I'll be your liquor bathing your soul
Juice that's pure
And I'll be your anchor you'll never leave
Shores that cure
Well I've seen you suffer, I've seen you cry for days and days
So I'll be your liquor, demons will drown
And float away

If there was one thing Kaidan Alenko had learnt over the past few years, it was the value of knowing people. People who knew things, and more importantly, people who would tell you about them. Consequently, he knew that Shepard and the crew of the Normandy had passed through the Omega 4 relay, he knew that they had taken on and destroyed the Collector base, and he knew that the ship had been sighted limping back to the Citadel afterwards.

By the end of the day he'd received information from no less than three of his sources telling him that the Normandy had docked at the lower wards, looking much the worse for wear. "Like no damage I've ever seen," proclaimed the latest, as he waylaid Kaidan on his way to the coffee machine. He looked around and leaned in, adding confidentially: "That ship has been to hell and back. I'm surprised it made it to the Citadel. It's practically derelict."

Kaidan frowned, and nodded, and promised the 'usual' to be delivered the next day, and his informant trotted off happily. He took his coffee back to his desk and pondered the extent of the damage. The last he'd heard, the Normandy had been retrofitted with cutting edge technology, defensive and offensive. Whatever had the firepower to take that out… he took a careful, scalding sip of his coffee and grimaced at the bitter aftertaste. Not pretty. Not pretty at all.

Finding he couldn't concentrate on work now, he gave up his report as a bad idea, shut down his station, and went home for the day.

When he got back to his apartment he was not entirely surprised to find he had a message indicator flashing on his private terminal. He sat down and brought up the screen.

Kaidan,

I know the last time we met didn't exactly go well. Things were said. I'm sorry I never replied to your email afterwards. I guess I just couldn't think of the right thing to say. I guess I was never expecting that we'd actually make it back and I'd need to find the right thing to say. Fatalism was never one of my traits before…

I don't know if you've heard what's been happening out here, but the situation was bad and I'm pretty sure it's going to get worse. I've seen a lot of things…done things. Terrible things. Reports and info sources can only tell you so much. Out here, it's visceral. It gets you right in the gut, and that's how you respond, you know?

Sometimes it's only the memories that keep you going. But the good ones are few and far between. And the stars and the spaces between really drive home the isolation. We're all by ourselves out here, in our small corner of the universe. Only we're not, and it's all going to end. Soon. Unless something is done.

Shit, I don't even know what I'm trying to say here. I guess… I could really use someone to talk to. It's kind of a… bad day. I know you're not necessarily kindly disposed towards me, but Kaidan, I could really use a friend right now. Or as close to one as I'm likely to get.

I'll be at the Dark Star Lounge. If you decide to come by, well… I'd appreciate it.

Shepard.

Kaidan sat back and thought. The last time he'd seen Shepard, in person anyway, was on Horizon. And yeah, things had been said. Which he'd apologized for. He stretched his arms and interlinked his hands behind his head, staring at the ceiling blankly. Memories… he wondered which ones Shepard was referring to. Was it being called "savior" that kept him going? Did Shepard even need that kind of spur these days? Or was it other memories, the more personal ones? Conversations in front of that control panel on the original Normandy? The night before Ilos?

Kaidan shifted restlessly in his seat. He had his own set of memories… ones he still treasured, even if he could no longer admit it. Ones where the thrum of ships engines cadenced with the rush of blood through two sets of veins and background clatter was drowned by two sets of harsh breaths. Ones where the entire world was encased in grey metal walls, dimly lit by blue; where he lay tangled in someone else's sheets in someone else's bed. Ones where he slept under the solemn gaze of blue eyes, feeling content and secure; and woke up under that same gaze reaffirmed. The humorous glint in those eyes as they were interrupted… again; the wry twist of lips and the subtle flick of a tongue as they were moistened.

Damn. He was probably going to regret this but… Kaidan hit Reply and typed a quick response.

Shepard,

I'll be there in 2 hours.

-Kaidan.

He pushed his chair back and in a swift movement was up and moving towards the shower, leaving a trail of discarded clothing behind him. As steam billowed up in the small room, he stepped under the cascade and lathered, fingers lingering over his chest when the skin there tingled pleasantly. He was half-hard anyway from remembering. What was a little more?

