Author's Note: Okay. So. A couple things.
FIRST: Today marks the one-year anniversary of Synodic Day. 0_o
SECOND: It is also my birthday. Yay!
On that note, on with the show!
Thane settled into a languid stretch, his body humming from the simple pleasure of it. There was one good thing about waiting so long to begin the molting process: he'd managed to completely strip his body of the old skin in a matter of hours. He lingered for a while longer before finally putting his leathers back on, hissing in the back of his throat as he did so. The newly exposed nerves were overly sensitive, and any contact with them was uncomfortable. Unfortunately, the only way to reduce their sensitivity was to expose them to stimulation.
Shrugging back into his jacket, Thane cleaned up his scrapings and crossed the room to settle at the table in his usual position. He brought up his omni-tool to check his messages, both relieved and nervous to see a message from Kolyat. He'd had two days to process what had happened; two days to get over the shock of seeing Thane again, and regain hold of his anger.
Thane opened the message with a certain amount of trepidation, and was surprised to see that it had both audio and video. Kolyat's image appeared, a nondescript white background behind him.
"Hi, Da-uh. Yeah. Hi." He released a high noise of unease that the microphones easily picked up and translated to Thane. "Bailey insists that we do it this way. He says that words on a screen aren't enough. That if we can't be face-to-face, we at least should record video messages. He's willing to foot the bill on this end if you do the same on yours." Kolyat's face twisted, but he kept whatever harsh comment accompanied it to himself. "I don't really know what to say to you. We're supposed to take this time to get to know each other as adults, but all I want to do is yell and scream like a child."
Kolyat shifted in his seat, his face mirroring the distressed rumble that was a constant backdrop to his words. "Why did you abandon us? How could you think that was alright? Mom was always just a little sad when you were gone, no matter how I tried to cheer her up. She really loved you. We both did."
'Did' Thane thought, a soft, unconscious warble rising in his throat.
Kolyat leaned forward, his face and bearing taking on an intensity Thane never thought he'd see from his son. "And you left," he spat before taking a deep breath and regaining his composure. Thane could see that Kolyat was struggling to control himself as he pressed his back into the chair again. "I don't know if you can adequately explain it to me. I don't think I want to know. But I think I need to understand." When Kolyat reopened his eyes, the deep hurt and anger in them took Thane's breath away.
Remorse bit deep, but Thane crushed the emotion. The only reason Kolyat was alive now to be angry at his father was because Thane had sundered himself from his family when Kolyat was a child. His continued absence in Kolyat's life had created a rift between them larger than Thane would have liked. In fact; if they had been Hanar, Kolyat wouldn't even know his own father's Soul Name...
but that ignorance had kept him safe. Thane regretted many things, but his son's safety would not be one of them.
"Things are different on the Citadel," Kolyat continued. "It's so big sometimes I think I could get lost, even with my memory. Bailey's paired me with one of his turian officers and we go around settling disputes between the various species. Bailey seems to think that just because I remember things I'd make a good peacekeeper." Kolyat's face twisted into a wry smile. "Funny thing is, he's probably right. Faavon says that the number of disputes settled peaceably has jumped since I joined him. Maybe I spent too much time carefully avoiding insult to the hanar, but I seem to get along pretty well with everyone else. What the hanar considered simple courtesy, most species see as polite respect; it makes convincing them of things much easier. There's more hanar here than I expected. They all smile at me as we make our rounds. Maybe they're just glad to see someone from the Compact. I know I am. Seeing all these alien faces is unsettling. And the humans! How can you stand them? They're brash, impolite, and stomp all over people to get what they want. I can see why they're called bullies."
Kolyat's attention abruptly shifted to something off-screen. When his eyes returned to the camera there was a spark of anticipation in his gaze. "Time's up. We've been called to go handle a dispute between an elcor and a hanar. This could be interesting." He paused, then his face softened. "I may not like you, but…try not to get hurt too bad, okay?" The message ended.
Thane sat there in silence, trying to formulate a response. It was difficult. His mind kept replaying Kolyat's last words.
Try not to get hurt too bad, he had said. Even with all that Thane had put his son through, Kolyat's heart was still pure enough to desire his fathers safety. Thane gathered his thoughts, put them in a semblance of order, and hit the record button.
"Hello, Kolyat." An easy place to start, and it neatly avoided the issue of whether or not to call him 'son'. "I am grateful to Bailey for suggesting this mode of communication. It was nice to see your face; hear your voice. I did not have a chance to say this earlier, so I will do so now. You have grown into a fine man, and I am proud of you."
