Kaidan remembered there being a fight. And pain: unbelievable pain reminiscent of his worst implant headaches. He had the vaguest recollection of what might have been Shepard's face, half-hidden by his helmet, hovering over him. A familiar voice laced with unfamiliar panic. So though his eyes refused to open now, and the sounds making it through his drug-addled brain were warped and distant, he thought it was safe to assume he was in a hospital somewhere.
For a long time consciousness was like a dark cloud he couldn't quite make his way through. Sounds were distorted, and he wavered in and out of reality for some time. There were huge holes of nothing. How long had he been floating in this half-dead state? Hours? Days? He couldn't stay like this. There was something important he had to do. Another fight to win, even if his rattled brain had difficulty recalling just what mission he was supposed to be on.
And Shepard... had that been real? Fighting with Shepard again, was that something induced by anesthesia? Trying to pin down what was delusion and what was real memory was a fruitless battle. And trying to think too much or pull himself back to reality caused too much pain. Once he thought he heard Shepard's voice again: quiet, pained, with a note of forced cheer. None of the words made sense, though, and he chalked it up to another dream. Shepard had better things to do than visit an old injured team mate laid up in a hospital bed. Shepard had to do what he did best: save the galaxy.
Still... the idea appealed to him. Soothed him. If nothing else, it would be proof that Shepard had survived whatever encounter had laid Kaidan low in the first place. The relief that hope gave him was too precious for him to ignore his pathetic little fantasy completely. To finally stand by Shepard's side again, then get thrown out of the fight so quickly was both humiliating and infuriating. Shepard may not need his help, and hell, he still couldn't remember if he should trust the man or not. There was that Cerberus cock-up. But...
it would be nice to watch the man's back again. Shepard was usually too busy saving everyone else to remember that sometimes it helped to have people looking out for him. As humanity's best hope, he needed a shield. Kaidan had foolishly let himself think he might at least in part take on that role.
And now instead here he was, stretched out on a bed, barely able to cling to any form of consciousness with his fingernails. Useless to help save anyone, not even himself.
The voice that finally made it through his fog was unfamiliar, but it was something to use as an anchor. Something he could focus on to pull himself at last back to sound and light and the feel of soft sheets.
"Major Alenko. Can you hear me?"
He had to fight to peel his eyelids open, and regretted it instantly. The overhead lights blinded him and lanced into his brain, forcing him to close his eyes again immediately. It took three tries to get his voice to work. His throat was painfully dry. "Hear you," he mumbled.
"Good." A hand landed briefly, encouragingly, on his arm. "We're weaning you off of the anesthetic now. You may still feel a little fuzzy from the painkillers, however. My name is Doctor Guron. You're at the Huerta Memorial Hospital on the Citadel. Can you tell me your full name? What's the last thing you remember?"
"Kaidan Alenko." He made himself open his eyes again. Everything was blurry, but he thought the man standing at his bedside was a salarian. "I was..." The memories were sticky, hard to retrieve, but at least they were there. "I was on Mars. I fought a woman. No, a... synthetic." There was a throbbing pain in his head, but the medicine seemed to be keeping the worst of it at bay.
"Good." The hand gave him a brief pat. "Do you need any water?"
The bed rose a bit so he was half-sitting, and a cup of water was pressed into his hands. Alarmed by how weak he felt, he found himself forced to grip the cup with both hands to keep it steady. He gulped the water down greedily, and the dry ache in his throat eased. Slowly his awareness became more defined. "The others. Are they all right? Shepard-" he stopped. Was Shepard still a part of his confused memories? Had he even been on Mars at all?
Yes. Suddenly he was sure of it. Unbidden, the memory of his tense argument with the Commander returned. His borderline accusations of the man's questionable loyalty and connections with Cerberus. The irritation and disappointment in Shepard's voice. He closed his eyes again. Stupid. You finally get to see your old friend again, and you lay into him with that again.
"Your friends are fine," the doctor was saying. "Commander Shepard was in here just yesterday to check on you. He insisted I keep him informed of your condition." He checked a monitor and made a note on his datapad. "Dr. Michel- she was one of your attending doctors –says she knows you, and wanted me to pass on her well-wishes. A Dr. Chakwas also dropped in, though I've been informed she's transferred to the Normandy under Shepard's command."
Kaidan opened his eyes again in surprise. "Oh. Uh. Sorry I missed them." Jeez, he hadn't seen Dr. Michel since... well, not since that mess with Saren had gone sideways. Rescuing her was how he and Shepard had met Garrus. And Wrex and Tali, for that matter. She'd steered them in that direction. It was kind of her to remember him after so much time. And Dr. Chakwas on board the Normandy again was reassuring. She'd take care of Shepard and the others. She was good people.
His head throbbed insistently, even past the painkillers, and he winced, hand flying up instinctively as if he could subdue the pain with a touch.
The doctor noticed and frowned slightly. "You have an L2 implant, yes?"
He nodded, riding out the wave of pain.
