Carrie Shepard and Kaidan Alenko are happy.
As happy as they ever will be, at least. They have their ups and downs, just like anyone, although theirs tend to be more drastic on an individual scale given both of their struggles with their neuroatypicalities.
But they are always there for each other, always there to offer support and understanding. No matter what, they will always have each others’ backs.
In the years since the Reaper War has ended, their lives are likely as “normal” as either of them could ever hope for. Long nights filled with terror and tears have never ceased, but they have eased some throughout the passage of time. Frequency and severity have subsided, and while there are many wounds time cannot heal, time adds perspective. All they’ve lost, all they’ve suffered…it isn’t right to say that isn’t hard, even after all this time, because it is. But it helps to have each other. And sometimes, that simply has to be enough.
It has been over five years since the last days of the Reaper War, and life has reached a strange sense of calm. Friends that have become family come and go, but they all keep in touch. Sometimes they visit, sometimes Shepard and Kaidan visit them. They’ve never lost that connection, though. They never will.
The damage that Shepard has endured as a result of activating the Crucible is one she has managed to resign to. She and Kaidan both know what it is like to live a life of constant aches and pains, but they get by. It is not exactly something one ever truly grows accustomed to, but they live. And at least they have each other, and that can be enough.
It is a terrifying day, however, when Shepard abruptly wakes up and immediately has to run to the bathroom, violently heaving the second her knees hit the floor. She regrets letting her hair grow out, even though she hasn’t had a reason to maintain it otherwise since she left active duty.
He startles upright as soon as she does, hearing the sound of the door closing behind her and her body slamming to the ground, followed by those desperate gags and gasps that his migraines have forced him to become all too familiar with.
His eyes fix on the door, watching and waiting being the only course of action he can reasonably take until she returns.
It’s been quieter between them as time’s gone on. Perhaps they’ve gotten used to it, perhaps that explains the instant burst of panic in his chest.
He clutches a blanket, forcing patience.
She hasn’t felt like this since some of her particularly bad patches on Omega back in 2185, another lifetime ago it seems, when she’d find herself on the floor of bathroom stalls in Afterlife, sobbing and choking on the stench of volus bina.
This, however, is obviously not of the same origin, and neither she nor Kaidan know what to make of it.
Both of them fear the worst: are her Cerberus implants rejecting, or is this some unforeseen side effect of melding with the Catalyst that had delayed somehow, or is it maybe as simple as all this borrowed time she’s been living on finally running out?
She feels like she’s on fire, and all of this added stress is sending her everyday pain into a flare.
She’s ready to get up, though, unable to so much as attempt a guess at how much time has passed. She forces herself to move, to get herself cleaned up as well as she is able to.
“Kaidan,” she calls out hoarsely, tears catching in her throat. She leans into the sink, knuckles turning white from holding herself up. Her stomach is yet turning, but for the moment she no longer feels like she is urgently going to be sick. Her head is throbbing.
He’s up the moment she utters his name. He barely hears her, but he’d been listening too intently to miss it.
He rushes to the bathroom door, and when it opens she turns on her heels and thrusts herself into him, breaking into harsh sobs the second their bodies meet. His arms wrap around her, and they are both shaken and unsteady.
Her head is spinning and her whole body aches even moreso than usual. She doesn’t know how she’s holding herself up at all, pondering if perhaps Kaidan is doing more work to keep her standing than she’d thought.
She feels boneless, as though she’s ready to slip right out of his grasp, so he grips her tighter. He tries his best not to let on that he’s barely keeping himself together. It’s true that her body has never recovered from the near-sacrifice she’d made with the Catalyst, but she has not been so aggressively symptomatic in years.
“It’s okay,” he wants to convince himself as much as he wants to convince her. “Come on.”
He helps her get back into bed, but he does not lie down with her. Instead he remains sitting, and her head rests in his lap as he affectionately runs his fingers through her hair.
“I’m going to call Karin, okay?” His voice is soft, and she easily hears the blatant effort he puts into concealing the fear behind it.