Thane bowed his head as he spoke his next words, determined to be less reticent. He wanted his son to understand his motivations; perhaps that would help shorten some of the distance between them. "I left you and your mother to take contracts because I did not know what else to do. She was a secretary for a hanar under the Compact when we met and did not make much money. It took her months of saving to buy this jacket, part of why I am loath to part from it." Thane lifted his hands towards the camera, as if to show his sleeves. "I barely made enough to live off of. We were poor, living in a one-room apartment with salvaged scrap for furniture. Your mother… she deserved better. "
Out of the range of the camera, Thane rubbed his hands together. He'd not spoken so many words at a time since Irikah's death, and he was feeling distinctly uncomfortable with it. But he forged on, determined that Kolyat would have the chance to know his father. "I knew that I could charge much higher prices if I freelanced, so I asked to be released from the Compact. My Masters were generous enough to agree. I picked up my first contract a week later." Thane raised his head, looking his son in the eyes through the separation of time. "We bought a house outright as soon as I returned. She was never comfortable with what I did, and insisted that we limit ourselves to living off a fraction of the money I brought in. Most of it got set aside, as your inheritance. It is for your use, by your mother's will." Thane dropped his eyes again, studying the newly revealed scales on his hands. Hopefully, knowing that the money was really from Irikah, not Thane, would allow Kolyat to accept it.
He went silent for a moment, giving Kolyat the time he would undoubtedly need to process that information, then he switched topics. "I do not find humans as offensive as I used to. This is due in large part to Commander Shepard and her crew. While it is true that some of them are even more harsh than previous examples of their species – there is a biotic here who holds more hurt-anger, and hate than any other sentient I have encountered - there are also those that seem to not only tolerate alien differences, but to actually court them." Thane shifted uncomfortably in his chair as he thought of Kelly Chambers. "Some of them can be rather too friendly, actually." He forced his thoughts away from the Yeoman and back on the task at hand. "Commander Shepard is perhaps the best of the group. She does not see the differences in species, merely differences in personality. She is also the one I have the most difficulty understanding, a highly irregular occurrence for me." He rumbled amusement. "She fights. Not for her people, but for all people. I am glad to stand by her side. I wish there was time to properly introduce the two of you, I believe you would like her. You might not find her unpredictability so frustrating. "
"When we spoke on the Citadel, I promised myself that I would not pressure you, but I find myself yearning for news of you just the same." He hadn't wanted to force his attentions onto Kolyat, but the words seemed determined to be said, whether his Will was behind them or not. Thane looked blankly at the screen, unable to summon any more words that wouldn't sound like pleading. Eventually, he settled on a simple goodbye. "May Arashu protect you, until Kalihira calls you to the sea."
Thane turned off the recording and sat back in his chair. Scrubbing his hands over his face, he savored the brief bursts of pain that accompanied the gesture – and the clarity of mind that came with it. He still had to decide what he would do about Barla Von. The volus had purposefully, knowingly failed to keep his end of the bargain in order to get his hands on Thane's money a year early. Worse, he'd corrupted another volus to do it; then had the poor man killed to cover his tracks.
Such deceit and betrayal could not go unpunished... but good had come from the action. Kolyat was back in his life. Such a gift from the gods should be appreciated, and acting against the one they had moved in such a manner felt sacrilegious. What to do? Thane longed for someone to speak to about this. No, he longed to speak to Shepard about this.
He wanted to stay away from her; to limit their exposure to each other so that his death would not touch her deeply. But, there was nothing sexual or romantic about one person asking the advice of another. Or so he told himself as he stepped off the elevator to stand in front of Shepard's Cave.
"EDI?" Thane inquired in a soft voice, aware that it was very early in the day cycle for the humans. "Would you quietly determine if Shepard is awake for me? And, if she is, inquire if I may enter?"
The avatar appeared at his elbow, speaking to him in a series of flickering lights. "Commander Shepard is awake and has changed the security protocols on her cabin to allow you free access at all times."
He dallied on the wrong side of her door for some time, contemplating the meaning behind the gesture, or if there was any at all. Perhaps he should leave. EDI had been silent when she'd checked on the Commander; it was likely she didn't know she had a guest. He could go. Turn on his heel, board the elevator, and retreat back to life support – an area free of the Shepard-induced confusion she wrought in him.
He tried to make himself leave, but his feet remained firmly rooted to the floor. He looked down, the heaviness of his legs told him that the Will of his mind and body were not in sync. He knew that going in there now would only encourage in her the affections he was trying to smother in himself.
