(Author's Note: So, this is my collection of Mass Effect one-shots! Expect lots of Thane/Shepard in here because it's awesome. You'll never hear my Shepard's first name (so readers can better relate), she's a Soldier, full paragon background, and has blue eyes - that's the only personal trait I'll mention because green-eyed redheads are just too darn cliche.

A wonderful thing happened when I wrote this - the story started growing on its own and ended up twice as long as I had anticipated. I started this thinking I wouldn't put any sugar in it and well, the characters demanded more screen time. I hope you brush your teeth!)

Dancing Lessons

Thane was in the middle of composing a message to his son when he became aware of an unfamiliar sound that kept repeating intermittently. Normally this wasn't a problem - he'd learned to block out all distractions when very young in order to make the perfect shot. The problem was, every time it drew his attention away from the absorbing task at hand, it would stop.

This kept on for the better part of an hour until, at last, it was so distracting he halted his work and froze. One second he was typing out a message to Kolyat and the next he'd stopped all movement entirely. It took a great deal of training and control to just completely freeze the way he did, but it had become second nature long ago. If anyone walked into the room at that moment, they might have thought he'd been replaced by a very realistic statue. His breathing slowed as to be imperceptible, and he subconsciously schooled his heart to slow, slow, making the rushing of blood in his ears diminish.

He paused, hands hovering above the holo keyboard, head cocked to the side as he strained to hear.

Silence.

With a patience learned over a lifetime of hunting the most advanced species in the galaxy, he waited.

Thump-thump-thump, thump-thump-thump, thump-

Now he heard raised voices, definitely coming somewhere to the right of his position. That would be the port observation deck, which Kasumi had adopted as her quarters. Goto's voice he recognized easily - though she was easily the stealthiest person he'd ever known, she didn't know how to hide some aspects of her presence. One time she'd snuck into Life Support right behind him. Thanks to the treatment he'd had on his eyes, he could 'see' the very faint gamma signature put off by her stealth gear as a silvery haze. He had stared at her for several minutes before she finally left. Ever since then it'd been something of a game for her, trying to sneak around him without being detected. She had yet to succeed.

The other voice was unmistakably Shepard's, clearly in argument - he could hear the distressed harmonics in her voice.

Now this presented a baffling paradox. Shepard was the most calm, collected person he knew, capable of perfect control while still allowing sincere compassion. No matter what actions duty might call upon her, no matter what odds she faced, she never lost the supreme confidence defining of her character. She was always comfortably friendly with everyone on the ship and several times he'd nearly forgotten she was one of the deadliest people in the galaxy and a daunting force to be reckoned with.

But never, ever, did he think to hear her in distress. From what he understood, she'd never lost her composure, even when the deck-plates of the first Normandy were crumbling beneath her. Whatever had her in such distress that he could hear it from here, through several feet of armored steel, must be dire.

He had to investigate.

In a few swift strides, he had left Life Support and was approaching the port observation deck, keeping his footsteps light and silent. Yes, he could definitely hear their voices clearer now, but the armored door made exact speech indecipherable.

Without hesitation, he keyed open the door and stepped inside - if Shepard was facing conflict with Kasumi, he had to back her up. He owed her too much to do anything less. So, without announcing himself, he stepped inside the port observation deck and found himself in a situation he did not expect.

Kasumi and Shepard were... dare he say it?... embracing? No, that wasn't quite right. They were standing close together, Shepard with her left hand uncomfortably touching Kasumi's right shoulder, and her other hand clasped in Kasumi's right. The thief had her other hand on Shepard's back, and there was too much space between their bodies for it to be an embrace.

The thump thump thump he'd heard earlier issued from the speakers around the bar, a droning beat with no musical accompaniment. The two women were arguing hotly about something - all Thane caught was something about "these stupid heels" - and stopped when he entered.

Shepard's eyes widened at the sight of him. "Oh thank god. Thane, save me."

Thane opened his mouth to say something when he fully took in the rest of the scene.

