Kaidan shrugged off his alliance regulation overshirt as he trekked up the stairs, rubbing a hand over his weary eyes. The reconstruction was a war of its own, victories measured by how many civilians were kept off the streets and out of the jails rather than by how many enemies had been defeated. Defeating the enemy had almost been easier; it had certainly been simpler. He yawned and trudged forwards, fitting his key into the door of the apartment that he and Shepard shared, wanting nothing more than a hot shower and a good night's rest. But rest was not to be had.
There were blaster burns on the walls, the edges still charred and smoking. Kaidan paused for a moment, his heart leaping to his throat, his gaze quickly raking over his home. The pictures had been knocked off the walls, the lone, sickly plant they had managed to coax into growth overturned, the soil scattered all over the cement floor. In an instant, his gun was out of its holster and into his hand, cocked and ready to fire.
"Over here, Alenko," came Shepard's voice, calm and collected, from behind the overturned couch. She spoke with her 'Commander' tone, the one that she used to rally troops, give orders, and inspire her crew to follow her to hell and back.
Kaidan swallowed and glanced around the small, desecrated apartment. The chairs and coffee table formed a barrier in front of the overturned couch that Shepard was crouched behind… A barricade… yet there were no enemies in sight. She was fighting figments of her own imagination; the realization made his stomach clench. Carefully, Kaidan clicked his gun to safety and holstered it, slowly advancing towards Shepard. PTSD, his mind told him; not uncommon. Soldiers routinely had psychotic breaks when they returned home from an extended mission.
"What's the situation?" Kaidan asked, slipping into 'Major' mode so as not to alarm Shepard when she was in possession of a firearm.
"Our position has been over-run. Cerberus is here to take their seven pounds of flesh in retribution for The Illusive Man. I'm glad you're here to watch my six, Major," she replied with a little smile, and Kaidan's heart ached.
"Shepard," Kaidan murmured softly, and glanced around their apartment again. It was going to be hell to clean the place. "Where do you see the Cerberus troops?" he asked, and she pointed dead ahead, towards their closet. Kaidan narrowed his eyes, and his stomach dropped when he saw the trigger: the yellow dress she'd managed to salvage, hanging beside his white shirt. Such ordinary, everyday objects to cause such a break from reality.
"Shepard," Kaidan said slowly, glancing at the gun in her hand, trying to figure out how to get it from her without sending her into any more of a tailspin. "Let me see your gun; I want to check your scope," he improvised, and she nodded her head and handed the weapon to him wordlessly, keeping her eye trained on the 'enemy' as she did so.
Kaidan made a show of checking the piece as he unobtrusively flicked the gun to safety and popped out the heatsink. "Looks good," he said, and handed the weapon back to her, kicking the heatsink under the sofa so that she wouldn't be able to find it. "Shepard, I want to show you something," he said, and she nodded brusquely, her blue eyes trailing him as he lifted himself from cover and walked toward their closet.
"Alenko, your shields!" she barked. "You get sloppy, you die," she reminded him, and Kaidan obligingly summoned his biotics to form a rippling blue blanket of energy around his form. She settled a little at that, staying ducked in cover, her gun trained on the garments she imagined were pieces of Cerberus armor, her eyes protectively watching Kaidan's every movement.
Kaidan moved closer to the closet and reached out with his biotics, lifting the offending articles into the air and floating them towards him. He heard the click that alerted him to the fact that Shepard had instinctually pulled the trigger on her gun, and her muffled curse when she realized that the barrel was empty. "Shepard, I need you to look at me," Kaidan murmured softly, and her blue eyes snapped up to him.
He pulled the clothing closer to him, and then plucked the dress from the air, allowing his shirt to fall unceremoniously to the floor. "Shepard, what is this?" he asked, waiting patiently as she blinked, her blue eyes clouding with confusion.
"My dress," she murmured, and he nodded before dropping that to the floor and lifting up his shirt for her inspection.
"And this?" he queried, and watched her chew on her lower lip, his heartstrings tugging.
"Your shirt," she replied and Kaidan nodded again.
"Do you see any Cerberus troops?" he asked, and Shepard glanced around, thoroughly discomfited, her brows furrowed together. And then, all at once, her shoulders caved in and she ducked her chin down to her chest as she expelled a deep sigh.
