Yet another Shenko fic from me. :) Many many thanks to my beta HeavenlyMuse! Hope you all enjoy, and as always, reviews make my day. :)


Cut

"Commander. Can I ask you something?"

Irien Shepard looked up from her food and into the face of Kaidan Alenko, currently sitting across the table from her. The Normandy was currently en route to Eden Prime on what was supposedly a shakedown run, and as there wasn't much to do in the meantime, Shepard was hanging around the common areas trying to get to know the crew better. Kaidan had joined her a few minutes ago, and after a casual greeting, they'd both been silently eating until his question.

"Sure, Lieutenant," she said with a shrug. "What's up?"

He looked at her inquisitively for a moment before asking, "How'd you get those scars?" He motioned with one hand at his chin and right eyebrow. "I haven't seen many people who have them anymore, since medi-gel is so common." He paused a moment, looking unsure of himself, and when she didn't immediately answer, he continued. "I don't mean to pry; I just- I wanted to know a little more about you. Ma'am."

The question surprised her – there weren't many people who would ask her personal questions at all, much less shortly after meeting her. My reputation always seems to precede me, she thought dryly. Nobody wants to piss off the Hero of the goddamn Blitz.

The memories seemed to be flooding over her – things she'd much rather not remember were coming back to her like they'd just happened yesterday, rather than five years ago. Not that she could ever forget them; like her scars, the things that had happened that day would be with her forever, and as much as she wished both weren't, they were a part of her – just a part that she'd rather pretend didn't exist.

She shook her head slightly, as she realized she was being rude with her silence, and looked up to meet his eyes. He looked concerned, and embarrassed, like he thought he'd done something wrong. He didn't know, she thought. He couldn't know what happened.

"No, it's- it's fine," she said. She knew without raising her own hand that there were two thin lines on her face, and said nothing for a moment as she considered what to tell him.

Blood was dripping into her eye again.

Rockets had been exploding all around her, and, as the battle began, Irien was cut by several pieces of shrapnel from buildings and vehicles that had been hit. She had no idea how long it had been since the attack started – time was meaningless when living moment to moment, trying to survive – but the wounds still hadn't closed up. It either hadn't been very long or they were deeper cuts than she thought they were.

As she leaned back against the rough stone wall currently giving her shelter, she felt it was a blessing that the worst she'd suffered so far were two small gashes on her face.

Unlike many of Elysium's colonists, she was still moving, fighting... and breathing. Though she'd done what she could to organize them, and they were doing well holding their position so far, seeing so many civilians killed meaninglessly was something she knew she would never be able to forget.

She wiped the blood away with the back of a hand, wincing a little at the sting in her eye, then gripped her assault rifle tightly with both hands and leaned around the corner, firing at a foolish batarian who'd left cover in an attempt to get closer to the gateway she was defending. She couldn't hear his scream as he collapsed to the ground – the colonists, now armed and divided into groups to defend each entrance to the city, including the settlement's main gate nearby, were loud enough with their shouts and gunfire to block out everything else.

Their screams, however, were audible, and as she heard another colonist fall, she wondered if Alliance reinforcements would ever come.

A quiet throat-clearing brought Irien back to the present, and she shook her head, wishing she could forget what had happened. But, as she touched her eyebrow scar gently, she knew that memory, like the scar, was something that would be with her forever.

"Elysium," she finally told him. "During the Blitz."

He blinked in surprise, opened his mouth as if to ask a follow up question, then thought better of it and snapped it shut. Shepard wondered if she should say something, anything else to make the situation less awkward and make him feel better, but she had no idea what to tell him. There was a moment more of silence before he simply said, "Oh."

She thought that was the end of it, but he continued. "I, uh- thought that would be a better conversation starter," he said sheepishly.

Irien was surprised at his bluntness for a moment, and couldn't help herself from gaping in surprise, then grinned at him. "Old injuries usually aren't the best way to start casual chatting," she pointed out.

