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Rocks and Shoals

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Disclaimer: I own nothing, I make no money.

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.

Chapter Text

Disclaimer: I own nothing, I make no money.

Rocks and Shoals

Part One: Run Aground Off the Reefs

Chapter Two: The Business of Peace

"Kolyat's grin sunk into a thin, tight line across his lips. 'You're a vile, vile creature, you know that, Lawson?' She flashed a sickly sweet smile up at him." - In a post-war galaxy, Kolyat and Oriana found each other when they went searching for themselves.

* * *

Kolyat looked up as the door slid open and Townsend slipped through with that exhaustingly ever-present grin. He blinked both his lids slowly, gauging the woman who stepped through the threshold behind the sergeant. She had short dark hair not past her chin, blue eyes, a figure he couldn't be sure of beneath the loose-flowing blouse and dark leather coat, and a face full of exhaustion. His hand thrummed along the table before he stood to attention.

"Kolyat," Townsend greeted warmly, hands folding behind his back.

Kolyat inclined his head. "DT. Good to see you still in one piece."

"Ha!" he barked. "The 12th's a lot tougher than she looks."

Kolyat offered a disingenuous smirk back. "Well, she'll need to be now. VicTrace wants to base out of your precinct. You're going to have a lot of refugees on your hands from here on in."

He only shrugged. "Don't we always?"

Kolyat couldn't help but frown at the nonchalant man. Didn't he know what they were getting into with this little pet project? Sure, he wanted to lay down peace just as much as the next guy but he also wasn't dumb enough to believe it would all be roses and sunshine – happy tear-filled reunions, fucking hugs and smiles and the whole galaxy is set right.

No. It may never be right again. People died. A fuckton of people died. And a lot were still unaccounted for. So how does Townsend think the processing centers are going to go? I'll tell you, Kolyat thinks, I'll tell you how it's going to fucking go. There's going to be a lot of angry people, a lot of broken, desperate people clamoring for some inkling, some word, some whisper of their loved ones. Something. Anything. Just not the silence. Not some little checked off box in the MIA file, or a backlisted name on a casualties report. And then there's going to be a lot of criminals leeching off that kind of desperation. A lot of theft and fraud and plain, simple violence – the kind that comes without purpose or intent but just because some shithead needed to feel something in the midst of all this filth, all this should-have-died-back-there.

And what? This…little girl…is going to heal all that? She's going to kiss the boo-boo and smile a lie and make it all right?

Bullshit.

How do you make right what will always, inevitably, be wrong? Wrong in a very real, very tangible sense? Like the quarantined children's ward just off Laytis Memorial Hospital, ravaged by an outbreak of krygean flu. Like the almost daily raids on the food caravans. The jam-packed, filthy camps filling up the wards. The intimacy of shared homelessness that infects them all.

The memory of his father, with blood-flecked lips and a hoarse voice.

The worst kind of wrong. The kind of wrong that only breeds from war. The kind of wrong that doesn't get fixed because it's already bone-deep and soul-scarred.

Wrong that never leaves you.

Kolyat's eyes shifted to Oriana.

You want to mend this galaxy, little girl? You want to put a smokescreen over the damage and call it clean because you found some stupid fucker's mom on the wrong side of a ward alley and now they can live in this hopeless grime together? That's your big fix? That's your contribution to this war?

Mend the family. Mend the world.

Kolyat could retch at the thought.

He stopped believing in family a long time ago.

Crossing his arms over his chest, Kolyat leveled an uninterested look Oriana's way. "Lawson, I presume?"

She opened her mouth, then closed it. This cute little line came out between her brows, like she was concentrating on something real hard. "You're a drell," she near-whispered.

He just looked at her. "And you're spectacularly observant."

"Kolyat," Townsend warned.

The drell flashed an exasperated look his way but didn't say anything else.

Oriana seemed to come out of a funk, shaking her head and dropping her luggage onto the floor. "Sorry, no, it's just…I haven't met many and, it just threw me so…" She smacked her lips and fumbled with her words. "It's been a long flight," she sighed, shoulders slumping.

"Hmm," Kolyat mused. He went to walk around the table and reached out a hand toward her.

She took it readily.

"I'm Kolyat Krios. I'll be your C-Sec contact in the department." He couldn't really help the perpetual growl of his voice.

And then he watched the realization bloom beneath her skin as she glanced up and down his form once more, rather rudely if he thought too hard about it. He wasn't some spectacle on display. Her mouth opened and then words came. A quick rush of excited air. "You're Thane Krios' son!"

Kolyat ripped his hand from hers.

She frowned instantly, that same, ridiculous line curling over her brow, mouth opening and closing like a fish.

Townsend sighed like he already knew how the next few seconds would play out.

It only made Kolyat angrier. What the fuck did they know about it? Did they sit and watch his father die? Did they cry for him in the end? But not really cry because he couldn't say he loved him at that point, he couldn't say he felt more than wrath and need and a quiet, knowing resignation. But he had cried for something. Lost years maybe. Lost love. His last chance at revenge. And oh, how he wanted to sling those hateful, spiteful words at Thane's face in the end there. How he wanted to spit his resentment all over the sterile hospital room. But something clenched harshly in his gut when his father pulled that last ragged breath in and fuck! He hadn't been ready for it. He hadn't known it would be like that time, all over again.

Watching from a darkened window as his father walked from him and never came back.

And shit. He didn't want to be that little boy again. He was done with that. He was a new man now. A grown man. A whole man. (He wasn't really, too many jagged pieces and none of them fit.) He didn't cry in the end because he loved his father. He cried because he didn't love him. And some part of him still felt that he should. But there wasn't enough time. And there weren't enough words. And the end had come before he could figure out if he wanted to love him. And that was the rub. He never had a choice. Thane lived and died and fell away before Kolyat ever had a chance to fucking decide to love him or not.

Too soon. And yet…not soon enough.

Kolyat wondered if it might have been easier if Thane had stayed gone.

"I'm no one's son," he spat.

She blinked at him, her hand falling to the wayside. "I didn't…"

"What do you know about it?"

She narrowed her eyes, huffing out her frustration. "Look, I'm sorry, I didn't mean to upset you but-"

"You didn't upset me."

"Well, it sure seems like-"

"It's not."

"Okay, seriously?" She threw her hands up in the air. "What is with all the interruptions today? Can I get a goddamn sentence out?"

Kolyat narrowed his eyes. This was going to be a long assignment. "Fine. Sorry. Just…I don't talk about family, okay? That's not a subject open for discussion."

She scoffed, and Kolyat thought she sounded a little petty for it, but then, she probably did too, because she swallowed hard and softened her features. "Well, you're in the wrong business then," she shot back, raising a brow.

"I didn't ask for this assignment, you know."

"Then why are you here?" she demanded, arms stretched wide.

Kolyat was about to answer when Townsend stepped in, hands held up like a surrender. "Alright, calm it down you two. You're going to be working together on this for a while so you might as well be civil with each other. This isn't exactly the best way to start a working relationship."

"I can be civil," Oriana snapped, arms crossing over her chest.

Kolyat rolled his eyes. And how childish, he thought. So he quickly caught her gaze again and didn't let up. Kept staring until she tore her gaze away and toward the far corner of the room. She squirmed uncomfortably, and he silently reveled in the sight.

"Kolyat?" Townsend asked warningly, looking for confirmation.

Kolyat threw a lazy glance his way and nodded. "Of course, DT. It won't be a problem."

Townsend looked between the two and then slowly stepped back, edging toward the door. "Alright, I'll let you two finish your debriefing alone then. When you're finished, Kolyat, show Miss Lawson to her quarters." He raised his brows at the drell, waiting for his okay. When Kolyat nodded once more, tightly and silently, he continued. "This conference room is yours to utilize until we can find you a proper office, Miss Lawson." He looked at her with eyes of apology.

Oriana softened somewhat at the older man's features and then thanked him, arms uncrossing from over her chest.

"Alright," Townsend said a little too gleefully, hands clapping together once. "Let me know if you need anything." And then he was gone.

Kolyat looked at Oriana.

She adamantly looked at the far corner of the room.

Kolyat sighed, his shoulders bunching with the tension already.

Yeah, this was going to be a long assignment.

* * *

Oriana settled into a chair at the conference table, pulling a datapad from her suitcase and placing it atop the table. She cleared her throat, linked her fingers together and glanced up to Kolyat, sighing. He had taken a seat as well, across from her. He sat staring at her unblinkingly.

Oriana inwardly huffed. It wasn't like she came in here inappropriately probing for personal information. She had simply looked at him, heard the name, and then something slinked into place somewhere in her brain.

"I knew from the dossiers that Thane was a father, estranged from his son Kolyat to be clear, but…even still. I hadn't thought familial relationships would become such a…distraction…on this mission."

Oriana remembered a rare talk with Miranda after her relocation, with thoughts of 'sister' and 'father' and 'engineered' still fresh in her mind. She remembered wondering what tied them together besides blood. And did it matter? And should she care?

And would she miss it if it were gone?

Oriana remembered the way Miranda had looked away to the window when she said the word 'father'. The way her fingers flexed against her arms as they lay crossed over her chest. The way she didn't blink. Barely breathed even. The way her lips pursed as though to say more but nothing came.

Family does strange things to you. Things you can't always put to words. Like smuggling your baby sister off-world to escape a megalomaniac father. Or keeping a file of half-written violin compositions with the title 'Miranda' in your datapad. Or changing a name that should mean nothing to you at this point but somehow, against all rationale and reason, means everything suddenly. Family makes you cry at night for parents you always knew were yours even if you weren't theirs – parents who died mid-sentence, in a pointless, stupid way, in the room next to yours so that you could hear their screams even when you couldn't look them in the eye, all the while your 'father' droned on about 'perfection' and 'necessary' and 'legacy' as you retched on the cold tile.

Well, 'fuck that'.

Oriana knew even then, even as she had been freshly ripped from a blissful, oblivious existence, that blood will always come for its own.

It's a rare creature that exists truly and completely alone.

Oriana studied Kolyat for a second longer. Family wasn't exactly the heart-warming topic for her either, but it was why she was here. And she'd be damned if a little temperamental drell flustered her enough to forget that.

She cleared her throat, her fingers brushing over the end of her jacket's sleeve, the familiar leather comforting. "Look, I think we got off on the wrong foot."

He only grunted a response.

Quite the wordy one you've got here, Oriana.

"Let's start over. I'm Oriana Lawson. We're going to be working together for quite a while from here on in so, well, might as well get the most out of it, don't you think?"

He raised a scaled brow at her. "Of course."

"I'll need your cooperation. You're going to be a valuable asset for me when it comes to mapping out the camps and setting up processing centers." Oriana tapped open the screen on her datapad.

"I'll get you what you need."

Oriana looked up from the pad. "You don't sound particularly happy about the assignment, to be frank." Something irked in her ribs at the observation.

Kolyat folded his arms over his chest and sighed. "Well, if we're to be frank, then allow me: I don't really see this little project being as successful as you might think."

She pursed her lips. "Oh?"

He shrugged, and it looked so nonchalant and disinterested that she almost wished for the hot-headed, antagonistic version of him from a few minutes ago. It was better than apathy.

She set her pad down and spread her fingers over the table meticulously. "You don't think reuniting the war-torn families is a worthwhile effort?"

Kolyat scrubbed at his cheek, eyes flicking to the wall of the conference room. "Don't get me wrong, peace is good. We're in the business of peace but-"

"I'm sorry, but peace is not a 'business'," she said hotly.

Kolyat narrowed his eyes at her. "Poor choice of words. Okay, I get it. I'm just saying that it's a good thing, okay? I know it is. But it's a silly dream in the end, at least, to think that the galaxy's going to be healed by a few family reunions."

"I never said it was a cure-all."

"I just want to make sure you know what you're walking into here."

"Walking into?"

"Yeah." Kolyat stretched out his arms to encompass the Citadel past their little room. "This place isn't what it used to be. And times are rough, for a lot of people. And that's not going to make it easy."

Oriana's nostrils flared. "Again, I never said it was going to be easy."

"It just takes a certain hardness to work the camps, Lawson."

Oriana leaned back in her seat sharply, glaring at the drell. So presumptuous. To think that she was unfamiliar with anything of difficulty. Or that she lacked the mental and emotional fortitude to pursue this course. It made the blood pump hot in her veins. "Well," she began, smacking her lips, "You just let me know when it gets too rough for you, and I'll call a time-out."

Kolyat's cheek twitched. "How touching."

Oriana couldn't help the smirk that spread across her lips. "What can I say? I'm a compassionate soul." She braced her hand against her chest in a dramatic display.

Kolyat coughed into his hand and she could have sworn there was a smirk pulling at his lips as well, but then it was gone, and his perpetual frown had taken effect. "And oh so humble," he retorted.

Oriana cocked her head as she looked at him. "I just don't understand what you're doing here."

He looked up at her then.

They eyed each other up silently. And then Oriana blew a breath from her lips and sagged back in her seat. "I mean, you have this horridly pessimistic view on life and yet, you're here."

"Like I said, not my assignment of choice."

"No, not here here. I mean here, as in C-Sec."

He shifted in his seat a moment. "What do you mean?"

She sighed. "It's an organization that helps people, protects them. And in the face of all the galaxy's current hardship, I must admit there's a certain…futility to the atmosphere. Your attitude for instance." She rolled her eyes but continued. "And yet, you're still here. You still come in every day and do the job, even when the job is crappy as all hell and doesn't seem to be looking up any time soon. Even when everything you say seems to equate to the exact opposite of what that organization stands for. So tell me, why are you still here?"

Kolyat picked at some lint on his sleeve and flicked it onto the table between them. "I've got to earn my commission. Got to put the hours in somewhere."

She scoffed at that. Because it was the absolute lamest thing she had heard come out of his mouth yet. She made the embarrassing sound of a wrong-answer game show buzzer and held up a hand. "Sorry, that's not the correct answer." And then she lowered her hand and felt the slightest bit pathetic at her sound effects, especially once he raised one incredulous brow. "That doesn't mean you have to stay. You're not obligated to retain this position."

Kolyat sighed loudly, purposely it sounded to her, and shifted his eyes back to the wall, crossing his arms. "Maybe I owe Bailey something and intend to see it through?"

She almost laughed. She kind of did. It was a sort of giggle-snort that escaped her lips before her hand caught it. "Pardon me but, you don't exactly seem the self-sacrificing sort."

"Screw you, Lawson. You don't even know me." And then he pouted.

He pouted! Oriana nearly burst out laughing but she held it in. And she wasn't even surprised by his language or offended by its usage, because even through the guardedness of the sentiment, there was still a casualness about the words that kept them from sounding too venomous. All bark and no bite it seemed with this one. She leveled her crossed arms over the tabletop and leaned forward. "No, but I know enough to tell that you wouldn't still be here if you weren't getting something out of it for yourself. You wouldn't be here if it didn't matter to you."

"Few things matter to me," he threw out.

She rolled her eyes again. "You're so tragically self-pitying."

"And you're disgustingly self-righteous."

"Well, we make a fair pair then," she snapped. A tight knot was beginning to form at the base of her neck. She expelled a short breath and rolled her shoulders, curling her fingers over the table. It was getting so frustrating, bouncing between near-friendly banter and blatant antagonism. It was utterly exhausting trying to read the moody drell. And Oriana was certainly not at her best.

She heard him sigh across the table. "Look," he began, inclining his head toward her. "It doesn't matter why I'm here. I just am. And we're stuck with each other now so…why don't we just skip the 'Twenty Questions' bit and get down to business."

Oriana huffed. "Fine with me."

"Good."

"Good."

"Okay."

"Yeah."

A long, stretching silence.

Kolyat raised a brow and indicated to the datapad. "If you're finished criticizing, then –"

"Oh shut up."

An hour later and they were standing before her door at the C-Sec barracks. Oriana glanced left, then right down the hall, then back up at Kolyat while he stood, half-slouched, hands pocketed, watching her. He raised a brow silently.

"We're at the barracks," she said dumbly.

Kolyat's mouth split apart in a wide open-mouthed grin, his condescension practically staining the air between them. He clapped his hands together. "One gold star for Miss Lawson! Did you hear that folks? She's won the ticket!"

Oriana frowned, rolling her eyes and huffing as she stared back at the door. "Oh yes, I see why they offered you a commission. It's that fine officer charm. Oh wait-" Instead of finishing, she simply cut a challenging look his way.

Kolyat's grin sunk into a thin, tight line across his lips. "You're a vile, vile creature, you know that, Lawson?"

She flashed a sickly sweet smile up at him. "Just meeting the pitch, Krios." She sighed and glanced back down the hallway. The dim lamp posts running the length of the eastern edge of the building cast filters of dim light on their forms. The Citadel Rapid Transit depot wasn't far off, though it had been restricted to C-Sec and government personnel, and the rare refugee with a personal authorization from Bailey. They kept the refugees relatively stationary in their camps. Couldn't handle the movement en masse if survivors took to the ports. Oriana felt a little guilty zipping through the Citadel lanes in the shuttlecar, glancing at the camps they passed, her fingers pressed to the glass, face smushed against the window. Kolyat had said something nonchalantly mocking and she had responded with something equally trite and scathing. And so they spent the rest of their trip in silence. It was a short trip. The barracks were only a few minutes from Section 12's precinct, and when Oriana climbed out of the car, the Citadel's simulated night cycle was just beginning to edge its way overhead. Kolyat had led her through the building's front entrance, up a flight of stairs, and then down a hall to the east corridor of rooms. They stopped just before door 2L.

"I only mean to ask why I'm getting settled in the barracks," Oriana tried again, her words tinged with a genuine attempt at diplomacy now.

Kolyat shrugged a shoulder and looked down at her. "Can't keep you in the camps, now, can we?"

She pursed her lips and stayed silent.

Sighing, Kolyat scrubbed at his cheek and motioned to the door with his other hand. "Some officer gave up his quarters for you to be closer to base, to be with us, protected, part of the crew. Don't dismiss that."

"I'm not-" She stopped, inhaling deeply before continuing. "I'm grateful, truly. It's…not what I expected."

"A bit plain for your tastes?"

"Unduly considerate, actually, I was going to say."

He stared at her. Then he shrugged once more, shoving his hands back in his pockets. "Makes sense to keep you close to the team."

"I suppose." Oriana fiddled with the handle of her suitcase.

Kolyat looked down the corridor, throwing a thumb over his shoulder in its direction. "If you need anything, I'm just down the hall. Apartment 2E."

"That's…" She was going to say 'thoughtful of him' but he was already walking away.

"Just don't need anything and we'll be good, Lawson."

She heaved an exasperated sigh. "You're the worst liaison in history, Krios," she called down the hall.

He waved her off, never turning back to look.

"Don't be late tomorrow!" she warned to his retreating back, and when he turned the corner, she caught the profile of his face for just an instant before it disappeared behind the wall.

He never once glanced back.

Oriana dropped her head to the door and winced at the thud that was harsher than expected. "Ow," she moaned into the door. She closed her eyes. Breathed deep. Kept her forehead braced against the door.

She had a purpose. She had a reason. This was all meant to bring her somewhere higher, somewhere better. A world that could look at itself in the mirror and not see a broken face anymore. A world that could seek and yearn and find. That could hold. Embrace. And never let go again.

A world that would make its own family. New. Probably battered and changed but whole in a way it hadn't been for a long, long time.

This was about wounds that only healed with touch, and souls that only mended with tears. This was about stitching closed that aching, rending hole in every heart this side of dark space.

