Disclaimer: I do not own these characters or BioWare or a decent pair of closed-toe shoes.
Note: this may or may not be a one-shot.
Dark eyes stared past the images before them, seeing neither the drive core nor the memories he was trying to bring forth. This was not right. The ridges of his brows drew together in consternation before Thane finally closed his eyes to the world of metal and plastic around him… only to find darkness and silence waiting behind their lids.
Silence. There were no muffled sounds of discussion in the empty mess, the clattering clang of Rupert arranging pots and pans, or the faint hissing of the door to the crew's quarters as it opened and closed in quiet succession to the traffic that was common on the third deck. They were all gone, and all so suddenly. The permeating emptiness that had been left behind whispered of what had once been, of the solitary life he had known too well over the past ten years, and of what could still be.
With a frown, he felt it again, something in his chest constricting, aching, and going cold. The feeling moved with icy fingers into his core.
He had remained an island even after joining the crew, even after his advice to Shepard not to become the same. Ten years spent in penitent seclusion, he was only too willing to accept this task, not only for its purpose, but for what it could offer him should he fail. If he had died in Nassana's office after fulfilling his contract, he would have welcomed it. If he fell in pursuit of this final goal, he would die fighting instead of wasting away in some hospice or laboratory as his disease consumed him. That was what he wanted. That was what he had prepared for and accepted. That was what had guided his spirit as he had entered that tower: acceptance and sunset-colored eyes.
Try as he might, neither would come to him. No inner peace, no familiar memory he had drawn strength from once upon a time. There was only silence.
And then… her.
…Metal shifts beneath me - smooth, cool, and thin. The salarians do not notice as they run toward freedom. Her head turns sharply, gun at the ready. I can see the ocean in her eyes through the grating, a storm settling over them as she searches down the barrel of the pistol at the vent. Realization comes with a smirk. She knows I am there. The gun relaxes in her grip, and then she is gone. The game begins…
…Pain etches her marble façade, eyes rimming red. "What am I?" she asks. It is the question of a child from within the beating heart of the statue. I catch the tear before it falls, its warmth spreading through my thumb where I caress her cheek. She is the goddess turned flesh, and touching her is like touching the sun. Questions that should not have been asked leave her wounded in ways that destruction and chaos haven't. She strains to understand the prayers I whisper for her. Her embrace is powerful, warm, and needy. Blinding radiance consumes me…
The need was selfish, the memories too few. More than simple opportunity, she had given him reasons to continue forward. Everything had changed. Stopping now was not enough. He had only just re-awakened, but as he stared out into the emptiness before him, time threatened to end again before it had even fully began. Reason told him to accept what he had been given. But it wasn't enough. He didn't want the past. For the first time in so long, he wanted now. He wanted later. His fingers worked against each other where he had cupped them together on the table before him until finally his hands separated and balled into fists.
The gods were silent.
Shepard had been staring at the data pad for minutes now, reading the same line of text again and again. Yet if anyone had asked her what it said, she wouldn't have had the first idea. Her mind was somewhere else - her stolen crew, Alchera, The Citadel, Virmire, Torfan, Mindoir. Memories kept skipping back from incident to incident, to how everything continued to be so out of her control, even after all this time. For all the praise, being hailed as a hero, a goddamned savior, even a butcher, and her efforts had only been capable of changing things, not fixing them; and, in enough cases, others paid the price. Ashley and so many others. They blamed her for Torfan. Praised and blamed. She knew that. She understood. After all, Batarian slavers had been responsible for… for everything. Revenge was the widely accepted assumptive reason behind her actions. In the end, victory mattered more than the price, or the reason, to those who had nothing to risk – to those who had sent her down there. She had lost most of her squad, and though they had ensured that not a single Batarian slaver, who had surrendered or otherwise, made it out of Torfan alive, it didn't fix anything. Hell, it barely changed anything. The threat retreated from Council space, but the threat still existed. Only now, maybe the threat was as scared shitless of her as everyone else seemed to be.
Ruthless. Udina's words rang in her memory with a bitter tone, but that one word rose above them all. Ruthless. Ruthless. It just repeated itself. He called her Ruthless, but had the bodies of the original council even been recovered before he was asserting that humanity needed to seize the opportunity? Ruthless - implying her actions meant she wanted what he wanted, even if she wouldn't admit it. How easy it would have been to gun him down and blame the geth. She had done what needed to be done and nothing more. Sovereign was the threat. If Saren had succeeded, there wouldn't have been a need for a Council afterward. She couldn't risk that. And yet, somehow, old Council or new, it just didn't matter. Power had shifted, but the politics remained the same. Nothing had been fixed. Nothing.
Even if they made it through the Omega 4 relay, what would they do? Rescue her crew, destroy the base – that was the plan. If the opportunity to end the Collectors for good arose, would she take it? If so, at what cost? Would it really put an end to them and their practices?
Or would it only change things? A choice and a change, like everything else. "For good" suddenly felt like such a naïve notion.
But it had to be done. She believed in that.
She tried reading the line of data once more when the hairs on the back of her neck stood on end, a biotic surge rushing through her in response as she dropped her datapad and snapped her attention toward the door to her cabin. She had heard it open and close enough times, but only as she was entering or exiting… never while she was in it.
