Chapter one.

Invisible Friends.

He sat by the window, an unapproachably morose figure, unmoving, enjoying the utter stillness. A casual observer may envy his peace, not privy to the constant turmoil inside. Only the white flash of the drell's inner eyelids across his large black orbs gave an indication he was not a strange emerald statue.

Thane blinked his outer eyelids and looked around the patient lounge of Huerta Memorial Hospital, feeling like a voyeur now that the large space was filled with more cots than chairs. Such was the number of civilian refugees who flooded in after an explosion shook the Citadel, adding yet more patients to a hospital already overfull with the war injured.

The Citadel didn't lay in ruins as badly as when Saren and his Geth had attacked, or when Cerberus had attempted to take the vast space station by force. The huge explosion up in the central ring had ripped a quarter of it open, large pieces toppling down with such force they ripped through wards and apartments as millions of tiny projectiles tore through flesh.

Thane slowly turned his head to look out of the huge window, not at the simulated blue sky filled with white puffy clouds, but at the planet they now orbited. Like everyone else he was still trying to get used to the sight of Earth after the Reapers had moved the Citadel. But the initial horror, fear and confusion among the Citadels population had quickly turned to joy as news spread of the war's end. Those who could, celebrated, others simply waited, like Thane.

The drell thrummed his unhappiness deep inside his chest, a sound which would have been audible only to another drell. Turning his eyes away from the view of

the planet above and the beautiful gardens, now scarred with debris below. He searched the room without really seeing anything. He wasn't 'people watching' the Commander had called it.

Red hair shimmers fire. Yet its soft cool touch through my fingers makes me…

Thane forced the memory away with more success than his fears. It had only been two days since the war came to an abrupt end and he had no way to tell if she had read his letter yet, if she even knew he was alive. Or even if she still lived. This thought pained him deeply. To have discovered himself blessed with more time in the world, only to have to spend his days visiting her grave... Perhaps that was a punishment from the Gods he might understand, in time. But to have broken his final promise, to not be waiting for her across the sea…

Thane reached for a memory of Kolyat.

"Father?" He whispers, his face a blur. I want to reach out but I no longer have a body. 'Why are you here?' I must ask, but no longer have a voice.

"Rest father," he tells me. The rest of his words lost to darkness.

Though it had been a great relief to discover Kolyat had not crossed the sea, Thane had not known how to deal with the revelation that he himself had somehow been snatched from the shores of his passing, to wake in the same bed he thought he had died in.

"I... put your name on the transplant list." Kolyat had nervously confessed.

Though he spoke his careful words as the adult Thane had come to know, Kolyat looked so much like the little boy chastised for doing something he knew was wrong. His explanation had been brief but thorough and Thane would be sure to give the Commander of C-Sec his thanks. Though for himself or just on his sons behalf, he wasn't yet sure.

"I'm sorry father," his eyes were so like Irika's, "for taking you away from your journey across the sea."

Thane smiled weakly "I doubt you will believe I was in no hurry. Only my body…"

Kolyat cut him off, "I'm not sorry for... trying for more time... with you."

It hadn't been an accusation, but Thanes heart stung none the less. Why would Kolyat give this gift to such an underserving drell so long absent in his life? He was full of gratitude for his son's actions, of course. Still, he wondered, why this strange twist of fate? Yet another, among so many, in the past couple of years.

For so long he had lived his life in a battle-sleep, stalking victims, studying them, learning their routines, until he was sure they were bad people. Then the silent kills, the credits he would collect, the next job.

He had taken many bad things out of this world. Kolyat was the only good thing he had added to it. But his son had been lost to him. Until Thane had been awoken by a warrior-angel. By then he had long accepted his impending death. At the end he had never wanted to live so much!

"What of the war?" He had asked the young drell, his voice a whisper after so many weeks of unuse. 'What of Shepard?' Had been the unspoken question.

Thane blinked, letting his recollections go for now as the lift doors opened to a small group of humans, none of them with red hair. An asari counselor smiled as she passed by, Thane barely returning the gesture as he turned back to his thoughts.

