Before finally being able to sleep again, Thane had managed to get enough chips off of his arms and face that it wasn't entirely noticeable except for his slightly fresher color, which would wear off in a day or so as the new skin adjusted and hardened. The dryness and itching remained, though, in the spots where he'd been unable to reach it. But, he reminded himself as he rode in the elevator up to the combat deck with a book in his hand, that will be amended soon. With Shepard's help, at that.
He had mixed feelings on that despite sleeping on it. Part of him, admittedly, was nervous. How long had it been since he had been so exposed to anyone who wasn't a medical professional? And even then, there was an obvious difference. A doctor was doing their job. But this was private, intimate. Though he knew she was offering mostly out of worry, not knowing or possibly understanding the cultural implications, her offer to help had struck a chord in him. Her aid in saving Kolyat had been a request as a trusted friend, when his feelings had only begun to culminate, bubbling under the surface and overshadowed by his fear for his son. It had taken only a moment to realize them but only later, after exiting the C-sec office, when he had seen how happy she was to see Kolyat safe... What could have been a tragedy of proportions he could scarcely bear to imagine had instead been a blessing.
Yes. He wanted her help with this. Suddenly, Thane felt foolish for thinking to keep it from Shepard in the first place, out of the belief that she would find it distasteful as most drell did. Hadn't she learned of his transgressions, against both the evil and good people in the galaxy, and accepted him regardless? This was just another facet of their increasingly complex relationship... she already was intimate with him, emotionally, mentally. He had divulged his darkest memories to her in a moment of pure need. She had seen his soul... he had no fear in exposing this temporary weakness of his physical body.
The doors of the elevator opened up to reveal the combat deck. Kelly waved to him and he returned it before turning to the lab. The professor was, for once, not standing over a microscope or computer screen but sitting by the window with a tray on his lap and a pad in one hand while the other rhythmically scooped food into his mouth with a spoon. It was a usual habit for Mordin; he never dined in the mess hall, not out of anti-social behavior but because to him it simply made more sense to bring it back so he could read or work some more while he ate. And Thane theorized the singular task of eating was not enough to keep the salarian's attention span occupied anyway.
Mordin looked up from his food and gave Thane a welcoming smile. "How can I help?"
Thane held the book out in offering. It was old and battered, with a stained cover of a pale human male sitting in a chair while electricity stormed all around his head. "I was instructed to give this to you by Daniels if I came up here," he said, folding his hands behind his back when Mordin took it and looked it over. "She mentioned you had been expecting it."
"Ooh, yes, yes." Mordin smiled even wider, nodding approvingly as he focused entirely on browsing through it, pausing occasionally to brush a finger over the aged pages. "My Inventions, The Autobiography of Nikola Tesla! She's lending me her copy, shocking to find an antique paperback still readable, very interesting figure in Earth history, very much so." He took a deep, happy breath. "Glad to see it. But, sorry, ignoring you. Wanted to speak with you, actually."
"Yes, yes, needed to have this conversation for a while now, actually, prior to your ecdysis occurring." Mordin pushed himself up to his feet, standing to meet the drell eye-to-eye as he fell back into his role as a physician. To Thane, it seemed to him as if Mordin was reading off his lines, like a script... or he'd repeated something similar before, perhaps to someone else. "Aware of your attraction to Shepard. Do not mean to pry, only want to ensure you are both safe."
"Safe," Thane repeated curiously.
"Correct. Drell-human encounters can have some risk. Mostly for the human partner, though." Mordin waved a hand to Thane's small square of exposed chest for an example. "Skin shedding aside, oral contact on the human's part can induce hallucinations, mild to severe. Same fluids responsible for that can also create external rash in humans with prolonged physical contact. Drell can have similar reaction after molting, new skin not yet acclimated to outside damage for a few days, so would suggest both participants thoroughly clean beforehand, hands especially." When Thane didn't offer anything to the conversation aside from a stunned silence, he added helpfully, "Can provide educational materials, textual or video, have provided EDI with well-known relationship advice, very thorough diagrams of erogenous zones-"
"I- no," Thane interrupted, holding his hands up in some attempt to pause the professor in his vocal tirade. Blessed gods... At Mordin's confused face, he said, "She offered to help me with my molting."
