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After the well-wishes from friends who were close enough to be family, the presents from people who knew him a little too well, and the cake that reminded them both of the one they had at their wedding, Kaidan sat Shepard on the bed and undressed in front of him. All Shepard had to do was remember how to breathe.

It was never going to get old—not like they would—to see Kaidan do something so simple so slowly. Because he had the time for it; because he didn’t have to rush. Because the night would be as long as they wanted, and Shepard wasn’t the only one left to deal with all the new problems they’d be met with in the morning.

Shepard shook his head, shaking off the kind of thinking that hadn’t been invited into their bedroom.

‘That a ‘shaking my head no’ kind of thing?’ Kaidan asked, naked down to his briefs, finger hooked under the elastic. His voice had already pitched deeper and Shepard swallowed without tilting his head back, without relaxing all the way.

‘More of a ‘shaking my head damn’ kind of thing,’ Shepard replied.

Now and then, he lucked into the right answer. Or he knew Kaidan so well that being honest wasn’t as hard as it used to be. Or Kaidan’s body had that effect on him and always would, and everybody—everything—deserved to be appreciated for what it was. Shepard would’ve hung a medal of honor on it, if he’d had the authority.

Maybe he’d find the way to say that sometime, too. Even if it came out cheesier than a Blasto line.

But Kaidan already knew what he’d signed up for—enlisted, really, when you thought about it—and he bit his lower lip as he palmed over his erection through the cotton of his briefs, touching himself while Shepard had a chance to get hard.

There weren’t too many feelings in the world better than watching somebody you loved feel good the way they wanted; when Kaidan kneeled at the edge of the bed and reached for something in the top drawer of the bedside table, one Shepard had built with scrap wood after too many false starts, Shepard figured Kaidan was going for the lube and enjoyed the sight of muscles stretching bare in the mostly-darkness.

He wasn’t.

‘Whoa,’ Shepard said, which he hadn’t—not in bed with Kaidan—for a while now. ‘That’s, uh…’

‘It’s something,’ Kaidan replied. And that was always true, a good way to make a piece of equipment seem normal, like no big deal.

Only Shepard liked the direct approach, where the unfamiliar stuff had a name and a classification and stats somewhere, flashing through on a datapad app, or listed off with EDI’s help via a private line on their omni-tools.

‘Yeah,’ Shepard said, swallowing, knuckles curled over his belly. ‘…Something.’

Kaidan’s chuckle had heat in it, something close to shyness that veered off brighter than ever at the last second. He lifted his eyes to Shepard’s face and Shepard swallowed, loudly, on a lump forming in his throat. The thing was, he wasn’t any less hard, which meant it was more up in his head than it was in his chest or his gut or the rest of him.

‘Okay?’ Kaidan’s voice was like the way he touched Shepard in the morning, running a thumb from his chest to his hipbone, right over his stomach as it swelled with a yawn.

‘Okay,’ Shepard replied.

And it was.

Kaidan flipped a switch on the thing in his hands and it buzzed, soft, like the hum of strip lights on the Normandy used to. Just a quiet, steady drone, but after a while, it got into your head. That was what Shepard had the most trouble with after—not the slow recuperation time, being groggy on pain meds, having to relearn his body all over again, but the silence that was everywhere, curfews starting and lights off, except for the hand-helds carried by night nurses. The way you could hear yourself breathing in the darkness. Shepard’s heartbeat was what replaced the steady noise and, for a while there, he kept expecting that to be silenced, too.

It wasn’t, and the rustle of the sheets as Kaidan settled on his knees was loud enough—for a few seconds, anyway—to be all Shepard heard. Then, the buzzing was back, Kaidan leaning his weight forward onto one palm, the noise and his other hand disappearing behind his back.

He had the right angle; he always knew what the right angle was. Shepard could follow the way his forearm flexed as the buzz muffled itself against cotton, against flesh, drawing the elastic of Kaidan’s briefs down over his ass as it traveled in the same direction and between the cheeks.

Whoa, Shepard thought again, but saying it twice in one night was overkill. Even if the situation kind of called for it, Shepard’s whole life called for rising above that time and time again.

Still, his fingers twitched against his stomach. Somehow they remembered how to undo the buckle on his belt, but the clack of metal on metal wasn’t loud enough to drown out the rest: Kaidan’s breathing; the creak of the mattress as he arched and his knees dug deeper in.

Shepard’s fingers stilled before they slipped into the rhythm Kaidan had already set, back and forth against his ass with just enough room between them for imagination. Even seeing Kaidan’s face—his lips parted, cheeks flushed, damp sweat at the side of his jaw and on the blush of his throat—wasn’t enough to learn everything he was feeling, because it looked like it was too much for just one person to feel.

And he still hadn’t…put anything inside yet; all the training in the world had never given Shepard the vocabulary to deal with break something like this down without blushing, himself.