He flushed and ran a hand through his hair in embarrassment. "Honestly, I figured it was a childhood accident or something. Back before medi-gel was so common. Didn't mean to bring up bad memories."

"No, it's all right," she said, and was surprised at the fact that she meant it. "I just don't talk about it much. Maybe I can tell you the whole story sometime, when we have more time."

Kaidan smiled, and nodded shyly. "I'd like that," he replied.

So would I, she thought.


Knocked unconscious

"Finally," Shepard muttered as she and her team destroyed the last geth in the area. "Something is going right."

The whole mission had been a disaster. The colony was devastated, geth had shown up, and the Spectre Nihlus who was supposed to be evaluating her had been killed – murdered by another Spectre, if that dock worker was to be believed.

At least the beacon is safe, she thought, feeling a surge of relief rush through her. It's good to know this wasn't a complete failure. Alenko and Williams approached it warily as she contacted Joker.

"Normandy, the beacon is secure," she said into her suit comm. system. "Request immediate evac."

"Request acknowledged, Shepard," Joker replied. "Contacting Captain Anderson now, hold on a sec." She waited patiently for a response while Ashley and Kaidan examined the beacon more closely.

"This is amazing!" Kaidan exclaimed. Shepard half-smiled. He sounds like a kid given his pick of a toy store. "Actual working Prothean technology. Unbelievable!"

Ashley sounded impressed – and surprised. "It wasn't doing anything like that when they dug it up."

Joker finally got back to her. "On our way, Shepard. ETA five minutes."

"Something must have activated it," she heard Kaidan say.

"Roger, Normandy," she replied. "Standing by."

She turned back to her two squad members so she could get a closer look at the beacon, and Ashley walked up next to her with a smile. Kaidan, however, was still walking closer to the device. If he breaks it when we found it was actually still intact... She left that mental threat unthought, and just as she opened her mouth to tell him not to touch the damn thing, she noticed that something seemed to be wrong.

Kaidan stumbled a little, then was suddenly pulled toward the beacon.She didn't have time to try to figure out what was going on – she shouldered past Ashley and ran toward him, leaping forward to grab the fellow marine around the middle and throw him to one side and hopefully out of danger.

Unfortunately, the beacon then started to target her instead.

A roar filled her ears and she tried to use her hands to block the sound before realizing it was all in her head, and she was pulled toward the thing even as she tried to get away from it. All other thoughts were pushed out of her mind as images of races she'd never seen, places she'd never been, flashed before her eyes. She halfway realized she was no longer standing on the ground and only barely heard Kaidan shout for her over the roaring and screaming that filled her ears.

The images came so quickly and the noise got so loud she felt her head would explode from all the pressure they caused. It finally reached a breaking point, throwing her backwards as her world went blessedly black.

Shepard came to slowly, blinking her eyes to try to clear her blurred vision. She seemed to be in the Normandy's medbay, though how she'd gotten there or what exactly had happened was anyone's guess, as she had no clue. Sitting up was difficult – the world seemed to be spinning as she moved, but she struggled through it. I have to tell Captain Anderson what happened, she thought groggily as she put her head in her hands. If I can remember it, that is.

"Doctor? Doctor Chakwas?" she heard a male voice say. Kaidan, her brain supplied. I'm glad he's okay. "I think she's waking up." He must have gotten me back here after – the beacon, that's what it was. We found it, and... I know something happened; why can't I remember?

She looked up to see the doctor approaching, and she seemed pleased to see her awake. Kaidan stood off to the side, looking slightly awkward, his arms folded across his chest. "You had us worried there, Shepard," Chakwas said, stepping towards her. "How are you feeling?"

Irien tried not to groan as the world started spinning again, and she shut her eyes for a moment. "Like the morning after shore leave," she said grumpily, then relented. No need to be bitchy; it's not their fault you got yourself knocked unconscious, she scolded herself. "How long was I out?"

