Sandcastles.

Title: Sandcastles
Author; Azzy,
Artist; Yanjara
Beta; Lisbet, the bravest woman I know.
Pairings: Kaidan/James, MShepard/Kaidan.
Rating: R/NC-17
Genre: slash, angst, romance
Warnings: NSFW smut
Summary: Extrapolation on the destroy ending and beyond. With the Reaper war looming, Kaidan finds himself on uncertain ground in his relationship with Shepard. When the final battle leaves Shepard in a coma, Kaidan has to make a choice: should he wait on a man who may never wake up, or will he find respite with someone else?
AN:
[Azzy]Made for the 2012 Mass Effect Big bang – Thanks to Yanjara who just rolled with it like a pro. Thanks to Lisbet who braved my horrible grammar like always, you are a gem! And thanks to Alishathorn and Erestorjunkie who was my voices of sanity. I put together a playlist of the songs I listened to while writing, if anyone wants to check it out, you can find that here.

Take what you want from me
Take what you can
And then hide it somewhere I can’t see
Out of my hands
Do what it takes to make you feel better
Never forget that you
You’re nobody’s man

Nobody feels the weight of your mission
Nobody can set you free
Nobody knows the way to your fortune
Nobody and least of all…
Me

-Tina Dicow

CHAPTER 1 – Tides that I tried to swim against.

For a long moment, Kaidan sat and stared out into space as it rushed past the window. “We don’t have enough moments like this,” he whispered, knowing that Shepard heard him.

“Like what, Kaidan?” Shepard couldn’t help but grin. “Stuck in the Normandy with nothing better to do than stare at stars, when we should be sleeping?” His words were mocking, but his body language was relaxed — something that was terribly rare these days.

“Something like that.” Kaidan sighed, then turned to look at Shepard at his side. He looked horrible. There were dark rings under his eyes and he had surely lost several pounds. Nothing left but skin and muscle — whatever pudge he had put on as the Normandy had been docked was gone. “When this is over -”

“Don’t,” Shepard said in a clipped tone, looking away from Kaidan and walking over to his desk and picking up a data pad, pretending to read it.

“John,” Kaidan whined slightly accusing, “You can’t ignore it forever.”

“It’s just…” Shepard put the data pad down with a defeated sigh. “I know you want me to paint you a pretty picture of us getting married, having a bright future – growing old together.” He paused, studying Kaidan’s face, reading the sadness he saw there. “I can’t promise you that. You know that! Why are you torturing yourself like this?”

“I thought that was what -we- wanted, not just me.” Kaidan huffed, frowning.

“Right, I meant -we-.” Shepard corrected, slightly disconnected. He ran a hand over his buzzed scalp. “What I meant was that I don’t even know if we are going to make it out of this war at all. So what good does talk of a possible future do any of us?”

“I am a soldier, Shepard!” Kaidan exclaimed, crossing his arms over his chest. “I am aware of what our odds are; I know the score! And that is all the more reason to do something today, and not wait until tomorrow.”

“Wait…” Shepard held up a hand in defeat, “I thought we were talking about the future.”

“We are,” Kaidan said, hesitating at first, but then he started to walk closer to Shepard at the other end of the room. He held eye contact with Shepard as he made his way there. “I know we talked about this before, but it’s important to me… I don’t know, I am starting to get the idea that you might not want to -have- a future, at least not one with me in it.”

“Don’t talk bullshit like that,” Shepard said, his annoyed expression fading away, to be replaced by one of empathy. “It’s not that I don’t want to marry you, it’s just-”

“Just what?”

“What if, what if.” Shepard stopped and placed his palm against Kaidan’s cheek instead, “What if in the end, it doesn’t matter?” 1

Kaidan closed his eyes, leaning slightly into the caress, “It will always matter. To know that you are mine, only mine.”

“I already -am- Major Alenko.” Shepard teased, “And I wouldn’t have it any other way.”

