James grimaces at the sight, refugees filling every space of Huerta Memorial. The war has barely started and space is already running thin, patients moaning in the reception. He walks past them, doors opening as he entered the inpatient wing.
“Hello, James,” the Asari scientist from earlier – Liara – greets him as he enters the room, eyes not wavering from where they’re focused on the Major.
Alenko looks like shit, bruises discolouring his face purple and yellow from where the cybernetic grabbed him. Scars litter his skin, faded and old but doing nothing to help better his appearance. James looks away.
“Kaidan was always so helpful on the Normandy – the first one, when we were hunting Saren,” Liara says and he doesn’t know what to say, can barely see her eyes from his angle but there’s a sad undertone to her voice. “The crew was suspicious because of my mother, who was working with him, but-“ A pause, her shoulders sagging. “If Kaidan was, he didn’t show it. He answered my questions, was always there to talk. And now…”
Her voice trails off but James understands anyway, watching the almost silent breaths Alenko takes. His mind runs over the initial assumptions he had of the Major – just another higher-up with polished shoes and serious glares, different than the man he envisioned who helped Shepard steal the most advanced frigate the Alliance had to trespass into the Terminus Systems.
But to be honest, James doesn’t even know why he came. He wasn’t as close to him as Liara, definitely not as close to him as Shepard was – his interactions with him were solely limited to combat commands.
Yet here he was, standing in his hospital room, a flicker of fear in the back of his mind.
“He’ll pull through, doc. Lola would kick his ass if he didn’t.” She smiles softly, standing up.
“Thank you, James,” she walks past him towards the door, looking over her shoulder at him. “I’ll see you back on the Normandy.”
He nods in response, looking back at Alenko one last time before leaving himself.
A week later, Kaidan’s awake and sitting in a wheelchair, fingers drumming on the armrests as the nurse processes his x-rays. He’s seen enough of the hospital already, stragglers cradling injuries and the apologetic faces of staff giving bad news. It’s been a while since he operated as a field medic, his new position setting him up to lead instead of following. He looks at the door – the only view from there not obstructed by a patient.
“You’re awake,” a voice rings out and he turns his head, a Drell standing calmly behind him.
“Uh, yeah,” he clears his throat. “I was injured in battle.”
“An Asari visited you earlier – a man as well. He referred to her as a doctor of some kind.”
“That must’ve been Liara,” his smile falters slightly. “I hope she doesn’t blame herself for what happened.”
“You were injured protecting her,” the Drell observes and Kaidan nods. “I’m sorry, I don’t think I caught your name.”
“Kaidan Alenko, Alliance Military,” he extends his hand.
“Tanner Nuara,” Thane lies, shaking it. He knows that name, written in the report on Horizon, whispered between crewmembers on the Normandy. He had asked Garrus about what happened groundside to provoke such a response, but he had shaken his head, telling Thane it wasn’t his place to say. “Are you waiting for someone?”
“Yeah, a – a friend of mine,” the words feel weird on his tongue, because he’s not sure what to call Shepard, after everything that’s happened. After everything he’s said. His own guilt makes friend a generous term. “She’s a busy woman, but she always finds time for others.”
“Sounds like someone I know,” Thane smiles. “It was good talking to you, Kaidan.”
“You too, Tanner.”
“See you haven’t – what was the expression – kicked the bucket?” Garrus walks in and Kaidan sits up straighter, grinning.
“Garrus, good to see you.”
“I’d say the same, but uh,” he gestures to his face, referencing to the various bruises on Kaidan’s. The latter snorts.
“You’re hardly one to talk. What’d do you do, take a missile to the face?” He laughs, but it dies off soon after without an immediate response. “You didn’t.”
“I was unconscious and everything,” Garrus says, “Shepard and the others had to carry me back to the ship.”
“Wait, Shepard? When was this?” Kaidan asks and there’s a moment before he responds, mandibles twitching.
“When they came to recruit me for the mission against the Collectors.” It was easy to forget what happened, the fact that Garrus was there on Horizon and heard what he said. And it’s hard to look over the wince Kaidan gives in reply.
“She’s not mad about it, you know,” Garrus says in earnest, because if he doesn’t say it who will. Kaidan looks away, pursing his lips.
“I should’ve been there.”
“Maybe, maybe not,” he shrugs. “Shepard wouldn’t have forgiven you for that, though. Do you know how many times she asked Tali and I why we were there? Our answers were always the same, we were there for her. But until the mission was over, it was always Cerberus on the other end of that leash.
“You kept your stance,” Garrus says. “We’re a team, Kaidan, not a crew. A crew maintains, a team provides. If we weren’t meant to say ‘no’ and tell her what we think every once in a while, what was the point of having us at all?”
There’s a pause before Kaidan turns back to him, a small smile on his face. “Thanks, Garrus.”
He waves a hand. “Don’t worry about it. We’re a team, remember?”
“Jeff,” EDI’s voice almost scolds him as he rests his head on his chin, staring intently at the elevator.
“EDI, you don’t understand, when Kaidan’s mad, he keeps that shit under control,” he adjusts his hat, shifting his weight on the bench uncomfortably. “But after the SR-1 went down, I’d never seen him more pissed.”
“It’s been years, Jeff, and Shepard-“
“We barely spoke at all after that, and he was one of the first friends I made on the ship! I’d be surprised if he didn’t order me out as soon as I walked into the room,” Joker sighs. “I’d feel better if you could come with me.”
“I’d advise against that, considering he suffered the most deterioration from this unit,” EDI says. “If he is to come onto the Normandy again, it would be wise to repair your relations with him.”
“Yeah, yeah,” he stands up, stiffly walking towards the doors. “It’s just that – I’m pretty sure that with whatever head injury he got, he’d still be able to biotically fling me across the room.”
