FORELSKET The euphoria you experience when you’re first falling in love.
Like getting tag-teamed by a one-two shot—cryo round first, incendiary second—that was walking into the same room as Commander Shepard. The experience blew cold and then hot, but after Rahna… Kaidan was used to it, as much as anybody could be.
It always moved on to something else, because it wasn’t enough just to change your body temperature, it needed to pierce the skin, too. Hammerhead rounds, so you had to brace yourself for high impact; proton rounds, taking down your defenses. Shredder rounds and tungsten rounds and, finally, polonium, getting into the bloodstream, from the bloodstream to the heart. A fever, a headache, almost an infection. You couldn’t slap some medigel on the open wound and wait for it to go away because it wouldn’t, no matter how many cold showers you took, no matter how many walks you went on to clear your head.
Only Shepard out of armor, leather jacket and a scar on his forehead, a face you’d expect with eyes and a mouth that you wouldn’t—that was the part that made it so good.
‘I should go,’ he said, after every conversation. Kaidan talking too much; Shepard not exactly talking too little. And he walked away, maybe, but he didn’t leave, because Kaidan kept the sound of his voice and the shape of his jaw with him.
At the end of a long day, Kaidan bunked down and put his bare elbows on his thighs. This real small thing in the middle of the galaxy—it didn’t matter, except for all the ways it did. He thought about Shepard, and then he was sweating.
‘Everything all right, LT?’ Ash asked. ‘You look like you’ve got some kind of fever over there.’
‘Yeah,’ Kaidan replied. He knew where the smile came from, even if he couldn’t explain it. That rush you got after a situation you maybe weren’t supposed to survive, but lived through anyway. ‘Yeah, maybe that’s it.’
KOI NO YOKAN The sense upon first meeting a person that the two of you are going to fall in love.
‘You know,’ Shepard said, ‘I always liked you, Garrus. Right from the very beginning.’
‘Isn’t that sweet,’ Garrus replied. ‘I suppose I always liked you too, Shepard. There—doesn’t it feel nice to be sharing?’
Yet, as they’d mentioned in a salarian teleplay once, many a truth was said in jest. Ever since Shepard had suckered a few engineers into losing a hand of Skyllian Five by using that innocent face of his, the good soldier routine, Garrus knew.
And maybe before that, even. Maybe when Shepard was so obviously different from the rest of them, someone Garrus could pick out of the crowd on the Citadel—but not because he had him pinned in his sights.
It was another kind of marksmanship. The target he’d always been looking to hit.
But none of those old tricks would work on Garrus now. ‘Never play Skyllian Five with Commander Shepard,’ he’d explained, to anyone who asked him what it was like knowing the commander and being right there with him. Saving people, so many of them, but always being so difficult about it. ‘He’ll cheat you every time—I wonder why nobody ever listens.’
‘Still thinking about that special day, Garrus?’ Shepard asked.
‘And about that special someone,’ Garrus said.
YUANFEN A relationship by fate or destiny.
Afterward, it seemed that Shepard had something of a headache.
‘Yes,’ Liara said. ‘It can be a little intense, can’t it?’
‘You were inside my mind, Liara,’ Shepard said. ‘Or I was inside yours. Probably more room inside mine, though. …I’m still not sure how that works, by the way.’
‘Maybe all you have to know is what it feels like after,’ Liara suggested, although that wasn’t quite right—and, with a matter this delicate, she really had to be.
‘Feels like a headache,’ Shepard said.
He meant that metaphorically, whether he knew it or not, rubbing his thigh with one palm, a gesture only he could have made.
‘I suppose it does,’ Liara agreed.
But to consider the vast history their cultures had endured, the generations of humanity that had lived and faded, leaving their marks on little more than metal and stone to be deciphered by a scholar centuries into her studies—to consider the number of planets, the population of asari, those who were as wise as Liara T’Soni and those who were wiser—to think that it was the two of them now who had been as one before…
The true beacon. What called them closer.
