The music had been turned up and the club was beginning to fill with the heat and chatter of people. Lil maintained her place on the sofa at the back of the room as Sofie and Kelly took to greeting guests at the door and mingling for the latest gossip. Luckily for her, Shepard had just arrived, taking the curious glances away from her, and of course her Commander was used to the limelight, being one of humanity's more decorated heroes.
Most of the guest arrived around the same time, making the club suddenly throb with life. Kelly came over to Lil's sofa as her friend greeted the last of a large group that had just entered the club.
"You can't hide back here any more," Kelly said, leaning on the arm of the sofa. "It's time for you to do the rounds." Taking one look at the engineer's face she added, "Don't look so scared, I'll hold your hand and it'll be over before you know it."
Grabbing Lil by the hand, Kelly all but lifted the reluctant heroine to her feet, a determined smile on her face as she pulled Lil towards the throng of chattering guests. The first group that Kelly introduced her to was a turian dignitary and an asari consort along with their entourage of at least eight others who were constantly fawning over the two VIPs and taking notes on everything that was said. Thankful that her first encounter was only a few generic questions, Lil almost relaxed a little, letting herself be guided by her friend the yeoman, she could get through this and it may not be as bad as she imagined.
The next few meetings went smoothly and Kelly congratulated her friend as they made their way over to the other side of the room and to hopefully the last batch of questions tonight. The man in a perfectly pressed Alliance dress uniform needed no introduction. He was Admiral Anders, the man in charge of virtually all Alliance Military stationed on earth and one of the best damn defensive tacticians in the galaxy. He took the defence of his home planet as seriously as possible and Lil was surprised to even see him outside of the Sol system.
"On a tour of security liaisons," he said, his deep voice booming from his chest. "Shaping up defence in all of Citadel space if those damn geth are going to attack again."
Lil had gone past the stage of trying to correct people that it was the Reapers that were now the biggest threat to all organic life and, casting her mind back to Legion in their final push, that some of the geth were actually on the same side as humanity in the big picture. Nodding politely as the Admiral began his long-winded explanation of how he thought he could improve the galaxy's security, Lil's eyes began to wonder around the room. Everyone seemed to be standing in small groups, chatting loudly over the music. Her eyes caught Rio moving between groups with a platter of delicious looking snacks and her gaze followed the plate past several people before being distracted by a familiar, green face.
It was Thane Krios. He was stood with a drink in hand, talking to an asari with his usual cool, smooth movements. Although his lips moved and he appeared to be paying attention to the woman he was talking to, his cold, black eyes were most definitely on Lil. Seeing her notice his gaze, he smoothly turned to another nearby guest to speak to them as if nothing had happened. Lil was left with what could have been a chill of fear or a thrill of excitement, in the heat of the club she couldn't quite tell.
Turning her attention back to the Admiral, she found him winding up his speech and at his last words; she made a few polite comments and excused herself, pulling Kelly with her to the quietest part of the room.
"Kelly, there's something weird going on," she said in a hushed voice, barely audible over the music as she grasped her best friend's arm.
"Huh?" Kelly seemed puzzled, "Like what? I thought everything was going fine," she motioned to the room, "Everyone seems to be getting on, there's no f-"
"It's not the party," Lil cut her off, sounding urgent. "It's that drell guy. There's something weird about him."
"Who Thane? Well yeah he's a little different to a lot of people but he's not –"
"No, Kelly. He keeps staring at me. I think he's obsessed with me or something."
"Oh," Kelly went quiet got a few minutes, her eyes scanning the room for Thane. Finding him talking sedately with Commander Shepard, she frowned. "Are you sure? You're not imagining it or something? Did you take a bump to the head on the collector base? 'Cos I know he's the mysteriously sexy type but honestly I just don't think he's into women at the minute, or men, you know, whatever."
"I'm telling you he keep staring at me! And the other day when I couldn't sleep, I met him and it was like he was trying to get me to stay and talk to him. It's all kinda creeping me out. Those huge black eyes following me."
"Hey did you know his eyes are actually green? All that black is just an evolved sun filter from back when-"
"God Kelly! You always have to get distracted when I'm talking about something important! I'm going outside for some fresh air!" Lil strode out of the club, ignoring several questions and the faint apology from her friend as she made it to the door.
Once outside, the cool air was heavenly against the angry flush of her skin. Breathing in the cold scent of the night air quickly dissipated her rage, but it left her with confusion. Why should a man so well-travelled, who had met so many great people as Thane had, be interested in her for whatever reason? She wasn't remarkable when you really thought about it, just a normal soldier who acted on instinct in the battle field. Or was it something more sinister? Was it that she was his next target and like some monstrous cat he was toying with this prey until he became bored?
'Oh lord,' Lil thought. 'What if he took another contract since we came back? Would he turn against people he had worked with? He was an assassin right, and assassins worked alone, for the money, didn't they? I've never heard of a loyal assassin.' Lil began pacing up and down the railing, the cool air suddenly feeling sharp in her throat. So many thoughts swirling around in her mind, what-ifs mixing with whys and hows, which it made her feel nauseous. Grasping the handrail, her breath came in gasps and her head spun as she struggled to make sense of anything that had happened in the last few weeks.
