The Normandy crew was nothing but happy for Commander Shepard and Kaidan coming together. There had been an under the table betting pool about when they’d get together (Cortez had walked away the victor, James mostly kidding in calling foul on unfair advantage, given that he was about the only other person on the Normandy with a successful romantic history), and overall, crew morale was up because their morale was up.
Even better than that, though, was the fact that they arranged it that the two could have a private night together. Granted, they couldn’t prevent the Reapers from causing some catastrophe that might call their attention away, but they had pooled their leisure time and granted the ship’s commanding officers a full evening that would have them entirely off-duty and able to relax before the Normandy made it back to port at the Citadel – a bit of pre-shore leave shore leave.
That left them with the Starboard Observation Lounge all to themselves. In truth, it had been unofficially claimed by Kaidan since his return, but this was more than the usual allowance of the space for him. They were able to activate the privacy seals and switch off EDI’s interface (not that she used the terminals much since getting her mech body, but it was the principle of the matter). No uninvited guests would be allowed.
Between Doctor Chakwas, Sam Traynor, and Steve Cortez, they had a nice selection of wines, as well as some of the finest food from Earth that they could manage, considering Earth was barricaded behind a wall of Reapers. It wasn’t as elaborate as some fancy dinner on the Citadel could have been, but there was no question that both of them considered it perfect.
Kaidan sighed as he leaned back, meal finished. “You know, Shepard... I really think I needed this.”
“I know I did.” Shepard let out a sigh of his own, appreciating the opportunity to relax. It was hard to carve out time that wasn’t devoted to the ongoing war. Even their supposed ‘down time’ involved catching up on the paperwork – heaven help them if they stopped the Reapers without crossing every ‘t’ for some pencil pusher in both the Alliance and Citadel space...
With the food finished off, leaving just the wine (Steve had been gracious enough to track down a 2131 vintage that Kaidan called a good year – Shepard would take his word for it), the two of them settled on the couch, staring out at the stars.
Shepard loved being with Kaidan like this. True, he loved Kaidan period, but there was something special about these quiet moments. For a little while, the rest of the galaxy went away – the war, the Reapers, the responsibilities... It was just them. Considering the struggles they’d gone through just to get here...
“Kaidan... You ever wonder about if we’d actually managed to do this back on the old Normandy?”
“By ‘this,’ I’m assuming you don’t mean dinner?” Kaidan asked with a chuckle – the SR-1’s mess hall had held little more than the basic supplies for food, and the requisitions officer had been more focused on weapons and mods rather than more gourmet options on the menu.
Shepard had to laugh as well at the thought of even attempting to have a dinner like this on the old Normandy. About the only place they could have had the privacy they’d been given tonight would have been the captain’s cabin, and there, Shepard would have had a deluge of paperwork to deal with, a constant reminder of his duties.
Still, after a moment, he sobered some, meeting Kaidan’s gaze. “I mean this... Us. You and me.”
“I thought about it. Actually... I thought about it more than once then.”
Shepard was surprised at that. “I never knew.”
“I was trying to keep it secret. At the time, the scuttlebutt was all about how Ash was attracted to you, or how Liara was who you wouldn’t be defying regulations to be involved with... Easier to keep my head down.”
Shepard remembered those days, how there had been a lot of mixed signals going on between him, Ashley, and Liara. He winced slightly at the thought – both of them had, at separate times, made it clear they were interested in him, and had thought that he returned the feeling. It had been more than a little awkward on the Normandy at times.
“While I get why you would, I really almost wish you’d just come out and said something. I... certainly wouldn’t have complained.”
“And it would have made it clear to both of them that you weren’t looking in their direction?” Kaidan asked with a raised eyebrow.
Shepard shrugged. “It couldn’t have hurt things.” He shook his head. “At the least, that would have made things a little less awkward.” He sighed. “I wanted something with you then, Kaidan. It drove me crazy sometimes, knowing you were right outside the door to my cabin... So close, but just out of reach...”
“You should have said something,” Kaidan said. It was, he’d admit, one of Shepard’s most endearing qualities, that the man who was unafraid when it came to facing down krogans in bloodrage, a prison full of batarians out for human blood, and multi-story Reapers on foot, but put his heart out on the line and he felt genuine fear. He’d been afraid enough of rejection that he’d stayed quiet. It was rather sweet, Kaidan felt.
“We both learned our lesson, at least,” Shepard said. He shook his head. “Just barely in time, too. With this war... Every time I drop out of the shuttle, there’s that part of me that wonders... if this is going to be the time one or both of us don’t come back.”
The realist in Kaidan knew Shepard was right – he’d seen the casualty lists. The fact that neither of them had been killed yet, especially considering they were on the front lines, and further than just about anyone else on a regular basis, was in and of itself a minor miracle. If Kaidan had only read about their continued survival, he’d have pegged it as propaganda meant to keep the troops’ morale up.
Still, Kaidan wasn’t about to just let that be the side who won the day in Shepard’s mind. “I intend to make it through this, Shepard. And I hope you do, too. Because there’s about a dozen places I’d like to retire to, once this war is over and we take Earth back.” He figured his parents’ vineyard was rubble and ash by now, but they’d be the ones who’d retaken humanity’s homeworld and stopped the Reapers from wiping out sapient life in the galaxy – odds were, they’d be able to pick the best real estate when this was over.