Shepard, the destroyer of Reapers, savior of the Citadel, protector of the Council... was wearing a little black dress. And makeup. And her hair was down. And she was wearing high heels.

He was stunned.

That in itself was something worth note.

What truly surprised him is how good it looked on her. She didn't look like the Commander anymore. In fact, she looked more like... well, like Shepard the person, the woman, not a military figure on recruitment posters.

Belatedly, he realized he'd been standing there with his mouth hanging open in surprise. This lapse, though very brief, was unbecoming. He cleared his throat and fell into a ready stance with his hands clasped behind his back. "I'm sorry, I didn't mean to intrude. I heard raised voices and thought something might be amiss."

"Actually," said Kasumi, "You're timing is just right. This wasn't working out anyway. Maybe you can help." Though her hood shadowed most of her face and her voice held its usual playful flippancy, he could practically smell the smug satisfaction coming from her.

"I'm afraid I do not follow your meaning."

Shepard sighed, a frustrated expression crossing her face. "She's teaching me how to dance."

Oh.

That explained quite a bit.

Ever tactful, he simply said, "I see. For what purpose, if I may ask?"

"Kasumi here needs to get back some property her partner left her before he died," Shepard said quickly. "It's being held in a vault owned by a powerful businessman who's throwing a high-end party. We're to inflitrate the party, crack the vault, and steal it back."

"Except," Kasumi added brightly, "She has absolutely no idea how to dance. She's supposed to be a leader of an elite mercenary band! If they see her doing that swaying thing she does, it'll completely blow our cover."

Thane nodded. "I see. And how long have you been doing this?"

"Three. Hours," said Shepard through gritted teeth. "We'll arrive at Bekenstien in another two."

"I can see how that would be problematic. If you like, I can summon Mr. Gardner to assist you."

"The cook?" spluttered Kasumi

"He is a very good dancer," Thane said, unperturbed by their stunned looks. "A few days ago, he and several others were dancing when Engineer Donnelly started playing his bagpipes one evening."

This was met with a thoughtful, stunned silence.

"I shall get him for you." The door slid open before him as he turned to leave.

"Oh no you don't!" A powerful yank on the back of his jacket prevented his foot from touching the hallway floor and, unbalanced, he started to stumble backwards. Kasumi deftly averted his fall by grabbing his arm and putting her weight against his, making him roll off the pivot she'd made of her shoulder. He reeled around the slight thief - who knew how to make very effective use of momentum and weight - and ended up in front of Shepard, who glared at him.

"Thane Krios," she said in a voice usually reserved for thresher maws and politicians, "I am suffering enough humiliation at the hands of this kleptomaniac as is. I would prefer to not to feed the rumor mill with this newest disaster of my life, thank you."

He couldn't help but smile slightly at that. Shepard's dancing skills - and the complete lack thereof - were legendary. He gave a short bow in acquiescence. "Of course, siha. I will say nothing."

"Oh, your silence doesn't have me concerned." Shepard crossed her arms over her chest - which the dress flattered rather nicely - and assumed what he'd come to recognize as her amused-defiant pose, weight balanced on one leg, hip slightly shot to one side. "You're the only person I trust on this ship to keep his mouth shut. It's everyone else I'm worried about."

"Even EDI?"

The narrowing of her eyes answered that question for him.

Kasumi clapped her hands, rubbing her palms together in a decidedly malevolent, scheming manner. "Right! So the only option is for you two to dance together."

"What?" Thane and Shepard chorused.

"I'm afraid I know very little in the way of human dancing," Thane said quickly, masking his nervousness. He cared a great deal for Shepard but dancing... could be very intimate and he didn't wish to jeopardize their growing relationship with awkwardness. Throw in some inter-species fumbling and they were both bound to be embarrassed.

Kasumi merely waved his explanation away as she moved toward the sound system behind the bar. "I'm sure you can manage, it's all about rhythm anyway. Just put your amazing assassin reflexes to good use. Besides, the real problem is that Ms. Spectre here is constantly trying to lead, no matter how many times I step on her toes. Maybe she'll behave herself with a big strong drell to twirl her around." She winked at the last part, her wicked grin plain to see.

