Alessa Shepard didn’t hear it at first. Her mind was far away from her surroundings in Purgatory, despite the thrumming beats of the music and the flashing lights.
They had planned a girl's night out to celebrate and unwind a bit before the next mission.
When they had arrived at Purgatory, Alessa had immediately noticed some familiar faces from the Normandy: Garrus, her best friend in probably the whole galaxy, James “Jimmy” Vega, her former lover Kaidan and Thane, the Drell who had been able to overcome kepral’s symptom with the help of brilliant Dr. Mordin Solus. Great, she had thought, so much for unwinding tonight.
And now there she sat, dressed like someone who knows how to have fun, sipping on her third beer, over-thinking everything and absolutely not being able to relax. What was Thane doing here after all? He didn’t seem the clubbing type to her, but oh well... what did she know?
This time she heard it. Slowly giving up on brooding any further, she turned her head to look at the hooded figure sitting next to her. “Finally! We thought you had a bottle too much. Glad we don’t have to drag you back to the Normandy”, Kasumi said with a hard to see smile, softly elbowing Alessa’s side.
“Yeah, that would’ve been an interesting sight... high and mighty Commander Shepard, too drunk to walk”, Jack added with a bright grin. “Come on, snap out of it! We are here to have some well deserved fun.”
Alessa sighed, eyeing her bottle. “Well... I’m trying, but I think the stuff they call beer here is actually water.”
Kasumi and Jack exchanged a look Alessa would have interpreted as worryingly mischievous.
“I know what’ll get you going”, Jack grinned, “how about we annihilate the dance-floor with some of your moves?”
Alessa chuckled weakly. “Yeah right, because I really need everyone to evacuate the club because of the damage my dance-moves will cause to their eyes”, she jested, leaning back into the soft fabric of the little sofa, closing her eyes.
She didn’t notice the pair of almost black eyes unobtrusively watching her every move. Kasumi though, being one of the best thieves in the galaxy, noticed Thane's glance right away and smiled at Jack. “How about we teach our dear Commander how to dance without making everyone want to cry?” “Fuck yes! Going to be one hell of a task, though.”
Opening one eye and watching the two of them, Alessa couldn’t help but smile. It was sweet of them trying to ease her mind.
“I’m not quite sure how you’d be able to pull that off”, she said, holding her bottle upside down and giving it a little shake. “Not while I’m out of beer, at least.”
“Then let’s get some more and get going! The music isn’t getting any better!” Jack shouted, jumping out of her chair and pulling her off the sofa. Kasumi laughed and followed them to the bar, watching Alessa struggle against Jack’s eager pulling and shoving.
A few tables away, Thane detached his glance off of Shepard when he noticed the Turian next to him shift in his armchair. He followed Garrus' gaze and noticed movement at the lady’s table, as Vega had called it. At first, he thought they were just going for another round, but seeing the shoving going on, something else was about to happen. Thane turned back to Garrus to see him nudging Kaidan’s arm.
“Well, look at that... our Commander’s at it again. They’re making her dance.”
Thane didn't know what to do with this statement and, judging by the puzzled look on Vega's face, he wasn't the only one who was at a loss here. He turned to Garrus for clarification. “I suggest shielding your eyes. She is good at almost everything she does, but dancing? Not to sound disrespectful, but this is going to be hilarious.”
“Yeah... hard to believe, but wait until you see it...” Kaidan added, a soft smile on his lips.
Thane eyed the Human across the table with mild interest. He seemed to be deep in thought. Thane knew that Kaidan and Shepard were involved before she had died, but he also knew that the mayor shouldn't get his hopes up for a second chance. After what happened between them on Horizon, Thane had overheard a conversation between Shepard and Garrus. She had been upset and hurt, but she wasn't able to deny that both of them had changed too much to salvage their relationship.
Thane remembered Shepard telling him in one of their conversations that she had already known this for some time before she had met Kaidan on Horizon; the shock of seeing him again had just knocked her over for a while.
Vega, stretching out his legs under the table and accidentally tipping Thane's boot, finally seemed to understand what was going on. “Okay, now I’m interested. I’d bet that anyone who’s able to pull off the stuff she does would be able to, you know, dance without making a total clown of themselves.” They silently watched the scenario unfold, Thane making sure to keep up his passive countenance.