Pushing off the door, Oriana turned and laid her back against the door, leaning her head back to glance at the ceiling.

His teal face and dark eyes were laid as bare to her as her own heart. A blaring pain that wouldn't find its cure in 'family'. No. His was a pain that could only be lessened by the self. She knew it well enough. She recognized it in the mirror every morning.

There was no one out there in the universe for them to search for but themselves.

But Oriana knew. She knew dearly and painfully.

Some things stayed lost in the war.

Chapter Text

Disclaimer: I own nothing, I make no money.

Rocks and Shoals

Part One: Run Aground Off the Reefs

Chapter Three: Riot in the Blood

"She peeked up at him through her fingers. 'You're like my twelve labors, aren't you?' she moaned in exhaustion." - In a post-war galaxy, Kolyat and Oriana found each other when they went looking for themselves.

* * *

"That makes absolutely no sense. You are without sense, do you know that? Completely senseless, I say."

"Would you stop?" Oriana groaned, pulling up short just outside Precinct 12's doors after exiting. Officers passed by as the two of them argued. Oriana slapped the datapad in her hand against her thigh in frustration. "You're not helping."

"But I told you where to go. Did you study the maps I sent you at all?" Kolyat growled and crossed his arms.

"Yes," she seethed. She pulled the datapad back up and jabbed her other finger at the screen. "And I want to set up on the Presidium."

Kolyat threw his hands into the air and paced four steps out, then stalked back up to her, heaving an exasperated sigh. "It's pointless. I told you that already. Tower and presidium systems aren't even a priority anymore. They're working on half the power, with practically no inter-relay comm. lines past Horsehead, and minimal maintenance crews. It's all here." He spread his arms wide. "It's the wards, baby. That's where it's at. We've got to set up the main processing center out this way, preferably in Section 12 where we have easier access."

Oriana's nostrils flared. "I'm not talking about a center for the grunt work of sorting through the victims but a central communications hub for all the embassies. You know, the embassies that are on the Presidium? I need to be able to contact their representatives immediately for census data and deployment status, for casualty lists and transport manifests." She shook the datapad threateningly between them. "And I can't do that here, you lug. This place is barely holding together as it is."

Kolyat scoffed at her. "Bailey will approve the power transfers if we tell him we need it here. We'll get you your precious communications network but it makes no sense to set up separately from the tracing department."

Oriana rolled her eyes again, a popular activity it seemed. "It won't matter if every square inch of Rakasi ward is filled to the brim with temporary settlements. There's simply no space. The Presidium is the best choice."

"No, it's not."

Oriana's brows dipped lowly. "Yes, it is."

"So tell me, Lawson, tell me. What was the point of having me as a liaison then, hmm?" he snapped at her. "Because you seem to be doing jack shit with all my suggestions." He motioned to the datapad in her hand.

She blew a harsh breath through her flared nostrils. "To coordinate with the other governmental officials, of course. Not," she intoned, finger brought up to iterate the point, "to consult on Safe Home's set-up procedures."

"Look, do you want this to work or not?" he asked gruffly.

"Of course I do."

"Then let me help you."

"But it isn't – "

"Give me the datapad."

"What?" She pulled it protectively against her chest.

"Give me the datapad," he repeated, hand stretched out expectantly toward her.

She narrowed her eyes at the suspicious hand and then looked back up at him, shaking her head.

Pinching the bridge of his nose, Kolyat sighed heavily. "Lawson, I swear on all that you find holy, I will bludgeon you with that fucking pad if you do not give it to me."

She released a choked yelp of indignation at the threat and curled her fingers tighter around the pad. "Violence is hardly the best means to persuade me, you Neanderthal."

Kolyat dropped his hand from his forehead and raised his brows at her. "You're making it increasingly difficult not to use violence, Lawson."

She scowled at him. "Okay, look, I've heard your suggestions, but I really think –"

"You know what's going to happen?" he interrupted.

She snapped her mouth shut, her outrage at his presumption slowly boiling beneath her skin but her voice was strangled somewhere in her throat with the vexation.

"Here, I'll tell you," Kolyat continued, stepping closer, arms gesturing in the air with his words. "Each time you want to make a call outside the system, you're going to have to wait for power crews to make their way up to the Presidium to manually reconnect the transponders and flush out the field grid. Why is that you ask? Because when the Crucible fired it blew out over seventy percent of the containment coils, and ventric radiation has been flooding the field grid in small enough increments to corrode the relay connections. It isn't enough to poison any of us humanoids but it's a secondary concern when the power teams are just trying to focus on keeping the fucking lights on down here in the wards. Now," Kolyat paused, licking his lips as he continued and glared at her.

Oriana crossed her arms defensively over her chest but stayed silent, eyes narrowed dangerously at him as she motioned him to continue.

"Now," he began again, "If you set up down here on Rakasi ward instead, you have a better chance of getting someone off-station. Alliance docks are in Section 12, and since Earth is fucking right there, then that means resources we can use."

Oriana kept staring at him.

He sighed, rubbing a hand down his face. "Look, I'm not here to butt heads, I just-"

"Well, you could have fooled me," she interrupted.

He glared at her, and then continued cautiously, as though prepared for an attack. And really he was, because the woman looked about ready to throttle him and he was not about to suffer that embarrassment. "I just think that you have this idea in your head of how the Citadel is. But it isn't. Not anymore. The Presidium's lost. It's not what's important anymore. This," he pointed down to the ground at his feet, "this is it. This is all that's left from the war. And it's all we've got right now." He didn't think it would hurt so much to say it, but there it was. Glaring, apparent loss. The long standing Citadel, decimated, ruined, lost. A footnote in history. It was a glimmer of what it used to be, and some part of him felt like that was a statement about him as well. About all of them. The survivors. The ones left.

Damaged and beaten and so many light years away from what they used to be that the past is practically non-existent anymore. A faint dream of what was, but now isn't, and could never be again. Did he even remember what he used to be? Did he want to? And was there a point?

No, he thought. It meant absolute shit at this point. Because he's here now, and there's no going back, and he's tired of looking behind him when all there seems to be is pain and it just carves at his insides when he thinks of living a life like that. But he knows no other way to be. No other way but angry and resentful and full of ripe bitterness. It's what's kept him alive so far, and whatever little boy he used to be – whatever stupid, longing, naïve boy that used to tug on his father's coat with pleading eyes – that boy wasn't needed anymore.

And he didn't understand why she held on to this gleaming, unattainable dream of what the Citadel still stood for. Because there was nothing. It barely stood, period, at this point. And it seemed such a futile dream. Such a stupid, selfish dream.

It's gone, little girl.

And so are we.

Oriana pulled her lip into her mouth and watched him. Something flitted across her face that he couldn't recognize, not now at least (and not for many years to come), and then she grabbed for his sleeve, not quickly, but the motion was so unexpected that he actually let her. He stared down at her hand in the fabric of his uniform.

"I'm sorry," she whispered.

Kolyat blinked at her.

She looked down to her hand on his sleeve, her fingers tightening in the bunch of material. "I didn't think that…" She stopped, looked up.

He kept staring.

Slowly, she removed her hand, fingers curling unsurely around her datapad. "Okay. Rakasi ward it is."

Kolyat opened his mouth but then decided there was nothing to say to that. He grunted in acknowledgement.

Oriana drew a breath in, looked around the ward as though regaining her bearings, and then pulled the datapad from her chest and started tapping keys. "I still don't know how we're going to find the room though…"

When she flicked her gaze up to him through the fringe of her hanging hair, he finally regained his capacity for coherent speech. "We'll make it work."

She blew a heavy breath from her lips and shook her head. "I sure hope so."

At that moment, someone calling Kolyat's name caught his attention and he looked up to find a female turian agent walking toward them, waving off her partner and holstering her weapon at her hip. She had a deep brown, almost burgundy, tint to her skin, with forest green markings along the left side of her face, just under her eye and over the curve of her cheek.

Kolyat managed a feeble smile at her presence. "Hey, Kaz. What's going on?"

The turian stopped just before them, glancing up and down Oriana as the woman finally looked up from her datapad. "Just your routine patrol. Who's this?"

Oriana opened her mouth to respond but Kolyat waved a dismissive hand. "This is Lawson, Safe Home's rep, the whole VicTrace thing last week's debriefing was about."

Oriana pursed her lips in annoyance at the introduction, and extended her hand to Kaz, a smile breaking its way to her face, even through her irritation. "The name's Oriana Lawson. I'll be working closely with your department from here on in."

Kaz shook her hand, amused by the tense atmosphere between the two. "Kaz Lorkat. Section 12's resident tech expert."

Oriana gripped the turian's hand in both of hers, datapad wedged between her arm and her ribs. "Tech expert? Then maybe you can help us." She looked excitedly to Kolyat and then back to Kaz, her eyes gleaming. "I'm trying to set up a communications hub here at Rakasi ward but we don't have the necessary conduits and the power grid is just ridiculous, what with all the power outages and well, I was hoping you could help us set up a power transfer from the Presidium, and maybe establish a secure inter-relay hub here, near the precinct."

Kaz simply stared at the woman and Kolyat smirked in mild amusement. Oriana remembered herself then and released the other woman's hand. Kaz shook it experimentally and eyed Oriana with a newfound hesitance.

"Sorry," Oriana muttered, hands finding the datapad once more. "I'm just…anxious to get this project up and running."

Kaz raised a brow. "I'll…see what I can do." She looked to Kolyat. "Bailey will have to approve the transfers, and we'll need a team to disassemble the Presdium's field grid. It'll have more use down here."

Kolyat shrugged, pocketing his hands. "The old man'll do it. Don't worry about it."

Kaz nodded. "Alright then. I'll be in touch." She gave Oriana one last flick of her mandibles, what Kolyat knew passed for a tight smile, and then brushed past them toward the sliding doors of Section 12's precinct.

Oriana dropped her face into one palm and groaned. "I'm really making friends here," she muttered piteously.

Kolyat took the moment to smirk in satisfaction at her agony, crossing his arms and watching her smugly. "Oh yeah, your charming personality is just raking them in."

She peeked up at him through her fingers. "You're like my twelve labors, aren't you?" she moaned in exhaustion.

He raised a brow at her remark, completely missing the human mythology reference.

"Nevermind," she dismissed, straightening up, hand falling from her face. "Just…forget it."

He shrugged. Already forgotten. Honestly, it wasn't like he paid attention to half of what the woman said anyway.

"Alright, why don't we check out Cross Section H? It looks like a pretty decent place to set up camp."

Kolyat merely shrugged his acquiescence.

Oriana nodded, and then headed off from the precinct.

"Uh, Lawson? It's this way."

Oriana looked back to find Kolyat chucking a thumb behind him.

She stalked back up to him. "Wouldn't it be easier to head this way?" She pointed down the direction she came.

Kolayt shook his head. "Not unless you want to run through the roughest part of the camps."

"It's shorter."

"It's also more dangerous."

She planted her hands on her hips. "Isn't that why you're with me?"

"Do you see a weapon on me, Lawson?" He spread his arms wide.

She frowned at him. "I seem to recall a route you staked out in these maps," she retorted, waving the datapad before him.

"You're mistaken," he snapped. "This is the best way to Cross Section H." Again, the directional thumb.

Oriana huffed. "But you see here – " She tapped open a viewscreen on her datapad and immediately slapped Kolyat's hand away when he reached for it.

He scowled at her. "Oh," he spat, hands suddenly raised high in the air as he backed up a step. "I'm sorry," he sneered. "Are you the drell with the eidetic memory? No? No? Well then." He smacked his lips in irritation and Oriana's eyes practically sailed through the ceiling with the intensity of her eye-roll.

"Fine," she growled, shoving the datapad into his hands. "You lead."

He let his smug grin linger a little too long on his face.

"You look stupid," she jabbed, because it was all she could say.

His grin fell, eyes narrowing.

She sauntered past him, too proud to look back and too embarrassed to say anything more.

Thus passed the first days of their partnership.

* * *

"What about Keh'lani ward?" Oriana posed her question across the conference room table to Kolyat as he sat leaning back in his chair, feet propped up on the edge of the table.

He shook his head, scrolling through data on the pad in his hands, not even looking up at her. "It's not feasible yet. Tech crews down there are still trying to set up a secure connection to Rakasi. And it's not proving easy."

Oriana ran a hand through her short, dark hair, irritated. "It's the most populated ward on the Citadel. We need to get a processing center set up there as soon as possible."

Kolyat glanced at her, one brow lifted. "It's also the most crime-ravaged ward, Lawson."

"All the more reason to get established down there."

Kolyat frowned. "You mean, all the more reason to be cautious about establishing down there."

She threw him an exasperated look and reached for her mug of coffee, taking a scalding sip before continuing. "No. I mean exactly what I say. The sooner we can get a foothold the better."

He set his datapad down, attention solely on her. "You're being reckless."

"I'm being practical."

"Funny, it seems quite the opposite to me."

She grumbled. "Look, the reason crime is so high on Keh'lani is because of the over-population. It breeds desperation since resources are so strained. And since we can't up the food reserves and we can't enable inter-ward travel, then the best we can do is give them some kind of hope. Having a Victims Tracing center there is just that."

Kolyat steepled his hands together and gave her a withering look. "Or it becomes just the kind of facility that scavengers are looking to raid for scrap materials. We can't set up down there until the populace is subdued."

"Subdued?" she asked incredulously, pausing her mug just below her lips. "You make it sound like they're criminals."

"A lot of them are."

She let out a snort of disgust, lowering her mug back to the table. "They're refugees. They need our help."

"And we're giving it to them. But that doesn't guarantee your safety if you go down there."

She crossed her arms over her chest and leaned back in her chair. "Isn't that part of your job?"

His cheek twitched. "I think you overestimate my ability, Lawson."

"Well, at least one of us said it."

His hands curled tightly over the edge of the table. "Look, I'm here to make the settle-in easier, to be your connection between the embassies, and to offer any insight into the camps that will help aid your organization's efforts. I'm not here to put up with your snark and arrogance."

Her mouth gaped open for a moment, before she shut it with some effort. "And I'm not here to be insulted."

"You should have thought about that before you got all holier-than-thou on me."

"I'm not the one with the disposition of a yahg."

"You sure about that?"

She scowled, gaze shifting away from him before she vaulted over the table to strangle him. "Why is everything a confrontation with you?" she grumbled.

"Because you always insist on being right, even when you're not," he spat back, waving a hand in her direction.

She slanted narrow eyes at him. "Well, it's impossible to get you to agree to anything when you object to everything that comes out of my mouth."

"Everything that comes out of your mouth is ridiculous."

"And everything that comes out of yours isn't worth the breath it takes to say it." And then she stopped. Because that wasn't the entire truth. "I'm sorry," she whispered, and then stiffened, immediately regretting the instant apology. Because she was always the one apologizing. Why couldn't he do it for a change? It's not like she was the only one who slung heated words, and his were far worse most of the time. She was tired of trying to reach out that olive branch and having it shat on, continuously. She was just so tired of arguing. There were enough problems in the galaxy, on this Citadel, in this fucking room even, to be going on about how much they disliked each other. There was no changing that. He was bad-tempered, churlish, antagonizing. And she was…well, she was trying. And she couldn't say the same for him.

It was like…God, it was like dealing with a petulant teenager. She would have thought that someone of his experience and plight in the world would have matured beyond prepubescent varren but nope, there he was, still lingering in the primordial muck, so it seemed. Still light years behind the rest of them. Still in the midst of arrested emotional aptitude.

She honestly didn't see any benefit to having him there except to test her patience, which, she thought, was quite thoroughly challenged at this point.

Ever since their first meeting, he had been nothing but disagreeable. Shooting down her ideas without offering ample alternatives. Insulting her opinions. Putting more effort into angering her than actually being helpful. And why? Why? Because she recognized his name? Because she mentioned his father upon their first meeting? Well, boo fucking hoo. It wasn't like she intentionally dug the knife in. She had no idea.

Though she did soon after, because research had always been her thing and she had since learned enough about the late Thane Krios and his abandoned son to warrant the most miniscule of her empathy. But no more. Because he sure as hell didn't have the patent on fucked up fathers and she was not about to coddle this pathetic boy because he was too fucked up to manage his own shit. No. That wasn't fair. And she was tired of trying to justify herself to this asshole. She didn't understand why it meant so much that she prove to him how important her work was. How important her ideals were.

Why did she fucking care in the first place? It didn't matter. He didn't matter. Not in the long run. And she could live with him not giving a rat's ass about her work and her needs and her tireless beliefs – at least, she should – but then she didn't feel like she had to. Because wasn't it worth it to think that there was still meaning left in the galaxy? That hard work perseveres and people are inherently good and all that flowery bullshit she strives for every day? Because why the fuck would you continue to live in a world where you didn't think life was worth it?

She didn't get it. Couldn't understand his inherent cynicism and his complete disregard of anything remotely connected to happiness. She hadn't even seen anything that could pass for a smile cross his face in the time that she'd known him and damn if that wasn't exhausting.

She woke up every day, walked outside her sparse C-Sec accommodations, and found him waiting outside against the rail. He'd nod silently, push off, and then walk ahead of her to the entrance of the barracks and then out to the Rapid Transit Depot. They'd sit in silence throughout the minutes-long trip, occasionally trade a barb or two, and then they'd arrive at the precinct and she'd bury herself in work. It was all just…endless. No let up. No reprieve. And it was like he didn't even fucking care. Like it was just another assignment for him.

And it was so much more for her.

Her sister, all broad smiles and cocky voice, whispering "I'll find you when it's over", before wrapping her arms around her and clinging tighter than she'd ever held anything in her life.

Even her parents.

Because Miranda was the last, the final, the only tie left. The sole reason she could stand up and move on and be the person she wanted to be, had to be, knew she could be. All because she knew she wasn't alone. She had a sister who could hold her hand and knock her shoulder and chide her laughingly for being a mush. Even though she was.

Even though she'd never admit to crying in the end there.

Waving goodbye as Miranda sauntered off toward her shuttle, smile brilliant and promising and then…gone.

She hadn't seen it since.

No one would know what it was like to fall to her knees in the empty docking port and cry out her sister's name, arms cradling in on herself, body wracked with sobs. She wasn't strong enough to stop her, and she wasn't selfish enough to want to. But some part of her knew. Some small, insistent, inevitable part of her – knew.

Miranda wasn't coming back.

Oriana shook her head, the thought leaving her. She felt the inkling of wetness on her lids and blinked it back vehemently, sinking further in her chair.

He didn't deserve to witness her tears.

"Do you even realize how sanctimonious you sound?" His question was venomous, his eyes dark on hers across the table.

She rolled her eyes, pushing from her seat and stalking the length of the conference room. Because she couldn't stay still. Not with him. He made her writhe and shake and tremble violently. He made every molecule riot inside her blood. Made every muscle twitch in heated vexation. She turned swiftly and paced back to the seat she had vacated. "What – what – is your problem with me, Krios?" She stopped, arms ramrod straight at her sides, looking at him with this intensity she was sure would humble his gaze.

It didn't. He only glared harder. "Do you have the time for me to answer that?"

She groaned loudly and threw her hands into the air. "I swear, it's like talking to a fucking infant." She started pacing again.

"Well, if you weren't so condescending – "

"I'm not the one being condescending!" she shouted back.

"You never even listen to my suggestions."

"They're not suggestions! They're rejections. If you perhaps offered alternatives…"

"That's all I fucking do!" He slapped the datapad that previously rested in his lap along the edge of the table.

