“I wish there were more I could do,” she said. I thanked her, both for the sentiment and for not trying to talk me out of what I was doing. As we spoke, Thane shifted and I turned back to him.“Why have we come to Earth?” he asked.
“You said you wanted a desert,” I answered. “They've got the only one I could think of that doesn't require breathing masks or full environment suits.” He looked at me with an unreadable expression. I could see surprise and pain but other layers that I couldn't recognize lay beneath those. If he wanted to see a desert before he died then he was damned well going to see one.
I should have been making nice with the authorities greeting the folks we were dumping on their doorstep but political obligations were the last thing on my mind just then. For a wonder, everyone left me alone despite what must have been a tumultuous scene. Finally EDI announced that we were ready to leave. Joker guided us around the planet as I helped Thane to the shuttle.
Garrus had gathered Thane's few things from his room and brought them down. He shuffled his feet, mandibles flexing. “I...I'm sorry,” he stuttered, looking at the floor of the docking bay. Thane put his hand on Garrus's arm, managing a weak smile. “As am I,” he said. “I would prefer...to stay with...you all...to finish the job.” He could barely get enough air to speak but he was still trying to pretend everything was fine. I honestly thought Garrus was going to cry for a moment, before he turned away.
I glanced up and saw a string of people waiting to say goodbye. I realized that Thane had been more well-liked than I'd known. I may have monopolized his time but others had sought him out as well. Even crew who hadn't really known him wanted to thank him for helping to save their lives. I would rather have whisked him away without a fuss but I wasn't the only one hurting. He found a kind word to say to each person, despite how much it must have hurt him.
I thought of the man he may have been, had his childhood not been taken by the Hanar and his family by slavers. I didn't believe in religion and souls—Miranda hadn’t retrieved me from some underworld but put back together the wires and electricity that I’d been—but just then the idea of reincarnation held deep appeal for me. It would soothe me to think that Thane could start over, would have a chance to be gentle and loving as he'd been with me rather than a skilled and merciless killer whose training ate him alive. He deserved better.
Finally the crew finished saying their goodbyes and the shuttle was loaded. I flew it out into the sunset and cruised down to the desert floor. Thane stared in wonder at the dunes, a distant band of green disappearing as we descended. There was almost nothing to see but golden-brown sand and the sun sinking in the west. I landed atop a large ridge, popped open the hatches, and we sat for a time just watching. As the colors in the sky deepened, Thane reached for my hand.
“Thank you,” he said. “Such beauty...is a welcome...accompaniment...to my death. I only wish...” He trailed off, clearly not wanting to sound ungrateful. For once I was one step ahead of him.
“Captain Bailey has arranged for Kolyat to join us as soon as he can clear it,” I said. Thane's head came up and he stared at me, hope gleaming in his eyes. “It may take a couple of days, though,” I warned.
“I will wait,” he responded, settling back in the seat. I laughed and moved to kneel by the chair. “You don't have to wait there, you know. I brought everything for us to camp out...until...” I couldn't finish the sentence. His hand cupped my cheek and turned my face up to his. He wiped a tear away with his thumb and said, “It is perfect.” He slid down and joined me on the floor, wrapping me in his arms while I sobbed.
When I'd blunted the worst of my grief for the moment, I helped him back into the seat so that he could be comfortable while I arranged things. It took a little longer in the dark than I'd planned but the blessed silence was calming. When the habitat was in place I helped Thane walk out to it. The dry air seemed to have helped him a little and he stood almost upright, much straighter than he'd been on the Normandy.
I crushed the flicker of hope that blossomed. I had resigned myself to Thane's death over the past several hours and such foolishness would only make this harder in the end. I had made a sort of nest on the floor and settled him into it, helping him remove his clothes. I slid out of my own things and joined him, mourning our missed opportunities. Dr. Chakwas had given him something to bring down his fever and his skin was cool against me once more but it was too late for more than consoling each other. Even our kisses were short, as Thane gasped for breath. I stroked a tender hand down his back, wishing.
“You have given me...so much, siha,” he said slowly, pausing for air every few words. “I believed that I would die alone, taken down by a bullet that would signal my final failure. To have received so many blessings instead, to have been made Whole at the end, allows me to believe that Kalahira has heard my prayers after all.”
I ran my fingers over his lips. “You never give yourself enough credit, Thane,” I said. “You helped me to believe that I was still myself, that I could do what was right and still accomplish my mission. You healed me, one quiet moment, one patient talk at a time. I would give you anything and it could never be as much. Cerberus may have brought my body back to life but you're responsible for my heart.”
He drew me to him and we lay quietly, eventually sleeping. I woke to find him burning up and wheezing, deep in the grip of a memory from Kolyat's childhood. I found the medical supplies and followed Dr. Chakwas's instructions. After several minutes his breathing quieted but he remained in his memories. I listened as he relived them, both beautiful ones and terrible, hoping that he would return to me by the time Kolyat arrived. As the heat of his body dissipated the sun began to rise outside. He slept for a while as I found something to eat and drink.
