The quiet instruction was hardly needed at this point, but he watched as Micah closed her eyes anyway, took a deep breath, settled herself mentally. Her right hand closed into a light fist, her usual preparation for each move she had learned. Eyes shut, Kaidan waited, watching, until her brilliant green eyes suddenly flashed open, acutely aware, her entire focus on the target before her, the usual pile of crates on the apartment rooftop. The action took mere seconds to release, hand flying out before her, the energy fields created flying from her fingertips and towards her target. He watched her carefully, eyes following each and every little movement and detail as she produced the lift. Her control was good. More than good, he thought with an appreciative nod, watching the crate ascend and float well above the others. It held solid for somewhat longer than he expected for such a new move, too.
As he kept his eyes on the crate, Kaidan couldn't help but reflect back over the past four months. Certainly, it had come as a surprise to him when Anderson had asked him to come along to help with Micah's training. He had figured out the why early on, of course. It didn't take a genius to discern that his experiences at BAaT were what Anderson was after. But then again, Kaidan couldn't argue that Micah had talent. From the few experiments they had completed back at the hospital, he'd been able to see that. And his kind of experience could help her attain her goals more quickly, no doubts there, either. At the time of Anderson's offer, he'd just been grateful for her presence there, and she had told him on more than one occasion since then that meeting him had helped her when she needed it most. There had been a connection there, even Anderson had recognized it, grabbed hold of it, promoted it even.
But the friendship, the camaraderie, the easy exchange of thoughts and ideas regarding their skills. Those were things that, while outwardly normal and expected of a situation like this, had come to mean much more to him. The events at BAaT had sent him spiraling afterwards, of that there was no question. Self doubt and recriminations could destroy a person if allowed, and he certainly had been headed in that direction. But, the day he'd met Micah, that first day at the hospital, the trust between them had started. A trust he'd not reached out for since BAaT. Ever since that day it had been built upon, eventually evolving into something much stronger. More than just friendship, in some ways. There was a bond there, one even he could see that went much further.
Then again, Kaidan had realized almost from the beginning of this arrangement that his presence had technically not been necessary. Micah's skills and ability to learn quickly were very impressive. Her natural talent left him amazed most of the time. All in all, though, he often found himself feeling ... extraneous. Early on, he'd even approached Anderson, challenging him on that point.
"Sir, you don't need me here," Kaidan insisted. "She's a fast learner, her instinct guides her better than anything I could ever do for her, she'll be fine without me here."
Anderson gave him a warm smile, hand rising to settle upon his shoulder, squeezing it reassuringly. "Son," he told him, "there's more to learning than being a fast learner, let me tell you. She's had a lot happen to her in a very short amount of time. Life changing events. I'm not sure how or why, but you two connected while at that hospital and it's done her a world of good and in more ways than one."
Kaidan shrugged. "I didn't do that much ..."
"You did," Anderson corrected him firmly. "Son, you didn't see her right after her father died. That man held that family together, you know." He sighed. "I won't say more than that - it's not my story to tell. But I will tell you this - I have seen more life in Micah in these past few weeks than I have in the past two years or so, and that is in large part due to your interaction with her. Between that and the skills you gained over the years during your own training ... well, let's just say that it's helping her to find her way with a bit more ease than she might have had."
Respectfully, Kaidan nodded. "So ... I'm staying then?"
"Are you wanting to leave?" Anderson asked.
"No, sir," Kaidan replied quickly.
Anderson chuckled. "I didn't think so."
Kaidan sighed as he turned his eyes from the crate back to Micah now. One more week and then she'd be gone. Oh, he expected that they would stay in touch. At least, he intended to from his end of things. Who knew how busy she would be once she was off at basic, right? But then again, a long distance relationship like that just wouldn't be the same as being around her, would it?
A moment later, however, his thoughts faded quickly as he saw her shift her stance just a bit ... and then she surprised him.
Four months had not been much time. Even with required attendance at the training center on a daily basis and evenings spent in study (she still had high school to finish, after all) and practice, Micah was running out of time and she knew it. Having a private tutor who assisted her with all of it helped, of course, not that she really needed the help with the schoolwork. That part she was pretty good at on her own. No, the real help came with mastering the biotic moves, the learning of the physical mnemonics that the she had been training her biotic nodes to recognize as triggers for the moves. So far, so good.
