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The Tide

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For the longest time, Kolyat Krios hadn’t even been sure he had a father. It wasn’t anything to be worried about on Kahje, given the number of drell who entered into Contracts or simply found the means to leave and never return to the watery planet. Regardless, his mother had been adamant that somewhere out in the vastness of space was a man who had contributed to his existence and cared enough for their survival that he sent money and gifts every so often.

He first met that man when he was five. There had been a stranger sitting in the living room when he had come out of his room that morning, and he was so startled that he’d run straight to his mother instead of retreating silently like he’d been taught. She’d smiled softly, sunset eyes bright, and told him the man was his father. Frowning at her dismissal of a potential threat, he had slipped back into the hallway and scrutinised the stranger as thoroughly as he could manage at that age. Coming to the reluctant conclusion that they might, maybe, possibly be related, he cautiously ventured further into the room to gather more information. The older drell had endured his scrutiny with something like exasperated fondness, but looking back on the memory, Kolyat had reluctantly noted the pain in his father’s eyes that his own son not only did not know him, but was wary.

Perhaps if Thane had stayed then, their relationship could have been salvaged. Instead, his father resumed his off-world missions, rarely returning to check on the family he’d left behind. Kolyat thought it was probably a blessing when his mother was taken and killed by slavers his father had offended. It was cruel, he knew, but in the years since that first visit, Kolyat had watched his mother slowly wither away. He’d seen her walk the beach beside their small home at all hours, unconcerned that her child was as awake as she. She seemed to not notice her own wracking cough when it began, or the fact that her eight-year-old son was the one to find a doctor and try to reverse the damage. He’d learned to feed himself at eleven, not because she encouraged the self-sufficiency as a later life skill but because she hardly remembered to even feed herself.

Irikah’s funeral was brief and not that well-attended. Kolyat felt resentment churn in his gut as his father gave her body to the sea. The man who had supposedly pursued her relentlessly during their courting had all but abandoned the family he swore to honour and yet he was allowed to perform the last rites of a woman he had left to waste away alone? And for what? Money? They’d never used even a tenth of what Thane had deposited in their accounts. It hadn’t been necessary. He kept these thoughts from his father, expression blank and unreadable even to a trained assassin, as the man left him in the care of aunts and uncles he’d never met before in his life. Don’t give the enemy any advantage. He’d learned that at his father’s all-too-cold knee and now he was putting that advice to good use.

It was easy enough to slip away from his new caregivers. He may not have had a Contract, but that didn’t mean that his skills were anything less than professional. He only lacked practical experience and that, at least, was hard to come by if you were trapped planetside as he was. As he was going through the last of his mother’s belongings, however, he found references to an inheritance being kept for him on the Citadel. A supposed legacy for him when either he came of age or his father finally died. He was clever though, and as soon as he had finished transferring the remains of his mother’s accounts to those under his management, he also wrangled control over the credits Thane had left behind in trust. With more credits at his disposal at twenty-two than most his age would see in ten years, Kolyat left his watery home and the memory of his mother behind for good.

Perhaps it was foolish to think he could hide his activities from a man as experienced as Thane Krios, but he made the effort anyway. It worked for nearly long enough, as well. The hit on Talid wasn’t his first, no matter what his father might like to believe. He’d prayed to Amonkira prior to setting out and had been prepared to ask Kalahira for forgiveness for his wickedness when they’d been interrupted.

Later, in meditation, Kolyat recalled with perfect clarity that Commander Shepard, for all she appeared an avenging angel sweeping in to save the unworthy, was much younger than he had expected from reports of her activities. Despite his efforts, his fists clenched in renewed anger as he watched memory-Thane follow the armoured woman’s form without question. Eyes so burgundy they were nearly black lingered on her whenever she wasn’t looking and Kolyat could still, weeks later, hear the sub-vocal thrum of an interested drell in his voice whenever he answered the Commander. Whenever he heard his mother’s endearment fall from those lips, directed at another.

He was sure he had startled more than a few of his fellow votaries when he had burst from his room in the temple, snarling past the concerned faces of the priests towards the training rooms. It was more than the anger at another abandonment that gave him discomfort. Shepard was younger than himself, and yet his father would pursue her? Not only would he draw another to his doomed side to replace the woman he had left to waste in his absence, but one that he should have seen as a child! Clearly he thought Kolyat himself to be too young still to be without constant supervision, so why did that not translate to the resurrected Saviour of the Citadel?