Alessa, turned backwards them and standing on the dance-floor as if she had never even seen one, didn’t notice. She was too busy trying to figure out whose guidelines on how to dance like a healthy human being she should follow. When the music changed to a slightly slower beat, making her feel as if the bass ran through her veins, she finally decided to let go all the fucks to give and tried to copy Kasumi, mimicking her every move. Judging by the beaming smile the master thief gave her and the obvious staring of some of the men nearby, she did a decent job.
Reluctantly, she had to admit that it was nice. Who would have thought that she, Commander Shepard, was able to pull off moves like these? It gave her a kind of confidence she had never experienced before. While the men attempting to dance with her didn't interest her in the slightest, it pushed her to be more bold, letting her hands run down her body as if they were the hands of a lover while losing herself in the slow rumble of the bass.
She felt as if in trance, her body moving in unison with the rhythmical flashing of purple lights while droplets of sweat trickled down her spine. Alessa closed her eyes for a moment to take the sensation in, only opening them lazily when a whiff of hot breath close to her ear made her skin prickle.
She felt the heat of Jack's body close to her as the biotic prodigy's throaty voice rang in her ear. “They can't keep their eyes off us”, Jack stated, her thumb pointing towards their male crew mates.
This was enough to make Alessa's heart race, the thought of Thane staring at her, at the way she moved, and it made her face flush. When she turned her head, she barely caught a glimpse of him watching her indifferently with his hands folded on the table before he turned away to face Garrus.
You are being disrespectful.
With his jaw clenched tight, Thane felt his arousal curse through his body. It was hard not to think of certain things when watching her move like this, suggestively and with closed eyes, every move accentuating her curves. He swallowed hard, remembering the expression on her face, her lush lips slightly parted...
“...didn’t you say this was going to be hilarious? Damn, this is hot!” Vega shouted at Garrus, ripping Thane from his thoughts. The bulky marine seemed enthralled with his Commander sensuously swaying her hips to the pumping beat and even Garrus, eyes wide as saucers, shook his head in disbelief.
“But.. she can’t dance! Every time we went to Omega and tried to dance our way through Afterlife, everyone fled!”
“Yeah”, Kaidan mumbled, not able to take his eyes off Shepard.
“Her skills obviously improved”, Vega grinned.
“Yeah”, Kaidan replied again absently.
Wriggling his eyebrows wolfish, Vega added “Good thing I know she’s not interested. Otherwise, I’d try my luck.”
The Turian barked out a laugh. “Go ahead, by all means! The sight of you getting a good beating from Shepard would absolutely make my night!”
Thane didn’t approve the glances the two human males next to him shot at her. Vega’s obvious lusty stare irritated him as much as the smitten, hungry look on Kaidan’s face. When he addressed the two of them, his voice was calm, hiding the fact that inside, he was as furious as he was aroused.
“Do you think you are supposed to stare at your Commander’s behind like that?”
He had not expected Vega to be the one to apologize. “Right. Just couldn’t help myself. Ah well, I guess I'll just go for another beer...” With a wide grin on his sturdy face he stood up and went straight for the bar. Thane watched him getting his beer and then submerge in the crowd.
Kaidan slowly turned to face the Drell. Slightly amused, Thane noticed that the Human was sizing him carefully for a moment before speaking to him. “I know her beyond her title.”
Garrus cleared his throat. “Doesn't matter. I hear she is quite infatuated with some other mysterious fellow.”
While Kaidan went slightly pale and concentrated on his whisky, clearly brooding, Thane had a hard time to keep the look on his face disinterested.
So Shepard was in love with someone? Did he get the wrong idea when Mordin had told him that he was developing the cure for kepral’s not only because he valued him as a friend, but also because “someone” wanted to keep Thane alive at all costs? “Someone” who couldn’t bear the thought of losing him? But who else could that be? Or was that just a joke to help him overcome the stress he’d felt after leaving the Normandy and watching Shepard being arrested for blowing up a mass relay in an attempt to stop the reapers? She had never made a move, but he had felt the pull between them since the first time they had met and it always took him a great deal of effort to not drag her into his quarters, telling her how much he adored her, how much he wanted her.