"All you do is complain." She stopped in her pacing and braced her hands along the table, leaning over with a sneer.

Kolyat stood and mirrored her posture, throwing the datapad across the table. She retracted back at the motion. "Oh that's rich, coming from you," he said with scorn.

"What's that supposed to mean?"

"I think it's quite apparent."

"What's apparent to me is how far your head seems to be stuck up your –"

"Not as far as the stick up your –"

"God, your self-importance is just beyond nauseating."

"As is your superiority complex."

She scoffed, arms folding across her chest. "At least I have principles."

Kolyat's hands curled into fists atop the table. "Don't you get it? Don't you fucking get it, Lawson? You're too blinded by your own pompous ass to see it."

"What?" she snapped. "Please, enlighten me, oh wise wonder of the epic bullshit."

"It's not about having your principles, you absolute twat," he growled. "Not about the right principles, or the principles. It's about having principles, period – your own, and not some stolen everyman's bullshit – it's about holding them true to yourself and living your fucking life by them and not giving a fuck whether someone else agrees with them. But you – you can't abide by anyone playing by any rules other than your own, can you?"

"I just don't – "

"Get off your fucking pedestal, Lawson. You're no better than the rest of us."

She blinked furiously at him. "I'm not trying to say I am. Where are you even coming from with this? I'm just trying to put some good out into the world and you come in here and just shit on everything I try to do."

"Because it means absolute shit when there are people out there that are never – never – coming back! And you can't fix that!" He was shaking. She could see it from where she stood.

She ground her teeth and felt her rage burrowing deep in her marrow. "Then what the hell are you even doing here, Krios? What? Some pathetic repentance? Some debt to your father? Are you here for a fucking personality transplant? WHAT?"

He slammed a fist down on the table hard enough to rattle it.

She nearly stepped back in caution.

"Don't you fucking –"

The door slid open.

Both parties blinked heatedly at the turian agent that stood innocently in the doorway. "Uh, am I interrupting something?" he asked cautiously, mandibles flicking once in a tight quiver of unease.

There was a long, taut tension that suffused the room. The air itself seemed to crack and fracture between them.

Oriana pulled in a deep, slow breath.

Kolyat's muscles twitched, his fist still imbedded in the table's surface.

The agent looked back and forth between them, talons tapping nervously along the datapad in his hand. "I've uh, I've got those updates you asked for earlier, Miss Lawson."

Closing her eyes momentarily and pulling her hand to her chest as though to steady her racing heart, Oriana lowered herself to her seat once more and swallowed tightly. When she opened her eyes, her voice was steady, her face blank, and she reached a hand out expectantly to him. "Thanks, Jetal. I appreciate that."

The turian scratched at his cheek but stepped forward, handing the datapad to her. "I'm working on the numbers from Vhenma ward right now, and Kaz says we can see channels opening up from Argos Rho as soon as next week." His eyes glinted in excitement for a moment.

Oriana managed an appreciative smile. "That's great news."

Jetal glanced back to the still drell, noticing that he hadn't moved since he entered. With a respectful nod, he backed out of the room and waved his farewell. "I'll give you the next update within the hour then." And then the door slid shut after him.

Oriana smoothed her skirt out over her knees but didn't look up.

Silence reigned in the room once more.

And then the rustle of clothes caught her attention and she glanced up to see Kolyat pushing from the table and stalking over to the door.

He left, silently and stiffly.

Oriana reached for a datapad and found her hands trembling. She clamped them down in her lap.

He always left her shaking.

Chapter Text

Disclaimer: I own nothing, I make no money.

Rocks and Shoals

Part One: Run Aground Off the Reefs

Chapter Four: Hidden in Shade

"He didn't want to be that person. He didn't want to be that kind of ghost anymore. But he didn't think it'd be so hard to stop being angry, and resentful, and lost. Not until he met someone who made him feel so small and insignificant in his spite." - In a post-war galaxy, Kolyat and Oriana found each other when they went looking for themselves.

* * *

"The woman is absolutely infuriating," Kolyat growled, throwing his hands in the air as he stalked across Bailey's office. "Every time I offer a suggestion she has something to say about it. Every time I point out the flaws in her plan she gets defensive. She's dismissive, arrogant, stuck-up, know-it-all, self-righteous, annoying and…just…I swear I cannot be held responsible for anything I do if you send me back to 12 without approving my transfer request."

Bailey was trying his damnedest not to smile in amusement at the drell, Kolyat knew, because there was that telltale twitch to his lips and the subtle fold of his hands over each other on the desk. Kolyat shot a glare his mentor's way and stopped just before the desk, hands planting along the edge of it. "Don't you dare, old man. Don't you fucking dare."

Bailey shook his head and sighed. "You're not making this any easier, kid."

Kolyat scoffed and pushed roughly away from the desk, resuming his pacing. "You have no idea what I put up with."

Bailey allowed himself a soft smirk. "I can imagine."

"What does that mean?"

Another sigh, something of exhaustion in his voice, and Kolyat felt the first inkling of guilt clawing at his chest when he glanced at the commander from the corner of his eye. But then he thought of Oriana, of her constant nagging and her endless questions and that stupid, ridiculous look she got on her face when she was excited about something. There was absolutely nothing to be excited about, Kolyat thought. The project was going dismally. Sure, in the first couple weeks of their collaboration, they'd managed to set up the communications hub and the first processing center close to Precinct 12, but they hadn't even touched the plans for the remaining wards sections yet, and trying to round up personnel to man the stations was a mission in and of itself. Add to that the fact that he and Oriana could barely get anything done between the constant bickering, and he was ready to bash his head into the wall to make it end.

So no. Not guilty about ranting to Bailey.

"You know, you're not the nicest person this side of the galaxy, son." Bailey raised his brows meaningfully at Kolyat.

Like he expected the storm was coming. Like he fucking bet on the inevitable explosion. Well, Kolyat thought, he's not fucking getting it. So instead of the instinctive shout of denial that Kolyat barely managed to contain, he simply stilled, hands fisting at his sides.

Deep breath in.

Deep breath out.

And he could have thrown something across the room with the look of surprised appreciation sliding over the commander's features. But he kept calm (barely) and managed to get out (barely) a seething breath of words. "I'm trying, Bailey."

At that, Bailey frowned. "Evidently, not hard enough."

"Do you even – "

"Here's the thing, Krios." Bailey braced his hands along the desk and raised himself up, leaning over it with an intimidating air. "I've been keeping a close eye on you and from the reports I'm getting from Townsend, you don't seem to be keeping up your end of this very well."

Kolyat spluttered, and he hated how unprepared he suddenly sounded, but he couldn't get much else out because Bailey was already walking out from behind his desk and continuing.

"From what I hear, you've been railing against her from the get-go. You've been rude, uncompromising, not to mention half-assing your commitment to this assignment, something I never would have thought you'd let happen, given how much you need this project to go well for your commission. You've been completely unprofessional and unwelcoming to our guest, Krios, to our damn guest, and you've reflected utterly dishonorably on C-Sec and what we represent. And I'm sick of it."

Kolyat's mouth clamped shut. His every breath left him at the words and he visibly deflated before the commander. Even the tension in his shoulders and his fists slowly began to ease out. It was that look. That look on Bailey's face that did him in.

Sharp, branding disappointment.

Kolyat could taste it in the air between them.

There was no anger, no resentment, no useless pride and self-inflated ego left in the drell. Just…a sore defeat brewing in his chest. He couldn't take the stern look in Bailey's eyes and so he averted his gaze, his eyes locking on the far corner of the room where the grey walls met and he could find some semblance of calm. Because he was anything but. And a lot of that had to do with the fact that he knew what a disaster he had been the last couple of weeks. And it hadn't even been the Lawson girl, not really. It had been this assignment. This project. This attempt at some measure of peace in a war-torn galaxy, a peace that Kolyat was sure he would never taste himself.

Because he had no family left to reunite with. And the way he longed for such a thing in the lone hours of night that he revealed to no one, well, he'd never admit to wanting this thing to go right. He'd never admit to needing it. Needing it in a very tragic, very desperate way, because some part of him – the part he hadn't even known existed until he was at his father's bedside and choking back tears that felt wrong for all the right reasons – that part of him knew what it meant to be alone in such a wide galaxy. To reach for a connection that just wasn't there. And when it was, in the end, when it was there, for just a moment, for just the hesitant span of a breath, it had slipped through his fingers like the white hospital sheet in his father's grip.

He hadn't been able to reclaim it since. Not even when he took that weathered prayer book home and sifted through the pages as though he'd find his father there. But not the father he knew. A different man. The man he had seen in his dreams and heard in his prayers and knew existed somewhere out there.

Because Kolyat existed too and wasn't that proof enough that the man he needed had been there at one point in his life? That he had been 'father' and 'husband' and 'loved one' at some point in this lost family history?

Hadn't that meant that Thane knew the meaning of home once?

Kolyat began to wonder how selfish of a fucker he had to be to sabotage this project because of his own unresolved issues.

He didn't want to be that person. He didn't want to be that kind of ghost anymore. But he didn't think it'd be so hard to stop being angry, and resentful, and lost.

Not until he met someone who made him feel so small and insignificant in his spite.

Not until Oriana Lawson.

Bailey sighed, pinched the bridge of his nose, and then shook his head, gaze to the floor.

Kolyat hadn't felt so shitty in such a long time.

When Bailey looked back up, Kolyat was silent, patient, waiting. "What's going on, kid?" And the way he said it – so low, so cautious, a lace of concern underlying the sentiment – it made the words dry up in Kolyat's throat.

There were long moments where they just stared at each other, shoulders slumped, gazes open, nothing between them but air and the fragile realization that time couldn't heal all wounds.

"I…" Kolyat began, before stopping. Because what do you say to such a question? What reason, what explanation, was enough to encompass everything he had been feeling since the moment this assignment began? No. Before that. Before even Thane's death. Back to the moment he knew, as a young boy, that he was on his own. What words would ever be adequate enough to express his loss, his emptiness, his desperate, child-like need?

Bailey's hand came up to rest on his shoulder. "Talk to me, Kolyat."

The use of his name, his first, his intimate, his name – it broke him. Kolyat's head dropped down and he reached up to grasp Bailey's hand on his shoulder. "I don't know if I can do this, Bailey," he rasped. His hand shook where it gripped tightly to the commander's, and his whole body was racked with a single, powerful shudder.

He was just so tired.

Bailey reached for his other shoulder, holding the young drell before him. "That's bullshit," he said succinctly.

Kolyat's gaze shot up, the hint of a glare in his eyes, but mostly it was confusion.

Bailey cocked his head, his gaze intent on Kolyat's. "You're one of the most stubborn, hard-headed, cocky people I've ever met. You can't tell me that you're done in by this." His lips quirked up in the hint of a smirk.

It was almost enough to reassure him. But not quite.

Kolyat frowned. "It's just drudging up a lot of…a lot of shit I don't need right now, Bailey."

"It can't stay buried forever."

"Sure it can."

Bailey blew a breath through his pursed lips, hands sliding from the drell's shoulders. "It ain't healthy, kid, and you know that."

"It's gotten me this far." Kolyat shrugged as though disinterested. They both knew it was otherwise.

"That's not exactly a ringing recommendation for your shut-in attitude."

"It's not like I…" And then he stopped. Mulled it over a second. "Why did you give me this assignment?"

"I already told you why."

"No. The real reason."

Bailey rubbed at the back of his neck, eyes flitting to the far wall.

Kolyat pocketed his hands, gaze falling on his boots. They were scuffed and worn. He couldn't take his eyes from them. "Did you really think I could do it any good?" He was hard pressed to think he could do anything any good at this point, but what else was there? At least at C-Sec he had a roof over his head, a paycheck, people who knew him and accepted him, even a laugh here and there, bruised and rare as it was these days. But he never really deluded himself into thinking he made a difference here. Not the right kind, anyway. He'd only just managed to stop destroying everything he touched.

He was much like his father in that respect and some part of him always knew that.

Bailey offered up a hesitant smile. "I thought maybe it would do you some good."

Kolyat's only response was a grunt of acknowledgement, neither accepting or rebuking.

"I still do," the commander finished.

Kolyat finally looked up at him, drawing a deep breath in. "I'm not so sure."

Bailey's lips curved more surely. "Do you trust me?"

"Yeah." He hadn't even thought about his answer, he'd just said it. It was intrinsic, unquestionable.

"Then believe me when I tell you that you can do this."

It was like the quiet release of a dam in his chest, where everything came slowly trickling out, an even, steady stream of fear and relief and stark uncertainty, until it became a torrent, gushing violently forth, everything in him snapping into tight recollection.

He drew a sharp breath in, eyes suddenly glazed over, voice rasping. "'Kolyat,' he says, voice like coarse sand. He reaches for me. I shove him away. His hand recoils, dusked in shadow, his eyes, his face, everything I used to know still there, still darkened, hidden in shade. There is no light here. 'No,' I say. I have never meant it more."

Kolyat blinked back into realization, gaze raking over Bailey's concerned features. He clamped his mouth shut, a flicker of irritation tugging on his heart, eclipsed by the sharper, more insistent flutter of panic at his lapse.

Bailey cleared his throat and crossed his arms, leaning a hip on the edge of the desk. "You good?" He was no stranger to the drell's occasional memory trips but Kolyat was particular about keeping a lid on them. It was rare these days that Bailey would be privy to one.

"I'm fine," he snapped.

Bailey knew how to recognize his lies at this point, and Kolyat knew it too, but neither of them brought it to either's attention. There were several moments of awkward silence and unnerved shuffling from both ends. Bailey scratched at his cheek. Kolyat glared at the ground.

And then Bailey sighed once more, and Kolyat was beginning to wonder if the man ever made any other sound, or if maybe he wasn't the only one just completely and utterly exhausted on this station. "Look, Kolyat, I'm not going to transfer you off VicTrace. I put you there for a reason. And even though it might not look it now, I do think this is going to do you some good in the long run. I just need you to hold on until then, okay?"

His mouth dipping into a frown, Kolyat eyed the man. "And Lawson?"

"What about her?"

"We…don't exactly click." It was the nicest way he could think to say that they were at each other's throats.

"Find a way to make it work."

If it was possible, Kolyat's frown grew harsher. "Wow. That's stellar advice."

Bailey shrugged, and it should have made Kolyat angrier but he knew, truthfully, he couldn't really argue with the man. Not that he would ever admit to any of the shit Bailey called him on earlier.

"Have you even tried to get to know her, Krios? You two are a lot more alike than you might think."

Scoffing, Kolyat rocked back on his heels a moment, hands still pocketed in his trousers. "I highly doubt that."

Bailey gave him a look that verged on pensive if Kolyat thought too hard about it. "I think you'd be surprised to discover what that young lady's made it through, and what she's accomplished since."

That one caught his attention, but he wasn't about to satisfy the commander with any indication of his interest on the matter, so instead, he just nodded apathetically, eyes shifting toward the door in silent communication. "Well, I promise not to kill her in her sleep. Will that do?"

A soft chuckle escaped the commander. "For now," he said.

"Good."

"I'll hold you to it, you know."

Kolyat rolled his eyes. He was suddenly perturbed by the thought that he was doing said eye-rolling a hell of a lot more since Oriana Lawson's arrival. A contagious behavior, apparently. He inwardly cursed.

Bailey chuffed him on the shoulder once, nodding to the door. "Now get out of here. I've got actual work to do."

Kolyat pursed his lips and nodded. "Yeah. I'll see ya, Bailey." He headed out.

"Stay sane, kid."

"No promises." The door slid shut behind him.

* * *

Oriana slumped into the chair across from Iranis' desk, her arms plopping onto the sides as an exhausted huff left her lips. "That's it. I'm done. I quit. Finito." She swiped a hand through the air as though to signify the sentiment.

Iranis chuckled at her from her position, elbows on her desk, chin in her palms, leaning toward Kaz while the turian perched on the edge of her desk. The asari pulled back somewhat from her previous conversation with the other agent and raised an inquisitive brow Oriana's way. "Talk to me, hon. What's going on?"

Oriana huffed and slouched further into her chair. Behind her, the bustle of Precinct 12 continued on in much the same way as it did every day – loudly, and a bit frantically.

Kaz cocked her head and looked down at the young woman. "Don't tell me the grid's down again."

Oriana flopped her head back along the edge of the seat's back cushion. "No," she offered on a sigh.

Iranis tapped her cheek thoughtfully. "Not enough volunteers for the posts?"

"Uh uh." Oriana waved a finger through the air with the answer.

Iranis smirked knowingly and Kaz glanced at her when the asari released a slow, humorless chuckle. "Let me guess. He's blue and surly."

"Bingo." Oriana's head lifted up in time to level her with an unamused glare.

Kaz released a slight clicking sound, shaking her head. "That boy's going to find himself face-down on the wrong side of a ward camp one of these days."

"Men," Iranis scoffed in mock disgust. She leaned back toward Kaz. "Am I right?" she asked with a secret smile, eyebrows waggling.

Kaz leaned down to the asari, face stoic. "You're never right." And then she slid off the desk at Iranis' pout.

"Aw, babe, you're too cruel."

Oriana chuckled at the couple and watched Kaz saunter off, waving over her shoulder. "I've got some reports to file. I'll catch you later," she called as she retreated.

Iranis smiled after her partner and then turned fully in her seat to face Oriana, arms folding over the surface of her desk. "Alright, what's the idiot done now?"

Oriana leaned forward to place her elbows on her knees and bury her face in her hands. "God, it's just impossible to get anything done with him," she groaned between her fingers.

Iranis sent the young woman a sympathetic look she couldn't see. "I know he can be a bit of an asshole but – "

"A bit?"

Iranis chuckled at that. "But you get used to it."

Oriana scoffed, peeking out through her fingers. "One shouldn't have to get used to assholery, Iri. Said asshole should just, I don't know, be a better person, maybe?"

The asari blinked at her, and then slowly began to nod in agreement, rubbing at her chin. "Okay, yeah, you know, I have to give you that one. You're right."

Oriana just groaned some more.

The asari folded her hands together atop the desk. "Look, Oriana, the thing is – and this is not a justification for his behavior or anything but – well, I guess part of his attitude is our fault. The crew, I mean. Because he was pretty messed up when Bailey took him under his wing – still is I guess – and we kind of just made allowances for so long, knowing that he needed our understanding and support if he was ever going to get to a healthier place and…I suppose we never got out of that mode." She offered an apologetic look, shoulders shrugging slightly. "He's like our communal son," she laughed.

Oriana just stared at her through her fingers, lips pressed tightly together, still smothered in her palm. Finally, after a long and slow inhale, she curled her fingers up under her chin and sighed. "I get that. I do. And my gripe isn't with you, Iri, or anyone from Precinct 12. You all have been beyond helpful in this venture, it's just…well…" Her eyes drifted from the asari as she trailed off.

Iranis nodded. "It's just time for him to do a little growing up, huh?"

"I mean, I wasn't going to say it but.." She allowed a playful smirk to pull at her features, even as they were marred by frustration.

Iranis shook her head and laughed. "Didn't need to. I guess it's been a long time coming, really." She mused softly to herself after the words, her face shifting into something Oriana would call affectionate or contemplative.

