Actions

Work Header

Send It Up

Chapter Text

I.

Send It Up

[SHEPARD]

John Shepard had grown accustomed to Chaos. He had been born into it, had been baptized by it, brought up and shaped within it. Its hungry rumblings were as familiar to him as a song, humming deep within the scars that etched his skin. If greedy Chaos were not pressing close and immediate all around him, it crouched gnashing its teeth nearby, leering and ravenous - waiting, always waiting to swallow him up.

John Shepard was well acquainted with Death. In certain rare moments, he had made peace with it. Most often he resented it, railed against its finality and its wanton carelessness. More times than he cared to remember, he had beaten Death back - once, he had even overcome it.

However, as he barreled toward the beam, hounded by constant Chaos and familiar Death, he felt his heart beating wildly against his ribs. As the massive force of an apocalypse bore down upon the universe above and around him, his comfort with Chaos, his communion with Death, did nothing to slow or even steady his pulse. Though he knew that Kaidan Alenko and Garrus Vakarian were close behind him, that no two beings in the universe loved him more, he had never felt so exposed, so insignificant. He was shaken to his core and he was sore afraid.

The very ground shuddered. It warped and buckled beneath his feet, upsetting Shepard's balance as he ran, churning in protest as deep wounds were scored into it by man and machine alike. Still, the Commander pressed doggedly forward as the cacophonous blast of a Reaper tore through the dirt just in front of him, upending a tank and forcing him to the ground in a deftly maneuvered skid to safety.

As he scrambled to regain his footing, his ears were ringing. He drew a sharp breath, briefly observing just how narrowly he had avoided the volley and the resultant explosion of the overturned tank. Shepard whirled unsteadily to check his six, searching for Kaidan and for Garrus. When he could not make them out in the dusty aftermath of the blast, he doubled back, swearing impatiently as he dodged across wreckage and slaughter with singular focus.

Several meters behind, sheltered in the shadow of another wrecked vehicle, Shepard could make out Garrus crouching close beside a huddled human shape. Squinting through the upkick of dirt and debris, the Commander rushed to gather a dazed and wounded Kaidan to his feet, calling hoarsely into his communicator as he briefly met Garrus' eyes, "Normandy, this is Shepard, do you copy?"

There was a glaring splash of mingled turian and human blood across Garrus' shoulder and neck, and a cut was splitting jaggedly above his right eye. Still, upon noticing Shepard's concern, Garrus jerked his head firmly toward Kaidan, who was shaking his head sluggishly and leaning heavily on the Commander, obviously in worse shape.

"Normandy, this is Shepard, I need an evac. Now!" The Commander's voice was exacting but muffled against the cacophony of battle noise around him - a ragged, deafening chorus of machinery and bedlam.

Kaidan frowned dazedly at Shepard, one hand pressed to his bloodied forehead, protesting thickly. "John--"

The Commander silenced the Major with a quick wave of his hand as his communicator crackled.

"We're taking heavy fire up here, Commander," Joker replied distractedly. The pilot's words were pitched, grating unevenly through gritted teeth. "I'm not sure I can--" Joker's voice broke against a burst of static and abruptly disappeared.

Swearing under his breath, Shepard swept his gaze from side to side, calculating an exit strategy that did not seem to exist, panic tightening his throat, his lungs burning.

"Shepard!"

"I know, Garrus! I know, just--"

"Screw it! We're on our way," Joker rejoined a short while later and the familiar curve of the Normandy carved across the smog-streaked sky.

Despite the bitter haze and thick toxic clouds that muddled the air, upon sight of the ship Shepard felt immediately that he could breathe again. He hoisted Kaidan hurriedly and signaled Garrus forward. "Come on!"

Another shrilling Reaper blast threatened to topple the three as they broke cover and fled toward the Normandy's ramp. When they had reached the ramp's middle, Shepard quickly, but with trepidation, lingering over Kaidan's hand, shifted the Major's weight to Garrus' arms, clenching his teeth as he spoke, "Get him out of here, Garrus."

The turian nodded wordlessly, understanding and anguish flashing in his bright eyes as he half-dragged Kaidan the remaining distance up the Normandy's ramp, the wounded Major struggling with startling and sudden vigor against Garrus' taloned grasp.

A silent, demonstrative goodbye passed quickly between the old friends above Kaidan's head, and the turian doubled down on his grip as the Major's protests grew in strength and volume.

"Yeah, that's not going to happen!" Kaidan spat, growing by seconds more defiant, his senses clearly recovering even as pain and distress twisted his expression. Blood was streaming from his nose, dripping from a jagged network of cuts across his face. "Garrus-- goddammit! Let-- go!"

"Don't argue with me, Kaidan," the Commander's words bore the stern timbre of an order, though his thoughts were racing. Shepard forced his eyes shut for a moment, bit roughly at his lip before he looked at Kaidan once more, pleading silently. One last time, Kay. Trust me this one last time.

There was a moment of relative quiet, followed by the roaring discharge of another Reaper before Kaidan spoke, bitterly and with faltering resignation, "Please… don't leave me behind. Not again."

Shepard almost looked away, powerless to stomach the abject betrayal in the Major's expression. Instead, he hurried the remaining way up the ramp. His hands were shaking, his shoulders squared in an effort to bear up the crushing anguish of abandoning Kaidan this final time. "No matter what happens…" He lay a hand gently against Kaidan's bloodied face. "Know that I love you." His heart throbbed achily when the Major pressed his cheek against Shepard's palm, and the Commander added in a strangled, earnest half-whisper, "Forever, Kay."

Mutely, Garrus looked away, his eyes tightly shut, shaking his head.

"I love you, too." Kaidan replied as Shepard pulled away, the Major's jaw set resolutely, but the beloved, tawny eyes beseeching, "Be careful."

"I will." The lie was bitter and rankled like poison on the Commander's tongue. Shepard half-turned, watching as Kaidan's face crumbled in grief and the Major collapsed against Garrus. After a deep breath, the Commander faced the beam and hurried from the ramp, raising one hand in a symbolic farewell to the Normandy and its crew.

When his boots hit the dirt, John Shepard breathed deeply of the Chaos and Death surrounding him and barked a final order into his communicator, "Now, go! Send it up, Joker."

Chapter Text

II.

You Make Me Lay Down

[SHEPARD]

"Wake up."

"Wake up!"

The Catalyst's words echoed insistently in Shepard's mind, ebbing away and crashing forward like waves, drowning him, robbing him of air.

"The peace won't last."

"Won't last…"

"Soon… The chaos will come back."

"The chaos will come back."

"The chaos…"

Crushing pressure and unbearable pain were spread heavy across every part of him. He was all at once bitterly cold and burning up, could feel the sting of feverish sweat on his skin. His senses were addled and screaming, as if each of his savaged nerves were being forced against flame.

The events of his journey into the beam rushed over him in dizzying, staccato bursts, no matter how tightly he shut his eyes, the memories rushed over him as if he were living them anew.

His trigger finger is stubborn and painful as he empties clip after clip until the gun clicks impotently in his hands.

His eyes are stinging, and thoughts of EDI and of Legion and the geth are burning him up with guilt and with sorrow.

Mingled sweat and blood, debris and bitter tears sting his eyes.

His breath is ragged and loud in his own ears.

Briefly, Shepard was stirred by the dull realization that his hand was yet wrapped around the grip of his gun, but when he tried to let go, tried to lift his arm, he could not. Each subsequent attempt to do so sent tremors of pain, mingled with the crackling electricity of failing synthetics burning their way up his arm and splintering across his chest.