When he woke, he was once again in the present. I suggested we sit outside and he willingly agreed. I brought blankets and dug out a sort of couch in the soft sand of the dune. We didn't bother dressing in the heat but sprawled together in the sun watching the shifting vista and sparse wildlife. Thane tried to hide how weak he felt but it was easy to see. He would accept only a small portion of fruit and a few sips of water despite my urging. Even sitting up long enough to consume that had left him trembling. I pretended not to notice as he clasped his hands on his legs but I could feel his muscles shaking as I helped him lie down under the pretense of hugging him. As he dozed I made an excuse to go to the shuttle. I closed the door behind me before I let myself break down again.
The day passed slowly as Thane drifted in and out of his memories. During one lucid period he weakly pulled me to him and told me how glad he was that I was there to hear him. “I never had a chance to tell Kolyat much, to find out if he even remembers having a father. Can you tell him, can you convince him how much I regret? I want him to know that I loved him.”
It was my turn to say, “I promise.” But I hoped that he could do so himself, and soon. I held him in my arms as he drifted again.I got us back inside as it grew dark and dosed Thane again before we settled in together. He wandered through his memories and we dozed off and on as the night grew colder. The sound of a shuttle landing outside woke me in the dark. I dressed quickly and stepped out to greet our visitors. Kolyat stepped from the shuttle and it flew off to the north, the anonymous pilot not stopping to chat. I didn't know what to say to the young man, so I gestured for him to follow me.
We stepped inside to find Thane propped up, as alert as I'd seen him for hours. He breathed jaggedly still but his eyes were bright. His son hesitated just inside the door, seeming unsure of how to proceed. I nodded to Thane and left for the shuttle. I intended to respect their privacy, but I left the door open in case Kolyat should call. I didn't know how long Thane could resist the pull of his memories or when the medicine would be overwhelmed by fever and infection.I busied myself checking messages, stunned by the sheer number of people who had discovered how to contact me. I read congratulations, condemnations, and requests for reports from the Council, the Alliance, reporters, and people I couldn't even identify, but I shut them all off when Kolyat stepped up behind me.
“He's...sinking,” the boy said. He wiped a tear impatiently from his cheek and continued. “He can barely breathe but he's still remembering killing people. Why can't he talk about me or my mother?”
I wanted to comfort him but he moved away when I tried to put an arm around him. He'd agreed to come but he was still so angry with his father. “He has,” I said gently. “He's spent two days remembering you and your mother, the life he so briefly shared with you. But he remembers his regrets and how he lost you, too. He wants you to understand what he believes were his mistakes.” Kolyat made a dismissive gesture but I could see the hurt in his eyes, so much like Thane's.
I closed up the shuttle and we walked back to the habitat module in silence, the spangled sky above reminding me of the dozens of stars I'd visited, wasting the little time I'd had with Thane on the trickery and petty bullshit of others. It seemed so foolish of me to have fought that chance for happiness, though I still felt the love for Kaidan that had held me back. Now I had just this slim moment to say goodbye before the chance was gone altogether. I knew that Thane needed Kolyat but I resented his intrusion into my last moments with his father. I am, indeed, a selfish bitch, I thought.
We found Thane drawing whooping breaths, his skin pale except the patches of hectic red that burned on his cheeks. Though I gave him more shots I knew the end must be very near. When he opened his eyes they looked filmed and I realized that he could no longer see. “Siha?” he gasped. I dove to his side, clasping his hand in mine and stroking his forehead. Heat baked from him but I forced myself not to pull away.
“I'm here,” I whispered, my throat too tight to speak aloud. “Love...” he said, struggling to say more, his once-strong voice little more than a harsh rasp. I put my finger to his lips then kissed him gently. “Love,” I echoed. My tears slid down his cheeks, meeting his own.
“Kol...” The boy lurched to Thane's other side, collapsing to his knees as I sat back on my heels. “Father,” he choked out. His hand hovered near Thane but he seemed afraid to touch the dying Drell. Thane's hand stirred, sliding toward Kolyat, who finally took it.
We sat together as Thane fought for breath after breath. My eyes ached from crying. Were this an enemy that threatened his life I'd have torn it to pieces with my bare hands but I waited, helpless to relieve him with anything more. Kolyat's anguished face floated in the growing light of dawn. We were losing something that both of us had found too late.
Thane moaned raggedly. “Hurts.” His head tossed as air scraped through his throat. “Please.” A fresh wave of tears poured down my face as I realized what he was asking. Kolyat stared at me, stricken. I could ease Thane's suffering in only one way. I'd already injected more than Dr. Chakwas had advised. But would Kolyat fight me, would he call me a murderer? If he clung to some faint hope that his father would suddenly improve enough to give him some imagined perfect last speech I feared that he might attack me outright.
I watched him closely, the look of horror fading to one of resignation. No matter the resentment that he carried, the history he wanted to rewrite, he could see that there was nothing more for Thane but pain. He nodded at me, tears of his own finally starting to flow.
I gave Thane a heavy dose, lifting his hand again as his body began to still. He opened his eyes one last time and clenched both hands around ours. “Thank you,” he sighed. His breathing slowed, as though he had decided to stop fighting. I brought his fingers to my lips and waited for each next inhale. Finally, the next one never came.