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Rocks and Shoals

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Rocks and Shoals

Part One: Run Aground Off the Reefs

Chapter One: The Mellow Musk of Defeat

"There was no bloom to the Citadel. Its branches were dead in the wind. She bristled under the oppressive air and sighed with her whole body, switching her luggage over to the other hand and stepping toward the security check-point to find the first C-Sec officer she could." - In a post-war galaxy, Kolyat and Oriana found each other when they went searching for themselves.

* * *

"I've got an important assignment for you, Krios." Commander Bailey leaned back in the chair of his office, one hand tapping out a rhythm on his desk. Light filtered over him from the omni-screen stretched across the back wall lined with C-Sec reports and personnel records.

Kolyat took a seat across the desk and groaned, hands bracing along his knees. "You say that every time and every time it's a throw-away job."

"Not this one." A slow, smug grin.

Koylat raised a disbelieving brow but stayed silent.

Bailey chuckled. "Hey, you want to earn your hours, right? This is how you do it."

Kolyat frowned, eyes narrowing. "If you just signed off on my request…"

"Not a chance," Bailey cut him off, hand swiping through the air with the words.

Kolyat let out a sound somewhere between a groan and a scoff, head leaning back to roll his eyes toward the ceiling. "You're killing me, Bailey."

The commander chuckled once more and leaned forward to brace his arms along his desk. "I don't give recommendations lightly, kid. You want a commission? You've got to prove to me you can handle the position."

"Haven't I done that in the months I've been working for you?"

Bailey rubbed at his chin thoughtfully. "Sure, you've come a long way, but you didn't come out of the academy, Krios, or get any kind of military training. C-Sec doesn't let in a bare rookie without a shit ton of training hours and an officer recommendation. And it's not like I can just log in all those months I had you off the books."

Kolyat huffed and leaned back, crossing his arms over his chest. "I could just go to Reyjek, you know? Get a written from him."

Bailey grumbled at the young drell. "Yeah, but you want the best, and that's me, so you're going to wait it out and earn that recommendation, you little shit." He barely contained the gruff smile breaking along his face.

Kolyat shook his head and sighed. "Yeah, yeah. What's it this time?"

Bailey took in a solid breath, reaching for a datapad along his desk and handing it to the drell. "I'm assigning you to the Victims Tracing Department. You've been working the refugee sections on the docks the last couple of months and I know you're familiar with a lot of the victims and workers there. We've got someone from that new organization 'Safe Homes' coming into the Citadel to coordinate with all the embassies on finding lost family members that made it through the war over here."

Kolyat glanced from the pad in his hands and looked at the commander when the older man sighed heavily and paused. He watched the commander run a hand roughly through his hair. The last couple of months had weighed on all of them, and Bailey was taking a lot of that weight on personally after the death of Executor Pallin. Though the Citadel had been relatively spared during the final battle between the Reaper forces and the combined fleets of the galaxy after the firing of the Crucible, being the center of the galactic community meant that droves of refugees would flock to the Citadel in the aftermath of the war. Keeping the station powered and running was the foremost concern of those still aboard, and then, when the waves of victims came rushing in, many of the wards had to be refitted as temporary camps. Sanitation crews were working all hours of the day to compensate for the influx of people, and they would have run out of food supplies if it weren't for the Alliance and the proximity of Earth. Crime was rampant in the first few weeks, as the desperation and poverty ravaged the masses, and Kolyat remembered many nights curled up in one of the C-Sec locker rooms, swearing at Bailey for not issuing him a pistol yet. Damned old man had a strict adherence to protocol when it came to issuing weapons to uncommisioned officers, yet he played fast and loose with every other regulation. Kolyat had scowled and huffed at the man enough times to think about walking away from it all.

But running C-Sec in the aftermath of the Reaper War was no easy feat, and Kolyat had to admit that a large part of his reasoning for staying aboard the Citadel and helping in C-Sec's relief efforts was Bailey himself. The usually gruff but oddly insightful human put a lot of faith in him when he first starting working for the man after the incident with his father and Joram Talid – faith he didn't exactly think he deserved at that point. And sure, Bailey got on his back far more often then he would like, and held him to unreasonable standards most of the time, but he also pushed him to be more than his past, to funnel that anger and pain into action that created instead of destroyed.

