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Virmire Survivor

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She was sitting outside a coffee shop, taking a much-needed break. She'd recruited everyone that the Illusive Man had recommended, managed to get the Normandy's weapons and armor upgraded, and helped everyone on her ground team take care of some loose ends so their heads were in the game. Now Josie Shepard was taking full advantage of a well-earned sanity check. They had 24 hours before they were picking up the Reaper IFF, then it was off through the relay to end the Collectors once and for all.

Josie held no illusions regarding the situation – the odds of any of them returning from this mission were slim. She'd somehow cheated death twice already – the first time was climbing out of the rubble after Sovereign crashed into the Citadel and the second... well, the second she was still trying to wrap her head around.

She leaned back in her seat, absentmindedly eating her pastry (cheese danish, please), stirring her tea, and watching the crowd walk past while she thought about everything she'd pulled together in the past few months. This crew was even more different and diverse than the one she'd had on the SR1 but they still came together beautifully. Sure, there were a few bumps (like trying to remember to keep Miranda and Jack away from each other), but it was nice to talk shop with Jacob, meditate with Thane and Samara, talk tech with Kasumi, spar with Grunt, and reminisce with Garrus, Tali, and Joker. She thought back to her confrontation with Ashley on Horizon and how angry the young woman had been that she was working with Cerberus. The wherefores and whatnots didn't matter; all Ashley could see was that the woman she'd looked up to and admired had betrayed the very things they'd fought to defend two years ago.

After Horizon, she'd wondered what Kaidan would have thought about the whole mess, which made her heart ache even more. Josie and Kaidan had been gently testing the waters to see if something might work between them. Yeah, there were regs, but neither could deny the growing fondness and attraction each was developing for the other. They flirted regularly and their conversations were laden with double entendres. The potential repercussions always bothered Kaidan more than they did Josie, though.. She could use her Spectre status to get away with it, Kaidan was certain that he might still wind up with a court martial. Still, they continued to flirt and discreetly hold hands. 'Accidental' brushes of one's hand over an arm or leg happened all the time. It took her a long time to get over Virmire although there were a lot of times she wondered if she really did.

On Virmire, she was convinced she could save them both. She was closer to Ashley's position and when Kaidan said to get her, she hesitated for just a moment. Josie often berated herself for that hesitation. She should have run for Ash, then to Kaidan. She should have sent Garrus or Wrex to get one while she saved the other. Instead, she could only save one of them and watched through her tears when the mushroom cloud disintegrated whatever future she and Kaidan may have had. Even now, something would make her think of him and she often found herself wandering to the cockpit or the main battery or engineering so that Joker, Garrus, or Tali could try to cheer her up.

Even as lost in her thoughts as she was, she caught sight of a dog from the corner of her eye and noticed it was a seeing eye dog. Josie thought it was odd – why would someone need a seeing eye dog? There were prosthetics and genetic surgeries and implants that could cure just about anything. Then she noticed the man was also missing a leg. As her mind played through the different scenarios that the man might have gone through, he stopped and turned his head the tiniest bit.

Josie's heart fluttered. The man looked so much like Kaidan – the sideburns, his profile, even the curious bump in his hairline. She watched as he cocked his head, listening for something. He turned his head in tiny increments, like he was trying to find something. It was when he turned completely around that Commander Josie Shepard, Hero of the Blitz and Savior of the Citadel, lost it.

“Oh, Kaidan,” she finally choked out. A smile lit his face, and he carefully made his way to her. “It is you...” her voice trailed off and tears flowed from her eyes. She covered his cheek with her hand and traced her thumb over a scar under his eye.

Kaidan ran his hand up her arm, over her shoulder, then up her neck until it rested on her face. He pulled her against him, the pair not noticing or caring about the attention they were drawing to themselves as they wept together.

They stood like that for what seemed like forever – Josie on her tiptoes, her face buried against Kaidan's neck, Kaidan stooped over, his breath hot against her ear. They finally stepped back and brushed the tears from each other's cheeks. It was surreal for her – Kaidan's beautiful chocolate brown eyes were gone, replaced by unseeing white globes. He was looking down, but not at her. She traced her fingertips over the scars that criss-crossed his face; one ran from the top-left of his forehead and crossed his face in a jagged line over his right eye, ending at his jawline just below his ear. Another one started at the corner of his left eye, ran over his left cheek, and ended again at his jawline. The bump that she so loved to play with and tease him about was now accented with a patch of snow white hair. His sideburns had quite a bit of grey in them, but the corners of his eyes still crinkled like they used to when he smiled.

Fresh tears started for her when Kaidan softly ran his fingertips over her face, reacquainting himself with her features. He hesitated over the new scars she had, tracing over them a couple of times before moving on. His thumb brushed over her lips and he chuckled. Josie wondered if he was remembering their first kiss or maybe any of the kisses they'd shared in their brief time together.

“It looks like I wasn't the only one who cheated death,” he murmured, running his finger along her cheek and tucking her hair behind her ear. “Let's go somewhere a little more private, hm?”

Josie nodded before remembering he couldn't see her. It didn't matter though. Kaidan lightly gripped her elbow and used his dog to guide them down the sidewalk. “There are benches just over there, to the right,” Josie offered, not sure what to say or how to act. She didn't know anyone who'd lost their sight.

“I know,” Kaidan said. “I walk the same routes every day. The first couple of times I came here, my therapist explained everything in excruciating detail.”

He continued to guide them down the sidewalk and Shepard was surprised at how people courteously gave him right-of-way. No one stared, affirming what he said was true; he walked here so often that everyone knew who he was.

After a while, they stopped at a park. There was a fountain surrounded by benches and small tables with chairs. Kaidan pulled a chair out for Josie, then sat across from her. “So,” he said, reaching across the table, “I'd imagine you have some questions.”

“Too many,” she admitted, taking his offered hand. “Just... tell me everything.”

Kaidan explained how he knew that there was no way Josie would get to him in time. He had 5 minutes to get somewhere safe, not that there really was a 'somewhere safe' when a nuclear bomb was involved. He ran, harder and faster than he'd ever run before and hoped it would be enough to make it to a rocky outcrop. He prayed to whatever deities would listen, asking for his armor and barriers to be enough to save him. He reached the rocks and looked over his shoulder just as the bomb went off, searing his retinas. Kaidan barely threw up a barrier in time and dove behind the rocks which shielded him from much of the blast.

Debris started raining down, though, burying him in radioactive rubble. The fact that Josie had invested so much money in top-of-the-line armor for her crew was the only thing that saved his life. Had it been anything else, he'd have been crushed or the armor breached so radiation could leak in. Somehow, everything stayed intact.

Kaidan had no idea how long he'd been buried, but a salvage crew found him. He found out later they'd been sent by the salarians to recover whatever research they could find from the rubble. Their equipment picked up several life signs which had all turned out to be cloned krogan, protected by the very tanks that had given them life. They almost passed over Kaidan's signal until someone realized the heart rate was different.

He spent nearly a year in a medically induced coma, undergoing countless surgeries. A huge chunk of concrete had crushed his lower leg; the doctors tried everything to save the leg but the damage was just too extensive. His optic nerves were too damaged for prosthetic eyes to work, so the Alliance set him up with a guide dog as soon as he was able to walk. His physical rehab that was made more challenging by his blindness.

Kaidan said he pestered the hell out of everyone for information about where Josie was. No one would tell him anything about her, only that it was classified and he would need to talk to Anderson or Hackett. He started sending them messages, making it clear that he wasn't going to leave them alone until they got answers. Hackett was the one to finally tell him everything – Saren had been defeated but the Council never took the Reaper threat seriously. He explained about the Normandy's destruction, Josie's death and subsequent resurrection, as well as how and why Cerberus was involved.

“I wanted to reach out,” he sighed. “I wanted you to know that I was alive but when Hackett told me what you were working on, I knew I couldn't. There was no way I could distract you like that.”

Kaidan turned his head in her direction. “I hope you aren't angry with me,” he murmured.

“Oh, Kaidan,” Josie whispered, gripping his hand. “How could I be angry with you for that? We were both kind of unavailable for a lot of that time, remember.”

“Yeah, you were really dead. I was just mostly dead, though,” he joked. “Seriously, Josie. Tell me your story.”

It was Josie's turn then. She told him how the Normandy was attacked, how she'd died, and how she wound up be rebuilt by Cerberus. She told him about her team, smiling at his reaction to the fact that Joker, Garrus, and Tali were helping her. He frowned when she told him about Ashley's reaction on Horizon and the apology that came later.

Hours passed as they talked and caught up. They moved from the table to one of the benches so Kaidan could drape his arm over Josie's shoulders. She responded by laying her head on his chest, rejoicing in the feel of his heartbeat and the sound of his breathing.

Kaidan was still eager to do the right thing but his near-death experience taught him to take nothing for granted. He still had full use of his biotics and he still had the L2 implant – the blast had fused the amp to the port and he wasn't willing to have the entire thing replaced. Migraines were still a thing, but considering what he'd gone through it was a small price to pay.

The lulls between conversations were comfortable, like no time had passed. They were content to just be with each other again. “Kaidan,” Josie asked during one such lull, “why did you stop?”

“Back at the coffee shop?” he asked, kissing the top of her head.

“Mm hmm. You walked past me, then turned like you'd heard something.”

“I smelled it, actually,” he smiled. “That place has amazing cheese danishes and every time I'd pass by, I'd think about how much you might like them. Today it wasn't just the danish I could smell, though. It was that hint of apple in the shampoo you use, the breath of lavender from your body wash, a little bit of gun oil and armor polish, and the way it all mingled together with your chemistry... it's a smell I'd have recognized anywhere, Josie. I just couldn't believe that I was lucky enough to find you.”

His voice cracked and Josie pushed herself up and cradled his face in her hands. “I wanted to find you,” he sobbed, turning into her touch. “I wanted to tell you I was alive...”

Josie pulled him against her chest and held him as he cried. Her own tears fell as she murmured soothing words to him, letting him know that she was there now and that she wasn't angry or even upset, that she understood why he didn't contact her.

They sat like that for some time, Josie gently running her fingers through Kaidan's hair, comforting the man that she thought she'd lost forever. Finally, he looked up at her and asked, “When do you leave?”

“Tomorrow. Joker stayed behind to make sure we're fueled and ready to go.”

“Where are you staying?”

“I was going to go back to the Normandy. Why?”

“My apartment is close,” he murmured. He cradled her head with his hands and guided it forward so their foreheads rested together. “You could bunk with me.”

Josie swallowed hard. She and Kaidan hadn't done more than kiss before Virmire. She remembered that Kaidan didn't do that sort of thing lightly and she didn't want him to regret this in the morning. They had each been through so much and neither was the same person they were two years ago.

Sensing her doubt, Kaidan ran his hands down her arms until he found her hands and he squeezed them tightly. “While I was recovering, my biggest regret was that I never told you how I felt. The regs kept me from showing you..."

He closed his eyes and sighed. "Stay with me tonight,” he whispered

He kissed the tip of her nose.

“Please.”

His lips brushed her cheek.

“Let me show you how much I've missed you.”

He gently kissed her and a wave of emotion washed over Josie. Every bit of anguish she'd felt about Kaidan's death came out as a choked sob when she returned the embrace. She'd missed this – missed him - so much even now, two years later.

The pair stood and Kaidan again lightly gripped Josie's elbow in one hand and the dog's harness in the other. She leaned her head on Kaidan's shoulder, letting him guide her back to his place. He was right – life was too short for regrets.

Coming back from the Collector Base was still a long shot, but now she had even more of a reason to do so. The fates had seen fit to give them each another chance and damn it, she was going to seize it and never let go.

Chapter Text

They took their time walking back to Kaidan's apartment. Their fingers intertwined, they talked more about what each had done over the past two years, pausing occasionally to brush their lips across the back of the other's hand. Josie couldn't believe how the fates had smiled upon her – upon them. Maybe it was a sign that things would go well at the Collector base. Maybe it was a sign that things wouldn't go well and this was her chance to make her peace with everything.

Josie closed her eyes and shook her head, refusing to entertain that idea for a moment longer. She had a good, solid team, the SR-2 was a phenomenal ship outfitted with every single upgrade, she was alive, and, most important of all, Kaidan was alive and walking right next to her.

She studied him as they walked, still trying to comprehend how everything had played out. So many random things had fallen into place perfectly – 'lucky' wasn't a strong enough word to describe the way they'd each cheated death. With what she was about to do, she wondered how much longer her luck would hold out. Again, she mentally scolded herself. She and Kaidan were together, something she never dreamed would have been possible. She needed to take a page from Liara's book and just be thankful for the time she had with him.

“And here we are,” Kaidan announced, steering Josie into one of the apartment buildings that lined this section of the Citadel. The foyer was fairly deserted – a lone turian doorman greeted the pair enthusiastically, asking Kaidan how his walk was, and there were a couple of people simply milling about. Either no one recognized Josie or no one cared who she was – and she was perfectly ok with that.

Kaidan's apartment was in the middle of the hall. He unlocked the door using a thumbprint scanner. “I have keys, but this is easier,” he explained. He opened the door and ushered Josie across the threshold.

“Victor, lights,” he said. Instantly, the hallway lit up.

“Welcome back, Commander Alenko. I trust your walk was uneventful?”

“No, definitely not uneventful. I ran into someone I thought I lost.” Kaidan smiled at Josie over his shoulder. “You can power down. I don't think I'll need you.”

“Very well, sir.”

“A VI?” Josie asked. It made sense – the dog could only do so much. The VI could trigger alarms and notify medical personnel if Kaidan needed help.

“Yeah,” Kaidan answered, deftly removing the dog's harness and hanging it on a hook at the end of the hall. “The programming is massive. He can control just about everything in the apartment, access my messages and read them to me, call for medical help if I need it...”

His voice trailed off and his head turned in Josie's direction. She wondered if he was thinking she might consider him less of a man for needing the extra help. She walked toward him to comfort him but he was already moving into the living room.

“I hope it looks ok,” he quipped. “I needed someone to help me get everything set up and I had to take their word that the colors matched and everything.”

“It's fine, Kaidan. It looks very homey.” Josie meandered to a bookshelf and noticed that the few tomes there had braille as well as printed words on the spines. She ran her fingers over the medals he'd been awarded and read the framed accolades that hung on the wall.

“Would you like a tour?” Josie jumped a bit at the sound of his voice, quiet against her ear. His arms snaked around her waist and he kissed her cheek. She leaned back against him, her heart fluttering in a way that hadn't happened since she lost him.

“A tour sounds wonderful.” Josie turned in his arms, warmth spreading through her when she saw how his smile still lit up his face. For how much his physical appearance may have changed, his smile was still the same. She reached out, tracing over his lips with her thumb then running her fingers around his eyes.

“You always had the most beautiful smile,” she murmured.

A plaintive whine from the kitchen made them shake their head. “Her timing is about as good as Joker's,” Kaidan grinned. “I always feed her and give her a treat after our walks.”

“I didn't mean to disrupt your routine,” Josie apologized. She was amazed at how gracefully he moved around his kitchen. His fingers glided along the countertop until he felt what he was looking for; counting handles on his cupboards to find the one he needed; scooping the dog food and placing the filled bowl on the floor as any seeing person would. The things he'd overcome in the past two years were nothing short of extraordinary.

“You know, you never did mention your dog's name,” she commented, stepping closer to the kitchen.

“Oh, I didn't?” Kaidan worked on filling the dog's water bowl. “Her name is Shep.”

Josie's grin nearly split her face. “You named your dog after me?”

“I could say it's because she's a German Shepherd,” he smirked.

“Ouch,” she chuckled. “Point taken.”

“It's actually both,” Kaidan confessed, placing a full bowl of water next to the food, carefully stepping aside so the dog could eat. “She's more than a seeing eye dog. She's a therapy dog, too. It comes in handy when the nightmares are too much. I wake up, drenched in sweat and my voice hoarse from what Victor says is me screaming like a banshee and she's right there, tail wagging, licking my face, nudging against me.”

Josie stepped to Kaidan's side and wrapped her arms around him. It was several moments before Kaidan spoke again. “I talk to her all the time... when things are bothering me, when my stump hurts, when I'm thinking about you....” Josie looked up at him when his voice trailed off and a sheepish look spread across his face.

“Truth is, I talk to her about you a lot,” he admitted.

Josie didn't know what to say. She studied Kaidan's face for a few seconds before just placing her head against his chest. “I talk about you a lot, too. I still have nightmares about Virmire. Garrus, Joker, and Tali let me vent about it. We share stories and reminisce, like the time Garrus rigged that console you were always tinkering with so it wouldn't turn on.”

“Oh, I remember that!” Kaidan laughed.

“You stood there for the longest time, confused as hell, but wouldn't let anyone help you,” Josie recalled.

They stood there, holding each other and laughing at the memory for a few moments. Kaidan finally cleared his throat and asked Josie if she wanted a drink.

“Uh, yeah, sure. What have you got? Do you need a hand?” She stepped back so Kaidan could get to the fridge.

“Nah, I'm good. I've got some beer, I think a few sodas, oh, there's this new bottled water from Thessia that my therapist gave to me.” He stood in front of an open fridge, almost like he was looking over his choices.

“I'll have whatever you're having.”

“Beer it is, then,” he grinned, handing her a bottle. “You want that tour now?”

Kaidan held Josie's hand as he maneuvered her through the apartment. Kaidan explained how he had to count his steps when he first moved in so he'd know what was where. He'd lived there since the day he was discharged from the hospital and now it was all habit and muscle memory. Chair railing ran down the middle of the walls for Kaidan to help guide himself around with. Everything had its own place from where the new tubes of toothpaste were to what shelf the beer was on in the fridge. Someone helped him with the cleaning and laundry but he was much more independent now than when he first moved in. Shep had even been trained to put her toys away, though sometimes she forgot and Kaidan would stumble over a rawhide chew she'd left in the middle of the hall.

“It's like anything else,” he declared, sitting on the couch. He patted the spot next to him and Josie immediately sat and cuddled against him. “I have my good days and my bad days. Fortunately, there are a lot more good days now.”

“It's a nice place, Kaidan. It's like... I guess it's like you've been like this your whole life. You move around with such ease, like everything is so familiar to you. I can't imagine what it was like for you in the beginning.”

Kaidan rested his cheek on top of Josie's head. “It was hard. Losing my leg was bad enough but throw in being blind...”

He swallowed hard before continuing. “There were plenty of days I didn't even want to get out of bed. I figured, 'What's the point? I can't be a soldier anymore, so why bother?' My therapist, John, wouldn't let me languish, though. He would ask me one question that would get my ass moving again.”

“What was that?” Josie asked.

Kaidan nudged her so she turned and looked up at him. “What would Commander Shepard do if she saw you like this?”

His fingers flitted across her face and his eyes filled with tears. “I never wanted you to see me like that. You survived Mindoir and Akuze, pulled yourself from the rubble on the Citadel, came back from the dead... who was I to complain?”

“Kaidan, just because someone may have gone through a worse experience doesn't invalidate what you're feeling. When I first found out I'd been dead and gone for two years, believe me when I say I had days when I stayed in my room and wallowed. Was I lucky? Damn straight. Did I care? Nope. I didn't give a shit about what anyone else might be going through. I'd lost you, I'd lost my ship, most of my crew, two years of my life just gone.”

Josie tenderly placed her hand on Kaidan's cheek, tracing his cheekbone with her thumb. “Bad days are to be expected in your situation. I certainly don't think any less of you for wanting to hide from them.”

Kaidan's hand slid up over Josie's back, cradling the back of her neck while the other one cupped her cheek. He pulled her face close to his and brushed his lips over hers.

Her breath hitched and she chased him when he pulled back, crushing her lips to his, her tongue demanding entrance. Kaidan gladly permitted it, their tongues dancing and swirling about each other. Josie shifted herself into Kaidan's lap and moaned when he moved beneath her, his desire pushing against her groin.

She pulled back, breathless, and whispered, “Bedroom?”

Kaidan nodded and stood, wrapping Josie's legs around his waist. She briefly worried about him running into something since his hands weren't free to feel along the chair rail. That worry lasted barely a moment when she reminded herself he knew this place like the back of his hand and he wouldn't have been carrying her if he thought she might get hurt.

Her legs tightened around his waist, her fingers tangled in his hair as his lips kissed and nibbled along her jaw then down her neck. She whimpered, arching her back and grinding her hips against him when his tongue darted out, tasting the hollow in her neck. His hands roamed across her ass, squeezing the firm flesh before sliding under her shirt and up her spine. The sensation of his hands on her bare skin sent a delicious twinge across her belly.

Josie realized they'd made it to the bedroom when Kaidan carefully set her down. He reached behind him and pushed the door shut. “I don't know about you, but I'd rather not have an audience,” he gasped when she gripped the bottom of his shirt and lifted it over his head. He finished pulling it off while she ran her hands across his chest.

He was broader than she remembered, reflecting back to their time on the SR-1. Kaidan would trudge into the mess area, barely awake with a mug of coffee in his hand, wearing his Alliance-issue shorts and t-shirt. The clothes fit him well and were a good indication that the man was well-built. Not a muscle head like some of the Marines she'd worked with in the past, but she could see there wasn't a bit of fat on him.

Now, she lightly raked her nails over impressive pecs, well-toned biceps, washboard abs. She figured it was from all the physical therapy – it probably gave him one hell of an upper body workout. Josie planted kisses along his chest, her tongue flicking over his nipples while her fingers continued to trace the contours of his muscles. She undid the buttons on his pants, smiling at his quiet groan when she worked them over his hips.

“Wait,” he breathed, gripping her hands. Josie stepped back, confused.

“Is everything ok?” She panicked a bit, afraid that maybe she'd hurt him or that he was having second thoughts.

He didn't answer as he sat on the bed and finished removing his pants. Josie realized that he was removing his leg. There was a gentle hiss when Kaidan flipped a switch on the back of the limb's cuff. He slowly slid the limb off his stump, laying it on the floor at the foot of the bed. A rubber sleeve still covered the area, and Kaidan explained that the limb was held in place by a vacuum system. He carefully pulled the sleeve off and dropped it next to the prosthesis.

Josie had caught glimpses of other amputees while she was in the hospital after Sovereign's attack. She'd never seen one up close, and it was hard not stare. His leg looked like nothing had ever grown in below his thigh. The flesh was smooth and she couldn't see any scars. Kaidan cleared his throat, causing Josie to jump just a bit.

“You're awfully quiet,” he murmured, leaning back on his elbows. “I hope you haven't changed your mind.”

Heat crept up Josie's neck, and she tamped down a twinge of guilt about staring. She forced her gaze up his torso and the heat in her neck suddenly pooled in her nether regions.

It took another moment for her to find her voice. “Oh, God, no, I haven't changed my mind. I just...” She crawled on his lap and ran her fingers over his chest. “I just can't believe you're actually here.”

“I could say the same for you.” Kaidan sat up and brushed his hands across her shirt. “I don't feel any buttons or anything. Is it safe to just lift this over your head? I don't want to tear anything.”

“I don't care if it tears,” Josie responded.

Kaidan didn't have to be told twice. As soon as Josie's shirt was off, he reached behind her back and unhooked her bra, tossing both pieces of clothing to the side. “I hope you're paying attention to where they're landing because I won't be able to help you look for them later,” he breathed.

His hands caressed her breasts, massaging and tracing the shape of each firm globe. Josie gasped when his mouth found a nipple, sucking and pinching it between his teeth. She gripped the back of his head, thrusting her chest toward him. His lips lightly kissed a trail across her chest to her other breast, eliciting low moan when his mouth teased that hardened bud as well.

Josie gently pushed him forward, taking her turn to taste and tease. She wanted to experience all of him in that instant and it was hard to keep a slower pace. She tenderly kissed him, then moved her lips away from his and over his jawline. Nudging his head to the side, she lightly sucked the hollow under his jaw, humming when he moaned. His hands ghosted along her back, caressing the sides of her breasts as her mouth continued to work lower. Goosebumps blossomed across his torso when her mouth savored the rough lines of his scars and the hardened nubs on his chest.

Lower still, her mouth teasing along the lines of his abs, her tongue darting in his belly button. Josie hooked her fingers in the waistband of his underwear, sliding them over his hips as her nose brushed along his shaft.

“Boxer briefs,” she murmured, flicking her tongue out to lap a drop of precum.

“Yeah, and?” he hissed, gripping her hair.

“I figured you for a tighty whitey kind of guy.” Starting at the base of his shaft, she slowly licked up his length, swirling around the frenulum. “Or commando.”

Kaidan's hips bucked and his grip on her hair tightened. “Commando on the SR-1,” he growled. “Boxer briefs now. You complaining?”

“Not at all.” She drew his sac into her mouth, lightly sucking and swirling her tongue around the sensitive flesh. “I quite like it. They look good on you. Better off.”

Kaidan's chuckle turned into a groan when Josie drew the head of his cock in her mouth. His precum had a salty/sweet flavor to it and she skimmed her tongue across the slit, eagerly tasting what he offered. He thrust his hips upward but Josie pulled back, sucking as she went until his cock popped out of her mouth. She lavished her tongue all around his shaft, lubing it with her saliva. Her fingers cradled his sac, nails carefully scratching the delicate skin.

Josie looked up and saw Kaidan's back arched, his fingers now curled into tight fists in the sheets. His biotics flared and rolled along his body in gentle, blue waves. Smiling, she enveloped his cock with her mouth, pressing her nose against the soft patch of dark curls at the base. Her head bobbed up and down, her tongue flicking over his slit and teasing along the frenulum with each pass. She wrapped her hand around the shaft, stroking as she went.

Kaidan started thrusting his hips against her, grunting and moaning with each ministration. Josie increased her pace when she felt his cock start to throb and get harder. “Josie,” he breathed, trying to slow her down, “I'm close. I'm so fucking close.”

“I know.” She paused briefly to answer then turned her attention back to his cock. Sucking on his sac, running her tongue over his length, teasing around his slit. “Don't hold back.”

Josie devoured him again, her lips easily gliding along his slick shaft. Kaidan grunted and moaned louder with each pass of her tongue along his cock. He pushed her head against his groin and cried her name as he came undone, his seed hitting the back of her throat. His biotics flared again, crashing into her in waves that left a pleasant, tingling sensation in their wake.

She stayed there for a few moments, inhaling his musk and reveling in his taste. When he was empty, Josie lightly dragged her teeth along his cock, chuckling when he twitched and shuddered. She ran her tongue around the head, lapping up anything she might have missed, then kissed her way back up his stomach and chest.

Kaidan gripped her arms and skillfully flipped her on her back, crushing his lips to hers. She raked her nails up his back, weaving her fingers in his hair. Their tongues rolled together, their moans muffled by each others' mouths. He finally pulled back, breathless, and murmured, “That was fantastic.”

Josie smiled, running her hands over his arms. “I'm glad you liked it,” she demurred, leaning up to kiss him again. Kaidan had moved, though, and his mouth was moving down her neck, nibbling again on the hollow at the base of her throat. Josie whimpered as his mouth moved lower, his tongue flicking and sucking the stiff, pink nipples on her breasts.

He crept down Josie's body, leaving behind a trail of pebbled flesh. His hand slid along her hips, across her thighs, stopping just shy of her apex. His lips quickly caught up and he teased his nose along her bare pubic mound. “Mmmm, shaved,” he murmured, his tongue swirling lower still.

“There was a patch,” she gasped when his nose skirted her labia. “I accidentally shaved it off in the shower.” She tried pushing her hips against his face but his hands held her firmly against the mattress. Even though she'd just gotten an up-close-and-personal look at his physique, she still underestimated how strong he was.

She bit her lip and arched her back when he ran the flat of his tongue over the length of her slit. He snaked his arms under her thighs, keeping her hips pressed against the bed with his forearms and spread her lips with his fingers.

“You're so wet,” he whispered, darting his tongue along her glistening folds. All Josie could do was moan and squirm under his touch. She tried angling her hips again to get his mouth where she wanted it, but Kaidan's grip was solid.

Kaidan slowly licked along her slit, thrusting his tongue into her wanting hole. Josie's clit was throbbing now, begging for attention. She slid her hand down to alleviate her need, but Kaidan grabbed her wrist.

“Patience,” he chided her, softly blowing on her cunt.

“How... how did you... fuck, Kaidan,” Josie groaned in frustration when Kaidan added a finger to her slit, lazily sliding along her slick folds while his tongue lapped at her arousal.

“I could hear your hand slide along your skin,” he said, teasing his finger along her folds. Josie cried out and thrust her hips against his hand. “You lose one sense and the others step up to compensate.”

He traced his finger around her opening, finally thrusting it inside her as he sealed his mouth around her clit. The sound she made was barely human. Kaidan's tongue licked and darted around the sensitive bundle of nerves while is finger rocked hard against her. He added a curling motion when he thrust in, lightly dragging his finger tip along her vaginal walls. A second finger was added to the first and Josie's back arched sharply in response and she keened at the additional intrusion. Her hand fumbled and clutched at his hair as heat blossomed across her chest.

Kaidan's increased his pace, realizing she was getting closer. He twisted his hand while his fingers massaged her insides. Thrust, twist, curl, out. His tongue was relentless, her clit swelling as the blood rushed to her hooded center. His name finally tore from her lips as her orgasm washed over her. He didn't slow his ministrations, pressing tighter against her hips to keep her from squirming away from him as he continued to feast on her juices.

Josie finally started calming down, her breath coming in shaky spurts and her abdomen twitching. Kaidan slid his fingers from her and she moaned at the sight of him licking them clean. He crawled back over her and settled between her legs, sliding his shaft between her folds.

“Was that ok?” he murmured, nuzzling against her neck.

“Ok? Sweet Jesus, Kaidan,” she gasped when his cock slid over her hyper-sensitive clit. “I can barely breathe!”

Kaidan chuckled and rested his forehead on hers. “So, better than ok, then? Spectacular, maybe?”

“Breathtaking,” she admitted.

Smiling, he reached down and lined himself up at her entrance, kissing her deeply as he slid inside her. Josie trembled as Kaidan's cock stretched and filled her. She wrapped her arms around him and ran her fingers through his hair. He buried his head against her neck, shuddering at the tightness surrounding his shaft.

Josie kneaded his ass, gently pushing his hips tighter against hers. Her fingers moved to his back, lightly raking and scraping the skin. “Oh, Kaidan,” she breathed when he finally pulled his hips back. He waited a moment before gliding back inside.

His first thrusts were slow, as though he was memorizing every detail. Josie took the time to run her hands over his chest, massaging his arms as the muscles rippled with each movement. Her fingers traced along his scars, circling and pinching his nipples. She ran the palms of her hands up over his chest, feeling along the scar for his port, then gripping his hair to guide him down for a languid kiss.

Moans and whimpers were muffled as their tongues swirled about each other. Kaidan's pace quickened and he reached between them, teasing Josie's clit. She gasped and raised her hips, urging him deeper inside her. He hooked her leg over his arm and pounded against her, the extra leverage enabling him to better reach the spot his fingers found earlier. Each thrust was accented by soft grunts and pleasured moans that gradually got louder.

His biotics flared again, rolling over them in delicious, tingly waves that made Josie's belly coil in anticipation. Another kiss, harder and more bruising as Kaidan moved faster, his thumb and finger still working on Josie's swollen nub. She chanted his name, gripping his arms while her breaths came in ragged gasps.

Her fingers gripped the sheets and her body writhed when her orgasm crashed over her. Kaidan buried his head against her neck, wrapping his arms around her and pulling her tight against him.

“Fuck... Josie....” he gasped pushing against her one final time, his cock pulsing as he emptied his seed deep inside her. His breath hitched when Josie squeezed her vaginal walls around him. He flinched and she groaned when he slid his cock from her. Josie shifted so Kaidan could lie next to her and she winced at the wet spot she'd made.

“I'll help you change your sheets,” she offered, snuggling against him.

“Mmm, we'll see how you feel in the morning. I might keep you occupied until the last possible minute,” he grinned.

Josie thought for a few moments, then sat up. “I have an idea. What do you think about saying hi to some old friends?”

“Definitely.”

Josie pressed her finger to her ear. “Joker?... No, I expected EDI, it's ok... Well, as long as everything else is ok. Listen, I need you to do me a favor. Send a message to the crew and let them know they've got an additional 24 hours.... She can bitch all she wants. It's my ship and my show.... Yeah, well, the Illusive Man can kiss my ass, too.... Listen, the other thing I need is for you, Garrus, Tali, oh, and Dr. Chakwas to show up at...”

She nudged Kaidan, who whispered his address to her. She repeated it to the pilot, grinning at his hesitation. “Oh, no, trust me. This will be a very good thing and you'll see why I gave everyone another day.... Awesome. See you tomorrow around 1400!”

When Josie didn't immediately curl back up next to him, Kaidan asked, “Is everything ok?”

“I'm expecting another... oh, and there she is!” Josie's omnitool pinged with an incoming call and she wasn't surprised it was Miranda.

“Shepard, what are you doing?” the brunette demanded. Her clipped, Australian accent left no doubt that she was unhappy. “The risk of that derelict Reaper falling into the planet is extremely high. We cannot delay any longer.”

“Miranda, 24 more hours isn't going to make a difference,” Josie sighed, shaking her head. “I have some things I need to take care of...”

“Then it should have been done sooner. We've traveled all over the damn galaxy getting ready for this....”

“Yeah, and if you recall, a lot of that travel time was so I could help you and everyone else take care of your daddy issues or whatever other personal shit needed done to get your heads in the fucking game. Something came up that I need to resolve, so, I'm giving the crew another 24 hours. You are more than welcome to complain to the Illusive Man but I can promise you he'll take my side like he always fucking does. Shepard out.”

She closed her omnitool and sighed. Kaidan let out a low whistle and chuckled. “She sounds like a royal bitch.”

“Miranda isn't so bad. At least, not anymore,” Josie said, resuming her spot in next to him. “She was really cold in the beginning, but she warmed up to me.”

“Yeah, it sounded like it,” he laughed. “Listen, don't get me wrong, I'm and thrilled to have more time with you and I can't wait to hear everyone's reactions when they see me, but are you sure you should put this off?”

Josie sighed again. “Kaidan, when I leave here, I don't know when I'll be coming back. I don't know if I'll be coming back. I don't want to shove off and have any regrets. I want a clean slate.”

He kissed the top of her head and nodded. “I won't look a gift horse in the mouth.”

After a moment's hesitation, Josie picked her head up and saw a huge grin spread across Kaidan's face. “That was a really bad joke.”

“Yeah, it was. But it was funny,” he laughed.

Minutes passed while they simply laid there, holding each other. Josie's head rested on Kaidan's chest, her fingers tracing the lines of his scars, one of her legs draped over his. His arm was wrapped around her back and he ran his thumb lightly over her arm.

“Josie?” he murmured, kissing the top of her head.

“Mmmm?” She was more relaxed and content than she'd been in a long, long time.

“Would it scare you away if I told you I loved you?”

Josie pushed herself up and studied Kaidan's face. If he could see, she was certain he'd have been studying her face, watching for a reaction. She took his hand and placed it on her cheek, moving his thumb along her cheekbone so he could feel it instead.

“Scare me away? No, it wouldn't,” she admitted, kissing his wrist. “But I'd be worried that you'd change your mind when you realize I'm not the same person I was 2 years ago.”

He let his hand fall along her neck and down over her chest. “Did you become a psychotic ax murderer? Have you started sacrificing innocent children to whatever heathen gods you think will keep the Reapers from arriving? Wait...” a look of concern crossed his face, “don't tell me you started kicking puppies now.”

Josie chuckled and she playfully swatted his chest. “No, nothing like that. But,” she sighed, “Kaidan, you of all people know that going through something horrific and traumatic changes you.”

“You're right. It does,” he agreed. “But I don't think it changed you for the worse. If anything, you've probably come out of your ordeal a lot stronger. More determined. And even though you've got Cerberus people on your ship, I have a feeling you still take care of them like you did us. Not to mention the way you talked to that woman earlier. That's exactly the kind of thing you used to do.”

Josie swallowed hard and squeezed her eyes shut, trying to keep the tears at bay.

“Those are the things I fell in love with when we were chasing after Saren.” He cradled her face in his hands and rubbed his thumbs under her eyes, as if he were anticipating her tears. “I don't think any of that changed.”

Kaidan pulled her down so their foreheads rested together. “I love you, Josie Shepard.”

“I love you, too.”

Chapter Text

Josie wasn't sure what woke her. She rarely slept through the night if she wasn't in her own bed, so she chalked it up to that. She groaned and stretched, her heart skipping a beat when she remembered where she was. She frowned when she noticed Kaidan wasn't in bed – the sheets were cool, which meant he'd been up for a while.

Josie sat up and quietly called for him. The bedroom door was shut, and she didn't hear anything in the adjoining bathroom. She got out of the bed, pulled her underwear on, then rooted through Kaidan's closet for a shirt. She tugged one over her head, bunching the material up at her nose to inhale his scent. “I still can't believe it,” she murmured. The shirt fell to her upper thigh, covering enough so she wouldn't be self-conscious roaming around his apartment.

“Victor, are you there?” she asked the air.

“Yes, ma'am. Commander Alenko is in the living room.” The VI's very British accent put another smile on her face.

“Is he alright?”

There was a slight pause. “I believe so. If something is troubling him, he won't divulge it to me.”

“Ok, thanks, Victor.”

Josie cracked open the door and listened. She could make out Kaidan's voice, quiet and low, coming from the living room. She quietly padded in that direction, hoping for some hint as to why he was there and not in bed with her.

“We have company,” she heard him murmur. Josie chuckled and shook her head. She shouldn't have been surprised he knew she was there.

“Did I wake you?” he asked, turning his head in her direction.

“No. I don't usually sleep well in a strange place and I woke up and you weren't there.” She curled up against his chest and put her legs on top of his. She played with the material on his pajama pants while he scratched Shep's ears. “Is everything ok?” Josie didn't even try to hide the concern in her voice, figuring Kaidan would pick up on it, anyway.

“Just talking to Shep,” he confessed. His hands slid around her shoulders and he grinned. “One of my shirts?”

“Yeah. Fits me pretty good, too. I might have to take it with me.”

He chuckled and pulled her tight against him. “That's fine, as long as you leave me something in return.”

“I don't know,” she looked up at him and smirked, “I don't think my bra would look quite right on you. The color would clash with your skin tone.”

Kaidan shook his head and laughed. There was enough light in the apartment for Josie to see how his mirth filled his face, reaching his eyes. It made her heart swell with such emotion she was certain her chest would burst. She reached up and ran her fingers along his cheek. “Everything is ok, though? No nightmares or anything?”

“Just the opposite,” Kaidan said, wrapping his fingers around her hand. “I was telling Shep how incredibly lucky I am.” He turned his head and kissed the inside of her wrist. “And I am, you know.”

Kaidan's fingers ghosted over her face and he leaned forward, planting a soft, chaste kiss on her lips. “Well, we're up. Do you want to go with me while I take Shep for a W-A-L-K?”

The dog, who'd been laying down, picked her head up and thumped her tail on the floor.

“So, she makes sure you don't run into random objects when you're out and about and she can spell?” Josie smirked.

Kaidan sighed and shook his head. “It wouldn't surprise me. If I talk about having to go to the V-E-T...”

Shep sat up and whined pitifully, nudging her head against Kaidan's hand.

Josie laughed and reached out to scratch the poor pup's scruff. “That's great,” she said, making kissy faces at the dog.

“Says you,” he frowned, shaking his head. “So, do you want to tag along? We can stop at that coffee shop for another danish, if you want to.”

“That.” Josie kissed his forehead.

“Sounds.” A kiss to the nose.

“Wonderful.” A lingering kiss on his lips.

“I should probably shower first,” she said. She stood and stretched a little when Kaidan grabbed for her.

“Wait,” he said. “Don't move.”

He stood and grazed his fingers through her hair, smiling at the messy bedhead he felt. His hands traced across her face, down her neck, and over her shoulders. He stopped at the edge of the sleeve and went back up her arms to her shoulders before skirting his hands down her sides. His thumbs teased over her nipples and he chuckled when her breath hitched. He paused at the bottom hem of the shirt, then brushed his fingers over the next inch or two of skin.

“You look fantastic,” he murmured. “And I'll bet the blue really sets off your eyes.”

Josie cocked her head at him. “Don't tell me you know what shirt this is just by feeling it.”

“Ok, I won't,” Kaidan shrugged, taking a step toward her. He cradled her face in his hands and brushed his lips against hers.

Josie whimpered and ran her hands up his arms, finally snaking her arms around his neck, trying to deepen the kiss.

Kaidan moaned and pulled her against him, dancing his tongue around hers. He reluctantly pulled back and said, “We shouldn't. Not now, anyway. I really need to take Shep for her walk.”

The dog definitely heard that and jumped up, barking excitedly as she paced back and forth between the couple and the hallway.

“Walk it is, then,” Josie agreed. “I'll wait to shower until after we get back. You can make sure I'm extra clean.