"About fifteen hours," the doctor replied. That long... What the hell happened to me? she wondered. "Something happened down there with the beacon, I think."

Kaidan interjected. "It's my fault," he told her guiltily. "I must have triggered some kind of security field when I approached it. You had to push me out of the way." The memory came back to her more clearly now – he had gotten too close, and something strange had happened, making her leap in to throw him to safety. She shut her eyes again – the light was making her headache even worse. While her first instinct was to lecture him about getting too close to strange alien devices, the look on his face convinced her to do otherwise. He didn't know any better, she thought, feeling bad for him. And I'm sure he'll be more careful from now on.

"You had no way to know what would happen," she said, hoping to make him feel better, and he smiled at her in a silent thanks.

"Actually," Chakwas corrected them both, "we don't even know if that's what set it off. Unfortunately, we'll never get the chance to find out."

Kaidan shook his head regretfully and stepped closer. "The beacon exploded. A system overload maybe," he shrugged. The tone in his voice was- guilty? He blames himself, she realized. "The blast knocked you cold. Williams and I had to carry you back here to the ship."

She smiled at him. "I appreciate it," Irien said honestly, and he smiled at her again.

"Physically, you're fine," she began. I don't feel fine, Shepard thought, her stomach in knots and her world still slightly spinny. "But I detected some unusual brain activity; abnormal beta waves. I also noticed an increase in your rapid eye movement, signs typically associated with intense dreaming."

What the hell was I dreaming? she wondered, shaking her head and looking down. No, they weren't dreams. Nightmares. Visions maybe. "I saw-" She paused, trying to figure out what to tell them as she struggled to sort through the images she remembered. "I'm not sure what I saw. Death. Destruction. Nothing's really clear."

The doctor's interest was piqued. "Hmm. I'd better add this to my report," she said thoughtfully. Irien noticed Anderson coming in the door and walking toward them, and the look on his face betrayed his concern. "It may- Oh. Captain Anderson."

"How's our XO holding up, Doctor?" he asked as he approached. Kaidan saluted quickly.

"All the readings look normal. I'd say the commander's going to be fine," she replied casually.

"Glad to hear it," he said. He seemed happy to hear the news, but something more serious was clearly weighing on his mind. Time for me to deal with what happened and figure out a plan, she thought. "Shepard, I need to speak with you – in private."

Kaidan crisply saluted them both. "Aye, aye, Captain," he said, then looked at Irien. "I'll be in the mess if you need me." He and the doctor both left the medbay, and she watched as he left. He's certainly an interesting one, she thought, and wondered if she'd have the chance to get to know him – and understand his actions better – in the future.


Shot

"Commander, behind you!"

Though Kaidan had tried, his shout wasn't early enough to allow Shepard to turn around in time. Her shields were down, and though she tried to take out the mercenary who'd snuck up on her as quickly as possible, he got several good hits on the back of her left shoulder with his assault rifle before Wrex flattened him with a powerful shotgun blast. She collapsed to her knees, shutting her eyes from the pain and putting her hands on the ground so she wouldn't completely fall over.

"Shepard!" Kaidan called out in concern and rushed to her side.

Wrex didn't seem concerned, and barely spared a glance at her. She half-smiled in amusement – that was so typically Wrex – but the shooting pain in her shoulder quickly grabbed her attention again. "Looks like the last of them," the krogan said gruffly, but went to check the rest of the area to be sure.

She tried to crane her neck to look at the injury, and Kaidan made a noise of disapproval as he approached her. "You're just going to make it worse," he scolded, then remembered his manners. "Ma'am. Sorry."

She snorted. "Ignore protocol for a couple minutes and help me get this armor off," Irien said in her "commander" voice. She started to stand up, and he immediately reached out a hand to help her, which 

she gladly accepted. When she started undoing the clips on her armor, however, he hesitated for a moment, then did as she asked, helping her remove the top section carefully so he didn't make the wound any worse. Their hands brushed a few times, but she was hurting too bad to pay much attention and was more concerned with getting some relief from the pain. She bit her lip a few times, trying not to cry out.