"I'm not one to talk though. I know I've been…difficult. It's just – " Oriana stopped and slunk back in the chair. "I just want this to go well so bad that I…it's taking over me. I didn't think it'd be this intensive but then I came off that transport and stepped onto the new and unimproved Citadel and met you and all these survivors and it just reminds me so much about all that's been lost that…that…I feel like I can't afford to get this thing wrong. The world deserves more. The galaxy deserves so much more than the share it's gotten these last few months and if I can do even a little – even just a miniscule, insignificant thing in this universe – as long as I can do it then, well, I just have to. There's too much ill in the galaxy not to. I just…I feel like all I'm doing is losing. Just…not even making a dent. And it hurts to think of how absolutely shit this whole thing might have been from the start."

They sat quietly for several moments while Oriana reined in her breathing and stared at her lap. She hadn't meant to drop this on the asari when she came to her desk with the intention of escaping the confines of her conference room turned headquarters. She had only wanted a quiet moment of peace. Some silence in the noise of life.

Everything was just so…so beyond repair at this point. And she couldn't even blame the drell anymore. Sure, he had been the most vocal dissenter, and a royal pain in her ass, but truthfully, she felt the echoes of his words and his frustration and his apathy everywhere she went on the Citadel. It was this defeatist attitude that had infected everyone aboard. Even Bailey, to a degree. Even Townsend and Iranis and Kaz and, shit, even her if she thought too long about it. She was just so tired. And weren't they all? Weren't they all just worn and beaten and done with the war? No one had ever told them how hard it would be to pick up the pieces. And though some part of her knew that, the larger part – the needful, aching part of her that couldn't live in a universe that just gave up – that part of her had forged through blindly. Idealistic. Stubborn. A gleaming future and a smile that felt whole once more, lying just in wait over the horizon of the aftermath. If she could only make it, she knew – she knew – that all would be right again.

Her parents – warm and naïve and blameless – they were gone. And there was no coming back from that. Some lives will always be lost. Some things never come back.

And God, how she missed Miranda.

Her last tie to this existence. The reason she held so strongly to these ideals, why she couldn't give up on the thought that all these people really need, all they search for in the night and call for in the day, all they bleed for, is a hand to hold. An arm around their shoulder. A knowing touch. A familiar face.

Someone to whisper against their cheek "I'm here" and fucking mean it. And fucking stay.

It was such a simple, silly thing.

But it was all she had.

"Don't give up on this project, Oriana."

Iranis' voice caught her attention and she swung an unsettled gaze her way.

The asari smiled, slow and easy and with a lop-sided twist of the lips that reminded her so much of her mother that she very nearly gripped at her chest to stop the hammering of her heart. "It means something. To a lot of us. Please don't ever think it doesn't."

Oriana didn't know how to answer that, at least, not in any way she thought she should – or would be able to. So she simply bit her lip and nodded, hands linking together over her lap where her gaze drifted down again.

There was a sigh from across the desk. "I'll have a talk with our boy Krios."

"No!" Oriana near-yelped, head snapping up. "No," she repeated, calmer, hands smoothing over her thighs. "It's not – don't…don't worry about it." She sagged into her cushion. Even just talking about him exhausted her. "He's not going to respond unless I'm the one to approach him. I don't want him scolded like a child, I want to talk with him like an adult." She paused, and then blew an exasperated breath through her lips. "That is, if he even knows the meaning of the term."

Iranis couldn't help her small chuckle at that. "Is there anything I can do on my end?"

Oriana mused on the offer for a moment, but eventually, she shrugged and shook her head, knowing that the stubborn dolt would only resent her more if she got anyone else involved in their spat. Sighing, Oriana pushed from the seat and stood. "I'm sorry for dropping this on you like this, Iri, but thanks for letting me vent."

"Of course."

She chucked a thumb behind her toward the conference room that had served as her headquarters for the last few weeks. "Well, I've got to get back to it before Krios finishes up with Bailey."

Iranis cocked a brow at her mention. "The kid's with Bailey?"

Oriana stopped mid-turn to look back at Precinct 12's second in command. "Yeah, he's getting my personnel roster approved."

"Well, I'm sure the boss will straighten him out a bit. Not to worry." She ended her words on a wink and waved her farewell.

Oriana offered a meager smile as she left, but couldn't keep the look of apprehension from crossing her features. Luckily, Iranis was already moving to her terminal and unaware of Oriana's newfound anxiety.

Bailey.

The man had been a damn godsend since this whole thing started. She knew half of what she put into practice here on the Citadel wouldn't even be possible without the man's help. But then, she also knew about the close bond between him and Kolyat. And damn if she wasn't nervous about that. Because she needed Bailey as an ally in this. And she hoped to God that he wasn't in that office right now, actually pandering to the little shit, because she couldn't take it if he was.

Rubbing a hand down her face, Oriana sighed and stalked into the conference room, door sliding shut behind her.

None of this was going the way she planned. Not since the moment she stepped foot on the Citadel, or rather, what was left of the Citadel. Because everything had changed. What she remembered from her last time here (white walls and the faint scent of burned ozone, a sense of safety, open space, smiles) was suddenly gone, suddenly lost in the myriad of gaunt faces and ash-lined alleys. And yet, she had still hoped, still expected even, that the Citadel would remain the last untouched vestige of life before the Reapers. And how wrong she was. Kolyat's words rang endlessly in her head.

"This is it. This is all that's left from the war. And it's all we've got right now."

Such a stupid dream.

Oriana shook her head, leaning back against the closed door, fists clenching at her sides and tears springing unbidden to her shut lids.

Maybe she was just a stupid girl.

She breathed deep, in then out. Once more. She opened her eyes.

She realized she could live with being a stupid girl.

Just not a gutless one.

Chapter Text

Disclaimer: I own nothing, I make no money.

Rocks and Shoals

Part One: Run Aground Off the Reefs

Chapter Five: Beyond Words

"The way she mumbled her 'goodnight' as she slowly slid the door shut before him. The way she didn't look him in the eye. The way the silence clawed at him when he stood staring at her door wondering where the fuck it had all begun to change." - In a post-war galaxy, Kolyat and Oriana found each other when they went looking for themselves.

* * *

They sat at one of the cafeteria's tables, trays of slowly cooling food before them. Oriana was scrolling through a datapad, her fork held still over her pasta. Kolyat was staring off past her to the cafeteria's entrance, watching the other C-Sec agents as they filed through for their meals. He tapped a rhythm out on the table absentmindedly.

Oriana's eyes glanced up from her pad, peeking through her hair, head still down. "Do you mind?" she said softly, hoping against all hope that he didn't take it as an attack and start this whole fiasco again.

Kolyat looked at her, his hand stilling its movement. "Am I bothering you?"

She could sense the derision in the words already. Licking her lips, she watched him a moment, and then decided it wasn't worth it. She wasn't about to get into this in the middle of the cafeteria. She rolled her eyes, returning to her datapad. "Nevermind," she sighed.

Across from her, Kolyat curled his fingers into his palm and rested it against the table, grumbling and returning to his food.

Oriana didn't dare breathe a word to him, even in thanks. She kept her focus on the report at her fingertips. She stabbed at her pasta and brought a forkful to her mouth.

"Are we visiting PC3 today?" he asked quietly, referring to the third processing center along Vhenma ward. His gaze was intent on his food.

Oriana looked back up at him, mouth moving slowly around her pasta. She took a moment to swallow and then straightened up. "Yeah. That's the plan. I want to see how Precinct 4 is handling the influx."

He nodded, lips pursed tight.

"Unless you have any other suggestions for today?" She was careful not to slide any accusation into her tone. Even still, she tensed in preparation for the inevitable snide remark.

He finally looked at her. He shrugged his shoulders and fiddled with his fork. "No."

She narrowed her eyes at him. Who was this person? This noncommittal, apathetic person? Not even enough scorn to summon more than a pathetic 'no'?

It had been going on for the last couple of weeks or so, ever since Kolyat had come back into the conference room after his talk with Bailey and dropped the datapad with the personnel approvals onto the table. He had said maybe seven words to her in the time since and she was beginning to wonder if the kid wasn't working on some devious plan to lull her into a false sense of security before absolutely demolishing her in a sudden tirade of childish contempt.

And then she had to laugh at herself. How paranoid was she? How absolutely messed up had things gotten that that was what she had come to expect from him? Maybe he was just as tired of the fighting as she was. Maybe he had…given up.

She mentally scoffed at the thought. The boy was as stubborn as a hungry krogan and he wouldn't let her off this easy if it wasn't for a reason. She was inclined to think it was anything but altruistic. After all, the drell hardly knew the meaning of the word.

"Oh no."

Oriana glanced up at his soft expel of breath to find his eyes wide and riveted to something past her shoulder. She was about to turn when his hand shot out and gripped her wrist.

"Don't look back. She'll see us."

Oriana was so surprised by his willingness to touch her that she sat dumbly staring at him. And then his touch retreated, and he hunched his shoulders in, turning his head with a hand over his face in some feeble attempt to not be seen by…something.

"Kolyat!"

The loud, cheerful voice was faintly familiar and just as Oriana began to twist in her seat to look back, a woman breezed past her and dropped down into the seat next to Kolyat, wrapping an arm jovially around his shoulders and squeezing him in greeting. He only groaned, dropping his head to the table and pushing his tray away.

The woman had thick brown hair tied up in a messy bun, with small, brown eyes and tan skin. She was wearing a black N7 hoodie and Alliance uniform pants, and Oriana could see the glint of metallic and carbon fiber beneath one of her sleeves where the woman's prosthetic arm leaned against the table, still holding Kolyat in a near-chokehold with her other arm. "Bailey told me I'd find you here, you runt."

Oriana blinked in realization and gaped at the woman. "Shepard?"

Commander Shepard looked up, face breaking into an even wider smile as she recognized the younger Lawson and let go of Kolyat. The drell grunted in unspoken appreciation and shrugged her off. "Ori! What the hell are you doing here?" she asked excitedly.

Oriana took a moment to gather her words, still shocked at the commander's sudden entrance. "I'm uh, I'm here on assignment."

Shepard raised a thin brow. "Oh?" She glanced back to the sulking drell at her side. "You two working together?"

"If you can call it that," Kolyat grumbled, valiantly trying to edge away from the terror at his side but succeeding only in getting dragged back by Shepard's arm locking firmly around his neck once more.

"Well, that's great. I'm sure you two make an excellent team."

Oriana caught Kolyat's eyes and for the first time they seemed to be on the same wavelength. She offered a tight smile. "We make do."

Kolyat rolled his eyes and didn't bother expanding on her answer.

"So what kind of work are you doing?"

Oriana straightened in her seat, a swell of pride brewing in her chest. "My organization, Safe Homes, is combining efforts with the Victims Tracing Department of C-Sec here on the Citadel to reunite the war-torn families."

"Says the brochure," Kolyat muttered.

Oriana threw him a withering look but didn't comment.

Shepard brought her bionic hand up and rubbed at her chin, musing. "That's a valiant effort, Ori."

"Yeah, sure, look," Kolyat interrupted, face a dark mask of irritation as he squirmed under Shepard's hold. "Is there a reason you're here, crazy?"

Shepard grinned broadly at the drell, tugging him closer. He nearly choked. "Only to see you, honeybunch."

Oriana was so taken aback by the friendliness between them. And yeah, she'd call it friendliness, because aside from Bailey, it was the most she'd seen Kolyat emotionally react to anyone. And Shepard's exaggerated clinginess was almost…comforting. Like a sibling's.

Her throat went dry at the thought.

"I'm fine, Shepard." He seemed to have resigned himself to being in Shepard's headlock for eternity and only slumped further into the bench, grumbling beneath his breath.

"I missed you, kid," she answered softly, her smile tender.

Kolyat raised a brow her way. "You're going soft."

She shrugged. "Hmm. Maybe."

Oriana suddenly felt completely out of sorts to be witnessing such a moment. She shifted uncomfortably in her seat, her food and datapad forgotten. She folded her hands awkwardly in her lap.

Finally, Shepard released the surly drell and nudged him in the shoulder. He yanked his arm away from her and glared, but there was a gentleness about it to Oriana. An intimacy.

She never thought she'd envy the drell anything.

But watching the two made her chest ache with something unnamable.

"Actually, I do have a small request," the commander said, leaning an elbow on the table and propping her chin in her palm.

"Of course you do," he drawled, rolling his eyes.

She smiled tenderly at the drell beside her, and when she spoke, there was a sudden caution to her voice, her shoulders tensing minutely. "You still got that prayer book your father gave you?"

There was a long moment of silence between the three and Oriana looked at Kolyat to find him staring at her, both lids blinking quickly, his teal-scaled brow knotted together in consternation. His stare was instantly uncomfortable, and she felt the unexplainable urge to push from their table and run. Just run and never come back. She glanced down finally.

Shepard's voice was soft and understanding then, her free hand tracing circles on the table's surface. "You probably don't have it. What am I thinking? I just…Joker's been having a rough time of it since EDI died and I thought maybe…maybe it could help. Sure helped me. I think…I think your dad knew a lot about living with grief." She trailed off, her gaze drifting off past the table and when Oriana looked up at her there was a glazed look to her eyes that told her she was miles away. Lost somewhere she might never share.

"I have it."

His answer was so low Oriana almost missed it. And nothing had thrown her more. Hadn't he raged against anything to do with his father? Hadn't he grown irrational and temperamental and heated at Thane's very mention? And yet, he kept this prayer book. This memory of his father.

Oriana blinked in surprise at the drell and noticed that he had not altered his stare. He sat, unmoving, watching her with a sort of challenge to his eyes, a sort of demand. She couldn't be sure what for but something inside her told her that this meant something. This was something important that she was witnessing. This was an unspoken offering between them. The first chance at honesty and vulnerability between them.

She suddenly felt incredibly unworthy of such a weight, such a trust.

She didn't want to know about his twisted relationship with his father, because then she might actually have to give a damn about him.

Shepard studied the drell quietly a moment, prosthetic finger tapping along her chin. She sighed and pulled back from the table, stretching her arms in front of her. "Think I could borrow it?"

He finally lowered his gaze from Oriana's, eyes shifted to the table. "Sure."

He had never sounded so small to Oriana before. She couldn't be sure why it made her so upset to hear him like that.

"Thanks, kid." Another nudge to his shoulder. "I'll return it on my next trip to the Citadel."

"You can keep it."

"I said I'll return it," she repeated, voice sure and unquestionable this time, hand sliding over his shoulder in a motion of comfort that was alien to Oriana.

He only nodded his response.

Shepard smiled at him one last time before turning her attention to Oriana. "You've been good, Ori?"

She opened her mouth but found the words lodged in her throat.

Suddenly, Miranda flashed before her eyes. Her back as she walked away. The hot sting of tears that followed the emptiness.

She didn't want to remember that, and she couldn't explain it, so instead, she offered a weary smile and asked the commander, "More importantly, what's been going on with you, Shepard?"

The older woman seemed to take the hint and didn't push. She dropped her hands to her thighs and rubbed them absentmindedly. "Oh, you know. Near death, actual death, deathliness and all that." Her tone was casual and joking but there was a tension to her voice that belied her calm. She swallowed audibly and waved it off. "Earth's a bit of a wreck right now. Not much better than this place, I imagine," she commented, looking around the run-down cafeteria.

"And your crew?"

Shepard allowed herself a small smile. "Mostly intact. Garrus never left my side while I was hospitalized down in London, and now that I'm cleared to fly, well, we're going back to Palaven. He's been anxious to find his sister."

Oriana's heart fluttered momentarily at the word 'sister' and she noticed Shepard look away.

There was so much unspoken between them it was like a rock in her gut.

"And…and Miranda?" It took all she had in her to say the name. She thought she might split and fracture right there on the bench.

"We're still looking, Ori." Shepard's hands came up to the table as though she wanted to grasp the younger woman's. But Oriana kept them held stiffly in her lap, and the commander slowly drew away.

Kolyat eyed her curiously. She kept her gaze adamantly clear of his.

Oriana cleared her throat. "I suppose I might get word before you," she chuckled humorlessly, shoulders jerking in a single, nonchalant-like shrug that was anything but.

"Maybe," the commander mused.

Another long silence stretched out between them. And then Shepard pushed off from the bench and planted her hands on her hips. "Look, I'll be here for a couple days. I want to see you, Kolyat. You free tonight?"

He shook his head with resigned exhaustion. "Sure. Whatever."

Shepard beamed and nodded to herself. "Alright, I'll hit you up later." She gave a comical salute. "Well, I'll be seeing you, kiddos," she promised Kolyat, winking.

He regained his usual scowl and drawled up at her, "You know, you don't have to check up on me."

She cocked her head and gazed affectionately at him. "I promised your dad I'd keep an eye on you."

"Yeah, well, it's not like he's going to find out. He's dead, you know?"

Oriana frowned at the casualness with which he said it, but Shepard seemed to wave it off with an indifferent familiarity.

"Besides," she continued, as though the drell hadn't just dismissed her, "I want to." She smiled down at him one last time and then leaned in before he could stop her and planted a smacking kiss on his cheek. He spluttered and tried to shove her off but she was already pulling back, laughing.

"Ugh, you're disgusting, Shepard." He wiped at his cheek and gave her a horrified look.

Oriana tried to smother the smirk crossing her lips.

Shepard chucked a thumb back toward the way she came. "I'll tell Uncle Garrus you said hi, shortstack. He's waiting at the precinct."

"Gods, woman, just leave." He turned sulkily to the table, effectively putting his back to her.

The older woman threw a charming smile down to Oriana. "Keep him out of trouble, will you?"

Oriana rolled her eyes and scoffed, but it was good-naturedly, and suddenly much lighter than she'd felt these last couple months working with the drell. "I'll try."

Shepard smiled one last time, waved, and then was off. "Chin up, guys. Chin up."

They watched her go. Silence descended upon them again. Oriana shifted awkwardly in her seat and glanced at Kolyat, who kept glaring at the table. After long moments of nothing but the dim sound of their surrounding co-workers, Oriana sighed and picked up her datapad once more, ready to return to work, a little unnerved, if not entirely disconcerted.

And then he spoke. "I didn't know you knew the Commander, too." It was said without expectation, without accusation.

She drew her bottom lip into her mouth and watched him. He was looking off to where Shepard had disappeared behind a crowd of bodies.

"Yeah, she…she saved me." It was all she could say. And it was all that mattered, really.

Kolyat released a soft noise that was not quite a chuckle and not quite a snort. And then the corner of his lip twisted up, just slightly, just barely enough to be called a smirk.

It halted the breath in her lungs.

"She does that, huh?" he breathed, gaze longing on the space Shepard once occupied. And then his brows furrowed sharply and his face dropped, a hidden pain pulling at his features.

She could only watch him.

Without her realizing it, some distant, stubborn part of her – a part she would have gladly silenced right then and there had she known what it would mean – suddenly felt something. Something kindred. Connected. Shared.

And she was the kind of girl that had to admit that if Commander Shepard saw something in this boy then maybe, just maybe, it was something worth seeing.

She just hated that she couldn't unsee it.

* * *

The main processing center located in Cross-section H of Rakasi Ward's Section 12 was a collection of booths and desks scrounged up from all of the abandoned businesses along the ward. Said businesses and buildings had since been turned into temporary housing units for the refugees, becoming one of the most populated areas of the Citadel. The Victims Tracing Department set up shop in one of the main courtyards of the ruined shopping district, setting up terminals and manned search consoles throughout the area, and using the cross-section's main power facility, a building just off the courtyard and past the occupied buildings, for Oriana's communications hub. From that building, she could access the other smaller processing centers along the rest of the wards and trade information, as well as contact ships and planets as far out as the Argos Rho and the Artemis Tau clusters, though asari space was still just out of reach. Reports were flooding in every hour with new information on the deceased and the missing. There were technicians in what Oriana had dubbed the "Comm. Hub" every hour of the day, taking shifts to sort through the mass amounts of information flooding in and to upkeep maintenance on the fragile power grid supplying the whole sector.