“Okay.” She hardly even manages a whisper, but she is the only thing he can focus on. She is the only thing he sees, hears, feels.
He is terrified, and she doesn’t know what to do.
His hand extends towards her back, continues to move up and down, his touch soothing and safe, although she can feel that he is shaking almost as hard as she.
Karin does not ask questions, does not hesitate to tell them she’s on her way. She has given up everything since Shepard came back. She’s left space travel and active soldiers behind, settled down in Vancouver, working in an Alliance veterans hospital. She appears to be happy, she seems genuinely content with where she is and what she’s doing, but it is no secret who she has done it for. She has been so much like a mother to Shepard over the years, and this is no exception.
It does not even occur to Kaidan to run a scan of his own, to make use of his medical training. He can’t think of anything beyond keeping the both of them calm, of staying present with her.
Otherwise his mind swiftly wanders towards calling his parents, to turning to them after losing the woman he loves. Again.
It would be even harder now, too, that they know her, that they love her as much as he had always known they would. This time they would not only feel sadness out of sympathy; this time, they would be nearly as devastated as he, and for their own sakes.
In a moment, he will also call in to cancel all of his classes for the day. In a moment. But first, all that matters is to touch her, to keep her close. All that matters is her.
“It’s okay,” he repeats. “It’s okay, Carrie, it’s…it’s okay.”
It has to be okay.
“Shepard,” Karin says nervously, omni-tool alight and buzzing with swarms of data.
Even after all this time, she still won’t use Shepard’s first name. Even after all this time, Kaidan and his parents are the only ones who bear that honor.
Shepard feels like fresh hell, and she can’t force herself to look at anyone. She takes comfort in running her right index finger along the beautiful bright blue stone of her engagement ring, her most cherished possession. It is more than a symbol of her relationship with Kaidan, as though that wasn’t enough. Having been passed from Kahlee to Jack to Kaidan, having once been Anderson’s to give…so much lives in that ring, so much lost and found all in one.
Kaidan, himself, moves again to lightly rubbing her back, this time with her sitting beside him, his motions aimless but grounding.
“What is it?” Kaidan follows in Shepard’s place, when she cannot figure out how to speak for herself.
“I’m surprised at you, Kaidan,” Karin offers a strange smile. “You should have caught this one, yourself.”
A thought strikes him, so obvious but simultaneously so far outside the realm of possibility—or so they had believed, or so they had never even bothered to question as hard fact.
So obvious, yes, or it would be if she were anyone else. But it strikes him all the same, even though he is certain it can’t be…but can it?
“You never will stop surprising us, will you, Shepard?” Karin continues, smile not yet fading. “You’re pregnant.”
“What?” She looks up at that, her eyes wide. “But I thought…I mean, Miranda can’t—”
“You’re not Miranda,” Karin states matter-of-factly. “Your resurrection may have been of a similar construction, but your base genetic structures would be completely different. And I’m sure Andrea will welcome her new cousin with utmost enthusiasm.”
It’s true, Miranda’s daughter is still so young but already so precocious, already so ahead of her age. But of course she would be, she’s Miranda’s. And with all the time she spends with Jacob’s kids, the galaxy is certainly in for it in a couple of decades.
And now, apparently, Shepard and Kaidan will be contributing.
They’d had this conversation, not too long after her miraculous second return to life but long enough before their wedding. Neither had ever truly figured out where they stood, but they had stood in such uncertainty together.
But such uncertainty is no longer an option. Wonders never cease, evidently.
“Wow,” Kaidan says under his breath. He is grateful, he is so beyond grateful for as bad as he’d worried this could have been, it’s...this. But he is also yet nervous, now in an entirely different way, because he has no idea what this means for them. He has no idea what Shepard wants, neither does he know exactly what she can handle.
It is going to be a risky endeavor if they follow through with this, of that he has no doubt. But he wants it, he realizes as it sinks in. He genuinely wants this.
What she wants, however, what she needs is still his highest priority.
“Tell me what you’re thinking,” he makes himself say. He is so gentle, as ready as he can be for whatever answer she has.