Shepard took a step forward, one hand drifting to an absent sidearm. Thane, quite amused, noted that she was blushing. "Kasumi-" she began hotly, but her threat went incomplete.

The high heels she was balancing on so precariously wobbled dangerously and her leading foot slipped right out from underneath her, pitching her to one side. Automatically, he grabbed her and she clung to him for support. Her right arm flew out and wrapped around his left shoulder as he held her up with both hands. She snarled something that didn't translate as her heels kept sliding away on the slippery floor, forcing her to hang onto him entirely or else fall down in an undignified heap.

When her feet had finally found purchase again, they were in a half-embrace and standing very, very close. Shepard looked up and their eyes locked for a moment. Thane saw something move deep inside as her pupils dilated. She quickly glanced away, scowling at the grinning Kasumi. "At least let me take off these damn heels."

"No can do, Commander," chirped the thief. "You'll have to learn with them on, do or die. And look, you guys are halfway to dancing already!"

"At this rate, someone is likely to die," Shepard muttered sourly. Thane chuckled.

"I am not opposed to learning." He smiled gently when Shepard glanced at him, and she gave him a quiet smile of her own. Then she sighed and took a step back, out of their accidental embrace, though her hands lingered on his own. She made a sweeping gesture to encompass the two of them.

"Alright, show me how to stand again."

"It's really easy, Shep," Kasumi began. Something in her tone made Thane think she'd often repeated these words. "It's only the simplest dance you can learn, other than a foxtrot."

"And why am I not learning that?" Shepard asked, eying Kasumi suspiciously as the woman approached.

Kasumi snorted. "Because that's basic stuff, things kids learn the last five minutes before prom. No class at all. Now, put your left hand here." She grabbed the hand in question and put it on Thane's right shoulder. "Now Thane, raise your right hand and hold her left - good, but shift your fingers like you're cupping water. Good! Her hand should look like it's lightly resting on yours. Now, put your other hand on her back. No, lower. Lower. Just a little more - good!"

As Kasumi directed, he let his hand slide a short distance each time down Shepard's back until it came to rest above the small of her back. Each time he did, he felt the muscles along her back tighten and Shepard squirmed a little.

"Am I causing you discomfort, siha?" Perhaps he'd commuted some faux pas in his ignorance of human anatomy? Kasumi crouched by their feet to forcibly pick up and place their legs in the 'proper starting position.' Every now and then, she would adjust a hand or prod them in the side to make them shift their weight.

The soldier just shook her head and gave him a self-deprecating smile. "No, I'm just a little ticklish."

Ah, now that he could understand. While not nearly as sensitive as humans, asari, drell, and salarians were all ticklish to a degree. Like humans, some individuals were entirely impervious to tickling - he'd always assumed Shepard to be of that number. It was somehow charming to find otherwise. In fact, she seemed a little embarrassed to admit it.

"I am as well," he said. He spoke casually, as if Kasumi wasn't lifting his left foot to put into proper position. At Shepard's surprised look, he added, "I find I'm most susceptible at my ribs and the bottom of my feet. This is a highly classified secret though - I trust you understand."

She chuckled and winked. "Oh yes, very clear. Can't have your only weakness being known, now can we?"

He inclined his head slightly, smiling. It was refreshing to talk to someone who shared his brand of quiet humor. "Just so."

Kasumi straightened, apparently satisfied. "Alright! Now you're good to go, but you have to be closer."

Unsure of what she meant, they closed the distance between them a little. Rolling her eyes, Kasumi put a hand on each back and pushed so that they were firmly held together from hip to chest. "Closer, I said."

Even Thane felt a moment of awkwardness at such intimate contact and a glance down proved that Shepard was avoiding his gaze - and her cheeks had gone pink again. It was a fascinating phenomenon; he'd have to research what it meant. This close, he could smell the delicate perfume she was wearing, a beautiful and somehow familiar fragrance. It suited her perfectly.