Kolyat hadn't really had a chance to reconcile with his father in the months that followed his failed first assassination attempt. Thane was whisked off to the Omega Four Relay shortly after the bitter reunion, and in the months that followed, Kolyat had resentfully turned away his father's attempts at reconnecting. They spoke a handful of times, almost always ending with Kolyat either in tears or in a rage, and when the Reapers hit, everything changed. His father died protecting the salarian councilor and helping Shepard combat the Cerberus coup. When he stood in the hospital room watching his father slip away, he was suddenly struck with the realization of all the time they'd wasted – that he'd wasted. He knew Thane was dying. He knew. But he had been so angry that that anger eclipsed any other thought and before he knew it he was holding his dying father's hand and reading from a weathered prayer book with a decade's old inscription on the inside cover, with tears building in his eyes that he wasn't ready for and then just when he found words, when the swell of emotion that built up in his chest finally came to air – and it did, violently, and grievously – Thane had wordlessly and unobtrusively slipped away.

Just…dead. And shit, Kolyat thought, because now he was angry for a whole lot of other reasons and he was just so tired of being angry all the time but he didn't know how to stop. So he buried it deep and went back to work. Brushed off Shepard's concerned messages and dedicated himself to his time with C-Sec.

"You okay, kid?" Bailey had asked him once, eyeing him from the other side of the elevator a few days after the Cerberus coup, arms crossed over his chest, eyes focused on the young drell.

Kolyat had gripped his hands tightly behind his back and heaved a long, slow breath. And when he caught his reflection in the glass door of the elevator, caught sight of the familiar pose, the same, dark eyes, the way the shimmer of light across his form turned his teal skin green, for just a second – just a single, needful second – Kolyat splintered and fell away. He slumped back against the elevator wall, hand coming over his eyes so Bailey couldn't see his face and the first sob that broke from his lips was as worn and battered as the prayer book he kept shoved in an unused drawer at home. Bailey had stopped the elevator and silently stood behind the shuddering drell. His hand came up to brace along Kolyat's shoulder, and they stood like that for many long minutes.

Kolyat never spoke of it but he always remembered.

Now, sitting before him, Kolyat cleared his throat and the commander's head snapped up, exhaustion still dragging beneath his eyes. Bailey blew out a breath and leaned back against his chair. "Sorry, kid. Just tired."

"You're getting old," Kolyat mused, somewhere between a jab and a tease but his voice was off. Lower. Contemplative. His fingers edged over the datapad in his grip.

Bailey scoffed. "Not too old to deck you, boy, so watch it."

A barely-there smirk made its way to Kolyat's mouth. "Threatening another officer, Bailey?" He tsked, shaking his head. "How low you've fallen."

Bailey ran a hand down his face. "Alright, shove it, Krios. You ain't an officer yet. Look, I need you to get on this right away. Safe Homes' rep is flying in at 1700."

Kolyat cleared his throat and leaned back along his chair, arm coming up over the back of it. "How long am I going to be with VicTrace?"

"Who knows."

Kolyat frowned.

"Just fucking report to the DP, would you? He'll give you all the information you need." Bailey heaved a weary sigh and waved him off.

Kolyat grumbled, shifting in his seat. "Do I get a gun now?"

Bailey's eyes narrowed. "Why would you need a gun?"

Kolyat gestured in the air with a motion that was half exasperation and half indifference. "Well, now that I'm a glorified escort…"

Huffing, Bailey scrubbed at his cheek. "That's not the position. Look, you'll be our liaison between Safe Homes and the embassies. You're going to help the rep organize processing centers and set up communications uplinks. May even do a little grunt work at the docks. It's important that C-Sec maintains a presence in the camps while offering reconnection services, and Safe Homes can help us do that. Shit's still too scattered for us to coordinate effectively here on the Citadel, so we're contracting outside organizations and we need people like you heading the front."

Kolyat's frown deepened. If that was possible. "Why me?" He didn't say it with any kind of scorn or resentment, but fuck if he hadn't had enough of family reunions to last a lifetime.

