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Fight Like Hell (For The Chance To Hold You Again)

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Kaidan despised hospitals with a burning passion, and recently, he found himself despising them even more.

The flames weren’t even close to dying out as the flickering heat enveloped the empty streets. He could still see the smoke, the destruction. He could still hear the screams, the emitting lasers, and gunfire. He once wanted little more than to touch down on Earth, retake their homeworld from the reapers’ claws, throw them back into whatever black hull they crawled out of. Dark space. A place so empty that no sound could pour through. Instead, he had been disgustingly safe in the confinements of the med-bay.

He felt like he was still fighting, only then, he was fighting to keep his eyes open.

After he had his wounds examined, after he had been stabilized and pestered about getting sleep, after he had gotten removed the shrapnel in his leg at the size of a two-inch needle -- surrounded by splinters -- Chakwas had left him to his thoughts better left silenced. There was too much time to think. Too many black boxes. Too many variables. Too many uncertainties. He had allowed himself to rest, or more appropriately, accept that he wasn’t able to stay awake after several restless minutes after they got back from London.

The crew had given him sideways glances but they knew when to stay quiet.

Kaidan had already passed out by the time the Normandy hit a pulse and dived straight for an uncharted planet. Tropical leaves, untouched by the war, making his stomach twist in unnatural ways. The engineers were close to finishing the repairs after five days of eternal struggle and he had been forced to take command as he was the highest ranking officer aboard.

When he was first called ‘commander,’ another migraine began surfacing.

The broken relays lay under repairs, just as the SR-2, so no one had been able to touch down on their homeworlds. The communications had been down, and hell, that didn’t ease any of his lingering concerns.

EDI was gone.

Liara had debriefed him after he got back up on his feet. Joker refused to speak more than two words to any of them but there was no direct hostility in his tone. The crew had collected themselves by the memorial wall and put her plaque up before even beginning the repairs. But when Kaidan afterward stood before it, another plaque in hand with a different name, he simply couldn’t put it up.

Kaidan had found himself unconsciously reaching for the dog tags around his neck before Steve approached him that day. After the last night Kaidan and John shared together -- before Cerberus HQ -- they had exchanged dog tags in case one of them didn’t make it out.

Steve had asked him if he was okay.

The thought of losing John again made his stomach sick. He remembered the horrid sight of soldiers evaporating in the no-mans-land in their push towards the beam. One by one. Soldier by soldier. Life by life.

With that in mind, he knew he wasn’t okay, but he was still functional.

That was enough.

He remember saying that he needed the closure.

It went another three days before he got a call over unofficial channels. Before he knew it, he found himself at Wellington Hospital back on Earth, awaiting results from a recently arrived Dr. Karin Chakwas.

That was why he despised hospitals.

“Can I see him?”

It was the first thing he spoke when he stepped into the mostly intact building -- the tired, worn streets filled with broken concrete -- reaper forces having torn down most of UK’s sights. Big Ben had hit its stop. He hadn’t been there when they found him, buried underneath the rubble in London soil, his armor torn and scarred. Only recently had he heard the news of his so-called survival.

No one told him, but he could tell that he was alive, restless machines struggling to keep him that way.

Chakwas shook her head. “I’m afraid that there’s a strict policy only allowing family members when the situation is this dire,” she replied. “I trust you with my life, but it isn’t qualified.”

“I’m the closest thing he has to a family,” he muttered, feeling spoiled. “Seeing him, it -it would mean a lot to me.”

She took a moment. “I suppose that I can make an exception. In any event, I know I wouldn’t be able to keep you back. You’re still a Spectre,” she said with a feigned smile on her lips. “I would want to warn you, though. The Commander is not in the best of shapes. I have only now been able to have a thorough look at him. It appears that about 25 percent of his body is tech. I’m a doctor, yes, but this is out of my expertise.”

“Miranda Lawson. She -she was on the resurrection team, wasn’t she?”

Chakwas’ smile grew ever so slightly. “Yes. Miss Lawson was in charge of Project Lazarus if I remember correctly. Smart girl. Somewhat prickly. Took some time to warm up to her. She’s already on her way.”

“That... that’s good news. Thanks.”

“The Commander is down that hallway, first door to the left. I’ll leave you to it.”

Chakwas left the room, and as he clenched a fist, he recognized the feeling of being placed in cryostasis. Eventually, he managed to drag his feet across the lightly creaking floorboards, brought a hand lit in the colors of his omni-tool to the door, halted as he stood before it. When the area around his eyes drew tight, he shut his eyes and ignored the lump in his throat. He took a deep breath, activated the access code and let the door fall before he forced his body through the invisible veil that kept him from taking another step.

His breath hitched when he saw him.

John was surrounded by tubes, his face scarred, the synthetics breaking through his skin with the same red glow he had before seen in Vancouver. One of his cheeks were cracked, trailing beside his temple, up towards his brow. His mouth split on the left side. His jaw marked by the same scars. But beneath that chapped skin, he could really see him, his determination a constant battle as he never gave up without a fight. He had blocked everything out but his face, and the slow beating of the heart monitor clinging to a pulse that was barely there.

Kaidan thought that he would be mad at him. For breaking his promise. For leaving him behind.

Seeing him like that, he locked his jaw tight, ignoring the welling of his eyes as he blinked the cloudy substance away. Taking another deep breath, he approached his bedside. He got a better look at him as he pulled up a chair.

To think that once, John was in this very position, overlooking Kaidan.

He had been unable to go see him for about a month and a half, caught up in the political fallout while dealing with the mass relays’ dysfunction, taking note of how the doctors had allowed his hair to grow out by an inch. He looked younger. John’s muscle mass had reduced slightly as his body had been unmoving for so long, but it was still there, and it’d only take about a week for it to get back to normal.

The Alliance kept the media away from the hospital to reassure that John could recover before the galaxy got word that he was alive.

Several patients had passed through those very doors and been steered clear from the separate room that John had been placed in. Everyone believed he was MIA and that was exactly what the Alliance wanted. What they had gone to great lengths to make them believe. They owed it to him not to get bombarded with questions and cameras the moment he got back up on his feet.

No one knew what had happened back at the Citadel. What the Catalyst was. Why the reapers, geth, and EDI had been wiped out, but then he remembered that both EDI and the geth had reaper technology installed in them. The Catalyst must’ve been some kind of a kill-switch attached to the reapers only -- as organics and other Artificial Intelligence were left mostly unaffected -- to the best of their knowledge.

There was only one man who had the answer and he was currently lying unconscious at a hospital in what remained of London.

He wanted nothing more but to reach out, take his face in his hands and kiss him, but he was worried he’d accidentally pull out a cord or something. It would have to wait, just as he had done for so long, only to be left behind once again.

So his hand settled above his, free from the restrains and tubes, ready to be captured.

His gaze drifted to the strangely functional x-ray to see each synthetic piece. Nearly his whole spine was covered in metal, five bolts holding it intact, having him choke up. John had been partly synthetic ever since the Lazarus Project, and hell, it was a miracle that the same fate hadn’t befallen him as well as it did to the geth.

“You just couldn’t resist, huh? You just... you just couldn’t...” He took a deep breath, his voice shaking, clutched his hand tighter before he brought nearly torn knuckles to his lips -- unable to finish his sentence.

You just had to play the hero.

Kaidan sighed. “I’m here, John... and I’ll be right here when you wake up,” he muttered, swallowing the urge of putting emphasis on ‘when,’ giving himself false pretenses. It was another promise that he probably wouldn’t be able to keep.

“I promised you I’d show you Vancouver, didn’t I?” He stopped then, not trusting his own voice.

So please wake up...

Chapter Text

“Get out of my bloody way or I will personally break in myself and drag him out!”

Stifling a yawn with his palm, Kaidan arched a brow and pushed himself up from the chair he had spent the past five hours in. It didn’t take much effort to notice the stiffness lingering in weary muscles. He could recognize that voice a mile away. When he worked his way across the quaint reception, he was relieved to see Miranda Lawson arguing with a marine, a slender finger raised with a scowl apparent on her face.

She wasn’t joking about the ‘breaking in and drag him out’ part, so for John’s sake, he stepped in.

The marine straightened his back. “Major Alenko,” he said, and snapped a salute. “Didn’t expect to see you here. This lady here claims to know the Commander. She was identified as Cerberus.”

“At ease, soldier. She was part of his reconstruction team. Dr. Chakwas called her here.”

He blinked, once, before he moved his gaze her way. She folded her arms disapprovingly across her chest as her nostrils flared slightly, her hip shot to the side, blue eyes narrowed with an icy undertone.

“Right. Sorry for the inconvenience, ma’am. I wasn’t informed that you would be arriving.”

With a mock smile, she batted her eyelashes. “Let me through?”

“I’ll take it from here,” Kaidan said. “We can’t take any chances with Shepard’s life. You’re only doing your job. Return to your post.”

“Of course, sir.” He stepped aside.

When he was out of sight, Miranda released her arms. “I’m sorry for the unnecessary drama, Kaidan,” she said. “Shepard saves the galaxy only to end up in a hospital.”

“Yeah. It’s an ungrateful one. Still, it... it’s good to see you.”

They arrived by the door after a couple minutes of walking.

It wasn’t until a gentle and warm hand was upon his -- carefully unclenching his own -- he realized it had been balled into a fist. His eyes fell to his palm, thin white lines remaining, nails having left marks dug into the tender flesh.

He met a look of compassion from Miranda before he nodded with an unspoken ‘I’m fine’ and the door opened.

“Oh, Shepard...”

Miranda brought a hand to her mouth, elbow propped to her forearm, the watering of her eyes quickly blinked away.

She cleared her throat. “I assume Shepard didn’t tell you much about his reconstruction,” she said, her voice close to stone-cold. She released her arms and trailed her omni-tool across his body to scan his injuries. “When we found him back in 2183, there was little left. He was nothing but tubes and flesh when he was first brought to the base. We nearly had to build him up again from nothing.”

“I had no idea it was that bad.”

“I’m afraid the facility won’t do us much in this state, though.” The orange display dissolved. “I need to collect specific tech components that are compatible with his current to be able to get him back up on his feet again, or I’ll have to replace them, which will take a considerable amount time. Fortunately, I know where to look.”

“Do what you have to do, Miri. Just... just get him back.”

Miranda smiled. “Don’t worry, Kaidan. I’ve done this before. This clinic has done a good job keeping him stable, however -- and judging by his injuries, it won’t take longer than a couple months. After that, it’s up to him,” she said, her look now fonder. “There’s no way I’ll let the bastard slip away from us again. He needs a good whack over the head after all the property damage he’s caused. From all of us.”

He wanted to snort but the lighthearted sound remained stuck in his throat.


The Citadel Relay had been their first priority after Sol, so the Council had called him back to Serpent Nebula, him already having done diplomatic paperwork involving supposed Cerberus remnants.

The Council and the Alliance were the only ones that knew about John.

“Spectre Kaidan Alenko, glad you could make it.” Tevos’ chin was raised but there was a fall in her tone. “I... understand that Commander Shepard is hospitalized on Earth. If there is anything the Council can do to participate in his recovery, do not hesitate to ask. We all owe him and the Normandy crew our lives.”

Sparatus took the word. “Unfortunately, we have some bad news regarding Cerberus activity that you’ve earlier been debriefed about,” he said. “Thanks to thorough analysis, we have found some strange readings in Sigurd’s Cradle where a Cerberus facility had earlier been disabled by none other than Shepard. It appears to be operational again. The Council would greatly appreciate if you could investigate these. Nevertheless, we... do understand if we should assign a different Spectre to this job.”

“No, sir,” Kaidan insisted. “I’ll get it done, but I’ll need a ship.”

Valern was the next to speak. “We have already spoken to Admiral Hackett regarding this matter. Until Commander Shepard’s recovery, you’re assigned as the Commanding Officer for the SSV Normandy SR-2.”

“You know the ship and you know her crew,” Tevos said. “We are confident that she is in good hands, and the crew has already agreed to get back into the traverse, more than willing to follow your command. We trust you to get the job done and will forward any relevant data if anything new shows up. This matter is of utmost importance and best to be pursued as quickly as possible.”

“I’ll inform the crew that we’re leaving today, Councilors.”

Tevos nodded. “Good to hear,” she said. “One of your fellow Spectres -- Jondum Bau -- and his team will join you in this mission. He has new intel better debriefed when arriving in the cluster. This meeting is adjourned.”


Kaidan needed to get his mind off things and working was his best antiseptic.

Not many in the squad that had touched down on Earth were present since after they got the ship operational again. Nevertheless, Joker was still piloting the Normandy, Samantha Traynor was their comm-specialist, and Steve Cortez remained as their shuttle pilot.

A salarian approached him, followed by a squad of five. “Major Alenko,” he said, and Kaidan nodded at him. “Jondum Bau, Special Tactics and Recon.” Jondum held out a hand and they shook. “I understand you have taken command after Commander Shepard was unfortunately reported MIA. My condolences. I’m however glad you saw the urgency of this mission, human.”

“It’s best to be rid of Cerberus remnants now before they regroup.”

Jondum pulled up his omni-tool. “Exactly my thoughts,” he said. “I’m positive that the Council has informed you about the newfound data. We’ve recently come in possession of a map containing Cerberus outposts spread out in the traverse, however, we don’t know which ones are yet operational.” He zoomed in on Sigurd’s Cradle, Decoris and then Sanctum. “This facility appears to be one of their main bases, and thanks to analyzed intel, it should have data telling us exactly what we need to narrow it down. Our mission is to retrieve it.”

“Well done, Bau.”

“I merely analyzed the intel, bringing it up to the Council,” Jondum said and smiled. “I’m fortunate to say that my current human coworker is the one who obtained it. He’s the one you should praise.”

“I’ll make sure of it. Any idea how much resistance we’ll run into on Sanctum?”

“According to our scans, there will be Cerberus presence. I’m unsure how many, but Cerberus rarely travel with fewer men than twenty, so we can expect a few more. Nothing we can’t handle.”

*

Kaidan had brought five of his own students from Biotics Division to assist in the mission. He was aware that Bau had worked with John once before regarding an indoctrinated hanar with help from Kasumi Goto. He could remember her from the Citadel party. They had talked, briefly, where she introduced herself -- followed by teasing him about John having a thing for semi-public sex -- him not daring to ask.

They had gotten into the shuttle when he was introduced to Jondum’s team.

When surveying the compartment, he only saw one human male. His age couldn’t be far from his own. He had light brown hair a couple inches that was somewhat spiky -- much like John’s now current style -- green eyes and a five o’clock shadow.

“Lieutenant Ryan Wright, wasn’t it?”

Kaidan approached him. Lieutenant Wright looked up, but the brief surprise on his face quickly dissolved into the thick air when he straightened his back, making him realize just how green his eyes were.

“Yes, sir,” he said, and took Kaidan’s outstretched hand. “It’s a pleasure to get to work with you. You and the Normandy crew have done one hell of a thing out there. Only had the vids back home to sate my curiosity.”

“Back home?” he asked, curious himself. “You been out of duty for long?”

Wright shook his head. “Not as you see it, sir,” he said and smiled. “I was stationed on Earth under the command of Admiral Anderson to rally the reapers when you were out in the traverse in search of war assets. I assisted in getting civilians to safety. Had a few jobs to get help for the Crucible and a few more to gather intel. Cerberus related work, mostly. Explains how I was assigned to this job with Bau.”

“How’d you come across Cerberus intel?”

Grinning vaguely, he asked, “What, don’t you trust me?” Okay, he was charming, he’d give him that. “I’ve had my fair share of run-ins with ‘em. They got sloppy. Sound unlikely, I know, but it’s the best I’ve got. If you expect to get shot in the back, I promise, I’ll make it quick.” The horror must’ve shown on Kaidan’s face. “Sorry. I know that isn’t exactly something to joke about, it’s just...”

“A way to cope?”

“Exactly. Things are looking pretty rough, even now when the reapers are gone. I mean, hell. First, a Spectre goes rogue, then the collectors, the reapers and now... and now Shepard.” Wright nodded solemnly before clearing his throat. “He and Anderson are, uh... are both MIA still, and all synthetic life just kinda vanished. Things are just... pretty fucked up.”

“I hear you.”

Part of him wanted to tell him that John was hospitalized -- bring some light to all this -- but that information was highly classified. Wright did seem like a decent guy but he didn’t want to take any chances.

Attempting to turn the mood, Kaidan asked, “So how did you end up serving with the Alliance?”

“First of all, I wanted to help people.” His voice did seem lighter. “Do stuff the right way. Not much point serving if you go in guns-blazing when it could’ve been solved diplomatically. The rest, uh... it’s kinda embarrassing, really. I had also kinda dreamt of the whole ‘space hero’ thing. My mother used to read me those stupid romance novels when I was a kid.”

Kaidan smiled. “Let me guess... to ‘prove yourself to the woman you love’?”

Wright chuckled. “Something like that, yeah. It’d be ‘to the guy you love,’ in my case, but still -- same thing. Don’t tell me that’s the reason why the famed Kaidan Alenko joined up, too?”

“Guilty as charged. Seeing space was also part of it. Though, I ah... I read those ‘stupid romance novels’ myself.”

“Hey, I meant no offense -”

Kaidan couldn’t help but snort. “Relax, LT. Not taken. I’m just messing with you,” he replied and felt far lighter than he was a minute ago. “C’mon, let’s get down there and clear it out.”

“Aye, aye, sir.”

*

It was quiet when the shuttle arrived at the LZ, appearing abandoned, not a single soul in their depth of field.

It didn’t make any sense. If Cerberus had been studying these artifacts in the past, then why would they simply leave them in the open like this, unprotected? Jondum Bau ordered his team to keep their eyes up, and he did the same, expecting the worst.

Kaidan moved up first, eyes attentive as he scouted ahead, two more students having his back.

This was an ambush if he’d ever seen one.

“Alenko, right flank!”

He saw them then, three soldiers moving up -- a smoke grenade blurring his vision -- forcing him to take a step back, coughing. Before he knew it, a hand was at his arm, pulling him behind cover. Two more Cerberus operatives lurked behind and circled an Atlas mech that had just gone active. They were outnumbered by at least twelve and were pinned down.

That, and the Atlas mech, crossing the floorboards while spamming heavy concussion shots through a restless machine gun.

Kaidan’s coughing died down. “Thanks,” he said. Wright nodded at him and put incendiary rounds into his shotgun. Kaidan had a way of dealing with both its shield and armor himself but needed to know what their options were.

“LT, what’s your specialization?”

“Vanguard, sir,” he replied. “I’ll wait until it gets closer and do a Nova to stun it, a Charge to recharge our shields, followed by another Nova. It’ll take it down almost instantly.”

“That’s a risky tactic.”

“Sure is, but it’s our best bet.”

Taking time to consider, Wright’s expectant expression awaited his order, until another hail of bullets stormed their way -- followed by a rocket -- as they automatically ducked their heads. Tightly closing his eyes, his ears were ringing.

The remaining Cerberus soldiers would flank them if they didn’t bring it down, and bring it down fast.

When the fire died down, Kaidan shook his head while cursing under his breath and released an Overload to damage a portion of the shields, giving him an advantage and opening before he was back in cover.

“Now!” he called, and Wright immediately got the Nova ready.

As expected, the blue pulse stunned the behemoth, giving him a safer opening as he charged. He was onto the mech, released the final Nova that in return damaged any soldier close by. Electrical lines draped the mech in shock, stutter, until it was inoperative.

But instead of taking cover, Wright simply stood there, frozen.

Kaidan’s eyes went wide. “Wright, what the hell are you doing? It’s going to blow!”

Instead of getting out of the blast radius, he saw him getting up a Barrier and shield combo just in time before the mech exploded -- Cerberus soldiers caught in the crossfire -- clearing a minor section. Kaidan covered his eyes with an arm as he tore them away from the blast, wide as they traversed back to the vanguard who had been forced onto a knee, a trail of blood pickled down his nose.

Although breathing heavily, looking like he was about to collapse, he did nothing but enforce the barrier as he pulled himself up from the ground and straightened his back.

That’s when he saw one of his students cradling a wound behind cover in the area of the blast radius, Wright having saved his life.

Clearing the section he was standing in, Wright dropped the Barrier, latched the student’s arm around his shoulder before getting him behind cover. He patched him up with medi-gel before rejoining the fight.

From what he had seen, Wright should’ve been a captain by now, not just a lieutenant. Not knowing why bothered him more than it should.

They fought for a good eight minutes before the area was clear.

“Nice work with the barrier. Thanks. I, ah... I owe you,” Kaidan said and received a tired smile in reply. He saw Wright move a gauntlet against the area above his lip to brush the blood away.

“You okay?”

“Yeah, it’s just a light headache. Comes with the territory, I guess. Ready for orders, sir.”

“You’re not looking too hot, LT. Take it easy, okay? Don’t push yourself too hard.”

He shrugged. “No promises.”

Kaidan snorted and shook his head as he took a better hold of his rifle. He shortly after approached Jondum who had just sheathed his Scorpion firearm. The shuttle had been greeted by bullets and forced Cortez to bail so he could keep it intact in the firestorm, but now that the Cerberus presence was eliminated, he was waiting for them at the LZ.

“Found anything?”

Jondum nodded. “Yes,” he said, having found his place behind one of the screens. “This live map is exactly what we’ve been looking for. According to this data, there are five more outposts that are active, thankfully of a smaller scale.”

“Good work, everyone. We got what we came for. Let’s get this intel to the Council.”


When Miranda informed him over voice-link in nearly a brittle tone that John was awake, he felt a lightness he had never before experienced, his knees nearly going went weak below him. He wanted to laugh but the sound couldn’t get through. Not after she asked him to come see her.

Something had come up.

He was informed that John was fine, although he knew that there was a ‘but’ coming, Miranda’s subtle smile too forced for it not to.

“His limbs are intact although he’s yet healing from a few more minor damages, but it’s easily treatable, as it will heal in a few weeks,” she said. “We’ve come to the conclusion that the Commander will be back up on his feet in three months at worst, but...”

Here goes.

“We’ve found out that he was hit by Harbinger’s beam, minutes before the evac squad found him, although curiously he survived the blast as if the reaper had... personally lowered the power usage,” she finished.

Kaidan frowned. “Wait, what do you mean?”

“The reaper beams has an overheat function so the energy would never reduce its power level, even if having used it for centuries, so the only reason for the beam to lack in energy would be if the reaper personally reduced it.”

Squinting a bit, he took that to consideration, unable to make sense of why Harbinger would do such a thing.

The reaper’s beam had completely disintegrated soldiers before his very eyes. There was nothing left of them, they just vanished, leaving nothing but ash in their wake.

How’s John any different?

Miranda’s eyes slammed shut. “That’s... not all,” she muttered, and cleared her throat. “Tissues, uh... tissues of his brain... were greatly damaged. It’s very similar to the effects that he suffered after the first Normandy went down, but in more extreme measures.” She raised her chin with a steady gaze. “I’ve done everything I can for him, and only time will tell if he can recover fully from this -- a 16 percent chance, to be more specific. I’m sorry to say that our Shepard has retrograde amnesia.”

He couldn’t even imagine what John was going through.

But one question remained.

“How far back are we talking, exactly?”

“We can’t tell for certain, but... far. He has no recollections of the past three years. At least.” Three years... at least. “Your name came up in conversation, and... nothing.”

His heart shattered.

John didn’t remember him at all. After everything they had been through together, they were back on square one, not even on a last name basis. Kaidan went from lover to stranger within a heartbeat.

Hell... he had plans to propose after the war was over.

That was no longer an option.

“When he has the time to recollect himself, we’ll ask him if he remembers Akuze,” she said. “I suspect that it might have something to do with the scar on his hairline. One damage to his head -- even if it’s minor -- could be the cause. Do you know when he might have gained it?”

Kaidan sighed. “17. He was... he was 17.”

“17?” she asked, her eyes wide. “My god... I’m -I’m sorry, Kaidan. He... seems to be able to create new memories, though -- so there are no signs of anterograde disturbances in his condition. We have informed him of a few crucial events during the past years, making sure not to overburden him with facts, as most of all this will have him in for a shock. Shepard responded by calling the doctors ‘crazy’ and refused to believe a single word. He doesn’t even know about the reapers, and now, everyone are celebrating their defeat.

“We have also decided to make sure he avoids contact with the media until he recovers enough to take it all in. Those bloody reporters won’t leave him alone if he goes out there. It’s troubling, and a very slow process, but we need to start somewhere.”

He was given a compassionate look. “I’m sure you understand why I’m telling you all this.”

“I’ll, uh...” he tried and nodded solemnly. “I’ll make sure to give him some space. Keep me updated, okay? I, uh... I need to report to Admiral Hackett about... about all this.”

About to move, Kaidan’s forearm was captured, stopping him in his tracks.

“You don’t have to play the strong silent type.”

It was that obvious.

Miranda forced a tight-lipped smile. “I’ve broken down at least twice just seeing him like that. One bloody hell of a good doctor I am, right?” she asked no-one in particular. Kaidan couldn’t hold back the weak, upwards twist by the corner of his lips. “Are you all right?”

No. No, I’m really not.

“I will be,” he said. Miranda softly squeezed his arm before he was pulled into an embrace, him meeting her halfway, closing his grip around her. Little did he realize how much he needed that. “Keep up the good work, Miri... and thanks.”

She patted his back. “Anytime, Kaidan -”

“Miss Lawson!” a distressed voice called out, down the hall. Kaidan blinked as they broke apart before he turned to the man whose face was red of exhaust. One of the employees ran towards them, his breathing heavy, hands falling to his knees.

“Shepard’s gone,” he finished.

“Wait, he’s what?” Miranda called, eyes wide.

“One of the doctors was found unconscious in his room with his omni-tool gone. The locker was decrypted and the window pried open.”

“I told you to not to let anyone in!”

Kaidan’s omni-tool lit up, probably the Council, but he ignored it.

The doctor shook his head. “I know, ma’am. We didn’t. The door was sabotaged from the inside. Shepard... Shepard was the only one there, and the windows... the windows are enforced. There’s no way anyone could’ve gotten inside without us knowing about it. The pistol is also gone.”

“You’ve got to be kidding me.” Kaidan’s omni-tool was beeping like crazy, taking away his ability to think, so he finally answered. “I’m -I’m sorry, ma’am. I can’t talk right now. Shepard’s gone -”

“Well, then you would want to hear this.” Having expected to hear Tevos, he was surprised to instead hear a familiar raspy turian voice, amusement noted a long way. “I might have run into your boyfriend at the bar, and saying that he seemed confused would be putting it mildly. He didn’t know who I was. I know a lot of humans have problems separating us turians from each other, but I thought I was an exception.”

Jesus...

“Oh my god...” he muttered and exhaled slowly. “Okay, so there -there’s bound to be several bars than one in London. Tell me where you are I’ll be there as fast as I can, just don’t let him out of your sight.”

Garrus hesitated. “Uh, let’s see... Chalk Farm, Camden. I couldn’t make out the sign, though.”

“I’m on my way.” He hung up before he checked the built-in map on his omni-tool. Five minutes. Shutting the interface off, he turned to Miranda, her face a darker tone. Kaidan started backing towards the door before turning.

His walk towards the door quickly turned into a jog. “I’ll find him!”


Kaidan took the first cab down to Camden, and despite the busy streets, he was able to arrive just outside the building.

John should’ve known better than to break out of a damn medical facility where he was one of the patients. Not only that, but he was currently armed, and confused. Kaidan was however positive that he would never go around shooting up nightclubs.

Pushing the cab door open after paying the driver, he took a step outside, swirled before closing it shut it again. He squinted his eyes to see if he could make out any familiar faces behind the glass window. It was a quaint little place and appeared to contain two levels. Neon-blue lights lit up the dark local, nightfall having closed in, the clock nearing 1000 pm. It reminded him of Purgatory, back on the Citadel, only less pink. The music was loud, obnoxious as it blasted through the stonewalls, and he just knew that he was bound to get another migraine.

As he arrived through the door, he scanned the room, shortly after glimpsing Garrus leaned up against one of the tables.

Garrus caught his eye and motioned his head to his left, him following the movement.

He froze as he glimpsed the familiar form of an Alliance soldier. John was currently propped into one of the chairs by the bar, drink in hand, arms crossed on the counter. Swirling the light brown liquid in the glass, Kaidan saw a frown crinkle his brow, scowling lightly at it.

John had never been a fan of light beers, but he had probably never heard of the drinks they served here, not wanting to take any chances to end up sold to some batarian slavers in a colony at the ass end of nowhere.

“So what’s the story, here?” Garrus asked when he approached, just loud enough to be heard over the music that would most definitely blow out his eardrums. “Shepard seems... off. I can barely recognize him even though I’m already used to his scars and those creepy, glowing red eyes. And it’s not the haircut.” His mandibles clicked. “All right, maybe that’s part of it.”

“The doctors found out that he has amnesia. Miri said it was a 16 percent chance he’d recover.”

“Well, that’s... one hell of a thing. Certainly unexpected, although it explains a lot, considering. I’m sure he -” He cut himself off. “He’ll come around, Kaidan. He always does. After all, you saw how he turned out. First Human Spectre, The Hero of the Citadel, the sole survivor of Akuze, commander of the Normandy, savior of the galaxy... three times. People tend to take notice.”

Kaidan sighed. “That’s thanks to Anderson, and we don’t even know where he is. Hell, Shepard needed a father figure back then. Someone that put him back in place when he went out of hand. Anderson was exactly that for him.”

Garrus’ mandibles twitched again. “Out of hand?”

Right... Kaidan was the only one who knew about the Reds.

He watched as John put the glass back at the counter. Straightening his back, he buried his hand in his back pocket and fished up a pack of cigarettes that he had probably snatched from an unfortunate pedestrian.

Kaidan cocked a brow.

He had never seen John smoke. He probably stopped during those fifteen years but now went back to old habits. Everything was new to him. It probably helped with some familiarity in all this.

John shoved the cigarette in his mouth, lit it before taking the first draft, only to start coughing. He obviously hadn’t smoked in a while so it only made sense that it would take some time to get used to.

“That’s not really my story to tell,” he muttered. Garrus obviously hadn’t heard him, so he leaned in. “Let’s just say that he was in a bad place during his childhood. Had a few friends that turned against him and wanted him dead. Anderson gave him a way out.”

It was vague, and he trusted Garrus with his life, but he had no right to rat Shepard out like that.

“To me, it sounds like he just needed a friend he could trust that wouldn’t cut his throat,” he replied. “At once we give our guys a call, the whole Normandy crew is going to be there to dust the commander off and get him moving. We’re all on the front lines.

“...and, if all else fails,” he added, his tone low and suggestive, “we’ll hire some krogan mercenaries to knock his memory back into place. I’ll more than willingly throw in a few punches myself, too, if that helps.”

“I, uh... I don’t think that would work.”

“Just a suggestion.”

“What did he do?”

“He insulted my sniper. Said that up close and personal is the only way to go or you’re not a real soldier.” Giving him an exasperated look, Garrus shrugged innocently. “What? He asked for it.”

Kaidan kept an eye on John. “I thought you had gone to Palaven.”

“I was supposed to, but I found this bar on the way, and... well. Let’s just say I get easily distracted.” Kaidan smiled. Never change, Garrus. “Truth is, the relay is down. I... couldn’t. I’m afraid I’m stuck here. No offense.”

“I figured as much.”

“Forgot to mention, but Tali is here with me,” he said, eyes falling to the dance floor as Kaidan’s trailed after. The smile returned when he saw a far-too-familiar quarian, drink in hand, a straw being the so-called ‘induction port.’ “She’ll appreciate seeing you again so don’t forget to say ‘hi.’ I’m keeping an eye on her to make sure she doesn’t drink too much... but I’ll let her have some fun.”

“How are you guys holding up?”

“Good, all things considered,” he replied and straightened his collar. “The rebuilding of Rannoch is bound to take longer time than originally participated. The geth would’ve sped up the process a great deal. Weeks ago, she could barely wait to get back to her homeworld... now, I can barely get her out of this place. Me... well, I’m just thankful they serve dextro-friendly drinks.”

Kaidan grinned ever so slightly. “You’re not going to join her?”

Somewhat nervously, Garrus chuckled. “Hah-ah... You saw me in the Citadel apartment, Kaidan. I’m... not the best dancer,” he said before John regained his attention. “You should go talk to him. I’ll try not to get into too much trouble while you’re busy over there.”

“What am I going to say, huh? Hell, I’m a stranger to him, too.”

For a moment, Garrus went quiet. “I’m sorry, Kaidan. I know that doesn’t count for much, but... I really am,” he said. “I think your best bet is to simply tell him the truth, or it’s going to come back to ‘bite you in the ass’ later, if I use the human idiom correctly.”

“It does count,” he said, and smiled vaguely “...and you used it correctly.”

His gaze settled back at John and his smile faltered. Inhaling a deep breath, his eyes fluttered shut, before slowly blowing it out again.

“Wish me luck...”

Chapter Text

“You know... you should try ryncol if you want something stronger. Wouldn’t recommend it, though. I’ve heard it can put a car on fire.”

Propping a forearm to the counter, Kaidan leant in until his shoulder locked into place. An almost startled expression surfaced John’s face when he turned, which shortly dissolved into the same deadpan look, incredibly blue eyeing him up from top to bottom. The smoke was back in his mouth. Kaidan could already smell the rich but bitter aroma that lingered in the smooth fabric of his leather jacket. Then the blue hue with red orbs centered between was at his. Kaidan couldn’t help the small smile threatening the corners of his lips.

“Okay, I’ll bite,” John replied. “Any recommendations?”

Kaidan snorted. “I hear the Serrice Ice Brandy is quite popular. Here, let me buy you a shot,” he said, taking note of the subtle but intensive watching of his every move. He pretended like he didn’t notice.

“I’ll take two.” The bartender relieved him from the credits.

Cocking a brow, John’s gaze followed the younger man behind the counter before he disappeared further into the otherwise dark bar, illuminated by neon lights. Then Kaidan was his full focus.

Over his forearm, John held out a hand. “Shepard.”

His whole body went warm at the shared touch of their skin, his grip firm and warm, which seeped into his being with a reassuring comfort. Warm, not cold. Real, not an illusion. John was alive.

He was up on his feet, walking, and he was... he was alive.

“I, uh... Kaidan. My name. It’s Kaidan.” He squeezed his hand tighter before letting go. The aching of his own returned at the departure. “So, Shepard... care to tell me what happened there?”

There was a freshly carved but narrow cut that seemed to be going deep, splitting his brow in two, dangerously close to his left eye.

“Got jumped by some assholes,” he replied, not going into detail.

He went quiet then, having no need of explaining himself, and appeared to be lost in thought. His expressionless demeanor is nonexistent shortly after Kaidan grasped his chin. John nearly jerked out of his hold. Kaidan felt his jaw clench underneath his fingertips, but John didn’t pull back when he brushed a cautious thumb below the damage.

John blinked. “You, uh... you a doc or some shit?”

“Yeah, well... kind of,” he muttered, eyes hardened into slits. “Guess you could call me a medic.” He was allowed to cock his head to the side to study the cut, trying to figure out how serious the damage was.

Kaidan’s hand fell to the counter. “Looks pretty deep.”

“It’ll heal.”

His eyes moved to rest at the bartender, just having brought them their drinks. Yanking the cigarette out of his mouth, John stumped it on the back of his palm without wincing –- Kaidan cringing vaguely at the gesture -- before he threw it into the tray besides. He swept a palm across the counter to grab it and brought it to his lips, only to move it away again as he inspected its contents.

John crinkled his nose. “It’s... blue.”

Kaidan coughed out a laugh. “Think of it as, uh... coke without artificial colorants -- would’ve been clear otherwise -- Citadel space doesn’t have them,” he said, grabbed his own and moved it to his mouth. “Earth caught up and went along with it. Kinda tacky.”

“Have we met?”

Subtle shock registered on his face before he could hide it.

“Huh?”

“Okay, I’ll say it plain -- have I ever had your cock in my mouth?”

The wrong pipe swallowed the bluish beverage whole, and in a split second, he was coughing his lungs out as if he was on red sand. The burn was almost unbearable and the blush crept up like a damn geth hunter. He was well-aware that his eyes had watered and gone puffy at the force emitted. Wincing slightly, he sucked in a breath, in an unconscious attempt of washing the bitter taste out of his system.

John looked nothing short of amused. “Look, you asked for it.”

“Yeah... yeah, I guess I did,” he said, and managed to swallow. Properly, this time. “I’m -”

He looked up from his glass and caught Garrus’ eye, off in the distance. Apparently having noticed how his attention seemed to be somewhere else, John glimpsed over his shoulder with an arched brow and saw him.

Kaidan eventually regained his gaze. “I -I don’t think so. Sorry.”

He couldn’t do it.

What the hell was he supposed to say? That they had been dating for a while up until he woke up on that hospital gurney with a brain concussion? That they had known each other, served together, since 2183?

It was too much to take in.

Thankfully, John seemed to buy it, although there was a small frown by his brow before he acknowledged it. He tipped the glass back to his mouth and swallowed half of the substance in one swipe, still holding the glass to his lips, frown deepening.

“Right. You just seemed -” John stopped, shook his head and took a final drag. “Never mind.”

“I guess I just have that kind of face.” He wanted to kick himself as he couldn’t get more cliché than that. “Hey, uh... you seemed pretty lost around here. I don’t really know the place myself, but still -- figured I’d give you a hand, you know?”

Behind the glass, a slow smile spread on John’s lips.

Then he realized what that sounded like.

Chuckling, he looked away. “Christ, that’s not –that’s not what I meant.”

John’s smile grew ever so slightly, giving him another look-over, before parting from the empty drink.

“Shame,” he said, and shoved a new smoke back into his mouth. Okay, so he’s flirting with me. That’s a start. “I’ll take the company, but I don’t dance, so scratch that off the list.”

That’s a first.

John was a downright terrible dancer. Kaidan knew that firsthand as well as everyone who had ever seen him dance, but he also knew that he didn’t give a damn about how he looked because he found dancing fun.

Having missed the chance of meet-ups at some dingy bar in one of the major cities as a teen -- thanks to his unusual upraising -- Kaidan found himself appreciating the opportunity to be normal for once. It was, in a way, exhilarating. He had never been a big fan of nightclubs but it was a great way to meet people. Although it might sound like a horrible thing to say, the amnesia had given them a way to start over, have casual conversations unrelated to the Alliance and debriefings of their past mission. Unrelated to BAaT. Unrelated to war.

The whole thing wasn’t entirely bad, but if he could prevent it from happening in the first place, he wouldn’t have hesitated.

“...and if you plan to introduce me to your friends over there...” he added, much to Kaidan’s embarrassment. “I’m going to have to pass.” He kept the smoke un-lit for the time being. “I’m not exactly a people-person.”

“You seem pretty charming from where I stand.”

John’s eyes fell. “Sure,” he said “...but only when I’m trying to get into somebody’s pants.”

Looking up again, John cocked a brow -- his expression deadpan -- pinning him with a predatory gaze. He used that look to get Kaidan in bed with him, usually throwing a crooked smirk into the mix, working every damn time.

“That so?” he asked, but internally grinned.

Mouth now somewhat agape, John seemed amused at his short but suggestive reply, if not surprised. The cigarette quaintly hung immobile on his lower lip. Kaidan wanted to viciously yank the damn thing away and crush his lips with his own. Feel him against himself again. Push him up against a wall and let him know just how glad he was to see him up from that damn hospital gurney.

But he could do neither.

In a moment, the smoke is out of his mouth, the crooked smirk finally on his lips as if accepting a challenge. John pushed away from the counter, him tempted to do the same, but remained put.

Beneath the vivid lights and the night sky outside, the air grew ticker, nearly suffocating him.

Too busy gazing into John’s eyes, his breath hitched as he felt a firm hand pulling at his shirt, allowing him to take charge although not being given much of a choice. He nearly tripped over his own foot despite how gentle the pull was. For a moment, he had no recollection of what just happened, but everything came back to him when John leant in and he could feel scarred lips ghost over his neck.

“So, K... wanna fuck?”

He was trying to focus on his own breathing so he wouldn’t pass out thanks to lack of air, but by the way John was pressed up against him -- most definitely aware of his growing erection -- he couldn’t think straight.

Kaidan swallowed. “Yeah? I think I can make that happen. I’m currently in charge of a docked ship not too far from here.”

John didn’t say anything, instead allowing his lips to speak for him, as they ghosted Kaidan’s neck. Shivers prickled down the length of his spine when they were by his ear. He bit back a groan as teeth nipped at his earlobe -- and not gently -- his own nails dug into the tan, tender flesh in reaction, bringing him closer. Kaidan couldn’t even register when he had grabbed him.

“Five minutes,” John said, and pulled away.

Opening his mouth to speak, he was only to feel a flattened-out palm on his chest, pushing him ahead before John disappeared into the crowd. He could swear that his heart was trying to brutally ram through his damn ribcage, splintering it into a million pieces, the gesture having left him breathless. He wouldn’t be surprised if his face had gone blue along the way.

His eyes fluttered shut, inhaling and exhaling the much needed breath, finally able to function properly. His legs were nearly shaking when he managed to push through the various attendants and locate Garrus’ table.

“So...” Garrus muttered, the amusement clear in his voice, having seen the whole thing. “That went well.” The defeat must’ve shown on Kaidan’s face because the amusement died down quickly. “You didn’t tell him, did you?”

Kaidan sighed. “I -I couldn’t, okay?”

“Well, you’re in it deep now.”

“Yeah... no kidding,” he muttered. “I always seem to mess up, huh? First Horizon, now... now this. Christ. If this is going to work, I need to... I need to tell everyone what I’ve been telling him. The last thing I need is for the whole crew to mention how we served together -”

“Kaidan!”

Shooting a sideways glance, he heard a far too enthusiastic quarian voice as she nearly stumbled over, him quick on his step to catch her if she fell -- only to have her barging into him -- briefly taking away all the oxygen left in his body again, him hunching over, feeling like he has taken a stone-clad fist to the gut. She threw an arm around his shoulder.

He caught his breath. “Hey, Tali. It... it’s good to see you.”

“Feeling a little...” She hiccupped “...naughty, are we?” Her speech was slurred, eyes crinkled in the corners to reveal a big grin behind her mask. He frowned. “I hearrrd you... speaking with Shepharrrd?” A giggle interrupted her and Kaidan felt his cheeks going warm.

He cast a helpless glance Garrus’ way, giving him a look only described as a, ‘whatever it is, I don’t want to know.’

“Hear, hear,” Tali said, the sudden seriousness in her voice being almost terrifying. “You...” There was another hiccup. “You are going to regret following through with... with this,” she said, waving her triple-filtered turian brandy. Garrus gracefully took it away from her. Kaidan halfway expected to shimmer a pout but she didn’t even seem to notice that she no longer had it in her hand.

“Because, Keelah,” she added. “You... messed. Up.”

“Tali, you -you’re not helping,” he muttered as calm as ever, only to be interrupted by another fit of giggling. “Garrus, look... there’s a line to what amount each individual can handle, you know?”

Innocently, Garrus shrugged. Taking a moment to admire the scene, Kaidan smiled, despite of himself.

“Don’t be ridiculous!” she protested. “Now... now I don’t know much about human mating rituals, but to my people -”

Oh, god.

“...but to my people, it’s very, very... intimate,” she said, putting heavy emphasis on the last word. “However, I do know a little, as I have earlier consu -consulted a human mating manual.”

He could swear Garrus was frowning. “Spirits. What were you doing with one of those?”

“For Shepharrrd, of course! I threw them away, though... I didn’t need them anymore. He rejected me... said he didn’t want to risk my health... so I tried my luck with you as I figured I would have a better chance. Downgrading a little.”

The turian gasped. “Ouch. You’re so mean.”

Tali broke into another giggle fit and Kaidan finally realized that she was joking. Taking note of Garrus’ suggestive tone, he cleared his throat -- reminding them that he was right there -- practically being the one keeping Tali standing.

Garrus sucked in a breath. “Right. Sorry,” he said, with the turian equivalent of a blush. “So what are you thinking?”

“I’m thinking I’m taking him back to the Normandy.” Kaidan’s hand was at Tali’s upper back when he guided her into a seat. She was a light quarian, but his shoulder had begun aching. “I’m not planning on doing anything else but that.”

He could make out a snort, and a murmured “yeah, rrright,” before the tenacious slurping of obstinate purpose caught his ear.

Kaidan ignored Tali’s remark. “I’m pretty sure he’ll just refuse returning to the hospital if I suggested it, and I can’t exactly force him, so it’s the best I’ve got right now. You coming along?”

“I’ll finish up here first.” Garrus cast his eyes to a now, unsurprisingly enough, very passed out Tali. “She’s... coming too, I suppose.”

He smiled and shook his head before he pushed through. As much as he wanted to be with John, he didn’t do one night stands, which was certainly what John was expecting. Deceiving him felt wrong but he had little choice.

Sex wasn’t just a technicality for him -- a way to pass the time -- and by far it wasn’t a small thing in his eyes. Still, this was John. The last time they spoke was before he headed for the beam. Before Kaidan, for the third time, believed John to be dead. Before he affectionately stroked his hair and told him to come back to him. Before he spent weeks by his side at Wellington Hospital to await his recovery, barely taking the time to sleep or eat, almost unconsciously killing himself in the process. He was lucky that Liara had come to his rescue before it got too bad.

He needed to feel his body against his own again. Remind himself that John was alive. But this wasn’t the time for that.

A hint of relief soothed him when he saw John standing back by the bar disk, chatting up the bartender, although he couldn’t make out what they were saying. Approaching him, he gently touched his bicep, John shortly after meeting his gaze with a now lit cigarette. He didn’t need more convincing as he simply emptied his newly-ordered drink, shoved the smoke back in, and allowed Kaidan to drag him along.

In any other situation, he would’ve taken him by the hand and intertwine their fingers, but that wasn’t exactly what you did to some random guy you picked up at a bar. It needed to be believable.

*

Kaidan hailed a cab.

The final walk to the Normandy was quiet, and despite everything they had been through together in the past, he couldn’t help but feel nervous as if it was their first time. He felt like he didn’t know him anymore, and hell, it was killing him. There was however some truth to that statement. Not having known John fifteen years back, he didn’t know what to expect from him, but he was clearly different. More vulgar and forward as he said things straight out. He was used to dirty innuendos but this was something else entirely.

His forwardness was... kind of turning him on.

At least that’s what his suddenly tight pants were telling him.

The decontamination was quick and painless but also spent in complete silence. Kaidan made sure that he was the first to step into the ship. He could feel that John was close behind.

Caught off-guard, he nearly barged into Joker as he was limping back to the cockpit. The pilot froze when he saw John, averted his eyes to give Kaidan a questioning look, although he held up a hand in promise to talk later.

Joker simply shook his head and passed them.

Normally, Joker would ignore his attempt at keeping him quiet, but things were different.

He clenched his jaw and tried to forget the drainage in the otherwise chipper and sarcastic pilot’s gaze. He could see John’s confused reaction, but instead of lingering outside the now shut cockpit door, he took him by the wrist and brought him to the elevator.

EDI’s robotic body had been placed back in the med-bay in hope to someday retrieve her. They hadn’t been successful so far. The whole crew took her absence to heart as they had gone back to using a simple VI, and it wasn’t the same without her, although there wasn’t much they could do about it. Part of Joker sure blamed John for what happened. Even so, their CO had done so much for him before, so he stowed it.

At least for now.

The amnesia could be the only wall between John himself and Joker’s anger.

*

He watched as John stepped into the cabin, hands deep in his pockets, his brows crinkled in a thoughtful frown. There was a different look about him as he stood there and he could tell that he remembered parts of the interior.

Kaidan realized how vulnerable he felt.

At his every step, his heart had been beating, harder and harder as they passed the crew with curious glances. He was confident that he could do it, but now when they finally had reached deck one, his willpower and confidence was slowly but surely dying down. There was an eerie silence aside from the silent humming of the Normandy’s engine and the air was thicker than he could remember.

Wasn’t every day you refused your boyfriend sex.

After his wake, John’s current display so far had been nothing but a supposed bad-boy persona. A walking James Dean starred in Rebel Without A Cause. He only needed a Porsche Spyder and Kaidan would have to look twice to see the distinction.

He shook off the thought and headed for the inner section.

There was a brief panic when strong fingers curled around his wrist. He felt his pulse both in his throat and under the grip of the hand that was crushing his forearm, swirling him around, as if restraining a child from running into traffic.

He was brought back into reality when his back suddenly had a wall behind it.

John attacked his neck with both lips and teeth, his warm body pressing the rest of him to the concrete, Kaidan unable to hold back the guttural moan that had quickly built up in his throat. He couldn’t tell whether it was because of the impact he had suffered to the wall or John’s assault. It didn’t take much effort to feel the equal and growing bulge by his thigh. He was forcefully grinded up against him when John grabbed a handful of his ass, mouth moving in for a light throat clamp, like a predator would do to subdue its prey.

Prey.

That was exactly what he felt like.

A willing one.

Hands were all over him when John’s mouth worked towards his jaw, and he felt like he was going to die, his attacker showing no signs of slowing down. For a moment, he forgot to breathe, but then he remembered where they were.

The pursuit stopped when he strangely enough managed to place a flattened-out palm between his pecs, somewhat hesitantly pushed him back, feeling his chest moving rapidly beneath his touch. Dilated pupils peeked up at him -- one beneath a cocked brow with the wound that he had earlier taken note of -- having to mentally tell himself not to do something he knew he would come to regret.

“What... you going to patch me up first, doc?”

John must’ve seen where his eyes trailed.

Even so, why did he feel like he was about to participate in a porn vid?

Christ.

Repulsed but also slightly intrigued by the thought, he flagged it off, eyes slamming shut. The cut was indeed of a more pressing concern, so instead of objecting, he readied the medi-gel.

“Sit,” he said, and gestured to the bed “...and hold still.”

With what resembled a mock snort, John threw up his hands in surrender before he plopped down to the furniture. His arms dropped to his thighs as he leant forward. A smirk played on his lips as he looked straight ahead, him being well-aware of where the height of his head was, and peeked up to meet his gaze with an arched brow.

Kaidan rolled his eyes.

Crouching down before him, he squeezed out a small amount of medi-gel on his thumb, capturing John’s chin in his hand.

He felt the stubble beneath his fingertips as he tilted his head to the side, him not being particularly helpful at first as he tried to wriggle out, but allowed him access. John winced slightly as he pressed the cold, jelly substance to the wound, again trying to pry lose.

Kaidan frowned. “Stop squirming.”

John blew hard through his nose but his shoulders finally slumped.

The cut was deep, him frustrated at the reveal, attempting not to seem too bothered so he wouldn’t give himself away. His usual reckless stunts already angered him to no end as John’s preferred tactic had always been to rush straight in like a krogan juggernaut. What he seemed to be forgetting was that he didn’t have the same hardened scales and regeneration factor. Neither did he have the biotics except from Reave that they implanted him with during the Lazarus Project. That alone wasn’t enough to bring down a damn reaper if it came to it.

Still, that didn’t stop him from trying.

Part of him wanted to ask how the hell he was jumped, but he figured that he couldn’t get anything out of him, no matter how hard he tried.

When the gel was applied, John shifted uncomfortably, Kaidan’s eyes falling down. He wanted to laugh when he saw that he had ‘adjusted’ himself. Despite his erection, John freed his chin and cleared his throat.

He had always been really damn easy. It was kind of adorable. Most people wouldn’t combine the word ‘adorable’ and ‘Commander John Shepard’ in the same sentence but they didn’t know him like he did. Part of him wanted to point it out. He would normally tease him about it, offer a handjob, and then ripped clothes would shortly after be scattered all over the floor.

A light breath grazed his cheek and he froze.

Kaidan swallowed thickly. Clenching his jaw, he built up just enough courage to ascend his eyes. His breath got stuck in his throat when he found that John had leant in. His unwavering gaze had him nailed to the floor as he sat crouched between his parted legs. He could hear his silent breathing, smell the tension, only about an inch of air parting them. Through his veins, his blood began pulsing more rapidly.

He didn’t want to fight a war that he wasn’t going to win.

There he was, locking eyes with the man he loved, and his mind went blank. He simply couldn’t bring himself to look away. He saw everything he was. Everything that made him into the man he was. Everything they had shared. He saw only John and forgot everything. Forgot those years spent mourning him. Forgot being left behind. Forgot how angry he should be at him for breaking his promise. Forgot the amnesia that had consumed him. It was as if they were back to the first night they shared together.

John smirked.

...and then he couldn’t hold back.

As if he was possessed, he was unable to control his actions, and in a split second, he was standing over him. His fists balled around the worn leather jacket and he crushed lips to his, the want too strong to resist, moving with him as he forcefully cushioned his back into the sheets. John groaned from the bottom of his throat as Kaidan slipped a knee between his thighs and pressed him further down to the bed.

A strong hand was on his chest, neck and then in his hair, the other nearly ripping the buttons on Kaidan’s shirt from the two-stitched hem, him shuddering slightly as it bared half his chest. With the tip of his tongue, Kaidan trailed the red-glowing scar on John’s lips, before invading his mouth entirely with unsatiated hunger.

John tasted of brandy and smoke. It was as if Kaidan himself was getting a high from the tobacco that the cigarette -- now stumped at the pavement outside -- had left him, and combine that with lust, there was no way in hell that he could resist.

Both of John’s hands delved deep into his dark curls, reaching his amp port. Kaidan shuddered in reaction as he sucked in a breath through bared teeth. Already semi-hard, he rubbed up against him for friction, willing to take whatever he could give him. It was too much and too little at the same time. A warm palm slipped under the neck-hem of his shirt, only to retract again, soon feeling the subtle breeze as his shirt came off. Before he could process what was happening, his back was to the mattress, John’s thighs cradling his hips.

And Christ, it wasn’t gentle, either.

With a predatory growl going right down, John leaned back in and their teeth clicked, biting into Kaidan’s lip -- almost enough to draw blood. He sighed as his tongue, dominating and assertive, entered him again.

I miss you...

His hands found their path up the familiar curve of John’s hips and under his tank top towards his ribs, desperate for contact, bringing him closer. A muffled sound was heard in return, the pressure of his mouth increasing, if only slightly.

I miss you so damn much...

It didn’t take long before they had discarded their clothes, wrestled out of the fabric, clinging onto each other as if the galaxy would fall apart any minute. He had watched John as he stripped off his shirt and noticed that there were traces of his six-pack even after his coma.

Kaidan trailed a hand over the firm muscle as John crawled over him, surveyed his tan skin, taking note of a few new scars that had surfaced.

He was nearly brought back into bad memories until lips relocated his chest, his collarbone, his throat as John grinded up against him. They prepared each other, and when he finally took him in, nails bore into John’s back. There was a burn to it, and never having been John’s bottom before in their far too few rodeos, it sure as hell was an experience. His leg was forcefully grasped, his knee to John’s hip so he felt his full length, catching another throaty moan that sent the blood rushing through his veins.

At his every thrust into him, he came closer and closer to his climax, John holding him in place while sucking at his pulse point. Both were coated in a thin layer of sweat, his nose registered the musky scent, although it was hard to overlook.

Kaidan’s biotics had begun flaring up, feeling the blue energy form an aura around his body, the pleasure felt overloading his senses.

He was known for his self-control, but sex had a way to surpass that, especially when John was the one he was giving in to. He hit dead-on one of his sweet spots, below the ear, and everything went black when the orgasm hit him like damn truck.

John came shortly after, his chest moving rapidly thanks to exhaust and lack of air, rolling onto his back before his forearm covered both his eyes. Kaidan knew their session would leave him bruised, but hell, he didn’t care.

It wasn’t before a few minutes later -- when heavy sleep had befallen his partner -- he realized his stupid mistake.

It wasn’t like in the movies. Everything didn’t come back to him in an instant after the kiss they shared. It didn’t trigger his memories. Nothing. Kaidan knew he had made a mistake in the moment their mouths collided, when his whole body flushed and went warm, being an amazing feeling that only John could give him. He knew that when he now had tasted him again that he would only want more.

Yet, he went through with it, all thanks to his damn urges.

Just... *Christ.*


Kaidan winced at the clear sunlight in his eyes, blinked away the sudden colors, his eyes finally got used to the light pouring through the ceiling window. For a moment, he found himself confused, up until remembering that the Normandy was still stationed on Earth. He had gotten used to waking up with stars above his head, cloaked by a dark night sky, where the light of day never reached. The weather had changed overnight, the wind having brought the clouds with it as it drifted, clearing the sky.

The warmth, having coated him in a layer of sweat, told him just how impractical a ceiling window above a bed was when not in space.

Reaching out to the nightstand, he grabbed his omni-too and brought up the display. 0745. He rubbed his eyes, brows knit in a frown as they shut, let out a sigh before he threw it back onto the nightstand.

There was movement besides him.

For a moment, he froze, despite knowing whom it was. He gazed sideways to see that John was still asleep. A small but fond smile crinkled his mouth although it shortly dissolved into the humid air. He clenched his jaw before he pulled the covers aside and stood.

Kaidan thankfully managed to relocate his clothes, draped all over, and threw them on.

“And here I was enjoying the view.”

His neck nearly dislocated by his one-eighty-degree spin, only to exhale an anticipated breath, cheeks turning into a new shade of red to have startled in such a way. Grunting, John pulled up from the bed, his feet locating the floorboards. The sheets -- unfortunately -- covered him up as he leaned forward. Elbows fell to his strong thighs as he rubbed his eyes.

“Good morning to you, too,” he said. “Hey, ah... you’re welcome to use the shower if you want.” Kaidan shot a thumb over his shoulder. “It’s just in there. I’ve got a few things to take care of, but I’ll be back in an hour, tops.”

