Russell had never taken a proper vacation in his life. There had been stolen days, snatched here and here, on shore leave, between operations, but they weren’t the same. Going back on duty always loomed just on the other side. This was different.
He and Thane had been marooned for a solid week, just the two of them and an ocean of sand. The occasional aircraft flew overhead, but those only happened a few times a day and were easy to ignore. He never wanted these days to end, but he knew, all too soon, their time here would be drawing to a close. The Alliance would come calling for him sooner rather than later, and Thane… As much good as this trip was for him, the dry air, the heat, he couldn’t stay out here indefinitely. There was no medical care, and with Russell checking in, he’d be alone. Everything was so nebulous. He had to be heard, had to get the attention of the brass, yet despite Miranda’s careful plans, he doubted they would treat him like a decorated hero, an honored guest, someone whose presence was important, looked upon favorably. He listened to the news, knew how discordant things were. The Alliance was divided right down the middle when it came to how to deal with him, half wanting to disavow him completely. It was a good thing he still had some friends in high places.
An arid wind whipped the sand of the dune Russell Shepard was perched on into a frenzy, carrying it right into his face. The goggles he’d finally given in to wearing kept it out of his eyes this time around. The scarf wound round his head protected his nose and mouth, but the sand still scoured over the few patches of uncovered skin, settling into the fine lines that appeared almost overnight and increased in number when he’d let down his guard. He’d always looked a little older than his age, but now, coming up on 32, he felt every year of it plus a few more.
A full face helmet would have done a better job. Looked cooler, too, but Thane wasn’t wearing any protection other than thick layers to ward off the cold desert nights. Russel felt like a wimp wearing this much, but he wasn’t covered in scales, built to survive this. Smothering his sore skin and chapped lips every night in salve was part of the experience, Russell told himself.
For someone who’d spent no more time in deserts than Russell, Thane was right at home. He was like a the kid at the beach, crouched down at Russell’s feet, scooping up handfuls of sand and letting the grains drain through his fingers. He was obsessed with the stuff, devoting part of each day they’d been here to admiring it. He’d gone through this ritual at least a dozen times in the 20 minutes they’d stood outside their tent. Russell didn’t see how it could still be entertaining, but the way Thane took another handful, his fingers sinking into the sand with a solid thunk, he knew their opinions differed.
“I wish Irikah was here to see this.” The words slipped out of Thane’s mouth, like a secret, before he closed snapped it shut. “I’m sorry…I know I’ve spoken of so much lately. I don’t want you to think that I’m not present.”
Thane turned eyes to Russell, so somber, they damn near broke his hardened heart. He brought the drell’s head to his shoulder, surprising a gasp out of him. He still wasn’t sued to Russell’s burst of physical affection, but he never resisted. “You don’t need to hide her from me, you know.” Thane had loved her, loved her still. She’d help shape him into who he was today. Just hearing about her had left a lasting impact on Russell. He couldn’t imagine what it must have been like to actually know her. Russell had said a much before, but Thane kept trying. He’d remind him as many times as he needed to.
Thane relaxed, scooted closer until he was under the shelter of Russell’s arm. “I know. It’s too easy to get caught up in the past. I don’t want to ruin what little time we have in the present.”
“Ssh. I want to know all there is about you. Past, present. She’s a part of that.”
The wind died down, to Russell’s relief. He moved his goggles up to his forehead so he could see without squinting through dust smudged plastic. The sky was full of stars, bright and shimmering against the navy and aubergine backdrop of the sky. The light of the crescent moon glided over the sand, silvering the tops of the dunes, casting the valleys in blue shadow. An alien landscape on his home planet. He swept his hand out over the scene. “Besides, I don’t think there’s anything that can spoil all this.”
Thane hummed in response. Russell wasn’t quite sure what that meant for certain, but he’d assumed it was positive up till now without incident. “So…” He got a little closer, sharing his heat with Thane. “Irikah wanted to see a desert, you said?”
“Older drell do.” Thane purred and there was no mistaking the content in his voice. Russell smiled. “It’s a goal to see our ancestral home once with your own eyes. I would still like to try to take Kolyat or maybe even here.” He sighed, and for the first time in days, he looked tired, a sad little downturn of his mouth. “I’m afraid we’ve run out of time for that. But if there’s a small chance after this…if there’s anything or anyone left, we could make a trip of it. The three of us—or maybe the four of us as the case may be.”