Something stopped him, disturbed him enough to snap his full attention to the patient lounge. No longer an impassive 'people watcher' Thane was now the tool of his training, an assassin, alert to his surroundings. His muscles, still weakened by his months of recovery, tensed. Nothing had changed around him, there was no danger he could perceive. But something was, odd…

He tasted the change in the air. A new scent yet surprisingly familiar. The drell understood seconds before the disembodied voice floated its surprise down to him.

"Thane Krios?"

He found the almost imperceptible telltale shimmer in the air and watched as the master thief de-cloaked. "I thought you had died!" Said Kasumi Goto, shock in her usually playful tone.

"I had," he stood to greet the human, "that is to say, I thought I had. Ms. Goto, it's a nice surprise to see you."

"Ditto!" She smiled, eyes shining from beneath her hood, "and I'm shocked to see the news of your death was greatly exaggerated. But I'm very pleased."

"Mark Twain." Thane smiled, remembering this was one of Kasumi's favorite ancient earth poets as he motioned for her to join him.

"Sort of," Kasumi shrugged as she sat, bringing her knees up under her chin.

Thane had not expected to make any friends among the crew of the Normandy. Indeed some had not approved of his presence on the team at all. This had not concerned him. Instead he simply anticipated a good death in battle during their suicidal run at the Collector base, rather than a slow death choking in a hospital bed. Of course his Siha had changed this attitude towards his life and death, so very much.

He had bonded with Kasumi partly over a shared understanding of loss and the need to remember those loved ones no longer alive. Without the drell ability to recollect everything perfectly, he could understand why Kasumi wanted to keep the Grey Box Keiji had left to her. Also she, like Thane, was a master of battlefield stealth, a skill neither of them felt Shepard's gung ho attitude, as Kasumi had described it, was ever likely to give way to. If diplomacy wasn't an option Commander Shepard would charge in, guns and biotics blazing. Thane had adapted faster to their leaders style, to fight more fluidly at her side than Kasumi, who preferred to cloak and circle around behind the enemy. Twice she had suddenly appeared in his scope, killing Thane's target with a biotic punch to the spine before the drell could shoot.

He had to ask, "Have you heard from Shepard?"

"Three days ago, just a quick chat after she got to Earth. Mordin and I were working on the Crucible project. You know about that right? I see it's all over the news." She grinned.

"She was on Earth?" Thane's eyes snapped to the planet outside. So close! This revelation, both terrifying for what his warrior angel must have faced and uplifting to discover Siha was not stranded beyond the broken Mass Effect Relays. It brought a crushing disappointment as well. Three days ago, the same day he had finally sent his message. Likely too late.

Gods!

Thane had agonized over the words for far too long, not realizing how close the war was to its end. After too many weeks already gone to surgeries and long sleeps, Thane found himself unable to suddenly announce 'I am alive' to someone who's heart he had watched silently break. Saying her final goodbye to him as he lay on his deathbed. It was a memory he refused to even contemplate. So how could he selfishly distract her from the war she was desperately fighting on behalf of so many? Bringing even more chaos into her life on the eve of the greatest battle for survival the Galaxy had ever seen.

If Thane felt he could have been any use to his Siha he would have taken his gun case and marched out of the hospital, tracked down the Normandy and told her in person. Alas he was not fit enough then to have been anything but a burden to her. Plus there was Kolyat. How could he leave his son, yet again, for another mission he may never return from?

Thane needed to tell her, warn her, he could not fulfill his promise. That instead he would be awaiting her not across the sea, but in the usual place, where she had visited him as often as she could during the war and where he now held vigil.

If she had gone across the sea, only to find herself alone… It broke his heart.

"Do you think she lived?" Thane was almost afraid of the direct answer he knew Kasumi would give.

"It's Shep!" She looked at the drell pointedly. "Being dead for two years didn't slow her down, I'm sure the Reapers didn't either."

Thane nodded, clinging to the humans hope as he barely acknowledged his own.