Finally her shoulder was freed from the armor, and though it still hurt, it didn't feel as bad with nothing pressing against it. "It's not too terrible, Commander," Kaidan told her, his voice carefully neutral. "The bullets didn't make it all the way through your armor, just enough to jab you pretty bad."

"I'm glad it mostly did its job," she said through teeth clenched from pain. "Got some medi-gel back there?"

"Putting it on now," he replied. Her shoulder was pleasantly cool and numb just a moment later, telling her he'd applied it, and she felt the odd itching sensation that meant her wounds were closing up. I'll never get used to that, she thought.

"All right," he said quietly. "You look good to me."

She moved her shoulder experimentally, testing for pain, but felt nothing. She caught his eyes and smiled. "Thank you," she said.

He returned the smile with only a slight hesitation. "Anytime."

Irien suddenly realized how odd of a situation this was – she had stripped off her armor without a second thought and was allowing a subordinate to put medi-gel on her bare skin. A subordinate you flirt with, she reminded herself with a slight grimace. I need to learn self-control sometime...

She glanced over at Kaidan, and he met her eyes for a moment. The situation was suddenly very awkward, as both seemed to have thought the same thing – that this wasn't really an appropriate thing for a soldier to do for his superior officer, especially not when they'd been toeing the line about the fraternization rule lately. She had been feeling guilty about how often she made excuses to go talk to him while on the ship. However, at the moment, she didn't much care.

He's a good man, she thought decisively. I need to stop worrying so much and get to know him better.

He still seemed to care, however, and he cleared his throat awkwardly and looked away, reaching for part of her armor. I could take my self-control lessons from him, she thought dryly. "Here," he offered, turning back toward her with the armor in hand.

She reached over to take it and touched his hand gently. He looked up in surprise, eyebrows raised, but she just kept her hand on his and smiled, almost shyly. They were frozen there for a few moments as her heart pounded – was he going to pretend nothing happened, blush and pull away, get upset at her?

But he surprised her by slowly returning the smile, then used his other hand to set the armor down and reached over to take her hand. His palms were rougher than she expected. Just because he has biotic powers doesn't mean he doesn't work with his hands, she thought with chagrin.

It felt so nice to just sit there holding Kaidan's hand that she barely realized they were also just staring at each other until she heard a loud snort.

"You two planning on helping me empty out the rest of this base anytime soon?" Wrex asked, sounding more amused than he had a right to be. They both pulled their hands away quickly, and Shepard began pulling her armor on faster than she knew she could. "'Cause if you're not, I can leave you two alone and go handle the real work. I mean, obviously you two have other things on your mind." He laughed, Kaidan blushed, and Irien grinned to cover up her embarrassment.

"Yeah, yeah, laugh it up," she told him, pulling out her assault rifle. "Let's get this finished." She glanced over at Kaidan once more, and they shared a quick smile before they all moved on.


Bruised

"Anyone remember what planet we're on?"

Irien looked over her shoulder at Kaidan and Garrus sitting behind her in the cramped quarters of the Mako. Garrus looked positively clueless – she was proud, as she realized this, that she'd been improving her skills at reading the body language of other races – and Kaidan looked so baffled by the question that she had to laugh.

He flushed in embarrassment, but grinned at her. "Commander, you're the one who's had us check out every chunk of rock in the galaxy," he said with mock accusation in his tone. "How am I supposed to keep track of them all?"

"You're the one who is supposedly good with maps and stuff," she replied with a grin, looking skeptical.

"And yet you always drive!"

"Well, obviously with my superior reflexes-" she began, but she paused for a moment when she saw the look of surprise and some fear on Kaidan's face.

