Beta; Lisbet, the bravest woman I know.
Pairings: Kaidan/James, MShepard/Kaidan.
Genre: slash, angst, romance
Warnings: NSFW smut
Summary: Extrapolation on the destroy ending and beyond. With the Reaper war looming, Kaidan finds himself on uncertain ground in his relationship with Shepard. When the final battle leaves Shepard in a coma, Kaidan has to make a choice: should he wait on a man who may never wake up, or will he find respite with someone else?
AN: [Azzy]Made for the 2012 Mass Effect Big bang – Thanks to Yanjara who just rolled with it like a pro. Thanks to Lisbet who braved my horrible grammar like always, you are a gem! And thanks to Alishathorn and Erestorjunkie who was my voices of sanity. I put together a playlist of the songs I listened to while writing, if anyone wants to check it out, you can find that here.
Take what you want from me
Take what you can
And then hide it somewhere I can't see
Out of my hands
Do what it takes to make you feel better
Never forget that you
You're nobody's man
Nobody feels the weight of your mission
Nobody can set you free
Nobody knows the way to your fortune
Nobody and least of all…
CHAPTER 1 – Tides that I tried to swim against.
For a long moment, Kaidan sat and stared out into space as it rushed past the window. "We don't have enough moments like this," he whispered, knowing that Shepard heard him.
"Like what, Kaidan?" Shepard couldn't help but grin. "Stuck in the Normandy with nothing better to do than stare at stars, when we should be sleeping?" His words were mocking, but his body language was relaxed — something that was terribly rare these days.
"Something like that." Kaidan sighed, then turned to look at Shepard at his side. He looked horrible. There were dark rings under his eyes and he had surely lost several pounds. Nothing left but skin and muscle — whatever pudge he had put on as the Normandy had been docked was gone. "When this is over -"
"Don't," Shepard said in a clipped tone, looking away from Kaidan and walking over to his desk and picking up a data pad, pretending to read it.
"John," Kaidan whined slightly accusing, "You can't ignore it forever."
"It's just…" Shepard put the data pad down with a defeated sigh. "I know you want me to paint you a pretty picture of us getting married, having a bright future – growing old together." He paused, studying Kaidan's face, reading the sadness he saw there. "I can't promise you that. You know that! Why are you torturing yourself like this?"
"I thought that was what -we- wanted, not just me." Kaidan huffed, frowning.
"Right, I meant -we-." Shepard corrected, slightly disconnected. He ran a hand over his buzzed scalp. "What I meant was that I don't even know if we are going to make it out of this war at all. So what good does talk of a possible future do any of us?"
"I am a soldier, Shepard!" Kaidan exclaimed, crossing his arms over his chest. "I am aware of what our odds are; I know the score! And that is all the more reason to do something today, and not wait until tomorrow."
"Wait…" Shepard held up a hand in defeat, "I thought we were talking about the future."
"We are," Kaidan said, hesitating at first, but then he started to walk closer to Shepard at the other end of the room. He held eye contact with Shepard as he made his way there. "I know we talked about this before, but it's important to me… I don't know, I am starting to get the idea that you might not want to -have- a future, at least not one with me in it."
"Don't talk bullshit like that," Shepard said, his annoyed expression fading away, to be replaced by one of empathy. "It's not that I don't want to marry you, it's just-"
"What if, what if." Shepard stopped and placed his palm against Kaidan's cheek instead, "What if in the end, it doesn't matter?" 1
Kaidan closed his eyes, leaning slightly into the caress, "It will always matter. To know that you are mine, only mine."
"I already -am- Major Alenko." Shepard teased, "And I wouldn't have it any other way."
Kaidan opened his eyes and looked up at Shepard's smile, "I know that, but – "
"Why do you put so much into a little trinket like that?" Shepard asked with a little sigh. "If it's the wow that is important, I will give you that." He dropped unceremoniously to his knees with a thud, and reached for Kaidan's hands. "I promise you that I will always be yours," He smiled with a little quirk, "For better and for worse."
"John…" Kaidan mumbled, not sure if he should be happy or upset. "Why do you have to make fun of me?"
"I'm not," Shepard said, slowly rising to his feet again. "I mean every word. Only difference is that I have no need to throw a party or wear a ring." He swept Kaidan off his feet, kissing his lover as Kaidan wrapped himself around Shepard, melting into the promise of more, efficiently silenced in his request once more as Shepard made a bee-line to the bed.
