The center of galactic civilization and they can’t manage to have a single elevator that doesn’t run faster than elcor shit on this whole station!”
It was the third slow elevator that Kolyat and Haron had waited on in the last two hours and the third loud outburst Kolyat had made. Citadel transit had always been a mess and was on a long list of repairs and improvements still waiting to be made. But after the station had been nearly cleaved in half by that giant warship, concern over how much the people who managed to survive enjoyed their day to day commute understandably took low priority.
Every day new people arrived from the outer rim, batarian space. Some incident had happened, but the news hadn’t picked it up yet, and Haron was too low on the totem pole to ask questions and expect answers. His security checkpoint in Zakera had been closed weeks ago, deemed too inefficient to deal with the sudden influx of new people. He was working at the docks these days, seeing firsthand how people poured in from seemingly nowhere.
And he got the feeling it was only going to get worse.
The elevator arrived, occupied, but far from full. They stepped on, Kolyat grumbling the whole way. Elevator travel was unreliable in a way that made even Haron’s skin prickle, but irritation about that wasn’t the only reason for Kolyat’s bad attitude.
Kolyat’s father had been on the station two week and only now was he allowed to have visitors. Haron knew next to nothing about Kepral’s except that it was an ugly, ravaging disease. He’d watched it rob Kolyat’s father, a formidable man even in still picture and over vid chat, of his vitality. He’d looked withered during the last chat they’d had. That was a month ago. He didn’t want to think of what they’d see when they got to see him face to face. He hoped Kolyat was prepared.
Haron stood behind Kolyat now, his hands on his lover’s shoulders. He couldn’t see his face from here, but could feel the tension in the muscles beneath his hands. Once, he caught sight of his scowl reflected in the glass. “We’ll find an alternate route for next time. We’re almost there.” He squeezed Kolyat’s shoulders, leaning forward to whisper near his ear. “Tell me again: What’s the name we have to ask for at the desk?”
He thought he felt Kolyat shiver. “Tannor Nuara.” Kolyat’s voice was weighed down with a frown, so Haron probably imagined it. Kolyat hated the idea of his father having to hide He hugged the books in his arms closer to his chest. They were religious scriptures. He’d pored over them for weeks, trying to figure out which would be relevant to recite for his father, hoping to bring him some comfort.
“I guess I should be calling you Sere Nuara then, huh?” Haron nuzzled the side of Kolyat’s throat. He knew how much Kolyat hated PDA; he just seemed like he really needed it today. He was just going to have to make an exception.
“No, Krios is fine. Someone has to carry on the name.” They’d had this conversation several times before. Haron felt, if Kolyat’s dad was using an alias, Kolyat should too, but the drell continued to refuse.
He said his piece with such seriousness and conviction but the tensions was already bleeding out of his shoulders. Haron was calling his PDA distraction a triumph.
Their elevator companions didn’t appreciate it, though. Haron was willing to blame it on a lack of exposure.
Everyone wanted asari and made no excuses for it. It was the only interspecies deviants allowed. But if the buzz going around by the galaxy coming to an end, everyone should have more to worry about than who was with whom.
Kolyat stiffened as he felt the eyes on him, but Haron wasn’t about to let his work be undone. He pulled Kolyat back against his chest, wrapping his arms around him to the nervous tittering of the asari passenger and the disdainful huff of the other Turian.
They were all going to have to deal with it.
The doors opened to their floor and Kolyat broke away, stepping out first without looking back or even waiting for Haron to catch up. His long legs let Haron cover the distance in a few quick steps.
“I’m sorry, OK?”
“I don’t see why you have to do that,” Kolyat snapped. “Our every public moment doesn’t have to be more of a statement than it already is. It’s bad enough we get glared at for just being seen together so often. And then there’s the priests.” He choked up, stopping long enough for Haron to settle at his side.
He took Kolyat by the arm and steered him into a darkened alcove juts off the hospital’s main entrance. He went in for a hug and Kolyat let him, his head meeting Haron’s shoulder immediately. “I’m sorry. I don’t mean to do it. You’ve got so much on your plate already. The last thing I want is to add to it. I just want to comfort you how I want.” He nuzzled Kolyat’s cheek. “I’ll be better, I promise.” In the interest of that, he pulled back until he only held Kolyat by the arms.
Kolyat calmed down, no longer on the verge of tears. “Thank you.”
Haron was honestly already trying. After a while, the stores and whispers got to him. Mated males were hardly rare in most cultures where they existed. Cross species were even less rare (as long as there were asari involved). They weren’t heckled and harassed every time they went out, though, it was enough to annoy him. What really got to him were the priests.
