Shepard stood woodenly outside the door to Thanes room at Huerta Memorial hospital, desperately trying to figure out what she could possibly say to him; 'I'm sorry'? 'It's all my fault'? 'Can I help make things more comfortable for you?'
…'Please don't leave.'
Thane had been a better friend to her than she could have ever anticipated. They had sat together in Life Support aboard the Normandy late at night whenever Shepard couldn't sleep and they would talk for hours. Each would listen as the other talked about their past, their loved ones, and their home planets. It had been a better sedative to Shepard than anything Doctor Chakwas could have given her. Even considering that he was in that room slowly dying made her stomach knot and her eyes sting. Nevertheless, she was not going to back down now; he would want to see her one more time. Shepard breathed in deeply, the cool rush of air flooding her lungs calming her just a fraction as she took a step forward and the door hissed open for her.
Thane was there with his son, Kolyat, and both were quick to home their obsidian eyes on the figure that had just passed through the door. Kolyat's cheeks were wet; he'd been crying. Shepard didn't blame the poor boy one bit. Both of his hands remained tightly wound with his fathers as he nodded at Shepard in greeting, shifting a little to the side to let her stand at his father's bedside.
"Commander Shepard," Thane smiled briefly before a bout of coughing shook his body. "I'm afraid I won't…Be joining you again,"
It took all Shepard had to swallow the lump in her throat as she returned the sickly Drell's smile. Shaking her head as if to scold him, she rested a hand reassuringly on the side of his cot.
"You've done more than enough, Thane," She breathed, slightly proud of herself for keeping her voice fairly even.
Thane groaned as he shifted slightly in his cot, staring up at the ceiling with the ghost of a smirk playing across his lips. It didn't reach his tired eyes but Shepard appreciated the sentiment nonetheless.
"That assassin should be embarrassed," He sucked in another desperate gulp of air. "A terminally ill Drell managed to stop him from reaching his target,"
Shepard let a throaty chuckle pass her lips as she nodded in recognition and ran her free hand through dishevelled onyx hair.
"I'll pass the word along," She replied good-naturedly and the weight on her shoulders lifted when Thane gave her another smile; a proper one.
Kolyat and Shepard stood at Thanes bedside quietly for a moment after that, a quiet sense of understanding welling between the three of them the longer they remained there. They all knew that Thane's time was short and it would be wise to make the most of it now. Kolyat cast watery eyes down at his father for a moment before they settled on Shepard; dark and all-consuming.
"I will…Give you a moment," He choked out before he left the room, leaving the two old squadmates alone.
Shepard murmured her thanks and disappeared from Thanes bedside for a moment to drag a chair from the corner of the room over to his bed, sinking down into it without taking her eyes off of the uneven movements of Thane's chest as he struggled to breathe. Shepard reached out and took the sickly Drells hand in her own, forcing a smile when his head turned to watch her. He looked as at peace with his fate as he did when she had first learned of his disease back when he had executed Nassana Dantius. Shepard sat bolt upright when Thane violently coughed and hacked, trying to help him sit up to make sure he didn't choke on what was probably his own malnourished blood.
"I am fine, Shepard," Thane wheezed, not unkindly swatting her helping hands away. "It makes no difference if I die that way than through a lack of oxygen,"
Reluctantly, she complied and let her hands rest in her lap, the warrior and soldier suddenly quelled to absolute silence. Thanes lips parted into a weary smile and turned slightly in his cot to get a proper look at her.
"You look troubled, Siha," He murmured. "Don't be. I have no regrets; I have helped you save the lives of many to atone for the lives I've taken, reconciled with my son and lived six months longer than any of my doctors had predicted. All in all? There is not much for me to be afraid of; Drell do not see death the way humans see it,"
Shepard nodded but his words did nothing to ease her guilt. She reached out again to take his hand, looking her friend square in the eye.
"It was my fault Kai Leng got to you when he did…If I'd just been more vigilant, Thane, I—"
"Shepard, I would not have had it any other way," Thane cut in stubbornly. "I would much rather to die from a battle wound than sit for another month or so in a hospital bed wasting the time and energy of these wonderfully talented doctors. They have other patients who need their help much more than I, and who are also more deserving of it."
