scene: The inside of the Normandy's Kodiak shuttle. Half-dressed and panting, Steve Cortez watches Shepard come as they cling together and reaches a conclusion about things.
Stage 1: Denial
Over the years, Steve Cortez has had lovers before that were far more skilled than Shepard. But he can safely say (grateful he remembered to lock the shuttle's control panel down this time) that he's never had anyone more... athletic. Or enjoyable.
In fact, Shepard has sex like he dances: inexpertly but VERY enthusiastically. And the man has the kind of stamina you didn't normally see outside of the fornax letter columns (*And* the actual mechanics of sex aside, the commander is one hell of a kisser).
And it would be easy to let his hands slide down Shepard's belly and touch him as they share a last few kisses, and get the motor running all over again. It would be incredibly easy and he wants to and ....and so he fists his hands in Shepard's sweaty shirt instead.
"Shep. I'm breaking up with you." He says, and the look of utter incomprehension that settles on Shepard's face would be hysterical in any other circumstance.
"Wait. What?" Shepard finally gets out after several moments of blinking. "No. Steve.."
Stage 2: Anger
Shepard's hands on his arms are still gentle as he pushes them aside but he looks mad.
Mostly at himself, Steve guesses, since Shepard rarely misses a chance to beat himself up about something. "So.. wait. This was our breakup sex? What did I do?"
"Nothing." Steve runs the back of his hand over the commander's seemingly permanent stubble. "But I'm not going to say 'it's not you, it's me'. Because it is. You, that is." And those words come out surprisingly harsh.
And he realises he's a little mad, too. At himself. At Shepard. At Kaidan Alenko, to be honest.
He can almost hear Shepard's blink. "What."
"You are incredibly good looking and ... a lot of fun. And that's beyond the fact that you're the Goddamn John Shepard." He adds with a weak smile. "And I know you care about me, and I know you will always do your best to be there for me. But your heart's not fully here and I don't want to be the guy you settled for."
Stage 3: Bargaining
"Steve, I really do.. If I could.." Shepard starts and Cortez shakes his head, pressing his hand over the commander's mouth.
"Let me finish, ok? then you can get all speechifying on me." He says with a little smile. "I love you, Shep. I love you more than I could imagine. But.. I'm not *in love* with you. You gave me back a chance to believe in the future, when all I could see was Robert's death. I will fly you to hell and back, and I will protect you with my last breath. But... I don't think *we* have a future. I've seen how you look at Major Alenko. I know you two have so much baggage together it would squash an elcor."
Shepard laughs a little and Steve takes it as encouragement to go on. "But I'm not blind. - and my instincts are pretty good, Shep. Frankly, I think what you feel towards him? It's mutual. And if the two of you can get out of your own stupid ways long enough, I think you're meant for each other. I love you shep, but I love you like a friend.. and a brother. And I want you to be really happy."
"A brother you've just had shuttle-defiling sex with" Shepard adds, ruefully.
"Well, yes. There is that." Steve looks around the cabin. "yeah."
Stage 4: Depression
They stare at each other for several moments then Steve finally coughs. "That sounded a lot cooler in my head."
"It... did. It sounded cool." Shepard lets out a long sigh, and his shoulders slump. "I'm sorry, Steve. I never meant to hurt you." He says, defeated.
"I know, and you didn't, really." Cortez finally pushes away from him, in search of something for them to clean up with. "You're an amazing man, Shepard. But considering we could all die tomorrow, I'm not going to pine away for you. You gave me a future back, I'm gonna go out and find one."
Behind him, Shepard makes a sad little laugh, and it takes every bit of willpower Steve has to not turn around. If the commander is making some sort of kicked puppy face, it'll be game over and Steve might actually start sniffling.
"So. Are we.. still friends?" Shepard asks, and Steve forces himself to look in the cockpit storage cabinet with renewed intensity.
Thankfully, Shepard isn't making the kicked puppy face by the time Steve turns back around, and offers him a handful of cleaning wipes (Not exactly recommended for long-term skin contact, but they did leave a pleasant lemony scent in their wake). "Of course we are, you big dope." Steve says with conviction, shoving the wipes at him. "I will *always* be your friend."
"Thank you." Shepard whispers, trying to make some sort of big gesture, and realising midway through that he's half naked and waving around a handful of citrus-scented rags.
And they both laugh.
Stage 5: Acceptance
Normally, Steve enjoys the sight of Shepard walking away, from a simply aesthetic point of view. But right now, it just hurts.
"So. You broke up with Loco, eh?" James' voice nearly plasters Steve to the bay's ceiling. "Ceding the Republic of Shepard to Alenko?"
"Mister. Vega." He replies through clenched teeth. "How long have you been there?"
"Oh, I got back early after losing my shirt to a cheating batarian." James says pleasantly. "So, about long enough to hear most of your 'docking procedures' earlier there, captain Jet Thruster." The big marine makes a set of the slowest, drollest air quotes Steve has ever seen, and he feels his face burn.
"How much of what you said was true, anyways, Esteban?" James puts his hand on Steve's shoulder and it's enormous and very, very warm.
"All of it. Except maybe the part where I said I wasn't in love with him." Steve admits, and James gives him an unexpected, bone-crushing hug.
"C'mon. Uncle Jimmy's gonna make you dinner, and then we're gonna drink my own special micheladas till we can't see." James has him in a headlock now, dragging him towards the lift. "So, whatcha gonna do if you're wrong, and the major isn't pining away for Shep?"
"I'm not, but if I am? Dump him out the airlock for being stupid." Steve says as he flails, and it only makes James give him a bigger hug.
"That's my guy." James laughs.
And Steve's instincts think he might be on to something there.