A blast of air, dry and scorching, as the shuttle doors open. The tightness in his lungs eases.
A whisper of indrawn breath. Words of prayer, overflowing from his heart; tumbling from his lips like drops of water.
Then, silence. Sacred. Pure.
She waits for him.
"Well, it's not a real vacation, but hopefully this will do for now." Shepard grinned as she slung a supply pack over her shoulder and leapt down onto the sand. "You coming?"
"I… of course. I had not expected… this was your surprise." Thane could already feel the heat, radiating up from the ground; the brightness of the sun beating against his skin as he jumped to land effortlessly beside her.
"I thought we could spend the night and take the shuttle back to the ship in the morning. Have some privacy. Celebrate." She blew out a breath as if nervous. "So, what do you think?"
His eyes flicked over the landscape, taking in the harsh contrast between the huge expanse of open sky and the swells of sand stretched out before them. "It's overwhelming. Beautiful." He crouched down to pick up a handful of sand, letting the grains trickle out from between his fingers. "Thank you, Siha. For this gift."
She crouched beside him and let her hand rest on the top of his thigh. Her voice was low, sweet, rough as though it was being dragged over the surface of a stone. "You don't have to thank me. It's enough to be here with you."
A nimbus of light, framing the outline of her figure against the immense ocean of sky.
Her hair, long strands tugged into motion by the wind; the edges kissed into flame by the setting sun.
Her smile—unguarded. Free.
The caramel-colored dunes glowed with stolen light as they raced, barefoot, over the sand. With the sun at its apex, this would have been impossible. Even now, the latent heat was making the soles of his feet burn, though the effect was not unpleasant. He deliberately let Shepard outpace him so he could watch her run; appreciating the grace of her lean body sprinting simply for the joy of motion. After a handful of heartbeats she looked back at him over her shoulder and grinned.
"Can't keep up, Krios?"
"Hardly, Siha." He closed the distance between them as she slowed to a walk, her breathing slightly ragged. "I merely thought you would be a better dinner companion if I let you win."
She laughed, a sound he was sure he would never tire of, and pushed the hair out of her eyes. "Throwing a race to win my affections? I expected more from you."
"Did it work?"
Her hand found his and squeezed. "Maybe." She looked him over, her eyes devouring him with a different kind of heat. "Let's go find out."
The wine is sweet, mulled with spice. She licks a dark crimson bead from her lips and he shivers.
A haze of colors as the sun winks below the horizon.
Her voice—steady, strong. He is surprised, then humbled. Awed. She sings, throaty and low. Her own hymn to the sand and the gathering twilight.
Shepard leaned against his side and he wrapped his arm around her waist to draw her closer. She rested her head on his shoulder and he kissed the top of her head, breathing in the scent of her hair. Together, they watched the evening sink into shadow, like the tide coming in, claiming the dunes and the sky; lapping at their feet as the blackness around them grew deeper, thicker. The illumination from their lantern cast their shadows over the sand where they sat; an island of light in the darkness.
She switched off the lantern and, at once, the night was fully upon them.
The heavens were pierced with stars, like a handful of gems scattered and gleaming. Three moons, one large and two smaller, drifted lazily overhead.
"I don't remember the last time I saw the stars like this. Not from a ship, I mean."
"It has been a long time for me as well. Longer still, since I treasured the sight of them." Memories of Irikah ghosted to the surface of his mind; he touched each one with a whisper of thought, letting them settle below once more as her lips found his.
A murmur against his mouth. Her kiss, more fevered. Hungry.
The coarse fibers of the blanket against his back. The smoothness of her skin. Her body pressed flush with his.
Her silhouette against the largest moon, head thrown back as her body arches.
His parched soul drinks her, bathes in her embrace.
They talked again after, her body curled into his; avoiding the topics that lurked and prowled at the edges of their temporary haven. For tonight, there was nothing but sand and stars.
Shepard slept, eventually, her breathing becoming slower and deeper as she finally let herself go.
In the perfect stillness, he let the desert fill him with its beauty, with its vastness, with its power. The moons overhead bore witness to his silent prayers.
Arashu, protector and defender, I seek your blessing.
Arashu, whose arms cradle and shelter the innocent.
Arashu, take my strength, my spirit, my life, and wield me in your glory.
I will protect this one, Arashu, in your stead, and guide her safely to your side.
Should I fail, let your vengeance fall upon me until my body is nothing but sand.
My name, nothing but wind.
My soul, forgotten.
Shepard sighed, burying her face into his neck.
His eyes closed as he let himself be pulled down by the steady rise and fall of her chest, by the rhythmic pulse of her heart.
Sleep well, Siha.
Arashu, I will not fail.