Chapter 16

Ashley's body presented something of a problem. In ordinary circumstances they would have sent Ashley's remains to her mother and sisters on Amaterasu, but as they weren't aware that she had been alive, that wasn't an option. Ashley had made it clear that she didn't want her family to know what happened. Shepard and Chakwas had been discussing options when Joker presented an idea: send her out to sea—figuratively speaking—into Amaterasu's sun. That way Shepard kept her promise to Ashley, but she would still be close to her family.

There wasn't a formal service, though the crew that had known Ashley gathered in the cargo bay to say their final farewells. Shepard didn't say anything; all she could remember was Ashley's first funeral—how she'd pressed the folded Alliance flag into Mrs. Williams' waiting arms. How Ashley's sisters cried, turning to each other for comfort… how Shepard stood alone in her dress blues, joined to the Williams family in their sorrow but separate because of rank and duty. Kaidan had joined her then, his gaze shadowed by the brim of his hat, but his presence warming her.

Shepard laid a hand on the casket for a moment and stepped back. The small company of mourners watched as the casket slipped out of the cargo bay and sailed through space toward the star. Taps began to play over the loudspeakers.

Kaidan stepped up beside her. "You okay?" he asked softly.

"Yeah," she answered, surprised to find that it was true. "I am."

The crew soon scattered to their various tasks. Shepard and Kaidan were the last ones standing in the cargo bay, though the casket was a mere speck against the sun by now.

"Shepard?"

"Mm?"

"Andie."

She turned to look at Kaidan in surprise. He'd never called her by her first name before. No one did these days.

"I have to ask," he continued, still looking out at space and then back at her. "Why weren't you more upset with me? When I first came on board, I mean. I came onto this ship expecting and deserving the cold shoulder, but you're…" he trailed off, "you're acting like we were never apart."

She shrugged. "Well, to my perspective, we weren't." She paused, gathering her thoughts, and he waited.

"I had a lot of time to think while I was in the brig," she said, staring at the closed cargo bay doors, but not really seeing them. "A lot of time to think about things I did, things I didn't do; things I wanted to do… " Shepard turned to face him. "On Horizon I was just so relieved that you were alive, that I didn't have any room for anger or hurt. Later, yeah, I was hurt that you didn't trust me, but I would have acted the same way if our roles had been reversed. And when I was sitting in that cell, knowing that execution was probably in my future, I realized that any pain I'd had from Horizon had long since faded. I wanted to—decided to think of what I still felt and what I would fight for if I was given a second chance." She smiled, reaching for his hands, curling her fingers around his. "To be honest, it all seems petty given what's going on right now in the galaxy." She gazed at him, her eyes suddenly fierce. "But I have something to fight for other than the nameless billions, Kaidan. You. Us." The fierceness faded replaced by uncertainty and she started to pull away. "That is, if you want me to."

Kaidan grabbed her hands before she could pull away completely and, keeping eye contact with her, lifted one of her hands to the base of his skull to rest on his amp socket. Most biotics were sensitive about their amps. Human biotics had the implant surgery as teenagers, and the painful recovery was often the worst part. Kaidan well remembered feeling dizzy and nauseated for weeks on end, not to mention the onset of his splitting migraines that kept him out of commission for hours. In training, biotics were taught to protect their amps—they wouldn't be hurt if one was taken out in a close-quarters battle, but it was their last protection. An ampless biotic was vulnerable; weakened.

As a result, most biotics didn't allow anyone except trusted medical personnel to even be near an amp. For Kaidan to physically let Shepard touch his was one of the most daring acts of trust he could think of.

Her eyes widened as she understood—and she would too, being a biotic herself. He leaned in, resting his forehead to hers. Almost without thought, he flared, feeling the buzz of her fingertips against his amp as he did so. Shepard flared as well, and their coronas sizzled against each other for a brief, prickling second before they quieted, feeding off each other in a gentle rhythm as natural as a heartbeat.

"I—" Kaidan started to say, but a chorus of laughter entering the cargo bay broke them apart. They'd lingered too long and the crew was going back to work. Shepard huffed out a breath and caught Kaidan's eye. He wasn't looking at her anymore, his face calm—a soldier once again.