Though thrown off track, Mordin quickly recovered. "Ah! That's good, good, studies show process goes much faster when participating in pairs, much more relaxation in the muscles and epidermis, allowing dead skin to be removed with less stress. Much preferable to doing it alone. Was going to suggest as much yesterday, but did not wish to make you uncomfortable."
You talk so easily about erogenous zones and oral contact, but thought that would be disturbing? Thane thought privately, amused. "I see. But she can't develop that rash just helping me with-"
"No, no, no. Presuming you use warm liquids..." Mordin paused and seemed to reconsider his words. "Presuming you use warm water, the natural oils and sweat that drell produce would not be present, posing no risk."
"Thank you, then. I won't bother you further."
"No bother, Thane, but one last thing." Striding over to his work bench, Mordin bent down to rummage through the carefully organized items, eventually producing a small blue bottle. "This should help." He pressed it into Thane's hand, who turned it over to read the label.
Lubri-scale!, the loud writing shrieked, a photo of a male and a female drell gazing at each other in apparent bliss with very bright text underneath declaring, Have a happy molting.
"Helpful for your current state of things," said Mordin in what Thane could only believe was an amused tone, "and the behavior associated with it."
"I will. Thank you, professor," murmured Thane, still staring at the bottle. Shaking his head out of his imagination, which had suddenly become a very dangerous place to be in this public space, he turned the bottle so the label was hidden inside his palm and walked out the door. Though he didn't actually look to any of them in the short space from Mordin's lab and the elevator, he would swear he could feel the eyes of nearly every crew member on him - or possibly on what he carried - until he turned around to face out of the compartment, upon which work was suddenly discovered and conversations got fresh new starts.
As the elevator sunk him downwards, Thane pressed his fingers to the bridge of his nose in silent prayer for patience.
How did one dress for a date that would be spent in a shower?
Shepard was staring down her closet like a general staring down an invading horde. Was she supposed to dress nice? From what she had looked up on the extranet, this was supposed to be important. Almost ritualistic; parents would help their children up until the time they became adults, upon which it was generally believed that it was only to be shared with a romantic partner at best, at worst a very good friend. Like Thane had said, doctors were trained, and it appeared there were other drell who would assist... but the data had a sort of tone that implied, at least to her, that these men and women weren't exactly lisenced professionals, though they still took some sort of payment. While accepted as alternatives, neither were considered very acceptable ones.
But on the other hand, she mused, what the hell did she have that was going to look good while the two of them were just moseying about in her bathroom? And he wouldn't even be looking at her most of the time; while huge for a personal bathroom on a ship, it was still only big enough for two human-sized people to stand comfortably in. Still... she admitted, she wanted to look decent.
That was the confusing part at the moment. She did want to look nice. It was an odd sensation; half of her time was spent in blood- and mud-soaked armor that had to be aired out and washed daily from the amount of sweat that built up on the inside... and the other half was spent in standard Cerberus civvies that she'd accepted only because she didn't have the desire or time to go shopping, despite Kelly's repeated insistence. And that outfit more often than not found itself in a similar state of filth as she fiddled with her combat drone's schematics, helped Garrus with his calibrations, or worked out to stave off boredom.
Practical. I'll go for practical, she decided and changed into some loose, tan shorts and a bright red tank top that hugged her sides. Yes. That'd work. But on a moment of afterthought, she reached for a bottle on her desk. It'd been a present from Kasumi, a gift for helping her with Bekenstein. She had gone out of her way to note that it was a smell both drell and humans found rather pleasing. It had gone untouched until now; a thin layer of dust sat on the lid as she unscrewed it and sniffed it. Smelled like... fruit. Huh.
... Ah what the hell.
Just as she sprayed an experimental mist at her neck, EDI's voice rang, "Thane wishes to enter, Shepard."
"Great." She ran a hand through her hair, promptly decided saving the galaxy was a little easier than getting her hair to stay in place, and replied, "Let him in."
The doors pulled apart to reveal her guest; it appeared he hadn't wondered about what to wear at all. He was in his usual suit, the black one this time, and paused once he was in the door to glance at her. "Am I too early?" he asked with an unsure tone.
"No, no. Let me give you the grand tour." She waved a hand dramatically to the room. "The bed, the desk, the fish tank, etcetera."
"There are no fish," he observed with a tilt of the head as they both stared at the large wall of empty water.