Kaidan growled and swatted her rear as she walked to the bedroom, chuckling when she squealed. “Tease,” he grinned.

The pair dressed and Josie watched Kaidan get Shep ready for the walk. The dog was excited, jumping and yipping, but as soon as Kaidan grabbed the harness, she sat, not even wagging her tail. He grabbed some small plastic bags from a shelf under where the harness hung, offered his arm in Josie's direction, and said, “You ready, Commander?”

Josie laughed and happily accepted his arm. They strolled around the Wards again, taking much of the same route they had the day before. Josie commented about Shep's behavior and Kaidan remarked that it was because she knew it was time to go to work.

“I have a vest I used to put on her, too,” he sighed. “It stated she was a seeing eye dog and was working and not to pet her. I'd even special ordered it so it said that in different languages. People ignored it anyway. Sometimes they ask first and I explain that she's working and they can't, but most of the time, they just come right up and pet her.”

“And that's a bad thing?” Josie didn't know anyone who had a service dog, so she had no idea what the issue could be.

“Oh, yeah. A very bad thing. When we're walking, Shep is my eyes. She makes sure I don't run into things or people. She makes sure I cross the street safely. If she's distracted by someone petting her, I could get hurt. Or worse.”

Josie shuddered at the thought of Kaidan tripping and falling, possibly damaging his prosthesis, his stump, or worse. “People still do that? Even though you've lived here for a while?”

“It's gotten better,” he admitted. “The people who are used to seeing me explain it to others now.”

Kaidan slowed down a little and tilted his head upward, inhaling deeply. “We're almost there,” he smiled, squeezing her hand.

Sure enough, the coffee shop was only a few buildings away. They ducked inside, and continued their small talk over coffee (for Kaidan) and tea (for Josie) and several pastries (cheese danish, please). The salarian server also acknowledged Shep and asked Kaidan if it was alright to give her 'the usual'.

“What's the usual?” Josie asked. Kaidan just leaned back and grinned. Moments later, the salarian came back with a small bowl of vanilla ice cream, which Shep gobbled up in about three bites.

“I don't do it all the time because I don't want her to get used to it. I figured today was ok, though, since her routine is a little messed up. Last night was the first time she didn't sleep at the foot of my bed,” he confessed.

“Oh, shit, Kaidan, I'm sorry,” Josie stammered.

“Don't be,” he said, raising a hand. “I'm the one who shut the door. I could have opened it back up. Besides, I think we're forgiven.”

Shep nudged against Kaidan's hand, then laid down next to his chair, watching as the sidewalk got a little busier.

After breakfast was another leisurely stroll around the neighborhood. They never stopped touching each other – whether it was holding hands, Josie wrapping her arm through Kaidan's, or Kaidan draping his arm across her shoulder. Josie felt like she was in a dream and dreaded waking up. Two years ago she lost this love before it even had a chance to blossom. She was inconsolable for several days after Virmire. Other members of her crew picked up some of her normal responsibilities, not that they minded. If Anderson or Hackett asked after her, Joker covered with one excuse or another before the line “got staticky and cut out”. Everyone understood why Kaidan's death hit her so hard and they let her deal with it on her terms.

It was Garrus who finally brought her around. He was surprisingly good (for a turian) at the whole comforting thing. He made her some tea and just sat on the edge of her bed, listening as her rambling would turn into hysterics followed by a few moments of lucidity before delving back into more rambling. He never said a word, just held her close and let her do what she needed to do. He told her later that it helped him, too, because he and Kaidan became best friends during their short time together.

Turians usually don't get emotional about things, he'd explained. They're taught to just push through the turmoil and come out the other side stronger and better. Garrus would always work through his emotions by sparring. It helped, sometimes, but for some reason, losing Kaidan hit him harder than he'd expected. He and Wrex had gone a few rounds and it didn't help much, so Liara suggested he talk to Josie and see if that might help. The hours they spent consoling each other did the trick – Josie still felt like she had a gaping wound in her chest, but she could at least focus on other things that needed done. Garrus also seemed to be back to his usual, sassy self.

Josie smiled when she thought about Garrus, Joker, and Tali seeing Kaidan again. Kaidan mentioned that Hackett told him about them helping Josie out, but he didn't reach out to them for the same reason he hadn't contacted her – he didn't want anyone to be distracted. Josie couldn't argue that logic; she knew first-hand how people reacted to seeing someone they care about come back from the dead.

Next stop was the grocer's to pick up things for the company they'd be having later. Steaks (of course), more beer, dextro-stuff for Garrus and Tali (the clerk recommended steaks from some animal that Josie couldn't pronounce for Garrus and some leafy stuff for Tali), and ice cream with some toppings for a home-made sundae buffet. Josie also stopped at a boutique and picked up a new outfit – she didn't want to wear the same one she'd left the ship in yesterday and she didn't want to get cornered by anyone demanding to know why she was having certain people meet her.

Back at the apartment, Kaidan busied himself putting the groceries away while Josie excused herself to shower. She was careful to not rearrange anything when she grabbed a couple of towels and a washcloth. She stood facing the nozzles, looking up so the spray hit her face and trickled down her body. A contented sigh whispered past her lips as the hot water hit knots she didn't even know she'd had. Probably from sleeping in a strange bed, she thought, turning around and rubbing her shoulders. She grabbed the shampoo and lathered up her shoulder-length auburn locks, wondering if Kaidan might join her. There was a small bench in the shower – probably for him to sit if his stump started bothering him - and Josie grinned when she thought of the different ways they could use it.

Josie took her time with her hair, sighing contentedly as the suds slid down over her body. She reflected, again, how lucky – how incredibly blessed, charmed, and even serendipitous the last 24 hours had been. She watched from orbit as Saren's labs were annihilated in a rain of nuclear fire taking with it one of the people she'd quickly developed strong feelings for. Yet here she was, washing her hair in his bathroom, she'd slept in his bed, she'd worn his t-shirt. She was a firm believer in karma and really hoped that all of this was the universe's way of paying them both back for the shitty things they'd been through in their lives.

She was so wrapped up in her thoughts as she rinsed the suds from her hair that she never heard the bathroom door open. Josie had no idea she had company until strong arms snaked around her waist, lips pressed gently to her neck, and a lusty voice growled, “I think you missed a spot.”

Her breath hitched when Kaidan pulled her arms behind her back and pinned her wrists together. His free hand snaked back across her stomach and cupped her mound. His fingers easily parted her folds, teased around her entrance, then flicked back over her clit. Josie struggled against his grip, wanting desperately to turn around and touch him, but his hold was relentless.

She squealed when Kaidan thrust a finger deep inside her, twisting his hand a little before curling his digit against her walls. He slid his cock between her ass cheeks and ground against her.

“I spent all morning thinking about you in my shirt.” His voice was low, almost predatory. It sent a shiver of anticipation along Josie's spine.

“I thought about how your legs looked, peeking out from under the material.” A second finger joined the first and his thumb worked her clit, circling around it before a lightly flicking it. Josie wasn't sure how much moisture between her legs was from the shower anymore. Her inner thighs started to tremble as her belly twisted and her orgasm quickly built.

“I thought about how my name sounds when you come undone, the way you writhe and squirm under me.” Kaidan started thrusting harder and Josie suddenly found herself unable to do more than moan, her voice filled with lust.

A third finger, plunging even deeper, his thumb still flicking and teasing her clit. “Come for me, Josie,” he murmured.

Hearing him say that was all it took. Josie's head fell back on Kaidan's shoulder and her whole body went rigid. Her toes curled against the floor of the shower, her fingers tightened into fists. Wave after wave crashed over her and her walls spasmed around his fingers. His name was barely discernible on her lips as she squirmed and fought against his grasp, trying to get her sensitive clit some rest, wanting to run her fingers through his hair or along his body.

After several moments, Kaidan removed his fingers and traced them along Josie's lips. “I thought about how you taste,” he said. She opened her mouth, licking his fingers while he moaned and pressed tighter against her.

“I thought about how you feel when I slide inside you.” Kaidan picked her leg up and grunted as he easily slid inside her. Her pussy was still flexing from her high and she cried out, her wrists still pinned behind her back. “Fuck, Josie,” he panted, tightening his grip on her leg.

“Kaidan, please, let me touch you,” she begged, still struggling against him as he began thrusting and grinding against her.

“No.”

Josie whined when he started playing with her clit again. Another orgasm was quickly building and each time his cock plunged inside her, she whimpered and pushed back against him. His fingers found her sensitive nub again and resumed pressing and teasing it.

Josie didn't know where this had come from – it was a far cry from the tenderness they shared the night before. This dominance wasn't something she'd expected and if she were honest with herself, she found it extremely arousing. She shouldn't have been surprised, though, remembering how Ashley used to joke with her about having to watch for 'the quiet ones'.

Kaidan's thumb sliding in her puckered hole chased another squeal from her lips. He nibbled and licked along her neck as his cock pounded her relentlessly. Her clit was throbbing from the sudden lack of attention and Josie fought against him again if only to free a hand and relieve the pressure.

Kaidan only tightened his grip. “You aren't going anywhere,” he growled.

He hooked his thumb in her ass while still gripping her hips. He bent her over at the waist, shoving his cock deeper inside her warm cunt. His thumb started thrusting in her ass in rhythm with his cock and all Josie could do was whimper and moan. Her eyes rolled back in her head as another orgasm washed over her, this one slower than the first, but no less intense.

She bit her lip as Kaidan slowed his pace somewhat, savoring the feel of her walls massaging his shaft. Josie's thighs were absolutely shaking and if it weren't for Kaidan's grip on her hip and wrists, she'd have sunk to the shower floor. Her breath was coming in shaky hitches and her vision blurred when Kaidan pulled himself free.

He turned her around, pinned her wrist over her head, and hooked her leg over his elbow. “We're not done just yet.” His voice was still low and commanding, his tone heavy with desire.

“Fuck, Kaidan!” she shrieked when he sheathed himself inside her yet again.

He snaked his arm around her thigh so his fingers could reach her pussy. Again, he mercilessly teased the bundle of hooded nerves at her apex. Josie watched his face as he ravaged her – his jaw flexing, his eyes hooded and heavy with lust, his lips slightly parted, his breaths fast and shallow. She watched the water play along his skin, glistening rivulets that fell along the sharply defined lines of his muscles. His chest heaving, nipples hard and inviting. His abs flexing and moving with each thrust of his hips.

Her belly coiled tightly again as yet another orgasm started to surface. She leaned forward and brushed her lips across his. There was a rumble deep in his chest when he pulled back just a bit, then crashed his mouth against hers. His pace unrelenting, his fingers unforgiving against her clit, his mouth forcefully pressing against hers, their tongues dancing and swirling together.

Still, she struggled against his grip though not as hard. Josie wanted to touch him in the worst way – to rake her nails long his chest but she was quickly getting exhausted. She chanted Kaidan's name, interspersing it with more colorful language as her climax drew every closer.

“One more time, Josie. Come for me.”

There was something in his voice again that sent her over the edge. Her ecstasy came out as a keening wail, her eyes rolled back in her head, and her body thrashed against him.

Kaidan finally released his grip on her wrists, wrapping both of his arms around her and holding her tightly against him. He cried her name as his cock shuddered and twitched deep inside her while he came.

“Are you alright?” he finally whispered, shutting the water off.

All Josie could do was weakly nod. Her throat hurt and she needed a drink. Her legs were shaking so much she was surprised the tremors weren't registering on a seismograph somewhere. She felt Kaidan sit her on the bench. “Wait here,” he murmured, kissing her forehead.

He ducked out of the shower long enough to wrap a towel around his waist and grab one for Josie. Kneeling in front of her, he started drying her off. He massaged her wrists and arms and tenderly rubbed her thighs. When he dried her as best he could, Kaidan scooped her up and carried her to the bed. He grabbed a glass of water from the nightstand and helped her drink it, gently reminding her to drink it in small sips.

While she drank, Kaidan kept his arms wrapped around her, massaging her wrists and thighs, kissing the top of her head, making sure she was ok. When she finished, he laid her back and wrapped the blankets around her, kissing her on the forehead before leaving the bedroom with the empty glass.

Josie could only lay there. She felt incredibly exhausted and strangely sated but she didn't understand why. Maybe it was because it had been so long since she'd been so thoroughly fucked like that. Maybe it was because she had three intense orgasms fairly close together. Maybe it was the hot water from the shower. Maybe it was Kaidan's utter control of the situation. Maybe it was all of the above.

A weak smile toyed at her lips when she thought about Kaidan's behavior. The memory of that shower would definitely be revisited the next time she got lonely in her cabin on the Normandy.

Kaidan returned and put another full glass of water on the nightstand. He scooted under the blankets, curling himself against her. He worked one of his arms under her neck and the other one traced on her arms, lightly rubbing her wrists.

“You'll probably get thirsty later, so there's more water for you. Are you sure you're ok?”

Josie pressed herself against him and sighed deeply. “Yes. I'm fine. That was...” her voice trailed off as she tried to find an adequate word to describe it. “Intense? Amazing? I don't know how to describe it.”

She could feel the smile on Kaidan's lips as he nibbled along her neck. “I'm glad you liked it. We have a few hours before everyone shows up and you should get some rest.”

Josie's eyes fluttered shut, a smile still on her face, and the arms of the man she loved wrapped snugly around her.

Chapter Text

A quiet beeping rousted Josie from her nap. Kaidan shifted behind her and the noise stopped. She took a deep breath before snuggling against Kaidan's body and pulling his arms tighter around her. She kissed the back of his hand and inhaled the smell of the shampoo they'd used earlier. He responded by kissing the top of her head and pressing against her. She was calm, relaxed, sated... sensations she hadn't felt for years.

“Did you sleep well?” he asked softly.

Josie rolled over and slung a leg over his hip. She ran her fingers across a scar on his face, along his cheekbone and down to his lips. He looked happy, his lips turned slightly upward, the corner of his eyes crinkling just a bit. She wished he could see her, see how truly happy he made her.

“I think that's the best I've slept in years,” she hummed, brushing her lips across his. “Did you doze off?”

“No,” he admitted, reaching out to caress her face. “I was more than ok to just lay here and hold you.”

Josie scooted down the bed a little and snuggled against Kaidan's chest. “I suppose we need to get moving, hm?” she lamented.

“Yeah. It's a little past noon and Shep probably needs to go out again.”

Josie leaned back a little and studied Kaidan's face. She wondered how long it would take her to get used to him looking in her direction, but not seeing her. “Thank you for earlier,” she murmured.

A smile slowly crept across his face. “I was afraid maybe I was too rough on you.”

“Nah,” she smiled back. “I just didn't picture you being like that. It was good, though. I liked it.”

“I'm glad,” he said, caressing her face. “And your legs? You were shaking pretty hard when we were done.” He reached down and ghosted his fingers along her thigh.

“Again, I wasn't used to using those muscles like that for that long. Cerberus hooked me up with these nifty implants that speed my healing. I'll be fine by the time everyone shows up.” She frowned a bit, then asked, “What about you? Were you wearing your prosthesis in the shower? Won't it rust or something?”

“The Alliance made sure I had a top of the line model. Everything is water tight. I took it off after you fell asleep. I didn't want it to dig into your leg or anything.”

After a few more moments of cuddled bliss, Kaidan threw back the covers. “All right, Commander, we need to get up and moving.”

Josie groaned but followed suit. They dressed – Kaidan in jeans and a t-shirt, Josie in the jeans and blouse she'd picked up earlier that morning. She frowned when her omnitool pinged.

“Joker? Is everything ok?” Josie was suddenly afraid that Miranda tried to come up with some bullshit training detail or meeting that would keep her friends from coming to dinner.

“Well, kind of,” the pilot started. He explained that Grunt had gotten injured and was in the medbay, so Chakwas wouldn't be able to make it.

“Really...? What the hell did my tank baby do?” Josie sighed.

“Seriously, Shepard, you need to stop with the whole 'tank baby' thing. It's kinda creepy.”

“Says the guy who now flirts with the ship's AI. You say 'pot', I say 'kettle',” Josie grinned. “Seriously, what did he do and how bad is it?”

“I do not flirt with EDI,” Joker huffed, “And Grunt got into a fight with a couple other krogan. I guess one of them started running their mouth about you...”

“And he had to defend his battlemaster. Got it. 'Nuff said.”

“Yeah. Chakwas said she'd send you a report as soon as she got things wrapped up. He should be fine by the time we get to the dead Reaper, though. She also wanted me to tell you that she's really sorry and that I'm allowed to drink her share of whatever alcohol you're serving.”

Josie sighed and shook her head while her pilot laughed. “Just make sure you guys are on time, ok? Shepard out.”

When she looked up, she saw Kaidan had a confused look on his face. “Tank baby? Is there something I should know?”

“Oh, God, no,” Josie laughed. “Grunt's a krogan, bred in a tank from the absolute best genetics their species had to offer. I cracked open the tank so I refer to him as my tank baby. He's fully grown, though, and part of Clan Urdnot now.”

“Wrex's clan?” Kaidan whistled. “I guess there won't be a lack of conversation later, huh?”

Josie kissed his cheek. “Nope. We can fill you in on everyone I've got on the Normandy now.” She ran her hand down his arm and sighed. “It isn't the same without you, though.”

Kaidan pulled her into a tight hug and kissed the top of her head. “I miss it, too,” he murmured.

They held each other for a few moments before Shep reminded them she really needed to go outside. Josie offered to stay behind and start preparing for their guests so Kaidan could take the dog on a quick walk.

“Just don't poke,” she said as he hooked up the dog's harness. “I wouldn't be surprised if they show up early.”

“I was planning on a quick walk anyway,” he said, kissing her cheek. “Just enough for Shep to do her thing. If you can't find something, ask Victor.”

The door clicked shut and Josie set about getting things ready. It was still too early to start cooking anything – it was barely past 1:00 and Josie was expecting Joker and the others between 1:30 and 2. Still, she set the oven on the lowest setting and started dicing vegetables. The leafy stuff she picked up for Garrus and Tali (mainly Tali since she wasn't much of a meat-eater) had an unusual smell to it. She had to do a quick extranet search to see what her options were for cooking it and make sure the smell was normal.

While she diced, chopped, and got things ready, Josie's thoughts drifted to everything that unfolded over the past 24 hours. She and Kaidan were behaving like giddy newlyweds, wrapped up in their rediscovery of each other. She considered how things might change when she returned from the Collector Base. Did she have any habits or quirks that would really annoy him? Would she be able to be an effective partner to him with his disabilities? She was no longer in the Alliance, but she retained her Spectre status which meant she could still get sent anywhere at any time to do the Council's bidding. Would he be ok with that? Or would he want her to stay close by so they could really settle down?

“Get a grip,” she muttered to herself. “You guys didn't even go on so much as a date when Virmire happened and now you're thinking about settling down? Josie, if that doesn't scare a guy off, I don't know what would. Although... he did tell you he loved you, and you went and said it back.”

Her heart suddenly sank at the idea that they were rushing into things. They'd kissed, but there was no 'real' date or anything like that. Granted, being assigned to a ship pretty much forces you to get to know everyone else on board and it wasn't like she and Kaidan never talked. He confided in her about BAaT and what had happened with Rahna, she told him about stuff that happened on Mindoir that most people didn't know about. They knew each other's strengths and weaknesses. She knew what his favorite beer was and he knew how she drank her tea.

There was a familiar comfort with him, too. When you're first getting to know someone – whether it's on a date or casual discussion – the pauses in conversation can be awkward with neither person quite knowing what to say. She and Kaidan never had that, not even in the beginning when they first boarded the SR-1. So yeah, maybe on the surface it did seem like they were taking things at FTL speed but if the last 24 hours were any indication, she would be quite happy in a serious relationship with Kaidan Alenko.

By the time Kaidan returned from the walk, Josie had everything prepped; all they needed to do was start cooking. She washed the few dishes and utensils she used and put the prepped stuff in the fridge. All that was left to do was wait for their friends.

“So, how do you want to do this?” Kaidan asked as Josie flipped through the TV channels. “Should I be the one to open the door? Do you think I should hide somewhere?”

Josie frowned and looked around the apartment. “Hmmm. Well, you could stay in the kitchen.... no, they'd see you too soon. I want them to have to wait for a little bit.”

She looked down the other hall toward the bedroom. “How about if you duck in the bedroom? I'll start cooking and they'll probably all be crowded around, drinking and trying to help. You can come out and just play it by ear.”

“I like that idea,” Kaidan grinned.

Josie got more anxious as it neared 1:30. Her gut told her they'd be early – Joker knew she was up to something, Garrus probably agreed, so they'd show up ahead of time and try to catch her in the act of whatever she had planned. Tali would be trying to tell them that there was nothing going on and to stop being paranoid.

As if the fates had read her mind, the doorbell rang. Victor stated that there were three people at the door – a human male, a turian male, and a quarian female. Kaidan and Josie looked at each other and grinned.

“You ready?” she giggled.

“Like we have a choice.” He planted a kiss on her cheek and hurried back to his bedroom.

Josie opened the door and ushered her friends in. “Alright, Shepard, what's going on?” Garrus asked once they were all in the hallway.

“Keelah, Garrus, that's no way to greet someone who has invited you to dinner,” Tali scolded the turian. “Shepard, we brought a bottle of wine. I hope it goes well with what you'll be serving.”

Josie hugged her friend and took the bottle. “It's wine, Tali. I'm sure it'll be fine. Here, come in. Have a seat.”

She couldn't wipe the smile from her face. The group walked into the apartment and looked around. Josie offered them drinks, then set about filling glasses and opening bottles.

“So, who's place is this, Commander?” Joker asked. “Did you win it in a card game or something?”

“Oh, it isn't mine. It belongs to a friend,” she waved her hand dismissively. “Go, sit. I'm going to start dinner.”

Tali offered to help and Garrus said he could set the table. Joker took a seat on the opposite side of the kitchen counter and Garrus joined him when he finished. There was some small talk about what each of them had done with their shore leave, some gossip about what others had done, and Josie noticed that Kaidan was leaning against the living room wall, arms crossed over his chest, grinning like a fool. A smile quickly spread across her own face and she hoped someone would soon notice him.

Several more minutes passed – steaks were almost done, the leafy stuff was warming in the oven, the potato/bacon casserole only had a few more minutes to bake - and Tali decided she needed a refill. She grabbed the wine bottle, filled her glass, turned around to fill someone else's, and froze.

“Tali?” Josie said, concerned for a moment that something was really wrong. Then she noticed where the quarian was looking.

“Keelah...” Tali whispered and the wine bottle slipped from her hand and shattered on the floor.

“Go say hi. He doesn't bite but he can't see.” Josie nudged her friend in Kaidan's direction, ignoring the mess.

“Say hi? To who? Tali, are you ok?” Garrus's stood to survey the broken glass then followed Tali's gaze, his voice trailing off when he saw his best friend smirking at everyone.

“Shepard, if this is a joke, I swear to God I'll have EDI shut off the hot water every time you shower,” Joker threatened as he stood.

“It's no joke,” Kaidan spoke up. “I'm here.”

The next several minutes were pandemonium, with Garrus, Tali, and Joker trying to speak over each other, bombarding Kaidan with questions. Kaidan could only put his hands up in self-defense and try to answer. Finally, Josie stuck her fingers in her mouth and whistled.

“Guys, come on!” she called. “Give the guy some room to breathe. Not you, though Garrus. Let Kaidan see your face.”

“Let him what? Oh,” he said when Kaidan gripped Garrus's head in his hands. Kaidan wore a look of pure concentration as his fingers flitted along the plates and ridges of Garrus's face.

“Still wearing the visor, I see,” he quipped, then whistled at the bandage that covered the right side of his face. “Josie wasn't kidding about you eating a rocket, was she?”

“Eh, chicks dig the scars,” Garrus laughed. He pulled Kaidan in for a huge bear hug. “It is so good to see you again.”

“I'd say it was good to see you, too, but, you know,” Kaidan laughed.

Josie's heart clamped when she saw a tear run down Kaidan's face, then noticed Joker wipe his cheek. Garrus stepped back and gripped Kaidan's shoulders, saying something Josie couldn't quite make out. Kaidan nodded and laughed, turning his head in Josie's direction. Tali was next with a hug, her voice cracking every time she tried to speak. She finally just settled for holding the friend that she used to talk shop with and missed almost as much as the rest of them did.

“Joker, I know you're there,” Kaidan teased when Tali stepped back. “I can hear you breathing.”

“I just....” Joker's voice cracked and he cleared his throat. He quickly hobbled back over to his friend and hugged him fiercely. Josie and Garrus hadn't been the only ones rocked by Kaidan's death. Joker put on a brave face when he was around others but for Josie and the 'inner circle', his tears flowed freely. Joker and Kaidan had been friends before the Normandy set out on that fateful shakedown run. Good friends. And now there wasn't a dry eye in the place as Joker held on to the only other person who's death had devastated him.

Josie quietly cleared her throat and announced that dinner was done. She directed Garrus and Tali to carry the finished dishes to the table while she gave the floor a quick sweep and mop. Her sinuses started to burn at the fact that she was only a few people shy of having an entire SR-1 reunion. Tears blurred her vision and she fumbled the dustpan a little when she put it away.

“Hey, you ok?” Kaidan reached out, feeling for her. “Did you cut yourself?”

“No,” she whispered. “It's....” The tears finally fell when she looked out at the dining room, not caring that her friends were watching her cry. “You're here. You're back with us. That's all.”

Kaidan wrapped his arms around her and kissed her cheek. “And I'm not leaving again any time soon.”

Chapter Text

Dinner was filled with one question after another, starting with Kaidan repeating the story of his miraculous survival on Virmire and the months of surgeries and therapy that followed. Yes, his parents knew an abbreviated version of what happened and had even come to the Citadel to help him get situated. His promotion to Commander came right before he was granted his medical discharge.

“Retirement, actually,” he said, using air quotes. “I'm not cleared yet for a lot of things, so the retired status pays the bills. Commanders make more in their retirement than Lieutenants do, so Hackett fast-tracked mine. Plus being retired still gives me the option to come back later, if I'm able.”

He went on to mention that he hoped to get into teaching, that even with his blindness, he could still instruct other biotics or consult with Alliance training. He was also considering taking up martial arts, making a joke about being a blind guy and getting underestimated by his opponents.

The questions for Kaidan died down some and they each took turns telling him what they'd been up to over the past 2 years.

“Yeah I was on Omega for a while,” Garrus purred, leaning back in his chair. “I got tired of the C-Sec red tape so I went where I thought I could really make a difference. Had my own team and everything.”

“Oooo save us, Archangel!” Joker cried in a sing-song voice.

Kaidan nearly spit his beer out. “Archangel? Really?”

“It wasn't my idea,” the turian grumbled, glaring at Joker, who just grinned and tipped his bottle in Garrus's direction. “The people I helped came up with it.”

“I actually thought the nickname was cool,” Josie admitted.

“I always thought it was the name of a new perfume,” Tali teased.

Garrus just grumbled and shook his head. He went on to explain how his team had been betrayed and how Josie had saved his life. Kaidan squeezed Josie's hand and smiled at her.

“That's my girl,” he whispered.

“I couldn't believe she was with Cerberus, though,” Garrus sighed. “It was a huge reason I went with her. Sure, she saved me on Omega and I owed her for that, but I wanted to make sure someone had her back while she went after the Collectors.”

Tali told Kaidan how she and Shepard bumped into each other at Freedom's Progress and again on Haestrom, voicing the same disbelief Garrus had at Josie working with Cerberus. “I wanted to go with her after Freedom's Progress,” Tali said, “but I couldn't. I was in the middle of something for the Admiralty Board and there was no way I trusted being surrounded by Cerberus. No offense, Shepard.”

“None taken. We've hashed this out already, Tali,” Josie assured her.

Joker told Kaidan how he'd been recruited to help, too.

“I was grounded,” he said, playing with his beer bottle. “After Shepard died, everything went to shit, Kaidan. You have no idea. Everything she did to uncover stuff about the Reapers they just shoved under a damn rug. I wouldn't shut up about it, though, so the Alliance grounded me as punishment.”

He stood and hobbled into the kitchen for another beer. “Does anyone else need one?”

Kaidan and Josie said they did, Garrus and Tail were still nursing theirs.

“Anyway, some guy calls me, says Shepard is alive and that Cerberus is taking care of her. Pissed me right the fuck off. I told him he was full of shit and if he contacted me again, I'd get a hold of Anderson.

“A couple of days later, someone emailed me a video that showed Shepard hooked up to a ton of machines. There was a message that talked about the Reapers and how she was needed to carry on the fight. They gave me an address and said I could check it out for myself.

“The video seemed real and it got me thinking – Cerberus did some messed up shit while we were chasing Saren. Maybe they really could be saving her. So I showed up at the address, they stuck a bag over my head, and shuttled me to God knows where. I met Miranda and she took me right into Shepard's room. Then things went to hell and she started waking up....”

Joker's voice cracked a bit and he didn't look at anyone. Josie frowned – she vaguely remembered briefly coming around in the lab and hearing Miranda's voice. She had no idea Joker had been present for it.

The pilot took a deep breath and continued, “I honestly didn't know if that was Shepard, but she looked real enough for me, so I signed up.

“And here I am,” he finished with a sigh.

“Joker, you never told me about that,” Josie raised an eyebrow at her friend.

“I didn't think I needed to,” he shrugged. “It doesn't matter now.”

There was a pregnant pause before Tali spoke again. “I think it's wonderful that you two bumped into each other like that,” she gushed.

“Yeah,” Garrus said. “Quite the coincidence. Of all the coffee shops on the Citadel, you show up at that one.”

“I've actually given that some thought,” Josie smiled. “The last time I talked to Liara, she was insistent that I try that place the next time I got to the Citadel. She made sure I had the name and address before I left her ship.”

“You think she knew Kaidan was alive?” Joker asked.

“Yeah,” Josie nodded, “and I think she didn't want to tell me outright in case I couldn't get here to see him.”

Kaidan gripped Josie's hand and kissed her knuckles. “How would she know I was alive?”

“Oh, yeah, I didn't tell you about that, did I?” Josie grinned. She, Joker, Garrus, and Tali all took turns explaining how their shy, naive, asari archaeologist friend was now the galaxy's most powerful information broker. The look on Kaidan's face was priceless.

“Kaidan, babe, close your mouth. You're drooling,” Josie teased.

“Wow,” he finally said, shaking his head. “Liara is the Shadow Broker. I'll be damned.”

“We should send her a picture!” Tali squealed, clapping.

“Hold on,” Josie said. “Let me get one of just me and Kaidan first.”

She and Kaidan leaned in toward each other, Josie snapped the pic on her omnitool and sent it to Liara with a message thanking her for the recommendation about the coffee shop. “The cheese danishes weren't all that were amazing.”

“Ok, now all of us,” Josie said, motioning for everyone to gather around. She and Kaidan stayed in their chairs and Tali, Garrus, and Joker stood behind them. Josie snapped the pic and sent that one to Liara, as well.

A few moments later, Josie's omnitool pinged with an incoming call.

“I hope I'm not interrupting,” Liara apologized. “I wish I could be there, though.”

Josie had been right – Liara did know about Kaidan's survival and didn't say anything because of the stress Josie was already under.

“I knew that if you couldn't get to see him, you'd be devastated,” Liara explained. “I'm so sorry.”

“Liara, stop. That's pretty much why Kaidan didn't reach out, too. He didn't want me under any more pressure than I was already dealing with.”

Liara and Kaidan spoke briefly before the asari excused herself. “I promise, though, Kaidan, I will be in touch in the next couple of days. And Shepard, please take care of yourself.”

The picture winked out just as Shep stood at the hallway and whined.

“And that's my cue,” Kaidan said. He kissed Josie on the cheek and stood. “If anyone wants to tag along, you're more than welcome.”

“I'll just stay here and clean stuff up, if that's ok,” Josie said, following him. Kaidan nodded and put Shep's harness on.

Garrus agreed to go along, Tali and Joker said they'd stay behind and help with the clean up. The trio made quick work of the leftovers and dishes and Josie went over the kitchen floor with a mop again, fearing she may have missed some spots from the spilled wine earlier.

“Do you know how romantic all of this is, Shepard?” Tali asked. “It's like something out of a movie!”

“I don't know about that,” Josie blushed. “I do know we are both incredibly lucky for a number of reasons.”

“I don't know about Kaidan, but one of your reasons had better be having the galaxy's best pilot flying your ship,” Joker quipped.

“It's right at the top,” Josie grinned.

They moved to the living room and sat on the couch. “I'm serious, Shepard,” Tali continued. “You thought Kaidan died, then you actually died, and now you're back together! Fleet and Flotilla isn't this good!”

Joker huffed and rolled his eyes. Josie nudged his ribs, so he changed the subject.

“What does he have to say about all of this?” he asked.

“About what?”

“All of it. You dying, you coming back, you working with Cerberus, this suicide mission we're doing,” Joker ticked the items off on his fingers.

“I haven't asked him,” Josie answered. “I do know he's happy we found each other. I think it bothers him that I'm with Cerberus but because he doesn't trust them and not because he thinks I'm betraying the Alliance or anything like that. Other than that, I can only guess. You'll have to ask him.”

“Well, for what it's worth, I'm happy for you.” Josie gave Joker a hard look and saw that he was serious.

“Thanks,” she said, patting his knee.

A few minutes later, Garrus and Kaidan came back, laughing as they walked through the door.

“I'm telling you, Kaidan, there's a huge dent in the floor of the shuttle bay,” Garrus chuckled. “Shepard was so mad she threatened the both of them with counting widgets with Ken and Gabby for the rest of the time they were on board”

“Are you telling him about the time Jack and Grunt were sparring in the shuttle bay and she Slammed him into the floor?” Josie asked.

“Yup,” Garrus admitted.

“Yeah, mad is an understatement,” Josie remembered, shaking her head. “I was furious and swore so much Miranda thought I was going to have a stroke.”

“I know I've never seen you that angry,” Tali added.

Kaidan was the one who suggested a card game. When he didn't get an answer, he said, “I can picture the confused looks. There's braille on the cards. I'll be able to see just fine.”

“Cheat is probably more like it,” Joker grumbled.

“At least I won't be able to see that horrible poker face of yours,” Kaidan deadpanned.

Everyone laughed as they gathered around the table again. Josie noticed the intense concentration on Kaidan's face. His fingers grazed over the face-side corner of his cards and then he would turn his head slightly in everyone's direction, like he was listening for something. She wondered what non-verbal tells he was listening for. A change in breathing, perhaps? Maybe the way someone shuffled in their seat? She'd have to pay attention herself because Kaidan always had a good poker face and had taken her to the cleaners several times on the SR-1.

Surprisingly, Joker actually won the first couple of rounds. He seemed just as shocked as everyone else about it, too.

“Just don't let it go to your head,” Garrus groused, re-stacking his chips.

Garrus one a round, as did Tali, but then Kaidan started finding his groove and was soon helping himself to the chips in the pot.

“He has to be cheating,” Joker said when Kaidan scooped more chips into his ever growing pile. “Seriously. It's those freaky white eyes. You've actually got cameras hidden in there, don't you?”

“Yup, I sure do,” Kaidan grinned as he sorted his chips. “I can detect a horrible poker player from 2 clicks out.”

After a few more rounds, Tali, Joker, and Garrus decided that they really needed to head back to the ship. Joker wanted to make sure EDI didn't mess with anything while he was out, Garrus wanted to quadruple check the firing rate on the new Thanix cannons, and Tali had promised Ken and Gabby some help in engineering.

Josie assured everyone she'd see them the next morning and hung back while Kaidan walked them to the door. More hugs, a few more tears, and their friends walked out into the Citadel's night cycle. When Kaidan turned back around, he had a wistful look on his face.

“That was a great idea, Josie,” he said, pulling her into a hug. “Thank you.”

Chapter Text

Josie pulled on the blue t-shirt she'd worn earlier in the morning and crawled into bed. She curled on her side and watched Kaidan shave. She smiled as he lathered his face, then stared ahead as he carefully guided his razor along his face – looking toward the mirror, but not seeing his reflection. He moved with careful deliberation, not wanting to nick his skin. She watched as he flitted his fingers along his cheek and jaw to make sure he hadn't missed any obvious spots, then ran his entire hand along each side of his face, over his chin, and down his throat. When he was satisfied, he splashed his face, rinsing the last of the shaving cream away and patted his face dry. He followed up with a bit of creamy aftershave, wiped his hands on a towel, then brushed his teeth.

A hard lump formed in Josie's throat as thoughts of what could have been and what could still be forced themselves into her head. What if she had been able to save him on Virmire? Would he have forgiven her for leaving Ashley? Would he be as accepting of her work with Cerberus now or would he think her a traitor like Ashley did? Would her death have affected him as much as his affected her? What if she didn't make it back from the Collector base? And not just if things went horribly wrong and she died again, but what if she couldn't get the Normandy back from wherever the Collector base was?

The sudden pain in her chest threatened to tear a sob from her mouth. She spent so many nights railing at the fates for taking Kaidan from her before they even had a chance. She had cursed whatever gods, goddesses, spirits, and creators she could think of for the unfairness of it all, that someone as good and kind and wonderful as he was could be just gone in an instant. She prayed fervently for the chance to have one more day with him... hell, one more minute, even. And it seemed like the deities listened – they were together again. The universe had deigned to give them each another chance not only at their own lives, but with each other, too.

Josie quickly rolled over as the tears spilled from her eyes. She shoved a knuckle in her mouth, not wanting to alert Kaidan that she was crying, breathing around the joint when her nose stuffed up. The emotions she felt were overwhelming and she should have known she couldn't hide them from Kaidan.

“Josie, are you alright?” His voice was thick with concern and she heard him hurry to the bed. “Baby, what's wrong?”

Kaidan curled up behind her and pulled her tight against him. He tried getting her to talk to him but all she could do was cry. She wanted to tell him what was troubling her, to tell him how she feared fate was only teasing them – they'd have this brief time together and somehow they'd be forced to suffer again.

She rolled over and buried her face against his chest, seeking solace in the warmth of his skin and the feel of his heartbeat against her cheek. When Josie finally found her voice, it was like the floodgates had opened and her fears poured out.

“I'm scared, Kaidan. I'm afraid of losing you all over again. I know I have a good crew and a good ship and I have faith in all of them but what if I'm wrong? What if things go hard to port and we lose each other again? I don't want to leave tomorrow. I want to stay here. I want to be with you and see where all of this goes and I am so, so scared that when I walk out your front door tomorrow, I may never come back.”

A fresh wave of tears started and Kaidan pulled Josie as close as he could. She always buried her feelings deep. If Josie Shepard let you see that she was angry or hurt, it was a rare gift because she didn't want others to see her as weak or incapable. She was always afraid that someone would take her displays of emotion and use them against her. For her to come undone like this was a testament to how much she trusted him... how much she needed him.

Kaidan didn't say anything for a few minutes, he just held her and let her cry. Josie tried reining her emotions in – Kaidan may not be part of her crew but she hated that he was seeing her like this. She didn't want his opinion of her to change because she was letting her fears and doubts get the best of her. She tensed a little when she heard Kaidan inhale.

“I don't want you to leave, either,” he murmured. “I can't imagine what you're going through, Josie. You've already grieved for me once; I never went through that. When the Normandy went down, I was in a coma. When I came out of it, you were already running around, saving the galaxy again so it was like you never left. I don't want you to be afraid, though. I'm not going anywhere. I'll be right here, waiting for you to come back.”

Josie suddenly looked up and pulled Kaidan into a deep kiss. She wouldn't allow their last night together to be ruined by her hysterics. She fumbled for the waistband of his underwear, sliding them down until his cock was free. Her name was a muffled moan against his lips as she gently gripped him, stroking and massaging until he was throbbing in her grasp. She slid her underwear to the side, hooked her leg over his hip, and slid the head of his erection along her folds.

“I need you, Kaidan,” she begged, pulling her head back. “I need all of you. Please.”

Kaidan rocked his hips against her, gradually working his cock deeper inside her. His mouth moved along her jawline, to her neck where he sucked and nibbled on her pulse point. She gripped his hair, syncing her own hips with his until he was fully sheathed inside her.

His hands gripped and massaged her ass and her fingers trailed along his back. Kaidan whispered how good she felt in his hands, their bodies moving together. Her name never sounded so beautiful as it did when it came as a pleasured moan from his lips. Josie was lost in the sounds and sensations, wishing she had Thane's perfect memory so that none of this would ever be lost to her.

Her borrowed shirt was pushed over her breasts and Kaidan's eager mouth suckled and licked each full globe. Josie's back arched and she pressed her chest against his mouth, not wanting him to stop.

Kaidan carefully rolled her on her back, pulling the shirt over her head. His cock slid from her folds long enough for him to tug her underwear down her legs. Josie whimpered at the sudden emptiness, then keened when he quickly buried himself inside her again. She worked her legs to rid herself of her underwear while Kaidan's pace against her increased.

