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Patience

Chapter Text

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.

/“Commander! ...Shepard!”/

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.

About Horizon...

‘Shepard,’

‘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.’

‘--K’

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.

“Kaidan?”

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.

Chapter Text

The way everything exploded around them reminded Shepard about the SR-1’s incineration.

Death was all around them, shuttles exploding from the heat of the reapers’ beams, the air polluted by smoke and burnt concrete with a penetrating smell. So much death and destruction. He had warned them and yet they dismissed his every claim like a case without evidence. They had seen Sovereign firsthand, and still, they didn’t believe him. He was so damn tired of not being believed. Tired of trying.

But someone had to.

With the reduced strength he had left, he pried a shut door apart, feeling the now tepid steel linger between his fingertips. He noticed he wasn’t as efficient as he used to. The force of a reaper’s beam had sent him flying into a metal bench, giving him an impounding headache. Splinters had braced his skin and left small cuts on his body. The damages weren’t bad so he would definitely live. Considering the fact that he was spaced, died and then just came back again -- more pissed than ever -- he had faith in surviving a few scrapes and burns.

Shepard grunted when he finally got it open. “In here...”

Anderson moved through as he held it open for him, and he was about to follow, until a small sound by an air duct caught his ear. He was surprised to find the same kid he had seen that very same day, playing with a model ship on the grass, no worries fazing him -- now reduced to a small and scared lost soul, trying to make himself invisible.

Letting go of the door, he was careful not to be between the gaps when it shut behind him.

“Hey.”

He kept his voice low not to intimidate him as he approached. Shepard crouched down before the air duct to be at his level, propping an arm to the top. Wide-eyed, the kid gazed out.

“It’s okay.”

“Everyone is dying...” the kid muttered, his voice trembling.

It was a brittle squeak. Small and vulnerable. No kid should experience something like this. Shepard opened his mouth to offer help, but an explosion in the distance beat him too it, catching his attention.

With a gasp, the kid moved further into the duct.

Shepard reached out. “Come on. You’ve got to get out of here.”

It came out harsher than intended, but the kid glanced at his hand as if considering it.

“Take my hand,” he added.

“You can’t help me.”

Brows knitting into a confused frown, Shepard took his hand back, about to ask.

“Shepard!” he heard Anderson call over by the door. “In here.”

Shepard heard a faint sound, off in the distance, comparable to the Eden Prime colonists’ description of Sovereign’s transmitting signal. Taking after his head, he groaned, his ears having begun to ring. The sound disappeared again. When he turned back, his eyes went wide to see no signs of the kid he had literally just spoken to. If he didn’t know better, he could’ve sworn he was seeing visions.

Gently pushing his body up to search the area, he felt like he was hallucinating, his hand balling into a fist as if to wake himself up.

He eventually flagged it off and hurried after Anderson.

Pushing forward, they had to clear the platform for it to be safe for the Normandy to land. The creatures that the reapers had brought with them closely resembled indoctrinated species. Some of them looked like mutated batarians that neither of them had seen the likes of before. They finally got in contact with the ship, and Shepard had to admit that it was good to hear Kaidan’s voice again, knowing he was all right. After emptying his clip on one of the waves, the Normandy was seen in orbit.

When she touched down, the cargo door opened to reveal Kaidan and Vega stepping out with their assault rifles.

Shepard held a firm grip around his own, took speed and leapt onto the Normandy to have Kaidan reach out to catch him. A shiver went down the length of his spine when his hand encountered his bicep with a touch of reassurance as he was pulled in. Tilting his head up, their eyes collided, whisky-brown and warm looking straight at him.

Swallowing hard, he realized that taking a single step forward would result in merely inches between them if he hadn’t reacted as quickly as he did. He was just too suffocatingly close.

“Welcome aboard, Shepard,” Kaidan said.

Clearing his throat, Shepard broke the eye contact and turned to gaze out at Earth beneath him. He took in all the destruction as he aimed through his scope, centered at the creatures moving towards them.

He glanced at Kaidan from the corner of his eye. “Thanks.”

Kaidan gave him a nod and a soft smile that was close to melt him on the spot before his attention drifted to Earth as well. He proceeded to gun down an indoctrinated batarian. Vega began moving towards the cargo hold as it was now cleared and didn’t hear the rest of their conversation. Anderson had however stopped at the ramp.

“Come on!” Shepard called.

An Alliance cruiser with two marines standing in the open descended towards the ground, engaging the hostiles, evacuating civilians that helplessly tried to escape. Anderson’s eyes focused on the exchange before stopping at Shepard.

“I’m not going.”

“Like hell you aren’t!” Shepard spat. “If you’re staying, I’m staying. We’re in this fight together, Anderson!”

“It a fight that we can’t win. Not without help. You know that as well as I do, Shepard. Stop thinking irrationally. You need to look at the big picture. Talk to the Council. Convince them to help us.”

“What if they won’t listen?”

“Then make them listen! Now go. That’s an order!”

“I don’t take orders from you anymore, remember?”

“Consider yourself reinstated.” Anderson reached for his back pocket and fished up something tangible before throwing it Shepard’s way “...Commander.”

Blue eyes traversed the dog tags he had caught with one hand.

“You know what you have to do,” Anderson said.

He knew he was right, but hell, that didn’t make it any easier.

“Admiral, with all due respect -” he persisted, but the look Anderson gave him told him that there was no use arguing. Shepard cursed under his breath. “Dammit. I’ll be back for you -- and I’ll bring every fleet I can.”

It was a promise he intended to keep. He began to move inwards the ship, giving Anderson one final glance over his shoulder.

Shepard gave him a final glance. “Good luck.”

“You too, Shepard,” Anderson said, returning a proud smile.

The Normandy made a sound to make them aware she was ready for takeoff. Shepard briefly looked at Kaidan, and he could tell he was just as reluctant to leaving Anderson on Earth judging by his somewhat pained expression. Kaidan turned his head before he could look away, and he was once again presented with the honey-brown hue. Unable to contain himself, Shepard held that glance for a long time. The way Kaidan’s expression softened as he made no attempt to break the connection had his head to cartwheels.

It wasn’t until he felt the ship move beneath his feet that he managed to tear his eyes away.

Taking his place beside him, he cast one final glance Anderson’s way to see him offering a reassuring salute for good fortune. Shepard followed him a few feet with his eyes as he had begun to move towards their base.

He felt a hand gently squeeze his shoulder, knowing it was Kaidan, and gave him a nod to say that he was fine.

The hand retracted, and Kaidan followed the same trail that Vega had taken to the cargo hold. Shepard stood alone on the ramp, looking out. One of the intact frigates used to evacuate surviving civilians caught his attention. The expression on his face faltered when he saw the kid. He felt a small smile quirk the corner of his lips, but it quickly faltered, as another relentless reaper shriek had his headache conjured up again. He saw the kid cover his eyes, blocking out the loud noise. Shepard waited in anticipation when the boy began to crawl into the frigate.

No one were helping him.

Not a damn soul.

The hell was wrong with these guys?

He caught the kid’s eye when he looked up at him, finally having made it into the frigate, before the door shut after him. Another vehicle was loaded with civilians before it began to ascend into the sky.

The reaper was charging another laser beam.

In a brief moment of hope, it looked like they were going to make it. That was until the beam cut through one of them like a knife and moved towards the other. The one carrying the kid. Shepard moved an arm to cover his eyes not to get blinded by the explosion’s bright light. Lowering his hand, he only saw the concrete evaporate, pieces thrown meter by meter. He held the glance until he couldn’t hold it anymore. The blood boiled inside of him. Shepard concentrated back on Earth as he locked his jaw tight.

He eventually dragged his feet inwards and the platform shut behind him.

Four reapers was seen in London only as gunships tried to shoot them down. His mind was clear with intent that the reapers were going to pay for Earth’s destruction.

*

“What the hell is going on?” Vega asked, quick on his heel as he crossed the floorboards. “Where’s Anderson? Where are we going?” Shepard gave him no reply. “Hey!”

“We’re leaving.”

“Leaving?” he repeated, in disbelief.

Shepard quickly explained that Anderson had ordered them to get to the Citadel, get help for the fight, because Vega wouldn’t back down. The lieutenant wasn’t stupid. The kid knew that without help, this war was already over -- but he was a fighter, a damn stubborn one. Shepard was convinced that he was against leaving Earth in this state and his suspicion was quickly confirmed.

“Then you can drop me off at the nearest depot, ‘cause I’m not leaving -” Vega insisted, but stopped when Shepard took a step forward, skidding him into an abrupt halt not to bump into him.

“Stow it, Lieutenant!” he snapped. “You don’t want to go -- we get it -- but this isn’t a democracy!”

Vega went quiet then, seeming somewhat taken aback as he stared at him wide-eyed. Shepard was known for his calm approach and demeanor. Nevertheless, that was no longer so. He was determined to win this war, no matter the cost, and if he didn’t like it then too bad. Shepard was the one in charge and he had the guts to prove it. He had been too soft and naïve before. It had only taken Kaidan’s rejection in joining him in his fight against the collectors to change that.

Shepard moved further into the cargo hold. “We’re going to the Citadel... you want out, you can catch a ride back from there.”

Vega waved it off.

Admiral Hackett contacted them over terminal with orders to head for an Alliance outpost on Mars. It was a priority and the Council would have to wait. If they didn’t get to Mars as soon as possible, they would lose control of the system. Hackett mentioned Liara, but the link was too damaged to understand what he was saying. He could make out something about a way to stop the reapers.

“Joker. Set a course for the Mars Archives,” Shepard ordered, looking up at the speakers.

Shepard hunched over a table and eyed one of the pads. His intention was sending a message to Liara to get an idea of what they would run into down on Mars, but his thought-process was interrupted.

“Shepard. We need to talk.”

“There’s nothing to talk about, major. Stay focused -”

He froze when Kaidan splayed a hand at the table before him, forcing him to meet his eyes. They were no longer warm.

“Don’t flag me off.” His reply sounded like a warning.

His stare was unwavering as he held Kaidan’s eyes with his own. He wasn’t backing down, either, and he was seriously starting to piss him off. First he called him out for being a traitor to the Alliance, walked away after he refused to listen, and now he had the nerve to demand Shepard to hear him out? He was a real piece of work, all right.

“Are you threatening me, major?”

Kaidan didn’t waver. “If we’re going to do this mission together, I need to know if I can trust you. I don’t want us to worry about stray bullets.”

Casting his pupils aside, Shepard caught Vega watching them carefully while loading a clip. By the way his eyes had widened, he could only be thinking one thing. Shiiit... That’s cold. Shepard found himself clenching his jaw as he felt his breathing turn heavier, fighting the urge to give Kaidan a piece of his mind. He had lost his patience.

With knitted fists, he pushed from the table in a harsh movement.

“Don’t put this on me.”

“You had Joker, Tali, Garrus... hell, even Chakwas!” Kaidan shouted, being uncharacteristic to him. “I -it doesn’t matter. You made it through the Omega 4 Relay without me, and hell, I already apologized for not knowing about the damn suicide mission!”

Shepard’s heavy heel took a determined step forward that only left inches between them.

“You were there when all this hell started, Alenko!” he snapped, expression feral. “You and Ash were the ones that always kept me in check. Like it or not, but I need the reassurance that at least one of you is still breathing!”

He could tell Kaidan’s heart tried to escape through his throat at his addition.

“I might be part synthetic, but I’m not a damn machine, Kaidan,” he added through clenched teeth. “It’s about time you realized that.”

He knew his voice was low, hurt, fragile. So not ‘Shepard.’ Kaidan looked like he wanted to apologize, but no sound came out when he opened his mouth. Shepard turned away before he had the chance to inquire and began to move towards the CIC. He saw Kaidan reach after him, but he was already out of range, feeling whiskey-brown upon him when he left.

Shepard heard Vega let out a single whistle to break the awkward silence before he stepped into the elevator.

*

They were ready to head out when the Normandy approached the LZ.

Standing in the shuttle, the headache brewing up in Kaidan’s skull was relentless. He was loading a new clip into the assault rifle and fumbled while getting the bullets together, nearly dropped it while internally cursing. His brain and hands simply didn’t want to cooperate. He tried the same with the pistol until the headache worsened and instead chose to take after the bridge of his nose.

He could soon feel a soft, warm but reassuring pressure at his wrist even through his thick, blue-plated armor. It was followed by a slight bump in his shoulder. He glanced over whilst his hand dropped.

“What?!” he snapped.

When he saw whom it was, his throat went dry. He couldn’t tell if it was because of the fact that Shepard was standing so close to him -- no intention of backing away where he stood -- or the headache, which made it seem like his cheeks had caught fire. At least he now knew why he acted like a bumbling, flustered idiot around Shepard. It was obvious now. It became obvious after Sovereign’s defeat.

Shepard didn’t seem repulsed by his unprofessional reaction. He simply cupped Kaidan’s hand in his that was clutching the gun for dear life and gently took it away from him.

“Try this,” he said, casually flipping the magazine the correct way.

After the gun was loaded, he handed it over again. Kaidan could swear that a small smile struggled not to reveal itself at the corners of Shepard’s lips when his eyes wandered down to his CO’s mouth. He did it automatically as if expecting a reaction. When he traced his face back up, he noticed how tired he looked, weak circles around his eyes beginning to form.

Kaidan exhaled. “Sorry, Shepard.”

Shepard slowly nodded as his gaze fleeted, while Kaidan shut his eyes in hope the pain would mend. He knew his body language was being carefully studied, but when he felt a gloved hand nearly caress his cheek, he moved his attention back to see Shepard wearing the same expressionless look he knew all too well. Stoic and guarded. Closed.

“C’mon,” Shepard said. “At least let me do this.”

It seemed like Shepard had already forgiven him after their spat in the cargo bay, so now it was his turn, but it wasn’t that clear-cut. At the same time, he couldn’t bring himself to say ‘no.’ Whoever this man was, he wore the face of Commander John Shepard, First Human Spectre. The very man that destroyed the collectors, saved the Citadel and the entire galaxy. The very man that put every single life before his own. The very man that he no longer could stop thinking about. He wasn’t about to protest to the statement.

It was true. Kaidan didn’t trust him. He had no idea if he ever could again.

...and it was killing him.

“This would be a lot easier if you looked at me, major. Worried I’ll might shoot laser beams out of my eyes or something?”

Kaidan couldn’t help but snort. “You know, if you’ve spent the last months at BAaT, I wouldn’t be surprised,” he replied, turning to face him as a thumb gingerly moved against his temple. “After all, you either come out Superman, or a wreck.”

The subtle smile was back. Hell... it was Shepard’s smile.

“Superman, huh? I’ll take it.”

Kaidan focused his eyes somewhere else before the temptation to ignore the Cerberus part proved too strong to resist. He could still feel himself drawn to Shepard. To be honest, he felt more drawn to Shepard than ever. It was obvious that he emitted heat -- so unless he had a radiator installed in there -- he wasn’t entirely synthetic.

This bond between them had made him realize that what he felt for him went beyond friendship. He had no idea how Shepard interpreted their chemistry. Had no idea if he ever considered an ‘us.’ Kaidan had unconsciously added to the distance between them because of it.

The headache was gone.

He could feel the heat between them falter when Shepard pulled away. In one way, he wanted to pull him back, embrace him, do something at least. On the other hand, he knew that it would never be the same between them again.

When the cargo door opened, Shepard snatched his assault rifle with determination and headed out.

“Were you and Loco, uh... You know?”

The only reply Vega received was a mixed expression of pure confusion and exasperation.

Vega took the hint. “Yeah, just... never mind.”

They followed Shepard to the port leading inside one of the buildings and moved in after they had taken care of a few Cerberus soldiers. Shepard didn’t seem to have any problems with pulling a trigger on them, and honestly, he didn’t know whether to be relieved or worried. He seemed quick to betray his own as he had been with Cerberus in the past.

Kaidan needed sign of familiarity. Something. As far as he could tell, Shepard was still the same since after Cerberus modified him, but battle-hardened. It was, in a way, unnerving.

When someone like Cerberus have had the chance to modify someone to the core, having held Shepard at an operating table for 2 years, there was little reason for him to trust his reinstated CO. He had trusted Shepard with his life once -- who was almost half synthetic now -- before Cerberus got their hands on him. What was even more difficult to process is that if it wasn’t for Cerberus, Shepard would be dead.

What was worse -- losing a friend for good, or never being able to trust him again, after everything they had been through together?

He needed closure.

Chapter Text

“Shepard. I need a straight answer.”

His former commanding officer snapped in place before turning to see him step through the port. He had been absorbed in thought before the sudden commotion. Shepard’s muscles slacked after his unexpected reaction.

Sighing, Shepard took after his head. “K...”

“Don’t ‘K’ me! This is business,” he said, taking a step forward with an accusatory finger. “Do you know anything about why Cerberus is here?”

It sounded far more severe than he had thought it would.

It wasn’t just Shepard who worked with Cerberus, either, but Kaidan accused only him. For the ones that had been standing by his side throughout all of this -- like Joker, Chakwas, Garrus and Tali -- he was still Shepard. Kaidan hoped that there was still a sliver of humanity left. Ironic. Cerberus was all about humanity, but at a greater cost than necessary. Kaidan knew he should’ve supported him when he needed familiarity the most. Instead, he walked out on him because he didn’t know what to do with his mixed emotions that were coming all at once.

Shock. Relief. Betrayal. Hope. Grief. Longing.

Kaidan ignored the italics.

Seeing someone he cared for, whom he thought was dead for the past two years, he had no idea how to react. Especially when he had been right there with Shepard before the first Normandy went down. It was eating away at him knowing that maybe, just maybe, he could’ve done something to prevent his death in the first place.

“What makes you think *I* know what they’re up to?”

Shepard’s face remained hidden below the helmet, but his voice was sharp as a factory-new knife. Seeing the space below his eyebrows having greatly reduced distance was proof enough of his unyielding annoyance.

“You worked for them, for god’s sake.” Kaidan leant in towards a banister, as if afraid of falling. “How am I not supposed to think that?”

Cerberus had most likely implanted a control chip or something that would activate eventually with nothing more than a “Surprise!” while a gun pointed at his forehead. He wanted Shepard, not a half-synthetic and half-organic being that acted, looked and even sounded just like him. It was insulting, some kind of sick joke, and he wasn’t buying it.

Shepard could be a double agent and he would never be sure.

Either that or he simply blamed him for not seeing him in two years. But that wasn’t Shepard’s fault. Shepard had died and everything he could think of was the fact that he didn’t prioritize how he felt when he -- his friends -- heard the news of his death.

It was pretty damn selfish considering everything Shepard had been through.

#

Kaidan was Shepard’s second-in-command, so he took charge when he was absent. He monitored the survivors that had safely arrived. Garrus, Tali, Liara and Wrex had managed to get out, as well as Chakwas and Adams. A few in the lower deck weren’t as fortunate.

He watched Joker pull himself out of a shuttle that had reached concrete soil.

“Glad to see you made it back, Joker,” Kaidan said, and moved his attention to Chakwas. “Chakwas, see if anyone are wounded and tend to them. Shuttle 3 carried medi-gel and brought a few tools.” She nodded and his eyes wandered to the chief engineer. “Adams, that shuttle was damaged when it descended.” He tilted his head in the direction of the sixth shuttle. “Door’s stuck. See if you can find the malfunction and get it open.”

Adams obeyed while Joker still said nothing.

“One of the shuttles hit some of the parting ship’s concrete before approaching the LZ,” Kaidan continued in a low voice. “The fourth pod hasn’t arrived yet, so we don’t know if they made it or not. So far we’ve got twenty casualties unless the damage of the wounded is getting worse.”

Kaidan moved his attention back to Joker to see his apologetic look.

For a moment, they just looked at each other while he simply awaited a response. He saw that Joker swallowed hard, his Adam’s apple ascended and descended slightly, hand clutched his side.

“Twenty-one casualties.”

Puzzled, Kaidan frowned. That was until he glanced towards the shuttle that Joker arrived in. No one followed. He couldn’t take his eyes off it. He refused to believe that Shepard was...

*No. He can’t be.* He went in denial. *No way.*

He immediately felt lightheaded when the thought crossed his mind, nauseous, amazed his feet didn’t give after below him. Kaidan found himself nearly shaking when his hands clung to the weapon he held in his hands for dear life.

If he was there... could he have done something?

He remembered the night before Ilos when the two of them let go of all of their worries. Repressed the events that awaited them after nightfall. His abdomen twisted at the thought. Kaidan knew Shepard was human, but he had never expected to hear this.

John Shepard was gone.

“I’ll, ah... I’ll inform the others,” Kaidan said. “I’m sure there was... there was nothing anyone could do to prevent it.”

Joker didn’t reply and just slowly nodded with fleeting eyes.

Kaidan saw him clutch a wound below his chest. “Looks like you, ah... looks like you took a beating back there. Chakwas can patch you up.”

He then flashed a small, soft but forced smile, gave him a nod and went back to his round.

Several different reactions came from the crew when he told them. Tali’s face was buried in Garrus’ chest, while Garrus and Wrex simply just stood there, jaws locked tight. Liara choked up and stuttered that she needed to take care of something. Of course, they all knew she was lying. They could tell tears were clouding her eyes. He could understand if she just wanted to get away from that place. Be alone. Reflect on the news that was shared among them. Kaidan didn’t allow himself to react, just like Shepard did when he was in charge.

He needed a clear head.

Part of him wanted to slump his back to the nearest concrete and block everything out, but no. He had a responsibility. Those people relied on him. They needed him to take charge and take the wheel. He couldn’t allow this to cloud his judgment.

But it was difficult not to.

#

If Shepard hadn’t been so damn stubborn back on the SR-1, telling him to go evacuate the remaining crew -- reassuring him with clear confidence that he would be able to take care of Joker by himself -- he might’ve been able to help.

“We joined forces to take down the collectors,” Shepard said. “That’s it.”

“There’s more to it. They rebuilt you from the ground up. They gave you a ship, resources...”

“Let me be clear.” Shepard placed himself besides him and propped an arm to the banister. “I’ve had no contact with Cerberus since I destroyed the collector base -- and I have no idea why they’re here now, or what they want.”

“Commander Shepard has been in constant surveillance since coming back to Earth,” Vega said. “No way they’ve communicated since.”

After everything they had been through together, he still doubted him.

Kaidan bowed a heavy head. “Sorry, Shepard,” he muttered, pulling himself gently away from the banister. “I -it’s just that...”

/“Thinking you were gone... it was like losing a limb.”/

A trail of steam above interrupted him when the port shut completely close behind them. They all pulled off their helmets that prove safe now when the air pressure was normal.

“I shouldn’t have to explain myself to you, Kaidan.”

He seemed more hurt than angry when he turned to the elevator as it started descending. Kaidan ran his fingers through his jet-black hair as he breathed out. He was convinced that this was just a synthetic replacement. It had to be. So why the hell did he still feel like a giddy schoolgirl who just bumped into her crush in the hallway?

He caught Shepard glancing at him over his shoulder.

“Please... trust me.”

“I do,” he lied to himself. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean -”

A loud noise in the air duct punctured him mid-sentence to have them draw their firearms and haul behind cover. Shepard gave them a hand signal to stay put. After hearing several loud thumping noises, followed by gunshots, they spotted a familiar asari exit the duct in pursuit of two Cerberus soldiers. She used Singularity to collect them up in the air and finished them off with great control by four final execution shots. Shepard smiled slightly as he moved from cover and was about to approach her.

Vega pulled his rifle, but Shepard quickly lowered his weapon.

“Easy there, lieutenant. She’s with us.”

She turned around to meet them, looking like she was tempted to force him into a hug by the way her eyes sparkled in the dim light around them.

“Shepard! Thank the goddess you’re alive!”

Shepard’s smile turned affectionate. “Liara.”

*

After running into another Cerberus squad, Shepard ordered Vega to get back to the shuttle so they had a quick exit. It didn’t take long before they found a control room that would bring them to the pedway. Liara plopped down in the chair and activated the computer to see if she could find a way across while Shepard scouted the area for more Cerberus soldiers to have the upper hand.

“Did you see that?” came Kaidan’s voice, and Shepard turned to see him looking at a screen. “Who’s that woman on the vid?”

“That’s Dr. Eva Coré. She got here about a week ago,” Liara said.

They later discovered a vid where Dr. Eva shot a security officer. The display shocked Liara as she was caught off-guard. That was how Cerberus got in. She expressed her guilt for not seeing Eva’s corruption sooner, but Shepard reassured her that she had no way to know.

Pushing away from the console, Liara said, “I don’t know how you do it. You always stay focused in the worst situations.”

“When there’s so much at stake...” His gaze had obliviously but discreet moved Kaidan’s way, covering the doorway with his back turned against him. “I just think about what I’d lose if I fail.”

It wasn’t discreet enough for Liara not to take notice.

Kaidan was out of earshot, but when he caught his eye, it was enough to understand that he knew they had been talking about him. Even after all the distrust for him that he displayed, that didn’t change the fact that Shepard still held a torch for him. He always would. Ever since he saw his picture in the files, he knew that Kaidan would be the death of him. The distance he put between them was suffocating. It simply wasn’t meant to be. Shepard found himself swallowing hard. Quickly averting his gaze, he balled a hand into a fist.

“That’s a terrible burden,” Liara said softly, a look of compassion churning her features.

Cerberus had however taken over the facility, leaving them to come up with an idea of getting to the archives. Cerberus would of course not just send a tram to come pick them up, either, so they had to be smart. Kaidan went to look for a transmitter so they could convince them that they were on their side. Shepard had followed him with his eyes when he walked away, but when he turned back, he was given a coy smile.

Liara had noticed that he had been staring and suggestively stated that Kaidan had become, “very capable.”

Kaidan had always been capable, but he was more careful back in the days. More modest. He wasn’t exactly shy, but he didn’t speak up as often, rather staying on the sidelines unless he was completely against something. He seemed a lot more confident and took more charge.

It was... kind of hot.

“Agreed,” he replied, as a load of inappropriate images of Kaidan ‘giving him orders’ had him trailing off.

After all, he was a higher-ranking officer than him now these days. He was however pretty damn sure that Kaidan was straight, being a shame, because Shepard would more than willing indulge in Kaidan’s insecurities if he so desired it.

His desire to have him pinned down beneath him, stripped and vulnerable, was simply another way of torturing himself.

“Commander! I’ve found something.”

He snapped back at the sound of Kaidan’s voice and noticed how his pants felt far tighter, and if he wasn’t Commander Shepard, he would’ve been embarrassed to be caught off-guard like that.

Liara revealed a soft -- and almost pained -- smile as if she was aware of something they were not.

*

Kaidan was crouched down next to a dead Cerberus soldier.

“He’s got a transmitter in his helmet. If I can -”

He pulled up the helmet’s screen, revealing something about Cerberus that neither were aware of before.

Kaidan’s eyes narrowed. “My god... he looks like a husk.”

He rose up and let Shepard approach to see if he had some intel on what they saw before them. Shepard had been with Cerberus for a few months and knew more than Kaidan ever would about the organization. They had witnessed what the reapers had done to the colonists on Eden Prime after impaling them on those metallic spikes they called dragon’s teeth, turning them into husks, but that was the reapers’ doing.

Not Cerberus.

“Yeah, not quite,” he replied, and crouched down. “But they’ve definitely done something to him.”

Shepard tilted the soldier’s head up to see traces of tech in his skin. He didn’t seem to know anything about it as he gently pried the transmitter loose, and pushed up from the floor.

“By ‘they’ you mean Cerberus? They did this to their own guy?” Kaidan studied the husk. “Is this what they did to you?”

Modified and decomposed his body into a dead husk that slowly starts rotting? Wow. Well done, Kaidan. First Eden Prime, sounding like you insulted him for not being a biotic, now this.

Shepard scowled. “How can you compare me to him?”

“Shepard, I don’t know what you are? Or who... not since Cerberus rebuilt you. For all I know, you could be their puppet.” He glanced at him above his shoulder “...controlled by the Illusive Man himself.”

“That’s not fair, Kaidan.”

Kaidan was wrong about him being a traitor to the Alliance but he couldn’t bring himself to say so. Shepard obviously didn’t work with them anymore. He was right. It wasn’t fair.

He felt downright empty when he was gone as if a part of him died with him. He felt like an idiot for not realizing it sooner, but there it was -- John Shepard was more to him than a friend. He was holding onto the sliver of hope that he shared the same implication towards him. He however also held onto the mistrust, seeming somewhat petty now, to counteract those feelings.

“Don’t try to explain it. I don’t think I’d understand anyway,” Kaidan sighed, and wiped the slight sweat from his brows. “I just want to know, is the person I followed to hell and back...”

Hell, the person that I *loved...*

“...still in there?” Kaidan’s eyes finally met the red hue. “Somewhere?”

“They didn’t change me, Kaidan,” he replied, his voice softer. “The Illusive Man made it quite clear that he needed to keep me the exact way I was. He didn’t want to take any chances. But words won’t convince you, will they?”

“Probably not.”

“I didn’t think so. Hell, you were always stubborn,” he said and nudged Kaidan’s shoulder with his on the way to a banister.

The gesture was enough for heat to traverse through his body.

Kaidan snorted. “Me?”

Following Shepard’s movement with his eyes when he passed him, he stopped him halfway by planting a hand at his abdomen to push him back. Shepard’s eyes went skyward, a subtle smile still playing on his full lips.

“You’re the one that came back from the dead,” Kaidan added, smiling. “Twice.”

Shepard’s glance fell to the hand that had pushed him back but not moved.

“Let’s just say I have a lot to live for.”

Looking up again, red once again met brown. His chest fluttered as they just stared at each other for a time that felt like an eternity. Shepard’s smile softened in a way that he could swear there was more to it. His flattened hand formed into a fist as knuckles bore into the steel plate. He found himself swallowing hard, his heart beginning to beat more rapidly.

The air felt suffocatingly thick.

Before he could realize, Shepard had pulled away and moved to the banister before them. Kaidan silently released the breath he had apparently held as his eyes fluttered shut.

He was in deep, all right.

“Come on,” Shepard said, gesturing him over. “Let’s see what Cerberus is up to. Maybe we’ll both get some answers.”

After using the short-range communicator to convince the Cerberus soldiers that they were on their side, they had the upper hand, and gained free clearance to take the tram. It didn’t take long before they reached the archives in hope that it would be a clear shot from there. That was however not what happened. A feeling of dread had seeped through his body. He didn’t know why.

Everything that could go wrong then went wrong.

Dr. Eva was still in the damn facility, and on Cerberus’ orders, Kaidan found her erasing the data on the blueprint. She took to running, them close on her heel, until she reached a Cerberus vehicle. She was escaping. That was at least what they thought until Vega purposefully crashed their shuttle into Cerberus’ and prevented her. The shuttle decimated and collapsed into the ground as it exploded with Eva aboard. Kaidan helped Liara onto on her feet who was wounded during the chase and threw her arm around his neck for support.

The Normandy was én route.

*

James was in for one hell of a lecture when Shepard firmly stepped towards him to explain the error of his ways.

“What the hell were you thinking pulling a kamikaze stunt like that, lieutenant?” Shepard snapped, and James turned to him with a somewhat startled expression. “Are you trying to get yourself killed?”

Vega’s expression hardened. “Whoa, hey, hey Commander. Relax, man. I just saved your asses! Hell, I took care of it. That broad would’ve gotten away if I just sat back. What was I supposed to do, huh -?”

“It’s not worth risking your life over!” he replied, pointing a finger at him. “Any other ridiculous ideas that I should be aware of?”

“C’mon, man -”

The sound of several firing gunshots punctured Vega mid-sentence, snapping their attention in the direction it came from as they drew their firearms. Shepard spun from the crashed shuttle and met the sight of heated fire, melting the colors away from Eva’s believed-to-be skin. She was a damn robot. Before he was able to aid Kaidan in gunning her down, Eva started running towards the major in a sickening speed, seeming like the bullets did such a minor damage that it was useless.

Shepard’s heartbeat raced ten times faster in an instant the moment Eva pulled Kaidan up into the air like a feather.

“Kaidan!”

In the very moment he was about to pull the trigger on her, she moved Kaidan between them, using him as a human shield. Hesitating, Shepard refused to take the shot. Kaidan was helplessly trying to pry her hands away but there was no use. Her robotic engineering was far too superior. Shepard refused to activate the gun’s mechanism because he knew he could hit Kaidan in the crossfire. One wrong movement or wrongly placed strategy and Kaidan would be the one with the bullet in his head.

He could do nothing but try to get a better angle, wait for the robot to make a mistake.

“Let him go!” Shepard demanded.

The robot, seeming more curious than anything, studied Kaidan for a moment as if she wasn’t sure of what she was going to do with him. He watched her as she moved two fingers to her earpiece.

“Orders?” she asked.

Shortly after, Eva turned Kaidan’s back against the crashed shuttle.

“NO!”

He watched in horror as she pounded his body not once, but twice, into the vehicle with all her strength. Shepard’s heart got stuck in his throat, feeling the every hit as if he was the one taking the blows.

Kaidan motionlessly dropped to the ground, and she turned to Shepard, murder in her robotic eyes. He planted a bullet right into the area of her ‘heart’ when she ran towards him and she dropped. Shepard’s breathing was heavier, uneven, looking at the robot before him in both shock and awe. She didn’t move. His eyes angled up to settle at Kaidan’s unconscious figure.

“No...” he whispered, shoving the firearm back into its sheath.

“Grab that thing! Bring it with us,” he ordered James, shooting an arm towards the robot as he ran.

He dropped to his knee before Kaidan’s unmoving body, clasping his shoulders and shaking him.

“Kaidan! Kaidan...” Shepard begged.

Moving a hand to the side of his neck, he gently turned his head towards him. There was no response to his touch. Barely even a pulse.

Shepard clenched his jaw. “C’mon, K... don’t do this to me...”

“Shepard, we’ve got Reaper signatures in orbit!”

His eyes shot up to see the Normandy descending. Meeting no resistance, Shepard wrapped his arms firmly around him and threw him over his shoulder. He had to get him out of there. Get him to a hospital.

He didn’t waste a single moment to carry Kaidan into the ship. He gently placed him at a gurney in the med bay as Vega dropped the robot with a big thud on another. For the first time in forever, he had no idea what to do, lost looking at Kaidan lying unconscious before him. He had never felt more helpless, powerless, than he did in that very moment.

Shepard heard Liara’s voice, but her words were blurred. Everything went in slow-motion. His whole reality was breaking apart.

Barely even tilting his head up to acknowledge her presence, he refused to look at her as his lips drew into a thin line. He was broken from his trance when she took his face between her hands and forced him to meet her eyes.

Her glare pinned him. “We have to leave the Sol system.”

“I know.”

“The Citadel is our best bet,” she said softly, and pushed herself away. “We can get help there.”

“Get us to the Citadel, Joker,” he snapped, before turning back to him. “Hold on, K...”

He squeezed his shoulder for comfort and gently caressed it with his thumb. His eyes wandered to the robot.

Scowling, he said, “See what you and EDI can learn from that... thing.”

Chapter Text

Kaidan couldn’t tell if he was dead or dreaming.

He was unable to open his eyes. Tried to, but to no avail. His eyelids were shut but he could tell there was lighting in the room. Strong lighting. He knew he was lying down and it wasn’t especially comfortable. Better than the Alliance beds, however. Come to think of it, everything was better than the Alliance beds. He heard beeping. Slow, steady beats.

The smell of syringes hit his nostrils. Was he in a hospital? The last thing he remembered was heated fire... red. Blood, maybe? Red soil. Earth? No, Mars. He remembered Shepard. Shepard was there.

He remembered Vega. Liara. She was there, too. Biotics failing, metal, a robot. He remembered sickening speed as she moved towards him, picked up after the helmet as if he was a damn space hamster. He had spaced out before the robot had stopped functioning. For all he knew, they were all lying in the hospital as well as he, and Eva had gotten away with the data. Hell, maybe they were...

No, he cut himself off, refusing to believe it. No, they’re still alive.

Both Shepard and Vega were excellent soldiers. Liara was probably too wounded to assist. If his own damn biotics hadn’t acted up at the most inappropriate of times, he could’ve brought Eva down. Hell, how many bullets did he place in her?

Four, he thought. Four, in the heart.

He had grazed her a couple times in the chase. Altogether, it had to be at least six bullets. At least. The others plunged in a few, too. He had never seen a robot being that superior in both strength, flexibility and... lifespan? He hated being like this. Unable to do anything. It gave him too much time to think. Too much time to reflect on all the bullshit in the world and all the mistakes he had made.

Regrets, though. He only had a few.

What happened at BAaT, snapping at Shepard after Ash’s death, the way he treated Shepard back on Horizon, the way he accused Shepard for being a Cerberus puppet... Thinking of it, he mostly regretted what he’d done to Shepard. How unfairly he’d treated him. That was killing him. Hell, if he was now lying on his own deathbed, he would never be able to tell him how he was right. About everything.

“Hey, Kaidan.”

Kaidan tried to focus on the voice. It nearly sounded like an echo. Disembodied. Still, he could recognize that voice anywhere. Low. Calm. He sounded tired. Shepard was all right. Thank god he was safe.

He could tell he was close as he felt heat radiate close to his hand that was propped to the side of the gurney.

“Oh god, it’s hard seeing you like this.” Shepard spoke in such a soft tone that he’d never before heard. “Don’t know if you can hear me... but since you can’t tell me to ‘get the hell out’ either, I’m going to take my chances.”

His own hand barely twitched, trying to wake up from unconsciousness, or whatever the hell he was in. Coma? His hand lightly brushed against Shepard’s, and he could hear the heart-monitor acting up, beeping slightly faster at the unexpected touch. Thank god he was unconscious or he would be red like the triangle of the N7 symbol. He cringed at the thought and knew that Shepard would never live it down. He expected a witty comeback, but instead, he could feel a thumb brushing against his knuckles.

Shepard’s hand was cradling his.

He could then hear gentle tapping. Probably a data pad. The doctor, perhaps.

“Don’t die, Kaidan. You’ve got to fight. We need you in this. Seeing you in action again... it reminded me you’re a hell of a soldier. The Alliance could sure use you... *I* could use you.”

He wanted to respond, but it was like his body was suffering from sleep paralysis. The heat faltered. Shepard had moved his hand away.

“Need anything, doc... Let me know. C’mon, Kaidan. *Fight...* and that’s an order.”

Then he left. He must have. Everything he could now hear was the beeping of the heart-monitor by his side. It was dead silence away from that. His mind then started sleeping as well. Dead silence.

He spaced out again.


Shepard jerked awake in a sudden motion. He couldn’t remember falling asleep in his cabin. Brows knit in a frown, and he hauled himself up from the bed into a sitting position.

Hunching over, his feet fell to the floorboards, and he let his face drop to his hand.

The nightmares. That kid back on Earth, haunting his dreams, wanting him to follow him as he ran only to end up burning in a wave of fire before his very eyes. He had never expected that the death of that kid would affect him as much as it did. Screams, destruction, the shrieks of the reapers. He heard disembodied voices of people that were no longer with them.

/“Screw that, we can handle ourselves! Go back and get Kaidan!”/

Then the guilt struck him. It always did when he thought of Ashley Williams. He was well-aware that his choice between her and Kaidan wasn’t made merely strategically speaking. He had admitted to himself that he was being selfish. He cared about Ashley, a lot, but he could never leave Kaidan behind. The thought itself of seeing his empty seat made his abdomen churn.

Kaidan, just like Ash, would happily give his life for a greater cause.

Shepard just didn’t let him.

Experiencing a Normandy without him aboard only came to fruition after the first one went down. It was difficult at first. He remembered Jack approaching him after coming back from Horizon.

#

“Who the fuck is Kaidan?”

Shepard nearly startled at the sound of Jack’s voice.

*When the hell did she enter my cabin?*

The alcohol in his system had made him drowsy with slow reaction speed.

He slowly spun his chair around and found her leant up against the wall supporting his model ships with arms folded across her chest. She was scowling at the gracious display of empty alcoholic beverages and glass fragments all around the room. If not everything was pinned to the floor, furniture would’ve been knocked over, too. He looked away again, moved a bottle back up to his mouth.

“Just a former crewmember of the *SR-1*.”

“It isn’t categorized as ‘just’ when you want to fuck his brains out.”

Shepard’s eyes went wide as he nearly choked on the whiskey, forced into a fit of coughing. Jack grinned wolfishly at his reaction. He cleared his throat after he collected himself.

“Uh-huh.” He flipped the bottle upside down and a single drop left its neck “...and you can, what, tell just by being around me?”

He threw the empty bottle across the room and left even more fragments in its wake.

“I can tell because I’ve never caught you staring at the cheerleader’s tits. It makes it pretty fucking obvious, boy-scout. You’ve been a drunk ass ever since you came back from Horizon.”

“Why do you ask?”

His slurred reply countered her statement. With a frown, he reached after a Serrice Ice Brandy bottle on the nightstand and almost managed to tumble over at the tiny movement.

“Because I’m curious, you dick.” Frustration crinkled her eyes at the swaying, bumbling figure before her who tried to make his way to the bedside. “No one can shut the fuck up about it.”

Shepard grinned and sat down. “Bullshit. You’re worried about me.”

Jack looked like she was about to throw him biotically across the room the way she flared up like a thousand suns. He knew he pushed his luck, although he also knew that Jack would never hurt him. Badly, at least. She had already thrown in a few punches earlier. Both biotic and manual. Hell, she had thrown him around, too. He could take a few punches and throws, though, knowing he deserved it.

Body language tense, fists clenched, she approached him with heavy steps.

“Whoa, hey -hey! Not the face!” he called, and shot an arm up to cover it as he jerked back.

His body crumpled together as if he tried to make himself as small as possible.

Jack hovered over him with malice. “Eat shit and die.”

Knowing that Jack wasn’t going to do anything, Shepard slowly straightened up again, and let his arms drop to his knees. He was about to move the bottle up to his mouth again until a biotic pulse knocked it out of his hand. Jack’s biotics danced and gleamed dangerously around her before dissolving into nothing again. Shepard looked at his hand now drenched in tepid liquid and blinked owlishly but with weary eyelids. He glanced at the damaged bottle halfway across the room, bluish substance poured out all over the floor.

“You know... That cost like, 1.000 credits.”

“You cost over 4 billion, fucker. Take your pick.”

Shepard shook the moisture off his hand. “That was the Illusive Fucker’s credits. If you haven’t noticed, I have to *earn* my way around here. Forgive me if I don’t want to spend the rest of my life traversing from planet to planet and mining after Element Zero,” he replied, and dried the remaining brandy off on his lap. “Remind me why you’re here again?”

“You were the one that signed me up.”

“I followed a dossier.”

“Same shit. You made the choice of keeping me.” She took a moment to study him with a scowl. “You’re pathetic, Shep, so you better fucking do something about your sorry ass condition. For once, take your own good-for-nothing advice.”

“If you haven’t noticed, Kaidan isn’t exactly an asari prostitute -- sorry, ‘consort’,” he said, with air quotes “...and I ain’t a jealous turian general. If a turian has the guts to ask Sha’ira to ‘go steady,’ that son-of-a bitch can do anything.

“...and how the hell do I have a chance with a fucking perfect, brown honey-eyed example of biotic perfection with a great ass, who doesn’t know when to shut the fuck up about this girl named ‘Rahna,’ but is too stuck up on ‘Cerberus’ that he doesn’t give a shit that I *need* him through all this bullshit? Not to mention that I’m pretty damned sure that he’s straight and the fact that I fucking forgave him after all the shit he’s put me through just because of a fucking message implying that maybe -- just maybe -- he cares about me as well!”

Jack growled as she took a step back, turned her back to him as her biotics flared up again, taking after her head. Shepard’s expression fell considerably at her reaction.

“You’re Commander fucking Shepard, you’re not supposed to break like that,” she murmured. “Not over some... some stupid crush!”

“Jack -” he tried.

Looking ready to pull off a biotic punch, she spun around. “He isn’t worth killing yourself over, you pussy!”

“Jack!” He slid an arm around her shoulder and pulled her to himself.

Her muscles were tense. His other arm wrapped protectively around her waist, held her close, tightened his grip when she tried to pull away and softly cursed under her breath. Her biotics stopped flaring. He finally felt her relax into his embrace. Eyes still open, she buried her face in the grope between his neck and shoulder. A hand moved to the small of his back, clutching the fabric of his civvies.

“I’m fine,” he said. “I’m just really... really drunk at the moment. But I’m fine.”

To Shepard, Jack was just like the little sister he never had. He had the strong, brotherly urge to protect her. Jack knew how to handle herself in combat, but even so, she let her emotions speak for her. Of course, she didn’t dare admitting that. She let him get close, something she always pushed aside, and he was flattered. She was the one he had warmed up to the most after he started working with Cerberus.

“...and you owe me 1.000 credits -”

He choked on his words thanks to a gasp and took after his abdomen that she had launched a fist at.

A loud, annoyed grunt escaped her mouth the moment she pushed him forcefully away with all her strength, almost sent him tumbling backwards. She turned a heavy heel towards the door, her foot exposed to a bottle before she kicked it away and into the wall -- which released a fit of shattering glass -- and stormed out.

“Take those fucking credits and shove them up your ass, boy-scout!” he heard her call from the doorway. “Fucker!”

Shepard stood fast, folding his arms across his chest. Jack flashed him the middle finger before the elevator doors shut after her. He didn’t mind knowing that she would never pay him back. Shepard decided to stop drinking for a while.

She was definitely worried about him.

#

Shepard heard a *whoosh* by the door and escaped from his thoughts.

He let out a small, weary groan before moving his hands to the bedside. Shepard felt stiff all over the place so he had apparently slept in the entirely wrong position. He imagined his body being all deformed when lying there and could see the tabloids if any screens leaked. ‘The First Human Spectre On Duty.’ Very gracious. He shrugged it off. Shepard rolled his neck, eyes barely able to stay open as he approached the door.

He blinked the sleep away. “Liara... can I help you?”

“I’ve been forwarding the turian councilor information on the prothean device,” she said, her eyes sparkling of ambition. “It can’t be built without Council support, but he’s not budging until their primarch is safe.”

Shepard walked up to the banister to their side, hand meeting the metal before him before he ducked a heavy head. He let out another small groan as a headache was bound to approach the way his head was hammering. He had been reacquainted with those bottles after returning from Mars, and as if it was as easy as breathing, he fell right back into it.

“I know,” he muttered.

“Are you all right?”

There was concern in her voice. To be honest, he didn’t want to worry her, but she had asked for it. No, he wasn’t all right. Not in the slightest. Shepard slowly pushed himself away from the banister.

“I... didn’t get what you’d call a good night’s rest.”

“There’s more to it than that, isn’t there? What’s really bothering you?”

“The reapers are here, now, and the Council -- the other races -- are only interested in looking after themselves. How many civilians are dying while they wait for us to make the first move? ...and hell, Kaidan almost died on Mars. People around me has a tendency to get hurt. Or worse.”

“At least the Council can’t deny the reapers exist. They’ll come around. They’ve got to,” she replied, and fell into a pause. “Kaidan’s a soldier. He knows the risks, as do you. And he’s a fighter. He’ll pull through.”

She began fidgeting with her hands and Shepard could tell that something else was bothering her. “Kaidan saved my life back on Mars.”

He didn’t know that.

“The first thing he did when Dr. Eva Core ascended from the flames was push me aside to make sure she targeted him instead,” she added. “I am forever in his debt. I know I will have the chance to thank him soon.”

“I hope you’re right.”

“Don’t blame yourself, Commander,” she replied. Shepard opened his mouth, but Liara knew what he was about to say and flashed him an appreciative smile “...and I am fine. Leaving Earth was necessary... and what happen to Kaidan was not your fault. None of this is on you. You have done more than most and we are all grateful. No one else could have accomplished what you have.”

“Thanks, Liara.”


Kaidan had regained consciousness back on Huerta Memorial.

He was more than ready to get the hell out of that place. The doctors had assured him that he would be released soon, but they kept him back, just to be sure. He felt like a prisoner. It was only the red tape that kept him back as they nearly worked as handcuffs. Dr. Chloe Michel knew the Normandy crew better than any of the other doctors, considering that Chakwas had gone back to serve at the SR-2, after Shepard offered her to be reassigned to the position as the ship’s doctor, so she made a choice.

In other words, Michel knew Kaidan enough to know that he wasn’t someone to sit idly by, so she personally requested the tape as if he was a convict of some sort. Saving her from being blackmailed three years back and this is what they got?

She wasn’t his assigned doctor, though. It was another lady. She was sweet. Easy to like. Her interest in him being an L2 didn’t come as a surprise to him as a lot of people were. Kaidan was well-aware that he could upgrade the implant if he chose to. He also knew that one slip could cause severe brain damage. The only downside was the migraines. If he had suffered worse effects, he would most likely have taken the chance to upgrade a long time ago. He was willing to suffer through a few migraines as long as he could keep his memories.

There was a lot of things that he would prefer to forget, but there was a lot of things he would want to remember, too.

With a frown, he shifted. “C’mon, doc. I had head trauma. I won’t break by sending a few messages and get an update on the reaper situation. I’m not exactly writing with my mind.”

“That might be, but you’re my responsibility now, major.” She wrote something down on the clipboard quaintly leaning up against her forearm. “I advise you not to strain yourself. It’s not pretty out there.”

“All the more reason why I should know about it...” Kaidan reached after the data pad on the table. “-Ow, hey!”

Shaking his hand, he felt the prickling pain course through him as his hand had just been smacked away with a flat piece of wood. Hell, that was one way to treat a patient. He was just thankful he had no nerve damages there.

“Anything else you need, sir?”

“How about removing the red tape?”

“No.”

Kaidan groaned, letting his head drop to the gurney.

“Okay, okay. Just... Hell, let me see if there’s any word from my family.” He turned back to the doctor, and could swear the expression on her face softened just a tad bit. “I need to know if they’re safe.”

Silence.

The doctor eventually exhaled, closing her eyes. He could tell she immediately regretted opening them again when he flashed his famous puppy-eyes. It didn’t take long before she handed over the data pad.

He grinned in accomplishment. “Thanks, doc,” he said, and she made an annoyed noise.

Glancing down at the pad, he soon discovered that he had one hell of a lot of messages to read through. To his concern, none of them were from his mom or dad. He was hoping they had made it out safely from Vancouver as they had headed out the day of the attack. His father had Alliance training, so he was hoping he had been able to keep them safe throughout all this.

There was however one message in particular that caught his interest.

From: Councilor Donnel Udina
Subject: Proposition

‘Major Alenko,’

‘I heard the medical reports are looking positive and that you’re out of Huerta Memorial soon. I have a proposition for you to think through while awaiting your release. The reports of your mission on Mars makes it clear that your team did not only succeed in gaining the blueprints, but also uncovered Cerberus’ involvement, which is valuable information to the Alliance and Council alike. If not for Dr. T’Soni, it would have proved to be more challenging to decipher the blueprint. You did not only show potential and proved yourself a great soldier, but you kept a clear head. We need more soldiers like you to represent the good of humanity.’

‘So what are your thoughts on becoming the Second Human Spectre?’

‘--Udina’

His jaw must’ve dropped judging by the curious expression on the doctor’s face.

A Spectre? Kaidan couldn’t believe what he had just read. Him, who had only days ago been beaten into a pulp and was forced to remain in the hospital when the war raged on. He was without doubt flattered, but the whole thing was a lot to ingest. He never had any problems with following the regulations in the Alliance, but it did add to his freedom and he wouldn’t say no to that. At the same time, he had no idea if he was going to accept or not. To be honest, he wanted Shepard’s opinion.

“Major Alenko, are you all right?”

He snapped from his thoughts and met a confused look.

“Yeah, I’m... I’m fine. Don’t worry, doc.”

“I warned you not to strain yourself.”

He gave her a sheepish smile. “I think I can handle a few messages...”

She rolled her eyes at him with a soft returning smile and left the room. Unless Kaidan had been dreaming of Shepard visiting him when still unconscious, which was highly possible, it was obvious that he would want an update on his condition. He felt like they needed to talk. Maybe there was still a chance to rekindle the friendship they had built over the years.

They had been joking around on Mars, so that was something at least.

It was now obvious to him that Shepard wasn’t a Cerberus puppet. Not after all the resistance and distance he put between him and the Illusive Man. After three years, he was still Shepard.

/“I might be part synthetic, but I’m not a damn machine, Kaidan. It’s about time you realized that.”/

They definitely needed to talk.

Chapter Text

“I’d like an answer, major. The galaxy has need of exceptional soldiers like you -- now, more than ever.”

“You’ll have it soon, Councilor. I promise.”

Udina had dropped by Huerta Memorial Hospital to see if he had made up his mind on becoming the Second Human Spectre. He was still unsure what to do as the bar was pretty damn high. It would be great to get Spectre clearances and access to information and gear, but even so, it was a lot of pressure. This was a decision he couldn’t just jump into. Especially after the head trauma he suffered a few days ago.

“I look forward to it.”

Udina began moving towards the door, but immediately stopped in a halt when he nearly barged into the next person about to enter, giving the visitor a quick glance.

“...Shepard,” he added.

“Udina.”

That was usually how krogans greeted each other.

Kaidan had contacted Shepard earlier. He had either looked wrong on the time or decided to arrive earlier than expected. Still, it was good to see him. He couldn’t help but notice the slightly darker circles around his eyes. It didn’t look like he have had had much sleep.

“Hey,” Shepard said, approaching him when Udina left.

“Shepard, hey. You just missed snack time.” Remembering how Shepard had a tendency to devour his food, he was lucky. The hospital food was worse than horrible. “Actually, that’s probably a good thing. Thanks for coming.”

“No problem.”

He watched as Shepard pulled up a chair next to the gurney and slid into it. For a moment, he could swear his eyes wandered across his body. He was very lightly dressed as simply the lower part of his body was covered in a sheet. He could do nothing but pray he wasn’t as red as he felt, hoping that his somewhat swollen face covered over it. It was a miracle that it was still intact. He was just glad he wasn’t put into a hospital gown, because honestly, it looked utterly ridiculous. Kaidan didn’t exactly feel attractive where he was lying.

“You look like shit, major.”

The tease in Shepard’s voice caught him off-guard, and Kaidan chortled.

He let his head drop to the gurney, but tightly closed his eyes when feeling the slight prickling pain the way the muscles in his face tightened. Sucking in a breath through his teeth, he winced.

“Ow... okay... don’t make me laugh. It hurts when I laugh.”

“Sorry. Hey, what did Udina want?” Shepard shot a brief but suspicious glance towards the doorway to make sure he was out of earshot. “Still thinking about the Spectre position?”

At least he was reading his messages.

It was a nice how Shepard had made the time to come see him after everything that had been, and is, going on. He felt somewhat guilty bringing him down here, but it didn’t really matter to Shepard judging by the fact that he was now sitting right there.

“It’s a big honor,” Kaidan said. “A huge responsibility. Just need to be sure.”

“Hey, almost forgot... I got you this.”

Kaidan cocked a brow when he watched him reach for the floor. Then Shepard pulled up a bottle of alcohol. Flattered at the gesture, he felt somewhat taken aback and offered him a careful but appreciative smile.

“Wow. Thanks, Shepard. That’s really great.”

“Just a little pick-me-up,” he replied and rested his hands on his lap after he handed it over.

Kaidan’s gaze drifted to the bottle before he studied the etiquette. TM88 Peruvian Whiskey. One of his favorites.

“Hell, you seem to know exactly what I like,” he muttered softly, trying to figure out what that meant.

“I’ve had the time to pick up a few things throughout the years,” he replied. “I have to admit, though... I wasn’t entirely sure. I had a few... issues I had to deal with after the SR-1 went down. Glad I chose correctly.”

“Issues?”

“Amnesia. I took a blow to the head before the oxygen tank splintered. One of the biggest challenges when Cerberus rebuilt me was keeping my memories intact.” The horror must’ve shown on Kaidan’s face. “Hey, I died, remember? Side effects. Can’t exactly expect everything to be fine after such a thing. I’m good now, though.”

He remembered all right. Even if he would rather not. It was an event he didn’t want to revisit.

It seemed like Shepard was willing to fix whatever broken record that was between them. Try to, anyway. Everything about this both confused and scared the crap out of him. They had, more or less, known each other for about a year in total, fought together, spoken on a daily basis. Basically lived together if you counted the Normandy as one spacefaring house.

The galaxy was in balance and Shepard managed to relax throughout it all.

Either that or he was really good at hiding it. Kaidan was convinced of the latter. Knowing Shepard, he was hiding what he truly felt about the situation. Back to the ‘needing to keep his image.’ He couldn’t imagine that he was taking all of this lightly.

“Earth to Alenko?”

Kaidan snapped from his thoughts, and realized he had been staring at him for all this time. Embarrassing. He had expected him to pull a joke as he usually would do in a situation like that, something like, “Is my voice sending you daydreaming, major?” but no.

“Just... thinking. Glad you’re okay.” Kaidan was aware that he most likely didn’t want to delve into his reconstruction, so he lay off. “You know, maybe when I’m out, we can crack it open and celebrate. I’m so ready to get out of here, Shepard. You can’t tell, but I’m tied to this bed by medical red tape. I mean doc... Doc says I’m good to go, but then she always finds ‘just one more test’ to run.”

Shepard ignored the last part. “Red tape. Really?”

“Dr. Michel personally requested it to keep me here.” Kaidan felt his cheeks flush when he reached for him, and captured his wrist. “H -hey c’mon, Shepard. Not literal tape. I’m only wearing briefs, here.”

He blinked. “Oh.”

An amused smile breached his lips at the somewhat sheepish look on Shepard’s face.

“Just briefs? If you’re trying to discourage me, you’re not doing a very good job.” Kaidan had to snort as his subtle remark, the flush in his cheeks yet apparent. “Seriously, though... you doing okay? You took one hell of a beating down there.”

“My implant got a little... rattled, so Doc wants me to keep the biotics offline for a bit. It’s really no big deal.”

“Need me to break you out?”

Yes... please.

“Heh... I’ll let you know,” he said, leaning back to the gurney. “The food hasn’t killed me yet. Neither has the doctor... and I know better than to disobey her. Don’t want to unleash her fury upon you. I’m good for now.”

“I’m glad you asked me to come. It’s good to see you’re going to be okay.”

“Thanks.”

“You almost died on my watch. It was horrible to see,” Shepard said, leaning forward with hands clasped on the bed’s surface. “Hell, I know we haven’t been on the best of terms with each other recently, but... I care about what happens to you.”

For a moment, Kaidan just wanted to reach after them.