“I really should go -”

Kaidan held up a hand. “No pressure, all right? I’m not expecting anything from you. I’ll just have you know that the offer’s there.”

John seemed to relax somewhat then, so Kaidan was quickly out the door, heading for deck three.

*

After taking a shower himself in the lower levels, he found a couple crewmembers in the mess as he greeted with the usual ‘good-mornings,’ returning the gesture before his mind was focused on the metallic shaft with freshly brewed coffee.

“Major Alenko,” Hackett said over the voice-link, Kaidan just having brought up him omni-tool display. “Judging by your report, I understand that the Commander is aboard the *Normandy* at this rate. Keep him there. He’s too valuable an asset to be wandering around on Earth. He needs supervision at all times or things are going to get real messy.”

“With all due respect, Admiral. How am I supposed to -?”

“Drop the ‘with all due respect’ crap, Alenko. I don’t give a damn *how* you do it, just do it. Bring. Him. To. The. Citadel.”

Great.

He wasn’t going to be happy about that.

*

No one had seen John exit deck one, so he was still aboard.

He wasn’t stupid. The way he’s handled himself up through the years was proof of that. A kid as young as he was, he sure had the brains when his years consisted of gang activity. There were other ways to earn a living, but that was difficult without an education. Something he had little off. The thought of John submitting to prostitution made a bitter taste in his mouth. Maybe he had. Kaidan didn’t know how well those gangs paid.

The thought brought him back to last night.

John was a damn god in bed, even then, so he sure as hell had plenty of experience at just 17 years of age. Or maybe parts of his memories were recalling those hot, steamy nights that he had experienced in his life, and imprinted a remember-the-good-stuff protocol. He wouldn’t look down on him if he had turned to prostitution. The only thing he did was feel sorry for him. Kaidan found himself walking that path difficult to imagine. It would put serious stains on his gifted integrity. His honor and pride. His self-respect.

He’d probably put a bullet in his head.

Easier that way.

Sighing, he grabbed two cardboard cups from the mess -- those with the quaint plastic lids -- and returned to the cabin. As the door *whooshed* open, he stepped in, mindful of the fact that he had to break the news.

“Shepard?”

“In here.”

John had apparently taken up on his offer as his voice came from the restroom.

He heard the light stream running down the shaft, the water drops hitting the marble floor in repeating splats, telling him that he was still in there. He could feel the moisture in the air, having poured out the tiny gaps beneath the door. The faint aroma of Kaidan’s stylized shampoo that he himself brought along when moving into the cabin with John teased his nostrils. John obviously didn’t need much of it back then, thanks to his buzz cut, but it had grown out almost four inches by now.

“You coming in?”

Yes.

Kaidan cleared his throat. “I’ll, ah... No, I’m... I’m fine just here. I’ll wait. Brought you coffee.”

“I don’t drink coffee.” It only hit him shortly after. Amnesia... right. Not every 17-year-old kid drank coffee. “I mean, fuck. I tried, but... I can’t get used to the damn taste.”

“Just trust me.”

There was a pause, but then the shower turned off. He was about to head down to the inner section until he sensed movement behind him, turned around, and nearly dropped the damn drinks. John wore nothing but a towel around his waist -- a far too small one that was usually used to dry the hair -- as he leaned up against the wall with his model ships, arms folded across his chest, Kaidan’s face immediately to redden. As if he was fully clothed, John casually took a cup, before passing him and moving it up to his mouth.

“This... is actually pretty damn good,” he said and peeked up from his drink. “What’s in this?”

Kaidan smiled softly. “Half-and-half... three sugar,” he replied, voice faltering. Just how you like it. He was given a look, so he ducked his head and released a strangled chuckle.

“That’s, ah... that’s a Canadian and US saying,” Kaidan explained. “Half cream and half milk.”

John blinked. “Oh.”

His almost shy demeanor was the exact same as it was back in Huerta Memorial when Kaidan was hospitalized with head trauma.

Kaidan saw the towel drop before John moved towards the dresser without shame, making a muffled whimper as he averted his eyes, trying not to stare at the now very bare commander -- in his full model-like glory -- although his eyes willed, oh willed, to look. From the corner of his eye, he could see him separating from his coffee before grabbing a pair of briefs.

He cleared his throat again.

Suddenly he found the floorboards to be immensely interesting.

“You know, you broke one of the most important rules of a one night stand,” John said and pulled on his pants.

Never expect more? Don’t assume the other participant is willing to stick around? Wear a condom? Don’t get attached? He remembered the condom. Kaidan couldn’t recall which one as he had literally broken three rules out of four.

To prevent the headache, he asked, “What’s that?”

“The lips.”

“Huh?”

“Never go for the lips,” he said, and a frown crinkled Kaidan’s brow. John wrestled into on a shirt. “I’d make a joke about ‘not knowing where they’ve been,’ but it’s more complicated than that. It’s... intimate. A red zone.”

Too intimate for...

“Too intimate for casual sex,” John finished and gave him a wink. “You’re lucky I’m a good sport.” He grabbed his jacket and headed for the door. “Thanks for the company.”

Kaidan reached out to his side like a barricade. John stopped. His gaze fell to the door before it returned to him. Placing a hand at the cloth above the firm muscle, John’s abdomen, he gently pushed him back to face him. Nothing but confusion shrouded his strong features as he was eye-to-eye with a pair of synthetic-affected irises.

“Shit,” John said “...you’re bringing me back to the hospital, aren’t you?”

“What?” he asked when John pulled away. “No, of course not! I’m -” He was pinned by an unwavering glare, but John didn’t move. “Okay, I -I admit that I haven’t been completely honest with you, but that’s not why I brought you here -”

John averted his eyes. “Fucking Christ...”

“Things wasn’t going to happen like it did, but you kept pushing me, and I don’t know what the hell I was supposed to do.” John shook his head in annoyance, beginning to move, but Kaidan grasped his arm and held him back. “Look, this... this place. Does it seem familiar to you?”

“Okay, so -Who the hell are you?” he asked, his voice dangerously close to the edge of shouting.

“I’m Major Kaidan Alenko,” he said. “We served together in 2183, caught a break for nearly three years, and then went back to serving together in 2186. My orders are to bring you back to the Citadel so the Alliance can keep an eye on you.”

“Like hell you are.” John tore free of his grip and made a beeline for the exit, but the lock turned red. “Open the fucking door.”

His voice was low, dangerous, and so not ‘John.’ Nevertheless, Kaidan wasn’t even slightly moved by it as he simply lowered his omni-tool. He had his orders and he sure as hell was going to follow through with them.

“I can’t do that.”

“You can’t keep me here.”

“I’m afraid I can. I’m a Spectre.”

John sneered. “Bullshit. There are no human Spectres.”

“A lot has happened in 15 years.”

His breath got stuck in his throat when John turned and took a step towards him, in reaction activating his biotics.

John stopped short.

“I’m not going to hurt you John, but if I have to subdue you, I won’t hesitate,” he added. Blue eyes went wide at the mention of his first name. “I know who you are, okay? You’re Commander John Shepard. You grew up on Earth under extreme conditions, having to join up in gangs just to get by, as your parents are unheard of. Everything you know is that your mother’s name was ‘Hannah.’ That’s it.”

He saw John’s hands ball into fists.

Thank god he wasn’t a biotic.

“You can’t seriously be telling me that all that bullshit the eggheads proclaimed is true.”

“I’m afraid I am,” he replied. “You commanded this ship when you were with the Alliance. She’s called the SSV Normandy SR-2, a close copy to the SR-1, being a prototype of a stealth frigate.”

John’s jaw was locked tight as he kept him pinned with the same glare. He couldn’t tell if he believed him or not.

“If there’s... anything you can remember,” he added. “Just... let me know.”

He explosively exhaled a breath. “Fuck, I don’t know, I don’t -Yes. Something. Fucking something,” he said, and the blue aura around Kaidan dissolved. “Why the fuck does any of this matter?”

“Because you’re the only one that knows what happened to the reapers.”

“What’s a fucking reaper?” he asked irritably, parting his arms. Kaidan didn’t waste a moment to pull up his omni-tool, showed him a miniature version of the ships’ design in holographic form.

John scowled. “You guys are hassling me about an overgrown fucking cockroach?”

“The reapers are ships that existed over 50,000 years ago only having come back recently to wipe out all organic life, just like they wiped out the protheans all those years ago, killing of every intelligent species that they see as a threat. They’re capable of massive destruction and influencing one’s mind -- persuade if you will -- into working with them.”

“Just shoot the fucker piloting it in the face, how hard can that be?”

Kaidan shook his head. “It’s not that simple. It’s a machine, a sentient being, which doesn’t have a captain maneuvering it. Think of it as an AI. It’s capable of self-thought. You destroyed them.”

“So they’re dead. Why do you need me?”

“Because in doing so you also wiped out all synthetic life. Some... pulse or something... and no one knows what caused it.” John remained quiet then, and if his eyes weren’t deceiving him, he could’ve sworn a faint interest lurked behind his slightly slacked posture. “After they attacked Earth, the galaxy cooperated into re-creating a huge weapon that was dubbed ‘The Crucible,’ although it wasn’t finished. None of us knows what it did but the pulse most likely came from the device. Thing is, we don’t know how it was activated. Admiral Anderson was with you.”

John held up a hand. “Wait, David Anderson? If he was with me, why the hell don’t you ask him? There’s a small fucking chance that both of us got our brains fried. Probably do a better job at explaining anyways with that stick up his ass.”

Of course he didn’t know.

He found himself swallowing. “Anderson is, uh... is MIA,” he muttered. There was a fall in John’s stoic features. “When they found you in London, they... they couldn’t see any signs of him. If they did, well, they haven’t said anything. Communications cut. That’s, uh... that’s another reason why your memory is crucial. It would tell us what happened to him -- if he’s still out there, or... yeah.”

“So one of your veterans is missing in action, most likely KIA, that it? Why the fuck should I give a damn?” His body turned cold under John’s relentless scowl. “Hell, I don’t have the patience for this bullshit.”

What...?

Snorting jeeringly, Kaidan said, “You... how can you say that? It’s Anderson, he was -He was like a father to you.”

“A jarhead from a news vid whose face I can barely remember?” he asked, waving a hand. “Listen, sweetheart. The Alliance has been nothing but a pain in my ass from day fucking one, constantly interfering and making my life a living hell. Good to be rid of him. One less of you to give a crap about. Just ‘cause I was in the Alliance doesn’t mean I got ‘attached’,” he said, with air quotes, “to any of ‘em.”

Kaidan was speechless. “That... who...?”

Who are you?

Shocked by the reveal, he found his heart beating hard, underneath his ribs.

“Either way...” Kaidan muttered, keeping his voice leveled. “Alliance brass gave me an order and I intend to follow through with it. They’re also bound to find out if you were... involved, with his death. This would be a lot easier if you simply cooperated.”

John scoffed with a fleeting gaze.

“Let me guess,” he said, and turned back “...‘anything you say can and will be held against you in a court of law’.”

“I’m a marine, not a cop.”

“Yeah, well...” he murmured, his voice lowered as he approached him. Kaidan’s breath got stuck in his throat. He was dangerously close now. John’s eyes glowered.

“...You’re going to have to lock me up either way, officer.”

Chapter Text

“He’s infuriating!” Kaidan called, as Liara had stopped by to check up on him. “Hell, I don’t know what to do here...”

“There is always a way.” Her voice was firm as she sat. “Unfortunately, neither of us knew him 15 years ago, so we have to look to a different alternative. I think our best chance is to find someone from Shepard’s past.”

“I could get access to his files, but...”

She shook her head. “There is no need. I have already scoured them out, but there is barely anything about his past. After doing some digging, I found out that his files have been cleared,” she said. For good reason. “Kaidan, if there is anything you know about this -- about Shepard –- please let me know. It might as well be crucial.”

“He ran with a crowd that later wanted him dead, so neither of them is going to be willing to help.”

“Then we will force them to help.”

“Christ, Liara...”

“Do you want him back or not?”

He already knew the answer to that question.

Kaidan took a moment. “All right,” he muttered, and let out a sigh. “Shepard grew up an orphan on the streets with no one to care for him. Some of the eastside gangs took him in, fed and housed him until he turned 7, old enough to prove himself if he was ‘worth’ their resources. They sent him out to spy on other rival gangs and return intel on them. Up through the years, he drifted from gang to gang, until he eventually ended up in the Tenth Street Reds. When he came of the age of 10, he -- the Reds -- gave him different jobs involving far more illegal activities.

“Selling red sand, fraud, theft... murder. He remained in the Reds and got connections with a guy named Finch and another who went by the name of Curt Weisman. His boss -- I think his name was Jericho -- eventually sent him on his final mission only weeks before he joined the Alliance.”

“I have three names to look into, then. Whether or not they survived the war, we can only hope. Is there anyone else?”

“None of them that are still around. You have Anderson, of course, but we both know that’s no longer an option. There’s still no word from him,” he replied. “Shepard -- he, ah... he had a boyfriend at 17. Ace. Ace Hunt. He was assigned to a squad where Shepard’s target was located, ended up between them, so he had to... Shepard had to take him down.”

“Goddess...”

“He wasn’t alone, though. Finch and Curt were with him, so if he hesitated... god knows what they would’ve done to him,” he said. “There’s one more name. Aaron. He was around 7 years old at the time, so he’s got to be... 22 today, if he’s still around. Shepard had been sent to ‘take care of’ him, but when discovering his young age, he refused. Jericho eventually found out. That’s why the Reds turned on him.”

She smiled. “This will help a great deal,” she said, but her smile faltered. “But how are you, Kaidan? Truly?”

“I’m managing.” He stared out the window. “I’ve kept myself busy with jobs from the Council. Helps to get my mind off of things. You know how it is... I mean, you haven’t really rested yourself.”

She had been working on something.

“There is too much to be done. After returning from Earth, I despised the notion of simply doing nothing, so I have been using my resources to see if there is any way to bring reaper-affected artificial intelligence back,” she said. “EDI, in particular.”

Kaidan rubbed the tight muscle in his shoulder. “Is that even possible?”

“Yes, I am certain of it. EDI’s consciousness is tied to her Blue Box. Installing her personality backup disks into a new one will change her, and she will no longer be EDI, but only the reaper tech in her was destroyed. Not the Blue Box itself. If we can find a new one -- preferably something that Cerberus had stored away -- we can use the components to fill in the blanks that were created once the reaper tech was gone. She was only partially created from Sovereign’s remains, after all.

“That Blue Box is what I have been scouring my available resources for. Unfortunately, most of Cerberus’ files are encrypted, so it will take some time to crack them.”

She stood as her eyes lit up. “If we manage to retrieve EDI’s data banks...” she said and began to pace. “EDI had recordings from the ship, which may be able to trigger Shepard’s memories! Maybe I can use the device I created with Glyph and attach the recordings to it,” she explained, putting a palm before the other. “In that way, the recordings could play, and sensors can catch up sounds to determine exactly where the sounds are coming from -- create a holographic interface -- and play them out.

“Like... like a vid!” She turned but barged into a halt when she saw the stunned expression before her. A faint blush filled her cheeks. “I am sorry... my scientific curiosity got ahold of me again.”

Kaidan just smiled. “No worries, Liara. That... that’s a good idea.”

“I will not need much time to see this done, only a couple of days at most. I will work on it during downtime so no time is lost.”

“If we can get both Shepard’s memories and EDI back... things are looking up.”

Liara returned his smile. “You have come a long way since Mars, have you not?” she asked coyly. “However, I’ll need some of your Spectre expertise to get through checkpoints.”

“Granted. I still have to take care of those outposts, so I can’t join you, but I’ll do whatever I can on the sidelines.”

“Thank you. I will get started right away. Meanwhile, do take care of yourself.”

“You too, Liara,” he said, but as she was about to leave, he hesitated. “Uh... Liara. Wait a minute.” She stopped with a curious expression. “Did, uh... did Miranda debrief you about Harbinger at all?”

“Yes, she did. It is curious. I do not understand it.”

Kaidan shook his head. “After all the trouble that Shepard went through to bring down the reapers entirely, I don’t understand why the damn thing would risk him getting to the beam in the first place.”

She cocked a brow at him. “You believe it was intentional?”

“I do.”

“How so?”

He felt winded. “I... I don’t know, I just... I’ve seen the final run towards the beam before my eyes a million times by now, and I can’t help but suspect that Harbinger didn’t want to kill him. Just hurt him. Badly,” he said and took note of the question coating her usually unlined features. “The beam was never closer to us than about ten feet, but immediately when Garrus and I got even remotely separated from Shepard, Harbinger targeted both of us with all its force. It sent us further and further away from Shepard.

“Thing is, when we managed to catch up to the commander and rendezvous with Normandy, it just... stopped firing.”

“That is... very strange, indeed,” she muttered. “Perhaps Harbinger was still trying to indoctrinate him? A man with Shepard’s willpower could be a great asset, just as Saren was, as he has resisted their hold for so long.”

Kaidan grimaced. “So it allowed him to get that close just to turn him around? Christ, the reapers are cockier than I thought.”

“Well, they did call themselves the ‘vanguards of our destruction,’ did they not?” she asked, with a small quirk of her lips. The smile shortly dissolved back into the compassionate look before she took his hands in her own. “I am sorry, Kaidan. I wish there was anything I could say to ease your worries, but I promise you, we will get to the bottom of all this.”

“Thanks. Look, I didn’t mean to keep you, I just -”

“Kaidan, please, you are my friend.” She put a heavier pressure on his hands with a beaming smile. “Whatever I can do to help, I will be more than glad to listen for as long as you wish. Do not hesitate to call upon me. Remember that you are not in this alone.”

I know I’m not.

But hearing it helped.

*

Kaidan’s talk with Liara had cooled him down, so he eventually took a deep breath, and began working his way to deck one.

His gaze trailed to the bed to see John laying back-down with his legs spread, a forearm draped over his eyes, half-asleep. Skidding over to the dark hoodie thrown over the neck of the office chair, pulling it up, he was only to let out a long sigh and leave it as it was. The N7-logo was lighting up like a beacon. They had just docked at the Citadel and John couldn’t draw any attention to himself when they headed out.

“I’ll be back in a bit,” Kaidan murmured and disappeared into the elevator.

After he had given the command of the Normandy, he’d moved most of his stuff up and out of Starboard Observation. When he first went aboard the ship, after the Citadel coup, he didn’t have much time to pack. John had allowed him to use his clothes, as their build was quite similar, so it wasn’t really a problem. John had later admitted that he found Kaidan wearing his clothes... hot -- something about “a flag on a conquered land” -- so who was he to take that away from him?

He fumbled through the drawer until he found his only hoodie, coated in the color grey, stacked neatly near the bottom.

Kaidan wasn’t really a big-time-consumer of hoodies as he favored his army fatigues. It seemed pointless for it to take up space, so he left it there. He had bought some clothes of his own after a time, and even if he missed smelling like John, it couldn’t stay like that forever. Of course, his mom had gotten wind of it, making sure that he brought ‘something warm.’ That resulted in that very hoodie.

A fond smile surfaced his lips.

He hadn’t been able to visit after the war, but he spoke to her regularly over the phone, each conversation ending with some variation of the phrase ‘come visit soon, son. I miss you.’ He planned to, but first, he needed to deal with this whole Cerberus ordeal. He’d told her about John’s amnesia in one of their talks, but as he had never informed her about their relationship, she didn’t understand how much energy it took out of him.

She had her own to grieve.

There hadn’t been any word from his dad. Months had passed since after he was reported MIA, so Kaidan had come to terms with it, but John’s amnesia was still fresh. He felt guilty not telling her about him, as John was his whole world, but there was never any time.

Now, he might never.

He flagged off the thought and returned to the cabin.

John was in the in the very same position as if he hadn’t even acknowledged his absence. Nevertheless, he quickly shot up with a puzzled look when Kaidan launched the hoodie at him.

“Put it on. We’re leaving.”


If there was one thing that Shepard never imagined he’d do, it was to lose fifteen years of memories, only to find out that he was suddenly in cahoots with those very guys that had his ass locked up in the first place.

He’d gone from drug traffickers to jarheads. From street gangs to the Alliance. One big fucking irony. He’d spent more time that he could count behind bars and felt cold metal strapped around his wrists, his cheek pressed to the hood of a dozen cop cars, wanting to laugh at how the hell he managed to get out of their blacklist.

The head of office was an idiot.

Shepard had stuffed his hands deep into the pockets of his jeans as he was closely trailing the Alliance major. Alenko. He looked like a guy that would rather be on the front page of ‘Badass Weekly,’ advertising underwear, than on the front lines in a galactic war. He was the typical rich-kid. Dressed nicely, hair always well-styled, perfect facial and body features. Typical ‘by the book’ and ‘wouldn’t do anything wrong.’

Certainly took him by surprise that he was willing to fuck a stranger. How good he was at it... that was even more surprising.

He quickly averted his eyes when he was given a look over one of Kaidan’s broad shoulders. His eyes surveyed the prestigious local, taking in his surroundings, only to feel a twinge in his gut. Uncomfortable. Out of place. Lost. All those sensations hit him like the force of police brutality. The place was definitely expensive, a damn palace compared to the streets, and he knew.

He knew he didn’t belong here.

His first thought was to bail when the jarheads turned their backs, but when they finally did... there wasn’t much he could do about an endless black void as he stared out the window. Many would find it to be a dream come true to see space, a new frontier, but he wasn’t one of them. He needed ground beneath his boots. Fucking gravity. Like hell if he was going to be stuck on a damn ship longer than necessary.

So he cooperated.

His shoulders had been slumped as they walked, his eyes dull, having lit another cigarette on the way over. Lightly chewing on the tip, he carefully maneuvered his mouth not to ruin it, hands balled into fists beneath the blue jeans fabric.

A frown breached his brow when he saw the clear-lensed device, a light blinking, placed quaintly near the top of the door.

“Great, ‘cause a bunch of jarheads watching me take a piss is exactly what I need.”

Kaidan pulled out his omni-tool. “It’s just the outside that’s under camera surveillance. No audio.”

“So, what, fucking motion sensors?”

“That’s... classified.”

Shepard stumped his smoke on the closest wall, letting it drop. “‘Course it is,” he murmured, intentionally letting the breath of his light scoff traverse down Kaidan’s neck. Muscles tensed at the gesture.

He figured he’d have some fun.

“So if I told you what I want to do to you right here in this hallway,” he added “...it’d just be heard by the two of us, that it?”

He saw Kaidan’s jaw clench. “That’s the idea.”

“Then what if I told you that I want to pin you to the wall and have my wicked way with you?” he purred, pressing up against his back. He could hear his heart starting to beat more rapidly. Close enough to feel the vague vibration. “That I want to rip your clothes off, garment by garment, and that I won’t give a damn when the stitches are torn open -- run my tongue against the length of your spine -- until I slip a hand down the front of your pants, bend you over, making you moan at the top of your lungs as I fuck you sore like the good little soldier you are -”

“Access denied.”

Shepard pursed his mouth. “I think you got the wrong code, major.”

Blowing hard through his nose, Kaidan simply tried the access code again, Shepard’s gaze falling to his white knuckles. A small smirk played on his lips, but he didn’t keep it longer than about two seconds.

The door pushed open and Shepard didn’t waste a moment to step inside.

He spun on his heel and made a quick examination of the compartment. The place was huge and open. You only had to look right to locate the kitchen. Tilting his head aside, his gaze drifted to a rather open space behind a middle wall, looking like a mural had recently been put down. He would’ve guessed it was a family portrait, but then he remembered who he was and that he had been told the place was his. The Reds was the only family he had ever known. That’s of course until they found out about backing out from that job if they hadn’t already.

“Where’s the phone?” he asked.

“It’s going to draw attention if people see this number being in use, Shepard. We can’t take that chance.”

“Do you have a phone, then?”

He saw Kaidan blink. “Yeah, sure,” he said and reached for his back pocket. Veins of his muscular arm jutted when he fished up the device and handed it over. Shepard snatched it from his hands and furiously typed the number before bringing it to his ear.

One beep. Two beeps. Three beeps.

“This number is out of service.”

Shepard went quiet then and began to pace, typing the same number again, only to get the same response. He frowned and halted, lowered the phone before meeting Kaidan’s honey-brown eyes.

“Where’s Ace?”

The answer didn’t come immediately, but the look he was given told him more than he needed.

“He, ah... 15 years ago, an Alliance mission to take care of a splinter group belonging to a terrorist organization -- Cerberus -- went FUBAR. Lieutenant Ace Hunt was assigned to the squad to bring them down.”

The warmth of his body abandoned him as quickly as the question was answered. He could feel his abdomen churn, the pain in his chest making it seem like he had taken a stab wound to an artery.

Ace was gone.

Shepard swallowed, before scoffing. “So, what...” he began, a feigned smile of disbelief on his lips although his shaky voice probably gave him away. He gave the phone back, trying to keep his hands steady. “These ‘Cerberus’ guys killed him?”

“Not exactly,” he muttered.

“Then who?”

“John -”

“Who the fuck was it?” he repeated and felt the warm, salty substance that glistened his eyes. The rage burned inside him as his hand was balled into a fist. Then there was a sudden stab in his head.

Shepard let out a muffled, pained cry, deep from his throat as he took after the bridge of his nose.

#

/“Move the fuck out of the way, Ace. Now. This doesn’t involve you.”

“I’m afraid it does. I’m not moving. You’re going to have to shoot me.”

“Dammit, Ace!”

“Pull the fucking trigger, Shep!”

“Finch, shut the fuck up!”

*Gunshot*/

#

“John?” came the same husky voice, the panic registered in his tone. Shepard flailed up his hand and took a step back. Kaidan stopped short, looking at him with wide eyes beaming with concern.

Shepard guided a palm across his face, stopping before his mouth, pupils unfocused as he stared at the floor before him.

His whole body was shaking slightly, his breathing more irregular. He tried to keep a deadpan look when he met his eye, but he knew that his own were wide and puffy, his mouth somewhat agape but hidden beneath his palm that he slowly let drop.

“I’m sorry, Shepard,” he added.

And with that, Kaidan left.


Kaidan found himself at the Citadel, arms positioned at a banister, overlooking the Presidium Commons.

Leaving John in that state had left a bitter taste in his mouth. He wanted to reach out and embrace him, hold him tight, give him a lover’s comfort that he so desperately needed.

But he couldn’t.

John’s brittle tone had burrowed into his chest like a million thorn bushes. There was only one time in his whole life that he had seen him like that. Broken and shivering. After the fall of Thessia, John had told him that he was scared, and collapsed in his arms. He felt a physical pain when seeing the expression that had been completely tapped from all hope.

He should’ve been back in the traverse by now, but what just happened simply held him back, and he found his gaze fixed on Apollo’s Café with those flashy ads having his six. Lost in memories. It was emptier than he remembered. Most people had retreated back to their homeworlds in search of their families, as more and more relays became available to them, and that left the Citadel mostly deserted.

“There’s a face I didn’t expect to see again so soon.”

Pushing from the banister, Kaidan turned, eyes widening only to soften again as he saw whom it was walking towards him. Ryan. They would head out to clear the second outpost shortly.

Kaidan managed a smile. “That goes both ways, LT.”

“I was just about to get a drink. Why don’t you join me? I’m buying.”

He wouldn’t say ‘no’ to that.

There were only a few tables occupied at Apollo’s, one of them with what appeared to be of a turian and quarian couple, having to hold back the small smile that was bound to break through. It reminded him of Garrus and Tali. The two had settled back on the Normandy and tried to get in contact with the rest of the crew, Kaidan having heard that Garrus got ahold of Vega, who had just recently been on Earth and located his uncle to catch up. He had joined the N7 program, and judging by his chipper tone when contacted, it was going well.

“So what brings you to the Citadel?” Kaidan asked, tore his eyes away from the couple and sat down.

“I’ve been attempting to get in contact with Barla Von to see if there was any Cerberus intel that he had stored away,” he replied and slid into the chair opposites him. “After everything that’s been happening lately, I’ve done some digging, found out he’s an agent of the Shadow Broker -- thought I’d try to get something out of him. That guy ain’t cheap, and I’m not exactly swimming in paychecks.”

“Tell me about it,” he murmured, recalling back to 2183. “Found anything?”

Ryan leaned back. “I did, actually,” he said, keeping his voice low. “Witnesses back on Earth reported that they could’ve sworn they saw Commander Shepard at some bar in London. Funny enough, they also mentioned you.”

His heart had begun beating rapidly as he was fixated with an intense -- but somehow also soft -- gaze.

The panic that had built up in his chest couldn’t have shown on his face, because Ryan’s expression didn’t change, as he looked content more than anything. There was something about him and how he approached this that he couldn’t quite place.

Why would Liara tell him?

“Shepard’s MIA. We all know that. There must’ve been a bug in the system.”

“You’re dedicated, I’ll give you that. I’m impressed,” he said and smiled -- genuine and open. “You don’t have to keep up the act, sir. I didn’t mean to put you on the spot. Admiral Hackett debriefed me after I confronted him about the information.”

“What did he tell you?” he asked, careful with his words.

Ryan’s shoulders lifted in a shrug. “Just about everything,” he said. “His memory loss, his transfer to the Citadel... yeah.” The small smile slowly dissolved. “The Alliance hasn’t brought it up to the media yet, but while I was there... Hackett also mentioned that the evac squad found another body close to where Shepard was located. Gunshot to the gut, but no one knows who fired. They, uh... they quickly identified him.”

Anderson.

“I, uh... I personally knew Davi -Anderson,” Ryan added. Kaidan saw the fall in his expression, and Ryan seemed to notice, ducking his head with a half-hearted chuckle. “All the way up to be calling him ‘David,’ I guess,” he continued, his voice raw with emotion. “Hell, I think he was a father-figure to many of us. He meant a great deal to a lot of people.”

Kaidan could swear he had the taste of blood in his mouth.

He could only imagine how John would’ve reacted to the news. He had just recently re-learned about Ace, and now Anderson, too? Anderson was a father to John. He had been there when he needed him the most, gotten him out of the worst jams, saving him from a life of crime. Their closeness was enough to hit him where it hurt. John was Kaidan’s family and so was Anderson because of it.

But Ryan didn’t need to know that.

“I’m sorry for your loss,” he said instead.

Ryan shook his head. “I’m fine, but I appreciate the thought,” he replied and snorted. “Still, Shepard’s alive and that’s... certainly good to hear. Really. He’s done a lot, and we could all use some good news -”

“Hi, do you need a menu?” a feminine voice interrupted him. Kaidan looked up to see the same waitress he and John had during their sanity check, balancing five glasses on a platter, nearly dropping it. She stopped when she saw him, and in return, saved the glasses. The woman narrowed her eyes and gave him a thorough look-over. He felt the heat rise to his cheeks.

Her expression softened again. “Oh... I recognize you. You certainly get around, sir.”

Kaidan blinked. “I... what?”

“We’re not together, ma’am,” Ryan broke in, with a kind smile on his lips. “Just colleagues having a chat. Nothing more.”

“Ah, I see,” she replied and returned the smile. “So, coffee?”

“Yeah, I’ll take a cappuccino,” he said and turned to Kaidan. “You?”

“Just coffee, thanks.”

She nodded and pivoted on her heel.

“The hell was that?” Ryan asked, amused.

“I, uh... about half a year ago, I had dinner here with my -” he said, only to stop himself. “With my... ex, I guess.” The realization hit him somewhat harder than he would’ve thought. “It’s complicated.”

He didn’t say it was John. Hell, he didn’t need the coddling. He didn’t need the, ‘I’m sorry for your loss’ speech.

“Well, I ain’t going to pry,” he replied, put his arms on the table and leaned forward. There was a fall in his expression. “Hey, I know it’s probably classified, but... how’s Shepard doing?”

That was a sudden change of topic.

“He’s managing, all things considered.” Kaidan fell into another pause. “I, uh... I had him transferred about 30 mikes ago. He’s... pretty confused. Back in the apartment, he, uh... he asked about someone who’s been dead for 15 years.”

Ryan’s jaw clenched as he ducked his head. “How, uh... how’d he take it?”

“Bad.”

Ryan nodded. “I imagine.”

“He’s... different, though,” Kaidan added.

“Different how?”

“As in, ‘I don’t give a crap about anything,’ different. He’s acting like a jackass.”

He chuckled. “Yeah, that’s... yeah,” he muttered, and seemed lost in thought. He eventually cleared his throat. “I’m sure he means well, though. Hiding behind a bad-boy persona? It’s pretty usual. He’s jumped back quite a few years, so that’s expected, having... de-matured.”

“I guess you could call it that.”

“You two close?”

Was.

“Serving together for nearly two years has a way of bringing people together,” he replied, not going into detail. “We experienced a lot together. I saw when he was first touched by the beacon and stayed with him as we headed for the Citadel transport beam.” He cringed. “Mostly, anyhow. We, uh... we had a fall-out before he took the fight to the collectors.”

Horizon.

“I heard about that. I don’t blame you for walking away. Shepard can be... brash,” he said, surprisingly observant. “Anyways, all that heavy stuff aside... I’m glad I ran into you. There’s something I wanted your opinion on. It’s about those Cerberus outposts.”

Kaidan arched a brow. “Oh?”

They got their hands on their coffee, the waitress winking at them with an “enjoy the drinks,” before leaving them to their conversation.

“Let me inform you why I hauled your ass over here in the first place.” Ryan brought up the live map that they had transferred over to their omni-tools. “I promise, this’ll be quick. I won’t take much of your time.”

Kaidan shook his head. “Really, it’s no big deal. I’m in no hurry. You said it was about those outposts?”

“Yeah, I decided to look into it. I found something pretty interesting,” he replied. “When we obtained that map on Sanctum, it transmitted this weird pulse -- this signal. I could feel the atmosphere changing. It seemed... unusual.”

“I haven’t really thought much about it,” he said, leaning in. “What did you find?”

He sighed. “Nothing solid -- yet -- but I managed to trace the signal. Almost found its sender. The signal went through Omega Nebula, the galactic core until finally ending up in Horsehead.”

“Yeah?”

“Thing is, that’s where it stops. I couldn’t find a direct location. Something’s causing interference.”

He had to admit that he couldn’t shake the feeling of it being more to all this. Cerberus was advanced, no doubt, Kai Leng being proof enough. The bastard had after all managed to move freely within the systems thanks to their technology. If it wasn’t for that tracker that Miranda planted, it would’ve taken weeks just to find him, even within one specific star cluster.

The interference part still confused him, though, as they never found out how Kai Leng did it.

Those interferences could’ve been caused by several things. Metallic asteroids or iron, geomagnetic storms, et cetra. Still, he was positive that Cerberus couldn’t control those things. They were advanced, yes, but not that advanced.

“If you don’t stop frowning like that, it’s certainly going to leave a permanent mark.”

Kaidan snapped back at the sound of his modulated voice, didn’t realize that he had completely trailed off, as he often did. He looked up to see the lieutenant with his arms crossed, propped to the table, a small smile on his lips.

He cleared his throat. “Sorry, I do that. It’s a lot to ingest, you know?”

“You’re lucky you’re cute, major.”

Kaidan chuckled and shook his head as he felt the blush creep up beneath his collar.

He felt comfortable in Ryan’s presence, a needed support as the rest of his life was going to shit, and he reminded him of himself in several ways. Kaidan didn’t mind his light flirting and teasing as it was obvious that he wasn’t going anywhere with it. The two had developed a pretty close bond during everything that had been happening. Nothing romantic, of course, but he appreciated it either way.

Kaidan loved John -- he always would -- and he wasn’t going to give up on him.

Not for anything.

“It’s... definitely unusual, yeah.” Kaidan clasped the cup between his palms. “It could be Cerberus tech. It’s possible that they don’t want us to find something. Maybe there’s another Sanctuary. Or another outpost.”

“They’re pretty advanced, so I wouldn’t be surprised. Trust me, I know,” he replied. “I’m no scientist, but I suspect that those other outposts might have a similar device that can transmit the same signal. A transmitting beacon, kind of. If at least three of ‘em have the same sender, we could use three-dimensional particle tracking and find out exactly where that signal comes from.”

A slow smile spread on Kaidan’s lips. “‘I’m no scientist,’ he says, and then he mentions three-dimensional particle tracking?”

Ryan grinned vaguely. “Hey, I’m educated. I know a little,” he said, shrugging. In amusement, Kaidan shook his head. “Look, we’ve got a dozen outpost, here. We only need three coexisting signals to find a match.”

“Seriously, Wright. This is captain-rank stuff. How the hell are you still a lieutenant?”

“I got relieved from duty after an injury,” he replied. “Alliance bass wanted to promote me while I was absent, give me a paycheck, but I refused –- didn’t find it fair. Still, I wasn’t too keen on rising in rank. Dealing with all the political bullshit isn’t my kinda thing.”

“Either way... good catch. I’ll make sure to inform the team to keep an eye out for another transmitting beacon.”

*

Kaidan felt like he was going crazy.

Lightly chewing on the tip of a marker, he touched his temple as a small frown creased his brow, looking down at the numbers on the data pad as his feet were thrown upon the office table and crossed by the ankles.

The second outpost they had cleared out shared the same signal, but the third one didn’t, so he started looking to other alternatives. They had nine more outposts to go, so he was mostly optimistic. Sanctum appeared to act as a command center at first glance, and the rest of the outposts needed a way to communicate through each other, but the scale was too small.

There had to be a bigger base of operations.

He had a lot of headaches lately thanks to stress but was blessed to only suffer one migraine in a whole month. Kaidan was still somewhat woozy as the painkillers he had earlier taken finally started kicking in, so when the pain died somewhat down, he immediately went to work.

Hearing the rustling of sand, he peeked up from below his lashes, marker still in mouth.

Sir Cuddlesworth Lightyear -- quaintly named by John -- was scurrying around in the glass container. Looking at the hamster now, the hurried pace, quick breaths, and short lifespan, he couldn’t help but notice that yes, the hamster did remind him of the salarians. Lightyear also reminded him of John. Impulsive, quick, easily startled. Kaidan had nicknamed him ‘Boo’ because of it.

Straightening up in his chair, he threw the pad aside and reached over.

“So what do you think, huh?” he asked with a sigh, and lightly scratched its scruff. “I’m faced with three major problems right now. First, there’s this Cerberus thing, Harbinger’s intentions, and now John... hell, I can’t get a break. What would you do if your boyfriend had amnesia?”

Lightyear made a squeaking sound.

I’m talking to a hamster, he thought, and crinkled his nose. I’m definitely going crazy.

Three-dimensional particle tracking wasn’t the only way to find an exact location. If they could locate and destroy the interference, the signals wouldn’t be interrupted, and it would save them a lot of time. Nevertheless, the scanners hadn’t picked up anything unusual in the Horsehead Nebula, so Cerberus must’ve jammed the area. Either that or they weren’t looking in the right place.

Kaidan pulled up his omni-tool, lined it up and used the fish tank as a projector for the map.

Taking the marker out of his mouth, he approached the glass and separated the cap from the rest to free the ink. Both signals were headed towards the Horsehead Nebula, so yes, that was indeed the place.

“Joker.”

The speakers chimed. “Yeah?”

“Can you do a scan on the coordinates I sent you?”

“Uh... why?”

“Just do it.”

“All right, all right -- don’t get your panties in a twist, Captain Planet.” Joker was slowly but surely coming back to them. “Okay, yeah, that’s weird. Some kind of interference. Judging by its size, I think it’s a solar flare.”

Gotcha.

“Thanks.”

“Uh... you’re welcome?” he replied, and it went silent for a long moment. “I’m kinda expecting an explanation, here. Kaidan, hell, are you feeling okay? Because you’ve been in there for hours and I haven’t seen you in, like, days. You’ve been under a lot of stress lately, and you sound just a teeny tiny bit grumpy as you approach this thing.”

“I’m great, Joker -- but thanks for asking. Send the location over and I’ll update you later.”

Joker sighed. “Yeah, sure, whatever,” he said, and Kaidan could practically hear him shake his head. “As I said, you’ve been in there for hours. Lieutenant Wright is currently on his way to come check on you if you’re still, you know, conscious and breathing or something.”

“Good. He’ll want to hear this.”

The speakers went silent. Kaidan brought the marker to the tank and began to draw the solar flare in its spot as Joker had given him the exact location. His thumb accidentally brushed against one of the circles.

That’s when he realized that it was a permanent marker.

Oh, for Christ’s sake...

Somewhat frantically, he flailed over to the restroom where he turned on the sink. Coating a couple layers of paper, he wrapped them around each other before hurrying back. Bringing the dissolvable fabric to the glass, he began to curse internally, as the marker had dried. He rubbed harder to increase the pressure but to no avail. Sighing loudly, he let his hand drop and accepted his defeat.

He came eye-to-eye with a Thessian sunfish.

“Don’t look at me like that. You could’ve warned me, you know? This isn’t going away, so you better get used to it.”

The fish simply looked at him. Unable to avoid the restless stare, Kaidan escalated his hand again and drew a sad smiley face on the other side of the glass. He grinned in accomplishment when the fish bailed.

Argument won.

“I would suggest isopropyl alcohol,” came an amused voice, and his attention snapped to the doorway. “Bau ordered me to come get you, but... you seem, uh... occupied? I know it’s not my place, but could you please elaborate me why the hell you’re talking to a fish and drawing circles on the tank? I find myself intrigued, but... also kinda worried. You okay?”

“I, uh...” he said, and pointed to his ‘artwork.’ “This...”

“A map of the Milky Way.” With a frown, Ryan stepped up to him with a curious gaze before his eyes rested at the projected map. “Wait, is that... the signals we picked up?” Kaidan nodded “...and what are these circles?”

Kaidan grabbed the data pad again.

“The last outpost didn’t share the same signal, so I’ve tried to locate the disturbance itself,” he replied and handed the pad over. “So far, we’ve only got two signals that stop in the Horsehead Nebula. I had the Normandy do a scan. Think of it as a signal tracker. It beeps faster and faster the closer it gets, and at each beep, it marks a spot. Nevertheless, the interface is disturbed, so there are several spots marked. However, some of the locations have been marked several times. 46 beeps mark a completely proportional circle in under 5 mikes.”

Ryan blinked. “Okay, you lost me.”

“How I did it isn’t really important, but thanks to the scan, I’ve found out where the disturbance is. It’s a solar flare.”

“Well, shit... that complicates things,” he replied, his voice nearly a murmur. “If it was an asteroid, we could’ve blown it up and cleared the signal. Can’t do much about a solar flare, though.”

Kaidan sighed. “So we’re back on square one. I guess three-dimensional particle tracking is our only option now.”


Shepard tossed the empty wrapper of an energy-bar into a small waste receptacle beside the kitchen counter.

He had never been particularity good when it came to cooking, his last remembered attempt ending in calling the fire department, so he figured it’d be best not to burn the damn place down. Cooking was rocket-science in his eyes. Sure, he could make the easiest dishes, but days consisting of that and Chinese tended to wear out over time.

Ace was a better cook, but then again, his only flaw appeared to be trusting too easily, always giving people a second chance no matter how fucked up they were. Shepard remember that he found him naïve, but he was also more than capable of defending himself, far too mature for his own age. His father had a thing for Krav Maga, and with that in mind, he taught his son.

Everyone loved him, his sister practically worshipped him, and he was always on good terms with the higher-ups.

He was a ‘by the book’ kind of guy and always followed orders with no questions asked. Hooking up with a gang member certainly wasn’t part of his plan, and hell, Shepard knew he hated himself for it.

Romeo and Juliet in a nutshell only that both happened to be guys.

#

/“Can’t we just order pizza?”

Ace laughed. “For Thanksgiving?” he asked, and briefly looked up from the datapad. “My mother would throw a fit.”

“Well, she ain’t here.”

“Say she finds out... You would want me to lie to her?” Shepard just shrugged as an answer. He didn’t get the chance to reply before Ace took the cigarette out of his mouth. “Shep, I told you.” He stumped it in the tray. “No smoking inside.”

Shepard grinned. “Bossy.”

“I’ve got to keep you leashed.”

“I bet you do. Shit, I knew you were into BDSM,” Shepard murmured and circled around him. Ace made a displeased sound in the middle of his unimpressed scoff when Shepard bit into his neck from behind. He felt his muscles tense under his hold when he wrapped arms around his waist. Working his mouth down his neck, he pressed up against him, making him aware of his growing erection.

Ace cleared his throat. “Shep,” he warned, but his breath hitched when his hand moved lower. “John!”

The pad fell to the floor when Shepard slipped a hand down his pants and took him in hand, chuckled softly when Ace grabbed his wrist and quickly moved it away. The way Ace’s face flushed made him grin even bigger.

“If you keep this up, neither of us are going to eat,” he added, and motioned to the sizzling frying pan.

“Pull down your pants and I’ll prove you otherwise...”

He coughed out a laugh when Ace nudged an elbow into his abdomen. Shepard was still behind him, so he couldn’t see his face, but he knew he was trying to hold back a smile.

“You’re horrible.” Ace shot him a look over his shoulder, a mischievous spark in his green eyes.

“Well, you know me.”

“Tell you what.” Ace turned in his hold and pushed him aside. He bent down and picked up the datapad, giving a wondrous display of his ass. “Let me finish up here,” he said, waving the report. “10 minutes, tops... then come find me.”

Shepard smirked. “Yes, sir.”

Ace rolled his eyes but smiled nonetheless.

It didn’t take long before he had Ace’s back pressed to the bedroom wall and his tongue down his throat. His hands were at his grey granddad shirt, the cloth separated from his jeans, pulled up to reveal a fragment of the firm muscle that was his abdomen. A moan slipped through Ace’s soft lips. Sucking in a sharp breath through his nose, he pressed up harder, fighting the urge to take him right there as the bulge by his thigh grew bigger. Shepard fumbled with his hands to pull the shirt off over his head, proving difficult as he tried to keep the contact between them.

The calloused hand in his hair retracted when the shirt was halfway up his chest, and when he yanked the cloth off, arms enveloped his neck. Shepard caught another guttural moan that had his head to cartwheels, his cock semi-hard as he rubbed up against him. He twined his index fingers through his belt loops, Ace’s hips arched up against him as he pulled, feeling his full length as he dominated his mouth. His heart was beating, hard and erratic, silently begging him to rip those clothes off and throw him into the bed.

Ace was, and had always been, the submissive type.

Their ‘thing’ had started off as a quick guilt-fuck, which went against Ace’s every view, but he had currently been recovering from a failed relationship -- and a friend had been pushy into getting him laid -- while he was drunk off his ass.

To Shepard, he was just another client and a fucking hot one at that.

He didn’t expect to fall in love./

#

Shepard’s eyes slammed shut as he felt his eyes watering again.

If it wasn’t for him, Ace would still be alive, and the truth never got any easier to fathom. He didn’t deserve to be pulled into all that shit that he put him through, but as egoistic as Shepard was at the time, he didn’t even consider the repercussions of their relationship. It had only been a matter of time before the Reds found out about him and ordered a hit.

The worst part was knowing who took the shot.

Only fragments of his memories had come back, and he couldn’t make sense out of most of them, so he had never before felt more lost. He didn’t know what was the reality, what was dreams, and what was memories. Headaches became far more common, and again, he found himself holding that little pill that would relieve some of the pain that bore through his skull.


Kaidan had learned never to underestimate Liara T’Soni.

Then again, he had never really doubted her abilities.

“Crew, meet me by the war table,” Kaidan ordered over the comm-link, mindful of the wide and easy grin from the cockpit in his peripheral vision. “We’ve received a new mission.”

It hadn’t been long since their previous talk and Liara had already managed to locate a backup for EDI.

She had located it in an orbital facility called Minuteman Station, and for some reason, Kaidan felt like he should know the name. It appeared to be largely active, and Cerberus employee-heavy, according to their scans.

There was only one surreptitious way to get this done properly.

“Infiltration,” Jondum said.

Kaidan palmed his hands to the war table. “Minuteman Station is of a far greater scale with a higher employee base than those outposts we’ve been investigating. We were nearly outnumbered on Sanctum, so there’s no way in hell we can simply rush in and hope for the best. We need to send someone in to get a layout mapped down so we can figure out where the backup is located.”

“I already know the place,” Ryan said. “Let me do it.

He found himself frowning.

Somewhat carefully, he said, “This is a pretty delicate operation, LT. There’s no guarantee we’ll succeed. You sure?” Ryan gave him a confident nod, so he went quiet to consider his suggestion. Eventually, he gave in. “All right.” Kaidan pushed away from the table. “Either way, the Normandy can’t be seen in orbital distance.”

Jondum nodded. “Indeed. I would suggest giving two of your shuttles a paint job in Cerberus colors to avoid suspicion.”

“Good idea,” he replied. “Bau has already come up with a plan to get one of us in there, so I’ll get you debriefed in the shuttle when everything’s in order.” He straightened his back and turned. “Wright, we need to talk. The rest of you, dismissed.”

The crew dissolved, and as he stood alone with the vanguard, he folded his arms across his chest.

Ryan sighed. “You probably have a lot of questions, huh?”

“Let’s take it in the comm-room. I’ll have Joker disable the surveillance.”

He didn’t object and followed him without question.

“Remember when I said I retrieved that Cerberus intel?” Ryan asked in no need of a reply when the door shut behind them. He inhaled a deep breath before it was blown out. “Well... that’s because I’m one of them.”

Kaidan’s eyes went wide. “Wait, you’re Cerberus?”

“It’s a long story.”

“We’ve got time, LT. I need to know who the hell I have under my command, ‘cause I don’t work with terrorists.”

Ryan took a moment before he spoke. “In 2172, I was captured by Cerberus forces. I was already a lieutenant in the Alliance, but I guess they ‘saw something’ in me,” he said, with air quotes. “That’s where it gets complicated. I wasn’t too keen on working with their organization. Nevertheless, I managed to get in contact with Alliance brass. I spoke with Anderson first, as I trusted his judgment more than anyone’s, but he directed me to Admiral Hackett. I was then ordered to ‘play along’ and work undercover for the Alliance.”

In disbelief, Kaidan asked, “You’re telling me that Cerberus simply ‘let you in’?”

“It’s way more complicated than that, but it’s not important,” he replied. “It’s just... personal. Too damn personal. I can’t say the whole truth without throwing someone under the bus with me, and I refuse to do that.”

“I respect that, but there’s a lot of plot holes here. You can’t honestly be asking me to simply trust you on this?”

Ryan shook his head. “No, sir. I’m not asking for your trust. You’re welcome to ask Hackett. I’m still undercover for Cerberus, so all I’m asking is to let me do this so we don’t suffer any unnecessary casualties.”

“How exactly do you know of Minuteman Station?”

“I worked there as a security guard and briefly coordinated with Miranda Lawson and Jacob Taylor, as well as several other Cerberus employees, including a woman named Rasa,” he said and pressed his hip to the console. “You already know her by the name of Maya Brooks.”

Kaidan froze.

“No one really knows her true name,” Ryan added with a shrug. “She’s used several aliases including Hope Lilium and Captain Channing, but Rasa is the earliest recorded, dating back to 2161. Cerberus is known for their aliases. Hell, even I have one. Minuteman Station is one of the two Cerberus facilities that held Shepard’s body and clone. Lazarus Station is the second, which I assume originally held the Blue Box, only to be transferred to Minuteman Station. It’s the place where the SR-2 was docked when first under Shepard’s command.

“As you can tell, Rasa stole the clone from there. I was on Earth to check up on my sister when the incident occurred, and the Illusive Man doesn’t like his business disrupted, so he only informed me of the crucial details to convince me that he had it under control.”

“They allowed you to see your family?”

“Cerberus want to make sure their employees remain loyal and don’t disband the group,” he replied. “Our father had recently passed away, so my mother was devastated, go figure. Eveline -- my sister -- needed an adult male figure in her life again. She was just 4 at the time. I asked the Illusive Man if I could go see to them, and he accepted. You earlier asked me how I obtained Cerberus intel? Well... there you have it.”

Things were finally starting to come together.

Still, Kaidan knew there was something he wasn’t telling him.

Chapter Text

Minuteman Station was in orbit after they had prepared the shuttles for arrival. It was a big place, possibly having several sectors, and was most likely connected to the other outposts in some way. It could be their main base. They had split up in two groups, Jondum with his team and Kaidan with his own, earlier having secured their comm-channels so that they could converse privately without Cerberus interference.

“Identity confirmed. Proceed to the dock. Welcome back, Wright.”

The exchange with Minuteman Station went smoother than anticipated, but Kaidan had been standing in the second shuttle, his jaw clenched and eyes focused as he in anticipation waited for the all-clear.

“Keep in radio contact,” he said after he heard the shuttle door open. “Be careful in there, LT.”

Using an interface attached to Ryan’s ear, they picked up the carried out conversations, so they knew he was inside when a door fell. His part in the mission was to get in, locate the disk and retrieve it, with minimum bloodshed. To do that, he posed as an operative that was going to plan the setup of a better defense on the station. Cerberus had taken note of their outposts going inoperative, so they appeared to take every precaution. Liara had given him a disk to transfer the file over to by slipping it into the main network.

“I need a map of the station to see what locations are best protected and effective for, say, turrets,” Ryan said. “I remember one being in the main control room. Anyone care to take me there?”

“Certainly,” a woman said, before calling out two operatives. “Escort Wright here to the control room.”

Ryan was playing his part exceedingly well and remained calm throughout the whole thing. They had brought Liara along, so when her omni-tool lit up, they were presented with a download bar. Ryan had managed to slip in the disk. Now, they just had to wait.

1 percent... 2 percent... 3 percent.

Liara smiled.

“After HQ was considered inoperable, our resources have been limited, but we can manage around 4 more Atlas mechs at this station,” he said. “My advice is to put one here, by the lab, and one close to the entrance. Hopefully, the Alliance won’t get further than a couple steps with whatever soldiers they send in. Still, Atlas mechs aren’t effective when it comes to high-ground -- as their rockets don’t reach too far up -- so it’s a waste of credits to use them as primary defenses on the outside to gun down the ships.”

10... 11... 12...

“High-grade turrets are our best bet for outer defenses,” Ryan continued. “They’ll help weaken the ship and or shuttles’ armor before they even manage to touch down.”

“You’ve been in the Alliance. How many days do you think we have to get this set up?” came another voice, possibly the commander.

“My guess? I’d say a couple days, max. We know a map on Sanctum over available outpost went missing, possibly now in their hands, and after the pattern that they seem to follow... Minuteman Station is the next one they’ll hit. Now, the higher-ups are pretty damn advanced. Thorough. When they scan something, they scan it three times, if not more. Still, it’s only a matter of time before they make a mistake. This is one of our most fortified outposts already, so adding to the defenses will most certainly bring whatever they throw at us down.

“The layout of this place is going to help us see it through. Throw in a couple LOKI mechs in tight quarters might seem like a petty solution, but they’re cheaper, and deadly as hell in groups. We saw what happened back in 2184 on Lazarus Station and how easily those mechs overran the station, turned against the employees, but we can use the remaining credits to fortify defense against any hacking attempts -”

“Wright, wasn’t it?” A different voice.

It belonged to another man, possibly in his middle twenties and of Asian origin. It didn’t seem familiar, but that didn’t explain the sudden dread that spread throughout his body. There was only so much that he could make out as he simply had the audio as reference.

“That’s right.” Ryan, this time. “I don’t think we’ve met.”

60... 61... 62...

The man spoke again. “True, but I know who you are. You worked as a security guard during the Lazarus Project,” he replied, and there was something sinister in his tone. “Dr. Toshiwa, at your service.”

Liara’s eyes went wide. “Toshiwa... that name has crossed my desk...”

“Wait... Toshiwa?” Jondum was heard muttered over the comm-link. “Lieutenant. Get out of there. Now.”

Kaidan froze. “Wait, wh –What’s going on?”

“Dr. Jiro Toshiwa,” was his only reply before he heard a gun being loaded. “Cerberus assassin. Skilled. Smart. Deadly. One of the best. Never works without an assassination order or personal gain. Prepare to attack.”

“*Static*”

“Wright, we’re getting interference,” Kaidan said and started to pace. “What’s your status?”

“*Static*”

His head begun to spin when he heard a table being tipped over at the other end of the comm.

A gunshot.

“Cortez, get us down there!” Kaidan called.

He leaped through the shuttle door mere seconds after he could fit through, the gunshot still fresh in his mind. The rich smell of oak echoed through as the fire permeated the hallway ahead. He could smell the unpleasant odor blocks away and the sight of swirling smoke empowered his observation. Pieces of broken concrete lay scattered. With an attentive eye, he saw that one of the pieces were pierced, a circle where a gunshot had found its way right to the center of a flammable propane tank.

They weren’t alone.

Immediately taking cover behind the vertical door frame, he saw Jondum mirroring his action by the opposite side, the rest of their teams springing out of the shuttles as they pushed forward towards Cerberus with raised firearms.

Jondum touched his earpiece. “LT, can you read me?”

Judging by the way Bau dared a look back at him, he got no answer, so they silently agreed to be careful not to fire at any friendlies. With that in mind, they gave each other a nod and moved in.

The smoke hung in the furniture, closely resembling the hazy substance of Cerberus’ smoke grenades, although they weren’t needed. The air was thick in the closed-off local. But the smoke had subdued enough for a clear visual. About six people lay on the floor, either unconscious or dead, the propane tank having rendered them immobile. Ryan wasn’t among them. Neither was a man of an Asian-American decent.

A group rounded up before them.

Now would’ve been the perfect time for a Singularity, but he had ordered Liara to stay back, keeping the data safe while she awaited them in the shuttle. Thankfully, he had a couple adepts in his squad, so he ordered a student to do just that. She collected three of them up in the air, and Kaidan charged a Throw, launching them across the room. He heard a neck snap as one of the Cerberus soldiers hit a nearby wall.