Kaidan opened his eyes and looked up at Shepard’s smile, “I know that, but – ”

“Why do you put so much into a little trinket like that?” Shepard asked with a little sigh. “If it’s the wow that is important, I will give you that.” He dropped unceremoniously to his knees with a thud, and reached for Kaidan’s hands. “I promise you that I will always be yours,” He smiled with a little quirk, “For better and for worse.”

“John…” Kaidan mumbled, not sure if he should be happy or upset. “Why do you have to make fun of me?”

“I’m not,” Shepard said, slowly rising to his feet again. “I mean every word. Only difference is that I have no need to throw a party or wear a ring.” He swept Kaidan off his feet, kissing his lover as Kaidan wrapped himself around Shepard, melting into the promise of more, efficiently silenced in his request once more as Shepard made a bee-line to the bed.

~*~

Hours later Kaidan woke suddenly. Rolling over in the bed, he looked at Shepard, who was just staring off into nothing. “Hey,” he said softly, running a hand over Shepard’s arm to shake him from his gloomy thoughts.

“Sorry,” Shepard mumbled and turned his head to smile at his lover. “Can’t sleep.”

“What’s on your mind?” Kaidan asked, smiling back as Shepard placed a hand on his hip, pulling him closer again.

“War, death, the end of humanity, and you – the usual suspects.” Shepard grinned to take the sting of the truth in his words.

“All that belongs to tomorrow.” Kaidan said, popping up on an elbow, looking down into Shepard’s harrowed face. “Tonight you only have to worry about me.” He laughed a little, kissing his lover’s lips softly, lingering just long enough to drive home his point.

Shepard didn’t say anything, he just wrapped his arms around Kaidan and pulled him down over him.

“Maybe we should catch some sleep,” Kaidan whispered, torn between what he really wanted and needed, and then what he knew was best for them both.

“I’d like to see you try,” Shepard whispered back, wrapping a long leg around Kaidan’s thigh, forcing him down between his legs so he could hook his other leg around Kaidan too, pinning the other man efficiently down between his legs.

“But you’ll be sore,” Kaidan whispered, kissing Shepard’s jawbone from ear to ear, surprised to feel himself grow hard against Shepard’s inner thigh. “Maybe we should -”

“Kaidan,” Shepard said with his best no-bullshit voice, “shut up.”

Kaidan lifted his head up and looked down at his lover. He looked so beautiful like this, short of breath, hot and bothered. There was something in his eyes that Kaidan couldn’t quite pinpoint. Fear, maybe? But Shepard was never afraid of anything! He was the rock that everyone leaned on. Even now, as Kaidan lay naked in his arms, he needed to know that everything was alright, that they were okay.

Shepard blinked and licked his lips. “Fuck me,” he whispered.

“But…”

“Do I have to repeat myself?” Shepard asked, a little amused and a little annoyed.

Kaidan laughed softly, “Aye, aye – Sir.” He reached for the bed’s headboard, remembering that he had abandoned the lube there somewhere. He caught it between two fingers and pulled it back. Shepard let go of him as he moved back to sit on his knees, between Shepard’s legs. He looked down at the man in front of him, scarred, bruised and absolutely breathtakingly beautiful. “I love you,” he said out of nowhere, squeezing lube out into his hand. And as he slowly pushed inside Shepard, he couldn’t help but feel sad, a strange feeling of impending doom. What if he were never to see John like this again? What if he never got to hold him, kiss him, tell him he loved him… It was a very real possibility, and they both knew it.

Shepard tilted his hips a little, raising his feet to plant them at Kaidan’s shoulders. “Fuck yeah,” He whispered, pushing back with his hands flat against the headboard. They both knew that this was all about feeling alive, the tenderness would follow. This was how it had always been. And tonight was no exception. To begin with, Kaidan had been a little surprised to find that Shepard didn’t care for foreplay or sweet-talk, he just wanted, or maybe needed was a better word, to feel the loss of control and forget himself for a little while. It was not like Kaidan would argue, he enjoyed sex as much as the next person. Still he felt like something was missing, like some of the closeness was taken away. He was shaken from his thoughts as Shepard pushed harder up against him, urging him to thrust harder.