Tilting his head back, he let his fingers wander, skimming over the tiny peaks of his nipples and pinching gently. They continued down the definitions of his abdomen, tracing contours until he met the dark brush of hair below his navel. His hips twitched and droplets of water splashed, stinging slightly on sensitive flesh. Kaidan winced and hunched forwards, bracing himself against the tiled wall as he soothed with a hand. And groaned, as that same traitorous hand turned from soothing to stroking. He rested his forehead on his forearm and let the warm water tumble caressingly down his spine. Closing his eyes, he traced his own length and rubbed his thumb over his slit, feeling the slippery texture of his pre-cum diluting as it met the shower water. His fingers formed a ring and he slowly thrust into them. As his movements quickened, he let his lips open and tasted the warm rain from the shower. Water slicked his length and his grip tightened until he was pumping faster. His hips bucked as he shuddered on the edge, then with a strangled grunt he tipped over, spurting onto the tiles, white on white.

Kaidan panted, dimly focusing as his ejaculate slowly dissolved and started sluicing away. He reached out and wiped the rest into watery oblivion.

Then he sighed, and finished washing himself.

oOo

At precisely 1900 hours Earth time, Kaidan strode into the Dark Star. The fruity, biting odor of ethanol washed over him and the bass throbbed in his ear bones. Suppressing a wince, he glanced around the room. It wasn't crowded, and almost immediately he spotted a familiar figure at the bar.

Judging from the neat little row of empty glasses before him, Shepard had been there for some time. Kaidan studied him as he approached. He was wearing form fitting civvies, black from head to toe. His shoulders were slumped and he was leaning heavily on the bar. How much it was propping him up, Kaidan couldn't tell. Shepard turned his head as he closed and flashed a quick look up at him, enough to get an impression of blue and what looked like the reflection from the lights of the bar. He pulled up a stool and ordered a whiskey from the turian barman, cradling it as it was slid in front of him.

Shepard saluted him with his glass and drained it, throwing his head back and swallowing convulsively, shaking his head. Kaidan watched the strong line of his throat and hastily took a sip of his own drink, savoring the smoky aftertaste. They maintained a careful distance and stared into the center of the bar.

"Thanks for…"

"I'm glad you…"

Both spoke together, and then chuckled. Kaidan gestured. "After you, Shepard. Commander."

Shepard snorted. "You sound like Legion."

Kaidan raised an eyebrow quizzically. Shepard dismissively waved his free hand. "Never mind."

He signaled the barman and sighed. "Thanks for coming, Kaidan."

"No problems Commander. I'm kind of glad you messaged me."

Shepard winced visibly at the title. "Please. I'm not your commander any longer. Technically I'm not even entitled to the rank."

"Okay… Shepard."

He sighed. "Just call me John. Short, sweet, simple, uncomplicated." The barman passed his drink over and he cupped it possessively. Despite the number of glasses in front of him, he didn't sound drunk.

Kaidan shrugged. "Okay, John."

They sat in silence for a while longer. The rest of the bar was slowly starting to fill up and the background chatter was getting louder. Kaidan nursed his whiskey while Shepard… John… downed another two drinks without showing any visible signs of drunkenness. Kaidan studied him surreptitiously, noting new scars on his arm, that his hand was shaking, and his leg was jittering nervously. In the dimness of the bar, the faint cybernetic scarring he remembered from Horizon was greatly exaggerated. No… the facial scarring was much deeper now. He wondered what had caused that. Eventually he cleared his throat.

"So… what happened?"

"Ah, what happened. The six billion credit question." John dipped his finger into the dregs of alcohol in his glass and traced his forefinger around the rim of the glass, setting up a subsonic whine that grated in Kaidan's ears, mingling unpleasantly with the thump of the bass. He gritted his teeth and tried to ignore it.

The barman walked past with a bottle but John waved him off. In a soft, precise, almost monotone voice, he started talking.

"The Collectors… we traced them to their homeworld. Station. Base. Whatever. We stole Reaper technology, and put it in the Normandy. They used it against us, used it to find us and abduct my crew. The bastards stole my crew. Every last one of them, except Joker." He shook his head. "Tough little bastard. Nearly killed him, but he saved the Normandy. And EDI. So." He sipped and continued. "We went through their unmappable relay. We took the fight to them, and we wiped them out. Collectors and swarms and Harbinger… I lost people, good people, there. They were turned to… goo… paste… genetic slops… to feed their creation. Grow it. Their Reaper. A baby Reaper. A baby human Reaper. That was where those colonists went. All those people stolen, and rendered down to their genetic components, and used to build an abomination. All those people stolen, and they were just… nothing. A mere fraction of what was needed. They were going to go after Earth next."