Kaidan looked up and saw a window with two movements behind.

Jiro picked his target -- across the room -- and threw. A dagger, grazing Ryan’s palm, knocking the pistol right out of his grasp with a pained groan. He staggered back. Jiro lunged at him and threw punches in a dual furry, Ryan shielding himself with his forearms, standing his ground as he took the blows. He took another, straight to the ribs, the exhaust clear in his face. The broken concrete around them was proof that Ryan had been using his biotics. He was recharging. His foot came in contact with the attacker, and he pushed, creating some distance between them.

Kaidan raised his firearm at the opportunity and shot.

Bulletproof glass.

However, the next punch came from Ryan and grazed Jiro’s jaw. It was followed up with another, then another, until he roundhouse-kicked Toshiwa and hooked his ankle around his neck -- giving leverage -- and pushed his back to the ground. Ryan raised a fist as he straddled Jiro’s chest with his thighs. Kaidan almost heard something dislocate and winced.

“Elevator,” Jondum said, and moved.

They got up, starting to move towards the hallway, firearms raised. A gap in the door across the room beckoned him to come closer. He could hear voices on the other side, but couldn’t make out the words, as he carefully strode up with Bau on his six.

He kicked the door open and aimed through the scope.

Once inside, he simply saw a blue pulse, which threw Ryan into the wall. It felt as if he could hear the thump and his head rang. Kaidan met Jiro’s eye, and when he was about to fire, Jiro spun out of his crosshair -- in a quick motion that made it seem that he was no longer there -- before he made a beeline for the door close by. Kaidan spread fire where he ran, but only Jondum managed to hit his shoulder before he was out of view.

Jiro had escaped.

He turned to see a cut on Ryan’s lower lip, a horizontal wound on the bridge between his brows, showing signs of a broken nose. Understandably weary, he moved an arm to cradle his ribs.

“Got the disk...” he mumbled, and fell unconscious.

Kaidan’s eyes went wide. “Ryan!” he called, in a quick motion sheathed his firearm and ran over. There were no signs of open wounds, so he had passed out because of pain, not blood loss.

Thankfully.

*

“Who the hell is this guy anyway?”

The question came almost immediately when the shuttle door closed behind them. Ryan was still unresponsive. They had scanned his injuries, and as expected, he had a broken nose and a couple of broken ribs. It was nothing too serious so he would definitely live. The pain was mended, but there was only so much they could do, so they had to get a thorough update through Dr. Chakwas.

“Tough to explain. Will try. Heard of Gillian Grayson?” Jondum asked, and Kaidan nodded.

Gillian was an autistic child that was responsible for a temporary lock-down of Grissom Academy in 2183, two months after the Battle of the Citadel. She had nearly killed another student with biotics after she was provoked.

Jondum looked at Liara who could give a full report.

“Cerberus claim to want the best for humanity. Biotics included,” she said. “Gillian showed a great potential at a young age, so Cerberus made her adoptive father -- Paul Grayson -- sign her up for the Ascension program, closely following her progress. When Gillian was 12 years of age, Cerberus tasked Dr. Jiro Toshiwa to inject her with a serum. They... had hoped that it would improve her biotic skills.”

Kaidan was shocked. “They did what? Christ, she was just a child...”

“As my resources suggest, Cerberus never intended to hurt her,” Liara added. “She was far too great of an asset to be considered expendable. They went to great lengths to keep her safe. Unfortunately, the second dose she received proved to be too strong, and she had a seizure. Toshiwa’s cover was blown because of it, but when he attempted to flee, Kahlee Sanders managed to bring him into Alliance custody.”

“Another Cerberus operative broke him out about a year after the incident,” Jondum said. “Toshiwa took up combat training. Assassin standard. Was fitted with implants. I’ve run into him before.”

“Do you know what he wanted with the lieutenant?” Kaidan asked.

Jondum shook his head. “No idea. Perhaps it was personal. Perhaps he tried to get back on those people that had him locked up. Perhaps both,” he said. “However, none of his blows were fatal. I don’t think Dr. Toshiwa wanted him dead.”

“I suppose we will have to ask him when he wakes up,” Liara said. “Hackett might now more, as well.”

“Good idea. At least we didn’t turn up empty-handed,” Kaidan muttered, fidgeting with the backup disk. He reached out and handed it over to her. “Ryan held Toshiwa off long enough to complete the upload. Is this what you were looking for?”

She smiled. “Certainly. Now I only need to attach it to her Blue Box. We will have EDI back in no time.”

Kaidan nodded, pulled up from his seat and skidded over to the cockpit, gave Cortez’s shoulder a friendly squeeze in thanks for getting them down there in time. Steve nodded back. Kaidan contacted the admiral.

“Major Alenko,” Hackett said. “You’re back. How’d it go down there?”

He shook his head. “Not good, sir. We managed to retrieve the backup and find another signal, but... a ‘Dr. Jiro Toshiwa’ intervened.”

“Toshiwa? That slippery bastard. He’s been on the run since 2184. What the hell happened?”

“He escaped, sir.”

“Did you find out why he was there?”

“No, sir. Maybe he was waiting for us. We can’t tell for certain, but... he seemed to only be interested in the lieutenant,” he replied, and Hackett frowned. “Lieutenant Wright was injured. Dr. Chakwas is going to take a look at him when we get back to the ship, but it’s nothing serious. Judging by his wounds, and Bau’s speculation, Toshiwa didn’t want him dead. The curious thing is that the lieutenant didn’t recognize him.”

Hackett went quiet for a long time.

“I’m certain Wright told you about his involvement with Cerberus?” he inquired, and clasped his hands behind his back. Kaidan nodded. “Toshiwa is, as you know, a Cerberus operative. Personally, guy always lusted for power, control. It’s a possibility he wanted to get back on Wright after he obtained a position in the Lazarus Project. It was an important investment for Cerberus. He was probably insulted.”

“Toshiwa was captured by Kahlee Sanders, that right?”

“He was. For Miss Sanders, it was... personal. Despite their age differences, she and Toshiwa were involved. What are you getting at?”

“I -I don’t know, sir. Toshiwa might be trying to get back at her.”

“That’s a possibility. However, Lieutenant Wright doesn’t know her. He has no intel on Sanders, as far as I can tell.”

“What about Anderson?” he asked carefully, keeping his voice leveled.

Hackett went quiet again.

“I see your point. If that’s the case, it’s certainly a personal agenda behind all this. I’d inform and assign soldiers to Anderson, was he here, but I’m sure you already figured out that he... didn’t make it back to HQ.”

“I suspected as much,” he replied, deciding to keep Ryan out of this.

After all, he had told him.

“It’s a damn shame, though. We can’t do anything about Toshiwa right now, but what we *can* do is locate the sender of those signals. I’ll update you when I have the location.”

Kaidan snapped a salute. “Aye, aye, sir.”

“Hackett out.”

That would give him some downtime.

He knew exactly what to do with it.


Much to Shepard’s dismay, camera surveillance was apparently not enough. The damn Alliance had stationed two marines outside his door at Tiberius Towers, and hell, soldiers worked in shifts to guard the hallway.

The floorboards were clammy underneath his soles as Shepard cautiously stepped out of the shower.

The sudden chill after the lack of steaming, hot water made him shiver, fighting the urge to just go back in and stay there. He got cold easily. He remembered that as a kid, his room temperature was never below 20 degrees, not even when asleep. There was apparently certain health disadvantages to that but he hadn’t noticed them.

He got dressed, skidded into the main bedroom, and threw the grey hoodie on to immediately catch its scent.

Definitely Kaidan’s.

Shepard had looked him up to figure out if what he said was true or just complete bullshit. He found out that the guy had recently turned 36. Alliance Major and the second human Spectre. Served aboard the Normandy with him, both the SR-1 and SR-2, just like he said. Alenko was Canadian, and with that in mind, a hint of jealousy crept up as he knew that he probably had better resistance to cold.

He explored the apartment, and in one of the rooms, he saw a turned mural.

Taking a better look at it, he came eye-to-eye with some sort of group photo, taken in this very apartment. Shepard crouched down to be on the same level. He was there. So was Kaidan. He also recognized that turian and quarian back in London, his most recent doctor Miranda, as well as the Normandy’s pilot, and a few other faces that he could definitely remember bits and pieces off.

Shepard had apparently been involved with Miranda. Figures. He had always been an ass guy. Shepard preferred men, although he was bisexual, and could definitely hold both romantic and sexual desires towards women.

Maybe those doctors weren’t as crazy as he thought.

He couldn’t finish his thought before a faint beeping sound scurried its way to his ear. Shepard scowled and looked up. He had gotten far too used to that sound the past couple days. The door. The previous time it chimed, he told them to ‘fuck off,’ and hung up.

Pushing up from the floor, he worked his way down the stairs, making a beeline for the console.

He pressed the answer button on the vid-screen. “I fucking told you, I don’t -!” he called, only to freeze when he saw whom it was. Kaidan had been speaking to the security but had immediately looked up when he spoke, a softening in his features that did strange things to him.

It felt like those damn, deep honey-brown eyes saw right through him, and he found himself swallowing.

The last time they spoke was when Kaidan broke the news about Ace, and hell, he didn’t want to bring that shit up again. It was done. Alliance brass had probably sent Kaidan up in hope to get through to him –- for some stupid fucking reason he couldn’t understand -- as he had turned every other marine away when asking for an update.

Cursing under his breath, he pressed the ‘open’ button, not knowing why.

The door fell and he was face-to-face with Kaidan. Shepard folded his arms across his chest and looked at him pointedly, awaiting an explanation. If anything, Kaidan looked nervous under his glare, hands deep in his pockets as he bit into his lower lip.

It was kind of sexy.

“Come to gawk at ‘the great fucking hero’ in lockup, huh?” Shepard asked, tone sharper than intended.

He didn’t seem fazed. “Actually, I, uh... I was hoping we could talk.”

Shepard turned his eyes to the two marines before regaining his gaze. He eventually stepped aside for him to enter. He wasn’t going to talk with those two jarheads listening in. Kaidan gave him a curious look, cast the marines a look himself, before he somewhat hesitantly moved in.

The door shut behind him.

Kaidan passed him. “You, uh... you kept the hoodie,” he said matter-of-factly and turned to face him. Shepard could’ve sworn he saw a subtle twitch up at the corner of his mouth, but it quickly faltered as if it was never there when Kaidan cleared his throat. “I gave Hackett a call about permission to take you to the Presidium. I, uh... I figured you were kind of sick of this place.”

“If it wasn’t for you, I wouldn’t even have fucking been here.”

“If it wasn’t for me, you would’ve been in some Alliance hospital facility with constant and physical surveillance, nurses stabbing you with needles, shrinks breaking in on a daily basis and food that could probably grow their own limbs and take off.”

Shepard’s lips drew into a thin line.

He wasn’t wrong.

Kaidan sighed. “Look, John -”

“Shepard.”

He blinked. “Shepard,” he corrected himself and seemed somewhat taken aback. “We didn’t exactly start on good terms, I get that, and you’d probably rather be left alone throughout all this -”

“Oh, we started off fucking great. Then you had to contact your little Alliance friends. Lock me up like some ancient fucking artifact.”

“I know you’re pissed, but at least give me a chance.”

It went quiet then, for a long moment, as Shepard felt his jaw clench. His brows drew together as a hand balled into a fist. He eventually averted his eyes. Kaidan was right. He was sick of this place.

Shepard shook his head. “Where to?”

*

There was something about the Presidium that made you think.

The friendly atmosphere, the quiet but constant conversations, even if the place was never empty. After being jumped in London, Shepard was still on edge, expecting the Reds -- or whoever those guys were -- to simply pop out and place some rounds in him. Those fuck-ups had nearly blinded him. He had pulled the hoodie down deep over his head, just in case, but it didn’t make him any less fidgety.

“How are you holding up?”

Shepard scoffed.

Of course.

They were standing by the banister overlooking some café called “Apollo’s.” Shepard had propped his arms to the railing, his hands clasped together, looking out at the local while the smoke of his cigarette danced before him. Kaidan’s arms were crossed and his back was to the banister.

“I know pity is the last thing you need,” Kaidan added. “Still. I, ah... I wanted to see how you were doing.”

Shepard went quiet for a long time. That wasn’t exactly common knowledge, but he supposed it was obvious. He would usually ignore it, but part of him was curious, so he went against what he had always believed in.

“Why?”

Silence.

“Four years ago, the ship I served on was tasked to take out remnants of the geth,” he replied, and Shepard frowned. “Some creatures that called themselves the collectors targeted us. We didn’t have a chance. The fire quickly filled the sectors. My CO told me to evac the squad while he was to save our pilot. I obeyed. Only hours later, I found out that he had been spaced. I didn’t get to tell him how I felt.” Shepard felt his expression fall. “I kept asking myself that, ‘if I was there... could I have done something?’ I probably could.”

He fell into a pause. “Hell, I know how it’s like to lose someone,” he finished. “The only difference is that I got him back after two years. I got him back only to worry each damn day if I’m going to lose him again. For good, this time.”

“Yeah, one hell of a ‘white knight’ you are. I’m sure you had it bad. Real dedicated.”

Kaidan sighed. “Look, what happened... I regret it.”

“You mean when we had sex?” Shepard asked, and took the smoke out of his mouth. “Your vocal cords might disagree.”

“If I recall correctly, you were the loud one.”

Shepard pursed his mouth and Kaidan probably took note of the slow upturn of his lips. He was, in a desperate attempt, trying to hold back the smile. Before he lost the deadpan expression, he averted his eyes, but he could tell that Kaidan was grinning from the corner of his eye.

He shoved the cigarette back in.

You’re not so bad after all, Alenko.

Shepard was interrupted when a loud roar was heard from the lower levels. Something was familiar with the voice. A krogan, definitely. That much was certain. No other races had that low-pitched vocals.

He frowned. “Wait... I recognize him.”

From the mural. Grunt. That was his name.

“He, uh... he’s kind of your son.”

What?

Shepard’s gaze trailed back to the krogan. “Look, I’ve bedded a lot of people in my lifetime... but a krogan? Shit, I wouldn’t have risked breaking my fucking pelvis. Are humans and krogans even compatible?”

“Not literally. He was created in a tank. You... ‘birthed him’ by tapping the water. You’re the first person he saw. He’s just a kid.”

Grunt was arguing with a C-Sec officer.

Shepard briefly remembered working with C-Sec before. He could recall the not so distant memory where he trailed some turian up for assassination. He did so to help a friend named Thane Krios, who was looking for his son, Kolyat. Kolyat was the assassin.

The first memories that came back to him were lives he had taken.

Guess it held some significance.

#

/“Kolyat,” Thane said.

Kolyat scoffed. “This-- This is a joke. Now? Now you show up?”

“Help me, drell,” the turian hostage pleaded, his knees to the ground and hands behind his head. “I’ll do whatever you want.”

Bailey held his firearm close. “C-Sec. Put the gun down, son.”

“Get out of my way,” Kolyat shot back, his gun aimed at his target. “I’m walking out. He’s coming with me.”

Thane stepped forward. “They’ll have snipers outside.”

“I don’t need your help!” he called, clutching his firearm tighter. “All of you, back off! I’ll kill him!”

“No you won’t,” Shepard said, and shot. Kolyat stepped away from the blood spilled with an ‘oh my gods,’ as the turian fell before his feet. “Hostages only work when your enemy cares if they live.”

Thane looked at him. “Interesting solution.”

“He was a racist and a criminal. Isn’t that enough?”

“To some, I suppose.”/

#

“Battlemaster!” Grunt called when they approached. He punched his shoulder and the pain seeped through his whole body. Shepard was nearly knocked to the floor by the force but managed to remain standing. He held up a finger and opened his mouth, only to close it again.

C-Sec had thankfully been informed of his survival after his lockdown.

The officer sighed. “Commander Shepard. I’m glad to see you, but you need to get a hold of your krogan.”

“What happened?” Shepard asked, defeated.

Grunt scowled. “This pyjak won’t get off my tail. Again,” he murmured and stabbed at the C-Sec officer’s chest with a talon. “Yes, I knocked that pesky shopkeeper on his ass, but that salarian was ripping me off.”

“Kannik, right?”

“He’s a pulp now. I don’t care what his name is.”

Kaidan cleared his throat. “I -I mean, he is kind of a dick.”

“Grunt,” Shepard said. “What you did wasn’t right. Apologize.”

Grunt stubbed a toe in the ground and growled softly. “Sorry.”

“We can’t continue meeting like this, Shepard,” the officer broke in, and shook his head. “This is your last warning. One more time and I’ll have the krogan locked up. Have a good day.”

Shepard nodded, and the officer left them.

He turned to Grunt. “That’s it. This is the last time you’re on the Citadel without supervision.”

“But -” Grunt and Kaidan said in unison.

“Last. Time.”

Chapter Text

It had been three hours before Traynor directed Kaidan back to the comm-room.

“Something has come up,” Hackett said. “We’ve just tracked the signals you filed over and discovered that the sender is an orbital facility in Horsehead Nebula, but there’s no activity there aside from some sort of distress signal.”

“That can’t be right,” Kaidan muttered, brows drawn together.

“I won’t lie to you, major. Things are looking bad. These sons-of-bitches are up to something, and I don’t like it. It doesn’t make a lick of sense from where I’m at, so I need you to get down there and get this sorted out.”

He gave a curt nod. “I’ll look into it immediately, Admiral.”

“See to it that you do. Hackett out.”

His mindset was burdened with just about a dozen curious questions after the admiral disconnected. The whole thing didn’t add up. He couldn’t imagine what Cerberus might be investigating, or what they were up to, but his gut told him he needed to find out.

Even if he’d rather have John as his primary objective, he couldn’t afford to be selfish.

“Major Alenko, shall I inform Jeff of our destination?”

“Thanks, EDI. That’d be -” He stopped in his tracks, having just rounded the war table. “EDI?”

“That is correct. My cognitive processing has been restored and I have once again access to the weapons’ systems. I have been reset to the accordance of my original Blue Box, and as per my orders, I am to activate a self-destruct mechanism that will bring the ship down with me.”

Silence.

“That was a joke.”

In relief, he sighed. “Good to have you back, EDI.”

“Good to be back,” she replied, her voice dancing with amusement. Joker was probably bouncing up and down his seat, but hell, he deserved some happiness. Kaidan couldn’t help the smile that threatened to breach the surface.

“I see you have been reacquainted to our copilot.”

His gaze was directed to Liara stepping down the stairs with a smug aura around her.

“You didn’t think of warning me?” he asked.

“Now, why spoil the surprise?” she replied coyly. “In theory, I only now activated her and removed her shackles. This is the first time I hear her as well. Installing her back into her synthetic body -- that our engineers now have fixed -- will take some more time, and a tremendous amount of processing power, so I suggest we wait until your current mission is complete.”

“How much power, exactly?”

“Let us just say that the previous time she installed herself, the system went haywire, we had to do a full reset of half our systems and the crew was thrown into a panic as she did not inform any of our staff.”

Ah.

“Also,” she added. “I shall inform you that the device is nearly complete.”

He was reminded just how thankful he was to have Liara around.

*

“There,” Bau said over the comm, with the station in orbit. “Curious. I can’t see any outer defenses.”

Letting his back connect with the wall, Kaidan flicked the last two remaining bullets into the magazine of his modified assault rifle, arching a brow as he looked up. Bau was right. If there was, they certainly weren’t operational, or they would’ve been under fire by now. They had to dock the Normandy herself to get aboard, so now standing in the airlock, they waited for the decontamination to finish.

They had already debriefed the situation, but just like Kaidan, Bau couldn’t make sense of it. However, the long pauses between Hackett and his carefully-constructed sentences had Kaidan suspect that the admiral knew more than he let on.

Kaidan had seen his fair share of Cerberus facilities, but this sure as hell was a bigger one. It was a wonder how Cerberus had managed to keep it hidden for so long as no scanners had been able to pick it up. It was fully functional and also obvious that it had been there for a while. Another example of what Cerberus was capable of. They had been underestimated before and that came back to bite them in the ass later.

Bau was the first to step through the airlock, and with his Scorpion raised, he surveyed the first room. Kaidan was close behind.

The first room they entered was empty, surprisingly enough, and it didn’t take long before they found themselves in another just as empty local. It was some sort of lab. There were no creaks and crannies big enough for anyone to be able to hide behind, unless the science team were trained pyjaks, being an unlikely scenario.

Still on edge, Kaidan made a quick examination only to find that they were, indeed, alone.

“I can’t see anyone,” he said.

“You saw what happened at Sanctum, human -- but I agree,” Jondum pointed out. “It appears to be abandoned. No place to hide. No trap. No ambush.” He fell into a pause. “Hmm. Curious, indeed.”

Bau lifted his firearm to his shoulder and started tapping on a terminal.

Understanding there was no need to have eyes at the back of their skulls, Kaidan shoved his firearm back into its holster. There had to be something of value around here. Files, maps, modifications... anything. Then a life-sized tank caught his eye. It’s edges were of silver lining, both above and below, containing a mushy grey-ish liquid certainly having been of a clearer blue substance in the past. Some sort of air pockets were present as tiny bubbles emitted from the base. He imagined that Grunt was born in a similar one. Beside it lay a data pad.

He took ahold of it, narrowing his eyes as he read, his expression only to morph into disbelief.

“Quiet. Lost in thought?” came Jondum’s voice, and Kaidan looked up.

“This... this is Lazarus Station,” he replied, only to see eyes before him narrow in puzzlement. “Commander Shepard, he... he was patched up by Cerberus in this facility. They grew a clone, kept it here for a time.”

“Hmm.” Jondum turned back to the terminal and blinked. “Ah. Should see this. Clarification possible.”

He pressed a button, and a hologram popped up, Kaidan squinting to make out whom it was -- only to enlarge twice their size -- recognizing the face of the man whose hands were clasped behind his back.

Ryan.

“I’ve done what I can.”

“That may be so,” came a familiar, guttural voice. He heard the deep draft of a cigarette. The Illusive Man. “We have to use all possible resources to bring Shepard back to the land of the living. Winning this war without him might be... problematic. You’re well aware that we’re seeing great progress with the Lazarus Project, as expected, and it’s probably only a matter of time before he’s back on his feet.”

“He’s stubborn. He’ll come around,” he replied. “I’m not sure what else I can do to improve our chances.”

“Oh, you’ve been a great asset, Wright. Your actions so far have had its significance. Possibly more than you know. We’ll see, in time, if your intel on Shepard is enough. Enough to get him to cooperate with us in defeating the collectors.”

Kaidan’s eyes narrowed.

Ryan was behind his involvement with Cerberus? He had given them intel on John. Probably watched him from a distance and picked up details the Illusive Man couldn’t see. Kaidan knew he had been undercover for Cerberus, but he never told him about this, and that raised suspicion that formed a dark pit in his abdomen. Not only that, but it would explain how Ryan almost seemed guilty when he brought up John on Apollo’s.

Kaidan had no way in hell to know where he stood with him. If he was trustworthy or not. He wanted to believe him, but again, there had been so many plot holes present that he no longer knew what to do.

“Shepard wouldn’t simply stand back in times like these, and although he’ll appear suspicious, he’ll come around. I know he will.”

“I’ll hold you to that,” Illusive Man replied. “You’re dismissed, Wright.”

The recording ended.

Kaidan touched his earpiece. “Admiral,” he began and chose his words carefully from there on out. “I might’ve found something, but... did you know Lieutenant Wright gave Cerberus intel on Shepard back in 2183?”

“As a matter of fact, I did,” Hackett replied, although he seemed unfazed. “It was irrelevant, so I didn’t bother debriefing you. Especially as it could conjure up some distrust between you and the lieutenant. Shepard’s involvement with Cerberus was long ago put to rest, but Wright did play a part in it, and a rather large one at that.” Kaidan didn’t know what to do about that information.

Before he could respond, Hackett asked, “Anything else?”

He dared a look over at the tank, and swallowed, as just looking at it brought him back.

“Yeah, actually. This place, this facility... it’s Lazarus Station,” he replied.

“Son-of-a-bitch, it is as we feared.” Kaidan didn’t get the chance to ask. “It’s a dead end, Alenko. Turns out Cerberus pulled the same damn stunt as they did on Akuze. They’ve been sending us fake distress signals to get the *Normandy* in particular out of the system.”

“Sir, I don’t understand. Why would they target -?”

Then it hit him. Cerberus. First Minuteman Station, now Lazarus. Jiro wasn’t after Anderson, he was after...

“John...” he whispered.

He suddenly felt nauseous. It wasn’t the Reds or some common thugs that had jumped him back in London. It was Cerberus.

“We’ve got it under control, Alenko,” Hackett said, halting him as he had unconsciously put one foot in front of the other. “We sent a team two days ago to keep Shepard under constant surveillance in case anything happened.”

Kaidan was baffled. “Wait, you knew about this?” he asked, the alarm ushering though.

“This is no time for personal interference.” His voice resembled a warning. “You’re limited to a strictly need-to-know basis, Alenko -- so is every other soldier serving in the Alliance. You know that better than anyone.” He explained. “After regaining consciousness, Lieutenant Wright informed us that Toshiwa had mentioned Shepard’s name. Your orders are to find out why they’re after him.”

The rage burnt through him like a ceaseless fire.

After learning of Anderson’s death, Toshiwa was probably getting back at Kahlee by targeting a man who was like a son to him, knowing it would get to her. Now he had another reason to go after John. He had been at the forefront in destroying Cerberus HQ.

He didn’t need a damn file to figure that out.

“With all due respect, Admiral,” Kaidan tried carefully, although the venom in his voice gave him away. “If we lose Shepard, we lose the intel on the Catalyst. I know where my priorities lie. Where the Alliance’s priorities lie. I’m heading out.”

Kaidan hung up before he could answer. “Squad, new orders. Drop whatever you’re doing. Shepard’s our top priority.”

...and that was the first time he had disobeyed an order from high command.

*

When they reached Tiberius Towers, the place looked nothing short of normal, free from the events that could’ve transpired behind closed doors. He wouldn’t let down his guard before he found John -- safe an unharmed -- and got him out of there.

The desperation crept up with an unwavering push, that alone able to move his legs, the team quick on his heel although trailing somewhat behind because of his quickened pace. His feet begged for relief but he didn’t -- couldn’t -- stop. A headache was brewing up under the stress and sweat that formed behind his armor. Shortened breaths. Heart ramming beneath his rib cage. Panicked eyes.

No way in hell that he was going to lose him again.

Kaidan drove his shoulder into the door, too quick for the mechanism to activate, the aching ignored as he only had one thing in mind. He nearly stumbled over his own foot when the door fell open, and as his widened gaze shot up, he felt like he had been put into stasis.

No signs of a struggle. Plain tranquility. But that wasn’t all.

“Ryan?” he asked, having noticed the surprised figure sitting in the couch, quickly forgotten. “Where’s -?”

“What the hell is going on here?” an all-too-familiar voice called out, and when his eyes fleeted, he saw John step out of the kitchen. “What the fuck gives you the damn right to just barge into -?”

He caught John’s eye, and he stopped, frozen on his step.

“Uh... hey,” Kaidan said, as the team rounded up behind him, their firearms ready. “Thought we’d be late.”

“Too late for what?”

“Cerberus,” Ryan piped in, receiving an expression of pure confusion from the commander.

“Cerbe -?” John tried, only to breathe hard through his nose. “Okay, so -” He raked his fingers through his hair, a low growl emitting from his mouth, eyes slammed shut. “Anyone care to tell me what the actual fuck is going on?!”

It didn’t take long before C-Sec was at the doorstep.

They couldn’t be sure if the Citadel apartment was safe anymore, so C-Sec would have John locked up in one of their facilities until they had a handle on the situation. It was for his own best. Yet, Kaidan couldn’t help but feel guilty that he had taken the chance of him being there in the first place. He could’ve unintentionally assigned him his death warrant -- just for John to be comfortable -- and the thought was killing him.

He and Ryan had joined Bailey in his office while John was awaiting his escort. They had told him everything they knew. Obviously not happy, John’s hands were palm-down to the desk, his head bowed heavy with brows drawn together.

His shoulders squared, and he looked exhausted, downright pissed.

Ryan soon stood by him, his hand finding its way to John’s shoulder, squeezing it gently. Kaidan couldn’t hear them clearly, but he could see the exchange, as John shrugged out of his hold and pinned him with a glare. Ryan shot his hands up in surrender, but winced, the movement probably having put pressure on his ribs. John’s features softened again. He opened his mouth and spoke a single word. Probably apologized.

“What’s Ryan doing here?” Kaidan asked, holding Bailey in his peripheral vision as he tapped on his omni-tool.

“You mean Lieutenant Wright,” he replied. “Hackett assigned him to keep an eye on Shepard. The guy arrived as quickly as he could. He knew the Commander personally back in 72, so the Admiral figured it’d speed up the process.”

*Knew* him?

“He never mentioned -”

In but a moment, his whole world came crashing down.

He saw the scene play out by the counter. He saw John’s tired demeanor. He saw Ryan as he captured his chin. He saw the subtle smile play on John’s full mouth before his head was tilted up...

He saw lips colliding as eyes fluttered shut.

“Major?”

Kaidan cleared his dry throat. “Sorry, I just...” he tried, and tightly closed his eyes to suppress the image. “Let’s... let’s just get this over with.” He couldn’t see Bailey’s face, but he felt the suspicion of narrowed eyes upon him just the same.

“Hey, uh... Commander,” he added, barely trusting his voice. “Can you excuse me?”

Bailey gave him a puzzled look. “Uh, yeah. Sure. Suit yourself.”

His steps were fast-paced when he was out of Bailey’s eyesight, and seeing the Spectre Requisitions office in the distance, the sliding doors were his only focus. He shouldn’t have been surprised when the door recognized his Spectre status and pushed open. Two terminals were seen by the far end of the walkway when he moved across the floor. When he reached them, he opened the Alliance records and quickly typed a name into the search field. There had to be a reason why John never mentioned Ryan. He needed closure. Answers.

Nevertheless, he hadn’t expected what he found.

Absolutely nothing.

The name gave no match.

Collecting his bearings, he took a deep breath before he made his way back up to Bailey’s office. Ryan’s arms were crossed as he and Bailey discussed the situation they found themselves in. He looked up as Kaidan stepped into the room. A casual demeanor as if he had no problems in the world. Bailey cleared his throat and he was reminded that they weren’t alone.

“Major Alenko,” Bailey said. “Thought we’d lost you. Found what you were looking for?”

“Yeah, I did.” He kept his eyes fixated at Ryan who had a frown on his face -- almost nervously looked at Bailey whose expression was deadpan as ever -- until he regained Kaidan’s gaze. “Hey, uh... Wright. Can we, uh... can we talk?”

Ryan blinked, seeming somewhat taken aback.

“Sure. What’s up?” he asked, pushing himself away from the table.

Kaidan motioned his head in their direction to walk and he trailed after. They made their way back to the requisitions office, and when he stopped by the door, Ryan looked at him in question. Kaidan held out a hand in sign for him to enter first, and so he did, him shortly following.

He then pressed the barrel of his gun between his shoulder blades.

Ryan froze.

Kaidan scowled. “You better talk.”

“Look, Kaidan. I can explain, all right? You got this all mixed up -”

“Whoa, hey! Hey!” A dark voice took him off-guard. His whole body went cold as if cryogenic rounds had found their way into his system, as John now stood between them, taking Ryan’s side in the fight.

He swallowed thickly.

So this is how John felt when he defended Udina.

“I’ll handle this, John,” Ryan said, voice calm. “Kaidan, just... just put down the gun -”

*John?*

“Not until I get some answers,” he replied simply, and attempted to circle around him. Ryan did, however, do the same as he turned to face him, giving Kaidan a clear shot at his heart, keeping John out of the crossfire.

He honestly believed that he would shoot John.

Like hell.

“Answers to what?” John interjected. “Kaidan, this is fucking insane!”

“I looked you up.” Kaidan’s grip was firm around the gun as he ignored the interruption. “There’s no Alliance record under ‘Ryan Wright,’ so hell, why don’t you tell Commander Shepard here what your real name is? I think we’d both like to know.”

John stepped forward. “I already do,” he said, voice firm. “Hunt. Ace Hunt.”

Chapter Text

TWO DAYS AGO...

This was a fucking nightmare.

Shepard had spent his fair share of time in jails but this was the most obnoxious one this far. An expensive apartment. Food that didn’t taste like shit. A real fucking bed. He would’ve thought he’d prefer this to being cuffed in a dark room and a quiet corner, but when the door chimed, he was quickly reminded that he’d rather be back on the streets and sleep atop of a dumpster.

The bed was just too fucking soft.

The clock was nearing 0100. Shepard was used to staying up late at night and fix himself something to eat but tonight he felt too lazy to bother. Pulling up from the bed and prepare some coffee downstairs still took all of his energy. Shortly after, he settled in the couch and turned on the vid-screen, trying to focus on something else. He shuffled through the channels twice. Some were documentaries. Some shit drama-vids. Then there was Blasto. Fucking Blasto. He couldn’t help but feel cheated seeing that he’d been through hell and people were making movies about it.

It didn’t take long before he launched the controller back to the coffee table. He kicked up his feet, one of them hitting a concrete surface, making him cringe at the slight *bump* sound the contact made.

His eyes fell to the device quaintly placed by his left foot.

Shepard just looked at it for a long time. Drawing a hand across his face, he blinked the remaining sleep away and straightened. Might as well do this now. He took it in his hands and fumbled with the square metal, surveying it from each angle, trying to figure out how to approach this. It was an angular thing, somewhat heavy, looking expensive as hell.

He had been worried about dropping the damn thing.

Liara, whom he could briefly remember, had stopped by with it earlier. She had assured him that if he actually did drop it, well, it would be all right. The thing was solid as a rock and would apparently work whole 50,000 years into the future. It was crazy.

She told him that it might help trigger his memories.

Unfortunately, she hadn’t told him how the fuck it worked.

Ignorance is a funny thing.

Cursing under his breath, he tried to find a mechanism, as it had no buttons that stood out. He’d attempted to get it working before, but fuck, he got none the wiser. He didn’t understand why this time would be any different.

What if he just pushed the -?

The device lit up.

Fucking finally.

He didn’t have the time to investigate further before his phone rang. He frowned. The regular check-ups didn’t happen this late at night. Shepard put hands to his thighs and pushed up, stretching as he stood upraised, rolling his neck.

Hearing a small crack, he felt satisfied, and the beeping slowly grew louder.

Reaching the table, he swept up the phone, looking down at an encrypted number. Making his way back to the kitchen, he pushed the fridge door open. Shepard tapped ‘answer’ and lifted it to his ear, grabbed what he was after from the fridge, and pushed the door shut with his hip.

“Can’t it wait until morning?” he asked wearily, and propped a piece of leftover chicken into his mouth.

Silence.

“Figured you’d be up.”

He stopped mid-chew as his whole body went rigid.

It couldn’t be.

Ghosts don’t talk.

With a shaky voice, he asked, “What is this? Some... some kind of sick joke, huh?” Shepard swallowed and raised his voice. “You know what, pal? Go fuck yourself -- I don’t need -”

“I know this is hard to take in, but please... hear me out.”

“How the fuck did you get this number?” he asked, having noticed how his hand was hurting from clutching the phone too tightly.

“Let me explain, okay?” Shepard clenched his jaw, unable to hold his hand still, and yet he let him. His eyes were intense as he stared at the floor before him. A hand taking the form of a fist. “This isn’t how I wanted to do this, all right? I... hell, I don’t know what to say, so let me just keep it simple. Judging by your reaction to all this, I guess... I guess you remember what happened in 72.”

The man on the other end –- whose voice was suspiciously familiar to Ace’s -- cleared his throat.

Probably some sort of fucked up VI.

Someone taking his identity and squandering it.

“Okay, so... what you remember? It happened. I got, well, shot,” he added. “After you, Finch and Curt fled the area, I was... Someone found me, bleeding out. I was on the verge of death, but I still had a pulse.”

Shepard found himself shaking lightly.

“Those guys that found me? Turns out they were part of a terrorist organization. Those very people I was tasked to wipe out. I told you about them. Don’t know if you... don’t know if you remember.”

He dared to speak. “Cerberus.”

“Yeah. Yeah, those people,” he replied with a sigh. “Well, they’re... they’re pro-human. Not racists, not really, but they want to put humanity before everyone else. Because of your involvement with the Reds, who were also pro-human, they... had kept an eye on you. Showed an interest in working with you.” He fell into a pause. “Cerberus got agents everywhere. Eyes and ears. Information is their business. They saw what happened, and, well... figured getting me to cooperate would make it easier to get to you.”

“So they patched you up,” Shepard muttered, voice surprisingly leveled.

“They did.”

He couldn’t think clearly.

“How do I know this is really you?” Shepard found himself asking.

Silence.

“You don’t.” The reply was simple but weary. “I, uh... well, I guess I could tell you something that no one else but the two of us knows about.” It went quiet for a moment. “Okay, so... remember when I was low on credits after my father, uh... ‘disowned’ me... after finding out about you? You helped me out by fixing my MC for no charge when you worked as a mechanic, but your boss eventually found out and fired you for it. I was struck with guilt for a long time. You threw a rock through his apartment window in the hope it would make me feel better. The guy never found out who did it.”

Shepard thought hard on it.

“I can’t... maybe.”

He sighed. “Okay, let me try again,” he replied, and another moment of silence filled the air. Then a small chuckle escaped him. “You always complained about how I was boring and never dared to do anything risky, so I, uh... I wanted to prove you otherwise. About two months before your 18th birthday, I took you out without telling you where we were going. We ended up outside David Anderson’s place.”

Shepard felt his lips tugging upwards.

“Using an almost-shut window, we crawled in, and I hit my head in the frame. You were grinning like an idiot and told me I was ‘too much of a boy scout’ to handle a simple break-in. Remember what happened after?”

“We stole his car,” he replied, unable to hide the small smile in his voice. “Security nearly caught us, but you said you were bringing the car in for cleaning, Anderson having allowed us to do it for him.”

His whole body went warm when a chuckle was heard at the other end.

“You had earlier told me you couldn’t drive, so I figured I’d teach you, but you just told me that ‘cars were overrated’ and brushed it off. We ended up driving over to the closest burger shop and returned the car before the night was over.”

“At least we didn’t have to explain the fucking stains in the backseat.”

Ace chortled on the other end. “Ah... you remembered that, huh? ‘Course you did,” he replied before he took a deep breath. “I’m sorry. I should’ve told you earlier. As much as I wanted to just blame it on being scared, I can’t... hell, that doesn’t justify a damn thing. I was a coward. I admit that. I didn’t know what to tell you, and... fuck, John. I’m so sorry.”

“Guess we’re even, huh?”

“I... I can’t think of anything as bad as getting shot, but fine,” he replied, light humor in his tone. “I’m sure you’ve got a lot of questions, but I don’t think it’s a conversation we should have over the phone. It just doesn’t feel right. I get it if you don’t want to see me right now, but -”

“Tiberius Towers,” he replied, no doubt in his mind. “It’s the apartment with those jarheads guarding the door.”

Ace snorted. “Okay, great. Although I uh... suffice to say, I’m already there,” he said, and Shepard froze. “Just outside the door, to be specific.”

His gaze fell to the illuminated, red circle-lock, feeling his heart starting to beat more rapidly.

He managed to get his feet moving, hesitated as his hand hovered over the video-console, although he stopped. With a trembling hand, he pushed the ‘door open’ button, and the obstacle separating them fell.

Face-to-face with a man about his own height with broad shoulders, light brown hair and unbelievably green eyes, he clenched his jaw.

The man wore a black leather jacket, grey jeans, and a brown -- darker tone than his hair -- tank top whereas his dog-tags hung proudly between his pecs. So very him. His features had grown up stronger, just like his, but there was no denying whom he was.

He was just as handsome as he remembered.

“Hey, Chief,” Ace muttered, a soft smile playing on his lips as he still held the phone to his ear. For a moment, Shepard just stared at the man before him. Ace slowly lowered the device.

...and Shepard threw his arms around his neck.

He didn’t give a damn that his two doorkeepers witnessed the whole thing. Couldn’t care less. There he was, Ace Hunt, standing alive and kicking before him. His first love and partner. The very man who was the reason for him joining up in the Alliance. The very man who convinced him to become a better person. The very man that was, for a long time, his whole world.

The very man that he, for fifteen years, had believed to be dead.

The tranquility of their reunion was quickly interrupted as Ace hissed, and Shepard immediately pulled away, looking at him in concern as he clasped his shoulders. Ace’s hand had moved to cradle his ribs, and just by that, he realized.

“Shit... what the hell happened to you?”

Ace chuckled lightly. “You didn’t think I’d be sitting on my ass while this whole thing had been going on, huh?” he asked, although he winced on the sensation. “Fuck, you just reminded me that the painkillers started to wear off.”

“C’mon,” Shepard said and took him by the wrist. “I’ve got some stored away.”

Ace shook his head. “Nah, that’s fine. Your ship’s doctor transcribed me some. They’re in my jacket.”

Dr. Chakwas truly was the best. Still, it would take the painkillers some time to kick in. Wrapping up broken ribs wasn’t recommended anymore as it took away one’s ability to breathe properly, so he had to find something else.

“I’ll bring some ice,” Shepard said. “Just sit down and try to relax.”

After assisting in parting him from the jacket, exposing the strong definition of his muscled arms, Ace obeyed. Shepard skidded to the kitchen, grabbed the ice from the freezer and wrapped it in a towel before he prepared a glass of water and returned. He saw his green eyes pinched closed in pain, still cradling his ribs before he looked up to meet Shepard’s gaze.

He accepted the water held out to him.

“Thanks,” he said, and swallowed two painkillers. Ace ingested the water. Closely watching the movement of his Adam’s apple as it bobbed slightly, Shepard had to clear his throat.

When Ace reached for his shirt, Shepard offered. “Let me.”

Straightening up to give better access, Ace groaned but bit back the next when the cloth was gently pulled off over his head. Shepard eventually sat down next to him and squared an ankle over his knee. His body turned against his. He surveyed the skin to see a few apparent bruises around the area where the ribs had broken. The round-edged scar below his left pec made him swallow.

He reached for it.

His fingertips ignited at the touch of his warm, soft skin, and a shiver prickled down the length of his spine. He was brought back to the nights that they once shared together. Hot breaths and flushed skin. Swallowed moans and beating hearts. Soft kisses and tender caresses. Ace had always been the passionate kind of man. A man who never hesitated to say ‘I love you’ amidst it all if he so desired it.

His hand didn’t linger, as Ace had quickly grabbed his wrist, moving it away. It was a reminder of a bad memory that they probably both tried to suppress. Shepard looked up to see a reaction, but Ace was as quiet as the night, his expression deadpan.

“I shouldn’t have brought you into this mess,” Shepard muttered and handed him the ice.

Ace sucked in a breath. “You didn’t. I got here on my own,” he replied and pressed it to his skin. “I figured going undercover into a Cerberus stronghold was a good idea. Incognito, I guess. Turns out I underestimated them.”

“No, I mean... the rest of it.”

The mess that was my life.

Silence.

“We both knew what the stakes were.”

When Ace turned to look at him, he saw a soft smile appear on his lips, offering a silent forgiveness.

Ace always forgave.

He didn’t know how not to.

That subtle smile had always been enough to jumpstart his heart. A sudden longing ushered through as he looked into those familiar, warm, green eyes. It was the same warmth he felt fifteen years ago. The same protecting and loving aura. He could tell, just by that look, that Ace still cared. Even after everything that had happened. After everything Shepard had done.

Then the guilt struck him.

They sat there for a while, simply talking. Ace had tried to help him remember a couple things, but in the end, there was only so much progress before his state of mind came back to remind him that the amnesia was still very much there. He could only remember bits and pieces. Not a single damn thing was clear and it pissed him off. The whole thing was a mess.

The ice was quickly forgotten and discarded after the painkillers kicked in.

Green eyes had moved up, a look mirroring what Shepard felt, pulling him away from his thoughts. Ace had propped his arm to the backrest before fingertips found the scar on Shepard’s hairline. A soft spot of his. He shivered.

A silent apology had washed over Ace’s expression so Miranda had probably given him an update.

“You know... this is my fault,” Ace said, making Shepard cock a brow. “I was working a part-time job as a bartender during my recovery. You were causing trouble while arguing with a rival gang, and the bouncer interfered, only pissing you off even more.” A small smile revealed itself on his lips. “I knocked you out with a bottle and patched you up after my shift was over.”

In disbelief, Shepard blinked, as this was another detail he couldn’t remember.

“Wait, seriously?”

“Yeah...” Ace breathed, almost chuckled. “Yeah, I’m afraid so.”

He eventually regained his gaze. Intense green eyes staring right into his blue. He swallowed. Before he could process the situation, he found himself leaning in, eyes half-lidded and brows drawn together. His heart was racing. He hesitated when their lips barely brushed. Ace’s hand had moved to the nape of his neck, brushing a thumb gently against his scalp, making him tense up. But when Ace’s eyes slowly shut, Shepard closed the distance between them while doing the same, pressing lips to the slightly chapped skin. Chaste. Soft.

Shepard trembled when a hand moved into his hair.

He had missed this. The silent affection. The gentle touches. It had been too long since he acted on love and not lust. Ace was still ‘his’ Ace, and hell, his presence would make this whole thing bearable.

Ace moved his lips slowly. Patiently. Comforting in ways words could never be. Shepard melted into his chaste nature but he could still detect the want beneath the careful display. He wanted to pull back before he lost himself. Before he forgot that Ace was still very much wounded and accidentally hurt him. But it didn’t seem like he could. Endorphins were awoken by the sensation. He felt Ace’s lips part slightly, allowing him entrance, and slanted his head. Shepard pressed his tongue between the gap, and with a soft ‘mhmph,’ Ace sucked in a breath through his nose.

But when he tried to deepen the kiss further, Ace turned his head, breaking the connection of their lips with a soft, wet sound that unwillingly went straight to his groin. Leave it to Shepard to read signals wrongly.

Ace sighed. “What are you doing?” he whispered, as his hand fell back to the backrest.

“What does it look like?”

“That was 15 years ago,” he said matter-of-factly.

Shepard wanted to snort. “That’s a fancy way of saying, ‘I’ve moved on, get over it’.”

Silence.

“I haven’t.” Shepard frowned at his strange, and somewhat cryptic, reply. “It’s not like I’ve been alone all this time. I’ve dated. Some relationships lasted longer than the others, it just... didn’t work out, I guess.”

The thought of Ace being with someone else awoke something in him that he hadn’t felt in a long time. Shepard had been jealous before but he couldn’t pinpoint when. Whether it was jealousy or envy, he couldn’t remember.

Amnesia was a fucking bitch sometimes.

“It’s been 15 years, John,” Ace repeated, and shook his head. “It’s not like we can just pick up where we left off.”

Shepard exhaled. “I get that.”

...and he did.

He watched as Ace studied him intently. “Just... give me some time, okay?”

After a moment of just looking at him, Shepard nodded, offering him a promise. It wasn’t like he was in a relationship at the time. Yet, something churned up in his abdomen when he thought of Kaidan.

He didn’t know why.

*

NOW...

Shepard watched as Kaidan’s eyes darted between them, bewildered, obviously unable to process the information.

“No, that... that’s impossible, you -you shot him.” Tightly shutting his eyes, Kaidan moved the gun closer. Shepard immediately went between them again. “I don’t know what the hell you’ve been filling his head with when you’ve been together, but I’m getting to the bottom of it.”

Ace took the word. “It’s true, John did shoot me. Hell, I got the scar and everything.”

For a moment, Kaidan just looked at him.

“Pull up your shirt,” he said.

They watched as Ace carefully reached for the edge of the cloth, drawing it up to his pec, and Shepard saw Kaidan lock his jaw. His steady, brown-eyed gaze was focused on the scarred skin until it moved back up.

The cloth dropped back to the rim. “How did you know?”

Shepard could vaguely remember.

“‘Cause I told him,” he said.

“You also specifically told me that Ace isn’t a biotic, and here he is, Vanguard and everything.”

“I like you, Kaidan. I really do -- and I get why you would react like this, believe me,” Ace said. “It’s only reasonable to take precautions, and you’ve got the right to be concerned, so I’ll tell you. The whole damn thing.”

So he did.

Yet, when he finished, Kaidan was in disbelief.

“You honestly expect me to believe that Cerberus -- a damn terrorist organization -- took you in after you killed dozens of their soldiers,” he said, snapping his fingers. “Just like that?”

“Hell, he shot me,” Ace said, motioning his head Shepard’s way. “Don’t you think that puts some serious strains on a relationship?”

Shepard grunted.

“Cerberus figured that I wanted revenge,” Ace continued. “The Illusive Man wasn’t stupid, though. I had to... do some questionable things to gain their trust. Still didn’t get completely through to them, though -- even then. Could’ve sworn operatives were watching me 24/7. I’m not proud of it, but it had to be done. Either that, or it was my ass. I couldn’t care less, but Anderson needed me. Needed the intel.”

“And the whole Vanguard thing?” Kaidan asked.

“Cerberus fitted me with implants, trained me, and turned me into one. John didn’t lie to you. I wasn’t a biotic back then. I had been exposed to Element Zero, sure –- but who hasn’t?”

Kaidan snorted jeeringly. “And then you simply buy all this after he shows up after 15 years?” he asked, directed at Shepard.

“I wanted to tell him earlier, but I couldn’t take that chance,” Ace said. “After you guys blew up Cerberus HQ, I didn’t need to be in hiding anymore. I could go back. Then I was stalled even further when I was assigned to the same mission as you. Cerberus wasn’t gone. Admiral Hackett ordered me to keep the alias.” He fell into another pause. “I spent the past few weeks doing missions related to the war, recruiting scientists and soldiers to be working on the Crucible, and to figure out what the hell I was going to tell him when I got back.

“After our mission on Minuteman Station, Hackett ordered me to do whatever the hell I could to replenish John’s memory -- seeing that I was the last person he could remember -- so here I am, doing the best with what I’ve got. The details? It’s all under my real name.”

Kaidan still didn’t waver.

“Find the file,” he said.

Those honey-brown eyes of his watched Ace intently as he walked up to the terminal, searching up his own name, shuffling through them. Then the file stood right before them. It was his image.

Classified, he thought, seeing the red stamp. Not deceased.

Kaidan stared for a long time.

“So... we good?” Ace asked, breaking him from his thoughts.

He saw Kaidan swallow hard. “Yeah... Yeah, we’re good,” he said, voice close to a mutter. He slowly lowered the firearm. Shepard couldn’t help but notice the drainage in the brown hue. “My mistake.”

For a brief moment, he caught Kaidan’s eye, and what he saw made his abdomen churn.

Brown eyes lingered on his for a while, but then Kaidan tore free from his gaze as if he couldn’t hold it anymore, choking out a strangled, “I’m... I -I need to go” before he backed a step, circled around, and made a beeline for the exit.

Shepard just stood there, looking at the empty space before him, trying to process what he just saw.

He could’ve sworn he had seen Kaidan’s eyes water. A man who had always seemed calm and collected. One who had a leveled head. His emotions were kept at bay and had been difficult to fathom, but right then, he looked...

...he looked like a man who had just lost everything.

Chapter Text

“Thought you’d want to hold onto these,” Ace said and held out a pair of dog tags.

In a lazy movement, Shepard pushed aside the bag he had packed for his transfer. He frowned as he looked down on the pieces of metal now in his hand. Flipping the tags around between his fingers, his eyes traversed the initials, and his expression softened.

Anderson’s.

He had finally begun to recall parts of what happened at the Citadel. Anderson had indeed been with him, and after the Illusive Man committed suicide to fight his indoctrination, they had been overlooking the sky. He said something about the view, and Shepard had dryly responded, “best seats in the house.” Anderson had bled out beside him but the memory was still fuzzy. His final words still haunted him.

/“You did good, son. You did good. I’m... proud of you.”/

“So we truly were close,” he muttered.

Ace gave him a sad smile. “Yeah, you sure were. He cared a great deal about you. Hell, it didn’t take much effort to see that. I think you’re the only one who wasn’t aware of how much.”

Silence.

“He said he was proud of me.”

After a pause, Ace said, “He always has been.” Shepard nodded but said nothing, afraid his voice would betray him. That the movement of his lips would somehow trigger the salty substance that he could tell was bound to break through. He closed his fist around the dog tags and immediately regretted every harsh word he’d thrown at him.

Ace pulled up the chair that had been used to change a light bulb.

“Have you given it a chance?” Ace asked to change topic, and peeked at the device. Shepard shook his head and put the dog tags at the dresser next to the square metal. “T’Soni told me that it might be too much to handle all at once, but... that’s a risk I’d be willing to take if I was in your place. There’s only so much I can do. I wasn’t here in 73 and up.”

“Think it’ll work?” Shepard stepped up to it and took it in his hands.

“Certainly worth a try,” Ace said. Shepard relocated the interface button, and once again, the device lit up. “I’ll give you some space, okay? There’s bound to be some personal stuff in there.”

Shepard arched a brow. “You know literally everything ‘bout me, Ace.”

“Yeah, sure... but I also know that you bedded Miranda Lawson in the damn engine room,” he replied with a smirk, and Shepard found himself grinning. “Forgive me if I don’t want to see that.”

“So? We’ll just keep off the cameras in that section.”

“John. You have amnesia. For all we know, you could’ve done it in the cockpit, too. I wouldn’t be surprised.”

“Point taken. Still... it’d just be porn. High-tech, quality porn in holographic detail -” Ace drove an elbow into his stomach, and Shepard choked on his words, developing into a chuckle.

“I’ll be outside to prepare the skycar if you need me,” Ace said, and pushed up from his seat. “It’ll be ready in 15 minutes.”

Shepard nodded. Ace gave his shoulder a gentle squeeze before he swept up the bag from his bed and started working his way downstairs. It had only been about half a week since Toshiwa had wounded him, so his ribs were still healing, but Ace was almost as stubborn as he was. When Shepard was left alone with the device, he started from the very first recordings, gaining some new intel.

The first of EDI’s logs involved engineers checking if everything was in order, so he skimmed through, only starting to play them from the point he arrived in the ship for the very first time. Crewmembers were introduced. Retrofitted at their posts. Nothing really stood out in the first logs, so he got none the wiser. It was time to get to the skycar. He’d have to resume the other logs on a later date.

His heart still ached knowing that he’d lost another important figure in his life.


“You’re joking.”

“His story adds up, Garrus,” Kaidan said, sighing. “I contacted Hackett to have it confirmed. It’s legit. It makes sense for Ace to walk back into his life to help out, it’s just... Christ. I should’ve listened to you from the beginning.”

“It’s never too late to just tell him.” Garrus’ mandibles clicked as his gaze trailed away. “Just... brace for a bigger impact, that’s all. I don’t think anyone enjoys being lied to. Shepard, in particular. He gave the Illusive Man one hell of a time after he lured him, Tali and me to a collector ship, and seeing that he always distrusted him... let’s just say it wasn’t pretty.”

He knew that it wasn’t too late, but that didn’t make things any easier, and Kaidan kept bringing up excuses.

There was, however, one excuse that he could get behind.

“I know. I planned to tell him, it’s just...” he tried and fell into a pause. “He seems happy, okay?”

“Kaidan -”

“I’m not going to take that away from him.” The anger had raised in his voice and Garrus remained quiet. “He needs someone to turn to right now and Ace is going to do one hell of a better job than me these days. He knows this Shepard. I don’t. I’m as clueless as anyone else. I can do nothing but stay back and hope that he eventually remembers. It’s all I can do.”

“Well, you certainly know him better than anyone else here. I hope you know what you’re doing, Kaidan. We hate to see you like this,” he said, and Kaidan felt a faint smile surface. “You know... hiring some krogan mercenaries is still an option...”

“No, Garrus.”

“You’re no fun,” he pouted.

“Major Alenko,” they heard Samantha on the comm and looked up towards the speakers. “Admiral Hackett has requested to speak with you as soon as possible. He’s available on the vid-comm.”

“On my way, Sam,” he said, and pushed up from the bar stool “...and Garrus? Thanks.”

Garrus nodded at him and Kaidan headed for the door.

*

Kaidan had been deep in a past report when his phone rang.

There was yet no traces of Toshiwa, and it was starting to wear him out, trying to figure out if he had missed something between the lines. The food that Liara had brought up to him had been left untouched at the desk. That certainly was behind an incoming headache. It had probably gotten cold already, but hell, that was his own fault. He had been constantly sipping at his coffee, though, trying to stay awake.

“This is Major Alenko,” he said, and put aside the mug. “Who am I speaking to?”

“Oh, thank god. I’m glad you’re awake. My name is Kahlee Sanders,” came a female voice, and Kaidan’s eyes shot up. “Forgive the intrusion, but I... I wanted to speak to you. For starters, I was... involved... with David Anderson.”

The subtle pain in her voice made his abdomen churn.

“I heard,” he replied softly, and straightened in his seat. “I’m sorry for your loss, Miss Sanders. He... he was a good man.”

She chuckled fondly. “Yes... yes he certainly was. Millions of people are feeling his loss ever since he was officially reported KIA,” she muttered, and he could hear the strain in her voice. She cleared her throat. “Anyways, this is not why I called. I don’t seek pity. I called because David... shared some intel with me, off the record, that you were close to Commander Shepard.”

“Yeah. Yeah, we were. What’s this about?”