Perhaps it was not what came after.
Perhaps it was what had always been.
‘Do you believe in destiny, Shepard?’ Liara asked, also rubbing her thigh—until she saw her fingers moving, and stilled them. ‘I myself have never been entirely certain.’
‘I believe in making things work as I go,’ Shepard replied. ‘And doing the best I can with a messed up situation.’
So, Liara thought, but didn’t say—the same thing, then?
RETROUVAILLES The happiness of meeting again after a long time.
Two years, although Kaidan had finally stopped counting the days. At some point, the expectation tired itself out and put itself to bed and the guilt put out its light, while the guidelines for measurement grew—the proportions too big to feel them all the way. Not minutes, not hours, not even weeks.
Two years. And Kaidan asked himself some mornings, is that all it takes?
The counseling slowed after a while. When he met with the doctor for routine evaluations he always said yeah, he was holding up okay.
‘I don’t think I’m going to see them anymore,’ he added, but only once. ‘I know they’re gone, that I was the one who stayed. And… And it’s nobody’s fault. Not theirs; not mine.’
It sounded good, probably even better in a datapad entry with his name on the file. Most days he could fool himself into believing it, and kept away from memorials, from any kinds of graves.
What he could’ve said was that she didn’t—that no one would ever—understand. How much you wanted to see somebody again, how much more you wanted it when you told yourself you wouldn’t.
Unless you could, and you knew you had to be grateful for the second chance at everything.
It took too long, Shepard, Kaidan thought. Still a survivor, even after their losses on Horizon. I was waiting, and it was too long.
You can’t just feel joy again when you’ve already made peace with your grief.
I’ll never be able to bury anything now, Shepard. Not anything.
But the truth was—like the sound of seeker swarms descending on an entire colony, one that didn’t want you to be there when it fell or when it was saved—he was happy to see him again, even if there was an airtight seal on that feeling and he’d already put it away.
‘Welcome back, Shepard,’ he said, breath caught on his palms, his head in his hands and no one to hear him.
MAMIHLAPINATAPEI The wordless yet meaningful look shared by two people who desire to initiate something, but are both reluctant to start.
‘You gonna finish that sandwich, Shepard?’ Kaidan asked, but the way he licked his lips after—he was definitely flirting.
Shepard could polish off the old armor after being out of commission for a while—on house arrest, a soldiering celibacy that wasn’t self-imposed—but it wasn’t about getting back in the game if you had no game to begin with.
‘Not at all,’ he said. ‘You go ahead and finish it.’
He slid the plate between them, listening to the Citadel chatter. There wasn’t an hour he spent there without hearing his name over a broadcast somewhere, passing under speakers or coming up alongside an information VI, or even seeing one of himself, looking a little younger than he felt these days.
‘He even kinda flirts the way you do,’ Kaidan said, arms crossed in front of one of them, Shepard taking in the detail work from the other side.
‘Profile’s good,’ he said. ‘Never felt much like asking myself any questions, though.’
‘Might as well start sometime.’ Kaidan stepped up, waiting for the lights to change, for Shepard’s voice to ask, How may I help you?
‘That doesn’t sound like me,’ Shepard said. ‘I don’t care what Garrus says, there’s no way that’s anything like my voice.’
‘Yeah, I have a question,’ Kaidan added. ‘How do you think the date I’m on is going, Shepard? It’s been a while, so I don’t think I’m the best to judge.’
‘Insufficient information given.’ The VI paused on a gesture. ‘I’ll see if I can find your answer. Please hold—and remember not to litter. Keep our streets as clean as you can. I’m Commander Shepard, and this is my favorite spot on the Citadel.’
‘Can’t trust VIs for everything,’ Shepard said. ‘But you could always ask me the same thing, Kaidan.’
He felt Kaidan’s eyes before he met them, neither of them knowing if they’d make it.
‘Harder than fighting Reapers, sometimes,’ Shepard admitted. Kaidan’s lips twisted in agreement.