"Hallucinations. Post-traumatic stress," she murmured, her tone oddly clinical, matter of fact. She straightened as suddenly as her body had crumpled, her jaw strong again, her shoulders square. She glanced around the apartment, and Kaidan felt a pang of sympathy when she winced. "I made a hell of a mess," she added, and Kaidan caught the way her hands clenched into tight fists, an action he knew was meant to hide their trembling. She took a deep breath, and Kaidan saw her gaze shift to her weapon. "You unloaded my gun?" she asked, and when he nodded, she gave him a ghost of a smile. "Smart."
For a moment, the pair stood in silence, and then Kaidan heaved out a deep sigh, grateful the danger had passed, and moved to wrap his arms around her. She flinched under his touch and jerked away from him, her eyes hard. "I'm fine, Alenko. I don't need your coddling," she bit out, and then stalked off to the bathroom, her hands clenched so tightly that her knuckles were white. Kaidan shook his head and let her go, knowing that she needed her privacy, understanding that she felt weak and humiliated and that she needed to unravel in private. It was simply Shepard's way.
With a deep sigh, Kaidan shoved his concerns for Shepard to the back of his mind and went about straightening the room: lifting the couch with his biotics and setting it back into its proper position, righting the chairs and flipping the coffee table back over, tenderly placing the plant back into its pot and scooping the dirt off the floor with his hands.
Worriedly, he glanced toward the bathroom door and saw that it remained firmly shut. Not for the first time, he wished that Shepard would allow him to help her work out her problems, but knew that her stubborn independence was just a facet of her dynamic personality. He shook off the desire to go after her and instead he re-made the mussed bed with military precision and fitted the holographs back into their places on the wall. He grimaced when he looked at the blaster burns and shook his head. There was nothing to be done for those, not now, anyway.
He scrubbed his dirty hands over his equally dirty Alliance issue pants, and glanced down at his omni-tool to check the time before looking towards the closed bathroom door again. Shepard had been in there for nearly an hour, and his concern for her well-being had begun to outweigh his desire to give her the space that he knew she needed. Letting out a deep sigh, he crossed the cramped room, knocked at the door, and was greeted by silence.
"Shepard?" he called out, and again, he heard nothing but the sound of the crickets out the window (crickets chirping in the heart of London; who would have thought?), the ticking of the old fashioned clock on the wall, and his own breathing.
He made short work of the lock on the door, aware that he may be sleeping on the couch for his intrusion but not giving a damn, and opened it to find Shepard standing in front of the mirror, her body held in still, rigid lines. "Shepard," he murmured, but she remained motionless, a picture of misery. He made a noise low in his throat and sidled up to her, wrapping his arms around her form and drawing her close to him. This time she went willingly, her body becoming loose and pliant, her head dropping to rest in the crook of his neck. Kaidan saw blood on her hands, her forearms, and realized she must have injured herself in her hallucinatory frenzy.
Gently, he removed her dirty alliance regulation tee, unzipped her cargos and peeled them off her legs. "Come on, let's get you cleaned up," he murmured, continuing to undress her as though she was a child, unclipping her bra and helping her step out of her panties. He shucked his clothes off moments after he finished with hers, and gently led her to the shower. She obediently followed him and stepped into the cold spray without flinching. They'd long since gotten used to the cold water by now; there was no means to heat it and even the water that came through, chilled by the underground pipes, was precious and rationed.
Shepard stood unmoving beneath the spray, so Kaidan rubbed the tiny block of soap they'd managed to get their hands on between his palms and set about washing the blood and grime from her skin. She stood still and silent, her eyes closed as his hands gently roved over the body that he knew as well as his own. When he began to wash her hair, however, she cracked. Her body convulsed, wracked in silent sobs, and Kaidan drew her close to him, slick skin against skin, the soap from her hair brushing against his cheek.
"My mother used to do that for me, on Mindoir," she whispered when her shaking had somewhat eased, so softly that Kaidan could barely hear her. His throat closed up at her words, and he drew her ever closer to him, his fingertips tracing meaningless, comforting patterns over her wet skin. He felt her ribcage expand as she sucked in a breath, felt the puff of it against his flesh as she exhaled. "When I was having a bad day, she would wash my hair in the kitchen sink and sing the hymns I heard in church on Sundays. For some reason, it always made me feel better," she continued, and Kaidan pressed a kiss to her temple before taking a small step back from her and continuing to scrub his fingers against her scalp.
His parents had never been religious, so he didn't know many gospel songs or hymns, but he knew the tune to Amazing Grace- with all the funerals they'd been forced to attend, what Alliance soldier didn't?- so he began to hum it, feeling the vibrations deep in his chest, on his lips, and his brave, strong Shepard fell to pieces in his arms.