Shepard likes to imagine he can count the constellations. Orion, Perseus, Gemini, he spots them all from what he refers to as the observation deck. But really, it’s just the balcony of his and Kaidan’s New Vancouver apartment. That’s what they’re calling it these days, most of the city obliterated in the Reaper attack. Rebuilding is slow. From his place, Shepard can hear the grating of machinery, along with the calls of reconstruction workers. He wishes he were down there with them, but Dr. Chakwas has forbid any strenuous activity. She’s gone so far as to have people check on him. Garrus, Tali, Joker, Miranda, Jack, sometimes Gabby and Ken. But Shepard welcomes them, hobbling around the apartment to make coffee or whatever else. Whoever it is, they talk about what happening out there. Up above, in the space beyond the sky. Shepard closes his eyes, sees the stars passing by the Normandy’s hull, and feels the subtle push as the ship maneuvers through a mass relay.
With the cold winter wind coming off the bay, Shepard retreats inside. His bones ache and complain, eliciting a few choice words. He glances at the mantle clock. No, the hands tell him, Kaidan is still out there—wherever his Spectre duties might lead. If Shepard bothers enough, he knows Kaidan will tell him what those Spectre duties entail. But he doesn’t ask, which allows him to imagine that Kaidan is doing nothing more than playing diplomat. No guns, no biotics, just talking. As if, a small voice reminds him. When did a Specter mission ever resolve itself through speech?
But then he shakes his head and breathes inward, in the way Chakwas taught him. If she were here, she’d place her hand on his wrist, saying something about the merits of relaxation. Yes, mom, Shepard might say.
Of course, all this relaxation prompts introspection. He knows he deludes himself on the acts required of a Spectre. What would Kaidan say or think about that? Getting wise in your old age, Shepard? The Commander grins. There would be a crinkling around Kaidan’s eyes as he spoke. Perhaps a bit of scruff around his jaw from too many late nights. Shepard might admonish him for that, but acknowledges that late nights are standard protocol.
He shuffles into the kitchen, hands shaking as he reaches for the expensive Illium tea that Liara bought him. When she brought it, she made some, telling him about Asari tea ceremony. Shepard teased her. Always with the history, the culture, the science.
Then he fumbles and drops the box of tea. The explosion flashes behind his eyelids. The scorching heat of fire, the slick metal of the Citadel turning in on itself. Shepard doesn’t know what happens after that, a huge black gap in his memory as large as the galaxy itself. He waits for the vision to pass.
Thankfully, it doesn't take long to make his tea. In the dining room, he lowers into a chair. On the table, an M-8 Avenger sits in pieces, along with a set of tools and some rags. Shepard sips his tea and it’s like drinking a bouquet of flowers. He then sets the cup down, deftly sliding and snapping the rifle pieces back together. This is the rifle he’s known for all his military service. The one he smuggled out of boot camp and into regular service. The rifle he used against Batarians on Elysium, the rifle he used to battle Geth, Collectors, and Reaper forces. Sighing softly, Shepard runs his hand over its contours.
“To the stars, we shall go once again,” Shepard murmurs. Maybe all this tea and lounging about have made him poetic, too. But that reminds him of Ashley. If she were alive, she would surely poke fun.
He looks to the clock once more. It’s just past 1900 hours. Earlier in the afternoon, Traynor came to check in on him. She carried her chess board, a welcome addition that means she’ll forget to ask whether Shepard is alright. Real pieces this time, made of solid wood. In the beginning of the game, Shepard lingered over his pawns, lifting one but setting it back down. The board sparkled and glowed like the galaxy map. Shepard blinked rapidly and made a randomized move. Once again, I’ve destroyed you, Traynor quipped after stealing his queen. Shepard tried to smile, then and now.
Shepard downs the rest of his tea, setting the cup in the sink. From the kitchen, he heads for the bedroom. Here, the traces of Kaidan are more evident. A bottle of whiskey on the nightstand, Alliance dog-tags spooled around their chain on the dresser, a framed photo of his biotic squad that probably shouldn’t exist, considering their covert nature. Shepard breathes it all in. He can smell Kaidan too, a piney pang of scent that hits him right at the nostrils
There isn’t much to do, but Shepard sits at the edge of the bed on Kaidan’s side. Accessing his omni-tool, he scrolls through old emails. Communication with Kaidan is understandably erratic. But Kaidan always ends with love. Something like: I’ve been thinking about you a lot. Shepard replies similarly, his heart lurching.
