People say you should be proud of your scars.
For Shepard, that wasn’t the case.
As soon as he stepped into his cabin, he moved his hands to the edge of his shirt and pulled it off over his head, throwing it at the chair. His dog tags rattled at the movement before his eyes obliviously wandered to the small mirror to his side. A frown furrowed his brow. It was surprising how he wasn’t entirely covered in scars after what he had been through. They definitely did a good job patching him up. The state he was in somehow reminded him of the time he was at his lowest after Akuze.
It was all Kaidan’s fault.
He wanted to kick his ass for doubting him. Kaidan’s words had been said with such venom that he nearly believed him. Believed that working with Cerberus would only come back to bite him in the ass. The Alliance wasn’t doing a damn thing and he refused to just sit back, watch another colony get taken and transformed by the collectors, watch the events of Fehl Prime repeat themselves tenfold.
How could he not see that?
After everything they had been through together, after everything they had endured, his distrust hit him the hardest. Kaidan was his sanity, and now when he was gone, so was Shepard’s principles.
When Cerberus brought Shepard back to life, he could only remember the bigger feats, and even they were blurry. He remembered the shock waking up the first time, troubled breathing as he could do little more than huff with uneven pauses, and the sharp pain in his chest. He remembered hearing a woman with an Australian accent, later finding out it was Miranda, talking to another doctor.
Shepard traced a scar below his pec with an index finger. He had probably gained it in the explosion because he couldn’t remember it. Studying the rifted skin, he moved his attention to his pronounced facial scars.
Even his eyes had taken a red glow.
A flash interrupted him, a stab in his head that had him jerk back. He took after the bridge of his nose and pinched his eyes shut. The only way he kept himself upraised was by firmly taking hold of the cold, compact counter before him, supporting his weight.
The heat. The smoke. The sound of Joker’s voice calling out.
The impact of his body hitting the concrete. No control. No oxygen. Complete darkness.
With a deep intake of breath and wide eyes, Shepard broke out from a closely resembled trance as if he had witnessed a vivid drell memory. A hand encountered the table before him, clutched into a fist, his head bowed down heavily. He felt the slight sweat running from his forehead and took note of how his chest was pulsating more rapidly than usual.
Some memories were better off forgotten.
He had been troubled with dreams ever since his reconstruction. His memories were coming back. He had never flashed like this before in the waking world and he definitely couldn’t say that he was a big fan.
Shepard ripped off the dog tags that Liara had dropped by with. Worn. He had worn them when he landed on Alchera. Pushing himself away from the counter, he let his body fall to the bed, feet planted and toes bored into the ground underneath him. He looked down at his omni-tool.
Kaidan’s message had been left unread. He wasn’t sure if he wanted to see it, but hell, he missed him. A lot.
They hadn’t left it on good terms and Kaidan wouldn’t bring it up again just to make things worse between them. Kaidan was apologizing. In a way, that made it worse, because Shepard would most likely forgive him. He didn’t want to forgive him. Not now. Maybe not ever.
After hesitating, Shepard silently inhaled, and swept a finger across the screen.
‘I’m sorry for what I said back on Horizon. I spent... two years pulling myself back together after you went down with the *Normandy.* It took me a long time to get over my guilt for surviving, and... move on. I’d finally let my friends talk me into going out for drinks with a doctor on the Citadel. Nothing serious, but trying to let myself have a life again, you know?’
Shepard felt his brows draw together. He clenched his jaw just looking at the damn thing as a sudden longing bore through his chest. He almost forgave him right there. Kaidan was too stuck up on Cerberus to see the collector threat clearly. Garrus was right.
There’s no way in hell that words on a damn data pad is going to change my mind -
‘Then... I saw you.’
It hit him like a freight train two hours late for transit. This message was sent the very same day and he was already apologizing. Shepard’s muscles slacked, and his tightened grip around the dog tags barely eased around them.
He took it all in.
‘...and everything just... pulled hard to port.’
‘I mean, you were standing in front of me... but you were with Cerberus. I -I guess I really don’t know who either of us is anymore. Do you even remember that night before Ilos? That night, of you and me -- us -- just forgetting everything about the war. It meant everything to me. Maybe it meant as much to you. But a lot has changed in the last two years and I can’t just put that aside.’
‘But please be careful. I’ve watched too many people close to me die -- on Eden Prime, on Virmire, on Horizon... on the *Normandy.* And I couldn’t bear it if I lost you again. If you’re still the man I remember, I know you’ll find a way to stop these collector attacks, but Cerberus is... Cerberus is too dangerous to be trusted. Watch yourself.’