The instructors had started her off with the usual learning track for newcomers to the field of biotics - singularity first, then warp. Micah knew she was a quick learner, and those skills hadn't taken too long to master, in part thanks to Kaidan's assistance and suggestions pulled from his own experiences. Stasis had been a bit more difficult, however. That one required the ability to create a field strong enough to actually 'freeze' the opponent in it and she had lost some valuable time there in her mastering of it, but once learned it proved to be well worth the struggle. Now though ...
Micah grinned slyly and out of the corner of her eye saw Kaidan blink in surprise. She knew better than to look at him just yet. She'd just end up laughing and right now she was more concerned with proving to both him and herself that she was nearly ready. Or at least ready enough to move on to the next stage of her plan. As long as she had the basics, she would be allowed to leave, and Anderson had assured her that any additional biotic training she might need would be available to her after she finished her initial training.
"Well," Kaidan finally managed after a minute, "I'm ... impressed."
Micah turned to face him then unable to hide the small smirk toying at the corners of her lips any longer. She found it difficult to explain exactly why, but she felt ... exuberant. During the weeks together, Micah had come to realize that Kaidan had a natural teaching ability. And, while she the majority of her education had come at the hands of the instructors at the training center, it had been the insights he had offered and practice methods that he used that had cemented those skills for her. While they were friends, which certainly helped, when they were training their relationship had taken on a more ... formal approach, one that was less about friendship and more serious, focused on the task at hand. This had probably done the most to help her prepare, she suspected. The fact that he had taken her goal as seriously as she had, had been willing to help her achieve it meant quite a lot to her. After all, when it came to preparing herself to join up, Micah could be and usually was all business. It had only been the last couple of weeks that she had become more distracted from the process.
But this ... She felt a fire flare in her eyes as she caught his gaze, the surprise still there and the inevitable question. "I should hope so," she replied teasingly. "I learned it from watching the best."
She watched him blink, nearly laughing aloud at his reaction. He truly seemed ... confused. Giving him a 'well, duh!' sort of look, though, she saw the exact moment when understanding hit him. Head shaking in amazement, he ran a hand through his hair. "That was weeks ago," he pointed out. "You hadn't even mastered singularity yet."
"Doesn't mean I can't watch and learn," she returned logically. "Remember, I've spent years doing just that." She shrugged then and glanced down at her feet for a brief moment. "I learned a long time ago that I'd never be able to be the kind of soldier like my father was. Once I accepted that, I began looking for ways in which I could be effective, strategies that would help me still be a soldier out on the battlefield."
"Well," he told her, his own smile breaking through, "you've certainly managed that."
Micah chuckled. "We'll see. I have to get through basic first, right?"
"First we have to get you through your last week of training," he corrected, but his smile did widen. "Though I think you just proved you'll be able to pass with flying colors."
Micah actually giggled. "Yeah, they might be a little surprised by that one," she agreed. She sighed softly. "Okay, so ... show me what I did wrong?"
Kaidan nodded while stepping over beside her. As he began to walk her through the motions, step by step like he always did, Micah felt a sudden wistfulness as she realized she would miss this with him ...
Micah stood at the window of her room staring out at the city beyond, the gloomy overcast skies having given way to a steady, cold drizzle. This is it, she thought. In a few hours I'll be eighteen ... on my way to basic ... This time tomorrow I'll officially be a marine. Hand rising, she placed her fingertips against the cool glass, forehead leaning over to do the same. This time tomorrow ... Though it had taken a lifetime to get to this point, with many ups and downs along the way, Micah knew that had it happened any other way, it would not - could not - have been as important as it was to her right now.
The sound of a knock at the door behind her startled Micah at first, but she knew who it would be as she turned around. Unless someone had broken into the place, which was highly doubtful, there was only one person it could be at the moment. "Hey, Kaidan," she murmured. Pushing away from the window, she crossed the room to stand near him. "What's up?"
"I was thinking we could order in some dinner," he told her, nodding slightly towards the rest of the apartment behind him. "Maybe watch a movie, I don't know. Whatever you want. Sort of an early birthday treat, if you like, since we'll both be leaving tomorrow."
Micah's smile was a bit wistful as she looked up at him. Despite reaching this point, at long last, she would have one regret at least. Being around him for the past few months had been more important to her than just for his insights into biotics training. "I'd like that," she replied quietly.