Thane rumbled his frustration. How could he hope to convince her to step away from him, when he couldn't even overrule the will of his body? The problem was that there was nowhere else he wanted to be, but on the other side of that door. Companionship, comfort, advice…love. All of those things waited for him beyond an entrance that was unbarred to him.
Thane surrendered to the will of his body and moved towards the door, his feet swiftly compliant. He felt Whole now, as he had not in years. So it was with a sense of relief that he passed his hand over the palm lock, gratified when it gave way without hesitation. He stepped into the room, surprised at how dark it was before the sensors detected his presence and turned the lights on.
Shepard's reaction was immediate. Within moments she was on her feet, her pistol retrieved from its place on the nightstand as she executed a combat roll out of bed and pointed at him where he stood poised at the top of the steps. She must have been working on her weapons before she went to bed, he thought, focusing determinedly on the dissembled sniper rifle laid out on her coffee table.
Thane tried to ignore the fact that she was wearing nothing but her underclothes.
"My apologies, I did not mean to intrude." He began to walk brusquely towards the doors in an attempt to escape. "I will leave you in pea-"
"Hold it," she fairly growled at him, cranky at being woken in such a manner, and Thane once again found himself rooted on the wrong side of the door. "I assume you're here for a reason?"
Thane began to turn around to address her, only to whip back around as he realized she was still in the same state of undress she had been in. How rude must she consider him right now? He'd invaded her rooms and inadvertently disturbed her rest "It can wait."
"…are you embarrassed?" Her voice held an incredulous note to it.
Thane shifted his feet.
Rustling clothing, then: "You can turn around now, Thane," she said with a small laugh, "it's safe."
He spun slowly in place, reluctantly taking a few steps forward at her impatient gesture. She was wearing clothing he'd not seen on her before. It was woven like most human fabrics, but looser than anything he'd seen before, with long, wide sleeves and a scooped neck that revealed tantalizing glimpses of her collarbone.
"I apologize." Thane repeated, unsure of what else to say. "I did not intend to disturb your rest."
Shepard sighed and settled on the foot of her rumpled bed. "Have a seat, Thane," she said, gesturing at the couch. "What can I help you with?"
Thane blinked at her, momentarily spellbound by the sight of her unbound hair. The free-flowing strands were nothing new to Thane, but the black fire floating around Shepard's face brought the sunrise of Kahje to mind. Those first streaks of crimson across a midnight sky when all the world was silent, and the Gods spoke in the spaces between breaths.
"Thane?" she prodded softly, running a hand through the locks that so captivated him, freeing him from their grasp.
"I came here hoping to get your advice on a matter." Thane admitted.
"Go ahead. I-"
She stopped as the alarm on the clock next to her bed went off. She rose from her position at the end of the bed and silenced it. Moving to the couch, she flashed him a smile as she leisurely began to reassemble her rifle, inspecting each piece carefully before sliding it into place. "I was about to get up anyway."
Thane watched for a moment before he spoke. "I have not been entirely honest with you, Shepard. I knew Kolyat was going to receive the package early before he actually acquired possession of it. On our first trip to the Citadel, I used the shore leave you granted us to update the package I left with the volus banker, Barla Von. It was then that I discovered the volus sent it off early and had already acquired the final payment he was to receive upon my death. I suspected at the time that he'd given me false reasons for the packages delivery, but I had no proof. I have recently come into possession of some, thanks to EDI."
"That sounds more like a confession." Shepard flicked an amused glance his way and fitted another piece into place. "What proof did she give you?" She asked into the quiet.
"A string of correspondence between Barla von and the volus who was holding the money in trust before my death. They agreed to split the funds between them and open the package to get at the secrets of the assassin Thane Krios. They hadn't yet cracked the encoding on it when I arrived, so they sent it off with the first-class mail, enabling them to claim that it had been shipped much earlier." Her movements were smooth and confident; the soft click as each piece slid into place a soothing jingle against his frayed nerves. Thane felt himself relaxing, settling deeper into the couch. What he wouldn't give to be able to spend the rest of his life just like this.
"What do you want to do about it?"
"That is what I wanted to discuss with you. Such betrayal is not to be borne, but it feels like the Gods might have led them to act out of greed to allow me this opportunity to reconnect with my son. To take the volus to task for following the will of the Gods would be wrong and ungrateful of me. I am unsure of which path to take. An uncommon situation for me."
Silence reigned while Shepard considered his words. Comforted by her presence, Thane felt himself slipping closer to the edge of sleep and he lacked the energy to fight it. He had spent the whole night working on freeing his scales, and was unable to sleep afterwards. Between the end of the molting process, and her soothing presence, he'd not felt so relaxed in years. Always there was the slight tension that meant he was watching for surprise attacks, even as he slept. But he was safe here.