Kasumi padded over to the bar, moving silently even without meaning to, and tapped in a song on the sound system. Again, the computerized beat began to thrum from the speakers in 3/4 time. Thump-thump-thump, thump-thump-thump, thump-thump-thump...

"Okay, so this is how it works," began Kasumi. "We'll start slow. Thane, you lead by turning toward your right and taking a short step forward. Shep, you turn to your left and follow his lead. It's a three-part beat, so no extra steps!" This last was said with a warning look at Shepard. "Watch me." Holding up her hands as if with an invisible partner, Kasumi gracefully twirled around the room in a few simple steps. "And that's it. Here, Thane, you can see what it looks like on this."

Holding up her omni-tool, Kasumi brought up a video of a couple at some dance competition, floating effortlessly across the dance floor. As it played, she gently counted out, "One - two - three, one - two - three, one..." with their movements.

"Ah, yes, I am familiar with that dance," Thane said, watching the video. "It is not dissimilar to a popular one among my own people. This..." the translator lagged on producing a pronunciation, "'Viennese Waltz' is slightly faster, and with a shorter beat, but it should be simple enough to adapt."

Kasumi grinned at him and clapped him on the shoulder. "Excellent! See, Shep, it's a good thing he came in, isn't it?"

"Hmm?" Shepard had been wistfully eyeing the drinks behind the bar. "Oh, yes, very lucky indeed."

It took a great deal of control to not laugh at the melange of frustration, exasperation and near-hopelessness that crossed Kasumi's face, but somehow Thane managed. Shaking her head, Kasumi stepped behind Thane and poked his right shoulder. "Okay, now, take a long step to your right while turning in that direction."

He did so. Shepard stumbled on her heels, but managed to keep to her feet. "Okay, now that was on beat one," said Kasumi. "Now for the next step..."

And so went the dance lesson, going over the basic steps excruciatingly slow. While Thane took the steps with no trouble, Shepard was another story. Whereas the drell had no problem gliding about the space with perfect ease and grace, Shepard stomped her feet on each step as if she were marching to battle and not a gala. Only one of them was truly dancing no matter how many times the other two gave pointers. At last Kasumi gave up.

Throwing her hands up in the air, she proclaimed it a lost cause. "It's hopeless, Shep! Even an alien can dance this with no problem - no offense, Thane."

"None taken."

"But you," she stabbed a finger at Shepard, "You don't have a dancing bone in your body!" With a frustrated wave of one hand, the thief cut off the dull computer rhythm that had been playing. The other two took the break in lessons to sit on the couch and rest.

"Well forgive me," Shepard said dryly. "Not all of us are gifted with such natural grace as some people." Her blue eyes flicked over Thane and Kasumi, clear in her meaning. "I'm a soldier. Dancing wasn't meant for people like me." Sighing, she reached down to massage her already aching feet. "I'm all elbows and hand grenades."

"That is untrue," Thane said before he could check himself. Both women stared at him. Too late to stay silent now, he added, "You are very graceful, especially in battle."

And just like that, a memory, unbidden, rose out of the depths and hit him like a tsunami.

He could remember...

...The sunlight glinting off the gold accents in Shepard's white armor - bright colors, bold, proclaiming she feared no one, daring them to target her. The scarlet bolts of enemy fire stabbed through the air as Shepard rolled and dodged from cover to cover with perfect ease. As she raced toward the last bit of cover, a missile sped toward her. With a twist of her body, she spun away from it, letting the missile fly past just inches from her back, while she drew the Cain in one smooth motion. She raced for the Geth Colossus, dipping and dodging like a dancer, completely effortless, as the Cain began to glow...

And then he was back in the port observation deck, sitting on the couch next to Shepard, with her and Kasumi watching him. Immediately he realized he'd slipped into the perfect recall that was the blessing and curse of his race. It was embarrassing to have it happen involuntarily like that. Uncomfortable, not even sure what he'd said exactly, he stood and faced the window, preferring to gaze upon the cold and distant stars than face the curious looks from Kasumi.