He cleared his throat. "I'm sorry, but the colonists from Horizon were already gone by the time we go there. I don't know if any of them meant anything to you…"

His voice trailed off and Kaidan leaned in closer and John looked up at him, facing him directly for the first time. His irises glowed an unholy red in the gloom and Kaidan recoiled. "The fuck?" he blurted and his biotics flared sizzling blue in defense. Something in John's face closed down and Kaidan instantly regretted his lack of control. He damped the energy down and opened his mouth to apologize, but John turned away again.

"But they were just pawns. They were working for the Reapers, and we haven't seen them yet. Not all of them. But they're coming. Soon. And they will wipe us all out if we don't do something about it." He raised a finger and the turian poured him another glass. He took a deep swig before continuing.

"But I killed it. Their baby Reaper. And we cleared out their base. Wiped out every single Collector. I hope those Reaper bastards felt it!" He snarled, orange glow and scars making him look decidedly feral, but his hands were shaking on the glass.

"And then the fucking Illusive Man turned on me, after I handed him his precious base, all for the good of humanity of course. Bastard. So I'm sold out, and now… now I'm back to waiting, back to being stonewalled by the Council, to being dicked around by half the galaxy. Goddamn it! I created that damn Council! They owe me! Why the fuck can't they just listen to me for once in their goddamn lives, instead of being politicians and fucking around?" He bared his teeth and his fingers tightened on the glass. It shattered in his hand with a crack audible even over the noise of the club. Shards of glass embedded in his skin or bounced onto the surface of the bar. A tiny wave of alcohol tinged with his blood washed over his fingers and swirled across the counter.

"Shit!" Kaidan jumped up and grabbed some napkins, removing the broken glass from John's unresisting hand. He gingerly pulled glass shards out of his fingers and patted the napkins over the wounds. "Shit, John!"

John ignored him, watching the fractals created as his blood and the brandy he'd been drinking intermixed on the countertop. He dipped a finger into the mixture and brought it up to his lips, sucking it off. "Forget it." His voice was tired, defeated. "It'll heal soon enough."

Kaidan blinked. Sure enough, the wounds were closing before his eyes, flesh knitting slowly but visibly. He dropped the napkins and stared, fascinated and slightly repulsed, until John pulled his hand away self-consciously.

The silent barman came by with a cloth and cleaned the mess up, disposing of it in a recycler which crunched quietly to itself in the corner.

Kaidan sat back and looked at John again, thinking. "Wait, you handed Cerberus the collector base? Jesus, John, how could you?"

John shrugged. "In the list of things I've done in the past few months, Kaidan, handing the collector base to The Illusive Man is not even the worst. Trust me."

"You have got to be shitting me."

"I wish." John leaned forward on the bar and put his head in his hands. "I killed a Justicar. I encouraged a drugged, deluded volus to take on a merc captain. I stabbed a mechanic in the back. Literally. I defenestrated someone. I let a refinery burn down with all its workers still inside. I punched that whiny ass reporter in the face. Again." He straightened and turned to Kaidan, smirking a little. "Actually, I'm kinda proud of that one."

Kaidan stared at him, incredulous. "You mean Khalisah al Jilani? You punched her again?"

John's smirk grew wider. "You bet your ass I did. Right to the eye." He sniggered.

Kaidan's lips twitched. "John…"

"Fell right on her ass."

Kaidan clamped his lips together, trying to stifle a laugh.

"Right on live galactic television. Billions of viewers." He threw his head back and laughed out loud.

Kaidan gave up and joined him, laughing like he hadn't in years. They slumped together in their shared hilarity, shoulders companionably brushing. Every time he thought he'd stop, he'd look at John, who'd say "On her ass!" in his best Garrus impression, and he'd be lost again.

When Kaidan finally stopped, his sides and face hurt, but he felt better than he had in ages. "God," he wheezed, wiping away tears, and looked over at John. John was grinning down at his hands, which had healed almost completely, and was removing tiny slivers of glass and dropping them on the floor. He looked up at Kaidan and this time Kaidan was able to meet his gaze.

John's grin softened. "Thanks. I… I needed that."