Intellectually, Kolyat knew Shepard was unlikely to pick up on his father’s subtle invitations simply because she couldn't read the body language involved, but that didn’t preclude more blunt methods. Eventually, answers came from the very woman he had disliked on sheer principle for tolerating his father's indiscretion. He’d been working with Captain Bailey for barely a month when the Normandy’s shuttle touched down on the Wards again. Over the course of the next hour or so, what must have been nearly the entire crew came through their office, driving him to hide in the records rooms and Bailey to distraction. When he finally emerged, it was to see his boss and the Commander sitting nicely on the break room sofa having coffee.

Shepard greeted him with a smile and an invitation to join her as the Captain stood, giving tacit agreement for the drell to stay and chat for as long as he liked. Since it kept him out of the front offices where his father might walk through at any moment, he agreed. That it happened to be the perfect oppourtunity to question her about her relationship with Thane was definitely a bonus.

They began with small talk, once he’d sat rather stiffly on the couch beside her. How he was settling into the C-Sec offices and the Normandy’s most recent trip to Tuchanka became the backdrop for a meandering conversation about the Council’s most recent blunders and the rumors (unsubstantiated, of course) of a change in the identity behind the galaxy’s most notorious information broker. Finally he found the opening he was looking for when she asked if he had been in contact with his father at all since they were last on the Citadel.

“I have,” he murmured. “I wished to speak to you about him, in fact.”

He paused, staring at his hands. He could feel her puzzled smile and gathered his courage, looking up, midnight green eyes locking with her own. “I know that he is attached to you; his letters are little more than recounts of your mission exploits with a focus on your skill in battle. I believe that he sees you as more than just his Commander; he speaks of you as he once did my mother.” He took a deep breath, trying to convey the gravity of his next words. “I would like to make sure my father isn’t taking advantage of you.”

Shepard looked startled for a moment, then smiled sadly. He watched her fingers, previously twisting nervously, as they stilled and flattened across her knees. Calm and confident. “He’s not.”

She continued before he could do more than open his mouth to seek clarification. “I kind of hoped you wouldn’t have noticed, but I suppose he might have told you if you two have kept in contact.”

She looked him in the eyes again, no trace of shame in those brilliantly faceted jewels and he felt his stomach sink. “I turned him down.”

It took him a moment to process what she’d actually said, but then his eyes closed and his dropped his head in relief. Even through his leathers, he could feel the hand she placed hesitantly on his shoulder. It wasn’t until she spoke again that he realised she might not have understood his reaction, however.

“I’m sorry,” she murmured, squeezing the joint slightly before she withdrew. “I’m not ready to be a mother to anyone and--”

His head shot up again, startling her to silence. “No! No, I...” he trailed off, willing himself back under control.

“I don’t know how much you know of drell as a species,” he tried to begin again, painfully aware that this would be one of the more awkward conversations of his life. “But death in battle and by Kepral's has artificially lowered our life expectancy. You are younger than I am, and I am only barely considered an adult. My father…” he swallowed painfully and looked away. “My father should not be seeing you as anything but a child.”

The silence dragged on until he couldn’t bear to know what she was thinking. His brow crinkled to see her smiling softly at him. Hesitantly, he questioned it. “Why aren’t you more upset?”

Shepard laughed a little, low and rusty and not at all like any other human woman he’d ever heard. “Because even if you are a child to him, I am not. I’m an adult to humans, and that’s what matters.”

He must have still looked confused, because she reached over and patted his arm. “If he had pursued a drell my age or a human of, say, Mouse’s age, then yes, I would be upset. Furious even. Things like age differences simply don’t cross species lines. If they did, there wouldn’t ever be anything but pureblooded asari, would there?”

Kolyat turned the reasoning over in his head before nodding reluctantly. “I see your point. I apologise for assuming things.”

She gave another quiet chuckle and stood to get a refill. “No worries. I get where you were coming from and I appreciate your concern. As long as you didn't tell your dad off about it, I think we can just keep it between us, hey?”

He noticed when she turned back to the couch that her smile was slightly crooked and he recalled that she had had a scar once which had split not only her eyebrow but both lips. It must have been healed with the rest of her wounds when Cerberus decided to return her to life. Its absence had obviously not changed her muscle memory, but the expression now seemed somehow less than the ones he’d seen in press photos and vids after the takedown of Sovereign. He snapped out of his daze when she nudged his arm gently, blinking at the contact, before acknowledging his rudeness with a nod and another murmured apology.