Kaidan loved the low keening moans that escaped Shepard as he was close to climax, and how he sucked in his breath and furrowed his brows, almost as if his orgasm surprised him every time. Kaidan grabbed Shepard’s waist harder, his hands slipping on sweat slick skin. “I got you,” he whispered, thrusting harder and faster, knowing that it would be both their undoing.

Still catching his breath, Shepard pulled Kaidan close again. “God, I love you,” he mumbled against Kaidan’s temple, kissing him lightly.

~*~

Eventually they had both fallen asleep, but too soon the morning came with its harsh reality. They were at the mass relay that would take them to the Sol system within the hour, and everyone was running around with their head under their arm, trying to make sure that the Normandy and her crew were as prepared as they could possibly be.

Shepard had been locked in the conference room since he had left his cabin this morning, and Kaidan was down at the shuttle bay overlooking inventory, just to make sure. He had tried to raise Jack on the extranet earlier, but he couldn’t get a hold of her, and so he guessed it was better to be in the way at the shuttle bay than elsewhere. And he did not see Shepard until he announced over the intercom that they were about to make a relay jump to reaper infested skies.

Kaidan wanted to go up on the deck to catch Shepard, if nothing else than to hug him. Shepard was not a super romantic fella, but never ever had he once expressed affection in public. Kaidan just figured that he was a private person, because there was no lack of affection when they were alone. He knew that Shepard was not ashamed of who he was, but maybe he had just been a soldier for so many years, that outside his private quarters he didn’t know how to be anything else. But today was not like any other day. Kaidan could feel it in his bones. And today he would do as he felt like, just in case… just in case they didn’t make it. So he got into the elevator and rode it to the main deck.

They had all known what they arrived to, but they were all in shock to see the massive battle, fires on earth so big that you could see them from space. “This is crazy,” Kaidan whispered, coming up behind Shepard, who was standing behind Joker in the cockpit, staring out at the destruction.

“It is,” Shepard just answered, not looking away from the horrible scene unfolding outside the Normandy. Not until Kaidan wrapped his arms around Shepard’s waist, leaning his chin on Shepard’s shoulder. Shepard opened his mouth to say something, but instead he just smiled, and rubbed a hand tenderly over Kaidan’s’ folded ones on his stomach. “And we’ll end it today, Kaidan.”

Kaidan closed his eyes, not trusting that he wouldn’t embarrass himself with tears, hearing the tone in Shepard’s voice. He could tell that the Commander didn’t expect them to survive, as there was an undercurrent of regret in his tone. “Yes,” Kaidan whispered, tightening his hold to let it ground him for a moment longer.

~*~

Making it to the FOB had been hard, but now they were here. It was incredible what the Reapers had done to London. The damage to the structure made it impossible to tell what city it was meant to be. There were none of the sightseeing landmarks left, none of those that Kaidan had seen on pictures, at least. He was surprised to learn that both Anderson and Shepard were from here, which also shamed him a little, wanting to marry a man and not even bothering to know where he was from. Maybe he had been too busy talking about his own childhood home to notice that Shepard never talked about his.

As they got off the Hammerhead, they all went their own way, Kaidan making his way from the communications centre to Anderson’s briefing as he saw Shepard walk down the broken pavement in his direction. His lover did not smile, he looked grim and determined, which did not bode well. “John?” Kaidan said, fidgeting with his helmet in his hands, looking down at his feet, but then reconsidering and looking up at Shepard’s worried gaze.

“I’ll make you a deal; when the Reapers are dead, I promise you the wedding you always dreamed of,” Shepard whispered, and to Kaidan’s surprise he looked away as if he knew it was a lie.

