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Kaidan always figured Shepard would be into classic rock, highway to hell type stuff. The sort of music people listened to on motorcycles or in the actual tape deck of a souped-up old muscle car.

Shepard had the motorcycle now. He’d texted Kaidan about it earlier in the summer but Kaidan still hadn’t seen it for himself, since he’d been in Whistler since before Shepard had gone out and bought it.

Maybe Kaidan had been watching too much TV lately, all this Back to the Future stuff getting into his head. And maybe—probably, definitely—he’d been thinking about Shepard too much beyond that. Letting Kaidan catch him humming Firework at the end of last semester was just Shepard’s way of reminding him that he knew one of the worst secrets Kaidan ever kept. It was even worse than the shelf of Star Trek novels in Kaidan’s bedroom that he was still adding to.

It didn’t seem to matter enough to ruin Shepard’s opinion of him—but it looked like Shepard wasn’t about to forget it, anyway.

Kaidan reached for the granola. Mom’s cereal was always like that, flax seeds and brain food, even when they were on vacation. But it kept headaches at bay until Kaidan was finished reading and could take some Advil, then finally fall asleep.

He skipped the spoon, grabbing a handful instead. He’d learned that tactic from all-night study sessions before midterms or finals; it wasn’t pretty, but snacking alone at midnight never was.

It was a little after that when Kaidan’s phone started to buzz over on the bed, where he’d tossed it that afternoon after coming back up from the pool to head off the start of a migraine. Two seconds after that it kicked into Katy Perry—something Shepard had programmed in on the last day of school, while Kaidan watched and sighed and didn’t actually change it back like he said he would—and Kaidan lunged for it, half on the bed and half off, to answer the call.

SHEPARD, the ID said. Kaidan hadn’t even put in his first name because he’d always just been Shepard around them. And the picture of him in Kaidan’s contacts was from that time they all went to see a full-day Star Wars movie marathon—from the intermission between A New Hope and The Empire Strikes Back, when Shepard and Garrus were seeing who could fit more popcorn in their mouths at the same time.

Kaidan never changed the picture, either. When Shepard put his chin on Kaidan’s shoulder without warning and saw what it was, he’d grinned and said, ‘Yeah, those were good times. Don’t tell Garrus I let him win, though. ‘Cause I totally let him win.’

They hadn’t kissed then.

Not yet.

It happened three days later; Kaidan still remembered the exact time, three minutes after ten, and the homework he hadn’t finished, trigonometry. He remembered what Shepard was wearing, a beat-up t-shirt with a hole at the collar, and the fabric was soft and lived-in.

Kaidan answered his cell, halfway through come on, show me what you’re worth.

‘Chances are I’m gonna get a complex from that song, you know,’ he said, then, ‘Hey, Shepard.’

‘Vacationing too hard, huh?’ Shepard’s voice sounded far away but also intimate, like he was right there, leaning over during a movie to say This is my favorite part all warm against Kaidan’s ear. ‘You’re going to be permanently cranky if you keep that up.’

‘Actually, I’ve been in my room most of the day,’ Kaidan said, rolling over onto his back.

He should’ve been better at the whole lying thing, or flipping the truth so it made him sound at least a little cooler. Sure, Shepard knew about all the Star Trek stuff, but eventually he’d figure out—because Kaidan was making it all too easy for him—that Kaidan just hung around all day waiting for Shepard to call, or for figuring out the right time to call him. Like that was a formula in a textbook he could use on an exam.

Kaidan didn’t even know what ringtone Shepard had for his number. Or if it was on vibrate whenever Kaidan finally called or…something.

‘Uh-huh. Sounds…wild,’ Shepard replied. A long pause followed, kind of awkward, but Kaidan had a feeling Shepard wanted that. ‘So…what are you wearing right now?’

Kaidan felt it in his gut, all the way down his thighs, shooting to the base of his spine—this dumb, simple question that made him feel not like he was watching porn but like he was actually a part of it. And it was hotter, too, because there wasn’t even anybody there. There didn’t have to be. It was just Shepard, a guy who’d once put thirty pieces of popcorn in his mouth at a time to Garrus Vakarian’s thirty-one, saying crazy stuff on the other end of the line. They were in separate beds, even, one of them in Whistler and one of them still in Downtown Vancouver, and Shepard wouldn’t have been able to see Kaidan blush—but Kaidan still tried to hold it back, like it was something Shepard could see.

All that, and still the only thing Kaidan could manage to say was, ‘Huh?’

