Shepard’s funeral is on a Thursday – not that it matters given the different methods of keeping time these days, but Ashley can’t help but note it anyway.
The whole Normandy crew, what’s left of it at least, is gathered solemnly at the front of the precession, listening as Admiral Anderson delivers a speech about Shepard and her greatness reaching out across the galaxy to inspire people.
Tali is crying, Ashley can’t see it but she can tell and it’s all too easy to wrap an arm around the small Quarian and let her lean on her shoulder. It’s not all that different than consoling Sarah when their father died, just an instinct in her to help someone she had just begun to think of as a sister.
Garrus pulls Tali away with him when he leaves, with a nod and what Ashley thinks might be a grateful smile but she can never really tell with Turians, he promises to get Tali back to the Migrant Fleet before returning to the Citadel – Wrex joins them even though it’s nowhere near Tuchanka and far out of his way and Ashley thinks those three will be all right.
She’s not sure she feels the same about herself as she walks back over to the rest of the Alliance crew – Joker looks as good as she feels, with his shoulders slumped and only vaguely nodding along to whatever Kaidan is trying to tell him.
“Kaidan’s right Joker,” Ashley says once she’s close enough, “This isn’t your fault.”
“Sure as hell feels like.” Joker mutters, then slips out of Kaidan’s grasp and into the crowd.
“Let him go.” Ashley grabs Kaidan’s arm when he starts to head after Joker, “Liara’s got this.”
The Asari walks past them on her way to catch up with Joker and it might be for be for the best, Liara’s been strangely quiet since Shepard’s death and any attempts to talk to her get halted before they even start.
Ashley can’t blame her, Liara loved Shepard after all.
“I guess,” Kaidan frowns and then turns back towards her, “What about you, how are you holding up?”
“As best I can.”
For whatever reason that almost makes Kaidan smile, his lips twitching upwards before he catches himself.
“You and me both.” He sighs and runs a hand through his hair and looks around, Anderson nods their way when they catch his gaze and they nod back in unison.
Kaidan looks tired, the only other time she’d ever seen him like before was…Virmire.
They still haven’t talked about that.
“Come on LT.” She tugs at the arm that’s still in her grasp. “Let’s get out of here.”
There’s no Normandy to return to so they end up at Ashley’s apartment buildings the Alliance set her up with – Kaidan’s is just down the hall from hers.
Without saying anything Kaidan heads over to her kitchen.
“We can always go out, I hear there’s a great sushi place on the presidium.” She only says it half-heartedly because in truth she doesn’t want to go out after such a draining day, just doesn’t want Kaidan to feel he has to cook.
He just shoots her look like he can tell what she’s thinking about – probably could too though, they spent enough time side by side in a fight and on the Normandy, put them in sync in only the way something like that could.
Ashley collapses on her couch, wrinkling her uniform and that feels disrespectful in several ways but Shepard wouldn’t care, Shepard would have been the first to wrinkle hers and then complain about wearing it for diplomatic missions.
In the tiniest way it makes her feel like Shepard’s there and she suddenly has trouble breathing when it hits her like a brick wall.
“Hey,” Kaidan’s by her side before she knows it, “I know Ash, I know.”
Brown eyes meet her own, just as lost.
“We’ll get through this together Ash.” He sits so close that’s it’s easy to press against him, her hand finds his and she slips her fingers in the spaces between his and holds tight.
“Sounds like a plan LT.” She says with more levity than she could possibly feel at the moment.
Kaidan doesn’t mention it, just nods and squeezes her hand and they both sit there, feeling just how strongly they lost something that day.
Back on the Normandy Shepard had a bad habit of waking the team up and dragging them all down to the mess area to eat.
It was supposed to build comradery between them and despite that they’d all grumbled over it (and Wrex had broken the table by crashing against it while not completely awake) it had, for the most part, worked.
Ashley still wakes up with a curse ready on her lips for Shepard before the world tilts back and she remembers, even so many months later.
She gets up with a yawn to get ready for the day, first checking her terminal for the news and messages.