“I’ll hold you to that one,” Kaidan said with a little smile. And for the longest time they just stood and looked at each other, neither of them willing to say what they knew they should. Like not saying it made it less real.

“I love you,” Shepard said with a slightly muddled, emotional voice. “You know that, right? Even if I am no good at telling you that as often as I should.”

“I know,” Kaidan said, this throat tightening, making it hard to swallow. “I love you too.”

“And that is why -” Shepard took a deep breath, apparently having to brace himself for this, “I don’t want you on my team today, I want you to stay here and defend the forward operating base.”

“What? No!”

“Please, Kaidan,” Shepard begged, resting his forehead against Kaidan’s. “Please, please understand. I don’t think -”

“I don’t care,” Kaidan whispered, caressing Shepard’s cheek with a gloved hand. “It’s war, people die, hells we might even die, but my place is at your side.”

“No,” Shepard breathed.

“John, don’t do this to me. I am going with you, no matter if you want it or not!” Kaidan pushed Shepard away to glare at him angrily. “You can’t just tell me to stay here, you bastard!” Kaidan could feel that hot, angry tears were ridiculously close, but he refused to come off as weak. “You fucking well know that your odds are bad, really bad – John! And you’re asking me to stay here instead of fighting with you, I’m sorry but I just can’t do that!”

“Kaidan…” Shepard begged again, “Please. It would give me peace to know that you aren’t harmed.”

“Screw that!” Kaidan argued hotly, “We’re all in harm’s way, in case you haven’t noticed. And I would rather be in harm’s way with you. Don’t deny me that, John.”

Shepard looked conflicted for a moment, opened his mouth to say something and then closed it, “Kai-”

Kaidan ignored it and pulled Shepard in for a kiss. He could feel the Commander tense, probably both because they had argued just seconds before, and because they were in plain view. But soon Shepard lost himself in the kiss, wrapping his arms around Kaidan to pull the other man even closer.

As they pulled from the kiss, Shepard sighed. “Okay,” he just mumbled. “Have it your way.”

Not really feeling like it was a victory, Kaidan just nodded, reluctantly letting go of Shepard as he pulled back. Watching him as he left, it felt unreal that this might be the last time they would hold each other. No, they fought too hard for this, they would have a future – they had to!

~*~

Kaidan shot James a worried look that was returned. They were hiding behind what Kaidan assumed used to be a convenience store. Now it was just reduced to rubble. They were goddamn everywhere, buzzing, screeching. Kaidan was tired, his head hurt like a mother and he was ready for this to be goddamn over. James scooted a little closer. “Alenko,” he said, “Are you okay?”

Undoing his helmet, dropping it to the floor, Kaidan took a deep breath of the dusty air. “I’m fine.” He smiled a tired smile at his brother in arms. “I just needed some air,” he said, ignoring how his hands were shaking until James grabbed his wrist hard.

“You are not okay at all,” James sneered, not as much angry as frustrated. “The Commander will fucking kill me if you die on my watch.” He peeked around the corner of the shelf, seeing Shepard and Garrus on the other side of the street, fiddling in silence with a control on one of the missile tanks. “You hide here, and take a breather, recharge, or whatever it is you biotics do.” He smiled, “I got your back, Major.” And with that, James inched around the corner of the shelf, leaving Kaidan alone.

Kaidan took some deep breaths of air, hearing the gunfire pick up speed. He heard Shepard yell, “Where’s Alenko?” – He didn’t hear James answer, so he just assumed he would sign something across the street. His shaking was less than before, which was good, but he was beginning to think that Shepard had had a valid point when he had wanted him to stay behind. Maybe he had been an idiot coming here. He knew that no matter how strong a biotic he might be, a constant onslaught like this would drain him dry, and fast. But this was no common battle; this was not just pirates at the citadel, or Cerberus on some backwater planet. This was Earth, and this was -it-, and John was depending on him. Slowly Kaidan got to his feet, and as he slowly made it around the corner of the shelf, he saw to his horror that James and Shepard were trying their hardest to fight off the Cannibals who were just about to flank then, due to their vast numbers. Garrus was running around the tank to get a good shot in at a Banshee that was advancing as well.

