to deliver the final strike. More likely, the dealers would react badly enough to give the hanar their final excuse to act. But when one of the batarians snarled, "You deserved it," Thane knew exactly which way this was going to go.
He readied himself, tense and poised, while the talk grew angrier below.
Negotiations, such as they were, went for a few more volleys before the batarians -- already armed, but feeling the need for the backup regardless -- started dropping threats about their guards, and exactly how outnumbered Rizu would be. She looked unimpressed. She also, in an expression that mimicked exasperation well enough, glanced upwards at Thane. She didn't need to. Recognizing his cue, he nudged the bodies over the balcony. One after the other, they fell with dire thuds onto the main floor.
For a brief, satisfying moment, there was silence.
Thane had to give the dealers credit; they passed through shock very quickly and into raising their own guns, ready to retaliate. They were not, however, quick enough -- not when alarm was making their aim swerve into every shadow possible. "How many?" one of them shouted. "How many did you br--"
Thane leaped down, landing lightly and instantly putting his hands to the man's head. Softly, silkily, he whispered, "Enough."
And with a swift crack, the man slumped lifeless to the floor.
The remaining arms dealer, effectively surrounded, and frightened of what else he couldn't see, stood and gaped, his gun hanging loosely from his hands. Thane stared him down until he lowered it completely.
And when the man stood, it was to find Rizu at his throat, smirking over the edge of a blade as she said, "Care to renegotiate that last point?"
He, as it turned out, did not. And so Rizu went to work.
Thane thought much later, after the goods had been secured and the mess dealt with as cleanly as possible, that there was an essential difference between him and his companion. He lived his job, as wholly and as professionally as anyone could. But Rizu... she actually loved it. That smile at the end had been no lie. Their training masters hadn't snuffed it out of her, and he wondered by now if anything could.
Both approaches had their uses, and he knew it well. But he knew it wasn't going to last. Someday, Rizu was going to get the wrong person killed -- and he only hoped he could prepare himself well enough to solve that crisis when she did.
Chapter 11: At Huerta
Thane and Kaidan speak at Huerta Memorial. Set early in ME3; Shepard/Kaidan and Shepard/Thane romances assumed.
When Thane found out the identity of the human biotic in intensive care, he also found he had some decisions to make. The first, and ultimately most complex, was simply to speak to the man.
He tried to time his visit carefully, under the watch of as few as possible -- but also when he would not unduly cut into the man's rest. He surely sympathized with the need for it. These days it was difficult to sleep well, and fatigue was no friend to a fighter like him.
He suspected it was much the same for Kaidan.
He'd heard the name, of course. Shepard's closest companions became almost as famous as she did, and he'd heard stories from other crew members who'd served at the same time. There were… rumors, of a sort. Discreet mentions of how close he and Shepard had been once. And while Shepard hadn't spoken much of that difficult reunion on Horizon, the lingering pain in her expression was more than enough to suggest the truth of what had been -- and what had been lost.
He had no idea what, if anything, Kaidan knew about him.
So he approached quietly, in the end, meaning at least to extend his wishes for recovery, and -- selfishly, he admitted -- to hear any news of the Commander. It had been so long. Whatever he could offer, whatever he could gain… he had to say something. And so he stood beside Kaidan's bed, still close to the open door, trying to look as non-threatening as possible.
The hospital garb and monitoring equipment, he thought wryly, at least took care of some of that for him.
"Major Alenko," he said quietly.
The bruised, battered man -- his injuries had clearly been severe -- slowly turned and faced him. It took him a minute to focus, and a minute longer to process what he was seeing.
"So," he said, his voice a little slurred -- painkillers, probably. "Either they really gave me the good stuff, or you're green."
Thane smiled. "The latter."
Kaidan took that in. "Drell, huh?" He blinked and squinted again. "Haven't met many before. Not sure... we've been introduced…."
"We haven't. Pardon my intrusion; I just thought we should speak. I believe we have a common acquaintance."
"Huh. Who's that?"
He said it as levelly as possible -- a difficult thing, around his lingering emotion and an incipient cough. "Commander Shepard."
