Kaidan sat in the medical bay, holding vigil over the unconscious form of Shepard.
Earlier, Dr. Chakwas had made a token effort to shoo Kaidan away, but experience had taught her that she’d sooner squeeze blood from a stone than separate these two.
Besides, there wasn’t much to be done. EEG was abnormal, but not in a way that suggested seizures. He was running unusually hot, but he was sweating – not a fever. She was trying to compensate with intravenous fluids and external cooling. Palliative at best, but she was at a loss for what else to do.
The med bay door opened, and James Vega stood there.
He stood at the threshold for a few moments, absorbing the scene.
Finally, he entered, and the door slid closed behind him. He walked over to Shepard’s bed and pulled up a chair next to Kaidan.
“Vega,” Kaidan acknowledged. He didn’t turn away from Shepard.
“Somehow I thought Loco wouldn’t attract this shit anymore, now that he’s a civvie.”
“We shouldn’t be surprised at this point. Eden Prime. Feros. Virmire. That crap in the Bahak system.” Kaidan sighed. “If someone’s getting a mind whammy, it’s Shepard.”
James squirmed in his seat. “I’ve never told anyone this, but… aw, nevermind, it’s stupid.”
Kaidan made a sound somewhere between “hmph” and a single, throaty chuckle. “Too late, Lieutenant, now you have me curious.”
“It’s just… I look up to him, you know? He was going to be my N7 training officer. And… he’s kinda like the big brother I never had.”
Kaidan nodded thoughtfully.
“I guess,” James began, “when we thought he was dead, it didn’t really sink in. No cuerpo, no muerto. Seeing him like this… it’s real, no?”
“Yeah,” Kaidan whispered. “It’s real.”
Suddenly, Kaidan chuckled to himself.
James peered at him. “What’s so funny?” James asked.
“I forgot Eletania.”
“When I was listing the times when Shepard got mind whammied. I forgot Eletania.”
“Don’t believe I’ve heard that one.”
“Not much to it. We found a metallic-looking sphere, about 2½ metres diameter, just hovering in the air over some stone Prothean ruins. Shepard found a slot on the underside, and it just happened to be shaped like this trinket that the Consort had given to him. Well, he popped in the trinket… and this sudden flash of light knocked him out cold. Liara and I were stressing over how to drag him back to the Mako before Eletania overwhelmed his suit’s enviro filters, but then he woke up on his own. He was only out for a few seconds, but it felt like forever. Later, he told me the sphere had shown him a vision — the Protheans were keeping tabs on early humans.”
“Not really news,” James suggested.
“Not today, no. But I think it unsettled him at the time.”
They sat in silence for a few moments, Kaidan focused on Shepard’s steady breathing.
“God, I miss those days sometimes,” Kaidan said.
“What, the Saren mission?” James asked.
Kaidan nodded. “Somehow the galaxy felt… younger then. Less cynical, more full of wonder.”
“Maybe it’s just you,” James said with a smirk.
“Maybe that’s part of it,” Kaidan admitted. “But I think the war had something to do with it.”
“Shepard killed himself, at the end of the war,” Kaidan said.
James paused for a moment. “Shit.”
“Sacrificed himself to save us. But I know him. He wasn’t sleeping much, and when he did he was having nightmares. Yeah, the war was really getting to him at the end. I’m sure part of him just wanted it to be over, one way or another. Sometimes I wonder, if we hadn’t found each other… would he have found something to believe in, or was I the last reason he had to keep going?”
“Does it matter?”
“Yeah… it matters. I have a dangerous job. There’s a real chance that someday I won’t be there for him anymore. And if the worst should happen… I want him to carry on. I want him to live, and find happiness. He’s a resilient man – hell, Mindoir proved that – but even he has limits. Ugh, I’m rambling, stop me.”
“No, I get what you’re saying,” James said. He nudged Kaidan with his elbow.
The two settled into a companionable silence.
“Ungh,” came a soft grunt from the bed.
“John?” Kaidan said.
“Kaidan,” Shepard murmured sleepily. “Mmmh. How long was I out?”
“About ten hours,” Kaidan answered. “Do you remember what happened?”
“Yeah. We were in the conference room, and Bucharu hit me with something.”
“How are you feeling?”
“Hungry. A little groggy. Other than that, I feel fine.”
