A/N: You guys, I'm so, so sorry for taking so long to get this out. For some reason, I just hit a block with this story, and it took a while to get over it. I hope any tardiness can be forgiven! I promise I won't do this again!
Her entire body was tense. Her muscles fought each calming breath she grasped for, keeping her entire frame taut despite how much she willed it to relax. She struggled to focus on her body, each movement, each tightening muscle, and each shallow breath. Maybe she could force it to relax. But forcing it to relax would only wind her up more.
Shepard bit back a curse as she narrowly avoided a fist to the face, tilting just far enough to feel the rush of air that followed the blow. Her mind was struggling to be recognized, to tear her away from the spar so she'd focus on the reason she ended up down here in the first place. Normally, she wasn't one for hand to hand combat, but she needed the adrenaline rush to get rid of the stress that was slowly building within her. She needed to get out of the cabin, away from the CIC, and actually fight.
Of all the Normandy crew, she hadn't expected to be on the mat with Donnelly. She wasn't about to be picky when it came to sparring partners, either. He'd been down here warming up when she wandered out of the elevator. After side-stepping his usual banter, he fell into a fighting stance, a crooked smile on his face, and offered to give her a run for her money in compensation for her beating him at Skyllian Five.
"You're not giving me much of a fight, commander!" The engineer's voice pulled Hermia away from her concentration, and she leapt back a foot to avoid his outstretched arms as they searched for a grapple. "Are you even trying?"
"Not really." Shepard gave a small, humorless laugh as she bounced in place. After nearly twenty minutes, neither of them got a hit on the other. There were times when they got close to connecting, but the other always dodged, too quick. The thick fabric of her plain gray top clung to the small of her back, damp with perspiration. It was really warm down here. "Do you want me to try?"
Kenneth paused, "No. No, I don't want you to try."
As a few grisly ends no doubt ran rampant in his mind, Shepard took a long stride forward, hooking her ankle around his and taking him down. He hit the mat with a surprised gasp. Manhandling the innocent, even after he'd insisted there be no direct violence. Shame. Instead of getting up from his back, the engineer stayed there, shutting his eyes. He looked serene, as if he was falling asleep, and Shepard didn't even bother moving from where she collapsed beside him, leaning on his stomach.
"I've had dreams about this moment." Despite his serious tone, a smile teased his mouth, soon breaking completely when he heard her laughing. She half-heartedly slugged him in the shoulder when he tried to lift himself up into a seated position. Wiping at his eyes, his laugh suddenly cut off when he saw that they weren't the only ones in the hull anymore.
Shepard jerked her head around to see who he was staring at only to find Thane standing not far off from the mat. His hands were clasped behind his back, feet firm on the ground and pushed apart, shoulders pulled back as they usually were. There was a faint smile in the corner of his mouth. "I'll, uh," Kenneth muttered, hoisting himself up from the ground, "I'll be off now. Nice sparring with you, commander." And like that, he was gone.
"Need something, Thane?" she asked, rubbing her forearm carelessly along her damp forehead.
"I only wished to speak with you," he replied, making his way onto the mat. "I didn't mean to interrupt." He held out a hand to help her up, an expectant expression on his face. Her eyes fell to his palm. There was a moment where she thought she'd ignore it and climb up on her own, but she wasn't rude. No, she'd take his hand, even if it did make her stomach flip over like she was a teenager again. When she finally slipped her hand into his, she felt herself lifted up from the mat as if she weighed nothing.
"Thanks," she muttered with a little laugh, slipping her hand out of his and taking an unconscious step back. "What did you want to talk about?"
Thane hesitated. He didn't know why, but he hesitated. After sitting in Life Support since the last mission, his coffee long cold, he'd forced himself up out of the chair and called for EDI, asking her for Shepard's location. The compulsion to seek company out felt odd for him; increasingly so when he realized he had a heading. Without even taking a moment to contemplate who he wanted to spend time around, he'd picked one out of the crowd.
