I was chagrined to realize how often I had been including him on missions of late. Certainly, his sniper and hand-to-hand combat skills came in handy but as I found myself knocking on Thane's door once more I had to admit that they seemed more like rationalizations than reasons. Before I could turn away, embarrassed that I was acting like some fascinated schoolgirl, he opened the door and greeted me warmly. I knew that he had been lonely for a very long time and I was glad to know that my visits were welcome. Certainly he had quickly become a friend, as much as Garrus Vakarian and Tali'Zorah were despite my having known them for so much longer. But, while I often talked to Garrus and exchanged messages with Tali about technical issues and strategy, we never discussed my personal issues.
Thane and I had delved into so many things, from our histories to our life philosophies, that I felt I knew him better than anyone on board. Even when we were just talking about the Normandy his purring voice helped me to relax for a time. When, as today, I had chased awful people around half the galaxy, confronted The Illusive Man with yet another deception, settled an argument between crew members with diametrically opposed viewpoints, and fought for my life in another attempt to rescue complete strangers I just needed some downtime to recover my equilibrium. After Kaidan had made it so clear that he would never consider being my shoulder on which to lean while I was working with Cerberus, I'd been holding everything inside. I couldn't afford to appear weak or hesitant in front of a crew when such rampant strife reined between them and so many former Alliance members were still unsure of their choice to join Cerberus and my team.
Thane let me vent and understood so completely how important keeping up that façade was to our mission that I found myself relying on him more and more. He knew that professionalism was critical to success but that no one could avoid doubts in private. In fact, I had been bending his ear, so to speak since he didn’t actually have any, so often that I would have felt terrible had he not opened up about his family and his guilt at having failed them. I hated to see his belief that he must spend what remained of his life making up for what his childhood indoctrination had led him to do. When you've been raised since the age of six to believe that something is your duty, who can decide how long it should take you to question that way of life? While I disagreed that killing for hire absolved you of responsibility for your actions I also didn't blame Thane for doing what he'd been told was right until he'd been shown how untrue those teachings had been.
When I'd settled into my chair, the usual cup of coffee before me, I took a few deep breaths and allowed my mind to simply wander. Eventually one of us would start a conversation but we could enjoy a companionable silence in the meantime without needing to chatter. Such quiet was rare in my life and I treasured it when I could. Even in my cabin I couldn't escape from messages and the intercom. For some reason, no one bothered me when I was spending time with Thane. In fact, that was a part of my concern about whether I was too deeply involved with my current companion. Did the rest of the crew assume that we were doing something more than talking, that there was more to our relationship than I intended? I knew what a rumor mill such a small ship could be and resolved to nip such whispers in the bud as soon as possible.
I realized with a start that I'd been staring at Thane for several minutes. "You seem troubled," he said. At that moment I was as much embarrassed as troubled. Here this man was, taking a chance on making a friend as he neared the end of his life, and I was more concerned with my reputation than with how he was faring.
"I'm sorry," I said. "I was just thinking how surprised I have been to find such a friend on a journey like this. I want to thank you for being so willing to listen to me and for sharing so much of yourself." Crap, I thought, I sound like a simpering idiot. What would he think I meant by that? "But I'm worried that the crew may be assuming we have some burgeoning romance developing here."
"And would that be so bad?" he asked.
I blinked at him for a moment, unable to guess his feelings. Damnit, how could he always sound so detached? Was he simply curious or interested in a romantic relationship? But perhaps my biggest distraction was the unexpected jolt I'd felt at the thought that he might want more from me. I'd have to watch that. I was definitely spending too much time with him. I cast my mind about for an equally neutral response. "I hate to create grist for the mill," I said. There was no change in the considering look on his face despite the rush of heat I fought to keep from mine. What the hell was wrong with me? "All I meant was that you've been a real friend over the past weeks and I wanted you to know that I appreciate that."
