Shepard stared out over the wide expanse of ocean, ablaze with light as the sun set in spectacular fashion with a dozen different shades of purple and red washing down the day as the twin moons of this far-off planet rose in the north. The black sands of the beach were fine and pleasant underfoot and she dug her toes into the warmth. It was about as close to perfect as she could find out here in the Terminus and, after the Collector ship's parts were finished disintegrating in the black holes of the center of the galaxy, she felt that the crew was in need of a little peace and quiet.

The fact that there was a small town with a nice bar nearby didn't hurt too much, either. Most of the crew was there celebrating, all except for one scarred old merc who was currently tapping Shepard's shoulder with a bottle of beer. She took it with a smile and drank deeply from the cobalt blue bottle as Zaeed settled down next to her with a grunt.

"Figured you'd be out here," he said, popping open his own beer on the latches of his boot.

"I've never been one for loud celebrations." She propped her arms on her knees and let the bottle dangle from her fingers, sighing contentedly. "This suits me just fine."

"Know what you mean. There's a nice planet near Dekkuna that's sort of like this, only the sky is green. I did a job there once for a volus named Harun Jai, had to fight through twenty Blood Pack krogan armed to the teeth to get to my mark. Jessie was in fine form that day."

Shepard laughed and moved a little closer to him while he pretended not to notice. "You have a story for everything, don't you?"

"I've been around the block quite a few times, sweetheart. Done jobs all over the galaxy and a story for every one of them." He took a swig of his beer and casually threw his arm over her shoulder. She leaned against him, her hair just brushing against his cheek, and he found himself liking it more than he'd thought he would. A lot more.

"Tell me another one."

"You're always taking the piss out of me for my stories, and now you're asking for one?" He turned his head just a little, which put his mouth dangerously close to her skin. He tightened his grip on her experimentally, just to see what she'd do, and she scooted over so they sat hip-to-hip. He let his hand wander down to cup her waist and her arm slid around him in return.

"Humor me."

So he launched into one of his favorites (he had a lot of those) about the one time he and a bunch of his Blue Sun compatriots in the old days of the organization got one over on Aria and stole a shipment of small arms right out from under her nose, and to this day she still had no idea who'd been responsible. All the while he grew more bold and stroked her hip, gradually edging her shirt up until he was touching her bare skin. She didn't comment on his actions, only snuggled in closer and turned her head toward him so he could feel her breath on his neck. When he was finished weaving the tale, he fell into silence and suddenly he was aware of how warm she was in the cooling air, the rushing waves, and the light that was slowly draining out of the day, revealing a broad swath of stars that salted the sky.

"I love listening to you," she said softly, the little puffs of air as she spoke tickling the short hairs at the nape of his neck. "Thanks for everything, Zaeed."

"Don't go saying goodbye just yet, Shepard. I'm still here." He had to turn his head a little more to see her with his good eye, which put his face mere inches from hers. "I'm not about to leave just yet."

"I hope not. Not until you've been paid, anyway."

"The credits just cleared this morning," he said, his voice husky and low, and she shivered. He felt a surge of male pride that even at his age he could elicit a reaction out of a woman, especially a woman like Shepard.

"You haven't gotten your payment from me."

"Oh, yeah? What's that?" They were balanced right on the razor's edge between comrades and something more—what that something was, he wasn't sure, but he thought he'd like very much to find out. Rather than answer his question, she stretched up and closed the gap between them, her lips feather-light against his before pressing closer and kissing him properly. He brought his other hand around to cup her jaw and she tasted just as sweet and warm as he'd thought she would. Her tongue met his and explored his mouth and he let out a little groan before he could stop himself. She smiled and kissed him once more, then rested her head on his shoulder with a contented sigh.

"I've been waiting weeks to do that," she said.

"You could have done it sooner. I wouldn't have said no."

"I know, but you so rarely shut up long enough for me to ask."

"There you go, taking the piss again."

She stood up and held a hand out to him, helping him to his feet. They started to walk back toward the bar, close enough to hold hands but for the beers that hung between them. "So, I've got a room booked for the night, and I don't mind sharing."

"I'd planned to go back to the Normandy and drink alone until I passed out," he said, his hand grazing along the strip of naked skin above the waistband of her pants, "but I don't think you're done paying me yet."

She smiled and shook her head. "I think you're right. We're big goddamn heroes now—we deserve a night off."

"Couldn't have said it better myself."