His mouth moved down her throat, across her chest, his lips nibbling and kissing, tongue licking and tasting. His hands slid over her stomach and along her hips, leaving goosebumps in their wake. He slid across the smooth flesh on her stomach, down to where their bodies joined, finding the hooded bundle of nerves at her apex.

Josie's back arched when Kaidan teased his thumb around her clit, gently pushing and flicking the sensitive nub while his cock thrust deep inside of her, hitting that spot. She was soon reduced to a mass of quivering limbs and barely coherent words. His biotics flared as he neared his own peak and the gentle tingle sent her over the edge. She gripped his thighs, her back arched and hips pressed against him as his name fell from her lips with each deep thrust of his hips.

Her walls flexed around his shaft, causing a tight coil of warmth to pool deep in his belly. Kaidan wrapped his arms tightly around her and buried his face against her neck, muffling the wanton sounds he made as he reached his own peak. He thrust once more against her and kept himself buried as his cock twitched and emptied deep inside her.

They laid there for a few moments, catching their breath before their lips found each other again. They loved each other throughout the night, collapsing together in a tangle of sated limbs and ragged breaths. Basking in the afterglow lead to gentle kisses and soft nuzzles which desperately shifted to more passionate touches. Fingers gripped and kneaded, hands groped and massaged, their names rough and breathless on each other's lips.

Kaidan tried several times to get Josie to sleep, telling her she needed to rest before heading out. Her only reply was that she needed him and that she could sleep on the ship. She didn't want to waste a second of what precious little time they had left sleeping, not when there were lips to kiss and skin to caress.

The bedroom began to fill with ambient light, indicating the start of the Citadel's day cycle. Neither had moved from their last session of love-making – Josie was laying on Kaidan's chest, her head nestled in the crook of his neck as she traced along his pecs and abs. Kaidan's cheek rested on the top of her head, one hand lazily stroking up and down her back and the other tucked behind his head.

“I have to go soon.” Josie couldn't hide the sadness in her voice. She didn't want to, either. For as much as she tried keeping her emotions hidden or otherwise in check, it was like she needed Kaidan to know that leaving would be one of the hardest things she'd ever done.

“Let me call John, have him take you to the docks,” Kaidan murmured, pulling her tighter against him. “You won't have to worry about cab fare and I'll get a few more minutes with you.”

“Are you sure he won't mind?” Josie paused her caress. “I don't want to impose.”

Kaidan kissed her cheek and smiled. “He's the one who offered.”

He fired up his omnitool, reaching around Josie's back to fire off a message to his therapist and friend. A few moments later, the response came back. “He'll be here in two hours,” Kaidan said, shutting the tool down. “I don't suppose I can talk you into a quick nap, can I?”

Josie sighed deeply and curled her hand into a fist, resting her chin on it so she could study Kaidan's face. “I won't sleep but if I wore you out, I'm ok with just cuddling.”

“Wear me out?” Kaidan scoffed. “Please. This was just a warm up. Seriously, though, my stump is a little sore right now, so cuddling it is.”

“I guess when I come back we'll have to see what it really takes to wear you out, Commander,” Josie grinned, kissing the tip of his nose.

“It's a date, Commander,” Kaidan agreed.

Two hours later, Josie and Kaidan were huddled together in the back of John's skycar. Shep was in the front seat, secured with a special seat belt. John easily navigated the morning rush hour traffic and Josie almost wished that something would happen – the skycar would break down or an accident or something, anything to give her more time with Kaidan. She wore the blue Alliance-issue shirt that she'd slept in, complete with his name stenciled over the left chest. She left him one of her dog tags – it didn't smell like her, but at least it was something.

Josie used her credentials to get them parked closer to the docks than they normally would have been allowed. Kaidan had a tighter-than-usual grip on Shep's harness and his fingers clutched desperately around Josie's. She heard John behind them, quietly describing things – how close they were to other people, what they were wearing, what some of the other ships were that were docked around the Normandy. Josie felt a little guilty, thinking that was something she should have been doing, then realized that it was probably part of John's job and he was doing it out of habit.

“Well, this is where I get off.” Her voice cracked a bit and she cleared her throat. A small, sad smile curved across her lips when she reached out to touch Kaidan's face. He gripped her hand, closed his eyes, and turned into her touch.

“I'll miss you,” he whispered, kissing her wrist. “Please, be careful.”

“Always.” Josie never had a death wish but losing Kaidan made her a little more reckless (some would even say careless). She had more reason than ever now to make sure she didn't take any stupid chances. “I'll fight like hell for the chance to hold you again,” she murmured.

Their lips brushed against each other – a tender, chaste kiss that carried more emotion than any other kiss they'd shared. Their foreheads rested together until a familiar Australian accent cut through the crowd.

“I have to go,” Josie said, swallowing the lump in her throat.

“I know,” Kaidan answered, stepping back.

Neither wanted to be the first to let go, but Josie knew that if she didn't, she'd never leave. She'd tell Miranda and the Illusive Man that she didn't care and that someone else could take care of the Collectors. But what would Commander Shepard really do? she heard Kaidan's voice say. She chuckled to herself, knowing full well this wasn't something she could leave to anyone else. As Mordin would say, someone else might get it wrong.

So Josie Shepard took a deep breath, kissed Kaidan on the cheek, whispered one more time how much she loved him, and walked toward her ship. She slowed down just enough to glance over her shoulder, then quickly hurried away. The heartbreak on Kaidan's face was almost more than she could bear.

John guided Kaidan to a rail along the glass and described the Normandy – how she was nearly identical to the original with the sleek, curved lines but over twice the size. He talked about the colors and the gentle blue pulse of the engines. Kaidan pressed his hands against the glass, smiling a bit when he felt the vibrations of the docking clamps being released. Then... nothing.

“She's gone,” John said, putting a hand on Kaidan's shoulder. “Let's get you home.

Josie briefly acknowledged her crew as she strode through the CIC. All she wanted to do was take a few minutes to gather her thoughts and try to put aside the turmoil that was storming through her heart. She stopped off at the mess to make a cup of tea when the familiar scent of leather and spice came up behind her.

“Siha,” Thane's familiar tenor sang in her ear. “I trust your shore leave was enjoyable.”

“Thane,” Josie said, turning to face the friend who had been a more than adequate source of comfort over the past few weeks. “We need to talk.”

Chapter Text

Josie paced in her cabin waiting for Thane to show up. She wanted to tell him everything while they stood in the mess – it was only fair to him to know right away – but she got pulled away to talk to Miranda about the upcoming mission. A look of concern flickered across his face when she said they needed to talk and she hated to worry him. She gave Thane a sad smile, placed her hand on his cheek, and said she'd let him know when she finished.

The meeting with Miranda dragged on a lot longer than it should have because she was still pissed that Josie had extended shore leave an additional 24 hours. They argued and Josie pulled the same card she did during their call – this was Josie Shepard's show and if Miranda didn't like it, she could leave or cry to the Illusive Man who'd most likely have Josie's back, anyway. The actual discussion about the derelict Reaper only took about 20 minutes and Josie hurried to her cabin, sending Thane a quick message that she was done.

That was over half an hour ago. Thane was nothing if not prompt and Josie's mind started working overtime, wondering what was keeping him. Did he already know about Kaidan? Did Garrus, Joker, or Tali say something? I don't want him to be mad at me. He's a damn good friend and this thing we had wasn't supposed to involve feelings.... Would he think this was planned? I mean, spending shore leave separately was my idea so he could have some time alone with Kolyat but I never dreamed I'd run into Kaidan.

Her thoughts trailed off when she heard her door hiss open. Thane smiled warmly at her as he descended the steps. “I'm sorry I'm late. Garrus wanted my opinion on a scope he purchased while he was on the Citadel. I didn't realize how much time had passed.” He wrapped his arms around her and she tensed – not a lot, but enough for him to notice.

“Siha, what is it?” The warmth of his smile was replaced by concern when he looked down at her.

Josie took a deep breath and stared at the floor. “Kaidan's alive.”

She watched Thane's feet take some small steps back, but his hands remained on her arms. “He is?” the drell asked slowly.

Josie nodded. “We bumped into each other at a coffee shop. It's why I extended shore leave another 24 hours.”

She looked up at Thane, her eyes brimming with tears. “I'm so sorry, Thane. I never wanted to hurt you...”

Thane smiled again and placed a finger to her lips. “I understand,” he murmured. “It is not often that we get a second chance with those we love. Our arrangement was only meant to be one of temporary comfort.”

He took her hand and brushed his lips across her knuckles. “I would be lying if I said it didn't bother me, though. You have given me many new memories to cherish and I welcomed the solace I found in your arms.”

“You... you aren't mad at me?” Josie asked, unable to fight her tears.

“Why would I be angry with you?” Thane pulled her toward him and hugged her close.

“I don't know,” Josie sniffled against his jacket.

Thane stepped back again and smiled down at her. “I am not angry. Quite the opposite. I am delighted that you have another chance with someone you thought to be dead. You deserve someone who will make you happy for the rest of your life, Siha, and that is something I cannot give you.”

Josie shook her head and sighed. “Yeah, about that. I know you refused a lung transplant.”

Thane pursed his lips and started to speak, but Josie held her hand up. “Look, it isn't my place to tell you how to live your life, especially now, but you've reconnected with your son, Thane. You need to think of him. If we make it back from this, I want you to promise me you'll reconsider having that surgery.”

“Shepard,” he started again.

“No, Thane. You lamented the fact that you left Kolyat to be raised by his aunts and uncles, that you weren't there to help him stay on a brighter path. You have that chance now. Please, don't waste it.”

Thane hung his head and wrapped his fingers through hers. His thumbs brushed across her knuckles as he thought about what she said. “You are right, of course,” he finally murmured.

He raised his head and gazed at her, his black eyes filled with emotion. He reached out and tucked a strand of hair behind her ear. “Kaidan is a lucky man,” he whispered. “I hope neither of you mind if I continue to keep you close to my heart.”

Josie cradled Thane's face in her hand. “I don't mind at all, Thane. You've become one of the best friends I've ever had. I don't want to lose that.”

“And you won't,” Thane declared, smiling again. “Does he know about us?”

“No,” Josie shook her head. “And I'd prefer to keep it that way.”

“I understand,” Thane said. “It shall remain between the two of us, then.”

He ghosted his fingers along her face before giving a slight bow. “I shall take my leave, Siha, and leave you to your mission planning.”

He turned at her door, giving her a warm look before disappearing into the hall.

When the door hissed shut, Josie wrapped her arms around herself. Part of her wanted to cry – she felt safe and secure in Thane's arms and she wasn't wary about letting her emotions out around him. Thane accepted her for who she was and didn't have any outrageous expectations of her. He helped keep her grounded and often gave her another point of view when she was frustrated. In those moments when she and Thane rested in each other's arms, their fingers lazily grazing long sweat-slick skin, she felt stirrings in her heart that she hadn't felt since she met Kaidan. Feelings weren't a part of their arrangement but damn it if she hadn't been falling in love with him. Judging from his reaction, she wondered if he felt the same.

Josie fed her hamster and fish, then curled up on her bed, hoping Thane meant what he said – that he'd reconsider the surgery, that he'd continue to be her friend, and that he wasn't actually angry with her for ending their arrangement. Time would tell, she supposed as her eyes grew heavy. As long as he continued to have her back when they were on the battlefield, she could figure the rest out later.

Chapter Text

The trip to the derelict Reaper was scheduled to take several days. Josie spent the time doing what she normally did – visiting her crew in their favorite places and just shooting the shit. Sparring with Grunt, weapons training with Jacob and Zaeed, mission planning with Miranda also helped pass the time. She would find herself, more often than not, standing outside of Life Support. She'd rest her hand on the door, longing to talk to Thane like she used to, but would always walk away, thinking the two of them being alone in a private space like that now would be really inappropriate. She didn't avoid him, but she didn't seek his company like she used to, either. If they bumped into each other in the hall or mess, their conversation was light, the tone cool. It didn't take long for Josie to realize she truly missed Thane – she missed their talks, the sound of his voice, the simple comfort of his mere presence.

One night, Josie couldn't sleep. After tossing and turning for what seemed like hours, she finally threw back the blanket and fumbled her feet into her slippers. She yawned and ran her fingers through her hair, wondering why the hell she was yawning when she wasn't even the least bit tired. The doors to the elevator hissed open and she trudged inside, leaned against the far wall, and sighed.

What sucked was she knew exactly what was keeping her awake; she just had no idea what to do about it. Before shore leave, Thane would snuggle up against her, one arm tucked under his head and the other wrapped around her waist, holding her close. Whatever tension she had vanished in his embrace and sleep found her as quickly as it would if she had taken meds. Once she and Kaidan reconnected, though, that changed. She was back to sleeping alone, all of her fears and frustrations bottled up because, even with promises of an unchanged friendship, she felt guilty for even looking in Thane's direction much less talking to him like she used to.

Guilt. Not only about hurting Thane (and he was hurt, Josie had seen it on his face even though his words said otherwise) but also about the fact that Kaidan didn't know. Oh, sure, it wasn't like she knowingly cheated on Kaidan with the drell – he was dead, as far as she knew. But would they have gotten back together if she had told him about Thane? Or would he have kept their reunion to a more friendly tone? Part of her wanted to tell him everything and part of her wanted to continue keeping her mouth shut about it. After all, she wasn't sure how he'd react. Would he be angry? Accepting? Would he even care? Did he even really have to know?

Josie shook her head and stepped off the elevator, rounding the corner to the mess and ran smack into Thane. The collision sent her backward into the bulkhead and caused Thane to stumble a bit himself.

“Siha! Are you all right?” Thane recovered quickly and hurried to Josie's side.

“Yeah, I'm good.” Josie rubbed the back of her head and glanced over her shoulder. “I just hope I didn't dent the wall.”

“I'm sorry. I had no idea you were there. I didn't even hear the elevator open,” Thane apologized, gripping her shoulders studying her face. “Are you sure you're all right? I can get the doctor...”

“Thane, I'm fine. Really,” Josie offered him a smile and touched his face. It was more habit than anything, the casual touches they used to share. She didn't even think about it until he closed his eyes and inhaled sharply.

“Are you ok?” Josie dropped her hand, her voice tinged with concern. “Did Garrus land a punch when you were sparring?”

“No, I....” Thane swallowed hard and took a step back. “I am fine.”

Josie studied the drell's face. He was damn good at hiding his emotions, making it difficult to beat him at poker. “If you say so,” Josie hesitated, realizing what had sparked his reaction.

She hurried around the corner, her heart thudding in her chest. Damn it, Josie, you can't fucking DO that shit anymore! she mentally scolded herself. Friends, you idiot. FRIENDS. A lump formed in her throat and she fumbled for her mug, bobbling it in her hands before losing her grip on it entirely. A green hand shot out from behind her and snagged it as soon as it started falling.

Thane reached around Josie's waist and set the mug on the counter. “It seems as though you are really not ok. What troubles you, Siha? You have listened with patient ears while I unburdened myself. Please, let me do the same for you.”

A moment passed before he softly added, “Like I used to.”

His dulcet tone clamped around Josie's heart like a vise and she squeezed her eyes shut, wondering how in the hell she was going to be able to do this. She loved Kaidan, damn it, she really did. And she loved Thane just as much. Stopping the Collectors would still take time but their end was quickly drawing near. Josie didn't know how she could be on a ship with someone who had a claim on her heart (albeit unknowingly) while another man with the same claim was light years away, eagerly returning her affection.

“I can't Thane. Not for this,” she whispered. She was afraid if she spoke any louder, her voice would crack and her tears would finally fall.

Gentle hands rested on her shoulders and a light sigh sounded from behind her. “Is it about Kaidan?”

Josie pinched her eyes shut even tighter, willing her tears to stay behind her closed lids. She clenched her jaw and tightened her grip on her mug, trying to keep from crying.

“I'm sorry you miss him,” Thane murmured, turning Josie around and wrapping his arms around her waist. He held her tightly against him and rested his cheek on top of her head. “I wish I could ease the pain in your heart.”

Josie let out a choked sob at his words. He thought she was upset because she missed Kaidan, not because her heart was being torn in two different directions. She didn't correct him – she couldn't. Instead, she curled tight against his chest and struggled to control her heartbreak. Her tears cascaded down one cheek and dripped onto her slippers. The other side of her face pressed against his leather undershirt, where the tears puddled for a bit before overflowing down her face.

Thane caressed her back, murmuring words of compassion, assuring her that everything would be fine, reminding her that if fate saw fit to reunite them now, after everything they had each been through, it was unlikely they would be kept apart for long. As he spoke, the pain in Josie's chest only grew until the pressure was so great she thought her heart would burst.

With a shuddering inhale, she finally stopped fighting it. Josie allowed herself to melt against Thane, taking from him every ounce of peace and comfort he offered. They stood there, wrapped in each other's arms for several minutes until her tears finally started to subside. Thane nuzzled his cheek against the top of her head, asking again if she was ok.

Josie nodded, afraid her voice would crack if she spoke. Thane stepped back, cradled Josie's face in his hands, and wiped her tears with his thumbs. “You can still talk to me,” he reminded her. There was no mistaking the concern in his voice or the worry that furrowed his brow. “Our relationship might have changed, but that doesn't mean I've stopped caring, Siha. I miss your visits.”

“Yeah, I know,” she whispered. “It's just... I mean...” She closed her eyes and cleared her throat. “I don't want things to look... wrong, you know?”

“Improper?” he asked.

“Yeah.”

Thane thought for a moment and looked around the deserted mess. “We could meet here, if you like. In the open. Or maybe the med bay? I'm sure Dr. Chakwas would welcome the company.”

“She probably would,” Josie chuckled. “I'm sorry, Thane.”

“Sorry? Why are you sorry?”

“I said I didn't want to lose your friendship but I've been shutting you out. That's a lot of what's got me upset. I miss our talks, too.” And so much more than that, she silently added. “I just...”

Josie sighed and turned back to the counter, wiping her face with the back of her hand. She opened the cupboard for a second mug, tea bags, and some honey, then set about making them each a cup of tea. “Yes, I miss Kaidan. That comes with the territory. But I feel guilty about avoiding you, too.”

She filled the mugs with water, draped the tea tags over the edges of the mugs, and placed them in the microwave. “I also wonder if I should tell Kaidan about us,” she added quietly. “It's like I'm keeping a secret from him and I don't want that.”

When Thane didn't answer, she turned to look at him. He leaned back against the counter and had crossed his arms over his chest. He cocked his head to the side and glanced away from her.

“Siha, you don't owe me an apology,” Thane finally said. “I have missed your company and our talks but I understand why you stopped coming to see me. I also understand why not telling Kaidan about us troubles you. Have you considered your options?”

Josie chuckled when the microwave chimed. She tossed the honey to Thane, grabbed their mugs and two spoons, and motioned for him to sit with her. She slid in the booth so she was facing the Main Battery – a habit she got into when he mentioned that he preferred to face the entrance – and he took his usual spot across from her. They took their turns sweetening their teas, each taking that first cautious sip at the same time.

“I either tell him or I don't. Those are the only options,” she smirked. “Not a whole lot of wiggle room there.”

“True,” he agreed, “but what I meant was whether you had truly weighed your options and what the possible outcomes might be.”

Josie pondered it for a few moments, spinning her spoon through her tea. She closed her eyes and drew in a shaky breath. The air was thick with the perfume of Thane's leather, his spicy cologne, and the mixture of their teas. Josie always drank a citrus blend and Thane developed a taste for Earl Grey. When he would stop by her quarters, that unique blend of fragrances lingered long after he left and always helped her sleep even though he wasn't there, holding her. Tears welled in her eyes again when she thought about how much she'd miss that when this was said and done.

“Siha?” Thane reached across the table and grasped Josie's hand.

“Sorry,” Josie cleared her throat and squeezed his hand. “It just smells really good in here right now.”

“Perhaps it's because Gardner isn't trying to prepare a meal,” Thane joked. “Although I don't understand why people say he can't cook. I think he does a fine job.”

“You weren't here when we had stock provisions,” Josie reminded him. “I had to pick a bunch of stuff up on Zakera Ward. But you're right – he is a decent mess cook.”

Thane smiled at her and leaned back in his seat, his slender, green fingers wrapped around his mug. “So, your options?”

“Yeah, well, if I don't tell him, there's the risk of him finding out from someone else. I mean, we were never obnoxious about it, but you know people know what we were doing. If he hears about it from one of our friends, he'll probably be furious because I didn't tell him.”

Josie exhaled heavily before continuing. “If I do tell him, I don't think he'll be mad because we were together. I mean, I thought he was dead, you know? But I don't know if he'll be jealous because we're together on this ship and on the battlefield and he can't be here. Maybe he won't care at all. Maybe he'll be angry because I didn't need to tell him.”

Thane didn't say a word. He sipped his tea and cocked his head, listening as she worked through what was bothering her. It was one of the things Josie fell in love with – he knew when to let her talk and when to speak up. On those rare occasions when Josie might try to bare her soul to one of her other friends, they would interject with something similar they'd gone through or offer advice when all she needed was an ear. She realized they meant well enough, but it was like Thane could read her mind, knowing exactly when and what to say to soothe her troubled heart.

“Do you trust his love for you?” Thane raised a brow and took another drink.

“Of course I do!” Josie exclaimed.

“Would telling him ease your guilt?”

“I don't know, Thane. I think so. But if it goes hard to port, then I'd feel guilty for opening my mouth. Out of the frying pan....” her voice trailed off and she played with the mug, spinning it in place on the table. “I'd be back to square one.”

“You have to do what's right for you, Siha. If this was my decision to make, I would tell him. He might be hurt or upset at first, but I believe his feelings for you would help him overcome that.”

The drell leaned forward and finished his tea. “My opinion is to be honest with him. If he loves you and if you love him, then this is something you should be able to work through together.”

His gaze softened and a smirk played at his lips when he added, “You could invite him along, if it would help.”

“Oh, God, that's all I'd need,” Josie groaned, running a hand down her face. “Miranda would have a shit fit, Illusive would be on my ass... not to mention the trouble he, Garrus, and Joker would get into. Tali would be right behind them, too, clucking like a mother hen. And I'm sure EDI and Mordin would have a plethora of things to say about the dog.”

A smile slowly spread across her face as she pictured it, though... Kaidan sitting next to Joker like he used to on the SR-1, each of them ribbing the other about who-knows-what but Kaidan sticking up for EDI when Joker would grease the lenses on her cameras again; Kaidan and Garrus making cracks about their scars and who the better shot would still be, then trying to set up a damn shooting range in the shuttle bay; Kaidan and Tali sitting in engineering, talking shop and comparing omni-tools; Kaidan and Josie, wrapped tightly in each other's arms as they drifted to sleep.

Her smile disappeared at that last thought. There was no way she could be so cruel to Thane. Did she want Kaidan with her? Absolutely, but never at the expense of someone else's feelings. She and Thane were just friends (right?) but that didn't mean she had to be callous like that.

“I think I will tell him,” she decided, nodding her head. “You're right. Honesty usually is the best policy and I know that if I don't tell him and he finds out from someone else, his reaction will be worse than if I'm up front from the start.”

“Good,” Thane beamed. He glanced at his wrist, checking the time on his omni-tool. “It is still early on the Citadel. You could call him now if you wanted to.”

“That's probably a good idea. Get it over with,” Josie agreed.

She stood and gathered their mugs, giving them a quick wash in the sink. When she finished, Thane was behind her, still smiling.

“And remember, Siha. I'm here for you. If you need to talk or just want some company, we can sit here.”

Josie walked over and hugged him, pressing her cheek against the familiar leather. She inhaled deeply and smiled, reveling in the soothing scent. “Thank you,” she murmured.

Thane leaned down and brushed his lips against her cheek. “Let me know how it goes,” he whispered.

He stepped back, squeezed her hands in his, and strode to Life Support.

Josie stood in the mess for a few more minutes, staring after Thane as he walked away. She was still ashamed about the way she'd been avoiding him, but at the same time she felt like a burden had been lifted from her shoulders now that she decided to tell Kaidan about him. Kaidan was an honorable man and valued honesty and trust above nearly everything else. If things between the two of them were going to work out, she had to show him he could trust her completely. No secrets.

Well, maybe one secret, she thought as she waited for the elevator. He doesn't need to know how I feel about Thane. That would complicate things.

As the elevator returned her to Deck 5 and her quarters, she played over in her head how the conversation might go. Josie didn't know why she bothered because things seldom turn out the way they do in one's head, especially potentially emotion-laden things like this. Still, it didn't hurt to be semi-prepared. She felt like she knew Kaidan well enough to guess how he might respond to certain things. That was before Virmire, though. Before everything that had happened to both of them. She knew deep down she was still the same person Kaidan knew; Kaidan said the same about himself, but was it really true?

Josie took a deep breath when she sat at her desk, calling up the vidcomm screen on her computer. Kaidan answered right away, his voice chipper and excited to hear from her. She smiled at his enthusiasm – he was like this every time she called, even if he wasn't feeling well. He told her he talked to John about some kind of martial arts class and he was thrilled about the idea and excited to incorporate it into Kaidan's therapy, so he started looking into some stuff. Judo and Taekwondo seemed best suited for the visually impaired but Brazilian Jiu Jistu really caught his interest.

“Who knows?” he chuckled. “I might try my hand at all of them.”

“Just please be careful,” she admonished him. “The last thing I need now is a phone call telling me you're laid up because you broke your leg.”

“Eh,” Kaidan grinned, waving a hand. “I'll be fine. What about you? How are things on your end?”

Josie swallowed hard. “They're ok. Same old, same old, you know?”

Kaidan picked up on something in her voice, though, and his smile disappeared in an instant. “Josie, what's wrong? You aren't hurt are you?”

“No,” she smiled ruefully.

“Then what is it?”

Josie sighed heavily and watched Kaidan on the screen. She couldn't ignore the concern on his face – his brow furrowed, his beautiful lips pulled down in a frown, and he was leaning forward fidgeting his hands through his hair and across his face.

She closed her eyes and hoped Kaidan wouldn't lose his mind with what she had to say.

Chapter Text

Kaidan waited while Josie worked up the courage to tell him what was on her mind. “Josie, I can tell you're upset and I doubt it's pre-mission jitters. You're trying to do the impossible again and I know how you are. If you don't want to talk to your crew, talk to me. You shouldn't keep stuff bottled up. Let me help. Please.”

Josie played with her fingers, picking at the nails while she struggled to say what needed to be said. She closed her eyes and prayed that this wasn't about to blow up in her face.

She started by explaining how she recruited Thane – the terminally-ill drell assassin she picked up on Illium who readily agreed to help her cause. Once on board, Josie sought him out, eager to get to know him better and learn more about his species. They worked well together on missions and she spent more and more time in Life Support. She talked about Kaidan, he would talk about his dead wife. One thing led to another...

Josie hung her head and sighed. “I ended it as soon as I got back on the ship, Kaidan.”

When he didn't answer right away, Josie looked at the vid screen to make sure he was still there. He was leaning back in his chair, but his jaw was clenching. The slightest hint of blue flared around him and she knew he wasn't happy.

“So he's still on your ship?” he asked. His voice was so quiet, Josie almost didn't hear it.

“Yes, Kaidan. I need his help.” She was going to add how well the two of them worked together on the battlefield but thought better of it. Kaidan was obviously angry and she didn't want to make things worse.

His nostrils flared and the tell-tale blue of his biotics shimmered around him. His jaw clenched and relaxed and his hands curled into fists on the arms of his chair. Josie had never seen Kaidan angry before. Even after Eden Prime, when he told Liara that he wasn't holding back with his power anymore, he still managed to keep a calm and cool outward appearance.

“Kaidan, we don't even visit each other anymore. He doesn't come to my quarters and I don't go to his,” she added. “If I need to talk to someone, he'll meet me in the mess hall.”

“Do you love him?” Again, Josie strained to hear him.

“Feelings were never a part of it,” Josie said, her heart hammering in her chest. “It was more like an arrangement. Friends with benefits kind of thing.”

“You didn't answer my question. Do. You. Love. Him?”

“Does it matter? I ended it, Kaidan.”

“It absolutely matters!” he finally yelled. “Joslynn, you were in a relationship with another man and you slept with me! Aside from that, that man is still on your damn ship!”

She had never heard Kaidan use her given name before and hearing the anger and pain in his voice broke her heart. “It wasn't a relationship, Kaidan. Not like that,” she started, tears running down her cheeks.

Kaidan pursed his lips and shook his head, turning away from the monitor a little. “So answer my question. Do you love him?”

Josie's face tightened and her sinuses burned. It would have been so easy to say, 'No', but she just knew Kaidan would be able to hear the lie in her voice. If she was going to be honest with him about Thane, she had to be honest about everything.

“Yes,” she whispered after a few more moments, staring at her lap.

“God damn it, Josie,” Kaidan seethed. “Why didn't you tell me?”

“Because there's nothing to tell, Kaidan. What Thane and I had was an arrangement, not a relationship. We weren't dating. We weren't boyfriend and girlfriend. It was just nice to have someone hold me after a rough mission or a long day. I could talk to him about anything and not have to worry about him thinking less of me. I value his insight and his advice and somehow all of that turned into a safe place of comfort. That's all. I don't understand why you're so mad at me for this!”

Josie's tears were falling harder now. She didn't want to fight – not now and definitely not like this, hundreds of light years apart – but being with Kaidan for those two days wasn't cheating to her because there was nothing to cheat on. Her own feelings for Thane didn't matter – if she had admitted what was in her heart, it would have changed things because he didn't want to commit to someone he'd be leaving behind. She knew he would have pushed her away if she confessed her emotions so she said nothing.

“Does he love you?”

“No.” Josie's answer was quick and emphatic, but in her heart, she knew Thane saw her as more than a friend, even if he never said it.

Kaidan cocked his head just a bit and raised his eyebrow. “Josie, come on.”

“Kaidan, I'm serious. Feelings were never part of it. Thane is dying and if I had told him how I felt, he would have stopped. He didn't want anyone to get attached because he doesn't have a lot of time left.” Her words said one thing, but in her mind, Josie replayed the look on Thane's face when she told him about Kaidan.

Kaidan pursed his lips, running his tongue over his teeth and shook his head. His hand constantly moved over his face – raking along his cheek, propping against his mouth, his lip resting on the webbing between his thumb and forefinger. He pinched the bridge of his nose, rubbed the back of his neck, and ran his fingers through his hair. Josie got the impression he wanted to say something but he either wasn't sure how to say it or he was afraid of making things worse.

When he finally spoke, his tone was clear and even. “I... I don't know what to say, Josie,” he said, shaking his head.

“If I had known you'd be this angry with me, I wouldn't have said anything,” Josie croaked. “I didn't want you finding out from someone else.”

“Oh, other people knew, too?” he challenged.

“Damn it, Kaidan,” she sighed. “You know how things are on a ship like this! We weren't obvious about it but Thane and I were a lot like how you and I were on the SR-1. Casual touches, knowing glances, teasing... that kind of thing.”

“And look at where we are now. We love each other but you say he doesn't love you,” Kaidan scoffed. “You've probably spent just as much time with him as you did with me.”

“Actually, I had more time with you. And you and I were constrained by regs. Thane and I had no such restrictions but we still kept it under wraps because we weren't supposed to get attached.”

Neither one said anything for a few minutes. Josie watched as Kaidan's jaw continued to flex and his fists curled and uncurled. His anger was further evidenced by the biotic aura that continued to roll across his body. She pressed her lips together and wondered what her honesty was going to cost her. There was little after Virmire that she truly regretted; this moment of candor was quickly becoming one of those things.

“I'm sorry, Kaidan,” she finally muttered. “I didn't mean to piss you off. I just... I didn't want there to be any secrets between us and I really felt guilty about it. I'll let you go so you can... do... whatever, I guess.”

“Josie, I'm not mad because you told me. I'm mad because, well, put yourself in my shoes. You say feelings weren't supposed to be involved then turn around and admit that you had some for this guy. On top of that, he's still on your ship, part of your crew, and probably is one of the people you always take along when you go to ground. What if the situation was reversed? Even if you didn't have feelings for this guy, you should have told me you were sleeping with someone when we were at the café.”

Kaidan's tone was a little softer but she could still hear the anger there. “I just... I need some time to process it, ok? I'm not mad that you were with someone else, I'm mad that you had feelings for that person but still came home with me and I'm really pissed that this guy is still working so closely with you. Can you understand that?”

“Yeah,” Josie nodded after a moment's pause. “If you had the same set up, I'd probably be a little unhappy, too.”

In the background, Shep barked and whined. Kaidan sighed and glanced over his shoulder. “Your timing sucks, Shep,” he chided the pup. Shep padded over to him and put her head on his lap. Kaidan scratched her ears and shook his head.

“Look, I need to go but I don't want you to go to bed thinking I hate you or anything. I'm just...” He sighed again and ran his fingers through his hair. “I just need some time to figure it out, ok?”

“Yeah,” Josie nodded. “I understand.”

“I believe you when you say you ended it, too,” he emphasized. “I trust you, Josie, but damn if I'm not pissed as hell right now.”

Kaidan closed his eyes and leaned his head back, taking several deep, calming breaths. Josie watched as the biotic halo surrounding him faded. His hands relaxed and he rolled his head, cracking his neck in several places.

Kaidan kissed his fingers and touched the vid screen. “I love you, Josie.”

“I love you, too,” she sniffed as the screen winked out.

Josie shuffled to her bed and flopped on her back, covering her eyes with her arm while she sobbed. If she had known how angry Kaidan would have gotten, she wouldn't have said anything. Not yet, anyway. She didn't know what kind of reaction to expect, but she certainly didn't see that coming. Now she wondered if she should have just kept her mouth shut. After all, what she and Thane had was supposed to be emotion-free.

She curled on her side and thought about how Thane reacted to her decision to end things. He seemed more upset by the news than she'd anticipated. Did he have feelings for her, too? Not that it mattered. Kaidan was back and Josie was determined to make things work with him. Still, the idea that Thane might feel more for her than friendship cranked her guilt up a few notches. Josie sighed and checked the time.

“Well, I might as well just stay up at this point,” she grumbled. No sense in trying to sleep now; not only was she wide awake, but she had a meeting with Miranda in 3 hours. She crawled out of bed and trudged to the shower, hoping the day wouldn't get any worse.

- - - - - - - - - - - -

Kaidan sat for several more minutes after the call ended. He needed to do something physical to work through this, so he pinged John and asked him to meet him at the gym. He grabbed his duffel bag from the closet, hooked Shep up to her harness, and headed out the door.

His pace was faster than normal and before long, Shep was panting. Kaidan needed to push himself right now, though. Physical exertion was the best way he'd found for himself to work through his anger while he was recovering. He hadn't needed to do much more than his usual workouts for months because he had moved beyond a lot of the anger that came with his situation.

Shep led her human down the busy sidewalk, taking care go guide him around other people. He was so wrapped up in his thoughts that when Shep jerked him back, he almost lost the grip on her lead. Kaidan's heart stopped when a skycar horn blared inches from his body. His dog did her job and kept him from walking into traffic. Shaken, he stepped aside and kneeled next to her, resting his forehead on hers, praising her for a job well done and promised her ice cream at the café when he finished at the gym.

Kaidan slowed down after that and held Shep's harness a little tighter. He took several deep breaths and thought back to his conversation with Josie, playing their words over and over in his mind, not really thinking much about the situation itself. He thought of other things he should have said or maybe done. He briefly wondered if he'd overreacted, but his anger rose in his chest again, squashing that idea flatter than a pancake.

When Kaidan arrived at the gym, he wasn't surprised to find John there waiting for him. “I could have picked you up, you know,” his friend admonished him.

“I needed the air.”

Kaidan's relationship with John was unique – they were matched up while Kaidan was still in the hospital. John was not only a psychologist, but he had a Master's in Exercise Physiology and was also an Alliance veteran. Hackett and Anderson had hand-picked him to work with Kaidan and nurse him back to health. It was more than a medical relationship – they were damn good friends, too. Kaidan could talk shop and knew he wouldn't have to translate the dozens of acronyms and lingo the Alliance was so fond of using. During his physical therapy, John had a way of turning the workout sessions into mental therapy sessions, too. He could always get Kaidan to open up about a lot of things. The man probably knew him better than anyone else in Kaidan's small circle of friends from the SR-1.

John watched as Kaidan rifled through his bag for some tape, then caught it deftly when it was tossed at him. “Josie called,” Kaidan said, making his way to his friend.

“Oh?” John started wrapping the adhesive around Kaidan's hands and knuckles. He had a feeling the call didn't go well and was the reason behind Kaidan's sudden need to beat the hell out of something.

“She was sleeping with someone, John.” Kaidan gripped his friend's elbow as he was lead to a punching bag. John placed Kaidan's hands on either side of it and stepped behind to support the weight.

“When she met you?” John asked, bracing himself for the first blow.

Kaidan swung with everything he had. His biotics flared around him and he connected with the bag so hard it sent John stumbling backward.

“Yes,” he huffed. “Some drell she'd picked up to help go after the Collectors. Sorry. Are you ok?”

“Yeah, I'm good. Just wasn't expecting that much power,” John chuckled and braced himself again. “I'm ready, so have at it, man. Don't hold back.”

Kaidan didn't. Every ounce of anger he felt at the situation came out with each jab and hook. He railed about how, even though Josie said it wasn't technically a relationship, he felt dirty about the whole thing. He couldn't wrap his head around the fact that she didn't see it as cheating. And don't even get him started on the fact that this guy was still on her ship, working closely with her.

He took his anger and frustration out on that bag for a long time, using new words to describe repeated pains. Sweat ran down his face and his shirt clung to his skin as he shifted his feet a little and kept swinging. John never said a word, just let his friend get everything off his chest. As Kaidan's energy and fury waned, his punches landed with less force and his emotions began to take over. He landed one final blow before dropping his head against the vinyl and breaking down. John let go of the bag and took a step back, waiting to see what Kaidan would do.

“He's got two perfectly functioning legs. He can see when her smile lights up the room. And he's there with her now, watching her back and protecting her like I fucking should be.” Kaidan let one more punch fly, backed with his biotics and connecting so solidly the bag nearly tore from the chain.

John was at his side in an instant, guiding Kaidan to where their duffels were. The blind amputee leaned back against the padded vinyl that covered the wall and slid down, propping his arms on his knees and resting his forehead on his arms. John sat across from him, giving Kaidan time to compose himself. Again, he didn't say a word, knowing Kaidan would talk again when he was ready.

“What if she regrets choosing me, John? What if she realizes she can do better? That she can have someone whole and unscarred and can take care of her the way she deserves?”

Kaidan let out a shuddering gasp as his tears fell to the floor. He had no qualms about crying in front of John and the gym was fairly empty. His thoughts went from why he was pissed to start with to suddenly feeling defective and inadequate. “Damn it, I thought I was past all of this,” he choked out. “I know I had some really bad days in the beginning, but I honest-to-God thought I'd gotten past it. Fuck!”

Kaidan slammed his fists into the floor and let his head fall back against the wall. When he'd first found out what Josie had been through, he hesitated to reach out because he was afraid of what she'd think of him. Never in a million years did he think they'd be able to pick up where they'd left off but their two days together were nothing short of amazing. Josie seemed perceptive and accepting of his limitations. That first night together, he laid in his bed, holding her in disbelief that she was so willing to still accept him for who he had become. It bolstered his confidence in a way none of his therapy ever could, confidence that disintegrated when she told him about Thane. Now he felt like he did when he was in the hospital recovering and wondering what good he could possibly be with one leg and no sight.

“Kaidan, this is normal,” John reminded him. His tone was soft and comforting but Kaidan only screwed his eyes shut and clenched his jaw. “I wasn't kidding when I told you there would still be good days and bad days.”

Kaidan didn't say anything. His tears fell silently, fists clenched at his sides, and his chest heaving from his recent exertion as he tried to find his center. He tried picturing soothing waves or calming rainfall but all he could see was Josie wrapped in some stranger's arms, laughing and happy in a way he was beginning to think he could never compete with. Shep crawled over to her human on her belly, whimpering a little as she nudged his hand with her nose. Kaidan scratched her ears and she sat up, licking his face and nuzzling against his cheek.

“Kaidan,” John murmured after several minutes, “do you really think if she felt like that she'd have gone home with you?”

“For a sympathy fuck, maybe. Take pity on the fucking cripple,” he spat, his tone dripping with venom. A heartbeat later, he sobbed again. “No, no... I didn't mean that. She's not like that.”

Shep continued to press her head against Kaidan's body, offering the comfort she was trained to give. Kaidan pressed his palms against his eyes as he wept. Was this really what had angered him? The thought that she might leave him for someone 'whole'? He swallowed and considered the possibility that he was subconsciously deflecting his own anger and insecurity onto her.

He heard John scuffle along the floor and take a seat next to him. “What do you think she'd say if she was here?”

“She'd tell me she was sorry for saying anything, that the last thing she wanted to do was piss me off or hurt me.” Kaidan wiped his nose on the back of his hand, then started picking at that tape around his knuckles. “She already said as much when she called.”