"Seemed kind of cruel to keep buying new ones every week over and over," she said with a hint of shame. "And there's the bathroom."
"So I noticed."
"Mmhm. ...And that's about it. Is there anything we're supposed to do?" she asked, disliking the uncertainty she could hear in her voice. But she wanted to be sure she didn't step on any toes tonight.
Seeming to follow her train of thought, he shook his head and replied, "Nothing special. Your presence is enough." And without much ado, he pulled his jacket off.
Years of military training in strict behavior and muscle control completely failed in her brain as he laid the item over the back of her chair, followed by the shirt underneath. Yep. Still no belly button. In some attempt at regaining control of the moment, she said, "You said something about a shower last night."
"Yes. It will loosen the skin, make it easier for both of us," he replied. He stepped into the bathroom but paused to turn back to look at her. "Normally, this is where I would invite you to join me..." he replied, a cautious offer in his tone.
She held up her hands in gentle denial. "I think I'll wait. If you don't mind."
Thane nodded in understanding and shut the door. The sound of water soon followed as she sat and waited at her desk, tapping out her fingers on her knees. A few weeks ago, I was tracking this man through a penthouse and watched him kill a complete madwoman. A few days ago, we stopped his kid from permanently altering the political scene of the Citadel... not to mention permanently altering Talid's face. And today... today, he's naked in my shower. Fiona shook her head and turned around to focus on her messages instead. Something from Wrex about how there was still a breeding request for her on Tuchanka and he wanted to know if she wanted it held open, an update on Kolyat from Bailey about how the kid was settling in, a message from her mother back on Earth, and others. The spam, though, was the most entertaining as usual. She was still snorting at one declaring her as a possible recipient of 'Fiona Shepard's hidden stash on asteroid Errol 68! Send your credit chit information NOW and don't miss this DEAL!' when she felt a hand rest on her shoulder.
Turning to look, she was met with a very damp drell, still shirtless and in some very fitting shorts. Black, of course. Somewhere in her brain, hormones were firing off like rockets. Boom, boom, boom. "I am ready," he informed her, "if you are."
"No time like the present," she replied coolly, and followed him into the bathroom. Planning ahead of time, she'd found two small stools for them to sit on. Without direction, he sat on one, bending slightly so his elbows rested on his knees, with the seat behind him left for Fiona. She picked up a small pail beside the stools and filled it with warm water from the sink. His back was even worse than it had been the day before, peeling everywhere and darker than she'd yet seen his skin even after Haestrom, where even Grunt had walked away with a sunburn. A large flake stood out in the center, barely hanging on; reaching out, she tugged it off.
The action prompted a stifled hiss from Thane, his back arching away from her. "Siha."
"Damn, sorry." Angry at her thoughtlessness, she rubbed her thumb against the spot. It seemed to help as he relaxed back into place, peering at her from over his shoulder. "I didn't realize they were that sensitive." It made sense now, though, those sounds she'd heard the night before. It couldn't have been easy to try and be careful when his fingers could hardly reach pieces he couldn't even see.
"You didn't know," he replied patiently. "Though I hope you remember what you've learned now." Though she could only see part of his face from over his back and shoulders, the smirk in his voice was audible. It took Atlas-worthy restraint not to give him a smack. Instead, she reached down for the cloth. It was thick and soft, just right for carefully rubbing off the chips without being too harsh.
"How's that," she asked, lightly rubbing at a spot. The scales came off in little diamonds, sometimes joined together, much easier than the first one. She shook them off the cloth, letting them rest on the floor. Alien dandruff, she thought with some amusement. Heh.
"Much better," he said. "Thank you again, siha."
"You don't have to keep saying thanks. I know you'd do the same for me, right?" There was a slight pause between them until she amended, "If I shed my skin once a year, I mean."
She had to pause in her work when he chuckled. "If you did, I would. In this case, I'm afraid I won't be able to return the favor."
"If I wasn't so picky about it, I'd let you cut my hair?" offered the human as she returned to it. The flakes were stubborn in places, and it was an effort to be delicate. Being gentle was not her job, unless it involved explosives. But, then, could you really be considered 'gentle' when you were reprogramming robots to go up in flames? "Or, hey, since we're going back to the Citadel, you can buy me dinner."
It was an obvious opening. He glanced backwards for a moment with a look of study before replying, "I would like that."