"Brakes, Commander, brakes!!" he shouted.

As he said this, she realized that she'd had her foot on the accelerator while they'd been talking. She turned back to look out the front window just in time to see the world shift suddenly as she drove right off the edge of a cliff.

Oh shit, this is gonna hurt, Shepard thought with a mental sigh. Though she did her best to slow their fall with the thrusters on the bottom of the vehicle, there was only so much she could do, and the three of them held on tightly, trying to brace themselves against the sudden bounces and drops. She didn't do a 

good enough job to make the fall less jarring, and her knee was slammed painfully against the metal front of the interior after one particularly harsh bounce.

They finally came to a stop at the bottom of the hill, right-side up fortunately, and all sat there in silence for a moment, all trying to calm themselves down. Irien looked back at Garrus and Kaidan. "You two all right?" she asked, slightly breathless. They both nodded wordlessly, and she nodded in reply. "Oh good. 'Cause, I think I banged my knee up." She reached down to poke at it through her armor and winced.

Kaidan squirmed up through the cramped quarters to get next to her. "You okay?" he asked, looking up at her in concern.

She nodded and grinned ruefully. "Not the worst injury I've ever had. I'll live," she grinned. "It might even teach me a lesson about watching where I drive."

He reached over to pat her on the arm comfortingly. "Commander?"

"Yes, Lieutenant?"

He looked at her, his face completely serious. "How about I drive next time?"

They locked eyes for a few moments, completely silent, until Irien couldn't contain her giggles anymore, and the two of them dissolved into helpless fits of laughter.


Broken

Shepard leaped out of the way of yet another rocket launched by Saren – or what was left of him after Sovereign had activated his implants. He's awfully spry for a turian skeleton, she thought as she took careful aim and fired another few assault rifle rounds at him. He wasn't looking so good anymore. Not that he looked so good to begin with, what with him being dead and all.

"Lift incoming, Shepard!" Kaidan shouted, and the Saren-zombie went flying slowly through the air, allowing her to fire uninterrupted without worrying about rockets coming her way.

Those bullets were the straw that broke the camel's back – a horrible scream ripped through the air. Nothing living could make that sound, she thought grimly. Saren collapsed onto the ground and burned up in an unnatural red fire, leaving not even ashes behind.

Joker's voice came through her comm. – he'd included her in his transmissions to the Arcturus fleet currently assaulting Sovereign. "Its shields are down! Now's our chance!"

Liara and Kaidan approached her where she stood looking out the large windows of the tower, outside of which Sovereign was slowly falling over and glowing with uncontrolled red lightning. She turned to smile briefly at them. "Good work, guys," she said with sincerity. It's almost over, just let the fleet take Sovereign down... she thought, concerned but hopeful.

"Hit it with everything we've got!" Admiral Hackett commanded, and the sky outside the window lit up with the explosions as the ships launched their remaining missiles at the Reaper.

She caught sight of the Normandy, which flew high above the rest of the group then executed a perfect turn to angle back downwards. "Hard on my flank! We're going in!" Joker called out. As he flew straight down, a missile scored a direct hit on Sovereign, causing a huge explosion through its middle before the entire body of the ship blew up.

Her lips slowly widened in a smile, and she felt as if a great weight had been lifted off her shoulders. We won. It's over. She started to turn around to leave, but out of the corner of her eye, she noticed a piece of the Reaper floating directly towards the tower. Though it was small compared to the other pieces, it was heading right for them – and would crush them all if they didn't get out soon. She turned around to Kaidan and Liara, not bothering to hide the panic in her voice. "Go!" she shouted.

She didn't know whether they saw the thing coming or not, but they both trusted her and instantly obeyed her order, turning to run as quickly as they could toward the stairs.

The piece of Sovereign hit the tower with a huge crash, ripping up the floor and making parts of the ceiling collapse on top of them. A large chunk of floor being torn up threw Shepard forward suddenly. She stretched out her arms to brace her fall when a good-sized part of the ceiling landed on top of her, crushing her left arm beneath it with a sickening crack and knocking her head into the floor.