“Did she say why she told you?”

“She said she didn't want there to be any secrets. She was afraid that if I heard about her and this drell from someone else, I'd be even angrier than I am now.”

“Is she wrong?”

Kaidan thought about it for a moment. “No, probably not,” he admitted, still picking at the tape.

He sighed heavily, at a loss for what to do next. John seemed to read his mind when he asked, “So, what now?”

“I don't know, John. I really don't. I know it's hard for her to be on that ship, around someone she has feelings for. I can hear it in her voice. She said he was dying... do I let her go to be with him for whatever time he has left? Or do I listen to the strain in her voice because the choice she made is breaking her heart?”

“What does she want?”

“She says she loves me, so I'd guess at some point she wants to really get serious about this. And even that opens another can of worms. She always talked about having kids and I can't give that to her. ”

“Kaidan, this guy is a drell. I don't think he can, either,” John, chuckled.

“I honestly don't know,” Kaidan exclaimed. “I mean, the asari can mate with any damn body in the galaxy. Why can't there be another species out there who can make hybrid human babies, hm? And kids aside, he can do things for her I can't. I still have nightmares, migraines, phantom pain... I can't do fireworks, John, and I know how much she loves those.”

“You're forgetting about the things you can do, Kaidan,” John reminded him. “Or have you forgotten what it was like when you first moved into that apartment?”

“Exactly!” Kaidan exclaimed. “If we move in together, it will take me a while to learn where everything is. I'll be running into furniture and walls and doors and a seeing person wouldn't have that problem!”

“You're assuming she wouldn't just move in with you,” John pointed out.

Kaidan shot a glare in his friend's direction “Just fucking stop, alright? I fucking hate it when I want to be angry and you keep finding reasons why I shouldn't be.”

John chuckled, shook his head and let Kaidan have his moment. Kaidan clenched his jaw and worked his fists, still trying to wrap his head around everything. He believed Josie when she said she loved him. He believed her when she said she ended things. He knew that feeling like this was like a slap in the face to her honesty and loyalty to him. He wished he could just flip a switch and turn this self-doubt off.

“Kaidan, why don't we get out of here? I'll take you home, you can get showered up and I'll get us some take-out. We can watch some biotiball or something.”

Kaidan's head snapped in John's direction. “Biotiball,” he murmurmed. “Did I ever tell you about Butch and Ni'ala?”

“No,” John hesitated. “Those names don't sound familiar.”

“You talking about biotiball made me think of something. Gave me an idea.” Kaidan's voice trailed off as he thought about how he might be able to make everyone in this situation happy. “I just... I have to think about it a little bit.”

John raised an eyebrow. “An idea. Care to share?”

“No, not yet,” Kaidan said, pushing himself to his feet. “Your idea sounds good, though. My place, shower, food, game. That'll give me some time to mull this over. I might have to make a few phone calls, too.”

“Sure thing,” John said, helping Kaidan to his feet and grabbing their bags.

“Shep, on John,” Kaidan commanded his dog. Shep immediately moved so she and Kaidan were about five paces behind the other man. Kaidan climbed in the front seat of John's skycar and his friend made sure Shep was secure in the back seat. No one spoke during the ride back to Kaidan's place, leaving Kaidan plenty of time to think about his idea and pray he wouldn't lose Josie when he suggested it.

Chapter Text

Nearly a full day had passed since Josie made what she thought was a huge mistake, telling Kaidan about Thane. After their call, Josie sent him a message saying she wanted him to have whatever space he needed and to call her when he was ready. She was still reeling from his reaction but she couldn't entirely blame him. Had their situations been reversed, she'd have been pretty unhappy with the whole thing. She just had to trust Kaidan and have faith that they'd get through this.

After her meeting with Miranda and some weapons training with Jacob and Zaeed, Josie sat with Garrus in the Main Battery, listening as he regaled her with tales of 'reach and flexibility'. EDI's voice cut in, announcing they'd be at the derelict Reaper in about 6 hours.

“Oh, yay,” Josie mumbled. She stood and stretched, popping several vertebrae in her back. “We're that much closer to saving the galaxy again.”

“Well, the human parts, anyway,” Garrus chuckled. “Those Collectors don't seem to be too worried about turian settlements.”

“Because they fear the might of turian reach and flexibility,” Josie laughed.

“Hey, Garrus?” Tali's voice sounded off and Josie's ears perked up. “You might be getting a call from Kaidan.”

Garrus's mandibles twitched and he glanced at Josie. “Oh? What about?”

“Thane.”

Josie frowned and watched a confused look cross her friend's face, too.

“Why would he be asking about Thane?” Garrus asked.

There was a brief pause. “Is Shepard there with you?”

Josie quickly shook her head 'no' and Garrus nodded. “She was, but she left right before you called. Why was Kaidan asking about our resident assassin?”

“I don't know. I told him it wasn't my place to say anything but he said he just wanted to know about him. He asked me what he was like, if he got along with everyone... how he treated Shepard.” There was a slight pause and then, “ Kee'lah, I wouldn't want to be in her shoes right now,” she added sadly.

Josie bit her lip and turned toward the door. She wrapped her arms around her chest and played twenty questions in her mind, wondering why Kaidan would be asking their friends about Thane. Did he not believe that she'd ended things? Or was he maybe going to end their relationship and tell her to go back to Thane? She hugged herself tighter and prayed that wasn't it.

“What did you tell him?” Garrus asked.

“The truth,” came the simple response. “Thane is a good person and he really cares about Shepard. What else could I say? Look, I'm running some tests on the core, but I wanted to give you some warning.”

“Got it. Thanks, Tali.” Garrus placed a gentle hand on Josie's shoulder. “What should I tell him if he calls?”

“The truth,” Josie managed. “I don't know why he's asking, though. He knows about Thane and me. He knows I ended it.”

“I thought you weren't going to tell him.” Garrus leaned against the control panel and watched his friend closely, curious about her change of heart.

“I had a crisis of conscience. I don't want there to be secrets between us.”

“How did he take it?”

“Not well,” she admitted, glancing over her shoulder. “He was pissed because I have feelings for Thane but I still slept with him. I see his point, I guess, but Garrus, you should have seen how angry he was.”

“He was glowing?”

“He was glowing.”

Garrus sighed as his monitor pinged. “You sure you want me to do this?” he asked, gesturing to his computer.

“Yes,” Josie said, walking toward the door. “Tell him the truth. I meant it when I said 'no secrets'.”

“You're the boss,” Garrus said. He waited until the doors hissed shut before answering the call.

“Kaidan! I didn't expect to hear from you. Didn't Josie answer in her room? She isn't with me.” The turian hoped his half-truth was convincing. Judging from what he'd seen when he saw him last, Garrus was fairly certain Kaidan would pick up on any tension in his voice.

“I'm not looking for Josie,” Kaidan said bluntly. “I need to talk to you. It's about that drell. Thane.”

Garrus took a deep breath before answering. “I don't think it's my place to talk about it.”

“You know, that's almost word-for-word what Tali said,” Kaidan remarked bitterly. “If I didn't know better, I'd think you guys all got together and worked out some story to feed me.”

“Kaidan, I don't know what you're looking for,” Garrus started.

“I just want information about him. I already know that he and Josie had a thing. Arrangement. Whatever. I want to know what you think of him.”

“Why?”

Garrus could hear Kaidan take a few breaths before he answered. “I can't say. And I'm going to ask that you not tell Josie I called.”

“All right,” Garrus said slowly. “What do you want to know?”

- - - - - - - - - - -

Josie didn't know how much time she'd have while Garrus was talking to Kaidan. She hurried to the cockpit, trying not to think about why he'd be calling their friends for information about her former lover – a phrase that gripped her heart like an icy hand, bent on wrenching it from her chest without a second thought. The only thing that made sense was that Kaidan wanted to make sure Thane was good enough for her so he could end their relationship and send Josie back to Thane. As much as she missed the assassin, she didn't want to lose Kaidan. Not again.

“Joker,” she called as she neared the pilot's leather seat, “listen, you're probably going to get a call...”

“From Kaidan? Already happened. Don't worry,” he added, putting his hands up when he saw the scowl on Josie's face. “I know I tease Thane, but he's really an ok guy and I told Kaidan as much.”

“Oh. You did?” Josie stopped short and narrowed her eyes.

“Yes, I did. You can ask EDI. I'm sure she recorded the whole damn conversation.”

“While I was, in fact, listening, I did not record the conversation,” the AI intoned. “It seemed to be a personal matter. I do have some discretion, Mr. Moreau.” After a pause, she added, “His comments about Thane were positive, Shepard.”

“Oh. Well, thanks.” Josie turned to walk off the bridge when Joker called after her.

“Don't you want to know specifics?”

“Unless he told you why he wanted to know, then no. He called Tali and Garrus, too, and I have no idea why and it's bugging the hell out of me.”

“Well, I'd want to know,” Joker muttered as Josie hurried away.

Josie pondered her next stop. She could go to her quarters, call Kaidan, and demand an explanation. Why on earth would Kaidan want to know about Thane? He said he believed her and she was pretty sure if he didn't, she'd have known. Was he going to end things and tell her to go back to Thane? That seemed unlikely, too, but still possible. Or maybe he was just making sure Josie wouldn't have any further issues with the drell after ending their arrangement. Maybe he was afraid Thane might turn into some creepy stalker or something. Josie chuckled and shook her head at that idea – she definitely felt sorry for anyone Thane was ever gunning for, but she knew Thane well enough to know that he would respect their new boundaries. Getting answers from Kaidan wasn't really an option, though – he probably told her friends to not let her know he'd called them. If she messaged him with questions of her own, it might cause problems for Garrus, Tali, and Joker and she didn't want that.

She stepped onto the elevator when her eyes suddenly widened. What if he called Thane next? She pressed the button for Deck 3, cursing that it didn't move any faster.

Josie's mind raced - what if he threatened the drell in some way? Josie wouldn't stand for that – she loved Kaidan, yes, but if he tried to intimidate Thane somehow, there would be hell to pay. It would mean that he wasn't really convinced things were done between them. It would mean he didn't trust her. It would mean that he didn't trust Thane which meant he didn't trust her judgment in her own people.

By the time the elevator hissed open, Josie managed to work herself into a near frenzy. She burst into Life Support and breathlessly asked, “Has Kaidan called you?”

Thane stood, surprise evident on his face. “Siha? No, no one has called me. Why? What's wrong?”

Josie started pacing, wringing her hands nervously as she explained what had happened – Kaidan's calls to Tali, Garrus, and Joker, all asking about him. She laid out her fears about Kaidan not really believing her, of him maybe threatening Thane, or, worst of all, him ending things between the two of them because he couldn't deal with Thane and Josie still working together.

Thane sat on the edge of his table as Josie vented her fear and frustration. When she finished, she continued to pace, running her hands through her hair. “Do you wish me to go?” he murmured.

“What? No! Why would I want you to leave?” Josie was incredulous. “Thane, I need you. You and I have this... this synergy on the battlefield. And when Garrus is in the mix, we're damn near unstoppable. And I like having you around.” She offered Thane a small smile.

“I don't want to cause a problem with Kaidan.”

“I know, but I don't even know what he wants. I don't know why he called asking about you. And if he hasn't called you by now, he probably won't. Maybe he was just curious. I don't fucking know.”

Josie leaned against the wall and sighed in frustration. She hated not knowing and she hated that there was no safe way for her to find out, not without getting her friends into trouble.

Thane pushed himself off the table and walked toward her, his hands clasped behind his back. “Siha, what you have with Kaidan is important...”

“What you're helping me do is important, too, Thane,” she interrupted.

Thane sighed and tucked a strand of auburn hair behind her ears. “It seems as though I am causing you nothing but pain, Siha. Perhaps I should go.”

“Thane, I swear on all that is holy if you leave I will never forgive you,” Josie said angrily. “I need you in this fight. I wasn't even supposed to know he called anyone. I only came here because I thought he might call you, too. If you leave me now...” A lone tear slipped down her cheek as she considered going on without Thane on her ship. The idea crushed her heart even further.

A sad smile tugged at the drell's lips as brushed her cheek. “I don't want to be a problem for you or Kaidan,” he murmured. “But if you truly want me to stay, then I will.”

Josie wrapped her arms around Thane's waist and pressed her head against his chest. “If you don't change your mind about the surgery, then I'm already going to lose you too soon,” she whispered. “I need you. Please.”

“My time is short, Siha, but what I have left is yours. I promise.” Thane rested his cheek on the top of her head. “I'm sorry I upset you.”

“It's ok,” she sniffled. “I shouldn't have gotten that worked up. I'm sure Kaidan will talk to me when he's ready. Like I said, I don't even think I'm supposed to know he called, so I guess that's how I'll have to try and act.”

“Shepard, Miranda is requesting you meet her in the conference room to finalize the plan to obtain the IFF.” The AI sounded almost hesitant, like she didn't want to interrupt.

“Thanks, EDI. I'm on my way.” She stepped back from Thane and poked him in the chest.

“You'll have my back on this one, right?”

Thane chuckled and gripped her fingers, brushing his lips across her knuckles. “Always,” he murmured.

Chapter Text

Josie sat in the mess hall with her hands wrapped around a mug of tea. She glanced at the med bay window to the doors of the AI core where Legion – the geth they picked up on the Reaper corpse – was currently residing. She sighed and shook her head, amazed at the way the mission had turned out.

Getting the IFF was no small task – there were hundreds of Reaper enemies ranging from easy-to-dismantle husks to the larger and more dangerous Abominations and Scions. Along the way, they discovered a geth platform that, to everyone's shock, helped them out several times. Husks swarmed over it at the mass effect core, rendering it useless during the fight to get to the IFF. Josie, Garrus, and Thane won out, though, and they secured the IFF and the geth, and got off the Reaper as it plummeted through the atmosphere. She smiled at the memory of that low-gravity jump, easily clearing the tens of feet from the Reaper to the Normandy's airlock. Once in a while, her job was a lot of fun.

Once they were back on the ship, though, Thane pointed out the blood running down her arm and pooling at her feet. One of the husks landed a lucky blow, getting its clawed hand through her armor at just the right spot. She felt the sting when it happened, but because of the adrenaline in her system, she didn't realize how bad it was. The husk damaged her armor and it couldn't administer any medi-gel which would have stopped the blood loss. As soon as she saw the blood, it was like someone had flipped a switch and the adrenaline that kept her going during the battle evaporated. She moved toward the elevator to get to the med bay but didn't make it past the galaxy map. Thane caught her before she hit the floor and carried her to deck 3.

Josie's fainting spell had only lasted a few minutes and Dr. Chakwas had her patched up quickly – the wound was deep, but nothing was permanently damaged. When Chakwas finished (and rattled of a list of instructions she knew Josie would ignore), Josie met with the other members of the crew for a debrief.

Needless to say, most of the crew was in an uproar about the geth on the ship. Joker and Miranda worried about it hacking the ship's systems (which EDI assured them wouldn't happen); Miranda also demanded it be turned over to Cerberus for research; Jack wanted to use it for target practice (an idea Grunt seconded); Tali was livid it was on the ship in the first place and demanded it be destroyed (an idea Jacob seconded). Garrus and Thane had voiced their objections while they were still on the Reaper and now stood off to the side, watching as Josie's frustration quickly mounted.

“All right, enough,” she bellowed. “I hear every single one of you but this isn't like the other geth we've all seen and heard about. This one helped us on that Reaper. If it meant me or any of you any kind of harm, it's had plenty of opportunities to do so. I'm not making any decisions until I talk to it. Your concerns are all noted and will now be summarily ignored. You're all dismissed.”

Once the room was clear, she spoke with Illusive, who accepted Josie's decision to talk to the geth first and reminded her of the great things that might come with the study of an intact platform. He told her to get the crew some rest because things would be racing along now that they could get through the Omega-4 relay. She agreed – it seemed like everyone's loose ends had been taken care of and they could now focus completely on stopping the Collectors.

She next returned to the med bay and talked to the geth. After asking it some very pointed questions, she decided it was too valuable an asset to turn over to Cerberus and invited it to join her team. EDI suggested the name 'Legion', which the platform agreed was adequate. Josie warned it to steer clear of Tali for now. Curiously, it couldn't give her an answer as to why it was wearing her armor. If she hadn't known better, Josie would have guessed the AI was actually embarrassed about it.

The sound of other crew members coming into the mess brought Josie back to the present. She reached her arms over head and stretched, wincing as the stitches in her shoulder strained. Her omni-tool pinged, letting her know she missed a call from Kaidan. She finished her tea and hurried to her quarters, eager to talk to him. They hadn't spoken since she told him about Thane and even though she was able to push her fears aside for the sake of the mission, she was still worried about why Kaidan had called their friends, interrogating them about Thane.

“Hey,” she said softly when his face filled her screen. “I'm glad you called.”

“I'm glad you called back.” The relief in his voice was palpable. “How did it go?”

Josie gave him the short version – they got the IFF, picked up a geth, explained the difference between the geth and the heretics, glossed over her injury...

“Wait, wait, back up. You've got a geth on your ship and you've got stitches?” Kaidan leaned back in his chair, not bothering to hide his irritation and concern. “You didn't forget about Eden Prime, did you? Or Saren? And how many stitches?”

“One thing at a time. Seven stitches and I'll live but with a nifty new scar for you to check out. And you apparently weren't listening when I explained that what we fought back then were Heretics, not true geth.”

“Oh, and that makes it better?”

“Kaidan, look, Legion helped us. And it's wearing part of my old armor. I can't explain why, but I just know I can trust it. Have a little faith in me, hm?”

Her lover let out a deep breath. “You're right. I'm sorry. You made a lot of good calls on the SR-1 and you're obviously doing the same thing again. So, just your shoulder? Nothing else?”

“Eh, the usual bumps and bruises,” she smiled. “You know how it goes.”

“Yeah, I do.” Kaidan let out an anxious laugh and rubbed the back of his neck.

Josie picked up on his sudden nervousness. He cleared his throat and looked at his feet, his hands fidgeting against each other.

“Kaidan, what is it?” Josie fought to keep her voice calm. Their conversation had been fine so far – no hint that Kaidan was still angry or even upset. The fact that he was now suddenly nervous worried her and made her wonder what he was thinking.

“When will you be on the Citadel again?” His voice was shy and quiet, much like it was when he first spoke to her on the SR-1

“We're on our way now. We'll probably dock in about 4 days and we'll be there for at least a week.”

“Really? That's a lot of downtime, not that I'm complaining,” he smirked.

“The magnetosphere on that planet was stronger than EDI expected and it damaged quite a few systems. It'll take some time to get things fixed and even that depends on whether or not the parts are available.”

The smile on Kaidan's face went from ear to ear. “Good, good. I, uh, I have something I want to run by you, but it isn't something I want talk about over vidcomm.” Another nervous rub to the back of his neck. “Promise you'll come see me as soon as you can?”

“Kaidan, why don't you just tell me what's going on?” Josie was desperate for some answers. Kaidan sounded happy enough, but in the back of her mind, she was still worried he might break things off. “You were so angry when we talked before. I mean, I get it, but still...” Her voice trailed off as she contemplated telling him she knew he'd interrogated their friends.

Kaidan sighed and shook his head. “Because it's really personal, Josie. I just think it would be better to tell you face-to-face.”

Worry clouded his handsome features and he was still rubbing the back of his neck. Whatever he had to say must be a big deal to him. Josie remembered how nervous and scared she was to tell Kaidan about Thane and it had carried over in her tone and body language. Whatever he had to say was important to him; important enough for him to be uneasy about talking to her.

“All right,” she smiled, swallowing the lump in her throat. “I promise. As soon as we dock, I'll come and see you first thing.”

“Good.” Another smile, one that reached his eyes and crinkled the corners. God, how Josie loved that smile. She reached out and traced along his image, outlining his lips with her fingers. She hoped she wasn't about to lose it; she didn't know what she'd do if she never saw that smile again.

Kaidan changed the subject, asking more questions about the mission and making sure she had no other injuries. He also mentioned finding someone to teach him Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu – an older woman who had studied the discipline for decades and who had spent time in human colonies where most modern medical innovations weren't readily available. The excitement in his voice when he added that this instructor worked with blind people in the past made Josie's heart swell.

He continued to explain that she was on earth, visiting family, and when she finished, she would travel to the Citadel to meet with him. They'd had a few vid-chats and things seemed promising. Josie smiled as he spoke, watching his hands fly through the air, punctuating his words. Again with the smile, too, lighting up his entire face. She remembered how he'd get like this on the SR-1, talking about the different things he liked – biotiball, poker, his favorite movies – and she wondered if it was possible to love him even more.

The call ended with Josie promising again to let him know the instant the Normandy docked. She pinged EDI and asked her to get them to the Citadel at fast as possible. She stopped by Engineering, the Main Battery, and the cockpit to let her friends know what Kaidan had said. All of them were curious, too, about what Kaidan wanted to discuss and all of them assured her they believed everything would be fine.

Her last stop was Life Support. The door hissed open and Josie poked her head in. “Thane? You have a minute?”

“What time I have left is yours to take, Siha.” Thane met her at the door with a concerned look. “How is your shoulder?”

“It stings. Doc kept the stitches small so the scar won't be so obvious. One more for the collection, I suppose.” Josie turned to the mess and flopped in her usual spot facing the Battery. Thane took his customary seat across from her.

“Kaidan wants to talk when we dock. He wouldn't tell me why though. Said it had to be face-to-face.” Josie picked at a spot on the table. “The way he sounded I don't think it'll be a bad conversation, but...”

“You're mentally preparing for the worst,” Thane finished. He leaned forward and clasped his hands together on the table. “I do not believe you have anything to worry about, Siha.”

Josie gave him an optimistic smile. “I hope you're right.”

She reached out, wrapped her hand around his, and gave a gentle squeeze.

Chapter Text

EDI and Joker pushed the ship as fast as they dared and three days later, they docked just outside of Zakera Ward. Josie reminded everyone to check the duty rosters and let them know as long as they weren't working, they were to (carefully) enjoy themselves as long as they checked-in every 12 hours. She coordinated the delivery of the parts they needed for the engine and some more armor upgrades, then hailed a skycab, eager to see Kaidan again.

He met her at the door of his apartment, pulled her into a crushing embrace and whispered how much he missed her and was thankful she was ok. He ushered her inside, got her something to drink, and sat across the table from her.

“Down to business, huh?” she joked.

“I don't want this to wait,” he smiled. “You said no secrets, and this is something you have to know about.”

He took a few moments to gather his thoughts, then started. “I know how hard it was for you to tell me about you and Thane,” Kaidan murmured, grasping her hand in his. He ran his thumb over her knuckles, trying to find the courage to say what he needed to tell her. “And yes, I was angry. Furious. I met with John and I talked it out and that discussion gave me an idea.”

Kaidan blinked and looked away for a moment. Josie could see he was struggling to get whatever was bothering him off his chest. She pulled his hands toward her and kissed his knuckles. “Take your time, Kaidan. I'm not going anywhere.”

“Yeah,” he chuckled. “This was so much easier in my head.” A deep breath, and another. “Before I tell you my idea, I have to tell you something about me, about my past, ok? So, just, please, bear with me.

“After BAaT, things were ok at home for about a month. Then it all caught up with me and not in a good way. The way we'd all been treated, my killing someone, the fact that I lost Rahna to all of it, it just... it hit me like a ton of bricks and all at once.”

Kaidan stood abruptly and started pacing. Josie watched as his hands moved from his hair to the back of his neck to the inside of his pockets. He put his hands on his hips, then crossed his arms over his chest. Her heart ached and she wished she could give him the courage to just say what was on his mind. Instead, she sat and waited for him to continue.

“I lashed out. I fought with my parents about everything. I was angry all. The. Time. Mom wanted to get me counseling, Dad said I needed to tough it out. I wound up leaving and getting a place in Vancouver. The Alliance gave us a nice chunk of change to keep quiet about the whole thing, so I used those funds to get an apartment.

“I bounced from job to job and started... exploring different things.”

“Kaidan,” Josie started.

“No, no, not red sand or other drugs, if that's what you're thinking,” Kaidan waved his hand. “No, I mean... shit... I mean things about me. Personally. Sexually.”

Josie didn't say a word. She didn't think she'd be able. He was telling her things she never would have thought Kaidan Alenko would say. He was always so controlled about every aspect of his life; even answering a question meant he would wait for a few seconds to consider how to word his answer. To hear him talk about this loss of control was surprising. She didn't say a word, though. She could see by his behavior that this was incredibly hard for him to do and she didn't want him to think she was put off by what he was telling her.

Kaidan paced faster, his hands moving through the air as he explained this part of him that no one knew of. “After tearing through about 6 jobs in as many weeks, I finally wound up with a job in a dungeon.”

“Wait, a dungeon? Like, 'we have ways of making you talk'?”

“No,” Kaidan laughed. “Not quite like that. I mean, you could do that kind of roleplay there if you wanted to, but when I say 'dungeon', I mean a BDSM place.”

He stopped pacing and turned toward Josie just a bit. Josie was thankful Kaidan couldn't see the look of shock on her face. After a few moments, she realized he was listening for some kind of reaction. “BDSM. Like, whips and chains? Whip me, beat me, make me bleed?”

“In a nutshell,” he admitted. “I mean, the lifestyle is a lot more complicated than that. Not everyone is into pain. Not everyone is into the whips and chains. It's about the illusion of power and control. It seems counter-intuitive, but a good Dom understands that they have no control at all, there's just an illusion of control. A Dom that has to have control is just a guy with control issues and a sub that has to have control will never truly submit. It's about surrender. It is absolutely about trust. One word from the sub and everything – and I mean everything - stops. Period. And the aftercare is just as important. You can't finish a session and leave a sub there to fend for themselves.”

He took a deep breath before plowing ahead. “I started as a greeter – worked the desk, scheduled sessions, helped clean the rooms and the gear, got to know the regulars. After a few months, some of them were asking if I was available for sessions. The couple that ran the place asked if I'd be interested in learning how to be a proper Dom. I agreed.

“Master Reynolds made extra time to work with me and once I got it, once I understood that even though it looked like I had all the power but really didn't, it was like an epiphany. All of the shit that I'd had bottled up about BAaT and Vyrnnus and Rahna just... vanished.

“It was liberating and therapeutic, Josie.” The pacing resumed. “There is a certain release with being a Dom. A freedom to control and exert one's self on another. Every sub has a safe word, though, hard and soft limits. There are rules about what can and can't be done and it's all designed to keep everyone safe but still let them have fun.

“I got to know one of the couples that frequented the place – Butch and Ni'ala. Butch was a human male, Ni'ala was an asari. A retired biotiball player, actually. We got to be pretty good friends and after a few months, Butch asked if I wanted to be a part of their relationship.”

“Like a threesome?” Josie asked. She was overwhelmed by what Kaidan was telling her and the information was coming faster than her brain could process or accept. She knew when he finished his story, she'd have to take a few minutes to wrap her head around it.

“Not exactly,” Kaidan said. He sighed and made his way back to the chair and sat. “Have you every heard of a poly relationship?”

“Uh, no, I can't say I have.”

“A typical relationship is two people, right? Well, poly just means more than two.”

“So, what? You see other people? An open relationship?” Josie was really struggling with all of this. This wasn't the Kaidan she knew at all.

“No, not exactly. I mean, some people view poly as an open relationship. In this case, Butch, Ni'ala, and I were committed to each other. We didn't see other people outside of our threesome.”

Kaidan reached across the table, searching for Josie's hands. She grasped his fingers in hers and squeezed, letting him know she was still there and still listening.

“So, you're bi?” she asked.

“I've had sex with other men, yes. I didn't love them, though. I cared about Butch a great deal, but it wasn't love. I didn't love Ni'ala, either. I would have been upset if anything happened to them and when it ended, it took some time to get over it.”

Josie never saw that admission coming. She stared at Kaidan's face, surprised that she didn't feel some strong negative emotion – anger, disgust, revulsion. Instead, there was admiration because of the courage it took for him to tell her. And approval because she wasn't close-minded and actually found the idea of Kaidan as a Dom arousing. And love, because he was sharing this with her instead of keeping it bottled up. No secrets, right?

She watched as Kaidan stared at where their hands were joined, his face looking more relaxed than when the conversation started. He took a deep breath and asked, “Josie, what if you didn't have to choose?”

Josie leaned back in her chair, jaw agape in disbelief. “What do you mean, 'what if I didn't have to choose'?”

“Just that. What if you could have both Thane and me?”

Josie was incredulous. She pulled her hands away, stood, and took her turn to pace. Kaidan “straight-laced, white-knight, 'I don't do that kind of thing lightly'” Alenko was suddenly so much more complex and complicated than she'd ever dreamed.

“I... Jesus, Kaidan, I don't know. I mean, the first thing I'm thinking is a conversation we had on the SR-1. You and Liara confronted me in the comms room, remember? You made me choose and when I joked about having both of you, you got pissed and stormed off.” Josie let out a shaky breath. “I had to explain to Liara – who still hasn't quite forgiven me, either – that I wasn't interested in her like that. I chased after you, instead. You remember that?”

“I do,” he said quietly. “What do you think you'd have thought of me back then if you knew? What would your reaction have been if I had agreed to that?”

Suddenly it hit her – the reason he had been so nervous, why he wanted to do this in person and not over a call. He was afraid that sharing this part of him would chase her away, the he might lose her to his honesty. She quickly sat back down and grabbed his hands. “I won't lie, it would have been eye-opening.”

“To say the least, I'll bet,” he murmured. “The reason I wouldn't agree to share you with Liara was because I wasn't ready for you to know about that part of me. That and I really wasn't into Liara like that. I mean, she's attractive enough but I wasn't into her. Not like I was into you. And I don't know that Liara was interested in me, either. A poly relationship needs to be agreeable to all parties involved.”

He smiled and ran his fingers over her knuckles. “I know what my reputation is – Dudley Do-Right, always taking the moral high ground. I was so afraid that if you knew, I might not ever stand a chance with you.”

Kaidan tightened his grip on her hands. “I'm still afraid, Josie.”

“Kaidan, you aren't going to lose me because of how you worked through your issues,” she assured him.

“But what about my offer?” he asked. “What if you don't have to choose?”

“Kaidan, I... shit, I don't know,” Josie stood and started pacing again. “I mean, you don't know Thane, so how do you know....”

Her voice trailed off as realization dawned on her. “This is why you called them, isn't it?” This is why you were asking Tali, Garrus, and Joker for information about Thane.”

“You weren't supposed to know I called,” he sighed, running his fingers through his hair, “but yes. It's why I called them. I know you've got sound judgment when it comes to other people but I just... I had to hear it from people I trust. People who are thinking with their head and not their heart, which is why I didn't ask you. Well, that and it would have just been weird if I'd asked you about him,” he chuckled.

Josie laughed, too. “You're probably right. So, if I agree to this, how's it work? Like, I'm with you one week and Thane the next?”

“Some people do that, but it isn't what I'm thinking. I'm talking about an actual relationship between all three of us. Meaning I get to know Thane, too.”

Josie sat back down and considered his offer. There was one more thing she had to know, though, before she made a decision. “Why, Kaidan? Why are you doing this?”

“Because I want you to be happy. Because I don't want to lose you.” There was a sadness in his voice that broke Josie's heart. She reached across the table and grasped his hands again.

“Kaidan you aren't going to lose me.”

Kaidan sighed again and looked away. “Josie, look at me. I'm broken. Thane isn't. There's so much he can do...”

Josie frowned and gave him a hard stare. “So, what? You think I'm lying about my feelings? Do you think I came home with you for... for... what, a sympathy fuck or something?”

Kaidan hung his head, folded his hands in his lap, and sighed. “I'm sorry,” he offered, his voice small.

Josie stood and moved around the table to Kaidan. She wiggled her way between him and the table and sat in his lap, straddling his legs. She cradled his face in her hands and showered kisses over his face. “Kaidan James Alenko, you stop this right now,” she said gently. “This isn't a competition. I told you I loved you and that I wasn't going anywhere, and I meant it.”

“I'm sorry,” he murmured. “I just... when you told me about Thane, all of the insecurities I dealt with before came back. Stuff I thought I'd gotten over a long time ago.”

“That's going to happen. Even if Thane wasn't involved in any way, I have a feeling you'd still have days where you'd wonder why I was with you and not with someone you think is 'whole and complete'.”

“John said he was surprised this didn't happen sooner,” Kaidan admitted.

Josie leaned back a little and let out a thoughtful breath. “Well, let me tell you what I think, Commander. This bump you have in your hair?” She ran her fingers through it, teasing the thick waves around her fingers. “You have no idea how much I wanted to play with it when we were on the SR-1. Run my fingers through it just like this. And now it's got this dead-sexy white patch in it. I love it.”

A smile tugged at the corner of Kaidan's mouth as Josie continued. “You've got these amazing cheekbones and a strong jaw and your smile is perfection, with the way it lights up your face and crinkles your eyes. And your lips?”

Josie ran her thumb along his lower lip and her voice took on a husky tone. “I could spend hours and hours kissing them.”

She leaned forward and brushed her lips across his, nibbling on his lower lip. “Then there's this dimple in your chin. And lower is this spot on your neck that when I do this...”

Josie lightly traced her tongue along the underside of Kaidan's jaw, making him gasp. “...you make the most wonderful sound.”

She grabbed the bottom of Kaidan's shirt and lifted it over his head. Kaidan swallowed hard and gripped the armrests as Josie continued to spell out how complete she thought he was.

Her fingers ran over his shoulders and down his arms. “These biceps, the way they flex when you move. And your chest...” Gentle fingertips teased along the edges of his chest, skirting over hardened nipples. “...the way your pecs ripple, your abs...” Her fingers traced along the sharp edges of Kaidan's six-pack. “...the way they contract when I do something like this...”

Her lips found his neck again and the kissed and sucked on the hollow of his throat. Kaidan's head fell back and a lustful moan breathed past his lips. “Josie,” he groaned.

“Mmm. I'm not done yet.” Her hands deftly unbuttoned his pants and she shifted enough to make room for her hand.

“Then there's this sexy line of hair,” her fingers teased through the downy tuft the started at his belly button and ran to the base of his shaft, “that just screams for me to trace it.” She ran her fingers through said hair, smiling at the low growl she heard deep in Kaidan's chest.

Another gasp shot from Kaidan's mouth when Josie's hand brushed against his hardening cock. “And let's talk about these legs, hm?”

She reached behind her and carefully kneaded his thighs. “The way they tighten and stretch is does... things to me.”

“Things?” Kaidan breathed, opening his eyes.

“Mm hmm. Things.” Josie's hands moved back to his stomach. “Things that make me want to do things to you. Things like this...”

Josie gripped Kaidan's cock and gently squeezed, sliding back on his legs so she could lean forward to catch a drop of pre-cum glistening on the tip. His hips bucked against her hand and his head fell back again, her name a lustful moan on his lips.

Josie slipped off his lap and knelt on the floor between his knees. She kissed his navel, dipping her tongue in the divot, then kissed down the trail to his cock. He raised his hips enough for her to shift his pants enough to free his cock. She licked her lips, and wrapped her mouth around his length as far down as she could go. Her head bobbed up and down a couple of times, each pass taking more of him into her mouth.

Kaidan gripped the armrests so tightly his knuckles turned white. “Fuck, Josie,” he moaned, thrusting against her. His fingers tangled in her hair and he gripped her head as it moved up and down, his hips meeting her movements.

She worked his entire cock into her mouth and held it there, her nose pressed against the soft hair at the base, humming as her fingers carefully fondled his sac. She shifted her weight on her knees, wrapped a hand around the base, and began working him in earnest.

Her hand followed her mouth up and down his throbbing member, massaging as she went. Her tongue swirled around the velvety skin and with each pass, dipped inside his slit, lapping up the leaking pre-cum.

Kaidan hissed when Josie slipped his cock out of her mouth and licked the shaft up and down, gently sucking one of his balls into her mouth, swirling the smooth globe gently around her tongue. She glided along the length of his cock, teasing around the sensitive underside, to the tip, and devoured him again, working his entire length in her mouth until it hit the back of her throat. Kaidan's hips bucked again and Josie felt his cock get stiffer. His balls tightened and he cried her name as he pushed her head against his hips. His cock pulsed and twitched, his seed hitting the back of her throat.

Josie swallowed every drop, licking her lips and kissing her way back up Kaidan's torso. He gripped her face on either side and kissed her as though his very life depended on it. “Did you like that?” she breathed, resting her forehead on his.

“Yes,” he panted, “very much.”

“So, the next time you think you're inadequate or incomplete, remember this.” Josie smiled and traced a finger along his jaw.

Kaidan swallowed hard and nodded. Josie carefully tucked his spent member back inside his pants and settled herself back in his lap, her legs dangling over the arm of the chair, and rested her head on his shoulder. He nestled his cheek against the top of her head and traced lazy patterns along her back. “Thank you,” he murmured after a few moments.

“Mm hmm,” she hummed. Josie closed her eyes and thought about everything Kaidan had told her. She didn't think any less of him for any of it and was happy he was comfortable enough around her to tell her. No secrets, she thought to herself. Her mind soon wandered to Thane, and what he might think of all of this.

“Kaidan, are you sure you want to do this?” Josie finally picked her head up and looked at Kaidan. His gaze turned in her direction and a tiny smile tugged at his lips.

“Yes, I am. I want you to be happy.”

“What if he says, 'No'?”

“Then it's his loss,” Kaidan declared.

“Would you talk to him or should I?”

“I think it would be better if I did it. Alone. If you're there, he might feel some kind of pressure to agree, thinking it's what you want him to do. I don't want him to do this if he really doesn't want to do it.”

“Ok,” Josie said, taking a deep breath. “Ok. Let's talk to Thane.”

Chapter Text

Kaidan took a deep breath, smiling at the smells that surrounded him – the coffee brewing just inside the café, the food at the table behind him, the smell of the artificial grass that the keepers just couldn't get quite right, and somewhere under all of that, he picked up the faintest hint of leather.

His smile faltered a bit when he wondered if the scent belonged to his guest. He remembered Josie talking about Thane's tight, leather outfit. Kaidan closed his eyes and inhaled again, this time also smelling an unusual spice. Yeah, it was definitely Thane. He reached down, scratched Shep's ears, and took a sip of his coffee, waiting for the drell to say something.

Thane approached cautiously. When Kaidan messaged him about meeting, his defenses went up. As soon as Josie told him Kaidan still lived, their arrangement came to a grinding halt. It was painful and one of the hardest things he had to do in a long time, but it was necessary. They weren't supposed to develop feelings for each other because that would complicate things, yet that's exactly what happened. It wasn't planned, but one doesn't do something like that with someone like Josie Shepard and keep their heart to themselves.

The drell stared at the screen for several long moments, wondering why Kaidan would want to meet him. His thoughts first went to the phone calls Josie said he'd made to Tali, Joker, and Garrus. Was this related? Did he talk to everyone who was currently serving on the Normandy? That last thought was a possibility, but unlikely. Someone would have said something whether it was out of curiosity or to try to get a rise out of him. No reason came to mind why Kaidan would want to interview everyone on the ship. No good reason, anyway. Josie spoke very highly of the man, so Thane doubted his intentions were less than sincere.

Thane momentarily considered messaging Josie, to see if she knew about this and what he should expect. He pushed the idea from his mind, realizing if she didn't know she might worry, remembering how upset she'd been when she found out Kaidan had made those other calls. He frowned and looked at the screen again, finally deciding no harm could really come of it.

When he sent his response, his assassin's instincts kicked in – he planned on showing up early to survey the situation. He accessed photos of the area from the extranet and in a matter of moments, he had escape routes plotted and vectors of attack scoped out. The chances were good that this was simply an innocent meeting but old habits are hard to break.

Thane showed up 45 minutes before he was supposed to meet Kaidan. He stayed hidden, watching for anything out of place. Kaidan arrived 30 minutes later with his dog. Josie had mentioned Kaidan's physical condition and Thane had done his own research (after all, he needed to make sure this man was good enough for her) but it was still surprising to see the man maneuver so easily as he made his way to the café.

After watching for a few more minutes, Thane cautiously made his way toward Kaidan. He approached from upwind, hoping the smell of his leather and cologne would alert the other man to his presence. Sure enough, as he neared, Kaidan paused, turned his head, and smiled.

“I know you're on time,” Kaidan said, “but I honestly thought you might not show. Forgive me for not standing.”

He stretched his leg out, indicating the prosthesis, then extended his hand

Thane was amazed – he knew people who had limitations but the fact that Kaidan knew just where he was without seeing him and before the drell had said a word was startling. He quickly gathered himself, though, and accepted the handshake.

“No apology necessary,” Thane offered as he sat. “It's a pleasure to finally meet you. Josie spoke of you often and with a great deal of fondness.”

Years of perfecting his craft made it second nature for him to speak with neutrality, his face an unreadable mask. The mask was unnecessary, but he knew Kaidan would pick up on the most minute details of Thane's voice, looking for something that would betray the honesty in his words.

