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Shepard was wearing the first t-shirt Kaidan had ever seen him in, a James Bond thing, 007, and Kaidan decided he was going to ask him out. Actually, finally, on a date; it didn’t have to be anything more than what they usually did, just as long as they called it what it was. Or what it could be.

Or what Kaidan wanted, really badly. 

Pizza and a movie and coffee after, Kaidan’s treat; a long walk between bus stops with their knuckles bumping not just by accident, not ever holding hands, but even without that the feeling was still pretty great. Kaidan had a name for it—the name was almost. And it drove him crazy, but he kind of didn’t care.

He didn’t make sense when he was with Shepard and he made more sense than ever when he was with Shepard. He couldn’t explain that in five hundred words or less, circle the answer closest to the definition he’d studied—but he felt it every morning he woke up and rolled over and grabbed for his phone before he even grabbed for his glasses, rubbing one eye while he checked the messages from Shepard overnight.

Good mornings were when he got more than one. Just got off, cya tomorrow probably meant Shepard was too tired to say anything else, not that he’d run out of things to say, but sometimes he just sent hey, at two or three in the morning, and Kaidan pictured him in a room he’d never been invited back to, leaning over a desk Kaidan had never seen or on his back in a bed Kaidan had never flopped down on.

Mostly, he pictured Shepard thinking about him, wishing he knew what that looked like.

All the time, every day. That one afternoon Kaidan hadn’t meant to fall asleep but he must have, because he woke up with Shepard’s fingers in his hair.

He’d pretended he was still out just to feel it, Shepard’s callused fingertips running along the back of Kaidan’s ear, Shepard’s pulse in his thigh, through his jeans, pressed against Kaidan’s temple, everything amazing—until Kaidan realized he was still wearing his glasses and they were smashed into his cheek.

There was always something. Even when he yawned and stretched and tried to fix his hair, it didn’t exactly come across the way he wanted, since Shepard had told him he sounded like a Wookiee.

And he still couldn’t think about that night, when he’d tossed Shepard a sweater to wear on his way home, not just because he wanted Shepard to stay warm—he did, but that wasn’t the only reason. When Shepard gave it back to him two days later, after the weekend, it smelled like Shepard smelled: the room Kaidan hadn’t been in, deodorant and sweat and maybe toaster waffles. There was a stain on it, too, but it wasn’t something Kaidan wanted to wash off.

He cared for all the wrong reasons and didn’t care for all the right ones. He still hadn’t washed that sweater and it was in his room right now, the one messy thing in there, along with the bed he’d made and the books he’d straightened up, the three pairs of shoes he wore the most outside his closet instead of in.

Kaidan looked over to where Shepard was kicking a pebble, keeping it from skittering off the street. Controlled, carefully timed, but still totally casual. There was a hole in the 007 t-shirt, so small it was only a thing Kaidan could’ve seen. He wanted to reach out and tug on it, to let Shepard know what he knew, but he grabbed his cell out of his back pocket instead.

‘Thought it was vibrating,’ he said.

Not, Hey, you want to go out sometime?

Because they went out all the time—with Garrus and Joker and Liara, drinking the imported beers Liara managed to snag, eating McDonald’s at one in the morning on Friday nights. Kaidan got the feeling it would’ve been later but he was the one who had to be home at two, otherwise Mom wouldn’t trust him with an extended curfew on the weekend, and Kaidan had no idea what Garrus and Shepard got up to after that, always trying to see where they were headed even if it was too dark to know for sure.

It was somewhere else, and that wasn’t the kind of going out Kaidan was thinking about, anyway.

I mean, go out go out, he revised, scrolling through old messages to keep his hands busy, Shepard’s pebble skimming the sidewalk. It clattered into a gate and Shepard managed to rescue it before it passed into someone’s front yard, one of his laces about to come untied.

That wasn’t going to work. Kaidan was pretty sure the way he’d told Shepard he liked him was that tactic, too—just repeating the same phrase with a different emphasis until Shepard told him he was drunk and let him kiss his neck for a while.

If Shepard was the kind of guy who’d ever say You’re being pretty quiet it might’ve been easier to pick up the thread of the conversation, any conversation, and turn it into something—but Shepard was playing this game of kick-stone with himself and Kaidan would’ve tripped if he tried to join in, anyway.

‘Hey,’ he said. ‘You want to come to dinner tonight, maybe? Mom always makes extra, that’s just… I mean, you’ve seen the fridge.’

‘Paintball,’ Shepard replied, not missing a beat or a kick. ‘With Garrus.’

‘Right,’ Kaidan said. ‘Yeah, of course. You told me that already.’

It wasn’t the end of the world, obviously. It was a missed opportunity, one of so many Kaidan had to stop keeping count. And one day, maybe, Shepard would finally stay for dinner, and Mom would finally get to say more than three words to him, and Kaidan could finally tell her what Shepard was, instead of stumbling over the word friend or just sticking to Shepard. Like there was only one way to define him, and Kaidan was missing the most important part of the definition.

The pebble bounced a couple of times, too high for Shepard to keep his rhythm, and he kicked it, hard, into the middle of the street.

‘You want to hang out in the treehouse for a while?’ Shepard asked.

It was less You want to go out sometime? and more You want to make out sometime? But Kaidan said yeah; of course he said yeah. He stuffed his phone into his back pocket and climbed up first and hoped, in this stupid, hopeless way, that Shepard was watching him.

They made out for a long time—Shepard didn’t ask, it just happened—with Kaidan in Shepard’s lap, knees on either side of his hips, Shepard’s hands up Kaidan’s shirt. Kaidan had the chance to touch the little hole in Shepard’s shirt and he did, but it wasn’t something obvious, and Kaidan untucked it from Shepard’s shorts to touch the skin underneath instead of through. His glasses kept bumping Shepard’s nose until Shepard took them off, and Kaidan needed to blink to bring him into focus—at least until he closed his eyes.

There was honestly nothing that felt better. Kaidan was hard and that made his jeans feel too tight, the seams pressing against the insides of his thighs. Shepard took a while to get his hands on Kaidan’s ass but when he did it was worth waiting for, the planks beneath them squeaking.

‘We’re going to bring this thing down someday, you know,’ Kaidan said, breathless.

‘Cool,’ Shepard replied.

Of course he’d say cool.

Kaidan kissed him again and Shepard went down on his back and then they were just lying there, Shepard staring up at the rain-stained boards above him, Kaidan staring at the distorted numbers on Shepard’s chest. And one of Shepard’s hands was still on Kaidan’s ass, thumb hooked into his back pocket next to his cell phone, rubbing the thin denim.

‘I could call you tonight,’ Kaidan said. Impulsive, not asking Shepard out on a date, but at least he’d said something, actual words that weren’t about having dinner with his mom.

His breath got caught on the cotton of Shepard’s t-shirt, warm against his face and making Shepard twitch.

‘I guess.’ Shepard shifted, rolling his hips. Kaidan felt like being brave, like touching him, until suddenly he didn’t anymore. ‘You know we usually stay pretty late.’

‘I could call you pretty late.’ Kaidan settled for almost getting a splinter in his finger, trailing his thumb over the wood instead of over Shepard’s stomach, following the line of hair above and then under his fly.

‘I could call you,’ Shepard said. ‘Just put your phone on vibrate or something so if you’re sleeping—’

‘I won’t be,’ Kaidan said.

He’d nap after dinner or make some espresso or eat the chocolate covered beans that one of Mom’s friends had brought over the other day.