Bailey considered him a moment. "You've been working the docks these last weeks and I know you know your way around the camps. Also, the memory's a plus. And honestly? You could use the people skills."

"That's bullshit."

"Kid…"

Kolyat scoffed, his fingers twitching. "None of the guys have a problem with me."

"I'm not talking about other C-Sec officers, I'm talking about Citadel citizens. You know," he intoned, waving his hand around in the air, "the people you're supposed to help and all?"

The drell crossed his arms over his chest and his mouth dipped low. He wasn't pouting. He wasn't.

Bailey rolled his eyes and shook his head. "Don't give me that face. You're shit with the civilians. Sour as a goddamn lemon."

"I get the job done." And he hated how suddenly petulant he sounded. So he sat up straighter and uncrossed his arms. Tried to win back some dignity.

Bailey raised a brow. "There's more to being C-Sec than filing reports and giving citations. More than the investigations team or the security detail. It's about the people, Krios. It's about making people feel safe and secure. It's about home."

"Shit, Commander," Kolyat swore, wiping at his nose. "You're really fucking losing it."

"Fuck you, runt," he chuckled, but there was a gruffness in his voice that struck with Kolyat. A soft truth that bore itself between them. Kolyat decided to take his usual approach and ignore it.

"Look, Bailey," Kolyat began, setting the datapad on the desk and leaning his elbows along his knees. "I got it. I'll do the work. You don't have to worry about it. Just…I'm good with the life advice, you know?"

Bailey huffed, a sound Kolyat had known intimately for almost a year now, a sound that pervaded his dreams even – that stupid, fucking expel of breath that signaled another pep talk, a pep talk that really, Kolyat could recite back verbatim at this point, and then backwards, and then with the precise inflection the commander used, and not because of his infamous drell memory but because he had been on the receiving end just that much.

He was probably too dense to understand why Bailey had to keep giving him the same goddamn pep talk but if Kolyat was good at anything it was deflection and willful ignorance.

Kolyat cut off Bailey's inevitable diatribe when he stood and made for the door. "I'll head over to the DP now."

"Hey, kid," Bailey called. And Kolyat had to turn at the rough timbre of Bailey's voice, because it just sounded too gentle for what he was feeling at this moment and his attention swerved so tightly to the older man that he almost missed a step. He stilled before the office door, gaze glancing back over his shoulder.

Pinching the bridge of his nose, Bailey sighed and looked up at the young drell in his threshold. "There're a lot of broken families out there that need fixin'. Do right by them for me."

Kolyat sensed the prickle of something behind his eyes that felt dangerously like a memory, but hell if he was going to lapse into some ancient recollection of his father's back through the doorway and his tiny fists digging into eye sockets to stop the tears. No. Fuck that, he thought. Not here.

Kolyat swallowed back that slice of history and cleared his throat. "Just give me the name of the rep. So I know who to ask for at the precinct."

Bailey twisted his neck to stretch a muscle and settled further into his chair, and inwardly, Kolyat was grateful that he didn't press any further. "Name's Oriana Lawson," Bailey supplied.

Kolyat nodded, his frown already marring his teal-scaled face, and then he was out the office.

* * *

Oriana picked imaginary lint from her shoulder as she exited the transport ship and walked the length of the docking ramp. She carried her luggage in one hand and stopped at the end of the walkway, stepping just past the rail to let others pass, as she looked around. The last time she was on the Citadel, it had been a brilliant, bustling station of life. Shuttle cars shot by overhead, every other wall was a colorful ad, and there was the indecipherable scent of vacuumed air that permeated everything – a crisp, intangible aroma like chilled glass. Now, it was a cesspool of filth and crime, barely holding itself together. The once pristine walls were pock-marked with burns from building fires, there was a constant, unavoidable dimness – this funk of dense haze in some pockets and then a murky dusk-like sky in others – and all of this, every ripe refugee and scorched ward arm, held that mellow musk of defeat. An acrid scent like a smoked out orchard. There was no bloom to the Citadel. Its branches were dead in the wind. She bristled under the oppressive air and sighed with her whole body, switching her luggage over to the other hand and stepping toward the security check-point to find the first C-Sec officer she could.

