Disclaimer: All character names, locations and plot elements are the property of Bioware and Electronic Arts (EA) Games. 'Mass Effect' and all related characters are the sole property of these entities. This is a fan-written fiction.

This story takes place approximately a year after ME3; assume Reapers destroyed, and a surviving Shepard.

Warning: this story contains strong language.

Author's Note: Yes, this is pure, unadulterated anger with a dose of cute at the end. I needed to get it out of my system.


Earth

Kaidan Alenko yawns as he flicks his pass card against the apartment door lock. He shifts the two data pads in hand, and slides the door shut behind him, securing all four locks against the outside world, despite his good mood. He can never be too careful, not with the life he's led for the past several years, but he'll enjoy the good things while he can.

The past week has been quite productive. Resource-wise, the Alliance is tapping into some unburned natural gas in the Antarctic regions, and salvage operations have been completed in Tokyo and Shanghai. The turians who chose to remain on Earth have set up their own colonies, and are on excellent terms with the humans who survived. Admiral Hackett is pleased with the progress, and in their afternoon meeting told Kaidan to take a few days off, enjoy yourself, go out, enjoy a night on the town (whatever that actually means these days, being as there's not much that can be defined as 'entertainment' in Vancouver, other than a late night walk through the rebuilt market district).

Arriving back at the apartment is always a good feeling. It's like being cleansed, like the worries of the world just slip away. Kaidan sometimes jokes to Will Shepard that two Spectres living under one roof makes them walking targets, and the response is usually a pillow being thrown at him, or a silent, but amused shake of the head. The past few months have been blissful, a prolonged period of purely good things.

Even if he does most of the talking in their relationship, Kaidan feels good. He sleeps well at night, they share meals as often as possible. There is more laughter in the apartment. A few days ago, during one of Will's constant one-sided sparring matches with the punching bag, Kaidan made him miss by telling him a joke. To his surprise, the other man stared at him for a solid few seconds, and then cut loose with the loudest, most amused laugh Kaidan had ever heard from him. He's still not talking that much – he can go up to three days without uttering a single word – but he is starting to laugh, to smile, to let some of the depression lift. It's been a year, but things are improving. It is a sign of things to come, Kaidan hoped, proof that they are truly healing, really moving on.

Even Vega has noticed the upbeat mood, and teases Kaidan mercilessly about his relationship ("Look at you, Major, taming the toughest bastard in the galaxy who isn't a fuckin' krogan"). Kaidan's revenge has been achieved by passing Vega's personal message key to a few pretty girls in the supply department, and informing the young ladies that Vega requires 'personal attention for suppressed physiological urges' (Chakwas helped with that definition, amusement sketched all over her face). Kaidan certainly thinks the joke will go far. It should teach Vega to think twice before he comments on situations best left to adults.

Amused, Kaidan starts to think about his free evening. There are a few options, but home seems like a pleasant enough idea, a good place to start. They could stay in, or attempt to find the nearby ramen bar. He's still thinking when he hears a feminine voice echo down the hallway.

"You understand what this is like, don't you? All this standing around, doing nothing, waiting for the end to come. Does it ever occur to you that I could have stayed put?"

Kaidan grimaces, good mood suddenly less so, and heads for the kitchen. The damn quarian is on the link; so much for a pleasant greeting. He hesitates near the doorway, listening. He hears a deep sigh, and then Will Shepard's hoarse response: "Do you actually want something?"

"Oh so you finally talk back."

She sounds so angry.

"Yes," the man responds. "I talk back. What do you want?"

"You never talk," the quarian sniffs. "I was enjoying this silent treatment, the adoring looks you give me. it's like you miss me. You're such an idiot."

Kaidan steps near the counter, listening. The quarian's holographic projection paces the floor of the training area. Some six feet away from her, a slender man with broad shoulders and messy black hair stands in front of a heavy canvas punching bag. He wears a loose pair of pants and a shirt, and his hands are bare, his knuckles scarred and bruised from working out, his bare feet much the same. He clears his throat once before he talks to her again:

"If you want to talk to someone so badly, go talk to Garrus."