He couldn’t quite place what this was between them. They had become close during a short period of time, but that was what happened when you worked together on such an impactful mission, stopping a rogue Spectre from throwing the reapers at them. Now they were battling the reapers themselves. Crazy things like that tended to get people together. Not just him and Shepard, but the whole Normandy crew.

It didn’t seem like merely friendship, but he knew he could be wrong, too.

“That means a lot,” Kaidan said instead, not breaking the eye contact by an inch. “I want you to be straight with me then. So, I just want to make sure -- after Mars, after Horizon. You and me, we’re good?”

“We’ve been through hell together, had each other’s backs. That kind of bond is hard to break.”

“But no, not just that. You were my commander, sure. But you listened, too,” he said, determined. “When I told you about when Rahna broke my heart, you didn’t judge me. You knew I needed that. We went through Ash’s death together...”

Shepard looked down, brows tightening, leg slowly rocking back and forth.

“Yeah... we did.”

Few days went by without thinking about everything and everyone they had lost in this damn war. Ash, Pressly... not to mention all the casualties back on Earth, and they were bound to lose even more. Every waking moment was another struggle and the battle ahead was just the beginning. He felt guilty for surviving. How he was able to live another day and she wasn’t. It was nobody’s fault, he knew that, but it didn’t make it any easier.

He had decided to keep those thoughts bottled up. The guilt. Truth is, it was destroying him from the inside. Sure, he could genuinely laugh, smile, joke around, but the thoughts rarely left him. Sometimes they did. The grieving process had started to fade.

“So, what do you say?” Kaidan asked, and sighed. “Are we good?”

Shepard tilted his chin up. “We’re good. It was great to have you back on the Normandy.”

“Thanks,” he muttered, smiling softly. “I’m really glad you came by. Talking like this reminds me... how much I like you.”

A somewhat careful smile appeared on Shepard’s lips. It could be interpreted in two ways and that was the good thing about all this. Kaidan always left a way out and Shepard was aware of that.

Shrugging, Shepard asked, “Feel like we’ve cleared the air?”

“Yeah. You know, I’m not sure that I’ve been wrong about Cerberus, but... I’ve been wrong about you.”

“Are we going to be able to get past what happened at Horizon?”

“I’d like to, Shepard. I’d like to move past the harsh words and be... friends,” he said, looking away. “At least.”

Strangest part is, he didn’t regret saying it. Not even in the slightest. If anything was ever going to happen between them, he had to take a few chances. He had been blind to it all along what his inner intentions for Shepard was and kept asking himself what he had to lose. His pride. That was it. His pride was something he was willing to risk. Barely.

“So how do we fix it?”

Kaidan nearly startled at his simple reply, snapping his attention back to him. “I... I’ll admit, I own a lot of that. You were standing right in front of me, and I was... I shut you down. I’m sorry.”

Shepard propped his hands to his lap and leant back.

“Okay.”

He arched a brow at how easy Shepard took all of this.

“Okay...?” he echoed calmly, not entirely sure how to react. “So, let’s just put it behind us and get on with what’s important right now.”

“Bury it?”

“Bury it. Forgive it. I... I think that’s how we get past Horizon.”

The fact that he didn’t watch Shepard’s back when he ventured into the relay would still eat away at his mind. How he turned his back on him when he clearly wanted him there. How he, once again, could’ve lost him.

How Shepard kept the conversation going sure did amaze him. He always made their mission debriefs at the SR-1 break into casual conversation. Back then, Kaidan didn’t know what he felt about it -- how easily Shepard could make him talk about really personal stuff that he never shared with anyone -- but now he was glad that he knew.

Shepard asked about his family, if they were safe and if he had heard from them. He also asked about his new rank of major. Kaidan had taken over a spec ops program that gave him the promotion. ‘Biotics Division.’ They recruited the most talented human biotics in the galaxy. He wanted to get back into the fight as quickly as possible -- even after what happened at Mars -- and felt slightly flattered by Shepard’s hesitation to his decision. Nevertheless, Kaidan made it clear that he had to do something about the reaper threat.

“You said your implant got rattled,” Shepard then asked, seeming somewhat worried. “Everything good?”

Kaidan hesitated. “The medical gibberish was a bit more impressive but that’s what I took away -- rattled. Found a great doc at HQ that’s fascinated by the L2 implant,” he replied, as a sheepish smile curved his lips. “I’m kind of her... pet project.”

When Shepard subtly smirked at him, he couldn’t help but feel somewhat suspicious.

“What? Am I -am I missing a joke here?” Kaidan asked.

“Not really. I ran into her, that’s all. I had to undergo an oral survey to be allowed clearance to see you. Twenty questions.” Kaidan couldn’t help but snort. Sounded like her, all right. “I like her. She seemed sweet. Protective. Determined to keep you safe. She’s one of those people I trust to get you back up on your feet.”

Kaidan frowned. “Don’t know about that. She smacked me with a clipboard earlier.”

“I like her even more now.”

“Mmh -Hey!” He faked a wounded smile, earning a chuckle from Shepard that made it all worth it. “The headaches are as bad as ever, but she’s got me in a regimen of acupuncture, meds... and some nasty-tasting concoction. Won’t tell me what it is. But my biotics... are stronger than ever. Maybe some things get better with age.”

“Or maybe you have.”

He couldn’t help but notice how that sounded far more genuine than their usual banter. Their shameless battlefield flirting. Pure. Maybe the aspect of an ‘us’ wasn’t as impossible as he had thought. Kaidan’s smile gradually turned softer.

“Are you flirting with me, Commander?” he asked, feeling bold. “Wait, wait! Don’t tell me. Let me live in the illusion.”

A slow smile spread on Shepard’s lips. “Looks like your meds are finally starting to kick in,” he teased, and reached over to press two fingers to his grey-shot temple as if to test it. “You’re going to go crazy in here, major.”

Their eyes collided again and his heart jumped.

Kaidan blinked. “I, uh... I should let you get back to the Normandy. Wish I could come with you.”

“Agreed.” Shepard took his hand back and pulled up from the chair, immediately making him miss the touch. “I know what it’s like feeling you can’t do anything. We’re both men of integrity. Take care of yourself, Kaidan. We need you at 100 percent.”

“Will do. Thanks for coming,” he replied, forcing a tight-lipped smile.

Frustrated throwing his head back to the bed immediately after he had left the room, he cursed under his breath. Shepard had been right there, close enough to kiss him, and he just had to ruin it.


Shepard left the hospital with an odd warmth in his chest.

Thane, a drell assassin that helped him with destroying the collector base, stayed at Huerta Memorial because of his Kepral syndrome. He had promised he would protect Kaidan if their enemies tried to finish him off there, which Shepard appreciated.

He ran into EDI in the Presidium.

“Hello, Shepard.”

Approaching her, he said, “You look like you’re gathering data.”

“That is a safe assumption.”

“Anything big and world-shaking? Man’s inhumanity to man? Does objective reality exist? That kind of thing?”

EDI clasped her hands behind her back.

“I was running scenarios in my head to analyze Jeff’s behavior,” she said, glancing at the pilot sitting by a bench a piece away -- giving her a wave -- before turning back to him. “I believe he has a strong affectionate attachment to me, but he has not stated it to anyone yet. Shepard, you have firsthand sexual experience. How do you know when someone is romantically invested?”

That was... abrupt.

Shepard had only been in a handful of relationships in his life. A man named Ace was his first, at the age of seventeen, being the only one he had a connection with. The rest of his ‘partners’ were just one-night stands. It had been a month since he was last active, with Miranda, but wasn’t ashamed by that. Nevertheless, he have had quite a few offers, in which he politely declined. It wasn’t that he was loathing the idea of a relationship for himself, far from it, but he was a ‘business before pleasure’ type of person.

Knowing they’d might not make it out alive added to that preference.

Misunderstanding, pressure and lies brought Shepard and Ace apart, aside from a more critical event nearing the time he enlisted into the Alliance, resulting in Ace’s death.

He shrugged off the thought.

EDI didn’t need to know about that. No one did. It was far too private. His own baggage. He was still trying to move on from all that and his attraction to a certain major was no secret.

“They’ll usually show signs they can’t stop thinking about you. You know: asking you out, giving you presents, maybe playing music...”

“I lack material wants other than hardware and software upgrades, and my core programming does not assign values to music,” she responded. “Perhaps we could discuss how to provoke Jeff into an emotional commitment.”

“That’s... not how to think of it. It’s got to be neutral. You need chemistry.”

EDI went quiet to do an analysis.

“I see,” she said. “There are a number of pharmaceuticals I could inject to simulate the desired emotional state -”

Shepard shook his head. “No, I mean relax and doing something you both like. Something simple,” he replied, as they had to have something in common aside from their love for the Normandy. “For example, you both like humor.”

She nodded her approval.

“Correct. I will see if there are comedic entertainment shows being presented on the Citadel,” she said, doing another scanning. “Scanning... Do you think he would like ‘The Man Who Hung Himself?’ It appears to be about an amorous plastic surgeon.”

Shepard looked stunned.

“EDI, the important thing is to have a good time, whenever you go,” he said carefully, putting a comforting hand on her shoulder. “And if you’re having fun, he probably will, too.”

She actually looked worried. “Then the outcome is an unknown quantity... but you are saying I should attempt it anyway.”

“Nobody ever fell in love without being a little bit brave.”

EDI glanced down on her feet, worry reflecting in her face, until another smile appeared on her robotic lips. Shepard took his hand back after she seemed content once again.

“I see,” she said, and tilted her chin up. “I believe you have improved my chances, Shepard. Thank you.”

He ran into Kasumi while there. She was investigating an indoctrinated hanar, of all things, who had begun to worship the reapers because they were on the same team as the collectors. In other words, they were indoctrinated protheans, giving reason enough to help them.

Big... stupid... jellyfish.

*

Shepard found Kaidan standing by the window in his room.

“Hey, Shepard,” he said, smiling as he released his arms. “If you came to spring me, you’re late. I’m getting out soon.”

“Damn, and here I had the whole routine planned out. I sent Wrex at the security and Cortez is ready with the shuttle. Paid the mercenaries in advance, too. I was going to do a really big entrance with this Malcolm Reynolds vibe,” he said. “Good to hear, K.”

Arching an unimpressed brow, Kaidan said, “Thought I told you not to call me that.” The only thing he received in reply was a smug grin. He was given that helpless smile that made him look downright precious, before Kaidan broke the glance and let out a snort. “Maybe you already saw the vid, but I accepted Udina’s offer.”

“Spectre Kaidan Alenko. That’s a big deal.”

Sounded sexy, too.

“Only the second human Spectre...” His eyes were far away. “It’s humbling. Udina thinks they might have a pretty big ceremony. Even with the war. He says a celebration will give folks something hopeful to latch onto.”

“You ready to take on that responsibility?”

“You set the bar pretty high, but I’ll do my best,” he said, and started to pace. “It’s strange -- on Mars, I should have died. The promotion from Anderson, Spectre status... These are terrible days. But I’ve been lucky.”

“You’re perfect for the job,” he replied, and took a step forward before they shared a firm handshake. “On Eden Prime, I could see there was something special about you. You’re a good soldier.”

Kaidan smiled. “That means a lot. I’m happy. I want to serve.”

“I thought you might want to join the Normandy.”

“Yeah, I have thought about that,” he replied, hesitating. “I need to get out of here first, though -- take care of some things. I’ve been trying to locate my old spec ops squads, my students, from Biotics Division.”

“Any luck?”

He shook his head. “No,” he said, but he didn’t seem worried about the situation. “Probably went underground, but they’ll turn up. If they were easy to find, they wouldn’t be doing their jobs.”

“Well, let me know when you’re out.”

Chapter Text

Shepard took contact with Anderson to get an update on Earth.

“Shepard,” he addressed him on the hologram. “Good to see you in one piece, son. So I imagine by now you’ve wiped the galaxy clean of reapers and we can all come up for air?”

He exhaled. “Not quite,” he said, leaning in towards the controls. “There have been a few complications.”

“Aren’t there always. Hackett filled me in on the Crucible. Sounds like you’ve got some knots to untangle.”

“I’m just glad I could take care of one of them for you. I gather you and Kahlee Sanders were close,” Shepard said.

He’d come up with a few theories after rescuing a group of students on Grissom Academy where a woman named Kahlee Sanders had mentioned Anderson. She spoke highly of him.

“I owe you for that one, Shepard. Kahlee and I met almost twenty years ago. We even had a run-in with Saren in his early days. She and I were... more than close.”

“She misses you.”

“I miss her,” he replied. “End of the world has a way of reminding you what you forgot to do. Maybe when this war’s over, Kahlee and I will do something about that.”

“You’ll see her soon.”

“I can hope. But you’ve got a bigger problem right now -- like a galaxy full of scared bureaucrats.”

A lot of cities around the world had stopped checking in. They were both aware what they were in for, but the shock hadn’t worn off yet for the civilians back on Earth. Anderson had caught a shuttle out of Vancouver as they were running from foxhole to foxhole. However, the reapers focused on the big cities, giving them room to maneuver.

“I don’t know how we’ll win this yet, but we will. Even if it kills me.”

“Well, you’ve already died once and that didn’t slow you down. But let’s not tempt fate.” He seemed to think it over. “You know, son -- this takes me back to the day when you first signed up. You’ve come a long way since then.”

Shepard knew things would’ve been very different if it wasn’t for Anderson.

“That’s thanks to you. Hell, I don’t know where I’d be if you hadn’t found me in that coffee shop. The Reds put quite the bounty on my head. Taking that into context, I’d probably not be around at all.”

“You’re less of a jackass, at least. I’m glad something good came out of it. I told you that you would thank me one day,” he replied, and Shepard tilted his head down with a subtle smile as he remembered how much of a disrespectful brat he was.

Anderson’s tone turned lighter before he continued. “Keep yourself safe, Shepard.”

“You too, sir.”

He had earlier ran into Mordin who had finished what he needed to create the cure for the genophage using a sample from Eve, a krogan female they rescued, before heading to Tuchanka. They spread the cure throughout a huge monument called ‘The Shroud.’ It came at a steep cost as Mordin needed to manually take care of it. He sacrificed himself to save the krogans, stating that, “It had to be me. Someone else might’ve gotten it wrong.” Wrex would honor his firstborn in Mordin’s name, as he and Eve -- her true name being Bakara -- were now both part of clan Urdnot.

Garrus approached him after receiving confirmed help from the Primarch of Palaven.

“I’ll start managing turian support right away, Shepard. You must be exhausted. Mordin dying... it can’t be easy.”

Scowling, he said, “I’ll sleep when I’m dead.”

“We both know you need a clear head to win this war,” he replied, seeming somewhat amused at his response. “There’s no room for mistakes here. You should catch some shut-eye. I’ll make sure Joker doesn’t launch any suicide missions.”

He didn’t really want to bother, as he was convinced that he wouldn’t be able to sleep either way, aware that every attempt ended in restless frustration because of his nightmares. Nevertheless, he also knew that his stubbornness could cost them greatly.

Shepard exhaled and pushed himself away from the war table.

“Anything happens, you let me know.”

He retreated to the captain’s cabin. The damn recurring dream was back. The kid, the shadows and the voices haunting him. Liara was once again his saving grace as she stopped by. Together they remembered Ash and her sacrifice back on Virmire. Meanwhile, the reapers were moving with obvious intent of attacking Thessia, the home world of the asari.


Kaidan hurried after the doctor as they headed for the reception.

“Doc. I’m fine, truly. I have to get back into the fight. Hell, I need to get back in. I’m an Alliance soldier and I refuse to just sit back when I should do my job.”

She opened her mouth but he cut her off. “I -I’ll keep the biotics offline for the time being, I promise.”

The doctor skidded in a halt.

“You have to be the most stubborn patient I have ever had in this facility.” She looked over her shoulder to see the sheepish smile form on Kaidan’s lips before she exhaled. “Fine. Okay. I’ll have the release papers filed. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.”

“Thanks, I -”

It wasn’t before then he noticed that Huerta Memorial was literally empty of people. The doctor seemed to notice as well. She blinked and let her eyes wander the room.

“Is it always this, uh... empty?” Kaidan asked. “I mean, that’s a good thing, right? Fewer patients and all. I assumed the staff would be here, though.”

Kaidan frowned when he gleamed a skycar, as well as a gunship, hover behind the thin layer of glass separating them. He could barely make out the Cerberus logo on the side. His eyes widened in the moment the door slid open to reveal two soldiers stepping forward. One had a rocket launcher resting on his shoulder. Kaidan draped an arm around the doctor’s waist and ducked behind the reception to counter the explosion.

“Oh my god!” she called.

Glass fragments were thrown throughout the room, one managing to slightly rift his cheek. Winching at the slight pain, he did his best to ignore it, and shielded the doctor’s body with his. His options were limited at the moment. She remained ducked when he rose up again, charging a biotic Throw, dismissing her advice of keeping them offline. It was first now he understood why. His implant flared up again and his head was starting to spin. He didn’t need this right now as he was neither armed nor equipped except from his civvies.

He didn’t have time to deliver his biotics before a bullet was placed between the skycar driver’s eyes.

A biotic pulse proceeded to knock the gunship out of the sky before an explosion appeared beneath the edge. Kaidan snapped his attention in the direction it came from to see a drell loading a clip. Thane Krios. They had briefly spoken before.

“Major Alenko. Doctor. Are you unharmed?”

He had to admit that he was glad to see a friendly face after what they had just witnessed. He had a lot of questions that he needed answers to but was determined to get the doctor to safety first.

Kaidan blinked. “I, ah... Okay. Thanks. Yeah, we’re -We’re good. Considering.”

They would have to play ‘Twenty Questions’ later. Kaidan reached out to help the doctor onto her feet whose glance settled at his hand before looking up. She looked as if she had been frozen in place in shock and he couldn’t exactly blame her. The doctor finally took his hand, allowing him to pull her up, before rising in the moment Thane started moving.

“Unfortunately, Cerberus have compromised most of the facility. I would suggest you follow me. This way.”

“I need to find the Council,” Kaidan said, hurrying after.

“A wise decision. The security footage informed me that they were headed for the Presidium before the gunship showed up. I’ve been tracking it for five minutes. My apologies for it to reach you before I could take care of it. Citadel Security have already evacuated the hospital. They are safe, for now, and awaiting the situation to calm down. I would assume the two of you were not present when the evacuation took place.”

His glance settled at the doctor above his shoulder as she was quick on Kaidan’s heel. The shock hadn’t worn off for her yet. Thane seemed to realize that Kaidan would be doing the talking for her.

“My advice is to reunite the doctor with the others,” he added. “Being out in the open like this is rather... impractical.”

She managed to reply. “Y -yes. Of course. Thank you, sir.”

“Cerberus,” Kaidan said. “What are they doing here? How could they so easily cut through Citadel Security, not to mention the defenses?”

“My knowledge is as limited as yours I’m afraid,” he replied. “It appears that there is a conspirator on the inside giving them access. We must find out who this is. They are looking for something or has a greater agenda. It is not like Cerberus to indulge in such an attack, so they must be desperate. My suspicion is that they are seeking the Council. These are grave thoughts, but it is the only way for all this to makes sense.”

Kaidan slowly nodded. “Doctor,” he said, skidding in a halt as they reached the safe zone. “Can you recall where my gear is stored?”

“It’s in that locker,” she replied, pointing at it. “Be careful out there. Both of you.”

“Do not worry, Doctor. Major Alenko is a dedicated soldier from what I have heard.”

Thane turned back to Kaidan and gave him a rundown on what he knew. “I have encountered at least twenty Cerberus operatives this far, and it does not seem that they are willing to give up just yet. Meanwhile, I will scout ahead and clear us a path. It is safer that way, as you have yet not recovered fully. We must get to the Council with haste. We cannot afford any delays. It could be costly. For all of us.” He fell into a pause. “The Commander spoke highly of you. I can now see why.”

He clenched his jaw. “I -Thank you, Thane. I appreciate you doing this.”

They parted ways before Kaidan geared up. Now when he couldn’t use his biotics, the firearm was obligatory, knowing he wouldn’t last very long using only his fists. He headed out of Huerta Memorial and encountered four Cerberus operatives. Thane had apparently taken care of nine of them already, as their bodies lay scattered across the floor, a reduced amount of blood as all his shots had been precise.

Grabbing a grenade from one of the fallen soldiers, Kaidan took cover behind a wall as he launched it between the Cerberus soldiers.

The headache was soon in its full force, but he didn’t exactly have the option to pick up some painkillers, either. If that wasn’t enough, he heard something like heavy machinery. He looked out the window to spot the gunship he had earlier seen. That complicated a few things. His eyes widened as it angled its guns towards him. The gunship proceeded to spray bullets in his direction, causing him perform a roll to the side, taking cover behind a worn wall. He was only armed with a pistol and couldn’t take this thing down without his biotics or some sort of concussive shots.

He needed to evacuate the Council. For all he knew, Cerberus had already got to them, but he wasn’t willing to give up before finding their bodies. He just needed to find an opening and wait for the gunship having to reload.

“Major Alenko,” he heard from above, and tilted his head up to see Thane standing on a higher ledge. “The Council is behind the door down the hallway. I recognized five Cerberus operatives heading in that direction. I will buy you some time and hold the gunship off. Councilor Valern was not with them, so I will look for him, and inform the ships that are about to dock at the Citadel that we are under attack. I have already prepared a shuttle to evacuate the rest. Do not wait for me.”

Kaidan nodded.

Thane charged and released a biotic attack towards the gunship and gave him an opening. Kaidan reached the end of the hallway and fired a couple bullets, bringing down two of the Cerberus soldiers that Thane had informed him about, before taking cover again. He awaited another opening and finally managed to clear the area. Keeping the pistol raised, he started backing towards the door.

He brought a hand up against the door and gave it a knock.

“Councilors. It’s Major Alenko. The hallway is clear. I’m here to evacuate you.”

“Thank the goddess,” he heard Tevos mutter from behind the door, as well as an “About time,” from Udina.

He ignored the last part, couldn’t blame Udina for being impatient, although he didn’t have to be such an ass all the time. Kaidan turned around when they released the door lock, letting his eyes wander across the room, seeing that Tevos, Sparatus and Udina were all in good standing.

“Have any of you seen Councilor Valern?” he asked.

“Not in at least two hours.” Sparatus’ inquiry raised some concern. “The last time we saw him was before he contacted the Commander after curing the genophage. He was about to inform us why until we got separated.”

Kaidan frowned. “Wait... he cured the -?” he tried, but decided to drop it. “I got separated with Thane Krios a couple minutes ago. He’s looking for him. Meanwhile, my top priority is evacuating the three of you, so let’s get moving before any more soldiers show up.”

“Lead the way, major,” Sparatus said, nodding.

Thane had cleared their path but he was yet nowhere to be seen. He brought the Councilors to the elevator by the end of the hallway, in which the Councilors headed into first, before being followed by Kaidan. The shuttle that Thane had readied for them was a few levels up. Kaidan still kept his guard and for good reason. He nearly startled as he heard feet hit the metal above them.

“Gunmen! Get down! Go!”

Kaidan pushed the Councilors aside and out the elevator as he managed to fire a couple bullets after the vehicle reached their level. In hope he had hit whatever Cerberus soldier trying to get to them, he headed out himself, only to find the Councilors watching the destroyed shuttle. Kaidan began cursing under his breath as things just got worse. They weren’t going to lose the damned Council as they had been in far too many close calls. He had come too far to fail here. They needed to find another way.

“Cerberus took out the shuttle,” he added, and turned. “Back to the elevator -- move!”

He pulled up his firearm as he sensed movement. Kaidan froze. Liara stepped through, followed by Garrus, and then Shepard. He immediately lowered it before Liara shut the door behind them.

Frowning, Kaidan asked, “Shepard, what’s going on?”

He was in for a shock when the trio’s crosshairs lined up to one of the Councilors. Udina. Kaidan couldn’t remember moving. Not before finding himself mirroring Shepard with the gun back up. Shepard’s expression immediately lost its stoic edge, jaw tightened, slightly lowering the gun now when Kaidan was standing at the other end of it. Kaidan couldn’t believe it. Shepard was taking part of the attack. He could swear Shepard looked uneasy where he stood as if he knew he was caught red-handed. It wasn’t like him to react in such a way.

Not so openly.

Kaidan swallowed hard and found himself barely shaking with Shepard in the crossfire. It all seemed so surreal. Like a bad dream he couldn’t wake up from. They hadn’t exactly been on the best of terms with each other recently, but he didn’t find that to be reason enough for Shepard wanting to kill him, so it was a do or don’t. A game of chance. He was between Shepard and his target and that was enough.

Udina broke in. “Shepard is blocking our escape. He is with Cerberus!”

“Just... just hang on --” Kaidan stuttered, trying to think clearly. “I got this. Everybody calm down.”

Shepard lowered the gun. “I can explain this, Kaidan.”

“Come on, Shepard. Gun drawn on a Councilor... Kind of looks bad,” he muttered softly, finally breaking the eye contact between them that he couldn’t bear holding for a moment longer.

He wasn’t surprised when Garrus and Liara turned on him as well. The both of them had been by Shepard’s side throughout all of this, either passively or aggressively, so they could quite possibly have been brainwashed. Shepard was damn charismatic. Seeing the face and witnessing the actions of Commander Shepard appeared to be enough for the two to swear immediate loyalty and support.

Shepard signaled them both to lower their firearms in which they obeyed.

“We don’t have time to negotiate.” Shepard’s focused glare met his again, taking a determined step forward. “You’ve been fooled, all of you. Udina is behind this attack. The salarian Councilor confirmed it.”

Udina. What the hell?

It couldn’t be right. He might be an ass, but this? Udina could never pull this off by himself.

And why?

Shepard’s now pained expression didn’t help as he was trying his best to be tactical about the situation. Putting a bullet in his former CO was the last thing he wanted to do. He didn’t want to admit it, but he would never be able to trigger the mechanism on him, not even in self-defense.

Hell... it was Shepard.

“Please. You have no proof,” Udina scoffed, and lined himself up next to Tevos. “You never do.”

Shepard ignored his statement. “There are Cerberus soldiers in the elevator behind us,” he said, shooting a hand towards the vehicle. “Dammit -- if you open that door, they’ll kill you all.”

“We’ve mistrusted Shepard before...” Tevos tried carefully, moving her gaze to the human Councilor. “And it did not help us.”

With determined steps, Udina began to move towards the console. “We don’t have time to debate this,” he said, eager to get off-topic. “We’re dead if we stay out here. I’m overriding the lock.”

Kaidan had expected any form of stutter or dishonesty, but he heard nothing. If all this turned out to be true, that Udina was dirty, it wasn’t too difficult to believe. It would explain his animosity. Of course, his animosity could also be because he was accused for a crime he didn’t do, enough to make anyone just a tad bit salty. He would’ve believed Shepard within a heartbeat if he didn’t have past history with Cerberus.

“K, please... Trust me.”

His eyes focused intently on Shepard’s, scouting for any sign of dishonesty, but couldn’t find it. It both relieved and worried him that he was too difficult to read. There was something about the intensity of his eyes convincing him that it was more to this, as if this reminded him of something, a pained memory. It was usually the way he looked when bringing up Akuze so it had to be personal. So he hesitated.

Shepard seemed to attempt circling around him when his firearm back up, but Kaidan carefully followed his movement, placing himself before the crossfire again. At least Shepard didn’t immediately pull the trigger. That was something. Maybe he was speaking the truth. He had a choice. Believe Shepard or don’t. One wrong decision could cost them greatly.

He and Shepard shared a glance before he made his decision.

“I better not regret this.”

My god, Alenko. What the hell are you doing?

The lines on Shepard’s face faltered in a way that somehow made him feel like he made the right choice. He glimpsed small, appreciative smile tug at the corners of his lips, lowering the gun.

“You won’t,” he muttered, softly.

Kaidan found himself able to somewhat relax, but even so, the suspicion was yet lingering. He made sure he had Shepard in the corner of his eye as his firearm wandered from him to Udina.

“Udina. Step away from the console.”

“To hell with this,” Udina murmured, and began to override the lock.

Everything happened way too quickly after that. Udina had nearly killed Tevos, and Kaidan had placed a bullet in him, making his body drop to the floor in a heavy thud. The confirmation of making the correct choice was given after Commander Bailey came to view and informed them that Shepard had just saved their lives. Udina had always been an ass, but amazingly enough, he hadn’t expected this. Not from him.

The feeling of guilt of not believing Shepard came in its full force, and he made a promise never to doubt him again, although one question remained. Why did Shepard look so lost at the other end of the crossfire?

He was determined to find out when he stepped through the door.

Chapter Text

“Kaidan. Hey, I wondered where you went. What’s up?”

He was once again amazed by how casual Shepard sounded, his commanding role perfectly played out as if nothing fazed him, as if handling situations like these was just as easy as breathing. One of the many things that amazed him about Shepard was his willpower.

Frowning, he said, “I’m trying to wrap my head around what just happened.”

“You sound angry.”

“No, not angry, just...” No, ‘angry’ wasn’t the word. Not really “...not used to staring down the gun with someone I’ve worked with so closely. How it all went down, it’s got me... I don’t know.”

“Okay. Talk to me. Let’s have it,” Shepard said sternly, approaching him.

Kaidan met him halfway. “If I hadn’t backed down first... I feel like you would have taken me out.”

“I trusted you, and I knew you’d come around. That’s all that matters. Main thing is we stopped the coup and Cerberus is off the Citadel.”

It wasn’t really an answer.

“But sometimes the way a thing goes down does matter, Shepard,” he replied, and took a step back to stare out the window. “Later, when you have to live with yourself. Knowing you acted... with integrity -- then it matters.”

His hand encountered the railing, leaning forward, back slightly hunched.

“You’re talking about Udina,” Shepard said, and folded his arms across his chest. “You think he would have come in quietly? Kaidan, he gave you no choice. You had to take the shot. You acted with integrity. I saw the whole thing.”

He would spare Shepard having to hold a speech about ‘doing the right thing’ to get his priorities straight. He was 35, for god’s sake, not needing to get lectured on morality choices. He followed his gut and the opinions of others. Asking for help never hurt anyone. Shepard didn’t seem to have to ask. He always followed his gut, and judging by what Kaidan had seen, it was in the right place. He was aware of his morals. Acted purely out of instinct that seemed to always pull off the best outcome. He didn’t know how he managed that.

He wished he could do the same.

“All right. Thanks,” he muttered, and felt a small smile tug at the corners of his lips. It gradually faltered. “Hey, ah... back with Udina...”

Shepard didn’t look angry or surprised when receiving the question, his glance simply drifted away as his hands connected to the banister.

Kaidan sighed. “Sorry. I -it’s not my business. I’m sure you had your reasons.”

“I held a gun on you, and it’s ‘not your business’?”

Running a hand through his hair, Kaidan said, “Well, ah... to be fair, I drew first.”

He thought he was seeing things when Shepard’s lips began to curve upwards, but could swear the docks got a lot warmer when the man let out a heartfelt chuckle. Shepard didn’t have to go through much effort to leave him feeling flushed or start stuttering like an idiot. In a way, it scared the crap out of him. He had come to terms with what he felt, but it went deeper than that, deeper than he was aware of.

The subtle smile on Shepard’s face noticeably faltered as he looked away.

“You remember the Reds, right?” he asked, and Kaidan slowly nodded his reply. “Only days before I enlisted, I ah... Finch, Curt and I were going to execute someone who was hiding with the Alliance.”

Execute. Shepard had killed. It was just different with the kid.

“I think he was an officer that had wronged Jericho at some point. Owed him money,” Shepard continued, and nodded solemnly. “It was far from a valid reason, but hell, I did it anyway. I didn’t care. I was doing jobs for them and keeping Ace in the dark as I went -- had earlier promised him I left all that behind. I hadn’t.” He fell into a suffocating pause. “Ace had been in the Alliance for about a year and a half by then, moved up to lieutenant, working with higher ranking officers.”

Of course. How could I not see this?

“He wasn’t stupid. I knew he’d find out eventually, but... I didn’t know he was assigned to the same squad,” he added, and Kaidan swallowed hard. “We ended up gun-to-gun. I don’t know what piss me off the most. The fact that he refused to kill me or step away, leaving me to pull the trigger -- or the fact that he believed that I was better than that. I can still remember the disappointed look he gave me before -”

He cut himself off, hands tightening around the banister, tilting his head up again.

“So there you have it. ‘The legendary Commander Shepard’ -- a damned murderer only recognized as ‘a noble and selfless hero who saved the galaxy’ because Anderson scooped me off the streets, concealed my past and refused to see me behind bars, seeing a hint of humanity left,” he finished wearily, in disbelief if he was worthy of a second chance. If only he knew he was.

Shepard turned away. “I feel like I’m reliving the whole damn thing with you.”

His past explained a lot about him. Had formed him greatly throughout the years. It explained how he was determined to get things done right. How he felt indebted to the Alliance. He wanted to redeem himself for choosing the wrong side in the fight. If the Alliance knew about Shepard killing an Alliance officer, maybe even two, he would be dismissed. Thrown out of the service for a lifetime as his criminal record would no longer be considered clean. He without doubt appreciated the trust he had for him.

Kaidan was at a loss of words. “Wow, Shepard. I... I’m sorry.”

“Don’t. You’re not the only one who’s got your past squared away.”

He could tell he was trying to lighten the conversation, so he forced an understanding weak smile.

Shepard pushed himself away from the banister and looked at him over his shoulder. “That aside, I refuse to believe that putting me on the spot like this is why you’re here.”

He exhaled. “Yeah, there -there’s another reason I’m here. Hackett offered me a position, but... I’d turn it down in a second if it was a chance to join you on the Normandy again.”

“Couldn’t imagine meeting the reapers without you,” Shepard replied with a small smile, and held out his hand.

Kaidan captured it in a firm handshake. “Thanks, Commander. And Shepard... I want you to know that I’ll never doubt you again,” he replied, feeling his lips tug upwards. “I’ve got your back.”

“Good to hear. The Starboard Observation is cleared if you want a place for yourself. Welcome aboard, major.”

Snapping a salute, he said, “Aye, aye sir.”

He noticed a frown forming between Shepard’s brows as blue hue wandered across his face. Either he had something on his face, or he was pissed about being called ‘sir’ again, proving a bad habit. He was about to ask, but sucked in a breath when Shepard stepped forward, moving his hand to below his chin and gently tilting his head aside. He felt like an idiot simply looking into thin air as he tried to swallow. The way he held him in place made it seem like he was frozen, but with less cold involved.

It was the exact opposite.

“Sh -Shepard. What are you, ah... what are you doing?” he asked.

The sensation of Shepard’s thumb traced just below his...

Of course.

His cheeks started burning for believing he did anything else as it went up for him.

The cut.

Kaidan’s eyes slammed shut. “Oh. Right. It was... it was a gunship,” he muttered, not knowing what to do with his hands. “I was at the reception in Huerta Memorial when Cerberus shattered the windows. It’s not that bad.”

“Sure about that? Looks pretty deep to me.” Shepard let go of his face. “Hell, I’m not going to have you bleed all over the ship. Get your ass into the Normandy’s med-bay after you get your things.”

“Med-bay? C’mon, Shepard. I just got out. Chakwas is going to hold me there until I decide to kill myself with an overdose to escape.”

Shepard opened his mouth but he held up a hand to stop him. “Seriously, Shepard. No. Never again.”

He saw him fold his arms across his chest and decrease the distance between them in the same manner he did back at the SR-1, almost forcing him back as he reacted similarly, for a moment forgetting to breathe.

“Fine,” he replied. “Then get your ass into my cabin. I’ll patch you up myself.”

Kaidan froze. Cabin. Shepard’s cabin.

Last time he was there was after Sovereign’s defeat. It felt like a lifetime ago when everything was fine between them. Before Horizon and Cerberus. He suspected it would bring back bad memories when treading into the very same territory. Sure, it was a replica, but he imagined it to be somewhat similar to the old ship. Just the thought of being in such a closely confined space with Shepard again was enough to stir his nerves.

He cleared his throat. “I -it’s just a cut, Shepard... It looks worse than it is.”

“Maybe. But my ship, my rules. Sounds good?”

Kaidan blinked owlishly when realizing his gaze hadn’t moved from Shepard’s when he was lost in thought. Again, he had been staring at him. Just like in Huerta Memorial. Obliviously. That needed to stop. Why Shepard wasn’t freaked out by it surely did confuse him.

He flagged it off as his eyes tightly fluttered shut.

“Y -yeah... Sounds good. You’re the boss.”

“Great,” he replied with a smile, unaware what it did to him. “See you at the ship, major.”

Kaidan opened his mouth to reply, but before he had the chance, Shepard had pivoted on his heel and headed for the Normandy. He was able to move his glance towards Shepard again before he disappeared into the airlock.

He had begun to notice how different Shepard had been acting ever since they met up on Earth, right before the reapers attacked. Something was different, but he couldn’t quite place it. Shepard was even more serious these days. Nevertheless, judging by everything that was happening around them, it only made sense that he would grow tired. Shepard agreed with Joker that you wouldn’t come far in life grinning like an idiot. He couldn’t be the sappy commander that wept over accidentally stepping on a spider.

Of course, it took one hell of a lot more than that to make him crack.

He had almost gotten himself killed on several occasions. Garrus had told him that Shepard was close to rip off his own arm once in a fist-fight-gone-wrong with a Brute on Palaven’s moon, Menae, without as much as flinch not too long ago.

It was good to be back.


“Getting settled?”

Shepard had made his way to the Starboard Observation deck and leant to the doorway to see Kaidan, standing by the railing as his arms rested at its surface, looking out the huge window that was overlooking the galaxy. He had to mentally pinch himself not to stare at his ass.

Kaidan snorted, ducking his head before turning towards him.

“Didn’t take you for the patient sort, Commander.”

“As I said -- don’t need you bleeding all over the ship -- and I forgot the cabin’s on the top floor, so I figured, you know.”

Coughing out a laugh, Kaidan turned around, his back encountering the railing as he leant to it.

“Yeah. I got you, Shepard.”

He wanted Kaidan to start taking him seriously, stop believing he was just messing around, when the truth is that he was the only ‘victim’ to his horrible flirtation attempts these days. He was hoping it could one day, after wanting it for three years, develop into something more.

Patient, he echoed to himself. If only Kaidan knew just how patient he was.

Damn, he was dense.

He pulled himself away from the doorway and approached him with firm steps.

“Okay, Spectre Kaidan Alenko. Doctor John Shepard is here to take the ‘ouch’ away -”

He was forced into a mix between a cough and laugh when Kaidan had launched a fist at his abdomen.

“Hell, you’re becoming just like Jack. I’m like a living punching bag. You biotics are mean sons-of-bitches.” Shepard reached out to touch his chin, his fingers lightly brushing against his jawline before tilting his head to the side.

“Ever think there’s a reason to why you get punched a lot?”

“No clue.” Shepard had no problems with keeping his deadpan expression, moving the thumb of his other hand to the cut, holding his chin in place. “Now answer my damned question. Getting settled?”

Kaidan turned his head a few inches but kept his eyes on him.

“So... this is why you offered, huh -- to interrogate me?”

Shepard nearly pouted like an adult man. The sarcasm was precious. Kaidan rolled his eyes before letting out a sigh. He felt his breath tickling his skin, attempting to flag the sensation off, trying his best to focus on getting the cut covered up. His mind had entirely different plans in store.

“Not much to unpack,” Kaidan added. “Left Earth in a hurry. Just the clothes on my back and a few things I picked up on the Citadel.”

Shepard’s eyes flickered a glance to his neck, exposed only inches away from him. He frowned deeply, daring himself to look away. Not known to easily restrain himself, he had to bite back the urge. If only he could act. Push him up against the wall, and -Stop. He slammed his eyes shut and shook the inappropriate thoughts out of his head.

Smiling, Kaidan said, “Kinda like it. Living lean.”

The hand cradling his chin dropped to the side.

“All done.”

His thumb gently trailed the cut to make sure the medi-gel was covering it. His statement caused Kaidan to turn to him, in which their eyes proceeded to meet. He didn’t know what he expected. Certainly not the corners of Kaidan’s mouth quirking upwards even further.

“Thanks,” he muttered softly, his husky voice sending him spinning.

“Anytime.”

He could find his thumb having a mind of its own as it once again brushed against his cheek. Shepard reluctantly pulled himself away after letting go of his face. Kaidan shifted uneasily besides him before turning away as his own forearms moved to rest at the banister.

Shepard smirked. “What, am I making you nervous or something?”

“You’ve got no idea.”

Wait, what?

“Hell, as you said -- we haven’t been on the best of terms with each other recently.” Kaidan folded his arms across his chest. “I guess I just don’t want to send any bad signals, Shepard. Worried I’ll overstep boundaries, you know?”

Kaidan was talking about Horizon and the gun-to-gun standoff.

“Right,” he simply said. “But all that’s in the past. Buried. You’re bound to break something if you continue straining yourself like this, major. Again with the over-thinking. We’re good. I wasn’t lying when I said that.”

He slowly nodded. “Yeah, I -I know,” he said, before averting his eyes. Kaidan then cleared his throat. “This is, ah... this is one hell of a ship. Even if it’s not a direct replica of the SR-1, it still has the same feel to it. Sure, it helps that it has real beds and not pods, though. Maybe.” A frown breached his brows. “Still doesn’t look very comfortable. This might sound cliché, but... I don’t know. Kinda feels like home.”

“Glad to hear it.”

He heard the door slide open.

“Shepard.”

Kaidan’s honey-brown eyes gained twice their size as they wandered to the door. He didn’t have the time to process anything before Kaidan circled and stood before him, creating a barrier shielding them both.

“Oh my god! Wh -what the hell?!”

Chapter Text

Kaidan’s sudden outburst had Shepard reaching for a gun that wasn’t there.

Pushing himself away from the railing, he turned to the door to see whom it was. It wasn’t until then a subtle, innocent smile formed on his lips. He caught Kaidan’s eye over his shoulder, who was in a state of pure shock.

“Surprise?” he murmured, shrugging.

Kaidan’s eyes shifted uneasily between him and the visitor in a hurried pace.

“Do -do you plan to tell me what the hell is going on?”

“Major Alenko. I wanted to introduce myself. I am the Electronic warfare Defense Intelligence of the SSV Normandy SR-2 -- although I do prefer the term ‘EDI,’ as for organics, I do believe it works as a... ‘name’.”

Shepard held up a hand. “Uh, EDI... I think you should’ve brought this up to me first. Introducing yourself in Dr. Eva’s body tends to make people nervous. Especially Kaidan. I mean, it almost killed him. Literally.”

The barrier was reluctantly dropped.

“I see. It must be a human reaction. My apologies if I have awoken any form of concern.” EDI clasped her hands behind her back and revealed a smile on her robotic lips. “I can assure you that I am only using this body so my functionality can exist without being primarily reduced to the weapon systems. I have no intentions of brutally ending your life.”

Kaidan blinked. “I, ah... Thanks.”

A subtle grin formed on Shepard’s face. “See? Harmless,” he said casually, and folded his arms across his chest. “You’re going to get along just fine, huh, Alenko?”

He was given unimpressed look, nearly a pout, only making his grin turn wider.

“Shepard, as I am here,” EDI said. “I should inform you that we will head for Eden Prime the first thing in the morning.”

“Thank you, EDI. Dismissed.” The door closed behind her and Kaidan turned to face him. Shepard’s eyes fluttered shut as he inhaled through his teeth. “Yeah... I forgot about that. Sorry.”

“Uh-huh. I would’ve appreciated being debriefed about this before coming aboard, Shepard. Honestly, I -I wouldn’t even have given her a chance to speak if you weren’t here.”

Shepard massaged the back of his neck.

Kaidan sighed softly. “So... Eden Prime, huh?”

He was thankful he dropped it.

“Cerberus discovered a prothean artifact on the colony. We’re going to recover it before they do.”

While they stood there, they shared some kind of heart-to-heart. Kaidan expressed how the world seemed so calm from there, but he knew that it was an illusion, and that illusion sometimes made people forget the troubles out in the galaxy. The conversation later turned less pleasant. Kaidan had found out that his father was MIA, presumed worse, as he had left Kaidan’s mother at the orchard and reported for active duty. Shepard let it slide, knowing Kaidan didn’t really want to talk about it.

It was quick and on-point, a reminder that Kaidan wasn’t feeling great, but that he didn’t plan to let it affect his duties. He seemed to will his eyes to look into his face even though they strained to turn away.

“I don’t know how you do it, Shepard. Keeping it together like you. Earth is always in the back of my mind, haunting me.”

Everyone seemed to believe that all this was easy for him. To be a commander and make the tough decisions. He had doubted many of his choices in the past, and truth is, it was an internal struggle that rarely left him. The fear of messing up.

Fear.

Now there was a word he hadn’t used in months, or years even, perhaps he never had. Again, it was his own baggage. He wasn’t going to trouble anyone else with his bottled up worries. Having them share the burden that he was forced to bear was unacceptable. Everyone had their own problems and this was something Shepard wanted to take care of himself. If Kaidan was aware of this, he would take half of his concerns on his own shoulders, and then some. He knew Kaidan. He was too much of a good-guy to ignore trying to help. Shepard loved that about him.

Instead of objecting, he avoided the statement.

“I get that. I do.”

“And my students... Well, wherever they are, I know they’re kicking ass. On Earth or... somewhere.” He glimpsed a genuine smile forming on Kaidan’s mouth. “You know, when this war is over, there is going to be one hell of a reunion party.”

Shepard smiled lightly. “Hell yeah.”

“Dancing in the streets. Hugging and crying. My mom always wanted to travel off-planet. I think I’ll take her.”

“I’m sure she’ll love it... and hell, when this is over, you’re going to show me Vancouver,” Shepard replied, and put his hands on his hips. He hesitated with a small cringe. “Outside of a jail cell.”

Kaidan snorted. “With pleasure, Commander.”

They exchanged a small smile when Kaidan turned his way. Their gazes collided and lingered. Shepard’s features turned faint, but the subtle smile never left his lips, as he released his arms. He traversed his weight to his other foot, leaving mere inches between them, his glance wandering down before settling back at soft honey-brown.

“Glad to have you back, K.”


Kaidan noticed that the food had gotten better since the SSV Normandy SR-1.

Scuttlebutt has it that the food was just as bad at first, but the ingredients were replaced, being of better quality. It was good to see that Shepard’s appetite hadn’t decreased since last time they ate together. Hell, he ate like a biotic, and that was saying something. High metabolism and all. Seeing him stuffing his face with food was actually quite charming.

Frowning, Shepard said, “Gardner literally sent me grocery shopping. Me. Can you believe it?”

“I, ah... I don’t think I have to remind you how bad it was back at the SR-1, and hell, you had it better,” Kaidan said. “Seriously, I -I think we can all agree it was worth it, Shepard.”

He shook his head. “Easy for you to say. I had to wait in line for close to two hours, and those damned ‘Blasto’ ads just won’t leave me alone. I swear... someone’s involved in this.”

Shepard took a firm grip around his beer before taking a sip, moving it away from his mouth again, frown deepening that only added to his charm.

“I’m willing to bet my own ass that Kasumi’s behind it,” he added.

Kaidan just grinned.

Waiting in line at the Zakera Café had to be among Shepard’s worst nightmares. He nearly seemed insulted by the whole ‘Blasto’ thing, seeing that the hanar protagonist is portrayed as the hero of the Citadel in the films with ‘a lover in every port and a gun in every tentacle.’

People could get the wrong idea.

Vega walked past them with his plate. “You do realize that as a Spectre you could just walk up to the counter... right, Loco?”

“And have the whole Citadel remember me as ‘that’ guy? Yeah, no thanks. I’m willing to suffer through Blasto to avoid that. Barely,” he replied.

Kaidan nearly startled when his own omni-tool lit up.

Shepard cocked a brow. “Well, well. Look at you ‘being all important’.”

Kaidan brought up the display to see a message from Admiral Hackett. He had earlier sent in the report on the Cerberus coup, as several points-of-views were required to debrief the situation that occurred, to make sure that what happened was legit.

He ignored Shepard’s inquiry. “It’s just a reply to the report I sent in regarding the Cerberus coup.”

Shepard planted his foot at the edge of the table, rocking back in his chair so it was balancing at the very tip of it. Kaidan suspiciously peered up from behind the omni-tool to meet his glance.

“Think you can forward your entry to me?” Shepard asked.

“I’m guessing you haven’t gotten around to it yet,” he muttered, cocking a brow at him.

The way Shepard simply flashed him a small smirk was a good enough answer as any. It was good to know that some things would never change.

Kaidan sighed. “Fine. I’ll forward it. Just make sure not to entirely copy the whole thing. Hackett is going to ask questions... and stop leaning back like that. You’re going to fall.”

“Uh-huh.” He leant even further. “Make me.”

He was tempted to send him over with a biotic push, as part of him wanted him to fall, but he managed to hold back. Nevertheless, he did consider to throw the fork at him.

Kaidan opened his mouth to reply, but was cut off.

“You know what you need, Blue? You need to get your mind off things,” Vega called from the counter, his placement next to Steve.

‘Blue.’ He still had to get used to being called that. Shepard was ‘Loco,’ Tali was ‘Sparks,’ Steve was ‘Esteban’ and Garrus was ‘Scars.’ Vega didn’t use names. Kind of his thing.

“Hey, let’s take a few rounds of poker or something. All four of us,” Vega said.

Steve blinked. “Wait, all four of us?”

“Hell yeah. You’re joining us. Loco, too.”

“Don’t I have a say in this? Some of us actually have work to do. I need to fix the Kodiak, and you’re not exactly making the process any less time-consuming. Last time it broke down, it was your fault, and it took me five hours.”

“I already told you, Esteban. I saved the day!”

Cortez shook his head with a soft smile.

“Steve, this is the perfect time for that shore leave I mentioned.” Shepard propped his arm to the backrest and looked over his shoulder to face them. “Hell, you said it was difficult to say ‘no’ to me.”

He nearly sounded husky and Kaidan could swear his insides just twisted. He wanted to kick himself again.

“Kasumi’s not here to steal my clothes again... it’ll be fun,” Shepard added.

“Well... you make a compelling argument, Commander.”

Vega loudly cleared his throat as he was clearly sharing Kaidan’s discomfort. They loved to make him uncomfortable. It had to be an inside joke that happened during the time Kaidan was at Huerta Memorial.

“So what do you say, Blue?”

Kaidan hesitated. “I -I don’t think that’s a good idea...”

Shepard rose up. “C’mon, K,” he said, before draping an arm around his shoulder. “We’ll have Gabriella Daniels and Kenneth Donnelly join us. You should be better acquainted before we head out again. Stop being such a spoilsport.”

Frowning, Kaidan said, “I’m not... I’m not a spoilsport.”

“Gracias, then you’re in!” Vega called, and clapped his hands together. “Texas Hold ‘Em it is. I’ll get the cerveza!”

Kaidan opened his mouth to protest, but the decision had already been made. He shot Shepard a sharp look, but he only received a cheeky grin in reply, a cocky wink and a pat on the back before he left the mess.

Vega stopped abruptly in the doorway. “Hey, Esteban! What is it with you two, anyways?”

Steve chuckled. “Shepard’s just a good friend, lieutenant. There’s a fine line between mutual respect and affection, and it’s not exactly blurry from where I stand.”

“I’m just looking out for you, man.”

“I’m flattered that you care, Mr. Vega -- but if you haven’t noticed, the commander speaks with everyone aboard the ship. You included,” he clarified, and Vega’s body stiffened. “No worries, my friend. Our CO is all eyes for someone else.”

Kaidan cringed.

My god, I hope not...

Steve gave him a subtle wink that left him more than confused.

Wait, what’s that supposed to mean?

Cortez waved him over. “Let’s find the engineers.”

*

It didn’t take long before they found themselves by the ship’s built-in poker table. Vega had already retrieved the beers and they were good to go for at least a few hours. The engineers had decided to join in after being introduced. Gabriella and Kenneth, more commonly referred to as Gabby and Ken, were both post-Cerberus staff. Kaidan was hesitant to trust them at first, but that abruptly changed, as he found them to be very likable. Just the right amount of crazy for the Normandy to fit right in.

Shepard turned to the propulsion engineer. “So Gabby, you in?”

“No, no, no. I’m playing unless the booze kicks in, all right? I’m lightly dressed enough as it is. I’ll remain at the sideline, getting more beers if need be. Maybe some food. And tissues for Ken’s tears.”

“Thanks, mum,” the power engineer replied sarcastically. “You can be a real feisty bastard, you know?”

“Oh, Kenny. You say the nicest of things.”

They couldn’t exactly blame her, seeing that she was the only woman in the room at the moment. EDI didn’t exactly wear clothes, being a rather amusing thought. Liara was too innocent for poker and far too easy to manipulate. He was aware that looks could be deceiving, and Liara was a good example, but playing poker with her was just not fair. Samantha Traynor, the new SSV Normandy comm-specialist, was occupied and couldn’t join them. It was something about a toothbrush. Kaidan didn’t dare ask.

Steve snorted. “I’ll be the dealer first round.”

“Let’s go!” Vega called eagerly.

Steve sat between Ken and Shepard, put the chips on the table and started handing each of them two cards face down. During their game, they were throwing pleasant banter and jokes back and forth. They paid little attention to or care much for their cards. There wasn’t exactly big sums of credits at the table at first, as that only happened after they had played a few rounds, but none of them would hold grudges.

At least that’s what he thought.

Kaidan had always been good in poker, so he did have an advantage. Even so, he had competition with James, who definitely knew what he was doing. They had played a few games before and he still couldn’t figure out all his moves.

Ken launched the game. “Raise.”

“I’m raising,” Kaidan said.

“Raise here,” Vega added.

Shepard was last. “Raise.”

They ended up playing for two hours straight and were still going. Of course, most of the time went by thanks to the banter. He had found himself greatly enjoying the company of the new crewmembers.

Gabby was right that Ken was the one suffering with the worst hands. Bad luck. Kaidan was currently at second place as Vega was leading the game but had one bad round, making him grin internally, as James’ cocky exterior attitude needed to be taken down a notch. The odds were in Kaidan’s favor while they were playing and he could feel the alcohol kicking in.

Giggling, Gabby said, “Hey, this reminds me of our shore leave last year. I can still remember the way Shepard -”

“Whoa, hey. Don’t. Don’t go there, Daniels.”

Shepard’s reluctance only made him curious.

Ken laughed. “That cozy place behind the strip club?”

“No, it was that rundown place next to the strip club, remember? Looked like a slum of some sort.” She rolled her eyes. “Of course you only remember the strip club. Oh my god... men.”

“Aye. You can’t exactly blame me, lassie. Those asari beauties knows what they’re doing. Be glad it wasn’t Commander Shepard we found by that pole, shaking his arse -- because I swear to Queen Mary that’s nightmare fuel for centuries.”

“What the hell is that supposed to mean?” Shepard said, frowning deeply. “I’m a great dancer.”

Kaidan held up a hand. “Whoa, whoa. I, ah... I don’t follow.”

“I was running recon -”

“Running recon? That’s a bunch of gobshite, Commander,” Ken said, and shoved some credits across the table. “Bet. Bring it on, whackos. So everyone except Commander Shepard were running recon -”

Grunting, Shepard said, “Wait a damned minute! I was in a bad place, all right?”

Vega grinned. “Check... Hell, I want to hear this.”

“We finally got some shore-leave after investigating a disabled collector cruiser,” Gabby said, ignoring Shepard’s addition. “The Commander said he was going to go for a walk after he had been in a heated argument with some guy back at the local bar to ‘blow off some steam.’ It would’ve been ugly if Vakarian hadn’t held him back when it occurred. We were starting to get worried after a while, so Ken and I headed out to go get him only to find him in an ally close by, finishing the argument that he had started.”

Ken chuckled. “We just got around in time to witness the guy receive a real kneecap to the daddy-bags, squirming like there was no end of it, just a wee line separating Shepard from going complete apeshite on the poor bastard -- cursing his mum’s name in the process.”

That was one hell of an image.

“For fuck’s sake... I was drunk, Donnelly!” Shepard chimed in with such an innocent smile, making his knees go weak below the table. He nearly took pity on him. “Fuck this. Fold.”

Something went up for him. “Wait... What were you arguing about, exactly?”

“He called Cuddlesworth fat!”

Kaidan blinked. “Cu -Cuddlesworth?”

“The, ah... the Commander’s hamster,” Steve clarified with a soft smile, shrugging. “Sir Cuddlesworth Lightyear, to be precise.”

“Space hamster, Steve,” Shepard said. “Space hamster.”

Kaidan was convinced that Shepard had never sounded that insulted in his whole life.

How much has he been drinking again?

“He’s not fat,” he added, leaning in. “He’s fluffy, and deadly as hell, as he could go toe-to-toe with Zaeed or Jack and live through it. And Wrex. And Grunt. Hell, basically every krogan that has ever existed. At the same time. That guy was asking for it.”

Kaidan’s glance shifted between Vega and Ken. Vega looked stunned while Ken just shrugged.

Vega blinked. “Why was... a hamster at the bar with you?”

“Seriously, lieutenant?” he asked, scowling. “Can you even imagine how miserable being in a glass container for three years is? The little guy deserved some shore-leave. The whole damned crew is important to me. Lightyear included.”

Vega held up his hands up in surrender. “Whoa, Loco. I get it, okay? Don’t give Cuddlesworth any shit.”

“Good.”

Kaidan believed it was a joke at first, but when his eyes angled up to meet blue hue, he couldn’t hold back the smile forming on his lips. Dead serious. Shepard was dead serious and standing by his word.

Hell... he was amazing.

Steve flipped ‘the turn,’ followed by another round, and then he dealt the last community card -- ‘the river.’ After they had made their move, the results lay at the table.

Vega pumped a fist into the air. “Perfecto!”

“Oh, c’mon, bullshit!” Shepard called, shooting up from his seat. “That strategy would’ve worked! How the hell did you get Full House, Vega? Seriously, Steve, did you even shuffle the cards?”

Steve grinned. “Hey, don’t blame me, Commander. It was a fair win.”

It only now hit him that Shepard was going to strip.

He suddenly felt hot.

Oh god, why didn’t I think of this?

When losing a round, people always chose to undress the less revealing piece of cloth, normally a belt or something, but he... Kaidan followed his hands, traversing to the edge of -

...what are you doing?

His pupils dilated as Shepard yanked his shirt off over his head, following his every single movement, nearly mimicking a predator stalking its prey. He managed to blink, but no matter how hard he tried, his eyes simply refused to look away.

