title: stuck in reverse
warnings: ANGST! Handicap.
Prompt; In the future, after being together for years, perhaps even marrying and adopting, Shepard’s cybernetics start to, one by one, be rejected by his body. I’d like to see Shepard on medication, the reactions of those he is closest to and, most of all, Kaidan’s worrying. Whether or not this is ultimately fatal or fixed is up to A!A.
AN: Well since I know who the prompt maker is, even if I picked it up on masseffectkink@lj then this is for Owl, and for Enn7 as well. Angst is always good, and I hope I gave you guys what you wanted.
Lights will guide you home
And ignite your bones
And I will try to fix you
And high up above or down below
When you’re too in love to let it go
But if you never try you’ll never know
Just what you’re worth
It was with heavy steps Kaidan walked upstairs, he was balancing a tray with water and pills. Once he had made this trip with breakfast and orange juice in the nude, just to see John’s smile. Kaidan took a deep breath before he opened the door to the bedroom. The smell was sterile and had an undertow of decay, medicine and fear. “John?” Kaidan said with a fake perky tone. “Rise and shine, it’s time for your breakfast.”
Shepard stirred under the covers, and rolled over on his back with a groan. “More pills?”
“I’m afraid so.” Kaidan sighed and sat down at Shepard’s side, placing the tray on the bedside table.
“What happened to naked breakfast?” John chuckled and coughed as he struggled to sit.
Kaidan smiled, genuinely this time. “Just you wait, some day I might surprise you.”
“Like hell you will.” Shepard mumbled and took the glass of pills that Kaidan held out.
“Don’t be stupid.” Kaidan said softly but his smile failed. “Anyway, you need to get your ass into a bath, Marine.” When Shepard just glared at him, Kaidan offered him a glass of water and scooted a little closer, “We’re going to the doctor today, remember?”
“No!” Shepard hit the water glass, it slipped out of Kaidan’s hand and shattered on the carpet. John laid down again and pulled his blanket up over his shoulder, “I told you, no more doctors.”
“John.” Kaidan sighed, “I know you said that, but..”
“Well I bloody well meant it.” Shepard groused, turning his back to Kaidan.
Kaidan nodded, “Alright, no Doctor.” He reached out and gingerly touched Shepard’s shoulder. “Don’t be like that.”
“Like what?” Shepard huffed in childish offense.
“I still believe in a cure,” Kaidan said with a tiny voice, slowly removing his hand from Shepard’s shoulder. “And from the looks of it, I have to have faith for the both of us..” His voice trailed off into silence.
Shepard turned around and looked at Kaidan’s sad face, “We tried everything.” He just stated, taking his lovers hand. “You know that.”
“Still.” Kaidan whispered, squeezing Shepard’s hand hard. “If it were me in that bed, wouldn’t you raise hell to save me?”
“I would.” Shepard admitted. “But you are not me. And my best prognosis is crippled in body and mind.” He struggled to sit again, never letting go of Kaidan’s hand. “And I don’t have that long. So tell me my love, why should we use our last time with pills and hospitals? Why not make some memories to last instead? Some good ones.”
“Because..” Kaidan’s face contorted in pain, it felt like his heart was breaking, “I will never forgive myself if I think there is something we haven’t tried.”
“But we have.” Shepard said, lifting Kaidan’s hand to kiss his knuckles, “Nothing left but quacks and drugs.”
“Don’t say that.” Kaidan said with a voice filled with unshed tears, “Come on John. For me? Please?”
“I am telling you that this doctor will tell you the same as the last onehundered. That they are unsure of why my body is crapping out on me, but it is.”
“You had some of it replaced.. maybe..” Kaidan mumbled.
“Give up Alenko, please.” Shepard said, tugging on Kaidan’s arm to come lay beside him.
Shepard was upstairs in bed watching stupid television. And Kaidan was waiting in the phone patiently. If Shepard wouldn’t go to the hospital, then maybe the hospital would come to Shepard.
“Doctor Wayman here.” An authoritarian voice finally said in the other end.