“I know he’s alive. That, and of the amnesia he’s currently dealing with, hence why I contacted you,” she replied, her tone warm. “This is difficult for me to say. The past few days, I have been taking care of a 4-year-old girl whose mother recently... fell to the reapers. She became indoctrinated, and at her passing, she left behind this sweet little girl.” He could hear the smile in her voice. “Her name is Ashlee, just like the Gunnery Chief, but with a different spelling. It's written with two ‘e’s instead of ‘ey’.”

He couldn’t help the somewhat pained smile that breached the surface.

His smile slowly faltered, though, realizing that this little girl was another target that Toshiwa could choose to pursue. Kahlee obviously cared about her. Still, Toshiwa could impossibly be that heartless, risking the safety of a kid.

At least he hoped he wasn’t.

“I figured that I’d bring this up to you, considering the circumstances,” she added, and he could hear her take a deep breath. “She’s... she’s Shepard’s daughter.”

He froze.

“What?” he found himself asking, his voice soft.

“Yes... what a shocker, right?” she asked, and he took note of the subtle but friendly sarcasm. “We can all agree that Shepard is a strapping young man who has had several admirers. Probably unconsciously broken quite a few hearts. I’m willing to bet that you’re not a stranger to that yourself, Major. I assume he never told you about her.”

“He knew?”

“Yes, he did, but... he didn’t trust himself to take care of her. Shepard asked the mother if she would allow him to stay out of the girl’s life. She accepted. Their... union... hadn’t been out of love. They simply shared a friends-with-benefits kind of relationship.”

Kaidan understood the situation “...and now the girl’s without parents.”

“Exactly,” she replied. “I know this is a lot to ask of you, Major... but I’d very much appreciate if you could take care of her for him. Until he recovers, at least. It’s Shepard’s decision if he wants to keep her, or... put her up for adoption. Admiral Hackett informed me of this whole situation involving Toshiwa, and... well, I want the girl to be safe.”

“Kahlee, John -Shepard and I... we’re currently not together.”

“I know of Ace, yes,” she said, her tone genuine. “Leaving her to your care was, however, David’s wish.”

Anderson knew. He knew of Ace, he knew of little Ashlee, he knew of everything. Keeping all of those things to himself had to be one hell of a challenge. Kaidan found himself respecting him even more than he already did.

“I promise you, Kaidan. She won’t be a burden. She was raised well.”

Kaidan swallowed hard.

“If that’s Anderson’s and your wish, then yeah... yeah, okay. I’ll take care of her,” he muttered.

“Thank you so much. I’m sure Shepard will appreciate it. Jondum Bau is yet on the case with Toshiwa, and I’m sure that the Council will make an exception, and assign someone else to take your place. Do you have a place to stay?”

“Well, uh... if the Normandy will suffice, then yeah. That okay?”

“Oh, that’s perfect. The girl loves spaceships. Little Ash told me she’d always dreamed of being on one.”

Kaidan let out a small chuckle. “Heh. Okay, great.”

“Do you mind taking her off my hands tomorrow?”

“I... No, not at all. This is just... this is a lot to take in, you know?”

“I understand, Kaidan. Believe me, I’m sorry to put this on you. Just know that you’ll be doing Shepard a favor,” she replied, and Kaidan nodded solemnly. “I’ll bring her to C-Sec on the Citadel. Again, thank you.”

“No problem. I’ll see you later, then.”

“Sure thing. Take care of yourself, Kaidan.”

“Likewise.”

After he hung up the phone, he slowly let his hand drop to his side, eyes fluttering shut as he inhaled a sharp breath. He had never expected any of this. John had a daughter. A 4-year-old daughter. He couldn’t entirely understand why it was never brought up somehow, but putting it into perspective, he probably felt guilty about the situation.

Nevertheless, now a kid -- John’s kid -- was about to be taken into his care, and his nerves started acting up.

*

Kaidan was the first to arrive at the Citadel the next day.

The anticipation was torture as he paced Bailey’s office. Biting into his lower lip, he found himself unable to stand still, rubbing his wrist with his hand until it nearly hurt. He wanted to do things right. Make a good impression. Bailey had been teasing him about ‘giving himself an ulcer,’ having been informed of the exchange. It didn’t take long before the door *whooshed* open.

Kahlee was the first to step inside.

She arrived in her perfectly pressed Alliance uniform. Kahlee had received Alliance training herself, although she worked as a scientist at Grissom Academy, working with talented biotics. Her work was quite similar to Kaidan’s Biotics Division, although Kaidan simply had the training, with little knowledge of the scientific part of the whole ordeal. He could only imagine what she was going through these days now when Anderson was gone. She was an upstanding woman who knew how to take care of herself, but he took note of the wear and tear, having marked her.

A small figure held tightly onto Kahlee’s hand.

Kaidan froze when he saw her. The girl had John’s blue eyes but her hair was ebon. Her eyes were big, puppy-dog-like, long lashes fluttering as she looked up at him. He had never seen a cuter kid in his life.

Kahlee smiled. “Ashlee? This is Major Kaidan Alenko from the vids. He’ll be taking care of you for the upcoming weeks.”

At first, the kid seemed intimidated. Carefully, Kaidan slowly dropped to his knee before her to be on her level. She seemed to relax a bit more then. Ash became more and more visible as she peeked from behind Kahlee’s leg.

“The hero Spectre major?” she asked, her voice small.

“Exactly,” Kahlee said. “The hero Spectre major.”

“Wow...” she muttered, her blue eyes sparkling.

Kaidan couldn’t contain the smile. “Hey, Ashlee,” he said softly. The girl smiled big, shyly hiding back behind Kahlee. “I’m not dangerous.” Kaidan held out his hand, and eventually, she pushed carefully away from Kahlee to take it.

He took her tiny hand between his. “How are you doing, huh?”

Ashlee nodded her answer.

“That’s great, Ashlee. Can I call you Ash?” he asked, and she nodded again. “Well, Ash. The hero Spectre major is going to take good care of you. That’s a promise. You’re going to be living on the very spaceship that was on the front line in the war. Now when the Commander is away, you need to take his place, okay? Keep things in order. Maybe our pilot -- Joker -- will even let you sit in the pilot seat.”

The girl flashed a beaming smile, contagious as hell, so Kaidan had no chance resisting to return one.

He had fallen in love with the kid at first glance.

Chapter Text

Shepard fell into the couch first time he arrived at the room he would be spending his time in. This Alliance facility was exactly what Kaidan had said it to be. Shrinks wouldn’t stop bothering him once a week, the food was horrible and surveillance checked up on him twice a day, although he could adjust to their patterns. The time he had left was spent staring at the walls, counting the tiles, and figuring out how much trouble he could get in before the staff lost their patience. These guys were however relentless and seemed to pay no mind to it.

After his first week there, he decided to just be, simply slacking off and watching vids.

The Alliance had given Ace lighter work, and knowing him, he would do whatever he could to help the galaxy rebuild. That’s at least what he had told him after he headed out the door the very day of his transfer.

Ace had been acting strange lately. Put more distance between them as he rarely showed up anymore. He couldn’t figure out why. When he later questioned him about it, Ace told him that everything was fine, but that there was no need for him to stick around as consistently as he had before. He was right, but Shepard wouldn’t mind having him there, as days passed way too slowly without him.

He couldn’t help but suspect if Kaidan pointing a gun at him had something to do about it.

Shepard was downright pissed at him when they found themselves in that situation, but the moment Kaidan simply looked at him with that fucking look, all the pent-up energy and want to punch him just vanished.

That damn look.

It was so fucking familiar, and yet, he couldn’t put his finger on it.

Honey-brown eyes staring right into his soul. The way he looked entirely broken. It reminded him of a look that one would give someone dear right before they ran to their immediate destruction.

Wincing, he took after his head.

An image bore into his brain. Blood-soaked armor. Pale skin. Pleading honey-brown eyes. Kaidan looked exhausted as one of his arms were thrown around the shoulder of the turian he had seen back in London. His leg had a piece of shrapnel sticking out. Around him, he heard emitting lasers and explosions, standing at the ramp of some ship. It was the Normandy.

Kaidan was reaching after him.

/“Go!”/

It was Shepard’s voice who called his way.

The fuck?

Shepard could tell that the scene had played out in London. Still fragmented memories. He had watched a bunch of those logs on the device in his spare time but nothing in his mind clicked. He wanted to remember, but no matter how hard he tried, it didn’t seem to work.

He blew hard through his nose when he heard a knock on the door.

Too tired to shout, he asked, “What?”

Pushing up from the couch to sit straight, he turned as the door fell open, propping a sleeveless arm to the backrest as he looked over his shoulder. Nevertheless, he hadn’t expected who it was.

“This a bad time?”

He let his gaze trail downwards, over Kaidan’s broad chest, down across his hip, further until he stopped at his shoes. He noticed how he was wearing civilian clothes, almost having forgotten how he looked under that armor he last saw him in. When his glance drifted back up, Kaidan uneasily shifted on his feet as his eyes averted, aware that he was being eyed up.

Shepard sighed and shook his head. “Just killing time, anyways.”

He put a hand to his thigh and pulled himself up completely, approaching a table in the same room where the device was located and brought a hand to the interface. He pressed the ‘off’ button. It had been playing for a while.

“Figured I’d drop by with some of your stuff from the ship.”

He wasn’t carrying anything, so this ‘stuff’ had to be outside, awaiting a confirmed arrival. The Alliance was probably checking the boxes for any sticky bombs or trackers. They were paranoid, but it never hurt to be extra careful, and Shepard was smart enough not deny them their search. Whatever the boxes contained was lost to him. He had no idea what he could’ve left back at the ship, but then again, his mind had been entirely focused on the curve of Kaidan’s ass and his moans that he paid little attention to the local.

“Sounds like an excuse just to visit. You got the hots for me, Alenko?” he asked casually and looked up. Kaidan resembled a deer in headlights, much to his amusement, as a slow smirk spread on Shepard’s lips.

Kaidan blinked. “I -What?”

“C’mon, we already fucked. Some honesty wouldn’t hurt. Yes or no?”

After a moment of just looking at him wide-eyed, Kaidan cleared his throat. “Look, Shepard. I told you. It was a mistake,” he replied, but that didn’t convince Shepard in the slightest. Kaidan took a step back when he casually approached him, but he remained right there, not backing away any further. He’d have some fun with this one, all right.

“I’m not the kind of guy that does that sort of thing,” he added and held up a hand to stop him from coming any closer.

“But you did.”

“Well, yeah, but it’s not like we’ve haven’t -” Kaidan immediately stopped himself. Shepard arched a brow. “Look,” he tried again, Shepard having moved close enough to feel a hand splayed on his chest. “This is not why I’m here.”

He was done playing coy.

“Maybe you just wished you’d run into Ace so you could shoot him, huh?” he spat, expressing his dismay as he pushed his chest into his touch. “Sorry to break it to you, sweetheart -- but I haven’t seen him in two weeks.”

He felt the blood boil inside of him. A mix of anger and lust. He hasn’t had sex ever since his first day out of the hospital, and if that wasn’t the case, then he might actually have had been able to think rationally. Shepard didn’t know whether to kill him or strip him from his clothes, take in every ounce of his body, brush fingers against his stubble, run his tongue up his neck and take him in hand, so he just stood there. He shouldn’t be thinking like this, but he couldn’t help it, either.

“That’s not fair,” Kaidan replied, his husky voice with a hint of sincere apology. “I thought he was going to kill you. That he was a Cerberus agent on the inside of the Alliance. Like it or not, but your memory is crucial, and I -” He stopped. “We... can’t lose you.”

“So you’re telling me you don’t want me to fuck you senseless?” he asked, amused.

Kaidan scoffed. “Is everything about sex for you?” he asked, anger present in his voice. “You -you are... reckless. A downright ass.”

“Yeah? Didn’t hear any complaints when my cock was rammed up yours.”

“So that’s where we’re at, huh?” he asked, scowling. Fuck, he was sexy when he was angry. The way his thick brows furrowed and nose crinkled slightly. Shepard’s eyes fell to the scar on his curled lip to see a hint of teeth, mouth inches away from his own, before regaining the eye-contact. “I didn’t know you were a real piece of work back then, and hell, I’m not playing your damn game.”

Shepard leaned in, and their lips nearly brushed. “We’ll see ‘bout that...”

Not wasting a moment to grab him by the fabric of his shirt, Shepard crushed his body with his own against the wall. Kaidan moaned, and this time, he immediately went for his lips to silence it. Shepard licked his way into his mouth, his tongue received with enthusiasm, short nails digging into his hair as he slanted his head to deepen the sloppy kiss.

Kaidan rubbed up against him, feeling his semi-hard arousal as he moved in eager motions, Shepard pressing up harder to feel his full length. His breath had reduced to hot, short puffs, grazing his cheek, sending shivers down the length of his spine. Moving his hand down, he cupped Kaidan through his pants, catching a throaty moan as he began to rub him. Kaidan buckled up towards his touch, panting heavily between kisses, while Shepard swallowed his every moan that went straight down.

An arm was laid across his shoulder and his cheek captured, as Kaidan turned them around to press his back to the wall, surprising Shepard. Kaidan dominated the kiss and he was no longer in charge, his body hard and warm against his own.

Their lips parted with a wet sound, and Kaidan’s mouth worked across his jaw.

There was something about the guy that made him feel all fuzzy. Safe. It took time before he even looked at Ace as more than a client, not being an immediate feeling of belonging, but Kaidan was something else entirely. The moment he approached him at that bar, when his eyes met the whiskey-brown hue, he had for a moment forgotten to breathe.

It confused the fuck out of him.

He simply flagged it off as being a result to the lack of sex he had lately. When you were holed up in a hospital, after learning that you were some sort of fucking hero to the galaxy, shit gets confusing.

It wasn’t like he was cheating, either. Not really. It wasn’t like it was new that Shepard was fucking someone else while in a committed relationship, as Ace knew of his job as a sex worker, and accepted it. This was the first time he felt guilty over it. It looked like those years he had lost were finally catching up to him. Making him realize that having simply one partner benefited in the long run. Shit.

When the fuck did he get so sappy?

He began to focus on the now -- of how much he needed a damn release -- and shut his mind off completely. He was there, right now, and he had a downright gorgeous man before him who was willing to give him that release.

A man that both pissed him off and aroused him at the same time.

Deadly combination.

With practiced ease, they began to strip down like madmen, and fell to the bed. Shepard was the first to feel the soft sheet underneath his now bare back, Kaidan hunched over him, still fully clothed as his lips worked him over. Kaidan’s amazing mouth was a fucking godsend, hitting his every single available sweet spot as if they were marked with red crosses.

But the panic set in when his wrist was grasped and he was turned on his abdomen.

“N -no, wait!” Shepard managed to place a hand between his pecs before he pushed him off. Bewildered, Kaidan now lay splayed on his back while he himself sprung up from the bed with wide eyes. In shock, he stood over him, his breathing heavy and uncontrolled.

Kaidan pushed up to sit. “Whoa, hey -hey! What’s wrong?”

“I can’t... I need to...”

Trying to focus, he couldn’t recall what was happening before Kaidan stood before him, a hand on his cheek as he was stared at with characteristic concern. Worried eyes looked him all over, as if searching for some sort of damage like he had somehow hurt him.

But the damage was mental, not physical, and it wasn’t Kaidan’s fault.

#

“Shepard... took your damn time,” Jericho said, his hip pressed against a table.

Clenching his jaw, Shepard just stood there while expecting the worst. His boss never called him over unless some shit was going on or he was in big trouble. After everything that had been happening lately, he could only hope that it was nothing.

“You wanted to see me?”

“I did.” Jericho pushed away from the table, and the air grew thicker. “It recently came to my attention that you’ve been away.”

*Fuck.*

He decided not to jump to any conclusions. “You already knew I was a mechanic.”

“Sure did. I also know that you got kicked out,” he replied, his voice low and dangerous. Shepard swallowed the thick substance in his throat down. He knew. Jericho was going to kill him. He just knew it.

“...but that’s not what I’m talking about.”

In the past, Shepard had been blinded by the fact that Jericho was a good-looking guy only 6 years older than him. Like a teenage girl gushing over some hot history teacher. When he came of age, he wanted to do whatever he could to impress him, so he was a like loyal fucking puppy. Back then, he couldn’t see past his appearance to know what kind of man he actually was. A power-hungry asshole. A fucked up individual that could smile with a kid’s blood splattered on the wall. He had always felt intimidated by him but he made damn sure never to let him know that.

It’d be a death-sentence.

Jericho approached him, but he stood his ground. “You’re employed somewhere else,” he added in an amused undertone, stopped before him and folded his arms across his chest “...and as a fucking whore, no less.”

He could breathe out.

Shepard had been worried that he had found out about Ace, or the fact that he backed down from killing Aaron, so he was relieved to find out that it was about him being a sex-worker. It wasn’t exactly something he tried to hide.

“So?” he asked, frowning. “Shouldn’t complain that people are willing to pay just to fuck me.”

In fact, Shepard would’ve quit the Reds if it wasn’t for the backfire it’d cause. He was kind of a local favorite, so he had enough money to drop out, but the thrill was entirely different when it came to sex. The Reds offered him the second kind of action, and when everything he knew was how to hold a gun and use his wits, then it fit him perfectly. Ace had long wanted him to drop out, but knowing the danger of it, he quickly retracted his judgment. His support meant a great deal to him. Ace had offered to pay him out, but Shepard had refused, wanting to handle it himself.

“You any good?”

He snapped back at the sound of Jericho’s voice only to realize what he’d just suggested. Shepard was well-aware of the fact that he couldn’t exactly charge his boss. Not without ending up dead in some ditch.

“Average,” he said simply, but the slow upturn of Jericho’s lips revealed that he didn’t believe him.

“Let me be in charge of that...” Shepard froze when the collar of his leather jacket was grasped and he was pushed up against the wall. He shivered when the cloth was pulled down over his biceps, but not in a good way, and thrown aside. Then a hand tugged at his tank top and he was turned, pushed and backed, further inside the room.

Smugly, Jericho murmured, “C’mon, Shep. Why so tense? We both know you wanted this once.” Fuck, he knew that too. “I don’t do kids. I’m not that fucked up... but you turn 18 this year, don’t you?”

There was no use lying.

The danger of the situation only hit him when he found himself back-down on the bed, fists clutched around the fabric underneath, as Jericho stood over him. His heart was pounding erratically, a feeling of dread spreading out his whole body, hands clammy as he yet clasped the sheets. Shepard scowled deeply. The way his blue eyes held such venom only seemed to arouse Jericho further. Jericho knew he had the upper hand and he relished in it, savored it, as he pushed Shepard’s back harder to the bed and crawled over him.

Teeth bit into his neck, hard, as Jericho’s hand dropped down to cup him through his pants. Shepard involuntarily groaned. When he attempted to pull away, he was forcefully rubbed up against him, as Jericho bit into his neck again with such power that he started bleeding. He turned his head away, which in return exposed his neck further, and tried to find a way out.

He spotted the gun on the nightstand.

With all his force, he tried to push him off. When his fingertips briefly touched upon the gun, he was only to feel a forearm pressing down on his throat, pushing him back down. The firearm fell to the floor and out of reach. Unable to breathe, he attempted to pry his arm away with both hands but to no avail. Jericho was too strong.

“You’re a real piece of work, Shepard,” he spat, and pressed harder. Shepard felt his eyes nearly roll back in his skull. Just as he was about to lose consciousness, Jericho let up his grip. Too weak to react, his wrist was captured and he was turned around.

Groaning, Shepard’s cheek was pressed to the bed. He could barely move.

“You think you’re so fucking tough,” Jericho added, pinning him down beneath him “...but your life ain’t worth shit. You’re worthless. A sad fucking soul putting on a tough-guy image so the predators won’t catch you.” Shepard tried to wriggle out, but Jericho twisted his arm behind his back until he nearly squealed in pain. “I see through your charade. I see how you’re simply piece of walking meat just waiting to be butchered. You’re nothing but expendable. An asset among thousands. It’s about time you realized who’s in charge.”

He tried to free himself again, to no avail. “I know what you did, Shepard,” Jericho continued, the smirk heard in his voice. “I know you let that kid go. I also know about that pretty little boyfriend of yours. Ace, was it?” Shepard’s breath hitched, his heart beginning to beat vehemently. “So you better do exactly what I say... or I’ll make sure you’ll never be able to sleep without one eye open and a dagger under your pillow again.”

Feeling his eyes cloud up, he clenched his jaw.

...and he stopped fighting.

#

“The fact that the Reds turned on me wasn’t the only reason why I ran,” he muttered, now sitting on the bed with Kaidan besides him.

What Jericho did to him had him scarred for life. At the first chance he got, he tried to escape, get away from the streets of New York as soon as possible. Jericho had kept him as his personal plaything for weeks. It wasn’t just a one-time thing and Shepard was powerless to fight it. Still, after all that, Jericho still turned on him. The worst part was knowing that he was still out there.

“Christ, John...” Kaidan breathed, and he found himself swallowing at his heartfelt response. “I’m... I’m so sorry, I didn’t -”

“It’s fine,” he snapped, but he knew it wasn’t. “I’m... fine.” His eyes were watering again, and before he knew it, he had been pulled into Kaidan’s strong arms and he was cradling him as if he was his last lifeline.

His body was shaking, his breathing heavy, but he wasn’t sobbing.

Not even Ace knew about that part of his life, and there he was, having told Kaidan the whole damn story. The feeling of belonging he had when he was with Kaidan scared the fuck out of him. It scared him to know that someone had such intimate knowledge of his life. It scared him because he was little more than a stranger. It scared him because he’d never felt so attached to someone before.

Kaidan didn’t even judge him.

“You know we don’t need to do this, right?” he asked, his husky voice soft. “I’m okay with whatever you’re comfortable with. If you want to talk, or if you want me to just stay without doing anything, I can do that... or if you want me to leave, I can do that, too.”

He didn’t even bail when he was refused sex.

When he was about to pull away, separate from Kaidan’s warm embrace, a scary thought hit him.

I don’t want to be alone.

Shepard exhaled. “Shit... stay. Just, fucking stay. Please.”

“Yeah. Yeah, okay,” he replied and pulled away. Shepard immediately wanted him back. “I need to get back before daylight, though. I’m currently on the bench, but Admiral Hackett needs me for the next mission by the end of the week. I need to take care of a few things.”

He found himself clasping his forearm, and as he lay back down on the bed, he pulled Kaidan down there with him.

Feeling the warmth of a body besides his own, it still wasn’t enough. He needed contact. Something. So he sat up, meeting a somewhat puzzled look that shortly softened, as he placed himself to cradle Kaidan’s hips with his thighs. Kaidan pushed up to meet his mouth when he lowered his head, but when he fell back down, their lips stuck together and he drew Shepard with him.

The kiss was soft, gentle, chaste. There was no lust behind it. No expectations.

He shivered when a hand briefly slipped up the small of his back, in a good way, but quickly retracted with an apologetic “sorry” from the man below him. Shepard didn’t care, so he clasped Kaidan’s wrist, and pushed his hand back up. It went further this time, knowing it was okay, and the good kind of goosebumps prickled his skin. In languid motions, Kaidan drew circles with his fingertips, and Shepard found himself kissing him harder. It didn’t take long before his hand was at Kaidan’s neck, tipping him around to feel his weight on top of him.

Sucking in a breath through his nose, Kaidan pressed harder against his lips as he retracted his hand and grasped his thigh to push him up against him. Shepard bit into his lower lip before he received his tongue, tasting him, savoring the wet sensation.

It started out as a comforting embrace, but quickly turned into more, as both began to twist and pull and moan. Kaidan took the hint that he wanted more when he knew that his cock was pressing up against him. Beginning to tug at Kaidan’s shirt, he was desperate to have him separated from the cloth, to feel his flushed, soft skin against his own. Kaidan obeyed his wishes, pulling up to briefly break the connection of their lips before he shoved the fabric off over his head. His dog tags were released, and Shepard grasped them, pulling him back.

Kaidan moaned into his mouth, each small sound coming from him increasing the intensity of his throbbing member, as he rocked his hips forward to feel that Kaidan was semi-hard and well on his way himself.

He was almost convinced that he was the one to swap their places, but it didn’t matter, because he soon had Kaidan stripped to his naked glory and his erection sprung free. Without any kind of warning, Shepard was caught off guard and tipped back around, groaning as his back encountered the furniture beneath. A moan slipped through Shepard’s parted lips as Kaidan sucked the mole on his neck into his mouth, rendering him immobile, having hit another spot that he always seemed to find.

Kaidan’s lips were all over him again, but he had slowed down, and then pressed his forehead to his. They were both breathing heavily. When Kaidan looked up, the sight of dilated pupils and hazed brown hue, he felt a hand cup his cheek.

“You can trust me,” Kaidan soothed.

Nodding solemnly, he let him slowly pull down his pants and briefs. The cold air rushed across his body. Kaidan rolled halfway off of him, and Shepard turned, his abdomen touching the now warm fabric beneath. He could relax without effort. Closing his eyes, he adored the feeling of Kaidan’s bare form atop of his own, sucking in a breath as he felt his length against his thigh. Kaidan kissed him again. He kissed him on his cheek, his neck, on his scalp, on his shoulder blades and on the upper half of his back, and Shepard relished in his every touch.

“K?” he asked, amazed by how soft his voice sounded. Kaidan hummed a reply. “Why do you keep coming back?”

The lazy kisses on his back stopped then.

Sighing, Kaidan said, “Because I care about you, John. I always have.”

A warmth spread throughout his body. Kaidan had seen him broken, knew his darkest secrets, and he didn’t shy away. Not for a second. Shepard felt like he didn’t deserve the affection he was shown. Had no idea how he gained such loyalty.

After telling him of its location, Shepard directed him to the lube on the nightstand with his hand. When he prepared them, his movements were careful. Patient. He felt nothing but guilt that for a moment not so long ago, he had actually believed that Kaidan was going to hurt him, take him against his will. Kaidan was nothing like Jericho. Kaidan was kind. Passionate. Loving.

...and he knew he was falling for him.

When Kaidan pressed against his entrance, he was in bliss. Moaning softly, he shifted to make it easier for him, hearing his breath hitch ever so slightly. The moaning grew louder, which before had been low and deep in his chest when he pushed forward. Kaidan lowered himself on top of him, so he bit into the pillow to silence himself. He wanted to die at how careful he was at his every thrust into him. Wet kisses pressed to his shoulder blades as he moved, dropping his hand to cup his cock, stroking him with the rhythm of his every thrusts that he met greedily.

In perfect unison, they moved, and it was only a matter of time before he reached his climax.

He felt the blue aura form around Kaidan again, sending tingles throughout his whole body, the soft sounds escaping his perfect lips being almost too much for him. Already leaking pre-cum, Shepard pinched his eyes shut, fists clenching around the sheets.

“K... f -fuck. I’m gonna...”

Making it easier for him, Kaidan gave him one final stroke, and he came with an intensive force that only weeks of sexless nights would allow as he bit into the pillow almost enough to chew a fucking hole in it. Kaidan came shortly after, finally letting go of a release that he knew that he had been holding until his own orgasm had surfaced.

With a sigh, Kaidan rolled off of him onto his back.

Shepard mimicked his position before pulling himself up with his forearm, casting a glance towards his partner. Kaidan’s eyes were far away. Unfocused, until he turned his head to face him.

“Hey...” he muttered, voice dazed with lust. “There you are.”

With a strangled chuckle, he took in the hilarity of that statement. Wasn’t like he planned to go anywhere. Maybe it was an inside joke he didn’t get or some shit. His hair was all mussed up, and Shepard couldn’t resist reaching over in an attempt to fix it, only making it worse as he frowned. Kaidan seemed to catch up on it, dragged his fingers through his hair that made it slightly better, and a small smile surfaced his divine lips.

Shepard captured his cheek in his hand, lowered his mouth to his, but couldn’t finish before a beeping sound was heard. Tightly closing his eyes, he touched his forehead with his own. He brushed a thumb across Kaidan’s jawline before letting him go.

Exhaling, Kaidan pulled up and reached for his omni-tool.

Silence.

“You’re leaving?” he asked and met Kaidan’s gaze as he looked over. There was something apologetic about it. Shepard scoffed. “‘Course you are.” It came out harsher than intended.

“When I can, I’ll drop by again... okay?”

Nodding solemnly, he was given a subtle smile, and Kaidan got dressed.

“Hey... Kaidan?” Shepard asked, and he turned with a somewhat softened expression. Kaidan gave the door a brief glance but approached him by the bed when he rose up. Without thinking, Shepard took his face in his hands. He pressed a chaste kiss upon his lips. When they broke apart, he opened his eyes to see dazed whiskey-brown hue.

Shepard clenched his jaw. “Don’t get killed, yeah?”

“I’ll do my best,” he muttered and pulled away with a breathtakingly beautiful smile. Kaidan didn’t do so without interlacing their fingers and press a soft kiss to his knuckles first.

When the door shut behind him, Shepard fell back to the bed with his gaze still fixated on the door. Then a small, fond smile surfaced his lips. Nevertheless, it quickly faltered as he directed his gaze somewhere else. He pushed up, found his phone next to the device, and typed in a number. No answer. He tried three times but still nothing. He wasn’t entirely sure what to do, but hell, Ace deserved to know what happened.

So he left a message.

To: Ace Hunt
From: John Shepard

‘Hey, Ace. We... need to talk. Find me?’

‘--Shep’

Chapter Text

When Kaidan returned to the captain’s cabin, he saw Ashlee standing there with an apologetic look on her face.

“Hey, what’s wrong?” he asked, and crouched down before her. She looked at some spot on the floor and didn’t want to meet his eye. A lock of hair hung across her cheek and he pushed it away. “Ashlee. Whatever it is, I’m not mad at you, okay? Tell me what happened.”

Silence.

“I broke it,” she muttered, her voice shaky.

Frowning, Kaidan tried to figure out what she was talking about. That was until he looked over her shoulder to see the SR-1 model ship lying atop of the bed, split in two.

He chortled. “That’s okay, Ash. Really. Nothing to be concerned about.”

She looked up then, and he could see her clearly, eyes glistening as if she was on the verge of tears. Kaidan reached over to the model ship and took the pieces in his hands, recognizing the architecture, and it didn’t take long before he figured out where the pieces were supposed to be connected. Ashlee looked at the ship with a puzzled expression, her head cocked to the side, her previous mood forgotten.

“Now... I’m not the expert on these,” he added, and rose up “...but I think I can fix this thing. I’m going to need your help, though.”

Kaidan walked over to a drawer in the same room and found a tiny, cylinder bottle of glue. It had probably been used to set the model ships together in the first place. Placing himself in the couch, Ashlee shortly after approached him, putting a hand at his knee.

“C’mere, Captain,” he said with a smile and scooped her up on his lap. “I need you to hold this...”

Ashlee had been in his care for a few weeks by now, her having claimed John’s cabin, and he had moved down to the crew’s quarters. He knew his attachment to her would become a problem later on. No matter how much it hurt, there was no guarantee that he and John would get back together, and he wasn’t even sure if John wanted to keep her if they did.

He’d witnessed him interacting with kids before, and hell, saying he was inexperienced would be an understatement.

Three of them had run up to him on the Citadel during one of their shore leaves to meet the famous Commander Shepard. He treated them like an entirely new species. If he decided to keep her then he definitely needed some practice not to scare her away. John didn’t know to soften his tone, and judging by his dark voice, that alone could make him sound intimidating. Kaidan, on the other hand, found his voice hot as hell. Then again, he had the pleasure of hearing it used in... other circumstances.

He cleared his throat, wiping the inappropriate thoughts from his head.

They finished putting the model ship back together.

“Hey... Ash. I’m going to be away for a couple days,” Kaidan said. Her expression immediately fell in a way that made his abdomen churn in guilt. “Whoa, hey. Don’t look at me like that.” He pulled her into a hug. “It won’t be long. The admiral of the Fifth Fleet has asked me to help with a problem he’s having. I need to do what he says. You understand that, right?”

He felt her nodding her head, her cheek pressed to his chest, a knitted palm next to it.

Kaidan rested his chin atop of her head. “Now, I’m not going to leave you here alone while I’m gone. Kahlee can’t take care of you right now, but... I have family in Vancouver. My mom’s there. I’ve already called her and she’ll happily take care of you.”

“Can’t I come with you?”

Snorting, he replied, “No, Ashlee. It’s too dangerous. I promise, though... my mom is really nice.”

“When are you leaving?”

“I’m taking you to the spaceport by the end of the week. Up until then, you’ll have more than enough time to pack and say goodbye to everyone,” he said. “Make sure to give Mr. Vega a big hug, too. Can you promise me that?”

She nodded.

Vega had gotten shore leave for a couple weeks before he’d be back to his N7 training. He decided to spend that shore leave surrounded by nostalgia. When he saw Ashlee, though, he immediately grew distant. After having a brief discussing with Liara about what happened back on Fehl Prime, it came to Kaidan’s attention that Vega knew a little girl much like Ashlee. Her name was April. She was one of the colonists that didn’t make it out. It took some time, but Vega had managed to warm up to her, even grew to like her.

Ashlee hadn’t asked about John yet, so deep down, he felt like she knew something wasn’t right. She had probably seen him on the vids, and Kaidan suspected that her mom had told her who he was.

*

The mission Hackett had given him had been unusual. Instead of being contacted directly via comm-link, the admiral had sent a message to the Normandy’s terminal. Toshiwa had been sighted in the Terminus Systems. Even judging by the fact that he knew about Ashlee, Hackett specifically said he needed Kaidan’s expertise on the mission and Kaidan wasn’t one to disobey orders. Except that one time.

Either way, Hackett had forgiven his earlier insubordination.

Hackett had avoided the details, but to make matters more complicated, his mission was to find Ace Hunt. He’d gone off the grid. Kaidan avoided telling John about that not to worry him, and he had to admit that he wasn’t entirely sure what to think about Ace these days. Going off the grid was considered a crime in the Alliance, and hell, Ace needed to have a reason for it. He couldn’t tell whether it was just or not. Kaidan had figured that he’d keep an eye on him from here on out. The Alliance monitored John’s calls, so if Ace contacted him, they’d know about it.

Still, that didn’t ease the fact that he felt like an ass. As far as he could tell, John and Ace were a couple, and he came to John when he was away. How could something so wrong feel so right? He didn’t want to be the one to break them apart.

It was killing him, so he had to ask.

“Sorry, but... what’s going on between the two of you, exactly?”

Peeking up from his plate, John had a somewhat startled look about him. It didn’t take long before he was back to his usually stoic demeanor. He knew who he was talking about.

Kaidan had stopped by again two days before he’d head out. Smuggling in some real food from the outside to him, John seemed pleased to be eating something that “didn’t taste like cardboard,” in his own words. He bought some chicken, being John’s favorite, even back in 72. It wasn’t like he was on a strict diet or something, but those Alliance facilities didn’t have much to offer. John had asked for training equipment to get back in shape so his days mostly consisted of training, sleeping, and eating, and Kaidan could tell that it was killing him.

Being a man of action, John hated to sit still, having expressed that he felt like he was going crazy in there. Kaidan couldn’t blame him. The place wasn’t very spacious and he couldn’t leave. For his own safety.

Shaking his head, John pushed his plate aside. “I don’t know. Said he needed time. Why? Jealous?”

“I’m -I’m not jealous. I’m... confused,” he said quickly, wanting to cringe at how bad of a liar he was. He felt dumbfounded at the deadpan expression he received in return. “Look, I know Ace. He’s a great guy.”

“Sounds like you’re trying to hook us up.”

“I’m not.” Kaidan’s reply was abrupt because he was presented with a stunned expression. “It’s just... hell, I don’t want to be part of some bullshit love triangle, or whatever the hell you want to call it, because... -This isn’t funny, John.” He had watched when John’s lips tugged upwards, obviously amused, looking at him in awe. “I’m serious here, okay? Ace is a good guy, and I -I don’t want to be ‘that’ guy.”

“My mistress?” he asked, smirking.

“Really? That -that’s what we’re calling this?”

“You kinda are.”

“Okay, first... I’m a man.”

“Fuck buddy, then?”

Kaidan shook his head. “Okay, so just... just stop,” he replied and was thankful when he decided to drop it. He still took note of the mischievous glint in his eye. It dissolved when he continued. “If you’re not serious about me, it’ll hurt, but I’ll get over it. But until you tell me, I can’t get over it. I just need to know where I stand.”

John sighed explosively and pushed up from the couch.

He was worried if he’d overstepped his bounds. He didn’t want to scare him away, but he had the right to ask, more right than John knew. Kaidan was well-aware that he’d slept with other people while being in a committed relationship, but hell, it wasn’t like he was paying for it. He’d like to think this was more to him than that. More than lust.

He watched as John walked up to a cupboard, propping his hand to the surface, looking down as he shifted his weight to one foot.

“I don’t know,” he replied, his voice weary, and Kaidan was surprised he was willing to talk about it. “I keep asking myself whatever the hell this is. All kinds of shit are happening around me and my mind can’t keep up with it all.”

Kaidan couldn’t help but notice that he seemed to be getting closer and closer to the John he knew, to the John that was burdened with all those lives he now had saved, to the John that cared about people and matters around him. He wasn’t joking around as much anymore with that careless attitude he’d have the past months. He didn’t swear as much, either, although it wasn’t like he had anything against it in the first place.

He was showing signs of familiarity.

“A lot has happened in the past 15 years,” Kaidan muttered, understanding of his situation. “It’s a lot to take in, I know, but if anyone could pull through this... it’d be you. I know that.”

John took a moment.

“A few weeks ago, you told me you lost someone you didn’t get to tell what you felt,” he said, and Kaidan found himself swallowing hard. “I remember fragments of being in a burning ship, explosions all around me... telling you to evacuate the squad while I grabbed Joker. That was me.”

Silence.

“Yeah. Yeah, it was.”

John nodded solemnly.

After a moment, he spoke again. “How long?”

“Do you remember the battle of the Citadel?” Kaidan asked, but judging by John’s expression, he didn’t. “Back in 83, our mission was to track down a rogue Spectre. Saren Arterius. Those reapers I told you about? Saren joined up with one of their ships, Sovereign, and planned to open up dark space so that the reapers could pour through. He was convinced that the annihilation of organics was inevitable, so he tried to ally with them, hoping that they’d spare him and everyone else who played by their rules. We stopped him before he succeeded.”

Kaidan fell into a pause. “After that, the crew got their shore leave,” he added, propped a hand to his thigh and leaned forward. “Garrus ordered some drink that turned out to be... too much for you. I had to pull you back to the ship. It just clicked.”

“You’ve got a funny idea of romance,” he replied, looking over his shoulder. Kaidan saw him smirking ever so slightly. He couldn’t help one of his own. He had said something similar during their date at Apollo’s after John suggested they’d steal a shuttle and shoot the Illusive Man in the face. After another moment, John asked, “Why didn’t you tell me?”

I did.

Kaidan had just been presented with another opportunity to let him in on everything. Hell, he knew Garrus was right, and delaying it even further would only cause problems. It was about time to tell him.

He decided to answer his question, first.

“For several reasons,” he replied. “First off... I’d be breaking Alliance regs. I wasn’t a Spectre back then. Second... I didn’t really know what I felt for the longest time. I confused it with a strong friendship, but when I realized, part of me didn’t want to risk that. I know that’s one of the oldest excuses in the book, but hell, there’s truth in it.” He found himself clenching his jaw. “I’m... I should’ve told you earlier, but we were actually -”

“Major Alenko,” came a voice, and he directed his gaze to the doorway to see a marine snapping a salute. “We’ve got a location.”

He looked back at John, a puzzled expression shrouding his features as he turned and pressed his back to the cupboard, holding himself up with the palm of his hands. With a steady gaze, he was still awaiting his continuation, but Kaidan figured he’d tell him when he got back. It’d only delay it a couple days or so, so it wouldn’t hold much impact, or difference.

“Right,” Kaidan replied, and pulled up. “Give me a minute.”

The marine nodded and left.

When he turned back, John arched a suggestive brow at him.

“What could you possibly do with a whole minute?”

Kaidan snorted. “Certainly not what you have in mind. I’m not that good,” he replied, before his eyes fell down. A smirk spread on his lips. He peeked up again to meet a hot and heady, dark look. “I’m going to need two for that.”

“Just two, huh?” he murmured somewhat strangled, voice husky. Kaidan’s breath hitched.

He managed to resist the penetrating urge of slamming John’s body up against the wall again and show him, drop to his knees and give him the best blowjob he’s ever had, but he had a mission to get back to. Fucking John senseless wasn’t his priority these days even as much as he wanted it to be. Still, he knew that if he didn’t leave now, he wouldn’t be able to resist any longer.

So he stepped up to him, pressing a soft kiss to his cheek. He was about to pull away, but John’s lips were suddenly on his with such need and want, fists clutched around his shirt. He could’ve sworn he heard it rip, but it didn’t matter, the man before him being everything he could think of.

Slanting his head, he let John’s tongue into his mouth, a soft moan escaping him as it came in contact with his. Synchronized. Wet. Familiar. He slipped a hand up the small of John’s back and felt him shiver beneath his fingertips. He thrust him up against himself. The hold of his calloused hands was firm, but his mouth moved slowly, savoring the sensation. John dominated the kiss, the tip of his tongue trailing the inside of his lips, and Kaidan allowed himself to get lost in it. Right there, it was just them, and they simply existed.

He pressed into the kiss, never wanting to let go, never wanting to forget the feeling of John’s skin against his. His need for contact came through to him, and he pushed up harder, taking his breath away. Kaidan cursed internally as he felt his erection press up against him. He pulled away slightly before this turned into something more. Something he couldn’t control. Something he couldn’t stop.

It only now hit him that he really needed to breathe.

“What happened with the lips being ‘too intimate,’ eh?” Kaidan asked amused, catching his breath. Rolling his eyes, John splayed a hand on his chest and pushed him away with a subtle smile.

Grunting, John said, “Get the fuck outta here.”

Kaidan chuckled.

Things were looking up.

Chapter Text

“Not much to unpack. Left Earth in a hurry. Just the clothes on my back and a few things I picked up on the Citadel. Kinda like it. Living lean.”

Shepard looked up, witnessing the first interaction with Kaidan aboard the SR-2, putting his plate into the dishwasher to look at the holograms as they played out. There were no recordings from his cabin, so he figured he had told the AI to leave it be, wanting privacy for himself. The recording showed him patching up a small cut on Kaidan’s cheek. He listened to the carried out conversation, in which Kaidan accidentally let it slip that Shepard was making him nervous, although he caught up with his mistake and quickly added some sort of excuse.

Nice save, Alenko, he thought, shaking his head as he trapped a cigarette between his lips. He immediately took it back out, knowing the emitted smoke wasn’t good for pets, as his eyes had fallen to Cuddlesworth.

Ambling over, he picked it up from its cage on the way, being among the stuff Kaidan had dropped by with. The furry rodent lived up to its name, snuggling into his palm as he closed his hands around it, brushing a thumb against its chubby cheek. Probably had something stored in there. Its whiskers tickled his skin between the thumb and forefinger as a subtle smile threatened his own lips.

It had been two days since Kaidan last dropped by. There was still no word from Ace. It was unlike him to ignore his calls and Shepard had started getting worried something might’ve happened. He could’ve been in danger, and there he was, going back-and-forth between an Alliance major who held a torch for him. When Ace said he, ‘needed time,’ he didn’t mean that he needed time to rekindle their relationship, he meant that he needed time to figure out what he wanted. What they were. Putting some distance between them was the best way to do that.

Shepard was well-aware that his impulsive reaction of kissing him the day he turned up could be related to his amnesia. He wanted familiarity in his life. It looked like Ace was convinced of the very same thing and that could be the reason why he distanced himself. He gave Shepard some space to sort things out. It didn’t change the fact that he cared for him, would die for him if need be, but it wasn’t as clear-cut.

Everything that was clear-cut these days was that he wasn’t cheating.

Hours passed, and he wasn’t really paying attention to the recordings, although he was aware that he had arrived at some kind of poker game he observed with Javik. Kaidan, Garrus, Joker, Vega, and Sam were the ones playing.

He gained an interest when Garrus mentioned extranet porn and figured it was worth investigating.

He fell to the couch, his heavy body showing little resistance, hunching over. Somewhat disoriented what the conversation was about, he listened, frowning as a lot of suggestive remarks were being made towards him and Kaidan. They came from each and every one of them, and Javik said something about pheromones, while Shepard was denying their suggestions.

They thought we were a couple?

Everything was fine until Kaidan made a statement.

“C’mon, Shepard. It -it’s fine. They’d find out eventually.”

His body went rigid.


“Hey, Blue!” Vega called, making Kaidan look up from the data pad with the strangely lacking details on what he was facing. “Heard you’ve got a mission comin’ up. Need an extra pair of hands from an N7 graduate?”

He smirked. “Technically, you’re not a graduate just yet.”

“Pssh. I will be! Now what d’ya say?”

“Could always use the help.”

“Nice! So, uh... what’s going on? ...and when and where are we goin’?”

Kaidan chortled. “You’re prepared, I see. Not much to tell, exactly. Admiral Hackett has been really vague about the whole thing. I haven’t been able to contact him directly with the intel, but there has to be a reason for it.” Vega gave him a puzzled look, undoubtedly as confused as he, as he processed it. “I just know that an Alliance operative, Lieutenant Ace Hunt, has gone off the grid.”

“Hunt, huh?” he asked, his eyes far away. “Wait, green eyes and short-cropped light brown hair?”

“You know him?”

“Nah, not really. Ran into him the other week. Vanilla seemed pretty tense, kinda confused, actually. Disoriented.”

Huh.

“So, he dirty?” Vega asked.

“I -I don’t really know. He could have several reasons to go off-grid. I’d like to think it’s just a misunderstanding of sorts. I’ve worked with him, and he didn’t strike me as a bad guy. On one occasion, I thought he had bad intentions... but as it turned out, he was simply undercover in Cerberus for the Alliance, putting him in a shady position. He’s got a history with Shepard. I’d like to be able to trust him.”

“History -?” he echoed, frowning. “Oh, that kinda history. Well, shit. Loco know ‘bout it?”

Kaidan shook his head. “I’m not telling him until I’ve got this mess figured out first. The Alliance got Shepard under constant surveillance, so if Ace planned on doing anything, they’d know about it. Either way, he’s been sighted in the Hades Gamma Cluster. I’m taking Ashlee to the spaceport to head for Vancouver in three hours.”

“Guess we’d better find something to do in the meantime, huh? Drinks. I’m buying. Bring the kid, too.”

*

“So what’s the missy having?” Vega asked, straightening his pants before he crouched down to be on Ashlee’s level.

Ashlee looked up at Kaidan, smiling shyly at him as she rocked back and forth on her heels, looking like the most innocent creature that had ever walked the Earth. He had noticed her staring at some ice cream ads earlier, so hell, that one was easy. When she realized she had been caught, she had blushed and looked away.

He had already learned her preferences.

Kaidan shrugged. “I don’t know... how about a big chocolate ice cream sundae?” he asked. She smiled from cheek-to-cheek at his suggestion, jumping up and down with knitted fists, making Vega chuckle.

“A big chocolate ice cream sundae comin’ right up,” he said, pulling up from the floor. “Scars?”

They had found Garrus in the Presidium and decided to bring him along.

“Whatever dextro-based drink you can find. I don’t think they have much to choose from after that... incident,” Garrus replied, earning a puzzled look from Vega that made him explain himself. “Someone got access to the storage and made their way with all the turian brandy, so they’re restocking. Don’t ask me where those credits came from.”

“That ‘someone’ was Tali,” Kaidan corrected him.

Garrus’ mandibles twisted into a grin. “I’m so proud of her,” he muttered, making them chuckle. “I’ll go find us a place to sit -” He watched as Ashlee grasped onto Garrus’ hand, making the turian tense up before giving him a startled look. Kaidan reassured him that it was normal, and Garrus’ mandibles clicked, seeming to relax somewhat.

Tali would’ve swooned.

Vega nudged Kaidan. “How ‘bout you, Blue?”

“Coffee.”

“Wait, really?” he asked, in disbelief. “C’mon, Blue -- you need to relax, man! The stress level on your terms is up to the roof. You’ll be sober up until the mission, so join me with some cerveza!”

“I also have a little girl to drive to the spaceport,” he replied, giving him a reminding smile.

Vega blinked. “Oh. Yeah. Right.”

Locating the table, Vega was fixing their drinks and Ashlee’s ice cream, although it took longer than expected, as the lieutenant was eyeing up the waitress. He couldn’t help but smile.

“So... you’re unusually happy,” came Garrus voice, and he snapped out of it. “Shepard’s doing good, I take it?”

“Looks like it, but... everything he remembers is bits and pieces of several occurrences,” he replied, although the small smile had dissolved. “That device Liara made sadly hasn’t helped, though. It looks like he needs something concrete. Something he can touch, or a trigger word, for that matter. I’ve learned things about him that I had no clue of before, so, yeah. I’d say it’s going well. Reminds me of the old Shepard. He’s slowly but surely coming back to us, and... we seem to be on, uh...”

Kaidan cleared his throat, feeling his cheeks flush. “On... good terms.”

“Well, that’s goo -oh!” he replied as if just realizing what he’d just said. “That’s... good, I guess. I’m just surprised, that’s all. Last time I dropped by, he wasn’t exactly recognizable, but I’ll take your word for it.”

“He’s coming around -” His eyes widened, as he saw a familiar face on her way up to them. He immediately straightened. “Jack?”

They hadn’t spoken since the battle for Earth.

“Small fucking world,” she replied and propped into a seat. “Fuck, Kaidan. You cheating on Shep? With Scarface here? C’mooon.”

“Well, he couldn’t resist, but thanks for the vote of confidence,” Garrus joked. “Been too long, Jack. Nice to see you, too.”

“I’ll drink to that. So, who’s the kid?” she murmured, motioning her head to the girl that was tugging at the leg of Vega’s pants, probably saying that she wanted extra chocolate topping. “Didn’t think your students were that fucking miniature.”

Kaidan shook his head. “Nah, it’s, uh... Her name’s Ashlee. She’s Shepard’s kid.”

Jack’s eyes snapped open.

“Well, shiiit. Next thing I see, you’ll be knitting each other jumpers and buy a fucking cat. When’s the wedding?” she asked, and Kaidan’s expression immediately fell. He averted his eyes, biting into his lip, and Jack seemed to catch up. “Oh for fuck’s sake... you guys were swooning over each other like lovesick fucking puppies, nearly impregnating me by those looks alone, and now you’re broken up?” she growled. “The fuck?!”

Her outburst alerted the other attendants, so to take attention off of them, Garrus lowered his voice and took the word.

“We tried to get in contact, but communications were down, so we couldn’t inform you that Shepard has a serious case of amnesia.”

“Tried beating the fucker’s memories back into place?”

Garrus gasped. “That’s what I said!”

Jack grinned wolfishly, and Kaidan chortled, shaking his head.

“You guys are all heart,” he muttered, and Vega approached with their order shortly after, Ashlee already having dug in on her ice cream. When she walked up to him, he launched her up into his lap.

“Miss anything good?” Vega asked, propping down into the seat next to Kaidan.

“Just trying to figure out how to subdue Shepard -”

“No, Jack,” Kaidan broke in.

Jack scoffed. “Boy-scout,” she murmured, grabbing her own beer. “Have you fucked yet?” Kaidan froze at her abruptness, had figured he’d be used to it by now, but it always caught him off guard. Again, his expression was enough as Jack grinned again. “He still good?”

Kaidan cleared his throat loudly, wanting to turn invisible, not really being a question he wanted to answer. That didn’t stop her. The next hour existed of Jack consistently roasting him while Garrus and Vega weren’t exactly being helpful, although there was an entertaining fondness over it, as they had warmed up since the last time they met. Jack had approached him on Apollo’s when he was waiting for John, threatening him to never break his heart or she’d kill him, which was one way to start a conversation.

It was a nice change to just hang out like normal friends for once as they did everything to make him feel better.

He was thankful for each and every one of them.

Moving his coffee to his lips and taking a sip, he winced and shut his eyes, as the bitter and somewhat metallic taste on his tongue was foul, realizing it had gone cold. Cold coffee. John had already expressed his distaste for it.

Typical.

Not sure why, but a sudden uncertainty clouded his mind.

He’s had that feeling before, but he couldn’t pinpoint well, as if he knew something bad was about to happen. He started pacing internally about John finding out about him as a lump formed in the back of his throat. The cabin wasn’t under surveillance, so there was no way he could find out about that, but that didn’t make him less uneasy.

Kaidan gave one of his usual smiles. “Look, I uh... it’s been great. I needed this. I just... I really need to get back to it.”

“All right, Blue. Let’s roundup. I’m paying,” Vega said, and pulled up from his seat before making his way to the counter. When he was out of view, he was leveled with a suspicious gaze from Garrus that had him clear his throat as he knew his body language was carefully studied.

“Are you all right?” Garrus asked.

Nodding, he averted his eyes. “Yeah, I’m good. I just remembered that John still has my dog tags,” he muttered, moving a thumb to rub his wrist. “I mean, hell, if he finds them... he’s going to ask questions, you know? I really don’t want him to find out by himself, because that... that’s going to make this whole thing a lot worse -”

“It’s... going to be fine, Kaidan. Really,” he was cut off, but he didn’t sound so certain.

That worried him.

“He was a complete fucking mess after Horizon, so fuck, he’ll fall right back into your arms in no time,” Jack murmured, surprising Kaidan. John was right. She did have a heart of gold. He couldn’t help but smile. Jack groaned loudly and pushed up from her seat. “This is getting too fucking mushy for me. I need to kill something. See some guts.”

Casting his glance aside, he saw Vega standing by the bar disk with an arm propped to the surface. He was chatting up the waitress again, a cocky smirk at the corner of his mouth as he was leaning in.

Winking at her, Vega said, “Keep the change.”

Kaidan shook his head.


“Major Alenko,” Sam said as he entered the CIC, seeming somewhat nervous as she drew her bottom lip behind her teeth. “Commander Shepard is available on the vid-comm. He, uh... he wanted to speak with you. Immediately.”

Frowning, he asked, “Do you know what it was about?”

“No, he didn’t say. He seemed, well... angry. I’d advise you to contact him before it gets worse. Sir.”

That didn’t sound good.

Turning to Ashlee, he said, “Hey, I’m just going to take this call, okay? I’ll help you finish packing afterward.”

At his every foot he put before the other towards the comm-room, he felt more and more unease, and his heart was beating. He could hear every pulse deep in his chest.

Did he know?

Swallowing hard, he tried to be positive about the situation, as it could be about a lot of other things. When he opened the vid-comm and John’s hologram came to view, he immediately felt nauseous, as Sam was right. He looked pissed. Feral. The red glow in his cybernetics was acting up as a sign of stress, as John had earlier told him about, and he knew right there that he was in for hell.

Kaidan blinked. “Hey, everything all right -?”

“Don’t even start, Alenko,” he warned, venom in his every word. Kaidan’s stomach flipped at his tone. Low and dangerous. “When the hell were you planning on telling me we were a damn couple?”

Christ.

He gaped. “I -John...”

“I’m sick of everyone throwing lies at me!” he snapped, taking a step forward. “First I find out that Ace had me believe he was dead for fifteen fucking years -- the guy I considered ‘my father’ never telling me a damn thing about it -- only to show up now! Then you told me we didn’t know each other, only to later inform me we served aboard the same damn ship, and now I find out that we were more than fucking acquaintances!”

“John, please, just... just stop and take a breath -” he tried, holding up a hand.

“You have the nerve to tell me to calm down?” John spat, stabbing at his insides, cybernetics flaring. “Do you have any idea how it is to finally trust someone when you’ve been lied to your whole fucking life only to find out they’re just like everyone else?! All this time, you’ve been keeping this shit under wraps -- things that you *know* I deserve to know -- and you expect me to just forget?! For a guy who should know me better than anyone, you’re pretty fucking clueless to who I am and how important trust is to me!”

“How could I have known?” he asked. “I understand where you’re coming from, but I never wanted to hurt you. You -you never mentioned anything about what Jericho did until now recently.”

“Obviously there’s a damn reason for it! Dammit, Kaidan, I loved you!”

*Loved?*

He wanted to grab something, something concrete, something to hold onto until he woke up from this bad dream. That was all there was. It had to be.

Everything that came out of his mouth was, “I still do...”

He watched as Shepard locked his jaw tight, the area around his blue eyes having tightened, pinning him with an unwavering glare. A glare that held nothing but hatred, anger, and it was all directed at Kaidan.

“Hell, don’t you think this is something that I should know about?”

“Of -of course you should,” he stuttered, feeling his voice betraying him. “There’s a reason to why I’m telling you this. I... Wh -what was I supposed to do, huh? I wanted to wait until you regained your memory but people kept pushing me -”

“And they should!”

“I didn’t want to risk scaring you off with that kind of commitment,” he replied. He already lost him once, nearly twice, and he was losing him all over again. Nothing but the faint hum of the Normandy’s engine enveloped them, as well as John’s heavy breathing, eyes intently drilling into each other.

John’s brows tightened in a concerned fashion as he took a step back.

Silence.

“You risked one hell of a lot more not to.”

“John... please don’t do this -” he tried, taking a step forward while he knew his voice was breaking. Before he could continue, John cut the link, and he was left standing there.

He had just lost John.

Kaidan balled his hands into fists, realizing he had begun sweating, the cold sensation at the inside of his palms to surface his skin. The world around him was a blur. Everything that washed through his mind were those words, the face of pure anger before him, and everything he could hear was his own heartbeat. It was as if his heart tried to break through, crush his ribcage, trying to escape that pain it suffered and ascend to a new host. He felt a thin substance clouding his vision, begging for release, but he stood firm.