Kaidan returned the smile she saw. "So ... what would you like? Chinese?" More than once they'd run out for a quick evening meal at a local place that had some of the best dishes in the city. "Curry maybe?"
Micah laughed softly. She knew what he would really prefer, even though it would require running out since the place didn't deliver, and she had to admit it sounded good to her right now, too. "How about some steak sandwiches?" she suggested with a knowing grin and a twinkle in her eye.
She saw his smile widen, but was startled when he reached out, he took her hand in his and squeezed it. "A woman after my own heart," he teased back before bending over to kiss her cheek quickly.
Micah blinked back surprise at his action, but she kept her smile in place. It wasn't that he hadn't done that before by any means. Rather, that this time it had seemed much more ... personal. Intimate, even. Searching his eyes briefly, she looked for any sign that it had been meant as something more than it was. Still uncertain, she cleared her throat a bit and pointed her finger into his chest, telling him, "Why don't you go get the food and I'll find a movie for us to watch?"
Kaidan nodded and turned to leave the room. "Back in a little bit," he told her with a quick wave over his shoulder.
Micah watched him depart, physically following him out of her room, but her eyes trailed after him as he moved through the apartment towards the exit. She had to admit, she was suddenly feeling a bit ... unnerved by her reaction to him just now. Biting her lip, she turned towards the front of the apartment. Why now? All of a sudden? she wondered as she padded into the room where the vid screen was located. As she started sorting through the movie options, another thought hit her. Did I just not notice before? Was it there all the time and I just ...? She glanced down at the movie she'd selected. It was an old war movie, one she and her father used to watch together on a regular basis, one she usually watched when feeling down and needed a reminder of what she wanted out of life. Swallowing, she mused, Was I too focused? Frowning, she paused to reconsider. Chewing on her lower lip, she debated silently, eventually changing her mind and pulling out the list again, this time paying just a bit more attention to the titles available ...
When Kaidan had walked by her room, he'd seen her standing at the window, staring out at the city beyond. At first, he'd wondered what she might be thinking, but soon realized he could probably make an educated guess. All along, it had been one thing for her, one focus, one goal. Get to this point, enlist, become a marine. It was all 'the plan' she and her father had made so long ago. Her plan. The only plan.
On the far side of the room next to her desk, he'd observed that she'd already packed her bag for her departure the following day. That brought a small smile to his face. Planning ahead, apparently. But at the same time, he'd felt an odd tugging sensation in his chest at the thought that she was quite so eager to leave and move on. After today, their paths would separate, hers leading towards the military, his guiding him home. Though he'd found himself wondering, especially of late, if there wasn't something more there, he'd not dared come between Micah and her dream. And really, if they were no longer going to be around each other, there was no reason to complicate things, right?
His own past experiences had held him back earlier, but now ... Kaidan sighed as he headed down the block towards the sandwich shop. It wasn't fair to her, he reasoned. She had a goal, a purpose. She didn't want or need to be distracted from that. Not when her dreams were so close to coming true. Certainly not by someone like him, so scarred and messed up by his past who could only hold her back from her future. Best to just let it go, let her go and become what she was so clearly meant to be rather than mess it up for her. Right?
Perhaps he took a bit longer than was necessary while waiting on their order, all the while his thoughts churning away inside his head. A final, although quick, side trip into a nearby bakery to grab something sweet for dessert didn't help with timing either, but in the end he figured it would be worth it. They were celebrating, after all. Her birthday. Successful training. Their friendship ...
He sighed again. Timing was everything, he recalled. Obviously, it was not on his side just now.
Kaidan had nearly returned to the flat when he began walking past a boutique shop with a window display that caught his attention. Eyeing it a moment, he hesitated only briefly, for once tossing caution to the wind. Turning, he entered the shop to make the purchase. It was her birthday, after all, and he wanted to give her a present. Besides, it was a silly sort of thing. If she hated it, she didn't have to keep it. If she liked it, all the better. And there was always the chance she might just keep it to ... remember him, right?
Back at the flat a short time later, he carefully juggled his packages and entered quietly. He could hear music playing from the front room and so headed in that direction. Anderson was out for the evening, Kahlee having insisted on having dinner out that night (though Kaidan suspected that Kahlee had done this on purpose and while he appreciated the thought, it was rather a moot point just now). Whatever the case, he was well aware that it left him and Micah alone.