“How is this…how is this going to work?” She looks directly at Karin, and she is suddenly holding onto Kaidan’s arm as tight as she can. “I mean, for…for me. This isn’t going to be easy, is it?”
“Doubtful,” Karin responds bluntly without missing a beat. “Then again, neither was saving the galaxy from the Reapers, was it?”
“Karin…” Shepard trails off before reaching some sort of snide comment, whatever precisely she’s looking for eluding her. She cannot help but smile, though, at the way Karin is dealing with her in this, how maternal she has always been with her.
That’s when it hits Shepard, when it all crashes down on her that she actually wants this. It scares the hell out of her to think about what all this will mean, the toll it will take on her body and all the responsibility it entails, but she wants this.
She’s always said that Kaidan would be a great dad. She can only hope that she’s as up for the challenges of parenthood as she fully believes he is.
“We have some calls to make, don’t we?” Shepard shifts her eyes towards Kaidan when any follow up to Karin still does not come. “A lot of calls. Your parents first, yeah?”
“Yeah,” Kaidan says eagerly. “Yeah, definitely, we…”
“I’ll leave you two to it, then,” Karin tells them, and she sounds every bit as happy for them as she feels. After all, she will not say how her heart had leapt out of her chest when she received Kaidan’s call, how her mind had gravitated towards the worst just as much as theirs had. Because that doesn’t matter now. All that matters is that Shepard is okay, and that she continues to stand as the miracle that never quits.
“No, no,” Shepard insists. “Please, stay for a drink, or—well, maybe not for me…oh shit…”
“Come by later for dinner,” Kaidan interjects. “I’ll cook. Around 7:00?”
“I’ll be here,” Karin replies.
Kaidan sees her out, both of them unable to hold back how excited they are for the news once Shepard is out of earshot. Neither of them are sure why they feel the need to tread so delicately in Shepard’s presence, but it has always been a challenge not to treat her like she’s made of glass—physically or emotionally—for as long as she’s been in this house.
It’s okay, though. Now they are sure, it’s okay.
“Your parents are going to flip their shit, aren’t they?” Shepard chuckles when Kaidan walks back into the room.
“Oh yeah,” Kaidan admits. “This should be…interesting.”
“Karin is coming back tonight, right?” Shepard suddenly looks and sounds so small.
“Yeah, of course,” Kaidan assures her. “Why?”
“I just…I’m scared,” she confesses. “I have so many questions, so much…”
“She’ll be there for us, no matter what,” he tells her. “You know that.”
“I know,” she affirms. “Maybe Kelly…”
“Yeah,” Kaidan agrees. “Yeah, good call.”
“But parents first.”
Kaidan’s parents were elated when they heard the news. Both of them immediately took to knitting baby size blankets and socks and sweaters, adding them to the normal array of hats and scarves and adult size versions of those blankets and socks and sweaters they always have ready and waiting for Kaidan and Shepard whenever they visit.
“Have any ideas for names yet?” Kaidan’s father asks the very first time he sees them after learning that their family is about to get bigger.
“Dad, we have months left to worry about that,” Kaidan replies. “We’re taking it slow.”
That much has been true. It’s only been a couple of weeks since they learned, and most of their time has been spent keeping track of health. Shepard has already had her fill of vitamins for the rest of her life, absolutely deluged by pills supplied by Karin. They were afraid to even take this trip at all, only an hour’s drive away but leaving enough worry about how much time that could be for something to go wrong. She is always tired and frequently sick, and she can already no longer remember a time when her head wasn’t perpetually spinning. Karin keeps a close eye on her, with Kaidan monitoring as much as he can when she’s not around. Shepard isn’t supposed to—or more like allowed to, or at least that’s how it feels to her—spend any more time out of bed than necessary, and Karin was not exactly thrilled about them leaving the city even for a day.