She shrugged, obviously used to Thane’s lapses in conversation. “What were you thinking about?”

“Your scars,” he answered before his brain could come up with a suitable lie. At her raised eyebrow, he elaborated self-consciously. “You look more like the warrior you are when the evidence is written on your skin. I was only thinking it was a shame they were erased when you were brought back to life, but I suppose it is a small price to pay if half the things my father relates about your final mission are true.”

She blushed at the unexpected compliment and Kolyat couldn’t help his deep inhale as her pheromones flooded the small room, nor could he stop the answering flush to his frill. Before he could apologise a third time, she grinned and took a hearty gulp of her coffee. “Pretty smooth lines there. You should save them for your girlfriend, though.”

“I don’t have one,” he replied softly.

“Boyfriend?” She questioned lightly. “Other non-slash-multi-gendered romantic or aromantic interest?”

He shook his head and she tilted hers slightly, looking a bit like one of the little seabirds he remembered from his youth. “Why not?”

There was no judgement in her tone, only curiosity, but his answer was stiff nonetheless. “I never felt the need.”

Shepard nodded, finishing her drink and setting the mug aside. “I know what you mean. I never seemed to have the time, and even if I felt that way about any of my crew…”

She looked pensive and he remained silent, watching her with what he hoped was a supportive expression. She leaned forward, elbows on her knees as she stared at her clasped hands. “I won’t say you’re lucky to still have your father or that one parent is better than none or any of that. I know just how much of that is consolationist bullshit. I still have a mother after all, for all the good she’s ever done me.”

Kolyat made a soft noise, somewhere between comfort and understanding and she gave him a bitter half-smile in response as she straightened again. “Sorry. I didn’t mean to throw myself a pity party here. What I was trying to say was that I’m glad you’re talking to your dad, even if it’s just through emails. Just don’t…don’t live your life according to his.”

Shepard exhaled sharply through her nose, locking gazes with him once more. “I became a Marine because I loved and admired my father, but I stayed a Marine because it was something I genuinely wanted to be. I became a Spectre for the same reason: it felt like the right decision for me.”

She reached out and covered his hands with her own, willing him to believe what she was saying. “Finish your work here with Bailey, take responsibility for your actions, but think for the future. Anything you do after this, make sure you do it for yourself; not for him or me or Thane and especially not for Irikah.”

He recoiled a little at her intensity but she held fast, her hot fingers curled around and under his much cooler palms. She started to say more, but footsteps in the hall cut her off and she pulled away just before the curvy figure of Miranda Lawson appeared in the doorway. Kolyat was impressed by the cool indifference that slid over the Commander’s features as she turned to face her XO, only the lingering scents in the air giving away her previous emotional state.

Like any good hunter, Shepard waited for her prey to make the first move. Miranda, for her part, seemed startled to find the young drell there rather than Captain Bailey. Kolyat wasn’t sure why, as she would have had to pass the man’s desk to find the break room at all, but he kept his dark eyes on the newcomer; Lawson was Cerberus, through and through, and therefore not to be trusted. After a brief stare-down, Miranda seemed to decide to just ignore him and turned her full focus on her Commander.

“Our next contact has been located. You are required to be there for the meeting.”

“And when is this meeting?” Shepard asked after nearly a minute of uncomfortable silence.

Kolyat swore he could feel Miranda trying not to grind her teeth. “As soon as possible.”

“Then it will wait until shore leave is over.”

“Shepard, the Illusive Man--”

The Commander’s mouth firmed and the look she shot the catsuit wearing doctor would cut anyone to the bone. He was reminded of how she had called his name in anger on the Wards, following him and sweeping into Talid’s apartment with his father, eyes blazing as she nearly took his arm off with her warning shot and followed it up with a bruising punch to his jaw. Miranda actually took a step backwards before pulling together her dignity and nodding tightly.

“In fourty-three hours then.” Lawson didn’t actually wait for a dismissal before muttering a swift, “By your leave,” and escaping back the way she’d come.

Shepard let out a breath, long and slow, and the tension in her frame relaxed. Kolyat looked away, somewhat uncomfortable at playing unwitting audience to what was undoubtedly a recurring argument. When he turned back, the Commander was once more smiling crookedly as though they’d never been interrupted.

