I published the first part of this series in February 2010, shortly after beating ME2 for the first time. I'd planned on it being just a set of two one-shots, but after thinking (and talking) it over a lot, I realized that Shepard and Kaidan had way too many problems for things to be solved so quickly and easily! I can't believe it took me more than a year to finish this thing up, and I apologize to all my reviewers for taking so long, haha, but it's finally done!

I couldn't do this without help, and I want to thank my wonderful beta HeavenlyMuse, who gives the most wonderful critiques and suggestions on all my Mass Effect stories; Annakie, for always being there to bounce ideas off of and to swoon over Kaidan with; my sister Clara de Morra for reading all my stories and putting up with my unending Kaidan love; the Bioware forums for recommending my stories to other Shenko lovers; and anyone who's ever reviewed my stories for encouraging me to keep writing these silly fanfics and for making me feel awesome about them. :)

Kaidan was glad that he'd kept up with his workout routine despite being stuck behind a desk for far longer than he would've liked. Otherwise, he never would have been able to run through the Citadel like he was now, moving quickly despite all the obstacles in his path. He dodged slow-moving individuals, pushed his way through ambling crowds, darted through barely-open doors, and even jumped over debris like some kind of action vid star. He crossed a good portion of the Citadel on foot, and he even begrudged the few chances he had to catch his breath – the shuttles he rode on couldn't possibly go any slower.

His heart was pounding, but not because of the exercise. All he'd wanted for ages now was to see Shepard again, for her to survive going through the Omega-4 relay so he had a chance to beg for her forgiveness. All those things he'd said to her on Horizon, and on the Citadel, in the email he'd sent her...

He shook his head as he ran, focusing on what was in front of him. Thinking about all his mistakes would put him in the wrong mindset before seeing her, and now that she was back, he couldn't let himself think he would screw up again. He only had one shot at this – if he even had that, if she would even talk to him – and he wanted to do this right.

Without Joker, he wouldn't even have this chance, and he made a mental note to buy him a "thank you for keeping me from worrying myself to death" gift, no matter how the reunion and his apologies went over.

After two years of blaming each other for Shepard's death, culminating in an argument in Kaidan's apartment, he and Joker had made up and become friends again. They'd been emailing each other on a fairly regular basis, and Kaidan was incredibly grateful for it. While Shepard led the SR2 around the galaxy and attempted to stop the abduction of hundreds of thousands of colonists, Joker sat in his pilot's chair sending messages to Kaidan and kept him updated on how the missions were going. Meanwhile, Kaidan sat at his desk in Alliance HQ on the Citadel, wrote up reports, and attended meetings, while attempting to keep his correspondence with the "Cerberus terror cell member Jeff Moreau" a secret from his superiors.

Joker had emailed a few hours ago to let him know they'd survived the relay and to expect a call, which had finally come just a few minutes ago, when Joker had said that they'd just docked the SR2 at the Citadel and he had better get his ass up there soon. Joker hadn't elaborated any more than that, but Kaidan didn't care about the details. He'd been waiting for that call, and he was out the door the second they hung up, running like his life depended on it.

He was almost there now, and jumped in the docking bay elevator as the doors were closing and tapped the number several times in short succession. The elevator lurched into motion and he fidgeted, but told himself to stand still, crossing his arms.

"Were these things always so slow?" he muttered.

The asari standing next to him chuckled. "In a hurry?"

He forced himself to smile at her, though he wanted nothing more to be out of that elevator and on the ship. "Like you wouldn't believe."

Of course her floor was first, and she smiled as she left. "Good luck."

Kaidan paced back and forth a few times, everything he needed to apologize for running through his head. He'd had more than one sleepless night where he couldn't help thinking he'd screw things up again and lose Shepard for good, if he hadn't already.