Walking through the kitchen, Kaidan found himself coming to a sudden halt at the doorway to the front room. Music still playing, he discovered Micah standing in the middle of the room, back to him, but singing softly along with the song, stepping lightly and swaying to the tune. For the longest moment, all he could do was stand there, quietly watching her in wonder. In that moment, as she moved (danced? He wasn't quite certain, but whatever it qualified as, it had a certain grace of movement that indicated she would be quite the sight upon a battlefield) he could almost envision her as she would be - in uniform, charging across the battlefield while fighting, defending, fulfilling her duties as a marine. Yet another reminder of what she was destined for.
Shaking himself from his thoughts, he moved to set the food and his gift aside on the countertop before taking a few steps into the room. His footsteps were nearly silent on the carpet, so he paused a step or two away from her, cleared his throat softly and waited for her to turn. Her gasp was almost loud enough to be heard above the music as she spun around, eyes wide. Damn! He'd startled her after all. "Kaidan!" she breathed, and he could see her body relax in relief.
He offered a smile of apology. "Sorry," he told her as he closed the distance between them. "I was trying to not scare you."
Her laugh still seemed a bit breathy as she looked up at him. It was then, as her eyes met his, that he noticed a nervousness in them he'd not seen before he left. Lifting a hand, he placed it on her shoulder, squeezing gently. "I did, didn't I?" He saw her eyes narrow in confusion. "Scare you," he clarified.
"What? Oh. No," she insisted in a rushed voice. "Not really. Just ... I didn't hear you come in ..."
The songs changed over just then and he saw her glance away. Still, whatever that look in her eyes had been seemed to be there, and it had him concerned. Moving his hand, he caught the edge of her chin and attempted to tilt it up so she would look at him. She struggled briefly, but eventually gave in. "What's wrong?" he asked, concern marking his features.
"N-nothing," she insisted as their eyes met. But Kaidan could tell she wasn't being truthful. If it hadn't been the stuttering reply, it would have been the almost 'deer caught in headlights' sort of look he found in her eyes. "I'm just ... I ..." He heard her voice trail off, but she still held his gaze as he searched hers. Recognition of what he saw there was a slow realization, but it finally hit him as his eyes began to widen in surprise as hers followed suit. "Kaidan?"
Something in her tone triggered that same tugging sensation he'd felt earlier, only this time, instead of over analyzing it, of focusing all of his attention to staying controlled and determined to do what was best for her, he gave in to a moment of impulse and leaned towards her.
Micah gasped softly, eyes closing as Kaidan moved across the last bit of distance between them, leaning in to kiss her. Once the contact had been made, she found she could do nothing but sigh and return it. As his fingers began threading through her hair, tilting her head just a bit in the process, her own hands rose to rest lightly against his chest. The warmth and sweetness of the kiss had her wishing it would never end.
When finally it did, though, she opened her eyes once more and met his. In that moment, she found a reflection of what she herself had been feeling. "Kaidan?" she breathed, her voice a bit ragged as she struggled to even it out.
"Micah, I'm -" Her breath caught as she waited for him to finish. He sighed, his eyes closing tightly for a moment as he ran a hand through his hair in what looked like frustration. And suddenly, she knew. He was going to apologize ... to erase what had just happened. A part of her felt hurt at that thought. But then again, that same part of her realized it probably was for the best. It didn't matter that ...
His eyes opened again and she met them once more, but she was surprised to notice a sort of resignation there. "Hell, who am I kidding," he muttered, his hand dropping back to caress her cheek lightly. "I'm not sorry at all."
Micah found herself laughing in surprised relief then, softly, and she covered his hand with her own. "I'm glad you aren't," she told him, a cheeky smile playing at her lips, a matching twinkle lighting her eyes. "I would hate to have to hurt you for that sort of reaction."
Kaidan laughed with her then. She leaned towards him as he pressed his forehead to hers briefly before countering lightly, "Yeah, I would have hated for you to have to try."
Taking a deep breath, she took a step back, all the time keeping her eyes on his. When his hand dropped to take hers, she squeezed it reassuringly before following him over to the couch where they both sat. She moved beside him, leaning into his shoulder when his arm draped around her, but their hands remained joined. After a moment of staring at them, she turned to lift her gaze back to his. "So ..."
She noticed the corner of one of his eyes twitch slightly. "Yeah."
Squeezing his hand, she searched his eyes. This wouldn't, couldn't, change anything at this point, and she suspected he knew that. However ... "Um ... What now then?"