Thane's breathing was steadily becoming more laboured and rushed; Shepard could almost hear the effort it took for his lungs to press the next breath from his body. Another familiar lump rose in her throat and she dipped her face down to rest her head against Thane's knuckles as his hand clasped reassuringly around her own.
"I'm going to miss you, Thane,"
"I will be looking down on you and your crew, Shepard. Even if those you trust turn their backs on you, you will never be alone,"
Shepard's shoulders heaved and her lips parted into a heavy sob, tears slipping down her cheeks and along the back of Thanes hand. She felt his grip tighten as much as possible, the free hand coming up to smooth her hair comfortingly.
"I don't want to lose anyone else…" Shepard breathed. "I'm so sick of waking up in the morning remembering everyone who gave up their own damned lives for me,"
"Shh, Siha. We all gave our lives to you willingly; you instil a kind of bravery in people that could only be considered legendary. If we were not prepared to give our lives to your mission, we would not have joined your crew. I do not know who else you may have lost, but what I say is a certainty,"
It was peculiar for him to see the unbreakable, impenetrable walls of the great Commander Shepard suddenly begin to crack and splinter away. It was only natural, he supposed, that she should have her own limit just like everybody else. If it had been him, he would have reached his long before now. He watched patiently as Shepard raised her head again and wiped at her eyes with the sleeves of her dress blues, smiling to see that she didn't seem to care about sullying them at all. It was something that was a constant source of amusement to him when he had been aboard the Normandy; her scruffiness. Now it was more endearing than ever and his heart bled to see his closest and only friend already beginning to mourn him. She had to be strong, however, at least for a little while longer.
"Bring Kolyat back in," He told her quietly as he released her hand. "I cannot cheat death for much longer, and there is something I must do before it gets worse…Something—"
Shepard had just ushered Kolyat back into the room as another fit of coughing made Thane's upper body arch up unnaturally in his cot, easily the worst yet. He spluttered and gasped desperately for air between each cough, hands desperately gripping the edges of his cot for some kind of leverage with those wide, black eyes barely managing to stay open as the master assassin fought through the pain he'd been avoiding for far too long. By the time it had finally subsided he looked so much older than he truly was and Shepard had eased Kolyat down into the chair she'd occupied moments before, noticing that he'd looked incredibly shaky on his feet. The poor boy didn't deserve this and neither did his father.
"Go ahead, Thane," She whispered with a nod, her voice encouraging but not demanding. "What was it you needed to do…?"
Thane turned in his cot again so he was flat on his back – for this was the only position for him that was mildly comfortable anymore – and opened his mouth to speak, the raspy voice that was uniquely Drell floating around the room in the form of a prayer.
"Kalahira, mistress of inscrutable depths, I ask forgiveness. Kalahira, whose waves wear down stone and sand—"
Another wave of coughing broke his speech and rattled through his chest and his eyes desperately turned to his son who could only nod and pick up from where his father had left off, albeit with a slight waver in his voice.
"Kalahira," Kolyat began, hands clasped and head bowed. "Wash the sins from this one, and set him on the distant shore of the infinite spirit,"
Shepard felt a sense of respect rising from her as she watched Kolyat; reading as his father would while Thane's ceaseless gasping and coughing seemed to fill her mind and undoubtedly his sons as well. That coughing ceased for just a moment as Thane's head turned towards his son again and a surprised, joyous, exhausted smile spread across his lips.
"You speak as the priests do," Thane acknowledged breathlessly. "You have been spending time with them,"
Kolyat nodded but did not smile and looked up at Shepard warily, his eyes searching her face but even he didn't seem to know what he was looking for.
"I…Brought a prayer book," He announced slowly, carefully. "Commander, would you care to join me?"