"Thane?" His name came out with surprised relief and more than a little curiosity, the biotic energy that had warped around Shepard's fist quickly dissipating. Changes in the assassin's expression were always so subtle. There was a tension in his brow that he did not normally carry, a glimmer of turmoil in the blackness of his eyes. He looked troubled and made no greeting as he approached, crossing the cabin in silence. Once he was standing in front of her, he trained his eyes on the floor, barely stealing a glimpse of her.
The words broke off and he turned to pace in measured stride. If his resolve had faltered, it returned with barely a break in thought, his hands animated as he tried to put words to what was clawing away within him and had brought him to her like this; so near hopelessly out of his element. But he had to say these things. He needed what was eluding him.
"I have known I will die for many years," he explained as he paced. "I've tried to leave the galaxy a better place than I found it. You have helped me achieve more than I thought possible." He came to a stop with his back to her. "We've righted many wrongs… I've spoken to my son."
The decision to face her once more did not come easily. In all things, he was spiritual. Methodical. Since bringing him aboard, she had seen him face down impossible odds time and again, but not once did she see more than trained resolve in his features. Now, however, when he tried to bring his eyes to her, it felt as if they carried with them the weight of countless worlds, and though there was still so much about his manner that remained alien to her, she appeared to recognize the look on his face.
"I should be at peace on the eve of battle," he insisted, looking sternly down at her. The deep, throaty rasp of his voice was rougher than usual, almost distressed. He was angry with himself.
Where once he knew she might have hesitated, Shepard stood from her seat and approached him, carefully resting a reassuring hand on his arm. Her scars were healing, barely more than faint lines in the smoothness of her pale human skin, but he still thought of marble when looking at her, as if she were a statue suddenly brought to life.
"Stop. Don't give me a speech," she urged him in a hushed voice. But no sooner than she had bridged the distance between them, he… couldn't look at her. His eyes dropped once more.
"I'm ashamed." The admission came quietly, defeat creeping into his usually stoic posture.
Head still down, he forced himself to look at her, willed himself to, though something in the action caused the faintest hint of pain to well up from somewhere within him. In the black depths that met her eyes now was everything he could not bring himself to voice – that he was here for selfish reasons: she was the comfort he sought, she was what he could not let go of yet. He could not find in his gods, memories, or meditations this creature that stood before him and all that she had come to embody to him.
Ungloved fingers reached up as if they understood; their soft, smooth tips caressing the sensitive scarlet ribbing of his neck. The sensation forced a sharp intake of air and his pulse to race with their promise of warmth. She was offering what he wanted, the comfort and concern that he did not feel he deserved. He wanted so desperately to accept it, but something within him still would not let him.
His hand was quick to her wrist, pulling it away again. What was left of years of training, the walls he had rebuilt since Irikah's death, the layers of cold determination from a decade of battle sleep, was crumbling fast, slipping from his control. Turning from her, he hunched forward under the weight of his pride, using the desktop as support. His mind was swimming, his soul twisting in this unfounded turmoil churning up within and leaving him lost as it pushed for release.
I have awakened into another time, another life. For all of my sins, there is pain in wanting to live, and shame, and even in being the source of this razor-wired want, only she is its relief, as unworthy as I am.
A rogue tear burned unbidden down his cheek and his lips twisted with abashment. His hand had curled into a fist and now came crashing down against the desk, knocking away the rest of his defenses with it. He laid his soul bare before his siha.
"I've worked so hard," he spoke, the words coming out subtly pitched and undeniably raw with emotion, "Meditated and prayed; done good deeds; atoned for the evils I've done– prepared. I consider my body's death… and a chill settles in my gut. I am afraid, and it shames me."
Forgive me. It was a silent plea to the universe, to the living and the dead, to the gods that watched over them, and to her.
He hadn't heard her approach. A hand settled on his shoulder, though still he was pressing his knuckles into the desk so hard that his arm was shaking. He felt her fingers smooth over the fine scales of his fist. Hands that had sent so many to their gods worked quietly now to urge him back to her with a tenderness he had stopped believing could exist in this galaxy, alleviating the tension in his frame, and his name from her lips was all of the redemption he could have hoped for.
Facing her, he caught himself in her eyes and witnessed his pain moving through her, something that both unsettled and warmed him all at once. Seeing himself in their stormy grey reflection, he suddenly felt… alien. But her voice whispered forward again, her eyes never straying from his, void of any fear with her simple request.
"Be alive with me tonight."
No more turning away. No more fighting it or reasoning anything out. There was a moment that seemed to slow between them. It was an opportunity to answer her, to speak – there was so much to say, so much – or to leave. His gaze fell to her lips. They parted with a shallow breath. As he moved, time moved forward again with him.
"Then one of the seraphim flew to me, having in its hand a live coal which it had taken with the tongs from the altar. And it touched my mouth with it, and said:
'Behold, this has touched your lips;
Your iniquity is taken away,
And your sin purged.'"
Warmth – so much warmth, a burning flame in the touch of her lips. It spread through him with the power of a newly formed star, the point of contact bursting with sensations both beautiful and frightening. He barely noticed her thumb at his cheek brushing away the last vestiges of conflict. He let himself swim in the moment – tasting her, breathing her in, giving into the warmth. There was no sterile fluorescent light or inky blackness, no mechanical humming or metallic coldness of space. In the dark between the stars stretching out around them, she was all that existed.