The words were certainly appreciated on Shepard’s part, if nothing else. “I want that too, Kaidan. More than anything.” He laughed, seemingly more at himself than anything else. “You know, after Horizon... I honestly thought I might never see you again. And this...” He took Kaidan’s hand, twining their fingers together. “I definitely thought this was... just an impossible dream.”
The mention of Horizon made Kaidan wince. Despite their discussion of how to move past it, the wound – the scar – of that day was still raw. “To be honest... I probably would have said so too for... a while after that.” He shook his head. “Seeing you with Cerberus, after everything they did, to you, to Kahoku, to Toombs, to god knows how many other people... It was all I could do not to try and... arrest all of you, there on the spot.”
Shepard didn’t need to remark on that – even if he’d been willing to go in to Alliance questioning, which, given the nature of the mission against the Collectors, was a mighty big ‘if,’ there was no way that an entire ship full of Cerberus operatives would have gone along with it. Miranda would have led a mutiny. The Normandy had only been turned over to the Alliance for refit well after they’d returned from the Omega-4 Relay, after the point that the crew would – HAD – gone to hell and back on Shepard’s orders, not the Illusive Man’s. Kaidan attempting to arrest any of them wouldn’t have ended well for him.
“For what it’s worth, I understand your reaction. Hell, I handled it... pretty bad myself.” He still kicked himself over how he’d greeted Kaidan, more like he’d just returned from a long shore leave, rather than having been dead for two years. “I should have been better about it.”
That earned a chuckle out of Kaidan. “They don’t exactly cover resurrection in the manuals, Shepard. I don’t think anyone could really prepare for that.” He considered for a moment. “You know... even though part of me wanted to lock you up... There was a part of me that... wished I’d gone with you. Had decided that, whatever your reasons, you were right, that you wouldn’t work with Cerberus unless you had good cause for it.”
The thought made Shepard consider that – if Kaidan had gone with them, would he have let him step away from his side? Would he have trusted Kaidan’s tech skills to travel through the heat vents? His biotics to hold the barrier against the seeker swarms? His command skills to get the others through as a diversion? Or would he have been too worried of something happening to him?
“Honestly? As much as I wish you had been there, I’m also glad you weren’t. The Collector Base... It was a nightmare. I still don’t know how we made it out of there alive. That place... It really was the stuff of nightmares. I wouldn’t wish them on anyone, especially not you.”
For a long moment, Kaidan was silent, considering just what Shepard wasn’t saying about it. The Collector Base hadn’t had any Alliance-issued after-action reports, naturally, which left discussions of it down to effectively what the crew chose to tell. And it seemed no one wanted to talk about it. Which, Kaidan would admit, said a lot right there.
“Still, Shepard... I don’t want you to have to go through something like that on your own again. I... I wanna be there with you, any time that you have to... march into hell, trying to get through to the other side.” The poetry was a tad unexpected, but it got the sentiment across, so...
Shepard smiled at him, pulling their joined hands up to kiss Kaidan’s. “Despite being glad you missed the Collectors... I’m so happy you’re here with me this time. I can’t imagine doing this without you, Kaidan. Fighting the Reapers... Hopefully, this is the last hell we have to cross.”
“Let’s hope.” Kaidan didn’t want to think about what might also be out there, the idea that something might be worse than the Reapers. How that could be topped, he didn’t know, but given Shepard’s luck, he’d probably be the one to find it.
“It is good to have you here.” Shepard sighed. He met Kaidan’s gaze, smiling softly. “You know, back on Mars... I was so worried. Not just when the mech... attacked you. Before that. When... when I didn’t know if you would trust me again.” The idea of Kaidan never believing in him had been a specter hanging over Shepard’s head all through their exploration of the Martian archives. “Why didn’t you... come to see me? When I was in lockup?”
The question made Kaidan hesitate. He’d thought about it often. He’d been in touch with Admiral Anderson, he’d surely have been able to arrange it, regardless of whatever security measures and precautions were in place. Hell, after his promotion to Major, Kaidan’s security clearance would surely have been enough to get him in the old-fashioned way, even if the visits were supervised. Yet every time Kaidan had thought about it... He’d stopped himself from taking the steps he’d need to do so.
“I... I think I was scared. Scared that something about you HAD changed, that you were going to be someone entirely different, someone... I couldn’t respect anymore. Or even... want to take this step with you.” Kaidan squeezed Shepard’s hand to make sure he understood what specifically Kaidan meant by ‘this.’
For a moment, Shepard was quiet, considering that. Then he laughed. “That makes sense. And... it really does make us a pair, doesn’t it? Both of us... spent so long, being afraid about what we might not be able to have... we didn’t think about what we could. Not until... it was almost too late.”
The recognition made Kaidan laugh as well. Shepard was right. They’d so nearly lost their chance to ever be here, together, after missing so many... “It’s a good thing that we managed to get our act together, then,” he said with a smile. He leaned in for a kiss, feeling Shepard wrap his arms around him, pulling him closer.
When they pulled back, Shepard’s eyes fluttered. Kaidan was pleased to see that his lover got the same heady rush from kissing him that he got from kissing Shepard.
“I love you, Kaidan.”
“I love you too, John.”
“Mm. You don’t normally use my first name.” Most people didn’t, actually. Shepard had never quite understood that, but he’d grown accustomed to it.
“Do you mind?”
“Actually, I could stand to hear you use it more often...”
This was certainly worth all the trials and struggles to reach this point.