In the open courtyard where refugees flocked to find out about their loved ones, there were several booths set up. They had started to organize the camps into sub-sectors and building numbers, keeping track of family names residing in each camp for easier searching. Family members were assigned to whichever processing center was closest to their current residence and many of them waited hours in line to be seen. There were thousands of refugees being serviced by only a handful of agents at a time, and cross-section H slowly became constantly over-crowded with the waiting survivors. There was an endless sea of people out past the courtyard, so that any time Oriana visited the main processing center, her vision blurred over the horizon and her chest ached. Because it never seemed to end. There was always someone searching. Always someone missing. She wondered if this job would ever truly be finished.

"How's the grid holding today?"

Oriana looked up at Kolyat's question, watching as he pushed out from the huddle of C-Sec agents changing shifts along the booths. He waved farewell to Jetal and a human agent she also knew to be from Precinct 12, Duskin she believed, before stepping up beside her, locking his hands behind his back and looking out over the horde of refugees just on the other side of the booths.

"It's doing its job," she answered tiredly, rubbing a hand down her face. She hadn't slept the night before, trying to piece together a proposal for Bailey concerning counseling facilities across the wards. There were too many people getting the wrong answer and the wave of grief and desperation in the camps was becoming palpable. She didn't believe the job was over with finding the whereabouts of lost loved ones. It continued on. Providing counseling services was only the next plausible step to Oriana.

Kolyat glanced at her beside him, noting the weary look on her face, the hunch of her shoulders, the disheveled hair. He raised a brow at her. "You look like shit, Lawson."

She threw a threatening glare his way and sighed, bracing her hands on her hips. "Remind me why I put up with you," she groaned.

He smiled cheekily at her. "I've got word from the volus embassy."

Her eyes shot up to his at that. "Any word on their transports?"

Kolyat reached down into one of the large pockets along the pant-leg of his uniform and pulled out a datapad, handing it over to her. "Four out of the eleven ships from Talis Fia are accounted for and already on their way to the Citadel."

Oriana's eyes saddened as she took the pad and began to review the information. "Only four?"

He grunted his affirmation.

She was quiet for many moments, sifting through the information.

He didn't know why he felt the need to say something (alright he did, and the reason was called Bailey) and so his voice was stilted when he spoke. "They could have lost a lot more ships, Lawson. Talis Fia was hit hard pretty earlier on. But there's no guarantee the other ships didn't make it. They may simply be out of contact range or damaged."

Pausing her fingers on the pad, Oriana glanced back up at him. "What's with the sudden 180? Where's your usual pessimism?"

"Would you rather I tell you they're all dead?"

"Don't be so insensitive," she chided, pained at the words.

Kolyat looked out over the bustling crowd before them, the constant whirl of voices and cries slowly becoming ambient background noise. "Sometimes the not knowing is worse than anything definitive."

She gave him an odd look, breath stilled in her throat. "What do you mean?"

He sighed, exasperated. "You see all these people?" He swept a hand out with the question. "They wait hours each day for some shred of information on their loved ones. Whether they made it to the Citadel or not, where they're at, if they even survived. Because without that closure – and believe me when I say that even learning they all died is closure – then you just drift in this sort of…limbo. This precipice of grief that's never fully realized. And it's utterly exhausting to live your life like that. Sometimes you just…you wish you knew, even if it's not what you want to hear, so that you can just stop. Just stop and breathe and finally cry about it. And not hold it in like a breath burning your lungs." He stuffed his hands in his pockets and looked down at his boots. "Sometimes I think I might have gotten off easy, compared."

Oriana pressed her lips together at his words and looked at her hands. She was silent for a long time, and then, "You mean with your father?" she said carefully.

He stiffened and looked at her out of the corner of his eye. "I thought we weren't talking about family," he said tightly.

She looked off to the crowd, her hands slipping to her sides, fingers gripping the datapad with unease. "It's all we talk about really. In a roundabout sort of way. I mean, it's what we do."

Kolyat watched her but didn't answer. Some part of him wanted to shut down the line of thought right there, because she was the last person he'd think to dredge up that history with. After all, what did she know? This idealistically naïve girl. What could he say that she'd find even remotely relatable? But then that's when the other – smaller and less insistent – part of him kicked in. Because he remembered Bailey's words.

"Have you even tried to get to know her, Krios? You two are a lot more alike than you might think."

He inwardly scoffed at the memory. It was so ridiculous. They were so far apart from each other they couldn't even measure the distance between them. Couldn't even glimpse the other on the far side of the chasm. It was pointless. They would never understand each other. More importantly, he didn't want to understand her.

And he would never admit that it was because it hurt too much to think that they could understand each other.

It was in the way she looked out across the crowd, her lip caught between her teeth, her dark brows furrowed in thought, her short hair cupping her cheeks. Even in her back, curled forward with the weight of exhaustion, and the way her hands held tightly to the datapad. It was in the way she fell asleep in the conference room most nights, pouring over reports. It was in the way her eyes glazed over when she updated the casualties list, and the way her smile never made it all the way to her eyes when she spoke with anyone. The way her sighs seemed so heavy and so bone-weary that he grew exhausted just looking at her.

It was the way she slinked off to her barracks in the middle of the night when he finally managed to drag her from the precinct. The way she mumbled her 'goodnight' as she slowly slid the door shut before him. The way she didn't look him in the eye.

The way the silence clawed at him when he stood staring at her door wondering where the fuck it had all begun to change.

Wondering when he began to notice pain in her every motion, every feature, every word. There was loss there he couldn't deny anymore. And that's what scared him more than anything.

Of everyone there, maybe she could understand the most. And maybe that was why she was here.

But damn if he'd be the one to say it.

"I lost my parents too, you know."

He was so surprised by her small voice and his attention swerved so tightly to her that he almost tripped over himself, blinking rapidly in impatience for her to continue.

She sighed, looked down at the datapad in her hand, spread her fingers over the screen in thought. "My…biological father…he created me. In a petri dish. I was a clone."

What the fuck?

Kolyat narrowed his eyes at her, suddenly still, suddenly taut in anticipation. He didn't speak.

She blew a nervous breath through her lips and looked back out over the crowd, cradling the datapad to her chest. "Long story short, my sister, another clone before me, well, she saved me. Took me from Henry Lawson when I was a babe and delivered me to these…wonderful, beautiful people, the Shaws. My parents."

If he looked closely he could see the wetness dotting her eyes but he didn't comment on it.

"I had a good life, for a while. Until my father found me again and…and then the Reaper War and…" She stopped, swallowed thickly and licked her lips. She pulled a deep breath in. "He killed them. Just across the hall from me. So that I could hear them and…and I think I was ready to die just then. I think I would have been fine if it all ended that moment. But it didn't."

She finally looked at him and all the breath halted in his chest. She had this look of pained resignation on her face, her eyes wet with unshed tears, but she didn't blink. Didn't look away. After a moment, he was the one to drag his gaze from hers.

He didn't realize how utterly horrible it would feel to see her looking that way.

"Miranda saved me then. Killed my father in front of me and brought me to the Citadel. And then…she took off. Went to fight the Reapers on Earth. I…haven't heard from her since."

He stared at her with accusation in his eyes. He couldn't help it. He tried to figure out if she was lying. If this was all some grand deception to garner his sympathy. And if it was, then this chick had one unbelievably fucked up mind. But then, who would make that kind of shit up? And who would say it with such a straight face? And really, was it so impossible with the things he had seen in the war?

He wanted so desperately for her to be lying. Wanted so desperately to be able to write her off as the aggravating, self-righteous woman he'd always seen her as. Because he wasn't ready for things to change. For things to get this heavy this quick. He was already drowning in his own shit, already just trying to keep his head above water.

Too much. It was too much to think that it was real.

But when she looked at him…

It all felt into place. And he hated how it all made sense suddenly, how everything since day one seemed to come into starkly lit clarity. Oriana was fulfilling this desperate need to find her sister once more, to comfort herself that there was hope still. That it couldn't be over like that. Not like that. Not with her alone in this broken universe. Anything but that.

Kolyat knew a little bit about being alone. He could tell it to you in a hundred different ways and it'd still be the same story. Mother dies. Father leaves. Father stays gone.

Because that little attempt at a reconciliation in the end, when his father was gasping for breath and so bright-eyed about the past, so fucking regretful, so…so senselessly hopeful (because there was no hope, not for any of them, not for him, or his son, or any living thing that ever heard the word 'Reaper' – because yes, Kolyat recognized the end when he saw it) – that wasn't him coming back.

That was him reaffirming why he stayed gone.

Looking at Oriana, just…looking at her…was enough to dredge it all up. Because he always saw this girl who had a smiling childhood, full of scraped knees and Sunday dinners and bedtime stories (and yeah, it's true, she had all that, she had all that and more) but now he knew how violently it was ripped from her.

He began to wonder if maybe being alone for so long was a blessing. Maybe starting out so young, so jaded, was an advantage. Because he was ready for that kind of hurt, when his father came back into his life, and then again when he died – his hand in his wasn't the warmth he needed, still needed, but it was all he could get.

But this girl.

He shook his head at the thought. Why was she always 'girl' in his thoughts? Why was it always 'little' and 'naïve' and 'stupid'?

He saw his own young self in her sometimes. So eager. So determined.

He saw the person he might have been. And oh, how he had resented her for it. How he had hated that someone like her could exist (when someone like him was all he knew).

But that wasn't fair. Not to her. And not to him either. Because she wasn't who she was in the face of all she survived, she was who she was because of it.

And that was the difference between them.

Hardship made her a better person.

But it only made him lesser.

Her image came back into focus as she peered up at him.

There was this finality to her words, he realized, as though she didn't expect to hear from her sister again. As though she had accepted the lot that fate had given her, gracefully, if not a little brokenly.

It made him grind his teeth and clench his hands into fists.

How stupid. How utterly selfish and inane and…so fucked up. To have thought she couldn't understand. To have thought her this pristine, self-righteous, ignorant little girl.

To think he was the only one who knew pain.

"I'm sorry," she said, wiping at her eyes, drawing a deep breath in and holding it, and then exhaling slowly, her fingers uncurling around the datapad against her chest, her lids fluttering closed. "I didn't mean to dump that on you. I just…it's been a hard few weeks out here."

Kolyat opened his mouth, then shut it. Opened it again. And nothing seemed to sound right in his head. Nothing seemed to be enough.

She glanced back up at him, a tender smile breaking at her lips.

Never reaching her eyes.

It was becoming too recognizable for his liking.

She nodded once, a quiet dismissal, and then turned to leave. He caught her elbow and she looked up at him in surprise. He was staring down at the floor, his dark eyes focused and intent. Her breath caught in her throat at his still silence.

When he looked up at her, his face was solemn and indecipherable. "That's…really shitty."

She looked taken aback by his statement, and even he seemed surprised at the words that left him.

That's really shitty? Really? That's what comes out of his mouth?

He let go of her elbow and shoved his hands into his pockets, looking back down at the floor, a look of frustration crossing his features.

Oriana just stared at him.

"I…miss my father, too." He wanted to swallow the words back as soon as they touched air but there they hung between them. Kolyat pressed his boot into the floor and watched the dark leather bunch around his toes.

"I miss my father too."

What did that even mean? And was it even true?

He thought…

He thought maybe it was.

And that scared him more than anything.

She blinked at him, mouth working to form words that never came.

He pursed his lips in aggravation, eyebrows sharpening down in his usual scowl. "Your sister, I hope you find her." And then he turned and walked away.

Oriana was left staring at his back.

He couldn't turn around. Couldn't answer the wave of Iranis as she came in through the guard entrance. Couldn't sift through the voices overwhelming the center. Couldn't even find his way back to his barracks.

He drifted through the crowd, without destination, without thought. He simply…walked on.

And he suddenly realized how utterly fucked he was, how deep he had fallen.

Because he had cared.

In that fraction of a second, when she had looked at him, really looked at him and held nothing back – when she was on the verge of fucking tears and no amount of pride could hold them back – when he had seen her face (maybe for the first time) and recognized something that hadn't made his heart ache since a barren hospital room, his father's name on his chapped lips –

He had cared beyond words.

And that changed everything.

*end Part One*

Chapter Text

Rocks and Shoals

Part Two: To the Seabed

Chapter Six: Ceasefire

"Was it so wrong to want out? Was it so wrong to admit to it?  Was it so wrong, not wanting to be alone anymore?  They had gotten so good at lying."  -  In a post-war galaxy, Kolyat and Oriana found each other when they went looking for themselves.

* * *

"In the name of all that is holy, why is it always so heinously hot?" Oriana ended her rhetorical question on a groan, throwing her head back while she continued to slump along. She held her arms out as though something were actually dripping from the limbs – quite possibly her own melting flesh.

It wasn't like it was an altogether new experience. Every time they travelled to one of the processing centers they had to make their way through the many refugee camps littering the wards of the decimated Citadel - refugee camps that were grossly over-populated and thus, essentially living furnaces. While the initial concerns about housing and feeding the refugees after the Reaper War were immediately addressed, there was never going to be an overnight fix. Don't even ask about the mission of getting basic plumbing transferred to all the business and market plazas where the majority of refugee camps were set up. And really, Oriana had to thank Bailey for at least making that a priority. The cooling and heating systems were impossible to nail down as of yet. Too much power being drawn where it was needed elsewhere. The hospitals, feeding stations, C-Sec precincts, docking stations for incoming ships – these all took precedence. So Oriana found herself making the trek to the nearest processing station to C-Sec's Precinct 12, ready to test the new software her Safe Homes team back on Earth had put together to help the efforts of C-Sec's Victim's Tracing Department, all while wearing another skin made entirely of her own sweat.

It was disgusting, really.

She gave another groan, dropping her hands back to her sides in a huff.

Think of the families, Oriana, she told herself. Yes, this was all for them. All for reuniting the war-torn families.

Even if it meant losing a few pounds of salt a day.

"We can never have a quiet trip there, can we?" Kolyat said beside her, hands stuffed in his pants pockets, a resigned sigh falling from his lips.

Oriana suddenly remembered the terror at her side.

Kolyat continued beside her as they walked through the camp's main alleyway, lined on either side by a hodge-podge of residences that were equal parts scrap metal found in the aftermath of the Reaper attack and bits of what pre-fab and modular buildings C-Sec was able to provide. Stale panels of light that sometimes flickered and sometimes didn't cast a dim shadow over the sea of shanties. Each 'home', if you could call it that, had some form of opening to the main alleyway, or was missing an entire wall even, so that Oriana could see the multiple families huddled on the floors sharing their food or tuning their omni-radios. Gaggles of laughing children of all races ran past the pair along their way, the adults unable or unwilling to scold them. Oriana had to admit she was loath to stop them either. She didn't have the heart to snuff out what little fun they had managed to find in this dark place.

Kolyat frowned as a young salarian jostled him while running past. He stumbled, but steadied himself easily, his hands never leaving his pockets. He stopped to stare angrily at the retreating child.

Oriana halted next to him with a raised brow. "And I'm the unreasonable one?"

Kolyat looked at her, a hint of irritation playing on his features, but instead of voicing it he just shook his head and waved a hand forward. "Come on. Let's just keep it moving."

He was already walking away from her and she huffed in annoyance as she caught up, pulling at the collar of her blouse to get some airflow going. "Geez, it's hot."

Kolyat eyed the motion out of his peripheral, his brow plates narrowing down in confused frustration. "Why are you wearing a jacket if it's so hot?"

She glanced up at him, and then back down to the worn leather jacket – two sizes too big – that adorned her. Her hands gripped at the zipper ends while they walked. "It was cold back in the precinct," she said softly. It wasn't really the right reason, but then, she couldn't exactly say the right reason. Not now. Not to him.

"Well, it's not anymore."

"But we're already out here. I can't take it back." Oriana maneuvered around several passing asari before she returned to his side. The crowds were getting thicker as they got closer to the processing center.

Once beside her again, Kolyat grabbed at one side of the jacket and shook it pointedly. "Then take it off."

She slapped his hand away, giving him a face full of offense. "Excuse you, rude much? What, do you go around grabbing all the girls' clothes?"

Kolyat let his hand slip back into his pocket and shook his head in annoyance. "You're being ridiculous. Take it off."

She hugged it tighter around herself. "I'm not taking the jacket off."

He threw a hand into the air. "Then stop fucking complaining." He groaned his exasperation, looking back ahead where PC1, Rakasi ward's first and most expansive victim's processing center, was stationed. The flood of refugees waiting in lines to access the boards registering lost family members left little to no standing room left. Kolyat groaned and started edging around the crowd toward the C-Sec access point on the west side of the manned booths. Oriana followed instinctively while the crowds kept pushing in.

It didn't seem the right moment to tell him the jacket was her father's. The real one. The right one. The only one. The one who taught her how to drive her first shuttlecar and how to patch her first omni-tool and how to tell the first boy she ever liked just how much she wanted to hold his hand.

Thomas Shaw taught her many things but never how to say goodbye, and certainly not how to say it to him. So she learned to carry him with her. In the torn and battered leather bomber jacket she wore around the Citadel like an armor from all the havoc and tragedy and exhaustion.

And she hated that sometimes she wondered what would have happened had he been wearing it when he died. Would she have peeled it from his broken body? Would she have scrubbed the blood stains out? Would she have clutched so feverishly and so terribly to its warmth (his warmth, still present – and oh, how she woke screaming some nights just thinking of it)? Would she have still needed it so?

But Oriana didn't like to think about those things.

So she didn't. She tucked her hands deep into the pockets and told herself it was better not to wonder.

She opened her mouth to unleash something righteous and scathing at Kolyat when he grabbed at her wrist, pulling her hand from her pocket and holding it to the back of his uniform. "Hold on. I'm making a line." He didn't wait for her before he started pushing steadily through the throngs of people.

He wouldn't understand anyway, she told herself.

Oriana stumbled after him, her fingers gripping at the material instinctually, even while she glared at the space between his shoulder blades. "Don't worry, Krios. If I ever get separated from you, I just need to follow the sound of pre-pubescent whining and we're sure to be reunited." She offered him a cheeky grin he couldn't see.

"Do you ever get tired of hearing your own fucking voice?" He huffed, but continued on.

"At least I'm not the one with the vocabulary of a vorcha who took one too many to the head."

"No, but maybe the face of one," he shot back instantly, glancing back with a smug grin, brows waggling.

"Hey!" Oriana shoved her fist into his back where it was balled up in his uniform.

"Watch it, Lawson." He tensed slightly, eyeing her with a sudden and sharp frown over his shoulder.

She jutted her chin out at him. "You watch it." And then she had to clamp her mouth shut. God, she was even beginning to sound like him now. She shook her head, nudging him. "Just hurry up. I have a software update to download and you have a job to slack on."

"Your faith in my competence inspires me, truly." With a roll of his eyes, Kolyat turned back ahead fully, breaking through the crowd right at the C-Sec access point. Oriana spilled out from behind him, releasing the back of his uniform, and the two gave their greetings to the two officers standing guard. They walked past the identification sensor, their omni-tools pinging softly at the read-out from the security scanners, and made their way past the majority of booths where officers sat processing new arrivals to Rakasi ward.