The drell population had dwindled to an all-time low. While the Illuminated Primacy had given no official statement to those who were under its care, the clergy of the Temple of the Trine was already stepping in.
They urged drell not to fight. Enlistment was already prohibited for them, but if any fighting came to them, they were told to run rather than stand their ground. Haron agreed with that stance for all noncombatants to take. The problem was what they called every drell’s duty.
Their race, their culture had already been hanging by a thread and the only way to ensure it lived on was to pass it on to the next generation. A generation they were expected to sire right now.
A few of the clergy had singled Kolyat out specifically since they knew about his relationship with Haron. “It’s not forever,” they’d said. “You don’t even have to be in the child’s life. You or the mother.” They would take care of it. The crux of it all was that they didn’t have access to facilities that would let them do this via IVF. It had to be the old fashioned way.
Kolyat was torn between feeling beholden to the priests and risking his relationship with Haron. Haron hated seeing his lover this way. He hated the situation more. He reminded Kolyat that he didn’t owe anyone anything, yet whatever she chose, Haron was with him.
Haron wasn’t unsympathetic to their plight. They needed every able bodied drell to contribute. Kolyat was a hot commodity for being off Kahje for so long, not affected by Kepral’s. But understanding the situation academically didn’t change the fact that this was his mate they were talking about.
…Had Haron really called him that?
He really wished Kolyat would stop going to the temple altogether but he held off asking. He seemed to get something out of going to the temple when they weren’t haranguing him about duty. They’d upped the times they reminded him of it from one visit a month to every other one time he was there. Haron was hoping it resolved on its own before it was too late.
They asked for Nuara at the visitor’s desk and were directed to the fifteenth floor. “It says here he’s currently in a treatment sessions,” the attendant said, his salarian features a little pinched. “He shouldn’t be too much longer so you can head right up. Fifteenth floor. 1510.”
“Heard you the first time,” Kolyat mumbled.
The salarian paled, his throat bobbing. “Yes, of course. I meant no offense.”
“Thank you for your help,” Haron said, hustling Kolyat in the direction of yet another elevator. Now who was being a jerk?
“I’m so sick of elevators!” Kolyat shouted as soon as the doors sealed closed in front of them. They were the only riders and the car moved quick and smooth.
“Yes. We’ve been riding on them for hours, but that attendant didn’t know that. He was nothing but helpful. There was no need to snap at him.”
He could see the argument brewing behind those eyes. The pseudo mentorship they had before was over. Kolyat didn’t want or need Haron’s guidance in the way his sentence had dictated before. Haron didn’t want that either, but he had his slips. Opening his mouth ran the risk of starting another argument but it was too late to take it back now.
“I…know.” Kolyat sighed, covering his eyes with his hand. “I’ve been snapping at everyone and everything. I’m just so stressed out. It’s not an excuse. I just have to do better.”
Haron rubbed the span if Kolyat’s shoulders. “It’s okay. We’ll just be extra nice next time.”
The doors parted and the voice of Avina, the Citadel’s helper VI announced their floor. Kolyat didn’t move, staring unhappily down the hall. Doctors and nurses walked by with purpose driven strides. The few patients they saw shuffled by slowly, with assistance and without.
“Take deep breaths,” Haron whispered.
Avina reminded them of the floor they were on before Kolyat took his first step out.
Thane’s room was close, so they didn’t have to engage anyone who lived on the floor. Lived, but for how long?
They weren’t all aged, weren’t all drell. No one seemed in good spirits or really even cognizant. They were all just barely hanging on. The whole place smelled like antiseptic, the faint echoes of beeping equipment could be heard coming from almost every room.
It reminded him too much of the facility his father was in, letting the last drops of life drain out of him. Thane wasn’t supposed to be that bad. Not now when he and Kolyat were getting along.
The door to Thane’s room was open, the place empty. He had no roommate, but more than that, it didn’t look like anyone was staying here at all. There were no flowers, no pictures, no personal effects of any kind.
Haron thought they had the wrong room.
“The attendant said 1510, right?”
Haron stepped out and checked the number next to the door. In crisp white lettering: 1510.
Kolyat went further into the room. He opened up the little wardrobe set between the front door and the bathroom, peeked inside. “This is his room.” He gestured to the interior of the pieces of furniture.
Inside were two identical sets of clothing that looked similar to what Thane had worn during their chats. Haron couldn’t remember exactly, so he’d defer to Kolyat’s expertise. A duffle bag was crammed in a far corner behind the clothes. The wardrobe was too deep to notice it at a glance.
A rest area with a table and a few chairs sat where another patient’s bed would be. Kolyat and Haron waited there.
The minutes passed in tense silence. Kolyat was upset and Haron didn’t know what to say to make it better. He could only sit beside him and hold his hand.