"He's on one of the turian escort ships. we had a fight."

"So why call me?"

"Because I like fighting with you. I don't like fighting with him. He's not like you."

The man mutters a curse, and starts punching the canvas bag.

"Aren't you going to ask what we fought about?"

"No," he grunts, the strain evident as he speaks. "I only answer the link when you call because I assume you need something."

"Of course, because I couldn't do anything on my own without the great Commander Shepard."

Shepard rolls his eyes and keeps striking the bag.

"I'm sorry, I forget how valuable your time is," says the quarian, sarcasm and anger in her voice. "I forgot. You like this. spending all your time alone in that fancy place, on your own damn planet, living like you never lost a damn thing. I forgot how tortured your existence is."

Kaidan listens. He has not been seen.

"It's been a year. Do you know how many of my people have died since we left Earth? Do you know how many of us are just wasting away? Everything we had and it's all lost, all gone. what do you care, though? You're still alive. that's all anybody cares about, isn't it, Shepard? that you're still alive?"

Shepard says nothing. He continues to hit the bag.

The quarian paces, waving her hands. "All that time we knew each other, and what did I gain from it? in the end, you betrayed me, you betrayed everybody. You didn't die when you were supposed to. Stupid, stupid human. Couldn't die when the rest of the galaxy would have been better off without you in it. We could have saved so much without you. So much of this is your fault."

He stops in mid-punch.

The quarian's image stops moving, and she folds her arms, cocking her hip. "Found your weak spot," she says smugly. "About time somebody did."

"Fuck you, Tali'Zorah vas Normandy."

Kaidan watches as Shepard approaches the hologram, an accusing finger raised.

"You think this is easy for me?" Shepard growls at her, his voice raspy, anger biting at each word. "You think I just live? You think this is so goddamn perfect?"

"You're alive," she bites off the words. "It seems perfect to me. you got your ending."

"I almost died because of you," Shepard spits.

"You're still breathing," the quarian snipes.

"I have seen things you would never understand," he tells her. "I know things you'll never know."

"My people have lost nearly everything. Rannoch, our strike teams, our families, the geth—"

He interrupts her. "I'm glad the geth are gone. They didn't deserve your people torturing them again. You've forgotten your own history. You quarians rose up, you created a war amongst yourselves, and what did you get out of it? Millions dead over three centuries, and you still get to walk away. So don't you tell me that I should've died for my world, Tali'Zorah, when you don't have the strength to own up to what your father and his goddamn ancestors did."

She remains silent.

"I could've betrayed you after the Alarei," Shepard says. "I could've left you to rot in exile from your people. instead, I protected you. I protected you because I thought we were friends, and I thought you deserved better. Then, on Rannoch, I saw what your people did." He shakes his head with disgust. "And you say I'm the monster, I'm the one who's wrong."

"The past is—"

"What you've fucking forgotten!" Shepard shouts.

Kaidan flinches, and moves into the hallway, unable to watch. He's never seen Shepard this angry, not even during the war when his stress readings were off the charts, when he was barely standing, let alone processing information. This is a side of the other man Kaidan has never seen.

The quarian sputters in protest. "I did not betray—"

"Bullshit!" Shepard shakes his head. His voice is raw, but it's getting stronger and angrier with every moment. "I saw things. I saw what your people did. I saw the geth, how you tortured them, how you turned on your own people. You created them, and when you got scared, you murdered them."

The quarian's voice shakes slightly, and Kaidan can't help smiling from his hiding spot. "It wasn't murder, Shepard. They're machines," she tries to explain.

"I saw it," Shepard tells her.

"Maybe you saw what Legion wanted you to see."

"Weren't you the one who said he had a soul?" Shepard snaps at her. "Didn't he die for you?"

"You would have sacrificed my people to save Earth!"

"And your people tried to kill me!"

"That wasn't my fault!"

"I never heard you ordering them to stop!"