Hours later Kaidan woke suddenly. Rolling over in the bed, he looked at Shepard, who was just staring off into nothing. "Hey," he said softly, running a hand over Shepard's arm to shake him from his gloomy thoughts.
"Sorry," Shepard mumbled and turned his head to smile at his lover. "Can't sleep."
"What's on your mind?" Kaidan asked, smiling back as Shepard placed a hand on his hip, pulling him closer again.
"War, death, the end of humanity, and you – the usual suspects." Shepard grinned to take the sting of the truth in his words.
"All that belongs to tomorrow." Kaidan said, popping up on an elbow, looking down into Shepard's harrowed face. "Tonight you only have to worry about me." He laughed a little, kissing his lover's lips softly, lingering just long enough to drive home his point.
Shepard didn't say anything, he just wrapped his arms around Kaidan and pulled him down over him.
"Maybe we should catch some sleep," Kaidan whispered, torn between what he really wanted and needed, and then what he knew was best for them both.
"I'd like to see you try," Shepard whispered back, wrapping a long leg around Kaidan's thigh, forcing him down between his legs so he could hook his other leg around Kaidan too, pinning the other man efficiently down between his legs.
"But you'll be sore," Kaidan whispered, kissing Shepard's jawbone from ear to ear, surprised to feel himself grow hard against Shepard's inner thigh. "Maybe we should -"
"Kaidan," Shepard said with his best no-bullshit voice, "shut up."
Kaidan lifted his head up and looked down at his lover. He looked so beautiful like this, short of breath, hot and bothered. There was something in his eyes that Kaidan couldn't quite pinpoint. Fear, maybe? But Shepard was never afraid of anything! He was the rock that everyone leaned on. Even now, as Kaidan lay naked in his arms, he needed to know that everything was alright, that they were okay.
Shepard blinked and licked his lips. "Fuck me," he whispered.
"Do I have to repeat myself?" Shepard asked, a little amused and a little annoyed.
Kaidan laughed softly, "Aye, aye – Sir." He reached for the bed's headboard, remembering that he had abandoned the lube there somewhere. He caught it between two fingers and pulled it back. Shepard let go of him as he moved back to sit on his knees, between Shepard's legs. He looked down at the man in front of him, scarred, bruised and absolutely breathtakingly beautiful. "I love you," he said out of nowhere, squeezing lube out into his hand. And as he slowly pushed inside Shepard, he couldn't help but feel sad, a strange feeling of impending doom. What if he were never to see John like this again? What if he never got to hold him, kiss him, tell him he loved him… It was a very real possibility, and they both knew it.
Shepard tilted his hips a little, raising his feet to plant them at Kaidan's shoulders. "Fuck yeah," He whispered, pushing back with his hands flat against the headboard. They both knew that this was all about feeling alive, the tenderness would follow. This was how it had always been. And tonight was no exception. To begin with, Kaidan had been a little surprised to find that Shepard didn't care for foreplay or sweet-talk, he just wanted, or maybe needed was a better word, to feel the loss of control and forget himself for a little while. It was not like Kaidan would argue, he enjoyed sex as much as the next person. Still he felt like something was missing, like some of the closeness was taken away. He was shaken from his thoughts as Shepard pushed harder up against him, urging him to thrust harder.
Kaidan loved the low keening moans that escaped Shepard as he was close to climax, and how he sucked in his breath and furrowed his brows, almost as if his orgasm surprised him every time. Kaidan grabbed Shepard's waist harder, his hands slipping on sweat slick skin. "I got you," he whispered, thrusting harder and faster, knowing that it would be both their undoing.
Still catching his breath, Shepard pulled Kaidan close again. "God, I love you," he mumbled against Kaidan's temple, kissing him lightly.
Eventually they had both fallen asleep, but too soon the morning came with its harsh reality. They were at the mass relay that would take them to the Sol system within the hour, and everyone was running around with their head under their arm, trying to make sure that the Normandy and her crew were as prepared as they could possibly be.
Shepard had been locked in the conference room since he had left his cabin this morning, and Kaidan was down at the shuttle bay overlooking inventory, just to make sure. He had tried to raise Jack on the extranet earlier, but he couldn't get a hold of her, and so he guessed it was better to be in the way at the shuttle bay than elsewhere. And he did not see Shepard until he announced over the intercom that they were about to make a relay jump to reaper infested skies.