‘Okay,’ Shepard said.

‘Yeah,’ Kaidan replied. ‘It’s a date.’

He kicked himself over that one after they got down, and after Shepard leaned too close to him before he pulled away, and after Kaidan headed back inside, grabbing a bowl of granola, going up the stairs and falling onto his bed face first.

A date. The whole point of everything, only now the word didn’t mean what it was supposed to. Kaidan thought about texting Shepard, telling him to have fun; then, he thought about how it was too much, how he’d just been in Shepard’s lap, how Shepard’s hands hand been in his back pockets and how his tongue had been pushed against Shepard’s bottom lip.

He was overthinking things. He texted Liara instead to ask how she’d done on that history test and the answer was three points of extra credit to Kaidan’s two. Better luck next time, she added, and Kaidan texted back, I wish.

She didn’t know what that was about, though. Kaidan was only obvious as hell when he was alone in his room and it didn’t count.

Thinking about you, Kaidan typed, then waited. There were so many drafts to Shepard in his phone that it wasn’t even funny, and if he got hit by a bus on his way to school and the authorities had to go through his cell phone, the real tragedy wouldn’t be Kaidan’s untimely death so much as all the stuff he never sent, all the stuff he’d wanted to, and how much of a creep it’d make him look like.

I never knew, Shepard would say.

I totally knew, Joker would reply.

‘No plans tonight?’ Mom asked, Kaidan setting the table for two when he made it downstairs, without his cell phone, the temptation, the reminder of his failure to communicate.

When he folded the paper napkins next to the plates he realized, running his thumb along the crease, that he did have a splinter after all.

‘Maybe,’ he said. ‘I don’t know yet. Probably homework or stuff with Joker.’

Mom shook her head. ‘I just hope someday everyone’s as good at making money in the real world as they are farming for gold.’

‘Yeah, but then your inventory might get too full,’ Kaidan said. ‘…Okay, never mind. Pretend I didn’t say that.’

‘Must’ve been the wind,’ Mom agreed. ‘The really dorky wind.’

She didn’t ask where his friend was. Friend. Shepard. So Kaidan didn’t have to explain how he’d asked and Shepard was shooting his actual best friend with paint all night long instead, or that it didn’t make sense—that they weren’t best friends, but they weren’t anything else yet, either.

‘Don’t think too hard,’ Mom told him on his way back up to his room. ‘I can see it happening. Like your eyes are about to explode.’

Kaidan grabbed his phone and hit send. It was just three words, Thinking about you, the understatement of the year. All the time, he could’ve added, and none of it ever makes sense. I really like you, Shepard.

But if he couldn’t ask him to see a movie then it was obvious saying something like that was never going to happen, at least not before he’d had some imported beer in the chilly moonlight. Kaidan put his phone down next to his laptop and did some of his reading for next week early, which wasn’t even the lamest thing he’d done that day.


Chapter Text

Shepard was thinking about Kaidan, but he didn’t need to send a text for it to be true. The truth was, Shepard was always thinking about Kaidan, and he had to turn his cell phone off when he went with Garrus to paintball, otherwise Garrus would slaughter him, and then Shepard wouldn’t hear the end of it until next week.

‘The victor has bragging rights,’ Garrus explained. ‘The victor always has bragging rights. I won’t make fun of you, Shepard, but it’s important that the loss makes you feel humiliated and small—so much that you never make the same mistakes again.’

‘Garrus,’ Shepard said, finally grinning, ‘you scare the shit out of me sometimes.’

‘Only sometimes?’ Garrus cocked his paintball rifle over his shoulder. ‘Sounds like I need to step up my game.’

It was definitely weird that one of the only constants in Shepard’s life was a guy who kept adding new lizards and snakes to his collection. He didn’t feed them live mice; he said there wasn’t any honor in that. And the only one of his pets who liked Shepard at all was Zeus, an iguana that woke Shepard up whenever he was staying over by sitting on his chest and starting a staring contest.

‘Doesn’t count, Zeus,’ Shepard had told him once. ‘You can’t start with a guy who’s asleep. Garrus, your lizard’s a cheater.’

‘We’re going to have to ask you to leave,’ Garrus had replied.

It worked out okay, even if Shepard had little bruises from Garrus’s no-mercy close range kill shots when they finished, Shepard’s phone off in his backpack, while Shepard tried to tell himself it wasn’t the first thing he wanted to go for when he set his paintball gun down. It was. Not actually pulling his cell out and turning it back on didn’t make him want it any less; it was just lying to himself, somebody pissing on him and trying to tell him it was raining.

‘Want to stay over tonight?’ Garrus asked. ‘You can even feed Zeus. Just don’t get too much on your fingers and if you do, make sure you keep your trigger finger safe.’

‘Aw, Garrus,’ Shepard said. ‘You really do care.’

They’d met after Garrus’s first growth spurt and before Shepard had finished his, eleven years old, after school in the playground. Shepard liked waiting for everyone to go home so he could have his pick of all the swings, and pumping his legs back and forth to see how high he could get was even better when the sun was starting to go down. One time he’d even managed to make the swing flip over the bar, hearing the chains loosen and then snap tight again, and it was the coolest thing ever.

Worth all the bruises and the black eye from falling on his face and everything.

Garrus stuck to the jungle gym, for the most part. Shepard had seen him there and recognized him before he heard the shouting, before he got to the sandbox in time to crash into a kid scrambling out with sand in his mouth and crusted around his eyes, on his hair—like his head had been stuffed under and held there.

‘Hey,’ Shepard said, grabbing the boy by his arm as he ran past. ‘What happened?’

‘Finch sat on me,’ the boy said. ‘In the sandbox, and he wouldn’t get up, until…’

They both looked over. There was Garrus, standing proud and tall from a position on the sandbox slide he’d tell Shepard later was advantageous. ‘You have to keep the high ground,’ he’d say. ‘Don’t you know anything?’

‘Way more than you,’ Shepard would reply.

But they weren’t exactly ready to tussle, not after Finch and the rest of the guys swarmed Garrus’s high ground and brought him down, and nobody was paying attention. Garrus was getting slammed; Shepard didn’t like the odds.

He knew what it was like to be outnumbered, anyway. He threw the rock knowing exactly what’d happen next. The friend of my enemy isn’t my friend and all that; Finch had more than enough friends with him to take on Shepard, too. When it finally got boring for Finch and his friends to bother with them, a concerned mom passing by a few times, Shepard and Garrus sat behind the slide, heads against the metal, listening to it rattle whenever somebody went overhead. The screws creaked, the slide itself rumbling like thunder rolling in.

‘You’re bleeding,’ Garrus said.

‘You’re bleeding too,’ Shepard replied.

They’d clocked Shepard over the head with a rock and Garrus had these scratches on his cheek. ‘That,’ Garrus added, ‘was awesome.’

And all that happened before Shepard even knew his name.

He’d gone back to the house that night and patched himself up in the bathroom, and Anderson nodded when he saw Shepard, once, because he’d taken care of things. And the next day, Garrus met Shepard by the swings, staring hard at Jenkins swinging next to him until, finally, Jenkins decided it wasn’t worth it and left.

Garrus took the swing he’d abandoned. ‘We’re going after Sal today,’ he said. ‘He’s the worst jerk on the playground, even worse than Finch.’

‘Sure,’ Shepard said, kicking his legs out high. ‘When do we start?’