They took that moment.
They were still going to kiss later.
CAFUNE The act of tenderly running your fingers through someone's hair.
Kaidan took five but didn’t come back after ten and Shepard found him in the med bay alone, sitting on the edge of a cot like his shoulders were trying to be the only part anybody could see of him.
‘Five, huh?’ Shepard asked.
‘Okay,’ Kaidan said. ‘Maybe more like fifteen.’
It was more like thirty, but Shepard wasn’t counting, or at least not right now. The cot could stand up to a full-grown krogan who’d butted heads—literally—one time too many; it could carry two human soldiers without any problem.
‘It’s just a headache,’ Kaidan said. ‘Considering the Council and the Reapers and Cerberus… It’s not that important, Shepard. Just one headache.’
And Shepard’s scars were just scars. And the names on the memorial wall on the Normandy were just names. Shepard rubbed his thigh, then gave Kaidan’s a squeeze—remembering he could, thinking about how often he crushed the guy’s arm into tingling because he’d fallen asleep on it.
Kaidan chuckled, dry and dark. ‘That’s not where it hurts, Shepard.’
Shepard needed the reminder every waking second that there were so many things his hands hadn’t been made for fixing. But that didn’t mean he could sit back and do nothing or wait for the pain to fade, somewhere between meds and a hot compress and a nap—and the time it always took to wait it out, to sweat it away.
‘I know,’ Shepard said, running his hand up Kaidan’s side to his chest, and over his throat, and under his jaw, and past hair that never got messy, except in the mornings, after a night in bed together.
It’s not fair, Kaidan said, that first time they woke up in each other’s arms, or Shepard mostly in Kaidan’s arms and Kaidan’s hair messy like Shepard hadn’t ever seen it. You’ve got that buzz cut, but me… I mean, just look at me.
Shepard was looking at him. Looking to him, looking for him… Whatever you wanted to call it, what mattered was that he was there. And he had a headache; maybe not just one, either. Or maybe just one was all it’d take.
Shepard messed Kaidan’s hair from the graying temple up to the pompadour, fingertips making circles against his scalp as he went. Kaidan’s hair was thick, carding through Shepard’s fingers, curls that’d been tamed by product Shepard wouldn’t have been able to name.
‘Shepard…’ Kaidan sighed, leaning against his shoulder. ‘Don’t stop, okay?’
The things he could fix and the things he couldn’t—and it wasn’t like Shepard knew how to stop, anyway.
LA DOLEUR EXQUISE The heart-wrenching pain of wanting someone you can’t have.
James’d done too many reps or something, pulled a muscle in his back. He kept lifting until the end, though, ‘cause if there wasn’t any pain, there wasn’t any gain. And when he was finished, he tugged off his tee and used it to wipe the sweat from his neck.
That was when his back told him, hey, pendejo, you wanna treat me right sometime? And James didn’t make a damn promise to himself that he couldn’t keep, not after all the ones that’d never been broken—the ones that’d never been made.
You kept doing the same thing over and over again expecting things to turn out different, you realized you were the one that was crazy. Loco, even, but you had to earn that name.
He took a hot shower to loosen things up, dried himself off and saw himself in the mirror across the way. The guy staring back at him—with attitude—didn’t look anything like a Joshua or an Emilio but he didn’t look anything like a John, either.
Just a lieutenant. Just a big guy. Just a whole lot of muscle and the scars to match ‘em. Nobody’d built him this name; nobody could change his name. He knew exactly where his nose came from—it’d been his fault that krogan had broken it in the first place.
‘Normandy’s been listing toward one side again,’ Shepard told him, down by the weights and the punching bag. James’s neck was still wet, with clean water this time, but soon enough it’d be sweaty again. ‘You think you might have something to do with that?’
‘Muscle’s heavier than metal, Loco,’ James said.
And blood was thicker than tequila, but sometimes, you mixed yourself something special all the same.