‘When things settle down a little... maybe... I don’t know. Just take care.’
Just like that -- he was forgiven -- worrying Shepard how easy it was.
He shut off the omni-tool while his back hunched wearily over the bedside. Pinching the bridge of his nose, his hand still clenched around his dog tags, arms fell into his lap.
Like losing a limb.
Kaidan had no idea how much time had passed.
When the reports came in, his heart broke. Shepard had recently ventured into the Omega 4 Relay. It was a suicide mission. Only because of Shepard’s abilities and plain luck, the new ship had gotten safely out without any casualties. They had destroyed an entire collector base.
The word reached him that Shepard had been arrested for blowing up a batarian relay, but it was all classified, although he already knew that the explanation the Alliance had given everyone was far from the truth. He had eventually managed to get through to Anderson who told him that Shepard had delayed a reaper invasion, and in the process, sacrificed the relay that they would pour through.
Now, the politicians had stripped away the title of Commander of the Normandy, surely having a knack for insulting the very man who saved their ungrateful asses. Shepard had been in constant surveillance since then. Lieutenant James Vega, a soldier from Fehl Prime, had been assigned as his bodyguard. Scanners had picked up that something big was headed their way, and the politicians had the damn nerve to seek out Shepard for help again. He was in the very building only a few walls apart. It left a bitter taste in his mouth to know that their reunion was inevitable.
“Anderson,” he said, having seen him in the distance.
He immediately regretted allowing his eyes to wander. There he was, John Shepard, back facing him in dialogue with Vega. A whole wave of regret forced itself through the veil. He had so much to say but his mind went blank.
It came out a whisper. “Shepard...”
Facing him after all this proved far more difficult than he had hoped. Shepard had to be pissed about Horizon still and he couldn’t blame him. Kaidan knew he had gone out of line.
The look on his face immediately fell when Shepard turned his way. Instead of meeting icy-blue irises, he met unfamiliar red, his ragged scars far more pronounced than before. The same red-ish glow reflected in them.
His heart went to his throat when Shepard quickly averted his eyes, the skin around drawing tight, lips pressed into a thin line.
Good god though, how much he had missed that voice and face. As unfamiliar as it might be, he could still see Shepard past the obvious synthetic-affected skin. The same cheekbones. The same strong jaw and full lips. Kaidan revered how professionally he handled the situation. He knew Shepard was a controlled man but he also knew that he had the tendency to refuse speaking when upset. Not only was it in his voice. It was in his face as well. He seemed relaxed up until their eyes met.
Kaidan took full responsibility for draining the slight hope that he had seen in his gaze.
Ignoring what just happened, Shepard turned to Vega to say something out of his earshot before he made his way towards him and Admiral Anderson. Admiral. Anderson was an Admiral, now. A lot had happened since Shepard went down with the SR-1.
“How did it go in there, major?” Anderson asked, breaking him from his trance.
Kaidan forced his attention away from Shepard. “Okay, I guess,” he said, in a way relieved that he had interrupted his thought-process. “Hard to know. I’m just waiting for orders now.”
“Major?” Shepard walked up to them, genuine surprise in his voice.
Swallowing, he said, “Sorry, Shepard. It’s been... Well.”
“That’s okay.” Shepard wore small -- but somehow forced -- smile when Kaidan’s eyes finally built up just enough courage to meet his former CO’s. “Just... glad I bumped into you, major.”
No ‘K.’ Not even a ‘Kaidan’ or ‘Alenko.’ Just ‘Major.’ Dammit.
He forced a tight-lipped smile, amazed how much that actually hurt, but it soon faltered.
Kaidan cleared his throat and looked away. “Yeah... Me too.”
The Council was ready to see them.
Their eyes met when Shepard pushed past him, but he had quickly broken the connection. Kaidan was tempted to reach after him. Nevertheless, he remained where he was and let his eyes follow him when he walked away.
“You know the Commander?” Vega asked, lining himself up next to him.
He took a moment. “I used to.”
It didn’t take more than fifteen minutes before everything went to hell. They lost contact with Luna base, and reapers had poured past their defenses like it was child’s play. Earth. The reapers had hit Earth. Worse yet, they had hit Vancouver, and stood at their doorstep. The whole damn human Council had been killed in the attack. They had attempted to get in contact with Admiral Hackett, to no avail. Kaidan was ordered by Anderson to get back to the Normandy in the confusion and meet up with him at the LZ, so he brought Vega along.
Much to his relief, Anderson reported that he had Shepard with him.
Seemed like fate didn’t want them apart.