She milled through the crowd of refugees and made her way to the processing desk, where she patiently waited behind several families and homeless individuals before it was finally her turn. She dropped her case beside her and brushed her short, dark hair behind her ear, eyes locking on the turian C-Sec agent before her.

"Hello. My name is Oriana Lawson and I'm here as representation for the organization 'Safe Homes'. I'm scheduled to meet with a C-Sec agent from your Victims Tracing Department about coordinating search and reunion efforts." She huffed everything out in a single weary breath and then smiled thinly at the turian.

His beady eyes narrowed at her and he released a short, annoyed clicking sound that had Oriana's brows furrowing in confusion.

"Our bio-scanning systems aren't fully functional yet Miss…"

"Lawson," she repeated.

"Miss Lawson," he finished, one hand scratching at the underside of a mandible. He glanced down to his monitor and chuffed. "Do you have omni-identification?"

Oriana bit her lip at the impatient remark about to fly from her mouth and tried to remind herself that she was probably the billionth face he's seen just today and really, her own impatience was hardly his fault. Even still, the trip was so long and she got absolutely no sleep and the half-eaten box of crackers she found stuffed in the seat before her – that she carelessly chowed down on because she had forgotten to eat breakfast before the flight – well, they weren't feeling too friendly to her stomach at that point. So she pulled her sleeve from over her wrist and tapped the necessary keys along her omni-tool. "It really is rather important that I speak to your department contact as soon as possible. They're expecting me. If you just look under the-"

"We have no record of an 'Oriana Lawson'," the turian interrupted, looking up from his monitor with an expression of mixed boredom and annoyance.

Oriana's nostrils flared but she kept calm. "I've had a recent name change but all my registered documents are accounted for in the omni-file with my –"

"Changed from what?" he interrupted again.

She barely held in her growl of exasperation. She was going to deck him, she knew, if he cut her off one more goddamn time. Her hands curled into fists at her side and she pasted a sickly sweet smile on her face before she continued. "Sir, I don't particularly appreciate being interrupted every time I try to give you information. If you would simply allow me to finish a sentence then I'm sure we could find a point of understanding somewhere in this mess."

The turian blinked at her. His mandibles flared once in a tight jerk of irritation.

Oriana jutted a hip out, planting a hand on it. "Please, will you just radio your – "

"Miss Lawson!" someone called from behind the security check-point.

"Oh, for the love of –" Oriana choked off her curse as she threw her hands into the air and glanced around the unhelpful turian in front of her to see a middle-aged human man making his way through the crowd and toward her position.

When he reached her, Oriana was already too tired and too irritated to grant a genuine smile, instead extending a hand between them and offering a curt nod as she answered the man's hails. "Yes, I'm Oriana Lawson. And you are?"

The man wiped a hand through his short cropped, dusty blonde hair and stretched the other out to grasp her open palm. They shook hands and then released each other, the man breaking out into a rather impish, endearing grin that caused the wrinkles along his eyes to catch shadows in the dim docking bay. Handsome, Oriana thought. Not handsome in the C-Sec-poster-boy sort of way but more of a if-I'm smiling-you're-in-trouble sort of way. He was fit and sturdy, with a broad chest and a thick waist, but there was a slight hunch to his right shoulder and the skin along the right side of his jaw was recently scarred. His subtle blue eyes crinkled at her and Oriana guessed the man to be around his late forties at least. There was an ease and warmth to him that she felt immediately, something in the faint vulnerability of his noticeable injury, even as he purposely straightened and kept the left side of his face slightly turned to her. It was like meeting an old friend. And suddenly, her exasperation and exhaustion were bleeding out of her already.

"The name's Townsend. Sergeant Davin Townsend of Section 12, Cross-section B, Rakasi Ward, at your service. But really, just 'DT' is fine, ma'am." His grin was lop-sided and too quick. The subtle discipline of an obviously former military life kicked in and he was grasping his hands behind his back then, his lips straightening out into a steady line, his chin fixed and pointed. "Welcome to the Citadel, ma'am."