She screamed in pain and shock and almost blacked out for a moment, but fought to stay conscious. She struggled with the chunk of rock, pushing it off of her with a grunt of effort. I've gotta find a place to avoid anything else falling on me, she thought, cradling her left arm, which she suspected was broken even through her tough armor. She crawled toward a leaning piece of the building a few feet away that seemed to be braced pretty well on another part, collapsing under it and panting with the effort it had taken to move.

She wasn't sure how long she lay there. It seemed like forever, with the sharp pain in her arm making her conscious of every second that went by, but how long her "seconds" really were was a mystery, as time didn't seem to be moving along at quite the same speed as normal. Her head was spinning from the knock she'd received. Being concussed doesn't help with keeping track of time, she thought dryly.

Irien wondered what had happened to the others. She'd been able to protect herself – well, mostly – but had they made it to safety? Would the last thing she said to Kaidan be a command to run? And what if she didn't make it out – and, she thought, this was quite possible. Would his memories of her be of a woman who only gave into her feelings for him when she thought she might die a few hours later? Would he think back on their missions together and remember all the people she'd shot and killed in front of him?

I want us to share more than violence and death, she thought, almost desperately. I never told him anything – I just kept all my secrets while he told me his whole life story. I want to tell him about growing up on starships, about going to military schools, about all the trouble I got in when I was younger. I never 

told him about my training, my teachers, my friends. She shook her head and felt tears welling up in her eyes. He even tried to get me to open up to him – he asked me about the Blitz, and I didn't tell him a damn thing. He'll just remember me as some dumb soldier who knew her number was up sooner rather than later and kept all her secrets to herself.

Her world narrowed to the rock that had protected her as thoughts of her past and of Kaidan raced through her mind. She wished he was there so she could tell him everything she was thinking, like she'd so failed to do before. It almost felt like she was drifting off to sleep – her world was so unclear, and every sound she thought she heard could have been real or a dream, she had no idea. At one point, she could have sworn that Kaidan walked up and offered his hand to her, but when she reached out to take it, her shoulder screaming at her in pain, she grabbed onto nothing, and whimpered slightly when she realized he was just a vision.

Eventually, she began to hear a sound consistently, not the sporadic voices in her mind of her friends coming to help her or Kaidan telling her to get off her ass and find him, not the echo of people in her memories, not her own mental voice chiding her for all the things she failed to do. The sound was louder, too, than the crackling of the flames burning the once-beautiful trees around the tower. Are those... voices? she wondered, struggling to sit up a little.

"Captain Anderson!" she heard a male voice call out, sounding excited. "We've found them! They're in here." Was there really someone there, or was it just a dream of rescue? There was a scraping sound of rock on rock then a loud thud – her concussion-dreams weren't that vivid, as real as they seemed. Had they found Kaidan and Liara? Let them be all right, she thought desperately. Please don't let them be hurt too badly.

"Take it easy. It's over," she heard a voice say faintly, echoing her thoughts from earlier. He sounds so familiar, she thought, but her thoughts seemed to be moving so slowly and she couldn't place it. "You're safe now." It clicked. Captain Anderson – it's Captain Anderson, and he's coming personally to rescue us. She almost started crying again in relief. "Where's the commander? Where's Shepard?" she heard him ask.

There was no response that she heard – the two of them must have gotten further than she had, and hadn't seen the ceiling hit her. She pushed herself to her feet with her good arm, nearly falling over in the attempt, and she started making her way toward where she thought the voices had come from. She stumbled a few times on the way, nearly falling, but she managed to keep her feet while cradling her broken arm to her chest. She clambered over pieces of building and Reaper, limping heavily.