"So what gives Thane?" Kasumi asked, eager to have her curiosity sated over his continuing existence.

Thane sat forward, arching his broad snake like torso to place his elbows on his knees and cup his hands together. "You recall my trepidations over Kolyat's desires to allow me into his life again, during those weeks after Shepard had, reunited us?"

"Of course," Kasumi nodded.

"He had been... so angry. At first, I often feared he wouldn't reply to my messages, or see me when the Normandy docked at the Citadel."

"But he always did!" She smiled.

"Yes. In fact, Kolyat was doing much more on my behalf than I realized. He forged my signature onto the lung transplant list."

Kasumi sat forwards, hands on her knees. "He hacked into your medical records? Wow!" She was clearly impressed.

"He had help." Thane admitted. "He, ah, was found out."

"Oh?"

"It was just days after Shepard had told him I had Kepral's Syndrome and probably only had months left, a year at best. Kolyat thought his new found access to C-Sec could get him into my medical files. But he set off alarms and was swiftly discovered. However, upon his immediate confession and explanation why he had nearly started a minor diplomatic incident between the hanar and C-Sec, er, someone put him in touch with an expert hacker."

"Oh, he should have come to me!" Kasumi smirked, "and, someone..? Bailey right?"

Thane didn't need to confirm this so he continued, "Perhaps I should have known something was going on, when Kolyat questioned me over my refusal to place my name on the transplant list. I told him I had been in battle-sleep and now faced a regret I couldn't have foreseen. But even at that point there were still others more deserving than I and I did not wish to risk clinging to life on a machine, in the hope new lungs would not be wasted on a body too ravaged with Kepral's to appreciate them. Kolyat simply told me he understood and kept his silence. Perhaps if I had known him better…"

Thane shrugged, again looking around the patient lounge without really seeing anything. If need be he could review his memory later. "So I... said my goodbyes and awoke in my deathbed to memories perfectly recalled but utterly confusing. Memories of those times I had briefly woken between operations to remove lesions from inside my body, caused by my disease, or to repair the damaged organs. I believe Kolyat had all but given up hope by the time he was able to make medical decisions for me."

"You did want to live, didn't you?"

"Oh, I did!" Thane said firmly. "By then, yes, I had much to live for. But I, I had perhaps sunk back into a different kind of battle-sleep after Shepard was arrested. I didn't know if I would ever see her again and Kolyat, my time with him had already been such a blessing. He seemed, at peace with my inevitable crossing. I had no desire to put him through a potentially false hope."

Kasumi's tight smile gave away the sympathetic emotions she felt and she nodded. As if in understanding or for Thane to go on he didn't know, but he continued. "The doctors had warned Kolyat it may still be too late. That it was probably hopeless even if new lungs did become available. And with the war, well, transporting them was likely to be an issue anyway. But he had my body placed on life support and sustained me with his own blood, donating as often as the doctors would allow. Trying to give back to me what had been taken in my fight with, Kai Lang." Thane rumbled the name, his face darkening.

"Oh yes, I'd heard about that." Kasumi nodded. "You know he's dead now, right?"

"Kai Lang?"

The little oriental grinned. "Yes, Shep got him."

"She... did?" A slow smile spread across his lips.

"I believe Garrus was there and James Vega, you know him?"

"Only by name. Shepard thought him a good soldier."

"I've never met him, either," she waved a hand, "anyway, go on."

Pushing away his desire to know more about the death of Kai Lang, Kasumi was bound to know the details, Thane sat up, hands on his thighs. "Well, my body, heeled." It still surprised him. "It took my body time to accept the new lungs and with much to repair I hovered in limbo for many weeks. They couldn't know if my brain had been damaged, if the Kepral's had been curbed in time. So Kolyat endured a long wait to find out not only if my body would survive, but if I was still, intact."

"Well you seem pretty intact to me," Kasumi offered playfully. Her omni-tool buzzed and after she sent a quick message she turned back to Thane. "So, your cured?"