A hand touched Lil's shoulder and without thinking she turned, grabbed the arm and sweeping her feet out as she slid sideways and twisted the arm backwards at the same time, leaving her would-be attacker face down on the floor, with her knee to their spine. Releasing a breath she hadn't realised that she was holding, Lil finally saw with a lurch of her stomach that her attacker was none other than the drell assassin.
There was a muffled grunt as Lil pushed herself off Thane and backed away until her back hit the balcony rail.
"Oh god," she gasped through her hand, "I'm sorry," she said uncertainly as Thane turned over and sat up, his expression surprised.
"Well that wasn't one of the reactions I had expected." He chuckled, an unusual sound that Lil was sure she had never heard before. Coming from deep within his chest, it was an amazingly genuine laugh that was mirrored in his smile as he gracefully rose to his feet. "I just wanted to talk to you," he straightened his jacket, "I felt that things were a little awkward last time we spoke, though I think you may have just outdone yourself."
"I... uh – you're not going to try and kill me?"
Thane laughed again, louder this time and the sound was so lovely that it made Lil feel even more embarrassed and awkward. "Of course not," he stepped forwards, coming to stand against the balcony rail a short distance away from her. "I respect you too much to ever take a contract for your life. On the contrary, I would make it my personal business to hunt anyone that made an attempt on your life, or that of any of Shepard's crew."
"Wow, that's – well now I feel really stupid." Lil turned to look over the Illium vista, not wanting to meet Thane's black eyes and wishing that the alcohol had not loosed her tongue so much. "But you were acting so, well no offence but, really weird. I don't know you very well but, you know." She shrugged.
"I admit, I have not been my usual self lately, and I don't quite know what has come over me." He turned to face the club door, he too avoiding eye contact. "I find myself somewhat entranced by you, obsessed almost." He paused for a long moment, "I've only felt like this once before, and that was when I first saw my wife." Thane's eyes glazed over as in the moment of silence between them, his lips moved as if whispering, but he made no sound.
"Um, Kelly told me you had a wife and that she passed some time back. Do you still miss her?" Lil said, wanting to break the silence but cursing herself for picking such an awkward topic.
"Every day." Thane said quietly, "Irikah was a very large part of my life and when she was killed I shut that part of me away. I went back into my battle sleep and I have not long awoken and realised what I lost.
"My mum – my mother reacted sort of like that when my dad was killed, but she hasn't come back from wherever her mind went to. Sometimes I can see her like she used to be, just it never lats. But it helps, I guess, to know that she's there, under the surface."
"I realise now how hard it must have been on my son to effectively have lost both parents at once. Commander Shepard has been helping me to start building bridges with Kolyat before things went too far. He was... trying to be more like me so that I would notice him. It honestly scared me to see myself so clearly in him."
"I can tell you from experience it will have hit him hard, but also that it'll get better between you two. You just need to give it time, keep talking to him; he'll come around when he's ready. It'll work out for the both of you."
"I am not one to hold hopes, but I do think Kolyat is back on the right road in his life." Thane went quiet for a moment before turning to Lil. "You really are wise beyond your years, Lillabeth, it's one of the things I admire about you. I wish I knew what I do now when I was your age."
"Wise, eh?" Lil smiled to herself at the ridiculous thought, "Well I wish some of my senior officers in the past had shared that delusion. I'm not wise, I just... well I just deal with things, I don't see the point in overcomplicating most things with emotions. I've been called bookish, shy and even cold, but never wise before now."
"Maybe they were simply misinterpreting what I can see in you. After all, I too prefer to deal with most situations... practically. We are kindred souls, I think."
"I don't know," Lil said quietly, "You couldn't fret over petty doubts or you'd never be able to do what you do. I feel so guilty for ever thinking things might be better if I hadn't done what I did. Of course it wouldn't be better, sure I might still have my arm but I'd probably be a mindless Collector slave, or dead. And Shepard and you and everyone else would be dead too." Lil closed her eyes against the sting of tears, turning her head away so that Thane would not see.
"It's natural to have doubts, Lillabeth. I have been trained almost all of my life in how to suppress doubts, questions and anything that could distract me." Thane sighed softly, "In fact I envy you for that. Sometimes I don't feel like a real person, just a tool for killing. But helping with Shepard and the rest of the crew, is teaching me more and more about life outside of the next job."
Lil smiled a little, opened her eyes to look out onto the vista. "He does have a way with people. Bringing us all together for this one big cause. We're such an unlikely crew, and working for Cerberus too! Well I guess that bit is over now." She snorted with a laugh, "Kelly told me how Shepard stuck it to that Illusive Man."
"Yes, ironic isn't it, that the Illusive Man was the one who was tricked in the end?"
"Oh no!" Lil spun around quickly, "I just realised, I left Kelly in there after I shouted at her. God she'll be putting up with all sorts of awkward questions for me." She began to walk back to the club quickly, looking over her shoulder as she shouted back, "I'm sorry, I have to get back but we should talk more some time!"
"I hope that we do," Thane said, turning back to the view and whispering to himself, "Gods permitting, I would like nothing more."