Her movement made noise, which, she saw as she climbed a bigger piece, had gotten the attention of the rescue crew – someone from C-Sec was helping Liara stand up, while Kaidan was leaning heavily on Captain Anderson's arm. They all turned at the sound of her footsteps, and the looks on their faces were so joyful that, even through all the pain she was feeling, she couldn't help but smile. Just moments before, she had felt like she had no energy left, but seeing her friends alive and relatively unharmed gave her the strength to stumble up to them. A C-Sec worker approached and offered her his arm, but she waved him away and shook her head.

"Miss me?" Irien asked with a grin, her voice wavering a bit, and Captain Anderson laughed.

"You sure know how to make an entrance," he told her, shaking his head in disbelief as she stopped next to him. She was unsteady on her feet, but she looked over at Kaidan, who hadn't spoken to her yet, and he stepped closer to her and held out his arms to help her stand. She reached out with her good arm to give him a hug, but decided standing on her own was far too difficult and collapsed happily against him.

She looked up at him and smiled, unsure what to say, but he solved her speechlessness by leaning own to kiss her passionately. Surprised, but pleased, she returned the kiss, and heard Captain Anderson's good-natured chuckles. She pulled away regretfully but with a smile.

"Don't you ever," Kaidan said forcefully, looking into her eyes, "scare me like that again." He shook his head. "I thought I lost you," he murmured.

She shook her head and reached up to touch his cheek gently. "You'll never lose me," she told him, and as he wrapped his arms around her for a hug, she leaned against his chest and closed her eyes, smiling and feeling like the luckiest person in the universe.


Not sprained

Shepard woke up shivering. Though she was groggily puzzled by this fact for a moment, she realized that the cause wasn't a fever from an illness or fear from nightmares – it was simply that she was no longer covered with blankets. She sat up a little, rubbing her arms with her hands to warm up, and glanced at the clock on her table. 0200 hours. She had been dozing – among other things – on her bed since early evening. But, she thought with a smile, because a certain troublesome boyfriend of hers liked to stretch out and, apparently, steal all her covers, she had woken up freezing. She chuckled quietly to herself, unable to be angry even though he inadvertently woke her up, and rolled onto her right side, feeling completely and utterly relaxed.

Boyfriend, she thought with a smile as she looked at him. I can definitely get used to calling him my boyfriend. She felt like a giddy teenager who'd just been asked out on her first date – something she didn't really get to experience as a teen, as she didn't date much back then. She'd had relationships since then – she was 29 after all – but none of them had been very serious or lasted long, and none of her boyfriends had even come close to Kaidan. I can't remember the last time I was this happy.

He looked perfectly content, she thought – his face, handsome as ever, had a hint of a smile, and she saw none of the worry lines that were usually present. She hated to wake him, but it would be impossible for her to get back to sleep, chilly as she was. She sat up fully and, without using her still-broken arm, attempted to slowly pull some blankets out from where he clutched them possessively to his chest.

Kaidan wasn't a terribly heavy sleeper, and Shepard noticed his eyes fluttering as the movement disturbed him, waking him up. His eyelids slowly rose, and brown eyes met green as he smiled at her. He sat up a little, letting go of the blankets, and grinned, embarrassed, as he realized what she was doing.

"You're a cover thief," she told him matter-of-factly.

He attempted to look innocent, then flushed slightly. "I didn't know," he told her. "It's been... a while since I shared a bed with anybody."

She scooted over a bit and lay down next to him, resting her head on his shoulder as he put his arm around her to pull her closer. "I'll find some way to forgive you," she said, her voice slightly muffled against his chest.

Kaidan chuckled, then shook his head as he gently touched her arm, which was still immobilized by a brace to facilitate quicker healing. "I'm sorry about this," he told her, sounding a little sad as he looked at it. "I can't believe I just ran off and left you behind when Sovereign hit the tower, I didn't mean-"

"Shh," she said, leaning up on her good elbow and touching his cheek gently. "I told you to run, didn't I?" she asked, raising an eyebrow.