‘Oh, look, a message,’ Garrus said, and Shepard blinked, realizing they’d already walked a few blocks from Palaven Paintball while Shepard had been totally spaced out. ‘From Joker. Apparently I’m invited to a party next week not actually being held at Joker’s house. At least that means I can bring Prometheus without having to hide him in my sleeping bag all night.’

But Garrus’s newest pet snake—an albino—wasn’t at the top of Shepard’s priority list. He had the excuse now and he took it, turning his phone on but still pretending it was no big deal. He had two messages, both of them from Kaidan, the newest one about that party—Just to celebrate turning in those science projects and stuff. It was Joker’s idea. You should come. You could even come early if you wanted to.

There was another one from before that. Thinking about you, it said.

Just this one, short thing.

‘Actually, I’m gonna go,’ Shepard said. ‘Back. I’ve got some…really old homework I’ve gotta do.’

‘Well,’ Garrus replied, ‘I guess Zeus is used to that kind of disappointment. Fortunately, he’s got tough skin. All lizards do, you know.’

‘You too, Garrus.’ Shepard veered off, turning down a side-street, wishing he’d brought the Normandy but kind of glad he hadn’t at the same time. She was safe and sound out back behind Anderson’s and Shepard had too much energy that needed to be walked out of his system anyway.  

He passed Feron’s Fruits & Vegetables, all closed up for the night, and Catalyst, this new club that’d opened last week. It wasn’t too crowded, but Shepard could hear the music coming from inside, the bass and the drums pounding away under his feet.

Shepard stuffed his hands in his pockets. The only thing in his backpack was his cell phone and it still felt heavy; he thought about how it’d been before he knew Garrus—before he knew Kaidan, and Joker, and Liara—when it was just him on the swing. Going as high as he could, until, finally, he pushed it too far and had to climb up the bars to untangle the swing chains—late at night, when nobody was around to see him, to make him stop fixing the things he’d kind of broken. 

Shepard let himself into Anderson’s through the back, taking off his shoes and carrying them up the stairs, skipping the third step from the top because it always creaked. He could hear Grunt snoring from the room next to his and the radio on in Jack’s room on the other side, noises he couldn’t sleep without, not that he usually tried. They were also the noises that helped him stay awake now, head back on the pillow, checking the time.

It was late. Not late by standard Shepard time, but Kaidan…

Shepard didn’t even know. Kaidan had a bedtime, not a curfew, and he was always passing out in the middle of a study session or a James Bond movie.

Shepard didn’t want to wake Kaidan but he didn’t want to not-wake Kaidan, either. That was the whole problem, wanting and not wanting, and doing and not doing. So basically everything was the problem, and everything was also the solution, the way Shepard’s ribs were tight and bruised not just from Garrus’s paintball target practice but because Kaidan picked up on the second ring, sleepy but definitely awake, saying ‘Shepard?’

Just like that.

Shepard’s name sounded different whenever Kaidan said it, all tired and low, followed by what Shepard knew was the sound of Kaidan grabbing his glasses off his desk and shoving them on. They bumped into his iPhone’s mic along the way and it came out twice as loud as it really was against Shepard’s ear.

‘Sorry,’ Kaidan said.

‘Hey,’ Shepard replied.

Then, there was the pause they had to take, Kaidan yawning into the silence. Sometimes he did, sometimes he didn’t. Maybe it just depended on the day.

‘How was paintball?’ Kaidan asked.

Shepard tipped his head back against the wall, feet still in his sneakers, dangling off the side of his bed. ‘Intense.’

‘Yeah.’ Kaidan paused. ‘Garrus is a pretty intense guy. I just…hung out online with Joker, played a few rounds of…some stuff.’

‘Texted me,’ Shepard added.

Kaidan paused again. ‘Yeah. That too.’

‘Yeah.’ They had to take another break and Shepard didn’t feel like yawning, not for a second. He licked his lips, though, which were dry, his t-shirt not damp anymore from sweating under his paintball vest. Words weren’t ever easy—a lot of the time they didn’t feel right or even necessary—but Kaidan made them harder, just like he made Shepard hard. ‘…Got your other text, too.’

Kaidan made a noise that didn’t mean anything and Shepard, slowly, unzipped the fly on his jeans. He was tired but that never lasted; he could always push through it.

‘Hey,’ he added. ‘Remember the time you had the house to yourself?’

Shepard could almost feel Kaidan nodding. ‘When Mom was in Shaughnessy at the club. For that bachelorette party weekend thing. I know I still had to call once in the morning and once at night, but you…’

That was the part Shepard was talking about. He hadn’t even listened to why Kaidan’s mom wasn’t around; all that’d mattered was that she wasn’t, and Kaidan was a little louder than usual, no one in the house to hear him, no reason to hold back.

Thinking about you. Shepard felt the same way, only he never stopped for long enough to mention starting again.

It was the first time they’d been on Kaidan’s bed face to face, too, noses bumping, breath hot, Kaidan’s t-shirt riding up and Shepard actually going for it, grabbing his ass and pulling him close. One of his arms had almost been crushed under the weight of his own body and Kaidan almost smashed Shepard’s nose with his forehead but it didn’t matter just like where Kaidan’s mom was didn’t matter, just like cell phones didn’t matter, just like unfinished homework on the desk didn’t matter. Kaidan, Kaidan’s dick, Kaidan’s tight jeans over his ass, and Shepard’s hand over his tight jeans, and Shepard swallowing the noises Kaidan made.

‘Good times,’ Shepard said.

‘Really good,’ Kaidan agreed.

Shepard touched himself, the way Kaidan had when Shepard was lying with his back to Kaidan’s chest, Kaidan’s arm around him, Kaidan’s hand between his thighs. It wasn’t the same but it was something Shepard had to handle by himself sometimes, so Kaidan wouldn’t know.

Thinking about you.

Shepard swallowed and Kaidan must’ve heard it, because his breath got caught in his throat, and then he was coughing to cover it up. Shepard covered his dick, fly open, and he didn’t know what it was about the distance. How much he hated it; how much he needed it sometimes. The stuff he couldn’t explain and the stuff he didn’t want anybody, not even Kaidan, to know.

‘Shepard,’ Kaidan said.

‘Kaidan,’ Shepard replied.

‘…Are you touching yourself right now?’ Kaidan asked, and Shepard let it out, a sigh, relief, knowing that Kaidan at least knew something.

‘Maybe.’ Shepard curled up around it, but Grunt was still snoring and Jack hadn’t turned up her music. So he was cool, for now. ‘Yeah, I am. You?’

‘Now I am,’ Kaidan said. It sounded so simple, so easy, too tired to be self-conscious about it, or just glad that things could feel so good. Shepard could picture him lying on his back in bed with his phone between his ear and his shoulder, knees bent, jeans pushed down to his thighs. Shepard knew exactly what it’d look like, even if he wasn’t there, only all the little faces Kaidan might make got blurry the harder Shepard tried to focus on them.

Something—something kept slipping through his fingers. And it wasn’t just because he needed to keep moving them fast enough that his brain wouldn’t catch up to them in time to make his ears turn pink, to make him realize what he was doing.

If he never got used to it, it’d always be this good. But it’d always be this confusing—which Shepard figured was the only way to describe happiness at all.

He closed his eyes, squeezing them shut. ‘Hey,’ Kaidan said, soft enough that it sounded like a sigh, loud enough that Shepard could still hear it. Like he was reaching for a handful of popcorn out of the bowl balanced between them or sitting down next to Shepard at lunch, their thighs bumping for just one second.

