Dusk Rating: PG

Oh, the 'fic undoubtedly owes something to Tahi's At the Oasis. It also owes quite a lot to Lawrence of Arabia ...

For what it's worth, it's written as Anakin / Tahiri, though that's not important. Well, not that important, anyway. It could, theoretically, be Riina / Vader, Kyp / OC, Anakin / Beru, or Mara / Nom Anor ... What matters is that you're confused ...

Beyond that, the usual disclaimers apply. The Star Wars galaxy and presumably most of the Void belong to George ... don't try this at home ... all you need is love ... and, as ever, we're all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars ...

Overhead, the sky was darkening, the light of the day fading to reveal the naked ebony of the night — a night made darker, deeper and more beautiful by the glinting diamond splendour of a million stars.

Beneath the desert sky, dusk had already gathered in the sand-filled hollow where the hunting-party had pitched their camp for the night.

The oily light from the lanterns in the tents still kept the darkness at bay, and the contented snuffling of the banthas settling down for the night reminded her of the happy evenings of her childhood. But the cooking fires had been doused, and the shadows had fallen across the rock walls that rose on either side of them, velvet darkness curtaining the crumbled remains of the revetting and the cavernous gaps that had once been balconies and entryways leading into the residential rooms and work-bays.

The ruins, deep in the Dune Sea, had once been a moisture farm, but they had lain abandoned for a long time, longer than any of her tribe knew. She had seen black scars of scorching on the tumbled rubble of the outbuildings and entrance domes as they rode in, suggesting that fire had played some part in the destruction, but whether the had taken place during the Conquest, or at some earlier date, they had no way of knowing.

Perhaps, like so much now, the memory of it was lost in the shifting sands.

For the hunting-party, the place was simply a bivouac, somewhere to pass another icy desert night. They were grateful for the shelter provided by the sand-filled hollow where the sunken central courtyard had once been, deep enough to offer their banthas some respite from the cold night wind, and to hide their lantern-lit urtyas from any prying eyes.

Even this deep in the desert, it was no longer safe to take risks.

So, she was grateful for the bivouac that the ruins had provided, and grateful for the darkness which erased the memories of a broken past, shading the present into more muted, and less painful, tones. In the bright light of day, even the evening, with the white-hot crucibles of the suns spilling molten gold all along the horizon, and the long, lean shadows of their banthas slanting sideways across the lapping sands, it had been obvious what this place had once been. The desert wind and the scouring sand had not yet worn the remains beyond recognition, and she had had an uneasy sense, as she dismounted to lead her mount down into the hollow, that her hunting-party had become squatters in the ruins of a vanished people, whose achievements they could only envy.

Now, though, it was dusk.

With one last look at her warriors for the night, she turned away and trudged up the steeper slope at the south end of the hollow, her boots sinking ankle-deep into the loose sand with every step. They were scuffed combat-boots, Alliance issue, moulded from synthetic weave and moulded plast. Comfortable enough, but starkly different from the traditional puttees and high hessians which most of the warriors wore, they were her only memento of her past — the time the tribe's storytellers already called the Long Walkabout, the time when Sliven's daughter had forgotten who she was.

Still, climbing the slope, she kept balance, moving with the practiced confidence of a warrior raised in the desert, and reached the level plain. Ahead of her, the night sky rose against the sunset, black and vast.

She turned as she came up out of the hollow, and looked at the lone figure of her mate, standing out on the flat sand beyond the ruins, looking west, towards the sunset. He stood silhouetted against the darkening sky, still and silent even while his shadow lengthened behind him and his robes rippled and billowed in the eddying evening wind — the same wind that spun the scudding clouds into ragged pennants, coloured purple and gold against the fading blue beyond.

She smiled as she looked at him — tall and strong, his robes already faded to the colour of shadows in the dusk. But the last of the light still gleamed from the tinted lenses of his optical enhancers, the chrome prongs of the sensory spikes either side of his breath-mask.

For a moment, she felt a twinge of sadness, and walked to join him, allowing him to wrap one arm around her shoulders, sliding her own hand around his waist and leaning her head against his chest.

She blinked, and looked up at his masked face, knowing that he was thinking the same thoughts as her. That sort of thing happened more and more often now — they sometimes wondered if they would wake up one morning to find their minds as knotted and twined as their bodies.

Together, they witnessed the slow death of the day, the fading glory of the sunset reflected in their eyes, the last light of day warming their cheeks through the fabric of their masks. They seemed huge, the first sun red and orange, the second more silvery-yellow as it followed its brother to rest, half-veiled by trails of clouds across their faces as they dipped across a horizon sky saturated with every colour they could imagine.

They stood like that, very still, for a long time, until finally, the last light of the long day was gone, and there was only the cold night wind and the hard, glittering gleam of the stars overhead. Then, slowly, still unwilling to pull apart, they made their way back across the ruins together, down into the dip, and into the tent they shared.

Kneeling on the rugs beneath the low dome of the urtya, she pulled off one glove, and shuffled across on her knees to the lamp, snuffing the wick between her fingers. Behind her, he laced shut the flap, and she pulled the other glove off.

Then, they turned to face each other and began to unwrap each other's bindings. This was their ritual now — first loosening the ties at throats and wrists, then peeling the masks away from their faces — once, in other lifetimes, familiar faces; now only memories and stolen moments in the darkness after sunset, and the darkness before the dawn.

When they were done, they simply held each other for a long while, dressed only in darkness, bodies as familiar as their faces had once been, until their thoughts pillowed together, and, slowly, after a moment of quiet peace, they became aware of the cold goosebumps on their arms and backs, the warmth spreading from inside.

Then, without a word, they slid in between the heavy layers of hide rugs and discarded robes, pulling the blankets over their nakedness, and tangled themselves up again in each other's embrace in the darkness.

For a moment, they grinned at each other like children, imagining that they could see the luminous ghosts of each other's smiles. But there was only the starlight, filtered almost to nothing through the skin of the tent, and their smiles faded into quieter smirks, content in each other's embrace.

After a while like that, she felt the whisper of his thoughts, and frowned at him in the darkness.

Once, in that other lifetime they had shared — the one in which they had first learned to love each other — they had found themselves in a place like this, dark and close and shared and secret. They had thought that they might be about to die, and exchanged their first kiss.

Now, this closeness had become everyday — a regular part of their shared existence, twined with their clan, the endless, ever-shifting landscapes of the wind-sewn desert, and the stars in the sky.

But, at the same time, there lingered an awareness that, however comfortable, this shared darkness was not a place they had found for themselves through choice, but a refuge into which they had retreated, afraid for each other's life. They could only wait, and love each other, and hope — hope that they were not as utterly alone in their shared shelter as they sometimes felt.

Afterwards, they lay awake in the darkness — lying on their backs, fingers laced between their bodies, looking up together at the textured shadow of the tent's dome. Both of them, as they both knew, were imagining the sky overhead, a galaxy of light that seemed to everything else irrelevant, even the faded memory of the countless worlds of a Galaxy that was now — perhaps forever — lost to them.

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