Then, as if he'd merely contributed to the conversation in a more mundane fashion, Shepard said, "I guess you have a point but it's different in battle. It's... I don't know how to explain it."

Thane made a silent prayer of thanks to Arashu for Shepard's social graces. She treated him no differently for his lapse. There was no question, no judgement from her: Just acceptance.

Taking her cue from Shepard, Kasumi leaned one elbow on the bar and rested her chin in her hand. "What's so different about a battle that makes you all thumbs when you're on the dance floor?"

"You mean other than the high heels?" Shepard said sourly. He heard her rise and walk over to stand next to him, gazing out into the endless field of stars. "I suppose... it's the security of the situation. It feels familiar. I know all the steps to that dance."

He saw her reflection in the glass smile reassuringly, eyes on his own image. Grateful, he nodded slightly, acknowledging her meaning - she had accepted his lapse into memory and was telling him not to worry. Odd that they could communicate so easily after knowing each other for such a short time, but it felt like they'd done this for years.

"Not many would consider a firefight to be safe, Shep," said Kasumi dryly.

Shepard's brows furrowed slightly. "Fine, not safety but... trust, I guess. I know there are people right behind me, ready to back me up, ready to charge in guns blazing or pull me out of the fire. I know exactly where I'm going, what to do, and what will happen if something goes wrong. I'm not stumbling around backwards, praying I'm not going to fall on my face."

Kasumi considered this for a moment. "Dancing is the same thing, Shep. It's all about trust. You're trusting your partner to lead you through the dance safely, aren't you? And if you fall, he'll catch you. So really, the question you should be asking yourself is do you trust your partner to bring you through safely?"

Thane and Shepard looked at each other. Their eyes met as Shepard said, quietly, "Yes. I trust him with my life." And somehow, he knew it wasn't just the soldier speaking but Shepard herself. It stirred a sense of touched pride within him.

Before either of them could speak, Shepard turned and strode back to the center of the dance floor. "Kas, put on some real music, please. Thane, come here. Let's do this again."

He recognized that look in her eye - the same look she got when someone told her something was impossible. It was the look of cool determination she acquired when she heard the words 'suicide mission.'

Challenge accepted.

Sighing, Kasumi turned to the sound system and began tapping away.

Thane stepped forward and made a polite bow as something ancient and elegant began to issue from the speakers. "May I have this dance, siha?"

Shepard executed a perfect curtsy, hands making a graceful motion as they swept out to the side. "It would be my pleasure, Sere Krios."

They stepped together and this time he felt something different in Shepard. Instead of holding herself stiffly, she seemed to melt against him, as if this was the natural place for her to be. It felt surprisingly good to have that length of warmth pressed so comfortably against him. Even more curious, as they closed together, Shepard took a deep breath, shut her eyes and smiled slightly.

He knew, then, what she was doing - she was sacrificing all her own sense and instincts in favor of his own, trusting him entirely. Such total abandonment of her own senses was a great sacrifice, especially for a hardened soldier like her. It that simple act of closing her eyes and giving up control, she told him she would put her life in his hands, fighting every instinct all her training and hard-won battles had woven into the very fiber of her being. Her earlier words had not been hollow - She was putting herself, her heart, in his hands.

He prayed that they were strong enough for such a precious burden.

As he took the first step, they seemed glide an inch above the floor, moving as if with frictionless ease. They were dancing as though they'd been doing this for years.

Kasumi said something in shocked tones that was lost in the music. Shepard, eyes still closed, grinned and a pleased chuckle slipped from him, a low sound deep in his chest.

As the music swelled, he began to throw in a few steps they hadn't rehearsed - and Shepard moved with it perfectly. Kasumi exclaimed, "What?" as they spun through the complex steps and Shepard laughed.

"The door," she said and Thane immediately guided them that way. The door opened and they glided out into the ship proper, leaving an open-mouthed Kasumi behind.