‘Hey,’ Shepard replied, not recognizing the sound of his voice. It was deeper, maybe older, and relieved as it was, it was still tangled up from the inside out.

How else was Shepard supposed to sound when he knew what it was like to lie on the bed next to Kaidan with their knees, their jeans and their socks and their t-shirts, getting in the way?

It was so messed up. It was so great. Shepard thought about Kaidan’s laugh, the embarrassed one, and the curve in his back when he was stretching, and the smell of his hair, and he had to bite the inside of his cheek to keep from making too much noise when he came.

‘Hey,’ he repeated, listening. Waiting. ‘Have you…’

‘Not yet,’ Kaidan said.

Shepard’s t-shirt was damp with sweat again. He wanted out of his jeans; he wanted to close his eyes and dream of nothing. He wanted to hear Kaidan moaning on the other end of the line and know he’d done that; it was his, it was his.

He wanted to stop being such a dumbass, too, but that was even less likely to ever happen.

‘Well, you should.’ Shepard swallowed, throat dry. He tried to make his voice deeper, but it came out hoarse instead. ‘Kaidan.’

‘Yeah,’ Kaidan said. Shepard thought about it, the curve in his back pushing off the bed, his heels pressed into the mattress, probably still wearing his blue socks from earlier in the day. His lips, his cheeks, his stomach—they’d all be flushed and his dick, too, which made Shepard dizzy, spinning and lost in space while Kaidan groaned and Shepard knew that was it.

Shepard had done that.

Sort of.

He just didn’t know if it was his.

…Sort of.

‘You good?’ Shepard asked. Finally. He’d lost that edge and he was pretty sure that was a bad thing.

‘Really… Really good.’ Kaidan sounded great, of course. Lazy and sleepy and all warm, shifting around in his comfortable bed, hips still rolling to enjoy the feeling while it was still kind of there, like it’d always be a part of him.

Shepard wasn’t jealous; he really wasn’t. He wanted that for Kaidan first and himself second.

‘See you,’ he said. ‘Tomorrow.’

‘Night, Shepard.’

‘Yeah. Night.’

Shepard wondered if Kaidan did the same thing he was doing—staying, longer than they needed to, before hanging up. Like having someone on the other end of the line, even after you’d said goodbye, even after you’d both decided to hang up, meant more than just listening for the sound of their breathing.

Then, Shepard shut his phone off and stuck the charger in, one pillow under his head and the other one over it. Something had to block out the sound of Grunt’s snoring and the blanket was just too thin for that.

Shepard fell asleep still wearing his shoes. The pair with the holes in the heels, the only pair he had.


Chapter Text

Shepard was supposed to come over early but somehow he was almost the last one to show up. After the popcorn was made, after the hot chocolate was in thermoses, after the movies were spread out on the floor and Joker’d plugged in his laptop so he could liveblog the whole night for Edi—Shepard rang the front bell and Kaidan felt like this was the first time he’d come in the same way as everybody else. The right way, even.

Kaidan also knew Mom was in the kitchen waiting to get a good look at him, that when Kaidan came up from the basement for a refill on the popcorn after the first bowl was finished Mom’d be waiting by the fridge, mouthing He’s so skinny while Kaidan tried not to think about it.

‘Hey,’ Kaidan said.

‘Hey,’ Shepard replied.

He looked good; he always did. He smelled like the coffee and tea aisle, but at least that was better than the days he smelled like the deli section. Kaidan wanted to touch his t-shirt and his skin through his t-shirt and mess up his hair and kiss his chin and suck on his ear and forget there was anyone else in Vancouver, much less anyone else in the house with them.

But Garrus was standing behind him, saying Hello, taking off his shoes by the stairs, and Shepard was shrugging, one shouldered, not even like he was sorry.

If he’d come early, Kaidan could’ve been sucking on his ear.

Maybe Shepard forgot. Or he hadn’t wanted to, which Kaidan admitted after also admitting there wasn’t ever a time he didn’t want to. When they passed by the kitchen on their way down to the basement Mom mouthed He’s so skinny and Kaidan shrugged, too. One shouldered, but there was some kind of sorry in it.

‘It was so thoughtful of you to invite me to this party at someone else’s house, Joker,’ Garrus said.

‘To be fair,’ Liara added, ‘it isn’t as though Joker’s house would be suitable for any sort of public gathering, especially not one where people are required to sleep on the floor.’

‘You know, I’d be insulted if that wasn’t true,’ Joker said, typing without looking at the keyboard.

Shepard dropped his backpack next to Kaidan’s sleeping bag. But Liara’s things were already there and Shepard picked up a pencil from the desk Kaidan sometimes studied at, twirling it between his fingers before putting it back down on an angle, not the way he’d found it.

‘I brought a selection of movies,’ Liara was in the middle of saying. ‘Most of them guaranteed to induce panic among groups of people late into the night. Best watched with the lights off and no knowledge of any of the sciences, and I suppose I can try not to ‘ruin the moment’ for any of you by bringing some much-needed common sense to the proceedings.’

Liara is being a tool,’ Joker said, typing hard, ‘but what else is new? When zombie invasion finally happens, want her on my team for cure-finding anyway.

Liara paused while sorting through her stack of movies. ‘That’s the sweetest thing. Thank you, Jeff.’

Joker,’ Joker replied.

‘Yes, well, you seem to think so,’ Liara said, on the edge of a hum.

Parts of Garrus were moving like he was a host in Alien and Kaidan figured that was one of the reptiles he was holding under his shirt. ‘Prometheus is incredibly well-behaved,’ Garrus said, after rolling out his sleeping bag alongside the couch. ‘Unless you have rodents. You don’t have gerbils or hamsters, do you?’

‘Not that I know about,’ Kaidan replied.

Garrus looked at him, lips pursed. ‘You seem like you would, though.’

‘Okay,’ Kaidan said. ‘Thanks, I guess?’

‘Hm,’ Garrus said, which was how Kaidan realized it hadn’t been a compliment.

‘Cool party.’ Shepard made for the couch, and Kaidan made the mistake of asking him where his sleeping bag was, before he realized Shepard didn’t have one. ‘Figured I’d take the couch for the night, take the high ground while everybody else has the low.’

Garrus looked pleased about that for some reason—one Kaidan could be on the honor roll the rest of his life and still not have the background information necessary to understand.

‘You can use mine,’ Kaidan said. ‘My sleeping bag. You can sit on it while we’re watching the movies, I mean.’

This party is lame,’ Joker added, still typing. ‘Oh well what did I expect from these losers?

Shepard stood between the couch and Kaidan’s sleeping bag, right in the middle of the room. When he looked at Kaidan his eyes were way too blue, from the light of the flatscreen before the DVD player was hooked up.

‘Sure,’ he said.

Kaidan heard the guy he’d been talking to a few nights ago, both of them lying on Kaidan’s bed back to back, the base of their spines pressed together. Kaidan didn’t need to look at Shepard to know everything about his face but sometimes, he wanted to.

Shepard flopped down onto Kaidan’s sleeping bag and it rustled beneath him, one knee bent, the other leg stretched out in front of him. He grabbed a handful of popcorn and flicked one popped kernel at Joker, a clean shot that pinged right off his chest, a bull’s-eye dead center of the Eleventh Doctor vectorized above the word HOPE. Shepard aimed for the O and he hit it.

Locals so jealous of my swag they resort to being haters,’ Joke said. ‘Sad to see them want to be me.’