“What can I do for you, Commander Alenko?”

“Please, call me Kaidan,” he smiled warmly. “Any friend of Josie's is a friend of mine.”

“Very well, then, Kaidan. Why did you ask me here?” Thane leaned back in the seat, crossing his right ankle over his left knee, his elbow resting on the back of the seat. The position left him open and vulnerable but he hoped if he looked relaxed, it would carry over in his voice. It bothered him a little that he wasn't able to shut this part of him off for someone so important to his siha.

Kaidan took a deep breath before answering. He played this conversation out in his head numerous times and he hoped what he was about to say wouldn't be misunderstood. “I know that you and Josie had... an understanding, if you will. That doesn't bother me. She thought I was dead and it would be unfair of me to think that she wouldn't let someone else make her happy. What bothers me is that she obviously has feelings for you but she didn't hesitate to come to my apartment with me.”

The biotic pursed his lips before continuing. “I didn't know, Thane, that you two were a thing or I would have never asked her to stay with me.”

“We weren't 'a thing',” Thane explained, using air quotes then realizing that was pointless. “Pursuing the Collectors was immensely stressful...”

“Stop,” Kaidan said, holding his hand up. “I know why you guys were together. It's none of my business, honestly. What I want to know is, do you love her?”

And there it was – the reason Kaidan had invited him for coffee.

“My feelings do not matter,” Thane replied, careful to keep his tone even. “When Josie told me about you, we immediately ended things.”

“I know,” Kaidan assured him, “but that doesn't answer my question. Do you love Josie?”

The drell continued to regard the human. Kaidan's face was pensive, perhaps a little tense. Nerves, maybe? Or fear? Was he afraid Thane would try to win Josie back?

“Why do you wish to know?”

“It's kind of a long answer,” Kaidan chuckled, “so bear with me. Did Josie tell you about BAaT?”

“A bit,” the drell nodded. “She mentioned that you fell in love with another student and one of the instructors broke her arm. You defended her and killed the man in the process.”

“Yeah, that's about the gist of it,” he sighed. “My actions scared Rahna. She stopped speaking to me after that. When I got home, I started acting out. Oh, I didn't join a gang or get hooked on red sand or anything like that,” Kaidan quickly added. “It was more my actions. I started visiting different clubs and trying different... things.”

Kaidan raised an eyebrow and hoped it was enough for Thane to catch on. He really didn't want to delve into everything he did in the months between BAaT and joining the Alliance.

“I see,” Thane answered slowly.

“Are you familiar with polyamory, Thane?” Kaidan asked, taking another drink from his coffee cup.

A frown flitted across Thane's face. “If my translator is correct, you mean an open relationship?'

“Kind of,” Kaidan shook his head. “I'm thinking more of it being more than two people in a committed relationship with each other.”

Understanding and disbelief spread across Thane's face. “You want to share her?”

“Well, when you put it like that, she sounds more like a piece of meat than a woman we both love,” Kaidan chuckled, “but yes. That's what I was thinking. Assuming, of course, that you do love her.”

Kaidan's face hardened and he leaned over the table. “I'd rather not do this with someone who doesn't love her, Thane. I need to know that you feel for her just as much as I do.”

Thane was dumbfounded. He opened his mouth to speak but the words wouldn't come out. He, too, had explored certain aspects of himself. Sometimes he had to as part of a job, sometimes he chose to for curiosity's sake. Irikah changed all of that for him, though. He met her and any thought of ever being with anyone else vanished. Until he met Josie...

“I do, Kaidan,” Thane finally said. “She awakened something in me I long thought dead. I would move the heavens if only to see her smile.”

Kaidan smiled and leaned back in his chair. “Good.”

“But what of her wishes?” Thane asked. “Should she not have a say in this?”

“I've already talked to her,” Kaidan assured him. “She said she was open to the idea, but it isn't anything she's familiar with. It might be a little... awkward at first.”

“I agree,” Thane chuckled. “This is something I never expected to happen.”

Kaidan simply smiled. After his talk with Josie, he was hoping Thane would agree. It still disturbed him that Josie was so quick to ignore her feelings for someone else to be with him but he understood why she did it.

“May I see you?” Kaidan asked quietly.

Thane hesitated. “I'm not sure that's a good idea.”

Kaidan raised an eyebrow and frowned. “Why's that?”

“Drell skin secretes what is technically a toxin,” he explained. “It isn't deadly, but it can cause a rash.”

“I'll make sure to wash my hands,” Kaidan assured him. He frowned again when he realized there could be implications from 'other' activities. “Wait... I'm assuming you and Josie kissed, among other things. If touching you causes a rash...”

“Full disclosure would probably be best, considering what we just agreed upon. Oral contact can cause mild hallucinations.”

Kaidan could hear the smile in Thane's voice. “Why do I have a feeling there's a story there?”

“I do not believe Shepard would be happy with me for even divulging this much,” Thane grinned.

“At least we'll have interesting dinner conversation for our first date,” Kaidan smirked. “So, I promised to wash my hands,” Kaidan reminded him. “May I please see you now?”

“You may,” Thane smiled. “What should I do?”

“Just scoot your chair closer...” Kaidan reached out when he heard Thane's chair drag along the ground.

Thane took Kaidan's hands and placed them on either side of his face. He remembered Josie talking about how Kaidan used his sense of touch to help him see.

Kaidan's brow furrowed as he concentrated. His fingers and thumbs flitted along Thane's face, working together to build a picture in his mind. The skin was smooth, broken by deep lines that reminded Kaidan of scars. Over hairless, bony ridges just above his eyes that served as his eyebrows. Along his cheeks to where ears would be on a human, Kaidan discovered another small, bony ridge that flared outward just a bit, covering soft, ribbed flesh. He jerked his fingers back when the touch made Thane inhale sharply.

“I'm sorry,” Kaidan offered. “Is that area sore?”

“No,” Thane said, taking a deep breath. “Just... sensitive sometimes. It's ok.”

Kaidan nodded and reached out again, his hands easily picking up where they'd left off. The ribbed skin covered a good portion of Thane's cheeks and the underside of his chin. Where his normal skin resumed, two deep, jagged lines ran to either corner of his mouth. A thumb glided across a pair of full lips to the line that split them down the middle, continuing upward to his nose and downward over his chin.

“What color is your skin?” Kaidan asked, still exploring.

“A soft green,” Thane explained, struggling to find an accurate comparison. “I think the closest example would be a lighter shade pea green? Perhaps a pale olive?”

“Got it,” Kaidan nodded, his fingers still roaming along Thane's face. “What else?”

“The ridges are red,” Thane explained, guiding Kaidan's hands to the ribbed part of his cheeks. “They can change color a little, depending on my mood.”

“Can you control it?”

“Most of the time, yes. It isn't anything drastic, just a simple shift in shading. It's rare for anyone else to pick up on it, but Shepard caught on.”

“That doesn't surprise me,” Kaidan laughed, letting his fingers fall away. “She's observant, that's for sure. What about your eyes?”

“Black,” Thane stated. “The sclera, iris, all of it.”

“Are all drell eyes black? Or do they vary in color like other species?”

“They're all black. I'm sure one could have some type of surgery to change their eye color but I've never encountered a drell who had done so.”

Kaidan leaned back, satisfied with his exploration. Thane had a flanging voice, like Garrus, and the tone was a pleasant, deeper tenor. It was soothing to listen to and he could see why Josie was taken with him.

“So, how will this work?” Thane asked, not moving his chair. He was used to being touched, but there was something about Kaidan's examination of his face that seemed more intimate. It made him want to know more about the human in front of him.

“We need to sit down with Josie,” Kaidan stated, finishing his coffee. “Rules need established. Limits. I've only done this once and the only way it will work is if we communicate.”

“Understood. I shall let you make those arrangements then,” Thane said.

“No problem,” Kaidan grinned. “Now, if you'll excuse me, I have to get Shep home.”

Thane watched the blind human with one leg move effortlessly through the crowd. He had a barely-noticeable limp and moved with the confidence of a seeing person. Thane was impressed and could see why Josie was in love with him. He dragged his chair back to the other side of the table and ordered a tea, hoping that this arrangement would work.

Gods, how he missed his siha.

Chapter Text

Setting up the first date was strange for Josie. Kaidan sent both her and Thane a message, suggesting dinner and a movie at his place. They talked it over and Josie messaged back that Kaidan's idea was a good one. After determining Thane had no special dietary needs, Kaidan said he'd take care of getting the food and if they wanted to show up early to help cook, they were more than welcome.

Thane suggested to Josie that she arrive first. When she asked why, the drell got a sly smile on his face and simply said he had some things to pick up first. Josie offered to go along, but Thane insisted it was something he had to do alone.

Josie Shepard hadn't been on a date, a 'real' date, in years. She frowned as she tried to think back to when that had been. A guy on Elysium, she remembered, right before the slavers showed up. It was the most interesting first date she'd ever had – getting to know someone, asking about their interests and hobbies while dodging bullets – and went surprisingly well. They agreed on a second date, but it never panned out. He got transferred to earth and Josie became the poster child for the Alliance. After that, she focused on her career, not really worrying too much about having a love life because she was simply too busy. That all changed when she met Kaidan on the SR-1, though.

The two of them never had a proper first date, either. They got to know each other the same way Josie got to know anyone she served with: they simply talked, shared coffee and meals, bonded over common traits. It wasn't long before she felt like she'd known Kaidan her entire life and what had been a simple fascination escalated into actual feelings. It had been the same with Thane, too

Now here she was, getting ready to have a date – a true and proper date – with both of them. The idea made her smile and put butterflies in her stomach. Josie was so adamant about things going well that she spent hours agonizing over what to wear. Tali teased her about it, considering the commander only owned two pairs of pants and three shirts. Oh, and the slinky leather dress she'd worn when she helped Kasumi retrieve that greybox. Josie refused to wear it, though, not for something casual like this. She contemplated stopping at a store and picking something out on her way to Kaidan's, but Tali reminded her if she couldn't make a decision with what little she already owned, what would she do in an entire store?

The commander admitted her friend was right and settled on a pale grey sweater, blue jeans, and sneakers. Tali braided her hair for her the night before, so her normally stick-straight auburn locks fell in soft curls on her shoulders. She applied a little eyeliner, a hint of blush, and just enough lipstick to be noticeable. Josie paused as she spritzed her perfume, realizing that Thane and Kaidan both loved this particular scent. She giggled a little at how funny the universe could be sometimes.

Josie showed up at Kaidan's early enough (she hoped) to help him cook. When he answered the door, he pulled her tight against him, gently kissing her cheek. He took a deep breath, inhaling her scent and remarking how much he loved how she smelled. He asked where Thane was, and Josie shrugged, relaying what Thane told her after the plans were set. Kaidan frowned, then smiled, saying that whatever he was up to, he was sure everything would be fine.

Josie watched Kaidan walk back to his kitchen, admiring the view his well-fitting blue jeans provided. His chocolate-brown dress shirt looked fantastic on him even though the fact that he left several buttons undone was rather distracting. His ensemble made Josie feel a bit better about her choice in attire.

Kaidan had already started prepping stuff for dinner – shrimp were peeled and de-veined, lemons sliced, parmesan cheese grated. He decided on shrimp scampi, knowing it was one of Josie's favorite dishes and hoped that Thane would like it, too. Josie started chopping up some fresh garlic and Kaidan put water on to boil.

Josie tried acting like it was just another day spent with Kaidan but the truth was she was more nervous than she ever remembered being. As far as she knew, Kaidan and Thane only met briefly enough to discuss this poly-thing Kaidan suggested. What if they didn't get along? What if each of them was actually jealous of the other and this turned into some kind of competition? She and Thane were about to leave for a mission that could very well be a one-way trip; if they made it back, would Kaidan really be ok with the two of them having all of that time alone together?

She was so lost in her thoughts that she jumped when Kaidan nudged her. “I think Thane is here, babe. Would you answer the door?”

Josie let out a nervous laugh and made her way to the front door. She wiped her hands on her pants and ran her fingers through her hair, hoping the waves were still noticeable. Her jaw dropped when she opened the door and saw her other lover standing with two bunches of flowers and a six-pack of Canadian lager.

Thane was wearing an outfit she'd never seen before – black leather with red accents. Gone was the keyhole chest piece of his undershirt; this outfit, while still very tight and definitely still leather, covered everything up.

“Siha? Is everything ok?” Thane asked. There was a huge smile on his face and Josie playfully smacked him.

“I've never seen this get up before. It looks good on you,” she grinned, stepping aside so he could walk in.

“It isn't something I wear often,” he explained. “Usually only for special occasions.”

“And this is special?” Josie asked as they rounded the corner.

“It is for me,” he murmured.

Kaidan wiped his hands on a dishrag when he heard the pair. “Thane,” he said, moving to the drell. “I'm really glad you made it.”

“As am I. Oh, here, these are for you,” he said, handing a half-dozen roses to Josie. There were three red and three cream-colored ones in the bunch. She closed her eyes and inhaled. “Thank you, Thane. They smell fantastic.”

“And these are for you.” The drell turned to Kaidan, grasped his hand, and carefully wrapped them around a second bunch of roses. The ones Thane chose for him were yellow and cream-colored. “I also brought beer. The store owner assured me it was genuine Canadian lager.”

Kaidan smelled his flowers and smiled. “I can honestly say this is the first time anyone has done this for me. What color are they?”

“Yours are yellow and cream,” Thane explained. “The florist told me yellow roses symbolize friendship and cream ones are for appreciation. I felt they were appropriate colors considering what you and Shepard are allowing me to participate in. Shepard's are red and cream.”

“They're beautiful, Thane, thank you.” Josie stood on her tip toes and kissed his cheek.

She looked at Kaidan, who was staring at his flowers. “Kaidan, are you ok?” she asked.

“What? Oh, yeah, I'm fine,” he stammered, rubbing the back of his neck. “I've seriously never gotten flowers before and the fact Thane put some thought into the colors, well...” Kaidan shrugged and smiled shyly.

“Here, let's put them together in some water, hm?” Josie took his roses, grabbed a tall glass from his cupboard, and arranged the buds together on the center of the table.

“I also heard something about lager?” Kaidan cleared his throat and extended his hand. “We need to get it in the fridge.”

“You did,” Thane laughed, placing the beer in the other man's hands. “It should already be cold, though. It was in a cooler when I purchased it.”

Shrimp scampi was a new dish for Thane, but he seemed eager to try it. He set the table and prepared everyone's drinks while Josie and Kaidan finished cooking. Josie's fears about awkwardness or competition evaporated when Thane and Kaidan fell into easy conversation. Kaidan explained his miraculous survival on Virmire and the months he spent learning how to walk and see again. Thane spoke of how he came to be in Josie's company, talking about the situation on Rakhana, the Compact, and his training. He slipped into memory only a couple of times, explaining to Kaidan afterward how drell all have perfect memories.

Kaidan raised an eyebrow and said, “I'll bet that makes playing poker with you rather difficult.”

Thane grinned and glanced at Josie, who chuckled. “I have won my share of games,” he admitted.

The trio finished dinner and moved on to dessert and the boys continued to do most of the talking. Josie sat in her chair, a wistful smile on her face as she listened to the two men she loved talk as though they were old friends. She wondered what things would have been like if Kaidan were on board the Normandy with them now, fighting the Collectors. It warmed her heart to see him getting along so well with Thane after only having met briefly once before.

“You're awfully quiet, Josie,” Kaidan remarked.

“Hm? Oh, I'm just listening to you two talk,” she smiled. “Don't mind me.”

“Everything is ok, though, Siha?” Thane asked. His one eyebrow twitched a little bit – a tell Josie would never reveal to him; he only did it when he was worried.

“Everything is fine, Thane. Honest. I just... I'm really happy right now. You guys go ahead and keep chatting. I'll clean up dinner.”

She gathered up the dishes while Kaidan and Thane continued to talk. They offered to help, but she insisted they stay put. She was enjoying listening to their conversations - Kaidan shared what it was like growing up in Vancouver and Thane described the constant rains on Kahje. Josie shook her head and continued to eavesdrop. She'd never heard Thane say so much in one conversation before, not even to her. She put the leftovers in the fridge and set the pans in the sink to soak. She pondered whether to do the dishes and flatware and decided they'd keep until later.

“So, guys, how about a movie?” Kaidan offered when Josie returned to her seat.

“Sounds good to me. Thane?” Josie turned her gaze to the drell across from her.

“Did you have something in mind?” Thane asked.

“Well, I have the latest Blasto movie.” Kaidan stood and winced a little, rubbing his leg as he walked to the living room.

“Kaidan, are you ok?” Josie's brow furrowed with concern.

“Yeah, yeah. Just... it's just a cramp. Anyway, there's Blasto, and I've got a ton of old earth movies.”

“I have seen very few movies,” Thane admitted. “I prefer to read. I am familiar with Blasto, but have never seen one of the films.”

“You what?” Kaidan slowly turned with an incredulous look on his face. “Josie, how is this man on your ship if he's never seen the mighty Blasto in action? I thought you made that required viewing for your crew?”

“Just you guys on the SR-1, babe,” Josie laughed, trying to picture Jack, Miranda, or Samara sitting through one of the ridiculously terrible action movies.

“Well, we'll have to remedy that, then. We start at the beginning! Blasto: The First Hanar Spectre!”

Kaidan programmed the movie into his entertainment system and sat in the middle of the couch. Josie guessed she'd be sitting between them, a hunch that was confirmed when Thane settled into the corner, leaving enough space between the two men for Josie to sit.

She nestled against Thane, and Kaidan curled up with his head on Josie's lap. Thane's fingers traced lazy patterns along her shoulder while her own fingers tangled through Kaidan's hair. About halfway through the movie, Josie noticed Kaidan starting to fidget.

“Are you ok? Do you need me to move?” she whispered, still weaving her fingers through Kaidan's locks.

“Yeah, I just... my leg is bothering me and I can't get comfortable.”

Josie paused the movie and said, “Kaidan, if your leg is bothering you, why don't we get some ice or a heat pack or something to help?”

Suddenly, Kaidan shot up like a rocket, gripping his leg. “Holy fuck!” he swore. One of his hands gripped his thigh, the other clutched the edge of the couch.

“Kaidan, what is it?” Josie asked, maneuvering around to look at his leg.

“Phantom pain,” he grunted. “Fucking hell, this one hurts.”

Thane placed a hand on Josie's shoulder and asked. “What can we do?”

Kaidan grunted as another wave of pain throbbed up his thigh. “Massage helps. So does heat. What sucks is my body tenses from the pain and I usually get an L2 flare from it, too.”

“Oh, that's not good,” Josie muttered. She remembered how Kaidan could get with his migraines. He never complained and somehow always powered through, but it would leave him exhausted for days afterward. “Do you have any meds, Kaidan?”

“Don't... want... meds,” he panted, clutching the back of his head.

“How about if I massage your temples like I used to? Thane can take care of your leg, if that's ok.”

Kaidan could only nod. His knuckles were white from gripping the edge of the couch. His eyes were screwed shut and his jaw clenched tighter than Josie had ever seen it. His pain was obvious and it broke Josie's heart to see him like this. She took Thane's spot in the corner of the couch while Victor talked Thane through removing Kaidan's prosthesis. With Kaidan's head in her lap and his legs across Thane's, Josie and Thane set about trying to relieve at least some of Kaidan's agony.

“It's never hurt this bad before,” Kaidan's voice cracked. “Damn it!”

“Kaidan, sweetheart, if it's that bad, please take something,” Josie pleaded, still lightly rubbing her fingers along his temples and face.

Kaidan shook his head and Josie sighed. “Should we call John?”

“No. He's got plans. Don't want to interrupt.”

“Kaidan,” Thane said quietly, “I understand your reluctance to take medication for your pain. Consider, though, that if this is the worst pain you've endured, perhaps you need the extra help to deal with it.”

Kaidan didn't respond. Josie guessed he was probably using the meditative techniques Liara had shown him on the SR-1 or whatever else he'd learned in the past two years. Several minutes went by with Josie gently massaging his temples and Thane carefully kneading his thigh. Kaidan would gasp and grunt as pain throbbed through his body.

Finally Josie leaned over and whispered, “Please, Kaidan, take something. For me.”

Kaidan finally opened his eyes and gazed up at Josie. “They'll make me sleepy,” he croaked, reaching for her face. “It's still so early. I don't want to ruin things.”

Josie wrapped her hand around his and placed it against her cheek, kissing the inside of his wrist. “Kaidan, I'm ok if you fall asleep. I'm sure Thane won't mind, either. I would rather see you sleeping than in pain like this. Don't make me beg.”

Another jolt of pain made Kaidan cry out and he finally relented. Thane helped him to his feet, wrapping one of his arms around Kaidan's waist and supporting him back the hall to the bedroom. Josie instructed him to sit Kaidan on the bed – she'd get him undressed while Thane fetched his meds from the bathroom.

Josie helped Kaidan strip to his boxer-briefs, then tucked him into bed. She put the pills in Kaidan's hand and wrapped his other hand around the glass, watching as he swallowed what would hopefully end his misery.

“How long until they work?” she asked.

“Not long,” Kaidan grunted. “I'll pass out in a few minutes. Thank you, guys. I'm so sorry I ruined our plans.”

“Kaidan, you don't have to apologize.” Josie sat on the edge of the bed and smoothed Kaidan's hair back from his face. “It happens.”

Kaidan gazed at her and offered a tiny smile. His distress was still evident on his face, but he wasn't kidding about the meds kicking in quickly. It wasn't long before he was struggling to keep his eyes open. Josie kissed his forehead and stood, but Kaidan reached out, grabbing at her wrist.

“Please stay,” he whispered.

His speech was starting to slur and his grip was weak. Josie's brow furrowed and she glanced at Thane, who smiled and nodded. “He needs you, Siha. Stay with him.”

“You, too, Thane,” Kaidan muttered sleepily. “I don't want to take Josie from you tonight.”

“Kaidan, are you sure?” Josie hesitated. Kaidan mumbled something incoherent, then let out a soft snore.

“I guess you're staying, too, then,” Josie said. She fetched one of Kaidan's t-shirts from his closet and changed, climbing under the covers behind Kaidan. She wrapped her arms around his chest and kissed his shoulder, lacing her fingers with his. The biotic immediately snuggled tighter against her and let out another incoherent mumble before kissing her knuckles.

“Shepard, I have nothing to wear,” Thane started.

“Shorts are in the right-hand side, bottom drawer,” Josie whispered, nuzzling against Kaidan's shoulder. “I'm sure they'll fit.”

Thane sighed, doing as he was told. Josie felt the bed sink behind her as Thane scooted next to her, wrapping his arms around her waist. Her stomach tightened at the familiar sensation of his cool skin against her warm back. She closed her eyes, thankful again that she was blessed to have two men in her life who were so willing to agree to something so unconventional for the sake of her happiness.

“The only problem is I am not even close to being tired,” Thane breathed, kissing the back of Josie's neck and pulling himself tighter against her.

“Neither am I, but Kaidan needs us. I know it's really early in the relationship for this kind of thing, but if he needs us when this happens, we have to be there for him.”

“I'm sorry, Siha. I wasn't complaining,” Thane apologized. “I've missed this. I've missed you.”

Josie took one of Thane's hands and kissed the inside of his wrist. “I've missed you, too. Now hush before you wake him up.”

“Yes, ma'am,” Thane chuckled.

Even though neither of them felt sleepy, it wasn't much longer before Thane and Josie drifted off, the feel of each others heartbeats and the sounds of rhythmic breathing lulling them into contented slumber.

Chapter Text

Josie woke slowly the next morning, a smile spreading across her face when she remembered falling asleep between the two men who held her heart. Thane's arms were still wrapped snugly around her and when she reached for Kaidan, her eyes flew open as she felt cold bedsheets instead of a warm body.

“He left about an hour ago, Siha,” Thane murmured behind her, kissing her neck. “He needed to walk his dog and didn't want to wake you. I offered to accompany him but he said I should stay here with you in case you woke while he was gone.”

Josie kissed Thane's knuckles before rolling over to study his face. “He's feeling better, then?” She traced her fingers along Thane's cheeks, happy he was with her but still wishing Kaidan had woken with her, too.

“Much.” Thane's eyes fluttered shut when Josie kissed his nose. “He appreciated our help last night and didn't mind us borrowing his clothes to sleep in.”

“Good,” she chuckled. “I think it's a bit soon for the three of us to sleep together naked.”

“I agree, however being here with you like this is very, very tempting.” Thane angled his head and teased his tongue along Josie's lips. “I've missed your kisses, Siha,” he breathed.

“Me, too,” Josie said, pressing her mouth against his. Their tongues rolled languidly together before Josie realized she probably had horrible morning breath. She quickly pulled back and covered her mouth with her hand.

“Oh, God, Thane, I'm so sorry. That shrimp and the garlic from dinner last night and I haven't brushed my teeth yet,” she stammered.

Thane chuckled and brushed a stray strand of hair from her face. “I'm sure my kiss doesn't have the most pleasant flavor right now, either. It's worth it, though. I've missed you so much.”

“Mmm, I've missed you, too,” Josie sighed, snuggling against Thane's chest. “I could fall back to sleep right now, just like this.”

“Then sleep, my warrior angel. It's still early but I will be here when you awaken.”

Josie basked in the security of Thane's arms wrapped around her. She nestled her cheek against him, the gentle rise and fall of his chest and the steady rhythm of his heart easily putting her back to sleep. Not long after, she stirred enough to realize Kaidan had climbed back into bed behind her. A happy sigh passed her lips when she gathered Kaidan's and Thane's hands in her own, holding them tight against her chest as she fell back to sleep.

When Josie stirred again, Kaidan and Thane were both awake, continuing their conversation from the night before in hushed whispers. She made a conscious effort to control her breathing so they'd think she was still asleep but it didn't work. Kaidan kissed the top of her head and murmured, “I brought back danishes and coffee, but you were still asleep.”

Josie chuckled and groaned when she stretched a little. “What time is it?”

“Just past 10,” Thane said, brushing her hair from her face. “We were just discussing whether to wake you or not. We know how you get if you think you've slept for too long.”

Josie kissed the tip of Thane's nose, then rolled over to face Kaidan. “How are you feeling, Kaidan?” she asked. Her fingers traced along his forehead and down his cheek.

“Better,” he sighed, closing his eyes. “Exhausted, but that's normal.”

He brushed his lips along her forehead. “Thank you for staying with me. Both of you.”

“You're welcome,” Josie heard Thane murmur from behind her. His arms tightened around her waist and his lips feathered kisses along her neck, sending a delightful shiver down her back. It took every ounce of willpower she had to bite back a moan.

Too soon, she thought. I want this, but not yet. Not until I'm sure they're really ok with this.

She nudged Thane with her elbow and shook her head when the drell chuckled. “So, what are the plans for today?” she asked, rolling onto her back.

“I need a shower. And a change of clothes,” Thane sighed, running his hand along her arms. “I wasn't anticipating staying the night.”

“Neither was I,” Josie admitted.

“Well,” Kaidan offered, “I think someone still owes me a tour of her ship. How about if we make our way to the docks, I get my tour, and you guys can just pack enough clothes for the rest of the week?”

Josie and Thane glanced at each other. “I do not wish to impose, Kaidan,” the drell started.

“You aren't,” Kaidan insisted. “I'm offering. There's no sense in you guys traveling back and forth to the Normandy from here every day. Besides, what better way to get to know someone than to spend every waking minute with them?”

“He has a point,” Josie shrugged.

“That he does.”

“Plus, doing that will take up a good chunk of the day.” Josie sat up and stretched, gasping as fingers ran down either side of her torso.

“Behave!” she admonished the boys, smacking their fingers.

“Sorry,” came the totally not-sorry-sounding apology from either side of her.

“Incorrigible, the both of you. You know that?” She scooted to the foot of the bed and added, “How long has the coffee been here?”

“Not long,” Kaidan said, standing and following her to the door.

“I'll heat it up, then, and we can watch the news or something.”

Josie padded out to the kitchen and pulled down some mugs and small plates, gathering things up for them to have a light breakfast. Thane and Kaidan followed and sat on the couch to wait for her.

“What's she doing?” Kaidan leaned over and whispered.

“She's stretching to reach some mugs. She's on her toes and the shirt she's wearing is lifted just enough to see the bottom part of her underwear. I believe she calls them 'hiphuggers'? The tiniest bit of her backside is peeking underneath orange lace.”

“Mm hmm,” Kaidan murmured, smiling. “Which t-shirt is she wearing?”

“It is grey and has your name stenciled on the upper-left side.”

“Oh, I know the one.” Kaidan's smile grew. “It's an old PT shirt. I've actually had that one since boot. She looks good in it?”

“Yes. Very good. When she stands straight, the bottom of the shirt falls at her upper thigh...”

“I can hear you whispering, you know,” Josie called from the kitchen, glancing over her shoulder. She turned and faced them fully when she noticed their heads leaned together conspiratorially. “What are you doing?” she demanded, her eyes narrowing.

“Just... admiring the view,” Kaidan grinned.

“Incorrigible,” she muttered, turning back to her task.

“She's red now, isn't she?” Kaidan whispered, a bit louder.

“She is. The tips of her ears are a brilliant shade of crimson...”

Josie pressed her lips together and shook her head as the pair continued to whisper. It warmed her heart to see the two of them getting along so well. She'd hoped they'd at least be friendly, but she hadn't expected them to become so comfortable with each other so soon.

While Josie worked, Kaidan and Thane continued to whisper. “So, we're incorrigible,” Kaidan said, cocking his head to listen as Josie worked.

“Apparently so,” Thane agreed. “I cannot blame her, though. Pursuing that level of intimacy does seem a bit rushed right now.”

“Maybe, but you can't tell me you weren't thinking about it while I was walking Shep.”

At the mention of her name, the dog whined and thumped her tail on the floor.

“I cannot,” Thane admitted. “She refused, though. Perhaps she is waiting to make sure you and I are truly comfortable with this arrangement.”

“You make it sound so business-like when you say that,” Kaidan scolded. “It's a relationship.”

“Apologies,” Thane chuckled. “I have to admit, I was expecting things to be more...”

“Awkward?” Kaidan offered.

“Indeed.”

Josie carried three mugs of coffee in one hand and the box of pastries in the other with three plates carefully balanced on top of the box.

“Alright, boys, here we go.” She set the box on the coffee table, handed Thane his mug, put Kaidan's mug in his outstretched hand, then settled herself between the two. She divvied up the pastries and the trio settled in to watch the morning news.

They ate in silence as an asari talked about current events: policies the Council were considering, openings in C-Sec, a red sand ring busted, Councilor Anderson pushing for help because another human colony vanished....

Josie froze, her teeth clamped around a danish as the news anchor talked about all of the colonies that had gone black thus far. Speculation ran rampant as to who was behind the attacks, why, and how they were being carried out. Josie's name was mentioned, as was her link to Cerberus. The segment ended with Khalisah Bint Sinan al-Jilani cornering a very perturbed Ashley Williams, peppering her with questions about Josie's loyalties.

At the mention of Ash's name, Kaidan froze as well, listening intently as Ash quickly lost her patience with the reporter. Al-Jilani asked Ash about her former crewmates helping Josie, then wondered if Kaidan's miraculous survival meant he would be on board soon, too. Ash turned about seven shades of red, then punched the reporter in the face before stalking off.

Josie and Kaidan sat, slack-jawed at Ash's reaction. Thane, not knowing who the young woman was, was nonplussed. He saw the others' reactions, and said, "I assume you know that woman?"

"You could say that," Josie answered slowly before looking at Kaidan. "You haven't talked to her yet?"

Kaidan shook his head. "I've tried, Josie, I swear, but the last time I did, she responded angrily, thinking it was a joke or something."

"Oh, Kaidan," Josie dragged her hand over her face. "You need to call Anderson and set something up. He can get the two of you together."

“I wouldn't be surprised if I get a call from him later today,” Kaidan sighed.

“She seems to have quite the temper,” Thane observed, munching on a donut. “Although the reporter seemed very aggressive in her approach.”

“That woman is a pain in the ass,” Josie admitted. “I've run into her a couple of times. Wanted to deck her like that but I held back.”

She flopped back into the couch and took a deep breath. “I just hope she isn't waiting at the docks or anything.”

“And if she is?” Thane asked. “I could scout ahead and make sure our arrival goes unnoticed.”

“No, it's ok,” Josie shook her head. “If she's there, I'll handle it. Hopefully, she'll be in the hospital because Ash just broke the bitch's nose or something.”

She finished her pastry and patted the boys' thighs. “Well, what do you say we actually get moving? I don't mind wearing Kaidan's shirts, but I'd love to be in my own clothes. And I need to brush my teeth.”

Thane and Kaidan each smiled at her agreeing that it was time to get the day started. Josie hopped off the couch, shaking her head as Thane described to Kaidan how her hips swayed when she walked.

Chapter Text

The Normandy was in dry dock and on a completely different arm of the station than where Kaidan's place was. Normally when Josie took shore leave on the Citadel, the Normandy docked closer and a skycab would be enough to get to Kaidan's place. While her ship was being worked on, though, skycar wouldn't cut it; they had to take a transport shuttle. Josie and Kaidan had never used one before, but Thane was pretty familiar with them. They were large, not terribly fast, and could get crowded very quickly.

“Kaidan, are you sure you're up for this?” Josie gently touched Kaidan's cheek, her voice full of concern. “You were in really bad shape last night.”

“I'm worn out and my stump is kind of sore,” he admitted, kissing her wrist, “but I'll be fine.”

“If you're sure,” she frowned. “I don't want you to overdo it.”

“Oh, the horror,” he exclaimed. “Then I'd have to be cared for by you two again! I don't know if I can handle another night of the three of us cuddled together like that.”

“Whatever,” Josie rolled her eyes when Kaidan pulled her into a hug.

“Seriously, Josie, I'll be ok.” Kaidan stepped back, sighed, and glanced toward the wall where Shep's harness hung.

“Tight quarters as we near the shuttle stop, tight quarters on the shuttle, and probably tight quarters on the ship, too, huh?” he asked, opening the closet.

“This one is much larger than the SR-1,” Josie explained. “I mean, there might be a tight fit or two, but...”

Her voice trailed off when Kaidan stepped out of the closet with a small baton. Sensing her confusion, he started pulling the baton apart, revealing a sectioned, white cane with a white, bulbous tip; the bottom part of the cane was metallic blue with the Alliance logo stenciled on it. “I can use this,” he explained. “It's what I had until I got Shep and if things are going to be tight, it might be better to leave her here.”

Josie frowned when she saw the end of the cane. “The floors have deep grooves in them, Kaidan. I think the end of your cane will get hung up in them.”

“Oh, well, then, I'll just use this one.” Kaidan folded the first cane and retrieved another. It had the same color scheme, but where the first cane had a white tip, this one had what looked like a miniature ski. “The sensitivity isn't so great with this one, but it won't get hung up in the cracks. Plus it's got GPS and I can hook it up to my earpiece to get descriptions of the area around me.”

Thane frowned and clasped his hands behind his back. “If that cane describes your surroundings, then why use a dog?”

“She's better company,” Kaidan grinned. “There isn't much that's better after a rough day than doggie cuddles.”

“I'm glad you said, 'there isn't much better',” Josie laughed. “I might be a bit offended.”

She glanced from Kaidan to the dog. The poor pup seemed to sense she wasn't going along for this trip and whined pitifully. Kaidan knelt and called her over.

“I know, I know,” he soothed, scratching her ears. “You'll be fine for a bit, though. I'll be in good hands. I promise.”

The dog let out a huff, sat in front of her human, and barked once.

“Well, that's too bad,” Kaidan said, standing. “There will be too many people. And I don't think Josie wants you doing your business on her ship, either.”

The dog whined again, nudging Kaidan's hand. “Tell you what,” he bargained. “You stay here like a good girl and I'll let you have some cheese when we get back, ok?”

Shep let out an excited bark and went to Josie for some attention.

“I take it she likes cheese?” Josie laughed.

“That's an understatement,” Kaidan nodded solemnly. “She loves it. I don't give it to her often, though, because it makes her a little... well, gassy.”

“Ohhh,” Josie chuckled, waving her hand in front of her nose. Shep whined at the interaction and Josie knelt down to pet the pup. “Oh, it's ok,” she cooed. “I don't think any less of you. Honest.”

The dog yipped once and wagged her tail happily before trotting down the hall to the bedroom.

“Do all humans speak to their pets like that?” Thane murmured to Josie. “He didn't really understand what the dog said, did he?”

“Most of us do, yes,” she grinned. “And it's all about the context. Dogs are really smart, especially the ones trained like Shep is.”

“And you forget, Thane,” Kaidan said as they made their way down the hall, “up until recently, she's who I spend most of my time with, except for John. She has different barks. The one she uses when she's hungry is different from the one she uses when she's excited.”

“They sound the same to me,” Thane frowned.

“How many dogs have you ever been around?” Kaidan asked.

“Including yours? One.”

“Well, there you go. Stick around long enough, and you'll see what I mean.”

Thane placed his hand on the small of Josie's back, guiding her out the door. “I do not plan on going anywhere any time soon, my friend.”

It was a quick ride in the skycab to the transport station and Thane explained that they might be on the shuttle for several hours. Fortunately, it was still fairly early in the day when they arrived at the stop and it was near the end of the line, which meant there weren't a lot of people around yet. Thane led Josie and Kaidan to some empty seats at the back of the shuttle, and they settled in for the trip back to the Normandy.

Josie sat between the two, nestling her head on Kaidan's shoulder and intertwining her fingers with his on his leg. She draped her leg over Thane's, grasping his fingers in her other hand. None of them said much, other than to comment to Kaidan about some of the people boarding the shuttle or describing the passing scenery. Josie smiled when a feeling of warm contentment washed over her. She could have easily spent the entire day like this – holding hands with Kaidan and Thane, just watching the world pass by.

“How much longer?” Kaidan asked, kissing the top of Josie's head.

Josie nudged Thane, who glanced at his omnitool. “Perhaps another hour.” The drell leaned forward and to Kaidan, asked, “Are you alright?”

“Just getting a little hungry. I think I can make it another hour though.”

“Well, what if we get off at the next stop and grab something to eat?” Josie suggested. “Thane, you're probably just as hungry as Kaidan is.”

Thane smiled and kissed Josie's knuckles. “Not the next stop, then, but the one after. There is a restaurant nearby that serves steak sandwiches.”

“Oh, really?” Kaidan perked up at the mention of one of his favorite foods. “That sounds perfect to me!”

Josie was thankful for Thane's perfect memory as he easily guided them through the crowds and into the restaurant. He wasn't kidding when he said the place was close to the shuttle stop, but it wasn't a straight shot to get there, either. They were seated quickly and the server was prompt and courteous, chatting with them about the specials and what beer they had on tap. When the food arrived, it was good – nothing spectacular to Josie, but it wasn't overpriced, either. Thane and Kaidan wolfed down their food and Josie remarked a couple of times about their biotic appetites.

“You should have had more breakfast,” she admonished them.

“You apparently didn't pay attention to how much we ate earlier,” Kaidan chuckled, downing his beer. “Thane, which way is the restroom?”

The drell gave Kaidan detailed directions to find the bathroom, offering to walk him there. Kaidan brushed him off and carefully made his way around the other tables. Once he was out of earshot, Josie gave Thane a pointed stare.

“You two are getting along very well,” she said, leaning back in her seat.

“He is a good man,” Thane admitted. “I figured he had to be. You wouldn't have been with him otherwise.”

“And you're ok with this?”

“With what?” The slightest hint of a smile tugged at the drell's lips.

“This. Us. All three of us.” Josie waved her hands around for emphasis. “I mean, there hasn't been the slightest hint of jealousy or competition or anything.”

“And why would there be?” Thane asked, a bemused expression on his face. “We both love you and we both get to be with you.”

“Just like that, hm?” Josie raised an eyebrow, not believing everything was falling into place so easily.

“Just like that.” Thane sighed and leaned forward, grasping her hand in his. “Siha, not being with you was one of the hardest things I've ever had to do. It is true I was hesitant when Kaidan first approached me, but there was something about him...” Thane's voice trailed off and he frowned a bit as he searched for the right words. “Something honest and sincere. He wants you to be happy. We want you to be happy.”

He kissed her knuckles and leaned back in his seat. “It has been a long time since I felt this comfortable with someone. Besides you, I mean.”

“Really?” Part of her was still concerned that he didn't want this and was only doing it for her benefit.

“Really.” He tightened his grip on her hand and kissed her knuckles again. “Would you hear my confession, Siha?”

“I always do, Thane,” she smiled.

“When you would speak of him, I often wondered how he and I would have gotten along, especially on nights when I could tell the loss was affecting you more than usual. I thought about the kind of man he must have been to have captured your heart so and wished I could have known someone who was so important to you.”

He placed her hand on his cheek and kissed her wrist. “And now I have that chance. I am truly happier than I have been in years.”