Following the music that only they could hear, they kept dancing, the steps as natural as breathing. Someone rounded the corner at the last second and Thane quickly did a reverse turn, spinning away from the crew member the same way Shepard had spun away from the missile in his memory. This put them down the hallway out into the open area of the ship where about a quarter of the crew was having a late lunch.

A sudden, stunned silence gripped the room.

Careful of where they were going, Thane guided them through the tables, ignoring the open-mouthed stares they were getting. He deftly steered Shepard through the disaster area of a mess hall, avoiding spilled coffee and forgotten napkins, sliding away from smears of mustard and side-stepping noodles that had slipped from forks held in slack hands. Each step he took followed a beat only he could hear, echoes of the song Kasumi had found playing in his mind.

At last, they had navigated the entire mess area safely, without a speck of food on either of them - and the whole while, Shepard had her eyes closed.

"Elevator," she whispered into the stunned silence they'd left behind, and he turned them in that direction.

EDI must have been watching because the doors opened just as they approached. The music in his mind came to a brilliant ending crescendo as they stepped inside and spun to a graceful halt. At the same time, the doors slid shut on a flustered Kasumi racing for the elevator.

Only then did Shepard open her eyes to meet the dark-eyed gaze of Thane just inches away.

Neither of them moved, content to remain in the dancing embrace, both of them breathing a little hard. There was a pleasant heat between them that had nothing to do with waltzing.

There was something in this moment, some unspoken invitation, that made him want to act, to claim it as his own. All his life he'd merely followed orders, pulled the trigger or snapped a neck when told to. Though his body did battle, his soul had slept, not caring for or needing the outside world. Only once had he felt this way before, when Irikah had filled his scope sights.

Oceans take him if he let this moment slip by.

Without thinking, he pulled her against him even more, pleased at the hitch it caused in her breathing, and gently put his brow against hers. "Thank you for dancing with me, siha."

Shepard laughed, hands sliding up his shoulders until her wrists crossed behind his neck. "We're learning the tango next."

"No concerns about the rumor mill?"

She shrugged, a wicked gleam in her eyes. "I think we took care of that when we danced through lunch break."

He grinned. "Did you see Kasumi's face?"

"Ah, yes." She sighed wistfully. "What I wouldn't give for perfect memory, just for that!"

"I'll ask EDI to make a copy of the security records," he offered.

"That's very sweet of you." She breathed deeply and closed her eyes. "You smell like frankincense... and myrrh." She took another deep breath and smiled wistfully. "It reminds me of home."

He hadn't really planned on kissing her, hadn't even thought of it before, to be honest. It just sort of happened. Something in her words had touched something deep within him, something he'd been too afraid to truly admit to himself for fear of finding the feeling was unrequited.

She reminded him of home too.

It'd been a long time since he'd kissed a woman, and he'd entirely forgotten the wonderful rush that came with it, the exquisite pleasure such a small touch could induce. He took his time, savoring a pleasure long been denied to him, and Shepard didn't seem inclined to make him hurry.

When they parted, Shepard's pupils had dilated again, turning her irises to thin blue rings, and her cheeks were flushed. She looked a little dazed as she grinned at him daffily. "I love this elevator."

The words were so unexpected, certainly not what he'd anticipated, that he froze for a moment, wondering if she was trying to change the subject to derail any further amourous advances. It only took him a second more to realize her meaning and he burst out laughing.

The elevator was the bane of the ship, slow enough to warrant true hatred from the crew. Now, however, it allowed them quite some time alone together. "Its virtues are just becoming known to me," he said, still chuckling.

They had another minute before they reached the shuttle bay.

When the elevator doors opened on the hangar deck, Thane and Shepard were standing apart, looking composed and professional. It was offset slightly by Shepard's curious smile, but no one seemed to notice. The sight of her in a little black dress drew all the attention.

With all the grace and chivalry of a knight of yore, Thane graciously offered his arm for Shepard, which she took with a murmured thanks. The picture of elegance and sophistication, the two strode for the shuttle. To the observer, he was merely being courteous, and possibly warding off any astonished looks from the crew.