Kaidan swallowed hard.

Many thoughts fumbled in his head and neither of them were appropriate. Every last one of them consisted of slamming his body up against the wall and have his way with him. His heart was beating hard and he found himself breathless.

James chuckled. “Holy shit, Loco doesn’t play around!”

“It’s called a challenge, Vega.” Shepard’s confidence was at a high level, and for a damn good reason. “Keep staring like that, major -- and your eyes are going to pop out.”

He snapped back when realizing he was speaking.

Kaidan cleared his throat. “Well, ah... Looking good, Commander.”

Major understatement.

He could swear that Shepard winked at him before having a shirt launched at his face -- breaking him from the trance as it blocked his view -- nearly startling him. Kaidan coughed out a nervous laugh and moved the shirt away from his face again, only to see Shepard smirk at him with that damned smile of his, being contagious as hell.

His glance wandered to Cortez and immediately regretted it, as he was given a knowing look, forcing Kaidan to look away and attempt to force the blush creeping up back down. Deep inside, he knew it was too late to cover it.

Thank god that Steve was a nice guy and never mentioned a word of it again.

Steve shuffled the deck and they play a few more times. The clock was nearing 1200 am so they decided to call it a day. Kaidan won, Vega landing on second place merely five points below, Shepard third and Ken ended up in nothing but his briefs. Gabby would never live it down.

Kaidan did however need a cold shower before turning in for the night.


Shepard had allowed himself to somewhat relax that night that he hadn’t done in a while. It didn’t take long before he slipped straight back into his commanding role without flinching, being the famous Commander Shepard that everyone knew. Liara wanted to see him before it became too late so Shepard invited her up to the cabin. Minutes later, he could hear a knock on the door.

“Come on in.”

The door slid open and Liara walked in.

“Thank you. Could we sit?” she asked, so Shepard gave her a nod and gestured her to the couch with his hand.

She flashed him a kind smile that was contagious enough for him to return one. Liara was carrying some sort of device that he had never seen the like of before.

“I’ve been thinking about the knowledge we gathered on the reapers, and how easily it could be lost again.” She placed the device on the table and crouched down before it as Shepard plopped into the couch. “So... I set out a plan in motion to preserve things for the future.”

She trailed a hand across the device and a blue-like sphere appeared.

Curious, he leant in, “What’s this?”

“A record of the galaxy.” She pulled herself up. “Information on the reapers, relays, different cultures... and blueprints of the Crucible. But there’s one entry I wanted your opinion on.”

“Which one?”

Liara pressed a nearly unrecognizable button.

“Your own,” she replied, and a small, holographic model of himself appeared before him. He straightened up. “I’d be honored to have your input. How would you like history to remember you?”

50,000 years was a long time for a computer to be functional, but Liara was an archaeologist, so she knew what she was doing. Liara was encasing the records in time capsules and seeding copies on multiple planets. She said it wasn’t foolproof, but the VI she was going to install had every translation and linguistics program she could find, being very impressive.

It was an information guide like Vigil on Ilos.

“You know me well enough to fill in the blanks, Liara.”

She began to fidget. “I... are you sure?”

“Yeah. I’d like it to be your call.”

Liara smiled and began to lightly pace. “I’ll start by saying Commander Shepard was born on Earth and fought harder than anyone else for his homeworld. Shepard could handle any weapon in the galaxy. The Alliance never saw a deadlier soldier. While I didn’t always agree with his decisions, I still respected them,” she said, and her smile turned fonder “...and it was a privilege to know him.”

“Careful this doesn’t sound like a diary,” he teased, leaning back as he squared an ankle over a knee.

She chuckled. “I can’t help myself,” she said modestly, approaching him on the couch before placing herself next to him. Her eyes were soft as always. “You’re a good friend, Shepard.”

“You’ve been there for me, too, Liara.”

Her smile noticeably faltered as she broke the eye contact. “No, I haven’t. I wish I could have joined you back on Illium.”

“You made up for it.”

Liara’s smile returned. “Well... I suppose I did just write your name in the stars.”

Shepard returned the smile, but it gradually dissolved, remembering that he needed to ask her something.

“Hey... Liara. About what you said back at the SR-1...”

The smile didn’t leave her lips. “That is in the past,” she replied, before cocking a sly brow. “I have no intentions of separating you from Major Alenko.” She knew. “Do yourself a favor, Shepard. Tell him.”

He looked away with uncertainty.

“We both know there’s a war on.” He wasn’t confirming nor denying. His voice faltered as he propped a hand to his thigh and leant forward. “There’s no guarantee that any of us will make it through this.”

“Then ask yourself... would you regret it?” she replied, and his jaw clenched.

Liara settled her chin to rest at his shoulder. “You do not know, do you?” she asked. He felt his hand captured between hers, turning meet her gaze, and she squeezed it. “Give yourself some happiness for once.”

She pulled herself up from the couch. “Think about what I said. Goodnight, Shepard.”

“You too, Liara,” he replied, smiling softly. “I want you to come along for Eden Prime. We’re going to need a prothean expert, after all. I can’t think of anyone that can match your skill.”

Liara’s smile widened. “It... would be an honor.”

Chapter Text

Kaidan took after his head and blinked the sleep away.

He had just gotten some shut-eye after he, Shepard and Liara returned from Eden Prime. It turned out that this prothean artifact was actually a living prothean. He went by the name of Javik, and wasn’t exactly a friendly, as he referred to them all as ‘primitives.’

Attempting to get used to the dim light in the room, he was thankful he hadn’t forgotten to turn the lamp off. It usually happened when he had reports to finish up and wasn’t able to keep his eyelids open for a moment longer. If he was exhausted, he could fall asleep in the chair, hunched over the data pads. It had happened on more than a few occasions and it was just as embarrassing each time.

The hammering in his head was killing him, thumping like crazy as if something buried deep inside it was trying to break out, preventing him from any restful sleep. The migraines could get intense, definitely, but he hadn’t experienced any serious pain for at least a few months.

When his eyes got used to the soft light, he sighed and shoved himself up to sit, hunching forward as he rubbed his eyes. With weary movements, he planted his hands on the furniture beneath and rose. Kaidan approached the chair in the same room, snatched a pair of pants and a shirt, followed by throwing them on. The med-bay was always open at night in case any of the crewmembers needed supplies.

It was always that calm and soothing feeling when walking around the SR-1 at night, but this time around, the ship felt empty. Operated by a skeleton crew. Nevertheless, he only needed familiar, familiar faces around to feel at home. Shepard was a big help, too.

Hell... Shepard. To think that Kaidan had considered telling him how he felt for months without getting anywhere.

He stopped in a halt before he entered the med-bay as he could make out a familiar silhouette whose back was facing him, wearing jeans and a grey tank top, showing his muscular form.

Speaking of the devil.

Kaidan could barely contain the smile. “Look who’s not supposed to be out of bed.”

“Speak for yourself, major.”

Making his way up to him, he said, “Mm... true. All right, then. You got me.”

Kaidan propped his arms to the counter and took a moment to study Shepard as he was tampering with the coffee machine.

“What are you doing up at 4 am, anyway?” Kaidan asked.

“Trying to figure out how this damned thing works,” he murmured, pushing every button.

Kaidan was tempted to spare him the frustration, but it was kind of amusing to watch. Closest thing to good entertainment these days.

Shepard sighed heavily. “After -- what’s it been -- six months? I should’ve gotten it covered by n -Dammit!”

Kaidan lightly bit into his lower lip not to laugh as his CO managed to jam the device. He watched in amusement as Shepard’s hand balled into a fist to punch the lid, only jamming it more.

He might prefer diplomacy, but when it came to everyday matters like this, he wasn’t exactly gentle.

“Here, let me do that,” Kaidan said, figuring he had suffered enough.

It wasn’t exactly much space behind the counter, so he wrapped an arm around Shepard’s waist to steady himself, switching place with him as he turned with his body. He could feel Shepard’s muscles tensing at the contact and smirked at his reaction.

Kaidan bought a finger to one of the buttons. “There. Un-jammed.”

“Wait, there’s a button for when it gets jammed? I thought that was the logo,” he murmured, rubbing the back of his neck before letting his hand drop. “What the hell do we need all these settings for, anyways? Seeing we have flying cars and AI’s, is it so difficult for modern technology to just have one button that says ‘coffee’? They even have a heating button! Who the hell wants cold coffee?”

Kaidan could honestly listen to Shepard ranting about coffee to his heart’s content. Then again, he could listen to this very man talk about anything. No matter the subject, Shepard always made conversations interesting.

“If you want cold coffee you can just throw it in the fridge or something,” he added, frustration in his voice. “Or wait an hour -”

Folding his arms across his chest, Shepard pressed his hip to the counter. He froze when he turned back to Kaidan, seeing a cup being shoved towards him and released his arms again.

“Half-and-half, three sugar. That right?”

Shepard shifted. “Okay, that’s...”

“I have good memory,” he said, shrugging. “I mean, c’mon, you remembered what kind of alcohol I drink -- being over thirty types and that’s just without dextro -- so don’t look at me like that.”

“Point taken,” Shepard said, taking a firm grip around the coffee.

He allowed himself a sip, and judging by the way his brows curved, he was surprised by the flavor.

“Damn, you’re good at this,” Shepard said.

“It’s... an automatic coffee machine, Shepard.”

“Well, yeah, but I’ve never managed to operate the damned thing. I always buy coffee on the Citadel. Made a bad habit at a young age to eat in the middle of the damn night, but hell... that was of way better quality, believe it or not. I originally came down here to eat, but... too much hassle to deal with it this late. I ain’t exactly getting decent food on this ship, myself.”

Shepard scoffed. “‘Captain’s mess’ my ass.”

“So you went for a drink instead, huh?”

“Uh-huh. Since I can’t sleep, either... might as well take coffee.”

He was curious now. “Want to talk about it?”

Shepard cocked a brow at him. He blinked again so he was pretty damn tired, having dark circles around his eyes and his -- now dim blue -- pupils didn’t seem to be able to focus properly.

“What, you my therapist or something?”

“More of a ‘concerned friend,’ really.”

Shrugging, Shepard muttered, “All right... you asked for it.”

No objections? Well, that was new.

“Ever since we left Earth, I’ve had this really strange dream that keeps repeating itself,” Shepard said, and shifted again. “More of a nightmare, really. Remember that kid back on Earth?”

Kaidan hesitated. “I... don’t remember any kid, Shepard.”

“Huh. That’s... odd.” He could swear he was surprised by his answer. “Anyways, this kid appears, can’t be more than six or seven. I’m forced to follow him as he runs through some sort of forest where the trees are nothing but shadows. No leaves. Just branches. Like it’s dead. It was in a way the same feeling I got when I returned to the shipwreck of the SR-1. Images kept flashing. Images of Pressly, Ash... That’s the worst part. I see shadowy, oily silhouettes of those who didn’t make it.”

A lump formed in his throat. “Ash?”

“On Virmire,” he said, and Kaidan locked his jaw. “I keep asking myself if I could’ve done something. If Saren hadn’t showed up when I got back to get you, and had to fight those waves of geth along the way, I could’ve -”

Kaidan’s eyes fell, and he could see the muscles in his hand tightening around the coffee.

“Hell, I could’ve saved her, too,” Shepard muttered.

“Shepard...”

He tightly closed his eyes. “Yeah, I know. I shouldn’t think like that,” he replied, letting out another sigh. His arms propped to it as steady fingers clasped around the coffee. “So I’m forced to follow this kid. He stops moving for me to catch up, but when I reach him, he starts running again. Laughing as if no worries faze him. When he finally stands still, he just... It’s different each time but always ends up with the kid, burning in front of me, looking at me as if I had betrayed everyone back home. Lost and afraid. No one to help him.

“I’ve seen civilians die before, and it never gets any easier.” Kaidan could definitely relate to that. “But with the kid, I just... hell. I don’t know. Maybe he just reminds me of myself when I was his age.”

Kaidan looked away. “Yeah, I... I get that.”

Shepard didn’t have an easy childhood. Joining up in gangs just to get by, no parents to care for him, no credits to his name. It was amazing that he had survived through all that. Of course, the events on Akuze, stopping Sovereign and destroying the collector base were prime examples that Shepard was capable of almost everything.

Was there anything he was bad at?

He naturally found out that he was thinking too much because his head started to spin again.

“Headache, huh -- want me to take care of it?” Shepard asked, having taking note of how he pinched the bridge of his nose.

“The painkiller supply’s stocked. I’ve got it covered.” Kaidan looked up from his hand, and decided to tease him. “If you can’t operate a coffee machine, I’m not sure if I can trust you with my headaches, Shepard.”

Was that a pout?

Shepard nodded, ducked his head and studied the liquid in his cup, as if it was the most interesting thing in the world.

“I realize now I only open up when I’m drunk.” Shepard frowned before meeting his gaze. “Hell, there’s no alcohol in this, is there?”

He snorted. “No, Shepard. I think you’re just starting to warm up to me.”

Shepard smirked. “Don’t flatter yourself,” he replied, challenging Kaidan not to roll his eyes at him. “Drunk and tired as hell, apparently. How the hell do you get me to talk about this, Alenko?”

“Guess I just emit that kind of aura.”

“I suppose you’re right. Kinda helps. I think,” he muttered, but quickly cleared his throat to get off-topic. “It’s gotta be the lack of energy making me think like this. Damn, I need some real food soon.”

He was always reluctant to accepting help.

“You and me both.” Kaidan realized that it could be an opportunity for them to talk. “Hey, ah... if you get a moment, we should head out to the Citadel for a snack. I know a place that, ah... still has steak.”

Shepard blinked. “Wait... are you asking me out?”

In some sense, he was. Even so, he didn’t find it appropriate to call it a date. It was just a friendly snack that could maybe develop into something more. Telling him now wouldn’t be much more different than to tell him then.

He swallowed and decided to just get it over with, but when he opened his mouth, he was cut off.

“That was -”

“-a joke,” Kaidan finished.

“EDI?”

He nodded. “EDI.”

“Told you you’d be getting along.” Shepard’s small, smug smile turned softer as Kaidan gave him an exasperated look. “Steak, huh? You certainly know your way into my heart, major. I’d love to.”

Kaidan’s eyes went wide as he carefully tried to process that.

Did he just say ‘yes’ to a date?

He decided not to overthink things for once.

No, he said ‘yes’ to a friendly snack.

That was all there was.

“Great,” he replied instead. “Hey, almost forgot.” He made his way up to the coffee machine again and flipped the on/off switch. “This thing uses one hell of a lot of electricity, believe it or not. The crew has recently considered asking you to get it switched, and judging by what I saw tonight, I don’t think that would be much of a problem. Who would’ve thought that coffee was the great Commander Shepard’s worst enemy?”

Shepard chuckled.

He couldn’t help the smile as he would never get tired of hearing his laugh. It was a rare thing so he made sure to enjoy it when he could. Kaidan turned to face him only to realize that he was standing merely two feet away.

Had he moved?

Either that, or he had unconsciously done it himself, being an almost scary thought. Hell, as long as he didn’t go as far as unconsciously kiss him, he would be fine. No matter how tempting it might be. Another thing he would never get tired of was Shepard’s eyes. They had to be his favorite aspect about him. A feeling that once felt unfamiliar was now the exact opposite. The heat radiated between them as a familiar fragrance of aftershave met him. He could feel his head starting to throb even more.

Kaidan cleared his throat.

“Sorry, Shepard. I’d love to talk, but the, ah... the headache’s acting up. I’ve got to take care of it,” he said, and watched as Shepard threw his finished coffee into the trashcan. “Hell, you should get some sleep before you’re forced to live on caffeine and cold showers.”

“Goodnight, K. Don’t let me keep you.”

“You too, Shepard.”


Hackett had contacted Shepard about a classified project.

‘Commander, there’s an Alliance researcher working on the Citadel named Dr. Garret Bryson. I need you to meet with him right away. Dr. Bryson has uncovered important new information about reapers that could have a direct bearing on the war. I’m officially directing you to support his efforts at the first possible opportunity. Please visit Bryson’s laboratory on the Citadel at once.’

The dinner would have to wait.

The situation soon turned worse when Shepard arrived at the lab. Bryson’s assistant Derek had gunned the doctor down, but when confronted, Derek couldn’t remember doing it. He could only remember being somewhere cold and said, “The darkness cannot be breached.” Indoctrination. A man named Garneau had recovered an artifact that they kept in the lab. The artifact was responsible as there was bigger things at stake. Bryson had found out about a sentient being called ‘The Leviathan’ that had opposed the reapers centuries before.

If Leviathan agreed to help them, the chance of defeating the reapers would increase greatly, but when they located the creature at the bottom of the ocean on 2181 Despoina in Psi Tophet -- by launching a probe -- their shuttle was disabled and sent them crashing. Geth were attacking. There was no way they could get back into the shuttle without disabling the pulse that knocked it out of the air.

“Then we aren’t getting out of here until we find it,” Shepard said. “So how do we do that?”

Steve scouted the area. “Well... you might be able to use a mech. Looks like it’s rigged for diving.”

“Well, if that’s what we have to do, let’s get started.”

Frowning, Kaidan said, “Wait a minute here, are we seriously considering -?”

“First, we’ll need to restore power to get that cargo door open,” Cortez said.

“How?” Shepard asked.

Liara turned to Kaidan. “I suppose we are.”

It wasn’t long before Shepard took a firm hold of the diving mech’s frame, pulling himself up and placing himself in it, taking a hold of the controls before it shut after him. He pulled up the mech’s frame again when he saw Kaidan approach him.

“Shepard, I’ve got to say... I’m not too crazy about this plan.”

“We’ve come too far to stop now. The way home is through Leviathan.”

“Okay, oxygen pressure is nominal. Systems are a go,” Cortez said, and went over a system check on his omni-tool before glancing up at him with an apologetic look. “It’s as ready as I can make it.”

“Let’s go.”

Kaidan stepped forward. “But Shepard...”

His eyebrows slightly arched as Kaidan regained his attention. There was something unusually soft about his voice and it confused him to no end. Shepard looked him right into his eyes before frowning somewhat suspiciously.

He flagged it off at it was probably nothing.

Shepard cleared his throat. “I’ll be fine,” he replied, and offered a small smile. “After all, you owe me dinner.”

Seeing the subtle upturn of Kaidan’s amazing lips was one hell of a sight. For a moment they held the glance before he was given a nod. Shepard turned back to the controls. The diving mech started heading towards the watery depths.

*

“Suit holding up, Commander?” Steve asked into the omni-tool.

Kaidan propped his hands to his hips as he averted his eyes with a feeling of dread deep in his abdomen. He glanced at Steve above his shoulder. They had no idea how deep the water was in the unknown territory. It could be miles.

“Looks good so far.”

It was a relief to hear his voice.

“Good,” Steve said. “I’m getting some comm interference on this end. Hang on.”

“Copy that.”

They heard static.

“Commander, can you read me?” Steve asked, slightly starting to pace after he received no response. “We’re losing your signal. Something is blocking your comm. Please respond.”

“Cortez?” *static*

“Shepard?” he tried again, but there was no use. “Hell, I lost the signal.” Kaidan’s abdomen churned in unnatural ways. “I’ll try to boost it, but there’s no guarantee that it’ll work -”

“More geth, take cover!” Liara called, and drew her assault rifle.

Kaidan pulled out his own firearm and could do nothing but hope for the best. They covered Cortez as he tried to create a new comm-link to reach Shepard. The time was moving slowly on the surface. Far too slow. It felt like forever as geth were constantly attacking. Cryo Blasts and Warp bullets were flying all over the place.

Hell, you better be all right, Shepard...

Minutes passed. He had no idea how long it had been. The unwavering waves of geth wore them all down greatly.

Liara had begun to get sloppy, just as he, as they were becoming restless. More and more geth stormed them with no sign of Shepard. After what felt like an hour, they finally heard movement by the sea, and Kaidan took Liara’s covering fire to his advantage to be able to briefly tilt his head up. He felt he could breathe out as the diving mech came out of the water. Shepard was alive. He couldn’t see him clearly, as he was forced back into cover, but he knew he needed to get to him. Those two brutes that had appeared would kill him if he didn’t.

Seeing Shepard pull himself up from the frame, only to be forced onto his knees in exhaustion, made his heart jump in concern. He was bleeding from his nose and couldn’t even stand upraised.

What the hell happened down there?

The two brutes suddenly turned against each other, but caring for nothing else but Shepard, he didn’t waste a moment to move.

“Cover me!” he called, and Liara responded with a nod before he sprinted over to Shepard. Kaidan threw his arm around his shoulder and pulled him up. A muffled pain sound emitted from Shepard’s mouth as he took after his side, his head bowed and heavy.

Kaidan tightened his grip around him. “Shepard’s back! Cortez, talk to me.”

“We’re good to go! I don’t know what the Commander did, but the pulse is offline.”

The shuttle landed a few feet away, and after Kaidan guided him safely through the geth and brutes, they finally reached it. Gently but determinedly launching Shepard into the shuttle, he followed. He was forced to take an even tighter hold of him as Shepard nearly collapsed onto the floor and was showing little attempt at keeping himself upraised.

Kaidan turned to Liara. “Liara, c’mon!”

She shot a couple more geth on her way before she hopped up. The door shut behind them. Turning back to Shepard, his eyes went wide as he quickly crouched down next to his unconscious body.

“By the goddess...” she muttered.

“Shepard...” Kaidan whispered, and took his face in his hands.

He received no reply. His blue eyes were closed and he could feel that he was ice cold even through his gauntlets. In desperation, he didn’t waste a moment to pull up his omni-tool and ready the medi-gel.

Kaidan felt the panic set in. “Shepard, can you hear me? He’s freezing!”

In the moment Shepard regained consciousness, he was thrown into a fit of coughing, catching his breath as he sat up.

“You okay?” Kaidan asked, amazed how leveled his voice was.

His heart was beating vehemently.

Shepard coughed. “Yeah...” he swallowed, and pulled himself into a seat. “Yeah, I’m fine. Hell of a headache.”

Using a knuckle, he wiped the blood away from below his nose. Shepard was shaking lightly, obviously freezing as he pulled off his gauntlets. He rubbed his hands together and brought them to his full lips, blowing hot air into them as he shut his eyes tightly.

“Here, you should get that armor off. I’ll keep you warm,” Kaidan said.

Somewhat startled, Shepard looked up, and he found himself worrying if he’d overstepped his bounds. Nevertheless, Shepard’s expression just softened and he nodded.

It didn’t take much effort to get his armor off, and even if he’d seen Shepard shirtless before, that didn’t make it any easier. He kept his briefs on, thankfully, and Kaidan stripped down to his under armor. He settled against the side of the shuttle, and Shepard pressed his cheek to his chest, lying on his side with tightly shut eyes. To get the process going, he activated his biotics.

“How the hell are you so warm, Alenko?”

Kaidan chortled. “I don’t know. Maybe ‘cause I didn’t use a barely operable diving mech,” he teased, and gave Steve a playful grin.

Steve just smiled, shook his head and turned back to the controls.

“Biotics run hot, remember?” Kaidan added.

“Right,” he grunted, shifting. “K, your gun’s pressing into my hip.”

Carefully glancing aside, he spotted his firearm lying on the floor, and he froze. He ‘adjusted’ himself and could only hope that Shepard hadn’t realized what just happened. It certainly didn’t help that he got a knowing look from both the pilot and co-pilot that made his cheeks go warm. Five minutes later, Shepard had blacked out entirely.

“Never do that again,” Kaidan whispered, when he knew he couldn’t hear him.


It was nice to have everybody back on dry land, so to speak, seeing that Shepard had scared the crap out of him with those risky stunts. Even so, those risky stunts were part of what he loved about him. Shepard had managed to meet up with Leviathan itself and convinced it to help them in the war, being one hell of a war asset, and Shepard never ceased to amaze him.

Things had been quiet since the dive that Shepard had performed. It took some convincing, but he was finally able to get him to relax for a while. Take a couple hours off.

Kaidan was waiting at Apollo’s. It was time to come clean to John Shepard. He has a lot he wanted to say but had no idea how to approach it. This was the only way to find out. At least Shepard agreed to show up. Small steps. They promised to never bring up Horizon again and let it slide so everything was good between them. That might once again come in jeopardy considering what he was just about to do.

He sensed movement heading towards the café, halfway expecting it to be Shepard. He had arrived ten minutes early, so he hadn’t expected him to come that soon. He startled when a woman he had never seen before propped into the chair opposite the table. She was covered in tattoos, had dark brown hair tied up in a ponytail with shaved sides, blood red lips and heavy makeup around her eyes.

She looked like someone you didn’t mess with.

“Alenko, right?” she asked, and the stunned expression on Kaidan’s face was apparently a good enough answer. “Then listen up, pretty-boy. A little bird told me that the Commander wants to fuck you.”

He... what?

Kaidan had never seen her in his entire life. Was she Shepard’s sister? Friend, maybe? Hell... his girlfriend? Wife?

“I know that little shit damned well and I know he’s a pussy when it comes to relationships,” she added. “He’s fucking fragile beneath his stupid ass face so I’m here to let you know that if you break his fucking heart, I will destroy you. Do you hear me?”

He only managed a slow nod as an answer and she pulled back up from the chair. “Good. We’re done here.”

Kaidan was about to ask, but she had already stormed off, so he averted his eyes and stared blankly at the table before him.

Okay, that was terrifying.

After a moment of silence, he pulled himself up from the table in hope that he could catch up to her, ask her who she was and how she knew. However, he nearly managed to barge into a slightly taller figure standing before him.

“Whoa, hey. Sorry, I know I’m late.”

Kaidan felt a faint blush fill his cheeks.

“Shepard.”

Chapter Text

The last thing he wanted was for Shepard to believe he was about to ditch him. That was as far away from the truth as it could get. What that woman said had still not left his thoughts. He hoped that there was some truth in her statement. If Shepard actually did have feelings for him, like she said -- well she didn’t really say that -- she said that Shepard wanted to...

He flagged it off.

“A friend stopped me by the entrance. She’s been pretty upset lately and has a tendency to snap at people,” Shepard said, and Kaidan nearly startled when he snapped his fingers. “You all right, K? You look like you’ve been forced to sit through ‘Blasto’.”

“No, I -I wasn’t planning to...”

He cut himself off and took a moment to recollect his thoughts. His friend. Relief washed through his body.

Kaidan snorted and propped back into the chair. “I think I just met her. She put me in a, ah... interesting position a few moments ago. Thought I could catch up with her. Sorry. I didn’t mean to worry you.”

“Oh no,” Shepard said, and slid into the other chair. “Jack, right? I know she comes out as a bit harsh, but she’s got a heart of gold.”

“I’m sure she does. You always choose the best company.”

He squared an ankle over his knee and leant back. “You’re not the first to tell me that. Sure, that was before I involved myself with Cerberus, went buddy-buddy with Aria, convinced Blood Pack, Eclipse and Blue Suns to help out in the war and head-butted some jackass of a krogan.”

Kaidan blinked. “You... head-butted a krogan?”

“Why not? I gained the shaman’s respect. Had one hell of a headache for the rest of the day, though.”

That didn’t exactly come as a surprise.

The waitress approached them with the menus. They were technologically advanced at most cafés these days, all the menus being data pads, only having to check boxes next to what people wanted to order and send it in. Shepard released a singular whistle.

“Surprised this place could still get supplies for a menu like this,” Kaidan muttered.

“Don’t give me any ideas,” he replied, and Kaidan couldn’t help but smile at the deep frown by his brows. “I wouldn’t be surprised if they were dealing with black market stuff around here for cheap. This menu is a complete rip-off, though. Don’t want to get court-martialed for getting a ‘positive’ on a drug test if they snuck anything in when I have to pay this much to even eat here. So, yeah... It’s better not to ask how.”

Shepard straightened up. “Or where.”

Kaidan let his arms drop to the tabletop. “Head-butting krogans and overpriced illegal service aside...” he murmured, unable to hide the smirk forming at his mouth. “I’m glad we’re taking the time to do this. I could use a sanity check.”

“You and me both. Things have been... pretty crazy.”

That was an understatement. In only a few years, the Normandy had stopped a rogue Spectre, killed a reaper and destroyed a collector base. The reapers were still out there and a bigger fight than the both combined. The final battle was just around the corner and they were determined to end the reaper cycle for good.

“It sure has,” Kaidan muttered, his eyes far away. “You know... my life flashed in front of my eyes on Mars, and... there weren’t enough moments like this. With people I care about.”

He was given a subtle, suspicious smile. “How are you feeling these days?”

“Feeling up to whatever the reapers throw at me.” Kaidan tried to surpass the worries before them and returned an appreciative smile “...and grateful that I convinced you to sit down for half a second and relax.”

Shepard leant in and he could feel his knee bumping into his own by the movement. The touch sent electricity through his body. The contact lingered and neither of them moved. Kaidan simply pretended not to notice, being neither dismissive, nor accepting. Shepard must’ve seen through it, because the next thing he remembered was glimpsing a small, roguish smirk forming at his mouth.

“Yeah, I think it’s time for us to have a heart-to-heart.” Shepard’s way of phrasing made him curious. “So...” He peered at the menu in Kaidan’s hand and wasn’t as subtle as he probably thought. “What are you drinking?”

Kaidan snorted, well-aware that he was avoiding the subject, and tilted the pad in an angle so that it was out of his view.

“If you’re trying to butter me up, it’ll might take a nice steak sandwich, too.”

“So?”

He watched as Shepard casually leant back in the chair again -- aware that his intentions were busted -- moving his eyes back to his own. Kaidan couldn’t help but feel slightly disappointed when the warmth of his body retracted at the movement.

“A shot of whiskey and a good ‘ol Canadian lager. Think they have it?”

“More likely to have Batarian Shard Wine,” he said looking up, pulling up his chair closer to him.

Kaidan arched a brow and put the menu he held aside when Shepard leant in to show him.

“Right there,” Shepard said, tapping the pad. “Batarian Shard Wine.”

“Mm... that doesn’t prove anything.”

He unconsciously draped an arm around Shepard’s chair for their shoulders not to bump into each other. Shepard didn’t seem to notice. With his other hand, Kaidan shuffled the page from B, down to C. He couldn’t exactly say that he was surprised by the lack of light drinks such as Canadian lager. Hell, they had drinks that could knock a human off his or her feet in just a sip.

Kaidan sighed. “Okay. I’ll give you that one. So what do you think?”

“Well, let’s see.” Shepard scrolled it up again. “We’ve got ‘Batarian Ale,’ ‘Frozen Pyjak,’ ‘Full Biotic Kick...’ Hey, that sounds like something for you. Do you think they serve turian instructors, too?”

You did not just go there...

“Oh, wow. That’s a low blow.” Shepard didn’t fail keeping a deadpan look at Kaidan’s poor attempt at sounding serious. “Do they have something like, I don’t know... ‘The First Human Spectre,’ ‘Don’t Know Crap About Biotics’ and ‘Can’t Operate Coffee Machines’ -Heh!”

He had just received an elbow in his abdomen. Kaidan was forced to hunch slightly forward and took after it. He chuckled.

Worth it.

Shepard started listing up the rest of the available drinks but Kaidan must’ve trailed off rather quickly. He had blocked everything out except from the man before him. He heard his voice but he didn’t exactly listen to the words. Something about beer. Probably what he was planning on ordering. A faint smile tugged at the corners of Kaidan’s mouth as he thoroughly studied him. Every line and every scar. Shepard was too absorbed in the list of drinks to even notice and must’ve read something funny as he lightly bit his lower lip.

Now that did strange things to him.

He realized that he could just take a quick peek at where Shepard’s was looking, but his eyes stayed at his mouth. He wanted nothing more than kiss him right there, find out if his lips were still as soft as they looked, feel them against his own again and find out if he tasted the same he did back in 83. Kaidan’s faint, small but soft smile soon faltered as he looked away not to do anything he’d regret, only to swear he saw something moving by the far wall. He narrowed his eyes as he took his hand back and straightened up. He felt like he was being watched.

“So what’s it going to be, K?”

Kaidan blinked. “Huh?” he uttered, and Shepard cocked a brow at him. “Oh, right... I -I guess I’ll just take a light beer.”

Hell, maybe a strong one so I can get through this. A *really* strong one.

He could blame it on the alcohol if things didn’t go as planned.

Casting a glance where he was previously looking, he saw nothing. Shepard probably believed he was crazy or something. It must’ve been nothing. He was aware it could just be nerves. Shepard decided not to comment and ordered the drinks. Kaidan’s attention drifted to the local and he took in the picture. He realized how much he missed Canada. His other home, away from the Normandy and the Alliance. He would visit Vancouver again when all this was over if he lived to see the end of this war and bring Shepard along as he had wanted to see it.

“At my parents place in Vancouver,” Kaidan said. “Drank more than a few beers, looking over English Bay. Yeah... beautiful view.”

“You get the chance to prove it to me one day.”

Kaidan smiled again. “Yeah, that -that’s a promise I intend to keep,” he replied, before his look gradually went mischievous. “So, let me guess... you’ll be having the same as me... steak sandwich -- but with extra hot sauce.”

“You know me so well.”

Shepard had been the tip of the spear throughout all this. Being stressed 24/7 was bad for morale and Shepard deserved some shore leave (and extra hot sauce.) The fight was far from over, but he needed to take a moment for himself, or he would burn out. He was human, after all. Kaidan wanted to be there for him, support him, and let him know that he wasn’t not alone in all this.

He wanted to be Shepard’s soft place to land.

“You know what, though? I feel good about our chances,” Kaidan said.

“Yeah?”

“Yeah. Helps me sleep better at night.”

Shepard’s features softened ever so slightly. “I thought it was just a one-time thing,” he said, recalling back to their late-night coffee talk a few days ago. “You’re not sleeping, Kaidan?”

“Maybe a little restless,” he muttered, nodding solemnly. “But it’s not the headaches that keeps me up.”

Hell... here goes, he thought, being the reason why he asked him to meet up in the first place. Where do I start?

He had figured that it’d come naturally, but hell, Shepard has to have noticed the concern reflecting in his eyes. Kaidan exhaled and tightened his brows before he let the words flow.

“It’s just... You plan a career, you focus, then... suddenly the world’s ending and it’s too late to, uh... to find someone.”

Doing good so far.

The two hadn’t exactly spoken much about their partners except from Ace and Kaidan’s attraction to Rahna -- a girl he spent a lot of time with back at BAaT -- even if they weren’t in a relationship. Shepard had earlier said that he reminded him of Ace. Kaidan was holding onto that sliver of hope that he, sometime in the near future, could be the same as he was for Shepard. A potential lover. It felt right. Hell, for all he knew, Shepard was already taken. Maybe even married.

He cringed at the thought but at least he wasn’t wearing a ring.

A sudden uncertainty clouded his mind. He gave Shepard’s hand a quick and discreet glance, to no avail, as his right palm covered his left. Was he wearing a ring? He couldn’t tell. Had he missed his chance because he was too blind to see it? Even back at the SSV Normandy SR-1, it was obvious. Ashley saw it. Liara saw it. It had been there all along in front of his very eyes. Hell, even Cortez knew -

“Someone?”

Kaidan snapped back. “Yeah, someone. Someone... strong, and... confident. Someone I admire, and respect, and enjoy being with.”

He leant back to get a better look at him. He trailed his face up, from his mouth, his stubble, his sharp cheekbones. They settled at his favorite aspects colored blue. They had regained their color. He couldn’t help but reveal a small smile.

“...someone handsome.” Shepard cocked a brow at his addition. Kaidan snorted, realizing it sounded far cheesier than he thought it would. “Tall order, I know. But... I don’t really have to look far.”

About three feet.

Swallowing, Kaidan muttered, “Shepard...”

Shepard moved his arm to rest atop of his own chair, leant back and looked over his shoulder. No ring. Kaidan could breathe out.

“There’s a lot of guys here, K. You got those two turians standing over there. Turians are tall, right? Not particularly handsome, though. Either that or I’m just too used to seeing Garrus’ face. I advised him to slap some face-paint on there, but he doesn’t seem to care. Something about ‘women likes scars’,” he said, and gestured his hand. “Then there’s the krogan, the security guards -”

Kaidan tightly closed his eyes. “Hey, just... just stop being a wise-ass for half a second.”

“Okay, fine,” he replied, and turned back. “I’m kidding. Garrus is handsome.” Shepard fell into a pause. “For a turian.”

Kaidan exhaled, taking after the bridge of his nose, wallowing in self-pity, wondering if he was doing this on purpose or not.

After another pause, Shepard spoke again. “Hell, you’re serious, aren’t you?”

Kaidan let his hand drop to the table again, moving his glance back to Shepard whose expression had changed. He could swear he looked intrigued, definitely surprised, but maybe it was just him. Their drinks arrived but Shepard didn’t move his eyes away from him as if he was trying to figure him out. Kaidan gave the waitress a nod in thanks that received a smile in reply, and just like that, she was gone again.

His gaze wandered to Shepard again. He had to come clean. It would eat away at him if he didn’t.

“Just... hear me out, okay?” he asked, and saw Shepard’s arm drop to the table. “We’ve been friends a long time, Shepard. Have you ever known me to be with anyone? I’m guessing I’m just choosy, or patient, or... I don’t know.”

For god’s sake, just say it already.

Kaidan broke the eye contact, centering his attention to the table before him. He knew he was already stuttering and that was traumatizing enough. He knew that it was too late to back out now.

“Maybe I’ve never found -” he added, but decided to rephrase. “What I want... is something deeper with someone that I already...”

Kaidan moved his eyes to settle at the other’s again with a vulnerable gaze.

“...care about.”

With the tiny ounce of information he had shared, he was hoping that Shepard could connect the dots, debrief the information. He wasn’t going to leave himself vulnerable in the open by saying it directly.

/“I always leave a way out, you know that.”/

“Someone I’ve known a long time,” he added “...someone that forgave me even after all the bullshit I’ve put him through.” Kaidan clenched his jaw as he watched him. “A forgiveness that I sure as hell don’t deserve. Not by a longshot.”

He sighed while his eyes closed.

“That’s what I want,” Kaidan breathed, before his eyes fluttered open again. “What do you want?”

A puzzled look shrouded Shepard’s face that almost made him look...

I don’t know... confused?

“What *I* want? I don’t see how that’s relevant -”

Shepard’s brows curved.

He could tell that it caught him off-guard. Shepard was a commander. A strategist. He needed to be prepared for everything.

Shepard blinked. “Wait... You and me?” he asked, before a suspicious smile quirked his lips. “Is that what you’re saying, Kaidan?”

He wasn’t leaving him a way out.

Kaidan was concerned about that very thing and he really didn’t need his pride to be wounded in the middle of the Presidium. He was hoping that his heart would slide back into place by the way Shepard said that. His tone was even gentler than back at Huerta Memorial where he obviously flirted with him. Kaidan had however learned not to get his hopes up. He had to take a chance.

“It feels right... doesn’t it?”

The anticipation was killing him when Shepard looked lost in thought. He could swear he was trying to find the nicest way to let him down. Find the right words. He didn’t want to get rejected. Not by Shepard. Not after it had taken him over a year to figure out that he wanted to be more than friends. Just the thought of rejection had his abdomen churn, but hell, he knew he didn’t have the right to ask for more.

Kaidan released the breath he didn’t even realize he still held.

“My god, just... just forget I ever said anything, okay? This is, ah... this is really not working out for me. I’m not trying to put you on the spot or anything, but after all this time, I...”

Kaidan clenched his jaw, tightly closing his eyes. “Sorry, Shepard. I went out of line.”

Of course he won’t forget it. Who am I kidding?

He had no idea where he was going with this so it was better not to say anything at all. His eyes fluttered open again when he could feel warmth brushing against his cheek.

On impulse, he leant away, but stopped uncertainly as he turned back to face him.

The muscles in his jaw clenched. His expression softened seeing the warm look on Shepard’s face. He could feel his knees go weak again. Blue hue looked him straight into his brown. He then slowly pressed his cheek into his touch.

“You seemed decisive then, major. Why so hesitant now?”

A gentle thumb moved to caress his temple in a way that made his body tremble at the contact, glance focusing on where he touched, his look stoic. Eyes angled sideways to meet his again.

He opened his mouth to reply but no sound came out. His heart had started to beat more rapidly. He tried not to think about how the tip of Shepard’s thumb was cautiously moving against his skin. Careful, steady movements, making him swallow. Judging by how his body seemed to have a mind of its own, the way it shivered at the sensation, it was difficult not to. He was just touching him, for god’s sake, and it wasn’t like he hadn’t been touched like that before. For a moment, they just looked at each other, and he couldn’t tear his eyes away.

“...did my turian joke turn you off?”

Kaidan smacked his hand away. “Oh my god, you ass,” he said, grinning. Shepard leant back with a small smile as the eye contact was broken. His own gradually went lackluster. “Yeah, I -I get it, Shepard... but I’m 35. I can take ‘no’ for an answer.”

A deep pit had left its mark in his abdomen as he put on a brave face.

It hurt.

Goddamn, it hurt.

He knew that if he’d try to speak, it’d only come out strangled, and he felt the sudden urge to leave. Escape. Shepard always covered over serious questions with jokes when he wanted to avoid having to answer. He had been convinced he could be content just having Shepard in his life, but now, now it felt like every light for that to happen had been extinguished.

“Who said ‘no’?”

His eyes shot open.

What?

“There’s no point in winning a war if we don’t know the reason to why we fight,” Shepard said, and averted his eyes. “Having something to come back to, it’d... be nice to have someone to turn to. Someone to live for... maybe love.” He frowned. “Hell, that sounded way better in my head.”

Shepard was almost being as cryptic as he was.

His chest tightened beneath his civvies. He waited for someone to pinch him awake, not fully believing that this was truly happening, realizing that this wasn’t simple battlefield flirting. This was real. His confidence was back in place as he had Shepard in the palm of his hand.

Kaidan snorted. “Someone?” he prompted, a smile creeping up on his face.

He was impatiently pushing for a more specific answer. It was payback for putting him on the spot like that. They were comrades, brothers-in-arms, and maybe now... maybe more. He could see the muscles in Shepard’s jaw tightening. He turned but he didn’t meet his eyes at first.

“You, Kaidan.” He finally looked up, and their eyes collided.

The walls they both had built tumbled down with a simple sentence. It was as if a heavy weight had lifted off his shoulders. His hands connected as he leant in towards the table to make sure he was hearing correctly, listening to him with his whole body, lips tugging ever upwards.

Shepard blinked. “Huh. It does. It does feel right,” he muttered. “After all this time.” He snorted. “You and me... I like that. A lot.”

Kaidan knew he was internally grinning but managed a professional smile. He had little against showing small amounts of public affection but things like that took time to get used to. They were also in plain view.

“And that... makes me so happy... and there are benefits for that happiness.”

“Really?” Shepard murmured husky, and he could swear his heart jumped at his suggestive tone.

He wanted to laugh. This was actually happening, and goddamn, it felt good.

Kaidan returned his mischievous look. “Yes...” he said, leaning back. “Really.”

“What’d you call it?” Shepard dragged a hand after his drink, lifting the glass to his mouth. “A sanity check?”

“Hmm. Sanity check.”

In time, the waitress approached them with their order, realizing that they had been speaking for longer than he thought. At worst when he had been eating out, it usually ended up with him digesting half his drink before even getting the food, that always arrived about an half hour after the drinks. Kaidan had yet not entirely taken what just happened in. He had confessed to Shepard and he had agreed to give it a shot.

Give *us* a shot.

Thinking about all this made him wonder just how long Shepard had felt the same way. The realization part could be tricky. If it was a thing that went up right now, or if it had lingered in the back of his mind for a while, choosing not to act upon it. Maybe for the same reason as Kaidan. He had felt slight uneasiness each time Shepard approached him back on the SR-1, but convinced himself that it was just the ‘superior rank’ thing and worrying about going out of line, when he later found out that it went deeper than that.

The vague sound coming from the back of Shepard’s throat interrupted his thought-process.

“Thank god. I’m starving.”

Kaidan angled his eyes Shepard’s way, blinking a few times, as he realized he trailed off again. He proceeded to grin widely at the way Shepard nearly launched at the steak sandwich.

“Uh-huh,” he uttered. I can see that.

“I honestly can’t begin to explain how glad I am to take a break from the damned mess rations,” Shepard said, mouthful of food. He wouldn’t exactly describe it as adorable, but... yeah, okay. It was adorable. “I mean, hell, it’s better than the SR-1 -- but not nearly good enough. You know, I’m planning on sending in a complain-mail with extra exclamation points to Hackett, let him know that if he wants the Normandy on top we need real food. Threaten him to send Wrex to head-butt them into submission.”

Shepard turned back. “What?”

“Hmm? Nothing.” Kaidan cleared his throat, making a hand gesture towards his mouth. “Shep, you, ah... you’ve got hot sauce... Yeah.”

As if completely unaware of what he was talking about, Shepard looked like a puzzle. Kaidan stared for a little longer in hope he would get it but angled his eyes up only to meet the same confused look. He sighed and straightened up, reached for his face and gently wiped the sauce away from the corner of Shepard’s lips with his thumb. With a smug smirk, he pinned Shepard with a glare again, bringing it to his own mouth.

Shepard’s brows furrowed. “Are you trying to seduce me, K?”

“What? I would never...”

His smirk morphed into a grin. Hell, if Shepard’s eyes wouldn’t be the death of him, his smile certainly would. It didn’t take long before Kaidan found himself at a loss of words. Shepard was completely fine with all this as he was starting to heavily flirt back.

Just how long has he felt this way about me?

“Second thoughts?”

Kaidan’s eyes widened. “No!” he blurted out, turning back. Shepard blinked, making him realize he had said it just a little too quickly. He let out an embarrassed chuckle. “No... not at all. This, ah...” He cleared his throat again. “This just worked out a lot better than I had expected. I mean, I ah... I hadn’t really prepared for the outcome. Or... where to go from here.”

It has been a while since he last was in a relationship.

Shepard chewed slowly. “Well, the night is still young,” he muttered, looking away and giving it a thought. “I could go for shooting the Illusive Man in the face. That’s romantic, right?”

“You’ve got a funny idea of ‘romantic’.”

“We could always steal a skycar. You know, go somewhere we’re not supposed to be, take in the views. At night of course, so simply the synthetic headlights encompass the path ahead, seeing other skycars roam by as we use autopilot,” he replied and Kaidan’s daydreaming was cut short. “Then kick the Illusive Man’s door down... and shoot him in the face.”

“Wow, Shepard. That almost sounds... nice.”

Shepard took ahold of his beer, flashing an expressionless look, sideways studying his face before he winked at him above the glass.

Minutes passed as the two were just talking. About everything. Shepard was sure to make it clear that if Garrus ever said he was better at him in shooting firearms -- and had living proof that he beat Shepard at the Citadel -- it was all a lie because he had allowed him to win.

“What did Jack want, anyways?” Shepard asked, finishing his second sandwich. “Something tells me I should know.”

Kaidan smirked. “Well, ah... she might’ve told me that you had a thing for me,” he replied, and watched as Shepard stopped in mid-chew to resemble a deer in headlights. “She also threatened me on my life. So just a friendly chat, really.”

“You’ve got a funny idea of ‘friendly’,” he said, as Kaidan moved his own glass to his mouth. “Can’t imagine how you’re in bed.”

The beer traversed into the wrong pipe, making him cough, and sputter violently. He could literally feel a crimson flush spreading up from under his collar. Shepard cocked a sly brow, appearing pleased with his reaction, but no change in his expression away from that.

Real smooth, Kaidan. Not even a ‘stick around and maybe you’ll find out.’

It was cliché, sure, but better than giving him a front-line demonstration that he can’t ingest liquid properly. Wow, okay, thanks to Shepard he now took everything sexual.

Dammit.

He collected himself. “Well,” he said, clearing his throat. “I’ll let you figure that one out...”

Shepard gave him a challenging but deadpan look before his omni-tool lit up. His eyes darted away from his face and down to the holographic interface, before he swept a finger across the screen, opening the message.

‘Shep,’

‘Just fuck already and get your sore ass down to the Purgatory Bar. Be there in five or I’m leaving. My students are useless without me and I can’t be away for long without them going all sappy and shit. This is your last warning.’

‘--Jack’

“I’ve got to meet up with Jack in five.” Shepard reached for his pocket. “Since I don’t have a death wish, I -”

Kaidan captured his wrist. “Whoa, hey...” he said, stopping him in his movement. Shepard tilted his head up with a puzzled look as Kaidan brushed a thumb against his ulna. “What are you doing?”

“Splitting the tab.”

“This one’s on me, Shepard.” Shepard opened his mouth to protest, but was cut off. “Not a word. I’m paying, and hey, that’s final.” His smile turned somewhat mischievous. “I’m sure you’ll find a way to make it up to me.”

Blue eyes narrowed before moving down to his mouth, his own smirk slightly growing, knowing that he was thoroughly studied.

Shepard looked up. “I’m sure I will. You have no idea what you’ve just gotten yourself into, major.”

“Mm... I intend to find out.”

“Good.” Shepard pulled up from the chair, and planted a hand at the table before him before bending down to his ear “...then find me later.”

His voice had lowered into a murmur, enough to send shivers down his spine.

Kaidan slightly tilted his head towards him.

His mouth mirrored his, but as he was about to reduce the distance between them, a smirk reflected in Shepard’s features. He then backed up. Kaidan couldn’t hold back the grin when Shepard walked away, part of the reason being getting an excellent view of his ass again. The other reason was because he saw the spark in Shepard’s eyes, and hearing the way he said that, he knew exactly what he meant.

Chapter Text

Shepard didn’t know what to believe at first. What just happened at Apollo’s has yet to sink in. In one moment, Kaidan was talking about the reaper situation, in the next he had begun opening up about wanting to find someone. Seeing Kaidan with someone else? It was selfish but the thought made him uneasy. Shepard had cocked a brow when he had said ‘handsome.’ He was convinced that one had just accidentally slipped. Refer to a woman as ‘handsome’ and you’re bound to receive a real mean right-hook.

He did once for the heck of it and wisely decided never to do it again.

Therefore, Shepard decided to tease him to get off topic, but Kaidan wouldn’t budge. When asked what he wanted, Shepard eventually realized that he was talking about him, and that made his head do cartwheels. Strong. Confident. Someone he admired and respected. Someone he enjoyed being with. Those were Kaidan’s descriptions of Shepard. He had been in denial that Kaidan felt something for him for three years. Shepard was a former criminal and a real jackass who went head first into battle. His flirting was horrible and so was his jokes.

So how could perfect Kaidan ‘by the book’ Alenko feel something for him when he can have whomever he wants?

That reminded Shepard of Rahna. How she bailed out on Kaidan for snapping their instructor’s neck to protect her. It angered Shepard how she could do that to him when he obviously cared about her. He could understand the shock but just stop talking to him like that was crossing a line. When Kaidan was seventeen, he accidentally killed his instructor, and regretted it immediately. When Shepard was seventeen, he killed two Alliance Officers without a second thought, for a tiny amount of money. It was obvious who was the better man.

Jack’s fury would also be at Kaidan’s tail. Kaidan knew this, and yet, he was willing to risk it.

“Jesus fucking Christ,” Jack murmured too low for hearing, when he made his way up to her. She raised his voice. “If you don’t wipe that stupid grin off your face I’m going to have to do it myself with a Shockwave!”

*

Shepard was feeling rusty on the battlefield now when he had been on shore leave. It was a short break but it was enough to notice his slip-ups. He had plans to head down the Armax Arsenal Arena to get some training before going out in the field again. It would certainly spare the rest of his crew the frustration. He had approached the terminal in his cabin. It had been a while since he last checked his messages and noticed that he had quite a few. One especially caught his attention.

It was from a woman named Salora who apparently had seen some of his matches in the arena -- if not all.

Our Love Was Meant To Be

‘You stand floodlit in front of millions. And I in the dark.’
‘The screen separates us. But as your heart hammers mine. Echoes it and we are one.’
‘I embrace this brief human moment. As if it were eternity.’

‘Your most devoted fan,’
‘Salora’

It scarred him for life.

If one thing was certain, it would be never to use the Arena publicly again. This Salora was probably a really nice girl but there was a thin line between ‘being a fan’ and ‘being obsessed.’ Conrad Verner was another example. Shepard snorts at the memory. At least Conrad hadn’t send him any love letters. Shepard shot him in the foot once.

Thinking about the past made him realize just how far they had come. He remembered everyone that had been lost. Every mistake. Every wrong call. The fight was far from over, so he was bound to make a few poor decisions.

Reflections.

He frowned and darted his eyes to the camcorder after hearing a beeping sound. Red meant off. Was the ship malfunctioning?

Muscles tensing, he could feel a pressure on his hip, nearly startling him. He cradled what revealed itself a hand as his eyes flickered. Arms draped around his waist, pulling him in, feeling a warm body pressing up against his back. His glance settled above his shoulder, and the corner of his mouth curved into a smirk, finding himself relaxing into the embrace.

“You took your sweet time, major.”

“Mm, sorry,” Kaidan purred, lips brushing against his ear. Quivering, the grip around his hand tightened. His muscles tensed up again. “Halfway into the room I got, ah... distracted... by the display.”

Shepard was already wishing him back when he pulled away.

“Oh, wow. This... this is bigger than the SR-1.” Kaidan’s eyes wandered across the room “...and you have a fish tank.”

Shepard had to remind himself never to let Wrex see it after Virmire where he shot at those poor fish by the shore.

Placing a hand at the table for leverage, he pushed himself away. There was no wonder why Kaidan was so surprised. The cabin on the SR-1 was big enough and now Cerberus had spoiled him even more. Probably trying to atone for what they did back on Akuze, but hell, nothing they ever did would atone for Akuze. Especially not after the Illusive Man ordered the body of EDI’s previous owner to ‘dispose of’ Kaidan.

Shepard had gained a newfound hatred for TIM after that.

“The lighting helps me sleep better. It’s kind of soothing. Quiet.” Shepard walked past him, feeling eyes pursue him with an attentive glare when he headed for the inner section. Kaidan followed but stopped to lean against the middle wall that separated the main room from the annex. “What can I say? I’m a romantic,” Shepard jested, shrugging. “Now get your ass over here.”

Kaidan snorted. There was the Shepard he knew. He calmly began to approach him.

“Yeah, I wouldn’t want to intrude.”

“I told you to find me. That means you’ve got access to the whole cabin.” Shepard grabbed two beers, and with a pop, the lids were off. “Either way, you’re a Spectre, remember? If you wanted you could just use your Spectre codes to break in.”

“Shepard... don’t give me any ideas,” he murmured, and caught the bottle that he threw to him with one hand.

I wish.

The thought of Kaidan breaking in to see him was a good, if not thrilling, one.

Kaidan had spotted his model ships. “Wow, you actually fix things? I thought you only knew how to blow stuff up.”

“Hey, I was a mechanic at 17.” He received a suspicious smile at the statement, and he knew exactly what that meant. “Look, you don’t need to know how to drive a car to fix one. Hell, I was a damn good one, too.”

“Uh-huh.” Kaidan seemed unconvinced as he walked up to it, so he rolled his eyes. “Okay, so we’ve got... the SSV Normandy SR-1, the SR-2, the Destiny Ascension...” Shepard cocked an eyebrow and placed himself about three feet behind him to see the show. “I assume that’s Sovereign, an Alliance and turian cruiser... A, ah... Flotilla vessel? An UT-47 Kodiak drop shuttle, and... I don’t know that one, though.” He took a moment. “No, wait. Is that an Athabasca class freighter? Wasn’t the MSV Broken Arrow one of those?”

“Well, look at you,” he muttered, and brought the bottle to his lips.

“That one -that’s a geth ship and that... I have no idea what that is. Looks big. Never seen it before.”

“I’m not surprised. That’s the Shadow Broker’s base,” he clarified, and frowned. “The volatile atmosphere kept the damn thing hidden. Both the hazardous weather and electrical storms prevented patrols from being in the perimeter. It had these conducting rods that mitigated the damage it received. Liara’s lucky she was able to move the whole database so she’s not in the middle of nowhere, risking death, just using it.” Kaidan’s eyes narrowed before turning to him. “What, she didn’t tell you? Our very own Liara located his base and took his role as the Shadow Broker.”

He could tell that Kaidan was surprised by the revelation.

“Now that I think of it, she did mention she was tracking him.” Kaidan turned back to eye the collection. “So she found it, huh? I shouldn’t be surprised. One hell of a war asset. I can’t even begin to imagine how long it took putting all of those together.”

“Well, I needed something to do in the downtime between missions,” he replied, leaning back and resting an elbow at his arm as the bottle remained by his lips. “You know, stopping the collectors. The suicide mission. When you weren’t there.”

Kaidan’s expression faltered. “What? Shepard, I -”

“Relax, Kaidan. I’m kidding.”

“I... I hate you.”

Shepard released his arms, swapped the bottle from one hand to the other that was closer to the small table by the couch and put it down before he approached him. Kaidan cocked a curious brow at him when his knitted fist encountered the tender fabric of his marine blue civvies in height of his abdomen. Shepard’s arm muscled tightens when he felt Kaidan moving in, preventing him from coming any closer. Heat radiated on his touch and left slightly below two feet distance between them.

“So is there a reason why you shut off the camera, K?”

Kaidan hummed. “Hmm. You said you’d make it up to me. I’ve got a few ideas,” he muttered, and Shepard could see his eyes dart down to his mouth. “Thought it was better to do it, ah... privately.”

He had lowered his voice at the last word and looked up.

A small smirk, although suspicious, formed on Shepard’s mouth as his eyes narrowed. Shivers traversed down his spine when a hand found its path to his hip, gently pulling him in. One of their legs bumped together. Shepard’s glare trailed his face. His amazing features. They drifted down to the small scar placed quaintly on his lower lip. Dead silence all around them aside from the pleasantly distant hum of the Normandy. His piercing eyes angled up to meet far softer honey-brown.

Kaidan already watched him, eyes gleaming, daring him to do something bold.

He was looking at him in a way Shepard had never seen before. Longing. Needing. Pure want. The last thing he wanted was to see this man hurt in any way. He could hear his heart pounding beneath his skin, praying, seeking desperate release from beneath his ribs. Eyes half-lidded, Shepard’s lips slightly parted -- brows tightening -- in anticipation waiting for Kaidan to reduce the frustratingly short distance between them.

Everything needed was one slight movement, one slight push, and... Shepard inhaled deeply.

