“Are you sure the tide’s going to be out?” Tris spoke tersely. She sounded slightly out of breath, most likely due to the rapid pace she was attempting to set through the sand, but Kaidan also thought he heard an underlying quiver of anxiety.
“I checked, double-checked and triple-checked the tide tables and the lunar charts. Its low tide and two full moons tonight, I swear.”
They had been on shore leave for over two weeks having left the Normandy’s retrofit in the capable hands of Tris’s XO. Kaiden knew she’d needed the leave rather desperately. Although he’d observed during their original mission together that shooting things seemed to be one of her stress management tools, battle in general was generally a greater cause of stress than of respite. And until she’d joined him on New Queensland, he knew she’d hardly been in a position to relax. Awakening under fire in a medical lab to the news she’d been dead for two years followed by a mission to stop alien kidnappings of entire planets did not qualify as “relaxing” under any circumstances. So when he heard that she’d completed her mission successfully, he’d figured shore leave would not only be in order but she’d be willing to consider it.
Glancing back at him now, she nodded acknowledging his statement then continued slogging forward as quickly as she could. They left the broad smooth crescent of sandy beach, heading around a deep bend and into the dunes, carefully picking their way through the beginnings of brushy vegetation. They had hiked this way during one of their first explorations of the area around the Paradiso Cielo, finding a tiny and apparently little used cove. It was special; a beautiful quiet place where for a short time, they could be alone, just the two of them with the sky, water and occasional bird. It seemed like the perfect place to spend their last night on shore leave together.
They continued to walk in silence with only the sounds of their feet on the sand and the distant sounds of surf for company. Eventually, they crossed a small stream which wound through the sand, finally reaching their destination, stopping a short distance from the water to lay out a blanket, food and drink. The sound of wind and waves was a soothing contrast to the rather tense stillness between them.
This trip. It’s been like living in an alternate universe and now. . . . And Tris seems different today. She’s been. . . snappy. It’s like she’s trying to hold me off, put space between us. It’s like. . .it’s like I’m losing her again. His chest and stomach constricted painfully. He glanced sideways, his gaze darkening as for a moment he saw her shape in its N7 armor surrounded by flames – my last memory of her on the Normandy – instead of the slightly sweaty, t-shirt clad blonde standing next to him.
“Kaidan? Kaidan, where’d you go?” He came back to the present with a start. Tris was staring up at him, a concerned expression on her face.
“Nowhere. It’s just. . . . Today’s been rather odd.”
“Yes it has. I thought it was just the normal ‘vacation’s almost over blues’ but I’m starting to think it’s something more. It’s like I want to be here but my mind keeps skipping into the future– the Normandy’s retrofit, what I’m going to do next.” She shrugged, grinning ruefully. “Truth? I don’t want this to end. We’ve had a lot of laughs, a lot of sex, and a lot of fun. This is like our own little happy, fantasy world and I don’t ever want to leave it.”
“Me too. And I think that’s the reason we’ve both been in a funk most of the day. In some ways it feels like the night before a big battle; making sure all the loose ends are tied up, letters written, good-byes said, yet also trying to stay in the now; in this very minute, because if you don’t, you’ll make yourself crazy with worry.” He put an arm around her.
She looked up at him, nodding, “Yeah, it does feel like that.”
“So tell you what, let’s distract ourselves like good marines. Do what we came to do – swim, talk, watch the stars come out. Deal?”
She hugged him. “Deal.”
The evening progressed with the sun slipping down over the horizon, leaving only a few pink and gold-tinged clouds as a reminder of its existence. Even without the sun, the air stayed warm. Tris and Kaidan sat contentedly at the water’s edge, waves occasionally lapping at their feet watching as the sky slowly darkened, making it hard to see more than a few feet away.
Somehow it seemed as though stating the obvious - feelings of pre-battle jitters, end of vacation blues – whatever it was, had cleared the air, making it possible for them to reconnect earlier and enjoy what was left of the afternoon. However, as they sat side by side, their thighs touching and watched the planet’s double moons rising, both felt some of the earlier mood returning.
“I don’t wanna go!” The words burst out of Tris suddenly and she drew herself up into a tight protective ball, her chin on her knees, her face closed and angry.
Kaidan pulled up his own legs, turning to position himself behind her so he could rub her back. The feel of her shirt beneath his fingers was soothing; a tangible reminder that she was still present, they were still together. His touch seemed to comfort her as well, for she wriggled closer until she could lean against his left knee.