A migraine was surfacing, beating at the inside of his temples in tact with that very first heartbeat.

“Are you okay?” came a tiny voice.

He turned. Ashlee. He had entirely forgotten. “Hey, kid,” he muttered and crouched down with a drained smile. She slowly approached him and put a hand on the arm he rested atop of his knee. “I’ll be fine, I’ll just... I’ll need some time. That’s all.”

She looked at the empty vid-comm for a brief moment.

“Why doesn’t he want me?”

“Hey.” He pulled her close and she buried her face in the crook of his neck. “That’s not true, Ash. He loves you, he just... he doesn’t trust himself to take care of you.”

“Why?”

“Because he’s scared, Ash. He hasn’t done this before. It’s all new to him.”

“Have you done this before?”

Kaidan snorted. “No. No, I haven’t. I guess I just have it in me.”

“But you’re nice. He scares me. A lot.”

“Your dad doesn’t mean to be, well, mean,” he replied, patting her back for comfort. He was glad John couldn’t hear her say those last words. The last thing a dad wanted to hear was that he scared his own kid. It’d break his heart. “He has a lot going on right now. Lost a lot of his memories. His friends and doctors are trying to help him get them back so everything will return to normal.”

“I don’t want him to be sad.”

“Yeah. Yeah, me neither. But he’s strong. He’ll come around,” he said and moved his hands to her shoulders to push her gently away so he could see her. Her eyes were glistening and hurt was written all over the shadows of her face. He wanted nothing more but to reach out, comfort her and take all that pain away, but it was never that easy.

“How do you know that?” she asked.

Kids and their never-ending questions...

“Because... because your dad and I used to be close friends,” he said, leaving out the details that she didn’t need to know about. “I know him in ways others don’t. I’ve seen him at his worst and his best.”

“Do you love him?”

Kaidan’s expression fell. Figures. She already knew.

“Why are you asking me that?” he replied, his voice strangled.

She kicked at the ground. “Because you look at him like you love him. You were sad when he was shouting at you.”

He didn’t want to lie to her. He probably couldn’t if he tried. Part of him just wanted to tell her everything, but she was young, and wouldn’t be able to comprehend what was happening. So he made it simple.

“Yeah,” he muttered, and nodded solemnly. “Yeah, I do love him.”

“I think he loves you too.”

Kaidan gave her a tight-lipped smile. “What makes you say that?”

“Because you’re nice,” she replied, and finally looked up. Her big, blue eyes were sparkling. Ashlee then smiled big. “And he looks at you the same way. It’s nice. He’s just scared.” He wanted to laugh at how the girl had managed to turn his own words against him with such ease, but it didn’t get through, remaining stuck in his throat.

She certainly got that from John. His abdomen churned at the name. It hurt to even think about.

“I hope you’re right,” he sighed and ruffled her hair. “Hey, it’s late. You should get some sleep before we head out. I’ll finish your packing for you.” She nodded before she took to her feet. Kaidan smiled after her, but when he knew she couldn’t see him, his expression fell.

Working his way back to the CIC, he locked his jaw tight, finding himself clasping John’s dog tag.

“Major Alenk -Kaidan,” Sam said, her voice soft. “Are you all right?”

“No,” he muttered, as there was no point lying. “No, I’m really not. But thanks.” He gave her a quick smile before clearing his throat, his voice having betrayed him, setting course for deck one.

He knew, right then, that he should’ve held him tighter.

Chapter Text

“Ready?” Kaidan asked, seeing Ashlee nod as she grabbed his hand.

It didn’t take long before they made their way to the skycar. Kaidan’s mom was going to meet up with them on the spaceport and take Ashlee off his hands for a couple weeks. He’d drive her all the way down to Vancouver if he could, but so much had been going on the past couple years, and they had way too much to talk about. He hadn’t seen her in nearly a year by now as he had always been on duty. Out in the traverse. After this whole thing with Toshiwa was over, he’d have time for a proper visit, so he could stay for some time.

He also figured he’d put some distance between him and John.

It just hurt too much to stay.

The car ride was spent in silence, Kaidan holding a focused glare at the road before him, clenching his jaw as he felt a pair of blue eyes staring him down from a side-view.

“You okay?” he asked softly, briefly looking at her.

Ashlee vigorously shook her head.

At least she was honest.

Kaidan smiled a little. “Don’t worry. I think you’re going to like Vancouver,” he added and pulled over at the spaceport. “Your dad always wanted to see the city, so you can brag about it when you meet him one day. My mom is really going to spoil you when you’re there, though... maybe even more than me... and I think your dad is going to give me a real scolding for -Hey...”

His expression had immediately fallen when he heard her sniffling. Reaching over, he took her face in his hands, brushing a tear away from her cheek with his thumb as her eyes were tightly shut.

“Don’t go...” she croaked, holding his wrist with both hands.

“Ash, we talked about this. The Admiral needs me to see this through. As soon as I can, I’ll drop by to see you, okay? I promise.” He avoided telling her how long it would be because honestly, he didn’t know himself. “You need to understand that I’m not doing this because I want to, I’m doing this because I have to, and you’ll be safe there.”

He took a moment. “If you can’t do it for yourself... do it for your dad. I need you to be strong for him. Can you do that?” he asked. After a moment, she nodded, and he found himself smiling softly. “Good girl.”

Letting go of her face, he unclasped his seat belt and pushed up the car door.

Her plane had arrived. Now standing, he watched as people stepped through the exit. He smiled when he saw a familiar, elderly lady arrive. Kaidan circled around the car, capturing the handle on Ashlee’s side and pushing it up, seeing her throwing her feet over her seat. She held out her hand, and he took it, helping her down. Ashlee didn’t let go of it as they began walking.

Mrs. Alenko gave them a beaming smile as she approached, covering her mouth with her palms, her eyes glistening. It was good to see her again -- however brief it might’ve been -- because he had been pulled into a suffocating hug before he could speak.

“M -mom... you’re killing me...” he said with humor but returned the embrace nonetheless.

They had conversed over comm-link before, but this was different, so he made sure to hold her for a while. She had been through a lot lately and the last thing he could do was offer her the comfort of knowing that her son was safe and unharmed. Kaidan had always had a close relationship with his parents, and although his dad didn’t show nearly as much affection as his mom, he knew he cared for him just as much. They had the usual manly nods and pats on the back, but his mom was a force to be reckoned with, giving hugs and kisses all over.

When he needed to have the deep, serious talks, he went to his dad first. Kaidan wasn’t normally one to seek out others for help, but his parents weren’t stupid, and his dad always knew when something was wrong. His mom couldn’t see the signs as easily. After the incident at BAaT, his dad had approached him on the balcony overlooking English Bay with a bottle of beer, finally getting Kaidan to open up. There was simply an understanding between the two that he and his mom didn’t share.

Thinking of him now, he swallowed hard, still feeling their loss. He tightened his embrace slightly before his mom pulled away, taking his face between her hands, an apologetic look on her face.

“I’m sorry, sweetie. I’m just so glad to see you again. It’s been too long,” she said, with tears in her eyes. She looked him all over as if he had just been in a car accident and was reeking with wounds. He had to tell her three times that he was all right for her to stop pacing. “I’ve seen the news vids. Terrorists, collectors, reapers... My god, how much do you think your poor old mother can handle?”

Kaidan grinned. “Old? I wouldn’t say that. You haven’t aged a day.”

“Flattery will get you nowhere, young man,” she scoffed, shaking her head with a smile. It didn’t take long before her eyes fell down to the little girl and she crouched down before her. He opened his mouth to suggest her being careful with her knees, but she waved him off, so he kept quiet. His mom was a stubborn woman. “You must be Ashlee Shepard. It’s a pleasure to meet you, dear.”

Hiding behind Kaidan’s hand, Ashlee smiled, and he knew everything was going to be fine.

He’d already sent a list of what she liked to eat, drink and the time of hour she went to bed, so she couldn’t be more prepared. He knew his mom revered in being a mom caring for a small child again, and after all the pain and loss she had suffered the past year of losing his dad, he was glad that he could ease her pain somewhat. She was blessed to have Ashlee in her care. Ashlee was a great kid that wouldn’t make it difficult for her.

The only difficulty would be parting from her again.

His omni-tool beeped and he knew he had to get going.

Kaidan kissed his mom on the cheek. “I’ll cvisit as soon as I can,” he said, and he was given a somewhat pained smile. Crouching down before Ashlee, she immediately went into his arms.

“Take care of my mom for me, okay?” he asked, and Ashlee nodded.

“We’ll manage. Stay safe, sweetie,” his mom said, placing her hands on Ashlee’s shoulders from behind. “Now, don’t take any form of risks. You better come back in one piece or I’ll be furious at you. Do you hear me?”

He chuckled. “Yes, ma’am.”


“Kaidan. Do you have a moment?”

Sam rarely called him by his first name only, so he knew that whatever it was, it was serious. He averted his eyes, taking note of how empty the place seemed, and the careful glances from the remaining crew.

“Yeah, sure. What’s going on?”

She motioned her head to their direction to walk, and he followed her over. When the doors shut behind them as they passed the room with the hollowed oval table, he cast a glance Sam’s way as she walked before him. She was fidgeting with her hands. When she looked over her shoulder, she blinked and offered him a careful smile. It didn’t take long before he stopped in the doorway to the war room. The crew was there. Garrus, Joker, Liara, Tali, Vega and even Miranda, who had dropped by earlier. He took note of Steve’s absence.

The majority didn’t want to meet his eye and he immediately knew what this was about.

“No,” Kaidan said, and held up a hand. “No, don’t give me that look.”

Liara stepped forward. “This whole situation is difficult for us all, Kaidan... although not as difficult as it is for you,” she said, her voice so penetratingly soft. “Believe me, we have tried everything.”

“We knew what our chances were,” Miranda added, her eyes full of compassion. “We just have to accept what’s happened.”

He met Garrus’ eye in the hope he’d back him up, but he shared the same look as the others. It was unbelievable. Garrus was the one who prominently believed that John would come back to them eventually, and now, even he had lost hope.

Kaidan’s expression fell. “Hell, not you too.”

“I’m sorry, Kaidan,” he muttered, and Kaidan found himself swallowing hard at the drainage in his voice. “You need to stop putting yourself through this. It’s not healthy. I know it’s difficult to fathom, but... Shepard isn’t the same Shepard as we know him. Continuing like this is going to eventually break you. You should just... you should just move on.”

Garrus fell into a pause. “He’s too far gone.”

“What if it was Tali, huh? Would you just give up?” Kaidan asked, far more hostile than intended. Garrus slowly averted his eyes as his mandibles clicked. Tali looked like she wanted to say something, but she simply rubbed her arm, her head bowed.

Kaidan scoffed. “Yeah, I didn’t think so.”

“Kaidan -” Liara tried, but he was already out of the room. Whether it was instinct or not, he made his way to Starboard Observation. He needed to clear his head. Reflect. Honestly, he didn’t want to see either of them right now.

They left him alone.

He couldn’t believe what just happened. Everyone -- John’s closest damn friends -- had given up on him. There was no way in hell that this was how things were supposed to go. There was no way that John was forever trapped within his own mind. There was no way that all hope was lost. Kaidan believed it, and hell, maybe that was enough. He appreciated that everyone wanted the best for him, that they hated seeing him as broken as he was these days, but he had never felt more alone in his whole life.

“Heavy stuff,” came Steve’s voice, and Kaidan’s eyes snapped open as he immediately was about to straighten. Steve held up a hand for him to relax, and so he did, sighing as he let his shoulders slump.

Kaidan looked away. “You here to tell me the same thing, huh?”

“No. Don’t worry. Mind if I join you?” he asked, and he could hear the smile in his voice. Kaidan shook his head in reply but kept his gaze fixated before him as he approached. “We always seem to end up like this, don’t we?”

Snorting at the subtle tease in Steve’s voice, Kaidan looked down, remembering how he had approached him after leaving London.

Steve leaned to the banister next to him. “You probably wonder why I wasn’t down there when they, uh... decided to share their thoughts with you. Truth is, I didn’t want to. It’s not the same thing, not really, but... I can imagine how you feel.”

“Robert?” he asked softly, still not looking at him.

He watched him nod from a side-view. “Yeah,” he replied. “You know... every time Robert and I fought, this small ray of hope seemed to be getting smaller and smaller, but it always came back. The same warmth and spark. Hell, I loved him. Still do. We always found back to each other. It might seem hopeless sometimes, like no matter how hard you try and what you do, nothing is going your way. Still, no matter how frustrated you are with your partner, you know you love them in the end. You realize you’ve been stupid pushing away the one person who cares for you the most.

“I’ve been on both ends. I’ve been stupid, made mistakes, been wrong. But there were instances where Robert knew he was wrong, too, and decided to man up and stop being so damn stubborn about it.”

Kaidan couldn’t help but grin.

Yeah.

He could definitely relate.

“This situation with you and Shepard? It’s no different,” Steve added, his voice certain. “Things were going great between you up until that point where he was being stupid. You’ll find back to each other. I know you will. I know because I’ve seen you two together. It’s real and it’s there.”

Kaidan’s smile had softened. “Thanks, Steve.”

“Anytime,” he replied, and pushed away from the banister. “Our guys are taking advantage of the fixed mass relays, returning to their homes, and the ship’s ready for departure. They told me to debrief you.”

He nodded. “I’ll be ready.”


In the message, Hackett had said that Bau was waiting for him, being his backup in case anything went wrong. Vega didn’t appreciate being on the sidelines, like always, but he followed orders.

It felt rather strange commanding a ship other than the Normandy, and why Hackett didn’t let him use her, he didn’t really know.

Kaidan had to go in alone for it to be their best chance at solving this peacefully. Ace did apparently not know that he had been exposed, so he had nothing to fear, only having to come up with a good excuse for being there. Something felt off about the whole thing, but then again, it could be because he liked Ace. It was difficult to see him as a bad guy.

“Major Alenko,” came EDI’s voice, over an omni-tool voice-link. “I was recently in the Presidium and monitored whatever information I could store about Lieutenant Ace Hunt from the security cameras. I have come across suspicious video footage of Mr. Hunt, whom I can recall, is the primary objective of your mission. The footage depicts severe graphical violence. I would suggest watching after the food you might have ingested will have had the time to be digested.”

He hadn’t eaten in a while anyway, having lost his appetite, deciding to just grab an energy bar in the shuttle.

“Patch it through.”

“As you wish.”

Please be a misunderstanding...

The footage showed a human C-Sec officer tapping at a terminal, his nose deep in his work before a shadowy figure appeared behind him. He could barely recognize what was happening before the officer lay on the floor, the butt of a pistol having rendered him unconscious, and the next scene of Ace standing over him with arms folded across his chest appearing before him -- looking down at the man tied up in a chair and half-beaten to death -- Ace not even having bothered to cover his face as if he wanted to be caught.

Teeth had been knocked out, a lot of blood was spilled, and a pair of scissors stuck out from the man’s popped kneecap.

“I’ll ask again... Where was Commander Shepard transferred?” came Ace’s voice, without emotion.

The man was breathing hard, his head bowed and heavy, blood dripping from his nose and across his mouth in languid drops. Kaidan took note of the three unconscious C-Sec officers in the picture. Probably waking another one up if one lost too much blood. One of them, a turian, lay dead beside him. Fresh, blue blood emerged from his lifeless body, filling the cracks in the floor. Probably his first torture victim.

The officer cracked.

“He... he’s in an Alliance facility at Rhode Island.”

Ace released his arms. “Thank you for your cooperation.”

“W –wait! Please!” the man called, as Ace casually turned a gun on him with a deadpan expression. “Please don’t kill me! I -I have a wife and, and child... a little boy. He turns 2 years old this week.”

“He’ll live.”

The gunshot went off.

Moving two fingers to his earpiece, Ace said, “Dr. Toshiwa. I’ve got the location right here. I’ll update you when I get back as I suspect the Alliance is listening in on our frequency. I’ll be there in a couple days. Hunt out.”

The feed shut off.

Kaidan was speechless, staring at the now black screen before him, as he had never before seen Ace so merciless. Cruel. When in Ace’s company, he had been kind, wanting to help whomever he could. It didn’t make any sense. Not even a little.

Was it all just an act?

“Major Alenko?” EDI asked, and he snapped back.

He cleared his throat. “Yeah, I’m good. It’s just... I never thought... yeah.”

After contacting HQ about the news, that Toshiwa possibly knew about John’s location, they told him they’d enforce the security. He also decided to contact Vega who had been body guarding John during his first transfer. John was being transferred again, most likely to Arcturus Station for maximized surveillance, and Hackett probably wanted Vega to be there.

He had to pass this mission.

“So... EDI, can you rewind to 59.7 for me? Near the end. I think I saw something,” Kaidan said, and she obeyed. The frame showed Ace looking up at the camera with a strange blue glow in his eyes.

Kaidan frowned. “EDI?”

“I have insufficient data on this subject, but the glint in his eye is somewhat similar to that glint of an indoctrinated human being, but not quite the same. His eyes do not carry any of the three orbs. I cannot comprehend what this might be.”

Something was definitely wrong.

*

The huge facility lay in complete silence, an eerie silence ushering through, having goosebumps prickle his skin. His firearm wasn’t drawn, Hackett’s orders, as they wanted this to end peacefully. Take Ace into custody and avoid any kind of bloodshed. When he pushed up the next door, he saw a team of eleven, and he froze. Kaidan let his eyes wander. Ace was sitting at a table while putting bullets into a magazine. His ankle squared over his knee. When he looked up from his shotgun, his expression immediately softened, a hint of relief in his eyes.

It was so far away from the demeanor he’d seen on the vid and that was why it didn’t make any sense.

“Kaidan, thank god. Took your damn time, huh?” he asked, subtle tease in his voice as he pulled up from the table. Kaidan still itched after reaching for his firearm when Ace approached him. “Glad to see a familiar face.”

He expected me?

Kaidan cleared his throat. “I, uh... I thought you were alone.”

“Well... if we’re taking down Toshiwa, we need to be prepared, right?” he replied, before glancing over his shoulder. Kaidan felt Ace’s hand grasp his bicep, and his throat tightened, expecting to be overpowered and rendered immobile. Just as he was about to draw his gun, he hesitated, realizing that he was only lead a few more feet away from the others.

Ace’s hand dropped. “I’m thankful you’re here,” he added, having lowered his voice. He looked downright worried. “These guys? They’ve been giving me weird looks ever since I arrived. I don’t have a damn clue who they are.”

Something hit him. “W -wait, Toshiwa’s here?”

“Of... of course he is,” he replied, frowning. “Hackett didn’t debrief you?”

What?

Flagging it off and shaking his head, Kaidan said, “The Admiral sent me here to talk about why you went off-grid.” He watched as Ace frowned deeply, his expression quizzical, although he remained quiet. “Look, I really don’t want this to end badly. I, uh... I’m aware you have me outnumbered by twelve, including you, but I really just want to talk. Nothing brash. We clear?”

“I -what? That doesn’t make any sense,” he replied, his confused expression mirroring Kaidan’s thoughts. “Hell, Hackett himself sent me here to bring Dr. Toshiwa back into custody. Told me to stay off-comm until I met up with you and the rest of the team.”

Ace shot a thumb over his shoulder. “Which I assume... these guys.”

What the hell?

He didn’t get to ask before he heard firearms cock all around them.

Slamming his eyes shut, Kaidan clenched his jaw. When he opened them again, the team had surrounded them with raised firearms, and they both were forced to hold up their hands in surrender. The look on Ace’s face, his eyes tightly shut, said “shit.” The moment had been too heated for him to pay attention to their surroundings.

He regretted that now.

“Well, well... look who’s here,” came the same voice he’d earlier heard. “Looks like my plan to get you both here worked.”

Toshiwa.

Those orders never came from Hackett.

Chapter Text

It was Shepard’s third transfer in mere months and Hackett still kept him in the dark.

That was until he met up with him before heading for Arcturus Station.

On impulse, Shepard snapped a salute.

Hackett held up a hand. “At ease, soldier. You’re on leave,” he said, allowing him to let his arm drop to his side. “My knowledge is only limited to reports from the staff. How are you doing, Shepard?”

“I’m... fine,” he replied, frowning. “Sorry, sir. But I feel like my well-being is not the reason why you’re here.”

Standing in the doorway, ready to have him transferred, Vega had his arms folded across his chest. Shepard had noticed that he hadn’t been as relaxed and laid-back as he used to. If anything, he looked drained, if not sorrowful.

He immediately knew that something wasn’t right.

Hackett clasped his hands behind his back. “I’ll just cut right to the chase and drop the small-talk. I won’t lie to you, Shepard. Things are a little dicey these days. As you already know, Dr. Toshiwa has gone to great lengths in an attempt to get ahold of you. We won’t let that happen. Either way, his persistence in seeing this through is taking its toll on our resources and operatives alike. We’re playing with a loaded gun in our investigation into tracking him. I take no pleasure in what I’m about to say.

“Someone hacked into our systems and wrote orders in my name. Sent one of our officers on a mission I know nothing about,” he added, and Shepard found himself frowning. He avoided the use of names. Something told him this ‘officer’ was someone he knew. “Cerberus hacked our channels, falsified intel and voice recordings to make it appear genuine. I’m sure you’ve noted Lieutenant Ace Hunt’s absence.”

Of course there was more to it.

“Is he okay?” he asked, preparing for the worst.

Hackett took a moment before speaking. “Lieutenant Hunt was the one who did it,” he replied, and Shepard felt his throat go tight. “We’ve recovered security footage of Hunt torturing C-Sec officers, killing two and knocking several unconscious in the Presidium. The evidence is undeniable. It’s no hocus-pocus gimmick. The lieutenant set us up, stabbed us in the back while we were down. We were wrong to trust him. His mind has been indoctrinated. Poisoned. He’s not the same.”

Ace wouldn’t do this, he thought, refusing to believe it. For fuck’s sake, he *couldn’t.*

“Admiral,” he tried carefully. “With all due respect, I know Ace. There has to have been some kind of drugs in his system. Anything that indicate his mind wasn’t this own. If he’s dirty, he’s dirty, but I refuse to throw him under the bus before I know for certain.”

“You two have history, and Hunt was a good kid, so I understand where you’re coming from. I just want you to be aware what we’re facing,” he replied. “We’ve already sent Alliance units out in the traverse to look for him. As Cerberus is so deeply involved, we’ve managed to reduce our search to the Horse Head Nebula, but it’s still a whole damn system. Thankfully, a map that was retrieved on Sanctum will help a great deal. The best chance we have at finding him is if he contacts us. Toshiwa still holds a grudge, and if dirty, Hunt will attempt to get in contact with you.”

Shepard nodded wistfully. “I’ll keep an eye out.”

“Good. You’re being transferred to Arcturus Station where you’re as safe as you can be in Alliance Space, but until you get there, you’re still an open target. That’s why I left the Fifth Fleet to come speak to you personally. If we’re lucky, it’ll go off without a hitch.”

“Admiral,” said a marine standing in the doorway, and Hackett nodded.

“I need to get back to it. There’s a lot to do. I’ll update you when we have new intel,” Hackett said and turned to the door. He stopped briefly and looked at him over his shoulder. “I’m sorry, Shepard.”

...and then he was gone.

Shepard knew there was something he wasn’t telling him.

“Vega, what’s going on?”

“It’s not my place to debrief you, Loco. I’m sorry. I’ve got orders from the higher-ups to keep quiet. C’mon, we gotta go,” he replied and tipped his head in the direction of the door as he released his arms. For a moment, Shepard just stood there. He took a deep breath, breathing it out steadily, as he shut his eyes. It didn’t take long before he trailed after.

The calmness of the situation was quickly interrupted as they stepped through the door.

Shepard pulled the grey hoodie well over his head, but the damage had already been done, camera flashes being all around him as he was moving towards the skycar that would have him transferred.

Somehow, the people had gotten word of his survival. It was all over the news vids. All over the extranet.

He had felt his pulse quickening, the blinding lights and sounds proving to be too much, taking him back to the war. To the fight. A headache was mercilessly brewing up deep in his skull. He was wobbly, cold sweat dripping down his forehead and neck, nearly supporting himself on Vega who was shielding him against the cameras, and he felt like he was about to throw up.

Everything was a haze, unfocused, pupils fleeting as he saw silhouettes from the white light like unyielding shadows that had been apparent in his nightmares. Oily shadows. Whispers. They spoke, all of them, but the words were unclear.

“Com...der Shepard! The world ... know you’re alive!”

“Is Com...der Shepard ... lockup again? What ... done this time? ... blow up another relay?”

“Com...der Shepard! Humanity ... questions!”

“Is ... really Com...der Shepard ... another clone ... hidden from us? ... Cerberus involved ... recovery? ... fear ... gone back to ... enemy?”

“Com...der Shepard! Where you ... who killed David Anderson?”

In but a moment, he was back in London, running as fast as his legs could carry him as lasers targeted the soldiers around him. Evaporating them. Erasing them from existence. He heard screams, gunfire, explosions.

...and the echoing voices of the reapers.

/“Serve us...”/
/“Why do you persist?”/
/“Serve us!”/
/“You resist. But you will fail.”/
/“SERVE US!”/

A headache came in its full force, pushing against his temples, scraping on the inside like a dozen untrimmed thorn bushes. The lights nearly blinded him even though he wore sunglasses, security officers holding the crowd back, as he was quick on his shaky steps with Vega before him. In the commotion, he nearly tripped on his own foot, but Vega caught him by the arm and kept him standing.

Shepard knew that ratings were the only damn thing the majority of reporters cared about, not giving two fucks about the subject they were covering, as long as they got clicks. Credits were key. Even today.

When they finally got to the car, he fell into a seat, and the blissful sound of a door shutting behind him nearly had him relax. On the other side, Vega sat down, and he could finally work on controlling his breathing when the car started moving. His hands were balled into fists, nail digging into the otherwise somber flesh, knuckles white. Head bowed. Heavy. Brows knitted together.

Vega threw his head to the backrest with a heavy sigh, his eyes closed, arms folded across his chest.

“Shit, that was pretty intense, no?” came Vega’s voice, snapping him out of it.

He shook his head. “Just... I need to get out of here.”

“I get it, man -Dios Mío!” Vega called, as another wave of flashes channeled the window. Shepard jerked back from it, wide-eyed clutching the seat until his knuckles once again turned white.

The private driver rolled up the window covers, taking the hint, presenting them with a deafening darkness.

Ripping off the sunglasses, Shepard pulled down the hood, elbows on his knees as he buried his face in his hands. His heart was ramming against his ribcage. Sweat pouring down. His breathing had quickened further.

Vega’s eyes snapped open. “Holy shit, Loco... you okay?”

He didn’t answer, again trying to regain control of his breathing, and the words were once again blurry. Vega had turned to the driver. They shared a brief conversation. When he tilted his chin up, the world around him seemed unfocused, unclear. Vega was looking at him with concern. Tightly shutting his eyes, Shepard looked away, pressing his forehead to the backrest pad of the seat before him as if it would cool him down somewhat. It didn’t help. Not even a little. He just knew he needed to get out.

What the fuck is happening to me?


“Drop your guns,” Toshiwa said, and Kaidan swallowed hard. With careful movements, both he and Ace did what they were told, and kicked their firearms away. “That’s better.”

Ace frowned. “The hell do you want with us, Toshiwa?”

“Isn’t it obvious? Information,” he replied, smirking. “When I sent a team to... obtain him... at Rhode Island, he wasn’t there, and I haven’t had the time to look for him as I had some business to take care of. I won’t rest until I have Commander Shepard’s head on a spike.”

“Why?” Kaidan asked, choosing his words carefully. “I get that Cerberus bailed you out, but you don’t owe them anything.”

Toshiwa scowled deeply. “I’m not doing this for Cerberus, major,” he snapped, putting heavy emphasis on the last word. “Illusive Man can go rot wherever the hell he is as he took his precious time sending an operative after me. Figured I was expendable.”

“Kahlee, then?”

Toshiwa froze, his nostrils flaring, and Kaidan watched his hand ball into a fist. He didn’t mean to provoke him although it did seem like he had a short fuse. He had wounded his pride. Brought up an incident where a woman overpowered him.

He needed to be careful.

“The Illusive Man, or Jack Harper if you will, questioned my expertise,” he replied, venom in his words. “I, as that bitch Lawson, wanted to implement a control chip. He refused. I wasn’t directly involved in his reconstruction, as Illusive Man figured I wasn’t fit for the job after an incident at Grissom in 83, but I had seen documents. Files. Heard conversations. Kahlee had a... factor in my enthusiasm... and killing off one of the Alliance’s best operatives, who also happened to be close to her dear Anderson, seemed to be a solution that would fit nicely.

“Killing Kahlee wouldn’t benefit me. I had to target her loved ones. I wanted her to suffer. I planned Commander Shepard’s death already back when he was under the Lazarus Project. I wanted to get back at the Illusive Man, and since he put precious resources into his little soldier, it was a wondrous opportunity to disrupt his plans and ruin the one thing he spent billions of credits on. In other words, it’s nothing personal.”

Feeling undervalued, getting back at Kahlee, getting back at the Illusive Man. All those were factors. Kaidan had foreseen them all, but now, he knew his full drive. If only Hackett listened to him from the beginning.

He knew exactly how John had felt back when everyone denied the reapers’ existence.

“Now, Mr. Hunt here has already proved his usefulness,” Toshiwa added, shifting his eyes between the two. “He has nothing more to give me, and that... is why you are here, Major Alenko.”

“Then why did you bring him here?” Kaidan asked, his voice a warning.

Toshiwa just smirked. “Simple...” he muttered, before pulling out a dagger. Then the butt of an assault rifle capped Ace in the back of his knee, forcing him onto the ground with a pained groan, directing the barrel at his head.

“Bargaining chip,” Toshiwa finished, and gestured to two operatives. “Restrain him.”

They tightly grabbed onto Ace’s arms, yanking him back onto his feet, and the icy glare that Ace held towards Toshiwa told him exactly what he felt about the whole thing. He was staring him down, and Toshiwa seemed to be shifting somewhat nervously, but looked away. Toshiwa knew he had the upper hand and that was enough to contain his ego.

“Don’t play into his games, Kaidan,” Ace said, his voice modulated. “Don’t tell him a damn thing. Not a word. You hear me -?”

He was only to take a hit to the face. Ace winced at the impact and Kaidan shut his eyes. When he opened them again, blood emerged from Ace’s left nostril, but the lieutenant simply pinned Toshiwa with another glare as lips drew into a thin line. His expression said nothing but, “I can take this,” and Kaidan knew he could. What he didn’t know was how far Toshiwa would go to get his information. That very thought concerned him.

He must’ve been bluffing.

Before he could recollect his thoughts, a gunshot followed by a gut-wrenching shout rang out, and blood started emerging from Ace’s shoulder. Kaidan took a step forward, only to be held back by three of them, preventing his interference.

He wasn’t bluffing.

“You know, Hunt... this look really doesn’t suit you,” Toshiwa mused. Kaidan’s breath got stuck in his throat when Toshiwa placed the tip of the dagger below Ace’s eye, his gaze yet unwavering, forcefully tilting his head up that created a cut in his cheek.

Then he lined the dagger up horizontally, a direct cut at his pulse, and Toshiwa looked at him.

“Just... just stop, okay?” Kaidan asked, feeling desperate. “I’ll tell you. Just... stop.”

Arching a brow, Toshiwa seemed to think it over. A moment of suffocating silence went by. Kaidan could breathe out when the dagger was removed from Ace’s throat. Ace exhaled, his head bowing down heavily, brows knit in a deep frown.

“Kaidan. Don’t,” he tried softly, looking at him with pleading eyes. “Please.”

“Touching,” Toshiwa murmured in sarcasm, and pulled away “...but we all know what happens if you don’t give me what I want, major. The choice is yours -- let this innocent man here die... or let the man who willingly killed thousands in his youth and even more in his adulthood get what he deserves. We all know who you regard the highest, and you can be selfish if you want, but we both know that’s not your style. Come to think of it, this is a matter of integrity... isn’t it?” Kaidan clenched his jaw. “I’ll give you some time to decide.”

Toshiwa waved at an operative. “Disrupt their omni-tools.”

With some kind of device, she guided a hand across them, and a zapping sound was heard as the orange displays flickered with a small spark that nearly blinded him. It didn’t take long before they were both brought to some sort of isolated compartment, looking like an interrogation room, although there was no one-side mirror present.

They pushed Ace into him, and Kaidan clasped his arms, keeping him upraised.

When the door shut after them, Kaidan applied pressure on the bullet wound with his hand, the red substance pouring down mercilessly. He’d already gone weak and was losing blood too quickly, so he knew he had to do something. Kaidan guided him down on the floor to sit, and Ace groaned, taking after his shoulder after he was advised to put pressure on it.

“Always seem to get my ass handed to me, huh?” he muttered, light humor in his tone. A smile tugged at the corners of Kaidan’s lips but quickly faltered, crouching down before him. “Thanks.” Kaidan looked up, and after a brief moment of shared eye-contact, the green hue fell to the floor. Ace shook his head. “I appreciate you standing up for me, but... you’re not planning on telling them, are you?”

“No,” he replied, and sighed. “No, I’m not telling them anything. I just bought us some time.” Everything he could think of right now was getting that bullet out. “Hold still. This is going to hurt.”

Kaidan put his thumb and forefinger on each side of the wound, separating the sides from each other, hearing Ace’s muffled groan. He muttered a, “sorry,” but continued his examination nonetheless. He had to make sure that it wouldn’t get infected to reduce the discomfort. The bullet wasn’t too far in. He brought up his omni-tool, and thankfully, it was just the comm-link that was disabled. The medi-gel was still present. They didn’t exactly have any pliers, so Kaidan pulled off his gauntlet and sanitized his fingers with the substance, warning him before he reached for the bullet.

After a brief struggle, he got it out, and threw the bullet onto the floor with a *clink* before it rolled away.

Ace exhaled a breath he had apparently held, and his shoulders slumped, allowing him to relax. He covered the wound with medi-gel, nearly taking the whole filter before he ripped part of his underarm off to use as a bandage. After wrapping up his shoulder, he grasped Ace’s chin, and applied medi-gel to the cut as well.

“You shouldn’t have taken the heat.”

Kaidan frowned “...and watch them beat you to death?”

“It’s better than the alternative.”

“I’m not letting you become a martyr, for god’s sake.”

Ace smiled somewhat. “Hey, don’t get me wrong... I’d like to avoid that, myself. Still, I’d gladly take one for the team. Judging by what just happened back there, you’re not a stranger to that yourself.”

Kaidan would’ve wanted the same in his place.

“All right, point taken.”

Nevertheless, something was digging deep in his thoughts and he needed an answer to those doubts he was having because Ace obviously wasn’t allied with Toshiwa after what just happened. Nothing of this explained the footage he’d seen. There was also the matter of that blue glow he had seen in his eyes. The perpetrator looked exactly like Ace, terrifyingly enough, which didn’t add up.

“I’d still like to know about the video footage I saw you in,” Kaidan said, letting his hands drop. “Right there on the Citadel three days ago.”

Ace blinked. “Video footage? What the hell? I haven’t been on the Citadel in weeks, not since -” he began, but cut himself off. “Not since... the day of Shepard’s transfer, come to think of it.” He watched him as he frowned deeply. “The hell did that footage show, anyway?”

“It showed you torturing and killing a C-Sec officer,” he replied, and sat down next to him.

Green eyes went wide.

“What?” he asked, seeming out of breath. “I’d never... Hell, back when I worked for them, yeah. I told you I had to do some messed up things to gain their trust and some of those things consisted of murder. Maybe they planted old footage, or -Was it EDI who found it?” Kaidan nodded. “EDI doesn’t make mistakes. This... this can’t be real. Someone’s setting me up, ‘cause I swear to god, I’d never do that.”

He believed him.

The shock in his voice was proof of that.

“Any thoughts on how they managed to fake it?”

Ace shook his head. “Probably another of Cerberus’ fucked up inventions,” he grumbled, obviously conflicted about this. Kaidan couldn’t blame him. Something similar happened with John and that clone, after all, so it wasn’t impossible.

“Cerberus is advanced, as we’ve already agreed on, but I don’t know the details about what technology they have,” Ace added. “I pulled some strings while I was at Minuteman Station, but the closer I got to any form of intel, the less access I had. I’m not important enough to conserve resources for a clone, either, so we can scratch that off the list.” Ace shook his head again, his eyes weary, and he sighed. “Believe me, I want to know exactly how the hell these fuckers managed to frame me like this.”

Understandable.

He remembered John telling him he hadn’t seen Ace since then. The day of his transfer. He didn’t know that he’d been gone, as Hackett hadn’t informed him of his absence, suspecting that they’d been together at that point.

After a moment, Kaidan asked, “Why did you leave?”

Silence.

“I, uh... I saw John’s dog tags.”

Kaidan’s expression immediately fell.

“It didn’t take long before I found out what was going on,” he added with a smile and shrugged. “I asked around. Liara was the one to tell me, or... rather slip-up. I had Admiral Hackett assign me to different missions so I could give him some space. Give you two some time to reconnect. What John and I had is in the past, and to be honest, I’ve unconsciously known that ever since I got back. That’s why I took it easy. Just... I’m glad it’s you. You’re good for him.” His features mellowed. “I’m sorry. Hell, if I knew, I wouldn’t’ve -”

“You didn’t know.”

“Still doesn’t make me feel like less of an ass.”

“Then take to heart that he’s been improving a great deal, which I know you have a lot to do about, so just... thanks. He needed you, hell, needs you... and I’m glad you were there for him when I couldn’t.”

No matter how much it hurt seeing you together, he thought, but didn’t want to add to his guilt.

Ace smiled. “Just remember inviting me to the wedding if I get out of here.”

“When you get out of here,” he corrected him.

Kaidan would make sure of that, because hell, he wasn’t about to have John lose Ace a second time. He’d do whatever was in his power for him to make it out safely. Even if he was forced to stay behind.

“I hope you’re right. So... we good?” Ace asked.

It was the same thing he asked back when he had him at gunpoint.

“We’re good.”

“Good,” he replied and shut his eyes tightly. “All right, my ass is sleeping.”

Kaidan shook his head, smiling somewhat, and pushed up from the floor. He was starting to feel some numbness of his own. Holding out a hand, Ace accepted his offer for help, and he pulled him onto his feet.

Nevertheless, the mood was back to its grim roots.

They were in a bad place right now. When they had made their way towards this compartment, he’d glimpsed dozens of Atlas mechs. The place appeared to be some sort of facility where they were being produced. Even if they did get out, they’d have Toshiwa’s troops on their heels, and the chance of making it out of this alive was slim.

Softly, Ace asked, “You do realize if you don’t tell them now... you’re the one who’s going to suffer, right?”

Kaidan was well-aware he was the one racing against the clock. He’d never tell them about John’s location, and with that in mind, he knew what was coming. This place was his last stand.

“I know,” he said simply.

He just wished he could’ve made peace between them before all this happened.

This time, he was the one leaving John behind.

Chapter Text

“Hey, Loco. Someone insisted on seeing you,” Vega said, folding his arms across his chest. He stepped aside from the doorway, and Jack pushed in, her eyes burning with anger and a lip drawn up to reveal gritted teeth.

“Jack?” Shepard asked, but couldn’t connect the dots before a fist nearly knocked him on his ass. “What the -?!”

Vega’s brows shot up, but he did nothing, watching the scene play out.

“WHAT THE FUCK IS WRONG WITH YOU?!”

Touching his lower lip with two fingers, he licked the inside of his mouth to feel the taste of blood. He pulled his hand away again to see the dark red substance and looked up to meet an unwavering glare.

Shepard clenched his jaw, keeping his anger at bay. “What the hell are you talking about?”

“What do you think, asshole? Kaidan ‘love of your fucking life’ Alenko!” she snapped, but Shepard’s deadpan demeanor remained true. “You’re a dick! For fuck’s sake, your sorry ass isn’t even worth all this shit! You got fucking amnesia, forgot fucking everything about him, and now this ‘Ace’ fucker shows up and ruins everything!”

“Don’t put this on him,” he warned.

“What? You going to cry, huh?” she asked, grinning as she stepped up only to have inches separate them. “That little shit can speak for himself but it’s obvious you can’t. Kaidan was too much of a fucking pussy to tell you, so I’m making it completely clear. You. Were. Fucking and you. Were. In. Love. You were so disgustingly sweet I wanted to throw up!”

“My personal life is none of your business, Jack.”

“That’s where you’re wrong, shitface,” she murmured, wearing the same feral look. He could swear her eyes watered. Her voice turned strangled. “Your well-being is my fucking business. Kaidan’s well-being is my fucking business. So don’t you dare say it isn’t.”

“I’m fine.”

She scoffed. “Yeah. Keep telling yourself that. Well, you know what? Kaidan isn’t fucking fine. He’s fucking broken.”

“Too bad,” he said simply as he was about to pass her, but a pain seeped up through his body when nails dug into his shoulder. His back was slammed into the wall. Her forearm pressed at his throat, keeping him there, but allowing him to breathe. Bewildered, he looked at her, moving his pupils to Vega who still did nothing. Jack was breathing heavily, her nostrils and biotics flaring.

Shepard thought she was going to kill him.

“Kaidan doesn’t deserve a single fucking harsh word thrown upon him,” she murmured, her glare pinning him. “Give me one good fucking reason why you bitched out like a pussy.”

“Because the last guy I trusted misused me. So sorry if I decide to fuck off when someone decides to throw lies in my face.”

Jack scowled deeply at him. “One fucking guy? At Pragia, they were taking fucking turns with me, and I still trust people,” she replied, voice raw with emotion. Shepard’s expression mellowed. The hurt of shade in her dark brown eyes was apparent. “You know what a broken heart does to you? It makes you reckless. Fucking stupid.”

He remembered those stories Jack had told him and knew just how familiar she was with all this.

“Kaidan is MIA,” she finished softly, and he felt his throat tighten. “I spoke to him as late as fucking two days ago, and now...? That mission he was on will most likely kill him if it hasn’t already. He made a fucking mistake... and you’re going to hold that against him for the rest of his life. You’re a real piece of work, Shep. He’s the only fucking one who hasn’t given up on your sorry ass.

“Think about that when you see his picture in the obituaries,” she murmured, pulling away. The pressure was released on his throat, and he inhaled deeply, taking after it as he watched her leave.

He found himself swallowing hard.

This was the part that Hackett avoided debriefing him about.


“Any ideas how to get out of here?” Ace asked.

“If we can, we’ll try to get in touch with a radio or something. Call the Normandy. I’m sure the ship that brought me here was part of this scheme,” he replied and surveyed the room. “After that, we try to locate our gear. Fight our way out if we have to. If we’re lucky, reinforcements on our side will arrive in time for us to get a quick getaway. I only hope it’s still nighttime to make this easier. I’ve lost track of time.”

“You’re the boss. I think I saw a crack in the wall back there,” he said, pointing with his good arm. “Look around for something heavy, and we’ll have this baby open in no time. Let’s just... hope it doesn’t lead straight off a cliff.”

“Here,” Kaidan said, carrying a fire extinguisher. “This’ll do nicely.”

“Nice. C’mon, it’s right over here.” Moving up to it, Kaidan escalated the object and started beating at the wall. They were highly isolated so there was little chance anyone would hear them. “Let me know when you need me to take over.”

“Not with your shoulder,” he replied.

“Kaidan, I’m good -”

“Bullshit.”

“I’m serious.”

“Christ, you’re worse than John.”

“That’s impossible,” Ace murmured, and he could’ve sworn the man was pouting at him. He and John sure as hell had a lot of similarities. Kaidan couldn’t help but smile as he rolled his eyes.

After about twenty minutes, finally having convinced Ace that he should take it easy, the wall was fragile.

Exchanging a glance, they hoped for the best, and Kaidan dropped the fire extinguisher. They nodded at each other and kicked, hard, and the wall fell. They were presented by a giant hole that they both were able to squeeze through. There was no cliff, either, so there’s that. Kaidan’s hands fell to his knees. He chuckled in relief, still somewhat out of breath, conserving his energy.

“After you,” Ace said, and followed after he stepped through.

Now came the difficult part. The first part of their escape was to try locating the room holding the electricity, and by doing that, they could at least make it easier by shutting off the lights. Locating the place was a pain in itself, but the guards patrolling the perimeter were still very much there, forcing them to carefully avoid them. His only hope was that the guards didn’t notice their absence. They managed to find what they were looking for, and thanks to Tali’s expertise, Kaidan managed to find the best way to make it happen.

A spark filled the area, and Ace jerked back with a groan, having stood just a little too close. Kaidan’s eyes went wide, but before he got the chance to ask, Ace had the answer ready for him.

“Ugh, I think... I think that damn thing messed up my implant. It’s like something’s blocking it or something.”

“Can you use your biotics?”

Ace closed his eyes tightly, and a flicker of the blue aura surrounded him, only to dissolve again.

He groaned. “Fuck, it... it’s burning.”

It was up to Kaidan now if they ran into any form of resistance.

The power they had just cut would only be gone for about ten minutes. Together with the Atlas mechs, they had also located the escape shuttles, being their plan of getting out in case they couldn’t get in contact with the Normandy. It was however risky to take an escape shuttle when Cerberus knew they were out. It would only take seconds for those Atlas mechs to blow it out of the sky before they even got remotely close to the concrete soil. The facility was big, so they had a lot of ground to cover, and little time.

“Oh, for fuck’s sake!” came a female voice, and Kaidan pulled Ace behind cover. “The damn power went out again.”

Another voice, male this time, said, “You don’t think they escaped... do you?”

“What, those Alliance jarheads? Hell no. That place is impenetrable. Unless you were stupid enough to forget locking the damn door,” she replied and sighed loudly. “You remembered to lock the fucking door, right?”

“Of course I did!”

“Then what the hell are you worried about?”

“I don’t know.”

“If it’s that ‘concerning,’ go check for yourself.”

Crap.

“Shit,” Ace whispered, as the man headed towards the direction of their cell.

Kaidan shook his head. “We can get up behind him once he passes. Disarm him. You need a weapon now when your implant’s rattled anyways,” he whispered back, and they waited. Soon after, the guard stepped two feet before them, and Ace pushed forward. In a swift motion, his good arm clasped around the guard’s neck, who managed to let out a small gasp.

Then Kaidan spotted the second guard that they had thought left. “Damn it!”

But Ace had seen him too, and as he disarmed the one he held, he immediately lifted the firearm to the guard’s temple and spun him his direction. Using him as a human shield.

“They’re in here!” she called, and twelve operatives emerged.

“Ah, shit...” Ace murmured but didn’t let up his firm grip as Cerberus stepped up with raised firearms. It was probably the only reason he was still alive. The guards hesitated, Kaidan’s hands in the air until Toshiwa stepped up with a chuckle.

“I admire your dedication!” he called, giving them a slow clap. “I take this is a ‘no’ from your part, Alenko?”

Kaidan clenched his jaw. “I’m afraid so.”

“Ah, such a shame...” Before Kaidan had the time to recollect his thoughts, Toshiwa’s hand was by his belt, and a shuriken crossed the distance swiftly. A direct throat-cut at the guard in Ace’s grasp. The guard gurgled, blood springing like a red fountain, Ace wide-eyed as he let up his grip and watched the man fall before his feet and took one step back. On impulse, Kaidan stepped forward, placing himself between the two.

Ace had directed the gun at Toshiwa.

Toshiwa shook his head. “You know how I survived for so long? Because I had the will to do what others would not,” he replied, eyes falling to the dead man and shrugged. “Expendable. See?”

“You’re certainly quick to betray your own,” Ace said, and then the power was turned back on.

“I could say the same about you, ‘Wright’.”

Ace scowled deeply. “Do you have a damn clue how many restless nights I had after you had me do Cerberus’ dirty work?” he snapped, his eyes burning with fury. “Those experiments, those murders, the... the torture? I was disgusted by the whole thing. What I had done. I was following orders from Alliance brass... so go to hell. I was never one of you sick fucks.”

“Oh, but that’s where you’re wrong,” Toshiwa replied, and Kaidan saw a puzzled frown breach Ace’s brow. “Did you really think that we were reckless enough to simply let you join our ranks after your association with Commander Shepard?”

Toshiwa fell into a pause. “Lieutenant... please dispose of Major Alenko.”

“What the actual fuck makes you think that I would -?” Ace began, but then Toshiwa held up a small device. It didn’t look like any grenade he’d ever seen, so hell, what was it? Toshiwa’s thumb ghosted over a button, and he pressed, in a single movement.

With a pained groan, Ace hunched over, taking after his head.

“Ace...?” Kaidan tried carefully, but then he saw him straighten. Slowly, Ace turned towards him. His pupils were glowing blue, no emotion on his face, looking like an empty shell of himself. Kaidan’s breath got stuck in his throat when the firearm was only inches away from his own temple. In his peripheral vision, Ace’s finger twitched towards the mechanism, but Toshiwa held up a hand and stopped him.

Kaidan’s lips pressed into a thin line.

Control chip.

Cerberus had planted a damn control chip in him.

That explained the video footage.

Ace twitched briefly, and for a moment, he was back to himself. His breath hitched. Managing to process the situation, he went wide-eyed, his body shaking somewhat as if he was fighting it. The brief consciousness he might have experienced was only to vanish. Back to no emotion.

That spark of electricity that hit him earlier.

Convenient.

Maybe it was easier to fight now.

“Huh. Looks like his implant has been damaged somewhat. Doesn’t work as effectively anymore. Fascinating!” Toshiwa called, eyes glistening with young enthusiasm. He calmly paced over and stopped when he stood before them. “Seems like the tables have turned. So, as you can see, we took a few precautions before we let Mr. Hunt here out of our clutches. I mentioned how Lawson wanted a control chip in Shepard, but he was invaluable, and we couldn’t risk damaging him. Hunt, here...”

Toshiwa patted Ace’s shoulder. “He’s expendable. Useful, but expendable. I was the one who fitted him with implants, and while the other doctors weren’t looking, I added a chip to his arsenal. Clever, right? No one suspected a thing.”

Cerberus truly were sick bastards.

“Well. I certainly haven’t given up on you yet, Alenko. You’ll break somehow. Everyone does,” Toshiwa said, and waved his hand. “Mr. Hunt. Please, if you could be so kind... shoot him in the foot or something. It’ll probably extinguish some of his undeniable moral.”

Ace’s finger itched for the trigger. Kaidan shut his eyes. Awaiting the sharp pain.

The gunshot sounded.

“Kaidan, go!” was the next thing he heard, strangled, as he heard the gun drop to the floor with a clatter. When he opened his eyes again, Ace was hunched over, a bullet hole having left its mark to Kaidan’s right placed straight into the wall.

/“K, go! Now.”/

Not again.

He wasn’t going to repeat that.

Kaidan only briefly saw the horror in Toshiwa’s eyes before he threw himself towards the gun, raised it, and took the shot. It grazed Toshiwa’s shoulder that in return re-opened the wound he got at Minuteman Station, and that half of his body staggered back, taking after it. The device flew out of his grasp, hitting the concrete floor, out of reach. Kaidan rendered seven of the operatives immobile with a Throw before he fired another shot at the device, ruining it. Ace was back in control of himself.

Just as he was about to take the final shot, the operatives stepped towards with raised assault rifles, spraying bullets their way.

“We’ve gotta go, the shuttles are up there!” he called, grasping Ace’s good arm and yanked him behind a close wall. They took to running, Cerberus heavy on their heel with two Atlas mechs as the alarm was set off until he glimpsed what he was looking for.

Kaidan made a decision long time ago.

He pushed Ace in and punched the shuttle’s door-close button.

“What the hell are you doing?!” Ace called, enraged.

“Those Atlas mechs are going to destroy the damn shuttle before it even gets 10 meters, for god’s sake -- we’ll both die!” he called back, firing a couple more shots. “You know where this place is! I’ll hold them off so you can get out of here safely and open a comm-link once you’re in-range! Tell the Alliance! I can handle myself until they send reinforcements!”

“Why the fuck couldn’t we discuss which one of us should stay back?!”

“Because you’re in no condition to fight, goddammit! Like it or not, but you’re going to get yourself killed! They still got a use for me, remember?! You heard Toshiwa! They’ll try any tactic possible to make me talk!”

“Dammit, Kaidan...” he murmured, knowing he was right. “Stay alive, you hear me?!”

“I’m planning on it!”

The shuttle was sprung out, and he was alone, adrenaline building up in his whole body as the operatives pushed forward. Having taking cover behind a wall, he fired, until he no longer saw the shuttle. He held out like that for about ten minutes, but then he ran out of ammo, and his biotics were all on cooldown. He could do nothing more but to give up. Surrender. Cerberus collected themselves around him, and not before long, his hands were forced behind his back and his cheek rifted as it was pressed to the cold floor.

He could do nothing but wait.


Shepard wasted no time to get to the medical facility at Arcturus after he received a message that Ace was back. The message came from Hackett, requesting him to come meet with him outside Ace’s room after they talked, wanting to explain everything that had happened. Judging by how well-fortified the place was, he could move freely, not being restricted to one room.

He stepped into the room and the sight had him breathe out.

Ace sat hunched over, hands connected between his knees, dull eyes staring at the floor before him. He looked entirely defeated. His shirt was off, a fresh bandage wrapped around his shoulder, and Shepard saw that his hair was somewhat thinner at the location of his implant. Shepard immediately understood that he had operated, a white Band-Aid covering the area, about one inch in width. When he looked up and met Shepard’s eye, his expression softened apologetically, but he had other concerns at the moment.

Shepard walked up to him. “Hey...”

“Hey,” he replied, with a small twitch of his lips. It immediately mellowed. His gaze fell to the floor again as if he had some sort of phantom pain. Ace refused to meet his eye for some reason. Not even when he crouched down between his parted legs.

“Implant?”

He watched him nod wearily. “You could say that,” he muttered, another small twitch that shortly dissolved. “I don’t know what Hackett told you in that message, but... Cerberus implanted the L5 implant with a control chip when I lay at their operating table. They just removed it.” Shepard’s eyes snapped open, and it all made sense, remembering what Hackett had told him about the video footage. “I’m sorry.”

“For what?” he asked, smirking. “Hell, it wasn’t like you had a choice.”

Ace shook his head. “That’s not what I’m talking about.”

Shepard’s smile weakened somewhat.

“Then what?” he asked, feeling the signs of nausea coming back to him. Ace finally looked up to meet his eye, his jaw locked tight, and Shepard immediately realized. His expression fell.

Shepard’s hand balled into a fist. “Kaidan?” he asked but felt his voice betraying him. “He’s...?”

“...still at that Cerberus facility,” came a gravelly voice and Shepard’s attention snapped to the doorway. Hackett stood there, hands clasped behind his back, a drained look on his unusually soft features. Shepard swallowed hard and pushed up from the floor. “You’re a smart kid, so I’m sure you already suspected he was involved in all this. While being under Cerberus’ influence, Hunt here rewrote Major Alenko’s orders and lured him out to where Toshiwa was located. I admit I was wrong. I was wrong to doubt Hunt.”

Hackett looked at Ace, but he just nodded with the same forgiving demeanor. “Because of his wounds, Alenko chose to stay behind himself, holding the troops off so that Hunt could escape and send reinforcements. Alenko knew that they wanted him alive.”

“Because of me,” Shepard muttered, his throat tight.

He fell into a pause. “Major Alenko’s connection to you is no mere coincidence, Shepard. He’s one of the few people who knows you’re here,” he replied, his voice apologetic. “On a more positive note, thanks to Hunt’s intel, we now know where he is. I give you my word. Dr. Jiro Toshiwa has seen his last day a free man. Count on it.”

“When are we leaving?”

Hackett frowned deeply. “You’re not going anywhere, Commander.”

“Like hell I’m not!” he snapped.

“We both know that what Toshiwa want is you, and we know now how to contact him, but we’ve chosen not to play his games. However cruel it might seem, your life these days is irreplaceable compared to his, and right now your recovery is our top priority.”

“I never asked for this,” he replied, strangled.

Hackett narrowed his eyes. “None of us did, Shepard. I don’t enjoy making these decisions, but the Crucible and its connection to the Catalyst is too important to let waste, and we simply can’t risk it. There’s also the matter of Anderson. I know you’d want to find the one responsible.”

“So he’s out there, getting tortured or god-knows-what on my behalf, and I’m just sitting here on my ass sipping expensive drinks and eating food?” he spat, feeling the anger rush through his veins. Hackett opened his mouth to reply, but he wasn’t done, and Shepard took a step forward. “I’m sick of getting people killed simply because they’ve been a part of my life!”

“I know you’re pissed, Shepard. Hurting,” he replied, calm as always. “Hell, the whole Alliance knows, but we’re in a situation we’re forced to deal with. You need to understand that some things are out of our control. You’re staying put. That’s an order.”

Swallowing hard, he locked his jaw tight, attempting to stare down the unwavering admiral.

Shepard finally backed off. “Permission to walk, sir?” he asked, his voice firm. Showing no hint of emotion. With a sigh, Hackett closed his eyes and gave him a singular nod. Before he had the chance to change his mind, Shepard was out the door, long strides having taken him across the floorboards. He heard Ace say his name, a request for him to come back, but he ignored it.

*

Arriving back at his room, Shepard ripped off his jacket and threw it at the bed, leaving him in a dark grey tank top.

He placed himself before the punching bag and started beating on it. Letting go of all his frustration. He allowed the adrenaline fill him up, injecting him with the invisible serum, engulfed in an inferno like a wild beast held back by its collar. His breath turned from regular to panting gasps, struggling for breath, the air feeling suffocatingly thick around him as the lights were burning through the fabric of his clothes. He blocked everything out. Every sound. Every object. Everything but the red bag that had engulfed his vision. His attention.