“I suppose you have more to do today than sit around letting me try and give you advice. Don’t think you have to stay on my account. I’m not much for partying on shore leave and Gardner and Vakarian have all our requisitions covered. I usually just give Bailey a hard time unless Anderson’s free for a few hours.”

He hesitated. While they didn’t necessarily have much to talk about, he had no wish to run into his father at the moment and she was a ready excuse. She seemed to pick up on his reasoning without words and nodded her understanding. “Can’t hide forever, of course, but how about a game of sham? Bailey’s pants at it but he keeps a board in his desk.”

The asari game was similar to shogi or go, though really only in that it was designed for two players and required a good head for tactics. The name had been a source of amusement for humans when they had been introduced to it; apparently their language had a similar word with much less desirable connotations. He knew the rules, though, and as soon as he agreed, Shepard was out the door to pester the Captain for the means to play. They spent another two and a half hours playing games for a rotating audience of C-Sec officers. Some stopped by just to confirm Shepard’s existence, but most watched their unfolding strategies with interest and no little of what the Commander dubbed ‘peanut gallery sniping’ and ‘back seat driving’.

He found himself rather disappointed when she was called back to the Normandy - by the pilot this time, who seemed no less rude but apparently enjoyed quite a bit more of Shepard’s favour - before they could finish their tie-breaking game. When he returned the game board to the Captain’s desk, Bailey chuckled and clapped him on the back good-naturedly.

“Chin up kid, she’ll be back. And,” the older human laughed over his shoulder, “it’s not like a Spectre like that doesn’t know how to get a hold of you even when she’s knee deep in Collectors. Now we’ve got work to do and you’ve already had an unscheduled afternoon off.”

Resolving to analyze his discomfort later in private meditation, Kolyat nodded and retired to the records room to sift through the reports that had arrived while he was otherwise occupied.

Bailey was right, not that he would ever admit as much to the Captain. Not two days after the Normandy’s shore leave was complete, he received a not only a message from his father, but one from Shepard as well. It was interesting to read about their missions from two different perspectives. While Thane continued to focus seemingly strictly on the end goal and the Commander’s prowess in battle, Shepard’s rambling summaries were punctuated with observations of not only her surroundings but her squad and their reactions to whatever mess they’d been dragged into this time. He wondered idly if her official reports to the Alliance before the hunt for Saren had been this colourful.

When the email finally came with the news that they would be hitting the Omega 4 Relay in only hours so this was quite possibly goodbye, Kolyat was glad he already had the day off. He would have been completely useless around the precinct and as it was he could barely concentrate on his duties to the temple. As soon as he was released by the priests, he returned to his rooms to pray to Arashu for the safe return of the Normandy and all her crew. Only the head priest, bringing word three days later that Shepard had once more performed the impossible made him move from the small shrine. Even then he lingered, giving his fervent thanks for the ship’s nearly unmolested homecoming.

Any celebration they were planning was derailed by the Bahak Disaster. While almost everyone on the Citadel had been up close and personal with a Reaper less than three years prior, many still condemned their hero for destroying a star system to buy the galaxy desperately needed time. He could see both sides of the issue but he knew Shepard now - knew the woman and not just the symbol - and understood that the near-genocide of the batarians had been her absolute last resort. It would have hurt her terribly, but she would have done the same to Sol if it would have bought them time in this war.

Kolyat was surely not the only being not ever stationed on the Normandy to message her during her incarceration, but he was likely one of the few she actually replied to. None of their communications touched on anything particularly sensitive, but instead they traded stories of their respective childhoods. She told him of her father, the Marine who loved the stars yet requested dirtside postings so she could have something resembling a normal childhood. He described life on Kahje in a way perhaps only a drell could recall it. They wrote as though the Reapers had already been defeated; their hopes for peaceful lives and a worry-free future spelled out in extranet orange.

Then the attacks came and all he knew was that she was free and there were Reapers everywhere. He made time to send her notes, any intel he gathered packed tightly around brief promises that he and his father still breathed, no matter how painful it was for one of them. Her replies were sparse but he followed her exploits on Battlespace religiously, reassured every time Shepard sat in front of the camera that she was alive and relatively unharmed.

He arrived on the Presidium too late to assist in preventing the assassination of the salarian councilor. Not that he would have taken that pleasure away from a dying man, but perhaps the wiry human would not have escaped so easily had both Thane and himself been there to prevent him. He was pleased to see her at Huerta Memorial, though there was never a doubt that she would be there for his father’s last moments. When the rites were done and the prayers had all been said, she touched his arm lightly, eyes thoughtful as she peered up at him from where she stood at his side.