Fire and light are swirling around him as he sinks to his knees, his damaged legs giving out at last.

Blood is pouring from his nose, from his ears and his mouth.

His throat is stripped raw, burning, scraping, burning with each toxic breath.

The air around him is rushing violently, pricking his skin, and the distant sound of explosions throb in his skull.

His vision is shrinking to a nauseating pinhole, he closes his eyes.

Is it finally over?

Please, let it be over.

Though he could see nothing, Shepard could smell and taste blood. After a long while, he blinked, and his raw nerves blazed their protest, his face twisted in agony behind the screen of his helmet. Each hard-won breath, every miniscule movement, was a colossal and brutalizing effort against the splintering defiance of shattered bone and ruined tissue.

Each sense, as it was freed from insentience, was a new eruption of white-hot torture. His pulse was painful beneath his skin, quickening as he panted shallowly. He was panicking - unable to fill his lungs, so heavy was the weight across his body, so painful was the very inkling of drawing breath.

Wreckage and noise are wrapped tight around him and he is aware he is falling, hurtling toward the earth.

An unnatural light surrounds him, seems at times to buoy him up and cradle him even as it blinds him and burns him, and he shuts his eyes more tightly.

Bracing.

His thoughts batter him as he plunges downward - did he make the right choice?

If he had not… would he ever be forgiven?

Would the upshot be worth it? Worthy of all that had been lost?

Was Kaidan safe? Alive even?

Dying again… would it hurt?

Shock by moments pierced the thick veil of agony that covered him. Shepard was alive. It seemed impossible. Yet he knew he was alive, at least for the moment - the excruciating pain was an unbearable testament to the improbable fact.

He was alive.

The Commander wanted urgently to move, to twitch even a single finger. He was desperate to shout, if only because he was frightened by the certainty that he would not be able to do so even if he tried.

Finally, against the strangling terror, he managed a deep, shuddering breath and untold pounds of wreckage crackled atop him.

"You have hope, more than you think."

The singular inhale was torment and gratefully, the painful and claustrophobic world in which Shepard had woken faded suddenly into blessed darkness.

Chapter Text

III.

You Make Me Forget I Am Here

[KAIDAN]

Mere days after the halt of the Reaper invasion, Earth and its peoples were busily asserting their enduring resilience. The Alliance had knit its chain of command back together with surprising efficiency and Admiral Hackett and Colonel Anderson, though convalescing from his ordeal in the beam, were together coordinating a vast recovery effort in London, abroad and throughout the galaxy, with the help of the scattered Council.

Much of the city's remaining infrastructure was now focused on housing doctors, soldier and civilians who were central to the post-Reaper war effort, and in assuring that every resource was being put to its most efficient use.

As with all Alliance soldiers remaining in London, Major Kaidan Alenko had been crowded into temporary apartment and row housing. The transitional barracks were battered and sparse, but Kaidan hardly cared or noticed.

Against all well-intentioned advice from his superiors, his doctors, and even his friends, he had thrown himself immediately back into active duty and was overseeing a reconstruction task force near the inner edge of battered Westminster.

The Major cut an unsettling figure in the Reaper war's wake: healing and jagged swaths of stitches across his forehead and cheeks, his amber eyes cold, bloodshot and red-rimmed, jaw set in a near-constant grimace.

Kaidan was more than aware, indeed, perversely reveled in the fact, that this ill-advised exertion was destroying him. His moods were dour and unpredictable, His migraines were worse than they had ever been, little benefitting from a poorly nursed concussion and growing ever more frequent with regular weeping and lack of decent sleep.

When 0500 chimed on his OmniTool, he had already been awake for over an hour, staring fixedly at the ceiling as intermittent tears fell to his threadbare pillow. He sighed heavily and sat up, rubbing his temples, and bracing himself to face another day, willing himself to think of something - anything - other than the hulking emptiness in his life where John Shepard had fit.

He set about his morning routine listlessly and mechanically, failing to put the Commander from his mind, his eyes thoroughly reddened by the time a sharp rap on his door startled him, if only briefly, from his bleak thoughts.

"You up, Alenko?" Garrus' voice carried easily through the thin door.

Kaidan gripped the edges of the sink, white-knuckled, dizzy. Tasting bile, he bit down on his lip and tried to swallow. The heaviness, the sheer pain of his grief, were staggering, he wondered that he could stand.

After a minute or two, Garrus knocked and called for him again, concern evident in his voice.

"I'm coming, Garrus." The Major drew a deep breath, splashed cold water into his burning eyes and trudged into the hall.

Garrus was leaning patiently beside the door frame when Kaidan emerged, looking oddly cheerful, all things considered. He offered the Major a sharp smile, "Morning, Alenko."

"Good morning, Garrus," Kaidan huffed in reply, shutting the door behind himself and scrubbing discretely at his eyes as he pretended to yawn.

"Tali says the reverse-engineering effort is progressing well," the turian offered optimistically as they strolled in tandem down the drafty stairwell, "I suppose its good motivation for the universe's greatest minds that they're stuck in this galaxy until some relays are fixed."

"That's great," Kaidan replied absently, "Did she say when you might be able to go home?"

"A month or two? Maybe three." Garrus elbowed Kaidan playfully, "Why, getting tired of me already? Oh, I almost forgot. Here."

The Major quirked an eyebrow as Garrus pushed a warm thermos toward him, looking very proud.

"Its coffee!" The turian chirped, "I made it myself. Figured you needed a boost. You look like hell."

Kaidan tried to smile, genuinely touched. But the way his jaw ached, he was certain it looked more a sneer or grimace. He took a quick sip and nearly winced - the coffee was incredibly, bitterly strong. "Thanks, Garrus. That's great."

The pair strode in silence down the remaining stairs and out into the busy street. Alliance soldiers, earthbound C-SEC and civilians alike were hurrying back and forth, working and chatting boisterously with a sort of buoyant energy. There was a palpable air of gratitude and relief among them; Kaidan envied it deeply. He could not manage even a moment of relief, of thankfulness, no matter the effort. Not yet.

At the door to the Alliance's London field office, Garrus lay a sympathetic claw on Kaidan's shoulder, "Well, I'm off to join Tali and Liara in the labs. Calibrations to attend to. They're both asking about you, you know…" The turian shrugged uncomfortably, adding quietly, "Maybe you could see them soon?"

Kaidan stubbornly refused to acknowledge the comment, guilt churning uncomfortably amongst his other murky feelings.

Garrus sighed and let his hand fall from Kaidan's arm. "Take care today, Alenko."

The Major nodded and failed again to smile, "Sure, Garrus. And, uh… thanks again." He took another sip of the steaming coffee as Garrus departed, musing as his heart throbbed achily at the brew's familiar strength.

When and why had Shepard taught Garrus to make coffee?

---

By mid-morning, as Kaidan typed sluggishly at his display, the nauseating dizziness that had been a nagging but negligible irritant for most of the morning was growing in intensity. He blinked slowly, squeezed his eyes shut and tried to steady himself, pointedly determined not to vomit, hesitantly certain he had not eaten enough recently to be capable of it.

However, no matter his effort to draw deep breaths, to calm his pulse, the rubble continued to roil unsettlingly under his boots. Shaking his head, he tried to focus his failing attention on the soldier that had appeared before him, who was calling his name. He staggered forward a step and fell, unconscious almost instantly as he met with the uneven ground.

When the Major awoke it was with the sensation that he had merely blinked. However, he could make out the quiet hums and chirps of medical machinery and bitter irritation rose up within him. He had fainted.