Curling up where Kaidan sometimes sleeps, Shepard wills himself to drift. His bones and mind don’t like to cooperate, constantly shifting and creaking. It doesn’t help that the stars outside never dim or that Earth is far too stationary. He groans, forearm across his face.
Then his omni-tool pings. A series of phrases, just like that: Shepard. I’m coming home. Can’t wait to see you.
Shepard sits upright, but does so too fast and cringes. Hurry, he replies.
Kaidan doesn’t arrive until after breakfast. In the hours beforehand, Shepard pretends at sleep and showers at sunrises. It’s only after he’s eaten and dressing that he receives another omni-tool ping. Kaidan is walking through the lobby of their building. Shepard again asks him to hurry.
Shepard crashes into Kaidan as soon as the apartment door opens. Perhaps a little too roughly, for Kaidan’s back is pressed against the doorway, Shepard grimacing as his body protests. Neither of them allow that to stop them. Shepard’s hands grapple across Kaidan, kisses planted along Kaidan’s jaw before finally connecting to his mouth.
“Shepard,” Kaidan utters when they part.
“Spectre Alenko,” Shepard murmurs.
Together, they retreat to the bedroom. Kaidan lays on the bed and Shepard goes down too, looming over him. For a moment, they hesitate. Then Kaidan reaches up, drawing overly long hair away from Shepard’s face. They smile at each other, then Shepard’s palm is cradling Kaidan’s cheek, thumb tracing below his left eye.
“You look good,” Shepard says.
Kaidan props himself up on each elbow, mouth opening as if to reply. Thinking better, his and Shepard’s lips meet once more. So close and Shepard can smell the eezo of the Normandy’s drive core. He inhales it, tastes Kaidan in their kiss, and gives a low rumble. As they break once again, Shepard lays on Kaidan’s chest, grateful for the arms that loop around him.
Thus entwined, they remain like that for however long. Kaidan’s breathing is so steady and even that Shepard is sure he’s fallen asleep. But when he glances up, Kaidan opens his eyes and grins, kissing the top of Shepard’s head. Then they’re moving again, shifting so that Kaidan looms over Shepard. Another kiss and they begin to undress. Shirts first, unbuttoned so slowly. Shepard shivers, but Kaidan is warm and close, their skin and bodies brushing. Each of them wriggles out of their pants. Kaidan then straddles Shepard’s midsection and hesitates.
“Are you sure…?” Kaidan asks, reaching for Shepard’s hand and grazing his lips upon its back.
“Always,” Shepard repeats.
That exchange is all either of them needs. Kaidan bends down, planting a trail of wet kisses on Shepard’s upper chest. He’s been inactive while resting up, but the definition of his muscle is still there. This time, it’s his turn to run his fingers through Kaidan’s hair. Meanwhile, Kaidan continues to press his mouth into Shepard’s skin. Both beginning to shift against the other, it doesn’t take long for both of them to respond. Shepard is the first to reach below Kaidan’s waist—groping, squeezing, and rubbing. Kaidan pauses, rising up to release a hissing breath.
“Don’t stop,” Shepard beseeches.
Kaidan recomposes himself, bending until his lips have made it to Shepard’s navel. After the two of them meeting the other’s gaze, there’s an awkward shuffle. Kaidan removing Shepard’s underwear, then his own. Extending his arm, Shepard rummages through the bedside table drawer, withdrawing a tube that he then hands to Kaidan.
“Thanks,” Kaidan murmurs, lathering his fingers with lube.
Shepard tenses, feeling Kaidan’s touch and the cold lube at his entrance. Kaidan apologize, sliding his finger through and forward. Shepard’s beathe hitches, jaw clenching. But then Kaidan leans upward. Their mouths come together, soft and tender. Shepard sighs. Then another finger that he doesn’t resist so much. Kaidan asks whether he’s okay. Shepard replies in the affirmative, hips moving slightly.
“Ready?” Kaidan asks, voice husky and grazing Shepard’s ear.
“Of course,” Shepard replies.
Kaidan chuckles, lubricating completely and positioning himself between Shepard’s thighs. He then angles his hips and Shepard can feel Kaidan enter him. Shepard closes his eyes, biting down on his lower lip. It’s slow at first, Kaidan stopping once or twice to allow Shepard to adjust. Labored breathes reverberate around the room, punctuated by other incoherent noises.