Thane couldn’t think straight anymore. He turned his gaze back to Shepard. Shepard in her knee long skin tight black dress and her favorite casual military boots, a bottle of beer in her right hand and her left running through her white-blonde short curls, dancing as if trying to forget the hardships of the last months. The sight burned into his perfect memory.
There were so many memories of her: the first time they had met on Illium, her strong handshake with a soft hand, the talks they had on the Normandy on their mission to stop the Collectors, the smile on her face when she had managed to reunite him with his son...
Gentle voice speaking of hope and a second chance, small hands lightly squeezing my shoulders, reassuring. “It will be okay.”
Again, he found himself lost in his memories of her. The hurt expression she wore after Horizon. The way she walked, the steady treading of small feet in bulky boots, the way her unexpected hug pushed all the air out of his lungs when they met at Huerta hospital after she was reinstated and he had told her that he didn’t have to die of kepral’s...
Kaidan’s voice ripped him out of those memories, making him blink irritably.
“I think I should return to my quarters. I find that the aftereffects of the cure still let me tire easily”, Thane excused himself while standing up.
“Are you alright? Should we accompany you?”, Garrus asked.
While he appreciated the concern, Thane declined the offer. He needed to be alone, he needed to think, and so he went back to his quarters on the Normandy to meditate and pray.
The later it got, the rowdier the music in Purgatory went, and Alessa's mood turned worse with every second. She emptied the last bottle of beer and left Jack to her violent dancing with Vega. The two made for an interesting pair, moshing through the crowd, not giving a single fuck, bumping into each other, laughing frantically.
While she had enjoyed the night out, she desperately needed the silence of her cabin. As soon as she arrived on the Normandy, Alessa silently slipped into the elevator without being seen by any of the still awake crew, and hurried into her room, ordering EDI to seal the door behind her. She slipped out of her boots and dress and decided to go for a shower to at least get rid of the thin layer of sweat coating her body.
Letting the lukewarm water run down her spine, she wondered at what time Thane had left Purgatory. He didn't even say good night.
Not that it matters now, she thought, letting out a shaky sigh. Suddenly all the joy she had felt while dancing fell off of her. There it was again, the numb feeling in her stomach, the feeling of emptiness floating around and consuming her. Swallowing hard, trying to push it back, she hit the wall of her shower with her fist. What the fuck is wrong with me?
There was no time in her life for drowning in self-pity or doubt. She had one task: saving the galaxy from the reapers. She couldn’t allow herself to be overwhelmed by the dark thoughts lingering within her mind, buried deep since she had watched her parents being slaughtered by slavers when she was sixteen.
Hiding her problems well had allowed her to enlist with the Alliance a few years after the slaver's raid on Mindoir. Nobody had noticed anything. Doing a good had job helped her to partially forget the tragic event and earned her many recommendations within the Alliance.
It all came crashing down hard again when her whole unit was slaughtered by a thresher maw attack on Akuze. Despite the physical torments and psychological stresses she had to endure, she had survived the attack, being left with the questionable fame of being a sole survivor.
After this incident, she was forced to visit a therapist regularly to convince the Alliance brass of her ability to stay within the military, but she never managed to tell the man everything.
It wasn't his fault. Alessa had found herself unable to tell him about her state of mind, about all those sleepless nights, about trying to keep her depression at bay, to push back the crawling, nagging feeling of being stuck in slabby, black liquid. She soon learned that this was easier to deal with when when she was on a mission, when she had to concentrate in order to keep her squad and herself alive and do what she was supposed to.
When she had to go out in her armor, armed with her sniper rifle and shotgun, she was able to concentrate, to function, to be the strong and hardened Commander everyone needed her to be. People depended on her, now more than ever. There was no place for moping.
The problem was the time in between missions. Most of the times it was enough to distract herself with playing cards with her crew or going for a drink with Garrus, who seemed to have the ability to cheer her up without even trying very hard.
But there were times when her depression took control of her mind and body, paralysing her every thought, making it almost unable to breath. On days like those, she couldn't bear seeing anyone. Even the slightest touch was too much, having to talk to someone felt like torture.
