His blood was sticky between his fingers, more trickling through with each breath, his hand pressed to his chest. But, collapsed against the bomb, Geth pouring in on all sides, lungs hitching on every inhale, the Normandy sailing away through crystalline skies overhead, Kaidan Alenko never felt more contented. It was the right choice.
He closed his eyes against the hums and whirs of the Geth, the final counts of the timer.
He didn't even hear the detonation.
Sunlight streaming through his eyelids, water lapping at his legs and chest.
Kaidan sat up slowly, shaking his head, dark hair plastered to his skin, dripping into his eyes, shocked to find that not one part of his body ached. Strange, for an explosion, to say the least. His hand swept through warm sand as he shifted.
To his right: endless waves of brilliant cerulean.
His left: a broad beach, as far as he could see forward and behind, gold and white sand, trees of all kinds beyond.
No sign of life.
As soon as he considered that this was certainly not Virmire, he realized exactly where he was.
Honestly, he thought it would look a little more like Canada in summer, or maybe an endless sky with clouds to sleep on, but the color was right, at least, and he was wearing an open robe not unlike those from the illustrations of a book he'd read long ago about salvation, so—two out of three wasn't bad. Well… he had been under the impression that there would be a few other people here, too, so... two out of four. Ok, two out of five—he was thinking something familiar might be more comfortable and found himself suddenly in a favorite Alliance jacket he once owned, and some khaki shorts. It foiled his impression of some kind of dress code.
Maybe all the other people were among the trees, or maybe he was in purgatory. So, two out of—never mind. He opted to stop counting.
Kaidan stood, feeling the sand hot between his toes. There were worse forms of purgatory, he supposed, if that was indeed where he found himself. It didn't quite look like any form of heaven he had ever heard of, you know?
He wondered if people would have to pray him out; it was an old Catholic sentiment his grandmother kept, but he'd never…
Would his crewmates pray for him?
Not even a faint breeze stirred the air. Maybe it only seemed there was air because he expected it.
There was a pain in his chest that felt remarkably like mortal emotion—two out of... damn. He said he wasn't going to do that anymore.
He was glad Shepard went to her. Ashley had a good career started. She'd watch the commander's back.
With nothing else to do, Kaidan walked the beach.
The sun was warm on his head, hair now dry, sand hot beneath his feet, but not unbearable. If it became so, he supposed he could wish up some sandals. Or think up? Imagine? Get a pair, anyway. The breeze off the sea was cool, and Kaidan supposed that only existed because he had questioned its absence earlier. Waves whispered on the shore, but in the distance, the water was flat—eerily so—calm and black and glassy, a slate of onyx beyond the cheerful cerulean waves that brushed his feet. When he had wandered within their reach, he was unsure.
He missed Shepard. He wondered how she and he crew fared, wished he knew what they were doing, if they lived, if their mission had succeeded. With the commander leading there was little they could do but succeed—the cost was what worried him. If Ashley fell after he had…
When had his sacrifice been for her?
Sure, Shepard didn't reciprocate his affections, so no loss there, but… the women had become such fast friends, he couldn't…
You know it's the right choice, Skipper.
He hadn't reciprocated Ashley's affections, either.
What a mess.
The beach's end never seemed closer as Kaidan walked, though he would pass many variations of shells and pebbles washed up on the shore, a large stone here or there rising out of the white-gold grains—at least he knew that he was not simply passing the same terrain over and over again. But there was not a single other soul, no birds overhead, no insects or crabs scuttling over the sand, no silver fish riding the waves—just the sound of water and a forgiving breeze.
Kaidan's memories kept him company of a hollow sort. Memories of places and people he was now sure he would never see again. Things that would be much easier to forget, to leave the pain behind, to wander without care on the beach, sink into the waves.
He could not. It made him restless under the unmoving sun.
He sat close to the water's edge, eyes avoiding the black seas beyond the cheerful waves. He let them lap at his feet, heels resting on the spongy shoreline.
A pebble, oblong and white caught Kaidan's eye and he picked it up, running his fingers along its surface. It was worn smooth on all sides; it would probably skip well, if he had the mind. A black stripe ran through the white stone, glinting in the sunlight. He held it above his head. He imagined it sailing through the sky, silent among stars.
Kaidan rested his elbows on his knees and hung his head between them. He rubbed the stone in his palm. If he was on the Normandy now, he swore he would pay Ashley Williams a visit.
A voice: "Hm. Might get to test those seashells after all."
Kaidan leapt to his feet and rushed down the beach.