"Why must there be only two options?" she asked finally, rousing him from his lethargy. "What about a third?"
"I cannot think of one," Thane rumbled, his eyes half-lidded as he watched her movements with lazy contentment. "Either they are called to task in order to pay for their betrayal, or they are not."
She smiled wickedly. "There is an ancient human three-pronged curse that I think works well here. 'May you live in interesting times. May you come to the attention of powerful people. May you find what you are looking for.'"
Thane looked at her with interest, fully awake now. "What do you suggest?"
"Well, I would call these times interesting, wouldn't you? Collectors, Protheans, geth, and - oh yeah - Reapers." She shrugged. "They've already got our attention. So all we need to do is make sure the find what they're looking for."
"They already have my money, S-Shepard." It was getting harder and harder not to call her Siha. "What are you thinking?"
"I dunno. Something about turning his information broker business against him. I'm sure we can come up with something."
Thane thought the idea over, excited by the possibilities it offered. "It has potential. I enjoy the idea of denying him his resources."
Shepard laughed at the rumble she could hear filling the room. "Do you do that often?" she asked, a hand to her chest.
"Almost always. Most of our emotions have accompanying guttural noises. It is possible to suppress them, but uncomfortable. I generally do not bother because only the Justicar and Officer Vakarian can hear the bulk of them. Samara assures me that she finds it soothing; we meditate together sometimes."
"Ohh, quality time with the Justicar. Should I be worried?" Shepard teased.
"Hardly," he rumbled, unable to fight the smirk that splayed across his face.
Shepard looked up from her work, her ears turning pink in a blush before she laughed nervously and dropped her eyes back onto the rifle.
"Well regardless," she said, after clearing her throat. "I'm glad that you're making friends, if nothing else."
"As am I. I have never traveled with companions long-term before. While irritating at times, it is certainly more enjoyable than spending all of my days alone."
"Irritataing are we?"
Shepard's head snapped up to his eyes at the tone he used, but she instantly relaxed when she saw the smile hovering around the edges of his lips. "You poor, poor soul. You must feel so put-upon."
He spread his hands out to the sides, wrists upwards, a flirtatious gesture he didn't attempt to hide. She wouldn't understand it. "I make no claims to the contrary. My life has been hard indeed." He looked off to the side, pretending to pull up a painful memory. "So many pretty women around, I don't know which to look at first." He slowly turned his head back, making sure she saw his eyes fall on her.
Shepard ducked her head back down, quickly finishing her rifle assembly, making an uncomfortable noise in the back of the throat that fascinated Thane. Such a gesture was akin to what a drell would do. Thane watched her nervous movements with amusement, her previously smooth gestures made staccato by the embarrassment. She gathered her weapons and brought them to the locker across the room that housed her still-green armor. When she moved to make the bed, he rose and assisted her, earning a small smile in gratitude.
"Thanks," she said. A soft smile decorated her bottom lip, charming him into brief silence.
"You are most welcome, Siha."
She blinked. "Siha?"
Thane rumbled his amusement, but kept his face bland. "Some other time, perhaps. I believe Gardner will be serving breakfast shortly." He held a hand out to her as he turned to leave. "Would you care to join me?"
Her face lit up with suppressed humor. "Join you to a meal on my ship? Sure. Why not?" She took his hand and allowed him to lead her to the door of her cabin, still dressed in her casual clothes. She separated from him there, releasing his hand with a gentle squeeze of her fingers. "Go on ahead; I'm going to get cleaned up."
"Of course. I will be waiting."
The elevator doors closed and the machinery began to hum around Thane as he considered the last few minutes. He had entered Shepard's cabin with the intent to speak to her about his troubles, his mood thoughtful and morose. He had left with only the barest hint of a plan, but with a smile on his lips and a bounce in his step.
Why was he fighting this -whatever this was - between them so hard? Would it not be better to grasp what gifts the Gods had given him? Shepard was not a woman to need protection, especially not from him. She knew him, knew his flaws and his weaknesses. If she should choose to join with him, what cause had he to object?
The humming stopped and Thane stepped out onto the Crew Deck, turning the corner into the Mess. "Good Morning, Mr. Gardner," he said to the ship's cook.
"G'mornin, Mr. Ser." Gardner said, waving a batter-coated spoon at Thane. "You're up early again."
Thane smiled and sauntered up to the kitchen island, perusing the foods available. "Drell sleep less than humans do, and I have always needed less sleep than the average drell." He glanced up at the cook, noting the tight shoulders and the shallow smile. "Have you heard from your niece, yet?"