In that moment, Josie knew Thane was being honest. Yes, he may have been doing this in part for her, but he wasn't sacrificing his own happiness to do so. He really was ok with the situation and her heart swelled with emotion.

“I'm not interrupting anything, am I?” Kaidan grinned as he sat back down.

“No, not at all,” Josie said, kissing his cheek.

“Good,” he murmured, caressing her face. She felt Thane squeeze her hand and another wave of realization washed over her – there was no longer any doubt in her heart that Kaidan was really ok with this, too. She should have realized it sooner, given how easily they talked to each other.

This was going to work.

The rest of the trip to the Normandy passed quickly. Even though they'd been on the shuttle for another hour, Josie felt like she barely sat down before it was time to disembark again. Kaidan held a light but firm grip on Josie's elbow while Thane led the way, keeping the path clear in front of them. A quick flash of credentials at the gate, and the three stepped from the crowded hustle-and-bustle of the main arm and into the more spacious atmosphere of the dry dock.

Kaidan tugged on Josie's arm and she stopped. “Is everything ok?” she asked.

“Yeah, just... taking it all in.” Kaidan smiled, closed his eyes, and took a deep breath, turning his face upward. “It feels... bigger. I can tell we aren't inside, so to speak.”

He started walking at a slower pace and continued. “I can smell the fuel and grease and,” he paused and took a deep breath, “eezo. And there's a hectic energy, too. Reminds me of an anthill. Or a beehive.”

“Well, you aren't wrong,” Josie chuckled. “People are definitely scurrying about like they're in a hurry to get where they're going. I'm glad the rest of the Citadel isn't as fast-paced as this seems to be.”

“What is an 'anthill' and a 'beehive'?” Thane asked, perplexed.

Kaidan and Josie tried to explain what ants and bees were and how they lived and how it compared to the atmosphere at the dry dock. As they chatted, they maneuvered their way through the light foot traffic to where the SR-2 was docked. Kaidan commented about the change in flooring as they walked down the corridor to the airlock. Josie swiped her hand across the door lock and the door slid open with a soothing hiss.

Kaidan hesitated a moment, before quietly asking, “Permission to come aboard, Commander.”

Josie chuckled and squeezed his hand. “Granted, Commander.”

They paused for a moment in the corridor outside of the cockpit. “EDI, who's still on my ship?” Josie asked.

“Tali'Zorah, Mr. Donnelly, and Ms. Daniels are in engineering, overseeing shielding installation on the core. Mr. Moreau is currently napping in the crew quarters. Samara is in the Observation Lounge; she chose to remain on board because she was afraid her obligations as a Justicar might cause problems on the Citadel.”

“That's probably a good idea,” Josie murmured.

“Mr. Vakarian is in the main battery, overseeing the final upgrades to the Thanix cannons. Dr. Chakwas is in the med bay, she thought it would be a good idea to remain nearby in case any of the workers became injured and needed medical attention. Legion is powered down in the AI core. The rest of the crew are currently enjoying their shore leave. Do you need additional information?”

“No, as long as none of them are in trouble or sitting in a hospital somewhere, it's fine,” Josie said dismissively. “The crew that are currently on board have been taking some time for themselves off the ship, though?”

There was a pause before EDI answered. “Mr. Donnelly, Ms. Daniels, and Dr. Chakwas leave the ship when the workers do. Tali'Zorah and Mr. Vakarian remain behind because they prefer to be here. Mr. Moreau refuses to leave the ship at all. I have made numerous attempts to persuade them to take advantage of their shore leave, but they refuse to do so.”

Josie shook her head and sighed. “Of course. I don't know why I expected them to take some time off. Honestly. I appreciate you trying to get them out, though EDI.”

“Would you like me to notify the rest of the crew that you are on board?”

“No, that's fine. I'm sure we'll run into them at some point and if we don't, it's no big deal.”

“Very well. Logging you out, Shepard.”

“A VI?” Kaidan asked.

“EDI is actually an AI,” Josie explained. “Shackled, though. And she is immensely helpful, although Joker might disagree.”

“Oh?” Kaidan asked.

“Well, you know how Joker is about his ship,” Josie explained. “It's kind of a love/hate relationship between the two of them. They antagonize the hell out of each other.”

“So he's getting what he dishes out?” Kaidan laughed. “That's great.”

Josie moved to head to the cockpit, but Kaidan tugged gently on her arm again, causing her to stop. “Is everything ok?” she frowned.

“Yeah, I just... it's definitely bigger. The sound echoes more than it did on the SR-1. Funny how I never really thought about it before.”

Josie cocked her head and smiled as Kaidan closed his eyes. “The smell is different, too. The SR-1 was more... antiseptic, I guess you could say. This one seems more mechanical.”

“That could be the difference between the turians having a hand in building the SR-1 and not with this one,” Josie offered.

“Could be,” Kaidan mused, taking a deep breath. “So, where do we start?”

Josie guided Kaidan to the left and explained the layout of the cockpit. As soon as they stepped across the threshold, Kaidan paused and took a deep breath. “Do I smell leather?” he asked, confused.

“Yes, you do,” Josie chuckled. “Joker says it's one of the reasons he signed on with Cerberus.”

She took Kaidan's hand and placed it on the back of Joker's seat. “Oh, it's soft,” he exclaimed. “Not that vinyl crap the Alliance puts on the chairs on their ships. Remember how they always used to crack and tear?”

“And remember how you and Garrus ran around with duct tape, patching that stuff up? Different colored duct tape, too,” Josie laughed at the memory. “You guys were lucky I could use my Spectre status to get away with it, otherwise I'd have caught hell for not using 'appropriately toned adhesive materials.”

They moved into the CIC and Josie described the holographic image of the SR-2 that served as a screen saver of sorts and included everything she'd upgraded on the ship. She rattled off the improvements to the armor, shielding, and weapons as well as the additional storage space for research probes, the expanded fuel cells, and the improved med bay. She explained the sensor at the railing that would switch the Normandy holo to the galaxy map.

“Sounds like you're turning this ship into a tank,” Kaidan observed as they slowly moved around the holo and into Mordin's lab.

“Kaidan, you didn't see how easily the Collectors tore into the SR-1,” Josie sighed. “Like a hot knife through butter. I can't – I won't lose another ship like that. I'm doing everything I can to make sure we come back in one piece. Cerberus is making sure I'm funded and I've got no problem spending their money to make sure my people are safe.”

“I understand,” Kaidan nodded, then sniffed. “Are we in the med bay?”

“No, not exactly. We're in Mordin's lab.” The salarian was mentioned in passing during casual dinner conversation the night Joker, Tali, and Garrus stopped by, as were all the crew members. Josie got into a little more detail, explaining how she recruited Mordin, how he cured the Collector-created plague on Omega, and his research into protection from the seeker swarms.

“He's quirky,” Josie chuckled, “wicked smart and not someone to trifle with. He's former STG. Actually, he worked with Kirrahe.”

“Oh, the STG guy from Virmire,” Kaidan recalled. “Nice.”

“Maybe. Mordin doesn't think too highly of him.”

Next was through the hall to the conference room where Josie used the QEC to chat with Illusive, then to Jacob's 'office'. Josie told Kaidan about Jacob's military career and how that knowledge was being used to maintain and upgrade everyone's weapons and armor.

“That's surprising,” Kaidan quipped. “I figured Garrus would take care of that. I'm sure your gear needs constant calibration.”

“Oh, Garrus helps, believe me,” Josie noted, guiding Kaidan out of the armory and back to the CIC. “He prefers the main battery, though. We were able to get our hands on some Thanix cannons and Garrus practically squealed when I told him.”

“Thanix cannons?” Kaidan frowned. “I'm not familiar with those.”

“Because they aren't widely used. The turians developed them and Garrus was itching to get his hands on some the instant he got on board. I'm actually surprised Illusive didn't equip them on the Normandy in the first place.”

As the trio waited for the elevator, Kaidan cocked his head and said, “You're awfully quiet, Thane. Is everything ok?”

“I am fine, Kaidan,” Thane smiled. “I simply have nothing to add. And it's nice just listening to the two of you talk.”

Josie grasped Thane's hand and gave it a squeeze. “I'm sure he'll chime in if he's got something to add,” she smiled.

Next stop was the shuttle bay. Josie lamented the lack of a Mako, complaining about the Hammerhead's fragile nature.

“Wait, you mean you pilot this thing?” Kaidan sounded half horrified.

“I am not sure what she does actually qualifies as 'piloting',” Thane commented.

“Hey, now,” Josie protested. “I get us there and back in one piece.”

“The Hammerhead, not so much,” Thane cocked his head and raised an eyebrow, a faint smile tugging at his lips. To Kaidan, he said, “If what Tali and Garrus say about Shepard's driving skill is true, you truly have my sympathy for the time you spent with her on the Mako.”

Kaidan reached out and gripped Thane's arm. “Thank you,” he choked, pretending to wipe a tear from his cheek. “You have no idea how terrifying it was with her behind the wheel.”

“Oh, I think I do,” Thane replied, patting Kaidan's hand.

“My driving is not that bad,” Josie protested, crossing her arms over her chest.

“I believe EDI might have some data that would contradict that, Siha,” Thane teased.

“I do, Sere Krios.”

EDI started to rattle off all the repairs Josie's beloved Mako had undergone during her tenure on the SR-1 when Josie waved a hand and said, “Alright, alright, I get it. The Mako was just as fragile. Shall we move on?”

“And there's my Cleopatra, Queen of Denial,” Kaidan laughed. “Yes, let's. I'm looking forward to seeing more of your ship.”

Chapter Text

The next stop on the tour was Engineering. Josie led Kaidan down the steps to the little nook Jack called home. She didn't linger, though, feeling like she was violating Jack's privacy by being there while she was gone. They went back up the steps, pausing as the door to the engine room hissed open. Engineer Donnelly's familiar Scottish brogue greeted Josie's ears as he talked about moving to an asari retirement home when he retired himself.

“Ken, shush!” Gabby scolded him. “We have company.”

“No, no carry on. You're fine,” Josie laughed. “I know how he is by now and believe me, it's nothing these two haven't probably discussed already.” The commander turned to her quarian friend and saw that she seemed distracted. “Tali, you ok?”

“Hm? Oh, yeah. Yes, Shepard. I'm fine. Hey, Kaidan,” she added almost as an afterthought. Josie frowned because Tali's sounded like she was anything but fine. She wondered if the quarian was hyper-focused on whatever she was working on. She shrugged and looked at Kaidan, wondering if he picked up on anything in Tali's voice.

“Hey, kid,” Kaidan said. He was smiling, but Josie saw the confusion on his face, too. Her frown deepened as she thought about what might have Tali so distracted. Ken and Gabby didn't seem bothered by anything, so she doubted it had anything to do with the ship. Bad news from home, perhaps? Or maybe she wasn't feeling well. Josie sighed and hoped it wasn't either – with the Normandy in dry dock, Josie couldn't get Tali back to the Fleet any time soon and if she was getting sick, well, Josie really felt sorry for the poor girl if that was the case.

She inhaled to speak to Tali, to try and get her to say what was really wrong, but a gentle nudge to her shoulder made her pause. Josie looked at Thane, who just shook his head 'no' and leaned forward to whisper in her ear.

“She knows you are here. If she wants to talk, she knows where to find you. She just might not want to say anything in front of Kaidan or myself.” When Thane stepped back, he smiled softly and brushed a strand of her auburn locks away from her face and tucked it behind her ear.

“You're probably right,” Josie smiled and nodded, placing Kaidan's hand in the crook of her elbow, leading him down the short hall that ended at the ledge overlooking the massive sphere that was the heart of the ship.

Kaidan gripped the railing and closed his eyes. “The hum is deep,” he said, cocking his head. “Much deeper than on the SR-1. I can feel the vibrations on the railing. It has a strange smell to it, too. I can't quite place it though.”

Josie put her hand next to Kaidan's to see if she could feel the vibration, too. To her, the engine's hum was something more atmospheric. She could almost hear when the ship dropped out of FTL or was gearing up to pass through a relay, but she never really remembered 'feeling' any of it.

“Close your eyes and take a couple of deep breaths,” Kaidan murmured, putting his hand on hers. “It's faint, but it's there.”

Josie did as Kaidan instructed and focused on the smooth, cool, sensation of the metal bar under her palm. She took several deep breaths in through her nose as silently as she could, concentrating on anything that seemed out of the ordinary. After a few moments, there was a slight tingle under her fingers, almost in the background of her touch. “I think I feel it,” she whispered, smiling.

Thane stepped next to her and mimicked her actions. “The sensation is similar on the window in Life Support,” he murmured. “Can you feel the warmth, Kaidan?”

“Yeah,” he said softly. “It's comforting.”

They stood like that for several moments and Josie basked in the new sensations she'd never been aware of before. She kept her eyes closed and smiled; the warmth surrounding her wasn't just coming from the mass effect core. It was a warmth that filled her heart and soul. It was the same warmth she felt when Kaidan would smile shyly at her on the SR-1 and when Thane would clasp her hands as they chatted in Life Support. It was the same, comforting warmth she felt when her parents wrapped their arms around her and hugged her close. An ache suddenly clamped around her heart, making Josie's sinuses burn a little. Josie shook her head and mentally chastised herself, upset for letting the horrifying memory of their death mar what had so far been a perfect day. She took a few deep breaths, trying to focus instead on happier times spent with them as well as the new memories she was creating with Thane and Kaidan.

They both must have picked up on her sudden discomfort, though, because Kaidan slid an arm around her waist and squeezed and Thane asked, “Are you alright, Siha?”

“Yeah, I'm good,” she whispered, glancing at the drell. “Just... remembering stuff.”

Neither pressed her for details, though. 'Remembering stuff' was what she said when something made her think of Mindoir. Thane's armed joined Kaidan's around her waist and they stood together for a few more moments before Josie cleared her throat and suggested they move on.

When they left, Josie again noticed how distracted Tali was. “Are you sure you're ok?” she asked.

“Hm? Oh, yeah, just... there are some anomalous test results and I'm trying to figure out why,” came the off-handed response.

Josie scowled at that. “Anomalous? Is this something EDI should be helping you with?”

“What? Oh, no, it's nothing serious. I can handle it.” Tali's tone left Josie anything but convinced, but she had no reason to doubt the young quarian. Plus, Ken and Gabby were very particular about making sure the engine was kept at optimum efficiency; if there really was a problem, they'd both be all over it.

“Ok, then,” Josie said, turning to follow Thane and Kaidan out of engineering. “If you need anything, EDI can let you know where I am. We aren't leaving the ship for a bit yet.”

As Josie, Kaidan, and Thane made their way out of engineering, though, Josie overheard Ken mention how he hadn't spotted anything out of the ordinary and wondered if they were looking at the same results. Josie paused, frowned, and debated for a moment about whether or not to go back and demand a more solid answer. She looked at the young woman, then back to Kaidan and Thane. For the first time in a long time, Josie had some time off and was actually enjoying it instead of worrying about her ship or crew or whatever mission she was in the middle of. Figuring that EDI would definitely step in if there was a major problem, Josie decided to put Tali's demeanor off to the side for now. She doubted there really were any anomalous test results and that whatever had Tali so distracted would come out when the young woman was ready to talk about it. She shook her head, shrugged, and joined Thane and Kaidan at the elevator. If there was something to be concerned about, someone would let her know.

Deck Three was Josie's favorite place on the Normandy, after her own quarters. To her, it was the true heart of the ship – poker games were played, drinks were shared, and the mess hall was here, too. This was where most of her people came to unwind after a tough mission. It was where Jacob, Zaeed, and Garrus tossed ideas around about how to improve the team's weapons. Mordin often met with Dr. Chakwas to brainstorm ideas on whatever project he was working on (and his brainstorming sessions usually involved him talking and Chakwas just smiling and nodding politely). It took some time for them to all be comfortable enough with each other to do so, but even Jack crawled out of her hidey-hole once in a while to socialize, even if her idea of 'socialize' was to try and goad Miranda into a fight.

The first place Josie led Kaidan was to the med bay. Since Dr. Chakwas hadn't been able to make it to dinner, it was only fair that she see him before they did anything else. Kaidan went through first, and the doctor didn't turn around at first. “Garrus, if you sliced open your hand again because you haven't figured out that mod for your sniper rifle, I swear...”

“Actually, I heard there was a great doctor on board who was experienced with L2 flares,” Kaidan grinned.

“I might know a thing or two,” she replied, spinning around in her chair and standing. The pair hugged and Chakwas apologized profusely for missing the dinner.

“Joker, Tali, and Garrus filled me in, though,” she told the group, motioning her hand for them to find a place to sit. “It sounded like you guys had fun. And Kaidan, you look great! Tell me what happened. I'm sure I missed some details when I heard the story secondhand.”

Josie guided Kaidan to one of the beds and sat next to him. Thane took the spot on the other side of her while Kaidan detailed again how he survived the blast at Saren's lab and touched on the therapy he underwent over the past couple of years. Karin laughed when Kaidan told her what his dog's name was, giving Josie a huge wink.

“So,” Chakwas said, leaning back in her chair. “Tali tells me the three of you are... together?”

“Yeah,” Josie smiled when the men on either side of her gripped her hands. “It's only been a couple of days, but it seems to be working so far.”

“Good. I can't imagine any other people who deserve to be happy as much as you three. And Thane, I hope this gives you an additional reason to reconsider that surgery we discussed.”

“It does,” he smiled, kissing Josie's hand.

“Surgery? What surgery?” Kaidan asked, raising an eyebrow in confusion.

“You know about Thane's condition, right?” Karin sounded concerned, like maybe she had spoken out of turn.

“The Kepral's? Yeah, I know about that.”

Josie held her breath. She knew Kaidan and Thane had talked about his condition, but she wasn't sure if a lung transplant had been brought up yet.

“I didn't want to say anything yet, Kaidan, because of how new everything still is,” Thane said softly. He went on to explain how a lung transplant could save his life but thus far, he'd refused to have the surgery done.

“Well, that's a little understandable,” Kaidan surmised. “I mean, it isn't like you're just getting stitches. But what about your son? What about Josie? I'd think having them in your life would give you a reason to want to live.”

“Josie and I have had a few discussions about just that,” Thane murmured, glancing at the floor. “My reasons are personal, though, and I would prefer to not discuss them here or now.”

Kaidan nodded and after an awkward pause, Josie cleared her throat and asked, “So, Kaidan, do you want to meet a geth?”

Kaidan sighed and cocked his head. “Thane? Karin? How is this 'Legion' character Josie brought on her ship?”

The drell and the doctor exchanged looks and Dr. Chakwas spoke up first. “I won't lie, having a geth on board was a little intimidating at first but Legion is actually very polite and extremely curious. It helped me improve the efficiency of my scanning equipment and I know it helped Garrus improve the firing ratios on the ship's guns. It doesn't come out of the AI core too often and when it does, it stays in the background, watching.”

“Watching? That doesn't sound creepy at all,” Kaidan muttered.

“It actually doesn't seem that way,” Karin explained. “Because the geth have been so cut off from the rest of the galaxy, I think it watches to see how we organics interact with each other. This is a unique situation with a very varied crew. As Mordin has observed, we are all excellent test subjects and the Normandy is a fantastic petri dish.”

“I can't deny that,” Kaidan admitted, remembering who all was on Josie's current crew. “Thane? Anything to add?”

“I have no issue with Legion,” Thane stated. “It has posed several questions on numerous occasions regarding my condition – causes, treatments, symptoms. I believe as the doctor does, that it is very curious. Shepard has taken it along on a couple of missions and it is exceptionally skilled on the battlefield. I was also there when we found it; it has done nothing except aid Shepard in this current endeavor to end the Collector threat. If it meant any of us harm, it has had plenty of opportunity to do so.”

“Alright, then. Let's meet the geth.” Kaidan's tone was resigned, like he would have rather done anything but. Josie had a feeling the techy side of him was more than a little curious, though, and she smiled to herself, thinking it wouldn't be hard for Legion to win him over.

Kaidan took hold of Thane's elbow and the pair followed Josie into the AI core.

“Legion? Are you in there?” Legion was sitting on the cot in the far side of the room, its head down and lights dark, and its hands resting in its lap. Josie squatted down and peered into the AI's headlamp when she spoke, straightening up when something in its head started to whir. The flaps around its headlamp twitched, then the light came on.

“Shepard-Commander, we are always in here,” Legion responded, looking at the commander. “We were conserving energy while the ship undergoes its repairs.”

“It's ok. You don't have to explain anything to me.” Josie glanced over her shoulder at Kaidan and added, “I've got someone I'd like you to meet.”

Josie stepped aside and Kaidan took a couple of tentative steps toward the sound of Legion's voice. He took a deep breath and clasped his hands behind his back. “Hello, Legion,” he said quietly.

The geth cocked its head, its eye flaps twitching rapidly. “Kaidan Alenko. Commander. Systems Alliance Sentinel. Uses an L2 implant. Declared killed in action after the destruction of Saren's lab on the planet Virmire.” The AI paused before continuing. “Recovered by salarian STG forces.” Another pause. “The odds of your survival should have been insurmountable. We believe this is what humans refer to as 'lucky'?”

“So I've been told,” Kaidan smiled. “Josie made sure we all had top of the line gear, though. That helped and I was able to get a barrier up just as the bomb went off.”

“Records indicate your biotics are as powerful as some asari. Perhaps luck did not play as much as a part in your survival as your own skill.”

“Perhaps,” Kaidan agreed. “I think it was a combination of the three – skill, gear, and luck. I didn't come out of it unscathed, though, that's for sure.”

Legion's flaps twitched again as it looked Kaidan up and down. “It appears you suffered extensive injuries. Was your recovery time difficult? How have you adjusted to losing your sight? Is it difficult to walk with one organic and one artificial leg?”

Josie watched with growing amusement as the AI continued to pepper Kaidan with questions faster than he could answer them. He finally gave Josie a look of desperation and she placed a hand on Legion's arm. “I'll tell you what. I'll answer whatever questions you have later, ok?”

Legion considered her offer for a few moments. “You can provide information, however Alenko-Commander can provide us with actual descriptions and experience. Speaking with him first-hand would be preferable.”

“Legion, Kaidan was with me on Eden Prime two years ago,” Josie explained. “He might not be comfortable talking to you about his experience on Virmire.”

Legion cocked its head, two of its flaps raised in alarm. “We had not considered his experience with the Heretics.” Turning to Kaidan, it said, “We apologize if our curiosity has offended you in some way.”

“You're fine, Legion,” Kaidan sighed, running his fingers through his hair. “Actually, I'll tell you what. I'll answer whatever questions I can for you if you let me see you.”

Legion's flaps twitched in confusion. “We do not understand. You are without sight. How will you see us?”

“There is more than one way to see,” Kaidan explained. “This would involve me touching you. Is that ok?”

After a moment's pause, Legion answered, “We believe the experience would be both unique and beneficial. Please proceed.” After another pause, it added, “We appreciate that you asked our permission first. It lends validation to our existence.”

Josie took Kaidan's hand and led him closer to where Legion stood. “Do you require anything from us?” it asked.

“No, no. Just stay there,” Kaidan said. Josie placed Kaidan's hands on its shoulders and stepped back.

Kaidan took a deep breath and frowned a bit. The fact that he was this close to an actual geth – never mind that he was touching the damn thing – was unnerving. Josie seemed to trust it, though, and that helped a little, but very little. Josie and Thane both being there also helped soothe his nerves. However, all he kept picturing in his mind were the machines he fought on Eden Prime, Noveria, Virmire, and elsewhere as they chased after Saren. They didn't talk though, not like this Legion did. And Josie was right; if this thing wanted to hurt any of them, it had more than enough time and opportunity to do just that.

Shaking his head a bit, Kaidan carefully flitted his fingers along the cold metal of Legion's platform. From its shoulder, he grazed along the plating until he reached its head flaps. “What color are you?” he asked, his frown deepening when he found the gaps between the flaps.

“Our armor is grey with the exception of the patch we used to cover the hole in our chest plate.”

“Mmm, yeah. Josie's old armor. She told me you won't tell her why you used it.”

Legion's head flaps raised in confusion, the same way they did when Josie was interrogating it when it was first brought on board. Kaidan jumped a little at the reaction. “Those things move?” he asked. “The ones on Eden Prime didn't have any kind of facial reaction like that.”

“When this platform was constructed, we speculated the panels would help with communication if we should encounter compassionate organics,” it explained. “We are the only platform with this feature. If our endeavor proves successful, future platforms may be outfitted with them, as well.”

Kaidan hummed a response, then brushed his fingers along Legion's head lamp. “And Josie's armor?”

Josie chuckled when Kaidan got the same reaction she did. “There was a hole.” Legion then explained how Alliance troops opened fire on him on Eden Prime, nearly terminating him.

“Uh huh. But why her armor? You must have found something else you could have used sooner.” Kaidan finished looking at Legion's head and traced back down its shoulders, carefully memorizing the details of its arms, then grazed back up and across the chest plate. “The paint hasn't worn off yet. I can still feel the shape of the N7 insignia.”

He glanced over his shoulder at where he thought Josie was standing. “I'm surprised there was anything left to salvage. Didn't you drop to the planet's surface?”

“Yes,” Josie answered quietly. “According to Jacob, the first time he saw me, I was nothing but meat and tubes.”

“So how'd your armor survive? Wouldn't it have been flung off your body from you tumbling through the atmosphere? I mean, that's some intense speed and pressure to go through and still have your gear stay intact.”

Josie cleared her throat and shifted on her feet. She never really talked about her death – not how it felt or the events surrounding it – and Kaidan's candidness made her more than a little uncomfortable. It was like the elephant in the living room. She'd overheard people asking about it, but no one, not even Kelly, asked her to describe the experience. “Could we talk about this another time? Please?” she stammered.

“Shit, Josie, I'm so sorry.” Kaidan dropped his hands and turned to his girlfriend. “That was about the most insensitive thing I could have done.”

“It's ok,” Josie sighed. Thane grazed his fingers along her back with one hand while the fingers on the other hand laced through hers and squeezed.

“No, it isn't. I should know better,” Kaidan murmured, hanging his head. “I, of all people, should know better. I got wrapped up with seeing Legion and I just didn't think.”

Josie walked to Kaidan and placed a soothing hand on his cheek. “Kaidan, it's ok. You've had to talk about how you lived through a nuclear explosion more times in the past month than you probably have in the past year. I just... I try not to think about it. I don't know if that's a good thing or a bad thing but if you really want to know, we can talk about it. Just not now, please?”

“Yes. Definitely. I'm sorry I was an ass. Still love me?” He gave her a lopsided smile and gripped her wrist.

“Always,” came the quick response. Josie kissed Kaidan's cheek and turned him back around to face Legion again.

The AI watched the entire interaction in silence, its head cocked and two flaps raised indicating its curiosity about the exchange. It was learning some social skills, though, and probably understood Josie's reluctance to talk about her untimely demise, meaning it would pepper her with questions about the whole thing later.

Kaidan easily picked up where he left off, pausing at the edges of Legion's field-repaired chest piece, flitting around the jagged edges, turning his attention back to the geth. “That was a big-ass hole, my friend.”

Legion cocked its head. “You referred to us as 'friend', yet only moments ago, our presence seemed to make you uneasy. Please explain.”

Josie pressed her lips together to suppress a giggle when she saw how red Kaidan's face got. “It's a phrase.”

“So we are not 'friends'?”

“Well, we aren't enemies. Not yet anyway. Are you Josie's friend?”

Legion cocked its head and raised one of its head panels. “We are unsure. Shepard-Commander has not elaborated either way.”

“We're friends, Legion,” Josie assured him.

“Humans have a saying,” Kaidan explained as he continued tracing his hands along the AI's torso. “Any friend of hers is a friend of mine. Are you familiar with that?”

Another pause and flap-twitch. “We have encountered similar sayings while searching for information on the Old Machines. We believe the intent behind those words is that you trust Shepard-Commander's judgment regarding this platform. Since she deems us worthy of her friendship, then you will accept her decision based on your past relationship. Therefore, we, too, are 'friends'.”

“Yeah, that sounds about right,” Kaidan agreed, taking a small step back. “You seem to be a lot like the geth we encountered when we were after Saren.”

“Those were not geth. Those were Heretics,” Legion stated.

“Right. Heretics. Josie may have mentioned that. At any rate, other than those flaps around your flashlight head and using Josie's armor for that hole, you look like your brethren.”

“Is that association helpful for you?” Legion queried.

“Yeah, it is,” Kaidan nodded. “I remember what the machines we fought look like, so now when Josie talks about you, I have a better idea in my head about what you look like.” Kaidan reached out and ran his fingers along Legion's patch job. “I'm still really, really curious about this, though.”

“There was a hole,” Legion stated again.

“Yeah, you said.”

“Kaidan, I don't think you're going to get an answer from him. I didn't,” Josie grinned.

“Well, is it classified or something?” Kaidan frowned.

The geth simply cocked its head at the human. “No data available,” it said.

“Well, that answers that,” he huffed, shaking his head. He stared in Legion's direction and sighed, “A deal's a deal. You let me see you, I'll answer your questions. I hope you don't mind if I ask you some, too.”

Again, Legion gave Kaidan a once-over and replied, “We look forward to exchanging information with you.”

Kaidan and Legion went back and forth with their Q and A session. Legion asked pointed questions about Kaidan's injuries and sought detailed answers about his recovery process. Kaidan asked about the individual programs housed within the platform and what their functions were. Josie tried to pay attention but it wasn't long until trying to follow the technical jargon started to make her head hurt.

She saw Kaidan shift on his feet and wondered if his leg was bothering him; if it did, he didn't say anything and Josie knew if she asked, he'd deny it. There were a few times when Kaidan would ask a question and Legion would respond by placing Kaidan's hands somewhere on its body. At one point, Kaidan removed his prosthesis and allowed the geth to examine it more closely. Josie looked at her omni-tool and was shocked to see they'd been in the AI core for over an hour.

“Um, guys, I hate to break this up, but we really should move along,” she said, standing up.

Kaidan looked shocked at first, then contrite. “Shit. I'm sorry. I didn't realize how long we'd been talking.”

He glanced in Legions direction, offering a small smile and extended his hand. “It was nice meeting you, Legion.”

The geth considered Kaidan's offer for a moment, remembering how Shepard had done the same thing when she made it a member of her crew. “This interaction exceeded our expectations. We look forward to speaking with you again,” it said, shaking Kaidan's hand.

“I'll see what I can do. In the meantime, you'd better watch her back. Thane's, too. You got me?”

“Allowing harm to come to either Shepard-Commander or Sere Krios would be counter-productive to our mission. Additionally, their loss would negatively affect the programs housed in this platform. We endeavor to ensure the survival of everyone on the crew, with priority given to Shepard-Commander.”

“Good,” Kaidan nodded before turning away. “You know, you aren't too bad for a geth.”

Legion raised a head flap and cocked his head as though it were confused. “We are the only geth you have met. The others were Heretics...”

“It's a compliment, Legion,” Josie interrupted, patting the AI on the shoulder. “Just say, 'Thank you'.”

Legion glanced at Josie for a moment before looking at Kaidan again and saying, “Thank you.”

“I think we're done here. Legion, you can power back down if you like. We'll be heading to the Main Battery now.”

“As you wish.” Legion resumed its seat on the cot at the back of the room, placed its hands in its lap, and hung its head as it shut itself off.

When they walked back into the med bay, Dr. Chakwas looked up from her datapad with an amused expression on her face. “I'm going to assume your meeting with Legion went well,” she chuckled.

Kaidan's face turned red when he said, “I was wrong. Legion is an ok guy. Thing. Whatever.”

“Yes, Commander, that it is,” Karin winked at Josie.

The trio stepped out into the mess area, making their way to the Main Battery. “Let's see what trouble Garrus is getting into, shall we?” Josie said as the doors hissed open.

Chapter Text

In the Main Battery, Garrus was literally up to his elbows in the Thanix cannon with some rather colorful language passing through his teeth. Josie's translator didn't quite catch all of it, but she got the general idea from what swear words she could figure out.

“So, the good doctor wasn't kidding about your inability to install a mod, hm?” Kaidan joked when the door hissed shut.

Garrus picked his head up long enough to sigh and acknowledge his friends' presence. “Guys, I'm glad you're here, but this is a bad time.”

“In the middle of some calibrations? Again?” Josie teased.

“You have no idea,” the turian muttered. “I only have a few days to make sure this gun will do what I want it to do, especially if we go up against that damn Collector ship again.”

“Again?” Kaidan asked.

Josie explained how they found a supposedly defunct Collector ship that turned out to be a trap and how EDI had figured out it was the same one that destroyed the SR-1.

“Wow,” Kaidan whistled. “What are the odds?”

“Exactly,” Josie stated. “Illusive is certain they're targeting me specifically.” She started to explain Ash's presence on Horizon, but thought better of it, not wanting Kaidan to have any reason to mistrust Cerberus more than he already did.

“At least you have capable people watching your back.” He kissed her hand and smiled, but it didn't reach his eyes, something that told Josie he was more worried for her than he let on.

“That I do,” she smiled back, glancing at Garrus and Thane.

“Of course she does,” Garrus scoffed. “You forget who the better shot is, Alenko.”

“Garrus, I could probably still outshoot you and I can't see shit,” Kaidan frowned.

“Shame we can't have a rematch of our last round,” Garrus joked. “I don't want you blaming your missed shots on anything other than poor skill, my friend.”

Josie heard Thane clear his throat and inhale. “Guys, guys,” Josie interrupted, not wanting to be in the middle of the three of them pounding their chests at each other. “We can have this discussion another time. Garrus, you need to finish what you're doing there and you two,” she nudged Kaidan and Thane's shoulders, “probably need to eat again.” She ushered her boys to the door without giving any of them a chance to continue the 'who's a better shot' discussion.

“So, where do you two sleep?” Kaidan asked once they were back in the mess area.

“Well, Thane claimed Life Support as his own and my quarters are on Deck 1,” Josie explained. “There are three other rooms on this deck besides Life Support and what you've seen. I'd rather not take you in them, though, since it's kind of where some of the crew sleep. Privacy and all that.”

“Gotcha,” Kaidan nodded.

“If you like,” Thane offered, “I would be happy to at least show you where these rooms are so you have a more complete picture of the deck. I can also show you my room and Shepard can fix us all something to eat. If she doesn't mind, that is.” He gave Josie a warm smile she couldn't help but return.

“Of course I don't mind. Go, do your thing. I'm sure our resident chef left something behind I can work with.”

Thane and Kaidan meandered around the rest of Deck 3. Josie pulled some leftover chicken from the previous night's dinner and sliced it up, thinking she'd make some grilled chicken and cheese sandwiches. She smiled as she worked, listening to Thane murmur detailed descriptions of what was around while Kaidan's cane faintly scraped along the floor. She heard Thane ask Samara for permission to enter her room and the door hissed open. A few minutes later, it opened again and Samara's soothing alto voice drifted into the mess area. Then the door to Life Support hissed open and Josie fought the urge to follow. The pair was getting along as well as Kaidan and Garrus did on the SR-1; they were acting like they'd been best friends all their lives instead of just the past couple of days.

Past couple of days. It really only had been 3 or 4 days since Kaidan first talked to her about doing this poly thing with Thane, hadn't it? Technically, this was only their second day in an official relationship, though it certainly seemed like they'd been doing this for much longer. She shook her head and lit the stove, waiting for the frying pan to heat up as she considered how cliché this all was. Josie was never big on romantic movies or books, but she was familiar enough with the common tropes that went along with the genre – two people meet and the universe magically falls into place around them. Still, she couldn't deny the easy familiarity between Kaidan and Thane. There was absolutely no tension between the two of them and they talked and joked like they'd been friends for years.

Josie flipped the sandwiches and frowned, realizing the boys hadn't returned from Thane's room yet. “EDI? Are Thane and Kaidan ok?” she asked the AI.

After a moment's pause, the familiar feminine voice responded, “They are fine, Shepard.”

“What on earth are they doing?” Josie muttered under her breath.

“They are simply talking,” EDI responded. “Thane asked that I give them some privacy and I had no reason to deny his request.”

Josie paused, the skillet in mid-air, and asked, “They aren't fighting, are they?”

“They are not. If you like, I can resume my observations...”

“No, no, that's ok, EDI, but thank you,” Josie interrupted. “As long as they aren't arguing or anything like that, they'll come out when they're done.”

As an afterthought, she added, “Would you let them know the food's done, though, please? This stuff isn't that great when it's cold.”

“Understood, Shepard.”

A few moments later, Josie heard a door hiss open and craned her neck to watch Kaidan and Thane come around the corner. Thane was half a step ahead of Kaidan, who held a light grip on the drell's elbow with one hand and a firm grip on his cane with the other. Neither man was smiling, but Josie didn't pick up on any tension between the two, either.

“Is everything ok?” she asked, setting plates on the table and retrieving drinks from the fridge.

“Yeah, we're good,” Kaidan nodded, feeling his way into one of the seats facing the Main Battery..

Josie crossed her arms over her chest when Thane sat across from Kaidan, taking his usual position with his back to the Main Battery but didn't add to Kaidan's answer.

“You sure? You two were in the for a long time.” Josie studied the pair, wondering what they talked about.

“Yes, Siha, we're sure. We did not realize how long we had been talking.” Thane reached for Kaidan's plate and put a couple of sandwiches on it, then set it noisily down in front of his friend. “There are two sandwiches there for you, Kaidan,” he said quietly.

“It must have been a riveting conversation, then,” Josie teased, almost wishing she had told EDI to eavesdrop.

Kaidan brushed his fingers along the table in front of him until he found his plate, then took an eager bite of his sandwich. “This is really good, Josie. Thanks.”

Josie glanced back and forth between Thane and Kaidan, neither of whom seemed willing to share more of what they talked about. She let out an exasperated sigh before plopping down next to Kaidan and grabbing a sandwich of her own. “Fine. Keep your secrets then,” she grumbled.

“Do we really have to tell you everything?” Kaidan asked. The smirk on his face told Josie he was teasing but she didn't like it.

“No, you don't,” she admitted, “but I don't know what you two have to talk about that would distract you so much you forget there's food.”

“Well, there's you, for starters,” Kaidan chuckled, “Thane and I have already had several conversations where the topic of choice was one Commander Shepard.”

“If you must know, Siha,” Thane explained, “we talked about the surgery.”

“Oh.” Josie's voice was small and she suddenly felt like an ass for pushing the issue. She and Thane had never talked about it themselves though she wished they would. Maybe Kaidan was able to talk some sense into him and get him to see that having that operation would be a good thing; even if their new relationship didn't work out, he had a son he needed to think about. Guilt was quickly replaced by anger – she had just as much of a right to that conversation as Kaidan did, if not more so. As selfish as might seem, she felt like she was more emotionally invested in this thing than either of them were. Josie wanted to push for details, but she opted instead to put some food in her mouth to keep from saying something she might regret.

“It's ok, Siha. I just explained to him why I discounted that option,” Thane explained.

Josie glanced back and forth between the two again, growing more frustrated when neither of them elaborated. “Well, would you enlighten me, then, please? I mean, I'd love to know if I should continue to get emotionally invested in this thing we're doing. I'd rather not give my heart to someone who's knowingly going to rip it into a million pieces in a year or so because he's too stubborn to do something about his illness.”

Her words came out more angry and bitter than she'd intended, and Josie hung her head and pressed her lips together. She didn't care that they whispered things to each other when her back was turned because most of the time it was about her. She wasn't stupid enough to think they didn't talk at all when she wasn't around, their easy camaraderie was proof of that. Nor did she expect them to tell her whatever it was they did discuss when she was out of earshot because she really didn't need to know everything they talked about. Thane having potentially life-saving surgery, though? That was a conversation she most definitely needed to be a part of.

Thane took a deep breath and reached across the table for her hand. Josie wanted to pull away but didn't; when he squeezed her fingers, she didn't return the gesture, either. “Siha, I know I've explained to you about my battle sleep. How, for the past ten years, I was able to just be and do what needed done. How I had accepted my death because there was nothing left for me to do. Yes, meeting you and finding Kolyat changed that...” His voice trailed off and he didn't meet her gaze.

“There's a but there. What is it? We aren't reason enough to want to live?” Josie jerked her hand back and stood. A tear slid down her cheek as she crossed her arms over her chest. “And now there's Kaidan. I mean, I know it's only been a couple of days, but you two are like peas in a pod now. You don't think your death will affect him, too?”

“Siha,” Thane started after her.

“Don't 'Siha' me,” she spat.

“It isn't that simple,” Thane offered.

“Oh, really?” Josie scoffed. “Because it seems pretty simple from where I'm standing.”

“Things with Kolyat are complicated. I've been away from him for so long that I don't believe my death would affect him either way. I told you in C-Sec after you helped me find him that our relationship would take a long time to fix.”

“And you don't want to make the effort? I can't believe I'm hearing this.” Josie's eyes widened and she looked at Kaidan for some support. “Kaidan, please tell me you tried to talk some sense into him.”

