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Gratitude

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Kaidan's been up too late, again. But they both have responsibilities, and Shepard understands. She's sprawled across their bed, (It's their bed. Not his. Not hers. Theirs.) nothing but her head and one of her arms on her side. When she hears the door, she rolls over, only partially awake.

He slides into bed beside her, feels her shift so she's curled up against him. He wraps himself around her, one hand on her hip, his fingers parallel to a scar. His breath stirs the short red hairs at the nape of her neck.

Her breathing steadies, slows into the gentle rhythm of sleep, but he can't stop thinking about how close he was to losing this.

His fingers slide through her hair, ostensibly to settle it so he won't inhale it, but they linger there long enough to give truth to his lies. Her hair is like silk, soft, and lightly scented with her shampoo. Strawberries.

He remembers teasing her once for that. Commander Shepard, savior of the galaxy several times over uses strawberry scented shampoo. But he can't imagine anything else, and he loves the smell of her, strawberries and all.

She makes a small noise, and he sees the twitch of her brows as she frowns in her sleep. She curls in on herself, away from him. He runs his hand gently over her back and makes a shushing noise. She quiets once more, the nightmare gone.

He knows something of nightmares. He's lived through enough horrors that he has plenty of his own. Virmire features in many of them.

Losing Williams— a friend, a comrade— was hard enough. In his nightmares, he loses Shepard. He watches, helpless, as Saren throws her from the tower. He stares in horror from the Normandy as she explodes with the bomb. But they're dreams. Just dreams. She's here, and real in his arms.

He lets his fingers trace along her scars, a pattern of lines and dashes. He knows the story behind every one.

He closes his eyes, and swallows down the wave of emotion that threatens to overwhelm him. It's joy and sadness, relief and guilt, it's all the conflicting emotions that have chased him since Williams died and he didn't.

I'm sorry, Ash. He thinks. And Thank You.