This is how it happens:
Alenko staggers out onto the command deck of the perfectly rebuilt Alliance cruiser, bearing the weight of his new command like he’s actually earned it. Deep down he knows that he was just a cog in the machinations of one John Shepard, perfect as he was and self-sacrificing to a fault. His chest aches like it was just yesterday.
It’s graveyard shift and Kaidan’s had one scotch too many, the alcohol burning his throat. He keeps the fish tank in the captain’s quaters empty; it would remind him too much of old ghosts if he filled it. The pilot snaps to attention as he enters the cockpit.
“Anything I can help you with, sir?” he asks, but Kaidan shakes his head.
“Just making the rounds.”
He eyes the viewscreen for a moment, watching the stars streak past as the Nebuchadnezzar makes its way to Thessia. Not completely whole, not yet, but they’re getting there. Just like with the rest of the galaxy, the reapers are helping rebuild what they’d destroyed. Even this ship—Alliance-made but rebuilt by Reapers—had quite a bit of their tech underneath the hood. Kaidan had taken a look at the engines when he’d taken command, and even with his understanding of engineering he’d had trouble making heads or tails of it.
“ETA?” He directs the question at the pilot, but he already knows the answer.
“Two hours and thirty-one minutes, sir.”
“Excellent. Keep me posted if anything comes up.”
Kaidan runs a hand across a nearby bulkhead, his fingers trailing across the pristine metal. It pulses blue under his fingertips for a moment, then fades.
He shakes his head. “I’ll never get used to that…”
Kaidan smiles ruefully. “Just thinking aloud, Matthews,” he says. “With all the reaper tech in this ship, sometimes it’s hard to believe that it isn’t somehow… alive. Or something.’
He shakes his head. “I’m probably not making much sense.”
Matthews pats the controls ahead of him, smiling fondly. “Makes sense to me, sir. We pilots tend to form a bond with our ships—reaper tech or no,” he says.
Kaidan chuckles. “I can believe that,” he replies.
He turns to go, the soft blue glow of the metal walkway beneath him lighting each step as he takes it. Interesting quirk.
“It’s a good little ship, isn’t it?” he muses, and Matthews grins.
“I wouldn’t call her little, sir,” he replies. “But she is the finest I’ve ever steered. Would you like to take the wheel for a bit?”
The instant ‘no’ that springs to Kaidan’s lips doesn’t quite make it past his mouth, and Matthews stands. “I’ve actually got to take a bathroom break,” he says. “And my relief’s not due for another half an hour. You’d be doing me a favor, sir.”
“In that case…” Kaidan takes his seat gingerly, running his fingers against the smooth panels. The cockpit is as silent as the grave.
“Feels like just yesterday that I was on the Normandy,” he mutters. “Playing co-pilot to Joker while you were behind me, all stern and serious.”
He rubs his eyes. “It’s been a long time, John,” he says. “I still miss you.”
The panels beneath his palms pulse at that, the controls warming his hands. Kaidan blinks in confusion.
“Wha-?” He begins, but his voice dies in his throat when the viewscreen goes dark.
A single word appears on it, backlit by stars, and god damn it, Kaidan just knows.
“John…” he breathes.
The bulkhead hums in approval.
This is how it happens:
Kaidan’s palms are scraped and bloody, his fingertips raw from digging through gravel and dirt. He’s been searching for days, hasn’t slept since they landed. He doesn’t care. He’ll keep looking until the world ends.
“Kaidan, please,” Liara says. Her eyes are rimmed with red. “I want to believe too, but…”
“You don’t have to stay,” Kaidan says tiredly. He looks at them all, Shepard’s band of misfits, standing behind her. “I know you all have better things to do. But I—I can’t go. I won’t.”
“I’m staying,” says Joker. He’s the only one out of them who has a good reason to leave, but that’s irony for you. Kaidan knows it isn’t fair, but he thinks it anyway. Liara has Thessia to rebuild, Garrus has Palaven, and the rest of them… they all have something to go back to.
“I’m sorry,” Garrus says. He reaches out to touch Kaidan but then thinks better of it, awkwardly crossing his arms instead. “I hope… I wish you the best, Kaidan. We all do.”
They leave then, one by one, until he and Joker are the last people there. Alliance til the end, humans standing in a sea of rubble.
“Well,” Joker says, picking up his shovel. “Let’s get back to it, yeah?”
They don’t find him right away, of course, that would be too much of a cliché. They find him precisely eight hours later, after Joker manages to get Kaidan to take thirty minutes of down time and he isn’t seeing two of everything anymore.
He sees the armor first, making out a glint from fifty feet away. His heart is in his throat when he sees the dogtags. He’s lightheaded by the time he sees the chestplate rise.
When he sees the light of recognition in the other man's eyes, something in his chest shatters and is rebuilt. He pulls the rubble off of him like it weighs nothing, and his face is wet by the time he kneels at Shepard’s side.
“Y’ foun’ me…” John slurs, but the hand that holds Kaidan’s has a grip of steel.
This is how it happens:
Kaidan’s still getting used to the cybernetics. He doesn’t need to eat or sleep any longer, but habit compels him to do both. He uses white sheets and pillows that he knows should feel soft against his skin, but only the memory of it sustains the sensation.
EDI talks about immortality and Joker is the happiest Kaidan’s ever seen him, but sometimes he still misses how his body would feel after a long run, when he sprawls loose-limbed on his parent’s couch.
Now he can run four times the distance he used to be capable of, his body and biotics at peak efficiency, without even breaking a sweat. He now knows what a blazing fire looks like from the inside, and what walking on the moon without a suit is like.
“There is no victory without sacrifice,” Kaidan mutters, and smiles without humor.
He isn’t happy. Everyone else seems to be, or at least pretends to be, but he isn’t.
Because for all the great improvements that synthesis has brought, the simple fact is that not even machines have determined a cure for a broken heart.
Habit makes him reach for his omni-tool, but his mind has already supplied the time before he even finishes thinking of wanting to know it. His room is dark, darker than he used to keep it, but his eyes (everyone’s eyes, actually) no longer need light to see.
He shifts to his side, stubbornly closing his eyes. He listens to the hum of the air-conditioner, the sound of his neighbors making love four doors down, the construction across the street.
“Shepard…” he says hopelessly, helplessly.
But the tears don’t come, because they can’t.
It’s hours later when Kaidan hears the hiss of his doors opening, and for the first time since he turned, he doesn’t comprehend the occurrence. When he sees bright blue eyes glowing in the darkness, he almost doesn’t recognize them. When hands touch his face, his mouth, his chest... he bolts upright in bed and. There. He. Is.
“H-how?” he almost asks, but this is followed almost as quickly with: “I don’t care.”
They embrace, flesh and machine and everything that Shepard has made them coming together with sinuous grace. Suddenly, immortality doesn’t seem like such a daunting prospect.
There are no tears, but as he grips Shepard’s shoulders with enough force to leave dents in his skin, Kaidan realizes that he can live with that.