Kaidan sat next to Shepard. Their hips bumped and Kaidan realized he was actually a little mad—that Shepard hadn’t shown up early, that they hadn’t been making out when the doorbell rang and it was Joker, and Joker’s dad, and Joker’s list of emergency numbers and food allergies and his medicine and when he had to take it, and Joker’s hypoallergenic pillow and hypoallergenic sleeping bag. His three inhalers, one of them fast-acting, and an EpiPen.  

Shepard was wearing his windbreaker, the one he’d torn jumping over a fence in October. ‘It’s just a pocket,’ he’d said, tugging at the loose flap of waterproof fabric, without remembering that Kaidan had put his hand in there once, touching Shepard’s muscles on the other side, keeping his fingers warm at the same time.

Without remembering that he’d put a hand in there after Kaidan’s, thumb running over Kaidan’s knuckles, and how that was a large part of keeping Kaidan’s fingers warm in the first place.

‘Now,’ Liara said, ‘I’ve also made a list of traditional and possibly ironically uncool things to do at a party of this nature. Does anyone have a bottle for spinning?’

‘I have a snake,’ Garrus offered.

Going to die of snakebite,’ Joker said. ‘Party as fun as the Oregon Trail.

‘If Joker spins first, Prometheus might do us all a favor and take his fingers,’ Garrus added.

Shepard tossed a piece of popcorn in the air and caught it on his tongue. Kaidan forgot to be pissed.

‘I’ve got a bottle,’ he said.

‘You’re forgetting one really important thing.’ Joker finally looked up from his laptop, still typing but not using his typing voice this time. ‘There’s only one girl and four guys.’

‘Yes,’ Liara said. ‘Exactly. After addition, we’ll move on to basic algorithms. I’m sure you can handle those as well.’

Oh the shade,’ Joker typed.

Kaidan pulled the vitamin water bottle he kept on his desk down. It still had some vitamin water left in it and he got that it made him the biggest loser in the room—including Joker—that he was having a party in which a vitamin water bottle was used in spin the bottle instead of a beer bottle, but then again, everyone had shown up knowing what they were getting into. Garrus had brought a snake.

Kaidan wasn’t getting drunk around a snake.

‘This is almost scarier than the description for Anaconda,’ Liara said. ‘…Which I’m starting to think we shouldn’t watch. Prometheus makes it all seem a little too real. Who spins first?’

There was no way they’d have the chance if they didn’t take a chance, Kaidan thought. Him and Shepard. It could happen, if he timed the spin right. He waited for Shepard to say something, but Shepard tossed another piece of popcorn into the air instead, catching it with his tongue.

‘Sure,’ Kaidan said. ‘I’ll do it. Shouldn’t we be drunk for this or something?’

If I have to kiss K-dog tonight,’ Joker said, ‘I leave all my items in Guild Wars to Edi. Use them wisely.

Kaidan went forward on his knees. Maybe he was doing it on purpose; maybe he was still pissed and disappointed and mostly disappointed. He didn’t know if Shepard was watching, either. Shepard might’ve been more into the popcorn than he was into Kaidan’s ass.

‘I’m excited.’ Liara was watching, so at least someone was. ‘Aren’t you excited?’

‘Prometheus is on the edge of his seat,’ Garrus said.

So Kaidan spun the bottle. Joker chanted not me not me not me not me. And when it landed with the cap pointing to Liara, Kaidan supposed he should’ve expected something like that would happen.

No matter how much you knew about something, you couldn’t study luck. You had it or you didn’t.

At least it hadn’t been pointing to Prometheus.

Kaidan licked his lips. He wanted to imagine Shepard was staring at him but it wasn’t, actually, something he could feel or know without looking at Shepard over his shoulder, and looking at Shepard over his shoulder wasn’t something Kaidan could do without making everything really obvious. Shepard was there. And if he cared, or didn’t care—how Kaidan cared, and didn’t want to find out how much he cared—there was no way of knowing.

‘You don’t have to look so excited,’ Liara said. ‘After all, you could’ve had to kiss Joker.’

Taking hot makeout pics,’ Joker added.

Liara touched Kaidan’s cheek and he saw her coming in and it wasn’t bad, not exactly. It just wasn’t who Kaidan thought about kissing and wanted to be kissing even when he was kissing him.

But Liara smelled nice, simple, different, not like Shepard at all, and the kiss reminded Kaidan of how much he’d wanted to kiss her once—when they’d just started high school and he saw her for the first time after summer break. Mom called it developing. Joker called it hot.

‘Oh look.’ Liara pulled away. ‘You survived. Who’s next?’

‘Uh-uh.’ Joker was obviously already uploading incriminating photographic evidence to a remote host somewhere. ‘Not me. This just got too real. The odds of getting a girl are the same as the odds of getting a snake.’

‘And the odds of either of them wanting to kiss you also happen to be the same,’ Garrus said. ‘Just some statistical coincidences for all of you to consider.’

‘We should just start the movie.’ Kaidan grabbed his vitamin water, what was left of it sloshing against the plastic. ‘I’m gonna go get more popcorn.’

Shepard hadn’t said anything. The things that Kaidan wanted him to say were also the things he didn’t want him to say. And yeah, he got it, that wanting somebody to feel bad or angry or upset wasn’t exactly the nicest impulse. Mostly, he just felt stupid, even if no one knew how embarrassing he was.

‘Just start the movie,’ Kaidan said again, taking the empty bowl and heading for the door.

It was dark in the hall, only one light on and that was upstairs in Mom’s room, her door pointedly shut. She was giving them their privacy; Kaidan would still tell her about most of it tomorrow, except for some of what Joker’d said. ‘Try to get some sleep,’ Mom had added. ‘You don’t want to trigger a migraine, so a few hours might really help. Maybe keep that in mind.’

‘I know,’ Kaidan had said. ‘I will.’

He always knew things. He didn’t always know them.

‘Making popcorn in the hall?’ Shepard asked.

Kaidan tightened his hold on the bowl instead of dropping it. It said something about him that his instincts were mixed up like that, but Shepard was standing in front of him and it was dark enough that Kaidan couldn’t really see his face, even though he was looking right at him. Kaidan had to hold onto something.

‘Yeah,’ he said. ‘I figured… It’s a new method. I don’t think I’m doing it right, though.’

‘Yeah,’ Shepard agreed. He knew the way to the kitchen even though it was Kaidan who always went to get them snacks whenever Shepard was over. That left Kaidan to follow him, wondering how Shepard could feel so comfortable everywhere when Kaidan couldn’t manage that ever—not even when he was inside his own house.


Chapter Text

Shepard was never going to sleep that night.

It wasn’t like he would’ve slept anyway, not in Kaidan’s room, not with Kaidan in it. It didn’t matter if Kaidan had kissed Liara or Joker, Prometheus or Garrus or Shepard himself. It didn’t matter if Shepard had watched him do it and said nothing, if he knew it didn’t matter or if he felt like it did—or if anger and frustration ended up being a part of wanting to kiss Kaidan in the first place.

The popcorn was good. Shepard had salt in the corner of his mouth while he watched Kaidan get the bag out of the box, something organic, expensive; Shepard couldn’t decide if he liked it better or not as much as the cheap stuff Anderson used to get them for Saturday nights a long time ago. It’d just show up on the kitchen counter back then and Shepard remembered looking forward to it, the whole week measured by that one event.