Kaidan’s amazing scent pleasantly teased his nostrils. His body trembled. He closed his eyes as he forced his mouth shut. His palm moved up and splayed out on his chest when Kaidan leant in. He pushed him slightly back, mere inches, feeling his heart beating as rapidly as his own under his hold. Everything about Kaidan made him crazy. His soft eyes, his mesmerizing smile, his divine scent, his heartwarming laugh... that damned constantly husky voice. He softly exhaled again while his eyes fluttered halfway open to meet his.

Shepard pinned him with a stern glare. “I’m not known to easily restrain myself.”

He was amazed he hadn’t lost control yet. If Kaidan wasn’t an example of perfection, he wasn’t sure what was. Now, Shepard was taken aback by how close they were standing, knowing that Kaidan wanted this. It wasn’t Shepard that had encouraged this. It was him.

“Is that a challenge, Commander?” he murmured.

“A warning,” he replied, as his gaze fleeted to the side to break the eye contact shared between them. He had to if he was to remain in control. “It’s not too late to back out.”

He could feel himself being reined back in before he had the chance to get far. Kaidan’s beer joined his at the table. His fingers now free, he brushed them against Shepard’s jawline. A knuckle settled below his chin before he was gently tipped closer, his mouth now only inches away from his own, icy-blue meeting soft brown once again.

Shepard realized that he wasn’t going to pull away.

His face said it all. Vulnerability. Such vulnerability he had kept hidden for years. He wasn’t sure if he was ready to go through this again. But when Kaidan’s thumb sensually moved across his lips, sending another shiver down his spine, and traced it down below his lower lip... all his doubts were erased. The tip of his thumb brushed against a more uneven edge right before their lips touched, sending Shepard wincing, nearly jerking back. He pressed his hands to Kaidan’s chest to push away.

Capturing his wrists, Kaidan muttered, “Hey, hey... Where are you going?”

He loathed the fact that he had already hurt him. It wasn’t Kaidan’s fault but he must’ve believed it was. His pained expression said as much. Shepard was making sure the side of his face was turned against him, not wanting to show more than was needed. He was trying not to think about the cautious way Kaidan’s thumbs were caressing the outer of his ulnas, unspoken begging him to turn around.

“It’s nothing. Really.”

Another lie.

A moment of silence filled the air.

“I don’t care about your scars, Shepard.”

Kaidan’s careful statement earned a softened -- yet concerned -- expression. His glance was warm. Accepting. So was the soft smile on his lips. Kaidan released one of his hands, trailing it up his forearm, cupping his elbow. As though magnetized, he was drawn closer to him, their foreheads connecting. Kaidan ducked his head and the tip of his nose was exposed to the area just below his jaw.

Shepard swallowed hard.

“I’m not going anywhere, John,” he muttered tenderly.

A puff of fresh, warm breath tickled Shepard’s neck, nuzzling his skin with both nose and mouth that in return made him lightheaded. Damn him for saying his name like that.

“Not unless you want me to,” Kaidan said.

So he remained silent.

All air seemed to have left his lungs in the moment he found warm lips pressing up against the side of his neck. Roughly sucking in a breath, he was forced to try muffling a moan. He failed. His hands clutched around the cloth he cradled. Kaidan was so traumatizing close yet so far. It was torment. He felt his body being pulled closer as if the sound escaping his mouth had awoken something in him.

Kaidan grew hungrier as it went from simple kisses to gentle bites.

Fuck, he was a biter.

He had one hell of a weakness for biters.

Shepard’s eyes nearly rolled back out of pleasure at the way Kaidan’s mouth was working against his skin. He submitted to his assault, slanting his head, giving him full access. A kiss, a gentle bite, another kiss.

Kaidan’s heavenly soft lips ghosted up his neck, stopping at his ear.

“Are you going to pull away this time, Commander?” he breathed, with a hint of tease.

His husky voice sent him spinning. Shepard explosively exhaled a breath he had apparently held for a while, leaving him both lightheaded, and breathless. Breathless, not like the moment he went down with the first Normandy, but breathless of lust.

“Hell no...”

He could feel him smile into his temple. “Mm... Good.”

Shepard’s heart raced ten times faster when a warm hand slipped under the edge of his tank top. Knees went weak below him, evolving into nothing but mush, trying to keep himself upraised. His body fell against Kaidan’s as he draped an arm around his shoulder, allowing more intimate contact, in which he took the hint. Slightly turning his head, Shepard’s mouth now mirrored his again, feeling a soft and faint huff of air at his cheek. When their eyes fluttered shut, he felt lips brushing against his, making him crazy.

The anticipation was torturing him.

The world seemed to stop when he felt Kaidan’s lips press against his own. His lips were warm. Soft. Gentle. Professional... and god, how amazing they felt. Shepard was stunned by how perfectly they fit against his. He found himself appreciating that Kaidan hadn’t taken a sip of the beer yet. Now he could taste Kaidan. Slightly parting his lips, he was more than willing to allow him the entrance that he sought. He released a soft moan of pleasure in the moment Kaidan’s tongue slipped into his mouth.

Devoured in the moment, he found himself melting into the kiss, savoring his enthrallingly good taste.

The kiss deepened as he pulled him in closer. Shepard allowed the arm around his shoulder to drop. His hand moved to cradle his shirt again and the other joined, tightening around the marine blue cloth, pulling him forcefully towards himself to let him know that he wasn’t fragile. Two fingers cradled the zipper on Shepard’s black N7 hoodie before it was pulled down. Kaidan disconnected the sides from each other. With a determined tug, he pulled the hoodie down over his biceps, Shepard’s breath hitching, locking his arms in place.

Kaidan left a trail of kisses and gentle bites up his collarbone to his neck.

His body trembled as he was separated from his jacket. Kaidan traced the outline of his lips with the tip of his tongue before he once again captured his mouth. Dominating the kiss. Shepard’s fingertips trailed his forearm from his elbow and down. He took ahold of his hand, guiding it below the edge of his shirt again, gesturing him to take it off. He sucked in a breath through his nose in the moment skin was against skin. Shepard harshly bumped the side of his hip into him in an impatient manner, making Kaidan whimper on contact, forcing him to obey.

“Shepard,” the speakers cackled.

He was ready to kill someone.

Shepard made a displeased sound from the bottom of his throat.

Dammit. *Now?*

Kaidan broke the kiss and ducked his head, lips brushing against his jaw, before he pulled away. His hand slipped from his waist and the cloth fell back to the rim of Shepard’s lower civvies. Shepard released his grip on him even if it was more tempting to pull him back. He had some control left but the line was thin as hell.

He cleared his throat. “Yes, EDI?” Shepard replied professionally, straightening his clothes.

“I do not monitor the cameras of your cabin, at your request, but when checking the surveillance devices aboard the ship I noticed that yours was inactive. This arouse some concern so I felt the... need... to make you aware of this. My existence, aside from monitoring the surveillance, also focuses on protecting this ship and its crewmembers at any cost.”

“Mission debrief with Major Alenko. It’s classified.”

“I see.” The pause could only mean that she was doing another scanning. “According to extranet sites, the term ‘classified’ is often used by humans for political reasons or as cover for sexual activities -”

“Th -thank you, EDI,” Kaidan broke in. “We’ve got it covered. Classified. Spectre business.”

“Understood, Major. I will allow the monitoring to be disabled for this very room and make sure the rest of the crew knows.”

Kaidan blinked. “Uh, EDI. I don’t think that’s -” he tried, but knew she had disconnected “...and she -she’s gone. Great. Now the whole crew is going to ask questions.”

He was a man of privacy himself to some extent, but when having EDI monitoring literally every ounce of the ship, it would be difficult to keep it under wraps. Shepard didn’t have anything against anyone knowing about them, having been known to be no stranger to semi-public sex, but Kaidan appeared conflicted around the matter.

“Does that bother you?”

Whiskey-brown eyes snapped open. “What? No, of course not, I -Hell, I just... I want you alone -- figure out what we are -- before we have to worry about the others kicking down the door, you know?”

Shepard felt a gentle hand taking hold of his wrist, pulling him towards the couch as Kaidan backed with him.

Kaidan tightly closed his eyes again at his choice of words. “Oh, wow. That... that sounded possessive.”

And... pretty hot.

Kaidan slid into the couch, turning his body to face him as he squared an ankle over his knee. He propped his arm to the backrest behind Shepard as he joined him. The base of Shepard’s foot encountered the table before he leant back.

“I didn’t mention it when I came in, but... this place kinda reminds me of the Starboard Observation,” Kaidan said, looking up.

Looking up as well, Shepard asked, “You mean the transparent ceiling above the bed?” He rested an arm on his escalated knee. “Guess I’m literally going to have you see stars in here.”

Kaidan’s eyes widened as his attention snapped back to Shepard cocking a sly brow.

“Mm... What makes you think the roles won’t be reversed?” he asked, smirking. “You’ve got to work for that one, Commander.”

He had to admit that the thought of Kaidan pinning him to the bed was an interesting, albeit compelling, image. Shepard was always a top, but it appears that things could change, and finding out who would win was a rather intriguing thought.

His eyes narrowed. “Are you sassing me, major?”

He didn’t care that he received no response. The way Kaidan leant in, once again pressing his lips against his, made up for it. The kiss felt just as amazing as their last. Shepard lightly bit into his upper lip before capturing his lips again, teasing the inside of his mouth with his tongue, hearing a soft sound escape him. Kaidan let out another small puff through his nose, the sensation once again sending Shepard shivering, so he on impulse deepened the kiss. It didn’t take long before he felt a hand on his inner thigh.

His whole body trembled at the sensation.

“Guess we’re going to have to find out,” Kaidan murmured, breaking the encounter of their lips with a wet sound going straight down before they connect again.

His hand moved upwards and the muscles in Shepard’s body tensed up.

“...later,” he added.

Shepard could soon feel the amused smile on his lips as Kaidan’s hand retracted, breaking the kiss, causing them both to smile.

“Oh, I see how it is. If that’s how you want to play it, fine.”

He flattened out a palm on his chest, shoving him back. Kaidan kept himself upraised by grasping the backrest, and chuckled as he grabbed his beer. He was determined that Kaidan wasn’t going to get away with that.

“So how long have you been hopelessly crushing on me, major?” Shepard deadpanned.

Kaidan snorted. “Ouch,” he huffed, and looked away. “Okay. You got me. I guess... shortly after you told me your name.” Kaidan turned back to notice his confused look. “After Sovereign’s defeat, you were wasted as hell, and I almost had to literally carry you back to the ship.”

Remembering vaguely what happened, Shepard couldn’t help but smirk. He knew that Kaidan had seen him drunk that night. He knew that Garrus and Joker had tapped him for credits by signing a contract. He knew about drinking with Garrus and kidnapping a pyjak. Now he had done more? Shepard wouldn’t be surprised if he had launched himself at him. Another thing then went up for him. Sovereign’s defeat.

He’s felt for me that long?

“You were just kinda looking at me, and I think it just clicked, you know?” Kaidan said, angling his arm on the backrest to caress Shepard’s cheek.

He felt him trailing one of his scars as eyes followed the movement.

He didn’t wince this time.

Kaidan’s expression mellowed. “I wanted to tell you, but...”

...but then I died.

Shepard slowly nodded, and when Kaidan’s glance drifted back to his, he could tell that he was wondering the same thing.

“The beginning,” he replied.

Kaidan’s eyes widened.

Shepard tilted his head to the side, temporarily breaking the connection between them.

“Well, technically one year, seeing I was out for two of them,” he added, and Kaidan’s look morphed into something resembling amusement. “Hey, don’t look at me like that. I had to worry about sexual harassment charges.”

He was given a smug smile. “Mm,” he uttered, tracing his temple. “I can still get those filed so what changed your mind?”

“Well, it’s only a problem if it’s an officer of a higher rank... and get this, you’re a major now. I have the advantage here.”

Kaidan stiffened at his reply and his smile retracted.

Pleased by his reaction, Shepard pulled himself up from the couch. “I said I’d make it up to you, though,” he said, feeling Kaidan’s glance following his movement. “Get your gear, major.”

Kaidan looked stunned. “My... gear?”

“Uh-huh. We’re breaking into Armax Arsenal Arena.”

He had never seen that one coming.

Chapter Text

“When you said you’d ‘make it up to me,’ this... is not what I pictured,” Kaidan muttered. “Pretty sure it’s illegal.”

They had just arrived at the Arena. He’d never seen that one coming. John said he was feeling rusty and needed a partner to rekindle his skills on the battlefield so he decided to humor him. Kaidan had never used the Arena himself but he knew how the whole thing worked. It was exactly like being in the field although the hostiles were holographic.

“What do you take me for?” John teased, loading a clip. “I won’t give up without a fight, major. Sole survivor of Akuze, stopped Saren and Sovereign, destroyed a collector base, died and came back more pissed than ever... You should know that by now. Besides, we’re Spectres.”

“Mm... point taken. Either way, I -I don’t think saying ‘we’re Spectres’ is going to be a good enough excuse for breaking into a public location.”

The hint of mischief that shimmered in John’s eyes revealed that he didn’t care.

Eyes falling to the scoreboard, Kaidan whistled. John was on first place with over 4 000 points above Aria T’Loak.

“Well, look at that...” Kaidan said.

“That thing doesn’t show points above 9 999. Too many digits. My highest score is on about 13 900.”

“Congratulations, John. Never know when holograms would try to take over the galaxy.”

He was given a deadpan look, but then a slow smile spread on John’s lips, and he stepped up to the terminal with purpose.

“Commander Shepard. Welcome back,” the VI said and a bluish light emitted from the terminal to scan Kaidan. “Major Kaidan Alenko. Welcome to Armax Arsenal Arena. Do you wish to create a profile?”

Kaidan hesitated. “No, I -I’m good. Just here on Shepard’s terms.”

“As you wish. What kind of match do you wish to participate in?”

“They’ve got Cerberus, geth, reapers and collectors. I’ll let you choose,” John said, glancing over his shoulder. “We’ve also got challenge levels. Foot soldier, elites and super elites.”

He couldn’t believe he was actually doing this. Shooting at holograms in a simulated Arena. It was kind of ridiculous when thinking about it. Nevertheless, if it helped John relax and forget about the war -- even for just a little while -- he was more than willing to participate. For all he knew, it could be fun, but it did also help that John was present.

It gave them more time together.

Sighing, Kaidan replied, “Well, I’ll never get tired of shooting Cerberus in the face. I take it super elites is the toughest difficulty.” John nodded. “Super elites it is. Might as well take a challenge, eh?” he added.

“VI,” John said, turning back. “Do you by any chance have a holographic version of the Illusive Man?”

“I’m afraid not, Commander Shepard.” Grunting, John shifted in disappointment. “Do you wish to send in a requisitions order to have it installed?”

“Hell yeah. Can you do that?”

“Affirmative. It will take approximately three weeks.”

John groaned. “Three weeks? He’s not worth it. Give us super elite Cerberus soldiers. Spin Zone for the map. Don’t hold anything back.”

“As you wish.”

They exited the door by the sideline and approached the elevator to the simulation. If there was one thing that Kaidan didn’t miss, it was the elevator music, and how slow the damn thing moved back in the days. Those moments where small talk was obligatory to avoid awkward silence. Of course, it was awkward either way, because he was horrible at small talk.

“Well, this is a nice change of pace,” John said, breaking the silence. “Last time I was in an elevator with you, I was getting shot at.”

Kaidan snorted. “To my defense, you were on top of the elevator, and I thought you were trying to kill the Council,” he replied, smirking “...and don’t give me that. I’ve been shot at, too. Remember the skycar chase three years ago?”

“Details...”

Technology had surely gained an upgrade since then because the elevator had already reached their level. Kaidan’s eyes widened when the metallic doors slid open to reveal the Arena. It was huge.

“Ladies and gentlemen, it’s combat night in the Armax Arsenal Arena!” the VI announced.

Rolling his shoulders, John drew his assault rifle and gave him a look. ‘You ready, major?’ Kaidan nodded, returning a smile accepting his challenge and pulled out his own firearm. ‘Bring it on.’

“Five. Four. Three. Two. One. Starting round one.”

Kaidan charged a Barrier in the moment the hostiles spawned and John launch a grenade at the first spawn point. Chuckling, the next thing Kaidan remembered was seeing John already about halfway across the room, firing bullets in every direction. He always headed first into battle as the part krogan he was, although thankfully, he was far more gracious than the krogans.

Hell... Never change, John.

He usually disliked the way John recklessly charged into battle, but this fight was on pretend. At the same time, he also knew that he would never convince him to switch his combat style to something less risky. Simply put, it wasn’t John’s style.

His adrenaline quickly built up. He could feel his blood pumping in his veins. There was no wonder why the Arena was so popular.

“End of round one. Five. Four. Three. Two. One. Round two.”

Another round passed by flawlessly. They handled every round with ease. The fun part of all this is how seriously they both took the whole thing. As if it was a real fight and they were battling for their lives.

Bringing down another Cerberus soldier, Kaidan asked, “How many rounds are there exactly?”

“End of round two. Five. Four. Three. Two. One. Final round.”

“There’s your answer!”

They end up playing several matches and were going on for about two hours, had already beaten John’s record by several points. They had always been one hell of a team but it was different this time. It felt different. Even if their enemies were fake, Kaidan felt a kick he always experienced, when John ended up in difficult positions.

His biotics were working the exact same way they did on Eden Prime when the Geth Destroyer charged John on the cargo train. His reflexes had sharpened greatly since then, and now, they had sharpened even more. Seemed more precise. He now knew why. Back then, they were fighting for survival. Now they were fighting for a different reason. They were fighting for something to come back to.

Someone to live for.

Smiling fondly, he remembered the recent memory. They soon took cover, side by side, in standing position. They were two minutes into the final round when another Atlas appeared.

“Look who’s late for the party.” John pushed himself away from the concrete, positioning himself before him as Kaidan pressed his own back to the concrete. “We’ve got to be tactical about this. Those guns are going to destroy me if I simply charge in without any form of strategy. I’m going to try circle around so I need you to take down its barriers by disrupting it.”

John looked over his shoulder. “Cover my flank.”

Discreetly eyeing John’s body, he could swear he slightly flexed for his muscles to look bigger. Kaidan angled brown irises up to meet his glance to be given a look to let him know that he was caught red-handed.

“Oh, I’ll cover all your flanks, Commander...”

John cocked a brow and raised his assault rifle, winking at him, before he charged the Atlas. Kaidan smirked in return and spun from his cover to charge a Reave. The mech staggered and allowed John to vault over his own cover and move towards the next point, throwing a frag grenade in the movement that settled at the mech’s frame.

When John reached the Atlas’ left flank, he brought up another Barrier.

Kaidan proceeded to unload on the mech, gaining its attention, while John unloaded concussive shots from the side to bring it down. The mech’s shields were nearly gone and they had the upper hand.

Shooting a glance his way, John called, “Five o’clock!”

He gunned down three Cerberus soldiers and John hurled behind cover when the mech turned to him.

“They’re rounding up for another attack! Six at right flank!” Kaidan called back, slowing the Atlas down with a Cryo Blast. “I’ll keep the mech busy until you get back here!”

“Affirmative!” John proceeded to back towards him again as they both fired. The grenade blew up shortly after and the Atlas exploded before them in a spectacular fashion. All the holographic forms ceased to exist and the match was over. John chuckled at the victory and lowered his gun. Again, Kaidan would never get tired of hearing that sound.

“The match goes to Shepard. Promotional consideration is brought to you by the Alliance News Network. Your galaxy. Your news.”

The Spectres sheathed their weapons. It was intense. Some food and a bed sounded great just about now.

“Well, that was easy,” John said, and tilted his head up to eye the scoreboard. “Hey, 15 548 points. Not bad, Alenko. Another record set. You’re apparently better than both Liara and James combined. We only got about 13 900 points back th -”

Smirking, Kaidan draped an arm around his waist, registering the surprise on his face before John’s back encountered the Arena wall.

He groaned on impact, and Kaidan forced himself on him to crush lips against his own. Those godlike lips he had been longing to feel again for hours. No longer passive, the kiss was returned with just as much intensity and he savored it. Kaidan grabbed his hip and pulled him in, earning another muffled groan, having him push up harder to hear another.

My god, the sounds he makes...

Feeling a hand trace up his arm, it settled at the back of his neck before fingers delved into his thick, jet-black hair to receive more closure. He heard John cursing underneath his breath as the bulky armors limited them both, and Kaidan broke the kiss slightly, escaping the low rumble in his chest. They needed to fix that. Fast. He shivered when fingers lightly brushed against his amp port.

“K...” John broke the kiss, releasing a breathless chuckle. “God damn, major. You know what you want.”

He found himself smiling pleased with himself before he pushed forward for their lips to meet once again. John met his motion eagerly. Allowing his own hand to explore, he trailed up the curve of his waist, colliding with the fastenings on his armor. When it reached the clasps, a hand settled at his abdomen, switching place with him. Suddenly Kaidan was the one with the wall against his back. John brought his lips to his neck, and he sucked in a breath as his whole body tensed up to give him access. His mouth was capable of more than appointing orders. Far more.

“I said I didn’t give up easily, Alenko,” he added, his dark voice seductive. “Two can play that game.”

When he pushed himself away, Kaidan’s jaw nearly dropped and he remained speechless. He knew John was testing out his so called ‘disciplinary control’ that he had called him out on back on the SR-1. Payback for leaving him hanging back in the cabin a few hours ago. He figured that he probably deserve it. Nevertheless, he was in for one hell of a challenge.

John winked at him, began to move for Kaidan to shortly trail after, as he backed towards the exit.

“Want to go grab some food, major?”

“You mean steal?” he asked, only receiving a smug look in reply.

He wasn’t as bothered by it as he should. After watching in amusement at John trying to break into one of the food kiosks nearby, insisting that he was rusty at that as well as it had been a while, they finally managed to grab a few bites and started to head back to the ship.

Snorting, Kaidan said, “Okay, I -I’ve got to admit... It took some time to get into the whole Arena thing. I mean, shooting at holograms, while taking deadly serious orders from you? It was... amusing, to say the least.”

“What can I say? When I commit to something, I fully commit.”

He chuckled at that. Last time he laughed as much as he did tonight was the night before Ilos. It was good to know that he sometimes could build a wall and block the reapers out without being naïve to their existence. He needed to get his mind off things and he knew John appreciated a break from the war himself. John was smiling a lot. It sounded sappy, but seeing him like that meant one hell of a lot to him. The Normandy’s course was already set to head towards the Arrae system first thing in the morning to aid some Cerberus scientists.

They were Cerberus but Kaidan was willing to give them a chance. He had met some of their people and they weren’t all bad. Either way, he had decided not to dwell too much on it and instead enjoy his time with John, to live in the ‘now.’

*

They reached the ship and un-equipped their armor before storing them in their lockers. Right before they reached the elevator, he reached for his omni-tool only to realize that it wasn’t there. Kaidan didn’t exactly panic, but he did feel a sudden uneasiness, although he remain calm on the outside. He remembered having a lot of unfinished drafts of messages and he didn’t exactly want to start over again.

John gave him a confused look when his eyes took a quick survey of the local. It went up for him that he simply didn’t bring it. John had said something about an Arena ‘bonus.’ It gave a boost to the score if they didn’t use medi-gel. Therefore, he left it behind.

“Hell, I forgot the Logic Arrest tool back at your cabin,” Kaidan murmured, careful to not to wake the crew. “You know... John, you’re a horrible influence.” John blinked with a confused expression. “Thanks to you, I’m even further behind schedule seeing that you dragged me with you.”

The bastard chuckled.

Kaidan frowned. “Wait, you -you planned this, didn’t you?”

Yeah, he had definitely planned it.

It had been some devious plan to lure him back to the cabin. Kaidan had to admit that it was working. The Arena wasn’t the way John would make it up to him. It was helping him write the reports after the Arena had occupied his time -- specifically set -- to write them. Kaidan wasn’t exactly surprised, because hell, John was a strategist.

Sighing, he took ahold of John’s wrist. “Yeah, okay. You’re definitely an ass.”

He pulled him after himself into the elevator. Only moments later, they reached the cabin. Kaidan made his way down to the table by the couch where he had left it while John rested his arm to the wall supporting the model ships in the height of his head, giving a wondrous display of his perfect figure. Kaidan would’ve given him a good look over if he wasn’t facing him. He was careful not to add to his ego.

Grabbing the omni-tool, he smiled softly before walking up to him. He gently pressed his lips against John’s, settling a hand at his hip, his thumb slipping under the edge of his shirt to feel him tense up underneath his touch.

John could be sensual. This wasn’t among their usual kisses, those full of desperate need and want, but god if it didn’t feel just as amazing. He could feel warmth traverse up his arm as John settled a hand at his triceps. Once again he can feel his body quivering at the sensual gesture. John made another muffled sound, deep from his chest, as Kaidan deepened the kiss. They broke apart and foreheads connected. That damn smile reflected at the corners of John’s mouth, and knowing he was the one to make it appear was even more rewarding.

“So what was this? Our first real date?” Kaidan asked, voice husky.

“Depends. How was it?” John settled his escalated arm on his shoulder. Once again, his fingers delved into his hair, being a sensation that made him shiver. He closed his eyes. John shifted to gain a more comfortable position.

Kaidan snorted. “It was... fantastic.”

“First date it is,” he muttered, and Kaidan opened his eyes again to meet his. “Bunk here tonight, Kaidan. With me.”

His whole body went warm.

Moving a hand to the small of John’s back, he murmured, “Only if you join me in bed this time. I haven’t forgotten the night before Ilos. I can recall that you were stiff for days. Can’t let that happen again.”

John returned a deadpan look. “Again. Depends,” he replied, and Kaidan grinned. “Stay. That’s an order.”

Lightly brushing his lips against John’s jawline, he pressed a chaste kiss upon his stubble, ghosting his lips down to his neck. John’s humor was dry and dirty as hell... and he loved it.

“Well... I can’t disobey an order now, can I?” he whispered, still grinning.

“It’s still my ship, so damn right you can’t.”

John eventually pulled away, as they had time for more of that later. John began to move towards the restroom.

He stopped in the doorway. “By the way, forgot to mention... you’re reinstated as my XO, major. Can’t think of anyone better to keep my feet planted on the ground. Just like old times, huh?”

Kaidan mockingly snapped a salute. A smile tugged at the corners of John’s lips. He rolled his eyes.

“I’m going to take a shower,” he added and turned.

Kaidan couldn’t look away when John’s hands wandered to the edge of his shirt. His chest tightened when John pulled it off over his head, revealing his muscled back, bare skin that he had yet -- and desperately wanted -- to feel against his own. The dog tags rattled at the movement as he threw the shirt at the chair.

Casting a glance over his shoulder, John said, “I’ll leave the door unlocked.”

Kaidan cocked a brow. It was one of the oldest tricks in the book. Like hell if he was going to be the one giving in first. He would never allow him that kind of luxury. So instead, he placed himself at the bedside and flipped up his omni-tool display, starting to go through the unread messages. He was staying the night so he wanted to finish the reports as quickly as possible. Doing that would give them more time to do other things.

He froze when he heard the shower turn on.

Self-control, major. Discipline. You’ve done it for years. What harm can it do keeping it up for a while longer? Fifteen minutes. Tops.

...but how the hell was he supposed to write reports when he had those kind of images in his head?

Kaidan bit into his lower lip, hard, nearly drawing blood, and tightened his grip around the data pad had had just grabbed to keep his hands busy. He couldn’t restrain himself from attempting to get a peak by tilting his head slightly, but the middle wall was traitorously blocking his view, and he cursed under his breath. Rising up, he threw the data pad into the bed, and kicked his boots off.

He was able to hold out for about thirty seconds.

Pulling off his own shirt, he headed for the shower. He had been in the Arena too, so a shower was a welcoming choice. Especially when John was already in it. His heart went to his throat when he reached the doorway. John’s back was turned against him. He watched as his hand moved down the back of his neck in a slow movement, his head turned aside, flashing his perfect facial profile as his eyes were closed. Water traversed down his spine. One drop with particular speed caught his eye, following it down to the small of his back, tracing a scar.

John could’ve been a model.

His glance darted back up with a hot and heady look, knowing he was caught staring, as John gave him another deadpan look.

“Well, well... Look who’s here.”

Kaidan chortled, feeling the warmth in his cheeks. “That... that’s unfair.”

He glimpsed his full lips tug upwards and approached him. The air was humid. Hot. Reaching for John’s hip, he let his fingers lightly brush against the exposed skin on the outer top of his pelvis bone -- the iliac crest -- making him twitch slightly.

Arching a brow, he was only to realize that he once again had come in contact with a scar.

If only John could stop worrying about that. Kaidan pulled him in for reassurance, his other hand settling at his opposite hip-side as he was expecting a warm flutter when he went under the stream. Instead, he sucked in a breath and nearly shivered at the cold water when it touched his skin before pulling John closer, huddling for warmth. John’s back to his chest. He looked pleased with himself.

He had planned that, too.

“Heh... okay. Nice one,” he murmured in addition, and pressed lips to his shoulder blade. “I probably would’ve taken a shower myself after my, ah... spectacular display in the Arena.”

Kaidan wrapped his arms around John’s waist. “Why not save water?”

“Uh-huh,” he uttered unconvinced.

John slanted his head, his cheek lightly encountering the tip of Kaidan’s nose. Kaidan smirked, knowing that he saw right through that one. Blue eyes fluttered shut with a soft moan when Kaidan pressed a soft kiss to the grope between his neck and shoulder. John’s expression hardened as he allowed the hand by his scalp to drop and flatten out at the wall before him. Kaidan’s mouth ghosted towards his neck, feeling him shiver under his touch, cupping one of his hands with his free one.

When Kaidan trailed a water drop with his tongue, up towards his ear, John sucked in a breath.

Another sound escaped his mouth when he bit into his earlobe. Slightly louder this time. Kaidan tightened his brows, nails delving into John’s sides, pulling him closer. He brought his lips to his neck again. John made it difficult to remain in control, Kaidan’s lower region being proof enough, his pants that did most definitely seem much tighter. They were also soaking wet thanks to the water. His hair wasn’t as well-kempt anymore, either, feeling a lock of it against his forehead. The water was the culprit but he didn’t give a damn.

It wasn’t cold anymore.

He lightly brushed his fingertips against John’s side again -- feeling him shift at the touch -- frowning at the reaction he received. Judging by how cooperative he was aside from when he touched that particular area on his hip, he wasn’t doing anything wrong.

“You keep... flinching or something. John, if this is about the scars -”

John gently pried loose. “No, it’s... it’s not that.”

When he turned, John trailed a hand up Kaidan’s chest before wrapping an arm around his shoulder. Kaidan edged closer, hands settling back at his hips, mouth moving to rest lightly at his temple.

“If it’s not the scars, then what -?” he tried, but it finally went up for him.

My god... how could I not see that?

The corners of his lips quirked upwards. “Oh no. No way. I can’t believe...” he said, and once again brushed a thumb lightly against the sensitive spot. As expected, John flinched, tightly pressing his body up against him. “I -I can’t believe the legendary Commander Shepard is... ticklish.”

He felt John’s cheeks go warm.

John Shepard was... blushing?

Wow.

“Oh my god, I’m -I’m going to have so much fun with this. That’s... oh god, that’s precious,” Kaidan added, and heard a displeased sound.

His hand was grasped and wrapped around John’s waist, his soft spot out of reach.

“Alenko...” he warned, voice low.

Kaidan couldn’t help but release a heartfelt chuckle. Here he thought that he couldn’t love him more than he already did, but hell, he had just gotten ten times more attractive. He tightened his grip around him.

His laughter died down. “C’mon, John. It -it’s fine. Nothing wrong with that, you know?”

“Can we just... stop talking about this?” he asked sternly, only making the laughter return.

Now he knew his greatest secret.

John’s mouth twitched upwards. “Kaidan, I’m warning you.”

“What?” he teased, murmuring. “What are you going to do, Commander?”

They smiled at each other before John captured his face in his hands, pulling him in for a kiss, him more than willingly returning the gesture. The Spectres headed out of the shower about ten minutes later. Kaidan had already showered that day so he didn’t need to worry about the hair. He had about forty messages and reports to finish up, and unfortunately, the clock was already nearing 0300. Both of them were feeling drowsy. It was obvious that John was about to pass out any minute.

When Kaidan told him that he could finish them up himself, he just flagged it off. John felt like he owed him.

Since he was still stubborn as all hell, he wouldn’t budge. John had settled besides him, cheek resting at his chest, the data pad held by the hand attached to the arm that was draped over Kaidan’s waist. He had no idea how he managed to write like that.

His glance wandered to his omni-tool when he finished the last one up. 0418.

Sighing, he knew it would be a pain to get up again in the morning. John had already finished the twenty others about five minutes ago, as they had briefly spoken, but been quiet since. With weary movements, he rubbed his eyes.

Kaidan stifled a yawn. “Okay, I’m done. Thanks, John. I -” he said, and blinked. “John?”

He was out cold. Another grin threatened his lips. Nevertheless, the position he was in wasn’t exactly comfortable. He was careful not to wake him when he slightly shifted. On impulse, John tipped over on his back in his sleep, before turning another ninety degrees. He crumpled slightly together as if freezing, coming as no surprise, because the sheets were beneath them. Kaidan didn’t need a moment to reconsider before he draped an arm around John’s waist, pulled him close, and spooned him.

Placing a soft kiss on his shoulder, he felt muscles relax into his embrace, and he too fell asleep.

Chapter Text

Shepard’s hope for the dream to stop tormenting him vanished the moment he shut his eyes.

Awakening nearly covered in sweat, he decided to wait until his heart was beating in its normal pace before preparing for the next mission. Waking up was a far more pleasant experience this time as Kaidan’s warm body up against his back was a nice change. The steady breathing down his neck soothed him. Rolling carefully onto his back, he rubbed his eyes with an index finger and thumb. He could hear the stereo music playing in the background. Barely audible. He wondered why Kaidan hadn’t turned it off.

He reached for the ‘off’ button and it went silent. The music played at all times when Shepard was present in the cabin, so he had in a way gotten used to it, although it wasn’t obligatory.

Thanks to his lack of restful sleep, he needed to go through at least twenty coffee mugs, so he’d better start soon.

Shepard clasped his dog tags together so they didn’t clatter on contact when he sat, making sure he emitted as little sound as possible as he pushed up from the bed. It was difficult to navigate the room with only the fish-tank as a light source. Managing to circle around the bed and skidding over to the table by Kaidan’s side, he searched for his overalls. His hand ghosted over the surface until he felt its fabric against his fingertips. He got dressed before picking up his omni-tool, which was easily located, as they had a luminescent interface.

Talking an abrupt turn, he barged his knee into the chair.

Dammit.

He locked his jaw at the sounded collision. Prying one eye open, he glanced at Kaidan who stirred slightly. Thankfully, he was still asleep. Shepard closed his eyes again and released a relieved breath. Eyes now used to the dim light, he made his way up to the second level and propped his hand to the side of the doorway. Shepard glanced one last time over to the peaceful figure sleeping in his bed. He smiled fondly.

Kaidan had earlier told him that he wanted to come along for the next mission, and Shepard would keep that promise. Nevertheless, it would take some time before they got there, so he let him rest out. He could always wake him up when they reached Gellix.

He immediately headed down to the mess to make some coffee, and thanks to Kaidan, he now knew how. Two hours later, he made some for Kaidan, too. When he entered the cabin, Kaidan was already up and dressed, looking over the reports they wrote the night before by the desk. Back turned against him. Always working. Hell, the poor guy worried about reports more than keeping himself awake, or eat.

Sounds familiar.

Leaning to the doorway, he said, “Hey, K. Just checking in.”

“I’m glad,” he mumbled husky, the tiredness in his voice kind of cute. “Say, you, ah... you left without waking me.”

“Didn’t have the heart.”

He snorted. “Aw, thanks. But next time, ah... wake me.”

“Deal.”

Next time.

He liked the sound of that.

Walking up to him, he reached for his hip with his free hand. Kaidan arched a brow as he looked over his shoulder when he pressed against his back. Shepard held out the mug from under his arm.

“Here. Coffee. I’m kind of an expert on automatic devices now,” he added.

Kaidan shook his head at his joke with an appreciative smile as he accepted. Shepard pushed away and gently pulled the report out of his grasp. He didn’t bother fighting back as it slipped from his hold.

Shepard pursed his mouth. “Needed to check if I did a good enough job, huh? I’m hurt.”

“Nah, I trust you, I just... I need to keep myself occupied,” he said, turning to face him. “Gives me too much time to think otherwise.” Kaidan leant his back to the desk and took a sip. “Oh, wow. Yeah, you kinda are. Expert,” he teased. “It’s good.”

Shepard peeked up from the report. “Hey, I noticed you didn’t turn off the audio device last night.”

“Well, ah... you kinda fell asleep on top of me. Didn’t have much room to maneuver.”

Shepard felt his cheeks go warm. He didn’t know what to feel about how easy it was for Kaidan to make him feel off-guard. Vulnerable. Maybe it was a good thing.

With a smile, Kaidan said, “It was fine, though. Would’ve been problematic if it was, you know, louder. I didn’t mind.”

Clearing his throat, Shepard said, “We reach Gellix in five.”

“I’ll be there,” he replied, and turned to the shelved glass container. “I said ‘hi’ to Lightyear, by the way. I think he likes me.” Kaidan’s eyes darted down “...and I also kinda think that the dislocated husk head you have on display here kinda freaks him -- and me -- out, but hey, I’m not judging. Hell, you could use it as an alarm clock. The head, I mean.”

The husk head screeched, earning a squeak from Lightyear, before he hid in his house.

“Blame Vega. He was the one that wanted it. Said it was great and suggested ‘using it for research’ or something,” he replied, and Kaidan gave him a confused look seeing that it wasn’t down in the cargo bay.

Shepard shrugged. “Steve wouldn’t have it.”

*

When they returned from Gellix, Shepard couldn’t help but notice how Kaidan seemed somewhat tired. Drained. It pained him to see him like that, but when he asked, he blamed it on a headache. He could tell when Kaidan was lying, but he respected his wish not wanting to talk about it, and lay off. Shepard had debriefed the mission with Hackett, and when finished, the admiral insisted he spoke to him again before heading out for the next mission. It was cryptic, but he knew when something was urgent. In the meantime, they had quite a few hours downtime.

They chose to play some poker.

Kaidan, Vega, Garrus, Joker and Samantha participated, although Shepard was there for his boyfriend’s moral support. Javik was observing. The prothean had yet to become familiar with human activities.

“Oh, man -- are you kidding me?” Joker called out, as Vega placed a ‘flush’ at the table.

Shepard stood with his arms folded across his chest, placed besides Kaidan’s chair, glad he wasn’t not the only one losing to James.

Joker shot Kaidan a look. “Seriously, Kaidan. He’s drying me out. I need some poker tips, here.”

Open and warm, Kaidan chuckled, and Shepard found himself smiling ever so slightly. Gellix had shaken something in him, but he seemed to be recovering, being a reassuring sight.

“It’s all in the face, hombre,” Vega said, leaning back in his chair as he cupped the back of his head. “Better luck next time.”

Traynor shifted in her seat. “So, Commander... Hackett wanted to speak to you, didn’t he?” she asked in her thick British accent, a small quirk of her lips. “Ooh, that sounds serious.”

She was no stranger to scuttlebutt.

“Didn’t say what it was about, though,” Shepard said. “Probably the war-assets.”

Garrus somewhat hesitantly shoved the newest ‘Badass Weekly’ volume towards Kaidan across the table. He cocked a brow, so Garrus gestured him to look at it. Grabbing his beer, Kaidan’s fingertips reached for the magazine before turning it the correct way. He immediately seemed to regret taking a sip when he saw the headline and began to cough.

Frowning, Shepard leant over, “What’s -?”

Commander Shepard and Major Alenko:
FRATERNIZATION CAUGHT ON-CAMERA!

Sam giggled. “Busteeed...”

“Freaking everyone knows,” Joker said, and Kaidan’s jaw dropped. “You’re not exactly being subtle about it. I mean, c’mon, that’s more than ‘friendly looks’.” Shepard’s glance resembled a warning when he shot Joker a look. “It’s not like we’re going to participating in courts martialing you guys, and even if we wanted, we couldn’t. You’re Spectres and Spectres legally says ‘screw the regs’.”

That might be true but it didn’t change the fact that they were both in the Alliance.

Garrus snorted. “Exactly. It’s really no big deal. From what we saw, it’s not considered extranet porn, because I hear that’s really explicit stuff. It’s way too subtle for that.”

The only intimacy showing in the images was Shepard’s thumb on Kaidan’s temple... and of course the almost-kiss. After all, nothing really happened at Apollo’s. A lot of things was said but nothing happened.

“I mean, the vid...” Garrus continued.

A sudden uneasiness churned Shepard’s abdomen.

A vid has audio.

“The -there’s a vid?” Kaidan managed to mutter as wonderfully calm as always, tapping his cards on the table. Garrus’ expression said ‘yes.’ “How... how are we the only ones who didn’t know about this?”

“Then you were either really drunk, or -”

“Joker, I will end you,” Shepard spat.

Scoffing, Joker said, “Hey, I wasn’t the one who leaked that, so don’t give me any shit. Not my fault you can’t keep it in your pants. Besides, my bones are brittle enough already. I don’t need another fracture. Look, reporters don’t need much to go on to be able to spread rumors... but, c’mon, it’s pretty freaking obvious you’ve being going on it for a while.”

“Yeah, it’s... there,” Vega said, and hesitated. “Sorry, Loco -- but when Blue came to the Normandy and we had that poker match, all my suspicions of it being something between you and Esteban kinda stopped, comprender?”

It seemed like absolutely everyone knew about them, but that wasn’t what pissed him off, as it was who wrote the damn article.

Khalisah Bint Al-Jilani.

Of course.

She never left him alone when it came to coverage in the media. If the media found out about his involvement with the Tenth Street Reds and his past drug-addiction, things would complicate even more, seeing that his unjust actions had far too many times been overlooked. His involvement with the Reds -- Anderson covered it up. The batarian relay on Aratoht -- the Alliance covered it up.

It seemed like the Alliance always threw him a bone without having him pay for it. Now, it was the matter of fraternization between him and his XO. He wouldn’t be shocked if the Alliance found out and covered that up, either.

Crossing his arms again, Shepard said, “I’ve got no idea what you guys are on about.”

“Your pheromones reveals differently.”

Shepard blew hard through his nose. Javik’s addition didn’t exactly help to have his argument seem convincing. It both amazed and confused him how protheans were able to read a person simply by touch or observation.

Yeah. Thanks a bunch, Javik.

Garrus’ mandibles twitched into a grin. “Spirits... No need to keep up the act,” he said smug, and Shepard grimaced. Kaidan picked up the magazine to look at the article. “Did you really think we’d flush you out to Hackett like that?”

“That’s irrelevant,” he flagged it off, before moving his gaze to Kaidan. “Hell, what does it say?”

Sighing, Kaidan said, “It says... ‘Commander Shepard and Major Alenko uses their Spectre status as an excuse to oppress Alliance regulations that clearly states that fraternization is illegal among the navy. A soldier of a higher rank is not allowed to engage romantic and or sexual activities with a fellow subordinate, as an intimate connection between the two soldiers transpires into discriminatory treatment upon the rest of the crew, rather prioritizing their egoistic needs than the importance of the mission. Having the Normandy on the front-lines may prove problematic.”

Shepard released his arms. “I couldn’t see any cameras,” he murmured, taking after the bridge of his nose.

“Actually, I -I kinda felt like we were being watched.” Kaidan leant back, throwing the magazine to the table’s surface. “I saw something by the far wall, and looking at these images, it seems like it was taken from that position. Hell, I thought I was just being paranoid.”

“Damn reporters.”

“Let’s face it,” Garrus chimed in, leaning forward. “The intimate contact, the sideways glances -- and let’s not forget the leaked footage, either.” Shepard opened his mouth to protest “...and the fact that the very same night was when Kaidan never returned to the crew’s quarters, and -” Garrus faked a gasp “-get this... EDI said over the intercom that your camcorder was to remain offline. What a coincidence, hmm?”

Shepard’s mouth slammed shut.

Oh. That.

Smirking over her beer, Traynor watched the conversation intently. He could tell that she was having a great time. Kaidan cleared his throat and seemed to know that they were running out of options.

“I -I told you, Commander,” Kaidan said. “I told you they’d ask questions.”

Shepard sighed. “It was private. We were discussing -”

“-‘Spectre business’,” Joker waved him off. “Yeah, yeah. We get the gist. Your mouth might lie, but Kaidan’s face can’t, seeing that it’s -- like -- an entirely new shade of red. He lit up like a goddamn beacon. C’mon, man. Give us some credit.”

Kaidan gave Shepard an apologetic look that had his abdomen churn, as it wasn’t like it was his fault.

“If that’s how Spectres discuss business,” Garrus broke in, grinning. “I’m glad I bailed out from training.”

Samantha broke into a giggle-fit.

The crew apparently thought they had sex. Classic. Truth is, they just shared a bed.

Sighing, Kaidan said, “C’mon, Shepard. It -it’s fine. They’d find out eventually,” he muttered, as Shepard grunted and took after his face with both hands. “Hell, like they said... the Alliance doesn’t need to know.”

“Well, it’s about damn time you two jumped the hay!” Joker called, ignoring the death-glare he received from his CO. “Lucky for you, the vid didn’t pick up anything specific. Taken out of context, that conversation could mean one hell of a lot of things, looking away from the fact that Kaidan was yammering about wanting more moments with ‘people he wants to screw.’ Yeah, good luck explaining that to Hackett.”

“You could always say you were completely borracho,” Vega said. “I mean, that’s helped me out of some seriously tight spots.”

“For the record, I -I said ‘people I care about’,” Kaidan corrected Joker, putting his cards face-down and pulled up from the chair.

Joker shot up his hands in surrender.

Kaidan turned to Shepard. “Shepard. We need to talk. Find me, okay?”

Nodding, he watched as Kaidan left the room.

“Foolish primitive. The human soldier is distracting you. Throw it out the airlock.”

Shepard sighed. “I’m not throwing Kaidan out the airlock, Javik. Neither are you.”

That was apparently protheans’ only way of dealing with problems.

“...and Kaidan’s a ‘he’ not an ‘it’,” he added.

“It does not matter. If the cycle continues and the reapers persists, we would all be dead, among the ashes. That would make us all ‘it’.”

He raised a hand only to let it fall away at his side.

“Why do I bother?” he asked no one, walking away.

Chapter Text

Kaidan had yet to forget about Gellix and the way John nearly died. Again. This time, right there in front of him.

An Atlas mech had targeted him and Kaidan had simply frozen up. Paralyzed. He watched in horror and only managed to get back to himself when Jacob Taylor, one of the Cerberus operatives that helped him out during the collector mission, jumped out of the shuttle to go grab him. John had made a reckless move and strayed far too away from the damn team as he tried to gun the mech down.

It was one of those moments where you just freeze up, mind racing with a dozen different scenarios, all of them bad. Having that happen again might result in being forced to see the situation play out, and later realize that if you acted just a few seconds sooner, you could’ve helped. You could’ve prevented something bad from happening.

It took him back to the time before the first Normandy went down. Of course, if Kaidan had stayed to help John in getting Joker away from the cockpit, then the ones he evacuated wouldn’t have made it out.

Those were the hard calls. The decision to sacrifice one of the many. The choice to leave someone behind. Being in that moment was far more challenging than debriefing the situation later. Aratoht was an example. Having a button that could wipe out a whole relay and angering thousands of batarians -- killing the 300 000 others along the way -- before you. One man should never have such a responsibility. Forced to deal with the consequences. Batarians were understandably still sore after that and it would take time to forgive and recover from it.

Now it was this bad media publicity thing in the middle of it all.

Kaidan wasn’t one to break Alliance regulations. John probably couldn’t care less if they were exposed, but Kaidan wasn’t him, even if they mostly shared the same views. Kaidan didn’t want to break it off, no way in hell, but he was willing to wait until after the war. At least it gave a moral boost of winning it, knowing he could finally get back to him, and feel those lips again.

Lost in thought, he startled when the door opened. “Hey... there you are.”

He watched as John slid into the chair opposites him, smirking at him, having his abdomen flutter. In that moment, he realized that if he had found out about John’s interests back on the SR-1, he would be willing to break those regs. Kaidan thought he was old enough to realize that putting duty before pleasure was for the best in the long run, but John... John disproved that.

He was too good to pass up.

“Are you flirting with me?” John asked, eyes dancing with amusement.

Horrible attempt, I know.

Kaidan snorted. “If you have to ask, I’m clearly out of practice,” he said, ducking his head before a mischievous glint caught his eye. “Oh, and when we get time... you’ll have to let me practice.”

John froze up.

That one worked.

Pleased with his reaction, he went off-topic. “Look, Shepard. I, ah...” he said, and closed his eyes. “I’ve got to be straight with you.”

“Right on point, then. Go on.”

“I -I’m not really good at dealing with my private affairs becoming the story of the week, you know?” he said, figured he’d be as blunt as possible. “Either we keep it low-key until after this war or we tell them what’s going on and accept my reassignment.”

John remained silent and averted his eyes.

“C’mon, John... talk to me. I can only speak for myself. How do you want to do this?” Kaidan asked.

“Okay, first of all -- both your options suck.” Kaidan couldn’t hold back the small smile forming on his mouth “...but either is the way for this to blow over. Option one... we know we can trust the crew to keep it under wraps. I’m worried about Allers, though. She’s definitely going to want an input on this, and hell, I don’t really want to punch her in the face. She’s one of the few reporters I don’t completely despise.”

“And Khalisah?” Kaidan asked.

Scowling, John said, “I’ll... try to hold back. No promises, though. As for option two... it -” He shook his head, leaning back. “Who the hell am I kidding? That’s only going to make things worse. You’re my sanity.”

He felt his expression mellow. Sanity. Of all the things he could’ve said, that one hit closest to home.

John’s gaze pinned him. “Call it bullshit if you like, but I need you in this.”

“Then we keep it under wraps. Good to get that cleared up,” he replied with a smile, although it gradually faltered as he let out a sigh. “You know, I’ve just been sitting here thinking...”

“Uh-oh. Okay. Hit me with it.”

He had been thinking about those ex-Cerberus scientists back on Gellix. They seemed like good people as they saved John’s life back there. Even brought him back. Cerberus had apparently used over four billion credits on John’s reconstruction, so Illusive Man had gone out of his way, definitely over budget. Kaidan was aware of John’s abilities, but he was still one man behind all that steel plate and authority, and he loved that about him. If it wasn’t for the Illusive Man, John wouldn’t be here today, and knowing that created far more conflict than he wished for.

The guy even gave him all the resources he needed to help the colonies.

John seemed conflicted as well, easing up Kaidan’s concerns just a little, opening his eyes to the fact that Cerberus was more than a simple terrorist group. He asked all these question in hope that he could get some kind of insight on the Illusive Man, but he turned up empty handed, even if John answered him to the best of his abilities. Now, Illusive Man wanted to control the reapers, obviously having lost his damned mind.

“Did you ever see this coming from them?” Kaidan asked, but rephrased that. “From him. Sorry. I don’t know... what I want you to say here. I guess I’m just looking for some sort of insight on the Illusive Man. Something.”

“Back then, he wanted what was best for humanity, and he had resources to spare,” John said, and he could see the usually stoic lines on his face falter. He looked troubled. Almost worried. “But then it became humanity first and at any cost. And that... that’s a very different thing. But this? No. I never saw this coming from him.”

That did explain their temporary alliance.

“Hmm. Okay,” he muttered, and nodded. “Well thanks, Shepard. I’m glad we could talk about this.”

“Meanwhile, you should find a way to take your mind off things.”

Snorting, Kaidan ducked his head. “I know,” he replied, leaning forward. “Remember that Joker did ask me to give him some poker tips. We both know he keeps losing his shirt to James.”

“Good luck with that. Joker has a terrible poker face.”

Kaidan smiled. “Heh, great,” he said, before sucking in a breath. “Well, I like a challenge.”

Whiskey-brown met icy-blue, smile softening fondly, although it soon faltered. There was yet the matter around Gellix that he wanted to discuss, but when he opened his mouth, they heard the speakers cackle, causing them both to look up.

“Shepard, Admiral Hackett and Anderson are waiting in the comm-room,” Joker said, mockingly. “I’m rooting for you!”

“Hold that thought. We’ll talk later,” John said, having noticed how he had something else on his mind.

He couldn’t respond before John reduced the distance between them, grasping his chin, tilting his head up to place a chaste peck on his lips. When he pulled away, Kaidan smiled into the kiss and opened his eyes again to see John smiling back at him.

Later...

I’d like that.

“Yeah. See you around.”

Waiting for John to get back from the meeting with Hackett was more nerve wrecking than anticipated. Knowing that Anderson was there did complicate things. He had known John ever since he was a teen and could most likely catch him in a lie.

Kaidan was convinced he was going to be reassigned the next day.

He had returned to the poker-table while awaiting the all-clear. Joker had retreated to the cockpit and set course for Utukku. Around five minutes after Shepard entered the comm-room, he was about to rise up from his chair and start packing up, but Garrus pulled him back down.

Neither he nor John had seen the vid, so he had no idea what to expect. While waiting, Garrus found the vid on the extranet to show Kaidan what was out there, giving an advantage if anyone asked questions. The damn thing had over billions of hits already and had spread like wildfire. Khalisah had probably doubled her ratings after the leak. That was the problem with reporters. They rarely care that they might be ruining their subjects’ lives and takes the pay as a priority. Reporters didn’t need much raw material to create a story that civilians chose to believe in.

It was a short vid. Probably around three minutes. Kaidan was lucky that he had reacted as quickly as he did, back on Apollo’s, as the feed shut off when his gaze moved the camera’s way. That was it. Nothing specific.

They had the upper hand.

*

“Commander Shepard.” Hackett was right on point as always, and Shepard was aware of the significance of the situation they found themselves in. “I’m sure you know what this is about.”

Shepard folded his arms across his chest and leant back as he flicked on a vid screen.

The vid started with him bumping into Jack in the doorway, camera zoomed in on the two, obviously handheld. They talked for a while but were too far away from the camera to pick up the audio. Thankfully. Shepard entered Apollo’s only moments later. He felt slight uneasiness -- although his expression remained deadpan -- when it showed Kaidan propping his arm to Shepard’s backrest. He had no idea that he had been that close to him at the time. A few minutes later, Kaidan frowned, and then his gaze drifted to the camera.

The feed shut off.

“As you can see, we’re in a bit of a mess here. If the rumors proves themselves to be true, we have a problem,” Hackett said, as Shepard released his arms. “I’m aware you’re both Spectres, but even if that might be, you’re still in the Alliance. It’s not illegal in your case, but if there’s something going on here, I need to have Major Alenko assigned to a different ship. I’m sure you understand that we need the *Normandy* on the front lines and without any form of conflict aboard. Especially now when the reapers are at our doorstep.”

“That’s not necessary, Admiral.”

“Clarify.”

Shepard needed Kaidan with him on this or he would break -- it would be so simple to just tell Hackett that -- but it wasn’t a valid reason. He wouldn’t allow his unjust actions after Horizon to repeat themselves, either.

Shepard wasn’t himself after Horizon. He had taken far more risks than he usually did, easily snapped at everyone and everything, and the crew had connected the dots that Kaidan was the reason for his sudden change of tone. Hell, he had even been an ass to Anderson, and he didn’t deserve a single harsh word delivered upon him. Shepard was lucky to have Garrus there to knock some sense into him.

Anderson had called him out on his change of attitude, but Shepard went as far as to tell him to ‘fuck off’ and hung up on him.

Having Kaidan being pissed at him, and absent, almost broke him. He’d never told Kaidan that. If he did, he would blame himself, and take Shepard’s actions under his wing as if he was the one committing the crimes. He didn’t want that to happen. Kaidan had enough to worry about. His father being MIA, his mother being alone, not knowing where the rest of his family was. Shepard didn’t have a family, and in some way, he was glad. It meant that he didn’t have to worry about their safety.

It was ridiculous how childish Shepard was acting back then. He was aware of that. Like he was no longer a 32-year-old adult and decided to be a teenager again. Acting and reacting as if he was still in the Reds. It was concerning how such a small thing could affect people and more in such a big way. It was living proof of the Butterfly Effect coming to fruition. Shepard hoped he didn’t have to lie to strengthen his argument during their conversation, but just to be sure, he avoided eye contact with Anderson.

“Major Alenko and I have always been close, joking around like that to keep each other on our toes,” he replied, without skipping a beat. “He keeps me in check, and if I’m going out of line, he’s there to get me back on track. I wouldn’t be here today if I didn’t have his counsel throughout the years. He’s my XO for a reason. I’m also aware that the Major has headaches and -- more severely -- migraines. Those images? I learned a massaging technique in my teenage years to reduce the pain and offered to do the same for him. Helps keeping the painkillers stocked.”

It wasn’t a direct lie. He knew a way to ease the pain, but still, Kaidan didn’t have a headache at Apollo’s.

Shepard took after his opposite shoulder to untangle the knots that had formed. “I care for my whole crew and he’s no exception,” he added, being an honest answer “...and I would’ve done the exact same thing for the rest of the crew seeing that I need them at 100 percent through this. Alenko doesn’t receive any form of ‘special treatment’ but he has been there the longest. Together with Joker.”

They spoke for a good fifteen minutes. Hackett took a moment. Shepard waited.

“Very well. I’m going to trust you with this information, Commander. It better be legit.”

Hopefully, he had saved the galaxy by then. Maybe Hackett would go easier on him if he found out then. After the war.

“Yes, sir,” he replied.

“Good. I’m glad we understand each other. I’m expecting an update after you’ve taken care of the situation on Utukku. We need as many people in on this as possible. Both scientists and soldiers alike. Hackett out.”

Hackett disconnected but Anderson remained.

Placing his hand behind his back, he sighed as his eyes fluttered shut. He definitely knew. Anderson knew him far too well for this bullshit. Nevertheless, he did wait until Hackett was out of earshot. Again, Anderson was willing to risk everything for him. Shepard prepared for the lecture he was bound to get. It wasn’t new. He was used to it.

“Shepard. You’re placing me in a difficult position, son. I hope you’re appreciating the risk I’m taking pretending that I don’t know.”

“Hell, I already owe you a debt I can never repay,” he said, shaking his head. “I can’t ask you to do that, Anderson.”

“And I can’t on good conscience ask you to accept Major Alenko being reassigned, which is why there are regulations against these kinds of things.” Shepard found himself frowning, and the lines on Anderson’s face retracted although he attempted to remain deadpan.