“Push the button!” Shepard yelled, and when James didn’t react, “Someone push…” But everyone was too busy with keeping the husks off them, and Kaidan was too far away still. Shepard almost tossed his rifle in anger and turned around to try and launch the last two missiles against the Reaper who was guarding the beacon to the Citadel.

Kaidan almost stumbled as his headache came back with a vengeance, but he didn’t have time for that! He could see Shepard’s knees buckle as he took some stray bullets from some incoming Cannibals, he could tell that Shepard was grinding his teeth to stay focused. “I got you!” Kaidan groaned, using everything he had to make a shield around them, keeping the husks out. He knew it wouldn’t last long; his head was pounding too badly. “You better hurry.”

“Thank you.” Shepard said, wasting a precious moment to turn his head and smile at Kaidan, before he returned to the task at hand, launching the missiles. “Hang on, everyone,” Shepard yelled. “Anderson and the remains of Hammerhead are on their way.” He pushed the button on the missile launcher. Kaidan almost didn’t dare to look, but he couldn’t help but to turn his head and watch the missiles on their way toward their target. As they didn’t deflect but hit directly where they were supposed to, he grinned like a loon. Maybe, just maybe they’d be alright.

“They’re here!” James hollered, waving at the convoy.

Kaidan finally let go of his barrier, growling in agony as his headache intensified. He pressed the heels of his hands against his eyelids, but it just made him see stars, it didn’t lessen the pain. He could hear a voice far away calling his name. Strong arms lifted him up. He didn’t dare to let go of the pressure against his skull, but as he leaned closer he recognized the scent, gun grease, sweat and something like ginger. Shepard. He wanted to say something, but all he could manage was a pained whimper.

James grabbed Garrus and helped him aboard one of the convoy’s vehicles. “You’d do more good here,” James said with a little grin. “That alien motherfucker got your leg good there, Turian.”

“Yeah,” Garrus sighed, frustrated, lifting his injured leg over the threshold to the seats. “I could still kill those assholes blind, with one arm.” He laughed. “Don’t count me out just yet there, soldier.”

James laughed a little too. “I’ll tell Shepard where you are. And that you are okay.” He looked over his shoulder at Shepard, who was fussing over Kaidan, while Anderson briefed him on the battle plan to the beam. “You think Kaidan will be okay?” James asked casually, looking back at Garrus.

“He’s tough as nails, kid. He’ll be fine, he just needs a painkiller and some water.”

James squinted his eyes. Something told him that Garrus was lying, but it was hard to tell from a Turian’s facial expression. “Alright.” He just nodded. Banging the side of the car twice, he smiled at Garrus. “Kill ’em all, Soldier.”

“Damn straight! Kill ’em all.”

~*~

Kaidan could finally focus again, smiling sedated at Shepard. “I’m sorry,” He mumbled.

“For what?” Shepard asked, leaning forward, resting on a knee. “You saved us all.”

“Yeah… yeah maybe I did.” Kaidan laughed hoarsely. He struggled to get to his feet, leaning against the car. “Just give me a moment,” he said softly. “The headache is lifting.”

“Sorry to tell you, Major, but we don’t have a moment,” Anderson said.

“Anderson, would you take him with you?” Shepard asked, wrapping an arm around Kaidan’s waist to guide him to the vehicle that Anderson was driving.

“No!” Kaidan yelled, pushing Shepard away. He turned around and glared at the Commander with a frown. “I told you, you are -not- leaving me behind.”

“Kaidan, would you please be reasonable?” Shepard asked, slightly surprised to have been pushed away like that.

“No,” Kaidan repeated. “If I ride with Anderson, so do you.”