He released her hand then, and Micah suddenly felt ... alone. Pulling her lip between her teeth, she tried to mask her concern, but she must not have succeeded because his hand moved to stroke her cheek gently, thumb brushing just beneath her eye. "I don't know," he told her quietly. "I can't - won't - get in the way of your career. You've worked too hard for this."
She nodded, felt his thumb continue to run along the skin of her cheek. "We could ... write each other? Meet up when I have leave?" she suggested. When she saw him start to frown, she added quickly, "We're friends, right? Friends meet up occasionally ..."
Kaidan sighed, surprised by his own sudden reluctance. Or, rather, hesitation. Reluctance wasn't quite right. It wasn't that he didn't want to meet up with her at all. Right? "We could ... maybe," he finally agreed. If he were truthful with himself, this had been more or less what he'd been hoping for ... but that had been before he'd kissed her. Before he'd thrown caution to the wind and started things down a much more complicated path for them both. Should he take that chance that he might ruin things for her by becoming a distraction? On the other hand, having this with her was an opportunity he couldn't just toss that out the window. And she didn't seem to want that either.
He sighed again before leaning over to place a gentle, chaste kiss on her forehead. "But first," he told her as he rose to his feet, "we should eat." He dared a quick look at her before he turned away and saw her nodding, though she seemed a bit distracted. "I got sandwiches, chips." He gave her a slightly wicked grin. "Dessert."
He laughed when he heard her groan. If he'd learned one thing about her since meeting her it was that she had one hell of a sweet tooth. "You didn't!" she groaned.
Crossing the room, he retrieved the bag with sandwiches and chips before returning to sit beside her. "Dinner first," he teased as he handed her one of the sandwiches. "Then you'll see."
She gave him a mock scowl, elbowing him lightly as she took the sandwich which only caused him to laugh more. "You are evil!" she pouted.
"Maybe just a little," he admitted as he sat back on the couch. After taking a bite of his sandwich, he glanced over at her. "So, what movie did you decide on?"
She spared a quick glance over at him and he found the look on her face difficult to read. Nervousness? Concern? What was going on? "Um, an old one," she admitted. "Called 'Return to Me.' I hadn't seen it for a while ..."
Kaidan wasn't familiar with it, but content to sit back and enjoy the time they had together, he smiled reassuringly at her. "Alright. Sounds good." At her questioning look, he added, "Your choice, remember?"
Movie over (she'd forgotten how sappy it could be, but it was a fun one to watch with him), two slices of dessert eaten (with more accusations of his evil nature as he'd unveiled the delightful cheesecake), they had turned the music back on as they sat around talking. Kaidan remained on the couch, but Micah had shifted to the floor, her back leaning against both the couch and his leg in quiet contentment. As birthdays went, this definitely was high on her list of memorable ones. The last two had been ... well, forgettable, to say the least. Between her own personal pain and her mother's, it had been remarkable that it had been remembered. Celebration had not even been a consideration, not that Micah regretted it. At the time, it wouldn't have done anyone any good. But this time ...
She leaned off to the side as Kaidan rose after his exclamation, frowning as he crossed the room towards the kitchen. "Oh god," she groaned, eyes closing, "no more food! I'm stuffed!" His only response was to chuckle in amusement. Pursing her lips, she muttered, "Don't make me kill you," but there was no heat behind the words.
"Keep your eyes shut," he warned mildly.
Sighing, she did as he asked. "Dammit, Kaidan, no more, okay? Seriously, I couldn't -"
"Put your arms out," he instructed, his voice nearer this time.
Obediently, she did so ... and squeaked in surprise, eyes flying open, as he dropped something into her hands. "What ...?"
"Happy birthday," he told her simply, moving to retake his seat on the couch.
Micah stared at the present in her hands, turning so she could face him. Offering him a somewhat shy and bemused smile, she still could not hide her excitement as she eyed it. When had been the last time she'd become this excited over a birthday gift? Not since her father had died, that much was certain. "Kaidan, you didn't have to get -"
"I wanted to," he told her. The easy smile he offered helped her nerves to settle somewhat. "It's just a little something," he added casually.
After another moment in which she simply sat there staring at the wrapped package, he teased, "You know, the paper comes off ... the gift is inside."