He wanted to kill someone. Rip free from his leash. Tear something apart.

Face red with heat and exhaust, his cheeks were burning, locks of his three-inch long hair plastered to his forehead. He was moving like a devastating tornado. A natural disaster that no one could tame. Stop. Hold back. He was a ticking time bomb ready to explode. Pain was seeping up his arm each time his fist connected with the nearly solid surface. But he didn’t care. Knuckles cracked repeatedly at impact. But he didn’t care. His chest rapidly rose and sank with each shallow breath he drew in. But he didn’t care.

“John...” came Ace’s voice, soft and worrying, him deaf to his soothing words.

Beads of sweat ran down his forehead as he was beating harder at the red bag, a hail of repeated fists rocking the object, shaking it with a fury with his repeated attacks. Bleeding. Darker stains of red being left at its surface.

His knuckles were bleeding.

But he didn’t stop.

He couldn’t.

Shepard ignored the repeated calling out of his name, and he felt the blue aura forming around his body, his Reave flickering as it was ready to finish off his opponent. The bag was nearly knocked off its own bolts, the clinking metal rings driving further and further from its base, ready to slip and stab someone’s eye out after a few more punches. His breathing was quickened further. The beatings became harder, faster, more erratic and restless, but he couldn’t stop. His vision blurred as a salty substance had his eyes watering. Fogging his view.

“John!” was repeated, but he ignored it. His blood was boiling with a restless heat.

Too busy with his own thoughts, he felt an arm drape around his neck, the shock nearly having him flail his arms and protect himself from whatever grabbed ahold of him. He was yanked back. Separated from his unyielding opponent, Shepard nearly fell to his knees, his erratically shaking body feeling ten times heavier. Then he was back in the now. Escaped from his own mind.

Ace pulled his back against his own chest, strong arms enveloping him as they stood, his head bowed and heavy. Exhausted hands were shaking, skin was torn straight from its knuckles, knitting his fists to silence them.

“Dammit!” he snapped, the tears now streaming down his face as his body shook violently.

Grasping Ace’s wrist that lay horizontal across his throat, he squeezed, his shoulder grasped by the same hand as Ace hugged him fiercely. A cheek pressed against his shoulder blade, holding him, letting him know that he wasn’t alone. He was angry at himself. Angry for allowing anyone to see him like this. Angry at losing his practiced control over the years. Angry at Kaidan for waking these feelings in him.

Angry that he might never see him again.

This was why he didn’t get attached, why he’d never have a normal life because he knew everything he touched turned to shit. The whole damn thing was his fault, and yet, it was everyone but him that suffered for it.

First Anderson, then Ace, and now Kaidan.

/“Everyone I care about has a tendency to get hurt. Or worse.”/

Ace just held him until the worst was over, when Shepard regained control of his breathing, tears congealed as they had left nearly transparent lines down his cheeks. His brows were knitted together just as tightly as his eyes were pinched closed. He took several deep breaths, blowing them steadily out, and swallowed the last emotion down. His breathing steadied.

“I can’t stay here,” he managed to say, his voice surprisingly leveled as he once again had control. Ace patted his shoulder gingerly, and he felt him nodding, green eyes tightly closed before eyelashes brushed against his skin.

Ace snorted lightly. “Couldn’t hold you back even if I tried. I already called Joker. I’m coming with.”

*

A whiff of nostalgia hit him when he stepped into the familiarity of the Normandy. Although his mind was yet fragmented, what he could remember was enough, and he was brought back to those logs Liara’s device had brought him. Some of his memories had gradually come back, enough to know that this was where he belonged, brushing his fingers across the ship’s walls with a somber expression.

This was home.

“We’re ready when you are, Commander... Uh, Shepard,” came Joker’s voice over the comm, softer than usual. “Just give the order. We’re all behind you. It’s damn good to have you back.”

Shepard found himself smiling. “Damn good to be back.”

He stepped into the war room.

“Ready to fuck some shit up?” came Jack’s voice, and he saw his whole crew ready for orders. Liara, Tali, Garrus, Wrex... everyone. Even Grunt, Zaeed and Samara had dropped by with one singular purpose.

Saving Kaidan.

He startled when his shoulder was tapped, but when he turned, Kasumi uncloaked with a quirky smirk.

“Hey, Shep!” she said, just as enthusiastic as ever. “Miss anything good?”

Ace told them what they were facing.

It didn’t take long before Shepard stepped up to the war table, the crew collected around it, attentive glares as he palmed his hands to the concrete to debrief them of the plan he’d come up with.

He had ordered Vega to stay back at Arcturus Station to make sure no one found out that he was gone.

“All right everyone, listen up,” he said, his authoritarian gaze unwavering. His voice fell. “I don’t know how much time Kaidan’s got left, so hell, I’m going to make this brief. Not to waste any time, Joker’s already got the ship moving, and we’re headed out in the Horse Head Nebula. I need each and every one of you focused to see this through. We can’t afford any mistakes.”

Shepard paused, meeting every eye in the vicinity. “I’ve been away for a long time. Somewhat over a year since I was last in command of anything. Over a year since we touched down on Earth and sent the reapers to hell,” he continued and nodded solemnly. “I still don’t know what happened back at the Crucible... but enough of my memories has come back for me to understand that you’re a damn good crew that I was honored to serve with. Each and every one of you is important to me. You’re allies. Friends. Hell, you’re my damn family.”

Tali sniffled, and with a smirk, Shepard teased, “Suck it up, Tali.” He registered a few muffled laughs before he continued on. He could tell Tali was blushing, but she was also smiling, her eyes having crinkled at the corners. “I’ve been acting like a jackass and dismissed you guys. Dismissed your attempts at helping me. I needed you. I needed Kaidan, and right now, he needs us. I’ll be damned if I’m going to leave him behind.”

Not again.

EDI brought up the map of the facility that Ace had transferred over his omni-tool.

“Now, we’ll be arriving in about a day, enough time for us to prepare for what’s coming,” Shepard said, gesturing to the map. “This is a big damn facility we’re heading into. We need to be thorough. Judging by Ace’s intel, they’ve also got Atlas mechs.”

Samara put her hands behind her back. “How many of these mechs should we be expecting as we arrive?”

“Ace?” he asked, turning to him.

“The half amount of pods you saw on that collector ship back in 85, I reckon,” he replied, and Shepard’s eyes shot open. “They’re produced there. Thankfully, they’re not all operative. Many needs spare parts and even more needs to be charged first. It takes Cerberus about ten minutes to power and refill each with ammunition. The engineers can reduce that process to five minutes.”

“Then our plan is to take out the engineers first,” Shepard replied with a nod and fixated his gaze back at the others. “I won’t lie, crew. Even if we’ve decided to take the stealthy route in, we will be forced to fight eventually, but I’ll ask you all to keep your firearms sheathed until Kaidan is safe. We can’t expose our position before we have his exact location, and therefore, we’ll send a small strike team to avoid early detection. The rest of you will remain at the ship and await the signal of engaging full fire.”

Shepard straightened. “As we did back during the suicide mission, we’ll split into teams. Garrus, you’re in charge of team one; Wrex, Tali, Samara, and EDI goes with you,” he said, and Garrus nodded. “Miranda, you’re in charge of team two; Jack, Kasumi, Zaeed, and Grunt is your squad.”

“Can I count on you two playing it nice?” he asked, eyes fleeting between Miranda and Jack.

Jack scoffed, but her tone was fond. “Yeah, yeah. The cheerleader has proven herself. I still want her out of that fucking swimsuit.”

“Oh, I’m sure you do,” Miranda said, with a roll of her eyes. Jack’s body went rigid, and a few awkward glances were shared, while Shepard couldn’t help the small grin that crept up on his face.

Miranda’s face flushed. “That is not what I meant!”

“I’d pay to see that,” Kasumi grumbled, nudging Grunt who released his characteristic laugh.

With gritted teeth, Jack murmured, “I will destroy. Every. Single. Fucking. One of you.”

In return, that earned a few laughs.

“I understand that Ace and I are on the strike team that requires fewer participants, but with all due respect, Commander...” came Liara’s voice, back to the matter at hand. “Do you not think it is rather careless to have a team with simply two people?”

“You won’t be on your own. I’ll be right there with you,” he replied and watched as their eyes shot open. “I know the risks. It’s me they’re after, and if they see my face, Kaidan is as good as dead. The N7 armor would be a dead giveaway, but I’ve thought ahead, so I’ll be equipped differently. My face will be covered at all times with a helmet. Don’t worry about that.”

Shepard pinned Ace with a look. “One more thing, Ace. No biotics, understood? Not unless you have no other choice.”

“Aye, aye, sir,” he replied, without skipping a beat, but Shepard knew he was lying. There was little he could do about that. Even though he was wounded, Shepard needed him there, because that map they had wasn’t entirely accurate.

*

Shepard retreated to the cabin when everyone knew of their plan to see this through. His eyes traversed to the same display of model ships that he’d earlier seen. There was an empty space.

He remembered that the SR-1 used to be located there.

Blue eyes fell to the table underneath, frowning as he saw a turned photograph, and picked it up. He flipped it around between his fingers, and the lines in his face faltered, coming face-to-face with something he couldn’t quite comprehend. It was a little girl. Probably 4 or 5. She was wearing his old N7 helmet with a triumphant crinkle in her blue eyes, so he couldn’t see her face, holding the SR-1 in her hand.

Maybe she had it?

In cursive, probably written by Kaidan, he saw a name.

‘Ashlee S.’

Something told him that he should know who she was.

Flagging it off, he shook his head, and put the picture back.

He stepped further into the room, passing the illuminating fish tank, taking in his surroundings. When he first entered, a strong feeling of belonging had seeped and coursed through his veins, remembering the last time he was there.

With Kaidan.

His abdomen churned at the name. Sometimes, you don’t know what you have, until it’s gone. Kaidan had been there every step of the way, or at least as often as he could, still being sent out on missions for the Alliance. He still didn’t know why he became so defensive about it. When Ace told him about the past 15 years, he understood, even forgave him. When he found out about Kaidan, he immediately lashed out, feeling hurt.

What Jack said still haunted his mind.

/“He’s the only fucking one who hasn’t given up on your sorry ass.”/

The others had already apologized for losing faith in him.

Shepard picked up his old, broken N7 helmet, holding it in his hands. There were cracks in the casing. A sign of the war that he had endured already when the collectors surfaced.

Another flash interrupted him, and he was back in 86, watching that very same helmet while Kaidan stood a few feet away.

That’s everything he saw, but hell, it was enough to conjure up that memory. Shepard had opened up his heart to Kaidan about losing all sense of direction after their fight on Horizon. He told him about the peoples’ lives he ruined, about the people he’d killed, about the illegal services that he had assisted simply to earn a couple more credits. He remembered that Kaidan had barged out of the room when Shepard lied to him about not regretting what he had done, he remembered that Kaidan had distanced himself, temporarily breaking their relationship off.

He also remembered how Kaidan came to him when he was broken, after the fall of Thessia, telling him that he was ready to try again. He was brought back to that night, wrapped up in Kaidan’s embrace when an immediate feeling of belonging ushered through.

/“Hell, call me an idiot if you want... but I can’t just quit you. I can’t, because... because I love you, John.”/

It was the first time Kaidan had said those three words to him. When he was presented with them, he didn’t know what to do about the information, as he himself had never before used those words. It scared him because right then, right there, he understood that the feeling was mutual. He hadn’t said anything back simply because he was convinced that he’d never make it out of this war.

The fact that they were both there, still alive, proved how wrong he was.

He wondered if he had ever told him, and now Kaidan was out there, presented with the possibility of never knowing it. Shepard was no longer in denial. He felt like a piece of shit and that was putting it mildly. Nausea conjured back up again.

I’m coming, K.


Struggling against exertion, it was as if Kaidan’s limbs weren’t his own, his every intake of breath a negotiation rather than an order.

His back was hunched, hands tied behind his back, the rough rope too tight as it dug into the tender flesh. Blood was dripping steadily down his wrists, and as if he could hear it, each reddening drop that hit the marble floor had him wince. The sound bore into his brain. If he even as much tried to move, he’d simply collapse, possibly breaking every bone in his now fragile body. Just the thought of moving had his every limb scream their agonizing dismay. He was attached to a chair that had numbed his whole being.

Or maybe it was the various drugs of all sorts that they had injected him with.

He couldn’t tell.

His gaze moved to look at the fresh pool of blood before him.

Is... is that mine? he thought, brows drawing together at the display. The hammering of his head blurred his mind. Denying him clear assertions. It... it can’t be. It’s too much. Way too much.

Nausea hit him as the smell of dried blood seeped up through his nostrils.

It hurt keeping his eyes open, so he let them flutter shut, no longer straining his vision. The voices around him were muffled, but he knew they weren’t whispering, the beating at his temples deafening as they drowned out the words. One by one. Bit by bit.

He had lost his consciousness at least twice during his sessions, accepting the brief moment of peace, before he was brought back again.

Receiving a question from his torturer, he forced himself to look up, pinning the man with an unwavering glare. He didn’t flinch when he saw him fish up a needle, possibly about to inject more drugs, and he was right. The needle, as big as two inches, penetrated a different hole in his arm instead of using one that was already there. Shortly after, he found that he couldn’t close his eyes, and his tear canals began filling up unwillingly.

His mouth was filled with blood, and he spit the substance out, having no idea where it was coming from.

Kaidan watched as the man picked up a screwdriver. His breath hitched when a small hammer came to view. Another operative that stood behind him grasped his chin, viciously yanking up his head that had him involuntarily groan, giving better access.

The force used had him wonder why the hell his neck hadn’t snapped.

If a snapped neck didn’t mean immediate death, then hell, he probably wouldn’t even have noticed. Kaidan’s whole body was hurting. His heart started beating vehemently, the screwdriver moving closer and closer to his left eye, before lightly pressing the tip to the white area.

Toshiwa stood about twenty feet away, watching, although he hadn’t participated in Kaidan’s suffering.

“Still not talking?” the man asked, voice without emotion.

Pursing his lips together, Kaidan clenched his jaw, knowing this would hurt like a son-of-a-bitch.

The man lined up the hammer. “Last chance.”

“Go to hell,” he spat, his throat sore as it hurt to simply speak. The man with the screwdriver shrugged, briefly looking at the operative holding his head, before giving the metal to his eye a gentle tap.

Kaidan shouted in agony, the pain unbearable, a single tap being the most painful experience he had ever endured.

The light and salty substance were replaced by a thick red, a pool of blood forming near his lower eyelid, blurring his vision further. From his left eye, he could only see red, while the colors were clear on his right.

He just wanted to escape all this.

He just wanted it to be over.

He just wanted to die.

“I’ll ask again...” the man continued. “Commander Shepard. Where is he? Tell us and do yourself the favor of not having to endure any more of these... unpleasantries. No one is worth this kind of inflicted pain. Don’t you agree?”

You’re wrong.

The man gave the screwdriver another tap, and Kaidan shouted again, nearly having his eyes rolling back in his skull. If that wasn’t enough, the man started burrowing the tip further into his eye, possibly puncturing it if he hadn’t already. They’d probably start ripping out his nails soon, knowing this technique wasn’t working, and he shuddered at the thought.

He could’ve given them a false location, but they would’ve found out, and he would be presented with something even worse.

The drugs affecting his eyes wore off, and the operative holding his jaw let go of his face, his head bowing down heavily. He finally closed his eyes, the blood reaching his pupil, irritating it greatly. He felt the thick substance running down his cheek.

Kaidan tried not to focus on the pain.

“What the hell did you do to him?!” called an all-too-familiar voice, and he managed to force his eyes open. The blurry silhouette of an armor-clad soldier seeped through his vision, and although voice muffled by the helmet’s echo, he knew.

No...

Toshiwa straightened. “Shepard?”

Dammit, John...

It became a full firefight, and Kaidan winched, the sounds being too much as a migraine came in its full force. He couldn’t recall how much time had passed, but in one moment he saw John, Ace, and Liara, and in the next, his eyes had once again closed.

In his hazy vision, he opened them again to see a grenade being thrown, although connecting to a concrete object that had it change its course. It was headed straight for him. Little could he do but watch when the object rolled towards him, but before he could embrace for the impact and accept his death, Ace stood before him. He had brought up a barrier-and-shield combo, not unlike the one he created back on Sanctum, creating a wall of impenetrable dark energy that stayed firm as the grenade exploded on the other side.

Ace’s legs were shaking briefly, in pain, but he stood with the barrier raised.

“Kaidan!” he heard Liara call, and she rushed over. She fell to her knees before him, taking Kaidan’s face in her hands, her expression immediately to mellow in sorrow as she saw his wounds. He felt the cold substance of medi-gel applied, to no use, as he had lost too much blood.

He saw tears quickly fill her ocean blue eyes. “Kaidan... Goddess, stay with us!”

In the commotion, John was alone with Toshiwa, operatives all around them. Liara threw in a few attacks to assist him. It was as if his all strength came back to him when he saw his lover, his back pressed up against the wall, Toshiwa holding him in place with a one-arm chokehold. He was killing him. On shaky steps, Kaidan stood despite Liara’s objection, his own limbs aching from exertion. But it didn’t matter.

John was in danger.

With what little strength he had left, his biotics flared, Throwing Toshiwa’s body into the wall. As far away from John as he could. A loud clatter was heard, and his own head rang mercilessly, his implant flaring up greatly. Everything became one big haze. In but a moment, the door burst open, and he watched Garrus barge in with a team that was quickly followed by Miranda with her own.

Rendered immobile, Toshiwa was overpowered, his hands connected behind his back by Garrus and Zaeed, the doctor’s cheek pressed to the marble floor. Cerberus was quickly taken down now when they were easily outnumbered. The whole crew was there.

He wanted to laugh.

They really came for him. All of them. Every single one.

It was too bad it was too late.

Ace dropped the barrier as it was no longer needed. Kaidan’s wobbly legs could no longer hold him, feeling them give in underneath, and he fell to the floor. Liara grasped him, mending his fall, lessening the impact.

He heard John call his name, and in his blurred vision, hurried steps were made towards him before he no longer could keep his eyes open. Strong arms curled around his body when Liara retracted to offer space, enveloping him, a gloved hand on his cheek as his back was supported against his leg. The pain was unbearable now when his adrenaline had worn off. He realized now just how much he was hurting. How much his wounds stung. How much he just wanted for it to be over.

“K. K, please... look at me...” came John’s voice, his pleading voice strained as the grip around him tightened. With the little feeling he had left, the sensation of a thumb brushed against his cheek, caressing it.

Opening his eyes, he saw John’s face, and all his fears surrendered.

“John... ’m sorry...” he muttered, incredibly blue eyes being the next thing he could remember -- taking in every inch, every detail of his face, in hope he’d never forget how he looked like –- before brown hue fell to the chain that had slipped from underneath John’s armor and hang loosely.

He had re-equipped Kaidan’s dog tags, and right then, he knew that he was forgiven.

Kaidan wanted to smile, come up with some kind of ridiculous joke to lighten the situation, but the muscles and every fiber in his whole body were too tired to respond. He was shortly forced to close his eyes. Kaidan could no longer keep them open. He felt chapped lips press gingerly to his, and he was in bliss, savoring the taste of John’s mouth upon his own one last time as he let in his tongue.

The kiss became weaker and weaker until he no longer could return it.

He succumbed to the eternal darkness as his body went limp. Benezia was right. There was no light. Just the suffocating darkness in an endless void as his name was called once more.

His heart went still.

Chapter Text

Slow, steady beeps. Languid. That was everything he heard.

Shepard sat hunched over, propped up in a chair by Kaidan’s bedside, looking at his unconscious form. The medics on Hackett’s extraction team nearly had to pull him away when they arrived. When he held Kaidan’s lifeless body in his arms.

The feeling of dread in that moment was the worst thing he’d ever experienced.

Before they touched down at that facility, he had struggled to get into his armor getup again and lift his gun, still suffering the remnants of his supposed PTSD. He didn’t really think too much about it when he knew that Kaidan was in danger, but when he was separated from him again, the panic set back in. He became fully aware of his surroundings. Dead Cerberus operatives. Kaidan’s blood on his hands. The red pools around him. The sights. The sickening smells of both blood and various drugs of all kinds. It was too much.

Miranda was the one to snap him out of it when he sat there, staring down at his shaking blood-soaked hands, trying to process everything while they carried Kaidan out of the room. When he came back to himself, she suggested he’d go see a therapist, to help him deal with everything.

He had little patience for shrinks, but hell, he couldn’t keep going like this.

Right now, he just wanted to be there for Kaidan, be there for him when he woke up. The doctors at Huerta Memorial Hospital had got him back thanks to Miranda’s expertise, stabilized him, her personally requesting to be in charge of his care. She had thankfully told him that Kaidan would make a full recovery in a short amount of time.

Various surgical tubes stuck out of Kaidan’s body, draining the drugs from his system, and the sight of it made Shepard nauseous to the point that he nearly had to look away. He had flashed when he saw Kaidan like that. Flashed back to the time when he last lay on that gurney.

The difference was that this time, Shepard didn’t have a galaxy to unite, and he could stand by him.

His own doctors had told him that his memories should’ve come back by now, and he had accepted the inevitable truth that he’d never remember everything, knowing that he could make new memories.

No matter how much he wanted to remember his old ones.

Shepard reached for his face, carefully placing his arm atop and across his bare chest as he removed a stray lock of hair from his forehead, gingerly brushing his thumb against his temple and cheek.

He looked so peaceful. Serene. Tranquil.

Carefully, he pressed his lips to the scar on the left side of his mouth, hearing the heart monitor acting somewhat up. Shepard smiled briefly against his lips. Revering in the sign of life. He pulled away somewhat and touched his forehead to his, pressing his lips together, his jaw tightly clenched. He wanted to remember how it felt to feel those lips upon his own for the first time. He wanted to remember their first night. He wanted to remember every moment, however brief, that they shared together. He wanted to remember their last moments.

Feeling his vision blur, he straightened and quickly wiped the substance away, not letting them fall.

This was getting too sappy for his tastes.

I’m going to kick your ass when you wake up again.

Propping a hand to his thigh, he pushed his heavy body up from its seat, and headed for the door. When he stepped out of the room, he inhaled deeply, his eyes fluttering shut. Opening them again, he saw Ace across the room, leaning to a nearby wall. He was twining some kind of device between his fingers, brows creased to reveal that he was deep in thought, mind focused on one thing.

“Hey,” he said, watching green eyes snap open as he looked up.

Ace’s expression mellowed. “Hey,” he replied, offering a small smile in return. “How’s he doing?”

“He’ll make a full recovery.”

“Thank god,” he muttered, grip tightening around that metal object. He shortly took note of Shepard’s careful, somewhat curious expression, and let out a small snort. “This thing is to blame for a lot of this bullshit.”

He handed it over, and Shepard took it in his hands as they sat down on a nearby bench, a bullet hole having left its mark.

“You doing okay?”

“I’ll be fine.”

“Ace. C’mon, talk to me. You know I care about your well-being.”

A small smile crept up on Ace’s lips, and he felt a hand at his thigh, gently squeezing it.

“I know,” he replied, and his hand retracted. “I’m, uh... I’m going back to New York.” Shepard’s eyes widened, and Ace held up a hand, allowing him a chance to explain himself. “Everything’s fine. I’m just conflicted.”

Shepard waved the device. “About this?”

“Yeah.” Ace inhaled deeply, and blew it out slowly, as his eyes fluttered shut. “This –this... thing, has been inside me for fifteen years. Hell, I’ve probably done tons of shit I don’t even know about. Worst part, it’s always been there, and yet Cerberus had me do all that consciously. I’m haunted by all that when it could’ve been avoided with the simple press of a button. When I was under its effect, it was simply like a dream, a nightmare. I’d rather take that above doing those things in a conscious state any day.”

“I’m not exactly a stranger to killing, myself.”

Ace chortled. “No, I guess you aren’t. Still, I think I have your death-count beat by dozens. I keep asking myself if it was worth it.”

“It was,” he said, without skipping a beat. “If it wasn’t for you, I never would’ve agreed to help the Illusive Man. The collectors would probably still be roaming around. You got them into Minuteman Station. Gave that bastard Toshiwa a beating, too.”

“You say that like it’s so easy.”

“Sometimes sacrifices need to be made. You couldn’t blow your cover. It was necessary.”

A slow smile spread on his lips. “Hard to believe you’re younger than me.”

“Two years, Ace. Ain’t much of a difference,” he replied, shrugging. “Hell, maybe back then.”

Silence.

“I’m proud of you,” he said fondly, and Shepard’s features mellowed. “Who would’ve thought the jackass street kid in a leather jacket, covered in oil stains, would turn out to become one of the most respected soldiers out there?”

“Who liked to fuck in cars,” Shepard chimed in casually as he propped a hand to his thigh, earning him a chuckle. “I was surrounded by good people. Guess I got lucky. Not only that, but I had the drive of wanting to make right by a certain boyfriend I thought died.” Ace’s smile softened, green eyes falling to the floor, nodding solemnly. “Look, ‘bout what happened back there -”

Ace sighed heavily. “John, stop. You did nothing wrong. You know that, right?” he asked rhetorically, smiling somewhat. “There’s no doubt that I still care about you in that way, but hell, I know when to quit.”

“Ace...”

“I told you. I’ll be fine. I wasn’t lying.”

For a moment, he just looked at him, the sincerity in his voice penetrating.

Taking Ace’s chin in his hand, he tilted his head up, before leaning in and pressing a soft kiss to his mouth. When they broke apart, Ace pressed his lips into a thin line, giving him a fond smile.

“Now get out of here,” Ace said, pushing him away. “Get something to eat. I’ll keep him safe. I promise.”

I know you will.

“Thanks.”


It took some time to get used to the light, and if that wasn’t enough, Kaidan could only see through his right eye. The side of his face was irritated and itched, and he was about to remove whatever it was giving him that sensation but stopped when he looked into a small mirror by his side. There was a cotton pad covering his left eye in shape of an eye patch. He immediately remembered what happened.

All leading up to the point when he blacked out.

It was fuzzy. Unclear. The last thing he remembered was the sound of Toshiwa’s body thumping against the concrete wall. The rest was a blur. At least the amnesia he had suffered wasn’t nearly as bad as John’s. He could remember everything else.

Kaidan had immediately recognized the local. Huerta Memorial. He’d hoped he’d never have to see it again.

He winced at himself, knowing he looked like shit, but his expression immediately mellowed as he in the mirror saw the peaceful figure sleeping propped up in a chair behind him. John’s head had fallen to the palm of his hand, elbow resting at the chair lean with an ankle squared over a knee. Kaidan moved his head, and although it hurt, he endured. He saw dark circles around John’s eyes.

“John...?” he tried, his throat sore as he fought the urge to cough. Hearing a thumping sound, he turned away, finding himself looking at Miri covering her mouth. She’d just dropped a datapad. Her blue eyes filling with unshed tears.

Kaidan smiled weakly. “Hey,” he said, his voice hoarse.

He saw the smile appear by her hand, and she dropped it, pressing her lips into a thin line.

“Welcome back,” she said fondly, like a whisper, careful not to wake John.

Miranda ambled over to a small sink in the same room, grabbing a glass on the way, filling it with water. He gladly accepted the offer as she held it out to him, and drowning the liquid, a relief went through his body as it parched his dry throat.

He cleared it, keeping his voice low. “How long was I out?”

“Two weeks,” she replied with a nod, and her gaze fell to John’s sleeping form. “He hasn’t left ever since he was allowed inside. Barely took the time to sleep or eat. I think this is the first real rest he’s had during all this.”

Kaidan felt his expression fall.

“Do you want me to wake him?” she asked, but he shook his head.

“No. No, let him rest. He clearly needs it,” he replied and fell into a pause. “What happened?”

“When we found you... you were nearly tortured to death,” she muttered, voice thick with emotion. She cleared her throat. Closed her eyes. “After you disabled Dr. Toshiwa, you simply... collapsed.”

She drew her lower lip behind her teeth. “You died.”

His eyes shot open.

“Then how am I here?”

Miranda smiled again. “Well, I do have experience with bringing people back from the dead.”

He chortled, but immediately regretted it, wincing at the sensation.

“Okay, that... yeah. Good point. Thanks.”

“Anytime,” she replied. He opened his mouth but was stopped, when she held up a hand “...and before you ask, yes, you’ll get your sight back. We won’t have to keep you here for more than a day. You can leave tomorrow if you want. Your implant flared up, and although we did consider to replace it, we knew that wasn’t a choice we were to make. You deserved a say-in.”

“I’m, uh... I’ll take my chances. Don’t need another case of amnesia. What about Cerberus?”

“Ever since Toshiwa was brought back into custody, they’ve laid low, deciding to give up their chase. For all we know, the organization might have disbanded for good here in the Milky Way, and if they do decide to continue on... they’ll need decades, maybe centuries, to regroup.”

“I find it hard to believe that Toshiwa was the only reason why they gave up.”

She shook her head. “Let’s just say that Shepard had the last say-in,” she replied, and he frowned. “After Toshiwa was brought back into custody, he... well, he gave him a piece of his mind. Made sure Cerberus knew what happened when you pissed off the legendary Commander Shepard. They had to pull him away.” Kaidan’s eyes went wide. “Personally, I found it to be somewhat extreme, but then I remembered what pain he’s inflicted on the both of you, and bloody hell, don’t hit me with that ‘integrity talk.’ Toshiwa deserved every blow.”

“I agree,” he replied, and quickly noted the surprise on Miranda’s face. “He would’ve done way worse things to John.”

After seeing him like that, helpless and pressed up against the wall while close to death, it was his last straw. He’d personally take care of anyone that dared to hurt John ever again. Kaidan refused to lose him again.

It was egoistic, yeah, but he felt like they both deserved to be egoistic for once.

They had both given so much and expected nothing in return.

It was their time to be selfish.

“I’m glad you see it that way,” she replied, smiling playfully as she put her hands on her hips “...and by the way, your mother got word of what happened. She ordered me to tell you to ‘get your ass back home’ before she traveled all the way here to pick you up herself.” Kaidan sighed loudly, leaning back to the gurney, knowing he was in trouble. “I wouldn’t dare to defy her.”

Kaidan smirked. “Yeah... then we’re two.”

If John hadn’t woken up by then, he’d simply send a message, telling him where he was. Judging by the fact that John had been right there by his side, sleeping in a damn chair and refusing to nourish himself, he figured that they had a lot to talk about.

There was only two more challenges left for John to face.

His knowledge about the Catalyst...

...and Ashlee.


Shepard connected to Hackett on his omni-tool.

“Shepard. I was hoping you’d call. How’s Alenko doing?”

“Lawson mentioned how he regained consciousness earlier today. He’ll be back up on his feet soon.”

“That’s damn good to hear. He did one hell of a thing out there. We all owe it to him,” he replied, and fell into a pause. “I know I might seem ‘all business,’ and you might not believe it, but I care about the well-being of your crew and yourself. I don’t blame you for defying orders to go after Alenko. Hell, he did the same to get to you. I probably would’ve done the same in your position.”

Hackett narrowed his eyes. “It was reckless, selfish, and I’d have preferred for it not to have occurred. But I understand. I just need you to be aware of the ramifications this might’ve cost us if you were captured.”

“I get it, but with all due respect, I’d do it again within a heartbeat.”

“You do a terrible job trying to convince me that what’s between you and Major Alenko is professional, Shepard,” he replied, his voice weary. Shepard just smirked. Accepting it as a fact. “There are reasons for those fraternization regs, Commander. You know that as well as every other soldier. The mission is always a priority and we can’t risk compromising it. I’m going to have to reassign Alenko. For all our sakes.”

Shepard shook his head. “That won’t be necessary, Admiral,” he replied and shifted on his foot. “I’ve seen enough war to last a lifetime, or two, in my case. I’ve decided to lay down my gun. Retire when I still can.”

“It’s a damn shame to see you go, but I understand, and I have no right to hold you back. You’re one of the best damn soldiers the Alliance has ever seen,” he said until there was a lilt to his voice. “I was going to offer you the position as humanity’s representative in the Council, but even if that happens behind a desk rather than on a battlefield, something tells me that won’t happen.”

He cringed. “I’m... not on the best terms with politicians. Or reporters. Or fancy suits.”

I don’t even know how to tie a damn tie.

Thankfully, dress blues didn’t use ties.

“Which is why I figured it wouldn’t happen,” he replied, and raised his chin. “You and Alenko were the candidates I was rooting for. When he’s back up on his feet, I’ll ask him, knowing he’d do just as well as you. However, your say-in says a lot. If you know of any other particular candidate that would fit, please indulge me, although I’m convinced that Alenko would do exceptionally well.”

He nodded. “He deserves it.”

“I’m glad we can both agree on that,” he replied with a small smile. “We’ve already moved your stuff back to Tiberius Towers now when Cerberus is out of the picture. You should probably go home and get some real rest, Shepard. You look like shit.”

Shepard chortled, knowing he was right, admiring how Hackett said things straight out.

“Aye, aye, sir,” he replied and gave one final salute like a soldier.

Hackett returned it with a nod.

“I wish you luck in life, Shepard. Hackett out.”

*

The apartment lay in silence when the door flew open, and thankfully, he had remembered the entrance code. It felt like a lifetime ago since he was last there after everything that had happened. The place was left untouched.

Shepard stripped down to his briefs and let his heavy body fall to the bed, far too big for one person, an immediate feeling of longing embracing him. Closing his eyes, he realized just how tired he was, struggling to open them again. With every fiber in his body, he fought against the dismissive thoughts conjured up in his head, letting himself know that Kaidan was going to make it.

He fell asleep.

#

“Anderson...” he said, his voice strangled as he stepped up to the Citadel dome. Anderson stood by a console, leant up against it, supporting himself as his already worn body had suffered the effects of the beam.

Whispers filled his mind, him unable to recall the words, almost like the coursing of waves in a restless sea.

“I underestimated you, Shepard,” came the Illusive Man’s voice, stepping into view from behind him. Oily shadows danced around his own living form, forcing themselves into his brain, scurrying and scrambling with his mind until he no longer could think clearly. It was as if the shadows held his body down, reaper projectiles in his mind, their muffled cries toying with him.

The Illusive Man placed himself between them. “I warned you,” he added, a scowl on his husk-alike face, signs of indoctrination piercing through his skin. “Control is the means to survival. Control of the reapers... and of you, if necessary.”

“They’re controlling *you*,” Anderson forced out, looking straight past the Illusive Man, and directly into Shepard’s blue eyes.

After a time pacing the room, Illusive Man said, “When humanity discovered the mass relays... when we learned there was more to the galaxy than we imagined... there were some who thought the relays should be destroyed. They were scared of what we’d find. Terrified of what we might let in. But look at what humanity has achieved! Since that discovery, we’ve advanced more than the past 10,000 years combined. And the reapers will do the same for us again. A thousand fold. But...”

Shepard hunched over with a groan, his head ramming against his temples, taking after his head as the shadows clouded his vision. He was unable to think. Unable to fight. Unable to control.

His gun was directed at Anderson.

The Illusive Man stepped forward “...only if we can harness their ability to control.”

“Bullshit,” Anderson chimed in. “We destroy them, or they destroy us.”

“And waste this opportunity? Never.”

In Anderson’s voice, he could’ve sworn he was hearing himself, the same echo when the Illusive Man spoke as well. It was as if neither of them was truly there. Like Shepard was battling with himself.

Right against wrong. Anderson against the Illusive Man. Shepard against submission.

“Listen to yourself...” Anderson said, his voice hoarse, eyes never moving from Shepard’s “...you’re... indoctrinated.”

*Gunshot*

#

His body jerked awake, and with a deep intake of breath, he was back in reality. His heart was ramming against his rib cage, seeking release, wanting to break free from its unwavering hold. The sheets were covered in a thin layer of sweat.

He closed his eyes, exhaling before he fell back to the bed, unable and unwilling to resume his slumber.

Just a nightmare. That’s all there was. Nothing more.

Shepard just lay there, staring at the roof, until the clock chimed 0510.

Making his way down the stairs after taking a shower, dressing, and styling his three-inch long hair -- which was a damn pain -- he observed, the apartment lying in silence. The sun was about to rise behind the horizon, tiny beams of light breaking through the window tapestry, a glass he left last night reflecting the beam to his eye that had him wince. Prying them open again, they fell to the coffee table, glimpsing a small box.

He suspected that someone had dropped by in the night and left it there for him.

Either that, or he had been too tired last night, not paying attention.

A note lay quaintly beside it. It was from Ace. He recognized the handwriting. Smirking, he took in the hilarity of using traditional cursive, as most people would do these things digitally. Ace was always kind of old-fashioned.

He picked it up and let his eyes search the words.

‘Hey, Chief. I found this thing after getting my stuff and asked a little around. Ran into your cheery prothean friend on Kahje during one of my missions who gave me some useful intel about it. Hope it helps.’

Javik?

After the mass relays were fixed, he had simply vanished, and now he knew where he was.

Kahje.

For what reason, he didn’t know, and accepted the fact that he probably never would.

Frowning, Shepard’s attention fell to the small box placed before him, picking it up and holding it in his hands. Unwrapping the cardboard, he forced its sides aside, veins jutting as it was well-taped. Inside it lay a paper bag with some kind of flat metal. He immediately recognized it.

The Echo Shard.

Shepard could briefly remember that Javik had given it to him before they launched their final mission, so hell, it must’ve been found on him when he was torn free from the fallen debris and rubble that had pinned him. He’d been told to ‘add to it,’ and hell, this could be the solution to all his current problems. As Miri had told him, his memories would never fully be recovered, and there were considerably big holes here and there.

He picked it up, contact broken by the plastic, and took a deep breath.

Gingerly, he took off the cover, the Shard floating with a dark energy force field. For a moment, he simply looked at it, until he reached out. He hesitated briefly when his fingertips were inches away, drawing his bottom lip behind his teeth, before reducing the distance.

Images flooded his vision, and he closed his eyes, taking everything in.

Every smell. Every sound. Every feeling.

#

/“Thinking you were gone... it was like losing a limb...”/
/“Are you flirting with me, Commander? Wait, wait! Don’t tell me. Let me live in the illusion...”/
/“Maybe I’ve never found... What I want, is something deeper with someone that I already... care about...”/
/“Hey... there you are...”/
/“Seems like you’re having a bad day, Shepard...”/
/“I lied... I -I didn’t come here for a quick drink...”/
/“You’re real enough for me...”/
/“Don’t get me wrong! I’m going to fight like hell for the chance to hold you again...”/

#

In a flash, everything came back to him, and one of the final memories he had added left him breathless.

#

“You’ve got to get out of here,” he said, pinning Kaidan with an unwavering glare as the Citadel pulsed erratically behind him. There were fires everywhere. Reaper beams and destroyed vehicles. The air was filled with smoke and death.

“Yeah... That’s *not* going to happen.”

“Don’t argue with me, Kaidan!”

Struggling against Garrus’ grip, he muttered, “Don’t... don’t leave me behind...”

“Kaidan, there’s no time! You’re in no condition to keep fighting. Get to the damn med-bay!”

“No, I’m with you to the end...”

“K, listen to me. No matter what happens... know that I love you,” he began, stepping up to his lover before gingerly taking his cheek in his hand, brushing a thumb against the pale skin. “Always.”

“John, I... I love you, too.”

#

In a deep intake of breath, his eyes snapped open, his every memory processed in mere seconds. His breathing was heavier, pupils unfocused, staring out in the empty air before him. Three years of memories. It all had him flash through the remaining twelve.

He wished he’d never re-experienced his final moments at the Citadel.

Anderson. The Catalyst. The child.

The loud ear-wrenching sound that had etched into his thoughts and roamed his nightmares, and Anderson’s deep intake of breath as the bullet pierced him, echoed in the vast of the open Citadel dome coming from that gun. Held by Shepard’s own hand. It didn’t make any sense. He’d never pull the trigger on the man he considered his father. Not even if his life depended on it. He couldn’t.

It wasn’t just a dream, but hell, it couldn’t be entirely accurate.

Emotions came all at once. Denial, anger, sorrow. He felt nauseous, and his head began to spin, having to put a foot behind him to remain in balance. His vision blurred with unshed tears, his jaw locking tight, swallowing the thick substance in his throat down.

He’d lost Anderson but he realized that he still had someone to come back to.

Come home to.

No matter what they faced, no matter what they endured, Kaidan was and would always be home.

With shaky hands, he flipped the note over.

‘He’s back. The spaceport. Go get him, Shep.’

‘–- Ace’

Shepard immediately took to his feet and started moving towards the door in a hurried pace. On his way, he grabbed a small box on the dresser and didn’t even bother grabbing his jacket or lock the door as he stormed out. His objective was clear.

Find Kaidan.


Holding out a hand with his palm up, Kaidan quickly registered the rain that the clouds had brought with them, reveling in the cold substance being a welcome distraction in the timid air. It wasn’t about to clear up anytime soon. More and more rain emerged from the skies.

Thankfully, Kaidan knew what the weather broadcast had said, so he wore a stuffed black raincoat.

The flight to Vancouver was far from packed, as it had calmed down already ever since the relay became accessible, and Kaidan managed to get a ticket without a problem. His wounds had mostly healed, and he no longer needed supervision, Hackett having allowed him to return home. Crazy enough, Hackett didn’t want to be at the mercy of Mrs. Alenko himself, suggesting he’d see her as soon as possible.

The ship would arrive in five minutes.

Hackett had offered him a private business ship to take him there, thanks to his Spectre status and the perks that came with, but he was tempted to refuse. Then again, a private ship would get him there quicker, and he wanted some distance from London after everything that had happened.

He didn’t want to be treated any differently from any other civilian, so hell, he didn’t want to get used to it. If there was one thing he needed to get used to, it was the damn eye patch, and he felt ridiculous having to wear it. Even if that was the case, people easily recognized him, and a couple kids even ran up to him asking for an autograph. It never failed to bring a smile to his face.

Seemed like the whole Normandy crew got that same treatment after the war was over. Kids wanted autographs, and hell, they gladly provided them. Kaidan had to shake his head with a smile when a little boy said how awesome his eye patch was. Maybe it wasn’t that bad.

He still felt ridiculous.

Seeing the ship touch down on the spaceport, he pulled up from a bench he had settled into, located below a sturdy roof that shielded him from the wet substance that was now pouring down. It was spring. It always rained in spring.

He grabbed his duffel bag as he would stay in Vancouver for at least a couple weeks.

His hand settled at the side of the ship as he was about to enter, but he found himself hesitating, frowning as he could swear he heard the engine of a motorcycle grow significantly louder. Someone was driving like a jackass and would probably kill someone in the process. He turned and narrowed his eyes to see through the rain, seeing the MC’s handbrake being pressed really hard that turned its broad side facing him. Water, having filled cracks and pits in the road, would’ve soaked a group of civilians nearby if he hadn’t stopped when he did.

Whoever it was pushed up from the seat, not wearing a helmet, only adding to the reckless display.

There was too much rain and too many people around for him to make out a face, but that someone pushed through the crowd, and his own eyes went wide when he heard his name being called. He knew that voice. Far too well. His jaw dropped, but when he came back to himself, he blinked owlishly. He tried to convince himself that he was just going crazy. Was seeing visions.

“Kaidan!”

He gave the pilot a hand gesture to wait before turning back.

“John?” he whispered.

His expression was immediately to mellow as he slowly stepped down from the stairs. Gently placing the duffle bag at the ground, he watched as he was approached with firm steps and long strides, his hurried pace only meaning one thing.

He was pissed.

Kaidan raised a hand as if to shield himself from his fury. “Shepard, I -” he tried, but didn’t have time to finish before a fist launched his way -- straight into his cheek -- sending him winching to the side, wobbling, wavering. He groaned at the impact, the pain seeping up his cheek, nearly reaching his head in the process. “Agh... Okay, I -I deserved that one -Mhmph...!”

Everything went quiet when his face was grasped by calloused hands and a pair of full lips crushed against his own. His eyes went wide. Kaidan’s hands hovered before he processed what just happened, and with an internal sigh, he allowed his eyes to flutter shut.

He melted into the immensely passionate kiss, letting in John’s demanding, wet tongue with ease.

Hands roamed across his neck and into his hair, and he shivered as they reached his amp port, pulling him closer as his own hands curled around John’s water-soaked white shirt that was nearly gray now. He couldn’t complain. It gave a wondrous display of his defined abs and pecs.

Kaidan reined him in, their entire bodies in contact, needing him as close to his own body as possible. Needing to touch him. Feel him. Worship his every curve. Entirely synchronized, their tongues had their own minds as they played a game of chase, swirling and sucking. He sighed as John drew his lower lip between his teeth until claiming his mouth again, gently rubbing Kaidan’s earlobe with his thumb and index finger.

They paid no mind to that they were standing in the middle of a spaceport.

It didn’t matter.

The kiss broke with a soft, wet sound, and Kaidan peeked up with dazed eyes.

“Where the hell do you think you’re going, major?” John breathed, and touched his forehead with his own, his eyes tightly shut. Kaidan was still trying to comprehend the situation. “Hell, I... I remember.”

Clear relief traversed through his whole body.

He wanted to laugh.

The burden was eased from his shoulders.

He watched as John swallowed hard, his Adam’s apple bobbing slightly. “I’m damn sorry, K,” he added, his brows drawn together in frustration. “Hell, ‘sorry’ doesn’t even cut it. I’ve put you through all that shit and had no goddamn idea.”

“Hey, it -it’s fine,” he replied, smiling fondly. “Hell, you had amnesia.”

John looked at him again, and his brows shot up before he blinked once.

“Damn. You with a patch, is... pretty hot,” he said, and Kaidan arched a brow at his abrupt change of tone. He couldn’t tell whether he was being serious or not. But when John’s blue eyes searched his face to only languidly fall to his mouth, he watched him bite into his lower lip, and his pants immediately felt tighter. He was serious. That much was certain.

Smirking, John leaned in, briefly stealing his breath away.

John tugged lightly at his lower lip. “I’ve always had a thing for role-playing,” he murmured against his mouth, a goofy grin creeping up on his face that made it impossible not to love him.

“You’re... my god, you’re fantastic.” Kaidan was grinning, too.

For a moment, John just looked at him with a small smile, and he found himself curious about what he was thinking.

“Look, there’s, uh... there’s one more thing,” he finally broke the silence, reaching for his back pocket. “I got this while you were recovering at Huerta Memorial. I mean, hell... maybe it’s moving things too fast, but I don’t really give a damn.” John pushed the small object up between his index and middle finger with his thumb. Kaidan’s expression immediately mellowed when he saw what it was.

A simple copper band.

John held it out to him, and with tentative fingers, Kaidan took it and held it in his hands. Barely able to take his eyes off of it, his mouth somewhat agape, he peeked up and into incredibly blue hue.

He didn’t want to jump to any conclusions, but hell, that didn’t stop his heart from beating significantly faster.

“Even had it engraved,” John added, and Kaidan gingerly turned it around. He nearly choked when he saw what was written there.

‘Your John, always.’

John cringed. “A diamond was kinda gay,” he said, and Kaidan felt his lips gradually tugging upwards, attempting to keep his amusement at bay. “I mean, shit, I won’t judge you if you want a diamond. Didn’t mean it like that. I don’t know what the hell I’m doing.”

“John -” he tried, voice thick with emotion.

“I guess I could take out a loan or something,” John added, frowning deeply as his eyes were far away. “I’m still suffering for what those jackasses Garrus and Joker did back in 83 when tapping me from credits, and then that Illusive Fucker had me go out mining after Element Zero to provide for myself. I don’t have much, but I’d be willing to pull a few strings to get you what you want -”

“John,” he tried again, firmer this time. Kaidan cupped his cheek to force him to look at him. John blinked, seeming somewhat taken aback, his expression a mix between deadpan and surprise. “I don’t want a diamond...”

Kaidan smiled fondly “...I want you.”

“That a ‘yes’?” he asked, a slow grin spreading on his face. “‘Cause I can provide for that.”

He chortled. “Yes,” he muttered, his voice husky. “Yes. I’ll marry you, John.”

“This... went a lot better than I expected.”

Chuckling, Kaidan draped an arm across his shoulder blades, pulling him into a tight embrace. He buried his face in the grope between his neck and shoulder as his brows curved in a nearly concerned fashion, clutching John’s soaked shirt, holding him close.

He opened his eyes again.

“I can’t stop grinning,” he muttered, well-aware of how stupid he probably looked where he stood. His breath hitched although transpired into a small chuckle when John grabbed a handful of his ass, giving it a gentle squeeze, greedily claiming what he knew was his. “I’ve, uh... I’ve never heard of any punches followed by proposals...”

“Only with you, major...” John replied, the cocky smile transparent in his voice. “Only with you.”

His smile grew even bigger as John had just quoted their skycar ‘date’ after Sovereign’s defeat. They pulled away shortly after that. Kaidan touched his face with his left hand and just stared. Taking him in.

John Shepard was back, his John, and now his fiancé.

Taking ahold of his wrist, he moved Kaidan’s hand down to his right pec, and used his other to take the ring and swiftly press it onto Kaidan’s finger. It slid on as if it belonged there. John flashed a smirk and took his face in his hands again, forcing him into a fierce kiss. Kaidan bent with his body, devouring his full lips, arms in a protective hold around his waist.

Eventually, John sucked in a breath, his lip quivering slightly before he cleared his throat. “Okay, so... could we get someplace dry? I get that you’re Canadian, but I’m freezing my ass off here.”

He had completely forgotten how the rain was pouring down. Trailing his eyes down to see that John was simply wearing jeans and a t-shirt, he immediately felt bad seeing that he had eyed his form up a couple minutes ago, not considering what little he was actually wearing. John was shaking lightly, and Kaidan couldn’t help but snort, pressing an apologetic kiss to his temple. Shrugging off his own jacket, John arched a brow, and Kaidan didn’t waste a moment to drape it around his shoulders.

John snuggled into it, looking precious as all hell, and Kaidan pulled him close.

Activating his biotics, he heard him sigh relieved, burying his nose in the crook of his neck while still clutching the sides of the jacket together. They had to get moving, so it was simply to get him somewhat warmer, but it helped. He tightened the embrace before pulling away.

This was cliché to a fault, but hell, he didn’t give a damn.

Sliding a hand down John’s strong arm, he intertwined their fingers, the pressure returned as he started moving towards the ship in a hurried pace as they pushed through the remaining crowd. The pilot had been waiting for them patiently. He heard the sloshing of wet soles and he knew that he really needed to get John out of those clothes before he caught a cold.

He smirked as the idea was far more appealing than it should be.

Kaidan had heard it was pretty cozy back in that ship...

“So... where are we going?” John asked huskily, smirking as if he had caught up with his thought process.

He brought the phone back to his ear. “Vancouver,” he said, and the phone was immediately picked up on the other end. “Yeah... hi, mom. I hope you don’t mind, but I’m bringing someone with me.”

Chapter Text

Being soaking wet wasn’t exactly a good feeling, but having caught Kaidan discretely eyeing him up on more than one occasion, Shepard paid little mind to it. There were still some staring bystanders, but the crowd around them had dissolved, and they managed to get inside the transport ship that reminded him of a small business jet.

He had pulled up the collar of Kaidan’s jacket well up to his cheeks, getting lost in his scent, reminding him how he still hadn’t given him his grey hoodie back. Shepard had grown far too attached. He didn’t really want to part from it.

Well shit, it’s mine now, he thought, having left it back at the apartment.

“So... what do you say we get you out of those wet clothes?” came a suggestive voice, Kaidan shooting him a dark look over his shoulder with a mischievous spark in his eye.

“Two minutes into our engagement and you’re already taking advantage of me?” he asked, feigning offense. “Damn, Alenko. I’m wounded.”

Kaidan shook his head, smiling. “I’ll get you some change.”

“Uh-oh. You’re not putting me in anything compromising, are you?”

“Careful, Shepard... don’t give me any ideas.” Kaidan zipped up the duffel bag and began rummaging through it. Separating from Kaidan’s jacket, he threw it at the backrest of a seat, arms enveloping around himself to keep up the remaining warmth as he tiptoed on his feet. Although he himself could reave, he didn’t really consider himself a biotic, as he didn’t know how to harness the dark energy in any other way. Therefore, he couldn’t warm himself or others up, like Kaidan sometimes did.

There was still a noticeable difference between an L2 and L5 implant, and since the L2’s were more unpredictable, the L5 didn’t have any side effects. However, not all the side effects were bad. The reason why Kaidan’s hair always stayed like that was because of the L2 and Shepard would kill for never having to style his own damn hair again. He needed large amounts of gel to keep it the way he wanted.

It was a damn pain, but still, he was thankful he didn’t suffer from migraines like Kaidan did.

After being detained back in 86 because of what happened at Aratoht, Shepard forgot everything about how to use biotics, having to approach Kaidan when he was back on the Normandy so he could re-teach it.

He could do just fine without biotics, but then again, it gave him an excuse to be close to Kaidan.

Nightly visits and teachings to progressively regain control.

Shepard had to admit that he acted way stupider than he actually was, resulting in longer and several nights than actually needed, anything just to spend time with Kaidan who was always busy with something else. Completely focused on the war and dedicated to his new rank, Kaidan rarely took the time off to simply chat or hang out, so Shepard compromised with what he could. It was back to a time when he thought Kaidan was straight, and thinking back, he truly did feel ridiculous making an assertion like that.

Especially considering where they were today.

After nearly 4 years, they were getting married, and he couldn’t help but feel like the luckiest guy alive. Kaidan was damn perfect, and he had no idea how he had managed to land him, or what he had done to deserve him. Kaidan had gone to great lengths. Never once did he give up on him, even when Shepard treated him like shit, stirring his abdomen unpleasantly.

Swallowing, he averted his eyes, brows drawn together in a concerned fashion as he looked ahead of himself.

To get his mind off things, he got his hands busy, pulling the soaked shirt off over his head. Kaidan turned, his body going rigid until brown hue peeked up. Shepard winked at him, grabbed the cloth and headed for the dressing room, registering a small growl from Kaidan to let him know just how displeased he was that he didn’t plan to change right there in front of him.

Shepard loved teasing him like that.

He swung the door shut after him, bringing the cloth to his nose, registering Kaidan’s scent.

It was his favorite.

Kaidan had found him a plain white shirt, a pair of jeans, the standard briefs as well as a just as neutral colored footwear. Neither of them was particularly fond of flashy colors, although Shepard made an exception for red, and Kaidan for blue.

It was kind of their colors.

“John?” came Kaidan’s voice, at the other end of the door. “We, uh... we have a lot to talk about.”

Shepard frowned. “What about?” he asked, stripping down.

“I told you we were going to Vancouver, right? To meet my mom,” he said, as Shepard began dressing. “I mean hell, that’s scary enough, but...” A slow smile spread on his lips, and Kaidan snorted, almost hearing him shake his head.

Kaidan sucked in a breath. “Well, there’s... there’s another thing you should know.”

His whole body went cold when Kaidan had explained who was waiting for them back in Vancouver. Ashlee. Ashlee Shepard. The aspect of meeting his daughter after almost 5 years made him nauseous to the very core. What the hell was he supposed to do? He knew nothing about interacting with a kid, let alone raise one, but maybe it’d be easier with Kaidan around.

Just the thought of setting Ashlee up for adoption had him cringe, never knowing what kind of sick people could get ahold of her, and that made the decision -- however terrifying it was -- for him.

He wanted to keep her.

“So... her name’s Ashlee,” he muttered, beginning to button up his shirt. “What are the odds, huh?”

“I know. It’s crazy.” He could hear the smile in his voice. “But you’ve got nothing to worry about, John. She’s great. Obedient. Her mom did a good job raising her.” Kaidan fell into a pause. “I, uh... I think you’ll like her.”

“What if she doesn’t like me?” he asked, wincing.

“John... that -that’s ridiculous. She just... she had a bad first impression.” Shepard felt his own expression fall. “She, uh... she was in the comm-room when you contacted me before we touched down at that Cerberus facility to grab ahold of Ace.”

*

It had gone quiet, and Kaidan bit into his lower lip, wondering what was going through John’s mind. He was leaned up against the wall with arms folded across his chest while awaiting a response in the suffocating silence. Anything.

The door was pushed open, and John stepped out, looking entirely defeated.

“She saw that?” he asked, his voice close to breaking. Kaidan could do little but offer him a compassionate look. He watched him put a forearm to the wall and press his forehead against it.

Blue eyes tightly shut. “Shit, K... I don’t know if I can do this. I’m not fit for a damn father. I didn’t even have one of my own.”

“Hey. Just because you didn’t have parents yourself doesn’t mean you can’t do right by being one,” he soothed, reaching out to run his hand through his hair. “None of us know what happened, but if they really did leave you, then hell... do a better job than them. You’re compassionate, loving, kind, funny... overall a great guy. She’ll idolize you.”

He gingerly moved fingertips to the sensitive area of his L5 implant, feeling his shiver, having sworn he heard purring.

His eyes couldn’t help but fall, eyeing up his own fabric that was now hugging John’s form, from his broad shoulders to the curve of his ass that was not slightly sticking out because of his position. The buttons on his shirt were unfastened from the neck and down to the collarbone. The sleeves pulled up to his elbows. No matter what John wore, he looked like a model, and he felt guilty being tempted to take him right there.

Kaidan smoothed out the muscles in his body by running his hand down his shoulder blades to the small of his back, and John stood, wishing for more contact as he backed into his touch.

He happily obliged by stepping up behind him.

