Mass Effect and all the characters are owned by Bioware. I'm just playing in their lovely sandbox.
It always rained on Kahje.
Watching the endless water slide down the windows, Commander Koen Shepard walked though the curving, organic hallways of the hospital. He glanced at the round door portals set into the wall as he passed. Drell hospital staff passed him with curious eyes—humans weren't all that common on Kahje—and he had to fight the urge to stare back. Seeing this many drell in one place seemed strange to him—after all, he only knew two, one of which was following silently behind him.
"Here it is, Kolyat," Shepard said, stopping at a portal.
The young drell beside him nodded, his inner eyelids blinking rapidly in an expression Shepard had begun to recognize as anxiety. Shepard keyed the portal and they walked into the lock, waiting as the portal cycled shut behind them with a hiss of air. A polite VI requested them to wait while decontamination zapped germs from their bodies. The second door slid open, revealing a soothingly blue room. The bed and its occupant drew the eye right away, and Kolyat's hands trembled. Thane's eyes were closed and a clear oxygen mask rested over his nose and mouth. His scaled skin, a vibrant green when Shepard had last seen him, was pale and mottled.
"Maybe… maybe we shouldn't disturb him," Kolyat muttered, sounding both disappointed and relieved.
Thane opened his eyes. "Kolyat." His eyes flickered to Shepard. "Commander. Thank you for coming."
Shepard smiled. They might have been coming over for tea instead of visit to a dying man, but trust Thane's manners to remain intact, no matter the situation. He patted Kolyat on the shoulder.
"I'll leave you two alone," Shepard said and exited the room. A small waiting area with windows to overlook Kahje's restless oceans was a few short steps down the corridor. This was the third time he'd visited the hospital with Kolyat. Captain Bailey in C-Sec had agreed to entrust the young drell to Shepard's care without an escort. It was unfortunate that the reason for visiting the hospital would soon disappear…
A voice with the distinct drell burr intruded into his thoughts. Shepard looked up at a willowy drell with almost reddish orange scales on the face that faded to a buttery yellow on the head crests. Something seemed off though and it took Shepard a minute to place what it was: the leathery folds of the drell's throat were smaller than on Kolyat and Thane and they weren't as red. Female, Shepard's brain supplied, remembering how Kolyat had taught him to tell the difference.
The drell sat down opposite him. "I'm Asaera Otas, Sere Krios' patient advocate—what you might call a social worker at a human hospital."
"Nice to meet you," Shepard said, shaking her hand. "I'm glad Thane has someone to watch over him here. He told me he has no family left —aside from his son."
Asaera nodded, leaning forward. Shepard noted with mild interest that the V-shaped cut of her loose, white tunic revealed a flat chest as yellow as the last leaves of autumn.
"A few of the hanar have come to see him," she said, seemingly unaware of his gaze, "but despite our long association with them, hanar view death in a more… pragmatic way. They mourn, certainly, but when a clutch of hanar young can contain hundreds, if not thousands of eggs, it is difficult for them to get upset over the death of an individual."
"Makes sense, I guess," Shepard nodded, wondering where this was leading.
"I suppose you're wondering why I stopped to talk to you," Asaera said, smoothing her slender fingers over her loose trousers. "Sere Krios speaks highly of you, and he does not seem the type to have many friends. What exactly is your relationship with him?"
Shepard raised an eyebrow. "We're not lovers, if that's what you're getting at," he said bluntly. His brusque way of talking had often gotten him in trouble in the military, but being raised on the streets of urban Earth hadn't given him the social niceties for beating around the bush.
"I know that," Asaera said in a calm voice, her inner eyelids flicking across her dark eyes. "However, you misunderstood the question. Humans are always so inclined to leap to sexual innuendo."
Shepard shrugged, a little uncomfortable. "Sorry." He paused, choosing his words now with more care. "Thane is… a friend. He helped me out in a big way several months ago on an important mission. I owe him my life a couple times over."
Asaera nodded, making a small note on her datapad. "Commander, I'm not sure how much you know about drell, but as a species we don't go through a biological adolescence. Kolyat, for example, is considered a full adult in our society, though to you with your notions of 'the teenage years' he may seem little more than a child." She paused. "However, much of what to a drell is a healthy psyche, Kolyat lacks." She paused again as if to judge Shepard's reaction. "Kolyat's memories are perfect and he recalls every time his father was absent, every time his father ignored his pleas for attention."
Shepard shifted. "I know Thane and Kolyat have a difficult relationship, but they made some good progress."
Asaera nodded. "Yes, they have, and I have rejoiced to see it. However, it probably won't be enough to balm the wounds of ten years of neglect. You will have to deal with the consequences of an emotionally damaged young man, and I don't know if you are prepared to deal with that."
Shepard opened his mouth to ask her what she was talking about when he heard footsteps coming down the hall.
"Commander?" Kolyat came around the corner, a dejected slump to his shoulders.
"Kolyat? What's wrong?" Shepard got to his feet. Surely Thane hadn't….