Kaidan wanted to go up on the deck to catch Shepard, if nothing else than to hug him. Shepard was not a super romantic fella, but never ever had he once expressed affection in public. Kaidan just figured that he was a private person, because there was no lack of affection when they were alone. He knew that Shepard was not ashamed of who he was, but maybe he had just been a soldier for so many years, that outside his private quarters he didn't know how to be anything else. But today was not like any other day. Kaidan could feel it in his bones. And today he would do as he felt like, just in case… just in case they didn't make it. So he got into the elevator and rode it to the main deck.
They had all known what they arrived to, but they were all in shock to see the massive battle, fires on earth so big that you could see them from space. "This is crazy," Kaidan whispered, coming up behind Shepard, who was standing behind Joker in the cockpit, staring out at the destruction.
"It is," Shepard just answered, not looking away from the horrible scene unfolding outside the Normandy. Not until Kaidan wrapped his arms around Shepard's waist, leaning his chin on Shepard's shoulder. Shepard opened his mouth to say something, but instead he just smiled, and rubbed a hand tenderly over Kaidan's' folded ones on his stomach. "And we'll end it today, Kaidan."
Kaidan closed his eyes, not trusting that he wouldn't embarrass himself with tears, hearing the tone in Shepard's voice. He could tell that the Commander didn't expect them to survive, as there was an undercurrent of regret in his tone. "Yes," Kaidan whispered, tightening his hold to let it ground him for a moment longer.
Making it to the FOB had been hard, but now they were here. It was incredible what the Reapers had done to London. The damage to the structure made it impossible to tell what city it was meant to be. There were none of the sightseeing landmarks left, none of those that Kaidan had seen on pictures, at least. He was surprised to learn that both Anderson and Shepard were from here, which also shamed him a little, wanting to marry a man and not even bothering to know where he was from. Maybe he had been too busy talking about his own childhood home to notice that Shepard never talked about his.
As they got off the Hammerhead, they all went their own way, Kaidan making his way from the communications centre to Anderson's briefing as he saw Shepard walk down the broken pavement in his direction. His lover did not smile, he looked grim and determined, which did not bode well. "John?" Kaidan said, fidgeting with his helmet in his hands, looking down at his feet, but then reconsidering and looking up at Shepard's worried gaze.
"I'll make you a deal; when the Reapers are dead, I promise you the wedding you always dreamed of," Shepard whispered, and to Kaidan's surprise he looked away as if he knew it was a lie.
"I'll hold you to that one," Kaidan said with a little smile. And for the longest time they just stood and looked at each other, neither of them willing to say what they knew they should. Like not saying it made it less real.
"I love you," Shepard said with a slightly muddled, emotional voice. "You know that, right? Even if I am no good at telling you that as often as I should."
"I know," Kaidan said, this throat tightening, making it hard to swallow. "I love you too."
"And that is why -" Shepard took a deep breath, apparently having to brace himself for this, "I don't want you on my team today, I want you to stay here and defend the forward operating base."
"Please, Kaidan," Shepard begged, resting his forehead against Kaidan's. "Please, please understand. I don't think -"
"I don't care," Kaidan whispered, caressing Shepard's cheek with a gloved hand. "It's war, people die, hells we might even die, but my place is at your side."
"No," Shepard breathed.
"John, don't do this to me. I am going with you, no matter if you want it or not!" Kaidan pushed Shepard away to glare at him angrily. "You can't just tell me to stay here, you bastard!" Kaidan could feel that hot, angry tears were ridiculously close, but he refused to come off as weak. "You fucking well know that your odds are bad, really bad – John! And you're asking me to stay here instead of fighting with you, I'm sorry but I just can't do that!"
"Kaidan…" Shepard begged again, "Please. It would give me peace to know that you aren't harmed."
"Screw that!" Kaidan argued hotly, "We're all in harm's way, in case you haven't noticed. And I would rather be in harm's way with you. Don't deny me that, John."
Shepard looked conflicted for a moment, opened his mouth to say something and then closed it, "Kai-"
Kaidan ignored it and pulled Shepard in for a kiss. He could feel the Commander tense, probably both because they had argued just seconds before, and because they were in plain view. But soon Shepard lost himself in the kiss, wrapping his arms around Kaidan to pull the other man even closer.
As they pulled from the kiss, Shepard sighed. "Okay," he just mumbled. "Have it your way."
Not really feeling like it was a victory, Kaidan just nodded, reluctantly letting go of Shepard as he pulled back. Watching him as he left, it felt unreal that this might be the last time they would hold each other. No, they fought too hard for this, they would have a future – they had to!