Why was this happening, and why was it happening now? He had just enough time for those thoughts to solidify in the pit of his stomach as the elevator made its way down into the hangar.
No matter how many times he witnessed Shepard in combat, there was always something different about her. The first time he saw her, she'd left a trail of scarred buildings and bodies behind. That was followed by her agile use of her rifle, as if nothing existed outside of her sights. Then, later, she used heavy handed diplomacy to get a name out of Kelham, followed by her nimble shot at Kolyat that flustered him just enough to distract him. And today - today, she was tense, incredibly so. She was as light on her feet as he expected, and she was quick, as well. Still, something about her was awkward.
"I wasn't with you when you were on Tuchanka," he began, large, dark eyes following her as she moved around on the mat. Not only was she tense, but she was unfocused. He knew the feeling. "However, I heard that you were able to kill the Thresher Maw."
He caught a small smile flit across her lips. "Yeah," she shot over her shoulder as she stretched, fingers nimbly grasping at her own muscle as she extended her arm across her chest. "Explosions and whatnot. I thought Wrex was going to hurt something laughing when I told him I nuked the thing."
That approach was by and large expected of her. She knew it. Hell, part of her even accepted it. Still, she'd have done anything to be capable of stealth like he was. Even as most of her combat relied on her sniper rifle, she found herself in close combat much more than she'd ever like to admit. Which was why the fact that she was so tense annoyed her. "Anything else you wanted to talk about?" she asked him, turning around on the mat, head tilted to the side. "You don't want to spar, do you?"
Thane chuckled, shaking his head. "No, I have no interest in sparring with you."
"Aw, come on." Hermia beckoned towards him with her arms, an almost innocent expression on her face. "We can make a deal." When she saw his eyebrow ridges twitch downward in curiosity, she didn't even fight her smile. Hook, line, and sinker. "If I win," she began, motioning to herself, "You tell me what 'siha' means. If you win…" She paused, her arm extended towards him, but her mind focused elsewhere. What could be his end of the bargain? Maybe he should come up with it. She looked to him, fingers splayed in his direction.
"I would be willing to tell you what it means without having to spar," Thane said in his usual, casual tone.
"Don't be a wet blanket."
"An interesting human phrase."
Hermia gave a snort of laughter before falling into a fighting stance, her entire form balanced, the sluggishness he'd witnessed earlier almost completely gone. "Fight me. We can figure out your prize later."
If there was one thing Shepard noticed readily about Thane, it was his grace. Every movement of his was precise, almost beautiful in its simplicity. The way he moved on the battlefield was something to behold, if you're not being riddled with bullets. Swift, silent - a true assassin in every meaning of the word. She often called her thoughts back to one of their first conversations, when he'd gone into striking detail of his training with the hanar. At first, it seemed cruel, training such a young child in the art of killing. But then she realized - only starting that young would produce a man with Thane's fine-tuned skill set.
So, when Thane didn't move from his spot on the mat, his eyes focused keenly on her face as she shifted in place, she noticed.
"Oh, come on, you're not going to hurt me."
The light, teasing air in her voice made him smile - a quiet curl at the corner of his mouth. He hardly moved as she took a step forward; his only change in stance being to let his hands fall to his sides. "I'd hate to be remembered throughout history as the man who broke Commander Shepard's neck before the end of her mission."
"Well, if that happens, no one will be around to write it down," Shepard grinned wolfishly. She was enjoying the idea of sparring with Thane. Usually she made it a point to spar with any of her new squad mates, just to see how they were physically. You could learn amazing things by fighting with someone. How she'd overlooking the possibility of sparring with him, she had no idea. Maybe she'd been too shocked by him telling her he was dying to offer. That must've been it. "So you'll get off without a hitch."
"That is not exactly a comforting thought, siha."