The drell considered his words, "No, there is no cure for Kepral's. But with much of the damage removed from my body and the current therapy I am on, I am likely to die of old age before the disease can advance to the point of becoming debilitating again."

"Even in a human environment?"

"I will of course try to avoid the most humid of environments, as do all drells. But my form of Kepral's is very slow. After they discharge me I will continue with the drug therapy and be monitored regularly. I can reasonably expect to live a long life, especially with the new advances against this disease being made by the hanar."

"Wow. I suppose you don't have to worry if Kolyat wants you around or not anymore, eh?"

Thane smiled. "So what about you, Kasumi? Quite some success with the Crucible. It ended the war?"

"Oh, yes. But I'll let Mordin tell you all about that. He's on his way here, now." She grinned.

"He is?"

"We'll be on the Citadel until we're called back to the science teams. There's some big plans to fix the relays, should be exciting."

"I hope it proves successful," Thane offered. Standing to stretch he turned to look at Earth, wondering how he might secure passage there and if the Gods would help lead him to his Siha. As he looked down upon a Keeper working at its station far below, impervious to the devastation around it, he remembered:

She looks down. A playful smile. "They look like grasshoppers from here." I turn to ask 'grasshoppers?' But her eyes still me, the weight of the sadness they carry. The weight of my illness as heavy on her heart as in my lungs. I am shamed by the pain I cause her.

Turning his back to the window and on this memory Thane asked, "So what brings you to the hospital Kasumi?"

"Oh, I was just looking around the Citadel. Y'know, visiting a few old haunts to see who might be around, and I found you!"

"Thane Krios!" Exclaimed the staccato voice of Mordin Solus as he scuttled out of the lift and moved towards them, lifting his arms wide.

For one horrifying moment Thane thought the professor might hug him and a sudden memory gripped him.

I explain the drell ability of perfect memory recall. The touch of her hand on my arm sends shivers across my scales. A teasing laugh. "Ok how about this for an image to remember?" A wide grin pulls at the small scar on her chin. "Mordin naked!"

"I'd, rather not." I say, my words tight as I fail to fully comprehend human humor, playing along I say, "However, now it's there, the image will remain forever with me. Thank you Shepard."

She laughs into my shoulder.

Thane smiled widely at this recollection as Mordin dropped his arms. Inwardly the drell was grimacing, though only at a suggestion, not an actual memory of a naked salarian. In truth Thane didn't know what salarians looked like without their clothes on and it was knowledge he could live without.

Mordin took in a deep breath through his nostrils as he appraised Thane. "Skin tone, good. Posture, relaxed. Crest, healthy. Breathing… excellent!" The Salarian pulled his thin lips up into a curved smile. "Good to see you."

"I am pleased to see you, too, are well professor." Thane offered, trying not to remember Mordin advising him on human/drell sexual positions.

"Indeed. Crucible, success! Still not entirely sure how. Will need study." Mordin bobbed his head up and down in a nod.

Thane settled next to Kasumi again while the professor paced for a while, telling them about his work on the weapon which would become the Reapers downfall. Its difficulties, its breakthroughs. The awful wait at the end when it didn't seem to work, the relief when it suddenly and violently sprang to life and the subsequent celebration among all the science teams at their success.

"Reapers, dead!" Morden finished in his matter of fact tone, clearly delighted.

"The galaxy thanks you," Thane offered with sincerity as the Salarian pulled up a chair to huddle conspiratorially with his companions.

"Just us?" Mordin asked. "Not seen Shepard yet?"

"No," Kasumi shook her head, "I expect she is still on Earth. Getting between there and the Citadel is hell right now with so many people trying to travel. It's priority only."

Thane was about to suggest Shepard would probably be considered priority if she were to seek passage to the Citadel, but Mordin stunned him with his next words.

"Shepard, not on Earth. No, believe she is, here. On the Citadel."

"Mordin?" Kasumi tilted her head. "Are you sure?"

The salarian nodded and Thane wondered if they could hear his hammering heart. "Where?" He demanded.