Lowering his voice, Kaidan added, “You’re also attractive as all hell, have a sexy voice, perform like a god in bed, and all those things you’d probably hit me for not saying... but I’m keeping those to myself.”

“I’m also reckless, stubborn, short-sighted, sometimes loud -”

“John,” he exhaled, having just spoiled the mood.

“...and everything I touch turn to shit.”

Silence.

“Ouch.”

“What?” he asked bewildered, clasping his ring-bearing hand. “No! That’s not what I -”

John seemed to realize that he had been joking.

“You’ll do great,” Kaidan said. “As I told you after Thessia’s fall... I’m going to be with you every step of the way.”

“Then you’ll be staying a long damn time,” he replied, twisting in his arms to curl the fabric of Kaidan’s shirt into his fists as he faced him. “Once you’re in on this, you’re not going anywhere. I won’t let you. You’re mine now, Alenko.”

“Mm... good. Because I’m not letting you get away from me again,” he murmured, smirking. “That means you want to keep her?”

Silence.

“I guess so. Sure as hell wouldn’t trust anyone else. I’ve seen enough shit in my lifetime to know that,” he replied, dropped his forehead to Kaidan’s collarbone and grunted “...and here I was, wanting you by myself for a longer period of time.”

Kaidan blinked. “Wait, are you... jealous of a 4-year-old girl?”

“Yes,” he growled into his shoulder, not denying it. “Not only that, but we’re too damn young to give up sex.”

A heartfelt chuckle brewed up in Kaidan’s gut as he pulled him closer. “She goes to bed at five. We’ll have some time for ourselves,” he replied and felt John’s body go rigid when he gently nipped at his earlobe. In the process, he dropped his hand to gently squeeze his ass, hearing his breath hitch. “When you get too loud, I’ll just have to, uh... shove something in there... to shut you up.”

“Oh yeah?” he purred, the want in his voice making him semi-hard. “We’re alone now.”

He grinned as he gently nipped at John’s jawline, and taking him by the wrist, he was about to pull him back into the dressing room. Nevertheless, John stood firm. Kaidan arched a brow, but before he could ask, his back was slammed up against the bulkhead.

In the walkway.

In plain damn view.

“I’ve put you through hell, K,” he added, twining two fingers through his belt loops. “Let me make up for it.”

His heart was beating more and more rapidly.

“John, what are you d -?” he tried, but the only reply he received in return was a cocky wink. His heart got stuck in his throat when he realized that John had begun working off his belt.

Kaidan let out a breathy laugh. “Christ, the –the flight attendant... she could step in any time.”

“I’d say it’s a 50/50 percent chance.”

“You know... that dressing room, the one right there,” he said, motioning his head its direction “...has a lock.”

John’s grin took a wicked turn, having his head do cartwheels.

“Hell, what’s the fun in that?” he purred without shame, giving his hip a gentle squeeze.

John pressed up against him, briefly taking his breath away, their cocks touching over the fabric. In a swift, controlled tug, the belt was off. Delicate index fingers roamed just inside the rim of his pants as he was still holding the belt.

“I’ve learned a lot of things the past couple months,” he began, blue eyes transfixed at the belt. “One, you’re a terrible liar. Two, I want to spend the rest of my life with you. Three...” Blue hue peeked up, a roguish glint ushering through. “How much I want to see you squirm at words alone, completely at my mercy, before I deepthroat your rock-hard cock and make you see stars.”

His jaw dropped, left speechless, forgetting to breathe.

John smirked slowly. “Four... how turned on you get when I talk to you like this,” he murmured, his voice seductive. “Now let me take care of you and make that picture a reality, yeah?”

Mouth still wide open, he felt his chin grasped, gingerly closing it for him.

He felt his cock twitch against the fabric. John slanted his head for him, picking his target, planting a kiss to his neck. Feeling his flushed skin be sucked into John’s wet mouth, he moaned, a hint of teeth grazing up towards his ear as he felt John’s own member press up against him. Kaidan grasped his shirt, fists closing around the fabric as he yanked him closer to feel his just as hard member, breath hitching at the friction. Revering the feeling of John’s full length pressing against his.

“For the record, I’ve never had any complaints. I was a local favorite who could fill out most of my clients’ kinks. Dozens would pay extra to ensure I was the one they got,” John said.

Kaidan was too caught up with the sloppy kisses and gentle bites to notice that his hand had moved far lower. He sucked in a breath when John dropped his hand and cupped his aching cock above the fabric before beginning to languidly stroke him.

Breathily, Kaidan asked, “That so?” while arching his hips up into the touch.

The need to feel John’s grip around him, the need to cooperate with his every movement, was suffocating. Kaidan clutched the cloth on John’s back, nails digging into the smooth surface, holding onto him as if he was simply a mirage and would just dissolve. Another throaty moan managed to slip through his lips and he buckled further up into John’s firm hold. He trailed up his shoulder, across his neck, and dug his hands into his hair to make him aware that he was close. John chuckled, a rumble low and straight from the gut, and retracted his hand.

Kaidan pushed up harder against him, desperate for regaining the missing contact.

John chuckled. “Easy there, Tiger. I haven’t even started.”

He threw his head back to the bulkhead, cursing under his breath, as he had just been denied his release. John was calling the shots -- being in a torturously playful mood -- and he couldn’t do crap about it.

Bastard...

Kaidan blew hard through his nose. “Christ, this better be worth it...”

“Oh, it will.”

Hearing the downright cockiness in it, he knew that hell, it would be worth it. That made waiting in anticipation far more challenging. It wasn’t like this was the first time he had given him a blowjob, so yeah, he knew what he had in store. Christ, John’s pouty lips were made to give blowjobs, and that shone through. Feelings his biceps grasped, John trailed his arms down before settling at his forearms.

“As much as I’d love to speed this along, the wait will be better,” he murmured, nipping at Kaidan’s pulse point.

Lips never leaving his neck, Kaidan was pushed up harder against the concrete. John seemed pleased as a small hum emerged from his mouth. He wanted to kiss him. Lips only inches away, Kaidan attempted to claim them with his own, but John countered with a smirk. He let out a small growl, only making the smirk grow wider, and Kaidan offered him his complete trust. The rim of his pants was grasped and he yanked forward.

“Someone’s impatient,” John purred.

Kaidan let out a small grunt. “You have that effect on me.”

His breath got stuck in his throat when John dropped to his knees before him. Clasping the rim of his pants, it didn’t take long before both they and his briefs were halfway down his thighs. He was given a long and hard look, John drawing his bottom lip between his teeth as he eyed his trophy. The mischievous spark in the blue hue had his already spinning head pick up the pace of a damn chained gear, and just by that look alone, he knew that John wasn’t planning on showing him any form of mercy anytime soon.

As if he hadn’t suffered enough already.

Sticky kisses and even more bites were placed all over him, but John explicitly avoided his throbbing member, teasing the area around with tongue and teeth alike to arouse him further as hands roamed up his thighs to grab his ass.

He was already leaking pre-cum, but John paid no attention to it, as he silently wallowed in amusement.

“Major, I need you to fuck my mouth,” he murmured, and Kaidan squirmed. Restless, he struggled against the restraints in desperate need to touch him as John started working his wet tongue against the vein of his shaft with direct control, licking his way up. Hands tightened around his ass, getting a better grip, kneading it.

“J -John...” he panted. “Christ, just... just get on with it already.”

John’s lips brushed against the head. “If you ask nicely.”

“John, please... you’re killing me.”

“You’re killing me...?”

“Sir.”

“That wasn’t so hard now, was it?”

“John!” he growled.

After an accomplished grin was revealed on John’s face, he finally took his length between his lips, the wet warmth of his mouth enveloping his cock as his tongue made connection. Biting into his lower lip to silence himself, Kaidan shut his eyes as his head fell back to the bulkhead, powerless to his assault. He grabbed him by the hair to increase the pressure ever so slightly. Not only did the three inches made him look younger, but it was something to grab ahold of, too.

The panic set in when he heard a sound, as he stood there exposed, on immediate alert as the adrenaline built up. John pulled back from his dick with a wet pop, immediately having him miss the warmth of his mouth, only to hear a low rumble from John’s gut.

It was just his own phone that had slipped out of his pocket.

Letting his eyes shut again, he wanted to sigh in relief, only that he was stopped mid-sound as John went right back in with ease. He had made the mistake of looking down, seeing John as he bobbed between his legs. A lock of hair had fallen to his forehead. Too tempted to resist, he pushed it back into place.

Blue eyes peeked up with dilated pupils, meeting his, another moan escaping his lips at the sight.

Panting, he muttered, “John, s -stop... I’m... I’m gonna...”

He moaned at the top of his lungs when John simply positioned himself differently, guiding him in further, taking it like a champ with practiced ease when Kaidan arched himself deeper.

Knowing he was close, John pulled back, still keeping the head trapped.

Without even as much as flinch, he took his load into his mouth, Kaidan buckling underneath as they separated. His breathing evened out, released from his breathtaking high, John pressing a soft kiss to his now sensitive member before zipping his pants back up for him.

Opening dazed eyes and looking down, John still sat between his legs with that stupid grin on his face and wiped the escaped drops from the corner of his mouth -- he’d swallowed the rest.

Kaidan released a strangled chuckle. “Once again... you don’t disappoint.”

“Guess my question of, ‘Have I ever had your cock in my mouth’ was an affirmative, huh?”

“You’re... Christ, you’re terrible,” Kaidan breathed fondly, cupping his neck and pulled him up to his lips.

John opened his mouth, allowing him entrance, which he gladly entered. He could taste himself on his tongue. Their lips parted with a wet sound.

“But you still love me,” John replied, lightly nibbling at his lower lip, the cockiness still evident in his tone as he already knew the answer.

“I always have,” he muttered, pulling him in. “Guess it’s your turn, huh?”

John’s brows shot up “...and risk spilling all over your eye patch? Don’t think that’s sanitary,” he replied, making Kaidan roll his eyes at him. “Your face needs some time to heal from all that trauma. I don’t want to strain your muscles any further. Face-fucking is a no-go. I’m going to have to figure somethin’ out.”

“Hmm... well, I’ve got a proposition.”

“Yeah, and what’s tha -?” he began, only to let out a strangled moan as Kaidan slipped a hand down the front of his pants and taking his length in hand.

He automatically pressed into his touch as his arm draped around Kaidan’s shoulder.

John panted, meeting his strokes. “Okay... okay, yeah... I can get behind that.”

His breaths came in short, ragged huffs, in sync with the slight tugging. Kaidan focused on John’s breathing as he pressed his forehead to his temple, fighting not to get hard once again as he had little energy for another session he knew he wouldn’t be able to say ‘no’ to. Languidly, he pumped the smooth skin of his hard member, refusing to leave him all hot and bothered -- not when he could do something about it -- after he had such a fantastic orgasm himself.

“F... fuck, K. I’m... I’m so damn close...”

“Come on,” he encouraged.

John’s breathing became more erratic, and feeling the hold around him tightening, he gave him the last stroke that sent him over the edge with a loud moan. He buckled in his arms, his load spilling over Kaidan’s hand, the sticky substance allowing easier slide when reaching out from his pants. John’s eyelids drooped. He was so damn beautiful like that. Carefree. Downright perfect.

“Fucking Christ, that was... that...” John mumbled, leaning his weary body into his hold. “Shit, now I’m going to have to change again.”

Chortling, Kaidan held him before pulling away.

John studied his hand. “Okay, so... that the ring?”

“Uh... Yeah.”

“Well, guess it’s literal now. ‘Your John, always.’ You’ve got my cum on that thing.”

Kaidan choked on a laugh, shaking his head. “Always knew you were a romantic,” he teased, watching the adorably goofy grin spread on his fiancé’s face. God, he was amazing. “C’mon. Let’s get ourselves cleaned up.”

...and hope no one heard us.

It didn’t take long to get presentable again, and together, they stepped up to two conjoined seats. Pushing the duffel bag up at the compartment above them, John took his seat, Kaidan soon feeling a hand tug at his shirt as he pulled him down with a smirk. Kaidan happily played along, and their lips collided in a sloppy kiss, still suffering from exhaustion from their past session.

He shivered as John’s fingertips gingerly moved up his temple, trailing the line of his eye patch, playfully tugging at it. There was no doubt. John loved the eye patch, and hell, Kaidan might keep it even after he recovered. For his sake.

Kaidan let his body fall to the seat beside him. “This whole thing brings up the next question of our engagement.”

“Oh?

“Do you want to be an ‘Alenko’ or am I going to be a ‘Shepard’?”

John blinked. “Shit. I didn’t think of that.”

“We could just keep our own names, you know. Or conjoin them,” he clarified, smirking. “What do you say, John Shepard-Alenko?”

“Let me get back to you on that,” he muttered “...but I kinda like the sound of that one.”

“There’s no reason to rush, though. Without the reaper invasion at our doorstep, we’ve got all the time in the world.”

Silence.

“Think we’ll actually be able to settle down for once?” John asked.

“After everything we’ve been through, it’d be cruel not to allow us some of that happiness. We’ve earned it.”

“I really can’t see myself going through Wall-Mart scouting the aisles for milk and cornflakes before arguing over prices, though,” John murmured. Kaidan released a chuckle straight from the heart. He watched as John smiled back at him and seemed somewhat taken aback -- almost offended. “Seriously, though. Can you see me doing all that civilian shit? I sure as hell can’t.”

Kaidan’s gaze was far away. “I can, actually. It’s, uh... it’s entertaining as hell,” he muttered, receiving a light punch in his arm. Kaidan chuckled again until it died down with a fond smile. “I like what I’m seeing, though.”

For a moment, he just stared into his icy-blue eyes, full of love.

He was met by enthusiasm when he reduced the distance between them. The kiss was careful and soft and downright perfect. Breaking apart, he tilted his head down, brushing his lips against his jawline. Kaidan hummed softly and shivered when a hand went into his hair, thumb caressing his scalp. John’s mouth ghosted his neck before he placed a simple kiss below his ear.

One of his soft spots. John remembered. It was great to have him back.

John leaned into his grey-shot temple. “Love you.”

“I love you, too,” he replied.

Grunting, John muttered, “All right, this is getting too sappy for me.” He pulled away, and Kaidan rolled his eyes skyward at the display. “Now where are the damn peanuts?”

I’m definitely the luckiest man alive.

Chapter Text

Seeing Kaidan’s cheeks flush red would never get old, and when the stewardess gave them a knowing smile as they stepped out, that’s exactly what happened. Shepard could do nothing but grin at the display. Turns out they had been louder than intended.

The Alenko residence was big, looking expensive as hell, and Kaidan looked almost embarrassed by it.

There was no denying that his family was of the rich upper class. They owned an orchard, for Christ’s sake, and he wouldn’t be surprised if they had some sort of vineyard, either. It made him realize just how out of place that he felt in the local. He had grown up on the streets and slept on the floors or worn cloth. It was unfamiliar.

It was first when he stood outside that the anxiety hit him.

Behind this door was Kaidan’s mother, and not only that but his own kid. He found himself fidgeting at the thought. Kaidan was about to take the first step towards the porch, but Shepard grasped his arm firmly, met by a puzzled look as he turned.

“Just... hold up a minute,” he muttered, leaning his back to the skycar.

Immediate concern wrapped Kaidan’s features.

Those damn puppy eyes of his...

“Everything all right?”

“Yeah. Everything’s fine, it’s just... this is a lot.”

“Hey...” he soothed, walking up to him. “I’m here for you.”

He immediately felt safe when a strong arm lay draped around his shoulder, pulling him in, him leaning into the embrace. Shepard wrapped his arms around his waist in need of contact while still leaned up against the car.

After a moment of just standing there, tangled up in each other, Kaidan took his face in his hands.

As if it was just as easy as breathing, he accepted the kiss, awarded by the slight parting of lips as he pressed his tongue against and into Kaidan’s mouth. Kaidan hummed happily under his breath, stroking his cheeks with his thumbs, returning the gesture. Shepard pressed up harder, feeling a smile against his lips, before drawing Kaidan’s lower lip between his teeth. Gently tugging. Basking in his warmth.

Slipping his hands down Kaidan’s back pockets and gingerly squeezing his ass, Kaidan made a ‘mhmph’ sound, pulling away.

Kaidan chortled, grinning. “Better?”

He mumbled a “yeah,” his muscles back in their relaxed state, feeling Kaidan trail his arm down before he intertwined their fingers and tried to pull him along. Shepard just stirred, and with a smirk, he watched the confusion wash over Kaidan’s face.

“I get that we’re both serious about us, but... wouldn’t want to give her a heart attack, yeah?”

Kaidan arched up a brow, but when Shepard’s eyes directed at his hand, whiskey-brown hue fell only to widen as they registered the elephant in the room. Separating from his hold, Kaidan brought a hand to the ring finger of his other, pulling the vaguely bronze-colored copper band off before closing his fist around it. With a roll of his eyes, he smiled, pushing it into his back pocket.

“All right, let’s go!” Shepard beamed, clapping his hands together.

Moping about it wouldn’t help anyone.

When the door pushed open, a smaller woman stood before them, the surprise on her expression quickly dissolving into the warm Vancouver air. He could see some of Kaidan’s features in her, obviously with good genetics, being a beautiful lady.

Kaidan stepped forward, embracing her.

“It’s good to see you again, Kaidan,” she said, her voice thick with emotion as she hugged him tightly.

Shifting somewhat awkwardly on his feet, Shepard felt like he was interrupting an intimate moment. A hint of longing churned his abdomen at the affection shown between them.

“Glad to be back, mom,” Kaidan replied, and when he pulled away, he gave Shepard a warm smile. “This, uh... this is John Shepard.”

Shepard held out a hand, and Mrs. Alenko firmly took it. “It’s a pleasure meeting you, ma’am. I’ve been honored to serve with your son for a long time. It’s nice to meet the woman responsible for his upbringing. You must be very proud.”

He could’ve sworn he saw Kaidan fawn at the exchange and had to bite the inside of his cheek for the grin not to reveal itself.

“Oh, I am proud,” she replied with a smile, giving her son a friendly wink. “The pleasure is all mine.” Moving her hands to Shepard’s upper arms, she gave him a thorough look-over. “My, you’re even more strapping in real life than on the vids...”

Kaidan cleared his throat. “Mom.”

He couldn’t help but smile at the warning in his voice.

This was fucking great.

“Please, come in. Both of you. I’ll prepare some coffee,” she beamed, waving them in. Gestured by Kaidan to go first, he did and arrived in a hallway after rounding a quaint corner to see the main room. Judging by the size of their house, Shepard had expected a whole museum-like display with sculptures, busts, and ancient artifacts, but the place was modest.

Mrs. Alenko stepped into the kitchen. “How would you like your coffee, Mr. Shepard?”

“Please, just ‘John...’ and, uh... nothing fancy. Don’t strain yourself for me. Plain coffee is fine.”

“Nonsense! We have one of those high-tech coffee machines that manage to register what ingredients needed in a matter of seconds and mix them,” she replied, and Shepard blinked, having no idea those existed. “What would you like?”

Kaidan broke in before he could persist.

“Half-and-half, three sugar,” he said, grabbing his hand before pulling him towards the couch. “C’mon, John. Don’t take it personally. Hell, she doesn’t know you’re entirely clueless about coffee machines -Heh!”

Taking after his recently punched abdomen, he chuckled as he plopped down into the seat, looking thoroughly pleased with himself.

“You’re never going to let that one slide, are you?” Shepard deadpanned.

“Not a chance. It’s one of the few damn things you’re bad at, including dancing,” he replied, tugging him down next to him as he seemed to ignore the dramatic roll of Shepard’s eyes. “Hell, I’m never letting it slide.”

“What can I say? I’m, uh... an enigma.”

“Mmh -hey! That’s my line.”

“Not anymore,” he replied, winking at him. With a light scoff, Kaidan shook his head. Nevertheless, the light mood soon turned more serious as Mrs. Alenko brought up the next topic.

“Ashlee is currently playing at a friend’s house, but she’ll be back in a couple hours.”

One breath at a time.

“What a sweet girl she is, John,” she added, carrying a platter with three cups and a can. She held it out to them, and they took one each, offering a muffled thanks before she disappeared into the kitchen again to put the silver down. “You’ve raised her well. She’ll turn out to be quite the upstanding woman, let me tell you.”

He gave Kaidan a look, a question of “what did you tell her,” but Kaidan just smiled reassuringly.

When Kaidan leaned in, Shepard met him halfway. “I just told her she was your daughter. Didn’t go into detail. I, uh... I figured you’d want to tell her yourself when the time was right. Or avoid telling her at all. It’s your choice.”

“Thanks,” he replied “...but I don’t know what to do here.”

“Do what feels right.”

Listen to his gut. He could do that. He’d done that his whole life.

Mrs. Alenko came shortly after around the kitchen counter.

“You must be very proud yourself,” she added with a smile, and Shepard forced one of his own.

“Actually, I, uh...” he tried, casting a glance Kaidan’s way, offering a silent support. Tearing his eyes away from him, he cleared his throat. “I’m sure I would, but... I honestly wouldn’t know.” Mrs. Alenko’s brows shot up, but she allowed him to continue. “I was... in a bad place at the time. Didn’t have the most upstanding childhood. I didn’t trust myself to take care of her.”

So he told her the whole story, avoiding the gritty details, but leaving space for obvious interpretation.

He didn’t know why, but for some reason -- with Kaidan there -- he could open up about his life without much effort. Shepard felt like he owed it to her. He was, after all, engaged to her son. She deserved to know. She simply sat there and listened.

Nevertheless, when he finished, he was anxious again.

Much to his surprise, she simply muttered, “Oh, my... I’m so sorry to hear that, John.” He could’ve sworn he had seen her eyes water. “No child should ever experience such things. You’ve obviously been through a lot.”

“It’s all right,” he said, in awe of her understanding. Kaidan must’ve inherited from her. “I mean, it’s... the past. I’ve got that squared away.”

She looked like she wanted to say something, but then she gazed at Kaidan as if she was awaiting his blessing.

“I already told him about BAaT,” Kaidan said, hands connecting between his knees as he hunched over. “There are no secrets between the two of us. Not anymore, at least. Guess it’s one of many things we have in common.”

Mrs. Alenko chuckled softly. “Well, then I don’t have to tell you that Kaidan said the very same thing.”

“What he did was to protect a girl he cared for, though,” Shepard said. “What I did... I did it to survive. I’m not proud, but back then, I paid little mind to it. It was only after Aaron I had enough. I couldn’t hurt a kid.”

She smiled again. “The fact that you grew up to realize that proves that you’re a good man, John. You endured. You survived.”

“It still doesn’t justify what I did.”

“The best you can do is stand up for and embrace your mistakes, learn from them, and focus on the present. The past is unchangeable but the present isn’t. Even if this gang turned against you and forced your hand, you chose to walk away, and this ‘Ace’ made you a better man. You can’t forget that you were only a teenager that knew of no other life.”

She tipped the cup back to her mouth, and repeated, “You’re a good man. Whoever managed to land you is one lucky human being.”

“Yeah, about that...”

He couldn’t exactly say, “okay, yeah, I figured you should know that I’m fucking your son,” without raising a few eyebrows.

Shepard hesitated. “Your son and I, we, uh... we’re -”

“A couple,” she finished for him.

Her calmness about the situation took him off guard.

Bewildered, Kaidan blinked, “Wait, what? Who... who told you -?”

“Oh please,” she replied, chuckling. “I know when my son is in love. It’s a certain glow about you. Happiness doesn’t come easy these days, so we need to grasp it when we can, never to let go.”

Kaidan looked stunned.

“When?”

She smiled coyly behind her cup. “Judging by how highly you spoke of him, it wasn’t difficult to tell,” she replied. “I knew there was something there in your very first message in 83.”

“Wait, on the SR-1?” Shepard asked, in need of confirmation.

“Although I knew my son was head-over-heels for you long before he did, I didn’t get my confirmation before he emailed me after Sovereign’s defeat.” Kaidan frowned deeply at that, as Mrs. Alenko put her cup aside and pushed herself up from the chair before moving towards a dresser. “If you’d like, I could present you with that e-mail.”

Clearing his throat, Kaidan said, “Look, I -I can’t remember sending you anything incriminating.”

“We both know you write these while you’re half asleep or when your ass is so drunk you don’t know half of it,” she replied boldly, taking Shepard somewhat aback. Gazing Kaidan’s way again, he registered the panic in his whiskey-brown eyes. “Here we are!”

“Wait, wait. Give me that,” Kaidan insisted, reaching out.

She propped it into his hand. With an attentive glare, Shepard watched his reaction as he skimmed through the document, seeing his jaw drop.

Kaidan blinked. “I... I sent this? I couldn’t’ve...”

“Wait, what’s it say?” he asked, intrigued.

“No, I -I couldn’t have sent this.”

His cheeks a new shade of red, knowing he’d messed up. Shepard easily yanked the pad from his unresponsive hands. It was a really damn long document, too.

Letting his eyes search the words, a smirk spread on his lips, taking it all in.

Shepard cleared his throat. “This, uh... this is very detailed, major. Don’t think you’d get through customs when you carry these kinds of thoughts about your Commanding Officer.”

Groaning, Kaidan hid in his hands, only amusing him further.

“That’s not fair!” Kaidan exclaimed, the desperation ushering through. “You were drunk after the celebration, and -Christ, you kissed me! The hell was I supposed to do? I pulled away because I didn’t want to take advantage of you. I drank a little in hope I’d forget the whole thing -- as it was awkward enough already -- knowing you were drunk, knowing that whatever just happened was nothing more than an impulse.”

Biting into his lip, Shepard tried not to grin.

“Then you contacted your mother for advice,” he replied. “You know, I think you could’ve asked for advice without mentioning my -”

“I was drunk!” He was cut off before getting to the good part.

Which was a good thing, because hell, Shepard felt himself going hard.

It was some juicy content in there.

“God, I love you,” Shepard muttered unconsciously, and the expression before him immediately mellowed. Nevertheless, when he looked up, he cleared his throat again, knowing they weren’t alone. The affectionate smile on Mrs. Alenko’s face told him she didn’t mind.

“You never told me that I launched myself at you in 83,” he added, fixating his gaze at Kaidan.

Sighing, he muttered, “I -I didn’t know what to say. I mean, I didn’t exactly pull away at first. Hell, I didn’t want to. Just... too caught up in the moment. Guess I was ashamed.”

“I’ll never accept a drink from Garrus again because I can’t remember any of it.”

So, she knew about them. That made things easier. Breaking off the news of an engagement wouldn’t come as a shock. Kaidan met his eye, and as if he knew what he was thinking, he nodded.

Shepard straightened. “There’s one more thing,” he tried carefully and swallowed hard when her attention was entirely on him. He felt like his every breath was being judged, so he didn’t breathe, jaw locked tight. Languidly, he rose up from the couch and put that pad back where it came from. “We’ve been together for a while now, and... your son is my whole world. My sanity. Knowing that, I, uh... I asked him to marry me.”

He fearfully watched her reaction as his hand balled into a fist. Trying to keep his hands from shaking. Her eyes went wide, glistening, covered her mouth and looked at her son.

Is that a good sign...?

Kaidan just smiled “...and, I said ‘yes’.”

She pulled up from the chair, and before Shepard could speak, his eyes went wide when he was reined into the same suffocating hug that Kaidan had earlier received. He didn’t know what the hell to do with himself at he had gone entirely limp in her hold, feeling like a flopping fish as his arms lay motionless to his sides, just like when Aria pulled him in for a surprise kiss back on Omega after he helped her retake it.

It was... nice.

He felt really strange. Kinda fuzzy. It surprised him. The ever real embrace he had received had been from a lover, but this was something else entirely, feeling different. Somewhat terrifying.

So this is how it’s like to have a mother.

Somewhat carefully, he returned the embrace, as if she was a fragile object that would break at any moment. The grip around him did, however, prove different. He could’ve sworn she held on longer because she had heard his story. How he grew up without parents, how he knew of no other life than the life among lowlife gangs in downtown New York, how he had to find different ways to provide for himself.

A strange feeling of acceptance ushered through.

When they pulled away, he cleared his throat. “So, uh... I guess you’ll have both a son-in-law and granddaughter anytime soon.”

He immediately cringed at his choice of words, but she just laughed, shaking her head in amusement.

“Sweetie, never let this man go,” she told Kaidan, tears yet apparent in her eyes.

He smiled back at her. “I don’t plan to.”

“Well, I certainly -” Shepard began, but then his body went rigid as something went up for him. “Shit!” He cut himself off before shooting an apologetic glance Mrs. Alenko’s way at his slipped curse. She looked nothing but curious, the same curiosity looming in Kaidan’s features as well. “I need to speak with Admiral Hackett.”

“Hackett?” Kaidan echoed, capturing his arm after Shepard rose from his seat -- stopping him from going any further -- holding onto his wrist. “John, just -just slow down, okay. Hey, what’s going on?”

“The Catalyst.”

Kaidan’s eyes went wide. “Wait, you... you remember?”

“I... yeah. Javik gave me the Echo Shard before we launched the final push. That’s how I remembered you.”

“Echo Shard?” Mrs. Alenko echoed.

“It’s, uh... it’s a prothean artifact that can store memories,” Kaidan clarified, before turning back with a dangerously focused expression. He pulled Shepard back down into the couch with him. “Okay, tell me everything that happened. Everything you can remember after being hit by the beam. We can’t afford you losing any of the details before we can reach the Admiral.”

Shepard nodded in understanding, tightly closing his eyes, trying to remember everything.

“Okay, I... After that laser hit me, I remember heading towards the beam that transported me to a room with... bodies. I had ended up exactly where the reapers had harvested these organics. I had a pounding headache, hearing... whispers. Anderson contacted me via comm-link, but I later found him standing by a console in the Citadel. Then the Illusive Man arrived. He was... he looked like a wandering husk. Like he was on the verge of becoming just like Saren with Sovereign’s modifications. He had blue -- very blue -- eyes.

“I felt this... this chill in my body. It was like I was fighting... something. Like a virus. I couldn’t control my actions,” he continued, features saddening. “The reapers, or -or the Illusive Man, or... something, made me pull a gun on Anderson.”

“I’ll give you two some space,” Mrs. Alenko whispered, realizing the situation. “I’ll be upstairs.”

When she left, Shepard’s hand tightened into a fist, eyes tightly closed. Not before long, he felt the sensation of a hand cupping his own. Kaidan gently squeezed it for comfort. He felt his tensed muscles slightly slacking.

“I resisted,” he continued. “Or I thought I did, but... no. I heard the gunshot. I spoke with the Illusive Man. He tried to convince me that the only way to save humanity was to control the reapers. I managed to change his view on the situation, made him realize he was being controlled by them, and... it was Saren all over again. He put a gun to his head.”

His throat went dry as he continued. “I remember sharing the view from the Citadel with Anderson, both barely holding on. He told me that we had done it, how he felt like it had been ages since he just sat down, how he was proud of me, and... that’s it.”

Kaidan twined their fingers together and his fist unclenched.

“Then... you heard Hackett,” he finished for him, gingerly brushing a thumb against his knuckles.

“I passed out after that. But that’s... No, that’s not all,” he said, expression hardening as he recalled the events. “A holographic interface approached me when I woke up again. It was the kid I saw back on Earth.” Kaidan frowned deeply. “He had been the one controlling the reapers. He was the Catalyst. Seemed like some sort of a ‘god child.’ He gave me three options. Three options to end the harvest.”

He fell into a pause, trying to recall what it was. “It was... I had the choice to combine organics with synthetics to create a new DNA, control the reapers or destroy them entirely, taking all synthetics with them.”

“EDI. She, uh... they told me she short-circuited shortly after the Normandy was hit by some pulse,” Kaidan said.

“Then... it worked. Hell, did I make the right choice?”

For a long moment, Kaidan seemed to think the options over, his eyes far away.

Eventually, he said, “Yeah... I -I think you did.”

Silence.

“You don’t believe me.”

Kaidan sighed, giving him an apologetic look. “I’m -I’m sorry, John. I believe that you believe, but... this doesn’t make any sense. I mean, a ‘god child’?” he asked, and Shepard scoffed. Before he could leave, Kaidan grasped his arm, keeping him there. “Hey, you hit your head pretty hard down there, and the memories could be scrambled -”

“I know what I saw,” he cut him off.

Escalating his hand, it went into Shepard’s hair. He melted into the touch with an exhale. Kaidan was so understanding.

“Either way, we need to contact Hackett with what we know,” Kaidan said.

Without a second thought, Shepard found the admiral’s voice-link on his omni-tool.

“Shepard,” he said, seeming somewhat taken aback. “Didn’t expect to hear from you so soon.”

“I’ve got information about the Catalyst.”

Hackett blinked. “Well, damn. That’s good news. Shoot. I’m listening.”

*

“You’re retiring?” Kaidan asked, unable to process it. It had come up during the conversation with Hackett.

“Yup.”

“Just like that?”

“Just like that,” he echoed, shrugging. “I... thought you wouldn’t mind. I’m sorry. As a couple, we probably should’ve discussed it first -”

“I don’t mind at all. You’re your own man, John,” he replied, having to make that entirely clear. “I just... it’s unexpected, that’s all. It’s hard picturing you as anything but a soldier after... well, after everything.”

John shook his head. “Kaidan, I have us both set for life. We don’t ever have to work again. I know you, and I know you want to continue doing this, ‘integrity’ and ‘doing the right thing’ and all that jazz,” he replied, waving a hand, earning him a snort “...but the offer’s there if you want to quit.” Kaidan gave him a fond smile. “Anderson -David... he left me with everything he had, recited me as his ‘adoptive son’ in the documents, made sure I inherited his belongings. This happened only days after I enlisted at 17. I didn’t know until an hour ago.”

He put a hand on John’s thigh, gently squeezing it, a gesture he seemed to appreciate.

“Hell, I can’t say I’m particularly fond of the idea of spending a lot of time at home,” John added, cringing as he propped his arm to the backrest. “It’s going to make me crazy. Wherever we end up, I guess I’ll just get some training equipment installed. Keep myself busy. Make some phone calls or do some research to help you out if needed. While you’re out there playing politician, I’ll make sure to handle things back here.”

John’s voice took a teasing tone. “I promise, K. I’ll be a good stay-at-home wifey,” he said, but the joke was killed when he languidly spread his knees. Eyes falling down to his bulge, Kaidan swallowed hard, looking up again to see that John’s look had darkened.

“...with a surprise each time you get home.”

“Mmh. Does it involve belts and dirty talk?” he asked, voice husky.

“Told you it’d be a surprise.”

He had to fight the urge of tackling him down into the couch.

“I’m going to miss the hell out of you when I’m out in the traverse,” Kaidan breathed. Before him, John’s expression fell, a pain seeping up his chest at the sudden hurt in his eyes.

After a moment, he asked, “You’re not taking the Council seat?”

“I’m... Politics was never my thing,” he said carefully, noting how small his voice seemed. “I want to be out in the field like I’ve always been. Especially now when they’ve got one less Spectre on a leash. I don’t... I don’t see a reason to why you wouldn’t be okay with -”

“No. No, I’m okay with it. It’s your choice.”

“I... okay.”

John gave him a lackluster smile. “You’re certainly qualified to get the job done. Commanding the Normandy while I was absent?” he said, shrugging. “I mean, that’s... pretty hot.”

He ducked his head and chortled, shaking his head, but the mood grimed when he looked back up.

“John, if you’re not okay with this -”

“I am.”

Kaidan fell into a pause. “Okay,” he replied simply, not wanting to push further. Something was obviously bothering him, but if John didn’t want to talk, he would always respect that. Still, he couldn’t help but feel somewhat hurt that he’d rather lie than tell him what was wrong.

Hearing his mom step down from the stairs, he briefly looked over, seeing her carrying a basket of laundry.

“Don’t overthink this,” John said.

“I’m not –I’m not overthinking.”

“Yes, K. You are. Please, just... let it go. It’s fine.”

“John, if there’s something wrong -”

He was interrupted by the sound of his mom clearing her throat. Kaidan’s eyes closed, sighing, having noticed how they had been too deep in conversation to register her presence.

Nevertheless, when he opened them again, John was unresponsive.

Looking straight past Kaidan above his shoulder, John’s body had gone rigid, wide-eyed staring out in the distance as if he was no longer there. Kaidan frowned, but when he turned, he immediately understood his abrupt silence.

Ashlee.

She was smiling from ear-to-ear, but when she saw John, her eyes went twice their size as she -- with a small gasp -- hid behind his mom’s leg. When he turned back to John, his heart broke, seeing the entirety of the downright shattered look on his face.

John knew she was scared of him.

That look of pure sorrow told him more than he bargained for.

“John -” he tried softly, but his fiancé jerked back from him when he took a step forward. Before he could recollect his thoughts, John pushed past him. “John!”

Chapter Text

After about thirty minutes, Kaidan decided to check up on John, finding him at the porch while gazing out over English Bay.

It was such a harmonious picture, free from all conflict and war, ignorant to the strain between John’s shoulder blades as his arms lay draped atop the round metal surfacing the glass banister. The sundown on the horizon cast a soft silhouette over his sturdy form -- palettes of yellow, red and orange coloring the sky -- only an inch of the burning star hidden behind the now shadowed skyscrapers.

The air was warm, a subtle breeze grazing his skin, sending a brief chill down his body.

It was quiet.

Only the distant chatter in downtown Vancouver echoed the silence.

“Hey... there you are,” Kaidan said, slipping up beside his fiancé with a beer in hand. Bumping his shoulder, he noted the small raise of John’s brow. “You know, this was the first spot I thought to look for you.”

“How so?” John asked, accepting the bottle held out to him.

“When I was a kid, I usually went up here myself when I was upset about something. After what happened back at BAaT, this was where my dad found me. Guess it’s soothing somehow. Probably the view looking out on all these people in their everyday lives. Gets you thinking.”

“Damn, you really are a sap,” John teased, twining their fingers together.

Kaidan squeezed his hand. “You bring out the worst in me.”

“Oh, good. One of the first stages of an engagement. Jumping each other’s throats.”

“Well, if you insist...” Kaidan teased.

“You’re becoming worse than me.” John shook his head, a small quirk of his lips as he sipped the beer.

“Like Ace once told me... that’s impossible.”

“You guys ganging up on me now?” he asked, tone playful. “Hell, I don’t have to worry about the two of you running off into the sunset together and leaving me behind, do I?”

“Well, he is attractive...” The shock on John’s face had him chuckle. “Relax, John.”

“Not funny, K.”

“Wait, are you... jealous?” Kaidan nudged his shoulder again, eyes dancing with amusement.

“You know I am,” he murmured, and Kaidan found himself unable to hold back the grin. “Hell, I wouldn’t be surprised. You guys have been hanging out a fuckton the past couple months. Worked together, had each other’s backs, been on the same ship... probably showered together, too. Not only that, but you’re so damn similar it’s crazy.”

“Yeah, well... I’ve only got eyes for you. You know that.”

John grunted. “You better,” he replied but seemed to relax again when Kaidan leaned in, burying his nose in the lock of hair by his temple. He could smell his own shampoo. Hands still latched together.

“You’re pouting.” Kaidan smirked, observant.

“I’m not pouting.”

“You definitely are,” he replied, taking John’s offer as he passed the beer over.

His prominent jealousy was adorable as all hell. Kaidan remembered that when they accompanied Brooks back when searching for Khan in that casino, an asari had eyed him up, resulting in John pulling him in like a lion mother protecting her cub. He couldn’t say that he minded it. Jealousy -- when not going too far -- is important in a relationship. If you aren’t jealous, then hell, you don’t really love that person.

After taking a sip, Kaidan asked, “Ready to talk about what happened?”

John fell into a pause.

“Fight-or-flight. I panicked. Hell, I never do that.”

“It’s new. Unfamiliar. You didn’t even remember having a kid until last night, and that... that’s a lot to digest.”

Silence.

“I’m fucking terrified.”

Kaidan sighed, gave the beer back and stepped up behind him. He snuck his arms around his waist, pressing a chaste kiss to his bare shoulder, just by the rim of his dark tank top. He’d discarded his white shirt. Muscles hesitantly relaxed into his hold.

“I know,” he muttered into his neck, mouth lightly pressed to it. “You started off on the wrong foot, but hell, it’s not too late.” John turned in his arms, so he propped his hands to the banister on each side of his body, whiskey-brown colliding with icy-blue. Leaning in, Kaidan closed his eyes and gingerly claimed his lips, returned just as softly.

John hummed. “You’re one hell of a Romeo, you know that?”

“Mmh... ‘Sin from thy lips, John Shepard? O trespass sweetly urged. Give me my sin again’.”

“Wait, you read Romeo and Juliet?” he asked, amused.

Kaidan pulled back. “You’re telling me you haven’t? Oh my god, John! It’s a classic. How can you not have?”

“Oh, I don’t know... maybe because I find myself frowning at every second fucking word.”

“It’s art, John.”

John chuckled, warm and open. “Christ, K,” he said, appearing amused at the faked pout on Kaidan’s face, lips unwillingly twitching upwards. He watched as John’s eyes fell to his mouth. His fiancé bit into his lower lip, and Kaidan swallowed thickly, seeing the lust in his eyes. “What do you say we continue this discussion inside?”

“Thought you had a thing for semi-public sex,” Kaidan teased, gesturing to the busy streets below.

“Yeah, but I also value my damn life. It’s a long way down.”

John took him by the wrist, trailing his arm down to intertwine their fingers. Kaidan was tempted to roll his eyes with a triumphant smile as he was pulled along.

“Guess we’d better pack out first, eh?”

Downstairs, he saw his mom sitting on the couch with a magazine in hand, a cup of tea in the other. Steam emerged from the warm substance. Her bare feet were pulled up into the couch cushions. It was late, so she had probably taken Ashlee to bed, getting some peace and quiet. The girl had arrived home late, so it was only minutes until her curfew, and they had spent a good fifteen minutes up on that porch.

She looked up, eyes going wide. “John, is everything all right?” she asked, concern in her voice as she lowered her reading material.

“Yeah, I’m good,” he replied, rubbing the back of his neck. “That doesn’t usually happen.”

She smiled somewhat pained. “It’s a lot to take in.”

“Right.”

Putting down the magazine, she said, “You boys hungry? Ashlee already ate at her friend’s house, but I could conjure something up.”

“Relax, mom,” Kaidan said. “Remember that you’ve got that meeting in the early hours. You should get some sleep as well. Let me take care of my fiancé from here.”

John fondly rolled his eyes.

“All right, you’ve convinced me. Ashlee’s probably asleep by now. Don’t stay up too late.”

“Yes, ma’am,” he replied, and she made her way upstairs.

He made his way to the kitchen, John shortly on his heel before he himself rounded the kitchen isle and flipped on the fan. John plopped into the bar stool at the other end as he approached the fridge.

“Any specific wishes?” Kaidan asked, pulling the door open to see that his mom had bought a lot of groceries for their arrival. “Uh. Yeah. According to this, I could make literally whatever you want.”

“Steak?”

“Sure. She even bought hot sauce.”

“I love your mom.”

Snorting, Kaidan shook his head. “Hell, I probably mentioned your love for hot sauce in one of my e-mails,” he said, pushing up the conjoined freezer by the top level of the fridge and grabbing what was needed. He threw it onto the table.

“Need any help?”

“I got it,” he replied, leaning over the counter to press a kiss to his lips.

“You don’t trust my cooking?”

“That’s not it. I trust your cooking -- it’s great, just... let me take care of you for once,” he replied, pulling up a drawer and fishing up a knife.

With his hip, he pushed it back into place, watching the surveying of blue hue traversing his whole body from his collarbone and down. Kaidan smirked, figuring he’d put up a show. It seemed to be working.

“I could find other ways for you to ‘take care of’ me... which definitely involves belts and dirty talk.”

Kaidan laughed. “Ouch! Again, I walked right into that one.”

“Yeah, well, I have a talent for putting you off-guard,” he said with a smirk, pushing up from the bar stool.

Kaidan arched a curious brow at him, following him with his eyes as he rounded the isle. A smile broke out on his features when John snaked an arm around his waist, pushing his body between Kaidan and the counter, balling his hands around the front of his shirt and pulling him in for another tender kiss. His whole body went warm as John’s full lips collided with his, slanting his head slightly when he sought entrance, humming softly as he took John’s tongue in his mouth.

Now this was officially his favorite cooking position.

One of the many things that came to surprise him about John when they got together, it was that the legendary commander was a cuddler and a determined one at that. He’d literally snake his arms around him at the most inconvenient of times, nuzzling into his neck, grunting disapprovingly if he tried to pull away. It was his way of dealing with being upset if Kaidan was present. He turned to the bottle otherwise.

“How come you always distract me when I try to cook for you? It’s a really bad idea. I burned the garlic last time,” Kaidan said, half-amused and half-exasperated as his neck was being playfully nipped at.

John grunted softly. “It's too much fun. Can’t help it.”

He felt his ass cupped firmly, having him release a strange sound he’d never heard from himself before, unwillingly arching up into his hold. John escalated his hands, tentative fingertips slipping up the edge of his shirt -- having Kaidan’s muscles tense up considerably -- before hooking himself around his waist.

John pressed into him, body warm and hard against his, no plans of letting go.

Kaidan felt his five o’clock shadow scrape lightly against his cheek, leaning into it, being so ‘John.’ He’d never shave entirely, that’s for damn sure, and he was okay with that. He loved the sensation.

The grip softened around him, and he already knew that John wasn’t doing this for him, but for himself. Kaidan happily just held him because he knew that was exactly what he needed right now. It was something pure about John’s sudden lack of confidence, used to being the tip of the spear, an unyielding commander. He was an unstoppable juggernaut on the battlefield, but when it came to matters of the heart, he was just a scared and tortured soul. His nervousness around his own daughter was human. Raw.

“She’ll come around,” Kaidan soothed.

John pulled him closer.

*

Becoming domestic after knowing little else but being a soldier was a drastic change, but Kaidan had to admit, it was a welcomed one. Just the thought of settling down with John was enough to make him all fuzzy inside.

He never thought he’d have this.

He had to bite the inside of his cheek not to shake his head in amusement as he found out that his mom had managed to sneak in some marriage preparation sites in a couple desktop folders. She was persistent, he’d give her that, although he and John had already decided that it would be nothing fancy. Just a meetup of friends after the ceremony with a couple of beers and bad jokes.

God bless her, though.

They had started browsing the extranet for an apartment of their own, deciding to stay in Vancouver, being John’s wish. It helped that it was Kaidan’s wish as well. The two were compatible in every way. It was one of the first steps into doing this civilian thing. Then again, Kaidan was still planning to continue in the Alliance, so he had some familiarity.

Kaidan ascended his eyes, taking in the profile of his soon-to-be husband, propped up into the same corner sofa with the tip of a marker in his mouth. Nose deep in a pad himself. He tried to stay away from the cigarettes, being used to them again, and that was his solution.

Traversing his eyes down, he took in every detail, every shape and form.

He couldn’t believe John Shepard was finally his.

“You done undressing me with your eyes, or should I help out?” came a dark voice, taking him off guard.

Kaidan averted his eyes with a chuckle. “Sorry, you’re just... wow.”

John met his gaze, giving him a playful wink, his ego having increased tenfold as he took out the marker.

“By the way,” John began, straightening. “Think you can forward this to me? I’ll want to read the whole thing sometime when you’re away.”

Curious, Kaidan blinked, unable to make much sense of that.

“When... I’m away? We’re just looking at houses.”

“That makes one of us.”

Kaidan arched a brow when John grasped his hand, his body going rigid when he was guided to between John’s legs. Immediate realization befell his features when he cupped his erection through the fabric. His mouth fell somewhat open as his cheeks went warm. Kaidan clenched his jaw, and with ambiguous eyes, he peeked up.

John was talking about that e-mail he had sent his mom.

That’s what he was reading.

Explained a lot.

“Oh, for that...” he said strangled, and cleared his throat. “We, uh... we really shouldn’t do this now.”

“What was that about ‘shoving something in there’ to shut me up? I’m hurt. Don’t say stuff like that unless you plan to prove it, major. I mean, hell, this is some good erotica.” He leaned in, tapping at a paragraph. “I especially like this one...”

Clearing his throat, John added, “I quote... ‘not a single day went by after that night he kissed me where I didn’t imagine throwing his unbelievably perfect body into that damn control panel I was always tinkering with, have my way with him, completely at my mercy as I spread him out before me. Hearing his commanding, dark voice reduced to pleasurable moans and whimpers as I worshipped his body with lips and touches, grinning profoundly the next day when the crew passed by the mess knowing that only he and I knew what went on there’.”

His cheeks flushed knowing he’d sent that to his mom.

His damn mom.

Imagining John in that position now, Kaidan knew he’d already lost.

“Oh, for Christ’s sake...” he breathed.

His hand had a mind of its own as he gently pressed it against John’s cock. He was rewarded with a soft moan that went straight down as he arched into his touch. It wasn’t long before he had John pinned underneath him to the couch, teeth at the zipper of his equipped hoodie, pulling it down. Over the rim of John’s pants, he pressed a hard kiss, hearing him squirm.

“Let’s change things up a little,” Kaidan purred against the light hairs on his abdomen, wanting to hear more of those sounds from his fiancé.

Grasping John’s shirt, he stood, pulling him onto his feet as well.

“I’m all ears.”

“Your resignation ceremony hasn’t happened yet, so hey, it’s not official. You’re still a soldier.”

“Yeah?”

“...and I’m still your superior,” Kaidan said.

“Hell, I like where this is going. I was never big on following orders, but... I’ll make an exception. Just for you. An exclusive,” he murmured, voice thick with lust while the mischievous smirk on his lips had his head to cartwheels.

Kaidan had to compose himself. He tightened his grip around John’s shirt, backing himself towards the bed while dragging him along. Plopping down into the bed, he let go of him, leaning back on his forearms.

“All right. First order... no touching. Think you can handle that, Shepard?” he asked, spreading his legs.

He watched as blue eyes fell down, John’s jaw somewhat dropping, before meeting his eyes again with a nearly predatory gaze.

Kaidan smirked “...because I will give no quarter.”

“Give it your best shot, Alenko,” he said with confidence, much to his pleasure. “I’m at your disposal, sir.”

“Mmh. Good... so strip,” he deadpanned.

With a grin, John reached for the edge of his tank top, following the slow speed of Kaidan’s hand as he gestured the movement before throwing the cloth aside. He’d fully regained that muscle mass he lost while in a coma, and hell, Kaidan worshipped his familiar form. Parting his arms, John made a ‘come at me’ gesture, and he had to restrain himself from grasping him by the belt and tugging him in. Kaidan sat up, propping arms to his thighs to get a closer view, studying the defined contour of his abs.

His eyes traversed down until cloth blocked him from what he wanted to see.

Kaidan pointed to his jeans. “Off,” he ordered, and without even as much as an ounce of complaint, John obeyed. It only left him in his briefs, and Kaidan met his eye. “Those, too.”

Without shame, John stripped down entirely, Kaidan’s breath getting stuck in his throat as the last piece of cloth joined the recent pile on the floor. He was presented with his naked form as well as a cock semi-hard and ready for him. Kaidan pulled up from the bed, approaching him, John arching a cocky brow as his body was circled. He took in every inch of his body, every detail, ending up behind him.

Kaidan grasped his hips, yanking him in, forcing John’s ass to pillow his clothed arousal.

“I love it when you’re rough,” John said, strangled.

John hummed softly when Kaidan pressed lips to his neck, slanting his head, offering him the whole length of it. He sucked the warm skin into his mouth, another muffled sound escaping John’s lips, Kaidan making sure to leave his mark. Let everyone know that John Shepard was his and his alone. His hands moved lower, finding the start of John’s V, index fingers trailing the shape all the way down while avoiding his length.

He heard John’s deep intake of breath, but when calloused hands cupped his, Kaidan made a disapproving sound reminding him of his first order.

No touching.

Grunting, John accepted the grasp of his biceps and removal of hands as Kaidan trailed his own down, capturing his wrists and escalating his arms. He moved John’s hands to the back of his own head, watching fingers digging into his three-inch long hair, trying to say in position. Trailing fingertips down back to John’s hips, his fiancé twitched again, his ghosting touch having reached his soft spot.

It never failed to amuse him that John was, and would always be, ticklish.

“You’re so beautiful like this,” he murmured against his shoulder blade, pressing a kiss to the warm skin. “Completely carefree. Relaxed, mostly. Vulnerable... and it’s one hell of a view.”

John pushed into his chest. “I’m all yours, K.”

“Whoa, hey. I’m trying to seduce you here. Don’t go all sweet on me,” he teased, registering the twitch of John’s lips.

“Then get on with it, ‘cause it’s getting kinda chilly.”

Smirking, Kaidan said, “Liar.”

John grunted again, aware he was busted trying to speed up the process, but Kaidan saw through it.

Trapping his hip, he gently spun John around to face him, him willingly following his movement. Kaidan splayed a hand on his chest, starting to back him towards the bed, John’s hands still behind his head as he grinned at him.

“Down,” he ordered again, another command obeyed.

Kaidan gave him a long look, seeing him splayed out before him. Guiding his own hands to his shirt, he pulled it off over his head, continuing his torture. John watched his every movement closely, blue eyes dark, lips slightly parted. Throwing himself onto the bed, Kaidan hovered over him, hands propped to the sheets on each side of his head.

He began kissing down his chest, with a hint of tongue, John moaning softly underneath him.

When he reached his throbbing member, he simply brushed his lips against his shaft before moving up again, John’s whine arousing him further as nails had dug into the pillow. He had nearly broken him already. This was going to be easy. Way easier than he thought.

Kaidan captured his mouth again, forcing his tongue between the parted lips, connecting with John’s.

Feeling his ass grasped, he made a displeased sound in the back of his throat, grasping John’s wrists and pinning his hands above his head with one hand. John grinned from ear-to-ear, despite his swollen lips, his breathing heavy. Eyes dazed.

“Hey. No touching, Commander,” Kaidan warned, voice low and firm. “I’ll have to file charges if you continue like this.”

“Guess you’ll have to punish me...” he murmured, and a slow smirk spread on Kaidan’s lips.

Kaidan flared up his biotics. The blue aura covering his form. Nevertheless, when Kaidan centered a stasis field on the area of his wrists only, the cocky smile on his fiancé’s face gradually faltered. John looked up at his hands, attempted to pry himself lose, to no avail. Pushing himself up, Kaidan straddled his hips with his thighs.

John grunted. “This is not what I mean by punishm -K, no. Don’t you fucking dare.”

The alarm on his face only amused Kaidan further who had locked eyes with him, languidly slipped the tips of his fingers down the front of his own pants and made sure John had a front-row seat. John’s breathing quickened, gaze darting between the hand and Kaidan’s eyes, the location of it close yet so far. Kaidan rolled his hips ever so slightly and John softly growled as he shut his eyes.

“You giving up?” he teased.

“No! Just... just let me touch you.”

“Shepard. I’m disappointed in you,” he muttered, faking his disapproval. “You’re already squirming and I’m not even inside you yet.”

John moaned softly, a small whimper in his tone, arching up his hips. His bulge pressed against Kaidan’s, and his breath hitched at the movement, wallowing in amusement at his pleading fiancé. Vulnerable and frustrated. Kaidan withdrew his hand.

John’s hands were balled into fists. “I need you. You win, okay? You fucking win.”

“Thought so.”

Pleased with himself, Kaidan let the stasis run out without adding a new field. Once loose, John launched himself at him, arms thrown around his neck as Kaidan’s back was cushioned to the bed with a soft groan. He was quickly silenced by John’s lips upon his, and wrapped arms around his waist, humming happily under his breath.

The situation quickly heated up again, and in but a moment, his clothes were ripped off. Revering in the warmth of John’s naked body against his own, moaning softly as his cock pressed against his thigh, being in pure bliss. He dug his fingers into John’s back who rubbed up against him for friction, wanting to feel his whole form, flushed skin against his as desperation filled their kisses of passion.

John’s tongue was hot and wet, exploring his mouth, sucking and biting lightly at his. Moaning into it. Digging fingers into his dark brown hair, he pulled him deeper, catching John’s lower lip between his teeth before reclaiming his mouth.

At some point, John had fished out the lube, Kaidan coating his fingers with it.

Another soft moan echoed when he pressed two digits into John’s tight entrance, feeling him shuddering around his fingers, John sucking in a breath through clenched teeth when a third carefully joined. John shifted and reclaimed his lips, his movement pressing them in further, yet another moan escaping his parted lips. It briefly broke the connection of lips, brows knit in pure pleasure, but he moved back in. Kaidan slanted his head, a determined mouth moving in to press sweet kisses against his lover’s stubble.

“Another?” Kaidan asked, voice husky.

“Mmh...” he uttered strangled, shifting to delve him deeper. “C’mon, K... you’re big, but not that big.”

“Oh, wow. Shepard. My pride is officially wounded.”

“Any bigger, and it’d probably kill me -” John let out a soft moan as Kaidan was dangerously close to his g-spot, grunting in dismay when the digits were removed. “Christ...” he hissed, voice just a breath. “Orders, major?”

“I want you to ride me, John,” he murmured into his neck, scraping short nails up his lower back.

Chortling, John said, “Aye, aye, sir.”

Lifting up slightly, he positioned himself, before slowly impaling himself on Kaidan’s throbbing cock. John took a deep breath, his prepared entrance penetrated with little effort. The feeling of being inside him was divine as always. John’s hands went into Kaidan’s dark hair, pressing their foreheads together, biting into his lower lip.

Kaidan’s breath hitched. “My god, John...”

“Yeah... yeah,” he muttered, before beginning to move languidly.

John felt so damn good, and he hoped it wouldn’t be their last time, knowing that a few repercussions had to be made from here on out.