“Kaidan Alenko here,” Kaidan said, “I am calling you because.. Shepard won’t leave his bed, and.. I was wondering if you could perhaps come here? I know it’s an awful lot to ask, but please? I can pay you.”
Doctor Wayman sighed, “There is no need. I can consult you over the phone if you prefer that.”
Kaidan braced himself and breathed “Yes.” Afraid to hope, but angry at himself for even thinking that.
“I am sorry Major Alenko, it seems like the cybernetics he has is, not only foreign technology, but also an integrated part of him, so much that trying to correct more of it, could kill him.” Doctor Wayman said, “If you need some aid for making the Commander’s remaining time..”
“Don’t say that.” Kaidan sucked in his breath.
“I will prescribe him some heavier nerve medicine, it will help him deal with the facts better.” Wayman said, “Be less afraid.”
“Don’t.” Kaidan sniffled down the phone, he had had so much hope in this new technology, he had dared to hope that everything would be fine, and he would have John Shepard back, not the shell that was wasting away in a bed upstairs.
“What about you Major? Do you need anything to help you sleep?” the Doctor asked, “Or maybe someone to talk to?”
“No..” Alenko tried to stop his crying, “I’m fine.”
“I can hear that you are not.” Wayman argued.
“Th-ank you for your help.” Kaidan mumbled and hung up the phone while the doctor was still talking. He buried his face in his hands and wept in earnest. He hardly reacted to a soothing hand on the back of his neck. Alenko turned his head a little and looked up at Shepard who stood next to him. “I thought you were watching Tv.” Kaidan whispered flatly.
Shepard squatted down and looked up at Kaidan’s tear puffed face. “Don’t cry.” He said, “I’m still right here.”
“I know.” Kaidan managed a little smile.
That night Kaidan had tossed and turned on the couch for hours, when he finally decided to go upstairs. He tiptoed into the room and slinked under the covers, wrapping an arm around Shepard’s much smaller frame. The first thing that had shut down had been Shepard’s digestive system, he had been vomiting blood for days before Kaidan finally had made him see a doctor. And since then they had been stuck in a living nightmare, one where Shepard had to eat something that looked mostly like apple sauce, he would still get vomit spells now and then because of the pills. But Shepard had been pretty adamant about not being hooked up to anything, no matter if it was to feed him or give him medicine. Maybe pills made him feel less sick than injections or intravenous? Kaidan didn’t know, what he ‘did’ know was that Shepard had lost a lot of weight, the man that had been half a head shorter than him, but larger than life. Mostly looked like what he was; a dying man. Kaidan had always found it endearing the way John would have to rise a little on his toes to kiss him, but now it just made him feel sick, like he was a babychick stretching up for food. Once he had loved snuggling against John’s back, but now he was just listening to his breathing, thanking every entity in the universe, that Shepard was even still breathing. And as he wrapped an arm around Shepard, he tried to place it where he would feel less bone.
“Mmm.. Kaidan..” Shepard hummed, running a lazy hand over the arm that Kaidan had around him.
“Shh, sleep.” Kaidan hushed, kissing Shepard’s neck.
The next morning Kaidan woke to a bone chilling scream, he almost went for the gun he had slept with during the whole Reaper deal. “What? what?” He gasped, trying to focus with his sleep-addled brain.
John sat up in bed, stiff as a board. “Kaidan?” He asked with a tiny voice, “I.. Oh God..” He broke down crying, his entire frame shaking.
Kaidan shuffled to his knees and wrapped his arms around the crying Shepard. “What is it?” He asked softly, kissing John’s temple.
“I can’t..” He sucked in breath and trembled again, “See anything.”
“What?” Kaidan gasped, grabbing Shepard’s head with both hands and forced John to look at him. “God, John..” He just stared at Shepard’s eyes. They were unseeing, but large and frightened none the less, with a sheen of white, like if all tissue had died and all nerves cut off. “How..” He croaked, finally finding his voice, “How did this happen overnight?”
“I don’t know.” Shepard whined, still breathing panicky quick puffs of air. “It’s my brain, Kaidan, even I know that.”