Kids were so stupid. They were so easy. Shepard took a look around the kitchen he’d only been in a couple of times before, never when Kaidan’s mom was home, the pots hanging from a rack on the ceiling, the white curtains over the window with herb planters on the sill.

He only noticed it because it was a part of Kaidan, who passed across the window on his way to the microwave with a bag of unpopped popcorn.

Shepard waited until Kaidan put it inside and then, not even because he’d told himself to, he moved up behind him, pinning Kaidan between the counter and Shepard’s hips. He could feel Kaidan’s breath tear inside his throat, this hiccup of surprise that made Shepard need to kiss him.

And Kaidan had these instincts, sometimes, when it came to the things Shepard couldn’t put into words. He was turning around in Shepard’s arms almost right away, hands in Shepard’s hair, kissing him stupid and messy from between Shepard’s legs.

Mrs. Alenko could’ve come in and caught them anytime. In a way, it’d be a relief, to finally blow the thing Shepard had been waiting all this time to screw up. It was only a matter of days or weeks or months or whatever, but it was going to happen: Mrs. Alenko looking at him and thinking he wasn’t good enough for her son and Shepard knowing that she was totally right.

That just made him kiss Kaidan harder, although Kaidan was the one who went in deep with his tongue, pushing past Shepard’s lips in a way that blew him apart. Kind of like Luke using the force and blowing up the Death Star, hitting just the right spot and doing it without needing to look. Not that Shepard thought about it all the time or anything, right before he fell asleep and right before he woke up and everywhere in between.

Even when it was happening, Shepard was thinking about it. And he didn’t want to stop, no matter how much easier it’d be for the both of them if he could.

‘Okay,’ Kaidan said, trying to catch his breath. ‘Okay, so…’

Shepard kissed him again; he used tongue this time, recognizing it was clumsy, recognizing it wasn’t as good as when Kaidan did it, but that was him. Not as good as Kaidan. No one could ever be as good. The kiss was all because of Kaidan’s mouth and Kaidan’s teeth and the way Kaidan’s lips parted, the way Kaidan moaned.

‘Okay.’ Shepard finally pulled back to let him breathe. ‘Yeah.’

Kaidan was still moving toward him; the bump of their hips was driving Shepard crazy. Shepard might’ve felt him no matter what but the closer they got the hotter it was, until Shepard was practically sweating. Kaidan was warm, too, and the microwave hadn’t even started behind them.

‘I’ve gotta…’ Kaidan licked his lips like he had before he kissed Liara and Shepard could taste something, probably the strawberry lipgloss that Liara’d put on. The whole bedroom smelled like it, even if Kaidan still smelled like Kaidan. He always did. ‘Popcorn.’

‘You’ve gotta popcorn,’ Shepard said.

‘I’m not into verbs anymore, apparently,’ Kaidan replied. ‘Just nouns and, uh, prepositions.’

Shepard couldn’t even close his eyes or roll his eyes at that. He couldn’t laugh at it because that’d be a dick move and Kaidan was close, so close he’d know everything, like the way him talking like that, like nobody else ever did, made Shepard tense up all over.

Kaidan laughed—self-conscious, embarrassed, asking both of them Why am I like this and Shepard not knowing how to answer. ‘Cause you’re the greatest, that’s why and Don’t change ‘cause I’d really miss you if you did.

Liara, though. She was smart.

She’d be able to figure out how to say it.

It must’ve been in a book Shepard never bothered to read, for a class he never bothered to show up at. Or maybe it was something your parents taught you, both of them together, when you were a lot smaller than Shepard was now. Maybe it came with a kitchen that had herb planters in the window and special organic popcorn and vitamin waters in the fridge to help keep you hydrated while you studied all night.

Kaidan wasn’t moving. He was still pressed against the counter with his ass pressed into the edge and it was Shepard’s fault, Shepard backing him up, Shepard almost crushing him. Shepard not letting go.

Also, Kaidan was looking at him. Staring at him, more like, at his face in the dark kitchen, where Kaidan hadn’t bothered—or forgot—to turn on the overhead light. He just…knew his way around in the dark, obviously, like Shepard did in Anderson’s kitchen, only Shepard couldn’t imagine Kaidan drinking straight out of the milk bottle or keeping Kraft singles in the vegetable drawer.

Then, Kaidan kissed Shepard again, slower, quieter. It still felt desperate, just a different kind of desperate. One more thing Shepard hadn’t learned and wouldn’t want to study; one more thing he’d be faced with anyway. Kaidan kissed the corner of his mouth and his cheek and then up to his ear, sucking the lobe between his teeth, tugging it before Shepard felt his tongue follow the shape of the bite.

Finally, Shepard closed his eyes. Kaidan’s breath got trapped, hot, against his ear, and his hair tickled Shepard’s cheek, and his hips pushed back against Shepard’s hips, and it was the kind of surprise that wasn’t really surprising—like when Kaidan said, low and almost sleepy, what he was wearing, that he was taking off his briefs, that he was in bed thinking about Shepard with Shepard on the other end of the line. Or when they were watching something on the couch and Kaidan’s hand moved up from Shepard’s knee to his thigh and then between his legs, moments Shepard was always waiting for. Moments he would always be waiting for.

‘You’ve gotta popcorn,’ Shepard said. His voice was all chewed up, barely coming out.

‘Yeah.’ Kaidan let Shepard’s ear go. ‘I don’t really care, though. I mean… I was waiting to do that. You were gonna come over early.’

‘Oh.’ Shepard started breathing again, somehow. ‘Garrus would’ve thought it was weird if I didn’t pick him up.’

‘You’re weird,’ Kaidan said.

‘You’re weird, too,’ Shepard replied.

He was probably lucky this kind of flirting hadn’t been something he needed so he could kiss Kaidan the first time. Obviously it hadn’t, otherwise they never would’ve been able to.

The ceiling creaked. Mrs. Alenko was up there on the second floor; Shepard couldn’t forget about that. ‘Mom’s just using the Wii,’ Kaidan said, but Shepard stepped back anyway, putting the distance between them that needed to be there. It wasn’t all the time, but it should’ve been.


Kaidan ran his hand over his hair. Shepard couldn’t even remember grabbing it but he must have. His was messy too, but everyone was used to that from him. On Kaidan, it mattered more.

‘Popcorn,’ Shepard reminded him.

Kaidan turned around and pushed start. The microwave hummed and Shepard walked backward until his ass hit a counter. He still wasn’t at the point where he could open the fridge and look through it for no reason, to grab something if he wanted to or not. He didn’t think he’d ever be at that point, not in this kitchen. The ceiling creaking, the microwave humming, the sound of Joker laughing from all the way downstairs, and Kaidan laughing, too, Shepard’s ear still wet. He would’ve rubbed it, but Kaidan would’ve seen him.

‘I’ll come over early next time,’ Shepard said.

‘I don’t…really want to go back down there with everybody again,’ Kaidan replied.

‘It’s the snake, isn’t it?’ Shepard looked out the window, at some of the magnets on the fridge door, the spice rack—there was a spice rack—and anything, everything else to keep from looking at Kaidan. He’d do that forever if he could, but it wouldn’t help anyone.

‘Maybe,’ Kaidan said. ‘Maybe it’s just—’

The timer went off, beeping loud enough for everyone in the house to hear it. When Kaidan turned around to open it, Shepard finally touched his ear.

‘Want some?’ Kaidan asked, dumping it out into the bowl.

Shepard grabbed a handful before realizing it was too hot. He could handle it. Then, because he’d been doing it all night thinking it might actually impress Kaidan for some reason, he threw a piece into the air and caught it on his tongue.