"You're smarter than this, Major Alenko," Karin Chakwas said quietly, stern and maternal, not without a hint of concern.

Stubbornly, Kaidan twisted from the voice, shutting his eyes tightly. Blindly, he groped up his left arm and felt, much to his further annoyance an intravenous line tapped into the crook of his elbow.

"How long has it been since you've eaten?" The doctor paused, as if awaiting an answer, then pressed on, "Three days? Perhaps more? I know you're grieving, Major."

The Major huffed derisively, but the doctor continued.

"We all are. But you have responsibilities in the wake of all this loss."

Kaidan could feel unwelcome tears stinging at his eyes and he was forced to blink and then to scrub at his eyes with the back of his hand, swearing quietly to himself.

There was a slight scraping as Chakwas drew a chair close to the cot on which Kaidan lay, stroked his hair a gentle time or two, "Your friends… We're watching you. You must understand we all miss him terribly. But, you can't destroy yourself to spite death."

The tears were falling in earnest now, spurred on simultaneously by sorrow and misplaced anger and damaged pride. It was all he could do not to scream, so biting was the emotional whiplash: the vacillating feelings of deep sadness, of anger at Shepard, of betrayal, deep loneliness and - most upsetting of all - the brief periods of complete and uncaring numbness.

With sudden vigor Kaidan struggled upright, drawing his knees up to his chest and trying to hold himself together. Had he the strength, he would have run from the room; as it was, even sitting up had caused his breath to come shallow and his head to ache.

"You know he wouldn't want this for you," Chakwas said at length.

With a defiant-nearing-deranged laugh that broke the rhythm of his tears, the Major ripped the line of fluids from his arm and slid unsteadily to the edge of the bed, "Oh? And how do you know what he would want?" His hands were shaking and he clutched at the fabric of his fatigues to stop the quaking. "Besides, he's gone! He's dead," he half-shouted, "What the hell does it even matter?"

Chakwas looked wounded but weathered the tirade with poise, and Kaidan was forced to stare at his lap for fear of surging guilt swallowing him whole. "We've been through so much together, Major Alenko. But, don't think I'll let you imply that my continuing to live, to make the most of John's sacrifice, means I loved that boy any less than you did."

"I… I'm sorry."

The doctor sighed softly and stood, "Think of your friends, Kaidan. All you still have to live for, because of him. Eat, sleep, grieve, but..." With a precise flick of a few skilled fingers, Chakwas banished several tears from her cheek, "Live, Major. For Shepard."

As Chakwas busied herself gathering up her equipment and when he had sufficiently recovered his strength, Kaidan beat a hasty retreat from the room, down several flights of stairs and out into the streets below.

The sun had recently set, bathing the streets in a cool, purple glow. However, there were no less people in the streets for the evening coming. And, as Kaidan hurried with his eyes toward the ground up the familiar route back to his apartment, he imagined he could feel their disdain, could hear them mocking his weakness, his ingratitude.

When at last Kaidan reached the safety of his flat, he hurried through the door and slammed it shut with all the cornered relief of a trapped animal. He staggered across the room to his mattress, sobs racking his shoulders, trembling through his entire body he collapsed. Even when the tears ran dry, when the streets outside had long since gone silent, he lay trembling for hours before he at last surrendered to a deep but desperately brief spate of sleep.

Chapter Text

IV.

You're Making Me Safe Now

[THE ALLIANCE]

"I still think this would work better with mechs," a sardonic Irish brogue called across a vast field of debris. Its owner, stepping carefully among twisted metal and crumbled brick was shouting in the direction of an Alliance doctor, who was busily working on his OmniTool.

"Your input is duly noted, Captain Connelly," the physician replied, brow furrowed in concentration, and added more quietly, "Woefully incorrect, but noted."

The Captain kicked at a nearby stone, muttering darkly under his breath, prodding at his own display, "I heard that, you Tan bastard."

"In any case," the doctor continued, apparently unaware of the jab, raising his voice once more and marking a final square on a projected grid. "It seems we've cleared this quadrant. No survivors, no more bodies. Let's report back for the night."

Connelly nodded, turning on his heel when a sudden crackle of rock on rock caught his keen hearing. He froze, listening carefully.

"Did you hear me, Reid? We can head back for the--"

"Shut it, Sewell! I heard something." Closing his eyes, the Captain shut out the din of nearby vehicles, of voices retreating for the evening. His focus was rewarded a moment later by what was unmistakably a shifting in the rubble not far behind him and he hurried quickly but carefully toward the sound, eyes carefully trained on the ground.

Stepping just outside the line of their assigned search grid, he spotted the glinting screen of a battered helmet. He waved an excited hand in the air, signaling to Sewell, "Hey, Doc, I've got something here. Better hurry over!"

Sewell sighed wearily, wondering if he could weather the discovery of another dead Alliance soldier. Or worse yet, some unfortunate civilian. Were he more hopeful, he might have cautioned the Captain as he watched Connelly digging hastily at the rubble that covered his find. But, there was little harm the Captain's haphazard methods could do to a corpse.

Abruptly, the Captain toppled backward, breathing hard, "Sewell! Sewell, get your arse over here, this one's alive!" He added with a harsh smattering of curses, "And… sparkling like some fae thing."

"Don't touch anything else," the doctor called sharply, doubling his pace to close the distance between their positions. He shoved the Captain aside and dropped to his knees. A helmet and shoulders were just visible where Connelly had dug away the rubble.

"A live one after almost a week," the Irishman murmured breathlessly.

The soldier's scanned life signs were faint, but detectable nonetheless. Sparks were leaping erratically from bloodied cracks in the soldier's armor and Sewell's breath caught in his throat. "Call an emergency transport for St. Thomas'," he ordered anxiously over his shoulder as he began hurriedly assessing the still half-buried man's condition.

With a sharp salute, the Captain did as he was bidden.

"N7," Sewell noted softly, and brushed aside pieces of stone and shrapnel, reaching carefully for the wounded man's dog tags. "And get me a line to Colonel Anderson. Now."

"And how the hell am I supposed to do that on a bloody whim?" Connelly called back, sounding puzzled and irritated.

"Tell them that Shepard's alive," the doctor replied simply, willing the Commander's weak pulse on as he began to administer MediGel.

There was a pregnant pause before understanding dawned on the Captain. When at last it did, however, he set about following the doctor's orders with frantic zeal.

"Yes, that Colonel Anderson… Yes, Commander Shepard… No, I'm not taking the piss, you right idiot. Just put me through! Yes, fuckin' now, I swear to Christ--"

Sewell turned the tags over between his fingers and blew an anxious sigh through his nose, "Hold on, Commander."

---

[SHEPARD]

When he woke again, Shepard's hands flew in a panic across his every limb as he rushed to sit up. The flurry of motion sent dry and dead leaves flying into the air around him, and the ground crackled beneath his boots as he scrambled to stand. Perplexed, he cautiously raised his arms to remove his helmet, conscious of the sudden and complete absence of pain. "What… the fuck?"

He pivoted in a slow circle, found himself entirely surrounded by shadowy woods, composed of narrow, striped trees. Tall and unmoving, they loomed all around him, dropping leaves at slow, regular intervals. A thick, white mist swirled upward from the black ground and wrapped hauntingly around the branches of the trees, yet when Shepard took a breath, the air was cool and dry.

Choosing a direction at random, Shepard began an uncertain trek forward. But, as he strolled hesitantly among the trees, he soon realized the familiarity of the forest, changed though it was - absent the looming shadows of the lost, of the frightened little boy and the licking, ravenous flames.