Kaidan stared at him. Thane could practically see the wheels turning in his head -- thoughts, feelings, pieced-together rumors. "You're--"
"Thane Krios. I served aboard the Normandy during…"
The cough came, despite his efforts. Thane leaned against the foot of Kaidan's bed, trying to control its convulsive force; at last he hauled in a breath, wishing it could be deeper. He ended his sentence with some irony.
"Better times," he said. "So to speak."
Kaidan hadn't moved, but his eyes had sharpened. Thane bore the inspection in silence. "I've heard about you," Kaidan said. "You're…an assassin, aren't you?"
Thane nodded, then stopped. "I was," he said, more precisely.
"So you were… part of that crew she compiled. Strange collection. Cerberus recommendations, I heard."
Thane had heard about Kaidan's suspicions, and the deep-seated mistrust he had of the entire organization. He took it more or less in stride. "I've never been an agent of Cerberus. I worked for Shepard and served her wishes, much like you." He gave Kaidan a sidelong look. "Perhaps very much like you."
Kaidan stared back for a long time. Then his head rolled back on the pillow and he closed his eyes. After a minute he opened them again; his next comment was directed mostly to the ceiling. "So that much was true, then."
Yes, Thane thought, memories of Shepard rising unbidden in his mind. It was.
He sighed, though, and left that unsaid.
"I'm sorry if I'm distressing you," Thane said, over the beeps and whirs of Kaidan's medical equipment. "That wasn't my intent. My…partnership… with Shepard was before my health failed, in any case." He smiled wryly. "You needn't fear the competition, if that's your concern."
Kaidan laughed hoarsely. "Not sure I'm much better off."
Thane, feeling slightly lightheaded, looked about for a chair. He found one nearby and sat against the wall, still careful not to intrude too far, still watching.
"I only meant to see how you were faring. I was sorry to hear there'd been such a brutal attack."
"Thanks," Kaidan said, after a minute.
"Do you know how the rest of your squad is doing?"
"You mean Shepard?"
"Whatever you wish to tell me," Thane said quietly.
Kaidan gave him a look. At last he breathed deep, and with enviable ease despite his injuries. "I hear they're well. Still at work. Fighting the good fight."
"Yes," Thane said. "I imagine so."
"It was… so strange to be in the thick of that with her again," Kaidan went on, somewhat unexpectedly. "Good to be back, I mean, but… well, you never knew her before. You'd never have known the difference… if there was a difference. I still don't know. I wish I didn't have to worry."
Thane, sensing that Kaidan was perhaps less unguarded than he might have been without the steady drip of that IV, spoke carefully. "Shepard's never done anything but make the most of impossible situations, since I've known her. I followed her unreservedly. She's worth believing in."
A strange look passed over Kaidan's face. "I know," he said at last. "I should've from the start. Maybe if I had, I wouldn't…"
Thane leaned closer, stopping him mid-word. "Major. Don't take the blame on yourself. Living in history won't help you, and you must heal. From all the good I've heard of you, your team needs you."
There was quiet again. At last Kaidan said, "So you did hear a few good things, then?"
Thane ventured a smile. "Yes," he said lightly. "Evidently you've been much missed at poker night."
Kaidan laughed. The sound trailed off into his own pained cough by the end; Thane sympathized, and waited it out. "What a reputation," Kaidan said.
"We all have our burdens to bear."
"I guess." Kaidan rolled his eyes, then said, "You can call me by my name, by the way. Too many titles… just makes me feel like I'm slacking off in here."
"Very well," Thane said. "Although I know you're not. And really, I should let you rest."
Kaidan looked like he was thinking of saying something else, but he nodded. Thane slowly rose from his seat, trying hard to get enough air to make it look casual. Kaidan, however, noticed, and frowned a little.
"You know, I didn't even ask," he said apologetically. "What's…."
Thane looked down at himself, plucking at a cable from one of the sensors fixed to his chest. "All this for?"