Thane returned to his room after what felt like an eternity, pushed in a wheelchair. Kolyat tensed beside him and Haron tightened his grip. Seeing Thane this way, pale, deflated wrapped in a hospital gown was a little jarring.
The human nurse greeted them as he brought Thane alongside the bed. He helped the assassin to his feet, waited for him to settle between the starchy sheets and left.
“It’s a formality,” Thane said after several moments he spent lying back on the pillows with his eyes closed. “If I fell while walking to and from my treatment or it exacerbated my condition, they’d be ripe for a law suit. I told them I’d sign any liability waver but they refuse. I’m fine, I assure you.”
Thane was not fine.
Kolyat didn’t let go of Haron’s hand as he went to his father’s bedside. He’d never looked less fine. His ribbing was so pale. He was breathing normally now, but Kolyat was willing to bet he hadn’t been minutes ago. This was such an ugly disease.
“Don’t look at me that way,” Thane said, encroaching on his son’s thoughts. “I’ve got some time left in me yet.”
Kolyat flushed with embarrassment. He hadn’t meant for his thoughts to be so visible.
Thane’s absence in his life created a rift between them Kolyat thought would never heal, his resentment ever present in his mind despite the strides they’d made. An undercurrent of awkwardness also seemed to buffet them off each other. He thought he would never touch his father again without them feeling forced.
He surprised them both when his arms went around his father’s neck, bringing them closer. He didn’t want to hurt him, but he just needed do this. Thane had always seemed so large in Kolyat’s eyes but feeling him in his arms, he felt small. Thane didn’t move at first, but soon Kolyat felt his father’s thin hands on his back. He purred, rough from disuse. Kolyat fought back tears.
He knew this was coming, he knew and was still so unprepared, but how could he be? Every other relative he had was gone and once Thane crossed the sea, all he’d have was Haron.
If life as they knew it was destined to end, he wanted to be with his father—his family—for it.
Thane chuckled a bit nervously when Kolyat didn’t let go, though he didn’t force them to separate.
“I hadn’t intended for our first meeting to be like this, but I do hope you’re well, Sergeant?”
“I can’t complain, sir,” Haron called from behind Kolyat. “Here, let me get some chairs.”
It took some cajoling and a few tears, but Kolyat eventually sat in a chair beside Thane rather than standing over him. Haron sat across from them. He didn’t let go of his father’s hand.
“You’re my first visitors since I’ve been cleared for them,” Thane announced, tactfully addressing the scarcity of personal items.
“What about you-know-who? When’s he visiting?” If his father was using an alias while he was here, Kolyat was sure throwing around his lover’s name would be a bad idea.
The silence preceding Thane’s answer was a second too long for Kolyat’s taste. “He’s still in custody on Earth awaiting his hearing. He can’t come and go as he pleases.”
True enough. “Still… Couldn’t he send you something ahead?”
“I supposed he could have, not that he needs to.” Thane sounded indignant.
“Did you tell him that?” The idea that Shepard would listen to such a stupid request annoyed Kolyat to no end. Thane needed as much support as he could get.
Kolyat was working himself into a righteous lather, annoyed that his father would take up with someone so dense, so insensitive! How could anyone not send their ailing lover something to brighten his mood, civilization ending or not? Kolyat was about to shout that when a thought struck him.
Either they weren’t as serious as it seemed (which wasn’t likely) but even friends showed more concern than this. Or, he was incapable of sending anything at all.
Kolyat wadded his anger into a tight little ball, taking deep breaths. Time at the temple had helped him in that respect. “When did you last hear from him?”
Thane’s silence was purposeful this time. He scrubbed a hand over his face, tuning to look out the window that faced the Presidium. “I’ve sent messages to his account, but no response. It’s not just me. He hasn’t been able to check his account in weeks. They’ve cut him off from the outside world.” Haron’s mandible tightened at how casually Thane alluded to his spying. Kolyat hadn’t spoken to his father much about the finer details of his work, yet this didn’t surprise him.
No contact with anyone not imprisoning him was brutal. Only prisons out in the Terminus had such treatment. Kolyat wondered if it was Alliance policy or if it was special treatment for the man who was labeled a pariah few months ago.
Kolyat patted the hand he was holding like a lifeline. “I’m sure he’ll reach out soon.” Shepard had better if he knew what was good for him.
Thane hummed his appreciation and Kolyat hummed back. He caught Haron’s eye from across the way, a happy flutter of his mandible made Kolyat flush.
A year ago, Kolyat never could have imagined the two for them in this position, him giving the man who’d abandoned him. Even his anger couldn’t be sustained in the face of these changes.
Whatever the future held, they were together for the duration.