She smiled back, hoping the flush she could feel in her face could be attributed to the steam still hanging in the room. Returning to her task, she diligently scrubbed away, slowly but surely lessening the large patch of skin away to a small section, and then to nothing. The uncovered layer was fresh and colorful, the edges of the black stripes crisp and clear while the red ribbing was as red as blood. The tiny singular scales that differed from the colors around them, green on black or black on green, stuck out, apparently not freckles in the same way that she had freckles. For a moment, her fingers lingered, dragging down slowly over the newly exposed skin. Smooth as silk.
Underneath her hands, she felt a shiver go through him, the muscles bunching up briefly before releasing. She pulled back immediately. Had she hurt him? No, she hadn't pulled any scales... A realization crossed across her mind, and she couldn't help but laugh. "Thane Krios. Are you ticklish?"
"Ticklish? No," he denied without even turning his head.
"Are you accusing me of deceit?"
An evil smirk slowly appeared on the engineer's lips. While she strived to be a good example for her crew and civilians, she would admit to a small prankster's streak. She slid her finger down the small crease of his spine again. Though he didn't shake, she could feel the tension there; she heard the barest of gasps escape him, sending a primal thrill through her. "Possibly."
"Siha." His reaction was quick. Thane shifted, turning around to better face her. "I haven't entirely explained this, I think. The reason this is usually restrained, once we enter adulthood, between lovers or married partners is because..." He coughed slightly into his hand. "The exposed skin's nerve endings aren't entirely developed. The layer hasn't yet adapted to the air or sunlight. As such it is... sensitive."
Fiona blinked. "Right."
With the look of someone who is trying to very patient with a small child, animal or simply a rather thick-headed person, Thane added, "And not just in the sense of being painful when done incorrectly. Even when it is done correctly, it is... stimulating."
Stimula- oh. Oh. She could definitely feel the blush in her face again, but it wasn't from flirting this time. "Well. That makes a lot more sense now," she said, removing her hands before she comitted any further intergalactic faux pas. That certainly explained why it was shared with those who were in a more private relationship... And what better way for two drell in molt to help get rid of their problem than creating mutual friction? "I apologize."
"Don't be." His face still set in that neutral expression he wore so well, he added quietly, "It's not something I would apologize for."
The pair stared at each other for a moment, perhaps both aware that each of them were treading new ground, if in different ways. Was this too soon? Too fast? He had been a husband, and a widower, for a long time... and she had never had these feelings for any person. Much less a non-human. The feeling of being amateur to this sort of scene seemed to be mutual. Both adults were taking their time, testing the waters with a metaphorical tip of their toe before they made too big of a splash getting in. I survived living in the Reds, fought more aliens than Captain Kirk, and given death the middle finger. Why is this so damn hard? she couldn't help but wonder. But when she opened her mouth to comment, Thane beat her to it.
"If it makes you uncomfortable, we don't have to continue."
"I was more worried about making you uncomfortable, actually," she answered truthfully as well as shamefully. "I didn't- don't want to rush you. With the mission, Kolyat... Irikah... I'm okay with biding my time until its the right time. And, well, you said you've never had affection for another species. Neither have I. You're... really the first man I've had this sort of feeling for emotionally." She shook her head and reached for his hands, folding them between hers. They were smooth and still slightly damp; she noted in the back of her mind that drell got the same wrinkly finger effect that humans did when wet. He glanced down briefly to their entwined fingers and palms before looking back up to her as she said, "Thane, to be perfectly honest? It's weird to me. Really weird. I'd rather be honest about it then pretend it's totally normal for me and hide it from you. And it's something you need a little help with. You trust me with it." Her grip tightened, a small squeeze of his fingers. "I'm glad that you do."
She swallowed her pride and little fears and said as plainly as she could, "You mean a lot to me. Whatever reservations I've got... I know that I can beat them, if you're with me."
After a long moment of silence, he surprised her with that small, subtle smile he had. She loved that smile. "You honor me more than you know." He let go of her hands, instead placing his on her knees as he leaned in and kissed her. A small one, just a peck on the lips, really. In the brief moment that he was so close, he smelled like clean leather and fresh soap. It was not the most romantic kiss she'd ever received. But, as she felt a warmth spread and her mood soothe over, it might have been one of the best.
"So... you're not...?"