"Me too." He noticed John had a smear of dried blood on his cheekbone. Without thinking he reached up and wiped at it to get it off, only realizing what he'd done when John froze. "Uh, sorry."

John shook his head minutely. "It's ok."

Red within blue within red eyes watched him intently as he cleaned off the mark. His hand remained poised and he gazed at them, fascinated. He wondered if the machinery behind them ever hurt, or just felt weird. Did they make a noise, whir like old robotics when he shifted focus?

He felt John's breath on his lips and licked them reflexively, wondering when he'd gotten so close. The lines around John's eyes crinkled as they flicked down to watch and then back up again. Did his pupils dilate? Did he even have pupils any more?

"Kaidan," John breathed, and closed the last few centimeters, capturing his lips with his own.

Kaidan's eyelids slid closed as he surrendered to the familiar feel of John's lips on his, the firmness of his teeth behind them, his tongue probing – familiar, unchanged. His hand cupped John's jaw as he parted his lips and tasted his mouth, brandy overriding a faintly metallic tinge. With his last effort at coherency he wondered if that was blood or cybernetics, and then John's mouth was dominating his, John's hand cupped the back of his head, John's thigh was pressing against his, and rationality was lost.

John's tongue stroked the inside of his lips and darted inside his open mouth, tangling with his. Their breaths were hot and ragged as they mingled, and his fingers tangled in his hair, holding him in place. Kaidan made an appreciative noise deep in his throat as John tilted his head back, forcing his spine to bow and pressing their chests together. He felt John's lips curve as he smiled against his mouth. Kaidan savored the feeling for a long moment, before pulling away. "Let's go," he said, hoarsely.

A familiar eyebrow raised in amusement, John slapped a credit chit onto the bar, which was quickly gathered up by the turian. Kaidan felt himself blushing. Had he been watching? He forgot the thought as John stood up and he followed the lines of his chest down to his hips with his eyes. He licked his lips and John chuckled. "Eyes up here, marine," he smirked, and sauntered off to the entrance, looking back over his shoulder. "Your place or mine?"

"I'm assuming yours is still the Normandy?" John nodded. "God, not yours then." Kaidan scrambled up and out the doors to the rapid transit center – goddamn, there were no cars there. He swore, and dialed one. John came up behind him and leaned into him, casually resting his hands on his shoulders as his hips pressed into him. Kaidan inhaled sharply as he felt John's erection rubbing against his ass, and prayed that a car would arrive soon. C-Sec barely tolerated public displays of affection in the shopping precincts at the best of times. Public sex acts, however, were an arrestable offense, and he had no doubts that this was fast heading into that arena.

After a fleeting eternity the car arrived and he got inside with almost indecent haste, punching in the location for his apartment. John got in leisurely after him. The door swung shut and sealed and they were alone as the car rose and banked on its way.

Kaidan cleared his throat. "Are you sure…?"

John smiled. "I'm sure." He shifted closer in his seat and looked intently at him, eyes unearthly in the semi-darkness. "If you are."

Kaidan nodded. "Oh yes," he breathed fervently, and pulled his former commander in.

oOo

Kaidan was unaccountably shy showing John into his apartment and looked around at it, trying to see it with the other's eyes. It was small and Spartan, basically one room with a bed at one end and a dinette at the other, with very little in the way of personal touches. He'd not accumulated much in the past two years, even if he wasn't living shipside any more. It looked bland and military. It relaxed John immediately.

Kaidan shut the door behind him, keying it locked, and turned to find John advancing on him, a hungry look on his face. He shoved him back against the door and kissed him, hard, demandingly. Kaidan found himself moaning as their teeth grated together. His hands were on John's ass, fingers dug into the tight muscles, pulling him in hard against him. John responded by grinding slowly against him. The hardness he'd noticed before had in no way diminished on the way over.

John broke away and kissed down his jawline to his ear, breathing into it. "You've no idea how I've missed this," he said softly, huskily. "How I've needed this." He sucked on Kaidan's earlobe and nipped it gently. "When I went through that relay, you were what I thought of." His palm found Kaidan's own erection and rubbed against it, pressed between them. "You were what I did all this for." He started undoing the fly to Kaidan's trousers. "What I did everything for." His fingers slipped inside, pushing aside the fabric of his boxers, and stroked. Kaidan shuddered. "God, Kaidan."

