Chapter 1: Flying
As the door closes behind him, Thane Krios' back hits the wall heavily. His breath feels like sand in his lungs and sounds like an angry ocean in his ears. The air in Shepard's en-suite is still dangerously humid from her last shower. It smells like her lavender conditioner. He shouldn't stay in these conditions, but he needs this moment alone.
"Thane?" He hears Shepard's voice, softer than usual, on the other side of the door. He slides to the floor, the scales of his naked back scraping against the cool metal.
"Kalahira," He whispers quietly enough that Shepard can't hear him. "Forgive me that I have defiled the hallowed body of a Siha with my own mundane flesh. If you brought her to me to tempt me, I'm afraid I have failed your test."
He climbs out of the hatch and onto the roof on the Normandy. The wind is fast here, far above the planet's surface. They have only landed for some routine maintenance on the SR-2, and they will be gone again within a few hours. He thinks it is a beautiful world. A vast desert, like Rakhana was in the tales, and the winds are whipping past at incredible speeds. There are times when his profession, indeed his life, depend on his sure-footedness; but against this gale, even he feels unsteady on his feet. He sets his legs wide to balance him.
Looking down the length of the Normandy, he sees Shepard some way ahead of him. Though the wind tangles her hair and flaps in her clothes, she seems to move lightly, stepping like a ghost. She is symbiotic with the Normandy. She need not fear the wind pulling them apart; far greater forces have tried and failed. She turns around to see him, arms wide into the wind. She's laughing. It makes him want to laugh, too.
"I feel like I could fly," she shouts at him as he draws near.
"Please don't try it," he says, peering down at the ground, kilometres below.
She laughs again. He follows her gaze over the sand dunes, towards the horizon. They can see the curvature of the planet's surface from up here.
"I've never heard you laugh like this before," he says. She gives a small smile, but says nothing.
Thane is drawn from deep sleep to full alertness in the space of a single heartbeat. His fingers automatically find his pistol before he is even sitting upright. His body is ready to fight, and it takes him a moment to locate himself in the serenity of Shepard's cabin. The sound of her panting breath is the only disruption to the silence. Beside him, she is hot and wet and shaking violently.
EDI must have noticed them, because the lights flicker on. Shepard's eyes are wild, her greying t-shirt clinging to her with sweat.
"Siha." He tries to gather her up in his arms, but she struggles, still half in a dream where she doesn't fear hurting him. He grapples to hold her thrashing wrists.
"There's enough time," she gasps. "Let me go. I can still get back to her. Don't tell me there's not enough time!"
"Siha." His voice is patient and his hands are strong. She could best him when armed any day, but in close combat, he would always be able to control her if he chose. He holds her tight and still against his body, and feels her slowly stop struggling as she realises where she is. Now the cabin is completely silent. He strokes her hair and waits for her racing heart to come to rest.
"What did you dream about?" He asks at last, as she sits up and wipes tears off her face with the back of her wrist. "Who told you there wasn't enough time?"
She doesn't answer, but she doesn't need to. The answer to the question of who is always the same when she dreams. It's the same as those long hours when she thinks that Thane is sleeping, when she sits awake in the dark, and picks up that portrait she keeps face-down on her desk.
Thane knows they have no future; he will be dead, and so may she. And they have no past; he found her cruelly late in his life. He wants the present be his, all his, because it's all he will ever have with her. But even in the present, he only has half of her. The other half is with somebody else, and the answer to the question of who is always the same.
Thane knows that Shepard could only love a truly impressive person, but he hates the shade of Kaidan Alenko that is always sitting between them.
Chapter 2: Worlds end
He had followed the cast of her eyes, away from the immediate, and up. Up over the rolling sand dunes, to the horizon; to where he could see the curvature of the planet's surface. The wind stung his eyes. He stared too long and the pain became bad enough to blind him. But it was worth it. Even that night he found himself weeping in her cabin. That night he had come to her as if she could save him. As if she could do what she did for so many others and preserve him from death itself.
But it wasn't death he railed against that night; it was the desire to live. How unfamiliar it had become. How intense and consuming it was. How it, and all of him, belonged to her, in that moment, and every moment since.
After Aratoht, Shepard doesn't debrief the team. She doesn't speak to any of the crew as she comes in and peels off her armour. She doesn't even look them in the eye. She goes straight to the elevator, and they let her go, watching in stunned silence.
Thane gives her a while before he follows her. He finds her in the medical bay. Chakwas isn't there. The gentle hum of the Normandy's drive core is the only sound.
He and Shepard stand at opposite ends of the room, neither of them able to speak. How could anybody find a voice confronted by the enormity of what has just happened? Of what she has just done?