Shepard could do nothing but nod; she was honoured. She didn't know a lot about Drell culture and Thane had told her the little she DID know. She simply didn't feel worthy of being granted this kind of opportunity but judging from the hopeful look Thane was giving her, it was the right thing to do. She shuffled a bit closer to Kolyat's chair and leaned slightly to get a decent look at the prayer book, her eyes scanning over the rest of the prayer and committing every word to memory to make sure she wouldn't get any of it wrong. She was relieved when Kolyat continued his prayer to break the heavy silence and mentally reminded herself to catch him with the kid later to praise him for how well he was holding up right now.
"Kalahira, this one's heart is pure, but beset by wickedness and contention,"
He nodded at Shepard over his shoulder to continue and held up the prayer book a little to give her a better look.
"Guide this one to where the traveller never tires, the lover never leaves, the hungry never starve," She murmured carefully, deliberately making sure to pronounce every single syllable correctly. The English language had never felt so foreign to her. "Guide this one, Kalahira, and she will be a companion to you as she was to me."
Thane said nothing in reply but a calm settled over him and his breathing steadied as his head turned to one side so he could stare out at the beautiful artificial landscape of the Citadel. His entire body stilled and Shepard shakily walked around the side of his cot and let her hand rest a few inches from his mouth. She knew there wouldn't be any breathing but she kept her hand there just that few seconds longer, praying that she'd get that warm feeling on her hand that she was waiting for. It never came. Her eyes closed and shoulders hunched as she tried to keep herself calm and collected; it would be what he would want.
"Kolyat…" She finally spoke, grateful for the Drells immediate attention. "Why did the last verse say…'She'…?"
Kolyat looked confused for a moment but soon an understanding shone in his eyes. She hadn't understood.
"The prayer was not for him, Commander," He smiled brokenly, a hand gently resting on his father's still warm shoulder. "He has already asked forgiveness for the lives he has taken,"
Kolyat's eyes sought out hers and held her gaze with a watery intensity as a tear escaped the corner of his eye and slid down an intricate cheek.
"His wish was for you…"
Shepard started a bit and felt her heart ripping in two all over again. Thane's last breath had been asking for her forgiveness; asking for her salvation for every life she's had to take. She couldn't hold back a quiet huff as she hurriedly wiped at her eyes again and turned her head back towards Thane's body. She willed him to breathe one last time but it only served to upset her more when it never happened. It was time to let go.
"Goodbye, Thane…" She whispered. "You won't be alone for long,"
She paused for a moment and let her eyes linger on him, pulling a chain out of her coat pocket. It was SR2 dog tags. Thanes, to be precise. He'd left them aboard the Normandy and she had planned to return them to him beforehand, but now would have to do. She delicately slid them around his neck and let the dog tags lie on his chest, name plate facing up.
"Come on Kolyat, let's go,"
He nodded in reply and they both turned to leave, brushing shoulders like comrades-in-arms after a fierce battle. They didn't cry anymore and didn't brood.
It wouldn't be what Thane would have wanted.
Shepard headed back to the Normandy after that, calling the entire crew back to the ship. They needed to move on; there was still a lot to do. Some of the crew, however, had questions. Tali and Garrus cornered Shepard together in the CIC, waving the ensigns away for a moment.
"Shepard…Thane…Did he—" Tali began uncertainly.
"He's gone, Tali," Shepard hung her head as Tali began to shake a little.
She felt like she'd failed her living friends now, too.
"It was his time, Shepard," Garrus rested a hand on her shoulder. "There was nothing you could have done,"
The three walked in silence to the elevator, heading to the mess for dinner. To Shepard, it would have no taste. She retired to her quarters immediately afterwards without a word to Kaidan, James or anybody else who had asked what was wrong. Only Tali and Garrus had spared her their questions and comforted her with their mutual silence. She would need time, as would they.
As she lay flat on her back on her bed and stared up at the stars through the skylight, she couldn't help but feel that her room wasn't so impersonal and untouched anymore. It felt like somebody was here. A smile tugged at her mouth and she sat up to look around her and, although she saw nobody, she found that she was comforted.
"You're here, aren't you…?"
"Thank you, Thane…I know I'll never be alone,"
Again, there was no answer, but she could feel something changing. The mood in the room was uplifted, lighter than air.
Thane was smiling.