"Miss Lawson!"

Oriana turned at the sound of her name, watching as Agent Duskin approached, datapad in hand, a new haircut – dark hair shorn close to his head – his sepia skin rich and warm in the dull lights overhead.

"Duskin," she greeted. "How you been?"

He stopped before her, nodding. "Been good, ma'am." His lack of a smile didn't exactly affirm the sentiment but Oriana was used to frowning faces at this point. He held the datapad out to her. "I have the software update your team from Earth sent. De Soria was especially helpful when we were trying to configure the algorithms to kellios standard."

Kolyat cocked an interested brow plate, arms crossed. "'De Soria'?"

Oriana spared him a half-moment's consideration as she took the datapad form Duskin. "My Research and Development lead back on Earth for Safe Homes. She should be coming up with the next transport."

He pursed his lips at the answer. "'Bout time your company started pitching in."

She scowled at him, but before she could say anything in return, Duskin interrupted.

"We're having trouble with the bio-readings though." He frowned, brows furrowed, as he held his hands behind his back. "Kaz says it's going to take a lot more database building and some pricey hardware to get that up and running again."

Oriana scrolled through the datapad silently, her eyes fixed to the screen, brows creased, before finally glancing back up, a soft smile gracing her features. "Don't worry about the cost. Safe Homes has prepared for this. We're going to get that equipment here, I promise."

Duskin nodded, the soft lilt of an almost-smile touching his lips. "Good to have you with us, Miss Lawson." He glanced to Kolyat, a respectful tilt of his head accompanied by a tempered smile, and then he was off.

Kolyat stood staring at Oriana with his arms crossed as she tapped along the datapad, oblivious to his attention. Finally, when she lifted her head, mouth opening to beckon him inside the Comm. Hub with her, she caught him staring, and stopped.

She gave him a look of impatience. "What?"

"About how much money does Safe Homes really deal in?" He leaned his weight back on one foot, arms still crossed over his chest.

Oriana rolled her eyes. "Enough," she answered, clipped and pointed. She turned to walk into the Comm. Hub, the compact building just behind the processing center, housing all the inter-relay communications data and census information. Kolyat trudged in behind her. It was much darker inside the building then out where the manned booths were, aisles of full-length computers and processing hardware running through the small building, only the blinking lights along the computers giving any form of illumination in the place. They continued down one aisle, greeting and passing one of the day shift's Comm. Hub technicians as they went.

"Enough to maybe buy yourself a new jacket?" Kolyat prodded as he followed her.

She glanced back with narrowed eyes. "Why the fixation on my jacket?" She stopped at the end of the aisle, opening the case door on one of the computers, looking for the correct input node.

Kolyat shrugged, leaning back against the opposite computers along the aisle. "You just never seem to take it off."

Oriana pulled out a wire and then plugged it into her datapad, waiting for the connection to secure. She kept her eyes on the screen before her, her back to the drell. It wasn't like he was going to be dropping this any time soon. "It was my father's," she said softly.

Kolyat was silent a moment, and then, "The real one or the adoptive one?"

She couldn't help the glare she sent him over her shoulder. "My adoptive father was my real father."

Kolyat sighed. "I mean the biological one." He motioned in the air with his hand as he said it.

Oriana pursed her lips in annoyance, looking back to the datapad as it beeped its connectivity. She started the download and set the pad on the top ledge of the computer, settling in to wait. She turned to face Kolyat and leaned back along the computers on her side, mirroring him. Crossing her arms over her chest, she considered him with narrowed eyes.

She was beginning to regret ever opening up to him about her past. It was a moment of intense vulnerability. She had been thinking about Miranda, and the long stretch of time where there had been no word from her – still wasn't word – and talking about the idea of closure and finality and seeing the unexpected, impossibly small glimpse of pain from the drell – she had cracked. Spilled her guts to the most reticent, maladjusted asshole she knew.

She told herself it was the lack of sleep.

But she knew better.

He had just looked so pained as he said it. So lost and regretful and beaten.

"Sometimes the not knowing is worse than anything definitive."

Definitive. Like the last breath his father ever drew. Like the flowers they had placed at his memorial. Like the death certificate he had surely signed.

Family of the deceased it would have read.

Oriana gulped inaudibly. She had yet to sign her own parents' certificates. Too much chaos in the moments before, too much procedure thrown out the window in the midst of the war.

No one would ever really know if they had lived or died. History would never tell their stories, and no list or log or casualty report would ever bear their names because she had been the only witness left. Their bodies were disposed of quickly – Henry Lawson was never one to let things fester. And the only proof of their life and their death and everything in between – everything they had been and done and loved – was her.

She was all that was left of them.

Definitive.

Was this what Kolyat called closure? Was this what he called 'better'?

She thought of Miranda. And then she realized he was right. Because she would give anything to know. Dead or alive. She had to know.

Dead or alive.

Anything was better than this cliff she hovered at the edge of every morning when she woke – this precipice of not-quite-realization, this nauseous, unending question, this clench of her gut that took her and wouldn't let go. This aching in her bones and her skin and her chest. This halted breath in her lungs.

She only wanted to breathe.

She only wanted to breathe.

Oriana peered at Kolyat, silent, unexplainably furious.

He shouldn't understand quite as easily as he seemed to. No one should. And it was frightening to think that someone knew now how lost and alone and confused she was.

It was frightening to think that someone knew she was just as fucked up as the rest of them.

And it was frightening beyond anything else to know that that someone was Kolyat Krios.

Her fingers dug into her arms as she held them crossed over her chest. "Let me be clear about something. Henry Lawson was no father to me."

"I wasn't saying he was."

"Then what were you saying?"

Kolyat picked at the imaginary lint on his sleeve. "I was asking about your damn jacket, that's all."

"And I answered."

Kolyat scoffed. "Sure."

She narrowed her eyes. "What's that supposed to mean?"

He sighed, exasperated. "Whatever you want it to, Lawson."

Oriana's jaw clenched, her teeth grinding. "Why do you always have to get an attitude with me?"

"Why do you always get so defensive?"

"Maybe because you're so insensitive."

"I'm not the one making an issue out of a fucking jacket."

"Except you are."

"Because you never take the damn thing off."

"Because I don't want to."

"Then that's your fucking prerogative, fine. Just get off my fucking back about it."

Oriana's nostrils flared. "Well, I'd appreciate you not making a joke out of what I told you concerning my parents."

"It's not like you're the only one with a sob story about dads, Lawson. Come off it."

"I never said I was."

"At least yours wanted you in some way." And then Kolyat stopped, pursed his lips, looked as though he thought about taking it back. In the end, he only shrugged and looked off to the wall. "Fucked up as it is," he finished in a mumble.

She took it back. Kolyat didn't understand a goddamn thing.

"Wow," she gaped, her lips elongating the 'o' sound until she had to forcefully shut her mouth. Her eyebrows were lost somewhere in her hairline. "Are you really playing a game of 'World's Shittiest Dad' with me right now? I mean, are you really?"

He had the decency not to look her in the eye.

Oriana blew an incredulous breath from her lips. "Look, I'm quite familiar with paternal assholery, thank you very much. I don't need a lesson in it."

He finally looked at her. "I didn't mean it like that."

"Didn't you?"

"I just meant that – you know – maybe he was…fuck, I don't know."

"No, you don't know. So stop talking about it like you do."

Kolyat pushed off the line of computers. "Fuck, Lawson, could you chill? You're taking this way too personally."

Oriana huffed, pushing from her lean as well. "How the hell else am I supposed to take it?"

"Why are you getting so fucking sensitive about this shit? Why did you even tell me about it to begin with? What do you even want from me?"

"I don't know!" she cried, hands thrown in the air. She turned and paced away. And then paced back. She glared at him, hands balling into fists at her sides. "I wish I never said anything in the first place."

Kolyat narrowed his eyes at her, deadly still. "Well, you did."

"I know."

"And I never asked you to."

"I know." She glared at him, her fingers itching to go for his throat.

It would be so easy. Just leave his body here in the dark.

God, she was even fantasizing about killing him now. How scared was she? How wrapped up in fear and anxiety and exhaustion was she, that it became such a natural urge to take it out on him?

Somewhere along the line it had become instinct to lash out at him, to place her dread and regret and stress into perfectly sharpened little words aimed purposely toward him. And she had to question herself. When had he become such an obvious target for her unhappiness?

Maybe – just maybe – it was when he had made her his own target.

Oriana stopped. That's right. She wasn't the one who started this. And sure, maybe it was a bit (a lot) childish to whittle it down to 'he started it' but she was just so tired of having to defend herself. So tired of the standoffishness, the easily slung hurt, the clear and obvious way they stepped around the elephant in the room that screamed 'pain' and 'family' and 'please someone help me I'm scared and alone and don't know what to do' and she just hated that he reduced her to this tiny, horrible person.

He was just so angry, and anger had done nothing in her life but take those she loved.

Because Henry Lawson had been angry, too.

And it was his face she saw in her nightmares.

Oriana stilled.

Kolyat seemed to notice. He blinked at her, shoulders tensing. His lips thinned into a tight line. "What?"

Oriana looked at him, really looked at him. She cocked her head and regarded him in silence. Her fingers slowly uncurled, her fists releasing at her sides. She sighed, and the weight of it sunk her shoulders down.

"What do you even want from me?"

She didn't know. She really didn't. At first it had been cooperation. And then it had been silence. And now…now it was…

She shook her head. It couldn't be understanding. Because that might be impossible between them. And she wasn't naïve enough to expect that they'd ever get to that point.

Though she would never admit to wanting to get to that point.

"Honesty."

Kolyat blinked at her, his teal-scaled brow plates angling down, eyes impossibly dark.

"I want honesty." Oriana surprised herself with her words.

Kolyat frowned, arms coming up to cross over his chest again as he leaned his weight back on one foot, away from her.

Oriana noticed the defensive move. Filed it away in her memory. She didn't allow herself the small hint of recognition as she watched him. The small inkling in the back of her mind that screamed familiarity.

Because caution would always be familiar and it was already the norm between them.

"What do you mean?" he breathed.

Oriana looked down at her hands as they moved to grasp each other before her. "Can we not…can we not pretend like everything's alright?"

Kolyat swallowed thickly, eyes riveted to her.

She glanced up, unblinking. And she didn't think it'd hurt so much to look at him when she said it. She didn't think it'd take so much of her. "Because things aren't alright. We are not alright. And I'm…I'm tired of pretending like we are. I'm tired of this smokescreen we put up, like it's unfathomable to show hurt in front of each other. Like we're lesser for acknowledging pain." She took a deep breath, licked her lips. "I mean, don't you find it pointless to keep up this act? To keep showing face like you're some big, bad, untouchable pillar of stone or some shit? Because you're not. Clearly." She motioned toward him, and before he could answer her in whatever scathing, spitting, pretentious remark she was sure was already ready on his lips, she continued, breathlessly. "And I'm certainly not. I'm a mess, Krios. I'm a fucking mess, and you know it, and I know it, and that's okay, really. It has to be okay. Because I don't know any other way to be right now, and I'm trying so hard, and I…I know you are, too. I do. Even if neither of us will admit to it. And none of this is supposed to be easy, I get that. But can we just…can we just stop? Can we stop trying to prove to each other that we're any less fucked up than the other? Can we just be honest? Can we please – please because I think I might drown if we don't – please can we both just admit that it hurts? It hurts and there's no helping it and that's okay. That's fine. Because we know now – we know we aren't the only ones."

She was breathing so hard. Her chest was heaving with the release, her hand bunching in her blouse somewhere along the way, her heart pounding beneath the weight of it.

Was it so wrong to want out? Was it so wrong to admit to it?

Was it so wrong, not wanting to be alone anymore?

They had gotten so good at lying.

"I'm sorry," she said. And she meant it. She well and truly meant it. "I'm sorry I…I snap and deride and…try to downplay your own hurt because I'm so caught up in mine. And I'm…I'm sorry that I never said it before. And I'm sorry I never gave you the chance to be open and free about things. And I'm sorry if I ever made you feel lesser for it. And I'm…I'm sorry. I'm so, so sorry. I don't want this. Please, I don't want this."

Kolyat stared at her, his arms slowly uncrossing as they slid to his sides. Shadows played over his face in the dark room, so that she couldn't tell if he was scowling or smirking or just blank. Just blank and empty and unsure.

She would never know how little he felt in that moment, how unworthy.

And he would never tell her.

She reached for him. "I'm sorry," she repeated, a faint whisper.

He pulled back. "Stop."

She did stop, bit her lip in hesitance, but then she tried again. Her fingers brushed his elbow before he jerked it from her grasp.

"I said stop."

Oriana sighed, her lips twisting into a frown. Her brows quivered above her unblinking eyes. "Look, I'm just…just trying to make this work."

"What is it that you want to make work?" he questioned lowly, suddenly stilling. Suddenly all sharp angles and harsh shadow. His shoulders were wide and set. He stopped pulling away.

Oriana's hand curled in midair, stilling mid-reach for him, before dropping back down to her side. She pulled her lip between her teeth. "Whatever...this is between us."

Kolyat took a step toward her. She reflexively stepped back. "You assume I care about what this is between us."

Her brows furrowed, consternation marring her face. "You can't not."

He stepped closer. She responded as before, moving back. She stopped when her back hit the computer wall.

Kolyat cocked his head as he looked down at her. "Why can't I?"

Oriana glared up at him, swallowing thickly. "Because then you'd be lying."

This was the lie:

The war was over.

Clean and abrupt. As simple as the last dying Reaper, a burning, careening mess of cold metal and circuitry- crashing into the far horizon. As sudden as a blink. The moment the air had stopped tinting red, the moment the mechanized cries had screeched to a halt, the moment dark space had opened up and swallowed its corruption whole.

Over, they had said. Finished. Done. The war was over, they had said.

How fucking wrong they were.

Because Oriana had seen the worst of it. Not what the Reapers had done to them. But what they had done to each other. People like her father.

Even people like her.

What 'people' would do to survive.

That's why it wasn't over. Could never be over. Not until their generation had left this galaxy and even then – even then there would be some remnant, some scar, some taint of their existence. Because war took even the survivors and not one of them could call themselves free.

Looking at Kolyat – just looking at him – Oriana knew.

It wasn't over for him either.

The lie was that he had accepted that.

Oriana stepped into him, suddenly unafraid, and he frowned at the proximity, but he didn't move back. They stood staring at each other in the near dark. "You do care."

"Why does it matter whether I do or not?" he breathed.

She considered him a moment, and then she sighed, barely there. "I don't have that answer yet."

He frowned, and it was becoming so common to see that she was beginning to forget what he even looked like without frowning.

She continued unabashedly. "But I think…I need it. And I think you do, too."

Needed a little honesty, a little bareness, a little open, unadulterated self-realization.

A little acceptance.

A little time.

A little hope.

Because it hurt too much to keep it all inside. And she wasn't afraid to call him on it, either.

Kolyat looked away, and she could see the muscles in his throat working as he tried to form words. She couldn't keep her eyes from the motion.

"Okay," he said, barely a whisper. He cleared his throat, looked back down to her in the sparse space between them. "Okay, Lawson. You want honesty." He released a humorless chuckle. "You want honesty."

"I do." She nodded firmly, never taking her eyes from his.

Kolyat drew a deep breath in, wiped his hand down his face. He licked his lips and shook his head. "The honest truth is that I don't know what to do with you."

She opened her mouth to respond, then shut it tightly, confusion sliding over her features. "I don't…I don't know what you…"

He grasped her shoulders, and she was so surprised she stumbled back into the wall of computers. He followed her closely, his grip never leaving her.

"I don't know what to do with you, Lawson, when you say these fucking things to me."

She stared heatedly at him, her hands reaching for his arms. Her fingers bunched in the material of his uniform. That pristine, idolized, blue C-Sec uniform. "What are you even talking about?"

Kolyat scowled, the faint light of the computers glinting off his teal scales, and she couldn't take her eyes from him. "I'm talking about that nosy little way you weasel into everybody's business, when they never asked you to. I'm talking about how absolutely and mind-numbingly frustrating it is when you push and push and never let go. I'm talking about how you don't apologize for completely shitting on anyone and everyone's boundaries. I'm talking about the way you talk as though you know. As though you know." At this his grip tightened on her shoulders, his whole body slumping forward. He ground his teeth and stared her down. "But you can never really know."

She swallowed tightly, never looking away. "Why are you so afraid of that? Why are you so afraid for someone to see you?"

"I'm not," he growled.

"You are."

He clenched his jaw, his dark eyes unreadable in the shadowy room. "You don't fucking know me, Lawson."

"At this rate, nobody will," she countered, near spitting her words.

"Then why do you even care?"

"I don't fucking know!" she shouted, tearing his arms from her and watching him stumble back. She heaved a tight breath and stared at him, her teeth grinding. "I don't know, okay? I just…I just do." She pulled her lip between her teeth and sighed, her shoulders slumping. "Don't ask me why," she whispered, eyes lowering to watch his boots – scuffed and worn.

Kolyat stopped, blinked at her, drew a single, slow breath through his lips. And then he turned away from her, his back a tense line. They stood in silence for many moments, Oriana still slumped against the line of computers.

"I can't fucking understand you," he finally breathed, barely loud enough for her to hear.

But she did. She stepped away from the wall, steadying her uneven breaths, a hand to her chest. "I never asked you to. I only asked that you…that you talk to me. Just talk to me, Krios. And maybe then, this will all be a little easier."

"Easier?" he asked disbelievingly, glancing over his shoulder.

"Well," she chuckled roughly, looking down to her shoes, and then back up, brushing a strand of dark hair from her cheek, "bearable, at least."

He kept his gaze on her over his shoulder.

She outstretched a hand. "Ceasefire?"

It took many moments before he finally turned fully to her, and the look on his face was…completely foreign. To call it blank would be to call it emotionless. But that would have been wrong. It was the kind of emotion that turned trembling lips into tight lines of hesitance, and deep, furrowed brows into grooves of keen anxiety, and dark, hollow eyes into promising hope – though cautious and wary as it was.

It was the kind of face that told her he would be worth it in the end.

Kolyat looked down at her offered hand, and then slowly – agonizingly and exhilaratingly if she thought too hard about it – he reached to take it.

They stood in the dark aisle of the Comm. Hub, computers flanking either side of them, the silence broken only by the staccato beeping of the working machines around them and their own steady breathing.

They stood there holding hands, and holding more.

They stood there at the precipice. At the start.

Oriana would never say aloud how right the weight of his palm had felt in hers.

Chapter Text

Rocks and Shoals

Part Two: To the Seabed

Chapter Seven: Of All Things

"It was easier to admit to making a mistake than it was to admit it mattered what she thought. What she thought of him, most of all." - In a post-war galaxy, Kolyat and Oriana found each other when they went looking for themselves.

* * *

Kolyat was beginning to regret ever agreeing to a ceasefire. Not because it hadn't made things peaceful since (it had) or because he wasn't getting work done in a timely manner (he was), but rather, because all that calm and quiet and general niceness (entirely on her part, really) had just given him so much fucking time to start noticing all the little things he never wanted to notice in the first place.

Mostly about Oriana Lawson.