"I'll hand myself in," she manages at length.
He doesn't protest. How can he? For years he was nothing but a weapon, and yet she has brought more death in a single day than he could in a lifetime. The power she wields is that of a god. Siha. Warrior angel. She is a divine saviour. She is terrible. She speaks and worlds end.
When they come into dock on Earth, everybody files off the Normandy as it is impounded. The Alliance officials come to arrest her, but they are in awe of her. They are too afraid to touch her. Thane knows that feeling. They don't drag her away when she requests a moment to say her goodbyes.
She spends a moment with each of them, and Thane is the last person she comes to. For the first time, they embrace in the sight of the rest of the crew. Nobody seems surprised. It's hard to keep secrets on a spaceship.
"I probably won't be allowed to contact you while I'm awaiting trial," she says.
"For as long as I still have breath in my lungs, I will wait for you, Siha."
She nods and leaves him. She takes one more moment to put two fingers to her lips and touch them gently to the Normandy's hull, then she turns, and the Alliance law enforcement system consumes her whole.
Chapter 3: Supernova
That night he wept in her cabin, he had seen her body and soul. For the first and last time, nothing of her was hidden from him and no part of her wandered; she was completely with him, in the moment.
She treated him gently at first, but the inside of a human woman is much softer than the inside of a drell woman and he asked her what her limits were. She didn't shy from his force. Her hips didn't retreat from his to lessen the impact, but came to meet them. They were both forged in battle and they fought each other as they fucked. Her arms were strong and her fingertips buried themselves in the rifts between his scales. They forgot about the effect his skin would have on hers and crushed their bodies together as they fell from the bed to the ground. The sensation of her was different from Irikah; it was slower, it built up in paper-width layers until he no longer thought in words but in formless tones of rapture, and no longer saw anything but a shower of light. It tormented him with the dissonance between his urgency to finish and the desperation never to leave that moment. They both cried out with every breath.
He had lifted his eyes to the horizon for the first time in years, and its distance was unexpected to him. The scale of its curving line made him dizzy. His tears were of mourning for his own death, and at rage at the unfairness of it coming now. That was the first and last time that he had seen Shepard complete, but it was enough for him to realise that it was the same for her. How much she had hurt and wanted to be released from her duty that she might sleep without guilt. How much it tore her apart, now, to love him, even as she rushed headlong towards death in the war.
Irikah had been graceful and resolute as a mountain, but Shepard was hot and fierce as a supernova. Though her body was lean and felt light wrapped around him, he had felt insignificant in her vast presence. As they fell apart from each other, gasping for air, he had wondered whether looking directly at her might blind him. He had wondered how he dare touch her. How he didn't burn up being close to her. He stood up without another word and searched out a place to pray alone.
"Hey. You're up late, aren't you?" The voice Thane hears is unfamiliar, and interrupting his prayers, but he is glad to hear it anyway. Life never sleeps on the Citadel, even during the artificial night-cycle, but it can be quiet and isolating at times. The lines of traffic slide along below the balcony of his ward in Huerta Memorial, and most of the people in the hospital behind him are asleep. He looks round to see a human male addressing him.
"I find the night is a good time for prayer."
"Ah. Should I leave you alone?" The human asks. He is clearly here for trauma, not disease; he has wounds healing on his face and poking out from under his Alliance slacks. He looks like the kind of person Thane might be friends with.
"No, please," Thane says, and the human lowers takes a position next to Thane on the edge of the balcony. Thane is sitting with his legs neatly crossed, but the human let his dangle recklessly over the edge, towards the vast drop below.
"My name is Tannor Nuara," Thane says. He had long ago learned to assume names on official paperwork, even if it was only a hospital.
"Kaidan Alenko," the human says, holding out a hand for Thane to shake. Thane hesitates only a moment before he does so.
Chapter 4: Thane's prayer
Kaidan offers Thane another dried fruit. Thane has been growing accustomed to the taste of the strange Earth fruits that Kaidan enjoys, and he likes the opportunity for conversation that sharing them brings.
"So, tell me, Tannor," Kaidan says. "That drell who visits you. Is he family?"
"My son," Thane replies.
"Really? Is there someone special in your life then?"
"Actually, Kolyat's mother is dead. But... yes, there is."
"Tell me?" Kaidan bites into a dried apricot, smiling at Thane.
"She's human, actually."
"Well that's a start. Tell me more."
Thane gazes out of the ward window, over the streets of the Citadel. Unexpectedly, he has found himself liking Kaidan, and it jars with him to tell the man lies.
"Not today, perhaps."
There is a pause between them.
"Aren't you going to ask me?" Kaidan says playfully.
"Ask you what?"