Cerberus stuck another Asari-Human joint controlled warehouse last night, stealing weapons that they’ll no doubt use against even more people later. It makes Ashley sick in her stomach with rage and she does even more push ups that day trying to burn it out of her.
The only messages she has are from her sisters and Tali and one from Joker. Her sister are the usual, the how are yous and updates on their lives. Tali’s is a broad message to her and Kaidan stating the Migrant Fleet found Geth activity on a planet and she wishes they (and Shepard) were there to help her take them out. Joker’s is different, it feels more like a goodbye type message with him stating he’s pulled out of the Alliance and won’t be able to contact them for a while.
She makes a note to ask Kaidan if he knows anything more.
By the storm cloud of emotions on his face when she meets up with him that morning she guesses that he read the news on Cerberus too.
“Bastards.” She says with plenty of venom, double checking her rifle as she grabs it.
“Cowards.” Kaidan agrees and rotates his shoulders in a way that means he’s trying to control himself. “Where are we heading today?”
She looks over at him and knows to let the topic change without saying anything, it’s not like Kaidan didn’t read the same orders she did.
“Investigating a Batarian attack on another colony. Looks like the terminus system just can’t catch a break.” She shakes her head, “The council ought to pull its head out of its ass and take a look at these problems someday.”
“They aren’t going to care Ash, when we decided to set up these colonies we knew it wasn’t in council space.”
“Doesn’t matter if it is or it isn’t, they never pay attention. It’s like Shepard and the reapers all over again.” She snorts in derision, thinking of all those times Shepard yelled for help and warning and got nothing back.
That gives Kaidan pause before he begins laughing.
“What?” Ashley blinked, “What’s so funny?”
“I’m just remembering when Shepard got drunk and decided she wanted to send dogs into the Presdium with notes warning about the reapers.”
Ashley groaned, “Not this one.”
Kaidan continued on anyway with a grin, “And a certain someone got drunk with her and suggested sending Varren instead.”
“I don’t remember what you’re talking about.” Feigning ignorance seemed like her best bet to get through this story with as little humiliation as possible.
“Didn’t you write a poem about reapers in olden style too?”
“Don’t make me push you out of the shuttle when we get there.”
Kaidan just keeps grinning and Ashley can’t help but grin back.
She suspects that it’s all because of Anderson that they haven’t been split up yet because there’s no other real reason why she and Kaidan are always on the same mission – she also doesn’t care because it means that she can watch Kaidan’s back and not be worried about him on some other planet a system away.
He still gets shot on her watch by Cerberus agents who resent them trying to stop them.
She’s never wanted the rest of the Normandy crew by her side as badly as she does in that moment, trying to return fire and drag Kaidan’s limp body to cover all at once.
“LT, Kaidan!” She yells at him once they’re safe, ordering one of the other soldiers around them to get a medic. “Don’t you dare give out on me now.”
Kaidan chooses to open his eyes at that moment, groggy and barely there.
“Wouldn’t dream of it.” He mutters, or she thinks he did.
“You better not.” She only pulls away once the medic arrives, anxiously standing by and hoping.
It reminds her of Virmire all over again.
In retrospect that mission should have ended with one of them dead.
Ashley had been pinned down by Geth fire with Major Kirrahe and his squad while Kaidan prepped the bomb with Geth closing in on his location and it had all come down to Shepard’s decision.
“Ash there’s no way for you to get out?” Shepard’s voice was strained, whether it was the decision or the radio Ashley couldn’t tell.
“Negative Commander.” She hesitated, “We might be able to punch a hole through their defenses and get one of through.”
“Don’t even think about it Ash that’s too dangerous.” Kaidan cut in on the conversation, “Shepard go help her, I’ve got this.”
“Ash…you have to be sure.” Shepard’s voice was hard and it was at that moment gunfire started up on Kaidan’s end and Ashley knew what she had to do.
“Major Kirrahe, get me an opening.”
By the time she got to Kaidan there didn’t look like a single patch of his suit was free of blood.
She thought she was going to be sick.
“Come on LT, we have to go.” She felt bad about moving him with his cry of pain but Kaidan gritted his teeth and leaned on her and kept moving.