They are shouting now. Kaidan wants to step in, but he's not sure what he's going to say. Stop shouting? What good is that going to do? He's heard these talks the past, but it's always one sided, always Tali'Zorah leading the charge. Shepard never loses his temper, in spite of everything. He's never lashed out at the quarian before.

"Garrus warned me," Tali'Zorah snaps. "He warned me that I shouldn't talk to you. he told me to stop calling you, said that it would only make you angry. I can see you're as irrational as before. I knew you wouldn't listen."

"'Irrational'?" Shepard explodes.

"How many bad calls did you make? The rachni? Cerberus? The krogan? Keelah, Shepard, you saved the krogan! Do you have any idea what could come of that?"

"Last I checked, the krogan posed exactly zero threat to you. You quarians are your own worst enemy."

"Something we have in common," she retorts. "You humans are only dangerous to yourselves. With the fleet we have—"

"Cerberus tried and almost succeeded," he snarls. "Christ, if I'd known then what I know now, I'd have given Veetor over to them on Freedom's Progress. Maybe I would've betrayed you then. I'd've earned myself a world of favors."

She chokes. "How-how can you say something like that?"

Shepard paces, breathing heavily through his nose. "Try living in my head, Tali'Zorah. Try living with everything I've done. When you have as much blood on your hands as I do, when you've survived the shit I have, when you've saved the fucking galaxy, then you can judge me, and question my orders. Until then, I'm still your goddamned captain, and you do not question me."

Outside of the room, Kaidan presses his back against the wall, his hand over his face. He feels a gnawing ache in his chest. He can't keep listening to this argument go on, but he can't stop it, either. They need to get this out in the open; it needs to end.

The quarian makes a choking sound. "You've changed."

"Took you long enough."

She sounds quiet, timid when she speaks. "I always wondered if you really came back, or if it was just a Cerberus trick."

"Surprise, surprise, it's not a trick."

"You're not the man I knew."

"No. I'm not."

"You hate me."

Shepard snorts. "I don't have time for hate. I learned that little philosophy from a cranky asari. It's about the best advice I ever got when I was working for Cerberus."

"I dream about the war sometimes," Tali'Zorah says, her voice breaking. "I dream about all the people who died. I think about how you almost died, and I hate you, because so many of my people didn't make it. It isn't fair, Shepard. Why do you get to live multiple lives in one body while my people can only suffer, suffocating inside these damn suits?"

He pauses, and then, voice shaking with rage, says, "What the hell do you want from me, Tali'Zorah?"

Tali'Zorah tries again, and she sounds on the verge of tears: "I want someone who will listen to me. I want someone who will understand why I am so angry, why I'm falling apart. They're all looking to me, hoping that I'm my father's daughter, and, and I can't be him. They want so much from me."

"You proved to me on Rannoch that you're every bit Rael'Zorah's daughter."

"I… I never… I never did what he did. Shepard. Please. Don't say that."

"You wanted the geth to die because you could never face up to what your people did. I have seen it. I saw Legion's memories. I saw what the geth suffered for you. When I think about all the geth I killed because of you…" His voice grows softer, and he sighs heavily. "Tali'Zorah vas Normandy, I do not want to speak to you about this again. If you want advice, or if you wish to actually talk, then fine, I'll listen. But if all you want to do is blame me for not fixing your problems, or for not giving you the answers you wanted to hear, then leave me the hell alone."

"… Yes, captain."

"Dismissed." He says the word as if she were no better than an insubordinate soldier.

The hologram makes a soft ping and vanishes.

Kaidan peeks his head around the corner, watching.

Shepard is slowly pacing the length of the training room, his hands laced behind his head, his eyes closed. He appears to be concentrating on his breathing. Kaidan can see the angry flush of red against his skin, the fury slowly bleeding away. He steps into the room, puts his data pads on the counter, and leans against the wall.

"Do you want to talk about it?" he asks as Shepard walks by him.

"No," Shepard says, simply following the familiar pattern of the area. He pauses after a few steps, and turns around, opening his eyes, his hands still bracing against his head. "You heard all of that."