“Maybe it’s just some nerves to your eyes.. you’re no doctor.” Kaidan argued, knowing that Shepard might be right. “Lay down, I’ll fetch your pills and call the hospital, okay? You’ll see it’s not what you think.”
“No..” Shepard’s voice was thin and begging, “Stay.”
“Of course.” Kaidan whispered, wrapping his arms around Shepard’s still trembling frame.
“What if I never get to see you again?” Shepard whispered with a thick voice, clinging to Kaidan for dear life. “I don’t care for ocean, strange planets and sunsets with five suns. But it terrifies me to know that I can’t see you. What if I forget what you look like?”
“You won’t.” Kaidan whispered with a little smile, “Someone once told me that I had an everlasting appearance, and ethereal beauty.”
“Don’t make fun of me.” Shepard argued, but couldn’t help but to smile. He remembered saying that, and meaning it.
Kaidan eased Shepard and himself down on the bed. “Are you gonna be alright on your own for a moment? I really need to go get your medicine.” Kaidan whispered, not that he ever told Shepard what medication it was, he knew it was not anything that did a lick of differences in regards to his physical form, it was all just to keep him from jumping off a bridge.
“Alright.” Shepard sighed, reluctantly letting go of Kaidan.
Two weeks later Shepard was still blind, but the doctor and Kaidan had at least made him agree to getting his medication as shots and not as pills, and that was about it. Kaidan felt some form of relief in nothing terrible had happened since the sudden blindness. In truth Kaidan had been afraid that Shepard’s brain would shut down leaving him in a vegetated state, and leaving Kaidan with a decision he did not want to be faced with. Not ever. Men like Shepard was supposed to die in battle, not wilting away from cheap cybernetics.
The communication monitor blinked and beeped loudly, which shook Kaidan from his thoughts in the empty kitchen. The sound echoing off the walls just seemed to empathize that this entire place felt like a tomb, and the only thing living there was holding it’s breath to no be seen. Kaidan picked up and walked over to get himself a cup of coffee.
“Kaidan?” a woman voice asked, but the monitor showed nothing but static.
“Yes. Who is this?”
“Jack, you asshole, can’t you hear that?”
“Oh! Jack! Dammit, you are a welcome distraction.” Kaidan could have laughed with joy, just knowing that someone remembered them. Those who had not died in that damn Reaper war. “What is with the static, are you on earth?”
“No.” Jack said, “But I found something that might interest you.” She paused, “How’s Shepard doing?”
“He’s alive.” Kaidan said, not wanting to give the depressing update over a intercom link.
“I know why the doctors can’t do anything.” Jack said with a solemn voice, “Cerberus built him with a self destruct timer, he was only supposed to last till the Reapers were dealt with, one way or the other, I suppose.”
“Self destruct? Wait Jack, where have you seen that?” Kaidan asked.
“I read it, I can wire the files I found to you.” Jack said, “Don’t say you don’t find something when you scavenge old Cerberus holds.”
“So nothing can be done?” Kaidan asked deflated.
“I didn’t say that.” Jack said, “But you’d prolly have to track down Miranda, she is the one that knows more about this than anyone. She supervised the whole project Lazarus.”
“True.” Kaidan sighed, “I have looked for her, but haven’t found anything.”
“Knowing you boy-scout, you probably looked through all the correct channels.” Jack chuckled.
“Yeah, yeah I did..” Kaidan couldn’t help but to smile. “I had just thought that if anyone could find her, it would be through Citadel spies.”
“You’re wrong.” Jack said, “I met this fella, who… okay a long story short, I know someone who might be able to track her down. But I can’t promise you that you’ll get the answers you want.”
“It’s more than I have had for the half year.” Kaidan sighed.
“You look like shit Alenko.” Jack said, her voice soft and compassionate. “Do you get any sleep?”
“You can see me?” Kaidan asked surprised and looked up at the static.
“Yup, the scrambler only works one way.” She laughed.
“Should have known.” Kaidan smiled again.