It nearly took them too long to reach the spot where Shepard had called the Normandy, having gotten Kirrahe’s men the back-up they needed.
They just stumbled onto the ship with Joker over the comms yelling for everyone to hang on when the bomb exploded.
Chakwas and her assistant rushed towards them, taking Kaidan away as he coughed up blood.
She watched them cart him away and a hand fell on her shoulder and she looked over at Shepard.
“That was close Ash.”
Ashley swallowed hard, nodding in shock that they had managed it somehow but the movement made her head spin and spots dart across her vision.
Which is when she passed out.
She had gotten up before Kaidan, just in time to watch to the council ground Shepard, her side was killing her where she had taken a bullet without noticing.
Kaidan wouldn’t wake up and Ashley haunted the med bay, reading old poems her father read to her to keep Kaidan company.
He looked awful, hooked up to a lot more machines that beeped in the quiet of the medbay and ingrained in Ashley’s mind.
She was there when he woke up even.
“Looks like I owe you one.” His voice was raspy, even softer than normal and she helped him sit up for some water.
“I’ll keep a tab.” She tried to ignore the relief she felt when he opened his eyes, closing her own against the overwhelming emotions.
This time when Kaidan woke up it was to her reading mid-poem, but he didn’t say anything, just watching her as she read.
“I’ll admit the next one’s not one of my favourites.” Ashley said, still not looking up from her book.
“Better than Krogan poetry.” Kaidan commented and Ashley jumped.
“You’re awake!” She dropped her book and stood up, “About time.”
“Guessing we’re adding to that tab already.” Kaidan joked and Ashley frowned.
“Funny.” She said drily, a little too stiff.
“Hey, what’s wrong?” Kaidan caught her hand as she was about to bring it up to run through her hair, down out of her usual bun.
“What’s wrong?” She shot back in disbelief, “You could have died!”
“You had my back.”
“This time. What about the next time?” Ashley felt too raw, even with Kaidan right in front of her and alive all she could think of the possibility he might not have been.
“It’s our jobs.” Kaidan pointed out and Ashley wanted to punch him for that, he could probably tell because he held up his other hand in apology. “I’m sorry okay?”
Her shoulders fell, “Yeah, okay.”
He was still holding her hand and she curled her fingers around his own, the rest of the world moved around them but neither cared.
Kaidan made food taste good even with the worst of ingredients.
“Have I ever told you how much I appreciate this?” Ashley sighed, leaning back in her chair completely relaxed.
“No,” Kaidan smiled far too innocently, it was a lie as she had told him multiple times and Ashley rolled her eyes.
“You could always open your own restaurant if the Alliance doesn’t work out for you.”
Kaidan hummed and tilted his head, “What would you do?”
“Me? I’d take up a table at that restaurant and be the person you feed for free after all the times she’s saved your ass.”
“No,” Kaidan laughed, “If you weren’t part of the Alliance.”
“Go crazy,” Ashley said without hesitation, “I don’t know what I’d do.”
“So then you don’t have any retirement plans?”
“If I make there and these Collector attacks don’t get me.” Ashley frowned, lately more and more reports were coming in regarding those, “I didn’t have anything in mind. Maybe be the aunt that tells her nieces and nephews stories of fighting for the Alliance.”
“And here I thought you already were.” Kaidan had heard enough stories about Ashley and her sister, had even been introduced to them through vid comms and Ashley had been embarrassed when Sarah whispered that he was still cute like Kaidan wasn’t even there.
“Remind me to tell them not to hook up with smartass biotics in the Alliance.” It was only after she said it she realized the implications, groaning, “Not hook up- hook up. You know what I meant, don’t give me that look.”
Kaidan was smirking, looking far too pleased, “Is this the point where you break out the tin foil mini skirt and thigh high boots? I did make you dinner first.”
“In your dreams.” Ashley shot back, cheeks a little flushed and she decided to go with it, leaning on the table and into Kaidan’s space, “Unless that’s how you prefer them.”
Kaidan cleared his throat at that and Ashley laughed in delight when he started blushing as well.
“Cat got your tongue LT?” She teased, pulling away to rest back in her chair again.
Kaidan muttered something but she didn’t hear it.