"Not yet," Kolyat mumbled, picking up on Shepard's anxiety. He picked at his lower lip. "He wants to talk to you for a minute."
Shepard glanced at the social worker, but she gestured him forward. "Kolyat, sit with me for a moment, please?"
Shepard walked through the portal, endured another decon cycle, and entered the room. Thane was sitting up in the bed now, though he still looked tired, and Shepard could see his breath misting the inside of the oxygen mask. Shepard took a seat on a chair beside the bed.
"Thane, for a dying man, you have all the luck. That social worker advocate lady? Tell me I'm right in thinking she's too good for you."
Thane chuckled. "When she was first assigned to me, I don't think she realized how sick I was. I'm quite certain she expected me to assassinate her or something." He paused for breath. "But she is, as you observed, quite… easy on the eyes."
"Well, I can't take all the credit for knowing that," Shepard laughed. "Kolyat has been educating me on the intricacies of drell beauty."
Thane's expression turned solemn, his eyes going distant. "He is growing up so quickly…" His breathing quickened and Shepard sat forward in alarm as Thane slipped into a memory. "I see my son for the first time in ten years about to blow a man's head off. This shouldn't be. If I had been there for him we might even now be celebrating his betrothal. Instead his eyes meet mine, surprised, angry; hard. It is like looking into a mirror and that thought frightens me more than the gun trembling in his hands."
Thane gasped for air as the memory left him, his breathing rough and labored. Shepard was on the verge for pressing the call-nurse button, but Thane seemed to recover after a moment, resting against the pillow behind his head.
"My apologies," he said when he had caught his breath. "Mnemonic episodes are not healthy for me in this weakened state. The nurses have been giving me a special medicine to keep them subdued, but they tend to dull the senses and I wanted to be fully awake for your visit." He paused, his dark, liquid eyes meeting Shepard's. "Commander, I wanted to speak to you because I wish to ask you something important; something I would not dare trust to another soul."
Concerned, Shepard leaned forward, elbows on knees. "Of course. Anything you need, name it."
"When I die… watch over Kolyat. Please."
Shepard's first instinct was to say no, to offer up a hundred legitimate excuses that sprang to his lips. But one look at the desperation in Thane's eyes and Shepard's protests died away.
"I… I will keep an eye on him," he said finally, in a halting voice that didn't quite sound like his. "But Thane, are you sure? I mean, when Bailey's done with him, I thought he'd come back here to be with his own people, and I'm not exactly good with kids."
Thane smiled, his exhaustion evident. "I couldn't ask for a better man." He paused and coughed into his mask, a wet sound that sucked at the drell's insides. "There isn't anyone else in the galaxy I can trust with this, Shepard. He is… more important to me than my own life." The dying drell stared up at the ceiling, a trickle of moisture trailing down the side of his face. "I cannot bear to think that when I die I will be leaving him helpless and adrift in such a galaxy as the one we live in. His soul is no longer disconnected, but the new bond is tenuous still. I fear that when I leave my body, the bonds he's forged will snap like dry sea coral and something worse than what we saved him from on the Citadel may occur."
"I won't let that happen," Shepard said firmly. "I promise."
Thane took a deep breath, eyes drifting shut. "That is all I ask. Thank you… Shepard."
Shepard looked at his friend in alarm. "Thane?"
A tired chuckle came from the bed. "Don't worry, I'm in no danger of giving you a dramatic death scene yet. The doctor said I had a good lunar month left in me yet."
Shepard smiled, relieved, and stood. "I can see you're tired though, so I'll let you sleep."
When he exited the room, Kolyat was hunched at one of the windows overlooking the ocean. Asaera stood a little ways behind him. Shepard paused, wondering if Thane had told Kolyat what he had just been asked to do.
Asaera walked forward. "Commander, I have taken the liberty of informing Kolyat of his father's wishes. He knows that he will be under your care once his father's soul passes from his body."
An angry hum came from the direction of the young drell at the window. "No one asked me about this! Why can't I stay here? This is my home, not some stupid space station." He turned to the two adults, his rigid features pulled into an expression of fury.
Before Shepard could speak up, Asaera walked to the young drell, putting a slender hand on his arm. He shrugged her off. "Kolyat, your father does not wish you to become like him—a victim of the more… unsavory sides of the Compact."
"Not if I can help it," Shepard put in. "Plus, your community service with Bailey isn't quite over yet. He told me he wouldn't mind hiring you after it's over—it'd give you good experience and a way to earn some credits."
Kolyat made an exasperated noise and flung himself away from the window. "Fine," he spat. "Let's just go then. I hate it here." He stalked past Asaera and Shepard.
Shepard pinched the bridge of his nose.
"I did warn you," Asaera said, sounding amused and compassionate at the same time. She activated her omni-tool. "I'll give you my contact information in case of any updates from Sere Krios."
"Thanks. Well, I'd better go after him." He nodded goodbye to the drell woman and followed Kolyat's retreating footsteps. What am I getting myself into?