He wondered if he were dreaming. What the hell else could this be?

The unspoken question sent an unsettling shudder up his spine; the alternatives were too grim to consider for the moment. As he continued through the woods, which never seemed to thin or vary, he began to make out swaths of warm, golden light scattered ahead of him. He slowed his step as he approached a clearing that sheltered the closest stretch of light and was startled to behold a sort of hazy rippling window. Through it, or rather, within it, he could see a moment he had already lived playing right before him, a sort of ethereal video.

Stretched ahead of him, between the trunks of the unearthly trees and discernible even from far away, were snippets of memory, visions of his past - so vivid and real that he longed to touch them. He wondered if this was what remembering might have been like for Thane Krios' people and he smiled, both cheered and saddened at the thought of his lost friend.

As he walked still closer to the not-quite-window, the sight of himself, just beyond the shimmering pane of what might have been rippling, clear water became somewhat less surreal. The feeling of watching himself perform his own life grew by moments less strange, and he found himself drawn inexorably toward the moving image. He stepped forward, one hand outstretched, his eyes locked on the mirror double of himself, lingering in the doorway of Kaidan's old room in Huerta Memorial.

Slowly, he reached out to touch the undulating veil that housed the double Shepard and at the very second his fingers brushed the surface, it burst outward and swallowed him. No sooner had he gasped than he felt the firmness of a doorframe against his shoulder, solid and entirely real.

The vision of Kaidan's battered body, so exposed on the hospital bed stole Shepard's breath. He wanted to look away, to run from the lump of guilty responsibility that rose up in his throat. He could have stopped this. If only he had been faster, if only he had been more alert, more assured.

Drawing a shaky breath, he took a hesitant step into the room and the door closed automatically behind him. Another cautious step, two, and he was frozen. Even after a vehement tirade of curses against himself he managed only to come to the middle of the room, the still-raw wound of the stinging rejection on Horizon, of Kaidan's continued mistrust of him even now, fixing Shepard in place.

"Hey, Kaidan…" he said quietly, "I don't know if you can hear me, but, since you can't tell me to get the hell out, I guess I'll take my chances." What are you doing, John?

"Don't die, Kaidan. You've got to fight. I, uhm-- we. We need you in this." The Commander sighed bitterly, chewing his bottom lip. What could he possibly say that Kaidan would want to hear? You can't fix this. Things will never be the same. You need to get the fuck over this. He stared though the wide hospital window, watching ships dart back and forth through the bright sky outside, "You're a hell of a soldier. The Alliance could sure use you…"

Before Shepard could stop himself he added, "I could use you." Shepard's courage, or perhaps stupidity - he was not sure which - mounted with the floodgates of his own thoughts opened, and he took the remaining few steps to Kaidan's bedside, carefully covering the Major's hand with his own. "Kay, I… I think I'm in love with you. I need y--"

The door opened with a sudden hiss and it took the bulk of Shepard's nerve and discipline to turn calmly, tucking his hands swiftly into his pockets.

The doctor who had entered appeared not to have noticed the Commander's stiff reaction, only lingering politely in the doorway as he studied a chart.

Shepard cleared his throat and lowered his eyes, "If you need anything, Doc, let me know." He turned briefly back to Kaidan, "Fight, Major Alenko. That’s an order."

No sooner had he hurried past the physician and fled the hospital room, wild emotion stinging his eyes, then Shepard was taking a great gulp of air as he emerged back into the forest, his hands shaking. He spun to look back into the room but found it utterly gone, leaving only the quiet clearing, lit softly with the light of the next brilliant memory, glowing an indeterminable distance ahead of him.

Alright, then. If that's how this works…

Shepard took another deep breath and pursed his lips in bemused curiosity, and took off at a run, dry leaves crunching against his bootheels, toward the next shimmering vision.

Chapter Text

V.

You Make The Faces Disappear

[SHEPARD]

"This franchise is going places, Kaidan, I'm telling you" Shepard exclaimed suddenly, a little over-loud and extremely enthusiastic. "Blasto's gonna be a household name." The Commander's cheeks were ruddy with drinking, his smile mischievous as he draped an arm over Kaidan's shoulder. He was humming the Blasto theme with increasing conviction as they traipsed unsteadily through the docking bay, propping one another up against exhaustion and slight drunkenness.

The Lieutenant laughed and hummed along, taking a hearty swig from the Canadian ale he had smuggled from the bar.

"Wait!" Shepard straightened suddenly, causing the both of them to stumble, one eyebrow arced high in disbelief, "You're not gonna disagree?"

Kaidan chuckled but was otherwise silent, shaking his head good-naturedly as the Normandy came into view, taking a final gulp from the beer grasped loosely in his left hand.

The Commander clapped him heartily on the shoulder, sending the Lieutenant's now-empty beer bottle clattering across the docking bay floor, laughing raucously, "You're drunker than I thought, Kay."

"Or just not up for another impassioned Blasto speech," the Lieutenant offered in the alternative, narrowing his eyes in concentration as he keyed in the security code to the Normandy's mooring door.

Shepard could feel his cheeks growing warmer as he watched Kaidan, enjoying the struggle of the Lieutenant's sense of decorum against the buzz of the drinks and the rushing fun of the evening.

Losing Ashley and thwarting Saren had taken much out of the Normandy's crew - this shore leave was well earned, essential. It had been a raucous and cathartic evening, so wild that it had left only Shepard and Kaidan standing when the bar finally closed - a boon that Shepard had not expected, but was dizzied with happiness to have earned.

A conspiratorial look passed between the two men as the ship door rushed open and they made their way toward the elevator, their steps echoing metallically in the hallway as they walked. They chuckled and loudly hushed one another in turn until they had reached the access doors of the central elevator.

Shepard stretched languidly, wondering after the time as he reached out to call the elevator.

"Hell of a night," Kaidan mused, exhaling a slow whistle that, despite his best efforts to suppress it, transformed into a yawn.

The Commander almost did not look up, so innocuous was the comment, but was grateful he did as he beheld the Lieutenant looking him up and down; caught, it seemed, in some sort of extremely alluring internal struggle. Shepard was thoughtful for a moment, weighing options of his own. Hell, I'm buzzed enough. "Doesn't have to be over yet. I've got a bottle or two of--"

The elevator doors opened with a hydraulic hiss and two crewman passed between Kaidan and the Commander with dutiful salutes and brief smiles.

Each officer, as best as he was able, affected total seriousness and apart from the flush in both their cheeks were likely not to arouse even a brief curious thought. However, as soon as the ensigns were out of earshot, the somber façade collapsed and the two dissolved into a peel of wheezing laughter until they were nearly out of breath.

"As I was saying--" Shepard made to continue, but Kaidan steered him hastily into the elevator before he could finish speaking.

"Sure, fine," Kaidan was red-faced and chuckling, raking both hands through his hair as the elevator doors closed, "Just as long as we don't have to stand around embarrassing ourselves anymore."

The Commander nudged the Lieutenant, winking as he pressed the button for Deck 1, "Whatever you say, Kay. But, for the record, you're the only one who's embarrassed."

When they had reached his quarters, Shepard made a playful show of shielding his security code from Kaidan as he opened the door. His room was in a state of only minor disarray, a collection of unreviewed documents spread across his desk and tucked between the small collection of beloved photos on his desk. In the scattered frames were shots of Shepard and Garrus smiling broadly in the Normandy's engine room, of the Commander held in a headlock by a grinning Joker, of a smiling and waving crew standing in front of the Normandy.

