Disclaimer: I own nothing, I make no money.

Author's Note: Written for tlcinbflo, because she is an A+ human being and deserves all things good.

Take Root

"She will not last. Not like metal and not like rock and not like the eddies of dust and light that birth stars." - Kaidan and Shepard - holding on.

"I think…I might be scared."

When she says it, it is so simple, so casual, so unhindered in its honesty. And he wonders how she does it sometimes. How she can be so genuine with herself, so uninhibited, so unashamed.

Fear was something he still felt shame for most days. Those were the days when the tingle of his biotics lit just too strong along his spine to mean anything less than reckless. The days when he opened his messaging account looking for the word 'father' or 'mother' or 'safe' and found only a blinking orange screen, empty but for fatality reports. The days when Shepard locked her helmet down along her armor's collar brace and looked up into the dark, star-strewn night – her breath, a raking pull of air in her memory-thick lungs – like that day (or night, because he never really knew, he never knew because time had lost meaning back then) when she had died over an icy Alchera.

Fear still finds a way to wrap its fingers around his throat and squeeze.

But this woman. This honest, bare, unapologetic woman.

He couldn't understand.

Kaidan's hand curls tight around her shoulder as they sit back along her cabin's couch, her face tilted to the glass window, the darkness of space just beyond – and again he thinks she's lost in that suffocation, that suffocation that had taken her almost three years ago and never seemed to let go.

They fight for Earth tomorrow. They fight for it all.

He finds he only wants to fight for her.

"You've never been scared of anything in your entire life," he manages to choke out, his lips pressed to her hair. He knows this. He knows this because he can't imagine a world where Shepard was ever a trembling, helpless child – it's not a world he wants to believe existed at some point and he doesn't think a world like that should exist.

Her fingers graze along his knuckles as he holds her to him. She has not stopped staring at stars. She has not stopped looking for light that would mean more than balls of gas, more than the inevitable millennia of slow dying.

"Some things…" she begins, her voice lingering in that place somewhere between dusk and dawn, a half-place of darkness, a twilight. "Some things still scare me, Kaidan. Some things…" She bites her lip, holds it there until he is sure it will bleed.

He cannot take his eyes from it.

"Some things take root," she says, a lost star in a galaxy full of burning.

When he thinks long and hard about it, she is insignificant in the history of the universe. In the long chronicle that is life and death and life again. A name for generations, yes. A legend in years to come, sure. Perhaps even an ancient, long-held myth when the next civilization makes its dawn and Reapers have become but a taunting whisper in young children's ears to keep their beds clean and their filial duty fulfilled. But still – just a whisper.

She will not last.

Not like metal and not like rock and not like the eddies of dust and light that birth stars.

Not like space. Not like time.

And not like this heaving, tangled mess of emotion he dares to call love.

Because he is sure nothing can last like that.

"Then take root in me," he says, a breath against her temple, a promise, a plea.

She holds a hand to her mouth and smothers her cry.

Kaidan's arms wrap firm and intent around her frame, her sharp-boned, muscle-taut, fear-rattled frame – that skeleton of rage and heat and a promise that she will always try to do good, always try to meet the challenge, always try, always…try.

When she turns to curl into him, and when her hands clutch at the soft-worn cotton of his uniform, and when her mouth opens to a silent, breathless gasp, and when his eyes close to that dark, that stagnant, that soundless tomb of space just beyond the window – when he holds the woman he loves (the only woman he has ever loved and ever thought worth loving) – Kaidan finally understands that holding on takes more than hands or hearts.

It takes roots.