Anderson shook his head, taking a moment before he spoke again. “Hell, I haven’t seen you smile like this in years.”

Leave it to Anderson to see small details like that.

“You don’t owe me anything, Shepard. Maybe I’m getting soft for my old age, but I for one believe that the Major being besides you is for the best. Moral support is important. Even so, that doesn’t change the fact that it’s not called for, in the Alliance’s eyes. Putting aside my personal opinions on the matter, taken into a more strategic approach, I remember your change of attitude after Horizon. It reminded me of the kid I picked up on the streets, and I didn’t like what I was seeing. It has later become obvious to me why the mood swings occurred.

“I had my suspicions, but nothing specific. I don’t want those days to be repeated. That would be more than costly for the Alliance. Hell, the whole galaxy. I have however no authority to dismiss such a claim, which is why you need to keep this low-key. For both our sakes.”

Shepard was speechless.

“Thank you, Anderson.”

“Stay safe out there, son. Anderson out.”

Now he only needed to break the rumors off with Allers.

*

Shepard nearly froze in the doorway when he returned to the others. All eyes were upon him when he entered the room, cocking a brow at the downright hilarious sight. The way he kept his expressionless look close to his heart seemed to irk them to no end. Everyone except Kaidan. He could see right through that with ease. Shepard locked eyes with him.

“We’re good,” Kaidan said, turning away before he moved a whiskey bottle up to his mouth.

“Good man. You know, guys? I’m kinda glad you know.”

He approached the others by the table, glimpsing Kaidan arching a curious brow when Shepard removed the bottle he was holding from his grasp to put it aside.

Shepard’s voice lowered into a murmur. “Hell, now I don’t have to hold back...”

He grasped Kaidan’s chin, thumb settling at the cute cleft in his chin that he absolutely loved, tilting his head towards himself as he bent down. Not preparing him for, or even warn him, about the intense kiss he received. Forcing his tongue between the gap, he heard a muffled, unwilling sound escape Kaidan’s mouth that closely resembled a whimper. He felt Kaidan’s cheeks go warm in embarrassment, so Shepard simply cupped his face, pulling him in deeper. Kaidan was passive in his arms.

Garrus blinked. “Okay, I never thought I would say this... but I regret being nosy.”

“Yup,” Vega added.

Breaking the kiss, he gave the others a smug smile.

Payback for meddling in my private affairs.

He was nice enough not to mention the way Garrus and Tali always swooned over each other, though.

Pulling away, he saw a stunned Kaidan and almost felt bad for him. He grabbed Kaidan’s whiskey again, whirling in a half-circle around his chair as he took a sip before latching a leg over Kaidan’s thigh. Shepard draped the arm holding the bottle around his shoulder with a deadpan -- with a hint of smug -- look. They finished the game about half an hour later.

Kaidan must’ve forgiven him, because his hand had quickly slipped under Shepard’s shirt and to the small of his back. He was drawing circles with his fingertips, out of view for the others, and Shepard simply had to remind himself not to get too excited.

There was time for that later.

Kaidan was the first to be interviewed by Allers, as they went from rank. The rest of the crew had collected themselves in the same room or looked at the broadcast on the extranet live to see how it all would turn out.

“I’m Diana Allers, and welcome to Battlespace,” the reporter said. “Today we have an exclusive goodie for you, folks. Here we will clear up the notorious fraternization case that’s gone viral over the night on live broadcast. We’re lucky to receive closure as soon as we do, seeing that this is a matter of utmost topicality that formed many curious questions, requesting answers. I’m here with Major Kaidan Alenko, being one of the subjects regarding this case, and later we will have Commander John Shepard’s inquiry as well.”

This was going to be a long night...

It was seven minutes into the interview. The limit was ten. Shepard was sure that their plan would backfire but Kaidan was answering every question with ease. It was admirable to the fullest.

“If there was any form of fraternization between the Commander and a first-class member of the crew, would the mission still be top-priority, or would he proceed in ‘discriminatory treatment’ as rumored?”

“The Commander always puts the priority of the mission first,” Kaidan replied. “He has been in the Alliance long enough, and has risen to high enough rank, to be well-aware of how important the missions we receive are. Not a single report has been delivered after the deadline and he’s never late for a debriefing. He would rather pick a mission over his own well-being. Sleep, food and nourishment are all second-prior.”

Diana moved the omni-tool back to her mouth. “If these are simply rumors, how can you be sure that the Commander wouldn’t be affected by having a relationship with a crew member, when you haven’t experienced it firsthand?”

Shit.

“That’s an irrelevant question, but as it is, I’ve known Shepard for a long time,” Kaidan replied, seeming unfazed. “We’ve served together for years. Placing me in the battlefield with the Commander would be just like assigning him to the same squad as Admiral Anderson, or any foot-soldier, because the *Normandy* has been through hell together. We’ve fought rogue Spectres, Cerberus, geth, crime-bosses, reapers... things like that tends to make people grow close. That’s simply life in the military.

“You learn to trust and appreciate your crew. They become like brothers and sisters. We’ll all willingly die for each other if necessary but the mission is always top-priority. I know this, and so does Shepard.”

Shepard wondered why in hell Kaidan wasn’t in charge of the ship instead of him.

Kaidan was professional. Calm. He had no idea how to compete with that. Kaidan would do one hell of a better job than he did if he was in charge of all this, but at the same time, Shepard knew the struggles and restless nights coming along with it. Those were concerns that he was glad he didn’t have to worry about. Seeing Kaidan all worn out would be too much.

That was the reason why he kept most things to himself. His concerns. His doubts. Again, those shouldn’t burden anyone but him.

“Our minutes are up,” Diana finished. “This has been Diana Allers of Battlespace, interviewing Major Alenko. Next up we have Commander Shepard’s view on the whole situation, so don’t change channel, as we will be back in a few.”

*

Kaidan could finally breathe out when he approached the others. Reporters were experts on taking the tiniest amount of information and produce a dozen questions around it. Diana Allers was no exception. You had to be careful with what you said. It could’ve gone much worse so he was thankful it went the way it did. A single slip-up could be costly. For the time being, Kaidan was just glad that the interview was over.

His attention drifted to John sitting in the exact same spot he had left him, ripping a napkin into tiny pieces, looking into thin air. Garrus sat opposite John, who just gave him a shrug. It seemed like he wasn’t able to get any contact with the man before him.

Approaching him, he carefully grasped John’s hand with his. John nearly jumped up and out of his chair with eyes wide, but when his eyes darted to the man yet holding his hand, they fluttered shut as he exhaled slowly. His shoulders slumped. He opened his mouth to say something, so Kaidan squeezed his hand, letting him know it was all right. He let go of him and propped into the chair besides.

It didn’t take long before John was back to his normal self. Even cracking a smile at one of Garrus’ jokes about Tali and her obsession of turian brandy. Kaidan had to admit that he missed her.

They spoke for about fifteen minutes before Allers entered the room.

“Commander Shepard,” Allers said. “Do you have time for that interview now?”

Clearing his throat, John nodded. “Let’s take this to my quarters.”

She began heading for the elevator and John was on her heel. Kaidan could see John looking over his shoulder and their gazes collided. He mouthed a “Good luck” and offered him a reassuring smile. John returned the gesture, although his subtle smile soon faltered, before focusing on the path in front of him. All this had to tire him out to no end. Kaidan wished that he could somehow just take the pain away, but he could do nothing but offer his support. This would all be over soon. Just a few more minutes.

The interview with John had a lot more questions involved.

John had cut almost every single question short and that was the result of it. Kaidan had himself dragged out the answers so he could avoid just that. John was nearly defensive in his way of answering them, shifting uncomfortably during the whole interview, rubbing the back of his neck, taking after the bridge of his nose, a permanent frown stuck to his face. It was clear to them all how upset he was about the whole situation. Seeing John all stressed out like that, he wanted nothing but to wrap his arms around him, tell him everything would be fine.

“This has been Diana Allers of Battlespace, and with that, the matter is concluded,” Allers finished the interview with. “Tune in for our next big case: ‘Is the popular Blasto-series a bad influence on children?’ Good night and stay strong.”

Kaidan knew exactly how to get him in a better mood...

Chapter Text

Shepard wearily leant his back to the table in his cabin after Allers left the room, hands propping to its surface. His head was bowed and heavy, a focused glare on the floor before him. He no longer needed formalwear for the interview, so he settled with his civvies and a dark grey tank top. He no longer needed to worry about anything else but the reaper situation. That in itself was tiring enough. There was an intergalactic war and the locals cared about gossip more than anything, but then again, they cling to what’s familiar.

Hell, as long as his private affairs weren’t among the endless gossip, he was glad they had something to occupy their time with. Get their mind off things. When Shepard wanted to get his mind off things, he sought out his friends. Usually, he sought out Kaidan first. That wasn’t just after they ‘happened.’ Even on the SR-1, he came to him. What separated Kaidan from his past lovers was that the two could enjoy silence altogether. His other partners always believed they had to fill that silence with words. Shepard could enjoy the silence.

The only time he despised silence was the silent treatment from people he cared about.

He tilted his head up when he heard the door slide open. The concentrated look on his face dimmed when seeing the warm smile appearing on Kaidan’s lips, taking all his troubles and concerns away. Shepard pushed himself gently away from the table and met him more than halfway. Strong and protective arms wrapped around his waist and he pulled him in, melting into his lover’s embrace, drawing him in closer.

His face was buried in the grope where his neck and shoulder separated, and for a moment, they just stood there.

“Hey... there you are,” Kaidan muttered, pressing their foreheads together.

Shepard’s eyes were halfway closed. Expression stoic.

Sighing, Kaidan said, “We need to talk.”

“Sure. Let’s hear it, major.”

Somewhat reluctantly, he pulled himself away. Kaidan’s warmth retracted. He turned before approaching the desk to grab a data pad lying on its surface.

“Gellix,” he replied.

They had already talked about Gellix, the ex-Cerberus scientists, the Illusive Man. Holding back or lying to Kaidan didn’t make any sense so he had no idea where his paranoia came from. His deadpan expression stayed true as he swiped through the mission statistics for the fifth time.

“What about?”

“‘What about’?” Kaidan echoed, and he could almost hear him scowl. “Hell, you know exactly what I’m talking about.”

Shepard looked stunned when the data pad was snatched from his hands, turning with its movement.

“Gellix,” Kaidan repeated, throwing the report back to the table. “When you strayed way too damn far from the ground team. Almost getting yourself killed in the process. Gellix.”

Shepard blinked. “The Atlas -”

“Exactly. The Atlas. You know as well as I do that we’d have a better chance on high ground, and hell, that taking out its shields without biotics is nearly impossible,” he cut him off. “Look, I just froze up back there. I -I couldn’t do anything, okay? Things could’ve ended badly. You should’ve at least given me a warning. I could’ve helped.”

“K, it’s fine -”

“Like hell it is!” Seeing the fire in Kaidan’s eyes, his unwavering glare, he found himself surprised that his biotics didn’t flare up. “The past two years tore me apart.”

Shepard’s look mellowed.

“I can’t lose you again,” Kaidan whispered.

So that’s what this is about.

The war was uncertain and there was no way of telling if they would win or not. Another reason why he held back. Another reason why he distanced himself from any form of attachment. Losing Ace hurt like a son-of-a bitch and he wasn’t going to put Kaidan in that position. It wasn’t what he wanted to hear but there was no use lying.

“I can’t promise that, K.”

Without humor, Kaidan snorted, “I know... and knowing that, I -”

With eyes briefly closing, he exhaled again. Shepard felt a familiar hand trail up his hip.

Kaidan swallowed. “Just... be careful next time, okay?”

He could try.

His eyes closed on impulse when he saw Kaidan leaning in, feeling soft lips pressing against the corner of his mouth, savoring the sensation. He only had to horizontally tilt his head before their mouths collided into a hot kiss. His whole body went warm, pressing himself up against Kaidan who willingly played along. He shuddered when feeling a hint of cold puff hit his abdomen as his tank top was escalated just enough for hands to slide up beneath. Shepard’s skin heated up again at his touch.

He wanted nothing but to reassure him that he was fine. Alive and breathing. So he deepened the kiss.

There was a fire there. A need for something more as the grip closed around his waist, seeking the arch of his ribs and the curve of his waist, before being pulled even closer. He wasn’t the only one wanting more.

Kaidan somewhat restrained turned his head to break free again when eager hands tugged at his civvies.

“John. Just... hold up a minute,” he muttered, and let out a sigh. Kaidan pushed himself away after being released him from his hold. “Look, I -I know this is going to sound like sappy bullshit -”

“K,” he said. “Sappy doesn’t mean bullshit. Talk to me.”

Kaidan inhaled a deep breath and blew it out slowly. “There’s a reason why I pulled away after Apollo’s,” he said, leaning to the table as his hands connected with its cold surface. “This... this means a lot to me, okay? We’ve known each other for a long time, I get that, long enough for all this to be real. But now, when the reapers are literally around the corner, I just... Hell, I want to make sure we’re doing this for the right reasons.”

“Okay, that kinda stung.” His voice is low but firm, defeated, almost exasperated. Kaidan raised a hand to stop him from continuing. “You think this is just a past-time for me until the reapers are defeated.”

“John, that’s not what I meant.”

Shepard sighed. “Fuck, sorry,” he muttered, rubbing the area above his furrowed brow. “Didn’t mean to snap at you like that, I just...”

Without seeming fazed, Kaidan simply nodded in understanding. Shepard looked at him closely, taking a moment to study his now weary features, seeing the muscles in his jaw tighten with an otherwise deadpan look about him. Kaidan reached out to trap his wrist, gesturing him to come closer. So he did, straightening up so they were face-to-face, feeling an arm curling around his waist.

The heat returned.

“You’re right,” Kaidan muttered, tugging him closer for their foreheads to connect again. “About everything. I think about losing you and I just can’t stand it -- and the galaxy will keep going -- even the reapers will come around again... But you and I... we are important right now... and this is what will never happen. Us. John, you make me feel...”

He sighed, his breath ticking his skin.

Kaidan met his gaze. “Human.”

Shepard’s heart began racing. Clear beats. Barely able to count to one before the next arrived.

Eyes darkening, he murmured, “You giving up, major?”

He earned an amused snort from Kaidan, removing the tension between them now broken down and lying on the ground ten miles behind.

Shepard smirked. “I can make you feel much more than that... C’mere.”

He saw a mischievous smile forming on Kaidan’s mouth when he glanced down at his lips. He needed to feel them upon his own again. Kaidan leant in, mouth moving for teeth to nip at his jawline. The hand on Shepard’s back held him in place. He was already head-over-heels for him, and yet, Kaidan had his wicked and cruel way with him. Tasting the sweet payback for his shameless flirting. Shepard offered him his neck, feeling lips moving against his now exposed skin, biting, sucking.

Kaidan pulled away by inches, a soft and wet sound escaping his mouth when the connection broke, going right down.

Barely able to hold back the frustrated growl building up in his throat, he sensed a hand settling at the small of his back again. It now slid below his tank top, thrusting him against himself. He heard him exhale slowly, familiar to a deep sigh, as if he had been holding in.

“I want you, John,” Kaidan whispered, his tone thick with lust.

His husky voice was pure sex, boosting Shepard’s already desperate need to feel him against himself tenfold, hearing his words filled with promise. He could barely wait for him to prove it. It was pleasurable torture. If Kaidan was pining even half as much as him, he sure as hell was more disciplined than any other biotic, proving his statement three years back as false.

“Show me.”

There was no other way to describe what happened next. Shepard felt Kaidan’s leash break. He chose to ignore whatever held him back. Lips came against his, hard and fierce, desperate and needing -- returned just as desperately -- finally giving into each other, unleash themselves at their desires after three years of self-pining. Unreserved passion and fire met him with an endless demand for more. He felt himself melting against him, and as teeth clicked together before relocating each other’s mouths, Kaidan’s whole body backed him into the table.

Shepard’s hands grasped the edge not to fall, the data pad knocking off the surface, hitting the floor in a light thud.

His hips arched upwards with the curve of the furniture. He muffled a moan as Kaidan pressed up hard against him. Hands tugged at his clothes before he was pulled back up to his lips with such force he nearly saw stars. Kaidan tasted of whiskey they had earlier consumed as he backed up just enough to yank the top off over Shepard’s head -- the mild breeze touching his torso -- launching it into the chair. A hand slipped up the small of his back again, sending violent bolts of electricity to every nerve in his body, heating him right up again.

Kaidan’s tongue plunged between his lips, tasting him, twining around his.

In desperation, Shepard’s hands moved to tear at his overalls in attempt to separate him from the stubborn cloth. Their intensely passionate kiss turned needing, wanting, longing, frantic. So frantic they both needed to start controlling their breathing while short huffs unevenly escaped their nostrils, almost in tact. Shepard’s want to feel more of Kaidan’s skin against his own was overwhelming. He felt the hunger to give and receive. To touch and be touched. He only managed to slip his hands up Kaidan’s shirt by a few inches as his whole length pressed up against him.

The fish were surely being given a show.

Kaidan released him and splayed a hand on his chest, shoved himself away, just enough for their lips to part. Shepard grunted in muffled protest, even if they both knew they needed a moment to breathe, their lips swollen. Kaidan angled him so his back faced the open with no table limiting them. Shepard allowed his eyes to wander to the hand that had moved down to his abdomen. Blood poured in his veins as he could feel a slight aura forming around him. Eyes halfway open he tilted his head up to see Kaidan’s biotics flaring up.

His thoughts couldn’t recollect before a biotic pulse forced his back up against the fish tank.

The air was briefly knocked out of him, and he heard a brief cracking sound from behind him, but chose to ignore it. His eyes angled up to see the biotics glimmering around Kaidan’s body. The beauty left him breathless. He intently studied the perfect figure of the man before him, taking in the sight, making him breathless and heady. The contrasts between light blue and the color of his smooth skin reflected pleasantly, intertwining with each other, the shock-ish substance forming an aura around his perfect form.

The light blue of his biotics and the darker marine-blue of his overalls cooperated well with each other. Nevertheless, as much as Kaidan suited his overalls, he could think of nothing else but getting him out of them.

Fast.

Kaidan was aware he was on display.

His gaze was predatory. “With pleasure, Commander...” he murmured, as answer to his previous demand.

Shepard lost his thoughts.

He could see him calmly begin to approach him, hands sliding in a seductive manner to the edge of his own shirt in the speed, pulling it off over his head before throwing it aside. Shepard’s heart went to his throat. His flattened-out palm exposed to Kaidan’s chest, moving it up to between his pecs, seeing eyes fluttering shut. Shepard draped his arm around his shoulder when his hand reached its stop. Lips connected again as a strong arm curled around his waist while the other encountered the cold glass by his hip.

He was left breathless by the press of Kaidan’s torso -- hard and bare against his own -- soft skin unusual for a soldier.

Kaidan frowned, turning his head slightly, breaking the kiss. Fingertips trailed the ragged edges on the crack of the glass. His expressions softened before meeting Shepard’s glance, meaning to apologize.

Canadians.

He simply smirked in reply, angled his arm for fingers to delve into his dark hair for leverage, crushing lips against his to let him know that he didn’t give a damn. Everything he cared about in this very moment was them. Alone. No one to interrupt.

A knee wedged between his thighs, thrusting him harder up against the tank, a strangled sound escaping his mouth.

The force used was likely to leave bruising. Biotics faltered around him. Shepard gently bit into his upper lip and heard a strangled moan escape his mouth, sending him throbbing. He was far from new to this, but he’d never experienced a more divine feeling than with Kaidan as his partner, as if they belonged. Skin against skin. Kaidan’s tongue exploring his mouth. Hot. Swirling around his own. The kiss hardened as Shepard pushed himself away from the glass, Kaidan backing a step with him, Shepard’s hand roaming from his hair to his chest.

He began to push him towards the bed.

His heart pounded faster and faster at his every step. The beats were fast and hard, feeling as if it would break through at any moment, while only the fabric of their lower garments separated them. Shepard backed him until his calves jolted into the soft fabric of the sheet behind him -- nearly sending him tumbling over -- before Shepard felt the rim of his pants grasped, preventing his fall, allowing the kiss to unexpectedly deepen. They both kicked off their boots, Kaidan not wasting a moment to begin working off Shepard’s belt.

Something went up for him when he was about to lower them into the bed. Shepard broke the kiss and softly cursed under his breath while at it. He didn’t want to ruin this moment but he had little choice in the matter.

“Whoa, hey... What’s wrong?”

Shepard pried his eyes open, almost shyly rising them to peek at Kaidan’s, looking at him with a darkened gaze full of what he could swear was love. Or desire. Probably an uncontrolled frenzy of both. His pupils were slightly dilated and they were both breathing heavily.

Shit, he thought he’d done something wrong, didn’t he?

He shook his head as if his thought had been said aloud. His hand moved up Kaidan’s forearm to cradle his wrist, thumb caressing his ulna, attempting to regain control over his breathing.

“Look, I hadn’t really thought this far ahead, and I haven’t had the time to stop at the Citadel to buy condoms.”

The corners of Kaidan’s lips drew upwards, showing the tips of his canines, undoubtedly amused.

“I’m, ah... I -I mean, you’re safe with me. I’m... yeah. Healthy.”

Shepard exhaled relieved. He didn’t want to take any unnecessary risks on these grounds, so he was glad they got that cleared up. He was hoping that he hadn’t ruined the mood, though, forcing them to try again the next day. He wanted this. Badly.

“Hell, I didn’t spoil anything... right?”

Kaidan simply smirked at him before he felt lips pressing against his neck.

I’ll take that as a ‘no...’

Moving his hand into his hair again as fingertips ghosted up his side, Kaidan backed up until their foreheads touched again. Shepard reached out to caress the scar on his lower lip, trailing his amazing, full mouth before finally settling at his jaw. He brushed his thumb against the area where his stubble stopped. Leaning into the touch, Kaidan closed his eyes.

“Mm,” he uttered into his chin, a sound close to a purr. The sound left goosebumps in its wake. “There’s not much difference, but... In case you haven’t been with a biotic before, we... We flare up when we -”

I know.

With a tilt of his head, their lips connected again, before he could finish.

Capturing his face in his hands, Kaidan seemed more than willing to continue where they left off, as his fingers began to trail across the skin directly underneath the rim of his pants -- dangerously close -- until they reached his hips. Nails burrowed into his sides, pulling him as tightly as he can to himself, until there was no room for air between them. A gasp escaped his mouth before Kaidan once again captured it. When their lips parted once again, Shepard didn’t expect him to let his body drop to the bed, being forced along with him.

A shot of adrenaline flew through him as his lower body slammed into Kaidan’s whose feet was yet planted on the floor, releasing a muffled groan at the impact, barely reflexes enough to mend the fall as his hands propped to the bed on each side of Kaidan’s broad shoulders with a knee between his thighs. They were both breathing unevenly after the intensely passionate kiss.

Shepard’s eyes angled up to meet Kaidan’s, whiskey-brown and dilated irises sparking with want, doing wonders to his insides. The exposed body lying beneath him made his chest flutter.

Having Kaidan exactly where he wanted him, he bent down, eyes closing as he lowered his mouth to his neck.

All movement slowed down as they now had all the time in the galaxy. Cherishing every second. The size of the chest beneath him increased as Kaidan sucked in a breath. Shepard could feel warm hands trailing up his legs to where his thighs separated from his calves. One of his own clenched into a fist around the cotton fabric. Another kiss, a bite, an impatient grinding of his hips making Kaidan moan. The sound was music to his ears as his muscles locked tight. He was getting restless as they had far from shredded enough clothes. Shepard was already feeling hot.

He pressed a kiss against his throat, yet another gentle bite, growing hungrier and hungrier of lust. His hand moved to tug at the edge of Kaidan’s overalls before he separated him from them, leaving him in nothing but his briefs. Kaidan lifted up slightly to sit, but he pushed him back down. He wasn’t done. He needed to hear more of those sounds coming from those divine lips. Find out about his every single sweet spot. Pleasure him to let him know just how much he appreciated him. Cared for him. Wanted him. How much he craved for him in this very moment.

A moment -- awaited for three years -- he damned well was going to savior.

Before he had the time to think, he again felt a hand at the small of his back, tipping him to the side. He sucked in a breath and found himself lying back down, his foot knocking over the boots he had earlier kicked off before the footwear exposed to the floor, Kaidan’s body hovering over his own as heat clearly radiated between them. Knees were propped to the bed on each side of his body. Lips soon pressed against his collarbone, leaving him flushed and heady as if he’d taken a few too many drinks, before Kaidan pulled himself up in sitting position.

He was about to bring him back down to his mouth until Kaidan slowly began to roll his hips.

Shepard clenched his jaw and helplessly slammed his head back to the bed, softly cursing under his breath. The way he moved made him crazy. Hell, if he kept going like this, he wouldn’t be able to hold out for long. It was difficult to say ‘stop’ when it felt so damn good. He was about to tell him, but when he opened his mouth, something comparable to a yelp escaped seeing that he had used slightly more force in his movement just then. Kaidan seemed to take the hint and flashed a smug smirk before bringing his hands to his hair to get it fixed again, fingers raking through it.

He was caught off-guard, so Shepard heaved himself up from the bed with a low growl, tipping him over again.

Kaidan made a strangled sound closely resembling a chuckle before Shepard suppressed it with his lips. He shifted closer as he felt Kaidan’s knee up against his hip, seeking as much closure as possible as warm blood roared in ears, lips never parting. His hand trailed down Kaidan’s waist towards the edge of his briefs. He could feel a foot hooking around his ankle, and with a gentle but forceful twist, he ended up on his back again with a groan. Muscles no longer tensing, Shepard submitted, accepting his defeat.

Looked like he was ‘the bottom,’ here... and, for the first time in forever, he was okay with that.

Shepard slid a flattened-out palm up between his pecs and pushed him up into sitting position, moving along with him. He saw Kaidan’s brows furrow when he took ahold of the covers -- a hand moving to the back of Kaidan’s thigh before pushing their bodies up -- tugging them aside. Kaidan’s breath hitched as he surely hadn’t expected to simply be lifted up like that. Shepard grinned wickedly at his startled expression before bringing a hand to the nape of Kaidan’s neck, urging him to follow as he dropped to the bed again.

A strangled sound escaped Kaidan’s mouth as he was forced along with him.

Shepard propped his forearm to the bed for a better position, dragging his body back so his whole length was in place. He felt a hand trailing his side, before it reached the edge of his lower overalls, pulling them down. His heart went to his throat when Kaidan brought his mouth to his lower regions. Shepard’s eyes slammed shut when feeling his tongue dipping into his hipbone. Kaidan gently bit into it before moving his lips slightly, sucking the sensitive skin above into his mouth. Shepard moaned, leaning back as his hand moved up, fingers delving into his hair again.

Lips ghosted towards his abdomen, planting a hard kiss right above the edge of his briefs, before separating him from them.

His whole body went warm. He saw Kaidan darting his eyes down, lips cracking into a mischievous smirk, proud of his accomplishment. Kaidan crawled over him, positioning himself to face him again. He didn’t realize he had been holding his breath until a hand pinned one of his arms to the bed in the height of his head. Teasing with him like that...

Son-of-a bitch.

His captured hand clenched into a fist as teeth gently nipped at his stubbled chin. He felt his pulse throbbing in his ears. With attempted force, he tried to release himself from the grip, to no avail. It was almost as if he had put a Stasis Field on him.

Kinky, he thought ...but not completely uncalled for.

Plain torture, being that Kaidan’s body was right there -- almost fully parted from his clothes leaving his warm skin exposed -- but his grip around his wrist preventing him from touch. His mouth was once again captured. He wasn’t used to being manhandled and jerked around like this, but hell, he loved it. Kaidan tipped over for him to end up on top again. He took Shepard’s hand in his and guided it down his own waist. His fingers encountered the edge of his briefs, and as Kaidan arched up his hips to make it easier for him, he tightened his brows and pulled them down.

It was Shepard’s time to tip over.

His heart went to his throat as cloth no longer separated them. It had been a while since last time. Even longer since he bottomed. It didn’t take long before Kaidan’s lips were all over him with occasional bites, as if marking a route on a map, making him feel dazed. Dizzy. Drowning in pleasure. His head stared spinning on high gear. Shepard brought a hand to his neck and forced him up to his mouth again.

He reached out his other hand until he felt the nightstand beneath his fingertips.

Shepard touched the drawer, pulling it open, shutting it again when he found what he was looking for. The kiss broke when Kaidan looked to his side, smirking when he saw what he was holding before turning back, as Shepard draped the arm holding the bottle around his shoulder.

“Was bound to happen eventually,” he murmured without shame, pressing a kiss to the corner of Kaidan’s mouth.

He watched as Kaidan lightly bit into his lower lip, his lustful gaze adding to his already gained arousal, as he took the lubricant from him and sat up. Kaidan prepared them both with such control that he found himself swallowing before putting it aside.

Kaidan angled himself to face him again. They paused when lips were barely touching, breathing each other in, his familiar scent making him lightheaded. They locked eyes, and they lingered, enough for his heart to start pounding even faster. He was given a look, a questioning glance only meaning one thing. Shepard dug his fingers into his shoulder blades and gently shoved him inches down. Kaidan proceeded to part his knees for him even more to receive enough closure. His own heart beat more and more rapidly as everything else had simply been foreplay.

It felt like no matter how hard he tried, no matter what he did, he could never get close enough to him.

Kaidan shifted his body as tightly as he could against his before he ducked his head -- Shepard sliding a hand to the nape of his neck as the other settled at his hip -- Kaidan giving him one last warning.

“Not too late to back out, sir,” he whispered with a hint of tease, nibbling at his earlobe. “Last chance.”

He let out an impatient growl closely resembling a wordless, Just fuck me already, contemplating as if he should say it aloud to make it abundantly clear that he wasn’t backing out. He felt Kaidan grin into his temple.

Sir.

Titles reminded him of regulations and made him feel like a rowdy teenager again being one of his obvious turn-ons. With that, Kaidan fell to his chest, placing a chaste kiss on the skin between his pecs before trailing a hand down his waist. Kaidan touched his thigh, slowly reaching the area where Shepard’s thigh and calf separated, pulling it up.

Then, with a thrust, he pushed forward.

Throwing his head back in reaction, Shepard’s eyes slammed shut as he tightened his grip around him, fingers reaching his amp port. Kaidan’s breath hitched as Shepard’s abrupt movement arched up his hips. Shepard barely managed to silence himself. Kaidan lowered himself onto him, and this time, he was unable to hold back the strangled moan. Teeth lightly bit into his collarbone as if attempting to hold back himself.

A hand was yet grasping his leg as the thumb caressed his escalated knee. The other hand curled around Shepard’s waist. Kaidan then slowly began to move. All his movements were careful, showing no signs of needed rush. Shepard was thankfully distracted as he could feel kisses and gentle bites on his accessible areas. Many of them were placed at his scars, making it obvious that Kaidan wasn’t even slightly repulsed by them.

They set a rhythm to make it as comfortable for each other as possible.

He felt fire pooling low in his abdomen. As the light source in the room was already lowered, he couldn’t make out every detail in Kaidan’s face, but he could tell it was pinched in concentration. Careful not to hurt him or himself. He could see the slight sweat running down Kaidan’s forehead that thinly coated his lover. Shepard pressed his lips to his temple, tasting the saltiness of it, recognizing the musky scent. Dog tags clinking together was the only sound emitting around them aside from occasional moans and curse words from both parts.

Mostly from Shepard.

It was different. His nearly every other lay had been out of pure lust. This was love. The feeling was intoxicating. He felt himself combust in fiery ecstasy when he hit the exact correct spot, on impulse cupping Kaidan’s neck, pulling him in even deeper.

Shepard inhaled raggedly. “K -Kaidan...” he stuttered, before exhaling. “Fuck...”

In a low growling sound, Kaidan hushed him. He could make out a few curse words as he was trying to stay in control. Shepard found himself losing the rhythm. Their pace. He sensed the same tingling feeling as before and pried his eyes open. Like glowing on embers, the familiar blue light had begun to glow around Kaidan -- the radiant shockwaves emanating from his skin -- lighting up his face in the dark room they were in.

Goddamn, he’s beautiful...

Kaidan slowly opened his eyes to meet his gaze. A concerned glance. Hopeful. Instead of a look of repulsion that he had certainly expected to receive, Shepard’s eyes showed nothing but affection, so he allowed his own to flutter shut again. Kaidan then released a strangled moan, the pace picking up speed, him knowing exactly what that meant.

“I can’t... John...” he rasped before he lost control, nails digging into his thigh.

That was enough. It was everything he needed before he as well dissolved into pleasure, his name, coming from Kaidan’s amazing lips. Every nerve in his body pulsed. Static. He felt like he was back on Earth as it was stuttering on its axis. His vision blurred and slowly faded to black. Kaidan planted a soft kiss on his shoulder before their bodies separated. The biotics faltered around him again.

He was about to roll over in exhaustion, but Shepard pulled him back, allowing him to collapse atop of him instead.

He didn’t want to let go just yet as he held possessively around him. He felt Kaidan breathing as heavily as him. The dog tags they were both wearing were a constant reminder that what they had done was a serious fraternization crime, but none of them gave a damn, so it was overlooked.

Kaidan exhaled. “Wow. You’re, ah...” he muttered, yet breathless. “You’re very vocal.”

A strangled chuckle escaped Shepard’s mouth as he had expected something else.

That, too.

It was Kaidan’s time to chuckle as he propped his forearm besides his shoulder, and pulled himself slightly up, allowing them to end up face-to-face again. His hair wasn’t as well-groomed anymore. It was sexy as hell. An indescribable sight that he never wanted to forget.

“I -I wouldn’t be surprised if you woke up the whole crew,” Kaidan added, with a hint of tease.

The amused smile dimmed when their eyes collided to turn far fonder. Shepard had never seen anyone looking at him like that before. Studying every detail in his face, he swallowed. What a guy like Kaidan saw in him still puzzled him to no end.

Shepard’s voice softened. “Still wondering if we’re doing this for the right reasons?”

All the tension in his body ceased when Kaidan chortled.

“Not a chance,” he muttered, caressing Shepard’s jawline as his eyes traced the movement.

His whole body went warm when Kaidan tilted his eyes up again.

He had never imagined that he would settle down. If he had told himself that three years ago, he would’ve laughed at himself -- quickly flagged it off with a, ‘not a chance’ -- as he would rather want to die in battle at a young age than even consider living the civilian life. Kaidan was everything he ever wished for, and knowing he returned the affection was a blessing in itself. The thought of waking up next to him every morning, his fuzzy hair and voice dazed in sleep, was enough to erase all his doubts.

Settling down sure didn’t sound half as bad anymore.

Shepard could gleam a grin forming on Kaidan’s mouth when he tipped him over again. He sensually slid his hand up Kaidan’s arm before it reached his neck, holding him in place, pressing lips to his again. He placed several chaste kisses upon his mouth before capturing him in a deep, long kiss, forcing his tongue through the opening. Kaidan softly hummed happily under his breath as his hand moved up his back. The fingertips of his other brushed against the nape of Shepard’s neck.

Kaidan slept in his cabin that night.

So much better than combat training.

Chapter Text

Sleeping on his abdomen, his arm clasped between the two pillows, Kaidan was only able to pry one eye open before blinking to get used to the faint light around him as the other was yet buried in the soft cotton fabric.

He had already started getting used to sleeping in John’s cabin, so used to it that it felt strange to sleep anywhere else. John had on several occasions told him to, ‘get his damn things and move his ass in already,’ but he had refused. The Normandy have already had her annual inspection, so it wasn’t like the Alliance could get a hang of what was going on in there, but he didn’t want to take any chances. After last night, though -- which meant the world to him -- it was difficult to say ‘no.’

Kaidan felt a faint throbbing in his head.

He reached out to his side only to find it empty and rubbed his eyes before his glance traversed the same way. He had made it pretty damn clear that he wanted John to wake him up. Should’ve known he wouldn’t keep his promise.

Bastard.

John still had problems sleeping restlessly thanks to that nightmare he spoke of. Kaidan had heard him talk in his sleep that night. His muscles had been tense, and the skin around his eyes had drawn tight. There was tension in his neck.

Nuzzling up against him helped, so at least he didn’t feel completely useless where he lay. If there was one thing he had learned about John and his bedside manners is that when he first slept -- he slept like a rock -- and not even a thresher maw blundering up from the floor, possibly spewing acid, could wake him up. After Akuze, though, he was amazed that John hadn’t developed PTSD. Especially as young as he was. His willpower was strong and it was admirable to the fullest.

Stifling yawn with his palm, he pulled himself up, his other hand taking after the back of his neck as feet dropped to the floor.

Kaidan reached for the nightstand until his hand exposed to his omni-tool before turning on the display to look at the time. He proceeded to blink rapidly when he realized it was 1116. Hell, he had slept for a little over twelve hours, but it felt like two. He needed nourishment or things would end badly. Coffee was a good start. He hadn’t really had the time to reflect on everything that had been happening lately. Khalisah wasn’t stupid, so it was odd how she was willing to go to such extreme lengths to put John in a bad light -- risking to lose her job -- by writing that article.

She had no hard evidence.

The whole thing was curious and it felt like there was more to it. Not only that, but he was a lot more involved this time, and he kept running into brick walls. He wanted to find out her reasons.

Liara, he thought. Hell, she probably knows. She’s the Shadow Broker, after all.

They had spoken after Kaidan returned from Huerta Memorial. Debriefed about the old days. Kaidan have always liked Liara, and they got along nicely, but he had to admit that he was somewhat taken aback by her change of personality. She was no longer that young, inexperienced asari that was fascinated by everyone and everything, eager to learn more. Kaidan wasn’t shy to the fact that she once had a crush on John so he couldn’t help but feel guilty, but she genuinely seemed happy for them.

After getting dressed, a drink and some food, he proceeded to the crew deck.

Not looking ahead of himself as he walked, he nearly bumped into the commander himself when exiting the elevator -- his nose deep in a report -- before looking up at the near collision and into Kaidan’s eyes with a startled look on his face. John’s features lit up as a small smile appeared on the corners of his lips. Kaidan didn’t even have the time to return one before it faltered again.

Averting his eyes, John cleared his throat. “Major.”

He was about to move past him without as much as a ‘hi,’ so Kaidan splayed a hand between his pecs, feeling him stiffening up at the touch before he gently shoved him back. John’s eyes didn’t meet his, but as Kaidan watched him, he looked like he’d seen a ghost. To Kaidan, it almost felt like he was a participant in a one-night-stand and accidentally ran into the other participant on the streets.

His eyes fell down to his hand still on John’s chest, but when dropping it, he couldn’t help but notice how John relaxed some more.

“Hey... you okay?”

John gave him a plastered-on fake smile. “Of course,” he replied, curled an arm around Kaidan’s waist before pressing a chaste kiss upon his lips. He turned them so they swapped places. “Hey, I’ve got to take care of this. We’ll talk later, yeah?”

The elevator door shut after him, leaving Kaidan standing there, bewildered.

After just existing for a bit, he blinked, coming back to himself. After getting to deck three, in hope to have his questions answered, he only ended up with a dozen more. Kaidan’s eyes slammed tightly shut, hoping it was nothing, and flagged it off. He proceeded to head for Liara’s office. When the door slid open, he saw her standing by the terminal.

“Liara. Good morning. Already working, huh?”

“Good morning to you too, major,” she replied, and returned a kind smile. “Being the Shadow Broker, I am bound to take a few precautions. After all, I do have clients all over the galaxy. I cannot miss an opportunity, now can I?”

That earned her a chuckle.

Liara had gone to extreme lengths to find the previous Broker, but after their conversation before Horizon -- about John being alive after the SR-1 had gone down -- it was obvious why. The Shadow Broker had taken a friend of her, being reason enough to go after him, but that wasn’t all. The Broker had actually been hired by the collectors themselves to find John’s body. He attempted to stop her from getting to him first, sending Blue Suns mercenaries after her. Liara was fortunate to get to John first.

“Hey, ah... do you have a moment?”

“Of course, Kaidan. I always have the time to speak with a friend. Please, do come in.”

He stepped inside. When he did, he was surprised to see that her personal assistant -- a sphere named Glyph -- was no longer there.

“Ah, Glyph. Yes,” she added. “I incorporated the VI into time capsules that I have placed on multiple planets in case we lose to the reapers.”

“Like a, uh... information guide? Like Vigil on Ilos?”

Liara smiled. “Yes. Shepard said the very same thing,” she said, pushing herself away from the tech. “I do have hope that we will see this through, but as it is, there is a chance we will not. It never hurts to be prepared. After everything we have learned, it would be a shame to see it go to waste for the ones that traverses the galaxy 50,000 years in the future. It could help them, and maybe they will succeed where we did not. But enough about that. What is it you wanted to speak to me about?”

More than I’m going to.

“I’ve just been thinking of what’s been happening, lately...” he muttered, folding his arms across his chest. “I -I guess something just really doesn’t make any sense to me, and I was hoping you could help. Clear things up.”

She gave him a fixated look. “Ah, this must be about Miss al-Jilani,” she said confidently, turning back to her terminal. “Believe me, Kaidan. She did not take any risks. It is not her style. Westerlund News are rather particular and cautious when it comes to coverage in the media and would most likely fire her if she produced false claims. She had undeniable evidence with the vid.”

Had?

“Wait, did you... did you cut the feed?”

The only reply he received was a turn of her head his way and a somewhat smug smirk before the terminal regained her attention. She cut the feed. Kaidan let out a relieved breath realizing that Liara had done them one hell of a favor.

“Of course, there are a few that has seen the full length of it, but nowhere near as many as the hits on the extranet. I cut the feed seconds after it was published but I did save a copy if something would go wrong,” she said, and smiled coy. “I must say, thanks to my curiosity, I could not restrain myself from watching it. It was sweet. I believe you two are perfect for each other. It is good for you both.”

He cleared his throat, feeling his cheeks flush. “Thanks, Liara.”

“Anytime, Kaidan.” Not before long, he glimpsed concern in her ocean-blue eyes. “I cannot help but think that there is something else that is bothering you. Kaidan, are you all right?”

Kaidan looked away. “Yeah, I’m good. I’ve just had a lot on my mind lately. Nothing to worry about.”

“Is this about Shepard?”

She was an amazing information broker, no doubt. It was impressive. He had a lot he wanted to get off his chest, but it felt wrong to talk about John behind his back. It was obvious that something was bothering the commander.

Kaidan wasn’t going to pry, but he might as well voice his suspicion.

Exhaling slowly, he said, “Okay. Yeah, it -it’s about Shepard. Hell, he just... He’s been kinda off lately, you know? Maybe it’s just me.”

“Lately as in, ‘the last couple days,’ or as in, ‘after the reapers attacked Earth’?”

He took a moment to consider her question, the thought bringing him back to John’s then pronounced cybernetics. John’s scars and eyes had taken a red-ish glow when he ran into him in Vancouver. Kaidan could see that his scars had been healing back on Horizon, so it didn’t make sense that they would get even worse by time. However, they had healed again. Almost entirely. Even John was a closed book around his scars, so he couldn’t really get much out of him. Maybe it wasn’t simply the appearance of the scars that bothered John.

It could be how he got them.

Kaidan hated being kept out of the loop that was possibly involving John. Especially now, considering how close they had become. He felt like he distrusted him. If John didn’t want to talk, he would respect that, but that didn’t ease up his curiosity or concerns. Either way, something wasn’t right and he was determined to get to the bottom of it.

“I -I guess, both,” Kaidan said, shaking his head. “Just... especially the past couple days. I ran into him before I got here. It almost seemed like he, I don’t know... felt guilt, or something. Hell, I’m probably just reading into things.”

A sad smile appeared on her lips.

“You are not reading into things, Kaidan. It is not exactly a secret,” she replied, which in returned had her earn a puzzled look. “Shepard has been attempting to get in contact with Miranda lately, but has turned up empty handed.”

Kaidan blinked. “Wait, who?”

“You... have not heard of Miranda?” she asked, and began fidgeting with her hands. “Oh, I see. Well, Dr. Miranda Lawson was in charge of the Lazarus Project. She operated with Shepard during our mission to track down the collectors. Miranda was his XO. In fact, she led a group of Cerberus soldiers that took down those mercenaries that were after me.”

He couldn’t blame John for forgetting to mention her with everything that had been going on, but why would he need to contact her? It could be related to his cybernetics and she knew more about his reconstruction than anyone.

Kaidan immediately got concerned.

“You said she was in charge of the Lazarus Project... Is he -is he hurting or something?”

She shook her head. “Goddess, no. Nothing like that,” she said, allowing him to relax again. “Or, well... maybe hurting emotionally. He is simply concerned about her. Last time they spoke was after the attempted Cerberus coup. She mentioned that she was being hunted by Cerberus assassins after finding out that her father was working for the Illusive Man. Her sister has recently gone missing. Miranda informed Shepard that she had found out what happened to her, and that her father was responsible, but was vague away from that.

“She has refused the Commander’s help. Shepard informed me of this so I could dig up some information to her whereabouts, but I am afraid that I, too, have turned up empty handed. Perhaps you should speak to him as well about it?”

Nodding slowly, he said, “Yeah, I... I’ll do that. Thanks again. That -that helped.”

Liara smiled. “It was my pleasure. Do not hesitate to call upon me if you wish to talk. I will be here.”

Kaidan began to notice that the throbbing in his head was becoming more intense, so he chose to take it easy, hoping that the pain would mend up until they found out what happened at Utukku. Fighting with a headache during a mission wasn’t exactly something he was looking forward to. All this would explain the way John had been acting, but it still didn’t explain his scars.

*

Rachni. The fucking rachni. Shepard was hoping that their sightings on Utukku was simply a misunderstanding.

He stood by the galaxy map, having gotten word from Wrex that a krogan team -- the Aralakh Company -- had gone missing there. They suspected that there were rachni on the planet, being news that concerned him a great deal, seeing that he had freed their queen on Noveria three years back. The queen had promised to vanish but it appears that things had changed. There was more to all this.

“Shepard,” EDI said over the comm, causing Shepard to peek up. “Major Alenko is currently in Starboard Observation and has requested the lighting to be lowered to 16 percent as he is most likely suffering from an incoming migraine.” The concentrated lines on his forehead were replaced by concern. “According to extranet sites, there is a roughly 48.3 percent chance that he is exceedingly sensitive to light and a 31.4 percent chance that he is sensitive to sound -- the numbers constantly increasing -- so I would suggest the use of caution in his presence.”

“Thanks, EDI.”

*

Shepard cocked a brow when the Starboard Observation door fell open. Kaidan was nowhere to be seen when he let his eyes search the room. That was until he heard a vague groan coming from the couch in the same room, sounding like a muffled, “The door... ‘s not so loud.” When he turned his head, he saw Kaidan lying on his back, one arm covering both his eyes.

“Mm... hey, Shepard. That you? Just... I’ll get back to work in a minute. Or 15... or maybe 2 hours.”

Even his speech was slightly slurred as if he had just woken up after a night of heavy drinking. He had never expected to see Kaidan all laid back like that as he was used to his usual straightened posture. Always ready for orders and various assignments. Hell, Shepard didn’t know shit about dealing with migraines. He’s had headaches, sure, but never migraines.

“Migraine?” he asked, keeping his voice low.

Sighing, Kaidan said, “That obvious, huh? Probably the weather patterns, or... something. Utukku. We’re on Utukku, right? That’s pretty hot. Temperature. I mean, if it gets too hot too quickly. It just... yeah. Stuff happens. It hasn’t kicked in entirely yet, though. We can talk. Just... silently.”

“So heat affects migraines. Last night was that good, huh?”

Kaidan let out a strangled chuckle, only to stop himself halfway, sucking in a breath through bared teeth. That reaction was more than enough for Shepard to realize how serious this was.

Shepard cringed. “Sorry.”

“It... ‘s fine. Really,” he replied, and could glimpse a small smirk in Kaidan’s features “...but yeah. Yeah, it was that good. You’re half responsible. Hell... I don’t think I’d be much use to you on this mission, but I’m willing to try.”

He shook his head. “Stop. I’ll bring Liara. It’s no big deal. I guess a massage won’t help?”

Slumping over the side of the couch, he dropped to one knee before him. He reached out only to take his hand back, not entirely knowing what to do with it, unsure what Kaidan would react badly to. He felt pretty damn helpless. Shepard figured that he should probably read himself up on migraines to make it easier for Kaidan. Find out how to mend the pain, if possible.

“Nah... no. Not by much. That only works for headaches. Same with painkillers, ‘s only working for... yeah. Thanks, though,” he replied, before a frown breached his brows. “I can feel your tension... ‘s not like I’m going to disintegrate on your touch, so hey, relax.”

Shepard cleared his throat. “How... do you feel?”

“Like hell, to put it mildly,” he replied. “Feels like someone’s trying to bore into my brain... pounding and throbbing like crazy. My right eye is twitching... and there’s this nagging pain in my temple at the same side... and that’s just the first stages. It also feels like the damn engine is right by my ear, and I can’t... I can’t exactly shut that off. If... if I was at a Flotilla vessel I’d probably put a bullet in my head.”

“K,” he warned.

“Sorry, that... I didn’t mean that. Sorry,” he mumbled, genuinely seeming sorry. “This... I’m convinced this is gonna be a bad one. Similar to when I was under stress at BAaT, and that... that’s saying something. It... it was really bad.”

“Okay, the captain’s cabin is further from the engine. You should try to get some sleep there.”

“John... ‘m fine.”

“Bullshit. I’ll carry you if I have to.” Shepard trapped his wrist before he forcefully moved his arm away. Kaidan immediately winced, tightly closing his eyes. “Sorry. C’mon, keep your eyes closed and I’ll support you.”

“Sir,” he said, his tone defensive. Kaidan only called him ‘sir’ when he was upset. Or had sex. “Hell, I’ve dealt with this a million times before. Go... go prepare for the mission. I don’t... I don’t need a damn babysitter -”

“Cabin. Now. That’s an order, major.”

He had lost his patience.

Kaidan released a defeated breath as he was probably too tired to respond. Too tired to come up with another excuse. Too tired to argue. Shepard was finally allowed to throw his arm over his shoulder and help him onto his feet. Kaidan took after the bridge of his nose, the vertigo apparent, seeing that he had pulled him up too quickly. The blood had probably not been able to get to his head fast enough.

Fuck, I’m only making it worse. Dammit.

His skin was boiling and he was cold sweating. Kaidan mumbled something under his breath, the words unrecognizable, as he was obviously in great pain. Shepard hadn’t felt this angry in a long time.

Stubborn son-of-a bitch and his stupid integrity.

That pissed him off about Kaidan. How he always tried to push people aside when they offered to help. He was amazed it hadn’t killed him yet. Shepard found the whole damn situation stressful.

Fucking L2 implant...

“Still not considering a damn upgrade?” Shepard’s voice was harsher than intended. Also louder, seeing that Kaidan grimaced and gritted his teeth. “EDI, lower the lights in my cabin to 5 percent.”

Aware of Kaidan’s migraine, EDI didn’t reply, and simply turned down the lights. The elevator door hissed shut. Kaidan seemed sensitive to almost all and everything, nearly losing his balance when the elevator began to move, his eyes yet tightly shut. Dropping his arm, hands were soon at his N7 hoodie to tug him in before burying his face in Shepard’s shoulder.

“‘Shprd... ‘r stnd n mh fht.”

“What? I didn’t get that.”

“‘Mh... fht!”

He frowned. “Hell, if you weren’t talking into my damn shoulder, I might’ve heard -”

He abruptly felt a pain in his abdomen causing him to suck in a breath as he took after it. Kaidan grasped the cloth again and pulled him closer, cursing under his breath.

“Shepard, you are standing on the major’s foot.”

Shepard immediately snapped his attention down, only to see that EDI was completely right. He could feel the flush creeping up in his cheeks and changed his position. Kaidan sighed into his hoodie as his muscles relaxed again into the touch. It didn’t take long before Kaidan was vibrating as a low rumbling sound was heard, closely resembling a chuckle.

Kaidan was laughing at him.

The corners of Shepard’s lips drew upwards without warning. The elevator finally reached deck one and the door slid open. He carefully backed Kaidan into the room, feeling a hand moving to the nape of his neck, arms enveloping tighter around him.

“Sorry,” he muttered, nuzzling into his jaw.

Shepard pressed a kiss to his forehead. “I swear to god... if you say ‘sorry’ one more damn time, I’ll might take Javik’s advice about throwing you out,” he said with a small smile, before he pulled away again.

He gently pushed Kaidan to sitting position in the bed and heard a displeased sound emitting from his mouth.

“I’ll be back after I’ve taken care of the situation on Utukku, and hell, you better stay put,” Shepard said.

He honestly considered contacting the Council about removing Kaidan’s Spectre status until he was back from the mission, only to make sure that he wouldn’t break out if he chose to lock the door, but Kaidan knew better than to wander around the ship with a migraine.

“Debrief me later, okay? Hell, just... be careful.”

Ever the worrier.

“I’ll try. Take it easy, major.”

He then brought his team to meet up with Aralakh Company.

Chapter Text

When bringing feet to Utukku’s heated soil, Shepard could already feel the slight sweat by his brows, but otherwise found himself appreciative of the fact that the planet had an atmosphere making it unnecessary for humans and other aliens to wear helmets. It could get hot as hell in those damn things, so not having to bear through the discomfort was an eased burden.

Wrex forgot to mention that Grunt was leading the Aralakh Company.

Shepard didn’t have the luxury of speaking with the Normandy crew while he was in house arrest, especially not those connected to Cerberus, so he felt somewhat out of the loop. He hadn’t spoken with Legion, Tali, Samara or Zaeed in quite some time, having no idea where they were, but the rest he had encountered in the past few weeks. Hearing from them would put his mind at ease.

Grunt had gained quite a few scars obtaining the krogan’s respect who didn’t look kindly upon tank-bred krogans, but thanks to Shepard, he was able to finish the krogan’s Rite of Passage and was accepted into Clan Urdnot. He hadn’t been present when the krogans battled the rachni all those years ago in the Rachni Wars, but his Warlord Okeer had implanted intel on them, and Shepard couldn’t help but feel responsible for him. After Shepard got him out of that tank, Grunt was kind of like his kid.

Arriving at a nearly destroyed building after battling several rachni workers -- obviously influenced by the reapers thanks to their unnatural structure -- Shepard could feel the concrete giving in below him. His eyes went wide at the sudden motion of the building being about to tip, a bench nearly hitting him, but he managed to doge it.

“Look out! The whole thing’s coming down!” Grunt called.

Shepard’s heart raced ten times faster, not having any means of escaping, eyes drifting to a cut out lodge by an opening about ten feet away from him. He pushed himself away from the wall, attempting to move towards it, only to see the building loosen entirely. The ground wasn’t too far below him, so his attention settles at the ground beneath, taking speed before he threw himself out the opening. He mended his fall by a forward roll, unfortunately unsuccessful, as he ended up on his back with a loud groan.

So much for ‘being careful.’

His thought process was interrupted as he became aware of his surroundings. Still lying on his back, he blinked before planting a hand on the floor, pushing himself up into sitting position. His arms moved to rest at his knees. It was some kind of a nest down there. Pushing himself onto his feet, he brushed off the dust that formed away on his N7 armor.

He looked up at Garrus and Liara. “Everyone all right?”

“Spirits, you were the one taking the fall here.” Garrus’ talons encountered the concrete above before he dropped down to Shepard’s level, and Liara quickly followed “...and you’re calling me reckless?”

“Nothing a year of therapy won’t fix,” he replied.

“Shepard!” Grunt called from above, looking down. “You in one piece?”

He drew his assault rifle. “Looks like we’re all okay,” he replied, before taking another quick look around him. “You’re in luck, Grunt. There’s a nest down here. See if you can find a way around and meet up with us. Keep in radio contact.”

After all, Grunt loved fighting rachni.

Venturing further into the cave-like area, they run into some sort of webbing being spread all over, although it wasn’t normal webbing. It was thick as hell, so you couldn’t exactly wipe the stuff away with your hand. Shepard had thankfully found a flamethrower by a fallen krogan to make it easier for them to continue on. Shepard was convinced that the webbing was apparent because the rachni were probably protecting something, or someone, down in the lower passages. He was determined to find out what.

Grunt backed into the cave as he finished off the remaining rachni that had followed his team in. Aware of Shepard’s presence, he turned, giving him an appreciative nod as the rest of the krogans scouted the area.

“Thanks, Shepard. That wasn’t webbing stopping us,” Grunt said, and heaved himself to the same level. “That was reaper tech.”

“We ran into it, too.”

They had mostly cleared the area, but there were yet holdouts where they remained. The rachni had backed off, at least for now, but were probably planning a full-on attack after they had collected their numbers to get an advantage up against them.

Grunt’s glance wandered to the nest. “We’ll dig in there, kill anything that moves, buy you some time.”

“Good luck.”

Shaking his head, Grunt approached his team. “I don’t need luck. I have ammo.”

Shepard smirked.

Grunt pulled out his shotgun. “Krogan! Get ready!”

The pathway ahead towards the main chamber was pretty damn narrow, so they had to crawl a small distance, before approaching a far more open area. His eyes widened at the sight. Not in a million years had he expected what he saw. Before him, he sees the very same rachni queen he had saved on Noveria in her full glory. She was trapped.

Shepard touched his earpiece. “Grunt, we’ve located the central chamber.”

The ground team had to fight their way over to her seeing that the remaining rachni were protecting her with their lives. There was obvious reaper tech all around them, and if he wasn’t going crazy, he could swear the rachni queen was speaking through krogan corpses. Garrus took a curious step towards them, Shepard holding him back with an arm, not trusting the small amount of distance put between them. The rachni had retreated back into their relay like they promised back on Noveria, but the reapers interfered, indoctrinating them.

She wanted Shepard to free her.

Taking a step forward, he asked, “Are you capable of fighting the reapers?”

“We hate the machines. We will fight for our unborn children,” she replied, attempting to pry her foot out of the last shackle that was holding her back. The queen growled. “Release us!”

Garrus turned to him. “She’s badly wounded. She needs too much time to escape!”

“Shepard, we’re out of time!” Grunt called over the comm link, Shepard moving two fingers to the transmitter to hear him more clearly. “We stay here, Aralakh Company dies! Is that clear?”

Ruthless calculus.