In reality, Thane was helping her stay on her feet, and not just because of her heels. A few seconds before the elevator opened, Shepard had said, with a slightly daft smile, "There's rainbows around all the lights." Looking at him, her eyes had widened and she exclaimed, "Thane! You're glittery!"

Something had clearly happened that neither of them expected. No doubt Mordin would have information, but the effects didn't seem too serious. In any case, he deemed it prudent to escort her across the bay, loftily ignoring the gawping looks Shepard garnered, just to make sure she didn't fall and besmirch her dignity.

Once he saw her comfortably seated in the passenger seat of the shuttle, he reluctantly left her, unable to resist letting a hand trail through her hair one last time. She chuckled as he did. "I'm fine, Thane. All the lights have rainbow halos is all." She flapped her hands at him as she started flipping switches, warming up the shuttle. "Now scram before Kasumi gets here."

Smiling a little, he bowed, a soft, "Be careful, siha," his only farewell as he turned to leave.

Just before the doors shut behind him he heard Shepard snort. "If I did that, they'd dock my hazard pay."

He strode back to the elevator, the essence of restrained lethality that had everything to do with his training and not how he felt. If he were to express how he felt, he'd be doing cartwheels or something equally ludicrous. For the first time in years, it felt like he had too much energy that he couldn't hope to burn.

Maybe he'd learn some new dance while Shepard was away?

It bore some consideration.

Once the elevator opened, he and Kasumi traded places. He blithely ignored the cunning grin Kasumi shot at him and requested to be taken to the crew deck. Without Shepard, the elevator's lethargic charm was lost on him.

With nothing better to do, he returned to Life Support and sat once more before the email he'd been writing to Kolyat before he'd been interrupted. Reading over it, he realized how... stilted it sounded, how stiff and formally the words were strung together. He was supposed to be reconnecting with his son, letting Kolyat know who his estranged father was. The only thing this email did was emphasize how truly great the distance was between them.

It would never do.

With a flick of his fingers, he erased it all and stared at the screen, racking his brain for something appropriate to say.

What would fathers say to their sons? He'd never really known his own - taken away for training at six years old, he had precious few memories of his father and reviewing them offered little help. He knew the general things, though. Fathers were the strong confidants, offering support, sage advice and embarrassing stories when the opportunity presented itself. But he had none of those to give, unless one counted optimum firing positions and which bones were the easiest to break for a quick death.

What words could span ten years of betrayal and mistrust? What could he say that would help Kolyat and get him to know his father at the same time?

Sighing, Thane sat back in his chair, for the first time feeling a little stir crazy. He didn't twitch or tap his fingers - that had been thoroughly trained out of him very early. Instead, he fell back on his memory, searching for ideas, for some brilliant spark to aid him...

...Irikah hums an old tune as she tidies up around the house, the sweet lull of her voice easing me to sleep...

...smoke rising from my latest foray into cooking. The smoke smells like charred feathers and I rush it outside as tiny Kolyat, just a few weeks old, begins bawling at the top of his powerful drell lungs. Irikah, stifling her laughter, begins to comfort him...

...listening to the gentle sigh of water whispering against the belly of the canoe I lie in, staring up at the clouds painted purple and green by the setting sun, not wanting this moment to end. Tomorrow, I go back out on another assignment...

No, none of these would do. It was doubtful Kolyat would welcome stories of his mother just yet, such a tender subject as that was between them. Baby stories were only likely to insult him and Thane didn't want to jeopardize their connection by making light of his earliest years. No, he had to write something that Kolyat would find helpful but intriguing, disassembling the mystery that Thane had unwittingly become to his own family.

Several minutes went by as Thane sat in silence and pondered. After about twenty minutes he blinked several times and slowly smiled as he sat up and began typing.