"Yes, I did."

"I'm sorry."

"Sounds like you two needed to clear the air."

"You know," Will Shepard says, "sometimes I fucking hate her."

Kaidan offers a sarcastic reply: "Really? I couldn't tell."

"I suppose I could've handled that better," he says, with a touch of guilt.

"I think she needed it. God knows I've heard enough of her arguing with you."

"I ever tell you what her father did?" Shepard asks.

"I know it had something to do with the geth."

"He tortured them. Built new geth, made a new neural network, tortured and killed dozens of them. Left us to clean up the mess. The quarians tried to charge Tali'Zorah with treason. I defended her, protected her. With what I know now, I wish I hadn't done it." He sighs, dropping his hands to his sides. "Kaidan, sometimes I feel like I'm trapped in the past. Like everything I did, every choice I made, it's going to come back and bite me in the ass. I tried so hard to do the right thing, and it's all falling down around me."

"You don't really believe that, do you?"

"I believe what I believe. It's about all I ever do."

"You know I hate it when you get poetic."

"I know." Shepard rubs the back of his head. "My throat hurts." He walks into the kitchen and retrieves a glass of water.

"I'm sure," Kaidan says dryly. "That's the most I've heard you talk all week."

Shepard snorts a laugh as he drinks.

"So, I have the night off," Kaidan says, changing the subject.

"Hackett's a slave driver."

"Which is why I get the night off."

Shepard nods. "I'd offer to join you, but I'm probably not the best company right now."

Kaidan shakes his head. "I've dealt with your moods before."

"You say it like I'm a whiny teenager," Shepard complains.

Kaidan shrugs. "So you get moody. So do I. So does everybody else. It's a depressing feeling, surviving a war, when so many didn't. Nobody blames you for surviving, Will. Nobody."

Shepard looks at the glass in his hand. "So what do you intend to do with your night off?" he asks, changing the subject.

"I thought a walk wouldn't hurt."

Shepard smiles, and it seems almost wistful. "Remember when we went for a walk on the Citadel? The night you bought me dinner? I miss those days."

"You miss them? We were in a war, Shepard," Kaidan says, shaking his head.

"Yeah, but that was a good night. I miss walking and talking with you on the Citadel." He leans on the counter. "You've got something on your mind."

"Like I said, a walk. The market district is still pretty torn up, but there's a park over there now. It's got some greenery, a few plants."

"Sounds nice."

Kaidan gestures with his head. "Want to get out of here for awhile? Hackett suggested I have a night on the town."

Shepard laughs. "Has he seen Vancouver lately?"

"I think he's just trying to use familiar expressions."

"Well, then, sure. A night on the town it is. We'll get fancy. Is the ramen bar still open?" He grins when he says it.

Kaidan smiles. "Sounds like you're feeling better."

"I'm home," Shepard says, shrugging his shoulders. "She's not. It's making her angry and stupid. I hope she gets home soon, and I hope she learns to hold on to what she's got." He holds out his hands. "I think I'm okay."

"Glad to hear it. Go shower and get dressed. I'll wait here."

Shepard nods and leaves the room. Several moments later, the echo of water sounds from the bathroom.

Kaidan is waiting when the holographic link makes a soft pinging noise. He frowns, but presses the panel. "Yeah?"

A holographic projection of a turian appears in front of him. Garrus Vakarian squints. "Kaidan?"

"Hello."

"Shepard there?"

"He's busy."

"I was looking for him."

"Something wrong?"

Garrus shrugs and shakes his head. "Sounds like he got under Tali's skin. She just told me about their little 'chat'."

Kaidan folds his arms. "And what do you intend to do about it?"

"Well, I was going to thank him. That helmet is so thick sometimes I don't think anything actually gets through to her. She forgets about all he went through, what he did, the deals he had to make. She also forgets that he's my friend too, and I stuck it out a lot longer than she did." He sighs. "She's being stupid again. She does this when she's feeling lonely and unwanted. Sometimes I think she's jealous because he chose you and not her."