He slid down to his knees and paused, looking up, trapping Kaidan in their ruby glow. "It was that one night that kept me going. Only one night." He closed his eyes and licked, slowly, the length of Kaidan's shaft, pausing at the head to savor the clear liquid that gathered there. He cupped his sac and gently pulled. Kaidan groaned and his head lolled back against the door.

"God, Kaidan, you taste so good." And he engulfed him, lips pressing as he drew him deeper into his mouth. His tongue pressed and played on the underside of his cock as he slowly swallowed him. Kaidan groaned again and locked his hands around John's skull, holding him in place. John made an approving noise deep in his throat as he sucked, the vibrations traveling straight from the head of his cock to the base and into his belly. It was hot and wet and he found his hips thrusting involuntarily.

John teased with his tongue, rubbing it up his length only to flick it against his slit, then sucking him down again and again. Kaidan's thrusts grew more uncoordinated until finally, on the edge, he croaked out "Stop!" John looked up enquiringly, licking his lips.

"Can't… hold…" Kaidan managed between clenched teeth.

John smirked and stood up. Swiftly he pulled Kaidan's trousers and boxers to the ground, then lifted his shirt and pulled it up over his head. His breath hitched as he viewed Kaidan's bare chest and he leaned in and kissed a nipple. Kaidan threw his shirt to the floor and pushed John away. "Bed," he ordered tersely as he stepped out of the puddle of his clothing.

"Aye aye, Commander." He sauntered over to the bed and perched on the edge.

Kaidan growled and stalked, naked, over to him, grinning when John licked his lips as the head of his cock bobbed at eye level. He pushed John onto his back and deftly unbuttoned his pants, pulling them down and off, and advancing to straddle him. He leaned forward, rubbing, and captured his mouth, kissing deeply. John gripped his ass and started thrusting up against him, protesting when Kaidan broke off the kiss and inserted fingers into his mouth instead. He sucked on them, swirling his tongue over and around and between, caressing the knuckles, until Kaidan swore and pulled his slick fingers out.

Leaning back, Kaidan nudged John's legs apart and knelt between them. John obligingly brought his knees up to his chest and groaned and clenched as Kaidan's wet fingers trailed over his asshole. Kaidan chuckled and teased and entered him slowly, fingers stretching. John watched him, mouth open, harsh breaths echoing through the sparse room.

Kaidan pulled back and took himself in hand, stroking lightly, smearing pre-cum around before nudging with the head of his cock. He exhaled as he entered, groaning when John wrapped his legs around him, heels digging into his ass. John hissed as Kaidan buried himself to the hilt, then withdrew and set up a slow, steady pace. He reached between them and gripped John's hard cock. His hand blurred with blue and an electric tingle arched from his fingers into his flesh, doing amazing things to his nerves. "Sweet… fuck, Kaidan!" Kaidan grinned, stroking in time as John arched and rocked beneath him.

Their movements grew more frenzied. Sweat gathered on Kaidan's face and dripped down onto the body beneath him. John barely noticed. His teeth were clenched and his eyes were screwed shut. He whined high in his throat: "Fuck, Kaidan, yes!" and tensed and shuddered as he spent himself in Kaidan's hand, sticky fluid pooling on his stomach to drip onto the sheets.

Kaidan moaned and jerked in response and threw his head back as he came, twitching, inside him.

Panting, he rested his head on John's chest, waiting for his heart rate to slow. He was surprised and flinched ever so slightly when John's arms surrounded him, hands stroking sweat slicked skin slowly. They tightened and John kissed him, leisurely and tenderly. "Thank you," he whispered.

"Uh, you're welcome?" Kaidan managed.

"I mean it," John insisted. "I've missed you. Craved you. Like an alcoholic shakes, waiting for that next bottle."

Kaidan looked down at him. He appeared to be quite serious.

John rolled them over and Kaidan felt himself sliding out. "Ah," he breathed, closing his eyes, bereft. He felt the chest pressed against him rumble as John laughed quietly. "You should probably get some sleep," he said, making slight movements that indicated he was going to get up.

Kaidan grasped his arm. "No, stay."

An eyebrow rose over a glowing eye, no longer alien, as John determined his sincerity before settling back down. Kaidan stared back at him, face open and clear. John smiled slightly and they settled down, lying still as content drowsiness overtook them.

Just before he succumbed to the blackness of oblivion, he murmured, "I'm sorry."

And afterwards, neither of them was really sure which of them said it.