"Make yourself at home," Shepard said, covering a yawn as he clicked on some gentle lighting and crossed the room, "Glasses are on the shelf above the desk." Crouching to retrieve a bottle of Collingwood 21-Year from a bedside cabinet, the Commander drew a deep breath, trying to steady himself. He knew better than to assume the flighty Lieutenant's intentions. Even having spent the better part of a year in alternating bewilderment and frustration, locked in a delicate dance of flirtation not only with Kaidan, but also the Lieutenant's obvious issues with trust, Shepard hardly considered himself an expert on reading him.

Shepard had taken to viewing Kaidan in a similar light to the stray cats he used to attempt to charm back home on Earth. Shepard had always been profoundly enchanted by the purring creatures, and often they by him, if slowly and hesitantly at first. Much like the strays, Kaidan might be lured, he might be stroked and, perhaps, eventually tamed, however it would be by his leading, not Shepard's.

The operative principle would be patience - a practice that Shepard might have a great deal of talent for, if only he remembered or remotely cared for it.

If indeed Kaidan were interested, Shepard would have to allow the Lieutenant to come to him, to attempt anything otherwise would only ruin an excellent evening and, so much like with the cats of his youth, likely result in a stinging scratch. Still, his heart beat faster as he looked at Kaidan.

The Lieutenant was leaning against Shepard's desk, bathed in the dim glow of the ship's soft evening lights. His posture was casual, but the Commander was shrewd enough to recognize affected insouciance when he saw it, and was pleased to note the nervous drumming of the Kaidan's fingers against the desk's edge.

Shepard rose, peering briefly at the label of the whiskey. Was it obvious that he was trying to impress Kaidan? Maybe. He shrugged, decided he did not really care. More importantly, would Kaidan finally acknowledge Shepard's feelings? Would he reciprocate? Maybe. Still buzzed enough to risk it.

With a deftness that surprised even him, Shepard kicked the desk chair out and sat down in a single fluid motion, uncorking the whiskey with a flourish.

The Lieutenant rolled his eyes, apparently unimpressed, but smiled as he proffered the glasses and Shepard poured. Settling once more against the desk Kaidan held the whiskey up to the light, looking thoughtful. After a beat, he gave a mournful half-smile, "To Ashley."

"To Ashley," the Commander agreed hoarsely, feeling rather suddenly more sober. They sipped in silence for several minutes, both staring fixedly at the floor.

"About Vermire, Kay," Shepard said, clearing his throat, and raising his eyes to watch the Lieutenant's face. "I'm glad you were there… that you're alright. I... I couldn't have done it without you."

The Lieutenant's expression darkened, as if in pain, but he chuckled wryly. "Garrus is right, Commander," he muttered, his voice a bitter whisper. Taking another slow sip of whiskey, he licked his lips, "Drinking does make you syrupy."

"Maybe so," Shepard acknowledged with a frown, pushing the chair closer to Kaidan and reaching out to touch the Lieutenant's knee. "But, it doesn't make me a liar. So, thank you. This past year, you…" The Commander cleared his throat again, his mouth suddenly dry. He sipped stiffly at his drink. Fuck patience, fuck subtlety. "You mean a lot to me, Kaidan."

"It's nothing, Commander, really," Kaidan demurred, visibly red and clearly flustered as he looked past Shepard. "A good soldier knows he owes his success to his commanding officer. Besides… it should have been Ash that made it. Not me."

Shepard shook his head, would have spoken up to deny the sentiment had emotion not choked him. No, if only I could have--

When Shepard remained silent, Kaidan straightened up and in a swift motion that startled the Commander from his contemplation of the lost, downed the rest of his whiskey in a single swallow.

Shepard had half risen himself, believing the Lieutenant to be going to bed. Disappointed but not entirely surprised that the late night was ending in this fashion, he offered a sleepy smile. Shouldn't have indulged the Vermire talk. Ah, well.

"John, I..."

Shepard straightened abruptly to his full height in utter surprise, unused to hearing his first name at all, much less so gently, so hesitantly spoken.

Kaidan had paled slightly and drawn a deep, shuddering breath. Shepard worried for a moment that the Lieutenant might be sick, though he was fairly sure they had not drunk enough for that. However, Kaidan dealt him a further shock and instead seized the Commander by the collar of his shirt, kissing him urgently.

Shepard's heart thudded disbelieving and rabbit-quick in his chest. Trying to catch his balance, he returned the kiss with shocked ardor. As he righted himself, his arms circled the lieutenant, fingers clutching fabric, tasting whiskey and trepidation. So, it wasn't just wishful thinking after all, the Commander mused with satisfaction, regaining his composure more quickly by the second. With an eager smirk against Kaidan's mouth he butted the Lieutenant somewhat roughly against the desk.

To his credit, Kaidan steadied himself with grace, even as a model Destiny Ascension tumbled noisily onto the desk from a shelf behind him.

The two men moved in a sort of chaotic waltz in the space against the desk's edge, a flurry of greedy, charged touch, of scraping, clutching hands. Whether it was the clumsiness of the drinking or the frenzied zeal of the pent-up lust moving them both, Shepard was unsure. Regardless, he was powerless to resist Kaidan's suddenly eager attention. Scarcely had he time to react in any manner other than primal reciprocity before his shirt had been tossed carelessly over a pile of schematics, followed only moments later by Kaidan's.

Shepard had been nursing his increasingly ill-concealed attraction to Kaidan since they had met, had grown only fonder of the quick-witted Lieutenant as they worked together. The subtext of their banter, the traded praise and charged jokes were rushing over Shepard like a film in fast forward. A myriad of small moments was surging and turning over in his mind, interspersed between thoughts of reverent disbelief - all halted only once Kaidan had pinned him breathlessly against the wall beside his desk and the kiss had broken at last.

They were both breathing shallowly, Kaidan bracing one arm against the wall beside Shepard's head. The Lieutenant's gaze was wandering meaningfully southward, his free hand resting tremulously over the Commander's pounding heart.

Shepard had been about to speak when Kaidan kissed him again, free arm dropping to Shepard's waist and drawing him close. Shepard's hands wandered meanwhile up Kaidan's back as the Leiutenant's tongue curled against the back of Shepard's teeth, their bodies perfectly aligned, pressed tightly against one another. As the minutes passed, Kaidan's attention fell to nipping at Shepard's neck and shoulders as the Commander sighed in heady, incredulous bliss.

Kaidan managed, almost without the Commander's noticing, to make quick work of Shepard's belt and zipper and the Lieutenant was rather swiftly on his knees, hand dragging slowly, salaciously down Shepard's chest and stomach as he dropped to the floor.

Shepard had only just managed to ply his fingers in Kaidan's dark hair, earning a shock of static electricity for the gesture, before the Lieutenant had taken Shepard's cock in his mouth. The Commander drew a quaking breath through his set teeth, eyes rolling back at the sudden rush of warm sensation.

Shepard could feel the muscles of Kaidan's shoulders twitching, and was further aroused to realize that the Lieutenant was working himself off even as his lips and tongue moved expertly up and down Shepard's shaft, teasing and enthusiastic by turns. The Commander's heavy-lidded gaze lifted toward the ceiling, murmuring Kaidan's name with breathy adoration.

When after an unknown while the Commander felt a tremor ripple through Kaidan as the Lieutenant climaxed, he had little time to devote to the observation as Kaidan's attention was once more fully focused on him. Breathing heavily, Shepard's bit roughly at his bottom lip, swearing hoarsely as he came, trembling as Kaidan swallowed with relish.