"Siha. If I did not wish to be here, I wouldn't be," he replied patiently. Reaching up, he stroked along her cheek with his thumb. The warmth of his fingers was more inducing than any drug she'd toyed with in her ill-spent youth, and she eagerly soaked it up. It was the closest he'd been to her that she could recall. And she was pretty damned sure if it had happened before she'd remember that. A shared but unspoken need hung heavy in the air between them.
It was do or die.
Getting to her feet, Shepard extended her hands to him in invitation. Thane didn't even pause in following her as she led him slowly through the door, walking backwards as she did so, then past the desk, the two of them coming to a stand still at the steps that led down towards the bed. The pair sat on the edge, turning towards each other without a word. With one hand back to steady herself, she smoothed a hand down his sides and was rewarded with a hard shudder from his body, his mouth sighing his chosen title for her as he pulled her close to his hips before silencing himself with his lips to hers. Skin pressed to skin; his was drying, she could feel the dry coarseness as it returned, rubbing her in that alien way she had come to crave the sensation of. And if that was just his chest and arms... Mordin's little warnings rang out in the back of her mind, though it was easily ignored for now. She had time.
She shifted to lay down until she was flat on her back, arms above her head, prompting him to lounge on his side with an arm still wrapped around her waist possessively as he continued planting kisses along her neck. "Do humans have times like this?" he murmured questioningly between delicate little pecks. Each one made her shiver, and he liked that; his expressions could be subtle, but she had come to know them well, and he was clearly enjoying this pleasant torment. Bastard. Damned, wonderful, glorious bastard who'd stolen her heart, and a few other pieces of her body too. "Times of sensitivity of the flesh?" Kiss, kiss, kiss. "Of need in your soul?"
Leaning her head back, her eyes half-lidded to let the sensations soak in, she thought to herself. "Hm. Valentine's Day. Birthdays and anniversaries. And especially when the other one has messed up nice and good, and you get to reap the rewards as they have to make it up to you," she murmured, smirking at him and delighting when he returned it.
"I'm not quite sure that's the same, siha."
"Maybe. I wouldn't mind testing that theory." She paused for only a moment. "If... you're ready."
"And you as well," he replied in agreement.
Fiona smiled from ear to ear and reached for him.
As an alarm went off, chirping quietly but insistently, Thane awoke. Immediately, through habit and conditioning, he took in his surroundings. Unfamiliar room. Door, locked, within five steps of running if needed. An array of model ships, and one fluffy little animal he wasn't sure of, none of which served as solid defense. Bedsheets were tangled around him up to his waist, cumbersome if he were forced to move quickly. And a pale, red-haired human female lying across from him, arm slightly curled around the pillow they had set up a barrier between them before sleep - Thank you, Mordin, he thought to himself - as her body balled up in a pose of desired security.
She looked at peace. He continued to lay on his back, watching the slow rise and fall of her chest as she took in the steady breaths of her repose. He had seen many emotions on her face and through her body. Anger, grief, surprise, joy. But to see her so still and without worry was new. His memory sealed the look of her face, lined from the wrinkles in the pillow case and hair curling with messy disorder over her eyes, and he knew he'd remember it fondly.
He scooted a little closer to Shepard, taking great care not to disturb her. It was hard to believe this little alien was the person who had saved him from the death he had accepted on the Dantius towers, the person who had helped him save his only child, the person who continued to surprise him at every turn just when he thought he had seen all there was to see. Could he have done any of this without her? He didn't know. Only the gods knew the future and he accepted that in good faith.
Shepard, savior of the Citadel and commander of the legendary Normandy, snored lightly in her slumber.
It was hard to hold back the chuckle in his throat at the muffled sound. With a delicacy honed into his body to deliver death as swiftly and discreetly as possible, he leaned in to kiss her forehead, and breathed the words that had been whispering in his soul for some time now. "Siha. I love you."
The human mumbled a bit in her dreaming but it was too jumbled to make out. Only after he had relaxed back to his claimed side of the bed did he hear the barely audible reply of, "Wove 'ou, 'oo."
Smiling came so easy now. He could remember such long periods of time when he hadn't been able to. No, not been able to... he'd merely had no reason to. Now he couldn't hold it back at all when he reached for her hand and her fingers gently curled around his into the light grip. He closed his eyes, and began to sleep again, dreamless.
And for the first time in many years...
Thane Krios felt comfortable in his skin again.