“I will get back to you when I know something, alright? And go hug the Commander from me.” Jack said, “over and out.” The line went dead. and Kaidan just sat there and stared at the black screen. And the next second he was sprinting up the stairs to the bedroom. “John!” He cheered, “John, wake up!”
“I wasn’t sleeping.” John said in the darkness.
Kaidan turned on the light for his own sake and almost tossed himself at the bed and Shepard. “Jack called.” He said with a smile, “She might know where to find Miranda, and.. she might know something that the doctors don’t.. John, are you listening?”
“I am.” Shepard just said, he reached out in the direction of Kaidan trying to grab him, he ‘knew’ that Kaidan was there, but it still startled him when warm hands enveloped his. “Don’t get your hopes up.”
“Like hell.” Kaidan said, kissing John’s hand, leaning down and kissed John’s cheek.
John turned his face and unseeing eyes in Kaidan’s direction. “Why don’t you ever come sleep in our bed anymore?” He asked, the question was soft, polite and his tone so fragile it made Kaidan look away from his lover. “Am I really that repulsive?”
“No.. it’s not that.” Kaidan said, wishing that Shepard couldn’t hear the lie in his voice. “You just sleep earlier than me, and I have fallen asleep downstairs, on the sofa. That’s all.”
“You are a shitty liar, Alenko.” Shepard huffed, and slumped back in his pillow, turning his blind gaze towards the ceiling. “We don’t have to.. you know, but I miss you here.” Shepard draped an arm over his face, “I used to love watching you sleep.”
“I’m sorry.” Kaidan whispered.
“I know you are.” Shepard whispered not elaborating what he meant, if he knew that Kaidan felt for him, or if Kaidan felt for himself, being trapped here with a cripple, after a long moment of silence, Shepard took a deep breath, “Kaidan? Promise me something.”
“Anything.” Kaidan said laying down next to Shepard, placing a warm hand on top of the covers that hid Shepard’s torso.
“If I have another stroke and wake up and can’t speak, promise me you will put me out of my misery.” Shepard said darkly.
“John, don’t.” Kaidan begged.
“Promise me.” Shepard insisted.
“I promise.” Kaidan sighed.
“I’ve been thinking..” Shepard whispered, “Maybe it wouldn’t be a terrible idea to go to the hospital, that way you wouldn’t have to spend your time caring for me.” Shepard’s fingers searched out and found Kaidan’s hand on his chest. “I feel guilty that you spend so much time here with me.”
Kaidan sighed and kissed Shepard’s cheek, “I love you.” He whispered, thinking to himself that he had to up the dosage of John’s meds.
Kaidan had left John in the tub, and went out into the kitchen to answer the beeping communications monitor. Jack would tell him that she had Miranda on her ship, they had found her and persuaded her to return to earth to help Shepard. And Jack said they would be there the next day with a little luck. the otherwise hopeful conversation was abruptly ended as Shepard called for Kaidan, his voice high pitched and scared.
Kaidan dropped everything he had, he even left the line open and just sprinted to the bathroom.
“Kaidan?” Shepard called, “Kaidan!”
“I’m here.” Kaidan said softly, hoping to soothe Shepard a little. “What is wrong? You scared me.”
“I can’t feel my feet.” Shepard whimpered.
Kaidan dug down into the tub and lifted Shepard out. He hoped and prayed he was right, that maybe he had been laying down for too long and a nerve got caught in his back.
“I can’t do this..” Shepard bawled into Kaidan’s shoulder. “Shit Kaidan..”
“Hey before you panic, lets see if we can fix it with a massage.” Kaidan said feeling like an asshole for downplaying Shepard’s fear, but if he allowed himself to panic as well, it would do no one any good.
Kaidan laid down Shepard on the long haired rug in the living room, and fetched some lotion in lack of better, getting to work on Shepard’s lower back. It was a guess that if it was indeed a nerve that was caught it would be there, but he seemed to remember something about that from some text book he read once in training. “Just try and relax.”
“Hey Kaidan.” Shepard asked out into thin air, “Remember when you bought this carpet? And we broke it in.”