"Kepral's," Thane said. "Respiratory ailment, common in my race. Noncommunicable, have no fear, but… it's in its final stages." He paused. "I have a few weeks."
"God," Kaidan said softly. "I didn't know. I'm sorry."
Thane reached for words. "As am I. But I've done what I can. It's become my time to pass things on to others."
Kaidan looked as if he was aware of the double meaning. He didn't speak. Thane said into his silence, "I do hope you recover quickly. For your sake of course -- and for hers. She needs her fighters. And her defenders."
The pointed nature of that phrase was just as obvious. Kaidan heard it, and this time he said, "I know. I'll be there."
Thane nodded. In the instant afterward that it took him to blink, he recalled Shepard beside him in the heat of battle, pressed back to back, working in perfect tandem. He felt the warmth of her, and heard her laugh of triumph.
It faded when he opened his eyes. He felt a wistful smile touch his lips, just as fleeting. Then he looked back at the man in the bed.
"Be well, Kaidan," he said, and bowed respectfully. Then he turned and left the room, and gently closed the door behind him.
Chapter 12: What Yet Lingers
Thane helps Shepard deal with some uncomfortable memories after a run-in with a thresher maw. Thane/Shep, sole survivor background.
Within his eyes are the shadows of every second he's ever lived. Shepard has no idea how he can bear that weight, and she hasn't really dared to ask.
But when she gets lost in her own memories one night, he's there to help her through it.
She retreats to her quarters as soon as they return from that thresher maw battle, and she's still wet from her third consecutive shower, wearing only her hoodie and clutching a wadded-up towel, when Thane catches up with her. He doesn't say anything at first. He just guides her to the edge of her bed, where she slowly sinks into place. The mattress sags again when he sits behind her.
"Tell me," he says at last, when he touches her hair.
Slowly, in dull, cracking sentences, the whole story of Akuze comes out. He listens to every word while his fingers work through the snarls. My whole squad, she tells him. Everyone dead. Faces flash through her memory, still indelible: smiling at first, then screaming. Blood-spattered. Gone.
His hands go still.
"I thought I'd worked past it," she says into the silence, eventually. "After all this time…."
Her own hands are still gripping that damp towel. Thane reaches around to take it and set it aside.
"It seems such a cruel thing," he murmurs, "that the only memories you have that are as potent as mine would be the worst of them."
"How do you deal with it?"
"I don't," he says dryly. She turns her head, looking at him over one shoulder. "The memories are what they are. The past cannot be changed. Your pain from it is real, and to deny it, pretend it should be gone, does no good. All you can do is choose another moment before it drowns you. Learn what you can and move on."
"Learn from it," she says bitterly. "What I've learned is that I'm working for the traitors who did this to my friends. To me. Now, I'm no better than--"
He stops her by taking her hand.
Shepard falls silent, looking at the contrast of her skin against his scales. His fingers are cool in hers. Her breath halts, and her heart starts hammering a little faster.
"Judge yourself by your choices, not your circumstances, Siha," he says. "You've done nothing but good since I've known you. No matter what Cerberus expects of you."
"But you said you always… disassociated yourself." Her voice catches. "That you were just the weapon of your employers. So what does that make me?"
"The most rebellious weapon I have ever known."
She almost laughs. Thane turns her gently until she's sitting back further on the mattress, facing him this time.
"You are more than just a tool to be wielded, Siha. You always have been. And if Cerberus believes you to be only their weapon…."
She sees his lips curve up in the hint of a smile.
"I imagine that will backfire on them," he says. "Drastically."
She answers that smile as best she can. Thane nods, then reaches up and straightens the last tangle in her hair.
"I've heard your saying, that time heals all wounds. If it hasn't yet… then let action do it for you. Make Cerberus your weapon. I know you have the will for it, Siha. And you're not alone."
"They did give me that." She holds that fathomless gaze of his. "They gave me you."
He leans forward. After a moment of careful hesitation, he kisses her forehead; the touch tingles long after he withdraws. Then he simply holds her.
And it does take time, but the memories crowding her head finally fade, and she finds a little peace with him at last.