Luckily, her task at hand didn't allow this to happen very often, the reaper's threat demanding her attention left not much room for her to think about much else. But on a free evening like this? It made her realise that she was still far away from being okay. Very far away.
Alessa stepped out of the shower, put on a fresh pair of panties and an over-sized t-shirt and slumped onto her bed. Picking up the picture of Garrus, Thane, Legion and herself from her nightstand, she thought about everything she had lost, the loneliness she felt, despite having so many good friends and a splendid crew.
Don’t cry now. Don’t you dare crying, Commander.
Despite all her efforts not to, she started crying. She couldn’t hold it anymore. It was like a dam breaking, every damn little hurt and loss leaving her body in a stream of hot tears.
Her mind was filled only with sorrow and grief as the walls she had built crumbled around her, her chest tightening, making it hard to breath. She gripped the frame of the photography harder until her knuckles turned white, trying to find a straw to prevent her from drowning in the dark emptiness inside her.
Thane didn't show any interest you .
The thought hit her hard, intensifying the feeling of loneliness. Of course he hadn't. Why should he? Now that his illness was cured, he had so many choices on what to do with his life; did she really think the first thing he 'd do was to approach her?
Don't kid yourself.
Alessa knew very well that she wasn't exactly a beautiful woman by standards. A life of war and hardship didn't make it easy to be as graceful or even as sexy as most people expected from a woman. While her figure was undeniably feminine, her statue was rather sturdy, the outlines of her face sharp, her muscles too developed to go unnoticed. Her short haircut probably did the rest.
She pictured Thane wanting something else, someone more graceful, since he himself was exactly that. Being an assassin had shaped him into an unfathomable and subtle being, and Alessa was quite the opposite.
The thought of him being with another woman only added to her pain. She shivered uncontrollably, wrapping her arms around her legs in an attempt to make herself as small as possible, rocking back and forth, whimpering.
At one point it always became too much. Normally, crying was supposed to ease pain and to reduce stress, but she had realised early in her life that this didn't apply to her. The stream of tears would eventually dry out, but the crushing feeling of emptiness would not go away.
She knew only one way out. Almost automatically she took a razor out of the upper drawer of her nightstand and stared at it lying in her palm. Alessa hadn't felt this need in a long time, but now it pulled at her heart, too strong to resist it anymore.
Slowly tugging the blade across the soft skin of her upper leg, she watched the blood press itself out of her through the little wounds. Counting down from ten to one with each new cut, she savored the sharp new pain repressing the numb pain depression brought.
With the last cut going deeper than the rest, she let her head fall back onto the cabin wall at the end of her bed, closing her eyes and inhaling the scent of drying blood.
The almost ecstatic feeling the stinging pain resulted in pushed back everything else, leaving her feeling both satisfied and ashamed.
She knew this was a weakness she could never confide to someone. Not even to Garrus, despite him being her best friend who had followed her through hell and back. Not to Liara, who had proven herself to be a caring person with a heart of gold. Not to everyone else and definitely not to Thane, even though he was the one she wanted to share her secrets with, him, the assassin who was always so calm and willing to indulge in the longest conversations with her. When they talked, he made her feel as if she could tell him anything without him thinking less of her, but her problems made her too insecure to share them with him.
No, she thought, they are my crew. They have to have faith in me. I have to be strong for them. I have to deal with this on my own.
She threw the razor into her trashcan and slowly felt the tension in her body ease up, the heavy feeling of doubt and sorrow crawling back into her subconsciousness where it would hide at least for the next few hours. While her heartbeat returned to normal, Alessa gently dabbed the blood off her leg with a piece of cloth. She turned around and closed her eyes. Maybe sleep would come easier now. The thought of meditating as Thane had taught her crossed her mind, but the thought of him alone made her eyes water again, the longing she felt when he wasn’t near her tugging at her heart. She would have to try without it tonight.
Two floors below Shepard’s cabin, Thane had given up on praying. His thoughts continued to slip away and return to Shepard.
“EDI, is Shepard still awake?”
Affirmative, EDI responded.
Sighing, he stood up and left his quarters. He took the elevator to the upper floor and heard the door to Shepard’s room chime when he pushed to open it. He didn’t get any reaction from inside.