"I should be making rounds," she said after an awkward pause. He nodded, unable to say more as a crewmember came up with a salute and a datapad, and she left.

#

She'd intended to work, but first Shepard made her way to the helm. Joker had stood separate from everyone else at the memorial and was among the first to leave. Shepard stood behind the chair, watching the display as the Normandy sped away from Amaterasu's sun, toward the system's mass relay. The last lonesome note of Taps still seemed to echo in her ears.

Shepard shifted, removing her officer's cover that she'd worn for the memorial, and glanced down at Joker. "You good?"

"Never better, Commander," he said without missing a beat. She squeezed his shoulder gently and left the pilot to his thoughts.

She spoke to the glowing blue globe beside the pilot's chair before she left. "EDI, I have some work to finish. If anyone needs me I'll be in my cabin."

"Very well, Shepard."

#

Kaidan logged the last of the containers in the cargo hold on a datapad and sent it away with a crewmember waiting for instructions. He rolled his neck, working out a crick starting to form, and his eyes fell on the platform where Shepard had practiced the biotic descent.

Shepard.

He smiled, feeling that little flare of warmth that seemed to spring into existence whenever he thought about her. They'd been through so much and yet she still wanted to be with him—she wanted to fight for him; for them. The thought humbled and excited him at the same time. He wished they'd had more time after Ashley's funeral, but maybe it hadn't been the right time…

Kaidan absently walked over to the loading elevator next to the platform and rode it up. Some crates of supplies were stored there now, but there was still enough room to look out over the edge and remember her laughing face as he biotically pulled her in, careful not to hurt or drop her.

He stilled, looking down at the distant floor of the cargo hold. Caution, leaving a way out, holding back, being "safe"… those mantras had pretty much been his life since BAaT. They had served him well over the years—ensuring him a place of respect among humans who were unsure about biotics, giving him the temperament to advance through the ranks of the Alliance with relative ease, and, more recently, gaining the Council's approval for another human Spectre.

When was the last time he'd thrown the rulebook out the airlock? When was the last time he'd forgotten about being safe and simply lived?

The answer was obvious: Ilos. Granted, he hadn't… expected the evening that would follow: he'd gone to Shepard's cabin merely wanting to let her know how he felt before a mission that might kill them all. If he'd hoped for more, he'd locked it down until the first taste of her mouth unleashed all the pent-up feelings he'd stored away ever since he saw her walking onto the Normandy for the first time.

Now they were on the verge of extinction by giant sentient machines that had a personal vendetta against Shepard. He'd lost her once above Alchera; he'd nearly lost her again on Horizon, and if Ashley hadn't been on Taetrus, Shepard might not have come back with only one bullet wound.

And here I am standing in the cargo bay like an idiot. He smiled wryly to himself; he could almost hear Ashley's exasperation.

Kaidan allowed himself to flare, his biotic corona enveloping him like a second skin. There was a time and a place for caution and reservation… but now was a time for doing something. Kaidan walked to the edge of the platform and jumped.

#

Shepard finished typing her reply to the turian Primarchs on the battle on Taetrus, adding Anderson and Hackett to the recipients as well. She sat back, rubbing her eyes. They felt dry; gritty. Then again, she'd been writing emails and finishing paperwork for hours now. The Normandy would have to stop at the Citadel soon, too. Anderson had news he didn't want to share even over encrypted channels. She suspected that he was at last throwing off his political chains and joining her team, but she would play the part with enthusiastic surprise. She'd already talked to Gardner and Miranda about finding room for the Admiral aboard ship. If it meant giving up her little space here in the loft… well, she could do that too. She owed Anderson too much.

She would have to tell him about Ashley, and she was not looking forward to it. Sitting at her desk, she fiddled with a few ideas on how to approach the topic. She had intended to let him know as soon as she'd set eyes on Ashley, but things had happened so quickly, there hadn't been opportunity. Idly, she drummed her fingers on the desk in thought.

"Commander Shepard," EDI popped up from her console, "Commander Alenko is requesting entry."