The doors opened at last and he surged through them, craning his neck around, looking for the familiar design of the SR2. Since this docking bay was somewhat out of the way, no one was stopping him from an all-out run, so once he spotted the ship, he bolted toward the far end of the dock. He slowed as he neared it; fixed his hair, straightened his uniform a bit, trying to make himself look at least somewhat presentable and calm his nerves so his heart wouldn't beat its way out of his chest. The Normandy's door hissed open before he approached, and he froze, looking at it with his eyes wide. He wasn't ready yet, it wasn't time-

-but it wasn't Shepard, and he let himself breathe again. Instead, a drell was walking toward him, his movements graceful and smooth. The assassin. Thane, Kaidan remembered with a pang of jealousy, thinking back to Joker's emails. The one Shepard kept talking to.

Thane's eyes narrowed as he took in Kaidan standing next to the ship. "Is there something you need?"

He realized how awkward he must look and couldn't blame the other man for being suspicious, so Kaidan straightened, looking straight at the drell's unnerving eyes with complete confidence. He hoped. "I'm here to see Commander Shepard." Thane didn't respond or relax, just kept staring at him. He shifted in place. "Joker told me you were back and asked me to come by." Still nothing. "I'm a- friend of hers."

The silence stretched on, and as they continued to stare each other down, he briefly wondered why he was even bothering trying to justify his presence to this stranger. Joker knew that Kaidan was coming, and there were more important things to worry about than one pushy drell. He started to walk past him, toward the door of the ship, until the drell's hand shot out and grabbed him by the elbow.

"I know who you are, Kaidan Alenko," Thane said, his voice quiet and cold. "If you break her heart again, she has a ship full of allies. None of us would hesitate to make you regret it."

Kaidan met his eyes again. He couldn't help wondering what kind of relationship he and Shepard had, if he was this defensive of her. "That won't be necessary. But I appreciate the warning." He yanked his elbow away.

The drell nodded once, then strolled toward the elevator as if nothing had happened. Kaidan shook his head then stepped up to the doorway.

"This is a private vessel. Please identify yourself or immediate action will be taken."

He hadn't thought the door would open for him automatically like the old Normandy's had, but he couldn't help but jump a bit at the VI's voice and the threat of "immediate action." He told himself he was just nervous about seeing Shepard again. "Kaidan Alenko. Here to see Joker- er, Jeff Moreau," he corrected himself.

"Please wait while I verify your identity and reference."

He expected it to take longer, but it was only a few seconds later that Joker's voice rang out over the speaker. "Didn't I tell you to hurry?"

Kaidan couldn't help but grin. "Got here as fast as I could. Want to open the door for me? I don't think my Alliance passcard is going to work here."

"No point. You just missed her."

"What? How? Where'd she go?"

"I would've called to tell you, but I thought you'd see her on your way up here. I bet you passed each other in the elevator or something. She just left a couple minutes ago; she's taking everybody to Flux as a reward for not dying. She bought the place out for the night, and since it's a private party, she told the bouncers to keep everybody else out. If you want to talk to her, you'll need to catch her before she gets in there. So you should probably run. Like, now."

He took off, faster than before, and without even saying goodbye, though he heard a faint "good luck! And don't be such an idiot this time!" over his shoulder as he took off. Flux wasn't far from the docking bay, but if the club would be closed to the public, he'd have no chance of getting inside if he didn't find Shepard before she got there. He had to catch up with her, and quickly.

Thane was probably heading there when he left the ship just now, he thought. Would have been nice if he'd told me she was gone already.

Shepard had a head start, but Kaidan had been living on the Citadel for the past few months and had gotten to know the area fairly well, so he took as many shortcuts as he could remember. He'd given up on being polite now that his last chance to see Shepard tonight was rapidly slipping away, so he ran through buildings and pushed through groups of people. He knew where he was going, and nothing would be stopping him, not when he was this close to finally seeing her again.

He made his way to the Wards via one of the main access elevators and stepped out into the busy square. If they'd been on a planet, the sun would have been setting, but out here, all he could see were the faint glow of stars and the other Ward arms glimmering through the clear windows. People were everywhere, milling around and chatting, walking from one market to another, heading home from work. Their voices all blended together into a dull roar, and he told himself to ignore them and focus on finding Shepard.