Russell’s brow rose at that. And he’d been afraid that he would be the one intruding. He was surprised to hear that someone else could put up with Kolyat’s perpetually sour disposition other than his father. “How long has that been going on?”
“A few months. I think they’ve lived together for most of it. Kolyat won’t say and he made me promise I wouldn’t spy on him.” The wind kicked up again and Thane shivered against Russell’s side. “I still have him followed—purely for his safety—but I don’t ask them to report on his comings and goings, merely to make sure he stays out of trouble. I knew he was long overdue for some sort of romantic entanglement, but I find myself unprepared, still.”
“You sound like every other parent I’ve ever met.” Russell laughed. Somethings crossed species. “You know anything about this person he’s seeing? Might make it easier to take.”
“Of course,” the smile in Thane’s voice brought one to Russell’s mouth. “I promised Kolyat I wouldn’t spy on him. We made no agreement about his paramour. His name is Haron. Turian. C-Sec officer. A father in hospice care, a sister married to a young primarch with one daughter and one son. He might be the only clean cop left in C-Sec.” Thane shivered again when he was done, and like usual, he didn’t complain. Russell wished he would, and just once, ask for Russell’s comfort.
“You could do worse for a son-in-law.”
Thane grunted his agreement. “If it comes to that. I’m just glad he’s not alone.”
“Let’s take this conversation inside.” Russell was starting to feel the chill now. He’d had enough stargazing for tonight. They would still be there tomorrow, if they were lucky. “I’ll make you dinner; we can get ready for bed. What do you say?”
“You go on ahead. I wish to sit a while longer. I won’t be long.”
“I’ll hold you too that.” Russell pressed a scarf covered kiss to Thane’s head before he released him, rose, and headed into their temp habitat.
Only once he stepped inside did the heated structure did he realize how cold the desert night really was. His skin hurt from the sudden rush of heat, and was no doubt turning red as he exposed more of it to this new, intense warmth. Being out in the cold, he’d gotten used to it, but this was so much better. He hoped he wouldn’t have to drag Thane inside. The drell must be really suffering in this cold, yet he insisted on staying out there. Russell was giving him ten minutes before he checked to make sure he hadn’t frozen to death.
He got down to his thermal under things and parked his butt in front of his terminal to wait. He made it a point of checking it once a day to see if there were any complications, but there’d been nothing since the few messages he’s gotten when they touched down, not even from Garrus. He was a little sad about that, but everyone had their own business to take care of. They had to get ready.
His deadline for turning himself into the Alliance crept ever closer, as did the day he and Thane would part. They didn’t talk about any plans the drell had for himself, both of them ignoring the very obvious issue of Thane’s health. He hadn’t had one flare up after he’d gotten used to the drier atmosphere, but there was no telling how long their luck would hold. He’d tried so hard not to think about this all this this time, he wasn’t going to give in now!
An icy kiss to his cheek forcibly pulled Russell from his gloom. The spectre jumped, covered his cheek with a hand. “I didn’t hear you come in.”
Thane gave one of his rare smiles. “I am a renowned assassin.” He’d gotten in and stripped down, all without Russell noticing. He sat behind Russell, his cheek pressed to his back, likely trying to leech warmth from him. “You didn’t make sneaking up on you very hard. You were off in your own world.”
“Yeah, sorry…I got distracted.”
“What we should have for dinner.” The lie came pretty easily. Just like Thane, he didn’t want to cast a pall over the rest of their trip. Thane wasn’t interested in dinner.
His hands slipped underneath Russell’s inner most layer, one going up his shirt, the other fitting down his pants. He had such nimble fingers. They went straight to the places that elicited the greatest reaction the last time Thane had laid hands on him, fondling his sensitive areas like he’d done so every day for years instead of once, just a few days ago. Russell groaned, gripping onto the corner of the box that served as the desk. He certainly wasn’t going to find food down there.
“Thank you for this, siha.” The words brushed against Russell like a rough caress and he couldn’t help whimpering. This was so unbecoming of someone of his stature.
“For what? My cock?” He let out a breathy chuckle. It was corny, a poor attempt to reclaim what little coolness he had left. He failed. The chuckle turned into another moan, long and loud and drawn out, as Thane stroked him hard from base to head. Gods, he was glad there wasn’t anyone around to hear him. They hadn’t tried anything after that first night, and Russell had been piqued the whole time. Living in close quarters like this didn’t afford many chances for him to have time to relieve himself, leaving him on a hair trigger. Any more attention like that and he was liable to blow.