‘You know, I’ve never been able to do that,’ Kaidan said. ‘It’s…pretty cool.’

‘You want to wait until everybody’s asleep and hang out?’ Shepard asked. ‘In your room, I mean. Maybe.’

‘Yeah.’ Kaidan’s mouth went twisty at an angle that was definitely new. Shepard’s stomach felt twisty with it. ‘That… That’d be great.’

Garrus was on his back on the couch when they finally showed up with the popcorn, Prometheus curled on his chest. The TV was on and Liara was sitting with her head against one of the couch cushions, playing with what looked like Garrus’s DS.

‘That was officially the longest popcorn making session ever,’ Joker said. ‘Remind me never to go on the Oregon Trail with you guys.’

‘Joker has died of dysentery,’ Garrus added, without looking up.

Shepard flicked popcorn at Joker’s head, the popped kernel hitting his cap on the brim and making him bust out what might’ve been moves from the Power Rangers. Kaidan laughed, low and from his chest, and sat with the popcorn next to him. Shepard sat on the other side. They needed something between them for the time being, something for Shepard’s hands to do that didn’t involve rubbing Kaidan’s t-shirt at the hem.

Shepard’s ear was still warm. Sometimes, they got red when he was thinking about Kaidan.

A couple of times, their fingers knocked into each other, reaching out at the same second for something that didn’t even matter. Kaidan didn’t look over, his glasses reflecting the glare from the Firefly movie.

One of these days Shepard was going to have to admit he’d never seen the original TV series, and Kaidan was going to freak out, and they were going to watch the whole thing in one night—and Shepard wasn’t going to remember much of it, just the parts when he kissed Kaidan or rubbed his shoulder or touched his ass.

Shepard’s thumb brushed Kaidan’s knuckles inside the bowl. They both pulled away without popcorn, but getting popcorn hadn’t been the point.

All they had to do now was outlast Joker—Joker, who never slept; Joker, who only drank Monsters with Red Bull as a chaser.

Garrus would’ve said something about showing no mercy and assuming direct control over the situation. About stamina; about energy drinks; about Shepard being better than that.

Shepard caught another piece of popcorn on his tongue and settled in for a long wait.


Chapter Text

Shepard was there in Kaidan’s bedroom when Kaidan finally opened the door. He wasn’t even sitting, just standing next to the balcony and staring past his own reflection in the glass.

It’d been fifteen minutes minutes since he’d said he was going for a drink, ten minutes since Kaidan realized he was supposed to follow, and five minutes since Kaidan was certain Liara and Garrus were asleep and Joker was too busy talking to Edi to notice if Kaidan was or wasn’t around.

Maybe Kaidan would’ve been mad about that if he didn’t know how it was—that you forgot about everyone, everyone else, except for the person you liked more than everyone else.

Kaidan didn’t make any noise on the stairs. All the lights were off, even Mom’s, her door shut, the sound of a white noise machine muffled behind it. She was asleep—of course she was; it was almost four in the morning—and Shepard wasn’t in the kitchen getting a drink because he was there in Kaidan’s bedroom, waiting for him on the other side of the bed.

‘Joker’s not asleep,’ Kaidan said. Being honest was probably a good idea, so there weren’t any surprises. ‘But he’s busy, so I think we’re cool.’

‘Cool,’ Shepard said.

He waited. Kaidan didn’t think of it as hesitation so much as he figured it was tension or maybe torture. All the stuff he wanted, all the stuff he didn’t know how to get. And Shepard was at the center of that, the highest point of not-gettable, with his hair and the sweatpants he’d changed into for sleeping, and the shape of his dick, the shadow and a kind of bulge it made between his legs. Because he was hard—and that was all Kaidan needed to push off the door and go after him.

It was all Kaidan needed to be hard, too.

They kissed like they had in the kitchen, not like they usually did after school in Kaidan’s room or up in the treehouse. Whenever Shepard’s tongue pushed past Kaidan’s lips he thought, This is it. I’m gonna die. It didn’t go down like that, but Kaidan had to push back, and Shepard had to groan, and then he had to grab Kaidan’s ass.

It was for hours of listening to Liara and Garrus argue about space travel, hours of Joker narrating the evening in his blogger voice, hours of sitting next to Shepard after being pressed into one of the kitchen counters and watching his throat whenever he leaned back to catch popcorn with his tongue. It was hours of that same tongue and one minute when Shepard disappeared, coming back in his sweats, still wearing his sneakers.

He was wearing them now, bumping Kaidan’s toes, and something happened—Kaidan wasn’t sure how to describe it—but instead of backing him into the balcony door, he pushed Shepard down on the bed instead.

It was…not sexy, not exactly, because Shepard’s first instinct was tussling over it; Kaidan never thought he’d go down without having some kind of maneuver ready in reply. But they weren’t fighting on the playground. They were lying on Kaidan’s bed, the mattress shifting, the sheets louder than Kaidan remembered, the frame creaking as Kaidan finally got on top of Shepard, pinning him in place with his hips.

The tussle, the directionless energy, an intensity Kaidan might’ve called the fight—all of that went out of Shepard with Kaidan on top of him, spine curved, chest almost touching chest.

Shepard’s eyes were wild blue. Kaidan’s hand, braced beside Shepard’s head, brushed his ear—flushed skin against the crazy pulse in Kaidan’s wrist.

Kaidan sat back. It wasn’t because he wanted to pull away. He just needed to see something from the right angle or the right distance; people called that perspective but Kaidan’s glasses felt crooked, the view he got of Shepard always skewed no matter how careful he was to keep it straight.

Kaidan touched Shepard’s chest with the flat of one palm; he looped the fingers of his free hand under the elastic of his sweatpants. Shepard reached after that, covering Kaidan’s wrist, trying to follow where Kaidan led—trying to touch his hips, his thigh, his ass, all at the same time. His hands weren’t big enough but Kaidan didn’t need them to be—only Shepard kept trying anyway, like he didn’t think there was another option.

It was just an experiment, but when Kaidan rolled his hips forward, Shepard’s dick actually rubbed his ass, no jeans with half-opened flies in the way, no zipper friction. There was still another kind of friction left, something that reached into Kaidan’s gut with a hook and tore him up, pulling every burning thing inside him in opposite directions.

He was breathing heavily. He rolled his hips again, Shepard’s fingers curved around his fingers, knuckle slotted between knuckle. Shepard’s other palm was at Kaidan’s side, not guiding how fast he moved but figuring out how fast to move because of him. He bunched the fabric of Kaidan’s t-shirt in his grip, drawing it tight, and his thumbnail dragged over skin—not sharp enough to leave a mark or anything, but that didn’t mean Kaidan hadn’t felt it.

It was the hottest thing, hotter than anything Kaidan had googled—then cleared his history after because he didn’t want anyone finding it. It was all instinct and fumbling around and accidentally scraping Shepard’s right nipple while rubbing his chest, only when Shepard liked it Kaidan did it again and again. He bent down to follow that with his mouth, lips sliding open over cotton, leaving little damp spots with his tongue and teeth, leaving Shepard’s hands under his sweatpants to maybe…

Maybe pull them down.

Shepard started. He moved slow. Their dicks were kind of pressed against each other and against their own stomachs now and it was the best—the best night of Kaidan’s life, even better than the night Shepard kissed him the first time, after he’d spent hours kissing Shepard’s throat but not quite making it to Shepard’s mouth.