"Unsure." Mordin frowned. "Just before the Crucible came on line, heard Shepard's voice. Nothing more to do you see. Had to wait, did all we could."

Thane allowed Mordin to twitter on for a short time but his patience quickly failed him and he cut the Salarian off with a deep rumbled, "You have news of Shepard, professor?"

"Yes Mordin." Kasumi agreed. "Get to the good bit!"

"Good bit? Ah, yes." Mordin took in one of his slow dramatic breaths and only by sheer willpower did Thane not reach out to grab the salarian by his one remaining cranial horn to shake him. Be it due to the humans encouraging stare or the drells murderous glare, Morden took the hint and continued, announcing brightly, "Heard Shepard's voice! Listened to comm chatter. Wasn't very clear, words difficult to make out but, her last known whereabouts, Citadel! Anderson also."

Thane could hardly breathe as Mordin explained why it was believed Admiral Anderson and Shepard had made it to the Citadel to open the arms of the space station so the Crucible could dock, shortly before it finally burst into life and cut all comms.

"But, where are they? Gods, the explosion! Perhaps she has been, injured?"

Kasumi shook her head, "I can't see it. If anything like that had happened Hackett would already know and what Hackett knows," she grinned, "I know."

"Hackett is updating you?" Thane asked.

"In a roundabout way," Kasumi smirked with a shrug, alluding to her hacking skills. "Believe me, as soon as there's news on Shep, he'll tell us himself."

Thane rumbled, "I do not know him. We shook hands briefly once, on the Normandy, but we did not speak."

"Oh, he knows you Thane," Kasumi assured. "You don't survive a suicide mission and stop the Collectors from abducting human colonists without getting noticed by Alliance brass. They wouldn't have employed a little oriental with a penchant for kleptomania to work on such a sensitive project like the Crucible if it hadn't been for my time with Shep now would they?"

"True." Mordin nodded.

"We need to find her." Thane quietly insisted, his fear and confusion at war with the hope growing inside of him.

Mordin sucked in another slow deep breath.

Mess hall. Crockery, food and boisterous conversation passed around. My senses overwhelmed, I crave the quiet solitude of life support, but wish to fulfill her desire to become part of the team. Her shoulder presses against mine as she shouts across the table, "Hey Mordin!" Trying to catch the salarian's attention as he speaks with Tali and Samara.

I inwardly wince at the sharp tone of Jack yelling "Fuck off, Joker!" Garrus and Zaeed loudly compete over who is the better shot. Kasumi throws a sympathetic look at Grunt who complains about the food to no one in particular. Miranda watches quietly, a faraway smile on her lips. Mordin chatters on between slow ponderous breaths.

"Hey Mordin!"

He smiles at the Commander whose laughing voice hushes the din briefly. "Are you by any chance related to the volus?" A tide of laughter to Mordin's blank stare.

"Yes." Mordin agreed. "Would like to see Shepard, again."

Despite the circumstances Thane had to fight against the small smile at his memory.

Kasumi sighed. "Not an awful lot we can do right now. Half the comms are down, getting in touch with anyone is going to be difficult for a while."

His mirth gone, Thane balled his fists in frustration.

"Well," Mordin offered looking around. "Best place to wait. Er, assuming you and Shepard are still, ah...?"

"Together?" Asked Thane.

The salarian nodded, enthusiastically. Mordin had observed the developing relationship between Thane and their Commander almost before the drell himself had fully realized his feelings towards her. Then the professor had promptly taken all the romance out of it by insisting Thane read up on drell/human intimate relations. It had been an uncomfortable conversation, at least for Thane. He didn't find the subject taboo or embarrassing, he simply had no idea if Shepard even felt anything for him and, as a dying man, Thane had no intention of trying to find out.

Even now the drell's crest flushed at the memory, the small ridges on his cheeks and throat warming slightly. Not that he could fault Mordin for his skills of observation, especially as he didn't come out of his lab that often. Ultimately Thane had been pleased to discover his budding friendship with the human female had so much more potential.