"I'm pretty sure she's not his type," Kaidan says dryly.

The turian laughs. "Well, even I knew that. I get the feeling that male quarians don't bond quite like male humans do, or, if they do, there's some obligatory, uh, female bonding time, or something. I don't know. I remember her flirting with him during the Collector missions, and it was like he just didn't get it. Either that, or he did, and he was trying to let her down gently."

Kaidan smirks. "As if it was that simple."

"I can dream it was that simple. Humans confuse the hell out of me, especially when it comes to interpersonal relations," the turian says, shaking his head, seemingly amused. "Seriously, though, how is he? I haven't talked to him in quite some time. every time I think about it, she's nearby. Can't get a good word in about anything without her trying to pick a fight with him."

"I think he'll be okay."

"Good. You know how he is. tough bastard doesn't know when to stay down."

Kaidan nods. "You know, I never did thank you for keeping him alive during his run with Cerberus."

The turian waves his hand dismissively. "Hell, we shared the job. He kept me sane and entertained too. He's the best friend I've got. I look forward to seeing him in person again one of these days. I fully intend to challenge him to a sparring match. He still packing a mean punch?"

"The punching bag in the training area begs him for mercy if he so much as walks by it," Kaidan replies.

Garrus laughs. "Oh, then I'm definitely sparring with him. Tell the tough bastard I said 'hello', will you?"

"I will."

"Take care of yourself, Kaidan. Oh, and one more thing: Did he really pull the 'I'm your captain, do what I say' line on her?" He sounds entirely too amused.

Kaidan smiles. "He did."

"Oh, I'll bet she hated that. Good for him. Maybe she'll lighten up and get her head on straight after this."

"Take it easy, Garrus."

"Babysitting this many quarians? As if I get a moment of relaxation. I'll try."

The conversation ends.

Kaidan sighs, and hears Shepard's footsteps. He's running his hands through his damp hair as he straightens his clean clothes. He gathers his boots from the hallway. "I miss anything?"

"The quarians' babysitter called and said 'hello'."

Shepard grins. "Poor Garrus. Surrounded by that many quarians must drive him nuts."

"Says he wants a sparring match the next time he visits Earth."

"I'll be sure to take him up on that. I could use a good fight."

Kaidan laughs. "Are you going to challenge random people to sparring matches if we go out tonight?"

"Major Alenko, it's like you take me for some kind of first-year grunt soldier. I'm a complete gentleman officer in public." Shepard is grinning.

"You are full of so much shit," Kaidan says good-naturedly.

"And that," Shepard says, grabbing Kaidan's shoulders and guiding him to the door, "is why you keep me around."

"I keep you around because you're full of shit?"

"You keep me around because you're crazy about me, and you like the fact that I run my mouth when I've been cooped up inside for days on end."

"Good lord, Will. You're as bad as the women my dad used to warn me about."

Shepard pushes him out the door. "Yeah, yeah, flatter away, biotic boy. Come on. I'm going stir crazy."

Kaidan sighs, bewildered. "Are you going to talk the entire night?"

"I haven't talked to anybody all week, and the first person I talked to made me yell, so, yes, I'm going to be a complete motor mouth."

"Oh, my god," Kaidan moans. "I have got to get you out of here more often. First thing when I'm back at work, I'm telling Hackett to give you something to do."

"A night on the town ought to put me right back to normal. I promise to return to your usual, familiar, broody programming tomorrow. I swear, after tonight, I won't talk for three days. You'll have perfect peace and quiet," Shepard says.

"Great. The familiar broody programming is inevitable," Kaidan says, rolling his eyes. "I suppose I should enjoy this bizarre side of you while I can."

"Right. Now we understand each other. So let's get outside tonight, and have some fun, before I come to my senses." Shepard grins. "Come on, Kaidan. What's the worst that could happen? Let's go have a night on the town, as the good Admiral ordered."

"Have you seen Vancouver lately?" Kaidan asks in mock horror.

Their laughter rings in the hallway.

The End