He shook his head. "I just- I know you don't need me to, and I feel bad thinking it, but I still wish I could do more to protect you," he said, meeting her eyes.

Oh Kaidan, she thought. What did I ever do to deserve you? "Kaidan, sweetheart," she said, "I'm going to be hurting myself no matter what you do. Look!" She sat up and showed him her back, craning her head around and poking at her left shoulderblade enthusiastically. "Remember when I got shot here? You yelled for me to turn but I wasn't quick enough. That was completely my fault. And then you helped me put medi-gel on to heal it." He raised an eyebrow at her, so she continued. "And this-" She pulled her leg up, poking at the kneecap. "We were talking in the Mako and I drove us off a cliff. You even tried to warn me, but nope, I'm that bad of a driver."

"But I got you pulled into the beacon on Eden Prime," he told her pointedly.

"I'm glad you did," she countered. "I wouldn't have wanted you to deal with the headaches that thing caused along with the migraines from your implant."

This seemed to give him pause, and she thought he would admit defeat, but he reached up to gently touch the scar on her eyebrow. "I asked you about this once," he said quietly. "Elysium, you said. The Blitz."

"I was rude," Irien apologized, though it seemed to her that the hunt for Saren had gone on forever, and she barely remembered a time when she wasn't in love with Kaidan. "It's... I don't really think about it very often. It's not quite the perfect rescue of the colony everyone makes it out to be," she said. She shook her head. "I used to blame myself, you know? I hated thinking about it because even though 

everyone praised me and gave me medals for it, I couldn't help remembering the people I wasn't able to save."

He sat up and leaned forward to gently kiss the scar on her eyebrow. "We've all got scars," he said as she leaned against him. "We're all still healing." Vyrnnus, she thought, and Rahna. She wondered if he would ever really forgive himself for what happened with his old teacher and the girl he used to love. "I just hope we can protect each other from getting any more of them."

She kissed him. "You're protecting me plenty," she told him honestly, then smiled. "After all, you have managed to save me from one injury."

Kaidan tilted his head slightly. "Oh yeah?" he asked curiously. "What's that?"

She grinned wickedly. "I haven't gotten any kind of sprain or anything. And considering what's been going on, I count that as a miracle."

He looked confused. "What are you- oh." His face went bright red as he realized what she was talking about, and she laughed happily at her victory. "Oh, you think you're funny, making me blush, hmm?" he asked, the color fading as he grinned at her. She nodded emphatically. "You are unbelievable, you know that?" he laughed. She tried to look innocent, but couldn't keep a straight face as he pretended to scowl at her. He shook his head, then suddenly reached over to hug her tightly.

Pleasantly surprised by the affection, she hugged him back. "Not that I don't enjoy these spontaneous hugs," she said into the crook between his shoulder and neck, "but what was that for?"

"For bringing me on almost every mission," he said, leaning to the right a bit to kiss her neck. She closed her eyes in happiness. "For putting up with me, even though I'm kind of a self-control freak sometimes," he chuckled throatily, his kisses moving up her neck to her cheek. She was tempted for a moment to make a snarky comment – "Sometimes? More like all the time!" 

– but let it go for once. "For not getting offended that I want to protect you from everything bad in the galaxy," he murmured, kissing along her jawbone. He leaned back and she opened her eyes to see him smiling at her. "For letting me into your life," he said, gently touching her scar again.

She returned the smile. Her scars from Elysium had been something that kept them apart, she thought, just like his emotional ones from what had happened with Vyrnnus. They both had things from their past they thought would never heal.

She wanted to tell him how happy she was that he'd broken down those emotional walls around himself for her. She wished she could speak eloquently and cleverly like he always seemed to and tell him how he made her feel like a better person just by being around. We don't need words, she thought. We understand each other. She leaned forward to kiss him without saying anything, and she could tell that he knew exactly what she was trying to tell him.