“What was that?”
“Nothing.” He reached over to grab his beer, swallowing quickly so as not to answer. From the corner of her eye Ashley watched him, trying to subtly take in the picture he made now that he was healed up again.
It wasn’t that she hadn’t noticed how cute Kaidan was, in Sarah’s words, before; she certainly had even back on the Normandy but now that he wasn’t covered in bruises it was hard to miss the strong line of his jaw or the set of his shoulders or how the muscles in his arms moved when he did.
She shook her head, taking her own sip from her beer to pull herself away from those thoughts.
After all this time if nothing had happened between them than chances were nothing would, she could live with that.
Sometimes they slept in the same bed, when dreams got too bad and they’d just seek each other out like it was natural.
“I still miss Shepard.” Ashley says one night, her head resting on Kaidan’s chest and his hand slides through her hair soothingly.
“Me too.” Kaidan’s all open honestly, hurting from his past but willing to move ahead and Ashley admires him for that.
She’s almost asleep when he talks again.
“I’m glad you’re still here.”
She mumbles something in the affirmative and falls asleep.
There are rumours flying around about the return of Commander Shepard, spotted alongside a newly built Normandy.
Flying in Cerberus markings.
Ashley and Kaidan exchanged looks every time and then Kaidan reaches out to her, holding her hand so she doesn’t make a fist and punch the wall.
“We don’t know if it’s true.” Kaidan points out but he’s just as mad, just hiding it better.
“It better freaking not be.” Betrayal runs deep in her veins with that news every time. It goes against everything she’s fought for, that she believes in.
She can’t believe that Shepard would do this.
“If it is her though…do you think you’d go back?” Kaidan’s voice is measured, only just barely holding in his anger.
Ashley looks over at him and sees the tautness in his body. “Not without you.”
She pulls his hand closer towards her and doesn’t let go.
Kaidan kisses her after a fight where she was shot at and she wakes up with a hiss.
“You’re okay.” He sounds so relieved, breathing out and she notices the book he has in one hand, the poems she tends to read him when he’s hurt.
“Looks like I can take one off your tab.” She wets her lips, catches Kaidan staring.
“You’re okay.” He just repeats again and he rests his forehead against hers, close enough that she can see something more than just simple relief of a friend being okay in his eyes.
“You should kiss me now.” She smirks and he jolts for a second before he sees that and chuckles, leaning in to press a soft kiss to her lips before he pulls back.
“You need to recover.”
“Please I’m raring to go.” Ashley leans back onto the pillows set up behind her and closes her eyes, pleased with herself – pleased with this.
On its own accord her hand reaches out to find Kaidan’s.
“You’re falling asleep,” Kaidan sounds bemused, his hand in hers as it should be.
“Just resting my eyes.”
“Sure Ash, whatever you say.”
He’s there when she wakes up again, demanding a kiss so she knows it wasn’t a dream – as a joke she tells him he tastes like maple syrup and he threatens to never make her pancakes again.
“Where’s our next mission?” Kaidan’s still rubbing the sleep out of his eyes as he sits up in their bed.
“Some place called Horizon.” Ashley leans down to give him a quick kiss that turns into a slow lazy one when he rests a hand on her face and deepens the kiss.
“We don’t have the time,” She complains, pulling away, “You still have to make us breakfast LT.”
“I see- I have to make us breakfast.” Kaidan shakes his head but she can see his smile.
“That’s why you’re here.” She grins, pecking him on the lips one last time before she pulls away completely.
“So what do I get if I make you breakfast?” Kaidan stands up and trails after her, “What type of mini skirt is that worth.”
“If it’s really good? None.” This flirtation is easy, comfortable and she loves it.
Kaidan whistles, “Let’s see what I can whip up.”
She does push ups while he cooks, reading out terminal news from a padd and they both have to rush to get dressed once it’s done.
“Ready to do this?” Kaidan asks as they walk towards the shuttle.
She brushes her hand against his, nearly holding but not quite as they’re on mission now and there lines to be drawn, “Let’s kick some Cerberus ass for these people.”
Hopefully there’s no Collector attacks along the way.