Kaidan turned to head straight for Flux, not wanting to waste another moment, but something told him to look back at that view once more. The crowds seemed to disappear as he was pulled back into the memory of that perfectly ordinary spot where he'd once stood with Shepard and Ashley.

"We've got oceans, beautiful women, this emotion called love," Shepard had said, grinning. Her amusement was contagious, and he'd found himself smiling back at her. "According to the old vids, we have everything they want."

He'd looked out at the view and spoke without thinking. "When you put it that way, there's no reason they wouldn't like you." Ashley had choked back a laugh, and he'd realized what he said. "I mean- Us! Humans! Ma'am."

Maybe it was the realization that he'd finally be seeing Shepard again that made him stop and look in that direction for a moment, as he couldn't help remembering how much simpler things used to be. Or maybe he was nostalgic, thinking about how things had started between them. Whatever the reason, something made him stop in his tracks, despite the feeling of urgency and his pounding heart telling him to rush to Flux.

Are memories all I'll have of her? he wondered. She died, but she came back to me until I pushed her away. I lost her twice, and it was my fault both times.

Kaidan had been blaming himself for what had happened for years now, and he tried to shake it off and think of the future, to keep moving forward, to find Shepard before he was locked out of Flux. The crowds around him continually shifted as people walked past, and he turned back toward the nightclub until he caught a glimpse of blonde hair out of the corner of his eye.

He turned back instantly. The woman wasn't facing him, and she was wearing civilian clothes instead of armor, but he knew exactly who it was. She was leaning against the ledge, looking out at that view of the Citadel, and he walked toward her slowly, almost reverently. She couldn't be anyone else.

"Hey, Shepard."

She jumped at the sound of his voice, turning to see him. He'd looked at her face so many times that he felt like he knew it better than his own. She had dark circles under her eyes and her hair was messier than normal. She looked exhausted, but Kaidan knew that no one could compare to her, no matter how she looked. She was the most beautiful woman in the universe.

But she wasn't quite as pleased to see him, and she took a step back in surprise at his voice.

"…Kaidan? I didn't think you'd-" she started, then shook her head, schooling her face to a cold neutral and folded her arms. "What are you doing here?"

"I asked Joker where you were." He wanted nothing more than to run over and put his arms around her, but he made himself walk, his heart pounding so loud he was sure she could hear it. "He called once you landed on the Citadel."

She stared for a moment, unmoving, but turned away from him as he took another step closer. Kaidan could see the tension in her neck and shoulders, and she held herself perfectly still, facing away from him. He steeled his nerves and continued.

"He said you were heading to Flux, but... I'm glad you're here." He stepped up to the ledge next to her, but left a few feet of space between them. "This is my favorite spot in the Citadel."

She leaned against the ledge and looked back at him, and he could have sworn he saw a spark of... something, in her eyes. Interest, maybe? Curiosity? Or maybe he was deluding himself. "Why's that?" she asked. Her tone made it sound like she couldn't care less. But he was still so glad to see her there, to be speaking to her again, that he refused to let a thing like almost certain rejection stop him from saying what he'd wanted to for so long.

"Whenever I come through the Wards, I remember you and Ash and I coming here," he began. "We talked about how hard it will be for humanity to find a place in the universe. And we're still working on doing that, even with Anderson on the Council, and you as a Spectre, and everything we've all done."

But Shepard didn't respond, just looked away again, her hands on the ledge, her knuckles white from holding it so tightly.

He continued, despite his stomach feeling like it had been tied up in knots. "But when we came here, I remember looking at you and feeling like... no matter what happened with Saren and the Reapers, everything would be okay, because I found my place. And it was with you." She looked back at him, and her expression was so perfectly neutral that he had no idea what she was thinking. He took a slow breath to steady his nerves. "I remember this spot because it helps me remember that feeling. This is where I realized I was going to fall in love with you."

Kaidan felt like time stopped. Their eyes were locked, and all he could feel was his heart racing in his chest. He knew this was likely his last chance, his last shot at making things right with Shepard before he lost her and she was done with him forever. I never should have pushed things with her, he told himself. I never should have made her life any harder than it already had to be.