The rachni queen could equip them with her rachni workers to help out in defeating the reapers, benefiting them greatly, as the reapers could no longer control them. Her hatred towards the sentient machines was clear so she would fight until her last breath. In doing so, helping her escape, Grunt had proven a point that he barely had the time to reflect on. Aralakh Company would die. This sure as hell wasn’t the first time he had been forced to make a tough decision, it came with the territory, but that unquenched feeling of guilt in his gut had vanished long ago.

Everything he cared about was winning this damn war.

“Listen up! Aralakh Company holds the rachni off while the queen escapes,” he commanded, not skipping a beat. “We’ll buy you some time.” He twirled his back to her. “Grunt, fall back to our position and lead us out!”

“Damn you, Shepard! I’m leaving my team. On my way!”

Liara looked concerned. “Commander...”

“That’s an order! She’s too valuable an asset to lose!” he snapped, beginning to move towards the shackle.

He raised his pistol up to destroy the shackles holding her back, took a deep breath before he pulled the trigger. With a shriek, the rachni queen was released, forcing her foot up from the fastenings and pulling out.

Shepard moved two fingers to his earpiece. “Now get us outta here!”

It didn’t take too long before the wall beside them was blasted open with a shotgun, Grunt stepping forward, the dismantled look on his face revealing his disapproval. But Grunt respected Shepard, and he would follow his lead, no matter what. They took to running-and-gunning as the indoctrinated rachni were aware of the queen’s escape, drawn to their direction like seeker swarms, attempting to stop them from escaping. Eventually ending up in a far tighter quarter, they took cover next to the cave wall, having spotted the waves of rachni lying before them.

Think, Shepard... think.

He gave Grunt a look, expecting an input. But when his eyes glazed his way, Grunt’s own already bore into his own, his breathing heavier as he looked at him. Shepard’s expression fell. He knew.

“The shuttle’s down that path!” Grunt called, shooting a glance to the pathway before looking back. “I’ll hold them off.”

As the words escaped his mouth, even as expected as they were, Shepard couldn’t help the lump forming in his throat -- swallowing it hard down -- not moving his posture by an inch. He just stood there, looking, his body unable to respond. He wouldn’t -- couldn’t -- see another member of his crew die. The war had taken its toll. It was only a matter of time before he would break entirely.

Grunt shoved him back, breaking him from his trance. “Get outta here, Shepard!”

His jaw clenched. For a moment, his glance drifted the rachni’s way, knowing it was the right decision when he turned back. That didn’t make it any easier. The skin around Grunt’s eyes had drawn tight. The determination emitted was clear.

He was a true krogan.

Not trusting himself to speak, Shepard gave him a court nod and reached out, a gloved hand giving his shoulder a gentle squeeze before he gestured the ground team to get moving. As he did, Grunt turned towards the rachni, his shotgun warm and ready to fire.

“My turn...” Grunt murmured, his shotgun raised as he released his characteristic laugh.

*

Shepard felt nothing but guilt when he was safe, walking at a distance behind Garrus and Liara towards the shuttle, contemplating if it truly was the right choice. He knew Grunt. He was the strongest krogan that he had ever met, so god, he wasn’t ignorant enough to believe that the kid -- hell, he was still a kid -- couldn’t handle himself. He might be young but age said little these days. Shepard wasn’t ignorant to the fact that there was a chance that it could go sideways. He knew that he couldn’t save everyone.

The worst part was who it always entailed.

Ash, sacrificing herself to save the mission -- a mission where he was forced to choose between a close friend and the man he loved. Pressly, going down with the first Normandy -- a sudden explosion drawing the breath straight out of his lungs. Thane, sacrificing himself to save a councilor -- an understanding that his disease would make it harder for him to recover. Mordin, for atoning for his past mistakes -- a choice to give his own life so that a whole species could continue on living.

Neither of them deserved to die... and then they had men such as Kai-Leng and the Illusive Man walking around, who sure as hell didn’t deserve to be drawing a single huff of breath.

As further into the war they came, people were dying all around him, and he was there to experience the loss and unfairness. Now, when the reapers were on the horizon, he could do nothing more but to accept that even more people close to him were going to die. Move on. Even trivial matters not involving the reapers had people die around him. He couldn’t think rationally. But at least he was trying.

With a final glance, he cast his eyes over his shoulder. Immediately, his features mellowed and his brows shot up. Shepard’s face lit up as relief soothed him, until concern spread across his demeanor.

“Grunt!” he called, running towards him.

The ground team quickly shot their attention his way. Even if covered in rachni blood, stumbling like he had just taken one too many bottles of ryncol, Shepard could do nothing but be thankful that the tough son-of-a bitch was still breathing.

Grunting, he asked, “Anybody... got something to eat?”

Grunt wobbled forward before collapsing into his arms, Shepard having to steady himself as krogans were not exactly the lightest species. He threw his armored arm over his shoulder and supported him towards the shuttle.

Shepard grinned. “Probably got a few energy bars in the shuttle. Help yourself with all of ‘em, Grunt.”

“Heh-heh-heh...”

*

“I’m reviewing your report on the rachni situation, Commander,” Hackett said, back on the Normandy. “This could’ve gotten complicated, fast. I hope you know what you’re doing, cutting a deal with the rachni queen. We got burned last time. I’m trusting your instincts, Commander.”

“We can count on her support, Admiral.”

“I hope so. But... we cut the reaper supply of new rachni troops and picked up some additional krogan support. I call that a victory. I’ve got to get back to it, Commander. Watch yourself out there. Hackett out.”

Then he knew that at least two people weren’t going to be happy with his decision.


The pain of Kaidan’s migraine had begun to mend, but it was far from over. He had eventually managed to get some sleep, if only for a couple hours, and as little as it was -- he knew for sure that even such a tiny amount of rest could help a lot in the long run.

He reached for the painkillers at the nightstand, badly coordinating his motions, his fingertips just out of reach. Kaidan cursed under his breath as a rattle rung out in the room when the contents hit the floor, the lid not fully closed as five separate rolled out of it, leaving few left. The door slid open. He watched as John pushed on his brakes like he’d crashed into an invisible wall when the cylinder form reached his Alliance boots. Icy-blue followed the movement on the floor before darting their way back.

“What did those poor painkillers ever do to you?”

Leave it to John to find humor in everything. He should’ve seen that one coming. Much to Kaidan’s relief, he had remembered to keep his voice low. Sensitivity to light was far more concerning, but it was a problem nonetheless. The pain had thankfully mended slightly in the past couple hours, even if it was still an internal struggle, so he could keep his eyes open if he wanted to.

Sighing, he buried his face in the pillow. “Nice to see you, too,” he muttered, wanting to sound sarcastic but failing.

He could tell John was about to ask about the migraine.

“Still there,” Kaidan said. “Just... grab that for me, will you?”

John reached down for the painkillers, his position reminding him what a great view it would be from a back-view angle, disappointed he couldn’t see the show. Taking ahold of the contents that had fallen out and screwing the lid back in place, he placed the medication back onto the nightstand. A somewhat pained sound escaped John’s mouth as he took after his opposite shoulder, rolling his neck.

“You okay?” Kaidan asked.

“I’m good. I ran into Grunt on Utukku, that’s all,” he murmured, and Kaidan had to hold back a grin.

John could willingly head-butt a krogan but not take a hit to the shoulder?

Gesturing the motion, John said, “Roll over.”

Kaidan snorted. “This is really not the time, Shepard.”

“Uh-huh.” John’s arms crossed above his chest, expression remaining stoic although he glimpsed a small quirk of his lips when he pried one eye open. “It’s also easily enough a better position for me to mend the pain of that migraine you’ve got.”

A faint blush crept up in his cheeks. “Oh. Right.”

“C’mon, Casanova. Up and at ‘em.”

To get him moving, John gave his ass a good whack that made his cheeks go warmer, a muffled grunt channeling throughout the room being his only reply.

“You’re enjoying this a bit too much, Commander.”

Kaidan knew he wasn’t going to budge so he obeyed, his back slumping to the bed to allow him access. He had to admit that this was a million times better than getting high on painkillers and other antiseptic medical substances. He hated the hazy feeling when affected by it. Kaidan saw him drop to the bed and sat down next to him.

John touched his face. “Hell, major... you’re burning up.”

He merely hummed in reply with his eyes closed, being well-aware seeing that he would’ve undressed by now, but had no energy for it. John brought a thumb to his temple, massaging it with the same careful and steady movements, sending a pleasant shiver down his back. To distract himself from the sensation, he decided to keep the conversation going. The sound of John’s voice was soothing.

“So what happened on Utukku?”

With a small smirk, John said, “Straight to business, I see. It was the right temple, right?” He applied light pressure at his side, and Kaidan nodded. “Yeah, you’re not gonna believe this...” Having noticed the tension on his touch, John began to massage the area. “Remember when we were looking for Liara’s mother on Noveria? Benezia. Turns out that the Aralakh Company were investigating sightings of rachni.”

His eyes snapped open. “Whoa, wait. The rachni?”

“Uh-huh.” Kaidan opened his mouth to reply, but didn’t have the time to comply “...and before you give me any crap for releasing their queen back at Peak 15 -- which I’m still convinced was the right choice -- let me just say she’s kept her promise.” His mouth closed again. “She promised that they would stay out of sight, and they did, but ended up becoming indoctrinated and had them turn against the krogans. Reapers were breeding rachni. We ran into the damn things on Tuchanka when taking care of the genophage, too.”

Curing the genophage. Right. He actually did that.

“I was pissed, but at least I got the answers I needed eventually when we ran into the queen again on Utukku,” he added, brows veiled with doubt crinkling into a frown. “I had the choice to either leave her to die, which would cost us war assets, or let her go so that she could supply us with rachni workers. Those are tough sons-of-bitches. Aralakh Company suffered more casualties than necessary seeing that they needed to help the queen escape, but it all comes down to sacrifice the lesser for the many if we’re going to win this.”

“Yeah... yeah, I know.”

It was the hard truth.

He couldn’t hold back the pleasurable moan the way John’s thumb was working against his temple.

“You’re amazing, John. You know that, right?” Kaidan said.

“I’ve heard it a few times. I mean, I did stop a rogue Spectre, became the first Human Spectre, died and came back again. No big deal... and before that, I basically overcame nature by surviving Akuze...” he replied cockily, and Kaidan’s eyes opened to meet his.

He gave him a judging half-amused smile. He was confident, no doubt.

“Don’t make me punch you.”

“I also managed to get the galaxy’s hottest biotic in bed with me.”

“Mm... okay. I’ll let you have that one.”

“Yeah, it sure as hell was an experience when you were with the Alliance -”

John was forced into a fit mix between a cough and laugh, taking after his abdomen that his fist had basically launched at. The laugh lines on his face gradually faded again. There was that look he had seen in the elevator again. Kaidan knew John inside out. His morals, his views, his willpower. He knew every single part of his body, his every turn-on, his every freckle, his every single sweet spot. But yet, the usual stoic expression on John’s face was unfamiliar to him now, and he couldn’t place why. Veiled. Closed.

His eyes told an entirely different story.

Guilt.

There was just something about that word that kept reappearing in his mind.

Kaidan was about to ask, but found himself easily distracted when John crawled over him, lowering his mouth to his neck and gently biting into it. His chest drew tight when he sucked in a breath. He didn’t need to do much to be turned on by him, as John knew exactly what to do, which was both a curse and a blessing at the very same time.

“You’re pretty hot when you get all possessive,” John murmured, his voice low and seductive.

Groaning, Kaidan said, “John, please. I do not have the energy for this...”

“Just reminding you what you’ll be missing out on tonight,” he purred, teeth nibbling at his earlobe.

Kaidan made a displeased sound. What a damn tease. When John’s knee -- accidental or not -- brushed against his lower regions, he stopped his lazy assault and blinked.

He felt the appearing sly smirk by his temple.

“Wait, is that a side-effect from the migraine... or are you just happy to see me?” Shepard said.

Okay, thanks. Thanks for putting me on the spot like that. Bastard.

Kaidan sighed. “You’re a horrible person,” he replied, trying to ignore his erection. “At least now you know why the rachni were on Tuchanka, too.”

At the mention of Tuchanka, John pulled himself up, shifting his position for thighs to trap his hips. He probably knew what was coming next.

“I’m sorry... About Mordin,” Kaidan said. “A shame I didn’t get to meet him.”

“Yeah, he wasn’t the typical salarian. Using Kelly Chamber’s phrasing -- our previous comm-specialist -- he was ‘like a hamster on coffee.’ He also performed ‘Gilbert and Sullivan,’ believe it or not.”

He couldn’t help but snort. That told him everything he needed to know about the prestigious salarian doctor. John was taking all this in like a professional, but it was easy to see the strain in his glance. Beneath a stoic appearance, blue eyes conveyed far more emotion than presented. Even now, John was a closed book, and deep inside it hurt knowing that he didn’t trust him enough to open it up for him.

“What happened -?” he asked, only to stop himself. “I mean, if you’re okay talking about it.”

“The salarian dalatrass, Linron, contacted me before we headed to release the cure throughout this huge monument called ‘The Shroud’,” he replied, so at least he was talking. “The salarians and turians spread the genophage through it, so we figured that it’d be the best way to deploy the cure. However, Linron was against curing the genophage in its whole, so she gave me an offer. Deploy the cure, and don’t get the salarians help in the war. Or sabotage the cure, tricking the krogans into believing the genophage was exterminated, to gain both their support.”

Kaidan could understand the salarians’ caution, wanting to wait until after the war so the krogans didn’t get out of control, but sabotaging the cure entirely? That was wrong on all occasions. Kaidan had to admit that he was uncertain if releasing the rachni queen was the right thing to do, but hell, taking it into consideration it wasn’t different from making any other race go extinct.

“That’s genocide.”

“Sure is. I called her off, but that doesn’t mean I didn’t consider it.”

Kaidan’s heart got stuck in his throat.

What?

John’s squared his shoulders. “Don’t give me that look,” he said sternly, and there was a strain in his voice. “There’s a damn war on. We need people. Krogans, salarians, asari... everyone. Hell, if we have to lie or extract information at any cost to gain someone’s support, we’ve got do it. You can’t honestly say that it wouldn’t even be an option if the decision would fall to you?”

Genocide. John would commit genocide to stop the reapers. There was no way that he would’ve done such a thing back when they were tracking down Saren and Sovereign. He had said so himself.

What’s the point fighting for humanity if we lose it in the process?

“You... wouldn’t do it.” The hurt in John’s eyes was far pronounced. “Fuck,” he whispered, before raising his voice again. “Dammit, Kaidan. I know what I’m doing. Hell, don’t try to guilt trip me with your ‘by the book’ routines. It ain’t working.”

“John -”

“Stop,” he snapped, and briefly looked entirely feral. Teeth gritted. Cybernetics taking a brief, red glow. His voice softened again and he closed his eyes. “Hell, let’s just... let’s just stop talking about this.”

Kaidan studied his face, trying not to stare although it proved difficult, attempting to regain his gaze.

“Okay,” he muttered, taking hold of John’s thighs before he clamored up to sit. “Okay, I -I get it. You don’t want to talk. I respect that.”

He could see John swallowing hard, as he refused to meet his eyes.

“Hey...” Kaidan tried.

He reached for him, but John immediately winced as he again brushed against his scars. Kaidan was quick enough to catch his cheek again, forcing him to look at him. When John’s eyes pried open, he looked entirely broken, the word ‘sorry’ written all over his face. Kaidan had never seen him like that before. His outer demeanor always covered over his inner, not allowing himself to show any signs of weakness.

Kaidan brushed his thumb across the area below his eye before moving his hand down to his neck, gently pulling him down, their foreheads connecting. He gave him a tight-lipped smile.

“It’s fine,” Kaidan muttered.

An uncertain frown appeared by John’s brows, as if he didn’t fully believe it. He saw John’s eyes darting down to his lips, before he slowly leant in. His eyes fluttered shut as his mouth slightly parted, taking in his familiar scent.

Their lips were only to brush before John captured his wrist, removing it from his cheek, and pulled away.

“Is your head any better?” he asked, receiving a slow nod in reply. “Good to hear.” John’s lips quirked slightly upwards only to be draw into a thin line again before he eased himself up from the bed with guilt-ridden eyes. Guilt. There was that word again. “I’ve got reports to finish up,” he added. “Try to get some more sleep to ease the pain. I’ll be up in an hour or two.”

“Yeah. Okay.”

He saw his jaw clench. “I love -” he began, only to clear his throat. “I’ll... lower... the lights on my way out.”

With that, John was out the door, firm steps with hastened purpose. Kaidan chose not to comment on the fact that he had ignored the lights on his way out. John had to be tired, and Kaidan knew he had more to say, but wasn’t going to push him for a continuation.

Kaidan sighed, pinched two fingers to the bridge of his nose, brows tightening as the migraine was far from gone.

Hell... why won’t you talk to me?

Chapter Text

Shepard’s morning routine existed of grabbing some coffee as well as some food, proceeding to the shuttle bay to get some training done and then getting a shower. Vega was his sparring partner, or as Vega calls it, ‘dancing partner.’ The kid was impressive in the field, and thanks to his will to help the Alliance, he definitely reminded Shepard of himself when he first joined up. Shepard had heard about his experience back at the colony of Fehl Prime, and Vega had shared bits and pieces, but he hadn’t been prying when he countered the topic.

Fehl Prime was to Vega what Akuze was for Shepard. A bad memory. He was under the Lazarus Project when it happened.

Liara had also told him fragments of what happened down at the colony, seeing that she was briefly contacted by Vega’s crew to analyze some prothean architecture that they had discovered. What Vega ran into back there was another instance of ‘sacrificing one amount to save a greater one.’ Being in command, he had the choice between intel on the collectors or a ship full of civilians. He chose the intel. Vega knew some of the civilians personally, and that was the part he never went in detail about. It was obvious he cared a great deal about them.

In Shepard’s case, Akuze presented him to the realities of war and he started to see things differently.

Joining the N7 program happened next. He knew how dangerous it was out there, didn’t get the same adrenaline kick as before, suspecting that his age was the reason of his discouragement. Shepard didn’t like to think that he was getting old, seeing that he was only 32, but it sure felt like it. Eight years from now and he’d end up in midlife crisis, push everything aside to watch ‘Fleet and Flotilla’ with a bag of chips -- scratch that --five bags of chips and PJs, nagging to Anderson via comm-link about the idiotic fact that the bags were only fifty percent air.

Shepard cringed at the thought.

He was getting ready for their next mission. Liara had mentioned an Ardat-Yakshi monastery in Lesuss where asari units had been sent, only to end up dead, the cause of their deaths being unknown. Ardat-Yakshi were dangerous bastards, him having experienced their persistence to seduce and kill, so this was likely a tough mission. He had been hoping to get his mind off things, and something to get his blood pumping was a good start, knowing he didn’t want the near incident with Morinth to repeat itself.

Knowing he had to expose his squad to them made him more than just a tad uneasy.

Flickering his eyes to his side, he glimpsed Kaidan arriving down in the shuttle bay. It was good to see him back up on his feet again. Thankfully, his migraine hadn’t lasted for more than about two days.

Kaidan quickly caught his eye and offered him a tired smile that he couldn’t help but return.

Being lost in thought, he couldn’t recollect before a fist swung his way, right in his nose. Shepard staggered back with a muffled groan, feeling red substance beginning to pour down his nose canal and put up a better guard.

James chuckled. “Whoa, Loco. A little distracted, are we?”

Shepard cast a quick glance Kaidan’s way again, seeing that his face had a smug smirk before turning to Steve, well-aware he was responsible. Kaidan muttered something to Cortez out of Shepard’s earshot, but he could hear Steve’s chuckle shortly following, proceeding by shaking his head. His own eyes narrowed, but he flagged it off.

“Don’t get cocky, lieutenant,” Shepard warned, being back in focus. “Remember what happened last time?”

Most of their conversations happened over sparring -- sorry, *dancing* -- being the only way to get James talking. It was far more healthy, too, seeing that Vega could rather take his frustration out on Shepard than anyone else. Embracing the anger was sometimes better than brewing on it for a long period of time. Forgive and forget. Vega did however become predictable if angry and that gave Shepard an edge.

“No offense, Commander... but por pura suerte,” Vega replied.

Vega was bigger than Shepard, would definitely win in a straight up fist-fight, but Shepard was far more agile. He remembered that during one of their first sparring lessons, he had warned Vega not to let his good looks fool him, and quickly took advantage of the situation when he froze up. They didn’t have any rules other than, ‘Don’t kill each other,’ using Steve’s phrasing.

“I think I’ve brought you to the ground enough times to consider it to be skill,” Shepard said, dodging his next attack. “Not luck.”

Vega had however learned to keep his anger somewhat on bay, being an obvious distraction, so he was getting better. Shepard was good at fighting dirty, comes from growing up in a gang. Five minutes passed before Shepard brought him to the ground.

He groaned as he lay there. “All right, Esteban. Loco won this round. Pay up.”

Shepard rolled his eyes and offered his hand, so James captured it for him to pull him up on his feet. Knowing Kaidan and Steve as well as they did, there was no way they could resist betting on who would win.

“Actually...” Steve said, revealing a somewhat apologetic smile. “I, uh... I happen to have bet on the Commander.”

“Oh, c’mon!” Vega called, as if he’d been utterly betrayed.

Shepard wiped the blood away from above his lips as a wide and easy grin appeared on his face. However, his smile quickly faltered.

“Wait, if you bet on me...” Casting his gaze aside, he saw Kaidan rubbing the back of his neck. “Oh no.” He took a step back and held up a hand. “I can’t believe my own XO bet against me.”

Kaidan handed over the credits. “C’mon, Shepard... It -it’s Vega.”

“Okay, if that’s where it’s at... I think you need some practice appreciating me,” he replied, and pinned him with a glare. “Get your ass over here and let’s see whose footwork we’ll have to work on.”

He was given a, ‘Wait, now?’ look.

“I’ll go easy on you not to ruin that pretty face of yours. It’s your only asset,” Shepard jokingly added. “Hell, if you want me to hold back and allow you to win -- just say so.”

“Oh, okay. Yeah. You’re going down,” Kaidan murmured, approaching him.

Getting a better foothold, he raised his fists as his eyes pierced into Kaidan’s with a challenging glance. He seemed highly confident of himself where he stood and didn’t even flinch.

Shepard was wearing a black tank top with his lower civvies while his dog tags hung loosely between his pecs. He had already started to regret choosing the color as the strong lighting in the room was slowly burning his upper body. Feeling the slight sweat running from his own forehead, he attempted to regain control of his breathing, being one of the most important aspects when it came to training. He and Vega had been going on for about two hours by now, and using the intensity they always did, they always parted tired.

But he had also warmed up.

“So we’re really doing this, huh? C’mon, K. You’re getting old. I don’t want to hurt you.”

“Trying to sass me up, huh? We’ll see about that,” Kaidan muttered, throwing a punch that he managed to block.

The amused look on Shepard’s face was only to falter again as Kaidan went in for a left-hook, right in his abdomen, forcing him a step back.

Kaidan smirked. “With age comes experience.”

Shepard put up a guard.

“Uh-huh. You only got three years on me, Alenko. Going up against me ain’t a joke,” he said, attempting to psyche him out. “Ever told you about how I brought down a thresher maw with nothing but my assault rifle and limited options for cover?”

“I get why Vega calls you ‘Loco’,” he replied, shaking his head disapprovingly.

“You didn’t exactly say ‘with age comes wisdom,’ now did you? I must’ve forgotten that after joining the N7 program,” he countered, going in for an attack, only to dodge to the side as Kaidan tried to sneak one in.

“Hell, I forget you never did get chosen for the N7 program. You wouldn’t know how that is,” Shepard added.

Kaidan’s gaze drifted down. “Right.”

“Careful, major... Eyes front. I don’t want to distract you too much,” he said, quoting Kaidan back on the SR-1.

Kaidan looked up with a deadpan expression. Shepard threw another series of blocked punches with both hands before putting up another guard.

Breathing somewhat heavily, Shepard said, “Not bad.”

“Look, I didn’t get a promotion for nothing. But, hey... there’s nothing wrong with misjudging my use of footwork,” he replied, and smirked. Shepard narrowed his eyes. “Don’t worry, sir. At least you know I’ve got rhythm where it counts.”

His cheeks went warm, caught off-guard as he was left in the open, Kaidan taking his reaction to his advantage as he swiftly maneuvered in a half circle -- ending up behind him -- in the speed grabbing Shepard’s wrist and locking it behind his back. Shepard grunted at the force, as he had nothing he could do, not even attempting to pry the arm around his neck away.

“You’re not going to live long if you continue letting your guard down, Commander,” Kaidan said, nuzzling into his jaw.

He was so smug that it wasn’t even funny, slightly rocking Shepard back and forth, being oddly calming. Shivers traversed down his spine by his husky voice only, being plain torture, that alone enough to distract him from whatever the hell he was doing. Who would’ve thought that ‘by the book’ Kaidan Alenko would know how to fight dirty?

“Not every day my opponent’s ass looks that good in civvies.”

“Hey, pendejos -- get a room!” Vega called.

Shepard flipped him off, earning a chuckle from James. He felt Kaidan grinning into his temple. Attempting to move, he was only to be held back, arching his brows in interest because of it.

Kaidan lips ghosted his ear. “As for my reward...” he purred, making him smirk. “Lesuss. I’m coming along.”

Way to kill the mood.

He certainly hadn’t expected that. Shepard blinked, taking it into consideration as he studied the ceiling. When Kaidan loosened his grip around him, he pulled slightly away.

“These are Ardat-Yakshi we’re dealing with. I don’t know if they’re hostile or not, so there’s no room for mistakes,” he said, turning to see Kaidan wearing an expression as if he couldn’t comprehend a single word of what he just said.

He wanted to make it perfectly clear what Kaidan was asking. What he was asking Shepard to do.

...bringing Kaidan to a dangerous mission such as this one.

“Ardat-Yakshi,” he confirmed, and Kaidan’s expression mulled. “They’re uniquely gifted asari that has the power to make someone their thrall by seducing them. Can dominate organics, works just like hacking drones and such, so they’re a force to be reckoned with. That migraine has probably weakened your resolve. I know you despise waiting on the sidelines, but take it easy for a couple days, let it heal.”

Worst excuse I’ve ever had.

Sighing irritably, Kaidan averted his eyes, and he knew he was busted.

“Look, Shepard,” he said, voice lowered for the others not to hear. “You’re constantly throwing yourself into the fire without taking into consideration what that’ll do to those around you. Hell, if you expect me to just accept that -- waiting for you to get back from a suicide mission when I could be there to watch your six -- you’re dead wrong. We can’t let this...” Kaidan flicked a finger between them “...come between the mission. We can’t hold each other back like that. It’s selfish. I’m no less capable than I was before we got together.”

“Here I was about to suggest tucking you in bubble wrap and lock you in.”

Shepard glimpsed the subtle upturn on the corners of Kaidan’s mouth, pursing his lips to attempt hiding it. Kaidan was desperately trying to keep a straight face, and his adorable expression shone through.

Cute, he thought, smirking. Yeah, definitely *cute.*

Kaidan cleared his throat, succeeding in holding back the laugh. “I’m good, Commander. Thanks,” he said, and rolled his shoulder. “So just... let me. Okay?” There was a plea present in his tone. “Just like old times.”

“Good job at making me feel like shit, major. Fine. Like I said... Stubborn.”


Kaidan couldn’t help but notice the quiet ride back to the ship after their mission on Lesuss was done.

The situation had deteriorated quickly when they found out a bomb had been planted in the Great Hall. While there, they ran into Samara, who John had briefly mentioned being an asari Justicar. The reapers had gotten to a woman named Rila as well as every other Ardat-Yakshi in the monastery except from her sister, Falere, who both appeared to be Samara’s daughters. Samara’s code had been to kill all Ardat-Yakshi that lived without a monastery, but she refused to kill her own daughter, and put a gun to her head. John had thankfully stopped her.

It turned out well in the end, as Falere had promised to stay there, so both she and Samara could live.

John had told him about Samara, but he had never gone in to detail about her daughters being Ardat-Yakshi, as he obviously had encountered them before. It made him curious. He had been asked come up to his cabin after the mission report had been written, so Kaidan was headed his way, hoping to get some answers. An understanding of sorts. Something in John awoke after Samara nearly committed suicide.

However, when he reached the top deck, he heard two voices.

“C’mon... I need to know you’re safe,” John said.

“I’ve already told you that I need to do this myself, Shepard,” came a feminine voice with an Australian accent, being strangely familiar to him. He had heard it before. Somewhere. “I’m fine. Right now, Oriana is everything I care about. Bloody hell, adding this to your list of troubles isn’t worth it. I can handle this alone. I don’t need you to be the ‘knight in shiny armor.’ Not this time.”

Approaching the doorway, he saw John sitting on the bedside with an omni-tool voice-link display before him. His arms lay across his thighs with a deep frown by his brows. He could see the worry lines by his eyes.

John pinched the bridge of his nose. “Dammit, Miri. Listen to me -”

Miri?

It could be this ‘Miranda Lawson’ he had heard about. It had to be the woman in John’s company back on Horizon. Kaidan didn’t really want to eavesdrop, so he cleared his throat, making him aware of his presence. John peeked up from his hand with a startled expression, although it shortly mellowed, appearing to somewhat relax again. There was still something guarded about him. Tense.

“I, ah... I could come back later,” Kaidan said, shooting a thumb over his shoulder.

John shook his head. “It’s fine, major. Just give me a minute.”

“Not necessary. You have a war to win, Shepard. I suggest you get back to it.”

“Miri -Dammit!” he said, and rose.

She had apparently hung up.

John sighed.

“Miranda Lawson, right?” Kaidan asked, curious. “Liara told me about her, said something about her sister going missing. I’ve noticed how strange you’ve been acting lately, so hell, you don’t need to explain. I get it.”

Walking past him, he replied, “Only part of it. Miri -Miranda and I, we were...”

...together.

That explained why he had been pacing so much lately. John needed someone to turn to when he was tracking the collectors, and Kaidan was glad he had someone, but he couldn’t help but notice the increasing whiff of jealousy that ushered through. Someone had held him, kissed him, slept with him, those weeks he was away. Kaidan couldn’t help but wonder if it would be different if he stayed. Helped him stop the collectors.

“I’m sorry, Shepard,” he muttered, and he was.

John was hurting, and hell, that was enough.

John slowly nodded in thanks, but then the skin around his eyes drew tight. He didn’t met his gaze. By his focused glare, it seemed like thoughts passed behind him like shadows. John put up a guarded position by folding his arms across his chest, leaning to the fish tank. Kaidan knew, just by that look alone, that he was going to get all the answers to the questions he hadn’t asked yet.

“There’s a reason why the crew doesn’t talk about their time with Cerberus, but we agreed to bury everything related to it,” John said.

What, Horizon?

“I’m looked upon as some damn hero, and that’s as far away from the truth as it can get,” he added, building up a point that made him feel uneasy. “I can apparently do whatever the hell I want and the Alliance just chooses to look away. My involvement with the Reds? Covered up. My temporary alliance with Cerberus? You name it. The batarian relay on Aratoht? I killed over 300 000 people and yet the Alliance brass chose to do nothing but take away my ship and keep me in lockdown for mere months. Do you know why I was locked up?”

“Because someone had to answer for what happened,” Kaidan said, although he wasn’t so certain anymore.

Dropping his head to the tank, John said, “Sure, that’s what the Alliance keeps telling everyone. According to Anderson, if anyone else did what I’ve done, they would’ve been courts-martialed. Everything keeping me from getting locked up for life is my so called ‘knowledge of the reapers.’ Like I’m some sort of a damn martyr whose name needs to be protected at any cost. Throwing me to the batarians wasn’t an option to them, but it sure as hell would’ve save them a shitload of trouble, after all the damage I’ve caused.

“If we win this war, all my wrongdoings simply goes away, just because I’m ‘Commander Shepard -- a symbol’,” he added, and finally met his gaze. “The line between ‘wrong and right’ is thin as hell because my name is a label saying I’m allowed to pull the strings.”

“Shepard, you turned yourself in.”

“So that makes it all fine?” he asked pointedly, misunderstanding Kaidan’s inquiry to the fullest. “Even you -- of all people -- got the same damn mindset as everyone else in the galaxy. This right here is exactly what I’m talking about.”

“That’s not what I meant,” he replied, shaking his head. “After the events of Aratoht, we knew that the batarians would go to war if you walked away freely like nothing happened. That war would turn a blind eye to the reapers, and that would doom us all, seeing that we shouldn’t fight each other when there’s a bigger war ahead of us. If you hadn’t gone willingly, you’d have it way worse. Destroying that relay delayed the reapers return. It was a tough call that no one should have to take, but it had to be done. Killing thousands so that billions could live.”

Kaidan sighed. “Horizon didn’t make that choice.”

“You pissed me off when you walked away even if I know it was the only sane thing to do,” he replied, scowling. “I don’t want to talk about what happened because I went out of line on several occasions. My cybernetic scars, caused by stress, were a constant reminder of my actions that many would find unjust. I still can’t get that look of repulsion you displayed back in Vancouver out of my head.”

His gaze faltered. Repulsion. He couldn’t deny it.

“After Horizon, I stopped caring completely as if I was back on the damn streets. Started drinking. Snapped at everyone and everything,” he added. “Everyone that even as much as wronged me ended up with a bullet in them. I aggravated people, helped illegal services, killed hostages, left dozens of civilians to burn in a refinery so I had the time to go after a crime lord, and hell, that’s just a portion of what I did.”

You did *what?*

The calmness in John’s voice was as if what he was saying came naturally to him. Kaidan felt downright sick in his stomach. Nauseous. Unfamiliarity of pure but weary anger emitted from his blue eyes. Kaidan shifted his weight to his other foot just to add to the distance between them.

Kaidan cleared his throat. “I... I mean, people get aggravated all the time. Helping illegal services... you -you had a reason for it.”

“I was low on credits. That’s it. No other reason.”

“That... c’mon, John. That’s not too bad, okay?” he tried, but didn’t fully believe it. “Sometimes... sometimes we need to do things we don’t want to. It could be way worse... and killing hostages, that... that was accidental -”

“No, it wasn’t,” he replied, nearly snapped. “I killed them when they were held against me, removing the bargaining chip.”

“So those... those civilians...”

“I could’ve helped them. I could’ve, and I didn’t, because I didn’t care,” he replied, and a scowl breached his features. “I’d rather see that fucker Vido as a grenade blew up in his face than save them. I just wanted that son-of-a bitch dead. Removed from existence. I didn’t care for those civilians. Why would I? They were strangers. Unknowns. I had no attachment to ‘em.”

John... you’re kinda scaring me here.

“Remember Khalisah? Hell, if Garrus hadn’t held me back, I would’ve killed her on the fucking spot,” he added, his voice not skipping a single beat. “That came back to bite me in the ass on Apollo’s. She had an agenda. I was even an ass to Anderson -- the only guy that cared about a messed up 17-year-old kid who killed for a living. Everything people ever saw in me was a monster who’d do whatever the hell he wanted without a second thought, and they were right, I just refused to believe it.”

Kaidan opened his mouth but no reply was emitted.

They just stood there for a moment while John’s usually blue eyes -- now glowing a dim red -- felt like they bore into his very soul. John took a step back, swirling before he slumped over to the table by the far end, Kaidan tracking his movement with the corner of his eye.

John reached for his old helmet and held it in his hands.

Kaidan felt more and more unfamiliar. Almost lost. John’s answers did more harm than good. He looked at the scarred helmet, John’s eyes never leaving it, the veins in his hands drawing taut as they tightened around it.

“Why are you telling me this?” he asked, voice soft.

“Because you deserve to know that I’m not the damn poster-boy for the Alliance that millions of kids in the galaxy idolizes. Who wouldn’t hurt a damn fly. Few can come unscarred from the shit I’ve seen and I’m not one of them.

“The reason why Miranda and I ended up in the first place was because I was in a bad place. In the beginning, I did nothing but use her, and she didn’t know. It evolved, and I began to care, but... she wanted a future with me -- a life -- and I couldn’t give her that. I’m trying to make up for what I put her through but she simply pushes me away. I can’t blame her because I would’a done the same. Now she’s on this damn crusade that’s going to end up killing her, and it’s all my fault.”

Guilt... there it is.

John trailed a rift in the helmet. “It would’ve been better if I just stayed dead.”

With that, Kaidan was out the door.

Chapter Text

Docking with the quarian envoy ship, Shepard pushed his weary body away from the war table with dull eyes observant to the Admirals of the Migrant Fleet. His ray of hope in getting their support had quickly vanished as he found out that they had acted on their own terms by recklessly engaging in open war with the geth, defying the Council’s wishes of not provoking them, driving them away from their homeworld. Suffice to say, he wasn’t surprised when they requested the Normandy’s support in disabling a geth dreadnought that was broadcasting a reaper signal.

This, of course, brought up the topic of the war between the quarians and the geth. Shala’Raan tried to rectify their choice by mentioning that they never wanted to create true AI’s, but Shepard made it clear that two wrongs doesn’t make a right, and that had the room go quiet.

In defeat, Shepard touched two fingers to the bridge of his nose.

“Don’t bother. Admitting we were wrong would undercut the justification of this suicidal invasion plan,” Koris said, his arms folded across his chest “...and this time, we may have destroyed our people for good.”

Their fleets were pinned in the very same system and the reapers had conjoined with the geth, empowering their resolve, making them far more effective in combat. If that wasn’t bad enough, Gerrel had also involved the civilian ships in the attack, needing to retreat before they managed to lose the liveships. The plan was to board the geth dreadnought and disable the signal that the reapers were emitting.

Shepard found himself conflicted if the mission or the civilians were top priority. They needed some technical expertise for the mission to succeed in its whole. It didn’t take long before a familiar quarian -- rather recently made Admiral -- stepped through the doorway.

“Tali’Zorah vas Normandy, reporting for duty,” she said, and Shepard smiled.

He retreated to the captain’s cabin to wait for Tali who had wanted to speak with him in private. As he entered, his eyes wandered to the neatly stacked pile of reports on the couch that he had been writing the past couple hours.

Worst part of the job.

He sighed and skidded over where he latched them up in his arms, nearly toppling over as he ran his foot into the table, muffling an annoyed grunt before he moved them to the inner table. Putting them aside, his gaze traversed aside where he picked up a stray report, about to join it with its peers. Report: Ardat-Yakshi Monastery. He shook his head and shoved it aside.

Shepard nearly startled when the door fell open.

Tali stepped through the doorway. It all came to show that she had been busy with the Admiralty Board seeing that her father was the previous Admiral, and Tali had to take his place, seeing that he had passed away not too long ago. That was the reason why she hadn’t been able to contact him. Garrus had however remained in touch and acted as a go-to when things became difficult.

She plucked at her suit sleeve. “Thanks for asking me up. I couldn’t talk freely in front of Raan.”

Tali was obviously upset about something judging by the strain in her voice, tone nearly brittle, and the way she refused to meet his eyes. His protective instincts had immediately kicked in as he had approached her with a comforting effort, touching her shoulder, attempting to regain her gaze. The new tech that had made the invasion was based on her father’s work, Rael’Zorah, who had been illegally experimenting on live geth behind Tali’s back. He would never forget the way she broke down after finding him dead. It hurt to see her like that.

Shepard kept Rael’Zorah’s intentions between him and Tali by her own wish, seeing that if he was exposed to the Admiralty Board, he would be depicted as the worst war criminal in quarian history. Tali didn’t want that and Shepard accepted her decision. To him, Rael’Zorah’s actions weren’t unforgivable. She also voiced her concerns about Admiral Xen being in the picture and indulged Shepard about having the responsibility of seven million lives. Tali had done everything she could, and if any of them died, it wouldn’t be because of her.

He gave her a lackluster smile. “We’ll get them out of there safely, Tali.”

“I couldn’t do this without you, Shepard. I feel like I’m bluffing,” she said, forcing back a laugh as she snorted. “Trying to convince them that the Admiral’s daughter knows what she’s doing.”

“Not the Admiral’s daughter... the Admiral.”

“I know. And at least now, I can push back against the worst ideas. That’s why I accepted the position.”

Smart.

Tali gave him a somewhat shy look over her shoulder, laying eyes upon the heroic image he had built, like a mentor “...and because of you. When they offered me this position, I asked myself what you’d do. I thought you’d take the chance to make things better.”

She averted her eyes. “That probably sounds stupid. It’s just, I know I’m not really qualified for this...”

Tali’s lack of self-esteem was almost painful to witness. She was an amazing woman with great qualities that no one else in the Normandy squad could even hope to accomplish. She was a much needed -- and thoroughly appreciated -- support.

Shepard clasped his arms behind his body and straightened his posture.

“You’re doing fine, Tali. And thanks,” he replied, and a small smile played at his lips. “Look, there’s one thing I’ve been meaning to ask... it’s kind of been bothering me.”

He fell into a pause. “So... turian brandy?”

A low growling sound emitted for the quarian.

“Keelah... I swear, Garrus never shuts up,” she murmured, and he could swear she was blushing. “Against my better judgment... I feel for him. At least I got my feelings sorted out and settled for a turian.”

She chuckled. “Ha! My father would’ve hated you.”

Shepard couldn’t help but smile. Tali didn’t have to do much to lift his spirits. He was glad to have her back.

It became evident by the time of the suicide mission that Tali’s feelings for Shepard simply had been misplaced, being more of a hero-worship, seeing that she explained that it was difficult for a woman not to fall for a “dashing commander” to use her own words. It turned out that falling for a merc vigilante who took ‘calibrating’ to a whole other level was difficult not to fall for as well.

*

Shepard only had to choose his team and they would head down to take care of the geth problem.

A feeling of dread spread inside him as his eyes sought out the door to the Starboard Observation. After their talk two days ago, Kaidan had moved down, not having stepped a foot inside the captain’s cabin. Kaidan was the only good thing in his life -- knowing damn well that he doesn’t deserve him -- and yet he held onto him as tightly as he could. Kaidan made him question himself. A commander shouldn’t do that.

Maybe reassignment was the best choice after all.

Getting attached was a weakness. Kaidan was a weakness to his resolve. Nevertheless, he had already fallen into that trap and gotten attached beyond reason. Shepard had barely slept lately because of those thoughts of moral denial constantly roaming his mind. The nightmares and the cold, empty space beside him kept him restless with a determined hold, a darkness to envelop him.

He was an idiot believing that everything would go back to normal after what he had done under Cerberus’ banner, like he was cursed, never allowed to settle down and live a normal life.

A normal life, he thought, and snorted internally. Hell, this ‘normal life’ is nothing but alien to me.

Shepard swallowed his stubbornness and headed for the door with reluctant purpose. Aside from the Normandy engine’s muffled hum, the room lay in dead silence, not easing up the tension between them by an inch.

“You’re not coming up again, are you?” he asked, leaning to the doorway with crossed arms.

Kaidan stood by the window with the orange omni-tool display illuminating the glass. He knew he was there. If he didn’t, the reflection from the window revealed his presence if he looked up. He was still angry with him judging by the fact that he didn’t.

“Depends,” he replied. “You still want to die?”

His chest tightened hearing the hint of ice in Kaidan’s voice. He wanted to approach him, wrap his arms around his waist to seek the closure he had been longing for, but he didn’t. Instead, he stood like a wounded animal just waiting for the hunter to finish him off. Kaidan received no reply, not able to see the softened look on Shepard’s face, as his tense muscled back yet faced him. He could hear him sigh deeply as his shoulders briefly sagged. The omni-tool display ceased. Kaidan escalated an arm to the glass window before him and rested his forehead against it.

“Look, I just need to know something,” he said and Shepard knew that now came trouble. “Do you regret what you did?”

He did regret it.

Still, Shepard remained silent, wanting Kaidan to believe that he didn’t.

Why?

Because Kaidan would forgive him.

He didn’t want him to, because hell, Shepard knew that he didn’t deserve his forgiveness.

Kaidan lightly bit into his lower lip. “At the top of it all, you didn’t tell me about this before now? Great.”

He noted his sarcasm.

“I don’t know what you want me to say. I’ve always been a man of action, K. Not words.”

Pushing himself away from the window, Kaidan gave him a look over his shoulder.

“No. No, not always. Back then, you did whatever you could to resolve conflicts diplomatically. Now? Now you’re just looking for an excuse to pull the trigger,” he said and Shepard swallowed hard. “Cerberus was simply a cover for you to do what you wanted -- without anyone judging you for it -- so you could blame it on them instead of taking the heat yourself.”

He couldn’t deny his logical approach. Kaidan had been thinking a lot about this. That much was certain.

“It all comes down to what’s best for the damn galaxy,” he replied, his voice stern as he took a step forward. “Someone’s got to make the tough decisions. Hell, it wasn’t like I tortured and murdered innocent people in cold blood. Every single one of ‘em got what they knew was coming to them but that doesn’t mean I was proud of it.”

Kaidan finally turned to face him.

“If that was and stayed in the past, then I’d be willing to forgive it, but your moral line is still pretty unclear to me here,” Kaidan said, shaking his head. “Like I said... ‘sometimes a way a thing goes down does matter.’ And you don’t seem to care if it ends pretty or not.”

I was lost without you, K. I lost my way and my sanity. That’s why I did it.

Running a hand over his buzz cut, Shepard averted his eyes, eventually ending up at the back of his neck. He pressed at the tight muscle there. It was such a small thing to say, but yet, he didn’t know if it would ease or add to the unwavering tension between them. Shepard didn’t want Kaidan to think that keeping him leashed was his only purpose, because it wasn’t, as his support meant a lot to him.

“I’m not sure if I can get behind that,” Kaidan added.

Shepard froze. He stared at him in disbelief, trying to process his words, only coming to one logical conclusion. His hand dropped motionless to the side. When the brown hue met his blue, they seemed conflicted, hurt apparent.

I thought so.

Horizon, Mars... they always came around, always forgave each other, but now this.

He admitted those things to test if Kaidan still wanted him. So why did he feel like his whole world was stuttering -- like the abyss itself surrounded him -- when the answer was presented? Kaidan had added to the distance between them, and now it seemed like he had finally accepted that Shepard was broken beyond repair, having come to his senses. Shepard had warned him on Apollo’s. Warned him that he didn’t know what he was getting himself into. Yet here they were, discussing a topic that should’ve been brought up a long time ago.

It was probably better this way.

Slowly nodding, he swallowed down the lump in his throat. The muscles in his shoulders locked tight as he transferred his attention to the Starboard Observation window, finding it difficult to look him in the eye.

“The mission comes first,” he simply said.

Silence.

“So that’s it, huh? No argument?”

His abdomen churned at the hurt in Kaidan’s voice.

There’s no argument because I want you to find someone better.

Thinking about the situation now, he realized the exact reason why he held back, why he secluded himself up through the years after Ace’s death. He was a battle-hardened soldier, but he was still just a man.

He had made a lot of mistakes in his life, but this... this tops it.

Shepard closed his eyes. “No argument. The mission comes first... which is why I need an XO.”

More silence.

“Then that’s what I’ll be,” Kaidan said, his voice painfully soft. It didn’t get much clearer than that. “Look... Tali’s waiting for you. For now, focus on getting these civilians out of the combat zone. If you want me to come along, just give the word.”

Shepard took a moment.

“Guess you better gear up, then,” he replied, and changed his stance. “I need a biotic, and Liara’s still coming to terms with what happened down at Lesuss. Javik... kinda scares me. I think it’s the eyes.”

He could swear he saw the subtle upturn of Kaidan’s lips, although it didn’t last for long, if it wasn’t simply his eyes betraying him. It was subtle but it was enough to ease the tension between them by at least an inch. The mission always came first. No strings attached, no unnecessary drama or attachments, no more questions of ‘why’ they were temporarily breaking it off. They didn’t need to because they were both already aware of the cause. It was as it should be. Shame it took such a long time to figure it out.

Kaidan cleared his throat and turned away. “Yeah.”

*

“We’re approaching the quarian home system. ETA to Rannoch: five minutes,” Joker reported, tapping at the screens.

Kaidan’s glance briefly traversed John’s way, seeing him in a straight posture by the cockpit, appearing to be more focused than ever. No matter how painful it might be, and how hard it felt at the moment, he knew it was the right thing. That was at least what he kept telling himself. Joker took them in after making a joke about the Russian Nation Anthem.

Shepard ascended his eyes skyward and let his arms drop to his sides before he approached the airlock, waving him and Tali over.

“All right. Once we’re aboard, we find whatever’s broadcasting the Reaper signal and shut it down,” he said, catching Kaidan’s eye but only briefly. “Tali’s our expert on geth software. She’ll be handling hacking and security.”

Kaidan nodded. “Good to see you again, Tali.”

“You too, Kaidan,” she replied, and he could see her gaze moving down to his wrist as he cocked a curious brow. Tali gestured towards it. “How’s the omni-tool? Still using the Logic Arrest?”

“It’s still the best model.”

“Not for running multiple attack processes simultaneously,” she corrected him, shaking her head. “You need a Nexus.”

Wait, a Nexus? You’re kidding, right?

John blinked. “Ah, guys?”

“Hell, it might be more expensive but that doesn’t necessarily make it better. I’ve weighed my options and went for the Logic Arrest. It was the more reasonable choice,” Kaidan replied. “C’mon, Tali. You know the Nexus shield enhancements are years behind the curve!”

She rolled her eyes. “That’s why you overclock the microframe.”

“Guys?” John tried again, holding up a hand. “Clueless commander standing about? Anyone care to clarify?” When Tali inhaled deeply to explain the whole process, he waved it off. “You know what? Just... never mind. I wouldn’t understand anyway.”

It appeared that one of the tubes were physically insecure and that conjured up a problem to complicate matters even more.

John shook his head. “Too risky for the whole team. I’ll secure the docking area.”

Kaidan’s expression immediately mellowed. He didn’t like the idea. Not in the slightest. They might’ve broken it off, but hell, that didn’t change the fact that he cared. John was putting himself at risk.

The ship was even larger than an Alliance dreadnought, so that awoke some concern, and considerable understanding that the quarians were struggling. They had connection over the voice links and John described how the lack of gravity was disorienting. Arms folded across his chest, eyes forward, Kaidan felt more uneasy than he should’ve. John knew what he was doing but that didn’t mean that he wasn’t concerned, cause hell, he was. Tali however got on the dreadnought schematics and aided him through the process.

He could breathe out again when John found another airlock so that they could meet up again. The first thing Kaidan did when they reunited was to unconsciously ask him if he was okay.

John’s, “I am now” when he stepped up to him, broke his heart.

After some time, John was separated from them again -- had another near-death experience by nearly falling off a platform -- and Kaidan didn’t know how much more he could handle before going crazy. They successfully managed to disable the geth dreadnought after a few minor obstacle along the way, but that wasn’t what concerned him when nearing the end of their mission.

The geth, addressing John as Shepard-Commander, did.

Legion -- the geth -- had apparently worked with John when tracking down the collectors. By the way they conversed, Legion was labeled as ‘a friend,’ and Kaidan could feel a headache brewing up just thinking about it. Even Tali said she was glad to see it again and he felt more out of place than ever. He trusted John. His concern was if it would come back and bite him in the ass later.

That particular geth had been unwillingly taken into confinement and used as the reaper signal. They got the hardware blocks deactivated, and after that, the gunfire continued.

Shala’Raan’s voice called out. “Admiral Gerrel, what are you doing?”

“Raan, check your screens! The dreadnought is helpless!” came Gerrel’s voice. “No barriers, and the main gun is offline. We can remove their flagship if we strike now!”

Kaidan couldn’t believe what he’d just heard.

“You’ve got to be kidding me!” John called, unloading on another geth.

The geth were storming the room with determined purpose of never allowing them to leave the ship. Hell, if the Admirals went through with what Gerrel was purposing, it wouldn’t even matter. They heaved themselves behind cover as the geth moved towards them. This was Eden Prime all over again and he could nearly find himself having flashbacks from the mission. Jenkins, Nihlus, the Beacon. Everything.

“Dammit, this is our chance to withdraw the Civilian Fleet safely!”

Rapid geth pulse rifles and cannons channeled throughout the otherwise empty room, and they were many, more than enough to overrun them if they got reckless. Kaidan found himself gazing several times John’s way -- his preferred tactic always having been a full-on assault -- who had surprisingly enough managed to stay at the same place behind cover. There were geth hunters trying to flank them. They nearly ended up back to back as the geth were collecting themselves around them like a pack of wolves.

“What are you talking about?” Tali called, bewildered. “We’re still on board!”

“We can’t waste this chance,” Gerrel said, honestly planning on sacrificing both them and the Civilian Fleets. “Heavy Fleet, all forward. Take out the dreadnought!”

Raan broke in. “Patrol Fleet, hold position!”

“You do that, and the Heavy Fleet gets wiped out,” he spat, and he wasn’t wrong. Nevertheless, that didn’t make his actions just. “And if we die, a simple retreat won’t save you from the geth response!”

“Damn you, Gerrel.”

Tali moved behind cover. “Damn it, what are they doing?”

“Focus on the geth!” John commanded. “We’ll worry about the Admirals later -- I’ll personally give ‘em a piece of my mind if they follow through this bullshit!” He unloaded on a Geth Prime that had just arrived. “Alenko!”

“Got it!” he called back, charging a Reave.

The pulse drained power from the Prime and gave them a fair advantage until two geth rocket troopers revealed themselves. After several more shots, it began to clear up around them, free to move with only a few stragglers left.

“Patrol Fleet, flanking support on the heavy Fleet...” said Raan. “Give them a firing lane.”

Two more geth primes appeared in their line of sight, so John didn’t waste another moment to order Tali to use Sabotage on one of them, causing it to turn on the other, giving them an opening to finish off the stragglers.

“All ships, open fire!” Gerrel’s voice rang out.

Only moments later, a huge explosion hit the concrete behind them, sending part of the ceiling down and nearly on top of Legion who barely managed to dodge it. Their only way out would be escape pods, but according to Legion, the geth transmit intelligences via remote signal and didn’t use them. However, geth fighters were docked in the fighter bay’s port-side.

Several explosions surrounded them.

John growled at Gerrel’s previous demand. “Legion!” he called, waving him over. “We gotta get the hell out here. Now!” He touched two fingers to his earpiece. “Shepard to fleet! Hold fire! I repeat, hold fire!”

Their feet took them as far as they could reach when realizing that the Admirals weren’t responding. Either they had purposefully blocked them out or the explosions had cut the connection. Concrete fell before them as they are forced to take a step back, crashing down the floor beneath the roof, having them dodging and running towards the hangar.

The Admirals were about to shut the damn door.

John raised his voice. “Damn it! Double-time, people! We’ll make it!”

And they did. Barely.

*

When arriving back at the ship, John knocked his shoulder hard into Gerrel’s as he passed him, heading for the comm-room.

Kaidan was standing with arms folded across his chest besides Tali by the war table, observing as the Admirals were conversing about Gerrel, and how he should be charged for treason. Hell, he agreed. John’s anger was understandable and Kaidan had to admit that he wanted little else but to throw Gerrel biotically across the room. He understood the importance of the mission and could accept their decision if it was just the three of them, but sacrificing entire civilian fleets, just to take down a geth dreadnought that wasn’t firing?

That was uncalled for.

Not only that, but Zaal’Koris had sacrificed his ship to destroy a planetary defense cannon while they were on the dreadnought and had crash-landed on Rannoch, which left the Civilian Fleet without a leader.

Gerrel took a step forward. “I was within my authority as admiral of the Heavy Fleet!”

“And what of Shepard?” Raan asked distressed, gesturing John’s way as he approached. “And Tali’Zorah, and Alenko?”

“They escaped unharmed!” Gerrel called, and crossed his arms before his eyes settled at John. “Shepard, the mission parameters changed. You’re military. You understand that.”

The damn nerve...

“I understand that you wasted your chance to withdraw safely!” John snapped.

“The dreadnought was a perfect target!”

When Kaidan moved his gaze to John, the concentrated lines on his face faltered, realizing that he was holding back from doing something stupid. He was moving in a determined motion towards Gerrel with firm steps. It was only a moment of time before John would break. Han’Gerrel was testing his patience to an extent that he had never before seen. His eyes fell down, and he could see John clenching his fists.

Kaidan released his arms. “Shepard.”

Snapping his attention with the same feral look as before his way, they locked eyes, and lines on John’s face eased. Kaidan saw him swallowing but chose not to say anything else.

“This is exactly what kind of shortsighted, bloodthirsty behavior I was worried about,” John said instead, turning back to Gerrel.

Gerrel moved in until merely inches separated them. “If you could retake Earth with a little friendly fire,” he replied, eyes piercing into John’s as their gazes were unwavering, “you’d do it in a heartbeat!”

“You’re lucky I need your damn ships, Admiral,” he warned, his teeth gritted.

Giving him a cold shoulder, Gerrel said, “I’ve got to get back to the Heavy Fleet. Raan, we’ll talk later.”

Gerrel bumped Tali’s shoulder as he passed her with a force that almost sent her tumbling over. John took a step forward, but Kaidan held up a hand to stop him.

Tali scoffed. “Bosh’tet.”

Kaidan’s eyes fluttered shut when seeing John’s fists unclench. At least there wouldn’t be any more tabloids about punching people. A reporter was bad enough, but an Admiral? Way worse.

John shook his head. “Prepare for the next mission. We need to get to Admiral Koris.”

Chapter Text

After becoming separated from the civilians, Zaal’Koris was hesitant when Shepard chose to go after him instead of them, knowing that he could only afford the time to get to one location. There was still the common sense of right and wrong, which pushed him forward into realizing that he was needed to lead the Civilian Fleets, causing Koris to upload his coordinates after some convincing.

Shepard could do nothing but relate as he had been in that position more than a few times throughout his years.

Admiral Raan debriefed them when they returned to the Normandy that geth fighter squadrons were targeting quarian liveships, able to cripple the quarian fleet, so they headed down to disable the server controlling the squadrons.

Shepard turned to Legion. “What’s our status?”

“We remain undetected on encrypted geth channels,” he replied. “Resistance is likely only within the server. Direct virtual interface is necessary to extract geth from the server. You must enter our consensus.”

Kaidan shook his head. “That kind of tech isn’t even on the market,” he said, rising from his seat. “This can’t be safe.”

It was then obvious that Legion wanted him to virtually interact with the geth. Humans had experimented with virtual interfaces before, recalling back to Project Overload where a rogue AI-human hybrid was nearly unleashed, but the geth had apparently refined the interface. The Normandy also had equipment to facilitate safe contact.

Legion simply asked Shepard to trust him.

“I have your back, Legion, even if I don’t quite understand why you need it,” he replied, straightening his gauntlet.