"Please," Oriana began, one hand held in the air at the word, "Just Oriana or Miss Lawson will do." She attempted to offer her own smile but the tension hadn't fully eased from her shoulders after the initial conversation with the security processing attendant and all she was able to manage was a quick lilt of the lips that felt less like a greeting and more like a grimace.

"Of course, Miss Lawson." Townsend turned to the turian behind the desk and nodded once, swiftly. "She has clearance, Parkiv, let her through."

If turians could grumble, Oriana was sure this one did, but he let her through, and sighing in appreciation, she flashed a wider, more certain smile Townsend's way and proceeded to follow him through the check-point. "Are you my contact with the Victims Tracing Department, Sergeant?"

Townsend chuckled. "No, I head up security at Section 12's processing stations. Mostly Alliance ships coming through this dock and I'm familiar with their protocols, being former Alliance myself." His gaze turned suddenly dark but he kept his steady pace through the crowd of milling people. "C-Sec took a beating in the war and we don't have the numbers we used to. Every one of us is pulling twice our weight now but we don't have much in the way of resources to do anything but keep relative order and try to coordinate with the embassies for supplying the refugees."

Oriana knew it was grim. She wasn't naïve enough to think that just because the Citadel had survived the final battle that life aboard it would still be carefree and easy. Far from it. A verifiable shithole, really. "That's why I'm here. My organization can help with that."

Townsend sent a warm smile her way. "And we're sure glad to have you, ma'am." At her teasing frown he laughed and corrected himself. "I mean, 'Miss Lawson'."

Oriana brushed past a few travelers and caught sight of the C-Sec building they were headed toward, the bold black lettering of 'Section 12' just under the C-Sec emblem above the wide sliding doors. Oriana gulped at the sight, at the battered walls and bullet-riddled glass windows. It looked beat to all hell. It looked how she felt. How this whole galaxy must be feeling. Just tired and worn and done. "So I'll be working with…?"

"That'd be our boy, Krios."

'Boy'. Yes, because that's promising.

Oriana bit her lip and fought the urge to use her 'Miranda' voice. "I'd like to meet Officer Krios as soon as possible, Sergeant."

"Oh, he's not an officer."

Oriana stopped short of the double doors and Townsend looked back at her, brow raised, stopping as well. "Not an officer?" she questioned.

Not the 'Miranda' voice. Not yet at least.

"Well," he began, hand rubbing at the back of his neck. "Not in the official sense of the word but he's been working under Bailey for a while now. He's the man you need."

Oriana huffed. And honestly, she wasn't trying to sound ungrateful, or petty, or condescending, though she had a fair idea that was how she was coming off – but she had just put so much work into this organization and this cause and after Sanctuary, 'family' had meant something entirely different for her. It became more. It became harder. Something you work for. Something you bleed and cry and curse for. Or about, depending. And this whole business of reuniting families across the war-torn galaxy? She had put her everything into it. Quite literally.

When Henry Lawson died, though his will bequeathed a fair amount of his wealth to Cerberus, the majority of his estate fell to Oriana. She had initially thought to reject it. What would she want with the legacy of a mad man? A man who had held a gun to her head and still swore he loved her. Needed her even. And how sick. How unbelievably and utterly sick was that? She knew in that moment, with her father's arm against her throat, and the muzzle of his pistol jammed into her ribs, with Shepard and Miranda facing them down in the dark unspeakable labs of Sanctuary – when he had bargained over her, like she was something prized but inanimate, some pretty bauble for him to set in his case and marvel over, where he could lock her up like the good liquor – she had known in that instant that she could never truly escape the name 'Lawson'. And she didn't want to.

Because it was the last thing she had to tie herself to Miranda.

That brilliant, insufferable, exasperating woman. Her sister. (She had to say the word over many times before she could believe it herself.) Miranda had risked everything for her. And then some. She was dauntless. Resourceful. Insurmountable. Everything Oriana had dreamed she'd find within herself one day. And then Miranda had shown it to be possible. And not because of some stupid shared DNA. Because what were genes, really? What did it come down to? It wasn't about some microscopic link of coding, some pattern of the cells that made them. It was about the very real, and very apparent, possibility within. The untapped potential solely inherent to her and no one else. Because Miranda had been made one thing and denied it. She had forged her own identity. Which meant that same inkling of greatness was in her, too.