Coming here tonight was a mistake, he thought. He knew he was continuing to make life difficult for the woman he cared about more than anything. If he truly loved her, he should have let her go. Maybe he should just walk away now, and save her any more heartache. But he couldn't help hoping that she still had some feelings for him, that everything they'd been through still meant something to her.

But still, she didn't respond. The silence was more than he could bear. Please say something, he pleaded. Send me away if you have to, but please say something.

"Why do you keep doing this to me?" she asked, her voice barely above a whisper. "I don't know why Joker told you where I was. I thought he understood why I can't see you anymore."

"Shepard, please-" he started, then stopped his protests and asked the obvious question. "Why can't you see me anymore?"

He thought he knew Shepard better than most people – well enough to know most of her moods, at least, despite her attempts to hide what she was feeling. He used to be able to read her expressions without a struggle, picking up on the tiny hints that gave away the emotions she hid from the rest of the galaxy. But he was taken aback by the clear hurt in her eyes. "Because all I wanted after I- got back, was to find you. And you've made me regret it ever since."

"I know I did."

"No, you don't," she said, her voice getting heated and hands balling into fists. "You have no idea. If you cared about me and missed me, then why did you leave me on Horizon and the Citadel? Why were you so damn mean?"

"It was a mistake. I was scared, and confused. I took it out on you."

"You weren't the only one." She sighed, running a hand through her messy blonde hair and turning away. "What you said... I know I deserved some of it. But I thought I could count on you, Kaidan. I thought you wanted to be there for me, just like I wanted to be there for you. So once I heard the Collectors were heading to Horizon, I went to find you as fast as I could. I saw what they did once before, and I couldn't stand thinking of them taking you. I was scared."

He knew Shepard well. He knew her emotions, and he was one of the few people she would show her feelings to, but even he could hardly believe what he was hearing. Despite how close they'd gotten and all they'd been through together, her confidence had always been unceasing. He'd almost been convinced she didn't know what fear was, and never thought that she'd experienced it. But she did, and it was for him. Because of him.

"I thought I'd never see you again." She was quiet as she said this, with a little waver in her voice he'd never heard before. "But they didn't get you, and I can't tell you how relieved I was. I thought you'd come with me and we could be together. I just... I wanted us to have a shot at- whatever it was we had before. What we had after Sovereign. I know we didn't have very long, but I was so happy, Kaidan."

"So was I," he told her. "Happier than I've ever been. I just wish... I wish we hadn't lost that."

"I do too. But..." She trailed off, sighed. "I thought we could get it back, once I found you." She sounded almost wistful, but her expression hardened and she crossed her arms again. "But the Collectors didn't have to kill me to tear us apart this time. You managed it just fine on your own."

"I should never have left," he said, his voice quiet. "You saved my life. You're trying to save the whole damn galaxy. I just made it harder for you, with what I said on Horizon, and on the Citadel, and I'm so sorry. I said things I didn't mean-"

"But you did mean them," she insisted, interrupting him again. "I know you were hurt and scared. But I was scared too! And now, every time I see you or think about you– hell, every time something just reminds me of you, I feel like I got the wind knocked out of me." She shook her head. "After Horizon... I kept replaying our conversation in my head. I couldn't believe you left and I kept wondering what I did wrong. What the hell was I supposed to say to stop you from leaving?"

"You didn't do anything wrong," he insisted. "I was scared, Shepard. I didn't want to lose you, either. When you- when the Collectors destroyed the Normandy, I felt like I lost everything."

"I did lose everything! I died!"

He lapsed into silence, unsure what to say. She was right, of course. But he didn't have an answer for her, didn't know how to tell her how sorry or how wrong he was.

But she backed off quickly, stepping toward the ledge again, and shook her head. "I always think this is over between us, whatever we had. But every time I see you, I remember how much I love you," she said, her voice cracking a bit as she tried to keep herself under control. "And every time, you push me away. I love you so much, and it is killingme to keep getting my hopes up and get crushed over and over. I can't stand losing you again, Kaidan, I just can't."