For instance, she had a bad habit of leaving half-eaten food in the conference room. He remembered many a time when he came back after break to find a cold plate of creamy pasta – creamy because it had sat for just that long – stinking up the room like the toasty inside of a gas-riddled volus' suit. He had stopped in the doorway, face scrunched painfully from the smell, and then stalked right back out. Dragging her from Bailey's office for the sole purpose of forcing her to confront the slow-growing pasta monster in their work space had become an almost ritual. At first she was fiercely apologetic. Then she was only mildly ashamed. And eventually her humility had dulled into an unabashed disinterest framed by the words 'I'm working' and a dismissive wave of her hand.

Kolyat's frown dipped so low she had actually voiced her soft surprise at his face not cracking from the sheer force of it.

That night he decided to stuff the container of rotting half-sentient food into his bag and feign innocence the entire ride back to the barracks, inwardly guffawing at the way she tried to claw her way out through the sealed shuttlecar window. It was almost worth the sudden bout of nausea that overtook him at the tail-end of the trip.

Almost.

Heightened olfactory senses had never been one of his favorite aspects about being drell, and this experience certainly reaffirmed that. But she never left another open container of food lying around to cement in the conference room after that. In fact, it had even smelled…fresh…as of late.

He wondered if she secretly started spritzing something throughout the room when he wasn't there, and he couldn't figure out whether it was from some newborn sense of shame or because she had finally come to realize that it was easier to placate him when the place smelled like 'summer pine' or 'mountain fresh' or something equally trite and common, yet grudgingly pleasant. Either way, he decided not to argue with it.

She was also the most organized mess of a person he'd ever met. She never cleared her inbox, not entirely anyway. She had well over a hundred messages daily, and though she read them all, she never bothered to delete any of them, simply let them pile up in her inbox with no end destination. And yet, she could find any one she needed at any given time, and could recall what all of the subjects were about simply by the sender and the date. The first time she had given him her login and password to help her sort and respond, it being a work email and in no way a comment on how much she trusted him (because he wasn't stupid enough to think she'd grant him access to anything not work related, and frankly, he wasn't interested enough to want such a thing anyway), he had opened up the inbox and sat staring at the sheer number for close to a full minute before he closed the screen and leaned around the terminal to glare at her across the table.

"You're a fucking mess, you know that, right?"

It should have registered that she didn't even bother responding, only sighed, her chin in her palm, elbow on the table. And then they moved on.

It should have registered that things were changing. But it didn't.

Oriana could also tell you exactly where on the terminal's desktop she had saved whatever file was input last, even though her idea of a file system meant having one folder labeled 'Done' and the other labeled 'Not Done Yet, What Are You Doing, Get On It'. He had yet to understand how she managed to find anything, or why the woman couldn't come up with anything more descriptive or particular, especially considering half the precinct had to also use the same shared files when logging onto VicTrace's open terminal. Hell, most of the time his days consisted of fielding calls from the other officers asking where the hell their census spreadsheets were. The rub was that Oriana knew he remembered all that shit just as well as she did (daily he cursed the inquisitive side of her that had done enough research on drell to cite his eidetic memory), and he never could feign ignorance. She had officially roped him into her mess of a life.

If not for his own rather remarkable memory, he might have been impressed with her ability to recall tiny details in a sea of chaos. Instead, he was irritated with her clutter, largely because she also forced him to wade through it with her. It was how he stumbled upon her violin compositions. Amid the spread of datapads along the conference room table, Kolyat had grabbed one in his search for the latest crew manifests from the docked and registered elcor ships. He leaned back in his chair, feet propped up on the table, and scrolled through the files. Nothing looked familiar. And then he saw it. The file titled 'Miranda'.

If he was honest with himself, he'd have to say that it was more than curiosity that made him open it. It was some kind of intrinsic need to understand exactly what she meant when she said 'sister' or 'family' or 'love'. She had always been sure of the words. Never faltered. And he didn't know what that felt like. He didn't know how to talk about family with anything less than resentment.

And yeah, some part of him hated that he still smarted at the thought, hated that whenever she mentioned Miranda, her smile small and cautious, eyes downcast (though in remembrance, not shame), he felt something sharp and branding in his chest that felt dangerously like envy.

Envy in the kind of way that also simultaneously reminded you that your own chance has come and gone.

It wasn't so much the 'not having' as it was the 'had once and wasted it'. The idea that he had cast aside that which he now envied.

And so he took some small comfort in knowing her wounds, in learning her pain. In a way, it made him feel less alone. It made him feel like there was someone out there looking for him, too. He would never tell her that sometimes at night, when he was sleepless and memory-laden, he wished for Miranda as well.

Maybe it was selfish. Maybe it was wrong to quietly share in that yearning of hers. Maybe she would recoil in disgust at the thought that he had invaded that small hope of hers, tainted it with his own desperate need for reassurance.

But more than anything he figured she of all people would understand what it meant to look for something outside yourself.

So he opened the folder. Selected the first file listed. '3:13am on a Tuesday' it read. And suddenly, he was struck with the thought of an insomniac Oriana Lawson writing violin compositions about her probably-dead sister in the darkened, barren space of her barracks living room.

Just before the sound played, Oriana glanced up from her seat across the table. Eyes wide, arm reaching toward him as she shot up from her chair, she choked on her own yelp of surprise. "No! That one's –"

But then the file played and they both fell silent and she slumped back in her chair, hand still outstretched, as they stared dumbly at each other.

" – personal," she finished on a whisper.

It was the first time he'd ever heard a violin, and though markedly relaxed as the recording indicated, there was a reverence to the song that played. The sound was strangely grounding, even when the recording of her slight mutterings and awkward breaks punctured the notes as she played. An uninhibited expression of her frustration and her longing and her tenderness. Even the occasional curse when she hit a wrong note seemed perfectly placed. It was like comfort. Like the worn leather of his father's prayer book – it felt right in his hands even when it was wrong.

That was what Oriana's music sounded like.

Her music for her sister.

Distantly, Kolyat wondered what kind of music he sounded like to her.

Oriana opened her palm toward him across the table, expectant. "That one's off limits," she said stiffly.

Kolyat hit pause on the file instantly. Something about her voice then was unfathomably eerie, and he found himself handing over the datapad without objection.

She eyed him cautiously, before taking it, and they spent the rest of the day in silence, though the music played for each of them in their own minds. He hadn't reached for one of her many arrayed datapads quite so confidently since.

Kolyat was finally becoming accustomed to her untidy workspace when he first entered her barracks and realized it was a terminal affliction of hers. And yes, he'd been in her barracks. Practically every morning now it seemed. And that was the other little thing he'd stumbled upon in his discovery of Oriana Lawson. She was always, exactly, seven minutes late for anything. After several days of waiting outside her barracks door for her to come out so they could ride the shuttlecar to work, she had actually peeked out of her door one day and beckoned him inside.

"What?" he asked, genuinely at a loss, leaning back on the railing of the outside hallway with his arms crossed.

"Just come in. I'm almost done," she offered in explanation, retreating back into the apartment and leaving the door wide open for him. "I hate when you hang around outside waiting for me."

"Well then, maybe don't be late all the time," he shot back, hesitantly stepping into the living room of her barracks. Considering there wasn't much furniture, he found it to be rather an impressive feat that she could still cover every inch with some kind of shirt or datapad or inanely human and thus unexplainable object. Most days he sat on the arm of her couch and watched her hurry back and forth from the kitchen and her bedroom down the hall, tossing back swigs of coffee and looking for her earrings.

It was uncanny. Seven minutes to the dot. Every damn morning.

Sometime during the first month of his loitering in her living room, he caught sight of her violin laid out on the coffee table. He'd learned enough about the instrument in the time he'd known her to recognize it. Kolyat found himself reaching for it without realizing. And then the smooth wood was in his hands, and his scaled fingers were running along the neck of the instrument.

"Do you enjoy touching other people's things?"

The question made him glance up to find Oriana adjusting the buttons on her blouse as she looked down at him in the threshold of her small kitchen, a single raised brow aimed at him in irritation.

He didn't put the instrument down, turning it over in his hands instead. It was surprisingly light for such steady sound, but the smoothness of the wood was anchoring in ways he hadn't really expected. "This is a violin." He said it more to himself than anything, but he suspected the mild inquisitiveness in his voice was what made her squat down beside him with a look of hesitant consideration. She propped her chin in her palm, her elbow along her knee as she watched him.

"It's called a hobby. You do know what that is, don't you?"

It would have been easy to snap something equally acerbic back but he found he actually…didn't want to.

Oriana's brows raised when he didn't answer, choosing instead to stare at the wooden instrument in his hands. She hesitated, her fingers thrumming along her cheek. And then, "Do you have anything like that?"

"Like what?" He set the piece back down on the cluttered coffee table.

She cocked her head at him. "A hobby. Something in the downtime. Something that makes you happy."

"It's not like we have much downtime in the first place." And then he pushed from his squat to stand straight. Oriana mirrored the motion.

He shrugged noncommittally, his hands shoving into his uniform pockets as he headed toward the door.

"I suppose," she sighed.

When he looked back at her, his hand on the doorknob, she was staring down at the violin. Her brows were scrunched together. There was a look of uncertainty to her features, her lip caught between her teeth.

He stayed watching her longer than he was willing to admit. "I carve rocks," he finally said, so decidedly off-handed that it produced a vacant 'Huh?' from the distracted woman in the middle of the living room.

His aunt had tried to instill in him the teachings of the old drell, the many gods. He never had much taste for it. When he was especially petty, he liked to swear at Kalahira, goddess of oceans and afterlife, because he'd had enough of both of those at a young, young age. And watching his mother drift away – the only time he could remember his father's palm in his – it wasn't something he liked to linger on.

She was gone, just like the waves. There was no following.

But Thane. Thane had been calmness and silence and a gaze only for the watery horizon. Only for the sea.

"All things must end. All rivers run to the sea. This life is inevitable."

Well, fuck that, Kolyat thought. Too much sentimental bullshit for him, too much spiritual escapism and easy existential answers for questions that should never be easy. Too many outs for an absent father to take.

Not his fault. He wasn't 'whole'. His soul had been torn from him.

Out to sea and never to return.

Fuck that, he thought. Fuck that, and fuck your excuses, your oceanic bullshit, your stupid 'souls apart' and 'the waves take each of us' and every moronic, selfish, uselessly poetic throw-out of a reason for never coming back.

And fuck you.

Stone was better. Stone was steady, sure. It stayed with you. It was firm in your hands, and heavy, and anchoring, and everything that reminded you why the sea was never yours.

Because stones sink.

Because he was not his father's son.

If there was a way to explain this, he might have tried to. Not because Oriana needed it, but maybe because he did. Maybe because belief was still an elusive creature and Kolyat had learned many years ago that faith was only ever a trap. There was no reason to believe that anything was there to catch you when you fell.

He had the bruises to prove it.

"I like the feel of it in my hands," he offered in explanation to her silence. He nodded to the violin. "Like wood."

Like certainty.

Every morning after, he found the instrument in her living room, and she never questioned when he sat on her couch and held the thing in his lap. He didn't have the nerve to tell her how thankful he was for her silence. So she just continued being perpetually late and he continued waiting in her living room every morning with a violin in his lap.

It wasn't the weirdest thing to develop between them, that was for sure.

There was her thing with windows. Oh, not your usual windows. She was fine in the shuttlecar, and no problems with the window of her barracks' living room, or any issues with the windows along the back end of the bullpen of Precinct 12. It was those floor to ceiling windows, those full-length windows that stood for walls. Like the one in DT's office. It was on the second floor of the precinct, with the glass wall on the side that overlooked the bullpen, giving him a view of every officer's desk on the floor below.

At first he thought it had to do with the height. But then, she never had a problem in the shuttlecar, or the second floor balcony of their barracks building, or any of the times they met with Bailey in his own office. And then Kolyat began to notice it again that one time they visited Laytis Memorial Hospital when Agent Jetal was checked in for the night after his patrol was attacked by one of the many rising gangs along the Commons. Oriana had stepped into the room, smile faltering slightly at the sight of the back window-wall, and edged slowly to the left, planting herself stiffly in the corner, her back never to the window, eyes flitting to it occasionally.

Sometimes it made him chuckle. They had monthly meetings in DT's office, and trying to get her up to the damn second floor was like wrestling a yahg. She always had some excuse. Some datapad to wave in his face. Some fake call to put through her omni-tool. But he wasn't above grabbing her by the back of her jacket collar and tugging her toward the stairs. That first and only time he tried it had earned him a fairly painful kick to the back of the knee.

"The fuck, Lawson?" he had growled as he stumbled, hand catching on the rail to steady himself. He looked back at her with only slightly less than murderous intent.

"Stop manhandling me," she spat, brushing her hands down the front of her bomber to smooth it out.

He straightened, frowning down at her. "Then stop always putting this off. You know I get marks off for shit like this? I have my review to think about."

Oriana pursed her lips and crossed her arms. "Oh, you poor soul. How thoughtless of me."

"I'll say."

She huffed. "Look, you can just report to DT for me."

"Except you need to be there, too. The whole point is to show I'm cooperating."

"Well, physically dragging me there isn't exactly what I'd call 'cooperating'."

Kolyat groaned and rubbed a hand down his face. Okay. Okay, she was…right. And oh, how he hated to admit that.

Which is why he never said it aloud.

"Look, I just…can you please just come with me to these meetings?" He motioned up the stairs, expression imploring.

Oriana opened her mouth, and then slumped back further, closing it.

Kolyat sighed, dropping his hands. "I don't get why this is such a big deal."

She looked to the wall, one finger scratching at the leather of her jacket. "It's not. I'm just…busy."

"No, you're not," he said accusingly.

She raised a brow his way.

"I'm with you all the fucking time, Lawson. You've made all your scheduled calls for today and you already had your meeting with the dalatrass. You've got nothing left but database building, and that's never been time-sensitive. I know what you do all day because I'm always fucking there."

She wouldn't give him the satisfaction of an answer. Because he knew she couldn't refute it. Instead, she was staring adamantly over his shoulder, not meeting his eyes. She rocked from one foot to the other, the nail of that one annoyingly twitching finger still scratching at her jacket sleeve. She craned her neck once, licking her lips. She was…she was fidgeting.

Kolyat narrowed his eyes at her.

Oriana Lawson didn't fidget. If anything, she was overbearingly present in everything she did, always up in your face. She was fiercely unapologetic. He'd always seen her straight-backed and unblinking. Watching her now was oddly unnerving. He couldn't quite understand why. Blinking at her, hands coming to rest on his hips, he opened his mouth with hesitant curiosity. "Is it…DT?"

He didn't think it could possibly be Townsend. The man was sunshine with skin for fuck's sake. Always that ever-present smile. Always an optimistic view to any conversation. Always a clap on the shoulder or a playful nudge of the elbow and somehow, even through all that, always an admirable sternness when on the job and no fear of getting down and dirty in the field with the rest of them. Hell, DT was the first person Oriana had warmed to at the precinct. But then, she hadn't ever gotten past that stoic professionalism with him like she easily had with Iranis and Kaz. He always attributed it to her work ethic, her respect to her superiors. That, and she had a 'little sister' complex. Wasn't hard to figure that one out. She looked at Iranis and Kaz with that same adoring wonderment and enthusiasm she always had when talking about Miranda, her still-lost sister.

And then there was Marina De Soria, her Research and Development lead that recently transferred to the Citadel from Earth. She was clearly a decade or two older than the Lawson girl, but when in work-mode, spoke to Oriana with a deference and respect that had surprised him.

Oriana Lawson was barely two years younger than him, and yet, he couldn't help that nagging sensation in the back of his mind that kept questioning how the fuck a twenty-one year old became the head of such a company. And yeah, he'd figured that shit out pretty quickly. She came as a 'representative', sure, but she didn't act much like one. He never witnessed her reporting to any superior, and the amount of calls she took from Earth, most of which he'd listened in on (it wasn't a very big conference room, and it wasn't like she tried too hard to hide it anyway) only added to his suspicion. Add to that how flippantly she signed off on cost-heavy projects, well, he wasn't that out of touch.

"So you're like, the boss, huh?" he had asked her once, mulling around his food as they sat in the cafeteria.

She glanced up at him. "Huh?"

"Of Safe Homes. You're it. The big dog." He dropped his fork beside his tray and looked at her, eye to eye. "It's your company, isn't it?"

She had hunched her shoulders down slightly, glancing around the room. As if that made her any less conspicuous. Kolyat inwardly scoffed. It wasn't like it was anything incriminating. No need to blast it to the barracks or anything like that.

She tapped one finger thoughtfully on the tabletop. "What makes you think that?"

He had only to raise one incredulous brow.

She looked back to her food, her fork spearing a limp bean. Dry freeze was all the rage these days. Cheers to field rations and MREs.

Kolyat was so done with C-Sec sometimes.

"Does it matter?" she asked, sighing, and then swallowing her forkful.

"That you're rich and have a kink for playing house? Not really, I guess." He returned to his food just as she flung her spoon at him.

He hadn't brought it up again since. Not because he feared her utensil wielding prowess, but rather, because she was right.

Does it matter?

Not in the grander scheme of things, no. But it did give him some pretty good perspective on a few things. Like Marina De Soria. The technician was somewhere in her thirties, with rich, brown skin, a lopsided smile that tended to warn you of her forgetfulness, and height near that of your average turian. She always wore her tight, short curls natural, and as many rings as she could fit on her ten fingers, and then some. Clearly older than Oriana, and yes, she did fit the occasional arm around the younger girl's shoulders, and glance tenderly down at her in that adoring 'older sister' manner that seemed to be Oriana's weakness, but on the whole, she always listened with rapt attention. She always heeded her direction, and beyond not even challenging her, there was the feeling that she never felt she even needed to challenge Oriana. As though she genuinely accepted and respected the younger woman's authority and decisions.

Someone just barely his junior. With authority over her whole company, said Research and Development lead included.

Kolyat had been so used to being treated like a child that he wasn't ready to admit he might have been jealous. Of course, it helped if he didn't throw fits. Not that that was the word he ever used to describe them. 'Disagreements'. That was more accurate. That was more…adult.

He suddenly felt utterly ridiculous. And more than a little ashamed.

That was, until Duskin entered the room and De Soria turned into complete mush at his presence.

Kolyat had to chuckle. Their initial greeting was over anyway, and Townsend had called Duskin in to show De Soria around the precinct, and then to her barracks. She agreed readily, linking her arm through Duskin's, a radiating smile for his own apprehensive one.

"Marina," Oriana chided good-naturedly, her own smile hidden behind a hand. "Let's not scare the poor man off, shall we?"

Marina waved a dismissive hand, but nodded obediently. "Oh, he has nothing to fear from me, dear. Quite the contrary actually."

And then they were out the door, Marina leading the way rather than the officer she was attached to. DT laughed at Duskin's look of unbridled horror just as the door slid closed before them. Oriana looked back at it longingly.

Yeah. Definitely a 'little sister' complex.

But she had never shown apprehension around DT. Or Bailey, for that matter. Which was why her avoidance of their monthly meetings was just bizarre.

"What?" she asked, genuinely perplexed by his question. And then she blinked. Furrowed her brows. Exhaled a choked laugh. "No. No, that's – not it. It's not DT."

They stood looking at each other at the bottom of the stairwell, with Sergeant Townsend patiently waiting up in his office. Kolyat crossed his arms and cocked his head. "Then, what's the issue?"

Oriana raised her brows in question. "Issue?"

He huffed, impatient. "You said you wanted honesty."

And he knew that was sure to get her. Because if there was anything Oriana Lawson hated, it was getting called out on her own shit. Inwardly, Kolyat smirked to himself. He was learning.

