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Fifteen Minutes: A Mass Effect Short Story

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Sleep is a rarity these days. The past few weeks running and fighting our way across this galaxy, and I spent a good chunk of it laid up in a hospital. My face still hurts, like my bones didn’t knit together correctly. I try not to think about it, because I can still hear him shouting my name, right before the pain knocked me out. I could have taken that thing, fried it with an overload, but I wasn’t fast enough. I just wasn’t quite as fast as he is.

I came up here to talk to him, to see if we could just get a few moments, just some back and forth. I wanted to bounce ideas off, like we used to. I remember him from our first mission, a bit quiet, but he seemed to like talking to me. “No rules that say you can’t be friends with your commanding officer,” he told me.

I guess friendship isn’t quite what I was looking for. I admired him, had a healthy respect for him; we saw a lot of things back in the day. It seems so innocent now, like we were children, playing at war.

Now, we’re in the thick of it. It’s hard to distance myself.

When I walk into the cabin, the lights are all out, apart from a small lamp in the sleeping area. In its dim light, I can see him flopped across the bed. His boots are kicked off to the side, and he is face down, arms folded beneath his head, legs stretched out, eyes closed, sound asleep.

I stand on top of the steps, watching.

There have been more than a few moments where I’ve caught myself wondering if he’s real. I’ve felt my thoughts wandering into the ‘what if’ state, wondering if he’s really the friend I lost. The first reaction when I saw him on Horizon all that time ago, I thought I saw a ghost. I thought I was dying, maybe trapped in stasis like all those other people, and I was seeing the last memories I’d ever get before the Collectors took me.

I study his face from a distance.

He looks like he should. The jaw is right, the nose, the mouth, the eyes. Cerberus even got the hair right, that sharp shade of black that only comes from genetics. I know they saved his life, and yet I can’t help thinking that it’s all a dream, same thing I’ve thought for the last several months. When I knew he was on Earth, just a few doors away, in the detention area, the endless waiting… I wanted to see him, but apart from a passing encounter in a hallway, I was never allowed in the same room. I’ve never thought to ask why.

His memory haunted me for those six months. My friend, trapped, alone, more of a political prisoner than a criminal. They treated him well, but even I could see it in his eyes during those few moments after we left Earth, right after the invasion: he was thinking escape, freedom, the opportunity to run.

Instead, he did what I expected, what I knew he would do. I called him a traitor once, and I have regretted that remark ever since. We were friends, and I could not follow him down his path, because the memory I had conflicted with the reality I faced.

Two years ago, his face was the last thing I could see, the last memory I had. I dreamed about his ghost for two years. When I saw him alive on Horizon, I was a mess of emotion – terror, relief, joy at seeing a friend alive, bitter sorrow when I realize how many he could not save. When I saw him, when our hands touched briefly, I felt a spark of life like I hadn’t felt since I watched him die. When I saw the Cerberus people, when I heard their voices, their words, and heard him echoing them, I could feel nothing but hate.

He was my friend, a good friend, a fellow soldier, and he was with the enemy of my people. I didn’t know what to do. I dismissed him. I said horrible things; I was furious with him. I felt like he had betrayed me personally, on a level that no one had ever hit.

When I left Horizon, I barely spoke to anyone. I reported my findings to Anderson, and I left, went to hide on my own for awhile. I dropped out of sight, same as I did all those years ago with Vyrrnus. I hid, because it’s the only way I know to get my thoughts in order, to bring myself back to me.

When I kept seeing his face, no matter the time of day, the night, in a crowd, or just wandering by myself in Citadel corridors… I think that’s when I knew.

I knew that it wasn’t friendship, nothing so simple as that. It was… complicated. That was the best word I could use to describe it. I kept quiet. I never told anyone, not my parents, not my friends, no one. I wasn’t sure how to tell myself.

Now, I’m watching him sleep. It’s one of those moments that people don’t often have.

When you watch someone sleep, you see that person in a state that no one else ever does. Watching him, I don’t see a soldier, and I don’t see a warrior. I see a vulnerable, broken, shattered mess. He’s hurting. I can see it. I saw it on the Citadel, when he had a gun on me. I knew he didn’t want to be in that situation, I could see it. I knew he didn’t want to put me in that place. he pulled the trigger so I didn’t have to.

I don’t have a taste for killing. He doesn’t either, but he’s not afraid of it. He’s not afraid of himself. I used to be terrified of what I was capable of. Now, I’m comfortable in my own skin, but it took a third of my life to get here. It took me this long to know who I am, and what I want out of this life.

“Nnnhh…”

I look at him.

His eyes are squeezed tightly shut. One of his hands, his fingers are fixed into claws, tearing at the sheet, dragging furrows across it. His teeth are gritted, revealed through his twisted lips. He’s having a nightmare.

I walk forward, kneel by the bed. I reach my hand out, take his fingers, give him the only reassurance that I can.

His fingers wrap around mine, his face slowly relaxes, and he sinks back into sleep. He doesn’t let go of my hand. I see a tremor around his mouth, the shadow of a faint smile. Then, his breathing regulates, and he drifts back down into the depths of his own mind, but, this time, I hope it’s to a place outside of the nightmare.

I remain there, kneeling by the bed, watching him. when he wakes up, I’ll talk to him. I’ll tell him the truth. If this is where my path leads, then I’ll proudly walk it. If his path happens to converge with mine… well… I think I can live with that.

Be nice to have a future to look forward to. If anyone can see to it that we get a future, it’s him.

I watch.

His eyes twitch, and one of them opens, slowly looking at me, a blue disc floating in a sea of white.

“Kaidan?” he mumbles. “What’re you doing here?”

“Just checking in.”

“S’good,” he mutters. He adjusts the position of his head on his arms. “Fifteen more minutes,” he grumbles.

“It’s oh-one-hundred, Commander. You can sleep awhile longer.”

“Fifteen more minutes,” he repeats, and drifts off again. His fingers never slacken their grip on my hand.

I sit there and I wait.

I’ve got fifteen minutes to think about what to say.

In fifteen minutes, I will tell him.