“We managed to be good marines this afternoon. At least I haven’t been thinking about much, but sitting here now. . . well, I dunno.” She sighed, her body beginning to relax under the steady pressure of his hands and began scooping up handfuls of sand, watching it run through her fingers.
“I know. I keep finding myself wondering – and worrying to some extent – about the future. Our future.” Her shoulders tensed at his words. He continued to rub her back soothingly, much as one would a child’s.
She pulled away, turning to face him. “Kaidan, that’s just the thing. Do we even have a future? I mean here you are, an Alliance commander with prospects and I’m – well at present at least it seems that at best I’m a merc and at worst, a pirate. And our lives have been - are - about fighting. We’ve never known each other in peacetime. What do you think would happen to us if we weren’t serving together or didn’t have something to focus on, like Saren or the Reapers? Do you think we’d find something to keep us together or would we just drift apart?” Her eyes bored into him, searching for answers.
His hands dropped into his lap as he looked back at her, trying to see what was behind her eyes. Her expression was solemn, her eyes hard and unreadable. Finally, he shrugged. “I don’t know. It’s true we haven’t had much time together so it’s hard to make a prediction but I have hope. I believe in us. As to the future – well, when you think about it, what do you see? I don’t mean what you think will happen, but what you dream about. Going out fighting? Retiring somewhere and settling down? Being alone? Having a family? What?”
“Oh, so I have to go first, huh? Take all the risk of self-exposure?” She looked up through her lashes at him, her expression becoming slightly amused.
“Of course! After all, you’re used to taking risks. That’s why you’re a Commander.”
“And so are you, in case you’ve forgotten!” She smiled briefly, then became serious again. “I don’t know. I’ve never really given it much thought. Some part of me has always thought I’d die in battle and never have to deal with it. And I did die in battle. But now. . .” She shook her head, words spilling out slowly. “I don’t know. Life is so much harder than death because you feel it. I’ve been thinking about that a lot since we got here. One of the worst things about waking up was realizing I was alone and that I didn’t know where you were. I don’t remember much about being dead and I stayed busy planning, organizing, building a team and fighting so I could avoid thinking about it. And I didn’t want to think about anything else, especially after I saw you on Horizon. But now, being here, being with you. . . . I’m afraid of losing this forever – whatever that ‘forever’ may be. I don’t want this to stop; to give it up – give you up.” Her eyes shone with unshed tears as she looked at him.
He felt his own eyes beginning to fill. “When the Normandy went down - when I lost you, it was like being part of one of those ancient tribal ceremonies where your heart is cut out of your body and eaten in front of your face. But I didn’t die, I just became numb. I couldn’t feel much of anything. It was like I built a dam inside so I could contain it all, lock it away. I was in limbo – didn’t want to live but didn’t want to die. I’m not in limbo any longer and I don’t want to give this up either, Tris. I’ll do anything to make it work – if you want to come back to the Alliance, I’ll help. If you want to go off on your own, I’ll find a way to join you that works for both of us.” His voice cracked and he looked away, staring out at the ocean trying to regain composure and observing somewhat abstractedly that the stars were beginning to come out.
When he looked back her, he saw that her tears had spilled over and were running slowing down her cheeks. He opened his arms and she threw herself into them, burrowing as if trying to meld their bodies together. He kissed her face, tasting her tears and then settled her into his lap so he could kiss her properly. For a while they stayed in that position, each gaining comfort from the other’s touch before their deeper instincts were aroused, prompting a slow slide to the sand where their bodies eventually mirrored the rhythm of the nearby pounding waves.
Sometime later they woke from a light doze. The sky was covered in a blaze of dripping stars that seemed almost close enough to touch. A cooling breeze came off the water, raising goose bumps on their bare, sand-covered bodies. They disentangled themselves and sat up. Tris positioned herself between Kaidan’s knees, her back to him, his arms around her.
The beauty of the heavens in combination with the feel of Tris in his arms was something that Kaidan wanted to emblazon in his mind; a treasure to keep forever. Warmth and happiness washed through him and he tightened his arms around her involuntarily. It had been a long time since he’d felt this good. This was right.
“I love you Tris, now and forever,” he whispered, his lips against her hair.
“And I you, Kaidan. Now and forever,” came her response.
Shore leave might be nearly over, but this feeling…they…didn’t have to end.