“Kai-”

Kaidan held up his hand to shut Shepard up. “Then I take point with you.”

“We gotta move,” Anderson cut in. “Are you coming with me, Major Alenko?”

“No,” Kaidan said again, shaking his head lightly. “I’m gonna take point with John.”

“You’re crazy,” Shepard sighed.

“Maybe.” Kaidan shrugged as they walked down to the front of the convoy. “But you wouldn’t want it any other way.”

Shepard smiled again, one of those warm little smiles that spoke more than any words. “You’re right.”

~*~

It was easy to lose focus as they finally broke free and made a mad dash toward the Citadel’s beam. Husks, Cannibals, Banshees, Brutes… they were everywhere, and while Kaidan’s headache might have been chemically reduced, his body was still screaming for rest. He tried to focus on Shepard’s back, determined not to lose him. They had to make it to the beam, and it had to work! John believed it, so Kaidan chose to believe it too. He saw James stumble out the corner of his eye, and get on his feet again, clutching his side. It didn’t change his pace of running or gunning, for that matter. Maybe this was what had made the Protheans extinct, the sheer pressure of constant fighting. No one could keep that up. Not even Shepard.

Kaidan didn’t see the vehicle that spun through the air. He heard James yell ‘look out’ and then he looked up but it was too late. The ton of heavy deadly metal hit him, knocked him back. He could hear his own scream on top of the shooting and the distant explosions. He couldn’t move his arm, and his entire left side felt like it was on fire. Was he still screaming?

James and Shepard got Kaidan in hiding behind the hulk of another vehicle; Kaidan turned his head, dazed, and looked at Shepard’s wide frightened eyes. Why was he frightened? “What are you doin?” He slurred.

“He’s calling the Normandy,” James said softly, placing a hand on Kaidan’s left shoulder. “I’m gonna get you there, don’t worry.”

“John.” Kaidan frowned again, “Don’t.”

“No, Kaidan,” Shepard said, squatting down in front of Kaidan. “This time you have to do as I say.” His voice was filled with a desperate plea. And Kaidan had to admit that he felt weak and under different circumstances would have welcomed the chance to leave the battlefield.

Kaidan reached out with his right arm and grabbed a gun that was lying on the ground; the soldier who had dropped it probably didn’t need it anymore. He held it tightly and tried to push off the car wreck. James stopped him with an arm across his chest. “He’s right; you’re in no shape to fight, Alenko.”

The Normandy came into view and Shepard pulled Kaidan to his feet, hauling him toward it, across the battle field. James ran up first to help Kaidan in. The soldiers on deck were busy with counter fire, trying to keep the trio on the ground from getting shot. Shepard looked up at James and pushed Kaidan up with so much force that he stumbled into James’ waiting arms. “Make sure he is safe, Vega.” Shepard yelled over the noise of the battle.

“What? Wait! No!” Kaidan argued, and struggled for a brief second in James’ hold.

Shepard reached up and caressed Kaidan’s cheek, smearing it with more blood. “When this is over – I’ll be waiting for you.”

Kaidan bit his lip not to let out the sound he felt. “Don’t do this, John, I am begging you.”

“We’re soldiers, Kaidan,” Shepard said with a little sad smile. “What was it you told me? You knew the score.”

“That was just words!” Kaidan argued, placing his own hand on top of Shepard’s and pressing it against his own skin. If it weren’t for this crushing headache and the pain in his side… – He took a long shuddering breath. “You better be there.”

“For you? Anything,” Shepard said with a smile, but his eyes looked empty and dead.

“Promise me!”

“Go!” Shepard yelled, pulling his hand back, watching as the Normandy lifted higher in the air. “Go! Dammit!”

Kaidan turned in James’ arms to watch as Shepard continued his mad run toward the beam. He sucked in his breath as a close beam made Shepard loose his footing, but seconds later he was up again and unharmed. Kaidan didn’t want to say anything, but just let James guide him to the medbay. He knew what this was, this was John saying goodbye.