Softly trembling hands, so small and pale in mine. Warm on my cheek. Her thumb gently brushes away my tears, my, shame. Her strength fills me. Her touch calms me. Her words move me. "Be alive with me tonight."'

Forcing the memory away with a rumble of pain inaudible to his companions ears, Thane admitted to Mordin why it was unlikely Shepard even knew he was alive, finishing with an angry, "I could have written sooner. I should have."

The professor was nodding. "But, understandable." He stated.

Thane felt a sudden need to be alone. The shocking news his old teammates had brought and with it a confusion of hope, frustration and despair, on top of the constant memories he struggled to keep at bay, gave him a deep need for solitude. Some peace to review his latest memories and perhaps come up with a solution to finding his Siha.

He stood abruptly, forcing Kasumi to look up in surprise and Mordin to look behind him to see what may have stirred Thane so suddenly. "My apologies Professor, Kasumi," Thane said calmly. "Kolyat will be downstairs to visit my room soon. Could we meet again in the morning?"

"I'll be early," Promised Kasumi with a smile as she jumped up, "and listen, don't worry about Shep. I know it's hard, but I'm sure we'll hear from her soon."

Mordin was also on his feet. "Agreed."

Thane nodded, offered them a smile of gratitude and left them with his partial truth. Kolyat would visit, but not until later, after finishing his shift at C-Sec. Thane had plenty of time to order his thoughts. But first he would give himself over to the few comforting, precious memories he had made of his time with Siha.

The irony of finding himself so alive yet faced with the devastating possibility she may be dead was unbearable. But the witty observationalist and the brilliant scientist had given Thane some hope to cling to. Siha was so much closer than he had dared imagine. With the Normandy reported as missing on the Alliance News Network he felt fated to a long vigil before any information might be forthcoming. Now with Siha being on Earth, or perhaps even closer still, right here on the Citadel… What did it mean?

As Thane made his way down to his room the constant confusion of emotions warred in his soul. He retreated, already filtering through his most cherished memories. He already knew which one he would begin with. As always, the first.

It was to have been his last job. He was to take one more bad thing from this world. Then he fully expected to be gunned down by Nassana's guards in his attempt to escape Dantius Towers. It would be an acceptable death.

He heard the sounds of gunfire behind him. Had Nassana's thugs found the salarian workers he had locked in a room before pushing on? The assassin wanted to get to his target as quickly as possible, but he also needed to know if he had failed those innocent salarians. Swiftly, Thane returned to the building's ventilation ducts, dropping silently into a crouch onto some temporary scaffolding.

He observed a trio of people below, hacking the door of the salarian refuge and trained the sight of his rifle on the head of the human female in the center. Clearly they weren't Nassana's mercs and Thane trusted his instincts. He waited with his finger tightly curled around the rifles trigger, even as the door whipped open and the three newcomers trained their weapons on the terrified workers inside.

They were a strange trio. A small human female, almost hairless and whose only body covering from the waist up consisted of little more than tattoos, and a turian in military issue armor which had seen better days. Both deferred to the human whose modified N7 armor was as red as her hair and, she was asking about an assassin?

That was... unexpected. Were they here to kill him? Thane didn't suspect the paranoid Nassana Dantius, a cruel, twisted, evil asari who's paranoia over believing one of her sisters would attempt to kill her made her cloister herself among a small army of mercs, knew of his presence. Though he had plenty of enemies to choose from, it wasn't possible any of them knew his whereabouts. The only person who did was Seryna who helped him reach the towers and aside from being trustworthy, there wasn't time for her to warn anyone who could have sent people here so quickly. But clearly, someone was looking for him.

Watching through his scope Thane was pleased to note the salarians being allowed to go on their way unharmed. He relaxed his trigger finger as one of them said, "Thank you, and tell your assassin to aim for her head, 'cos she doesn't have a heart!"

Whoever this group was they had dispatched Nassana's Eclipse Mercs and given the innocents a clear path of escape.

