They were sitting, side by side. A human vid was playing on their holoprojector, a quiet thing, of slow cinematography. It helped, but it didn't. It wasn't enough to sooth their damaged minds, it was barely enough to calm them. Even if only for a little bit.
They were holding hands, fingers lightly clasped between them. If Calo focused, he thought he could feel the hum of cybernetics under the brown skin. The heat between their palms eased him. It wasn't always so. Sometimes, touch between them was overwhelming, scary. But right there, it was enough.
The vid went on, the credits passed, the menu song playing on loop lulling them into a state of stasis. Their hands remained holding each other, Kalyan tightening his grip almost imperceptibly wih the beat of the music. They didn't look at each other's eyes, but their gazes were drawn to mouths, shoulders, cheekbones. Dancing around the edge of eye contact, but never crossing the line. It was enough. Right then, it had to be.
Kalyan moved first, thumb making circles on Calo's wrist. It was soft at first, then more forceful, like he was slowly building courage for something more. Calo feared. Calo wanted. They breathed, deeply and in tandem, following each other at least there. Sometimes they sighed, falling off-rhythm, yet somehow, they always went back to it. If either were prone to philosophical introspection, they'd find something of a message there. But they weren't, so there was silence instead - rarely, there was hope.
The first tug went unnoticed; too light, too little, not enough to be registered by a brain descending into apathy. The second was more forceful, a surprise, so sudden and unexpected that Calo elected to ignore it. The third was no tug at all - Kalyan simply pulled their hands closer to him, to his face. The warm breath on their fingers made them shudder (in tandem, on rhythm). The lips, chapped and pressing oh so softly against the knuckles of Calo's hands, made him keen. A high pitched noise, not of discomfort or lust. He couldn't say exactly what, but it was close enough to longing to count.
Kalyan froze, fear and confusion etched on his features. His body's language was subtler now, but the quarian learned to read it. He had to. It was worth it. It was worth it to know that he should tighten his fingers' grasp on Kalyan's. To offer comfort, encouragement. He forced himself to relax his shoulders, his arm, but not his fingers. Slowly, Kalyan breathed again, waiting, eyes fixed to the slim hand in his. Carefully, as if he was dealing with the most delicate of creatures, he brushed his lips over the same two knuckles. He tried to imbue all his gratitude, all his love, in that gesture. It wasn't enough. It was more than enough.
Calo sighed, a soft thing slipping through slightly parted lips. He wanted more - wanted the heated kisses, the smiles against his neck, inked skin beneath his fingertips. But he feared. He feared more, feared asking for it. So he waited, patiently, looking at the man across the couch from him, head bowed down, black hair thick and lustrous. Calo felt the lips move into a downturned shape against his hand before the human’s forehead rested on top of it like it was worthy of worship.
“Thank you.” It was quiet, words closer to being shaped than said, spoken with a rough voice that saw little use. “Thank you.” Louder that time, meant to be heard.
Calo didn't answer. He didn't know how. His heart squeezed painfully in his chest, somewhere long past intelligible emotion. He wanted to scream, open the windows and scream until his throat was raw and his head hurt. But he didn't, because a bigger part of him wanted to stay put and etch that moment into his brain so that he never forgot it. Part of him wanted to cry, too, so he did. He kept his keening soft and low, a human shouldn't hear it. Kalyan was barely human anymore.
“I'm so sorry.” the murmur broke the atmosphere around Calo like a bullet. “I'm… so… so sorry.”
The quarian didn't ask what for, he didn't have to. Didn't have it in him to say platitudes of you have nothing to apologize for , either. So he stayed silent, even as he turned his entire body to face Kalyan. Slowly and with deep breaths, like he had to face a demon, the human lifted his face until his eyes were on Calo’s - vulnerable. The same black eyes as the ones of ten years ago, but not at all. In shape and color, identical, but in depth… The ones Calo saw at that moment were too filled with jagged ends and loss, broken glass trying to pull itself together into a reasonable shape. It was so much more than what he'd seen in the past few months. For a passing moment, he wondered if he should start making quips about not having a heart strong enough for this anymore. Then, again, he never had.
Kalyan’s right hand rose, just to stop halfway there to Calo. “He's afraid” , the quarian thought. “Not really” , he suplemented. He could see Kalyan’s jaw working, could even pretend to hear his teeth gritting. Those black eyes looked to the hand hanging in the air, and he swallowed dry, throat clicking, steeling himself for something.
“Can…” one deep, hissed breath. “Can I touch…” He growled in frustration, at his inability to word such a simple request (not so simple, never again simple, he had to remember).
“Yes.” Calo was surprised at himself for saying it out loud. The word hang like hope on a thread between them, waiting for something. Calo was afraid that “something” would snap the line, put them back to square one, like it had happened too many times.
It didn't, and the moment that warm hand - always hot for a human - touched his face, the keen on his throat was louder. Loud enough to be heard by anyone passing by - not that they would, because that day was a day they all left to do their own thing. Calo felt the hand shake, start to pull back, scared of hurting, maybe. Terrified, more likely. So he pushed his cheek against it, his hair brushing the brown skin.
Silence reigned, drawn out and broken only by quiet breaths. Calo took his time, to map out the new marks on Kalyan’s face, the new scars on his arms. He missed him. He couldn't say it out loud, but he knew it. He wanted to believe they both knew it. So Calo inched forward, just slightly, just enough for their arms to no longer be outstretched. Sitting on the middle ground, on no man’s land, he waited. Waited for a reaction, or lack of it. Waited for something else he wasn't sure of, but that on some level, he knew he wanted.
The response came, and his heart jumped to his throat, a reaction so common he no longer knew if it was positive or negative. Kalyan came closer, enough that their knees touched, that Calo could feel his breaths, if only slightly. They looked at each other, coyly, like teenagers with their first crush. Calo wanted to laugh at the thought - keelah , it was ridiculous to compare them to anything close to virginal. But there they were, doing nothing more than gaze at each other, cheeks flushed, waiting for something. They didn't know what, but it was there; some underlying tension that was neither delectable nor unpleasant. It was there, and so they waited.
And then they didn't. Inching forward, slowly, but surely, they closed the gap between them, until they were close enough for their breaths to mingle, and each other’s faces to be all they saw. Kalyan felt like his heart would jump out of his chest, like his face was going to auto-combust. Their eyes were heavy lidded, not out of arousal, but maybe anticipation. So, willing to take one more leap of faith, Kalyan closed his eyes, and inched forward, a movement his muscle memory knew too well to get it wrong. And at some point, their lips met.
Chapped and soft, yielding. It was a chaste kiss, no more than a close mouthed brush of lips. But it was slow and genuine, filled with so much that wanted to be said and wouldn't. It didn't last a second, nor an eternity, just a moment, just enough. They sighed against each other’s lips when it was done, both taking the stolen breath in like they needed it. Maybe they did. Kalyan rested his forehead against Calo’s, unwilling to let go, afraid that the next day would be too hard to deal with. But in the quietude that felt like growing tension to him, he heard a small voice, filled with a smile:
“Thank you, too.”