Kaidan saw it happen, spreading over Shepard’s cheeks. He almost grinned but then his tongue swiped out over his lips to the corner instead. He met Shepard’s eyes and let the small of his back curve the way it did whenever Shepard was inside him, whenever he was inside Shepard, and the tip of the toy pressed against his balls.

That was about when Kaidan moaned.

Shepard joined him, one of those stifled sounds Kaidan coaxed out of him by kissing it free—but those were on the days when it was just the two of them, no third party buzzing between Kaidan’s legs. He rocked his hips into the feeling, Shepard imagining the vibration like when Kaidan hummed, and rolled his balls in his palm while knowing it wasn’t the same.

If the point was to get Shepard to want to try it sometime, then Kaidan was definitely selling the idea better than Shepard shilled Alliance post-war bonds and Commander Shepard brand support-the-ex-troops proteins.

None of that seemed real, but neither did this, Kaidan clutching a handful of their simple white sheets while his hips rolled forward and back and forward again. Shepard wondered if he should be jealous that there was anything else in the world good enough to make Kaidan that blown-out with pleasure, to make his lashes flutter and his mouth work wordless with need, but then knowing Kaidan could feel that way was enough to make Shepard bring his second hand down to his erection, one for the shaft and the other at the base.

The elastic of Kaidan’s briefs stretched as he spread his legs; he knew just how to maneuver and the control he had, sure, it was because of the biotics, the L2 implants, how he had to be that much extra strict with himself. But there was something about the way the fabric was pulled taut that pulled on the heat in Shepard’s gut, a long fuse lit with a slow, snapping burn.

Kaidan inched the tip up from his balls but he was only teasing himself, at least for the time being, pulling back without touching his erection. When his hips rocked it bobbed, alone, against his stomach. Shepard thought about all the times he’d touched it, the times it’d been pressed against his mouth and his jaw. He thought about the way Kaidan shivered when Shepard kissed the tip and the way he wrapped his fingers around it himself, rubbing his thumb over the slit.

Shepard knew that part of Kaidan as well as he knew the line at the small of his back, the freckles over his eyebrow, the gray at his temples and the shape of his ass. He knew it as well as the shoulders he held onto, the thighs he’d been between enough times that they had to lose count.

Shepard watched it bob as Kaidan rocked into the vibrator teasing the skin beneath it. Then, finally, so much a part of what Shepard needed that the relief he felt was for both of them, Kaidan finally pushed it up past the backs of his balls until it was settled alongside his dick.

One of these days, Shepard’s chest wasn’t going to get hot and tight just thinking that word. It was the boy scout streak in him that made Kaidan’s lips twitch, that made Garrus roll his eyes.

Yeah,’ Kaidan said, and his voice was all burning shrapnel the way it only got when he was turned on, pushing between Shepard’s legs after spreading them and gripping their erections together. Being that close to somebody else was nothing like fighting for them, with them, being ready to die beside them. But the knowledge was just as fundamental—and just as strong. ‘Yeah, Shepard—’

It wasn’t something Shepard had anything to do with, except, maybe, in a tangential way. Like an inspiration, or the guy being honored for lifetime service at a fancy banquet. People were there, enjoying the food, the debates, the music, and in the backs of their minds they were always thinking about the name on the banners, the best of pictures projected on a blank wall. The reason for the party, even if the guest of honor hadn’t shown up yet.

Shepard shook his head again. It was definitely still the damn kind of thing. Kaidan gripped himself one handed and the buzzing strained against the tightness of that hold; he kept rocking into it and Shepard did the same, although he was holding less.

Yeah, yeah. One word, better than any of the other ones Shepard knew. It could’ve been that was all they needed. Kaidan shifted forward and his arm never trembled, though the breath he took shuddered all the way through his throat—and Shepard knew what that meant.

Shepard went first. That was usually what happened. It wasn’t a strategy, just blind eagerness, the opposite of a soldier’s trained instincts. It was wanting something so bad you couldn’t even hold yourself back from it, and considering how many times a person shot themselves in the foot in their lifetime, that was the greatest gift you could give somebody.

The ability, the push, to just go for something.

Shepard went for Kaidan and he came for Kaidan. He was hot in his hand, a mess on his belly, probably saying his names and a string of krogan curses Wrex had taught him. Kaidan sounded like he was chuckling but then it turned out he was moaning, and Shepard was just in time to watch him come, too.

The way it changed his face, hair falling damp and messy over his forehead.

He hated it when that happened. And Shepard loved it.

Kaidan paused to catch his breath, to search for the switch to turn the vibrator off, the silence that followed still humming because of all the sounds their bodies made while relaxing. The bed creaked, the sheets rustled, and the elastic of Kaidan’s briefs snapped while the clink of metal on metal came from Shepard’s belt buckle.

‘Damn, Kaidan,’ Shepard finally said, knowing how he sounded, too happy about it to care. ‘That was what I was going to get you for your birthday. Way to ruin the surprise.’

‘I don’t know,’ Kaidan replied, already starting to move forward. ‘I wouldn’t mind a repeat performance from you sometime.’