At the word, Shepard lurched forward, arms outstretched in a grapple. Not a moment after her fingers grazed his shoulder, she was being turned around, wrist held behind her back and her shoulders pressed to his chest. She could feel his fingers clutching around her forearm, holding her still and holding her close. Barely another two heartbeats pounded in her ears before he let her go and she moved forward, eager to get a few paces between them.
Ah, so he wasn't going to play games. She could adapt quickly from a teasing spar to a true match of strength. She'd done it with Miranda; she could do it with Thane. It was also obvious that he wasn't interested in making the first move. At least he isn't standing still anymore, she thought to herself as she watched him with narrowed gray eyes as he took a slow, even step to the left.
How to you fight such a well-trained man? The thought circled in Hermia's head as she watched him, eyes barely flickering in reaction to her own internal musings. She was good. Hell, she was better than good. She wasn't the best at hand-to-hand combat, but she was nothing to sneeze at. But without her sniper rifle or her omni-tool, she wasn't the tried and true killer everyone saw her as. She needed tools, and Thane's most honed tool was his own body.
The next time she reached out for a grapple, he didn't have enough time to react. She slipped around him, arm curled around his neck, until her chest was pressed into his back. The hold wasn't enough to hurt, but not loose enough for him to easily struggle free if he tried. He shut his eyes at the feeling of her breath warm on the back of his neck, his only response a deep, rumbling chuckle.
She released him a moment later, keeping her eyes focused on nothing but him as he turned around and took a few steps back. She could tell by the look on his face that she'd surprised him. That was good news.
He moved like he was made of air. There, but not there at the same time, flowing around her, a warm, oddly tender gale that curled around her neck and pushed her to the mat.
Shepard gave a gasp of surprise when she hit the ground, though before she could regain her composure she was laughing at her own sudden position. His arm was still swooped around the back of her neck, his hand cradling the back of her head, but he was half-lying across her chest, his face mere inches above hers.
She struggled to get herself free, but was denied. "Damn it," she muttered, her lips twisted in a sardonic half-smile. That was fast. No one had ever taken her down that fast. But she was too busy being annoyed to be impressed. She'd really wanted to best him, for bragging rights and finally being able to figure out what "siha" meant.
"I said that I would tell you what it meant without a spar," Thane replied.
How did he know what she was… Hermia's brow dipped at her own thoughts. He always seemed to pick up on anything she didn't say. Thoughts, even fleeting intuitions in the middle of a fire fight. Kelly never mentioned anything about drell being psychics. The thought sent a shot of fear down her spine, but she quickly recovered. "Then tell me."
"One of the warrior-angels of the goddess Arashu," he murmured. His tone was serious; his eyes intensely focused on her face, watching for any small reaction to his words. "Fierce in wrath." An eyebrow quirk, very slight. Minor widening of her eyes. "A tenacious protector." Lips turned upwards at the corners. A smile without bearing teeth. Eyes dilated slightly. But what was she going to do? Her body was tense, as if she was contemplating something, figuring out the move she should take.
She shifted in his arms. The stress of the mission, the dull aches and pains from the string of recent close calls, how close he was, the smell of him, like leather and coffee and quiet spice - everything pulled her in one direction, shoving all caution and timidity aside. The inches between them grew to nothing as Hermia lifted herself off of the mat and pressed her lips to his.
But it was his hesitation that pushed her away. His mouth didn't move beneath hers, his only response a slight, if unconscious, shift backwards, away from her.
Fire colored her cheeks as her hands went to his arm still wrapped around her. The soldier's newfound strength forced him to release her as she clambered up from the mat. Her fingers went to her neck, anxiously massaging the muscle there as she tried to find some sort of apology, some reason to get out of the hangar as soon as humanly possible.
"I'll, uh," Shepard muttered, brow creased as she looked towards him, hating herself for the warmth that only worsened on her face when her eyes met his, "I'll talk to you later."
Thane watched her as she disappeared into the elevator.