Eventually, though, they’re both moving, rocking in sync with the other. At some point, Shepard cracks his eyelids. Kaidan’s face is all twisted up, mouth agape. Shepard grips Kaidan’s arm, touch running down his forearm until their hands are entwined.
“Look at me,” Shepard utters.
Kaidan smiles, their gazes matching. “Shepard,” he whispers.
Shepard stares up at him. He remembers the night before the Illusive Man’s base. Whiskey from the hospital gift shop, so much stronger than either of them. Alright, he thought, watching Kaidan saunter into his quarters. A drink, we both know it’s more than that. In the afterward, he held Kaidan. Old soldiers, old souls, so far from Eden Prime. Above, the Mass Effect fields enveloped around his skylight, like biotics Kaidan might use, obscuring the stars and the rest of the universe. Now Kaidan hits a certain spot and Shepard moans, brief flashes of stars and biotics or Mass Effect fields. He says Kaidan’s name and Kaidan’s body is hot against his, sweaty like all the time they’ve been trapped in armor.
It doesn’t take long. Kaidan thrusts, using his hand on Shepard. Kaidan finishes first and Shepard follows a few seconds after. Together they ride out the heady euphoria of climax. Kaidan withdraws, laying alongside Shepard, who gives him a welcoming embrace. Neither speak for a while.
Shepard breaks the silence. “I’m glad you’re back.”
“I am too.”
They shower together, the water not warm enough for Kaidan. Once back in bed, they resume their original position, Shepard’s arm around Kaidan’s shoulders, Kaidan’s head resting against Shepard’s chest. Shepard fades in and out. The Normandy will be in dock right now, still helmed over by Joker as any upgrades or repairs are applied. The crew will be enjoying their shore leave, occupying whatever nearby bars are still open.
“Take me to the stars,” Shepard says.
Kaidan stirs. “Shepard?”
“The Normandy—My ship,” Shepard continues, growing breathless, and knowing how Kaidan’s brow is creasing. “Take me on The Normandy, take me to the stars. Tomorrow morning. Please.”
Kaidan turns over, laying on Shepard’s chest. His hand raises, brow coming together just as Shepard imagined. “We’ll go,” he says, touch trailing along Shepard’s cheek.
Side by side, they stand at the galaxy map. It glitters just the way Shepard remembers. Some points have been highlighted. Illium, Thessia, a planet in the Attican Traverse. He assumes these planets are involved with Kaidan’s Spectre duties. But again he doesn’t ask about them. No, he contemplates his decision for a few moments. The heavens above Rannoch where Legion sacrificed himself, the dusty haze of Tuchanka, and the blistering red hell of the Collector Base and galactic core. Shepard chooses a sector of space near Rannoch. He feels the subtle ascent of the Normandy, smells the eezo of the drive core. Then he smiles, hands on the railing, Kaidan’s presence always there, always a comfort.
They retreat to the Observation Deck, sitting on the benches and watching Earth’s atmosphere go by. Shepard rests his head on Kaidan’s shoulder. Then he sees it. The corpse of the Citadel, still floating above the Earth. One arm is nearly detached from the others, debris and reconstruction ships occupying the space around it. Shepard sits up straighter, Kaidan’s hand on his back.
“It’s still here,” Shepard states.
“Only a Reaper could tow it now,” Kaidan confirms. “The Asari and Turians aren’t too happy about it.”
Shepard turns away, burying his face into his palms. That hallway full of bodies, he can smell it again, hear Anderson’s voice rumbling through the com. The Illusive Man is waiting for them, obliterated by indoctrination. Shepard breathes hard. The Geth and EDI. Lost now forever. Losses—Acceptable? Who knows?—of the war. EDI alive. Legion, a soul. Kaidan holds Shepard, soothing whispers into his ear.
“I’m sorry,” Shepard apologizes.
“No need to apologize. It’s gone now.”
The Normandy hurtles towards the Mass Relay. After some time a droning voice announces that they’ve arrived. Just a drone, just a VI. Not EDI. But still, Shepard detaches from Kaidan and stands from the bench. Outside of the window, hundreds of thousands of stars twinkle.
Shepard takes another gulp of eezo laden air, arm looping around Kaidan’s waist. Each leaning on the other, they stand and watch the stars pass by. Shepard dashes away any other visions. A single breath, another one deeper than before. He can fill his head with Kaidan and the stars of the galaxy. This is space, this is the Milky Way. This is where Shepard was born and has lived. This is where the galaxy and its civilizations persist.