Kaidan finished chewing, swallowed, and sighed. “He talked, I listened. And yes, I did try telling him that dying wouldn't be the best thing for his son or our relationship right now. It's his choice, though, Josie, and it isn't one he's taking lightly. Just because he hasn't immediately changed his mind and agreed wholeheartedly to do this doesn't mean he isn't weighing his options and giving it some serious thought.”

He leaned back and crossed his arms over his chest. “This is major surgery, Josie. He told me his condition is as bad as it can be without him being actually dead. There is a real possibility he could die on the table, not to mention drell organs are extremely scarce.”

“I have looked into cloning my tissue,” Thane offered, taking a step toward his love. “But it's a lengthy process and not guaranteed. The Kepral's is an additional complication to the cloning process.”

Josie wrapped her arms around herself and hung her head, turning away so Thane couldn't see her brush her cheeks along her shoulders to wipe the tears. “You don't think I had a right to know any of this?” she asked quietly.

“You did.” A gentle hand on her shoulder made a sob choke from her throat. “I didn't want you to get your hopes up. I am sorry, Siha. I never meant to hurt you.”

Thane turned Josie toward him and wrapped his arms around her. She clutched at him, melting into his embrace. “I don't want to lose you, Thane. Especially not now.”

He kissed the top of her head and nestled his cheek in her hair. “You might find it hard to believe, but considering this surgery is harder than accepting my death was. I am trying, though. For you, and for Kolyat and Kaidan.”

He stepped back and cradled her face in his hands, wiping her tears with his thumbs. “I love you, Siha, and I don't want to leave you.”

Josie offered him a small smile, wrapping her hands around his. “Just please promise me you won't keep things like this from me. If you decide either way, I deserve to know. Let me help you with research or use some of my contacts, ok?”

“I promise,” he swore, brushing his lips against hers. “I won't keep anything from you in the future, especially about the surgery.”

“Well, now that you two have kissed and made up,” Kaidan chuckled, “what's left to see?”

Josie stayed in Thane's arms a moment longer before answering. “Just my quarters,” she explained, kissing Thane's cheek.

“Oooo, your quarters!” Kaidan grinned and wiggled his eyebrows. “I can't wait for that!”

“Well, we need to finish eating first, then clean up. I don't want to leave this mess for Gardner or anyone else,” Josie admonished him.

Thane resumed his seat across from Kaidan and Josie slid back in next to him. The trio finished eating the sandwiches she made, chatting about the differences between the SR-1 and SR-2. Kaidan loved the ship and was thankful Josie had so many talented people behind her to help with the Collectors. They talked about Ash for a bit and Kaidan promised to reach out to her again, saying he'd have Anderson set something up if necessary.

Josie and Thane started cleaning up and Kaidan offered to wash the dishes when they heard the elevator hiss. “Shepard? EDI said you were here.”

Tali rounded the corner, nervously wringing her hands together. “Tali, what is it?” Josie wiped her hands on a dish towel and hurried to her friend.

“I got a message from the admiralty board. They need me back as soon as possible.”

“The admiralty board? Is everything ok?” Josie asked. Tali glanced between Thane and Kaidan and sighed.

“I had hoped to speak to you alone about this,” she started. “I guess it doesn't matter if they're here or not. They'll hear about it eventually anyway.”

“We can leave, Tali,” Kaidan offered, reaching for his cane. He and Thane started for the med bay, but Tali grabbed their arms.

“No, it's ok. Sit.” Tali started pacing, her hands rubbing up and down her arms like she was warding off a chill.

Thane and Kaidan both sat in the booth but Josie stood, wondering what had her friend so upset. A few more moments passed before Tali paused and hung her head. “They've accused me of treason, Shepard,” she said in a small voice.

“They what?” Josie was incredulous. “Are they idiots or just stupid? How could they think you'd do something like that?”

“I don't know. They don't lay charges like this unless the evidence is absolute.” Tali resumed pacing. Josie glanced at Kaidan and Thane – the former was wide-eyed, disbelief written all over his face, the latter had a small frown and steepled his fingers in front of his face.

“Is this because you're helping me and I'm kind of with Cerberus?” Josie pressed.

“I don't know!” Tali cried. “I have no idea what they're accusing me of! You'd think I would remember if I'd betrayed the Fleet!”

Tali went on to explain that there would be a hearing and if they found her guilty, she would face exile.

“That's ridiculous!” Kaidan exclaimed. “Did they forget everything you did when you helped Josie with Saren?”

“That doesn't matter,” Tali lamented.

“How long will they wait? Do they know the Normandy is in dry dock?” Josie asked.

“They'll wait a reasonable amount of time, then try me in absentia. I was going to just book passage on another ship...”

“EDI, is there any chance the repairs and upgrades can be sped up?” Josie held up a hand, interrupting her friend.

“The repairs are nearly complete, Shepard,” the AI answered. “Taking into account breaks for meals and rest for the maintenance crew, the upgrades you purchased will take another 27 hours to install, then 18 more hours for testing.”

“So we've got about two days,” Josie mused to herself and thought for a few moments. “Tali, let them know that I'll have you there as soon as possible. EDI, get word to the crew that shore leave has been cut short – I need everyone back on board in 2 days. If we run into any problems during the testing, we'll have to fix them on the fly.”

“Understood, Shepard,” EDI replied.

“Oh, thank you, Shepard!” Tali threw her arms around her friend. “I didn't think there would be time for you to do this.”

“It's ok,” Josie hugged the young quarian. “I helped just about everyone else on the crew with one problem or another. Besides, this is what friends do – they help each other when they can.”

Tali hurried back to the elevator, Josie guessed she was going back to engineering to contact the Fleet. She let out a heavy, frustrated sigh and ran her hand over her face. Kaidan and Thane watched as she tapped a finger to her cheek. A slow smile spread across her face and she let out a slightly evil-sounding chuckle.

“Uh oh, that can't be good,” Kaidan said, raising an eyebrow. “Josie, what are you thinking?”

“I'm thinking that when I drop Tali off at the fleet, I'll need to personally escort her to the admiralty board. And you know I never go anywhere without at least two people at my back,” Josie grinned.

“Right, so you'd take Tali and...?” Kaidan pressed. “Not Thane?”

“Nope. Not Thane. Sorry, babe,” she said to the drell.

“No need to apologize,” he assured her. “Especially if you're thinking what I think you're thinking.”

Realization spread across Kaidan's face. “Oh, no. Josie, please tell me you aren't going to do what I think you're going to do.”

“And what might that be?”

“Please tell me you aren't taking Legion with you.”

“'I am absolutely taking Legion with me.” Josie turned to the sink and started washing the dishes. “If they want to put my friend – a good friend who helped me save their suited asses when I stopped Saren – through the humiliation of a treason court martial or whatever they want to call it, then I will put them through the humiliation of having an actual geth on one of their fucking ships.”

“What if they don't allow it? What if it makes things worse for Tali? Josie, you should really give this more thought,” Kaidan admonished her.

“I did think about it, Kaidan. Legion is coming with me. Period.”

With the dishes finished, Josie turned to the boys, a shy smile spreading across her face. “Well, there's one more stop,” she murmured.

Thane put Kaidan's hand on his elbow and smiled back. “Lead the way, Siha.”

Once they stepped into the elevator, Josie leaned against the back wall with Kaidan and Thane taking a spot on either side of her. Each man rested a hand around her waist and drew closer to her. Josie's heart fluttered and she took a deep breath, closing her eyes and reveling in the moment.

It wasn't the first time they were on the elevator that day, but for some reason, everything seemed closer and more pronounced. The lingering spearmint scent of Kaidan's muscle cream mingled with his cologne, the smell of Thane's leather outfit mixed with the spicy scent he loved to wear, and all those smells combined together in a heady aroma that went straight to Josie's core. Were they rushing things? Maybe a little. After all, what was happening between the three of them was only a couple of days old. However, she'd known Kaidan for months before Virmire and Thane for nearly as long. Individually, this wasn't rushing things at all. Not to mention she wanted this, wanted them desperately. She missed the comfort and warmth of their arms, the sounds they made when she molded her body with theirs, the way they moved together as the last thing they did before drifting off to sleep in a tangle of sheets and sated limbs.

Josie swallowed hard as heat bloomed in her belly and her face flushed at the thought of both of them loving her at the same time.

Chapter Text

Josie swallowed hard as heat bloomed in her belly and her face flushed at the thought of both of them loving her at the same time.

“Siha? Is everything ok?”

Josie risked a glance at the drell, the crimson on her cheeks getting darker when she saw the smirk toying at his lips. Of course, he can probably smell me, Josie groaned inwardly, forgetting for a moment how the drell had heightened senses.

“Yes,” she cleared her throat again. “I'm just thinking is all.”

“Oh?” Josie could hear the smirk in Kaidan's voice. “What might you be thinking about?”

“Oh, nothing,” she gave the boys a coy smile. “Us, I guess.”

The elevator hissed open and Josie reluctantly stepped away from Kaidan and Thane and into the corridor. A silent sigh of relief passed her lips when she saw the glaring red symbol indicating her door was still locked. For some reason, she always expected to come back to her room and find that someone had been there. Her room was always as she left it, although she knew damn well Kasumi was more familiar with the layout of her room than she should have been.

A quick pass of her hand over the symbol changed it from red to green, and Josie smiled over her shoulder at Thane and Kaidan before stepping into her quarters.

“And this is the Loft,” she grinned.

“And why is it called 'the Loft'?” Kaidan asked, closing his eyes and inhaling.

“According to EDI, the yard workers called it that because it's directly under the exterior pressure hull.” Josie cocked her head, waiting to see what Kaidan would have to say about her quarters.

“I'd definitely know you spent a lot of time here,” he finally said, opening his eyes and smiling. “I can smell that apple shampoo you like and I think there's some citrus there. From your tea, maybe?”

“He's good,” Thane chuckled, guiding Kaidan further into the room.

Josie explained the layout – her desk, the hamster cage, the steps, the couch and coffee table, the fish tank – as Kaidan flitted his fingers along the walls and desktops, listening intently as Josie described everything.

“So you have pets? I'm surprised you have time to look after them.”

“Well, I've lost a lot of fish,” Josie confessed. “More than I could keep track of. It was so soothing, though, to watch them while I was trying to sleep that I just kept buying more. Kelly finally offered to keep an eye on them for me, in case I forgot to feed them or something.”

“And the hamster?” Kaidan felt his way back up the steps to the desk, grazing his fingers along the glass of the hamster cage. “Does it have a name?”

“Maybe...” Josie felt her face get hot again.

“Oh, come on. You know I named my dog after you. What's your hamster's name?”

“Maple. Short for Maple Head,” she finally admitted.

Kaidan smirked at her over his shoulder. “It's Canadian?”

“I doubt it,” Josie shrugged, climbing back up the steps to retrieve Maple from its pen. “But the maple head I named it after is.”

She gentle place the fluffy rodent into Kaidan's hands and a smile quickly spread across his face. “You named your hamster after me?” he murmured, gently stroking the animal's soft fur.

“Yeah,” Josie admitted. “It's a good listener, too. Just like you were for me on the SR-1.”

Kaidan blinked quickly and Josie thought she saw his eyes glisten. He cleared his throat, though, and said, “I remember seeing hamsters in pets stores when I was a kid. I wanted one, but my mom always said no because they reminded her too much of mice.”

“Well, they are technically a rodent,” Josie admitted, glancing at Thane. The drell was watching the exchange from the bottom of the steps, his hands clasped behind his back, and a warm smile on his face. When he noticed her watching him, he gave her a slow wink and his smile widened.

Assured that there was still no hint of jealousy between either man, she turned her attention back to Kaidan, who had his hand wrapped gently around Maple's body and had lifted it up closer to his face. The hamster, ever curious, was twitching its nose at this new face, its whiskers shaking as it flitted its head around, taking in the new sight and smell. She bit back a laugh when Kaidan puckered his lips and made kissy noises at it, grinning when Maple squeaked in return.

“I think it likes me,” he laughed.

“What's not to like?” Josie chuckled, coaxing the tiny mammal from Kaidan's hands and back into its pen. “So, what do you say to a drink?” she asked, placing Kaidan's hand on her elbow.

“I say that sounds pretty good. What have you got?”

“You won't believe this, but I was actually able to get my hands on a bottle of Yukon Jack,” Josie grinned.

“You didn't,” Kaidan frowned. “Josie, teasing a man about his favorite drink just isn't nice at all. Especially when it's a man you say you love.”

Thane chuckled and retrieved the bottle from under Josie's night stand. “She isn't teasing. I was with her when she found it. You should have seen her reaction.”

“Oh?” Kaidan's eyebrows raised and he grinned. “Do tell.”

“Another time, maybe,” Josie said, kissing his cheek. “But for now, tell me what you think of my ship.”

Thane gave Josie her glass, then wrapped Kaidan's fingers around his. Josie watched, eager to see Kaidan's reaction to having a taste of his favorite drink again.

He carefully lifted the glass to his nose, stopping when the rim was about a half inch from his nostrils. He closed his eyes and took a couple of quick breaths then one deeper inhale. A smile slowly crept across his lips and he whispered, “Just like home.”

“I propose a toast,” Thane said, clearing his throat. Once everyone raised their glasses, he continued, “To old endings, new beginnings, and having a place to call home.”

They all took sips of their whiskey – Kaidan closed his eyes and grinned broadly, “That's what I'm talking about!” he declared; Thane took a tentative sniff, then a small sip and puckered a bit before taking another swallow. “It isn't what I'm used to, but it is nice,” he admitted; it had been a while since Josie had any of the stuff, but she remembered how good it tasted. She took a swallow, letting it linger on her tongue before passing it down her gullet. It was one of the smoothest drinks she'd had in a while and she definitely noticed the sweet honey notes as the liquid swirled in her mouth. When she swallowed, warmth spread through her stomach and quickly rose in her chest and she smiled at Kaidan. “I know why you love this stuff so much. It's pretty good.”

“I have great taste in a lot of things,” he reminded her with a wink. “Now, where can a blind cripple sit to rest his weary stump?”

Josie led him to the L-shaped couch and he sat, immediately propping his prosthetic on the coffee table in front of him, wincing a little.

“Are you ok?” Josie asked, sitting next to him.

“Yeah,” he smiled, stroking her arm. “I'm just probably overdoing it is all. The stump still aches a little from last night.”

“Kaidan, you should have said something,” Josie scolded, not resisting when he pulled her against his chest. “We could have taken more breaks or seen if Karin had something for you...”

“Josie, it's ok,” he smirked, kissing the top of her head. “Trust me, this ache isn't nearly as bad as the pain was last night. I'm fine.”

“If you say so,” she frowned, turning her attention to Thane, who had his omni-tool opened up.

“I'm sorry, I have to take this. Excuse me,” Thane stated and hurried from the room.

“I wonder what that was all about,” Josie asked, watching his departure with a concerned look. She shook her head, thankful that whatever it was waited until they were done but hoped it wasn't something serious.

She nestled back against Kaidan's chest and said, “So, my ship?”

He took a deep breath and nudged his shoulder so Josie was looking up at him. “I think it's fantastic,” he started, cradling her cheek in his hand. “It isn't the original, but it seems like you've done a great job getting everything ready to do what you need to do.”

“I'm trying,” she admitted.

Kaidan tugged on her arm, pulling her into his lap. “I honestly wouldn't mind having a closer look at the bed, though” he murmured, sliding his hand behind her neck. He pulled her closer to him and brushed his lips across hers. “Unless the full tour costs extra.”

“Well, I do offer a retiree discount, Commander,” Josie smirked, running her hands over his chest and grinding her hips against his. “Or a free preview, perhaps?”

Kaidan growled and gripped the back of her head, crushing their lips together. He pushed his hips against hers, making Josie whimper when the bulge in his pants pressed against her. “Kaidan,” she breathed.

“Mmm?” he moaned against her neck. “Do you want to move? Or stay here?” His tongue darted out, flicking along the warm flesh at her jawline. His hands worked their way under her shirt, his calloused palms warm against her back. His fingers gripped and dragged along her spine as he kissed her again and pressed his hips against her more.

Josie couldn't do much more than whimper. Her fingers carded through Kaidan's hair, gripping it tightly as his mouth moved along her throat. She thrust against his hips and the friction increased her arousal ten-fold.

“Maybe we should move to the bed,” he breathed, his hand moving to her chest, kneading her breasts, “I could get you nice and warmed up for when Thane comes back, hm? Would you like that?”

“Yes,” Josie gasped, leaning back, giving him better access to her chest. Kaidan lifted her shirt over her head and pressed his mouth against the creamy flesh peeking out from her bra.

“I've thought about that a lot, you know,” he groaned, nipping at her breast. “Both of us having you at the same time. Do you want that? One of us could start here,” his hand wiggled in between them, gripping her crotch, “and the other would be back here.” His other hand worked down over her ass, gripping and massaging her buttocks.

“God, yes,” she panted, resting her forehead on his. “Ever since we became three.”

Kaidan paused and leaned back a bit, raising an eyebrow. “Really? Because it seemed like you were pretty reluctant before. Josie, we don't want to do anything you aren't comfortable with.”

She sighed and ran her hands along Kaidan's chest. “I know,” she said, softly. “I just... you were so angry with me and then this came out of the blue and I never would have thought Thane would have agreed and I just wanted to make sure that you two were really ok with it.”

She paused for a breath before continuing. “I thought at first the way you two were getting along was just for show, for my benefit, but I haven't picked up on any tension between you. Nothing. It's like you've been friends all your life. And Thane told me that this is the first time since he met me that he's truly been this comfortable around someone.”

Josie cradled Kaidan's face in her hand, tracing his cheekbone with her thumb. “And I think if you had any issues, you'd have said something by now. Or I'd have picked up on it.”

Kaidan turned into Josie's touch, kissing her wrist. “I won't lie, I wanted to hate the guy. I really did. But if he's the kind of person who can win your heart, well, I figured he couldn't be all that bad. I don't know what it is. Maybe it's because we both love you but it's like something just clicks with him.”

“He said kind of the same thing about you,” Josie murmured, kissing Kaidan's nose.

“Did he, now?” he grinned, squeezing her ass.

“Mm hmm,” she giggled, grinding against him again.

“So, what do you say we get things started until he gets back? He can just jump right in.”

“Sounds good to me.” Josie gasped, then whimpered when Kaidan returned his attention to her chest. He nibbled at the sensitive flesh through the lace in her bra, his tongue flicking over her hardened nipples.

“That was Kolyat. He was involved in.....”

Josie hadn't heard the door hiss open; Thane usually moved silently, so she wasn't surprised she didn't hear him glide down the stairs, either. She vaguely heard him speak but what got her attention was something her translator didn't quite catch. When she looked at him, she could see his lips were parted and his frills was a deep shade of red and a little puffy, the way they usually looked when he was aroused. He squeezed his eyes shut and curled his hands into fists, taking several deep breaths before continuing.

“I must go,” he continued softly, his eyes still shut.

“Kaidan, Kaidan stop... stop a second,” Josie said, pulling away.

Kaidan immediately dropped his hands and leaned back, looking in the direction Thane's voice had come from. “Is everything ok?”

Josie stood, pulling her shirt back down over her chest and went to Thane. “Thane, what it is? What happened?”

Part of her panicked, afraid that maybe his reaction was because he was upset about seeing Kaidan and her together. Maybe we were all wrong about this she thought, walking toward Thane. Maybe he really wasn't ok with this whole set-up and seeing Kaidan and me together made him realize that.

Thane took another deep breath, the frills on his neck slowly returning to normal as he opened his eyes. “It's Kolyat,” he said, forcing a smile. “There was... an altercation. He was injured and C-Sec is considering arresting him. I must leave.”

Thane crooked his finger under her chin and considered her for a moment before crushing his lips to hers. Josie's breath hitched and her moan was muffled in his mouth as their tongues danced around each other. “But know that I would much rather be here with you two, doing this,” he growled, reluctantly pulling away.

Well, that answers that. Josie cradled Thane's face in her hands. “We'll go with you.”

“Absolutely,” Kaidan said as he stood, adjusting himself and grabbing his cane. “Do you know what happened?”

“I do not have all the details,” Thane said, taking a small step back from Josie. “There was a fight in a club. Kolyat tried to intervene and a weapon was pulled. All I know is that he was injured and that C-Sec wants to arrest him because they believe he was more involved than he says he is.”

“Shit, Thane, do you know if he's at least ok? Do you want me to call Bailey? Or pull in some favors?” Josie followed the two men into the corridor and locked her door.

“I believe he is ok, or at least he will be. I would prefer to see him before calling anyone. He was not given much time with me on the phone and I instructed him not to speak with anyone until I arrived.”

“EDI, is Joker awake yet?” Josie asked as they waited for the elevator.

“Mr. Moreau is currently on the bridge,” came the clipped response.

“Good. Joker, I need you to meet me in the shuttle bay. We need to get back ASAP and we don't have time for the transport shuttle.”

“Aye aye, Commander. Is everything ok? Kaidan didn't break his good leg or something, did he?”

“Damn smart ass,” Kaidan muttered under his breath, shaking his head.

“No, Kaidan's fine,” Josie laughed. “We just need to get back ASAP.”

“Ah, well, ok, I guess. I'll meet you in the shuttle bay.”

Taking the shuttle was much, much quicker than the transport had been. Josie almost wished she had asked Joker to pick them up but then realized she would have missed on the extra time with the boys as they traveled. The pilot dropped them off at Huerta Memorial and told them (seriously) to let him know if they, or Kolyat, needed anything.

The trio hurried into the emergency room where Thane flagged down the nearest nurse and explained who he was and why he was there. The salarian nodded and told him to have a seat, that a doctor would be with them soon.

Josie led Kaidan to some seats and the three waited to find out what had happened to Kolyat. She leaned back and tried to relax. She didn't care much for hospitals, considering the last time she was in one (or something close to it), was when she'd just come out of her Lazarus Project coma and had to fight her way to safety. To the untrained eye, Kaidan and Thane both looked relaxed, but Josie knew better.

Thane was also leaned back in his seat, his arm draped over the chair back and his left ankle crossed over his right knee. His eyes darted back and forth around the waiting room, taking everything in. He was rubbing his finger and thumb together, something he once told Josie he did when he making a plan in his head – number of people, potential threats, possible exits. Even when he wasn't on a job, it was something he always did. Josie didn't blame him since she did something similar.

Kaidan was leaning forward, his arms resting on his legs and he was looking down at the floor. His jaw was clenching and after a few minutes, Josie noticed his lips were pulled down in an angry frown. Josie frowned herself when she saw it because she'd never really seen him look that angry before. “Hey, are you ok? You look pissed about something,” she whispered.

“Hm? Oh, yeah, I'm good. I don't even realize I'm doing it. John says it's something I just started doing to keep people away,” he murmured. “Is that better?” His frown turned into one of his beautiful smiles and Josie couldn't help but smile back.

“Much. You should work on that, you know. You actually look kind of scary the other way,” she chuckled.

A few minutes later, an asari called Thane's name. The three of them stood together, but Kaidan and Josie lingered behind a couple of steps to give Thane some privacy. Josie didn't try to eavesdrop, but she was able to pick out a few words; enough to know that Kolyat's injuries weren't life-threatening and that he was damn lucky. Thane thanked the doctor and turned around.

“They are keeping him overnight for observation,” he explained before closing his eyes and taking a deep breath. “There is a C-Sec officer outside his room to ensure he doesn't leave and he is refusing to speak to anyone, even the medical staff. There is no need for you to stay.”

“Are you sure?” Josie asked, placing a hand on his arm. “We don't mind.”

Thane caressed her cheek and tucked a strand of hair behind her ear. “I am sure, Siha.

“We don't mind. Really,” she pressed.

“There is nothing you can do. It would be pointless for you to wait here with me. I also don't want to make things awkward with Kolyat regarding our relationship. Go back to the apartment. If anything happens, I promise I will get a hold of you.”

Josie pressed her lips together and shook her head. “All right, then. If you say so.”

“I say so,” the drell smiled and leaned forward to kiss her forehead. “I love you,” he murmured.

“I love you, too.” Josie gave Thane one more smile before walking back to Kaidan.

“Oh, and Shepard? Don't wait up. If it gets too late, you and Kaidan get some sleep. I know he's probably exhausted from today even though he won't admit it.”

Josie couldn't help but laugh when she heard Kaidan mutter under his breath about how intuitive the drell was.

“Well, should we walk or take a cab?” Josie asked. “I noticed you're favoring your leg. Maybe we should call...”

“I'd rather walk,” Kaidan interrupted. “The apartment isn't too far and if I sit in a cab, I'll probably doze off and I'll be stiff as hell when I wake up again.”

“Just promise me if your leg starts to bother you, you'll tell me so we can catch a ride, ok?” Josie slid her arm through his and wrapped their fingers together.

“I promise,” he swore, lifting her hand to his lips and kissing her knuckles. He slid his hand back up her arm and gently grasped her elbow

They didn't talk much during the walk back. Josie's mind kept wandering to Thane and Kolyat; she was worried about what had happened and what the repercussions might be. Thane seemed calm enough about it, so maybe things weren't as bad as she feared. Then again, Thane was really good had projecting a neutral expression and hiding his emotions so he could have been upset or worried and he wouldn't have let it show.

Kaidan seemed to sense her unease and reached for her hand, giving it a squeeze when is fingers found hers. “I'm sure everything will be ok,” he assured her.

“Yeah, I can't help but worry, though.” Josie sighed and wished they had Shep with them. She wanted to wrap her arm around Kaidan's waist and lean on his shoulder, but she wasn't sure if that would make things harder for him to use his cane.

Again, Kaidan acted as though he could read her mind when he slid his arm around her waist and pulled her against him. She smiled and let loose a contented sigh, nestling against his shoulder. He kissed the top of her head and said, “Thane said he'd call if he needed anything. No news is good news, ok?”

“Yeah,” she admitted. “Sounds good.”

They stopped by the cafe for some coffee and tea and when they finally got back to the apartment, Shep greeted them as though they'd been gone for weeks instead of most of the day. Josie offered to walk the pup since Kaidan spent most of the day walking around, an offer Kaidan was loathe to refuse.

“How about if I tag along?” he bartered. “She really only needs to do her business and I don't mind.”

“That's up to you,” Josie smiled. “I think she and I can handle it, though. Why don't you just stay here, drink your coffee, and put your feet up. You even admitted earlier that you were probably overdoing it.”

“I hate it when you're right,” he grumbled. “Ok, I'll stay here, you walk the dog.”

Josie got the pup on her lead and headed back out, hoping Kaidan would actually sit down and rest for a little. As they walked, Josie let Shep take the lead. She knew that Kaidan walked certain paths all the time – the routine was good for both him and the dog and she had a feeling Shep did her business at the same spots.

Shep sniffed along the ground, trotting along whatever route it was Kaidan took her on. Josie thought back to the day spent on the Normandy. All in all it was a good trip - Kaidan got to catch up with Karin and his interaction with Legion was definitely memorable. She made a mental note to ask him what he thought of the encounter. She frowned when she remembered Tali's dilemma with the fleet. Anger coursed through her veins again at the idea that the Fleet would even consider Tali would do something to endanger her people.

Shep tugged on her leash, bringing Josie back to the present. The dog sniffed around a tree, did her business, and Josie cleaned up behind her. The pair practically jogged back to the apartment; Josie was eager to drink her tea and she wanted to make sure Kaidan was ok.

When she stepped through the door and into the hall, Josie called Kaidan's name. She took Shep's leash off, gave her a treat, and frowned at the lack of response. Hurrying down the hall, she smiled when she saw why Kaidan didn't answer – he was sitting on the couch, his legs propped on the coffee table and his head laying back on the couch. His eyes were closed and his lips parted just enough to let soft snuffles and snores pass by.

“Kaidan, babe, do we need to take your prosthesis off?” Josie hated to wake him, but she didn't know if sleeping with the leg on would cause problems when Kaidan woke up.

“Hm? Oh, yeah. I must have dozed off, sorry.” Kaidan dragged a sleepy hand down his face. “Yeah, the leg needs to come off.”

“Ok, let me help you, then.” Josie leaned forward and undid the clasp and vacuum seal, remembering how Thane did the process the night before. “Are you in any pain?”

“Hm? No, no pain,” came the drowzy response. “Just... really, really tired. It was a long day.”

Josie smiled at Kaidan, the exhaustion on his face was evident. “Well, then, let's get you to bed.”

“No,” Kaidan sighed, shifting on the couch a little. “Stay here with me. I don't want to head to bed until Thane gets back. In case he calls and needs us for something.”

“If you insist.” Josie kicked her shoes off and slid on the couch next to Kaidan, nestling in against his chest.

“I insist.” Kaidan wrapped his arm around Josie's shoulder and kissed the top of her head. “Watch some TV or something. I'm just gonna close my eyes for a couple of minutes.”

Josie hummed in response and grabbed the remote from the coffee table. She flipped through some channels before settling on a cooking show. It wasn't long after that when Kaidan's breathing became deep and even. Josie nestled in tighter against him and was soon asleep herself.

Josie woke with a start, glancing around the living room. The apartment was dark, which meant the day cycle hadn't started yet. Kaidan was still asleep – his head resting on top of hers, his arms loosely draped around her, and his leg still propped on the coffee table. They were pretty much in the same position they'd been in when they fell asleep, the difference being someone draped a blanket over them.

“Thane must be back,” Josie muttered to herself, looking around. Her gaze settled on the chair next to the couch. There sat her assassin, his fingers steepled in front of his face, his chin resting on the tips. His legs were crossed, the knees brushing against the arms of the chair. His eyes were closed and it looked to Josie like he was meditating.

She studied him for a few moments, trying to figure out if he was awake or asleep. She glanced back to Kaidan, who was obviously still out. Part of her wanted to wake both of them up and move to the bedroom. She was already feeling a little stiff from the way she'd been asleep and she could only imagine that Thane and Kaidan would probably be sore, too - Kaidan especially - and she wanted to know whether or not Kolyat was ok. Still, they were both asleep and she knew Kaidan needed it. Given the pain he'd been in the night before and the fact that most of the day was spent on his feet, Josie could only imagine how tired and exhausted he had been.

She finally decided to just let them sleep. They had nothing planned for the day and if they were all a bit sore, they could take turns massaging each others' sore muscles and whatnot. Josie smiled, wondering if massaging muscles and whatnot would let them finish what she and Kaidan had started in her quarters.

Josie curled back up again, snuggling against Kaidan's chest, thankful again that the fates had seen fit to bless her with such wonderful men.

When Josie woke again, the apartment was considerably brighter. She sighed and stretched, smiling when her movements caused Kaidan to stir a little.

“Damn,” he said, taking a deep breath and running his hand through his hair. “Did we really fall asleep here?”

“You did,” came the soft response from the chair. “I had a feeling you had overdone it and I did not wish to wake you.”

“Mmm, well, thanks.” Josie sat up so Kaidan could stretch. He winced when several vertebrae in his back and along his neck audibly cracked.

“How's your leg?” Josie asked, running her finger along his stump.

Kaidan closed his eyes and frowned as he flexed his thigh muscles and ran his hands along the limb. “It actually feels pretty good,” he finally admitted. “I'm surprised, considering how much I was on it yesterday.”

Josie stood and raised her arms over her head, grasping her wrists as she took her own turn to stretch. “I should have moved us to the bed, though,” she grimaced. “I love cuddling up with you, but that was not the most comfortable way to sleep.”

She glanced at Thane, who still hadn't moved. “What about you, Thane? How did you sleep?”

“Quite well, actually,” he admitted, unfolding his legs from underneath his body and standing. “As I said, you were both asleep when I got back and I did not wish to wake either of you. I retrieved a blanket from the closet to cover you with and stayed here on the chair.”

“You could have slept here with us, you know,” Kaidan frowned. “There was plenty of room.”

“I know, but I did not wish to disturb either of you,” Thane smiled.

“Thane, how is Kolyat? What happened?” Josie asked. She didn't bother to hide the worry from her voice.

“He is fine.” Thane went on to describe how his son was out with some friends when a fight broke out. Kolyat intervened in an attempt to break things up. A knife was pulled, someone got stabbed, Kolyat was sliced in the arm. When C-Sec showed up, they knew that Kolyat had some minor crimes under his belt and figured he had a larger part in the altercation than he said he did. It didn't matter that his friends and the other people involved denied his involvement as more than breaking up the fight, but the turians there didn't care. They slapped some omni-cuffs on the young drell and whisked him away to the hospital to have his wound taken care of. They tried to question him while he was waiting to be seen, and Kolyat refused to talk until he'd made a phone call.

After Thane showed up, things moved a little quicker. The officers were still convinced Kolyat was guilty of something, but Thane demanded Bailey be called and the security footage reviewed. When it showed Kolyat was innocent, the turians offered a reluctant apology. Thane grinned when he recounted how Bailey was chewing the officers out as they walked down the hall.

“Kolyat has several stitches in his arm, but he is otherwise ok,” Thane finished.

“Oh, I'm so glad. I can't imagine how worried you must have been.” Josie placed a tender hand on Thane's cheek.

Josie stretched again and sighed, happy that things worked out. “So, what's the plan for today?”

“Well, the local kids were planning a baseball tournament,” Kaidan offered, leaning his arm on the back of the couch and propping his head in his hand. “We could check that out. Or take in a movie. Or even just stay in and watch TV or something.”

“Perhaps all of the above?” Thane suggested. “I am not familiar with this 'baseball' and wouldn't mind seeing what it is like.”

“Sure,” Kaidan shrugged. “Whatever you guys want to do. The only thing is I have appointments for each of you this afternoon that we have to make sure we get to.”

“Appointments? For what?”

Kaidan grinned and raised an eyebrow. “I was going to keep it a surprise, but if you really want to know, I'll tell you.”

Josie and Thane exchanged curious glances and Thane spoke next. “I do not normally care for surprises, but I trust you. You do not have to tell me if you wish to keep it a secret.”

“What did you have planned?” Josie's eyes narrowed. She trusted Kaidan, to an extent, but the last thing she wanted was for him to have set something up that she wouldn't enjoy.

“We're going shopping.”

“Shopping? For what?” Now Josie was curious.

“John is on one of the hospital committees that helps disabled veterans acclimate back into the civilian sector. They help with resumes, therapy, mock interviews, pairing vets up with mentors, that kind of thing. He asked me to speak at their fundraiser tonight.”

“Fundraiser? So we're shopping for clothes?” Josie couldn't keep the excitement out of her voice. She didn't own a lot of civilian attire and never really dressed up outside of her dress blues. “Fundraiser” sounded like it was going to be quite the event and she was suddenly giddy about wearing something beautiful. Not to mention she'd get to see both of her men in tuxedos. She could barely suppress a giggle when she tried to picture what each of them would look like.

“We are,” Kaidan admitted with a sly smile. He pushed himself off the couch and reached for Josie. “Dinner, boring speeches, dancing...”

Josie slid her hand in his and he pulled her tight against him. They swayed back and forth in his arms, then Kaidan dipped her before spinning her into Thane's embrace.

“Kaidan, you have seen her dance, correct?” the drell asked, wrapping his hand around hers.

“Oh, yes, I have. Only it isn't really dancing is it?” he smirked.

“Ok, now that's just being mean,” Josie scolded them, but with a smile on her face. It was well known among her crew that while she was extremely adept at killing bad guys and hanging up on the Council, Commander Josie Shepard could not dance, not even if her life depended on it.

Chapter Text

The day's itinerary decided, the trio set about getting everything ready. They packed a bag full of food for themselves and treats for Shep. Josie fretted that they had enough snacks for the boys' biotic appetites, but they both assured her they stuffed the back pack with plenty of food. Kaidan also mentioned that there would most likely be food vendors around if they got truly desperate.

They set out, swinging by the cafe for their usual cups of coffee, tea, and pastries. The staff had seen them coming and already had half of their usual order ready by the time they walked in the door. Thane chuckled and shook his head. “Predictability can get one killed in my line of work.”

“You know, I don't think we ever really talked about what it is you do,” Kaidan observed as they gathered their order and continued to the park.

Thane shot Josie a glance, wondering if he should tell Kaidan exactly what his line of work was. Josie just shrugged and said, “We shouldn't really have secrets, Thane. You might as well tell him.”

Thane sighed and suddenly seemed a bit nervous. “Is it really that bad, Thane?” Kaidan asked, reaching for the drell's arm. “I mean, you know I killed a man when I was younger. How much worse can it be?”

The comment made Thane laugh. “Kaidan, I have killed more than just one man. Many, many more.” He took a deep breath and admitted that he was a highly trained, highly skilled assassin.

Kaidan's brow furrowed as he frowned just a bit. “An assassin? As in I could hire you to kill someone for me.”

“Exactly,” Thane admitted. “Although at the moment, my contract is with Shepard. My training began with the hanar when I was six...”

“Wait, wait,” Kaidan laughed. “The hanar trained you? Seriously? Why am I having such a hard time picturing a bunch of jellyfish training a hardened assassin?”

“I would appreciate if you not refer to the hanar by that, or any other derogatory name. Please.” Thane's tone was cool, but not cold. He knew other species' views of the hanar were borne mostly from ignorance and that Kaidan especially was most likely unaware of how much they had done for the drell.

“Um, ok?” Kaidan asked, confused. “Might I ask why it bothers you?”

Thane cast another glance at Josie, who merely shrugged. Thane took a deep breath before explaining the conditions of his home planet and how the hanar saved as many drell as they could; in return the drell take care of a lot of things the hanar can't do or have great difficulty doing.

“It's a tremendous honor,” Thane said quietly. “Anyone can refuse to serve, but I know of no one who has. When I was chosen, it was cause for celebration. I was too young to understand at the time...”

“How old were you?” Kaidan asked.

“Six. I was twelve when I made my first kill.”

They reached the park and Josie spread out the blankets, getting everything set up so Thane and Kaidan could continue to talk. There was a pregnant pause while Kaidan processed what he'd just heard. Thane and Josie exchanged glances and for a few heartbeats, Josie was worried that Thane's occupation would be a deal-breaker for their budding relationship. She held her breath when Kaidan finally inhaled to speak.

“Wow,” Kaidan shook his head. “That's just... I mean...” He sighed and ran his hand through his hair, looking for words to express his thoughts. “Part of me wants to be angry at the hanar for stealing your childhood, but it isn't my place to judge. Honestly, I'm sorry that you didn't get to experience whatever it is drell kids do when they're little. If you had, you might be more familiar with baseball.” He grinned to show he was joking and prayed that he hadn't offended Thane further.

“As I said, being chosen was an honor,” Thane shrugged. “I went into my training without question or complaint because of the debt the drell owe the hanar. Even at such a young age, I understood the ramifications not only of being asked, but of how my parents would feel if I resisted.”

Thane guided Kaidan to the blanket and sat next to him, continuing, “Killing is an art, Kaidan, and I am a master. My only wish at this point is to leave the universe a brighter place than it was when I came into it. Helping Shepard is one way for me to do that, and to atone for the mistakes I have made. I am happy to lend my skills and talent to her cause.”

Kaidan didn't say anything for a few moments. Josie had watched the exchange silently; this was all old information to her, bits and pieces of Thane's history that he shared with her over cups of tea in Life Support. “So, you don't feel guilty about the lives you've taken?”

“No,” Thane stated firmly. “I am a weapon. Nothing more. When you were active on the battlefield, did your gun feel guilt for the beings you killed? It is the same thing. And while I have felt no guilt over the contracts I completed, I have not always done a job on blind faith. There have been a couple of instances when I realized my employer led me astray and would have had me kill an innocent.”

Kaidan's brow furrowed and he shook his head. “So, you feel no remorse about killing people, but you maintain enough of your conscience to know if a job isn't quite right and not do it.” He ran his hand over the blanket, smoothing out imaginary wrinkles, still processing everything. “I guess if I had been raised or trained like that, I'd see it differently. It just seems like such an odd concept for me.”

“Is it a problem?” Thane asked.

“No,” Kaidan said without hesitation. “You didn't have much of a say over what you were chosen to do. And no matter what you did in the past, you're a good man now and you're trying to help Josie. She loves you and...” He turned his head in the drell's direction, “...I think I'm pretty fond of you, too.”

Josie couldn't hold back a grin when Thane slipped his hand inside of Kaidan's and gave a gentle squeeze. She noticed the skin on the back of Kaidan's neck get dark and Thane's frills turned just a bit redder.

Kaidan glanced toward their joined hands and spoke quietly. “I'm sorry, Thane. I never meant to offend you and I promise I'll try to do better in the future.”

Josie practically squealed when Thane raised Kaidan's hand to his lips and brushed them across the other man's knuckles. “All is forgiven, Kaidan. I just hope that my profession doesn't make you uncomfortable or cause any friction between the three of us.”

Kaidan made no move to separate his hand from the drell's when he spoke, but his voice was low and he sounded almost ashamed. “Before Virmire, I had a conflicted view about aliens. I understood why people were uneasy about them, but it was sometimes hard to not share some of the same views. I mean, what happened to me in BAaT...” Kaidan let out a heavy sigh and closed his eyes at the memory. “I told Josie once that I hated Vyrnnus, not all turians, but it was hard sometimes. When Garrus first came on board, I had to keep reminding myself that he was Garrus, not Vyrnnus and I shouldn't judge him based on what I went through.”