Kaidan laughed a little, “Yes I do.” He took a deep breath and forced his tone to remain light. The man under his hands were a far cry from the man he had made passionate love with in the same rug. His hands didn’t run over taunt muscle anymore, it was more like exhausted skin over bones. “Let me know if you start to feel something in your feet, or if it hurts, okay?”
“Sure.” Shepard closed his eyes in bliss, it seemed like ages since he had felt the weight of Kaidan on him, and felt his hands on his skin. It felt divine, not only the massage, but the intimacy of it. Shepard ran his fingers through the long fluffy fringes of the rug. A melancholy feeling settled in his chest. “Will you..” He mumbled, “Will you ever make love to me again?”
“Whatever brought this on?” Kaidan asked still lightly, inwardly happy that Shepard couldn’t see his eyes water up. “Of course I will.”
“Okay.” Shepard just answered dully, smiling. Knowing that Kaidan lied through his teeth, but it was a good thought, and a nice fantasy that he wanted to keep.
After twenty minutes Shepard felt a slight tingle in his feet. “My feet are itching.” He said, “Looks like you were right.”
“Did you doubt me for a minute there, Commander?” Kaidan grinned, peppering kisses up along Shepard’s bony spine.
“Never.” Shepard lied.
Kaidan rolled Shepard around to his back, and started to massage the blood flow back into his calves and feet.
“Who was on the communications transmitter?” Shepard asked casually.
“Jack.” Kaidan said, “She will be here tomorrow.” His smile widened as John curled his foot when the massage tickled. “Miranda too.”
“Don’t get your hopes up.” John said with a deep sigh, “You know Kaidan, I would never hold it against you if you gave up, this can’t be a life for you. I am a burden to..”
“Don’t ever say that.” Kaidan growled angrily.
The next day Kaidan helped Shepard get dressed, they were going to the hospital because Miranda had said she would need the equipment there. As they walked out the door, Shepard leaned on Kaidan like a drowning man, he had not been outside for the better side of a year, and just going outside was overwhelming. “I got you.” Kaidan said softly, carefully guiding Shepard around obstacles on their way.
“So you really think Miranda is a miracle worker?” Shepard asked.
“I hope she is.” Kaidan said, “It would be foolish not to try.”
Jack and Miranda had thought they knew what to expect from talking to Kaidan, but none of them were able to hide their surprise as Shepard was guided in through the door.
“The last joke from the Illusive man.” She whispered. “He knew this would happen, if Shepard weren’t killed in battle.”
“Fucking cruel.” Jack agreed. And then she smiled and walked over to Shepard, “Shepard!” She said with a chuckle, “It’s good to see you haven’t kicked the bucket yet.”
“It takes more to take me out, Jack.” Shepard said with a little smile. At least Jack smelled of Jack, funny how he had never noticed that till now. Like vinyl, oranges and something else, something Jack.
“Shepard.” Miranda said taking John’s hand, “Let’s get this show on, shall we?” She chose to be professional because she simply didn’t know what to say to her old friend.
Kaidan and Jack was ushered out as Miranda and a team of scientists manhandled John. “How are you?” Jack asked as she walked for the soda machine.
“Scared.” Kaidan said in all honesty, making himself some coffee. “So Miranda wants to do brain surgery, what is there not to be afraid of?”
“You heard her.” Jack sighed, “She might not be able to reverse the damage done, but she can stop it from progressing, she knew exactly what component was the culprit.” She opened her soda with a loud pop in the silent evening hospital.
“The Illusive man’s mystery chip.” Kaidan sighed, “Why have did that not make all her flags go off to begin with? That he wanted to implant a chip in ‘her’ project, that she had no knowledge about.” He looked thoughtful up at the watch on the wall, “I don’t buy it Jack.”
“I know you don’t have a reason to trust Miranda. But Shepard does, and maybe you should trust him?” Jack said with a profound expression before she let herself fall unceremoniously down on a waiting room couch with a unfeminine grunt. “These sofas suck.” she stated.