"Let him in." She wondered what he needed. Requisition requests? But he could talk to Miranda about that. She stood from her chair, arching her back against muscles that protested against sitting in one place too long. Kaidan might want to be with her when she told Anderson about Ashley, maybe they could…

"Kaidan," she said with a smile as the door to her cabin hissed open. "What do—" Her words were completely cut off as he took two quick strides inside and pulled her against him, his mouth crashing into hers. Caught off guard, Shepard nonetheless leaned into the kiss, feeling a delicious shiver as one hand tangled in her hair and the other wrapped tightly around her waist, the fingers tripping down her spine.

"No more," he said in a low voice, his eyes dark.

"Kaidan," Shepard gasped as his mouth trailed hot, wet kisses away from her lips and down to her neck and the sensitive skin under her ear. She was only vaguely aware of Kaidan walking them backward until the backs of her knees hit the bed. They fell, though Kaidan was careful to not to crush her, splaying his hands around her face.

"If this thing with Ashley has taught me anything, it's that I don't want to waste any more time," he said in that a velvety rumble that turned her insides to mush. He leaned down to kiss her slowly, lingering against her mouth. "I don't want to have regrets, Shepard." He pulled back to look her in the eye, cradling the side of her face, his thumb brushing aside a strand of her hair. The moment seemed to stretch, and Shepard was suddenly aware of a delicate humming between them, as if their biotics had activated simply by proximity. It felt almost like they were two stringed instruments, playing in a subtle harmony.

"Marry me," Kaidan said, startling her out of her thoughts. "Now. Today. Because if we're honest… if we put aside the grand speeches about victory we've been spouting to everyone… there might not be a tomorrow, and I don't want to spend whatever are the last few moments of my life puttering around this ship, pretending I don't love you as much as I do. I don't want to wait for discussions and maybes. I know this is something I want. I want this—us. I want to fight for it, with everything I have."

Shepard held his gaze, for once at a loss for words. It was pointless to ask if he was serious, she could see the tension in his body; the almost imperceptible fear of rejection in his face. She sat up, and he leaned back, allowing her to get out from under him. Resting her fingers along his jaw, Shepard looked into his eyes, seeing again the sincerity in his gaze. She kissed him gently, feeling the thunder of his pulse beneath her hands.

"Okay. I will," she breathed against him. Then she was up from the bed digging through her closet for her officer's jacket. "EDI," she called, a silly grin on her face, "set a course for the Citadel. Admiral Anderson has a wedding to perform."

Kaidan came up behind her with a laugh, circling his arms around her waist and tugging her into another kiss that left her breathless. Laughing, she extricated herself and shrugged into her officer's jacket, fastening the buttons with quick motions. Kaidan watched all this with bewilderment.

"You wanted to wait," she said with a mischievous twinkle in her eye, "and now you're giving me the opportunity to experience honeymoon sex the way it was meant to: after a wedding." The look on his face was so dumbfounded that she went to him, kissing him again. "It won't be long," she promised.

He sighed. "If you were anyone else, Shepard, I'd accuse you of playing games."

Shepard sobered. "No, I wouldn't do that. Not to you." She gripped his hands, looking at their entwined fingers. "I just..." She bit her lip. "After the memorial… I just need a little bit of time. To reflect; to grieve."

Kaidan nodded, squeezing her hands. "Yeah. I understand. I just… I didn't want to lose momentum while I had it." He chuckled nervously.

Shepard cupped the side of his face, the edges of her fingers teasing the fringe of his hair. "We're only one relay away from the Citadel. No time to lose momentum. And," she said, remembering Ashley's gift with a blush, "once we get there, I might even have something to wear for… after the wedding."

Kaidan nipped at her lower lip, kissing her until her knees turned to jelly and her resolve crumbled. She tightened her grip on his arms, but he pulled away, a dark glint in his eye. "Fine," he said, his voice almost a growl. "But we're going to have one very long night on our honeymoon. Just you and me."

Shepard smiled. "One very long night," she agreed, punctuating each word with a kiss. She stayed in the circle of his arms, resting her head on his shoulder, breathing in his scent. Just them. The Reapers could wait a little longer.

-END-


A/N: And that's it. Thanks for reading, everyone. I appreciate all the reviews and favorites.

I'm aware that some of the minor details are obsolete due to the demo's release (Kaidan's rank for one) but I had the story done and was already releasing chapters before the demo dropped. Once the full game has been out for awhile, I may come back to this and tweak it so that it's up to date and fits better with canon content.