"Whether there's anybody special in my life."
"Is there?" Thane asks obligingly.
Kaidan shifts his weight, leaning in close to talk to Thane. "So we met on the job and had a sort of illicit fraternisation going for a while. Only she... she disappeared for a bit. Circumstances beyond our control. We... well, I didn't deal with it very well, I guess. We haven't been close since then, but she just came to visit me earlier today. It was just like it used to be. I really think we might be able to make things work again." Kaidan's smile is wide and genuine, but Thane still feels something crumble to ashes inside him. Shepard is out from house arrest? Has she been acquitted? Why hasn't he heard about it?
Thane stands up. "That sounds promising. Let me know how it goes. Excuse me, I have to send a message to someone."
When she eventually comes to visit him in hospital, she comes to visit Kaidan as well. But as time goes on, Thane only gets weaker, while Kaidan is stronger every day. And Shepard... she is always strong, he thinks, but the war is taking its toll on her. When they walk on the roof of the hospital in the wind, she doesn't laugh. She doesn't even smile. She doesn't spontaneously offer any information about the war and he doesn't ask for it, but he sees that she is becoming like he was before he met her. Her body and soul dissociating. Who could bear to live in the present moment when all around you is death, and everybody's hope that one day the death might stop is on you?
Lying in a bed on one of his worse days, as he struggles for each breath, she lays herself down alongside him. Her body is stretched out beside his, pressed together all the way along. "How did we let this happen?" She whispers, her voice barely audible over the sound of the machines in his room. "How did we let ourselves form the delusion that we could find refuge in love, even in the face of death?" He places a hand over hers, bringing her fingertips to rest where they have been tracing the patterns of the scales on his chest.
"Siha. You need someone by your side who loves you completely."
"I don't think that this is what I need," Shepard murmurs with a small, bitter laugh. "In fact, I don't know how I'll..." Her voice trails off. Even when she tries to let her weakness out of her, in her most intimate moments, it won't come. This war won't allow her even an instant of it.
"I don't mean me, Siha." He says quietly. "I'll be gone soon and you will be worse off for watching me die." There is a long silence between them. Several minutes, and the machines continue to gently whirr and beep around them. Thane almost can't gather up the resolve to continue. "Say goodbye to me now, Siha, before it gets any worse. And it will get worse than this, before the end. Make your peace with it, and go to him."
"Who do you mean?" Shepard asks, but he knows she knows.
"He will be there for you until the end, long after I am gone. And you need that. Even you can't win this war alone. While he is here, I will watch over him. I will preserve him for you."
"Kalahira," he murmured, in the warm, moist air of her bathroom, breathing the cloud of lavender scent.
"Thane? Open the door." Her voice was taking on the authoritative edge she used to address her crew.
"If you brought her to me to tempt me, I'm afraid I have failed your test." Thane drew his naked legs up to his chest, his hands in fists. "But if you have brought her to me that I might love her and protect her, body and soul, until my very last breath, I swear I will not fail in this."
When Thane Krios dies, it is at the point of a sword that was raging for Shepard. She is there, at the end, but she doesn't cry. She did as he bid her. She already said goodbye to him. She is already accustomed to this deep, messy absence inside her.
Chapter 5: Enough
Kaidan comes to her in her cabin that night. "I heard about what happened, Shepard. With Thane, I mean. Listen, I ought to apologise for seeming jealous when you came to visit me that first time in hospital. By all accounts, he was a good man."
Shepard doesn't look up from her work, though she's not seeing it any more. "Kaidan," She says slowly. "I love you. But I can't be with you."
For a long moment, neither of them says anything, then Shepard goes on.
"I thought that I felt this way because I wanted to be with Thane," she says more articulately, standing up and turning round to look at him. "But now he's gone, and everything is clearer. Yes, I loved him, but even in the absence of that... there's too much between us, Kaidan. We never really got past Virmire, and now there are only more obstacles between us. Horizon. And yes, Thane is part of it. If we stay together, these things will always be at the back of our minds. I can't tell you how much of a relief it is to have you back in my life and back on the Normandy. But it can't be anything else."
On the roof of the Normandy, Thane drew Shepard close to him and they stood together in the wind. Through their smiles they shared a kiss. It was soft, and simple, and loving. Shepard was happy, and it made him happy, too. For once, everything about them made sense to him. Everything was simple. They twined their fingers and shielded each others eyes against the wind that threatened to throw them from their precarious perch. They scanned the vast panorama of the horizon. They felt like flying. Their lives burned hot and fast and would burn out soon, but how could it matter? How ungrateful would they have to be to have this - even a moment of this - and to suggest that for the simple fact that it wouldn't last forever, this was not enough?