Regardless of the dangers we couldn't go after the Collectors until the Omega relay would talk to our ship. Finally everyone seemed done rehashing the same questions. Jack, Thane, and I headed to the med bay to get checked out by Dr. Chakwas. While the husks didn't fire weapons they did, from time to time, explode. The three of us had been beaten badly and sustained bruises and burns everywhere.
The doc checked us out, treated the worst of our injuries, and gave us painkillers with strict instructions to rest for several hours. Jack threw on her clothes and stalked off to her cubby below Engineering. Thane emerged from behind the screen where Chakwas had been treating him buttoning his jacket as he walked.
He waited in the med bay until I was ready to leave. "Are you well?" he asked me. I presumed that he could see I was not.
"Please," I said, hating how weak my voice sounded, "come with me." I we walked across the mess hall without speaking. When we came to the corridor I turned right toward the elevator instead of left to the life support room. I pressed the button for my quarters, thankful that there was no one to see us heading upstairs together. For the first time I realized how short the distance really was between where we lay our heads. I felt Thane's hand on my back, cool and gentle. We rose past the CIC without anyone calling the elevator and emerged outside the door to my cabin. My control hung by a thread as I keyed open the door.
As soon as the door shut behind us I turned and buried my head in Thane's chest. I was shaking uncontrollably but his arms held me up when I could barely stand. My headache had gone and my body no longer hurt but my questions about my own life were roaring in my mind. "Come," he said. "You need to lie down." He helped me to the bed and lay beside me. I huddled in his arms, unable to speak. The reaction I'd been suppressing for so long was setting in with a vengeance and I could only clutch at him, thankful that I had someone to care for me when I needed it.
Slowly the shaking subsided. I found that I could voice my fears. Thane held me as I poured out how afraid I had been inside the Reaper, how easy it would have been for me to simply let go of my control. Was I any stronger than Saren had been? Perhaps he had stumbled over a seeming derelict and simply been overwhelmed by Sovereign before he had known what had happened.
Would I even be able to fight the Reapers if they came in strength? I had never considered that I might fail, not seriously. I'd unconsciously believed that of course my team and I could show the galaxy how to join forces and defeat the ancient monsters. But suddenly that conviction had been swept away and I was falling.
"You are nothing like Saren was," said Thane. His voice was firm, without doubt. I found that it was even more soothing when my ear was pressed against his chest, although I could also hear the rales that Kepral's Syndrome had put in his breath. I resolved again to ask Dr. Chakwas if there were more treatments to slow the disease. "I have heard of Saren's actions before he became involved with Sovereign. He was evil long before his mind became enslaved to the Reaper. But he held power and influence. Have you considered that you were targeted, that the Reaper wanted you not because you were easy prey but because you are stronger than the rest?"
I desperately wanted to believe those words. "But why go after the strongest," I asked, "when it could have broken some of the crew and kept us all there to indoctrinate at its leisure?"
"You are the linchpin, siha," he replied. "Without you our determination would crumble and our convictions pale. You are in all our minds, an example for when we feel fear. All of us were afraid today. None of us wanted to disappoint you." He spoke matter-of-factly, as though this simple truth should have been obvious to me. "The Reaper could have seen this in anyone, in everyone. Had some member of the crew sabotaged the ship the security systems would have simply stopped them. Had you demanded that we stay we would have done so, despite our doubts. It needed you to absorb us all."
His words warmed my heart, despite how excessive they seemed. He sounded so logical, so convinced. Was that really how he saw me, even after our talks about my doubts? I relaxed from the ball I'd been curled into and slid my arms around him, giving him a hug of thanks.
"How do you always know exactly what I need to hear?" I asked him. My questions were not resolved but I no longer felt the same panic that had made me seek his comfort. We talked about the events on the ship and my paranoia that Cerberus had somehow changed me so subtly that I could not remember being different. As we spoke the medication we'd been given did its work and finally we lay quietly. Thane stroked my hair, running his fingers through it thoughtfully.
"I often wondered what this felt like," he said tenderly. "I have never touched hair. It is softer than it looks, more slippery. I thought it would be coarse, like fur." I grinned despite myself. I couldn't think how to explain the sensation of someone moving thousands of follicles at once in a way that would make any sense to a man who was completely hairless. I settled for a contented "mmm" and another squeeze. His cool body felt wonderful against my flushed face. I drifted off, finally calmed enough to let myself go. I felt his lips on my forehead and tried to turn to him but I was asleep before I could see his face.
When I woke a short time later neither of us had moved. Thane had closed his eyes but as soon as I stirred he opened them again. He looked at me with concern, with such emotion that something in my heart shifted. I ran my fingers around the ridge of his cheek. "Thank you, Thane," I said. I meant so much that I could not put into words. As always, he seemed to understand more than I said. He bent his head and pressed his lips against mine. I had a moment to think how soft, how full, how right they felt on my own before I was lost entirely.