A hazy silence possessed the Commander for a short time before he managed to speak. "Kaidan, that was…" He took a breath, blinking stupidly, "You're-- Goddamn..."

Kaidan smirked, and stood to fasten his pants, avoiding the Commander's eyes.

Shepard collected himself somewhat slowly at first, struggling with his belt, but was quick to deal the Lieutenant a gentle kiss as his sense returned.

Kaidan cleared his throat, cheeks rosy with afterglow and what seemed to be nerves, combing one hand anxiously back through his dark hair, chuckling in apparent suprise. "Shepard, I…" He paused, closed his eyes with a bitter-sounding sigh, "I'd better go."

Shepard's tilted his head slightly to one side, mouth slightly open, "Go? Why?"

The Lieutenant blinked, appeared to be sizing the Commander up as one might an opponent in a fighting ring.

Shepard reached for Kaidan's hand and drew the other man into his arms, relieved as Kaidan relaxed almost instantly in the embrace, pressing his forehead against Shepard's cheek. The Commander could feel the Lieutenant's anxious heart beating against his own chest and held him all the more tightly, planting a series of soft kisses across Kaidan's jawline.

When Kaidan seemed to have calmed, and hopefully to have abandoned the idea of running away, Shepard allowed his arms to fall, taking the Lieutenant by the hand and flashing him a small, crooked smile. "C'mere," he led Kaidan across the room toward the bed.

He sat on the bed's edge and gestured to the ample space on its other side, "Why don't you stay with me tonight?"

Kaidan seemed still to be evaluating him, staring fiercely into Shepard's eyes, arms crossed over his chest.

The Commander sighed, patted the mattress meaningfully and bent to untie his boots. He did not intend to pressure the Lieutenant, certainly he had been more than clear that the request was sincere. Finally, as he wriggled free from his pants and tossed them toward the couch, he felt the pressure of Kaidan settling into the space beside him.

When Kaidan had undressed and laid down, Shepard drew the blankets over them both and dimmed the cabin lights with a word. Turning toward the center of the mattress he found himself nose to nose with the Lieutenant.

In the darkness, Kaidan seemed to forget his earlier concerns and their lips met again and again, more gently now and, yet, with more certainty. How long they spent that way Shepard was unsure, but when they broke apart, he found he could hardly keep his eyes open.

"I can’t believe I'm-- That we… this is…" Kaidan muttered and rolled to his back, sighing heavily toward the ceiling, sounding troubled even as he searched for Shepard's hand beneath the sheets.

The Commander stifled a yawn with his free hand, smiling to himself in the dark, "Relax, Kay… You've got to know I'd been hoping--" He paused to yawn once more, "But, let's talk tomorrow. We've got a solid day of leave left. We'll get breakfast or something."

Kaidan grunted softly in acknowledgement, turning to curl himself against Shepard, murmuring something sleepy and unintelligible.

"I'm fucking crazy about you, Kay. You know that?" Shepard blinked sleepily in the ensuing quiet. "Kaidan?"

The Lieutenant's breathing was slow and peaceful, but even as Shepard closed his eyes, resigned that Kaidan had preceded him in sleep, the Lieutenant squeezed his hand as if to answer.

Upon waking with a slight headache the following morning, Shepard was wounded but not at all surprised to find Kaidan gone. The Commander had overslept and hurried to shower, was very nearly finished dressing when he noticed his personal terminal flashing a message alert. He smiled, tugging a shirt over his head as he groped with one hand to open it. The initial thrill of seeing that the memo was from Kaidan was short lived, plummeting sharply as Shepard read.

Last Night
_________________________________________________________________________________

From: Kaidan Alenko

Commander Shepard,

I wanted to offer my apologies for last night. Shore leave gets the best of all of us, you and I especially, it seems. I hope we can keep this breach of protocol discreet. It will not happen again.

Kaidan Alenko
Staff Lieutenant, Systems Alliance Marines
SSV Normandy



John I can't do this. WE can't do this.
Shit what a mess. I haveto consider my duty to the Alliance and so should you i'm so sorry.
I know better than to mix feelings with booze, than to confuse booze with feelings. Its not you.
im sorry
I'm sorry.
_________________________________________________________________________________

Shepard gripped the edge of the desk, sucking a pained breath through his teeth. What is it going to take for you to trust me, Kay? To fucking believe me? It had been far too optimistic to hope that the wary Lieutenant would put even a little stock in the events of the previous night - to believe that Kaidan would not dismiss Shepard's feelings as drunken chatter.Fuck.

With an angry thud of his hand on the keyboard, the Commander deleted the message and sighed. If the Lieutenant required more patience from him, fine - more assurance, just as well. This is real, Kay. I can wait.

---

His fists still clenched resolutely at his sides, Shepard looked up to find himself returned to the murky forest clearing, the cruel ache of Kaidan's former rejection cold like a ghost in his chest. He shook his head and looked toward the next memory, his boots crunching more loudly against the ever-thickening carpet of fallen leaves.

Chapter Text

VI.

I'm Alright, By The Way

[KAIDAN]

As he stared resentfully at the ration bar in his hand, Kaidan considered flouting Chakwas' well-meaning advice and throwing the damned thing into one of the many piles of rubble around him. However, deciding that the guilt he would suffer over such a petty gesture would be an unwelcome accompaniment to his foul mood, he took a small, reluctant bite.

He could feel the prying eyes of his team trained on him, a mixture of relieved and surprised expressions as they watched him chew. Blowing an irritated sigh through his nose, Kaidan dodged carefully across the floor of the gutted building his men had been assigned that morning, to step out into the street for a moment's privacy.

Despite the nausea that had surged in protest to his eating, he screwed his eyes shut and made quick work of the food in the warm sunlight. He had been wondering if the lack of taste was a result of the quality of the rations or his emotional state when a rumbling duo of Alliance transport trucks came speeding noisily up the battered street. Kaidan turned his head slightly, watching the approach with little more than mild interest until, to his surprise, the first vehicle drew to a stop directly in front of him.

An Alliance infantryman leaned from the driver's window and looked him up and down. "Major Alenko?"

"Yes."

The soldier saluted unsteadily and spluttered, "Sir, we've been instructed to take you to St. Thomas'--"

Kaidan rolled his eyes and pointed a menacing finger at the soldier, holding the ration wrapper high in exasperation, "Look, you can tell Chakwas and Anderson I don't need to be monitored. I'm eating. I'm fine."

"No, sir. You don't understand," the man replied, looking harried and excited. "Commander Shepard has been found. He's alive. We've been instructed to take you there immediately."

Even before the private had finished his sentence, Kaidan had skidded to the passenger's side door and was poised to clamber into the truck. "Double time. That's an order."

---

It was evident that news of Shepard's shocking survival had reached the press as the trucks approached St. Thomas'. A formidable crowd had gathered outside the hospital's trauma wing and was being controlled as best as possible by a few local police and Alliance security alike.

Kaidan could see that though the massive facility's East Wing had avoided any crippling damage, the hospital had not escaped the Reaper invasion unscathed. Massive rows of shattered windows grinned jaggedly from adjoining wings and scorch marks and traumatized walls glared a reminder of the war from high above the ground.

As they came to a stop, the soldier who had driven the convoy turned to address Kaidan, "Sir, we have an escort prepared to take--"

But Kaidan had already bounded from the vehicle, unaware of the end of the recruit's sentence, completely uncaring of it. He elbowed roughly into the throng of reporters and onlookers toward the security that could not reach him, pushing forward as best he could through the alternating dissonance of protest and curiosity that surrounded him.