“Tell me about it.” Kaidan shook his head and walked over and sat down on the couch next to Jack, “So what is best case scenario? What have she told you?”
“Truthfully?” Jack asked, “I think it would be to stop the degeneration of his Cybernetics.”
Kaidan nodded, staring down in the brown fluid in his cup. “That would be a miracle.” He said softly and smiled a little boyish smile.
Jack and Kaidan were sleeping up against each other on the hospital sofa when Miranda came back out the large doors. “Good to see you were both pacing the room, worried.” She said sharply, placing a hand on her hip.
“Oh shove it.” Jack yawned and stretched, “We did pace about like five hours ago.”
“So?” Kaidan asked, nervously rubbing his hands on his thighs.
“I found the chip that I suspected would cause this decay of his nerve system and therefor vital organs.” Miranda said with a little smile and sat down opposite her old team mate and the Spectre. “I suppose he would have planted it there as a failsafe, directly linked with his own vitals, so if he died, Shepard died.”
“But he didn’t.” Kaidan argued, “It lasted several years before the first signs of anything dodgy going on.”
“Maybe his chip was crap, and was fried when the Citadel went supernova, or maybe ‘someone’ sabotaged it?” Miranda said with a little secretive smile, “And before you get any ideas, it wasn’t me, I wasn’t even there when it was installed.”
“But you knew it was there?” Jack asked.
“I did.” Miranda admitted, “I thought it was some sort of master-servant blocker, so Shepard couldn’t harm the Illusive man.”
“Makes sense.” Kaidan nodded. “So what now? Is it gone?”
“It is.” Miranda leaned back in her chair. “There is a catch, I stopped his slow decay, but I can’t fix what is already broken.” She looked sadly at Kaidan, “I can’t repair his eyesight. It’s the chip that destroyed some circuits in his brain, and I wouldn’t know how to.”
Kaidan frowned, “So you rebuilt Shepard from a goddamn mummy, but you can’t restore his eyesight?”
“See you catch on easily, and they say that soldiers are stupid.” Miranda smiled a little motherly, “Fun aside. It took us two years to rebuild him, it would take a very long time to ‘grow’ him a pair of eyes that wasn’t nerve damaged, and then we’d have to assume that something could be done with the tissue damage to his brain.”
Kaidan got up from his chair and started to pace the room, “So if we grew him some new eyes?”
“There is still no reason to believe they would work.” Miranda said flatly. “Picture if you will a computer, if you overclog it, the processor fan can’t keep up, it overheats and the computer fries. It’s much the same thing with Shepard’s brain, we did so much work on it to make it work, to restore it to perfection, memories and everything complete. That I am not sure it’s wise to poke around there and jam in newer components.”
“Just like my L2 implant.” Kaidan sighed.
“Yes.” Miranda said studying Kaidan intensely. “I actually didn’t think there were any of those left. That wasn’t in the loony bin that is.”
“There is.” Kaidan just said sharply. “And no, you can’t poke around in my brain.”
“I’m not about to.” Miranda held her hands up in front of her. And then looked over at Jack, “I believe my job here is done, pay me and get me on the first shuttle off this damn planet.”
Jack rolled her eyes and stood with a groan, “Sure.” She laid a hand on Kaidan’s shoulder, “Go check on John, I’ll be back when I sent this bitch off.”
Kaidan nodded, and turned to Miranda. “Thank you.” He said holding out his hand.
Miranda took it and shook it. “Anything for Shepard.” She winked and sauntered off, leaving a confused Kaidan in the waiting room.
Sitting down in a chair next to Shepard’s hospitals bed, Kaidan tenderly ran his fingers over John’s brow. Machines and tubes all over, beeping and dripping, he didn’t really care what did what, as long as they kept his love alive. “John?” He whispered, “Everything is gonna be fine my love.” He smiled a little happy, hopeful smile, “When you get out of this bed, I will take you dancing, just like old days. They say that blind people dance just fine. And..” He paused and took Shepard’s hand in his, “We won John, you can wake now.”