"The hammering you took rattled it about a bit. You should be fine, but it's already a touchy model, and I'm afraid you'll have to suffer through a few migraines. Which I'm sure you're used to, sad to say." He pressed a button on his datapad, and Kaidan felt instant relief as a new surge of medication eased through his veins. "You know, upgrading to the L3 is not quite as dangerous as it once was. Have you considered-?"
"No thanks, doc," Kaidan said with a wan smile. To say the operation was risky was an understatement. Besides, the simple fact was that he was much more powerful with an L2 than he would be with a safer upgrade. His biotics had saved his bacon- and others' –more than once. Hell, even Shepard owed him one in that regard. He'd slammed a portable processing unit into a pair of Cerberus soldiers once, effectively snuffing them out and keeping them from getting the drop on the Commander. He'd never have been able to lift something so heavy with an L3. The nosebleed he'd gotten from such a desperate move hadn't stopped for almost ten minutes, but Shepard was still alive, and that was what mattered. Even if he'd had to deal with Chakwas fussing over him for the rest of the afternoon.
Stop thinking about Shepard. Jesus. He put his empty cup aside to hide his discomfort. Would Shepard come and visit now that he was awake? Did Kaidan even want him to? Shepard had a job to do. He shouldn't feel obligated to look in on someone who'd spent half their time on Mars practically accusing him of being a traitor.
There was also that nice bit where you pretty much called him a glorified Husk, he reminded himself with a wince.
"I can return your omni-tool to you if you'd like to contact the Commander and let him know you're awake," the doctor said as if reading his mind. He was messing with his datapad again, eyes flicking to the monitors over the bed every now and then. "He seemed upset when he visited last, and made it clear he'd like an update on your status."
Kaidan still wasn't sure he had the right- or guts –to look Shepard in the face just yet, but if he was honest with himself, he did want to see his old friend again. If only to try and clear the air between them. "All right. Thanks, doc." Besides, he should have some time. Shepard would come by when he could spare a moment, but he was a busy man. It could be days before the Commander showed up, and that would give him plenty of time to figure out what the hell he was going to say.
He went through four drafts of a very simple e-mail that evening before he let himself admit what his damned problem was.
Seeing Shepard again back on earth had been like a blow to the gut. A million things had gone through his head, chief among them I should have kept in touch and Don't say anything stupid, Major. Seeing him on Horizon during the Collector attack had had a similar effect. Seeing the man alive had made him unbelievably happy. Hearing Shepard admit to his face that he was with Cerberus had made him want to punch his Commander in the face. Or go curl up in a corner and pretend it hadn't happened. The man he admired the most in the galaxy couldn't- wouldn't –work for a terrorist organization. He'd been unwilling to accept it, and had lashed out. He'd spent days composing an apology message he'd never gotten a reply to. And then Shepard's stupid ass had gone off on a suicide mission. Kaidan would have gone with him, Cerberus or no Cerberus. If only he'd known. But Shepard hadn't bothered to tell him. He'd made it back, but the two of them had... lost touch.
And then you join up again in the middle of this mess and spend most of the time telling him you don't trust his motives. Good going there, Major.
Hurt and anger had been an easy crutch for conversation- or arguments, rather –back on Mars. This was... different. He was asking Shepard to come visit him in the hospital. Hoping he might get one last chance to clear the air between them. As much as he detested Shepard's choice to team up with Cerberus, he still greatly respected the man. He considered him a friend. He needed to know things were all right with them.
It didn't help that he'd been carrying a torch for the man for the last couple of years.
Kaidan let his head bonk back against his headboard a few times, solid thunks that he immediately regretted, his migraine flaring up once more.
He could feel his ears beginning to burn the way they always did when he allowed himself to peek at this particular corner of his mind. God knew he'd tried to deny it long enough. He hadn't been willing to lose his position in the crew before, and he sure as hell wasn't going to risk an already shaky friendship by throwing this in Shepard's face. The Commander had a galaxy to save. He didn't need to hear a fumbling, awkward confession from an old squad mate. It had taken far too long for Kaidan to even figure his feelings out for himself, only to quickly stuff them deep into the proverbial closet. He wasn't sure how he'd even bring it up without coming across as a lunatic or a stammering teenage girl.
He thumped his head once more before remembering what a horrendous idea that was.
Clutching his head and waiting for the pain to subside, he scowled at the half-written message on his omni-tool. This was the end of days according to most people. Did he really want to risk his own emotional baggage cropping up in conversation with the one person who might be able to save the galaxy?
What would Ash say?
He lowered his hand and added a few more lines, trying for a light-hearted tone. He eyed the message critically.
Ash would laugh at him.
"Come on, LT," she'd probably say. "If it's the end of the world, don't you think it's the perfect time to be honest?"
Maybe. Maybe. But... not in a message. Right now Shepard's friendship was the important thing. He needed to see if they were all right. Hell, maybe Shepard wouldn't even come.
Resisting the urge to go for the "delete" key in a desperate last-ditch attempt to save himself, he sent the message away. No use agonizing. He'd know soon enough.