“You are an unknown. This is an advantage. Geth security is not adept at targeting organic thought processes. While we occupy the system’s intrusion countermeasures, you will disable the squadrons by removing geth from the server.”

“If it saves the liveships, we’ve got to try it.”

He briefly cast his glance Kaidan’s way, whiskey-brown eyes focusing on nothing in particular while directed at an empty spot in the shuttle. It was an expression that he found mostly unreadable. Seemed like a mixture of disapproval and disdain by his light frown alone. Kaidan didn’t know Legion, so Shepard didn’t expect him to trust him like he did. Yet, Shepard was convinced that his distrust for Legion wasn’t the only thing roaming his mind in this very moment. It was either a headache, or it had something to do with Shepard. The latter seemed more plausible.

“Telemetry data predicts this operation has a high chance of success,” Legion said, and walked up to the shuttle door. “There is little time. We will bypass security while you secure safe landing.”

Shepard blinked. “Wait. You’re not going to -” he tried, but Legion simply dropped. “Let’s... set the shuttle down by the cliff.”

Legion hadn’t been straightforward with the mission, so when they returned to the Normandy, they did so with a newfound cooperation with geth primes who volunteered to help out in the war. Legion had transferred geth programs from the server into the platforms that they had earlier seen, not wanting to leave anyone behind, seeing that the geth were now AI’s capable of individual thinking. Shepard knew the feeling of leaving someone behind so he couldn’t blame him. He could relate. So he let him.

The mood in the shuttle back wasn’t as grim as he had expected, but the sensation was yet there in the unusually thick air around them, a faint cloud of doubt wrapping them in the atmosphere. Shepard didn’t hear any inquiries from Kaidan who seemed to have a change of heart about geth in particular. The grim mood later turned light when Kaidan asked Legion about his armor -- Shepard’s old N7 -- so Shepard could do nothing but smile as Legion’s only reply was “no data available.” Tali added that Legion was a ‘fanboy’ of a certain commander.


Shepard touched down on Rannoch with Tali and Garrus after they had geared up a few hours later.

He watched as Tali walked up to a cliff edge and crouched down to the soil, bringing up her omni-tool, studying the ground before her. He and Garrus approached in silence. Shepard touched her shoulder in attempted comfort, a gesture that she seemed to appreciate, as she nodded and patted his hand. He knew that this meant a lot to her and so did Garrus. They agreed to give her this moment and relish it for a time before they had to resume their mission in removing the geth presence. That was, after all, what they were there for.

Tali hung her head. “I can’t believe it. I don’t think it’s really sunk in yet. The homeworld. My world,” she muttered, voice nearly brittle as she stood. “Look at the sky. And the rock formations? They used to write poems about them.”

“When we’re done, maybe you’ll write a new one,” Shepard said.

Her eyes crinkled to reveal a small smile. “This is Rannoch, the world of our ancestors. Our bodies carried the seeds that spread the desert grass. You’ve heard me say, ‘Keelah se’lai?’ The best translation I can come up with is, ‘By the homeworld I hope to see someday’,” she said, and made a square with her index fingers and thumbs. “The living room window will be right... here.”

“Something I should know?” he asked, giving Garrus a knowing smirk as he folded his arms across his chest.

He could swear he saw the turian blush, but still, it was difficult to tell.

You settling down, Garrus?

“I just claimed the land,” Tali replied, and looked out on the landscape with hope gleaming in her eyes. “I know, it doesn’t mean much, but when this is over... I’ll have a home.”

“The quarians spent centuries as nomads. You think you can go back to living in one place?”

“We have gotten used to carrying our homes around with us.”

She seemed uncertain as she nervously fidgeted with her hands, but Garrus walked up to her as his talons clutched around something tangible. She held out her hand. Shepard had to smile when he looked at the small rock in her palm, Garrus’ hands affectionately enveloping around hers, before he took a step back.

She chuckled. “Well, that’s a start.”


Kaidan found out that the Normandy had just recently docked after getting back from the quarian homeworld. He had gotten a message from one of his students in ‘Biotics Division’ before John headed for Rannoch.

He arrived at the Presidium where he met up with three of them. His students had to go off-grid for a while, and that explained why they hadn’t been able to contact him while he was waiting for an update. Kaidan had to admit that he had been somewhat worried even though he told John otherwise when asked. He was still responsible for them.

“Alenko, huh?” came a gravelly voice. Kaidan pushed away from the reception counter and turned to see an older man with one blind eye and pronounced facial scars. “You’re that guy who made the Commander go fuckin’ nuts. God goddamn job. He was too soft.”

Kaidan blinked. “Uh, what?”

“That bastard never told you about me? Zaeed goddamn Massani,” he said, and it immediately went up for him. Zaeed was a mercenary that worked with John during the collector mission. “Vakarian and I personally had him pull his head out of his arsehole to focus on the mission. Never would’ve thought he was fuckin’ gay the way he was droolin’ over that Cerberus officer.”

Kaidan uneasily shifted at the statement.

Zaeed must’ve been over-exaggerating. Kaidan couldn’t exactly deny the slight feeling of dread as if barbed wire was scraping against his insides, either, because Miranda really had to be something. He saw her on Horizon, so hell, there was no doubt she was beautiful.

Hesitating, he rubbed the back of his neck. “I, uh... I think the term is ‘bisexual’.”

“I don’t give a flying fuck what the term is. He could be into varren for all I care. Whatever’s better to strike him fancy than that stuck-up chick with her chin raised so high I could’ve sworn her head would’ve fallen off,” he replied, and Kaidan smiled. Definitely over-exaggerating. “Not to mention she always had a feud with that psychotic bitch. Helluva show. You missed out by playing ‘good little soldier’ and stickin’ with the Alliance.”

“I sure have.”

“If Shepard loses his head, we’re all goddamn dead, and the reapers will be dancin’ on our graves. Take my advice, kid. Kick his arse in the right direction and keep him there.”

I’m trying.

“Good. I needed to get that out. Now excuse me, but Jessie and I need to take care of a godforsaken volus that pissed off the wrong turians. Tell the bastard not to forget giving me a damn call when you move in on Earth if I don’t run into him first,” Zaeed finished and gingerly patted his rifle.

Kaidan arched a brow.

Jessie?

He gave a nod as Zaeed walked away. “Will do.”

When returning to the Normandy, Kaidan was surprised to notice the unusually good mood at the ship, lighthearted chatter channeling out in the room. It was as if there wasn’t a war on and everyone had gone back to their posts as if nothing ever happened in the first place. For a brief moment, he actually believed that Chakwas had snuck some sort of medical substance in the mess food to get and keep morale up, but he flagged it off. Chakwas wouldn’t do such a thing unless she had ingested one too many Serrice Ice Brandy bottles.

He headed for the cockpit.

Joker spun around in his chair. “Hey, Kaidan! So how’d it go at the Citadel?”

Okay, even Joker’s friendly to me. The hell? Something’s definitely going on.

“What happened?”

“Pssh! Look, just because I don’t treat you like shit anymore after holding that gun on Shepard, it doesn’t mean something’s wrong.”

He gave him an unimpressed look.

Joker cracked. “Shepard killed a reaper. On foot.”

Kaidan’s eyes widened. “He did what?”

“Back on Rannoch? It wasn’t a reaper base it was a live reaper!” he called, more enthusiastically than usual. “We found out that their weak point is that huge red laser thing, started shooting, and it just fell to the ground. Legion was like, ‘We may escape while it recovers,’ but Shepard wasn’t taking any of that crap and just jumped out, started firing at the weak spot and holding it off, so we could gun it down. It was sick!”

“It -it wasn’t sick, it was stupid. Reckless,” Kaidan said, voice stern.

Scoffing, Joker said, “We won, didn’t we? Hell, I was scared shitless when it occurred, too... but we won. Man, take that up with the Commander. I’m not going to act like a go-to when you two don’t communicate properly like a couple should.”

“We’re not -”

There was a twinge in his gut.

Yeah... we’re not.

Joker blinked. “Oh boy,” he muttered, turning back to the controls. “Well, I’m definitely not going to be your marriage counselor. You guys figure it out. I’m afraid you just missed him, though. He’s at the Citadel... somewhere. When you run into him again, just, uh... go easy on him?”

Kaidan felt his brow furrowing.

Like hell I am.

“Legion kinda sacrificed itself -himself to save the rest of the geth back there. Something about ‘requiring a direct personality dissemination’ to give all geth intelligence. He’s a little upset about that.”

That changed things.


When Shepard had earlier opened his terminal he sure as hell didn’t expect to see a message from the queen of Omega. Aria T’Loak. She needed him for something, and he had to admit, he didn’t like the sound of that. At first he thought it was about Blood Pack, Blue Suns and Eclipse backing out when it came to helping out in the war, but it turned out that Aria needed his help because it was personal. That made him even more uneasy. It came to light that Aria had lost Omega to Cerberus and wanted Shepard’s help in retaking it with any means necessary.

He knew not to ‘fuck with Aria’ so he headed there as soon as he had taken care of a few things.

Miranda had met up with him while he was on the Citadel to request access to Alliance resources, and he gave it to her, trusting her with his life. She still didn’t want to say where she was going. Shepard had to admit that he had expected that peculiar detail. He could tell that she hadn’t buried what happened between them even if she avoided the subject when brought up. While on the Citadel, he also ran into Zaeed. The main reason why he headed down was however thanks to Tevos who needed him to get to Thessia as soon as possible.

Seated next to Bray -- Aria’s bodyguard -- they had just arrived back at the Citadel.

Shepard found his omni-tool beeping and brought up the display. Kaidan. Aria had said she wanted Shepard “by herself,” told him to come alone, so he didn’t get the chance to inform anyone. Shepard had been away for quite a few hours by now and his crew was understandably uneasy thanks to their CO’s sudden absence. He needed to get back before he was reported KIA.

Giving Bray a nod, he headed out of the shuttle and answered the call.

“Hey, what’s up?”

“Shepard, thank god. Where have you been?” he asked. “Hell, nearly the whole crew has been trying to reach you the past three hours. They eventually started coming to me to question if their omni-tools were malfunctioning -”

Kaidan stopped and gave him another unreadable expression. “I, ah... I see you’ve been busy.”

Returning a puzzled look, Kaidan gestured to his lips, making a brow furrow.

Shepard touched his mouth, brushing two fingers against the somewhat chapped skin to feel a slight moisture before pulling his hand back, looking down at his hand. Rubbing his thumb and index finger together, he attempted to figure out what the hell it was. The substance was somewhat glossy, and transparent, so it wasn’t blood. It was... lipstick? He remembered.

Oh... right.

He snorted. “Yeah. Funny thing, that. Aria pulled a death-grip on me. Guess it’s her way of saying ‘thanks’.”

The look Kaidan gave him could only be described as nothing but disbelief or surprise -- or a mixture of both -- as he blinked owlishly, frozen in place aside from his eyes darting all over his body, before setting at his own.

“Aria. You’re telling me that Aria... *T’Loak,* kissed you?” he asked, with emphasis on ‘T’Loak.’

“Don’t act so surprised. I’m really damn charming, after all. People tend to enjoy my presence,” he replied, but Kaidan didn’t seem impressed by his joke. “She wanted my help in retaking Omega, and she’s back in charge, so hey.”

Shepard fell into a pause. “How’d it go with your students?”

“Shepard...”

Kaidan saw right through his attempted evasion.

Sighing, Shepard wearily rubbed his eyes. “I know this is about Rannoch, Kaidan. So shoot. Give me a lecture on how my actions were reckless, un-strategic, sloppy and without safety in mind,” he enumerated. “I know how it goes.”

“I just wanted to know if you were okay.”

Shepard immediately realized that Kaidan was referring to Legion, and that made him feel a twinge in his gut. Legion had referred to himself as *I* instead of we in his final moments, and that hit him harder than he would’ve thought. After he had uploaded the code to all geth, he had become a fully developed AI, a person. EDI confirmed his theory when arriving back at the ship.

Even Tali mourned him.

He swallowed hard. “I’m fine. We’re bound to lose more people in this war and I’ve accepted that,” he lied, and avoided the subject any further. “I spoke with Tevos, though. The Normandy is needed in Thessia. Can’t tell more over an insecure channel, so I’ll fill you in when I get back, being in about 30 mikes or so. Tell Liara. I need you both down there.”

“Okay, I’ll get it done. Just... try to be more careful.”

Back at the matter of Rannoch.

He wanted nothing more but to drop the subject. Not able to handle Kaidan’s characteristically worried expression any further -- those damn, deep, honey-brown puppy eyes -- he nodded to confirm his promise. At least Kaidan didn’t hate him judging by the fact that he didn’t want him to take any unnecessary risks. He still didn’t know what the hell to think about the whole situation between them these days.

Getting back to the Normandy, he wasn’t surprised to see a few concerned glances and walked up to the cockpit to deliver a message.

“All right, crew. I had to take care of a few classified matters back on the Citadel, so no, I’m not dead. I plan to stay that way,” he said, and crossed his arms. “We’re back on the clock, so get ready to lift off as we’re headed for Thessia. Councilor Tevos’ orders.”


Stepping through the airlock after they had returned from the asari homeworld, John blundered past both him and Liara when he attempted to reach after him, headed straight for the cockpit in long strides without even bothering with his armor. Liara quickly disappeared to the crew deck after putting on a brave face and an “I’m fine,” to leave Kaidan standing there, feeling helpless. He slowly pulled off his helmet and un-equipped his armor before he headed for the elevator. He stopped when he heard muffled voices from the cockpit.

“In case you hadn’t noticed, we just lost a few million people!” he could barely make out John’s voice. “This isn’t the time!”

Kaidan couldn’t make out the rest of the conversation.

He leant his back to the wall besides the elevator and folded his arms across his chest. They had just lost Thessia and it was taking its toll on John. He would never forget how all the hope had vanished in his blue hue as several reapers touched down, the desperate cries for help from the asari commando over the voice-link as it descended, and they could do nothing but watch the despair and destruction from a distance. Then there was nothing but silence with the distant hum of the reaper signal blocking the communication.

Kai Leng had gotten away with a VI holding information about the Conduit.

According to EDI’s metabolic scans of John’s armor, he was under more stress now than during the Skyllian Blitz, even more than Akuze. Kaidan couldn’t even imagine what this would do to him after hearing about his deep depression after losing his unit to thresher maws.

John said he was fine.

Bullshit.

Kaidan heard footsteps a few minutes later and tilted his head up to see John stepping out of the cockpit with weary steps and hunched shoulders. He was rubbing the area between his brows as his expression was drained. Tired. Without even lifting his eyes, John passed him and disappeared into the elevator, Kaidan’s brows tightening in a concerned fashion as it shut behind him.

The fact that John was pushing aside and distancing himself from everyone, including him, was silently tearing him apart.

When the elevator came back down, he pushed himself away from the wall, wanting to go after him. Kaidan hesitated as his hand hovered over the button to deck one on the control panel.

He chose to give him some time and instead pushed deck three.

*

Shepard dreaded the thought of facing Liara after what happened at Thessia. He had no idea what to say or do. It was bad enough to believe that they had lost Earth but she truly had lost her home. Seen its fall firsthand. That was way different. Whatever happened down there was his fault, whether Anderson and Hackett agreed or not, because his damn job was to be prepared. At all times. Not only that, but Leng had somehow found his personal e-mail and rubbed in the whole defeat, gloating about his triumph.

That was the reason why his terminal lay on the floor, deep visible cracks in the screen, non-functioning.

Worst of all, they almost defeated Kai Leng down there, but the coward got away by sending the floor down beneath them. Shepard wanted nothing more than to wring his damn neck. First Thane and now this. He was amazed how ignorant Cerberus was who actually believed that they could control the reapers. The reapers needed to be destroyed. There was no other way to win. As they had tracked Kai Leng to the Iera system, the Normandy set course for a refugee camp called Sanctuary, on Horizon.

Only bad memories down there.

“You don’t have to pretend, you know.”

His eyes went wide as he in a quick motion moved the whiskey glass away from his mouth. Shepard looked up in his chair in the inner section to see Kaidan leaning up against the wall supporting his model ships. He had a stoic demeanor although he could see soft honey-brown beaming with concern. Shepard’s fingers closed around the glass.

I could’ve sworn I locked the door.

Kaidan held up his omni-tool. “Spectre codes,” he replied, probably having seen the tightness in his expression because he justified his actions by seconds in addition to his unspoken statement.

Of course. How could I forget that?

“Right,” he said, and emptied the glass.

Shepard winced at the subtle burn in his throat and pushed it aside. As his feet were escalated to rest at the table and crossed by his ankles, he situated himself in a better position, seeing that they were just about to fall asleep.

Kaidan had chosen not to comment on the broken terminal although he had certainly seen it.

He was aware of the dark circles around his bloodshot eyes from alcohol. He knew he looked like hell. Kaidan didn’t comment on that particular matter, either. Shepard didn’t bother to clean up the empty bottles before anyone arrived. If he was going to let anyone see him like this, he might as well go the whole way, and show the whole reality.

Shepard cleared his throat. “So what can I do for you, major?”

He had sent everyone trying to get in contact with him away and deactivated his omni-tool for the time being. Part of him wanted to be left alone. Nevertheless, he could never say ‘no’ to Kaidan. Shepard had tried on several occasions. He just couldn’t.

“You can start by dropping the ‘indestructible act’ that you keep throwing at everyone.”

Shepard arched a brow and moved his gaze to look at him. “That the reason why you broke into my cabin? I’m sorry to say that you’re, uh... concerns... are wrongly placed,” he tried, and shook his head. “I told you. I’m fine.”

It was another lie as clear as the day.

“Okay. Okay, I’m going to trust you not to do anything rash -- like throw a punch at someone -- but that doesn’t mean I believe you won’t.”

Shepard felt his abdomen churn again.

“You can’t just shut me out like that,” Kaidan added.

Why?

Shepard straightened up for feet to plant at the floor and situated himself in the bed to face him fully. Allowing the arm holding the report to heavily drop to his lap, his other hand ended up on his thigh as he fixated him with an unwavering glare.

“I shouldn’t have to explain myself to you anymore, Kaidan.”

He immediately regretted his icy undertone, but Kaidan simply looked at him as he seemed untouched by his outburst. He didn’t move. The air got thicker, and Shepard realized that he was holding his breath, uncertain where things stood between them.

“I know,” he replied, approaching him. “But I can see this is wearing you out, so just... go easy on yourself.”

A scowl touched the corners of his brows. “I just lost a whole damn planet and the intel on the only thing that can save us from the galaxy’s annihilation, Liara’s locked herself in her room and you can barely look at me without seeing everything wrong I’ve done. The hell am I supposed to ‘go easy on myself,’ huh?” he spat, defeated. “Should I run around making jokes like Joker? Pretend I don’t care? Hell, I don’t know. Everything’s fucked right now and I’m pissed off because of it.”

Kaidan lowered himself to his side on the bed.

“If that part about me was true, then I wouldn’t be here,” he said, touching Shepard’s thigh.

Shepard immediately felt his muscles tensing up as a thumb gently rubbed his knee.

“Thessia wasn’t your fault whether you agree or not -” Kaidan said.

Shepard bolted up from the bed.

He couldn’t stand the softness in Kaidan’s voice, as if he was speaking to a damn kid, reminding him that he wasn’t being professional about the situation that had so recently occurred. Thessia was lost but he was a commander, someone who should dust himself off and prepare for the next mission, yet here he was -- broken and doubtful if his actions mattered at all -- wanting to just lose himself to alcohol to take those thoughts away. To numb his senses. Pity was the last thing that could get through to him.

He believed that Kaidan, of all people, would know that.

Shepard walked up to the desk. “If you came up to see if you made the right choice, here’s your proof, front-fucking line,” he said, grabbing the glass and refilling it. “Or do you just feel obligated to check up on me because you’re my XO?”

He tilted his head back and ingested another.

“That’s not fair,” Kaidan muttered, voice like a heavy sigh.

Then why the hell are you here, Alenko?

He was distraught by Kaidan’s sickeningly calm approach to this. Anyone else would’ve told him to stand up for his mistakes, embrace them, and move the fuck on. That’s what commanders do -- that’s why you never got the important missions when in a low rank -- because a lower rank hadn’t learned how to deal with heavy losses that every high rank had to endure.

Hearing the bed softly creaking behind him, his fingers clasped around the neck of the bottle to pour himself another one.

“You’re right, John. You are a man of action.”

When he was about to move the glass back up to his mouth, a gentle hand cupped his, before taking it away from him and putting it back at the table. Shepard was surprised that he even let him. He felt a pressure on his hip, allowing Kaidan to turn him around so they faced each other. Shepard’s expression was shrouded in shadows as he refused to meet his eyes.

Feeling his chin grasped, his head was gently tilted up.

“But I guess that’s also part of what I love about you,” he added, and Shepard felt the muscles in his jaw clenching. “Hell, call me an idiot if you want... but I can’t just quit you. I can’t, because...”

Kaidan sighed, closing his eyes. “Because I love you, John.”

He seemed to be fighting to open his eyes again after those words had been spoken, but eventually they did, looking straight at him. The same stoic appearance shrouded Shepard’s features, but on the inside, he didn’t have a damn clue what to do with himself.

What to do with that information.

“I know you think that me saying that is uncalled for right now, but believe me, I want to follow through with this,” Kaidan said, as if he was reading his thoughts. He took his hand back. “You came at me with a lot back then, I just... I -I still need some time to process all this.”

They once again locked eyes, and for a moment, they just existed.

“But I’m here if you wish to talk,” he finished.

Do I?

Shepard found himself conflicted. He wanted him to stay, but at the same time, he refused to let Kaidan see him like this. A broken soldier. Part of him wanted to collapse into his arms, be held until all the pain simply just went away, but it was never that easy. The legendary ‘Commander Shepard’ was an icon, a symbol of hope, someone that people looked up to. ‘John Shepard’ was nothing.

So he pulled away.

“I’ve got to finish this report.”

That was everything he said before he turned back to the desk and left Kaidan standing there. Shepard could feel his eyes upon him. He was aware of his own tense posture, and so was probably Kaidan, even if Shepard’s back was turned against him.

“I’ll be in Starboard Observation if you need me,” Kaidan finally said. “You’ll get the chance to speak with Liara in the morning.”

Kaidan didn’t say anything else before he exited the cabin. At once the sliding doors shut behind him, Shepard’s brows tightened, just looking at the damn thing where everything he had done wrong was written down. It didn’t take long before he threw the report aside again, plunging his fists into the table, his head bowed and heavy. Hard enough for the wear and tear to reach his knuckles, his calloused hands, only tissue away from becoming bloody. His breathing was hard, shaky, and barely controlled.

Not only had he pushed the crew aside.

He had pushed Kaidan aside.

Chapter Text

Kaidan let out a heavy sigh before the doors slid open to reveal the galaxy map in the CIC. He wasn’t surprised in the slightest when John didn’t protest as he left the room. The past few days, he had become more and more acquainted with the aspect of being pushed away. John had been right about not having to explain himself, he was aware of that, but it still stung to hear those words coming his mouth with such venom as if Kaidan had joined the reapers themselves. He still cared.

Hell, he loved him -- he had finally said so himself -- but that didn’t justify anything.

John had gone quiet after he told him that, and he had to admit, it made him somewhat uneasy. He didn’t expect to get anything in return, not after bailing out on him like that, so he couldn’t understand that gnawing feeling against his insides. These days, John just acted, using threats and occasionally bullets instead of words. That wasn’t necessarily bad. Unnecessary violence, sure, but he wasn’t breaking any regs. Most soldiers couldn’t talk people down like he could, and it seemed like he had simply chosen to ignore that gift, as if he had just stopped trying.

He had settled for that explanation until he heard about Rannoch.

Kaidan found himself more than a little conflicted when he learned that John had managed to get the quarians and the geth to cooperate, ending a war centuries in the making, just like he cured the genophage back on Tuchanka. John could simply enough choose to either aid the quarians or the geth, but instead, he made an alliance. He seemed to have changed when back in Alliance colors.

Was I wrong to walk away?

He shook his head as if attempting to get the thought out of his mind, immediately regretting it, as there were remains of an earlier headache. Kaidan pressed two fingers to his temple and stepped out of the elevator.

“Major Alenko?” He halted at Sam’s hesitant voice. “Anderson requested to speak with you. He’s over voice-link in the comm-room.”

A frown breached the surface by his brows as his hand dropped to hang immobile by his side. He could imagine it being about John, although he wasn’t sure why Anderson would contact him, and not the commander himself. Kaidan noted her curious expression as she certainly knew that he had just spoken to him, but she kept quiet, possibly figuring that they would sort things out themselves. Sam, Steve and Vega hadn’t been with the Normandy crew as long as the rest of them, so they stayed on the sidelines when things got a little dicey.

“All right, thanks,” he replied.

Kaidan headed for the comm-room and was greeted by the sight of Admiral Anderson.

“Major Alenko, good to see you.” Kaidan snapped a salute with a ‘you too, sir.’ “A shame what happened at Thessia. Kai Leng is a slippery bastard. Hackett debriefed me what happened back there but I heard you were there when it occurred. It was that bad?”

His hands connected with the banister. “Yeah... Liara isn’t doing too hot. It’s getting to Joh -Shepard, too.”

“I figured as much,” he said, shaking his head. “It’s bad enough to see Earth like this, so I can’t imagine how difficult this is for her. Still, I’m convinced she’ll come around. Eventually. I don’t think I’m the best man to have that conversation with her, though. Shepard, though... He’s deactivated his omni-tool and refuses to answer any of my calls. Tell me, did he on any occasion bring up what happened after Horizon?”

Kaidan chewed his bottom lip. “Bits and pieces, sir. I think he’s in a similar situation right now, but that -that’s only my personal observation. I wasn’t really there, you know? But I can’t really get through to him,” he said, moving a hand to rub the back of his neck. Anderson gave him a curious look. “We, ah... we had a bit of a falling out. I didn’t take it well when he told me. He’s pushing me aside, and hell, I can’t exactly blame him. He trusted me with the information, and... I handled it badly.”

“It’s a difficult position, son. Don’t blame yourself. Believe me, I’ve wanted nothing more than to whack him over the head on several occasions.” A small smile threatened the surface of Kaidan’s lips as his hand dropped. “First thing he did when he arrived at the Citadel in company of Cerberus was to ask after you. He wanted to contact you as soon as he was up, but I didn’t let him. Safety protocols. You were still in the Alliance when it occurred, and I couldn’t risk any incidents by involving you in that mess. It could go out of your rank. Your name.”

Kaidan swallowed slowly as his grip tightened around the relocated bar. A strong feeling of guilt coursed through his veins. Horizon. He had blamed John for not taking contact. This is why he hadn’t. Kaidan felt like an ass.

“In any event, I know that you boys will figure it out. You always do. Just look at everything that’s happened since then.”

Kaidan and John had admittedly become closer than ever after that. It was a slow process, but it happened. Now, he had pushed it away again, bailed when things got difficult instead of trying to figure something out. Kaidan didn’t know what to do.

Time, he believed. That’s all I need.

He didn’t know how much.

“Aye, aye, Admiral.”

“No need to stand for formalities, son. ‘Anderson’ is just fine,” he said, holding up a hand. “There’s a lot to prepare down here. I need to get back to it. Good luck at Sanctuary. Take care of him for me, will you?”

“I will. Stay safe, Anderson.”

“As to you, Alenko. Anderson out.”


Rest didn’t come easy to Shepard that night, not even judging by how tired he was. He couldn’t get Tevos’ distressed voice out of his head as he had informed her of what happened down at Thessia. When he told her that there was nothing they could’ve done she had cut him off before he could say that he was sorry. There was only so much death you could take before the despair consumed you, pulled you inn, and stood like a shrouded shadow behind you to reflect the outcome of your actions. Shadows don’t reflect light. There was only dark.

“John?” came a tired voice.

Shepard had unconsciously typed in Kaidan’s name in the contacts list on his omni-tool and was only now realizing it. The clock was 0216. Of course he had been sleeping.

“Hell, sorry... I didn’t -”

“No, it’s fine. I’m here. What’s up?”

The bed softly creaked on the other end of the voice-link as Kaidan was probably sitting up. Shepard sighed softly at the way his voice didn’t even skip a beat. Kaidan was too damn perfect. He had told him that he didn’t want to be shut out, so he figured that this was a step in the right direction. Shepard didn’t respond immediately as he didn’t have the faintest idea.

Why did I call?

He was convinced that he had accidentally hit ‘end call’ after a minute had passed in silence, opening his mouth to say something to see if he was still there, until he heard his voice again.

“Uh... do you want me to come up?”

Shepard’s lips drew into a thin line as he considered his question, concentrated and deep lines carved into his forehead, like it was as complicated as ‘what’s the meaning of life.’ He wearily rubbed his eyes.

Fuck, do I? Hell, I don’t know.

“Yes.”

Kaidan took a moment before he responded.

“Give me 2 mikes to get dressed, okay?”

He would usually drop a “Just come as you are,” but he was too drained for snide remarks, too drained for jokes and useless pleasantries that would be forgotten about a day later. He didn’t want to send any bad signals, either.

“Yeah, sure.”

For a moment, he just looked at the disconnected omni-tool, wondering, What the hell am I doing? He eventually threw the interface aside, his hand propped to his thigh, the other reaching for the bridge of his nose. He didn’t know where he was going with this. When Kaidan picked up, he asked him ‘what’s up’ not ‘do you need to talk,’ because he already knew. Shepard needed to talk but he didn’t want to.

He pushed himself up from the bed, headed for the restroom in weary steps, and put his hands on each far end of the sink.

Turning it on with a light stream, he cupped his hands beneath, splashing the cold water in his face. He looked up from his hands and up at the mirror in front of him before his hands relocated the counter. The dark circles around his eyes weren’t ceasing to exist, and the contrasts were still apparent, wondering if he would ever be able to sleep peacefully again.

Grabbing a towel, he guided it across his face before putting it aside.

He had awoken by the same nightmare as he did each night, becoming stronger and more severe, more and more voices of the dead that had been lost and recalling and judging decisions that he had made.

/“I understand, Skipper. I don’t regret a thing...”/
/“Had to be me. Someone else might’ve gotten it wrong...”/
/“Kalahira, mistress of inscrutable depths, I ask forgiveness...”/
/“Does this unit have a soul...?”/

That wasn’t everything that kept him awake. ‘I love you,’ Kaidan had said. ‘I love you.’ Those words had been passing by in his mind like shadows, constantly, giving him both the sense of belonging and fear. Kaidan said he couldn’t lose him again. Shepard didn’t want to hurt him, because hell, that was probably exactly what would happen. He would die and Kaidan would be left behind. Using those words would leave a soft spot in his defenses, so he didn’t say it back, even if he wanted to. He had never used those words, collaborated into one sentence, in his whole life.

No one ever mattered as much.

It didn’t take long before he heard movement in the room besides and he knew that Kaidan had just entered the cabin. Shepard’s hands connected back at the counter as he regained the position he started out with.

The weight of his shadow was enough to drag him down.

*

“Hey...”

Kaidan met John’s eyes in the reflection when he tilted his head up.

“Hey. Decided to get up early, huh?” he asked, obviously burdened with everything going through his mind.

“EDI couldn’t read any signals so I guess there’s no sensors in the restroom. I was looking for you. Thought you had gone out.”

“Well, congratulations -- you’ve found me. Great tracking skills, major. Ten feet and all. No wonder why you got a promotion.”

John was stalling again, merely evading the inevitable, but he couldn’t blame him for trying. Kaidan sighed, and just by that, John knew he had been caught red-handed.

“Didn’t want to wake you,” he added.

“Well, I’m up now,” Kaidan said.

“K -”

“Why did you lie to me by saying you didn’t regret what you did?”

Silence.

Kaidan could now see the wear and tear that had taken its effect on the once believed-to-be larger than life Commander Shepard. To think that once, he looked at him as just that -- an indestructible man with a willpower so strong that he could refuse even the strongest attempt at indoctrination -- and now he was seeing him like this. Silently suffocating behind that ever-so stoic demeanor, guarded, letting him know just how human he was. Every death, every mistake, it all weighed heavy on him.

He realized how much of an idiot he had been for believing otherwise.

“I still killed people in cold blood. I know that goes against your every moral, so hell, I made the choice of letting you walk away so you didn’t get roped into the shit-show that is my life. I regret what I did, true, but that doesn’t change a thing.”

Kaidan scoffed. “John, it changes everything.”

He remained quiet then.

“I walked away because I didn’t recognize you anymore. Because you told me you no longer had morals,” Kaidan said. “The fact that you regret what happened proves that your morals are intact. I care. You’ve done nothing to change that.”

Kaidan’s features mellowed. “So let me help by telling me what’s wrong.”

He was internally begging him to just let him in. Let him help. Stop pushing people away. Stop pushing him away. He didn’t want John to be the stoic commander that lied his ass off to keep morale, tell him that they were going to win this war without any complications, because deaths were inevitable. Most people needed that -- the blind confidence -- but he didn’t.

He wasn’t just going to let things slide anymore.

“Hell, I’m... scared.”

It was amazing how such vulnerability could be shown in merely a word. Scared. John was scared. A deep pit formed itself in his abdomen. God, it hurt witnessing him use those words, the way his voice appeared strangled. Broken. His usually firm and dark voice now reduced to a lost whisper oozing with doubt. Fear. Seeing Thessia’s fall might’ve been his last straw. He played that stoic part perfectly well and he hadn’t let his guard down before now. John finally opened up.

...and it meant the world to him.

Behind that wall, he was still his John, who knew he had made mistakes.

Kaidan pushed himself away from the doorway and approached him. Without a second thought, he wrapped his arms around his waist from behind and pulled him to himself, feeling him tense in his embrace.

“Fuck, I’m terrified,” John added.

He tightened his grip around him and closed his eyes, pressing lips to his shoulder blade before he opened them again, John nearly shaking in his arms. His jaw was locked tight and his eyes were dull as he looked at nothing in particular.

The sternness in his expression held back emotion.

“I’d be worried if you weren’t.”

He looked up at John’s reflection to see him biting his lower lip. His eyes were more blue than ever with a hint of glisten.

Kaidan sighed into the back of his neck. “My god, John. Talk to me. What are you afraid of?”

Silence.

“Of losing this war,” he replied, and Kaidan pulled him closer as if he was a fragile object only needing a huff of air to break. “Facing Liara again after what happened at Thessia, never being able to get back to how things were, the casualties back on Earth, the families never reuniting with each other...” Kaidan met his eyes in the mirror. “I’m afraid of placing another name at the memorial wall.”

Kaidan rested his chin at his shoulder.

He offered him a sad smile. “You won’t have to,” he said, without skipping a beat. “We’ll get out of this alive. All of us. I’m going to be with you every step of the way. We’ll end the cycle. Defeat the reapers.”

His voice quavered “...and I’m going to show you Vancouver.”

John broke the glance, driving a fist into the sink -- nearly shattering it -- before attempting to pull away. He tightly closed his eyes to force back the substance clouding his vision. Kaidan captured his wrist before he had the chance to go, turning him around, forcing him into an embrace. John broke in his arms, his hands trembling before they clutched the cloth on his back, nails burrowing into the fabric to silence them. Kaidan could do nothing but hold him as John buried his face in the grope between his neck and shoulder, clinging to him as if he was his last lifeline.

“Dammit... I want more time...” he choked, voice hoarse and muffled by Kaidan’s shirt.

“We’ll have more time, John. You and me. Us.” He felt his eyes beginning to cloud up as well, but he blinked them away. “You’re human just like me.” He let out a small chuckle. “Stubborn as all hell, but still human.” Kaidan nuzzled into his jaw and gently rocked him. “I’ve been thinking... and I’m willing to give whatever this is another go if you are.”

John inhaled a ragged breath as he dropped the guard he had worn his whole life.

He stopped struggling, and even then, Kaidan didn’t let go of him. He simply pulled him closer. They just stood there for a while, wrapped up in each other’s embrace, a needed support for them both. He simply held him until John chose to pull away. Kaidan moved a steady hand to find its way to his neck. When they parted, he immediately felt John’s lips upon his, his brows tightened. He was trying to cover over the salty substance that had touched his face, keep it hidden, but Kaidan knew it was there.

Kaidan gently caressed his cheek, wiping the single tear away, before his other moved to cup his jaw. He pulled him in deeper when John naturally opened his mouth. He smelled and tasted like alcohol, but he didn’t care about that.

John didn’t need pity, he needed this, and Kaidan knew it.

The touch of his lips was as soft as it could be. Even if it was nearly a week since last time, they was just as synchronized, just as familiar with each other’s movements. Hands moved to trap Kaidan’s civvies before they were pulled at, John lurching forward with his willing motion before Kaidan gently pressed him into the counter, lips never parting. Kaidan’s hands moved away from his face and traversed down his bare triceps until arms eventually closed around his waist. He felt him relaxing into the embrace.

John once grinded his hips to create friction, sending a shiver down Kaidan’s spine, when hands slid up beneath his shirt. Kaidan pulled himself inches away, his hand propped to the sink, as they thread in dangerous territory on the edge of going further. He touched his forehead with his own. John’s eyes were tightly closed as he breathed in his all too familiar scent. Kaidan didn’t realize how much he’d missed this.

After a moment, John asked, “What made you change your mind?”

“Our hearts are complex things, Shepard. I could blame you for indecision... but that doesn’t change how I feel about you,” he said, feeling his lips tugging slightly upwards. “I know now that you’re unable to go a single day without feeling guilt, and that... that’s the difference between a man and a machine. You regret what you did... and that’s enough for me.”

The area around John’s eyes drew tight as he caught him glancing down at his mouth. He watched as he leant forward again to resume their activity, but Kaidan touched his lips, trailing a thumb across it. He captured John’s chin and gently tilted his head up before planting a tender kiss at the corner of his mouth. He allowed his hand to trail down John’s arm until they were hand in hand, both interlacing their fingers with each other, before Kaidan leaded him back to the bed. He trailed after. John then asked him to stay.

So he stayed.

Chapter Text

Liara was in bad condition when Shepard approached her the next day, curled up in her bed, bloodshot eyes from unyielding tears. She was hunched over the reports on Thessia. It hurt to see her like that. He could see the guilt in her ocean-blue so he did what he had to do. He told her that it wasn’t her fault, overlooking the irony skulking beneath, recalling back to Kaidan, Anderson and Hackett’s previous attempts at telling him the same. He gave Liara a new goal to help the refugees, but he felt like he didn’t deserve the “thank you” he received.

Everything felt lighter after that, as if a burden had been lifted. He could get back to the matter of Sanctuary, put Thessia behind him for the time being so that he could focus on the upcoming war. Shepard didn’t say it, but Kaidan’s earlier ‘pep-talk’ had helped, and that was what eventually got him back up on his feet. Neither he nor Kaidan brought up what happened last night and he was grateful. It was a moment of weakness that he couldn’t risk the rest of the crew knowing about. It wasn’t because of pride or shame.

It was because he needed to be strong for everyone else that couldn’t.

Kaidan knew that. He knew that he was putting up that tough-guy image because false confidence came a long way. Who would follow the order of a supposedly professional commander who broke down after seeing Thessia’s fall? He was still on the front-lines.

Few, he thought. Few would stand by me.

He returned to the CIC. Shepard had decided to bring Kaidan and Garrus along for the mission. Cerberus had apparently taken interest in Sanctuary and they were there to figure out why.

Something felt off about the whole thing and he was well-aware of the on-edge look about him, close to start rocking back and forth on his heels, an elbow propped to his wrist. Shepard glanced over his shoulder as he felt the light pressure of Kaidan’s hand, giving him an encouraging smile as he passed him to head down to the cargo bay, being a big support.

*

They had situated themselves in the shuttle heading down to Horizon.

“The facility went offline recently, and no communications have come or gone since,” EDI reported, making Shepard shift uneasily. “It is unclear why Kai Leng or Cerberus would be interested in Sanctuary.”

“If there’s a clue to Cerberus here, we find it.”

“Sir, I’m picking up a signal from the facility,” Steve said, and leant in towards the controls. “It’s weak. I’ll try to boost it.”

A light static was heard, and Shepard’s brows drew together. He sharpened his hearing considerably as he tried to listen. Skidding over to him, he wrapped steady fingers around the handle on the roof.

“This is Oriana Lawson. Stay away from Sanctuary. It’s not what it seems.” His eyes went wide. “Please, you must listen to me! They’re using -”

It abruptly cut off.

Garrus’ mandibles clicked. “Well, that doesn’t sound good.”

“Oriana?” Shepard asked, finding his hand hurting and realized that he had unconsciously pressed too hard as if to inflict pain upon himself. “That’s Miranda’s sister. If she’s here, Miranda can’t be far away.”

Damn it, Miri... What the hell were you thinking?

It didn’t take long before Horizon was in orbit. He pushed himself away from the handle and approached the shuttle door where he took note of Kaidan’s sudden silence. He was looking out on the colony with a fixated look as if there was nothing but memories behind the metal. Collectors, seeker swarms, Harbinger... their falling out. Shepard had seen what happened at the collector ship, when the colonists on Horizon became liquefied -- much to his horror -- but he hadn’t experienced the paralysis poison in his veins as Kaidan had.

“That bad?”

He saw Kaidan’s jaw clenching. “Imagine being unable to move a muscle, aware of everything happening around you as insects the size of your own hand crawls all over you... seeing friends being taken,” he muttered, and shook his head. “Yeah, I’d call it ‘that bad’.”

It was obvious that Horizon still bothered him, but now, it was for different reasons.

“Wish we could’ve gotten there in time.”

Kaidan turned to him with a somewhat startled expression at his delayed reply, although it soon mellowed, offering him a tired smile. The warmness in his eyes were apparent like before. Shepard shook his head and averted his eyes.

Here I thought *I* was in deep, he thought, barely able to contain the smile.

“You did what you could, Shepard. I’m grateful. Probably didn’t sound like it down there, but... you know. Old wounds.”

Shepard nodded slowly. “Right. So, are we good?”

“Yeah... we’re good.”

*

Kaidan didn’t know what to think when they touched down to find out that the area was nearly destroyed. Fires burned in several sectors and concrete was pushed over the pavement. Aside from the eerie sound of flickering embers, everything was quiet like the grave. Someone or something had been fighting. The transmitter must’ve been broken because their signals were jammed. Either that or they weren’t alone. Firearms ready, they snapped to awareness when a Cerberus shuttle was thrown twenty feet before them.

The sudden ruckus drew their attention towards a Harvester.

Much to his relief, it was too busy with Cerberus to pay any attention to them. It could be a nice distraction for them to be able to move unscathed, but they were forced to break into combat when Cerberus stormed them. Reaper forces were currently pursuing their operatives who appeared to be fleeing. It looked like Cerberus weren’t on good terms with the reapers anymore. With raised firearms, they headed further in.

“This is a Cerberus facility...” came a familiar voice, channeling out, only to be cut off.

Kaidan immediately recognized it. Miranda Lawson. He watched as John walked up to the flickering vid-screen.

Garrus stepped forward. “Shepard...”

“That’s Miranda.” John’s reply was quick and on-point.

“This is Miranda Lawson.” In the corner of his eye, he saw John’s hand twitching when he had looked down to see him clutching tightly around his assault rifle. “If you managed to get this far, you must be desperate or stupid.”

Kaidan carefully approached him and Garrus trailed after.

“Listen to me. This is not a refugee camp. This is a Cerberus facility run by my father, Henry Lawson. Turn back now. There is no help to be found here -- all communication is being blocked form the central tower. Sanctuary is a lie. Stay away.”

The screen flickered again and turned black.

After standing there, Garrus cleared his throat. “I’ll, uh... scout ahead, or... something. There has to be some sort of control room around here. Might be out of power but it’s worth a shot either way,” he said, and john nodded without turning around. “Watch your backs.”

Kaidan caught his eye, and if turians could blush, that was exactly what he did. It didn’t take long before it was just him and John. There was a brief silence between them before Kaidan spoke up.

“She was that woman who touched down with you on Horizon, wasn’t she?”

“Yeah.”

He hadn’t forgotten. “She’s beautiful.”

“Well, she’s genetically modified to be perfect, so that’s... kind of a must.”

Kaidan’s eyes went wide. John turned before passing him, bumping his shoulder on the way as his light and not-so-subtle teasing was apparent.

“In Miri’s words, ‘I settle for nothing but the best’,” he added. “I’ll have you know that I’ve got high standards.”

Kaidan smirked. “Oh yeah?” he encouraged.

John winked at him.

“I’ll have you know that I despise third-wheeling with a burning passion,” a raspy voice called out, and the subtle twitch by John’s lips confirmed that he was just as amused as he. “When you two lovebirds are done, could we please get moving?”

John shook his head. “C’mon, Garrus. If you wanted to join in, you could’ve just said so.”

“I will hurt you.”

Kaidan didn’t participate in their lighthearted chatter. He couldn’t shake the feeling of being watched. Maybe even hunted. They later arrived by the door to the control room with a large area below. When they entered, their gazes were plastered to a vid showing the refugees that came to the facility, turning the mood sourly grim. Kaidan had no words. He couldn’t believe what he was seeing before his very eyes. The refugees were rounded up and turned into husks. It was grotesque. Cerberus did this.

How the hell can someone be this cruel?

Approaching a control panel, John flicked on the lights in the room beneath. Loud and ear-wrenching shrieks echoed and he had to fight the urge of taking after his head. The refugee-turned-husks were seen firsthand in all their glory, climbing walls and crawling on all fours, watching them with drained and soulless eyes. They had gazes as if they wanted to be killed. When John was forced to take a step back the moment one of them jumped onto the glass before him, he and Garrus had immediately acted, drawn their firearms towards the commotion.

The non-crystalline amorphous solid was thankfully strong enough to keep them separated.

Searching the room for more clues or documents on the horrendous acts that Cerberus had committed, his gaze drifted up, as John had gone quiet. He was looking out on the creatures wandering the floors. From a side-view, he could glimpse that his cheeks were slightly jutted, the area around his eyes tight as his lips appeared in a thin line.

Kaidan cast a glance at Garrus who’s currently loading another clip into his sniper, seeming unfazed by John’s silence, before he pushed himself away from a sturdy table.

Touching his shoulder, Kaidan asked, “Hey... you okay?”

“Yeah. Reminds me of the streets, that’s all,” he replied, deep in thought. Kaidan arched a curious brow at his somewhat cryptic reply. “Kids unable to know any better, and just looking for a new life, sought refuge with those gangs back on Earth to get enough credits to avoid dying from starvation and dehydration. It was easy at first, observing other gangs and reporting back to HQ, but... missions were dependent on their age. Later, as they got older, they had to take care of the more crucial missions.

“Intimidation, theft, burglary, sabotage... murder. Reality eventually kicked in for some of them, but for the others, it wasn’t as clean-cut. They were sent to ruin another person’s life so that they -...so that we could live.” Kaidan gently squeezed his shoulder. “Now I’m here, disgusted by Cerberus because of something immoral that I once wouldn’t hesitate to do myself.”

John met his gaze. “Funny thing, huh?”

Feeling his lips slightly tugging upwards, Kaidan massaged the tight muscle beneath his hand with his thumb. He was thankful for his honesty. John had told him instead of putting on a brave face and covering over his thoughts with a lie.

“We’ll shut this place down, John,” he reassured, and the hand slipped from his shoulder.

John cleared his throat. “Right,” he said, obviously still uncomfortable about opening up. “Miranda’s a powerful biotic with the stubbornness of a dozen krogan, but this... She’s going to need some backup on this one.”

“Then let’s go get her.”

They found another panel.

“Reaper forces have made a mess of the facility,” Miranda said, approaching a terminal. “I’m shutting down the power to the processing plant to lock them down. Should keep them out of the entrance as well.”

The vid shut off and another took its place. Kai Leng. Miranda didn’t know he was there.

Kai Leng was willing to kill her to get some sort of research data, so they knew they had to get to her first. They soon found out that the research data was about reaper indoctrination. How it worked. The Illusive Man was studying indoctrination and was aiming for directing that same control upon the reapers. He had gone too far. Henry Lawson -- Miranda’s father -- was going to send the results of his experiments to the Illusive Man. He had found a way to co-opt the reaper’s control signal, but extrapolating that technique to the reapers, was thankfully a bigger challenge.

Victims of the reapers could remain in control indefinitely if they were kept in close proximity and that was concerning enough.

“Come on, let’s move,” John said and took a sharp turn towards the exit.

Garrus shortly followed with talons clutched hard around his sniper rifle. Kaidan was about to trail after until he glimpsed the screen flickering.

He held up a hand. “Wait, Commander! There’s more.”

Kaidan could clearly see the deep, puzzled frown by John’s brows as he turned his way again. They cleared the feed up. The vid showed Miranda arriving in some sort of lab that had to be somewhere in the facility. She stopped, eyes darting as if she was being watched. They saw her swirl around, her eyes immediately going wide as she in a quick motion attempted to run before a humanoid figure nearly dropped onto her.

Kai Leng.

John went into a panic. “Miri... Damn it!” he called, rushing towards the access ladder. “I hope she’s ready for him.”

They ventured further into Sanctuary with quickened steps. With their firearms at the go, the door before them swung open in one of the inner rooms to see Miranda curled up on the floor, a palm flat-down on the floor as she held herself up. The other was clutching what had to be a deep wound just above her abdomen. There was another girl. Oriana. An older man stood by her who could be no other than their father.

Miranda looked up. “Shepard...” she muttered, the shock evident in big blue hue beneath long lashes.

Their attention immediately wandered to Henry Lawson himself as he threw an arm around Oriana’s neck. John took a determined step forward, mirroring the outstretched arm, holding a gun with a scowl on his face. Henry Lawson was using his own damn daughter as a hostage.

“Commander Shepard. Excellent timing,” Henry said.

John scowled. “Put the gun down.”

“No. Oriana tried to shoot me.” Henry cast a quick glance at the girl he had in his grip before his attention wandered to the other sister, his focus then entirely on John. “Miranda’s poisonous influence, no doubt.”

Cynically, he replied, “I’m sorry she missed. Where’s Kai Leng?”

“I don’t know. Gone. He took my research and left us here to die.”

John looked to his side. “Miranda... Can you hear me?”

A small whimper escaped her mouth as she attempted to sit up, hands connecting to the floor, pushing herself up. She nearly stumbled onto the floor again when she was up on shaky legs with the ground stable beneath her feet.

As the ground team’s current medic, Kaidan could tell she was in a severely bad condition.

“That’s close enough. Both of you! Kai Leng didn’t finish the job, but I will,” Henry spat.

Miranda stopped her subtle approach when Henry’s finger moved closer to the trigger, the gun still directed at John. On impulse, Kaidan took a step forward.

John didn’t move. “This ends here.”

“On the contrary. Now that the reapers are taken care of, we have a way out.”

“Let her go.”

“Shepard... Don’t... don’t let him take her,” Miranda choked out, her eyes big and pleading.

She appearing close to breaking into tears by the way they glistened in the dim lighting as she gazed at him.

Oriana was shaking. “Shepard... p -please,” she muttered, eyes oozing with fear.

“I have no problem with you. I just want Oriana and the research data,” John told Henry, his finger itching after the trigger.

Henry was still Miranda and Oriana’s father and that was reason enough to hold him back.

“You want a lot,” he replied.

John attempted to circle around him. “You get your life in return. How much is that worth?”

A moment of suffocating silence filled the air as Henry’s gaze wandered to Miranda, then back to John, contemplating what to do. Kaidan’s heart was beating hard underneath his armor. He was closely watching Mr. Lawson’s movements to make sure to act if anything drastic happened. The suspense was killing him. If John didn’t take the shot, he sure would.

Henry pushed Oriana aside and straightening his posture with the gun still raised.

“All right. Take her. But I want out alive. Deal?”

A blue light lit up the room, and before either of them had the ability to think, Miranda had thrown her own father straight out the window with her biotics -- the sound or cracking glass nearly deafening -- before he fell to the ground.

She was breathing heavily. “No deal.”

Kaidan’s eyes went wide as she nearly collapsed right there before him, but John was immediately by her side and grabbed her by the waist. He moved with her body as it fell, dropping to his knee to allow support for her back. He looked desperate. That brief moment was more than enough proof that there had been more between them at some point. He cared about her, maybe not in that way, but he definitely cared.

He lowered his firearm and Oriana rushed over to them.

“Miranda?” she choked with tear-stained eyes, falling to her knees besides her. “Miranda, I’m sorry...”

He felt John’s gaze upon him with a request, but Kaidan was already crouched down next to Oriana and fished out his omni-tool to ready the medi-gel. The communication was still down, so Garrus didn’t waste a moment to head over to the console in attempt to getting the connection back. Call for a shuttle. They were dead in the water right now.

Miranda let out a shaky breath. “Shh... I -it’s okay, Ori,” she muttered, before reaching for John’s face. “Shepard...”

“I’m here.”

He took her wrist before it dropped, gently moving it down to rest across her abdomen as she needed her to relax her musculature. Miranda moved her hand atop of his that was settled at her hip.

John’s gaze shot up. “Garrus?”

“I’m working on it,” he replied, and shook his head. “The -the security is tight.”

“Shepard... stop,” she muttered, brushing her thumb against John’s knuckles. He turned back to her, the desperation in his eyes clear. “Look... listen to me... Before Kai Leng left... I -I planted a trace on him.”

John forced a tight-lipped smile. “A trace? You thought of everything.”

“Not everything. Nobody’s perfect, but at least Ori is safe.”

She swallowed with a small huff, unable to laugh. John pulled her in closer and touched her cheek.

Miranda smiled softly as he brushed a thumb against the area below her eye. “Finish this? You promise me.”

“We’ll get you out of here...” he muttered, with a break in his voice. “Kaidan?”

“I’ve done what I can for her, but she needs a medical professional. Fast.”

John nodded his reply. “Just hold on,” he said, turning back to Miranda.

Another whimper escaped her mouth as he pulled her up in his arms in a bridal carry.

When her eyelids shut, he gently shook her. “Miri, hey... Keep your eyes open. I can’t risk you falling asleep. Eyes on me. Let’s make sure everyone knows about this place. Oriana, stay close.”

Garrus disabled the communication scrambler.

“This is Miranda Lawson,” the vid broadcasted, and Garrus tampered with it to set the recording on repeat. “If you managed to get this far, you must be desperate or stupid. Listen to me. This is not a refugee camp. This is a Cerberus facility run by my father, Henry Lawson. Turn back now. There is no help to be found here -- all communication is being blocked form the central tower. Sanctuary is a lie. Stay away.”

Finally getting in contact with Cortez, they head out to the landing zone, being on borrowed time.

They had already cleared the area of hostiles, so they only had to get there, no obstacle in their way. Kaidan pulled up the door for John and Oriana, his gaze turning away when he heard a loud shriek. He gleamed the harvester that they had earlier seen.

“Dammit!” John called, and propped into the seat. “Garrus, I need you to take that damn thing down!”

Garrus nodded and pulled out his sniper rifle, keeping the shuttle sliding door open when he aimed through the scope. Kaidan hopped into the front seat. Husks appeared and ran towards them before Cortez got them into the air.

They could finally breathe out when a precise shot brought the harvester down.

Kaidan dropped his head to the headrest, his eyes fluttering shut. They eventually opened again before he glanced over his seat. Miranda was curled up on John’s lap whose chin rested atop of her head, her eyes halfway open, him pressuring her wound. Oriana sat beside him as she held her sister’s hand, the tears on her cheeks still apparent, guilt-stricken eyes.

“This isn’t your fault, Oriana,” Kaidan reassured her, offering a small smile.

She looked up at him with a drained expression, although a small appreciative smile appeared on her lips, before her gaze drifted back at Miranda. He caught John’s eye and was given a subtle smile in thanks, but it faltered again as John looked away. His other hand was gingerly rubbing Miranda’s arm in steady movements, his gaze focused as he looked out on the colony, refusing to meet his eye.

She’ll be fine, John.

When they arrived by the airlock and were under contamination, John sighed heavily, leaning his back to the wall. His expression was as stoic as ever, but he could recognize the concern beneath his eyes. That was why John avoided eye-contact with him. Kaidan touched his temple, feeling a slight throbbing that was only going to get worse. He could only imagine John’s reaction somewhat similar down on Mars. Miranda’s wounds were critical, and there was only so much that he could -

“EDI, get Chakwas on the comm -- now!” John’s voice suddenly called out. “Clear the deck, we’ve got critically wounded without a pulse!”

Oriana covered her mouth and John rushed out as the airlock slid open while Oriana was quick on his heel.

“Alenko, Vakarian -- get the intel to EDI immediately, I want that son-of-a bitch hunted down!” John demanded.

Kaidan nodded and gave Garrus a nudge before they headed for the CIC.

Chapter Text

Little could be heard other than the gentle beeping of the heart monitor beside him.

Shepard had immediately rushed into the med-bay when he could no longer note any resistance, as Miranda had gone limp in his arms. He had felt his pulse throbbing in his throat when he realized that she wasn’t responding to him. Chakwas was quick on the comm and was able to get her breathing again, but she was still unconscious. Shepard had propped into a chair by the med-bay gurney with a fixated look, elbows on his knees, his hands intertwining as they supported his chin that felt unusually heavy.

He heard a knock on the door. Shepard turned to the doorway and quickly straightened up, surprised to see Kaidan, as his own hands propped to his thighs. Kaidan kept his voice low not to wake anyone.

“Hey,” he said, stepping into the room.

“Hey.”

Kaidan held up two plates. “You’ve barely stepped out of the med-bay. Figured you and Oriana might want to eat something, you know?” he said, and placed them on one of the empty gurneys.

Shepard offered him a small but appreciative smile.

“Thanks. You really are my XO, huh?”

“Someone’s have got to take care of you,” he replied, and calmly walked up to him.

Eyes fell to Miranda with nothing but compassion in the honey-brown hue.

“How’s she doing?” Kaidan asked.

“Badly wounded, but she’ll live.”

“How bad?”

“Critical stab wound, go figure,” he said, rubbing his eyes with an index finger and thumb. “Dr. Chakwas said she was close to severing an artery judging by the location the blade struck. Turns out Kai Leng’s more acquainted with those dragon teeth than expected. Probably going to install the same function to his katana in the near future. He’s... ceremonial. I’ll give him that.”

“And her?”

Shepard peeked up at the girl who had fallen asleep in the seat opposites him. Oriana’s head had fallen to her hand, elbow resting on the chair lean, her knees to her chest. He had earlier draped a blanket around her that she now had snuggled into.