Micah rolled her eyes, but he'd brought her out of her thoughts at least. "Right," she murmured, fingers moving to tear the paper off. Beneath, she found a box about the size of a shoebox. Frowning, she worked one end open, wondering if he'd bought her a pair of shoes or something ... "Oh!" Hand sliding into the box, Micah felt something soft and furry. Pulling the item out, she quickly realized what it was. "Oh, Kaidan!" she breathed, a soft smile forming at her lips. "He's adorable!"
Okay, he thought, so a teddy bear might have been a slightly ridiculous idea for a present, but no one would ever be able to successfully convince him of that upon seeing her reaction to his gift. The moment she had it out of the box, she held it before her in both hands before laughing in delight and hugging it. He found it slightly amusing that someone as dedicated to becoming a soldier as she was could fall into such peals of delight over something as simple and silly as a child's toy. "I'm glad you like him," he finally returned, unable to keep from smiling. Her enjoyment was contagious.
She chuckled softly, eyes rising to meet his. "I do!" she assured him with enthusiasm. He wondered if he ought to be the least bit concerned by the wicked twinkle he saw in her gaze then. "And I have the perfect name for him."
Alarm bells began sounding in the back of his head as he ventured somewhat hesitantly, "You do?"
She nodded and leaned in over him, her voice dropping to an exaggerated whisper as she told him, "Kaidan-bear."
He blinked. "Kaida -" he started repeating before it broke off into a soft groan. "Are you serious?"
Micah grinned, her delight escaping in the sound of her laughter as she nodded. "Completely."
Sighing, he rolled his eyes. "Sounds like a silly name for a bear," he murmured. As he spoke, he kept his eyes upon her. He hoped she wouldn't take that comment badly. He certainly wasn't trying to criticize her or anything, just...
"Well," she challenged, "what would you name it then?"
"I -" Caught completely off guard, Kaidan closed his mouth and gave her a bewildered look. He had absolutely no idea what one should call a stuffed bear. Certainly, as a young child he'd had some, but ... had he named them? What did one call a bear? Perplexed, he glanced over at her, noting as he did that she'd moved back up to sit on the couch beside him. Avenues for potential distraction were now, quite literally, within reach. Perhaps it was time to derail this topic of conversation ... "Ted."
He almost laughed at the look of confusion that hit her then. "Ted?"
He nodded, leaning over towards her, mimicking her earlier behavior as he whispered, "Ted E. Bear." She groaned loudly at his pun, punching him on the arm, and he took that as his cue. Lurching forward, he pinned her back on the sofa, the still-to-be-officially-named-bear falling harmlessly to the floor. He knew he'd caught her off guard when all he heard from her was a sharp gasp, saw her eyes widen as they met his, felt her go completely still beneath him. For a very long moment, he simply stared into her eyes ... and felt as if he was drowning in them. Thing was, he could see that she was doing the same. "Micah ..."
She pulled a hand free and moved two fingers to cover his lips just then. "We'll stay in touch," she whispered fervently, eyes flaring with some mixture of emotions he couldn't even begin to identify. "Meet up when we can. Talk. Send messages."
Kaidan nodded and replied around her fingertip blockade, "Get to know each other better."
This time she nodded. "This ... this isn't over," she added. He nodded again. "Not by a long shot."
"Not even close," he confirmed before closing the distance and kissing her again. They might only have a few hours left together just now, but despite that, despite her personal goals, despite everything that he'd thought might conspire against them, it seemed as if she wanted to hold onto hope. The hope that, now that he looked back on it, had been deep in her eyes that first day, months before, in the hospital when he'd stepped forward to offer assistance. If he was truly honest with himself, he knew he couldn't deny her that. After all, she'd proven to him that she could make her dreams happen. So, if she wanted this as much as he did, why shouldn't they try? Why deny themselves the chance? There was no guarantee that it would work, but given her track record so far, he figured they had a better chance than most to succeed.
A/N: This brings us to an end of Mass Effect: Ascendance. Thanks to all who have read and followed this story! This is the first of two background pieces for Micah - the second (Mass Effect: Liberation) will be starting up here soon, but this felt like a good breaking point.
Also a small side note - the reference to "Kaidan-bear" is a bit of a tribute to my nephew, named Caidan, who has had some serious health issues since birth (but is doing much better now!) and has been such a trooper and a fighter through it all. He took on that moniker at a very young age, and given the name similarities with Kaidan, I just couldn't resist bringing it into Micah's story!