Taking John’s length in hand, he began to stroke him with his movements, soft sounds emerging as he brushed a tentative thumb against the tip. Kaidan tried to help him as well as he could, moving alongside him, although his options were limited. John opened dazed blue eyes as he moved, mouth somewhat agape, dilated pupils nearly making the entirety of his irises black with lust.

Kaidan leaned in, claiming his lips with his own, using his free hand to spread him further. With a moan, John slowly sank all the way to his hilt, Kaidan’s grip around his length still firm. Pressing lightly at the tip of the head. A weak layer of sweat draped them both, its musky scent and slick substance, sharing the heat that John sought in Vancouver.

“I’m close,” Kaidan muttered against his lips, practiced hands still stroking.

He felt him shuddering as his biotics began to flare up. Moaning softly, John picked up the pace, the sensation of Kaidan’s biotics having reached the member inside of him. One more stroke, one last moan, and John was gone.

“Kaidan...” he whispered as he came, grip tightening around him as his anticipated release soaked Kaidan’s hand.

No more than his name was needed to send him over the edge, thrown into the indescribable high, eyes closing shut with a moan to accept the brief moment of pure bliss. His muscles clenched, but as the high faded, the weariness overcame him. He sighed into John’s neck, hand moving into his hair, giving his temple one last kiss before John had him pulled out.

Kaidan let his heavy body fall into the bed, and John flopped onto his back beside him, the only sound present being their equal heavy breathing. His eyes were yet shut, feeling like he hadn’t slept in ages, John himself looking ready to pass out any minute.

“Damn, Alenko,” he breathed, a chuckle in his tone. “Didn’t think you had it in you. I’m impressed.”

Smirking, Kaidan said, “I was, uh... pretty spectacular... am I right?”

“Hell... yeah,” he murmured, and the two shared a laugh.

*

Kaidan woke up the next day by the sound of a beeping omni-tool. The first thing he noticed was how stiff he felt, but when his mind fell back to last night, he couldn’t help but smile. Stifling a yawn with his palm, he cast a glance to the peaceful figure beside him, carefully unhooking his arm from below John’s head. Separated, he pressed a kiss to his shoulder, before tipping over to grasp the disturbance.

Pulling his feet down to the floor, the sheet covering his private parts, he flipped up the display. At his movement, he felt John stir behind him, knowing he was waking up. It was still early. 0518.

“Hey...” John murmured, voice sleep-deprived as he rubbed his eyes. “What’s going on?”

“It’s Hackett.”

“Wh -wait, Hackett?” he asked, blinking owlishly. “What for?”

“He needs me for another mission. Says it’s important. By the looks of it, it’s kinda long-lasting,” he replied, casting a glance over his shoulder to see the fall in his fiancé’s features, making him look... hurt. Seeing John like that always inflicted a phantom pain upon him. Wounding a part of his body that was never there. That look alone was enough to make him wish he could take all his pain away.

Kaidan’s look had mellowed. “Hey, you okay?” he asked, reaching out to grasp his chin. Nevertheless, his wrist was captured and hand moved away, pinned by an unwavering glare.

“Why wouldn’t I be? It’s not like I’m curled up in a corner.”

He blinked. “I... I’m sorry. I didn’t mean it like that. You just... you seem on-edge.” John’s sharp tone had taken him aback as if a mental stab had just struck an artery, a nauseating feeling pumping in his veins.

“John, if this is about being alone with Ashlee -” he tried, but John just shook his head. “Then what -?”

“Forget it,” John muttered, yanking the sheet aside before heading for the restroom. Kaidan just sat there, bewildered.

He wasn’t lying. It wasn’t about Ashlee. It was something else.

What set this off?

Chapter Text

“What can I do to make your day better?”

It was the first thing Kaidan spoke after they had settled down by the kitchen table to eat, taking Shepard by surprise as he stopped mid-chew and peeked up from his plate.

Kaidan looked nervous. Fidgety. Lightly biting into his lower lip while showing those puppy-eyes of his.

“What?” Shepard asked.

“What can I do... to make your day better?” he repeated, looking at him intently. “Tell me what and I’ll do it.”

Shepard fixated him with an unwavering glare, but he didn’t budge, making him realize that he was being entirely serious. He had no idea where he was going with this. Better just play along.

He sighed, propping the last piece of chicken into his mouth, launching his fork back to the plate.

Throwing up his arms, Shepard said, “I don’t know. Clean the dishes?”

Without a second thought, Kaidan pulled up from his seat, grabbing his empty plate to place it atop of his own and heading for the kitchen. Shepard parted his arms, a small sound of protest escaping his mouth, bewildered looking at him. He hadn’t expected him to listen.

No complaints. No hesitation. Nada.

Is this a test?

Shepard blinked. “Kaidan, I was joking. What are you trying to -?”

He froze when tiny footstep padded into the living room. Shepard swallowed hard and hesitantly redirected his gaze to see his daughter, dull blue eyes as she rubbed one with her shirt sleeve, yawning lazily. Normal kids would be carrying a teddy bear or something, but no, what hung dangling from her other hand was the SR-1 model ship. Stubbing into the floor. Her height was just two times the size of it.

She was just so... small.

“Hey, Ash,” came Kaidan’s voice, breaking him from his trance.

The softness in his tone had Shepard melting.

Along with it, the same pang of guilt struck him, hearing that name. Ash. Good god he missed her.

Ashley Williams was a headstrong woman. Quirky. Playful. Beautiful. One hell of a shot with her chin raised high and a soldier to the core. Determined to clear her family’s name, to serve the galaxy, to do the right thing. Quick-tempered when her ideals were threatened but just as quick to apologize for it. She kept his boots on the ground when he got out of line. Shepard had hoped he wouldn’t feel remorse every time he heard her name. That would make things even more difficult.

She’d tell him to suck it up and stop being such a downer, was she there.

When he got back to the Normandy after his case of amnesia, he had found himself standing by the memorial wall, looking at the names and remembering each and every face of the soldiers that had served under his command. Those who died under his command.

It hurt knowing that Ash was the first.

He had hesitated when his gaze fell to the recently painted name.

ADM DAVID ANDERSON

The crew had figured that he wanted to put it up himself, and he did, but he couldn’t bring himself to do it.

He simply wasn’t ready yet.

Anderson had been the closest thing he ever had to a father. A family. He had grown up believing that family did nothing but bring you down and place another easily claimed piece on the chessboard. Another distraction. Another weakness.

Thing is, a family was something he had always wanted, and now he had one.

The girl that shared his Gunnery Chief’s name smiled faintly before she launched herself into Kaidan’s arms when he sat, receiving a chuckle in return, wrapping his arms protectively around her. Just seeing them together like that had Shepard’s heart go thermally hazardous. Flutter and warm. It was obvious to him that Kaidan loved her just as much as he would if she was his own biological daughter.

Kaidan took her by the shoulders, pushing her away to face her. “Nice to see you too, kid. Slept well?”

“Mm-hm.”

“We just ate, so I’ll warm some up for you, okay?”

The whiskey-brown hue of his significant other soon looked up, meeting his eye, and he must’ve noticed the uncertainty in it. Ashlee’s eyes went wide when she saw him, pushing into Kaidan’s chest as if trying to protect herself.

Goddamn it hurt.

He didn’t even know her, and yet, her dismissal was like a sword piercing his gullet.

I can’t do this, he thought, wanting to flee again. I can’t stand her looking at me like that.

She made a small whimper when Kaidan rose, but Kaidan himself was unfazed, approaching the kitchen counter to pull up a cupboard to get her a plate before filling it. He used a fork to create a hole in the middle, a trick used when microwaving leftovers, making sure the whole dish and not just the middle got heated up. He shoved it in the microwave and turned it on.

“Meanwhile, here’s someone you need to meet,” Kaidan told her, smiling. He pushed a hesitant girl a few steps towards him. Shepard’s chest went tight. He had no idea what to do as he still sat there and just stared, not moving a muscle, afraid he’d scare her off again. Eventually, he managed to tear his eyes away from her, uncertainly looking up and into the familiar whiskey-brown hue.

Kaidan lined himself up next to her. “Ashlee, you know about your dad. John Shepard. He’s great. A hero,” he added, looking at him fondly. “Now, he might seem a little brash at times, but I told you why. You remember why, right?”

Slowly, she nodded.

“Because he’s scared.”

It was that simple, but hell, scared wasn’t the right word.

No, he was terrified, downright terrified.

Sighing, Kaidan said, “John, c’mon. Say something. Anything.”

Shepard cleared his throat, straightening his back, clasping his hands together as he had no idea what to do with them.

“Uh... hi.” He immediately cringed, shutting his eyes tightly. He must’ve both looked and sounded like an idiot. A downright clueless man, looking at his own daughter as if she was an entirely new species, and this was First Contact. When he dared opening them again, his heart skipped a beat, seeing the small twitch of her lips as she hid behind Kaidan again.

Kaidan was grinning.

Oh, great. Now there are *two* people wallowing in my pain. You guys are all heart.

Explosively exhaling, Shepard said, “Okay, I got it, all right? I’m a failure. That what you want to hear, Alenko?”

“Oh, no. You’re doing great,” he replied, the amusement noted a long way. “I need to get back in contact with Hackett, so I trust you both to behave when I’m gone, eh?” Despite the use of a plural pronoun, his gaze was focused entirely on him, and Shepard would’ve pouted in any other circumstances. “I’ll be back in a couple days, tops.”

Shepard blinked. “Tops? You said it seemed long-lasting.”

“It’s a two-part mission. First, I’m needed in London for a couple hours,” he replied, a somewhat careful smile appearing on his features. He cleared his throat, averting his eyes as it faltered again. “The long one is to, uh... is to keep a close eye on you in case you remember anything more about what happened, and... to watch out for a change in your behavior.”

“Behavior?” he asked, somewhat offended. “So Hackett thinks I’m crazy.”

“Not crazy, just...” He stopped himself when he turned back, having noted the agitated almost-scowl on Shepard’s face. “Look, I need to get moving.” Nevertheless, when he was about to move, Ashlee stood fast while refusing to let go of his hand. Nearly yanking him back. The uncertainty was apparent in her eyes again. Looking on the verge to break out in tears.

The pure terror in her expression made Shepard feel like nothing but a damn monster.

“Ashlee, hey. Don’t be like that,” Kaidan said, voice firmer but still soft as she clung to his leg. He cupped her head while he stood there hunched until he took her by the waist and launched her up onto his hip. Kaidan handled every interaction with her as if it was child’s play.

He had no idea how he did that.

Kaidan’s attention was then entirely on him, offering a fond smile, Shepard’s anger forgotten as the lines in his forehead retracted. He could do nothing but close his eyes when Kaidan closed the distance between them. Familiar lips came against his own, and he pressed up harder, internally begging him to stay with him. Hold tightly onto him so he couldn’t walk out that damn door today. Anything for him to just stay.

The panic set in when the lips retracted and Ashlee was suddenly transferred into his arms, much to both his and Ashlee’s shock. He could tell judging by the way her eyes went three times their size, and the sharp pain in his shoulder, nails digging into the sensitive skin.

“K -Kaidan, please. No. I’m going to accidentally drop her -” he begged as he pulled away.

Kaidan silenced him with another kiss. “You’ll be fine,” he said confidently with a wink, pulling away before he could protest. He had yanked his jacket off the coat stand and headed for the door in seconds. “I love you!”

“Kaidan!” he called, but the door flew shut behind him. Shepard’s jaw dropped slightly as he stared at the door for a good long while. The eerie silence left him more than just a little on edge. Ashlee’s silence didn’t help, either, his shoulder now aching and the girl entirely stiff in his arms. She was holding her breath. His own heart was beating vehemently.

The microwave beeped finished.

Swallowing hard, his gaze fell to Ashlee, looking equally as terrified as him.


The debriefing with Hackett via omni-tool had been short and direct. The Alliance had used some of their best scientists to try piecing together what John had reported about the Catalyst. It didn’t make sense to them, either.

Kaidan’s primary mission was to touch down in London to see if they’d missed something. Why Hackett needed Kaidan specifically was the exact same reason why he also needed Garrus. They were both on the ground team during the final push and had a different perspective on everything that happened down there. They were to meet up with Major Coats. Finally looking deeper into it, taking apart every single detail and attempting to put them back together into one context, he hoped they’d get the answers they sought.

He remembered what Liara said, about Harbinger probably wanting to make John its puppet, but it was a long-shot. Plausible, but still a long-shot, and he needed the answers. What Kaidan certainly couldn’t understand was how Anderson and the reapers died if none of that ever happened, and hell, why he would dream such vivid things in the first place. There was no beacon present. It was simply Harbinger’s beam.

“Well, you look exhausted,” Garrus mused.

“My coffee is cold, I lost my first damn skycar to get here and my fiancé is mad at me for whatever reason,” Kaidan replied, awaiting their departure in the Normandy mess. “Suddenly the smallest things set him off.”

“Fiancé?” The shock was evident in his raspy voice.

“I -oh, right. We didn’t tell you guys,” he replied, rubbing the back of his neck with a faint blush. “Shepard, uh... he proposed.”

“That’s... wow. One hell of a thing.”

He chortled. “Heh. Yeah.”

“So... when’s the wedding?” Garrus asked suggestively, and Kaidan rolled his eyes.

“First off, I need to get rid of this,” he murmured, gesturing to the eye patch still attached to his face. “I mean, hell, I’d rather be fully healed before a damage like that is forever pinned in pictures of an important day like that.” Kaidan smirked, and teased, “Doesn’t go too well with the black and golden dress whites, you know?”

“But, it does... I mean, you said there were black contours as well, and the patch is black -”

“It’s a joke, Garrus.”

“Oh.”

“I just... I want it to be perfect, you know?” He sighed, moving his thumb to scratch the irritated area across his temple. “Sorry. Didn’t mean to ramble off like that. Things are still really damn stressful these days.”

“Well, I’m not the best to ask for fashion advice, but I’ll be more than willing to share a few turian weapon designs that make the ladies fawn.”

“You’re one of a kind, Garrus.”

“I would suggest going for it,” came Miranda’s thick Australian accent, rounding the corner and approaching them by the table. “It’s a good look for you.” She smiled, genuine and open although her tone was teasing. “It’s roguish... Rather sexy, I’d say.”

She didn’t need to say more before his cheeks flushed red.

“So, krogan ladies like scars... and human ladies like eye patches. Interesting,” Garrus said, mandibles flaring into a grin himself. “You’ve got a few scars yourself major, and since Shepard is part krogan, I’d say you’re on the right track.”

“I hate you both.”

...but yeah, it was true, John was part krogan. Mentally. Thankfully, he had just one pair of testicles.

The thought of several was a picture he really didn’t want to be etched into his brain.

“By the way, I might’ve heard the rumors of an engagement,” Miranda quirked, crossing her arms with a smirk, interrupting his thoughts. Without a word, he held up his left hand with the ring on display. “Congratulations.”

“Thanks.”

“Now we’ll only need to find out what’s going on so you two lovebirds can be reunited,” Garrus said, clasping his hands together. “I still have no idea what went on out there.”

Kaidan sighed. “Yeah, it’s... strange. Shepard’s recollection was just so damn vivid. Like it happened. I just can’t believe it did.”

“It was more than a dream, that’s for sure,” Miranda helpfully added, putting her hands on her hips. Hackett had contacted her because of her intimate details of John’s wounds and implants. Her voice was important in this.

Miranda shook her head. “I didn’t pay much attention to it then, but when I first got my hands on Shepard after the reapers were defeated, I noticed rapid eye movement. Signs of intense dreaming occurring during REM-sleep. My best bet is that it has something to do with indoctrination. Harbinger probably burned visions into Shepard’s brain to trick him.”

“Liara said the same thing,” Kaidan muttered, although didn’t really consider the ramifications until now if that was the case.

Garrus’ mandibles twitched. “Wait, you’re telling me that Shepard is indoctrinated?”

“Partly... and not anymore,” Kaidan quipped back, straightening his posture. “You were with me down there. Harbinger didn’t specifically target Shepard, it just... kinda danced around him, you know? As if trying to make it believable.”

“As if ‘trying to fool us into thinking that he was just another casualty’?” Garrus asked.

“Exactly. I don’t know much about how indoctrination works, though.”

Miranda had found a spot to stare at. “Now when I think of it, I might have a rather good idea of what’s been going on,” she muttered, gaining their full attention. “I looked over my father’s files on indoctrination. Figured it would be useful to see how they managed it. To indoctrinate someone, especially someone as strong-willed as Commander Shepard, they must weaken their target’s resolve. Both physically and mentally. You said Harbinger targeted both you and Garrus while moving towards the beam, is that correct?”

“Yes?” he said, giving her a careful nod urging her to continue.

“Harbinger tried to kill you.”

“Sure looked like it.”

“...and, had it succeeded, Shepard’s resolve would have considerably decreased. Seeing any of his crew die would’ve left a permanent mark,” she finished, and he immediately got her point. Garrus appeared to do the same, making no comment. “Even so, you’re both here, and that reduces us to the fact that it must’ve been something that happened after the two of you were evacuated by the Normandy.”

“Harbinger’s beam,” Garrus muttered.

“Yes. After it hit him, his body was weakened, making him an easier target for indoctrination. It’s a long and slow progress for some, quick for others. After what you’ve told me about Virmire and this... Rana Thanoptis?” Kaidan nodded, and she continued “...Shepard must’ve been far more strong-willed than her because they were both under the influence of reaper technology for about the same amount of time. She snapped after two years, killing several asari officers before committing suicide, but Shepard persisted.”

“What are the signs?” Kaidan asked, just to make sure.

“Oily shadows and ghostly presences, nightmares, complaints of headaches, the feeling of being watched, whispers and voices in the head,” she replied. “The reapers can penetrate one’s mind, filling them with thoughts that aren’t their own, so they could have put something in Shepard’s head that urged him forward. Or attempted to break him. The reapers had hoped he was indoctrinated before he reached the Citadel.”

How could I not have seen this earlier? he thought, frustrated at himself.

“Shepard had nightmares all the time,” he muttered, features mellowed. The lines in Miranda’s forehead smoothed out. “I had to calm him down on several occasions. Snap him out of it. He told me that there were oily shadows present in them, that he heard voices of the dead, recalling past events. He mentioned episodes like Virmire and Ash, and -”

Something went up for him.

“Oh my god...” Kaidan muttered, earning him a curious look. “The kid.”

“Kid?”

“When we left Vancouver after the reapers invaded, Shepard mentioned seeing a kid, no older than six or seven. That very kid had constantly been reappearing in his nightmares and burned before his very eyes. Shepard compared the kid to himself when he was young, when he was lost and without family, saying he never expected it to affect him as much as it did.”

After a moment, he added, “I never saw any kid, and I was right there with him.”

“Come to think of it,” Garrus began “...he mentioned it when I first came aboard after returning from Menae. He seemed pretty shook about it. Told me he couldn’t understand why that kid had to die and that he somehow was alive.”

Kaidan felt a headache brewing up.

“He was under the process of indoctrination ever since we left Earth,” he muttered, propping his elbows to his thighs and buried his face in his hands. “Dammit... I -I should’ve seen this sooner -”

“Don’t blame yourself, Kaidan,” Garrus said, voice firm. “We were all there. None of us knew.”

I still should’ve known.

He looked up when he felt a comforting hand on his shoulder, meeting the compassionate expression on Miranda’s face, her look mirroring Garrus’ words. There was still two questions remaining.

How did the reapers fall and how did Anderson die?

“ETA, five minutes,” Joker reported over the comm, and they got ready to touch down.

*

His feet hit the soil as he stepped out of the airlock, and he was brought back to that day he first saw John at Wellington Hospital, covered in tubes with a beeping heart monitor by his side. He had imagined how it would’ve felt to search the debris for John’s body, calling his name through the rubble, but he hadn’t been there when they found him.

He could still remember the pure relief he felt when he got the call that John was alive.

London was still rebuilding, and a peculiar spot had his heart get stuck in his throat, the Alliance tape having been removed.

This was where they found him.

The area had been thoroughly searched, so they had been directed to the Alliance base there, which kept the belongings in careful stock. This was what the scientists had been studying. What they had found. While Miranda and Garrus were chatting up Major Coats, debriefing him of their discussion in the mess, Kaidan had approached the box that was their only chance at finding out what happened.

The first thing that caught his attention was John’s M-11 Suppressor. It packed one hell of a punch, that was for sure, and it was certainly among John’s favorite guns. He had used it in the final assault.

His features mellowed as another thing went up for him.

Kaidan flipped up his omni-tool.

“Kaidan?” came John’s voice on the other end, genuine surprise in his tone. “Everything all right?”

“Yeah. Yeah, everything’s fine. How are things back there?”

“I don’t have a damn clue what I’m doing, K. Could you get your ass back already?” he replied, and Kaidan smiled, shaking his head. “I mean, hell, do I need to take her for a walk or something?”

“John, she’s not a dog.”

“She’s sure as hell acting like one -Ash, put that down! Right now! You’re going to hurt yourself!” John fell into a suffocation pause. “I... Ash, I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to -” he added, his voice almost entirely drained, and Kaidan’s smile faltered. His continuation broke his heart. “She’s looking at me like that again. K, please, just... just come back.”

Kaidan swallowed down the lump in his throat.

He sounded so lost. Insecure. Downright defeated.

Maybe he’d pushed too hard leaving him alone with her.

“I... okay,” he replied softly, meeting Garrus’ curious gaze opposite the room. “Okay, I’ll get back as fast as I can, just... I need to finish up here, but if you can help me out, it’ll speed up the process.”

“Okay. I’ll do my best.”

Kaidan cleared his throat. “All right. So, you... you told me that you had a Carnifex equipped during your final moments at the Citadel,” he said, back to professional mode as he shoved the past feeling aside. “Thing is, the Alliance found your M-11 Suppressor when recovering you, no Carnifex. John, if there’s... anything strange, anything unusual you can remember, let me know.”

“That doesn’t make any sense, I -” He abruptly cut himself off, and there was silence. “Wait, I did have the *M-11.* Right up until... when I woke up after Harbinger’s beam hit me, I... I had a *Carnifex.* I swear to god. Hell, I used it to -”

John fell into a pause. “I used it to shoot Anderson.”

“Did anything strange happen after?” he asked, voice soft. He knew this was a sore topic, but it was also an important one.

“I... had the *M-11* in my hand again the moment after the explosion.”

Kaidan took a deep breath. “John, you... I know this is a lot to take in, but... Harbinger might’ve influenced your mind. Projected a scene. The reaper made you see what it wanted you to, but it wasn’t careful enough, allowing slip-ups. That gun was always a M-11 Suppressor, but you fought back, and Harbinger’s projections dissolved at the very end knowing it couldn’t convince you.”

“I didn’t kill him?” he asked, the hope in his voice clear.

Somewhat carefully, he smiled, “You didn’t. It was a, uh... it was a Carnifex bullet. You didn’t have one on you.”

The relieved sigh on the other end was a reassuring sound.

Silence.

“So who did it?”

“I’m going to find out. I swear,” he promised, being one he would be determined to keep. “For now, all you need to know... is that nothing you remember from being hit by the beam is true. It was the reaper’s manifestations. Harbinger’s will -”

“Kaidan, you should see this,” came Garrus’ voice, and he turned. “Anderson’s omni-tool has an encrypted video message.”

“K?”

He snapped out of it. “Sorry. I’m here,” he replied and rubbed the area above his brow. “I’ll fill you in when I get back, okay? I promise. Hopefully, I’ll have some concrete proof -” He cut off hearing a loud noise on the other end, sounding like a crash, feeling the panic set in.

“Ash!” Everything else he heard was a brief cracking sound that scorched its way in his brain.

John had dropped the phone.

“John?” he asked, eyes shifting. Nothing. “John!”

Miranda’s eyes shot open. “What’s going on?”

“I don’t know, but I need to get back,” he replied, and the desperation must’ve ushered through judging by the expression on Miranda’s face. Coats nodded, signaling that it was fine.

“We’ll finish up here,” Miranda said, and he gave her a nod in thanks before moving.


His heart was beating significantly faster when his transport reached his mom’s place, blue and red lights nearly blinding him, two cop cars and an ambulance standing outside. He felt nauseous. Terrified of what he’d find behind those closed doors.

He thanked the driver, slammed the door shut, his walk turning into a light jog until he reached the door.

There was no blood. No signs of a struggle. Ashlee was clasping the SR-1 model ship, staring somewhere towards the couch wide-eyed, two officers blocking his view from what she was looking at. He just knew that there was something wrong with John. His heart tried to rip through his ribs. He took a step forward, but an officer blocked his approach, although the new angle gave him nearly a full view.

John sat hunched over on the floor, head hung and back to the couch, elbows on his knees. Everyone stood about five feet away from him as if afraid of getting too close. Hell, his hands were cuffed.

“What’s going on?”

The officer sighed. “We don’t know. Some of our guys tried to get in contact with the girl after Commander Shepard was unresponsive, but we could tell she was scared, so we lay off. With you here, things just got a lot easier -”

“Kaidan!” came a tiny voice, and he turned to see Ashlee running his way.

He barely managed to sit down before she basically crashed into him. He held her, rocking her gently and placed a kiss to her forehead. After a moment, he clasped her shoulders, pushing her away far enough to face her. She looked calmer now. More at ease.

“Hey, kid. What happened?” he asked, attempting his voice to sound soft. “Ash?”

“I... I hit my knee in the table and fell on that green thingy.” Ashlee pointed at the button by the vid-screen, and just by that alone, he knew something was off. John despised television. He always complained how there was nothing of interest on it, just ‘Blasto’ and news vids that made him twitchy, having seen enough conflict in his life.

“Did you get hurt?” Kaidan asked.

She shook her head vigorously. “No. I called the nice uniform men. I was scared.”

4 years old and she already knew how to operate a phone.

Kaidan smiled softly. “You did great, Ash. Exactly what you were supposed to. Thank you,” he said. A somewhat careful smile appeared on her lips, but it shortly faltered, looking back at John who hadn’t moved. “I’ll take it from here, okay?” She nodded, turning to walk back, stopping up a few meters away from John. He rose up to continue his discussion with the officer. “What do we know?”

“After the kid called the department, we sent an extraction team, hearing gunshots from within the house. Turns out the vid-screen was on. Some action flick or something. As far as we can tell, the commander had a panic attack. Had to restrain him. He won’t talk.”

His eyes shot open. “Panic attack?”

“He didn’t tell you?” the officer asked quizzical, blinking owlishly. “He has PTSD.”

What?

The officer nodded solemnly, face stoic. “I see,” he said, Kaidan’s silence being answer enough. “He had been seeing a shrink for some time, but refused to join any further meetings, so he’s basically trying to fix himself. Shepard thought we were hired assassins or something. He’s unstable right now, but you’re the best shot at getting through to him. Just be careful. We don’t know how he’ll act.”

“I... thank you, officer,” he replied, accepting the cuff keys handed to him.

The man stepped aside, and Kaidan pushed forward, making sure his movements were slow when reaching him.

He swallowed hard. “John?” he tried carefully, on instinct taking a step back when John reached for a gun that wasn’t there. Kaidan held up his hands, palms forward, letting him know that he wasn’t armed. “Hey, hey... easy.”

Thankfully, John had immediately recognized him, although now Kaidan saw the small cut on his cheek that was proof of resistance.

“Kaidan?” he asked, expression quizzical before he cringed, without doubt embarrassed of the misunderstanding. “Judging by the fact they’re not keeping you at gunpoint... I take it these guys are legit?”

“Uh, yeah. Yeah, they’re legit,” he replied, unhooking the cuffs. “100 percent.”

“Christ. I was about to start shooting this place up. Glad no unnecessary casualties were had,” he murmured, rubbing his wrist before brushing off some lint from his shoulder. John looked back at him. First there was nothing, then realization, and then regret. The lines in his forehead had retracted. He had seen the look of utter concern that must’ve ushered through in Kaidan’s features.

With a sigh, John averted his eyes. “Hell, I’m sorry. Guess I should’ve told you ‘bout... all this,” he said, waving his hand.

“It -it’s okay. Really,” he muttered, halfway lying to himself. “My god, though. You scared the crap out of me. Don’t ever do that again.” Kaidan pulled up from the floor, reaching out a hand to help him onto his feet. John hesitated briefly, eyes falling to his hand, before accepting his offer. After a few awkward looks from the cops and medics, Kaidan nodded in thanks, letting them know that he got this handled from here on out.

John cleared his throat as he stood. “Sorry, folks. How’s, uh... how’s boy toy over there?”

Casting his gaze aside, Kaidan noticed an officer appearing to have just woken up from an unconscious state, and he blinked. Definitely John’s work. He’d put up a fight and that was why there were armed soldiers still there.

“No worries, Commander. Stay safe. Guy deserved some sense knocked into him,” the officer teased, earning an unimpressed look from the guy John had brought to the ground. With that, they went back to their duties. They were once again alone, Kaidan having led them to the door while John had placed himself in the couch, hands clasped together as his head hung.

Kaidan approached him, sliding into the couch by his side, applying medi-gel to the cut.

“When Ashlee fell, I just... hell, every single fall is a death to me,” John muttered, rubbing his eyes. “Then the vid-screen flashed on, and... I was back on that damn field. Fighting for my life. Gunshots and lasers all around me -” John’s body went rigid, looking up from his hand to see Ashlee jerk back an inch. Fear on her face. She had come far closer than even he’d realized. The fear shortly fell away.

Carefully, she put her hand back on his knee, and he watched John just staring at her wide-eyed.

Ashlee abruptly pushed forward, pressing her cheek to John’s abdomen, clutching his shirt. His hands were hovering to his sides. Obviously having no clue what just happened. Kaidan couldn’t prevent the small smile from breaking out on his lips, seeing those stoic features gradually mellow, shoulders sagging. Eventually, John slowly wrapped his arms around his daughter, returning her embrace. Pulling her closer, he cupped her other cheek, and she melted into his arms. Her eyes closed as he held her.

He was accepted.

“My first instinct was to get her someplace safe, but I just froze, collapsed,” John continued, somewhat hesitantly pushing Ashlee away. “I didn’t tell you ‘bout this PTSD bullshit ‘cause I refused to let you see me like that. Helpless and scared. Nowhere near the image I’ve built.” He watched him clench his jaw. “They taught me how to put that uniform on... I just can’t get it off.”

“Daddy,” Ashlee said, taking him off-guard. “Why were you acting so strange?”

“After you’ve enlisted in the Alliance and agglutinate with situations related to war, you incorporate and get so used to it that trivial -”

“John,” Kaidan interrupted, amused. “She’s 4.”

“Oh. Right.” John cleared his throat, noticing the puzzled look on Ashlee’s face. “You get so used to fighting that, uh... normal... situations and things remind you of the time when you were risking your life to help people in the war. You stop feeling safe. I simply felt like I was in that vid myself and fought for my life. War isn’t a nice memory.”

“What vid was it, exactly?” Kaidan asked.

“It was just ‘Blasto 7: Blasto Goes to War’,” Ashlee replied, smiling.

John grunted.

“You’re not helpless,” Kaidan said, putting a hand on his thigh and giving it a gentle squeeze. He wanted to make that perfectly clear. “John, it’s okay to be scared. It’s okay to ask for help. PTSD is a serious thing, and I want to help you. You need to let me. When someone important to you is up on a ledge, you help them. This -this fight? You’re not meant to face it alone. You’re the strongest man I know, and I love you.”

Kaidan smiled, genuine and fond. “We’ll figure it out, just like we always do -”

He startled when his omni-tool beeped. It was a message from Miranda. He had nearly forgotten about that mentioned audio file that Garrus informed him about before everything happened.

“This might not be the best time, but... before I got here, they found a recorded message in London,” he added, gaze fixated at the display. “It... it’s from Anderson. Dedicated to you.” Kaidan looked up, seeing the brief hurt that washed over John’s face. Softly, he asked, “Do you want to do this now, or should we wait until...?”

“No. No, I... I need to know.”

Kaidan nodded his understanding. “Okay,” he muttered and cleared his throat. “The... the recording was put under a voiced encryption code. When bringing the interface upon a terminal, everything it said was, ‘The first lesson I ever taught you’.” With a deep inhale, John closed his eyes, and Kaidan knew he had the code memorized by heart.

“Bring it up on screen,” he said. Kaidan did as asked. John clenched his jaw, and then, he spoke the code: “‘We don’t get to choose how we start in this life. Real greatness... is what you do with the life you’re dealt’.”

The vid-screen lit up. John swallowed hard. He pressed ‘play.’

The man himself came to view, grief back on John’s stoic face, eyes glistening. Kaidan himself felt his abdomen churn. Anderson’s smile was fond, but he was beaten, dull brown eyes full of warmth. His expression showed nothing but affection.

Ashlee stared at the screen. “Grandpa Anderson?”

“Yeah,” John said, smiling softly. “Yeah... Grandpa Anderson. Pops himself. Tough bastard.”

Kaidan could hear the emotion in his voice.

“Well, son. If you’re seeing this, we made it, and the reapers are thrown back into whatever black hull they crawled out of,” he said, voice weary but with light humor. “I managed to record a file for Hackett, in case you didn’t make it, but I decided to make a personal one that only you could hear. There’s a lot of things to say, but time is of the essence, and I don’t know how much time this old soldier’s got left.

“First off... after you got Alenko and Vakarian an evac, I lost the sight of you, couldn’t see much through all the smoke, explosions and gunfire. I had seen soldiers evaporated before my very eyes. That’s something I never wanted to experience again. I could only hope that the same fate hadn’t befallen you. I knew I had to push forward and eventually managed to get to the beam that had me transported to what I believe was the upper dome of the Citadel. Hell, it didn’t take long before that damn bastard Illusive Man showed up. I managed to take him down. Barely.

“Eventually, I found the control panel and somehow got the Crucible firing, the mechanism being attached to some switch connected to the Citadel, now with a fresh gunshot wound from my own damn *Carnifex.* The Illusive Man had disarmed me with it. I was hit already on the way up there thanks to some flying debris, and hell, I know I’m not going to make it.

“Second... and to more personal notes... I need you to know that Ace is alive. I needed to make sure you knew that. Hackett will tell you the whole story if you don’t know already. I wanted to tell you earlier, but as the Admiral will no doubt debrief you of, I couldn’t.”

His continuation struck a cord.

“Third... tell Alenko -tell *Kaidan...* that I said, ‘thank you.’ For taking care of you for me. For staying by your side. For giving you the love and affection that you both do so deserve. I know that you’ll make one hell of a dad and so will Kaidan. Let me remind you that you have a daughter out there, although I’m sure you haven’t forgotten. I’m just sorry I can’t be there to see it. I admit... I was looking forward to becoming a granddad, see Ashlee grow up, but... things aren’t as clear-cut. We can’t have everything. Still. You, Kaidan and Ace are the only sons I ever needed.

“Fourth... I won’t be able to pay Hackett back those gambling money.”

John nearly chortled, his smile soft, eyes brimmed with unshed tears.

“And fifth... if you can do an old man one last favor... tell Kahlee that I love her and have to break that promise she passed along to you on Grissom.” He fell into a pause.“I’m proud of you, son. I’m proud of you all. This is Admiral David Edward Anderson... signing off.”

The image disappeared.

A silence filled the air before John spoke.

“Anderson saved us,” he said, softly. “Christ, he saved us all.”

Kaidan smiled. “Yeah. Yeah, he sure did,” he said, voice strangled, managing to hold back the tears that sought desperate release.

“Here I thought I was the hero of the story,” he muttered, tone teasing. “Hell, I lay there under debris, passed out while hallucinating my grand finalé. That... that’s actually kinda sad.”

Letting out a heartfelt chuckle, Kaidan shook his head, as this made John all the more gullible.

“It sure is,” he said fondly.

Chapter Text

“K, you look like you’re going to faint. Relax. It’s just up here.”

“It’s just... hell, couldn’t we just hire a skycar or something? I’m not comfortable with this blindfold thing while having ground move beneath me,” he said, hand clutching the roof handle while the other clasped Shepard’s wrist on the gear lever. When he removed the hand, the car now standing still, red marks remaining from his grip were apparent on the skin.

Shepard blew hard through his nose.

“Here I thought I’d do something nice for you, and you’re questioning my damn driving skills? I’m not that bad.”

“You nearly drove is into molten sulfur on Therum. Twice.”

“That was in a Mako.”

“You’re not doing any better.”

“As if you’d know...” Shepard murmured.

“Five people have been yelling at you to stop driving like a jackass. I’m blindfolded, not deaf,” he replied, and Shepard frowned. “It’s just us, anyway. Couldn’t you at least drive an MC? I’d feel a lot safer that way.”

He smirked. “Bullshit. You just can’t keep your hands off of me and needed an excuse,” he teased. Unimpressed, Kaidan scoffed. He watched him throw his head back to the headrest with an amused smile on his lips. “I don’t own one right now. Haven’t owned one since 73, really. Had to leave my baby back when the Reds caught up on my tracks not to be trailed.”

“Huh. Wait, what? You drove an MC when you met me at the spaceport.”

“That... wasn’t mine.”

“Oh my god, John! You stole a damn motorcycle?”

“Hey, I wrote down the address. Sent a check. I made sure they’ve got the money to buy a new one,” he replied, feeling defensive. Kaidan sighed. “Anyways, we’re here. Sit tight.”

Shepard pulled the handbrake and turned the key in the ignition. The motor went silent. He shoved the metal into his back pocket and had it opened and slammed shut before rounding the car to do the same for Kaidan. Taking his hand, he helped him up and maneuvered him out, making sure he didn’t hit his head in the frame.

“Can I take this off?” Kaidan asked.

“Not yet,” he replied, taking both of his hands in his own, gently squeezing them. “You know those apartments we were looking at? I had some contacts that were stationed here in Vancouver.”

A slow smile spread on Kaidan’s lips. “You got us a place?”

“Figured it’d be appropriate seeing we’re officially tying the knot in a couple days.”

“C’mon, let me see it.”

Shepard bit into his lower lip. “I don’t know, major. I kinda like you like this,” he purred, taking his face in his hands. Shepard gave him a chaste kiss. He grinned against his mouth. When he leaned back in, Kaidan met him eagerly, mouths colliding. Shepard trailed the inside of his lips with the tip of his tongue, Kaidan’s following, fully synchronized.

He felt the curve of his hips caressed, arms coming around his waist, delving him deeper.

“John,” Kaidan said, breaking the connection with a wet sound to press their foreheads together. His smile was fond. Without conflict. “Don’t worry, okay? I’m convinced I’ll like it. You don’t need to try delaying it.”

Exhaling slowly, Shepard shut his eyes, knowing that he saw right through him.

“Okay.” He brushed his thumbs directly underneath the rim of the blindfold, gingerly clasping the edges, before just as carefully pulling them off. Slowly, he was presented by the whiskey-brown hue, and he chewed the inside of his cheek in anticipation. When he didn’t move, Kaidan rolled his eyes, snaking an arm around his waist and pulling him in for another quick kiss.

He grunted under his breath when Kaidan turned them 90 degrees, shoulders now to the apartment before his lips withdrew. Kaidan lay his eyes upon the building for the first time, and his features mellowed, mouth falling somewhat agape as he looked at it.

Shepard cleared his throat.

“I, uh... I had my contacts furnish the place already, but we can make adjustments anytime,” he made sure to let him know, shoving his hands deep into the front pockets of his jeans. “You told me how you’ve always wanted a place like mine on the Citadel, overlooking the Pacific, so I pulled some strings to see it done. It’s nearly identical to the apartment. Again, we could make adjustments -”

“John, this... this is fantastic.” Kaidan’s voice was hoarse, the genuinity clear. He could breathe out. When Kaidan turned his way, nothing but affection was apparent in his eyes, and he was pulled into a hug before he could respond.

With a smile, Kaidan separated his hand from the pocket. “C’mon. Give me the tour,” he said, intertwining their fingers.

*

Their military wedding ceremony two days after had been short and sweet. Usually, you needed to make a reservation at least a year ahead of time, but the Alliance made an exception after their efforts in the war as a ‘thank you.’ Shepard was just surprised he managed to get his hands off of Kaidan before the ceremony began. Those Alliance Dress Whites hugged his curves in all the right ways.

The flashing of service medals was kind of a plus. Reminding him of his husband’s authority. It took every ounce of resistance out of Shepard not to throw him into the wardrobe locker and have his way with him.

He’d failed.

Vega walked in on them to say everything was ready, and hell, Shepard would never forget the flustered look on his face.

Let’s just say that Vega avoided eye contact for the rest of the day.

For Shepard, the whole ordeal was almost too much. Lights. The arch of sabers above them as they walked through. A lot of people. He’d gotten the help needed to deal with his PTSD, so it was enough for him not to bail the moment camera flashes lit up the local. He was recovering nicely and it was in no small part thanks to Kaidan. His support had been breathtaking. He kept asking himself why the hell he doubted Kaidan’s understanding in the first place. If anything, they’d grown closer ever since the reveal, not further apart in which he had expected.

Turns out that Kaidan Alenko really did fall in love with John Shepard for all he was.

Their discussion hours earlier had a hint of humor in it while arguing whom should walk the aisle. They couldn’t come to an understanding so both agreed to do it. Ashlee had held one of their hands each as she walked them up.

Neither he nor Kaidan had a father anymore, but hell, Ashlee did the job perfectly.

They had the rings engraved like the engagement one. ‘Your John, always’ and ‘Your Kaidan, always.’ It was kinda cheesy, they both knew that, but it was kind of their thing. Neither of them wanted it gone. It was a reminder of everything they had been through together.

“John, you’ve been in there for hours. What’s taking so long?” he heard Kaidan call from the room besides.

Shepard grunted, fumbling with his tie, them just having returned from a photoshoot with ‘Badass Weekly’ who wanted an article on their marriage. ‘The Spectre Power Couple.’ They had been dressed in variety, but hell, most of the photos had them stripped down to pants or briefs. Hence, the black suit and tie, which had him cursing every half-moon. Kaidan had helped him get it on. Now he just needed to get it off.

“This thing is killing me,” he murmured, stepping through the restroom door of their hotel room.

Kaidan chuckled. “C’mere,” he said, reaching out from the bedside. “You know, John... this really looks good on you.” His voice had lowered into a husky murmur that nearly made him semi-hard right there.

Approaching the bedside, his hip was trapped, his body reined in. A kiss was placed directly above the rim of his pants. Shepard had loosened the collar and unbuttoned his shirt in hope it would be easier to get the tie off, to no avail, but Kaidan seemed to have nothing against the display of a bare chest with thin white cotton fabric draped over the shoulders and arms.

It had just been the two of them for three weeks, and they were going back home the next day, so he wanted to relish their final moments alone. Ashlee was great but they needed some time for themselves as well.

His partner seemed to think the same thing.

Next thing he remembered was ending up on his back, legs spread, Kaidan between them as his practiced mouth worked up the bare skin. Shepard hummed softly. Fingers digging into his jet-black hair. Kaidan’s tongue probed between his lips when reaching his level, and he took it eagerly, hands busy loosening the tie. Teeth moved to gently nip at his throat, a hint of tongue, the sensation making him lightheaded. Shepard took a firm grip of his ass when Kaidan rocked his hips. They moaned in unison.

Kaidan viciously claimed his lips again, hand balled around the sheets beside Shepard’s head, the other about to slide beneath his briefs.

“Mmm... Wait, hang on,” Shepard said strangled, the connection of lips broken when he pushed Kaidan a couple inches away, curious but dilated whiskey-brown pupils looking down at him, lips swollen and breathing heavy. Shepard was responsible for messing his hair up slightly.

Shepard grinned. “Could you put the patch on?”

The dramatic sigh from Kaidan only had him grin wider.

“I can’t believe I’m doing this...” he grumbled, pulling off of him. Shepard made sure to give his ass a good look as he traipsed the room, biting into his lower lip, having sworn Kaidan put up a slight sway to his hips as he approached the duffle bag.

Well, he was certainly semi-hard now.

When he came back to him, Shepard grasped his belt loops, pulling him in before splaying a hand on his chest and pushing him down. As desperate as the kiss was, it slowed down, realization dawning upon Shepard’s features. He reluctantly released his hold on him and sat. Kaidan pushed himself up on his forearms from the bed below him as he had noticed the sudden seriousness that overcame him.

“Hey, ah... I had plans to put up dad’s nameplate on the memorial wall tomorrow,” Shepard said. He felt a comforting hand on his arm, the skin sensually caressed, Kaidan’s eyes focused on where he touched.

Whiskey-brown angled up again to meet his gaze.

“Are you sure you’re ready for that?”

Shepard clenched his jaw. He expelled a breath. Then he nodded.

“Yeah. Yeah, I’m ready,” he muttered, reaching out to capture Kaidan’s chin. Their foreheads connected and he smiled faintly. “But thanks for asking.” Shepard planted a brief peck at his mouth. “I love you, Kaidan.”

Kaidan returned a soft smile. “Show me,” he muttered, bringing his mind back to their first night together. It was Shepard’s words. He had to smile. That night, wrapped up in Kaidan’s embrace, he was able to rest peacefully without any nightmares roaming his mind. Right there, in Kaidan’s strong and protective arms, he knew exactly where he belonged.

*

The door flew open, and Shepard looked up from a datapad, expression immediately to turn defeated.

“What happened?” he asked from the couch to see Ashlee, a white Band-Aid across the bridge of her nose, showing signs of a broken nose. Kaidan had just picked her up from a visit to Ace’s adopted son, Shepard having asked Ace to move to Vancouver so their kids weren’t so far apart, as the two had hit it off nicely. Sean -- Ace’s son -- was only two years older than her.

About half a year had passed since their wedding, and at their after-party in the bar, Ace had really found the note with a guy that Kaidan knew from BAaT. Keith. The Spectres played wingmen and the two ended up together. They had only recently adopted.

Kaidan sighed. “She was playing with Sean. Head-butted him. I blame your influence for this.”

“She what? Ash, this is not okay,” he replied, frowning deeply with a stern look. Ashlee hung her head. Hands behind her back. “It’s head-butting. You’ve gotta use your forehead, not your nose.”

“John!”

“What?” he asked, bewildered of the shock on Kaidan’s face.

Kaidan shook his head. “My god, at times I swear I’m the only adult in this damn house -” he said, but then his omni-tool went off. “Give me a sec.” He looked the display over and moved to another room so he could take the call. Shepard had to admit that he was kinda proud of her. Head-butting was in the family, and hell, Grunt, and Wrex loved her for it.

Like father, like daughter, they say.

“Sean and I were talking about spaceships, but he used weird words, and I didn’t know what he was saying,” she said, frowning deeply, her nose crinkled. “What is a ‘drive core’?”

Shepard grinned. “Go grab your model ship and I’ll show you.”

With a beaming smile, Ashlee ran to go get it, shortly coming back with glee in her eyes. He launched her up on his lap. Shepard began to explain the various parts of the SR-1 while showing her. She sure reminded him of Tali in terms of her love for ships. The whole Normandy crew had met her by now and they all loved her.

It was fun to explain it to her, but the joy hadn’t lasted for long, finding himself gazing the direction Kaidan went. His omni-tool had been beeping constantly only days after they returned from their honeymoon, barely giving them a moment of peace, and the calls just kept coming.

“The Alliance?” Shepard asked when he returned.

“Nah, it’s the Council. There have been reports that another Spectre might’ve gone rogue, and after what happened with both Saren and Tela Vasir, they’re keeping their eyes sharp. Not dismissing a single claim,” he replied. “There’s been some serious developments in a short amount of time and they suspect that something’s off. They’re sending me to investigate. Looks pretty serious, and -John?”

“Hm... what?” He blinked attention, having stopped listening a long time ago.

“John, for god’s sake. I’m not an idiot. Every time I mention the Council or Alliance, you grow distant.”

Shepard sighed. “K -”

“Don’t ‘K’ me. Could you just -could you just talk to me for a change? Christ, we’ve been through this.”

With forced mirth, he said, “This is ridiculous. Just drop it.”

“Either tell me now or when I get back. Your choice.”

“What, you’re giving me an ultimatum now? You’re acting like a kid,” he warned, feeling the anger rising inside of him.

“No, I’m acting like a man who can’t get his own damn husband to talk to him!” Kaidan snapped, and he found himself clenching his jaw. Shepard averted his eyes. He hated this. Their fights. Only now recently had they occurred regularly. It didn’t happen often before, but now when they did, they always escalated. Nevertheless, they always made up after.

It couldn’t go on like this.

Kaidan sighed, rubbing his eyes. “Hey, Ash... could you give us five minutes?” he asked, looking at the kid crawled up in Shepard’s lap. “Go to your room or something. You haven’t done anything wrong. Your dad and I just need to talk.”

“Ok, daddy.” She climbed off of him without complaint, him tempted to protest, knowing she was the only wall between them.

He let her go.

“K, I really don’t want to do this,” he tried softly. Looking back up, he saw that Kaidan’s features had mellowed. He immediately felt guilty. The nauseating feeling had come back and he swallowed. His jaw clenched. Kaidan had been nothing but good to him, and yet, he decided to push him away when things got dicey. All because of his own damn pride. His will wanting to do everything himself.

“What can I do... to make your day better?”

There was that question again. Each time they fought, he’d been hit by that question, increasing the effort needed to see the chores done each time Kaidan accepted to see what exact lengths he would go. From mundane things like making dinner to going to the grocery store in the middle of the damn night to buy one or two items that weren’t obligatory. He always accepted. No complaints and no questions asked. Shepard didn’t have the time to protest or tell him that it wasn’t necessary before he was gone.

The tension was replaced by hurt knowing there was a purpose for it.

Maybe it was Kaidan’s way of saying ‘I’m doing whatever you want now because I’m leaving later.’ The thought of him leaving and them getting a divorce was enough to feel a sharp twinge in his abdomen. Why did he have to stall it? Why couldn’t he just leave if that was what he wanted? Was it to subtract from the tension bound to remain after it was done so they could remain mutuals after? It only added to the tension. Kaidan never beat around the bush, so hell, what was his purpose?

He had to know.

“Why do you keep asking me that?” he asked, barely trusting his own voice.

Kaidan took a deep breath, closing his eyes.

“Because... because your happiness means everything to me, and I’m willing to do whatever it takes just to see you smile.” He was presented with his eyes again, whiskey-brown meeting icy-blue, nothing but warmth in the gorgeous hue. “You just never let me. You never ask anything from me so I ask it for you.” A careful smile appeared on Kaidan lips, and a small chuckle escaped them. “I mean, you despise presents even on your own damn birthday, you despise people thanking you for your efforts in the war, you despise the attention...

“I know you, John. I know you despise all that because you don’t think you deserve it. Thing is, you do. You deserve everything you want and more. You deserve to be pampered with, you deserved to be held and loved, you deserve being praised and thanked... and you deserve someone who’d do all these things for you. I want to be that someone. I want to be your soft place to land. Who you come to when things are difficult.”

He swallowed hard, a nauseating feeling feasting vehemently upon his abdomen, clenching his jaw.

“...and when you distance yourself from me like this? Hell, I feel lost,” Kaidan added, hurt present in his voice. “I’m aware that things haven’t been great between us lately, and things haven’t gotten any better over time, and... and I don’t want to lose you.”

That did it.

Shepard threw his feet over the couch to plant them at the floor as he felt his vision clouding up, elbows propping to his knees as his face fell to his hands, as the deep pit in his abdomen went deeper. He certainly didn’t expect to feel Kaidan shift to sit behind him, strong arms wrapping protectively around his waist, pulling him into a warm embrace.

Kaidan sighed. “I’m sorry, okay? Whatever I did, I’m sorry.”

“For god’s sake, K,” he managed to mutter, turning his hands for palms to press against each other, resting his mouth to the tips as he steeled his eyes forward. “I’m nearly a damn cripple who gives you shit for nothing, and yet, you’re still here. Why?”

Silence.

“Because I love you, John. You know that. So tell me what I can do to fix this.”

He let one of his hands drop to his thigh as he guided the other across his own face, eyes shifty, contemplating whether to tell him or not. There was only one thing he could think of and it was egoistic to the fullest. It had nothing to do about Kaidan doing anything wrong, because hell, he hadn’t. Not a single damn thing. It was just an internal battle that Shepard fought each time he saw him walk through that door.

“Quit the Alliance.”

It was that simple. The reason to why he was mad at him in the first place. They’d done more than most with the Normandy crew, and hell, he felt like he could -- for once -- be egoistic. They had given so much and expected nothing in return already.

The returning silence was proof that Kaidan didn’t understand.

With a sigh, Shepard shook his head. “It’s like you said. We deserve happiness. Happiness that isn’t limited to late-night talks over omni-tools when you’re out there doing jobs for the Alliance or Council, or stolen moments in-between your missions if stationed nearby... Christ, K. I want to just spend whole days just cuddled up in front of a vid-screen, watch terrible soap-operas we can make fun off, and just enjoy each other’s company like every other normal damn married couple. Watch Ashlee grow up together.

“When I was with you out on the field, it was different, but I can’t watch your six back home. There’s no question that I’m no longer capable of returning to the Alliance. Especially not when Ash’s in the picture. If I knew this was the cost of becoming a Spectre, I never would’ve taken the job,” he added and frowned. “Hell, I never would’ve let you take the job, either. I’d do anything to sabotage it. I’m good at that.”

Kaidan’s heartfelt chuckle followed.

“If you wanted me to retire... hell, you should’ve just told me,” he said, pulling him closer so Shepard ended up halfway lying down with his head to Kaidan’s shoulder. “I realize now that you thought the Alliance was too important to me. That you didn’t want to take it away by voicing your concerns. Thing is, I chose to remain in the Alliance because... because I didn’t think you were ready to completely settle down.”

Shepard grunted.

“Neither did I, but David -” he said, but cut himself off. Eyes slammed shut and he swallowed. It still hurt. “Dad... asked me if I ever thought about settling down. I told him yes, but... I also told him I wasn’t sure if I’d be much good at it.” He moved his ring-bearing hand up, clasping Kaidan’s wrist, brushing a thumb against the skin as he played with Kaidan’s wedding band. “Hell, you know I’m not the typical ‘red house, white-picket fence, two kids and a dog’ like Sam, but I can’t stand knowing you can get hurt out there.”

Kaidan pressed a kiss to his temple. “Then I’ll stay home.”

“Good.”

Silence followed.

Shepard cleared his throat, frowning. “So... Ace.”

“Oh my god, John.” Kaidan averted his eyes, chuckling. “Is this about that phone call I had with him a couple days ago? He worked with me on a mission. I can’t believe you’re still thinking there’s something between us.”

“Look, it ain’t impossible.”

“Yes, it is.”

“Why?”

“Because I love you, jackass. Even so, are you forgetting he has Keith? That they adopted a damn kid together? That he’s taken?” Kaidan replied, and he felt him grin against his temple. “You’re adorable when you’re jealous.”

“I’m not adorable. I’m manly as hell. Fucking Stallone.”

Kaidan hummed. “Mmh. I’d rather compare you to James Dean, and hell... I like that one way better.”

“So, a sex symbol?”

“Sounds about right.”

“I don’t appreciate being objectified, Alenko,” he teased, keeping his deadpan demeanor true. Nevertheless, he had to bite back a moan when Kaidan’s mouth began working down his neck.

“Stop being so damn attractive then,” he murmured against his skin, and Shepard shivered “...and it’s ‘Shepard-Alenko’.”

Shepard grinned.

*

The next day arrived.

Kaidan watched the slump of John’s shoulders, his stoic features drained, a nameplate in his calloused hands. Blue eyes searched the metal as if waiting for some kind of sign. An internal battle beneath the surface that he had fought for so long. Denied for so long.

Around him stood the rest of the Normandy crew, their features just as drained, few unable to look up.

He swallowed hard when he saw John’s foot lift from the floor ever so slightly, hands tightening around the metal, stepping up to the memorial wall. Escalating his arms, he placed the plaque, right in the center where his name would be honored. One last salute.

 

ADM DAVID ANDERSON
AD ASTRA PER ASPERA

 

John pressed it up against the wall, fingers gingerly brushing against the flat piece of tepid metal, making sure it remained attached when he pulled away. The sentiment was shared among the crew, grief reflecting in their eyes, heads hung. Gently, John pushed away, giving the wall another glance. He took a step back to line himself next to the others. The stoic was gone. Everything that remained was grief.

Kaidan felt blue eyes upon him, ducking his head with a clenched jaw, making sure the sought eye contact never reached him.

He couldn’t even begin to describe how relieved he was for not having to put up John’s plaque together with Anderson’s. The thought of having to do it made his abdomen twist. Turn. Scramble. He almost did once.

Lightly brushing a thumb against the tiny hand that held his, Ashlee had increased the pressure of her hold, as if she knew what he was thinking. Her in need to comfort him. He offered her a small smile to let her know it was all right. She smiled softly back. When he built up just enough courage to meet John’s eye, nothing was needed saying, as his worried thoughts must’ve reflected his demeanor.

Before he knew it, John’s arms were around him, strong arms in which he had met halfway.

He buried his face in the grope between John’s right shoulder and neck, tightening his brows in a worried fashion, letting his eyes tightly close. After a moment of just holding one another, they pulled away, Kaidan taking a moment to study John’s face. Grateful he didn’t lose him. He was unable to hide the soft smile that curled his lips, a sentiment mirrored by John’s, calloused hands at his upper arms.

Their foreheads connected. Kaidan Alenko never gave up on John Shepard. Not even when everything seemed hopeless.

Kaidan smiled. “I said I’d fight like hell for the chance to hold you again.”

All it took was a little patience.

“This is Commander Shepard and Major Alenko... signing off.” - John Shepard

END