“For this trip. For making sure we have time to be together. I didn’t think I’d want to be with anyone again after Irikah, but shouldered your way into my life, demanded I take notice. I couldn’t ignore you, just like I can’t ignore this.” He tugged on Russell again, sending him all to pieces.
This was just like the first time, where things had dropped off. Russell said they could take things slow, not wanting to pressure Thane, and he meant it. He did nothing but look at the assassin, though they shared a bed every night. He kept his hand well above the waist and below the throat. He’d put his desire on a backburner and was content for it to stay there, but if Thane stopped now, he’d have no choice but to stalk out into the frigid night to handle this on his own. He wasn’t about to beg Thane for anything, still wanting to move things at his pace, but Russell was really close.
“Y-you’re welcome.” He really hoped he wasn’t expected to say anymore. Thane caught his earlobe between his teeth and sank them into it. A fresh wave of heat moved through him again, as he twisted in the drell’s arms. Was he trying to drive Russell crazy?
“I’d like to try again. I’m…calmer than I was before.” He kept his hands moving as he spoke, one working his cock while the other pinched and pulled at his nipples. He’d found that weakness last time and was fully exploiting it. “Is it OK if it’s like this?” Russell nodded, too overcome to say or do much of anything other than accept this. “Good. You’ll have to forgive me if I’m not…great at this. It’s been years. But let me know what I can do to be better.”
That would have to wait for another time.
Russell was completely useless, able only to cry out when it was appropriate and a few times when it wasn’t. Thane was just so close, doing things Russell only dreamed of him doing. Normally he wouldn’t have thought this more than he could handle, but right now it felt like too much. He reached behind him, wanting to touch Thane, too, to give him something back. He gripped his frill, rubbing his thumb over a patch of ribbing under his jaw. He’d make it up to him, he swore, he just was too overcome!
He lasted a total of ten minutes, a record low, even worse than his early teenaged fumblings. His body jerked, seed spilling over Thane’s hand, dribbling onto the front of his inner lining. Gods, that felt good. And now that he was coming down, he started to feel guilty. He’d gotten all that…What had he done for Thane?
His wits came back to him slowly. He started to turn around, intent on returning the favor when Thane stilled him, held him close. “Don’t move, siha…Not yet.” Russell didn’t understand what was going on, why he couldn’t embrace his lover.
Wet. The back of his shirt, just above the waistband of his pants felt wet, sticky. Had Thane really…?
Russell stayed still. He didn’t know what the hell to say or do. Had Thane meant to do that or had it just happened? Either way, Russell would keep following his lead. He didn’t want to embarrass him in case it had been an accident.
“I…I didn’t mean for this to happen,” his voice was tight, strained. “You were just so...so beautiful and I just… it affected me. I couldn’t…I couldn’t control it. And now I’ve ruined everything.”
“Hey, hey,” Russell soothed. He couldn’t see him yet, but it was obvious Thane was upset. He turned in his arms, even as Thane tried to make him stay as he was. He pressed the drell back until he was down on their bed rolls, ignoring the dampness on the crotch of his pants. It was a shame, since he was very interested in taking a closer look. Thane’s comfort was foremost in Russell’s mind. “Nothing’s ruined. We both made a mess. That’s just how it goes sometimes.”
Thane dragged in a ragged breath. “It’s still embarrassing.” Those darkening patches on his throat made his words ring true. He wouldn’t meet Russell’s eye as the larger man hovered over him. All that training meant nothing in the face of this embarrassment. Russell wasn’t going to chuckle, even though he wanted to. It wouldn’t have been mean spirited! He was just so cute when he was flustered.
“I know…”Russell truly did. “That was pretty much all of my sexual encounter before I hit 20.” Pretty fast, messy. He’d been young, inexperienced, both things Thane wasn’t. “You just have to get used to it again,” he said, by way of explaining himself. “We don’t have forever, but we can practice as much or as little as you like.” Thane finally looked up at him, smoothing a hand over Russell’s arm.
“As long as you’re sure.”
“I don’t think I’ve ever been surer about anything in my life.” He cleared his throat, looking down at the drell beneath him. “Time for us is short, but any I have is yours to take.”