She turned to leave, starting to push past him, but he refused to let her go and reached out to take her hand. She turned back only slightly and he could see tears in her eyes, though she didn't look at him.

"You won't," he said, stepping closer. "I don't ever want to let go of you again. I'm sorry I ever did. I know I don't have any excuse for what I said, but when you died... It destroyed me. All I could think about was how much I missed you and loved you. And when you came back, I panicked because I thought I'd lose you to the Reapers or the Collectors, and I couldn't stand to go through that hell again. I didn't think about what you went through, and I know it's no excuse, but that's why I did it."

Her only response was a stifled sob. She stood there, still half turned away from him and a few tears in her eyes.

But she hadn't moved any further away, either, and he took another step towards her. "I thought it'd be easier for both of us to live without each other. But... you're all I can think about, and the only thing that pushing you away did was make us both miserable." He squeezed her hand gently. "I'm so sorry for everything I said. And I don't deserve forgiveness, but I want to make up for it, if you'll let me. Irien..." He hesitated, but reached up to wipe away her tears, his hand resting on her cheek for a moment. "I love you. And I want to spend the rest of my life proving that to you."

She finally looked back up at him, her eyes searching his for the truth. He'd said everything he wanted to say, and had nothing left to offer; no more apologies, explanations, or promises. Just the fact that he loved her, and would do anything for her. He hoped she could see that he meant every word he said.

Shepard took a step closer to him, but still, her expression didn't change. They were almost touching now, and he could feel the tension crackling like electricity in the inches between them. She wasn't running, she hadn't punched him or screamed at him. He let himself hope that everything he'd said was enough to convince her. If it's not, he thought, I don't know what else to do. This is all I have, Shepard.

"I love you too," Shepard said. She loves me. She still loves me. "I always loved you, even when I wished I didn't."

"Irien..." He smiled, but shook his head. "I love you. But you don't have to say that. We can start over. We can forget how I drove you away, and all the times I bet you wished you'd never met me-"

She shut him up with a kiss, wrapping her arms around him. Two years had passed since he'd been able to kiss her, two years of loneliness, of comparing everyone he met to her, of blaming himself for her death. But all that went out the window as she ran her fingers through his hair, and he pulled her closer, wishing he could show her how much he missed her every moment they were apart.

They finally came up for air, hearts pounding in sync. "I always loved you," she repeated, almost breathless.

"Even after everything I did?"

She shook her head. "Nothing could change that. Though you gave it your best shot," she said with a cheeky grin, one he saw so rarely even before she'd died, and he flushed and smiled. "But that's the past now, Kaidan. I think we've been miserable long enough, don't you?"

He nodded slowly. They stood there holding each other like nothing had ever happened between them, the way they had before her death, before everything had gone so wrong. He held her and closed his eyes, breathing her in as she leaned her head against his shoulder. They clung to each other, both feeling weak and almost shaking, but they supported each other somehow.

"I love you," she whispered, and he felt her warm breath against his neck.

"And I love you. I can't live without you. Never again. I'm sorry I ever tried to."

"No more apologies," she told him, and he chuckled as he recognized a note of "commanding officer" in that order. "Everything's going to be all right. We're together now, and I think we both learned our lesson. Nothing's going to tear us apart again. Though... you might want it to." He looked down at her with eyebrows raised in a silent question, and she grinned. "Because now you have to come with me to the party in Flux and meet the new Normandy crew."

He laughed. "I already met Thane. He didn't seem happy to see me."

"Oh really?"

"I ran into him when I was looking for you. He was just leaving the SR2 and knew exactly who I was. Actually told me your new squad would make sure I wouldn't live long enough to regret it, if I hurt you again."

She grinned at this. "Well, they're all going to be there. And we bought out the place for the night, so there's an open bar and everything. It could be dangerous. It could be suicide, really. Still willing to risk coming with me?"

He leaned down to kiss her again. "For you, Shepard? Anything."