Oriana scowled up at him. "That's low."

"That's just the way it is, baby." He spread his arms wide with the words. "You asked for this."

Silence, but only for a moment. "I did." She pursed her lips in annoyance.

Kolyat waited patiently.

Sighing loudly, and a bit dramatically if you asked him, Oriana shook her arms out and dropped them at her sides. "It's the windows."

Kolyat was so taken aback by the answer that he didn't even have time to question why the sudden ceasing of her fidgeting was comforting, or why he felt so much more at ease when she was looking him in the eye.

It didn't make any sense, really, and why would it matter that she spoke to him confidently? Why did it matter that she not hesitate in his presence? And why had he –

Kolyat blinked. "The what?"

Oriana rolled her eyes.

He hadn't realized how long it had been since she'd done that and something tightened in his gut at the sight. He told himself it was annoyance.

"I don't like…windows like that. You know, the whole floor to ceiling shibang." She motioned up and down the wall with one hand, her other braced along her hip as she leaned her weight to one foot. She looked up at him as though that explained everything.

He suddenly found himself laughing.

She narrowed her eyes so quick she could have cut the air with her gaze.

"You what?" Another laugh, a hand to his ribs. "All this bullshit tiptoeing around the meetings for that?"

"It's a legitimate fear, you know," she snapped.

He hadn't known she could make him laugh this much. "What, did you fall through one or something?"

She stayed suspiciously quiet.

That made him stop. Looking up at her as he held his sides, Kolyat's mouth dropped open. "You didn't."

"No," she answered quickly. "I wasn't the one who fell through it."

His brows arched up, the closest thing to a grin he'd probably ever shown her plastered to his face. She stared at him, perplexed by his response, and he didn't have the mind to think about what her looking at him like that felt like. "So who did?"

And then she looked back to the wall, and everything was suddenly dimmer. She crossed her arms again, her fingers curling in her jacket.

He didn't like it.

"Henry Lawson," she answered. It was more a whisper than anything. And then she blew an angry breath from her lips and snatched her gaze back to his. Unblinking. Sharp.

Yes, this was the Oriana he knew.

"He had a gun to my ribs," she explained hotly, one hand moving to imitate the motion at her side. "Shepard and Miranda had cornered him and I was his hostage. Shepard shot me in the leg, and when I went down, they took him out. He crashed backwards through the window, and I nearly fell through with him when he grabbed for me." She blinked back a startling wetness as she stared up at him, her hand falling back to her side. "But Miranda was there. She didn't let me fall."

Shepard shot me in the leg.

That was what he latched onto the most. A choked, disbelieving laugh escaped him before he could help it.

Oriana's eyes widened with incredulity, and even a bit of fury.

Kolyat waved his hands in the air, face falling with the sudden realization that he had actually laughed at her, at what she just freely admitted to him, and he rushed into back-treading like his life depended on it.

Considering who he just laughed at, it probably was.

"No no no, wait. That's not – I'm not laughing at you. That's not what this is, okay?" He took an unconscious step back from her, hands out with his palms to the ground. "Just…calm down, huh?" And then he proceeded to push air.

Oriana scoffed, her disbelief catching any words in her throat. She threw her head back with the noise, planting her hands on her hips and then glaring at him. "If all you intend to do is mock me whenever I open my mouth then I –"

"No, I promise, that's not it." Kolyat kept pushing air down in a supposedly calming motion.

Oriana eyed his hands, annoyed, and then slapped them away. "Stop that."

'Supposedly calming'.

She huffed, her hand returning to her hip. "Then what is it?"

Kolyat opened his mouth, and then closed it. He straightened, thoughtful. Scratching at one cheek, Kolyat suddenly found his mouth dry. It was so bizarrely funny, and yet, strangely terrifying if he thought too long about it. "Because she shot me in the leg, too," he said.

"What?" Oriana's shoulders slumped with the word.

"When I first met her. Back when…" Back when he nearly killed someone, and for such a shitty reason. So full of resentment and pretention and spite. Back when he used to think killing was the easiest thing in the world. Had to be.

Because his father had left him for it.

"Back when I was in deep with some pretty serious shit," he finally answered.

Joram Talid had knelt before him faster than he expected, but then, he was a politician, after all. And Kolyat did have a gun to his head. He'd be lying if he said he didn't get some jolt of power, some flush of exhilarating control when the pleading turian dropped to his knees that day. He didn't have long to think about it though, because a moment later his father – his father (after so many years and so many unanswered messages and more prayers than Kolyat was ever willing to admit aloud) – and some human woman he'd never seen before, came rushing into the room, weapons raised.

At him. Weapons raised at him.

He didn't know which was worse: that he might have pulled the trigger, or that he would never know for sure.

If he was a better son he might have crumbled away in shame. But he wasn't a better son. And Thane was not a better father. And so he only felt a white hot wrath upon their entrance, a scalding incredulity. His fingers flexed along the grip of the gun, his wrist trembling (not enough for them to see but enough – enough for him to know he would always be small in his father's shadow).

Shepard had taken the opportunity to wound and disarm him before any real damage could be done – at least, the outward kind. He shot accusing eyes up at her, his palm cupped over his bleeding thigh. And then it was a dim C-Sec interrogation room and the stiffness of his father's back when he had walked from him.

Again.

Sometimes Kolyat thought Shepard's abnormal attachment to him manifested solely from her guilt over their introduction.

"I'm sorry, kid, you know, for shooting you," she had said once, uncharacteristically somber. Across the room, his father's memorial plaque sat serenely on the table as strangers came and went from the service.

He didn't even know why he was still there. Sometimes it hurt more to stay.

He figured he and his father shared that, at least.

"That's not how Thane wanted to see you," she whispered, eyes downcast.

He wasn't sure if she meant that as an apology on Thane's part, or a reprimand for his actions at the time. Either way, it didn't change anything.

Any love between them had been lost well before either of them ever met Shepard.

"Then maybe he shouldn't have come back for me at all."

Shepard stared silently at him when he said it, face expressionless, her glass of sparkling wine held tight between her calloused fingers. And then she licked her lips and looked off to the wall.

He'd told her time and again that she wasn't responsible for any of it. He didn't blame her. She wasn't even peripherally connected to any of that shit, really. Just a witness. Just a bystander to the fallout.

But he also never tried to stop her when she insinuated herself into his life after that. He never told her that it meant something – means something still – to have someone in his life that saw him at his worst and didn't leave. Because after Thane died, she could have. She could have, and she didn't.

First Shepard, and then Bailey. Then Townsend and Iranis and Kaz, then Duskin and Jetal. A whole precinct even.

He never told her that her staying meant something in him must have been worth staying for. And that thought terrified him more than he could put to words.

Which was why he had yet to forgive his father.

"She…shot you?" Oriana cocked one hesitant brow, a single finger languidly pointing at him. And then her eyes were shifting between his, thoughts racing, a steady bloom of realization coloring her face.

Ah yes, because of course the girl's done her research.

Kolyat cursed between his grit teeth and rolled his eyes. "Yeah. The incident that got me started in C-Sec. I'm sure you're aware."

Oriana pulled her finger back from the air between them and clasped her hands behind her with the slightest sense of embarrassment. "Yes. Yes, I…heard that."

"Uh huh."

She cleared her throat. "So I guess she does that, huh?" She managed a sham of a chuckle in her discomfort.

Kolyat smacked his lips, heaving a dramatic sigh. "Look, I know you did some research on me. It's not like we both don't know it."

"I just like knowing what I'm getting into."

"What a girl scout."

She scowled at him. "I didn't mean to invade your privacy or anything."

Kolyat shook his head, crossing his arms as he leaned his weight back on one foot. "We're well past that now, don't you think, Lawson?"

She looked at him, words seeming to quell themselves on her lips, her gaze thoughtful.

It made him uncomfortable. So he reached a hand back to the nape of his neck and rubbed the soreness out, eyes closing with a sigh. "Alright, Lawson, just…meet me outside the precinct when you're ready to head out."

"What are you…?"

He opened his eyes back up, turning to walk up the stairs as he waved her off. "Will you just meet me? Gods, always questioning me," he ended on a mumble as he stalked up the stairs.

Oriana was left to watch him go.

When DT asked him why he was alone, Kolyat was sure he could have come up with some metaphorical bullshit for the question. Some kind of existential crap that the crew had already grown familiar with. It wouldn't have been hard.

'That's just the way of the world, DT.'

'Why are any of us?'

'Are you ready for that conversation?'

'I ask myself this every morning.'

On and on and on. When pressed, Kolyat could bullshit and whine and sigh his way out of anything in that department. Sometimes he wondered if it was simply because they'd just gotten so tired of him already that it was easier to wave him off and be rid of the problem, or if it was because they were too abhorrently fond of him (he faulted Bailey for that one – made him soft to the world, or at least, to Precinct 12). He couldn't understand why, though he's sure a lot of it had to do with the fact that too many of them lost their own children in the war and he was a poor but easy substitute (he never had the heart to correct them, but maybe that was because it felt more wrong to play the orphan than to play the precinct adoption case and really, there were worse things in the world than to stagnate in grief – though not many).

They made allowances for him they never would have made otherwise, but for grief and guilt. And he took advantage of that, even when he didn't know it.

Kolyat was Precinct 12's second chance. But he had been the 'lost son' for too long to account for anything more than a disappointment.

Even to himself.

So instead, he only shrugged at DT. Pocketed his hands. Blinked both lids at the far wall and thought about the striking reality check a gunshot to the thigh makes.

"She was busy," he told him, and nothing more.

Later, when he shut the door to their shared shuttlecar, Oriana had stared at him long enough to annoy him into speaking again.

"What?" he snapped, gaze cutting to hers.

Her precious leather jacket was folded in her hands, resting on her lap. Her face was cast in shadow from the passing buildings. If he looked hard enough, he would see the sheen of wetness along her eyes.

And shit, he was not equipped to deal with this.

"You can send in all your reports through the server from now on," he said in lieu of a proper response. He crossed his arms and looked out the window. "I'll be the one making DT's meetings, so long as you show up for Bailey's." He glanced back at her for confirmation.

She nodded emphatically.

"Then, that's it. You can let me handle the updates to Precinct 12."

"Hey." She said it so soft he almost thought about pretending not to hear it.

Instead, he raised a single scaled brow her way.

Her face softened, her arms gripping her jacket tighter to her chest. "Than–"

"Don't."

She stopped, eyes blinking furiously. "I only want t –"

"Let's just…not do this, okay?" His fingers curled into his arms as they stayed crossed over his chest.

She opened her mouth as though to speak, but then seemed to think better of it.

Yes. That's it. Don't look too much into this. Don't give this more meaning than it deserves.

Kolyat looked back out the window.

If she thanked him, then he'd take it all back. He'd take back that treacherous heart of his that made him care. Because it was easier to admit to making a mistake than it was to admit it mattered what she thought.

What she thought of him, most of all.

He discovered this the same time he learned that Oriana Lawson had nightmares.

It wasn't the first time she'd fallen asleep in the conference room. There were no 'off hours'. Oriana had made it clear from the get-go that this was not a 9 to 5 and Kolyat didn't really have a problem with that. Oftentimes, when she began to nod off late into the evening, he would start their nightly ritual of him shaking her awake and practically hauling her to the shuttlecar, with her half-conscious denials of exhaustion as she pushed him off the whole way. Eventually, he always got her out the door and back to the barracks, though some days were harder than others.

But that night something stopped him from waking her. She never got deep enough into sleep to dream. He was sure part of that was the fact that he always woke her before that, but the other part was surely because she never trusted herself (or him, for that matter) enough to fall into such a deep sleep in the conference room, work all around and the precinct's resident asshole just across the table. There was a certain unspoken vulnerability to the act, even though she never admitted to it, and he also never called her on it. But that day she dreamt.

At first it was a whimper, her hands spasming over the smooth tabletop, her cheek plastered to the wood. It jolted Kolyat into awareness, his attention abruptly torn from the terminal in front of him. He blinked at her in the near dark, the orange light of their open terminal screens casting strange shadows over their forms. Nearly everyone else had gone for the day, save the skeleton crew that manned nights. It was deadly silent. Everything was cut off from their little room of quiet shadow.

"Don't," she moaned into the table's surface, a tremble to her voice that stilled him, and then, urgently, "Please." Her nails curled along the tabletop in her sleep-panic.

Kolyat sat up. He reached a hand toward her and then stopped.

She was crying.

He could hear the sniffles and the soft gurgle in her throat when she choked back a sentence he couldn't make out. His hand hovered in the air over her head, her dark hair just inches away.

It would take only a moment to lay his hand down, to press his hesitant palm to her smooth hair, to see if she would calm beneath his touch.

He pulled back.

What a stupid thought. To think she would ever find anything from him comforting or calming. He looked down at the hand he retracted and watched the dim light glint off his teal scales, curling his fingers into a fist.

This hand. This hand that had pushed his mother off into the sea, a young and ignorant boy. This hand that had reached for his father's coat as he left, wanting the warmth of that familiar leather, his cheeks wet with tears. This hand that had held a dirty gun to a dirty politician, finger ready on the trigger. This hand that had pulled his father's grip from his wrist and laid it stiffly back along the white sheets.

This hand that had gripped Oriana's shoulders, pushing her to the wall. This hand that had held her there, angry and dejected.

This hand that had brought her to needless, regretful tears.

People like him didn't touch without hurting.

How could he forget that?

Oriana shot up with a choked yelp, eyes wide and frantic, sweat beading across her brow. She took a moment of breathless desperation to gauge her surroundings, eyes flitting about the dark room, before landing on the drell before her. She took a deep, steadying breath in. And then another. She moved her palms over the table to rest shakily in front of her.

They stared at each other while she gathered herself, Kolyat blinking both lids in seeming disinterest, and Oriana reaching a hand up to her collar, fingers trembling.

"You should have woke me," she whispered, gaze fluttering to the table.

"You were…dreaming," he offered in explanation, his voice inexplicably soft. There was something about this girl in the shadows of their shared workroom – her breath still raking through her lungs, his hand still fisted in his lap – that made him quiet as glass.

Oriana glanced up at him, sucking her lip between her teeth, her breath stalled. Her eyelashes fluttered as she blinked in hesitance. But then a look of unease passed her features and there wasn't the usual scowl or glare that he had come to recognize as her immediate guard when she let such a thing slip. Instead, she stared blankly at the table.

"You mean, I was having nightmares." She seemed to say it in resignation.

He didn't think he needed to answer.

Silence returned. Kolyat tapped the fingers of one hand along the table. "What about?" he dared.

She looked up at him, seeming to search for something.

He didn't realize how much he wanted to know until he'd asked it.

She took a deep breath, pulling her hands from the table to link in her lap instead. And then she chuckled ruefully, her lips dipping into a harsh frown. "It's always the same thing. Always…him."

Kolyat swallowed. It wasn't worth asking who 'he' was. They both knew.

Oriana shrugged, but the motion was stilted. "I always recall that day – that day my parents died and how he was the one who took them from me."

Kolyat couldn't see the way her hands clenched beneath the table.

"I always recall his voice in my ear and his hand at my throat."

Anything he could think to say sounded petty or ignorant or uncaring. So he said nothing. Because what could be said to that anyway?

'Sorry he was such a shithead'. Yeah. Because that one encapsulates every fucked up thing and fucked up emotion she'd ever experienced. No. It didn't even begin to cover it. It wasn't even in the vicinity of adequate.

There wasn't anything he could say that would have been 'adequate'.

It wasn't an unfamiliar feeling.

"What about you?"

He finally looked back up at her. "Huh?" He hated the strangle of air in his throat with the word.

Oriana shifted in her seat a little, her hands still held firmly in her lap. She seemed so small in the dim light. "Do you…have nightmares?"

His brows angled down, his hand withdrawing from the table to join the fist in his lap. His throat tightened reflexively.

Something in his face must have answered her, because then she asked him, "What are they about?"

If this had been the first day they met he might have sneered at her and snapped something horribly offensive in his own desperate instinct to hide away, to cover the wounds. He might have dodged the question with an equally intrusive one that was sure to ruffle her feathers. He might have even walked from the room right then. He might have done a lot of things he wasn't particularly proud of, and he couldn't rightly say when the initial reflex to lash out at her had suddenly dulled.

Because now, instead of seeing some self-righteous, nosy, naïve little girl, he saw fear. It was in her wide, unblinking eyes, the way her shoulders slumped forward as if to cradle herself, the way he was sure her hands were wringing themselves out of view beneath the table (he was sure because his were, too).

Of the many things he'd discovered about Oriana Lawson in his time working with her, fear was the most surprising, and the most uncomfortable thing he'd learned to recognize in her.

Fear, because it felt all too familiar. Because it reminded him what his own terror tasted like.

He never told anyone that in those first few days after the Crucible fired, when the Reapers were slowly coming to an eerie halt in the space outside the Citadel, or careening into the ward arms in an explosive end, when it was chaos and desperation and mind-numbing grief on the Citadel, when he was huddled in the C-Sec locker room with a broken arm and a busted lip from fighting over scraps of food – when he sat shivering, alone and bloody, debris littered all around him, hunger stabbing at his stomach and exhaustion dripping from his bones – it wasn't Bailey or Shepard he called for in his fevered sleep.

It was his father.

He'd never been more terrified in his entire life. Not even when his mother died, or when his father left, or when he had a gun pointed to Talid's head and his father had witnessed his ruin, his pathetic downfall – or even when he had walked from the hospital room and tried to smother his father's dragging breaths from his mind, that stupid, useless prayer book clutched between his trembling fingers.

Never before had he felt fear like that – like the world was crashing down around him and the one person he instinctively called for would never, ever answer.

Because that door was shut long ago.

And he was tired of clawing at it uselessly. Tired of unanswered pleas. There was no coming back from that.

Some things never come back.

He figured Oriana knew a little something about that. Which was why he couldn't forget. Wouldn't forget.

Fear had been holding him back for so long now. And yet, he watched as it pushed her on, as her fear motivated her to heights he didn't think possible.

Fear was a tool, not a cage.

He hadn't known how easy it was to open the door until she showed him.

"In your nightmares," he began, voice rough and low, like the tide his father always talked about. Like the sea that took him and never gave him back. "In your nightmares, you remember."

Oriana stilled, watching him. Something in her face gave way and he watched as her mouth dipped open, ready for words she couldn't form. So she sucked her lip back and halted the breath in her chest, stiff and silent.

Kolyat sighed, his hands coming up to the table to rest, palms open, before him. He couldn't stop looking at those hands. Those smooth, sure hands – so like his father's.

"But in mine, I forget."

He looked at her then, and the air seemed to rush from him in one breath, one aching, tremulous release. "In my nightmares, I forget," he breathed, his voice cracking in the end there, and oh, how he thought it was right.

The first crack in his mask, the first glimpse of sun in a dark, quiet room. The first he might have been honest and open and thankful before her.

The first he might have breathed that sweet, free air of admission.

He thought it would have been embarrassing, or belittling, to bear such a thing to her. He didn't think it'd feel so liberating. He didn't think it'd feel right.

She reached across the table before he could react and clasped his hand in hers. She stared determinedly at him, her grip fierce.

He found he didn't want her to let go.

And she didn't.

For long, silent moments, she simply held his trembling hand in hers, watching him with knowing eyes.

For long, silent moments, Kolyat let her.

Of all the things he learned about Oriana Lawson, his favorite was the warmth and sureness of her hand in his.