"Spectre Alenko, what is your understanding of the Commander's condition?"

"Major Alenko!"

"Is it true that you and Commander Shepard were romantically involved during the Reaper invasion?"

"Spectre Alenko!"

With his head down and his progress hobbled by the pressing crowds, Kaidan would surely have been swallowed up by the eager press had not a massive krogan shape rushed from the East Wing doors to cut a path through the throng, blocking any followers as the Major stumbled into the entryway. Even the most eager reporter was beaten back as Grunt snarled viciously in the doorway, shoulders heaving, a hulking mass of adrenaline and protective ire.

The Major paused only briefly to pat the krogan's mighty arm in greeting, his gaze still focused stubbornly downward as he hurried into the lobby.

"Alenko! Glad they found you."

Kaidan's gaze flicked upward to search out Garrus' voice. The turian was leaning against an empty triage desk, one arm draped around Tali's shoulders.

Upon spotting Kaidan, Tali rushed forward to hug him tightly, exclaiming with mingled irritation and affection, "I've been so worried about you, bosh'tet!"

Stunned at first, but relieved, Kaidan returned the embrace, whispered contritely, "I know."

Tali released him slowly and stepping back, took Kaidan's hands in hers, " You've been avoiding us. Why?"

Kaidan shrugged lamely, could not bring himself to answer, instead looking past Tali to survey the small crowd scattered through the waiting area. Much of the familiar and ragtag Normandy crew, gathered together for the first time since the war had ended, had assembled at the news of the Commander's discovery.

Joker sat huddled in an uncomfortable lobby chair, quietly watching as Jack paced agitatedly back and forth in front of him. Kaidan recognized the familiar, fragile redness in the pilot's eyes and EDI's absence was more conspicuous for his knowing.

Liara was conversing in hushed tones with a stone-faced James Vega, but looked up as Kaidan's gaze fell to her. Kaidan met her eyes guiltily, felt his cheeks burn when, rather than looking away in hurt or anger, she merely offered him a knowing, sympathetic smile. As pragmatic and kind as ever.

"Where is he?" Kaidan inquired breathlessly of no one in particular.

"Chakwas says he'll be coming out of surgery soon," Garrus had placed himself in front of Kaidan, arms spread warily, "Slow down, Alenko. We can't go back yet."

"Out of my way, Garrus," Kaidan said sharply, dodging past the fretting turian and toward the elevator. He could hear Tali say something low and urgent followed shortly by Garrus' quick footsteps chasing him.

"Alenko, wait! Its only been a few hours, there's no point in trying to--"

As Garrus caught up with the Major, Chakwas emerged from the elevator looking tired and distracted, labcoat showing a few conspicuous spots of blood. Kaidan bore down on her with a single-minded intensity. "Where is John?"

Chakwas held up a hand, her voice soft and slow, "He's in a room, but listen to me, Major, he's is in no--"

Kaidan resumed his heedless advance on the elevator, trailed closely by Garrus and Chakwas, and before either could stop him, much less protest, the Major had sealed all three of them in the elevator cab, pressing the floor button and blocking the panel with his own body. "I need to see him. You won't stop me." His eyes were wild and wide, his voice shaking and desperate.

"Alenko. Kaidan, please listen," Garrus was fidgeting uncomfortably, raised a hand as if to touch Kaidan's arm.

But, as the elevator dinged and the doors opened, Kaidan was gone, flying up the hallway, head twisting rapidly to peer through each doorway until a crowd of hospital personnel caught his eye. Room 8. He stumbled to a halt just outside the door, chewing his lip as he listened.

"He's stable for now. But, without Miranda Lawson…"

"You said it, I'm a doctor, not a goddamn Cerberus witch."

"Or a miracle worker."

"Just keep those meds up - the least we can do. Poor bastard won't cheat death twice."

Kaidan felt Chakwas' hand squeezing his arm fiercely as she spoke up, her voice sharp with vitriol, "Really, Phillips. I wasn't sure my opinion of you could dip any lower after your piss-poor assistance in the operating room. Your pessimism is best kept to yourself from now on. Understood?"

A male doctor turned swiftly on his heel, a slight flush of embarrassment rising under his collar as he took note of his sudden audience, "Ah, Karin, and... Major Alenko, I presume. I'm sorry you had to hear that…"

Kaidan's brow darkened in silent fury and he flashed a burning look of disapproval at the irreverent surgeon, threatening tears burning his eyes as he stepped cautiously into the room. As he moved forward, the crowd of doctors and nurses parted with a smattering of soft, uncomfortable words, revealing a staggering variety of machines dwarfing a single gurney. A strangled sound escaped him as the Major's hand flew to his mouth.

The Commander was a horrifying sight to take in. Between the wires and leads and sullied dressings were endless bloodied, singed and swollen stretches of battered skin. Shepard was utterly beaten; bruised and broken beyond recognition and Kaidan felt his blood run cold at the sight of the shattered, fragile body of the man he loved.

Chakwas stepped in front of Kaidan, seizing him by the shoulders, trying to obscure his view, if only momentarily, of the pathetic sight of the motionless Shepard, "Kaidan. Look at me."

The Major's head was shaking slowly back and forth as he tried and failed to swallow, he could feel his legs quaking, readying to give out beneath him. His heart leapt painfully as an alarm began to blare, followed closely by more clipped and piercing sounds as one machine after another shrilled warning. The siren alerts filled the room so that Shepard seemed even smaller, shrunken and swallowed up by the precariousness of his own condition. Kaidan could hardly breathe, could not think.

Chakwas turned away and Kaidan failed to grasp her hand, half-shouting, "Wait! What's going to happen to him? What are you doing?"

A firm but friendly talon gripped his shoulder, guiding him away from the bed and toward the door. "C'mon, Alenko," Garrus coaxed gently, "Let's get out of here. Let them work."

The Major tried to protest, could not stop himself looking back, Shepard's swollen, bloody face spurring on a fresh rush of tears. His chest was tight, blood pounding in his ears as he allowed the turian to lead him from the room.

Scarcely had the two made it out into the hallway when Kaidan felt his legs preparing to fail him again. He shrugged free of Garrus' grip and leaned against a nearby wall, sliding unsteadily into a sitting position on the floor, head clutched in his hands.

The turian crouched in front of him, looking distracted but concerned, "You, uh… Well. You look like shit, Alenko. They say you’re not eating much. I know you're not sleeping"

They? The Major thought bitterly, but did not bother to deny it.

A few minutes of heavy silence fell between them, punctuated by the occasional burst of panicked sound from behind the door to room 8, until Garrus drew a deep breath, shrugging as he spoke, "Look, I know a place not far from here with passable human and turian food. My treat."

Kaidan shook his head, rising slowly, "I'm fine, Garrus. I don't need the pity."

The turian huffed and reached out to help haul the Major to his feet, "Who said anything about pity, Alenko? You're my friend. Besides, I wasn't asking."

Chapter Text

VII.

I Feel So Close Now

[KAIDAN]


"Go home, Kaidan."

After two weeks, Chakwas had all but forbidden him to sleep at St. Thomas' again, had sternly threatened to call Anderson when he argued. Kaidan had begged, pleaded, but had at last been determinedly guided home by Garrus. He knew the gesture had been kind, but as he sat alone on his sparse mattress, he could not help but resent it.

On a worn table beside the low bed Shepard's battered helmet could have been mocking him, brazenly intact despite Shepard's ordeal. The screen cracked, bloody and dirtied, but the shape completely unbroken. He took up the helmet, testing its heft in his hands as he turned it over and over, the thought of Shepard lying still and silent in St. Thomas' festering in his mind.