Kolyat,

I know you've been quite lonely on the Citadel and there are no easy ways I know of to make friends. However, I suggest you look into taking dancing lessons, as I find it's a very enjoyable pastime and, as humans say, is an excellent way to break the ice...

xXxXx

A couple of hours later, Shepard and Kasumi made it back. Desiring discretion over satisfying his curiosity, Thane did not seek them out on their return. It would be unwise to do so anyway, if the way Shepard - with grim cheer - flung the high heels out the airlock was anything to judge by. Ever patient, he waited until everyone was gathered for dinner to find out what had happened.

Smoothly sliding into place across from Shepard, Kasumi just a seat away, he decided to wait a few more minutes. Shepard was knocking back what he recognized as pain pills and had her eyes closed, presumably waiting for them to kick in. Since she hadn't been to see Chakwas, the painkillers must be for the tortures endured by the high heels. He took a few bites of his food, grateful that Gardner's abilities had much improved over the last few days.

After a few bites, he couldn't contain his curiosity any longer. "How fared the mission?"

Shepard opened her eyes and gave him a tired smile. "Pretty good. Found a credit chip in a couch. Went up against this big gunship with state-of-the-art shields. You should have seen it. The shields recharged instantly. Indestructible."

He quirked a brow at this. "How did you get past it?"

"We blew it up, naturally." She took a swig of her drink. "You should have seen the vault. There was some drell sculpture there, from Rakhana - not scavenger stuff either, but dug up from in an archeology salvage. I wanted to swipe it for you but Hock's goons jumped us." She scowled. "I had just hacked the security trigger on it too."

That took him aback for a few moments. Sculpture from Rakhana? Such a thing would be beyond priceless... it could easily buy someone a small moon, if auctioned to the right people. And yet Shepard had merely wanted to claim it as a gift for him. The thought of selling it off and retiring on her own planetoid had never crossed her mind.

Gods, what wondrous creature had stolen his heart?

He shook his head, fighting down the merry laughter bubbling in his chest. "That was very thoughtful, siha. I appreciate your thinking of me."

She smirked, spearing a carrot on her fork. "Well, you can see it yourself later. The place was burning pretty well when we left and Kasumi and I doubled back to tag some things for transport to a storage unit on the Citadel once the officials arrived." She grinned at his stunned expression. "It's amazing how many questions are dropped when people hear the words, 'I'm a Spectre.'"

He did chuckle at that, shaking his head in disbelief. "So, I take it your disguise passed scrutiny?"

"Oh yes," Kasumi interjected. "Turns out our Shepard here can be quite the social butterfly when she wants to be. She looked great. Smiling, joking, mingled really well. Everything went perfect until she tried to dance."

His frowned. "What?"

"It wasn't that bad..." Shepard sighed, but Kasumi cut her off.

"It was terrible. She threw the poor bastard around like a rag doll while stomping around on the dance floor. I thought he was going to lose his toupee."

"He was just a little shorter than me and was intimidated, so I had to move it along!" Shepard argued. "I had to get the last bit of ID to you so we could get into the vault when he asked for a dance. I didn't have time."

"Shepard, the man got motion sickness. We were lucky he went straight to the bathrooms or someone might have gotten suspicious."

"What?" repeated Thane. It'd been a long time since he'd felt so totally clueless. "Siha, what happened? I thought you had sufficient command of the dance before you left."

She nodded, grimacing at the fresh memory of her blunder. "I did - I do. The dance wasn't the problem."

"What was?"

She looked up and paralyzed him with those piercing blue eyes. Speaking softly so only he could hear, she said, "Finding the right partner."

For the first time in many long years, Thane wanted to dance for joy.

XxXxX

(Before I hear anything about how awfully pretty Thane smells, let me say something. I figured that if humans scent their shampoo, then drell can do the same for their bathing sand. Frankincense and myrrh are fragrant resinous saps produced by trees that grow in dry, desert-like environs, so it only made sense that this would be a common scent for our dear drell. Also, frankincense is used a great deal in Catholic mass, and I thought that perfect for Thane. So... yeah. Odd little fangirlish note there, but... I put a lot of thought into it, lol. I have no life.)