It was the peach mimosas Mom’d let him have at dinner. They’d fried his brain or something, past the usual headache into all-out dysfunction.

‘I’m wearing those matching Han Solo boxers Joker got all of us,’ Shepard continued, like Kaidan wasn’t totally useless. ‘So sexy, right?’

‘…You wanted to put me in the mood to think about you in novelty underwear by making my phone play Katy Perry,’ Kaidan said. Just so he could get that part straight.

‘Yeah,’ Shepard replied. ‘Because I know you, Kaidan Alenko.’

That hit Kaidan’s spine, too, up and down before it settled somewhere lower than ever. Kaidan almost dropped his phone, but he managed to hang on for the sake of listening to every second of Shepard’s silence.

‘So you’re wearing Star Wars boxers right now.’ Kaidan paused. ‘Hang on. I’ll check…what I’ve got.’

‘Huh,’ Shepard echoed, only it came out more like oh.

Kaidan undid the fly on his jeans one-handed because he still needed the other one to hold onto his phone. The way it was pressed against his jaw was making him feel sweaty—or maybe he was too hot for other reasons, like thinking about Shepard’s scraped knees and hard thighs, which Kaidan hadn’t actually, technically seen outside of jeans. They were tight jeans, maybe a pair from a year ago or something, but it was still different.

The sound of the zipper being pulled down seemed too loud when it was only Kaidan in the room. He pulled one side back and said, ‘I don’t know. They’re blue. …Briefs, not boxers.’

Shepard exhaled.

Kaidan didn’t have to be a genius to know what that release meant. That, for whatever reason, a detail as simple as boxers or briefs could be hot to somebody when they cared enough.

‘Good to know,’ Shepard said.

Kaidan closed his eyes.

His fingertips were still pressed against the cool, round button but it was only a matter of time before his body heat warmed the metal. Then he’d have nothing to clear his head; not even tightening his hold would calm the way his blood was seriously pounding.

‘…And jeans,’ Kaidan added. ‘That t-shirt you left at my place before… I don’t know, it got packed somehow.’ He’d brought it on purpose, just a thing. But he wore it, so it wasn’t weird. ‘It’s a little small but it smells pretty good. I don’t know, I think my mom might’ve washed it.’

‘Cool.’ Kaidan waited for Shepard to say something else or start humming an embarrassing song or something, anything, but in the absence of that Kaidan figured he needed to up his game. This wasn’t math club or anything; it wasn’t supposed to be as hard as memorizing a hundred different formulas.

But at least, with that stuff, there were formulas. Kaidan circled his thumb around the button on his fly, only a couple of times, to give himself a push.

‘I’m, uh…’ Kaidan cleared his throat. ‘Just lying in bed, anyway. Door’s locked. I guess it’d be easier if I was back home and we were closer, but…’

He was starting to get hard. And there was a chance Shepard would know that from the sound of his voice, would realize it was because of him—like it usually was, now that Kaidan had someone to look at who wasn’t in a gold bikini.

Or the guy next to her sweating through his tight white shirt while being a wild shot with a blaster.

‘Kaidan,’ Shepard said.

And that was how Kaidan knew Shepard was starting to get hard, or that he was hard already. Kaidan had touched him a couple of times but always through Shepard’s jeans, using the ridge of his fly’s zipper for friction that Shepard seemed to be pretty okay with. Sometimes he made these sounds…

Even if it was the first time Kaidan had touched himself while talking to Shepard, it wasn’t the first time he’d touched himself thinking about Shepard. It was almost the same thing.

Kaidan lifted his hips, trying not to hang up with his face, pushing his jeans down just far enough that they wouldn’t get in the way.

He froze for a second—that always happened right before he sat down in front of an exam, when everything he thought he knew or knew he could do went out the window. Then, all the practice tests kicked in and the muscle memory, too, and once he got started he never second-guessed himself again.

This was good. This was happening. And Kaidan needed to say something.

‘So, I’m… I’m gonna touch myself,’ he managed, around a lump in his throat that made it hard to talk, almost unrecognizable when he did.

‘Okay.’ Shepard sounded like he was trying to ground himself. ‘…Okay. Yeah, me too. I’ve kind of already… Yeah.’

Kaidan took the time to rub his palm over the cotton, to think about the back of Shepard’s neck and how his hips rolled when he was turned on, right there on Kaidan’s bed. The few times they’d actually made out—late nights they should’ve been studying for finals, the cold and Shepard’s fingers making Kaidan’s skin prickle. One cold, one hot. He couldn’t really say how it’d started but he could say that he didn’t want it to stop.