The shoulders tightened some more, then released slightly enough that Thane barely caught it. "Not as yet, no. Cerberus assures me that Cypriss is not likely to be hit by the Collectors, but..."
"But they said the same thing about Ferris Fields."
Thane leaned over the counter and placed two fingers on the cook's forearm. "It has only been one week. Most shuttles would not be able to go from the relay to the colony in that time. Be patient."
"I know, I know. It's just-" The sound of the elevator's doors opening caused Gardner to immediately straighten up and plaster a big smile upon his face. "Good morning!" he sang.
"Good morning," Commander Shepard replied as she came around the corner, uniform crisply ironed and her hair in its perpetual bun. "What's the grub this morning?"
"Wonderful. I love your pancakes." Shepard approached and grabbed a plate, heaping a stack of three pancakes atop it. Thane watched on in amusement as she proceeded to slather it in butter and syrup.
"That just looks disgusting." Garrus said, approaching from around the corner.
"That would be because you have no taste." Shepard returned, choosing a seat at one of the tables.
Thane grabbed a selection of fruit and joined her, followed a few minutes later by Garrus with his own selection of foods.
Shepard eyed his food dubiously, taking in the purple substance with it's equally strange orange coating. "Nathak?"
Garrus laughed, his mandibles flaring wide. "Why is your first guess always nathak?"
She shrugged and took a bit of her pancake. "I figure the first time I don't is when you'll actually be eating it."
"Nope. Two more."
Garrus took a bite of the purple stuff, flicking the fingers of his left hand at her; turian body language for 'no'.
Shepard cocked her head to the side as she studied him, one of her elbows flaring out to the side.
The elevator door opened, and Tali came around the corner. "Oh, good. I haven't missed it. What number is she on?"
"Three." Thane supplied.
"Ohh, last chance, Shepard!" Tali retrieved a dextro food packet and settled at the table with it, attaching it to the in-port on the side of her suit. More crewmen trickled into the Mess, gathering plates of pancakes and settling at the tables to eat.
Shepard leaned back in her chair, and finished her meal in quiet contemplation as the volume in the mess slowly swelled. This morning, most of the crew seemed slow to get going, but Shepard didn't have the heart to condemn them for it. Besides, they weren't going to head into battle immediately. Speaking of... Shepard thought, lifting her head to scan the Mess.
"Hey, Joker!" she called over the rising din.
"Take us back to the Citadel when you get back up to the cockpit."
"Wha? Didn't we just come from there? I thought we were heading back out to the traverse." Joker spun in his seat to look at her, his pancakes abandoned for the moment.
Shepard shrugged. "Yeah. But I got a message from the Illusive Man this morning. He's got two new people he wants me to pick up. First is on the Citadel. Second is on Omega."
"Why are you dancing to his tune, again?" Tali asked in aggravation.
"Because he pays the bills. Most of the time he manages to shut up and stay out of my way. Besides," Shepard flushed slightly, her foot sliding to the side to rest against Thane's leg, "some of his suggestions actually turned out rather well."
Thane rumbled a contented sound at her tentative touch. So much good had come into his life since he had met Shepard. She brought him joy and contentment where before he had been only blank effort, moving towards a nebulous goal.
"You give up, Shepard?" Garrus taunted, his meal almost complete.
She snorted. "No. I knew from the start. Just didn't want to break your poor little heart by winning too fast."
Garrus snapped his teeth at her in a challenge.
She laughed and leaned back in her chair, cradling a cup of tea in her hands. She brought it slowly to her mouth, wiggling her eyebrows at him in an exaggerated manner. "Kiyorio."
Garrus' mouth dropped open comically, his mandibles sagging to the side. "God damn you and your knowing everything!" he laughed.
"I know," Shepard said with an air of smugness. "What I want to know is how you acquired the taste of such a bitter food. That's the fourth time this month you've eaten it."
Garrus grumbled and speared the last of his food, chewing it sulkily. "I might have had a strange partner in C-sec before I met you. She might have lived on one of the really poor colonies. She might have eaten it when she missed her family."
"And you might have eaten it with her so that she didn't feel so alone?" Shepard asked.
Garrus squirmed in his chair. "Maybe."
"You may look like a pointy rooster, but you're just a big space teddy-bear."
Author's Second Note: Many thanks to Roarkshop for her lovely plug. I feel so flattered! Also, to all you new readers: welcome to the party! I hope you aren't disappointed.
Roarkshop was kind enough to give this a quick look over, and as always thank you so much to my wonderful betas: BlackAquoKat and MindTwinMari for helping me clean this chapter up! This one's for you guys!