Dr. Chakwas approached. “The good news is that you appear to be in good health — at least as far as I can determine with the Normandy’s limited equipment. The bad news is that I want you to visit Earth as soon as possible, so they can do a more in-depth scan. That signal did something to you, and I think it’s best we found out what. In the meantime, you’re released.”
Shepard slipped off the bed and stood up. “Thank you, Doctor.”
“On one condition: report any unusual symptoms to me at once,” she said.
“Yes, ma’am,” Shepard said. He took Kaidan’s hand, then gestured at the door with his head.
“You missed dinner,” Kaidan said as they walked together, “but I saved you some leftovers.”
“What, no ‘don’t do that again’ speech?”
“This one wasn’t your fault, so I’m giving it to you as a freebie.” Kaidan squeezed Shepard’s hand.
Through the med bay windows, Shepard could see Garrus sitting in the mess hall. He waved with his free hand; Garrus stood up and waved back.
As they entered the mess hall, Shepard let go of Kaidan’s hand and made a beeline for the kitchen, leaving Kaidan to take a seat next to Garrus. “Hey, Garrus,” Shepard said as he passed. “What are you doing up?”
“Just a little midnight snack,” Garrus replied to Shepard’s back. “I’m surprised Chakwas released you already. You gave us quite the scare.”
“She gave me a clean bill of health,” Shepard shrugged. “I feel fine.”
“Yeah, well, next time a Reaper brings its own music to the party, tell it ‘no’.”
“Duly noted,” Shepard said, holding back a chuckle.
Shepard came back to the mess table with two mugs of coffee and a tray straight from the fridge. He sat down across from Kaidan and passed him a mug. “Here you go. It’s decaf.”
“You’re not going to eat that cold, are you?” Kaidan asked with a grimace.
“I’m hungry,” Shepard said defensively.
“Ugh,” Kaidan exclaimed. “You could at least pop it in the microwave for a minute or two.”
“And then wait five minutes for the temperature to even out? No thanks.” Shepard dove in with a fork. “So what did I miss while I was out?”
“Not much,” Garrus said. “The Reapers that killed Bucharu are long gone. About a dozen others joined them. No one knows where they went. It’s been quiet since then.”
“Wait,” Shepard said, fork frozen in air. “Bucharu’s dead?”
“Sorry, I thought you knew that part,” Garrus said.
“That… complicates things.”
Kaidan pulled up his omnitool and played back the recording of Bucharu’s last communication, filtering out the sonic assault.
“I give you what I can,” Shepard mumbled to himself. After a moment, he shook his head and returned to eating.
The implications hung in the air.
“On the bright side,” Garrus began, “since you’re a civilian now, we don’t have to relieve you of duty for being potentially compromised.”
“Hah,” Shepard laughed mirthlessly. A forkful of mashed potatoes and gravy passed his lips, and he made a grimace. He stared down at his dinner for a moment, smacked his lips disdainfully, then picked it up and headed back to the kitchen area.
“Told you,” Kaidan chuckled. An undignified snort may have been involved.
Shepard put his dinner in the microwave. “Laugh it up,” he said.
“Oh!” Kaidan exclaimed. “I contacted the geth while you were out, and they sent over a representative. Don’t be surprised if you bump into it in the hallway.”
“Does this representative have a name?” Shepard asked.
“It picked ‘Gefyra’. I think Normandy mentioned that it’s Greek for ‘bridge’.”
“I ran into it earlier,” Garrus said. “Don’t worry, it’s every bit the conversationalist that Legion was.”
“That good, huh?”
“Javik already did his usual ‘throw it out the airlock’ routine,” Garrus said. “Gefyra told him ‘that would be ineffective, as geth do not require air’.”
“On a scale of Legion to EDI, how much sass was involved?”
“I heard that,” EDI said over intercom.
Kaidan pulled Shepard tightly against his chest. He was spooned behind Shepard, their legs intertwined beneath the bed covers.
Shepard put his hand on Kaidan’s. “I love you, K.” The words I’m sorry hung in the air, unsaid.
Kaidan sighed. “I love you too, John.” Today hurt, but it’s not your fault.
Shepard rubbed his thumb against Kaidan’s. I don’t want you to hurt.
Kaidan pressed his lips against the back of Shepard’s neck. This helps. Thank you.
Shepard leaned back into Kaidan’s embrace, and the two drifted off to sleep.