Kaidan blinked, grasping at tendrils of memory to replace the wounded images that poisoned his thoughts. Panic gripped him when he could conjure not a single image, could not picture Shepard's unmarred face, could not hear his voice. Clutching the helmet to his chest he swallowed thickly, his head suddenly painful and throbbing.

Nothing. The more he floundered for it, the more desperately his mind raced, the more hollow the emptiness in his own memory became.

But, as he was about to lose hope it came, a brief flash - devil-may-care smirk, dark hair, brilliant blue eyes. He clutched at the spark of memory, desperate for more - the door to Shepard's quarters, the security code that was just a reflex to him near the war's final battle. Finally, finally, it came, reminiscence rushing over him.

Shepard had been sitting hunched on the sofa, surrounded by PDAs and muttering darkly to himself. He was so absorbed in his work that he seemed not to notice Kaidan had entered the room until he was standing just in front of the Commander.

"Big evening planned?" Kaidan quipped, crossing his arms.

The Commander had smiled wryly, "Something like that. Thinking about this Cerberus mess."

"I figured. Anyway, I brought you the report on the 1st SOBC," he remembered feeling flustered and silly, though he was certain Shepard had not noticed. "I know I could have sent it to your terminal, but to be honest, I just wanted to see you for a bit."

Shepard straightened up, grinning, "That so?"

He shrugged, "Well, you know, it's hard to get a moment lately. I miss you… Does that sound ridiculous?"

Hooking a finger through Kaidan's belt loop, Shepard had laughed softly, "'Course not, Kay. You know I feel the same way."

Kaidan smirked, allowing himself to be pulled downward toward the couch until he was straddling Shepard's lap. The Major bent to kiss him, musing in a whisper, "Well, I'm glad I'm not the only one."

The Commander's expression had softened so alluringly, and Kaidan had reveled in the sweetness of it - a side of Shepard most were not lucky enough to know.

"I'm sorry, Kay. You know I don't mean to neglect you. It's just--" Shepard waved a hand, gesturing at the several PDAs on the cushions beside them.

"I know, John. You don't have to apologize," Kaidan planted a kiss on the half-moon scar at the Commander's hairline, and smiled reassuringly. "It's enough just to see you. Really."

The Commander had seemed pleased at the sentiment for a moment, but suddenly quirked a brow. "Are you sure? I could try to make it up to you," Shepard offered huskily, deftly undoing the buttons of Kaidan's pants and sliding his hand into the underwear beneath, cupping Kaidan eagerly. "It's not like I haven't been thinking of you constantly. But, I should really finish this work."

The Major moaned softly, pressing himself against Shepard's hand. He sighed, closing his eyes, "Well… That's-- That seems--?" He shuddered, fully erect and unable to finish the thought, his hands clutching at the back of the sofa as he pressed his lips to Shepard's.

Kaidan could remember vividly, could almost feel, the Commander smiling wickedly against his mouth when they kissed, clearly frustrated in his own right. Shepard's voice had been low and longing, "How am I supposed to shore up these reports when you breeze in here practically begging me to fuck you?"

There had been a brief struggle of mind versus body, Kaidan weighing his own desire for Shepard against the more practical need to prepare for the Cerberus assignment. He protested weakly, "You're right… We should--"

"Fuck it," Shepard had snarled, nipping at Kaidan's lip, his own erection pressed tight against his pants. He pushed a thumb against the tip of Kaidan's cock, "I want you."

With some effort of will, Kaidan retreated from the couch, crossing to the bed and leaving Shepard to wonder for a moment if he had pressed his luck with the teasing. But, Kaidan had returned with a familiar bottle, smiled down at him as he removed his shirt and stepped from his pants.

Kaidan had been delighted that Shepard's jaw still went slack when he undressed.

The Major was identically bewitched as he relieved Shepard of his clothes, undid the fastenings of Shepard's pants, the Commander's erection bobbing enthusiastically against his stomach. Kaidan returned to his place astride Shepard's lap, placing both his hands on the Commander's muscular chest as he hovered over him, pushing him back against the sofa.

Flushed and exhilarated he spoke in a low half-whisper, "Alright, then. You can have me." He backed against Shepard's cock, teasing him in return, "But you have to be still."

Shepard quirked an eyebrow, had looked perplexed even as Kaidan uncapped the small bottle, "Be still? But why-- Fuck!"

Kaidan had lowered himself meaningfully onto Shepard's slick tip, sending the Commander's eyes rolling back in ecstasy. When he raised himself up again, he bent to kiss Shepard's neck, murmuring into his ear, "Just this once, John. Let someone else handle the leading." Taking Shepard's hands in his, he pinned the Commander's arms above him and rode him, slowly at first, refusing him full entrance.

If Shepard's hips arched upward in longing, the Commander had been met with aching stillness and playful, whispered scolding. Only when he was still once more would Kaidan resume, tantalizingly increasing and varying his speed with each minute that passed. When finally Kaidan took Shepard's full shaft an explosion of pleasure caught him breathless.

Shepard had been either unable or unwilling to bite back a series of creative profanities as the Major rode him expertly. He struggled against the grip on his wrists despite Kaidan's admonishment against moving, tense and hungry, his lips and teeth moving over every glistening inch of Kaidan's they could reach. "Fuck, fuck," he had murmured breathlessly and then: "Kay, slow down."

Kaidan let loose of Shepard's hands instantly, concerned he had worried an old wound. So great was his concern back then that he nearly dismounted, peering down at Shepard with obvious worry, "Are you alright?"

Shepard shook his head and had placed his hands on the Major's waist, guided Kaidan down onto him once more. "Better than alright. I just don't want to cum right this minute. You're too fucking gorgeous and I'm weak. Take it easy on me."

Kaidan smiled, relieved, taking Shepard's face in both his hands and kissing him gently by way of reply, "Yes, sir."

With Shepard's hands on his hips, he had obliged the Commander in a half hour's slow and gentle love-making. He was thoroughly aroused himself, not only by the feeling of Shepard inside him but by the ever-growing sense of safety, of complete belonging he felt in the Commander's arms.

Despite the leisurely pace, Kaidan soon found himself unable to meter his rhythm, desperate to feel Shepard within him - deeper and faster, over and over. He urged them both on toward the end crying out Shepard's name with breathy zeal, his questing fingers clutching at the couch cushion and Shepard's shoulder.

Shepard had quieted Kaidan with a kiss as he too crested the point of no return, his entire body quivering as he ejaculated with the force of many days' pent up desire. He had held Kaidan close for a long while even once they had both gone limp, kissing his damp neck and whispering again and again, "Damn, you're perfect."

Kaidan recalled with a pang of grief, the Commander's familiar refrain and wondered if John had understood how deeply he treasured it that night. He remembered that when he had extricated himself slowly from Shepard's arms and stepped gingerly onto the floor, it was bitingly cold as usual.

When they returned to rest on the couch, any remaining work long forgotten, they sat together in silence, Shepard's head resting on Kaidan's shoulder.

The Major sighed softly, utterly content and suddenly deeply exhausted, closing his eyes, almost drifting to sleep.

"I love you, you know," Shepard had said suddenly after several minutes, quietly and without raising his head.

"I love you too, John." And though he knew he meant it, the ease of the admission had surprised Kaidan, had set his heart beating faster.

In the present, a tear fell to the cracked screen of Shepard's helmet, carving a moist channel through the dust and ash that still remained. "And I still do," Kaidan said softly, insistently, a hoarse sob echoing in the barren apartment.