She would always be a Lawson. And so she had taken his estate and all his resources. And then she had made something of it.

She came to the Citadel as a 'representative' of Safe Homes but, truth be told, she created Safe Homes. Everything her father built she turned around into something new, something better. Instead of tearing people apart, she vowed to bring them together. This was to be her legacy.

So when she came to the Citadel with the promise of a very serious, and very invested C-Sec, offering to bolster her efforts, she couldn't help but take it the slightest bit personally that the department didn't even bother to assign a full-fledged officer to her.

"Tell me, Sergeant, does C-Sec take my organization seriously or not?" She couldn't help the bite the words ended on. Her frustration was building in her chest, her skin alight with it.

Townsend blinked at her and his gaze drifted downward for a moment. Shame.

And then Oriana felt royally shitty. She heaved a sigh, her fingers flexing around her luggage, her eyes rolling back to fix on the ceiling and she tried to calm herself. "I'm sorry. That was uncalled for. It's just…"

"I know."

"It's just been rough is all."

"For everyone."

She didn't think she could feel any shittier but there it was. She cleared her throat and dropped her gaze back to the sergeant. He wore a gallant grin and Oriana managed a half-smile in his presence. "I'm sorry, Townsend, lead on."

He nodded, still with that endearing, baffling grin on his face, and then they made their way through the double doors of the station.

"Hey, DT!"

Townsend turned at his name being called and caught sight of an asari officer behind the entrance desk. He flashed a smirk. "What's it now, Iri?"

The asari snorted and planted her hands on her desk, leaning over the pile of datapads on the surface. Her near-violet skin was interrupted only by two whisks of white just beneath her eyes, curling toward her scalp crest, and a thick line of white through her bottom lip and down the length of her chin. Her brow quirked in a mixture of amusement and vexation. "Duskin says one of Dock 47's clamps is offline and he wants a security squad routed there ASAP to make sure the scavengers don't get to scrapping it before tech shows up."

Townsend groaned and rubbed a hand down his face. Oriana had stopped just behind him to watch the exchange. "Sure. Radio Kaz and Pejovka. Their patrol is closest." He was about to walk off when he stopped and added on, "And get Swarsky to cover the lag. He's been asking for extra shifts."

"You got it, boss," the officer answered back crisply, before settling back into her seat.

Townsend glanced at Oriana. "Oy, Iri."

"Yeah?" She looked up at her name.

Townsend motioned Oriana toward the asari's desk. "This here is Oriana Lawson. She'll be heading up the efforts of the Victims Tracing Department from now on."

"Ahh," the asari said slyly, looking her up and down. "You're the new assignment for Krios, eh?"

Oriana opened her mouth to respond when suddenly she recalled some sense of familiarity with the name Krios. She hadn't thought much of it before, between her frustration with the processing officer, her unending fatigue, the bustle around her, and the introduction of her newest ally, Townsend. But now, given time for the Citadel's chaotic atmosphere to settle more familiarly around her, the name gave her pause. She had heard it only a handful of times in passing, she could have sworn. But from who, she wasn't sure. It set off a tingle at the base of her skull, for she knew the name from somewhere. Somewhere…

"Miss Lawson, this is Iranis V'shek," Townsend broke in, interrupting her mental wandering. "She's my squad coordinator and second-in-command over here at the 12th."

Oriana offered a warm smile and surprised herself with the energy she still had to do so. Moving forward, she reached out a hand and grasped Iranis' own outstretched one over her desk. "Pleasure."

"We'll be crossing paths in the future, I'm sure," Iranis offered, retracting her hand. "You've got a few of us, aside from Krios, signed up for processing center duty. Just let us know what you need and we'll take care of it."

"I appreciate that."

"Now," Townsend interrupted, steering Oriana through the bullpen of officer desks and toward a conference room, "Time to meet your new partner."

She couldn't help the grimace that graced her face at the words.