Kaidan shot James a worried look that was returned. They were hiding behind what Kaidan assumed used to be a convenience store. Now it was just reduced to rubble. They were goddamn everywhere, buzzing, screeching. Kaidan was tired, his head hurt like a mother and he was ready for this to be goddamn over. James scooted a little closer. "Alenko," he said, "Are you okay?"
Undoing his helmet, dropping it to the floor, Kaidan took a deep breath of the dusty air. "I'm fine." He smiled a tired smile at his brother in arms. "I just needed some air," he said, ignoring how his hands were shaking until James grabbed his wrist hard.
"You are not okay at all," James sneered, not as much angry as frustrated. "The Commander will fucking kill me if you die on my watch." He peeked around the corner of the shelf, seeing Shepard and Garrus on the other side of the street, fiddling in silence with a control on one of the missile tanks. "You hide here, and take a breather, recharge, or whatever it is you biotics do." He smiled, "I got your back, Major." And with that, James inched around the corner of the shelf, leaving Kaidan alone.
Kaidan took some deep breaths of air, hearing the gunfire pick up speed. He heard Shepard yell, "Where's Alenko?" – He didn't hear James answer, so he just assumed he would sign something across the street. His shaking was less than before, which was good, but he was beginning to think that Shepard had had a valid point when he had wanted him to stay behind. Maybe he had been an idiot coming here. He knew that no matter how strong a biotic he might be, a constant onslaught like this would drain him dry, and fast. But this was no common battle; this was not just pirates at the citadel, or Cerberus on some backwater planet. This was Earth, and this was -it-, and John was depending on him. Slowly Kaidan got to his feet, and as he slowly made it around the corner of the shelf, he saw to his horror that James and Shepard were trying their hardest to fight off the Cannibals who were just about to flank then, due to their vast numbers. Garrus was running around the tank to get a good shot in at a Banshee that was advancing as well.
"Push the button!" Shepard yelled, and when James didn't react, "Someone push…" But everyone was too busy with keeping the husks off them, and Kaidan was too far away still. Shepard almost tossed his rifle in anger and turned around to try and launch the last two missiles against the Reaper who was guarding the beacon to the Citadel.
Kaidan almost stumbled as his headache came back with a vengeance, but he didn't have time for that! He could see Shepard's knees buckle as he took some stray bullets from some incoming Cannibals, he could tell that Shepard was grinding his teeth to stay focused. "I got you!" Kaidan groaned, using everything he had to make a shield around them, keeping the husks out. He knew it wouldn't last long; his head was pounding too badly. "You better hurry."
"Thank you." Shepard said, wasting a precious moment to turn his head and smile at Kaidan, before he returned to the task at hand, launching the missiles. "Hang on, everyone," Shepard yelled. "Anderson and the remains of Hammerhead are on their way." He pushed the button on the missile launcher. Kaidan almost didn't dare to look, but he couldn't help but to turn his head and watch the missiles on their way toward their target. As they didn't deflect but hit directly where they were supposed to, he grinned like a loon. Maybe, just maybe they'd be alright.
"They're here!" James hollered, waving at the convoy.
Kaidan finally let go of his barrier, growling in agony as his headache intensified. He pressed the heels of his hands against his eyelids, but it just made him see stars, it didn't lessen the pain. He could hear a voice far away calling his name. Strong arms lifted him up. He didn't dare to let go of the pressure against his skull, but as he leaned closer he recognized the scent, gun grease, sweat and something like ginger. Shepard. He wanted to say something, but all he could manage was a pained whimper.
James grabbed Garrus and helped him aboard one of the convoy's vehicles. "You'd do more good here," James said with a little grin. "That alien motherfucker got your leg good there, Turian."
"Yeah," Garrus sighed, frustrated, lifting his injured leg over the threshold to the seats. "I could still kill those assholes blind, with one arm." He laughed. "Don't count me out just yet there, soldier."
James laughed a little too. "I'll tell Shepard where you are. And that you are okay." He looked over his shoulder at Shepard, who was fussing over Kaidan, while Anderson briefed him on the battle plan to the beam. "You think Kaidan will be okay?" James asked casually, looking back at Garrus.
"He's tough as nails, kid. He'll be fine, he just needs a painkiller and some water."
James squinted his eyes. Something told him that Garrus was lying, but it was hard to tell from a Turian's facial expression. "Alright." He just nodded. Banging the side of the car twice, he smiled at Garrus. "Kill 'em all, Soldier."
"Damn straight! Kill 'em all."
Kaidan could finally focus again, smiling sedated at Shepard. "I'm sorry," He mumbled.
"For what?" Shepard asked, leaning forward, resting on a knee. "You saved us all."