“That is unlikely – Shepard said that he endured damage to his implants from the accident. He would not be using them while still in intensive care.” He groans as the elevator came up, walking inside.
“Wish me luck,” he mumbles, and the doors close.
Huerta Memorial is downright depressing and Joker would rather hobble-run his way through to Kaidan when he spots him, changing his course in the middle of a step.
“Thane! How have you been?” He walks up beside him and Thane stops his exercise routine, turning to him.
“I have been well, thank you. Kepral’s Syndrome requires me to remain here, but I am happy,” he pauses. “Are you alright? What are you doing here?”
“Just visiting a friend - he was pretty banged up from a mission.”
“Kaidan Alenko?” Thane asks and Joker raises an eyebrow.
“Uh, yeah, actually. Listen, is it lunchtime? Cause I’d hate to, y’know, interrupt him – I mean, I can always come back later-“
“It is three in the afternoon, Joker,” he frowns. “Is something wrong?”
“We’re not on the… best of terms,” he explains, scratching the back of his neck. “But really, is something going on? Maybe a test or-“
“Talk to him,” Thane insists, “life is too short for rivalries.”
“Yeah, well, talk to me again once you get somebody’s girlfriend killed,” Joker mutters. “I’ll see you around, Thane.”
He walks away, almost dreading every step until he reaches Kaidan’s room. He could see him through the windows, awake, not a doctor or scrap of food in sight. In fact, he almost looks bored in his Alliance hoodie, eyes darting from the Presidium outside to the TV to anything else in the room. Joker takes a deep breath. You can do this, he thinks, and walks in.
“Joker?” Kaidan’s surprise is evident, but his face remains passive, which is an improvement from the silent glares whenever else they spoke. “Uh, hey – what are you doing here?”
“What, I can’t come to see how you’re doing?” The joke falls flat and Kaidan’s look pierces through him, Joker awkwardly taking a seat beside the bed. He sighs. “Okay, okay, you got me. Jeez, quit looking at me like that.”
He shifts in his chair, looking for the words despite having practiced them for years and Kaidan waits patiently, stuffing his hands into his pocket. He’s giving you a chance, don’t mess up.
“I’m sorry, Kaidan, for not leaving the Normandy,” a solid start – keep it up Moreau. “Shepard could’ve made it out that day, should’ve made it out and instead she came back for me.
“You know how bad the ceremonies were? An entire galaxy mourning the loss of her because of me and only a handful of people knowing the truth. We were asked to speak at every one of them, by all the people who called us traitors to the Alliance when we went to Ilos. And it sucked! Because we ended up being sidelined – I mean, you became a teacher-“ -a wry smile on Kaidan’s face, Joker internally celebrates this- “and we all ended up in the ass end of nowhere. I think Adams was on some carrier or something, but anyway – everything fell apart because of me and I’m sorry that I put you through that.”
“You know, teaching isn’t that bad,” and Joker grins wider than he has in a long time, Kaidan looking amused at him. He opens his mouth to say something, but for once he doesn’t have a comeback or snarky comment and he closes it again, smile plastered on his face.
“This is – wow, this went so much better than it could’ve.”
Kaidan takes a deep breath. “Shepard told me about the mission against the Collectors, how hard it was to wake up to find out that everything was different.” It’s Joker’s turn to be quiet now and his smile wavers the slightest bit, mind thinking of a million different ways this conversation could go. “It was the people that were on the SR-1 that kept her grounded, and you were one of them. I need to thank you for that.”
“Oh – uh, no problem?” Joker fidgets. “I mean, yeah. Right. I don’t know what to say.”
“It’s fine. Thanks for coming by,” Kaidan says and he takes that as his cue to leave, standing up.
“It was nice to talk to you again, Kaidan,” he admits and Kaidan nods, memories of loud arguments momentarily resurfacing.
“You too, Joker.”
“What’s going on?” Kaidan asks, because he is confused.
Shepard walks in first, a plastic bag and a train of people behind her back. Liara’s carrying something as well, the smell wafts across the room and his mouth waters, the prospect of eating anything other than hospital food spiking his appetite.
“Did you actually bring me actual food?” He stretches forward to grab it from her hands and she pulls it just out of his reach, Kaidan falling back to huff.
“I have connections,” Liara shrugs.
“And you used them to smuggle me in take-out.” She grins and that means a yes. Everyone settles in around the bed in chairs – Shepard, Liara, Garrus, James, Tanner that was actually named Thane, and Joker. Liara opens the bag and passes something to each of them, Kaidan opening his container immediately and recognizes it as something from the café on the Presidium.
He takes a bite before reevaluating the situation, narrowing his eyes at them. “Wait, you guys still haven’t told me what you’re doing here.” A nurse spots them all through the window, but almost looks forced to continue her path and Kaidan raises his eyebrows.
“We’ve got time – the Salarians and Krogan are still preparing for the summit so we’ve got a few days between missions,” Shepard briefly explains. “That’s means team bonding. And you’re a part of the team, so we came here.”
She places down her fork and reaches behind her into the bag, pulling out a large box and places it on his legs.
“I thought you said team bonding, Shepard,” James comments, reading the title of it with a grin.
“Monopoly. Are we playing a game about the economy?” Garrus asks. “Cause the stock market is right after politics for things I cannot stand.” Kaidan laughs.
“This right here is the game that breaks friendships,” he says and the aliens share looks.
“Are you sure we should be playing this, then, Shepard?” Liara asks.
“Oh, yeah. If it was anything I learned on my short time on Earth is that only true relationships can survive Monopoly.”
“I don’t think a board game can give a proper assessment of that, Shepard,” Thane says and she waves him off.
“Nonsense. Now, who’s going to be banker?”