Not that he knew how to name it or talk about it, but it was there. Happening. …Sometimes.

Kaidan turned onto his side, the phone on the mattress next to his ear, the hand between his legs knowing what to do but also wanting to share it.

There was no formula for that. There wasn’t even a vocabulary, not one that didn’t sound stupid.

So Kaidan didn’t go for words. He touched himself until it felt so good he moaned and he heard Shepard curse on the other end of the line. Then, he heard Shepard drop his phone, a scuffle that couldn’t be anything else.

‘You—you still there?’ Shepard asked finally, breathless.

‘Yeah,’ Kaidan said. ‘I’m still…’

‘Yeah.’ Shepard sucked in a breath but Kaidan could’ve told him that wouldn’t help. He licked his lips not because they were dry but because he wanted to feel his tongue against them and think about the way Shepard kissed—hard, first, trying to prove too much, until Kaidan got his tongue into Shepard’s mouth and Shepard let him, easing up on everything else. Warm until he was hot; tense until he was soft.

The way kisses were supposed to be and, from Kaidan’s experience, never actually were.

‘Yeah,’ Kaidan said, again, only it didn’t come out as stupid as it would’ve been on paper. Sometimes a theory wasn’t as good as its application and Shepard seemed to like it, anyway.

Kaidan pushed into his fingers and he heard, like static, the rustling of sheets and the squeaking of a bedframe from Shepard’s end. It was an amazing feeling, although maybe it would’ve been better if Shepard was there with him, if Kaidan’s hands were on Shepard instead of just himself.

He knew exactly how many days it’d been since they’d seen each other. Not even once after school was out, all of them hanging out together that night, and no real chance for just the two of them to catch a moment alone. Not that they would’ve talked about it, anyway; but with Liara and Joker and Garrus all hanging around, drinking what Liara’d managed to bring along, watching a bunch of Red Dwarf episodes Joker had burned onto DVD, Kaidan didn’t have a chance and Shepard didn’t seem bothered by it, not the way Kaidan was itching all over to touch him.

He seriously had it bad. He should’ve known that when Shepard programmed the new ringtone in and he didn’t just reprogram it later, but he knew it now, and it felt great—and terrible and stupid and terrifying.

Especially the stupid part. And especially the terrifying.

‘Kaidan,’ Shepard said again, not exactly natural, like the name was making him choke. Or that was just how he got when he had to let go, something Kaidan never saw.

He’d never even seen Shepard fall asleep. Shepard watched every movie with his eyes wide open and no matter how late it got, he never yawned or spent too long on a single blink. Kaidan was always passing out somewhere before the credits rolled, waking up slouched against Shepard’s shoulder or, sometimes, with his head in Shepard’s lap, cheek on his thigh, smelling the rain-washed denim, which left creases on his cheek.

All the things he remembered, not even that far away, but there was still a week left before leaving Whistler. A lot could happen in a week—but still not enough to make the time pass any quicker.

Kaidan closed his eyes, squeezing them shut. There wasn’t anybody there to see him—Mom and Dad were eating out together somewhere nice—but he could still remember the times Shepard had touched him: his sides to his hips, curving around back to explore the shape of his ass. Their knees bumping together, their lips too close to actually kiss.

Something like that.

Kaidan couldn’t touch himself the same way. He only had one angle and sure, it worked, but it wasn’t what he wanted. Maybe that was part of why it felt so good, thinking Shepard wanted the same things.

Thinking he could give them to him.

He heard Shepard groan—it kind of caught on a whimper, but maybe that was their service cutting out, because it was so quiet and so quick that Kaidan couldn’t know for certain if he’d heard it. He thought he had. But he wasn’t thinking much more than that right now.

It was like a challenge to know he could make it last longer, but only for a little while. In the end, it was over for both of them, Kaidan’s hands sticky. He needed to change into new briefs before Mom and Dad got back from their night out together.

‘Guess I won’t be wearing blue tomorrow,’ he said, and Shepard laughed.

‘I—should go,’ he said, but didn’t hang up.

‘Actually,’ Kaidan replied, ‘you know… You don’t have to.’

‘Huh,’ Shepard said again. For the second time, it sounded exactly like oh. And Kaidan didn’t have to ask himself if they’d really just done that. There was no proof, no formula, but he could still study it—hard and long, until he was tired out.

‘So…’ Kaidan rolled over onto his stomach, trying to swallow the relief with the nerves, trying not to be screwed by either. ‘I told you what I did today. What about you?’