"Yeah… yeah maybe I did." Kaidan laughed hoarsely. He struggled to get to his feet, leaning against the car. "Just give me a moment," he said softly. "The headache is lifting."
"Sorry to tell you, Major, but we don't have a moment," Anderson said.
"Anderson, would you take him with you?" Shepard asked, wrapping an arm around Kaidan's waist to guide him to the vehicle that Anderson was driving.
"No!" Kaidan yelled, pushing Shepard away. He turned around and glared at the Commander with a frown. "I told you, you are -not- leaving me behind."
"Kaidan, would you please be reasonable?" Shepard asked, slightly surprised to have been pushed away like that.
"No," Kaidan repeated. "If I ride with Anderson, so do you."
Kaidan held up his hand to shut Shepard up. "Then I take point with you."
"We gotta move," Anderson cut in. "Are you coming with me, Major Alenko?"
"No," Kaidan said again, shaking his head lightly. "I'm gonna take point with John."
"You're crazy," Shepard sighed.
"Maybe." Kaidan shrugged as they walked down to the front of the convoy. "But you wouldn't want it any other way."
Shepard smiled again, one of those warm little smiles that spoke more than any words. "You're right."
It was easy to lose focus as they finally broke free and made a mad dash toward the Citadel's beam. Husks, Cannibals, Banshees, Brutes… they were everywhere, and while Kaidan's headache might have been chemically reduced, his body was still screaming for rest. He tried to focus on Shepard's back, determined not to lose him. They had to make it to the beam, and it had to work! John believed it, so Kaidan chose to believe it too. He saw James stumble out the corner of his eye, and get on his feet again, clutching his side. It didn't change his pace of running or gunning, for that matter. Maybe this was what had made the Protheans extinct, the sheer pressure of constant fighting. No one could keep that up. Not even Shepard.
Kaidan didn't see the vehicle that spun through the air. He heard James yell 'look out' and then he looked up but it was too late. The ton of heavy deadly metal hit him, knocked him back. He could hear his own scream on top of the shooting and the distant explosions. He couldn't move his arm, and his entire left side felt like it was on fire. Was he still screaming?
James and Shepard got Kaidan in hiding behind the hulk of another vehicle; Kaidan turned his head, dazed, and looked at Shepard's wide frightened eyes. Why was he frightened? "What are you doin?" He slurred.
"He's calling the Normandy," James said softly, placing a hand on Kaidan's left shoulder. "I'm gonna get you there, don't worry."
"John." Kaidan frowned again, "Don't."
"No, Kaidan," Shepard said, squatting down in front of Kaidan. "This time you have to do as I say." His voice was filled with a desperate plea. And Kaidan had to admit that he felt weak and under different circumstances would have welcomed the chance to leave the battlefield.
Kaidan reached out with his right arm and grabbed a gun that was lying on the ground; the soldier who had dropped it probably didn't need it anymore. He held it tightly and tried to push off the car wreck. James stopped him with an arm across his chest. "He's right; you're in no shape to fight, Alenko."
The Normandy came into view and Shepard pulled Kaidan to his feet, hauling him toward it, across the battle field. James ran up first to help Kaidan in. The soldiers on deck were busy with counter fire, trying to keep the trio on the ground from getting shot. Shepard looked up at James and pushed Kaidan up with so much force that he stumbled into James' waiting arms. "Make sure he is safe, Vega." Shepard yelled over the noise of the battle.
"What? Wait! No!" Kaidan argued, and struggled for a brief second in James' hold.
Shepard reached up and caressed Kaidan's cheek, smearing it with more blood. "When this is over – I'll be waiting for you."
Kaidan bit his lip not to let out the sound he felt. "Don't do this, John, I am begging you."
"We're soldiers, Kaidan," Shepard said with a little sad smile. "What was it you told me? You knew the score."
"That was just words!" Kaidan argued, placing his own hand on top of Shepard's and pressing it against his own skin. If it weren't for this crushing headache and the pain in his side… – He took a long shuddering breath. "You better be there."
"For you? Anything," Shepard said with a smile, but his eyes looked empty and dead.
"Go!" Shepard yelled, pulling his hand back, watching as the Normandy lifted higher in the air. "Go! Dammit!"
Kaidan turned in James' arms to watch as Shepard continued his mad run toward the beam. He sucked in his breath as a close beam made Shepard loose his footing, but seconds later he was up again and unharmed. Kaidan didn't want to say anything, but just let James guide him to the medbay. He knew what this was, this was John saying goodbye.