He could have chosen any time for the meeting. Why the hell did he have to choose the rush hour?
Like a stubborn rock in the middle of a racing stream, Saren stood still, defying the flow of the crowd.
He despised the crowd. All those vacant faces, passing by in pursuit of mundane, short-sighted goals, unthinking, unseeing, unaware. He could not regard them as individuals. They were just identical particles in a continuous, fluid mass, tolerable only on account of the wide berth they were giving him, deflected as if by a bow shock in front of a ship speeding out of atmosphere.
It was 19:99 and ticking. His jaws were clenched tightly in anticipation of the reunion. The anxiety was not entirely unpleasant, but he tried to purge it anyway. Too volatile. Just thinking that Nihlus might be late made his insides shrink with anger.
Something breached his shield. Something small and quick. Saren glared down at a human child. It had been running, and it only stopped when it practically hit his leg. Now it was clutching his robes, looking up with huge, black eyes. It was not afraid. Saren approved. Still, he preferred to be left alone. What were the chances that the child had the translators implanted at such a young age already? If it didn’t, and he spoke, he would only frighten it. But then a female voice called the child away.
When he lifted his head, he found Nihlus standing in front of him.
Saren froze, unnaturally aware of his own heartbeat. Quickly, he put on the stone-mask, careful not to move a single muscle that could betray the unspeakable emotion that had washed over him. Nihlus was standing still as well. Wearing the uniform of the Invictus Infantry Corps and a rather empty-looking army bag, hanging from his shoulder. The image of what he had looked like on the day Saren had taken him in: tall, proud, defiant.
His colors were fading. Strangely enough, it was how Saren preferred them. When freshly applied, the white stripes gave Nihlus’s face an air of savagery that didn’t quite match his sensitive personality.
They stared one another down for some seconds. Then Nihlus tossed his head back. A small gesture, telling more than a thousand words. He was expecting an apology.
Saren had no idea what to say. All the preparations had been a waste of time. None of the things that were rifling through his mind were feasible.
I’m sorry I yelled at you.
I’m sorry I threatened you.
He tried, but couldn’t bring himself to say that.
Change of tactics.
It is good to see you again.
I am glad to find you well.
I missed you.
Blood rushed to his neck. No. If he had to say something, it should be…
But his deliberations took too long and in the end, Nihlus spoke first.
They both winced at the tone. Saren didn’t mean to sound unnerved and impatient, but it had been his main defense strategy for so many years now, it was next to impossible to resist falling back to it in times of uncertainty and distress. That he could read absolutely nothing from Nihlus’s usually expressive face wasn’t helping. He had no idea how Nihlus was feeling. He wasn’t supposed to care, yet it seemed to be the most important thing in the world.
“What happened to your armor?” he asked in the end, keeping his voice strictly schooled this time.
“Fucked,” Nihlus said. “I had an unplanned encounter with the local criminal elements. Good thing you finally had me registered, or I’d have been unavailable for this…” he gestured vaguely between them, “reunion – on account of being locked up behind bars.”
Saren measured him from crest to toe again, with a different kind of attention.
“Several people were concussed in the explosion, and one lady broke her arm. Nothing serious.”
Of course, that wasn’t what Saren meant, and Nihlus was perfectly aware of it. He slanted a mandible into a devilish smile. It failed to lighten the mood, though, and in the end he just shrugged. “I’m fine. Are we going on a mission?”
It had been years since Saren last used any form of public transportation and the crowd was making him edgy. Nihlus was walking in front of him along the narrow line between the two rows of seats, slowed down by at least fifty people who had pushed their way in before them. There was a large, fat batarian behind Saren’s back, pushing him forward with his strangely firm belly. Saren tolerated it once, twice, then turned and snarled at the man. The blame was not on the batarian, however: it was the loud group of turian teenagers behind him, fidgeting and fumbling with oversized hand-baggage. Recruits, probably on the way to boot camp. One of the youngsters caught Saren’s stare and elbowed another. The perturbation continued to propagate in this way until the awareness reached everybody and they grew still.
But then something happened in front, and Nihlus was forced to step back and into Saren’s personal space.
“Sorry,” he muttered.
Saren grunted a disapproving reply, trying to match Nihlus curve for curve in order to avoid contact and gain more space for breathing. The warmth of Nihlus’ body was distracting. He smelled of sweat and cheap food. When he turned to glance at Saren, seemingly not uncomfortable at all, their faces were centimeters away. Saren swallowed. Moved by a rare spark of mischief, he pretended that the fat batarian had pushed him again, and landed flush against Nihlus’ back. The urge to place his hands on Nihlus’ hips, hold him close and sink his mouth into the dark, unplated skin of his exposed neck threatened to overwhelm him.
Nihlus turned halfway, digging an unsuspecting hip right between Saren’s legs. “Didn’t think I’d ever see you ride a bus with us mortals,” he said, and Saren could almost taste his breath.
Officially unable to speak, he hummed some indeterminate response. His mandibles almost brushed Nihlus’ collar. The world darkened, fading out. But then the line moved, and they found their seats.
There wasn’t much room. As they settled in, Saren busied himself adjusting to his newly discovered hypersensitivity to the way Nihlus moved, to the way Nihlus smelled, to the way their arms were pressed from elbow to shoulder, their legs, from knee to hip, to the feverish heat blossoming in places of contact.
Nihlus glanced at him a couple of times, probably craving conversation, but when Saren ignored him, he turned to stare through the tiny viewport as the shuttle slowly took off. Saren shamelessly used the opportunity to stare at him, to drink in the familiar outlines, alien in this new, lustful light. His hand was resting on his knee, and he imagined lifting it just enough to settle it on Nihlus’ knee instead. Grip it, feel the plate give under his callused palm. He’d move the hand upstream. He’d see if Nihlus was as loose as he was, right now. He saw himself turn Nihlus sideways under the straps, rip his clothes to shreds with bare talons, and lodge himself inside him up to the hips. The intensity of the image made him jolt. Nihlus glanced at him again. Saren crossed his legs and adjusted his robe. This was the worst idea he had had in a long time