“Kolyat,” her voice was soft, its rough edges worn away with grief. “Why did the last verse say ‘she’?”

He watched her for a moment, midnight green eyes memorising her anguish in a glance before he looked away, unable to bear it any longer. Shepard didn’t let him avoid her though, shifting around him to read the truth directly from his face.

“That prayer was not for him; he has already asked forgiveness for the lives he has taken.” He willed his voice not to break. “His wish was for you.”

She nodded gently, as though she had already known the answer, and his heart clenched to see tears on her lashes. Before they could spill - before he could stop himself - he pulled her close, letting his prayer book fall where it would. She shivered in his arms and he bent his head to murmur soothingly into her hair. Finally she pulled away, trying desperately to return to the hardened Commander the galaxy required her to be.

“I apologise for crying on you.” Her eyes were dry again and there was no dampness on his jacket. “We’ve just lost so many already and now that both Mordin and Thane are gone, I…”

She had written him after the mission on Tuchanka; a twisting, rambling narrative of devastation and repressed anger touched only sparingly with hope and pride. Kolyat took her hands in his, folding them together between their bodies and bowing his head until he touched his crown to hers. “My father and Dr Solus would not want you to grieve for them. I understand that saying it cannot stop what you feel, but they willingly gave themselves to the sea so that we could win this war for those they left behind.”

She nodded, rolling their skulls against each other. “Thank you,” she whispered, and he breathed her scent in deeply before letting her go.

It was almost pathetically easy to be assigned to Earth when it became clear it would be the war’s final battle site, for good or ill. He had been on an entirely different continent when he heard about the Final Push, as the media had taken to calling it, but in the aftermath of the shockwave, he wasted no time getting to London to help search the wreckage. There were so many bodies - so few of them able to be saved - but only one he cared to find. There was a shout from nearby and his head snapped around to see a burly lieutenant hefting a piece of concrete off of one of the many piles. This one, however, held something precious.

“We found her!”

“Admiral!”

“She’s alive!”

Medic!”

The call ran down the line of rescue workers like wildfire, everyone craning their necks for a look at their Saviour. Kolyat forced himself to continue extracting the mangled squad of turians he’d uncovered instead of rushing to her side. He would do no good over there, getting in the way of actual doctors. She may not like him personally, but Miranda Lawson knew exactly what kind of debt she owed his family and, if he needed to, Kolyat was prepared to use any means necessary to see Shepard as soon as she was stable.

‘Stable’ was, of course, a relative term, but he made sure to keep track of each of her hospital transfers. Often, he would sneak in outside of visiting hours to sit at her beside, one frail hand clasped in his own as he prayed for her swift recovery. When she finally woke, he made sure to be there alongside those she had fought and bled with. Perhaps they thought he was representing his father, but he had held tight to the words she had spoken to him over two years prior on a threadbare couch in a too-bright precinct break room. He was there for her because it was the only place he could possibly be at that moment and still be true to himself.

He knew he had fallen into the same trap that had ensnared his father years before. Unlike Thane, however, Kolyat refused to burden Shepard with his affections. He couldn’t help his subconscious reactions - the subtle vocal and hormonal changes that deepened his voice and frill colour alike - but he could keep his words professional and his hands to himself. He couldn’t stop himself from calling on her so often he practically lived in her home, either. That is, until a particularly probing question from a visiting Tali when she thought him out of earshot brought an embarrassed flush to Shepard’s face. He knew then that he was not only torturing himself but making her uncomfortable in the process, so he retreated.

She tracked him down on the Citadel four months later, snagged his collar in her cybernetically-enhanced grip, and dragged him to his knees so she could snarl in his face despite her current wheelchair-bound status. “You really are an idiot, aren’t you?”

The question was proven to be rhetorical seconds later when she closed the gap between them and kissed him thoroughly. He wasted precious seconds debating the truth of that reality before he realised it didn’t matter and enthusiastically returned her affections. Hours later, in the privacy of his apartment, hands free to roam across soft skin and the firm muscles hidden beneath, he spared one final thought for his star-crossed parents. No, he wouldn’t make his father’s mistakes; there was nowhere he’d rather be than where he was at that moment and he was determined that no matter how perfect his recall, he would spend the rest of their lives memorising everything that made Shepard so gloriously her.