He’d been drunk then, a little bit. He wasn’t drunk now. Not unless you counted being crazy for somebody as being drunk, in which case Kaidan was drunk all the time. Making bad decisions. Not thinking them through. Not being able to, because Shepard was an unknown variable even when Kaidan was biting his nipple through his t-shirt and Shepard’s hand was somewhere between his sweatpants and his briefs.

Especially then.

They hadn’t even asked each other out yet. They were doing this and Shepard was still Shepard; he’d be quiet in the morning, like nothing had happened, eating the organic toaster waffles Mom’d agreed to pick up for everyone because it was easier than making a million from scratch. He’d say bye the way he always did and Kaidan would not-send some texts the way he always did, and it’d end the same way, sheets smelling like Shepard until Kaidan finally washed them.

‘Shepard,’ Kaidan said. ‘You— You wanna see a movie sometime?’

For a few seconds, he wondered if Shepard was listening, if he’d been able to hear that. Kaidan’s mouth was muffled against his chest, after all, and it might’ve been a stupid hope—that Shepard would know what he was saying because he could feel it on his body instead of having to listen.

Yeah. That sounded crazy.

‘Sure,’ Shepard said. ‘Going to see stuff with Liara and Joker sucks most of the time, anyway.’

‘I mean…’ Kaidan couldn’t breathe and it wasn’t just because his sweatpants were down most of the way and Shepard’s hand was circling around between his legs. ‘I want to go out with you, Shepard. We should go out.’

‘We’re not going out?’ Shepard asked.

His hand stopped. That was the worst thing Kaidan could’ve done—making Shepard’s hand stop. He tried to laugh it off, like he’d been joking or…something, whatever would fix the situation, but it was too late and the laugh didn’t work. Instead, he sucked a breath in without knowing how to let it out.

‘We… Mostly we go in,’ Kaidan said, slowly. ‘Stay in, I guess. And I asked you that one time to come over for dinner but…’

‘That was paintball night.’ Kaidan couldn’t figure out what Shepard’s voice sounded like other than like Shepard. ‘That’s always paintball night.’

‘Yeah.’ Kaidan was close to deflating. ‘You’re right, that was… I don’t know what I was thinking.’

‘You want to go see a movie,’ Shepard said. ‘…I don’t think anything’s showing right now, Kaidan. It’s a little late.’

‘Forget it,’ Kaidan replied. ‘Forget I said anything.’

‘Yeah.’ Shepard’s heartbeat hadn’t slowed. Kaidan’s cheek was still pressed against it. ‘…Should it be dinner first or dinner after?’

‘Huh?’ Kaidan asked.

‘Before, I guess.’ Shepard’s thumb twitched, just for a second, resting alongside one of the leg holes in Kaidan’s briefs. It felt good, close to sliding under fabric and elastic onto the skin, the roll of muscle where Kaidan’s ass met his thigh. Kaidan shivered. ‘…Does before sound good?’

‘Before sounds good,’ Kaidan said. ‘Either way, I don’t… I’m not picky.’

‘Okay.’ The tip of Shepard’s thumb actually touched the backs of Kaidan’s balls; it could’ve been an accident but Kaidan felt it all the same. He didn’t know what he was supposed to call the sound he made in reply. The closest thing he could think of was a whimper. It made Shepard shiver, too, and Kaidan tightened his knees, hips rising. ‘I’ll pick you up. I guess you can pick the movie.’

‘I’ll make sure it has some good explosions,’ Kaidan said.

‘Thanks,’ Shepard replied.

Kaidan lifted his eyes to Shepard’s face. All he could really see from that angle was Shepard’s chin. He kissed it and Shepard kissed him and he kissed Shepard, losing track and losing count and not needing to care.

Kaidan felt really good, and really stupid, not worried—yet—that the two things would get tangled together and he’d never be able to feel one without the other after that night.

‘You should…’ Kaidan licked his lips, which meant he was kind of licking Shepard’s lips, too. ‘You should touch me.’ He paused, watching the light flare in Shepard’s eyes, pupils blown. ‘Touch me,’ he added, honestly surprised when his voice didn’t crack.

Shepard left Kaidan’s sweats somewhere stretched tight around his hips, Kaidan’s briefs still on. He rubbed Kaidan’s side and touched the hair on his stomach, running below his navel, under his briefs. Kaidan couldn’t see it happen but he wished he could, muscles jumping, hair shivering, Shepard’s palm over his dick. And then, lower, the heel of his hand on Kaidan’s balls, a better angle this time.

Kaidan whimpered again. He liked it; he’d never liked anything so much. Shepard would know and he’d have that piece of Kaidan that Kaidan had given him without holding back on it.

All he was holding onto were Shepard’s shoulders. And then, he let go of that, too.

‘I’m gonna…’ Kaidan went for Shepard’s sweats so he could pull them down and the muscles in Shepard’s stomach tensed, then eased. It was like he was saying okay or go for it but not whatever, because whatever wasn’t really a yes. Kaidan stared for a few seconds more than he should have and they weren’t even naked, but he almost felt like it didn’t matter—like he could see everything. When he resettled, Shepard’s hand between them, Shepard also shifted, touching Kaidan’s stomach instead. The hair there, dark and thick and sweaty. ‘Yeah,’ Kaidan said.

‘Yeah,’ Shepard agreed.

Every time Kaidan moved it pulled their underwear tighter, cotton rubbing skin so sensitive even breathing on it would’ve made it feel good. But this was better than that, a lot better, Kaidan’s hips moving the whole time and Shepard following his lead. It wasn’t Shepard on his motorcycle and Kaidan holding on while sitting behind him, the insides of his thighs squeezing the outsides of Shepard’s thighs. It was Kaidan and he was doing this, now, and they were going out; it was Shepard under him, hands on Kaidan’s hips, and he was the one holding on now.

Shepard was.

Kaidan came without feeling like he needed to warn him and realized, after, that Shepard had done the same thing already. Stupid, sticky, sweaty—Kaidan went down over Shepard’s chest and Shepard said oof, softly, as Kaidan stayed there.

‘I’m probably—’ Kaidan began.

‘It’s good,’ Shepard said. ‘It’s fine.’

So Kaidan stayed some more, kissing Shepard’s chest without thinking too much about it—or about anything.

He must’ve rolled off to stretch his legs at some point; he also must have fallen asleep. And Shepard must have fallen asleep with him because, without realizing it, Kaidan was opening his eyes, yawning, stretching. It was just starting to get light out, Shepard underneath one of Kaidan’s arms, their sweats still around their thighs. It was maybe the happiest Kaidan had ever been, getting to see what Shepard looked like while he was sleeping—but only for a second, because the door was opening.

Kaidan made a grab for the covers but it wasn’t fast enough and also he elbowed Shepard in the gut at the same time. Shepard was awake in a second and Liara was standing in the doorway and their sweats were still around their thighs, and nobody said anything except for Shepard, who started out with ‘What the—’ before he got his answer, meeting Liara’s eyes.

‘I knew it,’ Liara said.

Well, Kaidan thought. At least it wasn’t Mom.

Maybe Shepard was thinking the same thing. Maybe he wasn’t. Maybe Kaidan didn’t have to know the answer either way.

‘Uh…hey Liara,’ Kaidan said. He was red for all the right reasons along with the wrong ones and Shepard’s ears, he noticed, looking down at him, had just started to turn pink.

Shepard was the only person Kaidan knew who blushed like that.