The red head turned around to watch the salarians leave.

Gods! It can't be?

What would Alliance star Commander Shepard have been doing for the last two years so secret they had to declare their first human Spectre dead? And how was her reason for coming out of such deep cover connected to him?

Perhaps there would be an opportunity to find out before he killed her? Thane dismissed that thought immediately, what was he thinking? He would simply let the commander kill him, at least die tonight by an honorable hand. Assuming his death was on her mind. She had taken down a lot of mercs to get this far, only to end his insignificant existence? This made no sense.

Thane frowned as Shepard hit the call button by the lift. There was a reason he avoided the lifts and stairwells. Did she not realize it was a perfect site for an ambush? She did, of course she did. Moving into cover, the team dispatched a volley of biotics and weapons fire so powerful only the krogan made it a few steps out of the lift before falling on his hump.

Impressive. Not the way he would have done it, but still.

Thane waited until they dragged the bodies out of the way and entered the lift. As soon as the doors closed he sprang up, back into the ducts, leaving Shepard and her team to their comfortable ascent.

Intrigued as he was by this unexpected twist, Thane realized he needed to get to Nassana's penthouse before they did. At least they would provide a welcome diversion by keeping the Eclipse thugs busy so he could finish this job.

He saw them again on the bridge between the two towers, exposed by a dangerous wind and facing several mercs, plus the security turrets. The three were pushing forward much faster than he anticipated. By the time Thane reached the junction that would take him right over the suite of Nassana Dantius,

Shepard had already arrived.

"Shepard," he heard Nassana remark, "but, your dead!"

"I got better."

Gods! Nearly out of time!

Thane chose speed over stealth, only pausing above Nassana's thugs for the second it took to note their positions and only one of the guards appeared to have heard his approach. It seemed to have simply unnerved her.

He dropped with no sound, noted the surprise on Shepard's face, stepped up behind a guard, snapped his neck, his gun taken and used to kill his colleague before his body even hit the floor. Thane's fluid, graceful violence continued as he stepped to Nassana, his hand cupped behind her neck, a final shot. He dropped the gun to lower her gently onto her back, his cheek against hers as her life left her body. Thane placed her hands together before stepping back.

It was done.

The assassin brought his hands together in prayer, for the soul of Nassana Dantius and for his own. Then he waited.

It was the turian who spoke first, "Impressive. You certainly know how to make an entrance."

For all the blood she had spilled on her journey to meet him, the Commander's words were surprisingly tentative and Thane found himself revealing more about his personal situation during that brief conversation than he would have intended.

They shook hands, a very human gesture that did not normally come naturally to him.

Thane followed Jack, Garrus and Commander Shepard back to the Normandy, wondering why the Gods had guided him successfully through his last job, only to bring him a new employer. One who was as intriguing as her promise of a suicide mission.

"Any news on the Normandy yet?" Admiral Steven Hackett snapped more than he intended. He had been operating on nothing but the newly developed non-addictive stims and copious amounts of coffee instead of sleep for too many days.

He received a shake of an operatives head from across his war room. Well that was something. The SR2 hadn't been found among the billion pieces of debris floating thickly around planet Earth, which the science ships had begun sweeping just hours after the epic space battle had ended, not yet anyway.

The war room had been a calmly frenzied hub of efficiency when the Reapers had been their biggest threat. Now it was a chaotic mess of stressed personnel surrounded by busy terminals and pads of lists. Lists for everything. Medical supplies, transport, rescue sites, burial sites, accommodation for the displaced and those now trapped in the Sol system, food and clean water, lists of the surviving ships, the damaged, the lost and the ever growing lists of missing civilians, troops MIA, the wounded, the dead, it went on and on.

Then there was the urgency over repairing the mass relay, possibly all of them, to try and re-connect the galaxy and get people home, those who still had homes left to return to. As well as confirm all the reapers in the other systems were also dead. One war had ended and without pause another had begun. This was the truth of victory.