‘So what are we drinking, James?’ Shepard asked.
Something, James thought, to numb that pain.
ILUNGA A person who is willing to forgive abuse the first time, tolerate it the second time, but never a third time.
Kaidan sat in that hospital room for a long, long time. Liara came in once, just once, and put a hand on his shoulder, telling him he should take a break for a while, that she’d sit there in his place—but the chair was so used to his weight by now that it had to be him. ‘Has to be me,’ he added, turning against her hand, and she said Shepard wasn’t going to recognize him if he didn’t at least shave.
Technically, it was Shepard’s third chance. Once on the Citadel, once out in space. And back to the Citadel again, a final push trying to finish what Saren had started years ago now.
‘I’m not…’ Kaidan swallowed. Liara was gone, to get him something to shave with; she’d help him when his hands started shaking and when he didn’t want to look at himself in the mirror close enough to see what spots he’d missed. ‘I’m not doing this again, Shepard,’ he said. ‘This is—this has to be the last time.’
The cold water on his face helped, the sting of fresh air on his clean skin. Liara patted him dry and he could see Shepard over her shoulder, in that coma while he healed, but at least there was a body to stare at and everything.
‘I love him,’ Kaidan said, Liara pulling his chair out for him.
‘Terrible, isn’t it?’ Liara replied.
YA’ABURNEE “You bury me.” It’s a declaration of one’s hope that they’ll die before another person, because of how difficult it would be to live without them.
‘Next time,’ Kaidan said once, ‘wake me.’
Shepard opened his eyes.
No matter how often it almost happened, no matter how hard he tried, breathing was another obligation Shepard couldn’t shake.
‘God,’ Kaidan said, his voice like rubble. ‘Shepard… You’re awake.’
Shepard had too much time to think after that, not enough time to move and a body stuck in the same place. Whenever he closed his eyes he saw exactly how it’d been with Kaidan in Huerta and before that, on his way there, on the shuttle—when Shepard thought he wasn’t breathing, smaller than his armor, worth more than all his bruises.
‘You know you’re stronger than I am, right?’ Shepard asked, a few days in. It wasn’t the usual topic of conversation, like what he would and wouldn’t eat, or whether he wanted his bed lowered or raised. Not that he could tell the difference anyway, anywhere beyond the angle he was at to see Kaidan’s face.
Kaidan rubbed his eye, then pushed his hair out of it. He touched the stubble on Shepard’s chin next, getting close to a beard, not thick enough yet to cover the scars time and medigel still couldn’t erase.
‘Yeah, well,’ Kaidan said softly, cupping Shepard’s cheek around the tubes, ‘somebody has to be.’
SAUDADE The feeling of longing for someone that you love and is lost.
They celebrated a lot—probably because if they didn’t, they wouldn’t know why or what they’d won. Stubbornness, maybe.
The chance to stand on a balcony, watch the sun set, and drink a beer with your fiancé.
Birthdays; intergalactic holidays. Commander Shepard Day, for one, and Earth New Year, although the former’d gotten out of hand lately. With as many friends as they had and as many strangers as they knew, there was always somebody over, toasting with a digestion-appropriate beverage and keeping Shepard up way too late.
‘You sleep on the couch again, I’m not gonna rub your back for you tomorrow morning,’ Kaidan said, kissing Shepard’s forehead, and then his cheek, and then his mouth. And then his mouth again. ‘Here’s a crazy idea—why don’t we go to bed?’
Shepard sure, sure-ed him and headed to the bathroom to brush his teeth, and Kaidan stood in front of the open door to the balcony, feeling the wind roll in.
The stars weren’t as close as they used to be, absolutely, but they were still up there. Through the smog in the air, he could see them, not so much shining as they were burning and burning away. It’d take them longer to burn out than it’d take Kaidan, and he leaned one elbow against the glass.
All those stars, and he was thinking of only one name. A soldier they’d lost on Virmire; how nothing after would ever be the same.