"As have you, Shepard," he responded. "I would not have believed that the end of my life would bring me to a place where someone like you would be waiting. When I signed on with you I meant to make a grand gesture to make up for a thousand smaller betrayals. To have found someone to care about in the midst of that attempt is more than I could have looked for."
If I stared any harder at him, trying to decipher his expression, I feared he would get the wrong idea entirely. I forced myself to look away, taking a sip of coffee. I wasn't interested in a new entanglement, so close on the heels of Kaidan's rejection. I couldn't even bring myself to open the message my apparently-ex darling had sent, for fear that it would contain more of the unfair accusations he'd hurled at me after the Collector battle on Horizon. All I wanted from Thane was someone with whom I could be honest, someone who didn't expect me to be in control of every situation and make the tough choices without hesitation. I may have made them that way in public, but I agonized plenty in my own heart.
Some of those moments haunted me and I still didn't know if I'd chosen the best path. Had it been right to sacrifice the Council to ensure sparing the Citadel? Should I have delivered Veetor to Cerberus for interrogation instead of sending him home with Tali? I didn't think it was too much to ask that I have one person who would help me to consider the implications of those decisions without seeing it as proof that I shouldn't be making them. I'd taken to talking to Kaidan in my head for a while, but there was no substitute for a real person to give you new perspective. That doesn't mean that I am in some way falling for him, I told myself firmly. I may have been flustered by the idea but surely that was just because Thane was being so noncommittal without denying the possibility.
"Thank you, Thane," I said. The conversation insisted on going in disconcerting directions and I decided to end it. "I need to get some work done. I'll talk to you later."
I made my way back to the galaxy map, determined to put the encounter out of my mind. I needed to decide what our next step would be and I couldn't afford to be distracted by some imaginary affaire de coeur anyway. As I stepped onto the dais to consider our options, Yeoman Chambers glanced at me. "You've been spending a lot of time with Thane," she said in that smug voice that always made me want to kick her in the teeth, which then reminded me of Kaidan, which made me sad, which pissed me off. "He must be a good friend."
"Yes, Kelly, he is," I replied through clenched teeth. Who the hell had decided that I needed a psychiatrist as a personal assistant in the first place? If I wanted to know if I had a new message I would check my own terminal. If I worried about a crew member I would talk to that person, not ask a third party. And if I wanted to spy on the people I supposedly trusted with my life, I would simply ask the ship's computer, EDI. If only I could confine Chambers to quarters for some infraction, I thought, I could get something done in peace for once. Instead, here she was again, twisting the knife.
"Have you heard from Kaidan?" she asked oh-so-innocently. My elbow twitched its desire to meet with her face. "That's none of your business, Yeoman," I said formally. "I'll thank you to keep your analyses to yourself if you cannot resist prying for your own entertainment." I'd heard things of my own about my perky assistant/analyst and had even warned off Donnelly in Engineering when he seemed a bit too interested in Kelly's story. It seemed that their psyches weren't the only things that interested her about my crew and I certainly didn't think she was the sort of stabilizing influence she was supposed to have been. But, unlike Yeoman Chambers, I wouldn't resort to snooping and relying on innuendo to force a confrontation. Until one of the crew came to me and complained I would keep my knowledge of these rumors to myself. I mentally crossed my fingers that it would be soon, bemused by the childish thought and letting go of some of my anger.
I turned away and regarded the enormous map of the galaxy. While visually impressive, it had to have been the least efficient way to navigate between clusters and systems. I wondered in passing how much of EDI's processing power was taken up with this lovely display. Certainly a large room that could have been put to some other use was filled with it. Then again, perhaps it was a nod to the crew at the surrounding work stations. With no windows and nothing else to look at for an entire shift it must be nice for them to have something to remind them of where they really were and for what we were fighting. For the tenth time I decided to leave the design just how it was. I didn't need the map to command but even I couldn't resist its draw when contemplating how to proceed. I probably looked pretty nifty, looming over the whole galaxy, as well. I concentrated on the map, determined to focus on our next mission and put these personal considerations aside, at least for now.