Hackett sighed wearily, looking out across space at the Citadel, dwarfed by the planet below. Like Earth the space station had been scarred, but still teemed with life. He wanted to ask if there had been any word on Commander Shepard or Admiral Anderson, but he didn't have the energy to repeat the same futile question, yet again. The same question many people had contacted him to ask over the last couple of days.

Only one name of Shepard's team had come up so far. Tali'Zorah vas Normandy. He had personally transferred the quarian's name from the list of MIA to that of the confirmed dead and contacted what was left of the Migrant Fleet just a few hours ago. The Admiral hadn't really known Tali but Shepard had considered her a fine soldier and good friend, an asset to the Normandy crew. The Commander had always been fiercely protective of her people, despite her willingness to throw them into suicidal danger. Or lead them into actual suicide missions, only to bring them all back out again. Against the odds, that was Shepard. She went up against the odds and beat them every time. Hackett could only hope this time would be no different.

He had always admired the woman, as an exceptional soldier and later as an excellent Commander. He wasn't surprised when she became the first human Spectre, only to be swiftly thrown into command of the Normandy the same day. The much respected Captain Anderson stepped aside so she could go after the rogue Spectre, Saren. That must have been tough, for both of them. Anderson had a soft spot for his old XO and the more Hackett came into contact with Shepard the more he could see why.

"Admiral?" The operative had seemingly snuck up on him, startling Hackett. Not that he showed his surprise as he calmly turned towards the young woman. He knew the news was bad by her ashen face as she handed over a pad. "Commander Bailey from Citadel C-Sec asked you be informed straight away, sir."

After Hackett read the brief message he wanted to throw the pad across the war room. Instead he sighed deeply and plodded back to his office to contact Kahlee Sanders in person.

A gasp. A painful breath. An eye opened, the other forced closed by swollen trauma. She looked into darkness ringed with grey, feeling nothing, hearing nothing.

Am I looking up?

Her first thought was almost too complex to fathom its meaning.

Suddenly the void was filled with agony. Deep explosions of pain ripped up her arm, across her shoulders, down her back. Another gasp brought more pain, this time across her chest. It felt like she was being crushed.

Don't puke, you'll choke.

Instinct stopped her from trying to move her left hand and her agonized breaths subsided into slow gurgles.

Hell my breathing sounds worse than Thane's did right at the end.

She remembered something else bad. Something vague, some connection with death. Someone else's death. Someone else she loved. Who..?

Then it hit her and the low keening sound of grief was barely audible. She remembered the charge to the conduit. Harbinger carving up everything and everyone as Earth seemed to explode around them. How Garrus had been lifted off his feet, then thrown to the ground in a crushing blow, sprawling into a crumpled heap. She wanted to go to him but the world went dark and then there was no time. No time!

No tears dammit. Can't waste the fluid.

She was so thirsty.

Gritting her teeth against the pain she moved the fingers of her right hand. Her heart hammering in her chest brought a dim awareness something was very wrong in there. It felt like she was impaled on something, as if a red hot husk spike had been forced into her back, all the way through her ribcage and out the other side. Ignoring this for now, she lifted her hand at the wrist, her heavy arm at the elbow. It was like trying to move through dense treacle. But she could move this arm at least, its leaden ache bearable.

She dragged her eye down slowly, then her head. Sharp tendrils of pain shot down across her neck and down into her torso, but she forced her chin towards her chest. Only able to lift her head for a second, but it was enough to see the legs she couldn't feel.

Victory turned to frustration when she found herself barely able to haul her hand onto her stomach. Her right leg, moved, but it produced pinpricks of sweat across her brow at the sudden nauseating pain in her knee. She would have screamed if she'd had the voice. She tried to dig her heel into the floor and roll onto her left side. Desperate to bring her omni-tool closer to her left hand, she pushed harder. But the white hot knives in her chest forced her to give up, the air in her lungs seemingly squeezed out of her and she couldn't take in another breath.

She fell onto her back again, her momentary terror stilled by a short rattling gasp. Mercifully she passed out, her hand sliding off her body with a flop.