The Commander ordered me to seal the door. She seemed distressed, EDI's bodyless voice told him. Thane’s body stiffened at that remark.
“I need to make sure she is well. Please open the door for me”, he requested, but EDI didn’t budge. Sighing again, he went about removing the wall's casing to open the cabin door manually, ignoring EDI's repeat notifications about the consequences this could result in as he worked in silence.
When the door slid open with a low hum, Thane quietly stepped into the dark room. He found Shepard lying on her bed, the light coming from her aquarium illuminating her pale skin.
Before he could excuse himself for intruding, she noticed him. She jerked up, staring at him, and then proceeded to sit down cross-legged on her bed.
“Can I help you with something?”, she asked, trying to sound casual. Maybe she could have fooled someone else, but not him. He sat down at the end of her bed, intent to keep some distance between them.
“I wanted to see if you were alright. We didn't get the chance to practice on your meditations this evening.”
She gave him a polite smile which, he noticed, didn't reach her eyes. “No, I’m alright, thank you.”
He watched her drag her shirt over her upper legs, then noticed the picture lying beside her. Thane took it in his hands and recalled the moment the picture was taken.
The sniper squad, Tali had called them. It had been her idea to ensnare the scene in a photograph. They had been sitting at one of the tables on the crew deck, cleaning their sniper rifles, Shepard sitting between him and Garrus and Legion standing behind her to watch them work.
Thane felt her eyes upon him and looked up from the photography. He noticed the puffiness around her eyes, the weary expression on her face and her fingers clinging nervously onto her shirt. Putting the picture aside, he thought about how to close the gap between them without invading her privacy, without showing her too much of his feelings. He decided to put his hand on hers, lightly squeezing it.
“Are you sure? You seem distressed. Would it help to catch up on our meditating lessons?”
She slightly flinched at his touch and he let her hand go, folding his own hands before him. Thane watched her reluctantly shaking her head.
“I’m fine, really”, she said without looking at him, gripping her shirt stronger. He frowned at her as she stood up and went for the door.
“If there is nothing else, I’d like to call it a night now, I am very tired”, she said, gesturing awkwardly towards the door, not noticing her shirt sliding up a bit to uncover her thighs.
Before he was able to look away, trying not to stare at her beautiful legs, Thane noticed old scars and fresh cuts across her thigh, the skin around the newest wounds irritated, red and swollen. He wasn't entirely able to keep a steady face, and she immediately noticed.
Thane slightly cocked his head. Does she really think I'd fall for that?
Noticing her tugging on her shirt and turning away from him, he tried to regain control over the feelings boiling inside him. It wasn't his place to confront her, even though he wanted to. He didn't want to leave her like that. Would she even let him get close in the state she was in? Highly unlikely. He didn't even know for sure if she felt the pull between them as he did.
Thane stood up, holding out his hand towards her.
“Whilst I respect your decision and need for privacy, let me tell you that the people on the Normandy will stand beside you no matter what.”
When he attempted to leave the cabin, he heard her shuffle behind him.
“Is there anything else, Siha?”
He had started calling her that when they were alone after she had helped him with his son, Kolyat, but never told her the full meaning behind the word.
Waiting for a reply, Thane folded his hands behind his back, watching her gnawing on her lower lip uncomfortably.
“I think... I reconsidered. I would like to take your offer on meditating together”, she said without looking at him.
“Very well. Come sit down with me.”
They sat down on her bed next to each other and the by now well-known urge to close the distance between them started to rise in Thane again. He violently pushed it back.
Not now , he told himself, inhaling deeply and watching Alessa close her eyes.
“Control your breathing. Try to empty your mind.”
He watched her in silence as the tension in her body started to ease up, letting her face become relaxed.
Once Thane had convinced himself that she had calmed down enough, he lightly gripped her by the shoulders, guiding her to lie down on the bed.
“Thank you,” he heard her sleepy voice say when he quietly stood up and left her cabin, asking EDI to not let anyone disrupt her sleep.
Alessa felt the pressure on the mattress go when Thane stood up. She heard the door closing behind him and with her hand pressed onto the spot where he had sat just a second ago, she drifted into a dreamless sleep.