Shepard knew it wasn’t polite to lie down across somebody’s doorstep with thunder rolling like dynamite in the mountains, only to bleed all over their front porch instead of asking, ‘May I come in?’ first. But considering how long he’d been in Omega, Doc Alenko was probably used to that kind of piss-poor etiquette from the locals.
Good manners weren’t what Shepard had been sent out to Omega to practice, anyway. The law could be genteel from time to time, but only when the lawbreakers came quiet—and that happened about as often as Garrus missed a clean shot.
Shepard’s boots were heavy with mud. Setting down for a while didn’t look like such a bad idea, legs feeling like twin logs. ‘Go on, girl,’ he told Normandy, but even without being tethered, she was staying right where she was—and soaking wet, too. Some of Shepard’s blood was streaking her side and it didn’t suit the dapple of a Palomino, not one bit.
‘Sorry about that, ‘Mandy,’ he added, hat tipping down, the brim dripping onto his nose. There was blood in his mouth, sure, and a molar knocked loose, and with his scraped up knuckles he managed to knock once on the door propping him up at the shoulders.
Seemed like he was always meeting Alenko when he wasn’t at his best, which made sense. That was what a good doc was for, patching up people who needed it instead of looking after the ones who didn’t.
‘Now how’d you get all the way up there?’ Shepard asked, when the door swung open and Shepard keeled over backward onto the floor.
Halfway in, halfway out. Same as he ever was. He lifted his hand in a salute and Alenko got down on his knees, rainwater already spackling the glass of his spectacles, darkening the freckles over one worried eyebrow.
‘You’ve sewn me up through worse, Doc,’ Shepard added. ‘Do I really have to remind you? Don’t tell me you’ve already forgotten those sweet moments together.’
Alenko shook his head, holding him under the armpits and dragging him inside, while Shepard’s spurs left twin scars along the wood. ‘Where’s your deputy?’ Alenko asked, pulling him into the back.
Shepard closed his eyes. Alenko smelled like whiskey, like fresh spring air; Shepard smelled of blood and rain and the mud caught under leather, all the day’s sweat not washed clean just yet. ‘Who, Garrus?’ Shepard chuckled, enough to set Alenko’s mind at ease. ‘You know—he doesn’t like the rain.’
Sometimes, when Alenko set up all the bottles and the cotton balls, the liniments and the witch hazel, those big pliers and whatever other doodads he was keeping neat as you please in liquor, Shepard thought the clink of the glass and the metal together sounded as close to being in Joker’s Saloon as anything that wasn’t the real deal. Shepard asked for his whiskey and Alenko gave it to him, then set about taking the bullet out of Shepard’s collarbone.
‘You should see the other guy,’ Shepard said, voice rough and too-close to Alenko’s cheek.
The good doctor must not’ve been sleeping well, dark stubble on his cheeks, squinting through those spectacles of his.
‘Well, Shepard,’ Alenko replied, ‘I’m sure I will, when the weather clears and they drag him in.’
Shepard bit down on the inside of his cheek and that made the loose molar wiggle. ‘Might have to play dentist a little later, too,’ he said, although the burn of the whiskey in his mouth was helping to make things feel closer to downright comfortable.
Alenko braced one hand on Shepard’s shoulder, the other still messing with those long metal hooks. It stung like hell, maybe worse, and Shepard would know.
He’d been there and come back again once, and he didn’t have to look over his shoulder to remember how it felt.
‘Got it.’ Alenko’s eyes got bright, but maybe it was nothing more than light from the kerosene lamp he’d positioned to get a clear look at the wound, Shepard’s sleeve torn open to the shoulder by Alenko’s quick hands. They had strong fingers and, Shepard thought, sometimes he could see the kind of calluses you only got from firing pistols. But a man’s past was his own, and Shepard wouldn’t demand Alenko share it with anyone.
The bullet plinked onto the tray and Alenko got more liquor onto cotton, pressing it in place. ‘One of these days, you’ll have to stop getting shot at so often.’
‘Guess I’d have to stop being sheriff for that to happen,’ Shepard said.
There was still water on Alenko’s spectacles—neat, clean rounds of polished glass, usually, with his eyes blinking out from behind them. Shepard reached over with his good hand before Kaidan had a chance to blink twice, much less pull back, and slid them down off his nose. ‘Got something on these spectacles, Doc,’ he said. ‘Might want to clean them.’
‘Yeah.’ Alenko was close enough that Shepard could see his throat bob when he swallowed, the stubble traveling all the way down and beneath the sweat-stained collar. He wondered—and this was likely the whiskey talking—what it’d be like to touch it, but he was still holding Alenko’s spectacles. He set them onto the tray next to the bullet and Alenko swallowed again, thicker, while Shepard ran his thumb over that unshaved spot. ‘Maybe… Maybe I will.’
‘I always miss that spot when I’m getting a shave, too,’ Shepard said.
‘Now isn’t that a coincidence,’ Alenko replied.
They were even closer already, Shepard smelling the whiskey on his own breath, caught against Kaidan’s lips and the scar on his chin. There was nothing for cleaning blood out of your mouth like liquor, Shepard thought. ‘Thanks for patching me up, Alenko,’ he said, and when they kissed right after, Alenko’s pulse kicking up like a startled racehorse under Shepard’s thumb, he didn’t even wince, not for the first while.
But it was only a matter of time before that damn molar started to hurt, Alenko’s palm on the side of his face lightening its hold.
‘Gonna see about that tooth,’ Alenko said, clearing the kiss and the whiskey and Shepard’s blood, whatever was left of it, out of his throat.