Kaidan turned his head toward Josie and smiled shyly, reaching for her. “You helped me with that, you know. Whenever I felt like I was becoming, um, what's the phrase? Space racist? You were there to remind me to try to judge by the individual.”

Josie smiled and grasped Kaidan's outstretched hand and gave it a squeeze. Kaidan placed each clasped hand in his lap and absentmindedly ran his thumbs over each of their knuckles. “I remember being told once that your first thought is what you have been conditioned to think and what you think next defines who you really are. I won't lie, Thane, my first thought is that I don't like the hanar for stealing your childhood and I do want to call them stereotypical names. But then my following thoughts are that because I disagree with how your people choose to repay how the hanar helped them doesn't make them or the hanar bad people. It isn't my place to judge.”

Thane slowly blinked both sets of eyelids and cleared his throat. “Thank you,” he murmured.

Kaidan gave his hand another squeeze. “You're welcome.”

He released Josie and Thane's hands and placed his own at his hips and leaned back on them. “Besides, how many people can say they're dating an assassin? If anyone gives Josie or me any grief, you can kill them in one of probably a hundred ways,” he laughed.

“At least a hundred,” Thane agreed, chuckling.

If Josie's heart swelled any more it would have burst out of her chest.

Chapter Text

The tournament was late getting started, something, it turned out, Kaidan expected. “There's so much planning involved with something like this. So many things and people to coordinate. There might have been a problem with the scoreboard or maybe an official was running late. I'd have been surprised if they started on time,” he shrugged when Thane asked if they had the time wrong.

Josie wasn't as familiar with the sport as Kaidan was, but she knew enough to be dangerous. “Kaidan, do you need me to describe what happens?” she offered.

“I think I'll be ok,” he admitted, cocking his head a little. “They've got people commentating when runs are scored and stuff. You can tell me if something interesting goes on, like a pickle or something.”

“A pickle?” Thane asked, confused. “What would a brine-soaked vegetable have to do with this sport?”

Kaidan chuckled as he explained how sometimes a base runner won't make it to the next base, but can't go back, either. “It doesn't happen often and it's rare that the runner can get to a base safely, but they were always fun to watch.”

Thane nodded in understanding. Both he and Josie settled on taking turns describing their surroundings to Kaidan – the way a batter knocked the dust from his cleats, or how quickly a catcher could to get to their feet and rip their mask off to catch a fly foul. Kaidan, in turn, continued to impress the other two with his own observations, specifically the constant whereabouts of the hot dog vendor.

“What?” he asked as he wolfed down his.. what, fifth? Seventh? Josie lost track of how many hot dogs the man had consumed in the past hour. “There's nothing like a hot dog at a baseball game and these are actually really good!” Kaidan defended himself. Thane and Josie just laughed and shook their heads.

The conversation gradually turned to Kaidan asking Thane more about his past. Josie listened as Thane recounted how he met Irikah, his joy at becoming a father, the pain and heartache of not being able to be a 'proper' parent and husband, and the despair he felt when he lost his wife. He slipped into memory a couple of times, which gave him the chance to explain how drell never forget anything.

“Anything? Not ever?” Kaidan reached for Josie's leg and gave it a sympathetic pat. “That's got to make poker night interesting. How many credits did you lose to him, Josie?”

“None,” she stated. “He may have a perfect memory, but there's still enough randomness in the deck for there to be some doubt about what cards I have. And my bluff game is strong, Kaidan. You of all people should know that. We were pretty fairly matched at the poker table.”

Kaidan's face turned beet-red while Thane laughed. “It sounds as though you lost quite a few credits yourself, sha'kara.”

It was a word Josie never heard before and her translator skipped over it much as it did the first time Thane called her 'Siha'. Kaidan's must have done the same thing because he played with his ear and said, “What was that last word? I think my translator missed it.”

“It is a drell term of endearment,” Thane hesitated. “I believe a close human translation would be something sweet? I hope it is ok that I called you that.”

“It's fine,” Kaidan answered, smiling shyly. “I hope it doesn't bother you that I don't have one for you.” He frowned, then added, “Josie and I just call each other by our names.”

“And that's fine with me, Kaidan,” she said, leaning over to kiss his cheek. “It doesn't mean I love you any less.”

As the boys continued to talk, Josie's thoughts drifted to what she might find to wear to the benefit. She didn't have a lot of experience dressing up for something like this, not since high school and prom or homecoming, anyway. She enlisted when she was 18, so any event she attended that required formal wear meant that she wore her dress blues. She didn't have to really do anything else – the regs didn't allow for more than minimal make-up, her hair needed to be up... “Oh, shit, Kaidan,” Josie exclaimed, “I don't suppose you made an appointment for me to get my hair done or anything, did you?”

“Funny thing about that,” Kaidan grinned, turning in her direction. “I originally hadn't, but John told me it might be a good idea. He got us all in at the salon he and his sister use.”

“All of us?” Thane asked. “This will be something new for me.”

“You'll love it,” Kaidan assured him. “I don't go as often as John does because it can get pricey, but there's nothing like soaking your feet in warm, bubbly water and having them massaged. Well, foot, in my case. And if you let them give you one of their facial scrubs, your skin will feel amazing.”

“They have experience with drell skin?”

Kaidan frowned a little and reached out for Thane's hand, taking in the cool, smooth-scaled feel. “I'm honestly not sure. Is there a special way to care for it? Do you want me call and check?”

“Nothing special, no,” Thane shook his head. “Too much moisture can cause blotches to form, like a type of fungus. I am due to start exuviating, though, so perhaps one of these 'scrubs' will help with that.”

“Exuviating? What's that?” Josie asked.

“Every so often drell shed their skin. It is akin to how human skin peels after a burn. It can be itchy and... uncomfortable.” Thane winced and shuddered just a bit, giving Josie the impression that 'uncomfortable' was an understatement. “Fortunately, the process only takes a few days.”

“Well, we can ask when we get there,” Kaidan decided. “And Josie, they'll take care of your hair and make-up, too.”

“Good,” Josie said, running her fingers through her shoulder-length, auburn locks. “I have no idea what I'd do with it otherwise and if I did my own make-up, I'd probably wind up looking like a clown.”

“I think you'd make a gorgeous clown, though,” Kaidan smirked, kissing her hand.

“Flattery will get you everywhere, Commander,” Josie grinned.

- - - - - - - - - - -

When Kaidan finally announced it was time to head to the clothier's, Josie was more than ready to leave. Watching the children play and listening to Thane and Kaidan get to know each other better was all well and good, but boredom was threatening to make her cranky and she didn't want to be cranky, not when the day had been going so well.

The shop wasn't far from the park and they were on time, so the trio was in no great hurry. Kaidan kept Shep close while Josie linked an arm through his and Thane an arm through hers. There wasn't much conversation as they walked, having pretty much talked each other out during the baseball tournament. Josie was concerned about finding a dress that would fit her well, but Kaidan assured her it wouldn't be a problem.

“Their tailor is a hanar,” Kaidan told her. “Thane probably already knew this, but even though they don't have opposable thumbs, those tentacles make them really fast with a needle and thread.”

Josie couldn't help but laugh at the mental image of a hanar trying to thread a needle. She looked at Thane, who had a grin on his face. “It's true, Siha,” he said, nodding. “The hanar are some of the best tailors I have ever met. If you find something you like but it needs taken in a bit,” he moved his arm around her waist and gave it a squeeze, “that tailor will have your dress altered in no time.”

The shop was huge – Josie believed the Normandy could have fit inside the place with plenty of room to spare. The first floor was full of dresses and things with a more feminine flair and the second floor housed the tuxes and suits. What surprised her was how packed the place was. - it was bustling with people, making Josie wonder what was going on. She thought back to high school, when all the dress places were packed with people buying gowns and renting tuxes. “Is there some other event going on?” she asked, looking around.

“It's the Citadel, Josie,” Kaidan laughed. “There is always something going on somewhere here. And this is one of the better places to shop.”

Just then a hanar floated over to them. “This one is happy to greet you,” it said, giving a slight bow. “Might you be the Alenko party?”

“We are,” Kaidan said. “It sounds like you're busy. I hope my service dog won't be a problem.”

“This one is pleased you have brought your companion with you,” came the polite reply. “We strive to accommodate all of our customers, regardless of their condition. This way, please.”

It turned and drifted through the crowd, floating along at a slow enough pace so that Josie and Thane could easily help Kaidan navigate through the shopping crowd. “This one has chosen a helper for each of you. They will ensure you have the most flattering attire for your evening out.”

The helpers were a human male, an asari, and a salarian. After determining who was going to which clothing sections, the group split up - the asari placed Kaidan's hand on her elbow and told him she was aware of his special needs and assured him she could describe things in vivid detail for him as well as make sure they had ensembles that would work with his prosthetic. The human linked his arm through Thane's, gushing over how excited he was to find a color that would look fantastic with the drell's skin. The salarian approached Josie, gave a slight bow. He seemed more aloof than his co-workers, simply beckoning her to follow him.

They headed to the second floor, neither saying a word. Josie started to wonder if her helper was always this quiet or if she'd somehow done something to offend him. She cleared her throat and wandered to the closest rack.

“So, how does this work? Do I just start picking out things I like or...?” Josie started flipping through the racks of dresses, wandering around, trying to find something that caught her eye. The more she looked at and rejected, the better idea she had in her own head what she wanted.

“Yes,” was the quiet response. “You can also tell me what you're looking for as far as dress length, neckline, and such, and I can help find something you'd like.”

Josie gave him a curious look, feeling slightly jealous that the boys had assistants that seemed more enthusiastic about what they were doing. Maybe he's intimidated, she thought to herself. Maybe it's because I'm associated with Cerberus now. There was no denying the looks she got occasionally whenever she tried to spend some downtime somewhere – her name was still mentioned in the news more often than she liked, with reporters and vloggers wondering if she was the 'real deal' or if her death was part of some grand conspiracy. She sighed and shook her head, determined to not let this ruin what had so far been a perfect day.

“I was thinking something with a halterneck,” she decided, still looking through the garments. “But I don't know what color. I like orange... but we should probably match with Kaidan and Thane, right?”

She looked at the salarian, who had a finger pressed to his ear and appeared to be listening to someone. He nodded once, then pointed Josie in a different direction. “This way. You and your beaus will match as I am in contact with their assistants.”

They weaved their way around racks and people until they were among some darker clothing. That was when Josie realized the place was organized by color – white, wedding-type garments in the front and increasing in darkness the further back in the store they went. The salarian started flipping through racks like he knew what he was looking for. He pressed his finger to his ear again, then looked around, his eyes narrowing until he found what he was looking for.

“Here,” he said, gesturing to a rack. “These colors will complement what your dates have selected.”

“Wait, what? They've already picked out their tuxes?” Josie was incredulous.

“Tuxedos are always easier to decide upon,” the salarian shrugged. “Now, your dress.”

Josie was suddenly nervous. She didn't want Thane and Kaidan waiting on her for too long, but this wasn't something she wanted to rush, either. She fumbled through the dresses for several more minutes, finding one she liked but then putting it back after second-guessing herself.

Finally, the salarian sighed and pinched the bridge of his nose. He turned to the rack behind him, flipped through a handful of dresses, and pulled one out. “Here,” he said, “go try this on.”

Josie clutched the dress and gave the salarian a dirty look. “Have I done something to offend you or are you just having a bad day and taking it out on me? This has been a really good day for me so far and I would really appreciate if your bad attitude didn't ruin it for me.”

The salarian blinked a few times and his features softened. His shoulders slumped and he shook his head. “Commander, I'm sorry. No, you haven't offended me and I'm not having a bad day. Quite the opposite.”

He looked at her and she was fairly certain he was going to cry. “My brother was on Virmire with Captain Kirrahe. You helped save his life. When I found out you were coming here and that I would be helping you, I was so afraid that I would act stupid and foolish that I didn't realize I was doing the opposite of what I should have been.”

He took a couple of steps toward her and grasped her hands. “Thank you. Thank you for helping them and for getting them off of that planet. I'm sorry I was acting like that.”

Josie's surprise only lasted a few moments before she smiled warmly and squeezed his hands. “It's ok,” she soothed. “I'm glad your brother made it out. Virmire was a tough mission.”

She swallowed a lump in her throat when she remembered how leaving Kaidan behind nearly killed her. “My brother mentioned you lost someone there,” the salarian murmured. “I'm sorry for that.”

“Thank you,” she whispered, then cleared her throat. “He actually survived. He's downstairs. The one with the guide dog.”

The salarian's eyes widened. “That's Kaidan Alenko? He told me he heard rumors from his STG buddies that there was a survivor, but I had no idea...”

He smiled broadly and added, “We were both very lucky, it seems.”

Josie could only nod, afraid that if she spoke, she'd break down.

The salarian took a few steps back and sniffed, still holding her hands. “And just so you know, not everyone believes the council. My brother believed you, so I believe you. You know, about the Reapers.”

Josie knew she had a stunned look on her face. The salarian just shrugged and smiled. “He and I aren't alone, either. There are a lot of people building bunkers and trying to store provisions for when they get here.”

“That's a good idea,” Josie nodded. “Thank you for believing me.”

The salarian gave her a huge smile and said, “Now, let's try that dress on and make sure it fits, ok?”

- - - - - - - - - - -

The dress only needed a minor adjustment at the hem, something the hanar tailor had done in a few seconds. Josie gave herself a spin in front of the mirror, giddy with excitement about being dressed up and out with the two men she loved more than anything. The trio met up at the registers, where they determined that they would be renting their outfits instead of buying them. The asari who helped Kaidan reminded them when they needed to have everything dropped off to avoid any additional charges and sent them on their way.

“Thane, your helper looked awfully grumpy when we left,” Josie observed, looking over her shoulder.

“That is because I insisted on a dark outfit. He wanted to put me in something bright that would complement my skin,” Thane sighed. “There is a reason I do not wear bright clothing. I need to be able to blend in.”

“But this is a charity event,” Kaidan argued, grasping Josie's elbow. “I'm sure you'd have been ok there.”

“Habits, as I'm sure you're aware Kaidan, are hard to break. And since I am technically under contract,” he cast Josie a sidelong glance, “I prefer to continue to do things as I always have.”

Kaidan just shook his head and sighed. “My hands are full, so I can't check. What time is it?”

Josie checked her omnitool and told him it wasn't quite yet two o'clock.

“Oh, fantastic! We're ahead of schedule! Maybe they can get us in at the salon sooner and we can take more time there.”

Their next stop was fairly close to the clothier's, so Josie didn't get to ask the boys about their tuxes. She smiled inwardly, though, looking forward to the surprise.

The salon was nearly as packed as the clothier's had been, but since there had been some cancellations, they could all be seen right away. Thane wasn't surprised to find out there were no drell on staff, but the asari who was helping him assured him that when their appointments were made, she did a considerable amount of research and ordered products specifically made for drell skin.

Instead of being spilt up like they were at the boutique, the three sat side by side while their feet soaked. Again, there wasn't much conversation; Josie chalked that up to the salon being on the noisy side as well as no one having much to say just yet.

Once their feet were properly pampered, Josie was led to a station that held an array of nail tools and accessories. She agreed to a regular manicure and had to give some serious thought to having her nails done. She still kept them clipped short and within Alliance regulations but part of her wanted to go all out tonight. Her face flushed at the thought of having nails to rake along the boys' backs later, but she decided against it, having reasoned that she wasn't used to having long nails and she didn't want them to get in the way of anything.

One of the stylists, a human who introduced himself as Matt, studied Josie's face for several moments before saying anything.

“Normally, I'd do an exfoliating treatment for you so the makeup adheres to your skin better,” he said, “but your skin is incredible. Whatever it is you're doing, keep doing it.”

“Just soap and water,” Josie shrugged. “And a little moisturizer. Although the gun oil and blood of my enemies might be helping, too.”

Matt froze and gave Josie an incredulous look. “I'm a soldier,” Josie explained, laughing. She figured that explanation would be enough; she didn't want to have to explain her ties to Cerberus and saying she was a merc just made her feel dirty. “I do make sure I clean up whenever I'm done with a mission.”

He recovered quickly, though, and said, “That's a shame. I was going to suggest we bottle it up and make a fortune.”

Josie laughed again and the two fell into an easy conversation. Josie explained that she hardly ever wore makeup and never really did her hair. Matt nodded and said she wasn't alone and carefully explained everything he was doing. She didn't question the moisturizer, knowing that her skin probably needed it. She laughed when he applied primer, wondering if he was painting a porch. He paused and said, “Well, not a porch, but this primer does pretty much the same thing – the make-up will lay on the primer instead of directly on your skin. It helps your skin and it also makes it easier to remove the cosmetics.”

Josie nodded as Matt moved to her eyes – shadow, liner, mascara, and brows. As he tweezed and colored, he asked about the occasion, which led to questions about her relationship with Thane and Kaidan. Matt was impressed and stated she was lucky to have found herself in such an amazing situation. “I'm still trying to find my Ms. Right,” he lamented, adding the final touches to her brows. “You've found yours twice over!”

Next was concealer and foundation, none of which Josie needed explained. She watched as he expertly drew lines along certain parts of her face, dots in others, then used his fingers to blend everything together. 'Contouring', he called it. Josie just shook her head and let him work.

“It can be time consuming,” he continued, “especially if you've never done it before, but contouring doesn't have to be this detailed. Just a couple of lines and dots to help accentuate certain parts of your face...”

His voice trailed off as he studied her features, making sure everything was to his liking. He pursed his lips, nodded, then applied some blush to her cheeks. Then he carefully outlined her lips with a soft pencil and filled it in with a matching, bold matte lipstick. He took a couple of steps back, his eyes flitting along her face to find any flaws in his work before reaching for a small spray bottle.

He instructed her to close her eyes and misted the contents across her face. “It's a setting spray,” he explained. “It will help minimize any smudging so if you want to do some canoodling later, your make-up should stay put.”

He grinned and waggled his eyebrows at her and she burst out laughing. He spun her around in the chair to start on her hair and hair and she looked around for the boys. Kaidan was leaned back in one of the chairs with a mask on his face and cucumbers over his eyes. An attendant was massaging something into one of his hands – an exfoliant or moisturizer, Josie couldn't tell. She struggled to suppress a laugh, though; she never dreamed Kaidan would be the kind of guy to be okay with this kind of thing.

Thane was sitting right next to him. His eyes were closed and the asari was giving him a facial massage. Josie was pretty good at reading his body language and she smiled at how relaxed he looked. She knew part of him was still on alert, listening for anything out of place, but she was thankful he seemed to be enjoying himself.

Matt's nimble fingers wove Josie's locks around a curling iron, spinning it into soft ringlets that fell to just below her ears. When he finished, he swept the hair up into a messy bun at the back of her head, pulling a few tendrils free so the curls framed her face. He snagged a bottle of hair spray and shielded her eyes from the mist as he locked the style in place.

“Don't worry about the spray on your face,” he assured her as he finished up. “It will actually help keep the make-up where it belongs.”

When he was finished, he looked over his work one last time, then leaned forward and whispered, “How did I do?”

Josie's eyes welled with tears when she saw how she looked. Matt chose colors that complemented her skin tone perfectly – the eyeliner and mascara made the green in her eyes brighter than she'd ever seen them. He swore the lipstick would only come off if she used soap and water and her entire face just looked flawless.

“The makeup is all waterproof, too,” he soothed, handing her a tissue. “You're absolutely stunning, if I do say so myself.”

“Matt, I... I've never...” Josie could barely choke out the words to thank him.

“You're welcome,” he beamed. “Come on, let's gather your dress and catch up with your men.”

He picked up her dress and held out his arm for her. Heat crept into her face as people stopped and turned to watch her walk past. Normally, she would have thought it was because of who she was, but right now she knew it was simply because she looked amazing. That idea was cemented in when she saw Thane's reaction.

The drell's eyes grew wide and his jaw dropped just a bit. Josie watched as he leaned over and whispered to Kaidan, describing what she looked like. A smile crept across Kaidan's face as Thane continued to talk and Josie neared.

“Commander, it has been an honor,” Matt said, grasping her hand and kissing her knuckles. “If you ever need anything, I will be more than happy to clear my calendar for you.”

Josie couldn't stop smiling. “So, how do I look?” she asked as Matt walked away.

“Siha,” Thane stammered, smiling broadly. “You look radiant.”

“I have to agree, assuming Thane's description is accurate,” Kaidan added. “He's very good at picking vivid colors to describe how things look and I can only imagine your lips looking like 'the brightest red apple you've ever wrapped your mouth around'.”

Josie blushed furiously as they paid for their services and left the salon. “So, back to the apartment to get ready?” she asked.

“That's the plan,” Kaidan nodded. “We're still a little ahead, but that's ok. I want to get there early so I can get a good lay of the land and not trip and fall as I make my way from our table to the podium.”

Josie walked between the two men, fully aware of the looks the three of them were getting as they made their way to Kaidan's place. “If the attention we're garnering now is any indication,” Thane surmised, “we might have some competition for Shepard's attention tonight.”

“I wondered,” Kaidan said. “I've overheard more than one whisper about how gorgeous she looks.”

Josie didn't answer, she just ducked her head as heat crept into her face. “My attention will be right with you two,” she murmured, squeezing their hands. “I'm yours all night.”

“All night, hm?” Kaidan grinned. “We'll definitely be holding you to that.”

Chapter Text

Thane was impressed with how deftly Kaidan was able to get himself ready for the evening; watching the man prepare for a normal day was nothing, but seeing how he seemed more attentive to his shaving routine, the nimbleness of his fingers gliding over the buttons on his dress shirt, the way he knew where everything was and needed to be left the drell in awe. It took a few moments for Thane to realize Kaidan was struggling with his bow tie, and he offered his assistance.

“Yes, please,” Kaidan sighed. “I'm just... I'm really nervous for some reason.”

To prove his point, the younger man held out a trembling hand. Thane wrapped his own around it and gave a gentle squeeze before turning his attention to the bow tie.

“Why are you nervous?” he asked, his skillful fingers looping and wrapping the thin strip of material around itself.

“I'm not sure,” Kaidan frowned. “I know we've been around each other non-stop for the past few days, but this is like a 'real' date. I don't want it to go wrong.”

“I see your point,” Thane nodded, frowning as he created the bow shape. “Our plans have gone awry from the beginning.”

“First my leg...”

“Then Kolyat...” Thane nodded again, stepping back to scrutinize his handiwork.

“Today has been perfect so far,” Kaidan murmured. “I don't want anything to go wrong.” He flicked his fingers along the tie and smiled. “It feels like you did a good job, Thane.”

Thane reached out again to straighten the bow and let his fingers linger alongside Kaidan's neck. His touch was tentative, teasing along the younger man's skin and across his jaw.

Kaidan's breath hitched as he waited to see what Thane would do. When the drell pulled away, Kaidan grasped his wrists. “Kiss me,” he breathed.

“Sha'kara, I want to, but I don't think it would be a good idea.” The disappointment in his voice was obvious.

“Why?”

“Do you remember how we talked about drell skin? The toxin we produce?”

“Yeah,” Kaidan frowned, not letting go of his wrists. “I doubt it'll be a problem, though. I have to drink an insane amount of alcohol to get drunk, Thane, so I don't think us swapping spit is going to matter.”

Thane chuckled. “'Swapping spit'? Shepard was right, you are a romantic, aren't you?”

He traced a thumb along Kaidan's cheekbones, then along his lips. Kaidan snagged it in his mouth, teasing the digit with his tongue and giving it a gentle suck. He pulled his head back and released Thane's wrists and thumb. “We don't have to if it makes you uncomfortable,” Kaidan murmured.

Thane didn't move his hands from Kaidan's face, though. Instead, he leaned forward and brushed their lips together. Kaidan wrapped his hands around the drell's, sliding his fingers up an arm until his hand rested behind Thane's neck. The kiss was chaste, their lips lingering together for several moments before Thane pulled back and rested his forehead against Kaidan's. “That was nice,” he murmured.

Kaidan hummed in response and pulled the other man against him, crushing their lips together. Their tongues danced around one another, whimpers and moans muffled against their mouths. Their bodies pressed together and Kaidan groaned when Thane pressed his arousal against his leg. He forced himself to break their embrace and ran his hand along Thane's cheek.

“If we don't stop now, we might never make it out the door,” he breathed.

“That might not be a bad thing,” Thane cooed, running his hands along Kaidan's back. “We could be fashionably late.”

“If it was just the two of us, I might agree,” Kaidan admitted, smoothing his hands along Thane's jacket, “but I have a feeling once Josie gets involved, we won't be going anywhere any time soon.”

“You're probably right,” Thane chuckled. “Let's see if the commander is ready to go.”

- - - - - - - - -

While the boys were in the main bedroom getting ready, Josie had taken her things to the spare bedroom. She hung the garment bag on the back of the door and sat on the edge of the bed, staring at it for a few moments before she realized that she was nervous. Seriously, legitimately nervous. She was Commander Josie Shepard – she never got nervous about anything, yet here she sat, her heart pounding in her chest and butterflies swarming through her stomach in a way she never remembered experiencing before.

She stood up and took a deep breath as she unzipped the garment bag. “It's fine,” she muttered to herself. “You're fine. You'll be fine. Kaidan and Thane are probably nervous, too. Nothing to worry about...”

Josie unzipped the garment bag and studied the dress as it hung from the back of the spare bedroom door. Her fingers flitted over the intricate beadwork and she sighed. Even her prom gown wasn't this extravagant. Still, she felt amazing with only having her hair and makeup done; she couldn't wait to see how she'd look with the dress on, too.

She carefully pulled the dress from its hanger and slid the zipper down, surprised the metal didn't catch on any of the beads or material. She sat on the edge of the bed and carefully put both her feet through the top of the dress like she did when she tried it on. It slid easily over her hips and she slipped the halterneck over her head, taking care to not pull any hair from Matt's carefully crafted coiffure.

She took a step back and studied herself in the mirror, still not believing the reflection staring back was her own. Matt's choice in color for her face was understated but still managed to bring out her eyes and cheeks. The curls on either side of her face made her look demure and innocent (a thought that almost made her laugh out loud). And the dress... the neckline accentuated her bust and the length was short enough to show off her legs but long enough to be suitable for an event like this. The strappy, black heels she picked out weren't so high that she'd end the evening in pain, but they were just high enough to make her calf muscles flex and stretch in a way that made them look sexier than she'd ever considered them being.

Josie grabbed her clutch, made sure her lipstick and ID were inside, and wandered up the hall. “Hey, guys? I'm ready if you are.”

She stopped short when she saw Kaidan and Thane in the living room waiting for her. They were sitting on the couch but stood when she approached. Josie pressed her lips together and heat pooled in her belly as her eyes feasted on the gorgeous men in front of her.

Thane's tuxedo was a Mandarin style shirt and jacket. Josie had to study the jacket for a bit, thinking at first it was black, then realizing that it was simply such a dark teal color that the color only showed up at certain angles in the light. When the color was noticeable, it was a beautiful compliment to Thane's green scales.

Kaidan was wearing a more traditional tux but also a dark material. Where Thane's was a dark teal, Kaidan's was a deep purple – the jacket, cumberbund, tie, and pocket kerchief. Josie couldn't hold back a grin when she realized why her gown was a combination of both colors. “He wasn't kidding when he said we'd match,” she thought to herself.

She watched as Thane leaned over and murmured in Kaidan's ear, probably describing how Josie looked, she thought. She gave a slow spin and wondered how Thane would be explaining how the back of the dress was non-existent with material barely coming up above her derriere.

When she was facing front, Josie couldn't help but feel a swell of pride at Kaidan's flushed cheeks and Thane's reddened frills. “So, you like what you see?” she asked, sauntering closer.

“Yes, very much,” Kaidan demurred, reaching for her.

She took his hands and placed them on her hips, watching his face as he saw for himself how the dress looked. Her breath hitched when he moved closer and skirted his hand along the bare skin of her back. “No bra?” he asked

“Built in,” she replied. Kaidan hummed his approval and tenderly felt along her hairline, toying with the curled wisps at her ears then carefully carding through the messy bun at the top of her head.

“I'd kiss you, but I don't want to smear your lipstick,” he whispered.

“Matt told me this lipstick wasn't going anywhere until I took it off,” she assured him.

Kaidan didn't need any further encouragement, tenderly pressing his lips to hers, teasing his tongue along her lower lip. He quickly pulled back and cleared his throat and Josie whimpered her disappointment.

“I think we should probably get going,” he announced. “Otherwise we might not ever get there.”

“That is the second time you've said that, Sha'kara,” Thane laughed as they made their way to the door.

“Tell me I'm wrong,” Kaidan grinned.

“You are definitely not wrong,” Thane admitted.

- - - - - - - - - -

They arrived well before the other guests. Kaidan wanted to be on the early side so he could navigate his way from his seat to the stage and podium. Josie and Thane watched as John guided him first to his seat (which was next to the stage), then to the stage and then the podium. They did that several more times and Josie watched as Kaidan focused on how many steps he was taking, walking slowly enough for Shep to guide him safely to and up the steps, then to the podium.

When it came for him to walk solo, Shep helped as she always did and John was close by. His first couple of trips were hesitant and awkward but before long, he was navigating his way from the table as though he could see everything. “Hopefully no one puts their bag or a cord in my way,” he joked on his last trip. “And you guys will have to help me out at the buffet.”

“We can do that,” Thane said, “I just hope they have something you enjoy as much as those hot dogs you had earlier.”

John left the trio as guests started to filter in. Josie watched with interest as gorgeous redhead soon appeared and helped show people to their seats. She described the woman to Kaidan and asked if he knew who she was.

“Sounds like John's sister, Jane,” he surmised. “They're fraternal twins. Close as hell but you'll never meet two more different people.”

As if on cue, Jane excused herself from the group she had just helped and made her way to their table. “Kaidan!” she gushed, leaning over to give him a hug. “You look fantastic.”

“I'm sure you do, too,” he grinned, taking her hands. “Jane, this is Commander Josie Shepard and Thane Krios. My dates for the evening.”

“Josie,” Jane smiled, extending a hand. “I've heard so much about you I feel like I've known you my whole life.”

“Hopefully you've only heard the good things,” Josie smirked, glancing at Kaidan. Her beau was a delightful shade of red and nervously rubbed the back of his neck.

“You mean there are bad things to tell about you?” Jane joked. “To listen to this one talk, you're the next best thing to sliced bread!”

“Yeah, ok Jane,” Kaidan interrupted. “I think she gets it.”

Josie couldn't help but laugh at Kaidan's embarrassment and was happy to see that Thane seemed to be enjoying himself as well.

“And Mr. Krios?” Jane continued, turning to the drell.

“Thane, please,” he said. He stood and gave a slight bow, shaking the offered hand.

“Kaidan's never mentioned you.” Josie wasn't sure if she heard suspicion or simple curiosity in Jane's voice.

“We have not known each other long,” Thane explained.

“We met through Josie,” Kaidan continued, “and we just hit it off.”

“Well, I'm glad you two could come with him. He keeps trying to get out of speaking at these things but John always manages to get him to show up. I wondered why he was so willing to come to this one but now I think I know why.”

The red on Kaidan's cheeks didn't fade any with Jane's observation and Josie reached out and gave his hand a squeeze. “So, what did you guys think of the salon? Josie, did Matt take care of you?”

The group chatted amicably for a few moments, filling Jane in on their experiences at the clothier and the salon. The woman seemed pleased that they had been well-cared for and promised that the next time she was at either place, she'd send their praises along. They heard John call for her, and she excused herself to see what 'the biggest pain in my ass needs'.

- - - - - - - - - -

As the room gradually filled, Josie and Thane hovered near Kaidan while John introduced him to various guests. She overheard a lot of talk about what veterans needed and what the costs would be. Even when people seemed confrontational, Kaidan never lost his cool and was always understanding if people didn't quite get why they should think about donating. He assured everyone he spoke with that their donations were important and could be life-saving and that he would cover it all in his speech.

When they finally made their way back to the table, Kaidan closed his eyes, sighed heavily, and rubbed the back of his neck.

“Are you ok?” Josie asked. “Are you getting a migraine?”

“No, no, not a migraine,” Kaidan answered. “It's just getting a little loud in here. A chaotic kind of loud, if that makes any sense. It's a little overwhelming.”

“Is there anything we can do?” Thane asked.

“Hopefully John will open the buffet soon and things will quiet down as people eat.”

Several more minutes went by, though, before John took the stage and asked for everyone's attention. He went through the usual rhetoric – thanking everyone for coming and hoping they enjoyed the food and entertainment that was still to come. He started dismissing people by table to keep things at the buffet table a little better organized, starting with the table Kaidan, Josie, and Thane were sitting at.

John and Jane were the only other people at their table and once they were all seated, the conversation flowed naturally. John tried teasing Kaidan about how much food he was eating, but his sister nudged him and said, “At least he can blame his biotic metabolism, you bottomless pit.”

They peppered Thane with questions – Jane more than John since Kaidan and John had talked about the drell before. Thane's answers were as vague as he could make them without sounding suspicious. He referred to himself as a 'private contractor' and that his work was classified. Jane opened her mouth to press for more information, but John elbowed her in the ribs.

“If he can't talk about it, he can't talk about it. Let it go, woman.”

Jane rolled her eyes but let the subject drop. They talked about Shep and Kaidan talked about his excitement to start his martial arts training. They asked Josie how things were on the Normandy and again, John had to nudge his sister when she tried prying for more information than Josie was willing to give.

“Honestly, Jane, you think you'd take a hint,” he groaned. “You know from when I was in that people can't always talk about their work. Commander, I'm sorry for my sister's behavior. Believe it or not, our parents did raise us with some tact and manners, it just seems Jane forgets them from time to time.”

Jane stuck her tongue out at her brother but offered her own apology to Josie, too. After a bit, John took the stage again and gave a short speech about why they were there and introduced Kaidan as someone who had benefited directly from fundraisers such as this.

Josie couldn't suppress a grin and squeezed Thane's hand as Kaidan carefully made his way to the stage with Shep at his side. He cleared his throat and made a joke about not being able to see the audience because of the bright lights. After the laughter died down, Kaidan launched into an impassioned speech about what Alliance veterans did and went through to protect not only humanitarian interests, but those of the Council as well. He talked about the ones who came home not only with physical scars, but mental ones too and how those injuries weren't always easy or cheap to treat. He spoke of his own injuries and recovery and how his situation put him in touch with many veterans who weren't as fortunate as he had been.

“Our soldiers deserve the best care we can give them,” Kaidan pleaded. “Enlistment is voluntary, so these men and women are choosing to protect our colonies and settlements, to go against mercenary groups and slavers. The least we can do is make sure they have the care they need when they come home. Please, consider helping them now so they can continue to help us later.”

There was a deafening round of applause and people stood as Kaidan smiled and bowed slightly. When he got back to his seat, Josie could see his face was beet red. “That was fantastic,” she leaned over and said. “And from the sounds of it, you probably helped John get quite a bit of money.”

“Let's hope so,” he sighed and kissed Josie's hand. It was then she noticed him shaking.

“Kaidan, are you ok?” she asked.

The question got Thane's attention, too, and he leaned forward and studied the younger man's face.

“Kaidan, are you ill?” he asked.

“No,” Kaidan said, taking a deep breath. “Just... nerves. A bit of anxiety.”

Another deep breath and he smiled warmly. “It'll pass. You two being here is helping. The first one of these I did, I almost had a meltdown.”

“Kaidan, if it's so stressful, then why do you do it?” Josie placed a concerned hand on Kaidan's cheek and ran her thumb along his cheekbone.

“Because John has done more for me than I can ever repay. And because he insists it's actually good therapy. He isn't wrong, either. Every time I've done this, it's gotten a little easier. Besides, I had you two here for moral support.”

He turned into Josie's touch and kissed her wrist. Thane reached out and gave Kaidan's shoulder a squeeze. “Always, Sha'kara,” he said.

- - - - - - - -

It wasn't long after that when the DJ started playing music and John was getting people on the dance floor. The trio were content to sit and watch and listen but when things slowed down, Kaidan asked Josie if she and Thane would be taking the floor at some point.

“Didn't you know Shepard couldn't dance?” Thane seemed genuinely confused by Kaidan's question.

Kaidan cocked his head and raised an eyebrow. “You never told him?”

Josie shrugged and felt her face get hot. “No. I never told anyone.”

“Told me what, Siha?”

When Josie didn't answer, Kaidan smiled and spoke up. “I taught her how to dance when we were on the SR1. When the crew was new and still getting to know each other, Josie mentioned she couldn't dance. We had a few get-togethers and it was painfully obvious she wasn't lying. One time, after a bad mission, I told her that dancing was good stress relief and that I'd teach her. It was one of the things we did during our downtime at BAaT – we'd play some music, quietly so the instructors wouldn't hear, and we'd dance. Those that knew how taught those of us that didn't.”

“So you can dance?” Thane pressed. “Why would you let people think you couldn't?”

“Because it was something special Kaidan and I did,” Josie murmured, twisting her fingers together. “No one knew he was teaching me and after Virmire...” a heavy sigh passed her lips, “...well, I just didn't feel much like dancing after that.”

“I think you two should get out there,” Kaidan encouraged her. “Thane, I have a feeling you know what you're doing.”

“I might know a move or two,” he winked a Josie. “What do you say, Siha? Shall we?” The drell stood and offered her his hand.

Josie hesitated for a few moments. The lessons Kaidan gave her were special to her and dancing with anyone else after Virmire seemed like a slap in the face of his memory. But now it was almost like Virmire never happened – Kaidan was sitting here with her and wanted her to show off what he'd taught her.

“Alright, but I should warn you I'm a bit rusty. You aren't allowed to get mad at me if I step on your toes.” She gave Thane a tentative smile and slipped her hand in his.

The pair stayed in the corner of the dance floor that was closest to the table. Thane gently guided her around and the steps gradually came back. It wasn't long before she remembered what Kaidan had taught her about what a gentle hand squeeze meant and to trust your partner's movements.

“You're doing very well,” Thane murmured against her ear. “I had no idea...”

“And I would prefer it stay that way,” Josie stated. She pulled back and gave Thane a hard look. “I mean it. This might not seem like a big deal to you, but it is to me. I don't want people knowing I can dance.”

“I understand, Siha. Don't worry. My lips are sealed.” He brushed his mouth along her cheek, then gently placed his lips against hers, as if he were confirming his promise. “I only hope we can do this again soon.”

Josie smiled at him and sighed, glancing in Kaidan's direction. She noticed John had joined him and Kaidan had a grin on his face. Part of her felt guilty that she and Thane were enjoying the music but Kaidan was relegated to the table.

At least, she felt guilty until she saw him carefully approach, then ask if he could cut in. “I'm tired of John explaining to me what's going on. I think I'd rather experience it first-hand.”

“Cut in with who?” Josie grinned. “Do you want to dance with me or with Thane?”

“With you for now,” he winked as Thane placed her hand in his. “Thane and I can have the next one.”

Kaidan wrapped his arm around Josie's waist and pulled her against him. “I'm a bit rusty, too,” he admitted giving her hand a squeeze. “You aren't the only one who hasn't done this for a while.”

The pair swayed back and forth, turning in a slow circle, their moves mild compared to what Josie and Thane had done just moments ago. “Well, in your case, it's understandable,” Josie said, leaning her head against his chest.

“The moves are still there, I'd just rather not run into anything.”

“Then why don't you let Thane lead?” She nestled in closer and wrapped her arms around his waist. “Weren't you the one who always told me to trust your partner?”

“I did,” he hesitated. “Maybe another time. I'd rather not make a fool of any of us here.”

Josie nodded against Kaidan's chest. “It's ok,” she hummed. “I don't want you to be uncomfortable. I don't want any of us to be uncomfortable. It's been an amazing night, I'm having fun...”

She pulled back just a bit and ran a hand up Kaidan's back, carding her fingers through his hair. “And I can't wait to get the two of you alone and back in the apartment.”

She gently guided Kaidan's head toward hers and brushed her lips against his. “Mmmm,” he growled when she pulled back. “I think enough time has passed that we could probably make a graceful exit.”

“Probably,” she agreed. She glanced at Thane over Kaidan's shoulders and even in the barely lit room, she could see his frills were turning a brilliant shade of red. “And I have a feeling Thane would agree.”

Just then, the song ended, giving them the perfect excuse to duck away. Josie whispered to Thane, asking if he was ready to head out and he nodded in swift agreement. After assuring John that Kaidan was just tired and everything else was ok, he offered them a ride home. Kaidan told his friend it wasn't necessary, that he had Shep's seatbelt harness and a skycab would be just fine.

They rode back to the apartment in silence and Josie wondered if she would finally get to show these amazing men how much she loved them and how thankful she was to have them at her side.