Oriana was just 18 years old, so everything did without doubt wear down on her.

“The kid feels guilty, haven’t slept a damn wink before now, constantly asking for an update on Miri’s situation. I finally managed to convince her that I could keep an eye on Miranda for her, though,” he said, shifting. “How’d it go on your end?”

“EDI got the data analyzed quickly after we got back from Horizon. Turns out that he’s somewhere in the Anadius system, but...” There’s always a ‘but.’ “We don’t quite know where. It’ll take about two days to collect enough data to determine a specific location. Getting to the Citadel from Eden Prime takes about thirty hours, and hell... We can’t exactly search the whole system. It’d take weeks to even locate a system if she hadn’t planted that tracker, maybe months, so at least the process won’t be as time-consuming.”

Nothing’s ever simple for us, huh?

He felt a gentle squeeze of his shoulder. “Hey, I’ve got to get back to it. I need to prepare my students for what’s coming and see how they’re doing,” Kaidan said, about to leave. “Don’t forget to eat.”

“Thanks.”

“One thanks is enough, but... I’ll take it.”

“No, I mean... for saving her,” he replied, and took note the way the puzzled lines in Kaidan’s forehead ceased to exist as he stood tall before him. “Chakwas told me she wouldn’t’ve made it otherwise. I owe you.”

“You don’t owe me anything, John.”

Yeah... everyone keeps saying that.

He wanted to snort. “Hell, I don’t deserve you.”

“No, you don’t.”

Shepard shook his head at his smug reply. Skidding back over to him, Kaidan returned a smile as his expression was mischievous with a hidden affection behind the roguish. He bent down, touching his forehead with his own, their eyes colliding. Shepard’s smile morphed into a grin before he tilted his own chin up, heating his body up as his lips encountered Kaidan’s, returning the kiss just as softly as he had received it. It was as he had expected. Soft. Gentle. Professional. He couldn’t remember either one of his past lovers’ practice the chaste nature like he did.

“If I knew I’d witness this, I would’ve requested the doctor to bring me some popcorn.”

Speaking of past lovers... They look up at the person that those somewhat strangled words had come from. Kaidan had immediately straightened up in soldier-like alert when she spoke.

Miranda was smirking.

“I’ll go get Chakwas,” Kaidan said, rushing out the door.

At once Shepard saw her attempting to sit up, he grabbed her hand, nearly falling off his chair in the quick motion to keep her there as it was close to knock over. She was stubborn, all right.

“Hey, take it easy. How do you feel?”

She made disgusted noise. “Horrible...” she murmured, taking after her abdomen. “Remember that I heal quick physically. The mental state will soon follow suit, rest assured.”

Her eyes went wide. “Ori -”

Shepard motioned his head with a tilt in her sister’s direction, Miranda casting a glance her way, eyes closing shut as she allowed her head to gently drop to the gurney. He glimpsed the fond smile on her full lips as she looked back at her, but it didn’t last for long. Her voice lowered into a whisper, seeing the muscles in her jaw clenching.

She swallowed. “God, she deserves so much better than that bastard we call our father. I never wanted any of this.”

“I know.” Shepard gently stroked the back of her palm with his thumb. “But she’s got you -- a sister that she loves who loves her back -- and that’s more than she can ask for. She isn’t alone in this.”

Miranda turned to him. “Thank you, Shepard. For arriving when you did. I... shouldn’t have been -”

“Stubborn as all hell? That’s out of character, Miss Lawson.”

She exhaled. “My god, shut up,” she murmured, still smirking as she leant back to fixate eyes at the roof. “You’ve been in lockup for a month, and yet, you manage to be a complete and utter arse. It’s amazing, really.”

“It’s a talent.”

Letting go of her hand, he moved a lock of ebon hair from her face. Miranda turned to him and their eyes met. He brushed his thumb across her cheek, trailing the area below her eye, before moving across her jawline.

“I’m sorry -” he tried, but felt a slender finger to his lips in attempt shutting him up.

“If you don’t stop apologizing, I will throw you biotically across the room.” Her expression was deadpan although her cute dimples soon became apparent. “I’m a grown woman, Shepard. Don’t forget that. I have no regrets.” Her hand dropped and connected with the other at her abdomen. “I have to admit that your bad-boy persona did strange things to me, and now that you’re all paragon, it’s taking away from your charm.”

Shepard’s gaze fell to the floor and couldn’t help but grin slightly at her joke.

“I’m... proud of you, Shepard,” she added, him tilting his head up to see her eyes narrow. “You better treat him right.”

“Here I thought you were going to say, he better treat you right.”

“Oh, no. I hope he treats you like the persistent bastard you are.” She weakly nudged his bicep, causing him to shake his head in amusement. “He’s aware what a handful he’s got himself into, right? Or do I have to save him?”

Ouch.

“I think he’s good, but thanks for the offer.”

*

Kaidan was in Starboard Observation when hearing that Miranda was already back up on her feet. John had earlier mentioned that she was genetically modified, so that was probably part of it. She must’ve had some regeneration factor or something in her implant, and if she did, it wouldn’t surprise him in the slightest. She was a biotic, he witnessed that firsthand, but he had felt the tingling sensation of the dark energy coursing through her veins long before her bravado. It was a connection all biotics had.

There was some biotics in John, too.

After his reconstruction, the Lazarus Project had implanted knowledge of reave, as he had seen it used in the field after the Lazarus Project. John had however slightly forgotten how to harness the energy, so he came to Kaidan, who re-taught him how to use it.

Kaidan already knew that John had been exposed to secondary element zero back in 68, the very year that he himself killed Vyrnus, so it was completely normal. Just like every other being that had been exposed, you could either choose to pursue it, or avoid the matter entirely. Asari are all natural born biotics but not all chose to embrace it. Some found it unethical and even more looked upon biotics as freaks of nature. A hundred years back, it was deemed impossible, but they sure showed those scientists.

“So... shore leave, huh?”

He had approached John after hearing a rumor aboard the ship that she had been grounded again. It was nearly Ilos all over again, although this time, they didn’t actually steal a prototype warship.

John propped his hands to the war table.

“Guess you could call it that. ‘Unwilling’ shore leave, if you want to be specific. Hackett ordered us to take a break as the Normandy is undergoing surface repairs not to be dysfunctional by the time of the final mission.”

“Ordered.”

He nodded. “Ordered.”

“Wow.”

“You tell me.”

Kaidan folded his arms across his chest. “Well, I’m not going to complain,” he said, averting his eyes. “This whole damn thing has taken its toll on the crew, and hell, you’ve barely slept lately.”

“Became difficult after I had gotten used to a certain lightly dressed biotic besides me only to find out he was gone.”

Really, John?

Flirting wasn’t his strong suit. “Here I thought that *I* was out of practice.”

“Touché.”

*

“Looks familiar,” Shepard said, walking up to the blueprints of the ship in Javik’s claimed room.

“I have been studying this ship, its crew.” Javik pulled himself away from the basin of water that he frequently used to wash his hands, turning to face him. “There was a Normandy before this one. You died in an attack.”

“Something like that.”

“But then you were resurrected... to fight the reapers.”

“Maybe you and I have a thing or two in common.”

“But you have something else: the reason you fight are still alive. The friendships of the people around you,” he replied, and fell into a pause. “And more.” Shepard cocked a brow at his lowered tone. “You and the human soldier are... joined?”

“You could say that.”

“I don’t. Your pheromones are.”

Was that a smile? Shepard suspiciously narrowed his eyes, because that was definitely a smile. Holy hell.

Javik turned back to the blueprint. “Is this why you wish to continue living? For their affection?”

“Without that ‘affection,’ all I have in my life is death. And that’s not enough,” he replied, and folded his arms across his chest. He watched as Javik went back to the basin. “What about you? I respect your reasons for being here, but I get the feeling there’s something more, Javik.”

The prothean shard they had found on Eden Prime caught his attention.

Shepard dragged his feet towards it. “What’s in this?”

“It is called the Echo Shard. Passed from soldier to soldier, Prothean to Prothean. Each adds their memories to it,” Javik explained, so it was like a beacon. “It goes back... to a time before the reapers. It is all that is left of my people.”

“And you don’t want to remember that?” he asked, curiously.

“Imagine if everyone you knew was dead. You could not remember their faces, or the color of the sky above your home. The memories were gone... but so was the pain.” Javik approached him, eyes traversing to the Shard before retaking Shepard’s gaze. “Would you want to remember that, Commander? Even if it meant watching everyone die again?”

Pursing his lips together, he averted his eyes. Ash, Pressly, Mordin, Thane, Legion... Ace. Even as much as he wanted to see them again, he wasn’t sure if it was the correct thing to do.

“Re-opening old wounds -- especially big ones -- isn’t going to help.”

“Perhaps you are right. There were others... soldiers who served under me, like your crew,” he replied, and Shepard couldn’t help but ask what happened to them. “They are dead. Where I left them.”

Shepard took a moment. “We have a saying: ‘Let old ghosts rest’.”

“Then there is some wisdom in this cycle.”

If you can live by it.


When the Normandy was grounded, Shepard felt pretty much lost, not knowing what the hell to do with himself.

They were just a tracker away from finding Cerberus HQ and he could do nothing but wait for it to find the plausible location. Joker had invited him to some posh restaurant at the Citadel and said it was important, even if Shepard would rather stay in bed all day, tangled up in Kaidan who apparently already knew about the apartment that Anderson had just given him.

It turned out that Shepard wasn’t trusted with the codes not to lose them.

After struggling his hands through the sleeves of a black leather jacket -- to look more presentable -- he caught the next shuttle. He was quickly gestured over by the waiter and found himself swallowing hard. There were a lot of people there waiting for an entrance. Shepard had never felt more out of place than he did now. His glance traversed to Joker by one of the tables, thankful that he could see a familiar face, and was waved over. He returned a somewhat forced smile and waved back.

Shepard skidded over, mindful of the annoyed glances as he passed the wave of people waiting in line, and slid into a chair.

“Hey, Shepard. Not bad, huh? This sushi place is serious. Like ‘French guy at the door’ serious. Only had to save the galaxy twice to get a table here. You’ve seen the line outside?”

Joker raised his glass. “But here I am, drink in hand. Best pilot in the universe and a rock star.”

At least someone was having a good time.

Clearing his throat, Shepard replied, “Yeah, you could say that.” He shifted restlessly and propped his arms at the table. “Hell, I could swear I had about ten pairs of eyes silently judging me.”

Normandy’s damages were one-hundred percent likely to worsen, so engineers were taking a look at her. She needed the repairs before they even considered touching down on Earth after seeing some surface damage. Shepard had ordered a simple beer, Joker jokingly suggesting him to try some ryncol saying that he “could handle it,” an offer that he politely declined.

He sure as hell wouldn’t trust Joker or Garrus with drinks ever again after what happened three years ago. As it turns out, it didn’t take long before it came to light that neither of them had sent a message about meeting up, feeling like they’d been set up.

A woman waved at them by the line.

“Commander Shepard!” she called, and jogged over to their table. “I’m Staff Analyst Maya Brooks. Alliance -excuse me...” Brooks abruptly snapped a salute “-Alliance Intelligence.”

She dropped her hand. “There are people trying to kill you.”

Everything went downhill from there.

New people had specifically targeted him for some messed up reason and were hacking into his accounts, comm channels and personal records. Shepard had to admit that he wasn’t too concerned about the account seeing that Joker and Garrus had nearly tapped him for credits already. He asked her what he knew but she didn’t have the time to inquire before three armored men entered the restaurant.

His eyes snapped wide as they began to shoot up the roof and tipping tables over. Brooks had ducked, and taking a hold of Joker, he pulled them both behind one of the tables he himself flipped to use it as cover.

“Spread out, boys! Find me Shepard!” one of them called.

It didn’t take long before they got ahold of Brooks and forced her out of cover. They had to do something fast or she would be used as some kind of hostage to get to him. He’d rather she stayed alive.

He turned to Joker. “Find the crew. I’m going after her.”

“Find the crew. Got it.”

Shepard briefly cast a glance out of cover to see how many people they were dealing with, as Joker headed for the exit. Three soldiers were on his far left, three before him and one moving his direction, calling out a “hey!” after he had spotted Joker. Shepard shot up from cover and threw the man over the edge before pulling out his omni-blade and finishing him off.

Joker’s eyes went wide. “You used me as bait?!”

“Go!”

Fumbling to his side, his hand encountered the tepid metal of a M-11 Suppressor, fishing it up and moving back into cover as the soldiers’ firearms directed his way. He found Brooks and helped her up. Then he saw a laser sight target his heart. Her hand touched his chest and he was pushed back, causing him to tumble over the floor connected to the fish tank below him, Brooks taking the shot for him in the shoulder. Being in the open, he crawled backwards, trying to avoid the bullets spraying his way. It didn’t prevent the bullets from shooting up the floor.

Shepard barely managed to take note of the shot-up glass beneath him before he was sent falling through.

His head spun when his back hit the final concrete that nearly knocked the air out of him. He had managed to mend the fall by grabbing a tapestry on the way, but hell, it still hurt like a son-of-a bitch. At the top of it all, if things couldn’t get any worse, he was soaking wet from top to bottom. He heaved himself off the floor with a groan before his eyes angled towards the pistol that had joined him on his journey down. A muffled pain sound escaped his mouth as he cradled his ribs, the pistol tightly held by his other hand as his body felt far heavier.

When he shortly after arrived at the car lot, a biotic pulse sent two soldiers over with ease. Shepard rounded the nearest car and lowered his firearm to see a far too familiar major approach him with a cocky strut in his steps.

“Seems like you’re having a bad day, Shepard...”


Kaidan had found a quiet corner by a synthetic, flickering fire in John’s apartment, trying to make sense of it all.

When Anderson gave him the entrance codes for safekeeping, he forgot to mention how big the place was, a skycar needed just to get there. Huge windows dressed the walls with tapestry as the light poured through the illuminating windows and gave it a highly sophisticated look. The luxury was more than enough evidence to know that David Anderson was a wealthy man. The apartment had several sitting groups, a living room of great scale, a quaint kitchen, a big restroom and one guest room. It had a Jacuzzi and everything.

The bedroom, well... he had to admit that little time was taken to actually look at the interior. John made sure of that as he basically tackled him into it with the strength of a krogan juggernaut.

“Nice to see you on the car lot. It was... pretty hot.”

Kaidan smirked. “Why, thank you.”

Upon hearing the regular footsteps seen by the corner of his eye, he folded his arms across his chest as he took note of the sudden warmth lurking behind him. As John pressed to his back, he leant in, the steady body behind him like a supportive wall. It was a shame that the leather fabric had dried up seeing that falling through the fish tank had given a certain moisture that nicely hugged his curves. He had to fight the urge not to stare, only to be caught red-handed by the man himself, when they first headed for the apartment together after the attack.

“What would I do without you?”

Snorting, Kaidan muttered, “You’ll never find out.” His gaze trailed to the unnecessary large windows. “You know, in my dreams, I have a place just like this overlooking the Pacific. I mean, hell. You own this place. I’m never leaving.”

John made a low humming sound only described as approval even if it was meant as a joke.

“Hey... When this is over, we’ll carve out some time. Just the two of us,” he said, turning his head to feel John’s nose lightly press against his cheek.

He was given a curious look, mindful of the rest of the crew that had united in the apartment.

Everyone had arrived to help finding out who John’s attackers were, ‘cause hell, you mess with John and you mess with them.

The last thing Kaidan ever thought he would do was chasing his lover’s clone all across the Citadel. Cerberus had cloned John for spare parts and if they couldn’t bring him back during the Lazarus Project. Miranda knew, although her primary focus was John and not a cheap knockoff. It turned out that Maya Brooks wasn’t her real name. She worked with Cerberus in the past and knew Miranda personally, although she wasn’t with them at the time, so she couldn’t warn them. ‘Brooks’ had taken the clone from Cerberus and escaped with it so she could have it replace John.

The escape hatch to the Normandy was shut, and to everyone’s utter amazement, Traynor’s 6,000 credits toothbrush saved them with mass effect fields to pry open the escape hatch.

Neither did he imagine he would be thanking a toothbrush.

There was something about ‘Brooks’ from the very beginning that unnerved him. She was taken into custody when they put a stop to the whole ordeal and the clone was dead, although he almost wished they had shot her, being unusual as shooting people was usually the last resort. He took it personal when John was targeted for obvious reasons, and she was behind it, so that was reason enough to dislike her. Shepard labeled it as ‘jealousy’ with a mock tone and that made Kaidan want to punch him again.

He was thankful when they finally got their shore leave.

*

Shepard’s fingertips skirted over one of the neatly stacked boxes in the CIC. Taking a firm hold of the box containing a couple of his model ships to feel the ragged cardboard, he latched it up into his arms, stacking another atop. He carefully tipped up another before circling around towards the elevator. A startle was introduced to his nervous systems as he barely managed to avoid a high-impact collision with Kaidan who quickly caught one of the boxes as it was about to fall to the floor.

“Need any help with that?” he asked, voice dancing with amusement. Shepard was tempted roll his eyes. The clone had brought down all his personal belongings while aboard and it was time to correct that. Shepard shoved another box into his hands.

Kaidan chuckled. “Wow, you really despise taking several trips, don’t you?” he asked, throwing them under his arm.

“It’s called ‘saving time’,” he replied, picking up two more to balance the ones that were left.

He groaned dramatically when he saw Kaidan’s biotics flaring up, easily levitating the boxes from his own hold and into the elevator.

Shepard let his now empty hands drop. “Show off.”

Kaidan manually placed the last two he was holding on the elevator floor. “I’m not taking any chances with the glass, though. Grab, uh... Cuddlesworth’s cage... and I’ll help you get situated up there.”

The ride up was quick and painless as their worries were taken down a notch after the whole clone-situation.

Joker had suggested throwing a party in his apartment as they were still on shore leave. Judging by the fact that it might be the last time they would all be together, the war being just around the corner, he took his suggestion within a heartbeat. It would be nice to get the whole crew together before their final assault towards the Cerberus HQ where they would hopefully retrieve the Prothean VI.

His gaze immediately drifted to the illuminating blue color that lit up the otherwise dark room before flicking on the main source.

The fishes of various species traversed the tank only now to realize how much credits he probably had spent buying them. Shepard had thankfully already bought an automatic food dispenser so he no longer needed to worry about feeding them. He hadn’t had the option to go check on them before now and was thankful that they were still breathing. He had a tendency to be forgetful. Anderson had, after all, given the apartment codes to Kaidan for a reason. He took note of Kaidan’s silence as they packed out.

“Something’s obviously bothering you.” Shepard shoved the cage back onto the shelf. “What’s up?”

He snorted. “That obvious, huh?”

“C’mon, K,” he said, and pushed the glass further in towards the wall to make sure it didn’t fall to the ground and shatter. “I know you. Doesn’t take much effort to understand that something’s up.”

Folding his arms across his chest and leaning his hip to the table, he fixated him with the usual deadpan look, waiting. Kaidan sighed heavily as he put one of the boxes aside. With his now free hand, he ran a hand through his hair until it reached the back of his neck, averting his gaze.

“Look, back at the ramp -”

“Kaidan, I tried to help him.”

“Yeah, I... I know. That’s not what I mean. It was one hell of a way to go, and I know he tried to kill us, but... He still had your face, you know? I just keep thinking that could’ve been you... that if I couldn’t tell the distinction... and -Yeah.”

“That clone?” he said, prying aside the wrappers on one of the boxes. “Yeah, he had my emotions. Probably had my views except from that ‘lone wolf’ part. What he didn’t have was my memories since after the Lazarus Project.” Shepard fished up the SR-2 model ship and held it up. “Whatever happened at this ship? At Apollo’s? That’s our memories alone. EDI probably got a few moments recorded, too. Hell, I think you could’ve resisted his advances if he tried to seduce you.”

He had to grin at Kaidan’s half-laugh. “Unless you’re into kinky shit, that is.”

Kaidan grabbed the model ship from him. “One of you is more than enough, Shepard. Hell, I don’t think anyone could’ve handled several,” he said with a chuckle in his tone, putting it back in place before backing up to eye the display. “There’s a lot to prepare for the party, though. Should probably head out to Silver Coast Casino and go grab some provisions. I’ll join you, if you want.”

Grocery shopping with my boyfriend, he thought, amused by the thought. You’re getting soft, Shep.

The party was thrown only hours later, and Shepard had learned a lot about his current squad members, many of those facts being stories to tell in the years ahead of them.

He ended the night in the bed, wrapped up in Kaidan, after some well-deserved sex.

*

Shepard stood at the docks, arms propped to the banister, watching the Normandy behind the Citadel glass.

He felt a hand trailing his arm before fingers intertwined with his. He smiled when Kaidan moved his hand up to his mouth and pressed a kiss to back of his palm. Still entwined, their hands dropped to the banister again, as the rest of the crew headed for the ship.

“Well... I guess we better get back to it,” Kaidan said.

“At least we threw one hell of a party... Probably the last one.”

Kaidan offered him a soft smile. “Shepard... You, ah... you will find a way to win. I know it,” he said, and Shepard couldn’t help the way his mouth curved slightly upwards as a thumb brushed against his knuckles. “And when you do... I’ll be waiting. Yeah. Greatest challenge of my life. And the greatest reward.” He gently pulled himself away from the banister. “It’s been a good ride.”

“The best.”

Chapter Text

Shepard calmly paced the cabin while awaiting the arrival on Cerberus HQ.

Not having bothered to change back since after the party, he swept through reports, attempting to find out if anything that had passed his desk. It felt like he was preparing to go through the Omega 4 Relay once again. Another suicide mission. This was their final step before taking Earth back from the claws of the reapers and stopping them for good. People would be lost in this fight and that included the possibility of Shepard himself.

Realizing that there was no use, he shook his head.

Those reports did nothing but make him anxious, making him constantly image everything that could go wrong. He was tempted to call Anderson again for the fifth time in only an hour to see how things were going down there. How bad it was, what they needed to take into consideration when heading for the Crucible, what they needed to prepare for and what plan he had come up with.

He needed -

With firm steps, he headed for the door, only to nearly barge into the man about to enter. He felt a small smile forming on his lips as his eyes settled at the figure before him, although it soon faltered. Kaidan was carrying the Peruvian whiskey he gave him back on Huerta Memorial as well as two glasses, giving him an almost sheepish look as his eyes fell to the report in his hand.

“Huh... Can’t sleep either?”

Shepard sighed. “No.”

“Making yourself crazy with this won’t help.”

He blinked as Kaidan casually passed him, his eyes trailing his movement with an apologetic look as he was mindful of the fact that he probably should turn him away. Take the rest of his limited time off to prepare.

“K... I need to -” he tried, taking a step forward.

“Shh...” Kaidan shushed him, swirling around to meet his gaze. “Just take five minutes. A quick drink. Then I’ll go.”

Shepard’s expression mellowed, and his lips curved into a gentle smirk, seeing the written plea on Kaidan’s face.

“You know you’ve done everything you could, right?” Kaidan asked.

Kaidan. He needed Kaidan.

“I hope so. I keep running the numbers to see if I’ve missed something.”

Shepard walked up to him, put the report aside and allowed his fingertips to intentionally brush against Kaidan’s hand before he accepted the glass he held out to him.

“You don’t have to take all this on yourself. Look to your crew. To the talented people fighting by your side...”

Heading for the couch, Shepard caught the neck of the bottle and propped it to the desk besides them. He felt Kaidan’s eyes tracing his movements and could only imagine the slight smug smirk as he technically had been hinting he was one of those ‘talented people.’

Kaidan snorted. “John... What you’ve accomplished from when the reapers arrived have been nothing short of amazing.”

Letting his burdened body slowly sink into the couch, he was shortly joined by him. Shepard tilted his head back to ingest his own drink, the burn oddly calming as it ran down his throat. It was of far better quality than those cheap bottles he had a tendency to buy himself. He could understand why Kaidan preferred the brand over whatever else that the human-friendly cafés offered. That, and Canadian lager.

“I -it’s gotta be... It’s gotta be what it is,” Kaidan muttered, the tightened brows faltering as he again caught his eye.

There was a genuinity in the way brown hue shone before him, taking note of the subtle smile that shortly formed, realizing that he himself was staring. Only difference now, when caught staring, Shepard didn’t have to look away like he did back on the SR-1. He couldn’t help but think how things would have been different if either of them had confessed earlier.

If that was the case, they would’ve done more than just share a couple stories and demonstrate some biotics before Ilos.

He watched as Kaidan brought the glass to his mouth, a steady glance never breaking eye contact as he suggestively flicked his tongue and drowned the whiskey. It made his head spin. Aware of what it did to Shepard’s body, Kaidan’s look went gradually mischievous as he put the glass aside. He knew that look. Shepard’s own drink joined his on the table.

“So tell me...” Shepard muttered, edging closer. “How is this distraction going to help us win the war?”

“I’m not a distraction. I’m here to help you relax,” he replied, feigning hurt.

His expression was of attempted innocence, but his eyes darkened, and Shepard’s breath got stuck in his throat.

Kaidan smirked. “Relaxing will help you focus.”

Unable to hold the smile back, Shepard arched an unconvinced brow as his chin was captured.

Slanting his head, Kaidan leant in to capture his mouth in a soft kiss. Quickened, erratic heartbeats pulsed, fingertips brushing against the nape of his neck that sent shivers down his body. He felt the grin forming at Kaidan’s lips as they pressed against his, ducking his head, their foreheads connecting. Kaidan softly snorted, eyes angling upwards to meet his as he tilted his chin.

“I lied... I -I didn’t come here for a quick drink,” he added, thumb brushing against Shepard’s lips.

Smile widening, he pressed a kiss to Kaidan’s thumb before closing the distance. The tip of their noses brushed, and when Kaidan parted from his chin, he splayed a hand on his chest. He watched as Kaidan closed his eyes, only to open again as he shoved him down until his back encountered the couch beneath. Shepard found a spot on his lap and hooked an arm around his neck before he lowered his mouth to his. He felt Kaidan’s hands going to the backside of his thighs, their forehead soon touching again.

Shepard exhaled. “Hell, you’re exactly what I need right now. Kaidan...” he whispered, continuing their activity.

Feeling a smile against his lips, he was scooped up into the air as the man below him pulled up. There was a brief panic when he no longer felt his boots without solid ground beneath, until he was lowered to it again. Soft, gentle lips moved to his neck as just as gentle hands slipped under the edge of his shirt -- up towards his ribs -- turning his every roaring nerve into heated pulsing. The beats below the cloth, both above and below, quickened erratically. The situation escalated, but slowly, both taking their time.

Kaidan’s every movement was slow and patient as he gently tugged his leather jacket off.

Settling his arm back around Kaidan’s shoulder when the cloth was off, he was pulled closer, arms closing around his waist and under his shirt in a way that resembled a hug rather than a kiss. He realized that this might be their last time, and taking that into consideration, Kaidan -- just as Shepard -- seemed to refuse rushing as his every concern in this moment appeared to be a token of showing affection only. To explain, without words, how much one part mean to the other. Lust wasn’t a factor tonight. Just love.

So he willingly went along with his gentle touches, kisses and words softly spoken as he assisted in parting him from his clothes.

When they were both stripped down to briefs, he pressed lips against Kaidan’s collarbone, a soft hum catching his ear as he felt the muscles underneath his hold -- fingertips trailing down the curve of his scapula -- locking up. He moved his mouth down, playfully biting into his dog tags as he settled his palms on Kaidan’s hips, a stunning smile before him as he backed towards the bed. Releasing the metal from his teeth, he tilted his head up, lips colliding again. A hand traversed up his arm, to the nape of his neck, guiding him in deeper.

Kaidan made a sound when Shepard moved a hand down, grabbing his ass, pulling him closer until there was no room for air.

Seeming somewhat displeased, the hand on his neck trailed across his shoulder and down to his shoulder blade. Shepard arched a curious brow, glance traversing to the hand, only to grin as he ended up back-down in the bed with a soft creak. Spreading his knees further, he saw Kaidan’s breathtakingly beautiful figure standing before him, between his legs -- whiskey-brown eyes falling down to his lower regions with a sexy as hell twist of his hip -- smirking mischievously before their gazes collided.

He knew that Kaidan could dance, having seen it firsthand, the graceful movements even now being more than evidence enough.

Kaidan threw himself into the bed, hovering over him, palms to the fabric beneath in the height of his shoulders. Above, he was smiled softly at as he grabbed his hip and tipped him over. Shepard brought his mouth to the area between his pecs and pressed lips to the heated skin below, feeling Kaidan’s hand back to the nape of his neck as his head thrown back in reaction. He released a moan loud enough for his blood to start pulsing. Pressing several kisses to the flushed skin and up to his throat, he crawled over him, before Kaidan tipped him back around.

The playful grin on Kaidan’s lips turned affectionate when Shepard pressed up to meet his lips again.

He made an approving murmur as a warm tongue came between his lips, his head held in place, his own hand cupping his shoulder in a one-arm hug. Empowering his already unwavering need of his touch, Kaidan grinded up against him that in return deepened the kiss, Shepard moaning into his mouth. He shivered as fingertips brushed down his waist and to the edge of his briefs.

*

Sensing movement shifting besides him, Kaidan turned to see John sitting on the bedside, back hunched with a ducked head and hands intertwined into fists resting in his lap. Concern replaced his calm features as he guided a hand across his face and blinked the sleep away.

Kaidan sucked in a breath. “What’s up?”

He propped his forearm to the cloth beneath and slowly pulled himself up, noting the tension in John’s neck, who didn’t turn to face him. John unclasped his hands before straightening his back.

“Are we going to make it, Kaidan?” he asked, his voice soft and uncertain.

Sighing, he scooched in. “We’re ready.”

Kaidan touched his lower back. He trailed two fingers up and drew light circles, feeling tense muscles absorbing his caress. John shivered as his eyes closed before he, over his shoulder, caught his eye.

“You’ve put the people together... the vision... and what you’ve done, Shepard... is build hope,” he added.

“I’m glad I inspired that in you,” he muttered, although the smile that had appeared gradually faltered. “But sometimes...”

John reached for his cheek, Kaidan offering a smile in return, leaning into the touch.

“You’re right. Give us hope and a fighting chance...” John added.

Kaidan followed the hand as it moved down to his chest, and as flutters went through his body, his lids nearly shut just to savor the warmth of his touch. Eventually, he sought those gorgeous blue eyes belonging to the man he loved.

John’s amazing smile returned. “Hell... the reapers better watch themselves.”

He felt this chin grasped and gently tilted up, and John leant in. A peck was placed on his mouth, a captivated smile forming on his lips as John pulled away, the lingering taste of his lips yet apparent. John leant forward again with a certain longing hunger, placing another kiss upon his mouth, and then another. His eyes opened only when he put his forehead to his. Before him he saw a stern look, jaw locking tight as he swallowed hard, the area around his eyes drawing tight. Kaidan touched his arm and gingerly rubbed his bicep.

“Hey... you okay?”

Kaidan received a nod in reply. “Eventually,” he replied, the press of his forehead slightly harder. “But I need you to do me a favor, K.”

Anything.

As he pushed back, Kaidan followed his movement with his eyes, gaze darting down as John touched the rim of his dog tags. He pulled it off over his head. Curious, he watched him studying the thin metal before unclasping one tag, leaving the other leashed.

“Keep this safe for me.” John held it out towards him.

What?

Replaced by concern, the surprised lines on Kaidan’s forehead ceased to exist, realizing what he was doing. John was giving him the part of his dog tags where his initials were written down. His throat went dry.

No.

“John -”

Don’t.

“Just in case,” he replied, a written plea in his features.

Bastard...

Eyes bore into his with such determination, but seeing the pain in his blue hue, Kaidan clenched his jaw. He let him. John touched his hand, dog tags clasped between their palms, intertwining their fingers with each other. Moving his palm up to his mouth, soft lips pressed against his knuckles, eyes tightly shut as he did. When John let go of his hand, Kaidan’s fingers closed around the tags, palm opening again to look at them. He swallowed down the lump in his throat and moved a thumb against the inscriptions.

CDR. SHEPARD, JOHN. 5923-AC-2826. A POSITIVE. NO PREFERENCE. SPECTRE STATUS. SYSTEMS ALLIANCE.

Looking at the tepid metal was if he was back at the Citadel overlooking the Presidium with Liara. She had presented him John’s dog tags after he had been informed about Horizon being the collector’s next target. He had held them in his hand just like he did now. It was her way of apologizing for not telling him earlier. Kaidan wasn’t angry with Liara at that time and that’s probably because of those tags. Seeing them again soothed him in some way. She told him to do whatever he wanted with them as she handed them over.

Kaidan returned them to her, but he had appreciated her gesture.

He unclasped his own. “Here. Let me trade you.”

Kaidan held them out and John latched them on. He did the same before wrapping arms around John’s waist, pulling him in.

“John, promise me something,” he said, frowning. “Whatever you do... don’t leave me behind.”

“There’s no one I’d rather bring, K. You know that,” he replied, leaning in for maximized contact. “After throwing you all that crap about not having you there when we hit the collector base, I’m not going to push you away for the final assault. Hell, I need someone to prevent me from rushing the first damn reaper with a shotgun, as Garrus would just lend me another clip with a ‘good luck’.”

Kaidan snorted. “I love you,” he muttered fondly, resting his chin lightly at his shoulder. “You’re kind of an ass, but I still love you.”

He was given another tender peck, his eyes following John’s movements as he rose up from the bed with a small grin on his amazing lips, giving him a wondrous display of the fantastic man that he could finally call his own.

I’m the luckiest man alive.


Touching down where the supposed Cerberus HQ would be, he felt it, knowing that they were only a few steps away before they would retake Earth. They had every possible war asset, and knowing that, it felt like they had a slight chance against the reapers. He had to admit that he had been lying to John back at the ship when he was asked what he thought their chances were. Honestly, he was worried. He didn’t know what to feel.

EDI approached a locked door. “We will be through momentarily,” she said, beginning to decrypt it and looked at a console. “Shepard, that console has not been fully scrubbed. It contains data you may find interesting.”

“What am looking at?”

“Project Lazarus,” she said, peeking up from her omni-tool. “Your reconstruction.”

Kaidan motioned his head John’s way with a silent question of ‘where do you want me,’ only to be gestured over, realizing that he wanted him to see it. Walking up behind him, he saw John open the first entry. A Cerberus scientist approached a full-scale hologram of a man who had to be the Illusive Man. A cigarette rested between two of his fingers.

“It can’t be done. It’s not a matter of resources,” the scientist said.

“It’s always a matter of resources. We’re not losing Shepard.”

The scientist hesitated. “Sir, Shepard is clinically brain-dead,” he replied, and Kaidan felt his heart in his throat. “After that much trauma, that long with no oxygen... We cannot overcome nature.”

“Operative Lawson disagrees. She is now in charge of Project Lazarus.”

The feed shut off.

“I didn’t know it was that bad,” John muttered.

“I just thought you were on life support.” Kaidan took a step towards him, the guilt once again returning. “Clinically brain-dead...”

“Looks like.”

“What was it like?” Kaidan immediately regretted his choice of words. “I mean, if you remember... or... how do you feel?”

“I’m still me,” he nearly snapped, catching his eye. “I doubt I’d have been able to turn against Cerberus otherwise. I don’t remember anything. Maybe they really just fixed me... or maybe I’m just a high-tech VI that thinks it’s Commander Shepard.”

John ducked a heavy head with a shrug “...but I don’t know, I -”

“You’re real enough for me.”

They headed further inside and approached the central region of Cerberus’ headquarters. The floor was of a shiny material almost comparable to glass as it reflected the huge planet that the front-view mirror displayed. There was a single chair before a holographic screen. John looked down on his feet to see a black circle in the center that he was standing on. It resembled some kind of hologram interface. He probably spoke to TIM through it. John placed himself by the screen, beginning to look after the Prothean VI, while Kaidan approached the glass window.

EDI soon found the VI -- after a debrief with TIM via hologram -- giving them the answers that they were seeking.

“The Catalyst enhances dark energy transmissions and coordinates the entire mass relay network,” the Prothean VI said, hands clasped behind its back. “In your cycle, it is known as the Citadel.”

“What?” The shock in John’s voice was clear.

The Citadel and the Crucible together could stop the reapers. It was as ready as it could be. They needed to get it to the Citadel. However, Illusive Man had informed the reapers of the Crucible, and moved the whole Citadel to the Sol system.

Earth.

*

Cerberus was finally out of the picture when Shepard stepped up into the comm-room. Kai Leng didn’t go down without the fight, as he had once again tried to stop them, but he was finally dead.

During the debriefing, Anderson asked if they knew why the Citadel was down there in London and what was going on. He had seen it there, so Shepard explained to the best of his abilities. They both knew the situation was dire seeing that Illusive Man had made the reapers aware that they knew. The Crucible was moved to Earth by the reapers so that the sentient machines could protect it.

“What does this mean for the Crucible?”

Shepard circled his shoulder. “I’ll talk to Hackett about that, but... it looks like our plan is even more desperate now.”

“Agreed,” Anderson said, nodding. “I’ve got a team in London. The reapers have been preparing something here. Now we know what for. We’ll scout it out. Try to find out as much as we can.”

“Roger that.”

“Well... at least we’ll be seeing you sooner rather than later.”

“Be careful, sir.”

“You too, Shepard. Anderson out.”

Shepard walked his round to check up on the crew. Hackett himself later sent a priority message that requested coming aboard. It didn’t take long before the Admiral stepped through the airlock, two soldiers by his side, the crew standing tall as they all snapped a salute. In position. Shepard met him by the galaxy map and escalated his own hand to his forehead.

“Admiral.”

Hackett returned the salute. “Are you ready to bring the might of the galaxy to bear on the reapers?”

“Yes, sir.” Shepard dropped his hand, and they shared a handshake.

“Then let’s make sure the fleets are ready,” he replied, stepping up before the galaxy map and clasped steady hands behind his back with a straightened posture. “Never before have so many come together -- from all quarters of the galaxy. But never before have we faced an enemy such as this. The reapers will show us no mercy. We must give them no quarter. They will terrorize our populations. We must stand fast in the face of that terror. They will advance until our last city falls.

“...but we will not fall. We will prevail. Each of us will be defined by our actions in the coming battle,” he added, and gave them a look. “Stand fast. Stand strong. Stand together. Hackett out.”

Chapter Text

Kaidan couldn’t believe his own eyes when he saw Earth in its full glory, on display before them, nearly unrecognizable in its state. Debris lay everywhere and fires burned down several already worn buildings. He was thankful that John had decided to bring him along for the final push towards the beam. There was nowhere he would rather be than on the front line, watching John’s six, as they charged one last time.

“How are you holding up, son?”

“Alive and kicking, sir -Anderson,” he replied, quickly correcting himself after he took note of the knowing smile. “It’s... it’s one hell of a thing. A lot to ingest, you know? Hell, I still don’t know how he does it.”

Anderson fell into a pause. “Did I ever tell you how I met the commander?”

“No, sir.”

“15 years ago, a civilian reported a shootout in one of the slums on Earth. This was nothing new, of course,” Anderson began, Kaidan listening with his whole body. “Thing is, little evidence was at the crime scene, so we were fumbling in the dark until we got an anonymous phone call. It wasn’t much to go on, and one shouldn’t believe everything they hear, but it was the best we got at the time.

“We were tipped off about a 17-year-old kid that went by the name of ‘Shepard’,” he added, and Kaidan’s lips tugged upwards. “Blue eyes, 6 feet tall, dark hair a couple inches in length with far too much gel, dressing like a damn leather-clad jackass.”

Kaidan snorted and ducked his head.

He found it difficult to imagine John in anything but a buzz cut. The image of a typical bad-boy that had young, innocent girls falling head-over-heels for him was way easier to picture.

“I found the kid in a coffee shop a few miles away from HQ. Get this, he truly was a jackass, swearing like a pile driver,” Anderson said, and then lowered his voice. “However, I could tell he was scared. Broken. Those eyes of his does already give him a startled look, so imagine that seeing a kid with that very demeanor, only empowering the sensation. I wasn’t going to take a scared kid into a police hearing. Despise his unwillingness to cooperate at first, understanding of his distrust, I decided that I just wanted to talk to him. Get his side of the story.

“Earlier, I had been informed that one of our officers were pulled aside by a kid, evoking several questions. That very officer had shortly after been assassinated by Shepard’s most recent gang -- the Tenth Street Reds -- for knowing the truth. I’m sure you know the story.”

Kaidan nodded. “About the kid, yeah. Aaron.”

“To answer your implied question, Shepard’s been through a lot at a young age and has learned to cope with difficult matters such as this. Nevertheless, there’s still a person underneath that stoic image. I can tell he’s scared, even now. He’s been through a lot, without a doubt... but you should know that the very officer that Aaron pulled aside went by the name of Ace Hunt.”

His eyes went wide.

“Judging by your reaction, you know who that is, too,” he added, eyes far away. “The matter was of a more complicated nature than a simple standoff where Hunt was ‘conveniently’ assigned to the very same squad that Shepard’s next contract was in. Jericho, his boss, had personally set Shepard up. He wanted to teach him a lesson after he had refused an order.”

Carefully, he asked, “Does Shepard know this?”

“Admiral Hackett and I are the only ones that do,” Anderson muttered, his body language drained. Tired. “I plan to tell him after all this is over -- but right now, I need him focused.”

Anderson fell into another pause. “I also figured that you’d might want to tell him yourself.”

“Why now?” There was a strain in his voice.

Anderson’s arms dropped to his sides. “I don’t take pleasure in putting such a thing on you, Major. Just know that there’s a reason for all this,” he replied, shaking his head. “I wish I could tell you the whole story -- as I wish I could’ve told Shepard for all these years -- but I’m afraid it’s classified. When this is over, you’ll see. For now, let’s focus on winning this war.”

Kaidan had a lot of questions, but he knew he was right, so he let it rest for now.

“Aye, aye, sir.”

He was given a nod. “Good luck out there,” he replied, before a small smile revealed itself. “Looks like someone’s coming to see you.”

Kaidan cast his head in the same direction to see John exchanging a few last words with Coats.

“It’s good to see him smiling again,” Anderson added. “He’s lucky to have you, major -- I know you’ll take good care of him for me.” Feeling a pressure on his shoulder, it was gently squeezed. “I’ll see you boys later.”

Anderson walked away.

Kaidan winced as a loud stuttering sound was heard transmitting by his ear, bringing two fingers to the earpiece, about to ask for an update. Hearing a gunshot at the other end, an immediate panic befell him, knowing some of his students had taken point. One of them had tried to get in contact with him. However, he couldn’t contain the subtle grin when hearing that the student on the other end had accidentally hit the transmitter when barging into a krogan soldier, forgotten to turn on the safety that resulted in a bullet hole in the ground.

Kids.

“Hey, Kaidan.”

With a startled look, he released the transmitter and swirled to the man speaking to him. The lines in his forehead faded when he saw John smiling weakly at him, with feigned cheerfulness and hope. His own gut obtained a penetrating twinge at the unsubtlety.

He managed a subtle smile of his own. “Hey... there you are.”

Still holding onto that small sliver of hope that he had held onto for so long, that hope slowly vanishing, its last remains were close to fading away as well. They had a few pushes to take before heading for the beam and John only promised to bring him along for the final.

“You ready?”

Kaidan inhaled. “Absolutely,” he said, attempting his voice to sound lighter. “For anything. Bring it on.”

“And Biotic’s Division -- your students?”

Somewhat strangled, he snorted. “More than ready. Eager. That’s youth for you,” he said, his forced enthusiasm in vain. The strained cheerfulness in his tone had to have been obvious. “Guess we’re old soldier, eh Shepard?”

“Yeah... I guess we are.”

“Brothers in arms. We know the score...”

The weak smile that he had somehow managed slowly faltered, the pit in his abdomen growing deeper as he clenched his jaw. He held him with an unwavering gaze.

Kaidan was unable to lie anymore. “We know this is goodbye,” he muttered.

He knew that his voice, strangled and strained, was breaking alongside him. It took his every nerve to resist pulling him in, embrace him, say everything he wanted to say. Two options for the future -- to settle down or spend the rest of his life in mourning -- the latter seeming far more plausible than the former. He had known throughout all of this that the plan was to make sure that John got to the beam, into the destruction, only to push those thoughts away because he couldn’t accept the inevitable truth that awaited them.

The already deep pit in his abdomen had swallowed him whole in the moment he saw that feigned smile.

Kaidan was ready to die.

...but he wasn’t ready to lose him.

John stepped forward. “When this is over... I’m going to be waiting for you,” he said, short but stern, his voice unfamiliar, nearly brittle.

Pinned with an incredibly blue gaze, the words were just as strangled.

“You better show up,” John demanded.

“Don’t get me wrong!” he breathed, sucking in a breath -- the hope for it to calm his nerves in vain -- as he met him halfway. “I’m going to fight like hell for the chance to hold you again. But, look. There’s... things I want to say. When looking back, I -I have a few regrets, but not many. That’s pretty damn amazing, right?”

Kaidan looked away, eyeing the tired, worn streets obliterated by reaper forces. “Messed up kid that I was. Never would’ve dreamed of the life I’ve had. And I owe a lot of that to you, you know.”

From the corner of his eye, he saw the longing in John’s.

“It’s been quite a ride.”

“It sure has,” he muttered, before turning to face him fully.

Kaidan saw the dark circles around his eyes, the deep lines in his forehead, the same permanent frown by his brows.

“But how are you doing? Scared?” Kaidan asked.

Silence.

“Damn straight I’m scared.”

His voice was nearly a whisper, attention yet on the weary, broken streets. The words seemed easier from him to say this time.

John turned back. “But that fear’s going to keep me alive long enough to strike these bastards right through the heart.”

He smiled weakly. “Yeah. Exactly.”

“So...”

John fell into a long pause, averting his eyes as he slowly nodded. Kaidan could tell that he had a lot on his heart, and yet, he knew that he wasn’t going to lay those concerns on him.

He watched John swallow. “Take care, major.”

With a fixated look forward, he clenched his jaw as John began to move past him. Unable to leave it at that, Kaidan reached out to his side and stopped him in his tracks.

Not yet.

Seeing the hint of surprise on his face when he turned, Kaidan exposed a gloved hand to his cheek and pulled him in.

Please don’t go yet.

Their lips locked into a painfully passionate kiss. Full of want. Longing. Need. Fear of it being their last embrace. Fear of not being able to return to him after the war was over. Fear of losing him.

John pushed up harder against him, and as he had known for such a long time, he knew he never wanted to let go.

Moving his hand to the nape of his neck, fingertips feeling the short crop of his buzz-cut underneath, he made sure there was no room for air between them. He took his hand in his own, guiding it to his own waist, before trailing his forearm. Feeling the opening, he was allowed entrance, and pressed his tongue between parted lips. If only he could one day forget about this war. Go back to his life. Embrace him again... then all of this would be worth it. There was a price to pay, but if John was that price, Kaidan wasn’t willing to pay it.

Reluctantly, he broke the kiss, mentally forcing himself to let go.

“Stay safe,” Kaidan whispered, before inhaling deeply. “Well...”

Not trusting his own voice, he cleared his throat. Taking a step back, his hand clenched into a fist, averting his eyes. He couldn’t hold the gaze any longer. Couldn’t stand seeing him walk away.

Kaidan swallowed hard. “I should go find the rest of my squad,” he finished, eyes falling to the concrete beneath.

“Yeah...”

Then the footsteps retracted.

I’ve never been to London.

*

“Commander. Just going over the ship,” Anderson said, before being given a, ‘Admiral’ in return when Shepard approached.

“How’s it look?”

“Barely 50 percent of Hammer has reported in. It’s bad,” he replied with a deep frown, showing him the interface.

Six markers revealed their placement and destinations.

“Can we count on more making it?” Shepard asked, resting his elbow on his forearm.

Anderson tilted his head in the direction of Major Coats, looking over the statistics on a data pad for confirmation, as he was given a look. His attention drifted back to Shepard with the update memorized. There were yet some stragglers but the bulk of Hammer had arrived.

They had to fight their way to the beam.

“They know we’re coming,” Anderson said, shifting. “This will be a one-way trip for many of us. But there can be no retreat, no stepping back. We move forward, at all costs. Understood?”

Shepard snapped a salute. “Hooyah. Yes, sir!”

“Johnson, Coats,” he said, eyes drifting to the marines who snapped a salute. “You two will co-ordinate the artillery units.” Anderson caught his eye. “Shepard. I’m sending you right up the gut where the resistance is heaviest. Support the tanks the best you can, but stay alive. I need you for the final push to the beam. I’ll give you a minute with your squad. Pick your team well.”

He was given a comforting pat on the back before Anderson went to work.

Shepard moved up behind the war-table, the Normandy crew collecting themselves around him, awaiting his command. His head was bowed and heavy as hands were palm-down to its surface. This was it. The final push. His final chance as boosting their morale.

He eyed them all before he spoke.

“This war’s brought us pain and suffering and loss,” he began, calmly pacing. “But it’s also brought us together -- as soldiers, allies, friends.”

He sought out every eye in the vicinity, holding Kaidan’s gaze for a moment longer, offering a soft smile that was returned fondly.

“This bond that ties us together is something the reapers will never understand,” Shepard added. “It’s more powerful than any weapon, stronger than any ship. It can’t be taken or destroyed. The next few hours will decide the fate of everyone in the galaxy. Every mother. Every son. Every unborn child. They’re trusting you... depending on you to win them their future. A future free from the threat of the reapers. But take heart. Look around you. You’re not in this fight alone. We face our enemy together, and together we will defeat them.”

He chose his team.

Insisting on coming with, Garrus stepped forward, Shepard never forgetting the way Tali was shouting at him for leaving her back on the ship. He had himself never planned on bringing Garrus along, Tali being that very reason, but Garrus wouldn’t budge. Shepard was the head-on assaulter who needed a biotic and a sniper for their best chance at success.

Garrus was their best shot, and he knew it, so he volunteered within a heartbeat.

He told Tali to go to Rannoch and find herself a home, met by the tear-stained brittle voice of, “I have a home” before she begged him to come back to her. The rest of the mission, he had an unmoving lump in his throat, contemplating if he should just leave Garrus with her.

He also knew that if he did, this war would be lost already, so he said nothing.

*

Kaidan, along with the ground team as well as Anderson and Coats, just arrived to see the Citadel in its full glory as its beam pulsed before them after their shuttle had been shot out of the sky. They quickly began heading for the beam only to stop and see the no-man’s-land that they had to run through to get to their destination. It had to be at least a couple hundred feet to the damn thing, and the place was a battle ground, leaving them in the very open. There was no cover. Just a straight shot for the beam.

Then everything happened way too damn quickly.

Makos were tipped over, red beams emitting from Harbinger itself, having found its place right by the Citadel that they so desperately had to get to. Kaidan was breathing heavily, blood stains dripping from his nose, his head ringing. A vehicle had headed John’s way so he had used all his strength to develop a mass effect field, enough to throw it aside, him nearly collapsing as his implant had flared up like thousand suns. John’s gaze had fallen to his wounds, his stoic expression breaking, the fear hidden beneath as he surveyed the area for the Normandy.

John had thrown his arm around his shoulder and taken cover behind the tipped vehicle, Kaidan insisting that he could fight, only to see him touching his earpiece to call in an evac as he without a second thought broke the rule of not compromising the mission.

He knew.

Kaidan groaned at the shrapnel that had gotten into his leg, thanks to an exploding vehicle, the pain unbearable as he sat with his back up against it. The Normandy had quickly touched down, and as John again threw his arm around his shoulder, he was dragged along.

“Here... take him,” John said.

You bastard!

It was everything he wants to say, to shout at the top of his lungs, but he couldn’t bring himself to do so. Limping, he was handed over to Garrus who latched his arm around his shoulder, holding him up as he stood at the ship’s ramp.

He couldn’t do this again. Couldn’t let those two years of mourning repeat themselves. He couldn’t just be hauled to safety again while the other awaited such a permanent fate. He nearly lost him when Sovereign attacked the Citadel. He lost him for two years after the collectors surfaced. Now he was about to lose him again.

“John!” he croaked out.

His heart went to his throat when he saw John taking a step back towards the Crucible, the determined fire of finishing this war burning in his eyes, evoking every emotion known to him.

“You’ve got to get out of here.”

“Yeah... That’s not going to happen.”

Attempting to pry himself out of Garrus’ grip, he was quickly reeled back in. The little strength he had left had no chance of success breaking free but he tried anyway.

“Don’t argue with me, Kaidan!”

Again, he tried to pry himself out of Garrus’ unwavering hold, only to put unnecessary weight on his leg -- nearly having him cry out in agonizing pain -- gritting his teeth in a wince when his body is forced down, Garrus with a grunt taking a firmer hold of him as talons bore into his side, preventing him from simply collapsing onto the ground. He had to get a better foothold to be able to draw him back.

Kaidan knew that he wasn’t going to release him and he knew that demands wouldn’t get him anywhere.

As John’s blue irises bore into his like an arrow -- the tense posture with a frown by his brows and a scowl on his face -- he knew that he wasn’t going to listen to any of his restless cries.

He was too tired to shout.

So he pleaded.

“Don’t... don’t leave me behind...”

Don’t leave me...

His voice had withered into a weak, pitiful mutter as he begged him not to go, begged him not to give his life.

You promised...

Warm blood pulsed in his veins as a migraine was surfacing. Clenching a fist, he forced back the blank substance clouding his vision, attempting to swallow down the unmoving lump in his throat.

Please don’t do this to me, John... please don’t... I can’t...

He struggled to keep his eyes open, weary lids threatening them shut, his every nerve telling him to just give up. Give in. But he resisted.

I can’t lose you again...

“Kaidan, there’s no time!” he called, a determined expression shrouding his face as he held up a hand as if to keep him back. “You’re in no condition to keep fighting. Get to the damn med-bay!”

He swallowed hard. “No, I’m with you to the end...”

After another obliterating sound channels through the battlefield as Harbinger brought a beam to another vehicle. Kaidan had to shield his eyes by looking away not to be blinded by the explosion. He watched with a heavy heart when John took a step forward, feeling a gloved hand capturing his cheek, eyes never breaking contact.

“K, listen to me... No matter what happens,” he muttered, his voice strained, brittle, blue hue looking him straight into his brown “...know that I love you.” A thumb caressed the area below his eye. “Always.”

Allowing his hand to wander up his forearm, fingers latched around his wrist, a pitiful hitch in his breath.

“John, I...” he tried, a soft smile touching his lips. “I love you, too.”

The pained smile he gained in return was too much to bear, as if accepting his fate, Kaidan tracing his arm as he pulled away while wanting nothing more but to pull him back.

Everything Kaidan managed to say was, “Be careful.”

He noticed the twitch in Garrus’ mandibles, his jaw tightly set, witnessing the interaction between the two. Opening his mouth so say something, John was only to be interrupted as his eyes fell to the Citadel -- his own glance tracing his -- noticing Harbinger with another vaporizing beam. There was a hitch in Garrus’ breath when he earned their CO’s gaze.

“Keep him safe, Garrus. That’s a damn order.”

Overwhelmed with emotion -- John finally having said all those words to him -- Kaidan couldn’t think straight. The beats beneath his chest were hard, erratic and unforgiving, as he regained his restless gaze.

“Go!” John called, waving away Kaidan’s hand that was still reaching after him.

Having to use all his remaining strength to force back the welling tears, he in a desperate final attempt tried to free himself, only to be once again reined back in with far more force. John turned, and as Kaidan took his arm back, Garrus used all his own strength to pull him into the ship. In the very moment the ramp separated them, he nearly fell to the closed entrance, convinced that he was never going to see him again. The last thing he saw was the love of his life moving towards the pulsing beam after he had said his goodbye.

John Shepard left him behind.


Shepard realized how much he was hurting. His hand was cradling the wound above his waist, and with weary movements, he moved it away -- eyes focusing on the thick, dark red blood all over it, a twitch in muscles -- feeling the pain all over his body. His eyes drooped, unable to hold them open for long. The console was right there but he knew he was about to pass out from blood loss. He could feel it.

Dammit... not now... not when I’m so close.

He had made it to the beam, never forgetting the entirely broken expression on Kaidan’s face as he left him back on the Normandy, wrenching his gut in unnatural ways. It was an image that had bore into his brain, never to leave, never to let him rest. Anderson was there, peaceful beside him, but unbreathing. Fallen to a gunshot by Shepard’s own indoctrinated hand. Tears had welled his eyes as he saw that he had taken his final breath. Shaking him. Pleading. Unable to accept that the person that saved his life was gone.

It was his fault. All of it.

...and yet, Anderson said he was proud of him.

Throughout all of this, he was ready to die, not having anyone waiting for him.

Until now.

/“Don’t leave me behind... I love you, too... Be careful...”/

Anderson spoke of the future. How he wished for children but never had the chance. He then asked him about the same thing. Shepard took it to consideration, and when he before him saw a peaceful life in Vancouver -- overlooking the Pacific with a few beers, laughing as no worries faced him, waking up next to the love of his life with voice dazed in sleep and fuzzy hair, perhaps even a pair of tiny and eager footsteps running to greet him after returning from work -- he choked up.

It simply wasn’t meant to be.

“Shepard,” came Hackett’s voice, interrupted with a fit of static. “Commander!”

With weary eyes, Shepard broke from his thoughts, his attention snapping up towards the console. His eyes fluttered, swallowing down the thick, red substance that had built up in his throat.

“I --What do you need me to do?”

“Nothing’s happening. The Crucible’s not firing. It’s got to be something on your end.”

Attempting to pull himself up, proving difficult as he let out a muffled groan, he was barely able to drag his body. He moved towards the static, right by the very console that most likely would mean the end of the reapers, his vision blurred by his own blood.

“Commander Shepard!” Hackett repeated, having received no reply.

He forced himself forward. “I don’t see --I’m not sure how to...”

Shepard reached for the console before him. The effort made him cry out in pain, stretching the wound below his chest, forcing him onto his knees again as he grasped his abdomen. He found his body unable to resist the pain and blood loss, heavy arms giving in.

His body dropped to the floor in a thud -- hitting the concrete -- hearing the distant echo of Hackett’s distressed voice.

“Commander!”

He saw his life flash before his eyes, but he saw no light at the end of a long tunnel, just dark. Dark shadows were cast over his mind, wrapping him up in the eternal abyss, granting him his silence. He saw the streets and the Alliance. He saw Saren putting a bullet in his head. He saw the collector base blowing up. He saw everyone that had been lost in this war. He saw everyone waiting for him.

He saw Kaidan.

Looks like I’m breaking my promise.