And the pain has been astronomical, even by the standards of her life post-synthesis, and she hasn’t been able to use her cane as a result of the aches she has all over, how weak that has left her, how fragile it makes her feel. She is as unsteady as ever without it, and the effect this has had on her mobility leaves her oft confined to their bedroom whether under doctor’s orders or not.
So it’s nice to get away for a little while, although Kaidan’s parents are every bit as doting as Karin, as well as every bit as much as James and Kelly since they have returned to their home away from home.
Miranda and Oriana sent flowers. Jacob and Brynn sent a lovely email with photos of their Nesiah and Horace sitting together with Andrea at a playground, stating that they can’t wait for the new addition. Jack has offered to cover for Kaidan at the Vancouver Ascension Project School any time he needs. Steve sent a large package of chocolate hamantaschen and promises to see them soon, the latter also promised by Joker and Edi.
James and Kelly, on the other hand, wasted no time, and are at the house catching up with Karin while Shepard and Kaidan are in Maple Ridge.
“Feeling alright, Carrie?” Kaidan’s mother checks in. “Would you like some tea?”
“No and yes, please,” Shepard laughs. “Thank you, Vanessa.”
“Anything you need, and I mean anything, you let us know,” she follows.
“I know,” Kaidan says quickly. “Thanks, Mom.”
Karin has estimated that she’s only about six weeks in, that the unpredictability of her post-war body and how reactionary it can be is likely somehow responsible for her symptoms manifesting so early. And while she isn’t at all showing yet, it’s been days since she could force herself into anything other than yoga pants. But with everything else…
She has a long way to go.
And she is so grateful to have her families to help.
“It’s a tradition for you to name after those who’ve come before, isn’t it?” Kaidan’s father asks Shepard directly.
“Dad, please,” Kaidan tries on her behalf, but she only laughs.
“Yes, after those who’ve passed on,” Shepard tells him. “So no, Yevheniy, we are not naming any kids after you any time soon, okay.”
“Alright, I get it,” he concedes with a bright smile, such a striking resemblance of which he had passed along to Kaidan. “Carrie, are you comfortable? Do you need any pillows or anything?”
“Do I look that bad?” Shepard snickers, but she knows she very well may not. The first time she ever entered this house, she’d taken her cane with her and they never made a deal of it but have always been ready and willing to accommodate her. The very first time she ever met these people, they immediately saw how much she struggles, and they have never looked at her any differently.
They care about her, that’s all. They’ve been so good to her, and she has never for a moment doubted whether she belongs here with them.
“Not at all,” Yevheniy smiles again, and Vanessa is close behind with that tea she offered. “But if you do…”
“I know,” Shepard nods. “I know, thank you.”
Shepard is sobbing in the passenger’s seat on the ride back to the city. It came from nowhere, and neither of Kaidan’s parents had anything but kindness for her on their way out the door. She wants one of those big soft blankets they’d made for her and Kaidan, but everything they were gifted this visit sits in the backseat as she is too afraid of getting sick to keep anything with her until they get home.
“They’re just going to have to visit us next time,” Kaidan says, attempting to calm her down.
She holds her head in her hands, at a loss. There is no reason for her to be so upset; nothing has happened and her mental health has become notably less unpredictable and catastrophic over the past few years.
She heard Kaidan’s mother say that this is normal, though. It is a strange concept, the idea of a random breakdown for her being a normal part of anything.
She’s glad Kelly will be there for her when they get home. Kelly is probably the person she needs to talk to most right now, right up there with Karin.
Kelly, an exceptional testimony to the unconventional nature of Shepard’s interpersonal relationships. Shepard had gone from actively seeking to dislike Kelly to becoming good friends, and then to building a romantic tension that ended with their sleeping together and then back to being good friends with legitimately no awkwardness whatsoever. And after the war, Kelly used her psych background to help Shepard through the worst of it, to finally get her talking to a professional as she’d needed to do for so long (even if it was in a most unprofessional dynamic).
And she is going to need Kelly now, more than she has in a long time.
And it’s always damn good to see James again, too.
“We’ll be home soon,” Kaidan says. “It’s okay.”
It’s okay. It’ll be okay.