CHAPTER 2 – For a thousand reasons that I know.

When the sky lit up, and the Reapers dropped out of the sky, Kaidan was out cold. Liara was hovering over him checking his vitals.

“Is he gonna be okay?” James asked as he awkwardly stepped through the door to Liara’s makeshift hospital room.

“His body will mend just fine, if that is what you ask.” Liara said with a tiny hint of a smile. “But it’s not, is it?”

“Yeah, yeah actually it was,” James nodded as he looked down at Kaidan who looked terribly fragile, like the mortal man he was. Still in what remained of his uniform after Liara had mangled it to attempt to mend his injuries.

Liara just nodded. “Have they found Shepard yet?”

James just shook his head. “I don’t know what to think.” He looked up at the young Asari. “You think he might have blown up with the Citadel?”

“Don’t even -think- that!” Liara gasped.

“What do you want me to think?” James said in a somber tone, sitting down on a rundown chair next to Kaidan’s bed, looking up at Liara. “Last I saw him -”

Liara slammed her clipboard down into a table to shut up James. “He is out there somewhere, I know he is!”

“What?” James leaned forward, leaning his elbows on his knees. “Lost in the rubble?”

“Well then you better get your ass out there and look for him, Vega.” Liara barked, frustration rolling off her in waves.

“I was going to,” James said softly, looking down at Kaidan again. “I just wanted to check on Alenko before I went out there.” Liara didn’t look convinced, and James continued, “The last order he gave me, was to look after Alenko, and I intend to do that.” He looked up at Liara again. “Or is that a problem?” He said with badly hidden sarcasm in his voice.

“No, of course not,” Liara sighed. “Come on, let me see that bandage of yours before you go.” She gestured for James to stand. He pulled up in his shirt, letting Liara prod the bandage. “You’re lucky it went through,” she mumbled. “You’re good to go, no excessive bleeding or anything – Are you feeling fit Lieutenant?”

“Yes ma’am,” James said, squirming slightly because the light touches of her fingertips tickled.

“Alright then.” Liara stood back up and smiled at James. “I’ll look after Kaidan; you go find Shepard.”

“Will do,” James said grimly, pulling down his shirt and leaving the clinic with a last glance at Kaidan.

~*~

James was amazed over the destruction of the city, and vaguely wondered if the rest of the world looked like this too, as he walked over rubble, searching for anyone still alive. He came across a half dead husk which he shot dead without a thought. Stopping, he looked over what had once been streets, now covered with dead soldiers and Reaper controlled bodies everywhere. He was on the search and rescue mission, and he did not envy those men who would pull the dog tags off dead bodies, no matter how mangled, and pull them to a giant fire. Everyone wanted to bury their loved ones right, but the world was upside down, and there was no time, there was just too many dead littering the streets. Also the odds were slim that they had any next of kin still alive. He sighed and pulled his shirt up over his mouth and nose. The smell was horrible. Burned flesh and what could have been rubber or plastic. James walked on and poked some soldiers on the ground with his rifle. They were all dead, and they were not Shepard.

“There is one alive over here!” one of James’ fellow teammates yelled, attracting the rest of the search and rescue unit.

James ran over there as fast as he could, still holding his shirt over his mouth. He didn’t dare to hope but as he looked around it was close to where the Normandy had picked up Alenko and himself, so maybe? Or maybe it was Garrus, whom they had yet to find, too.

“What’s your name?” The search and rescue unit soldier asked, holding a pale limp hand in his, waiting for the others to pull off the rubble and junk. “Can you squeeze my hand, soldier?”

The soldier who held the hand from the rubble pile looked up at James, “There is a pulse, but either he can’t speak or he is out.”

“Keep trying.” James said, walking around the debris and helped pull it off. A couple of minutes later the Soldier’s head and torso were free, and James didn’t know if he should laugh or cry. “It’s Shepard,” he cheered. Turning to his team, he barked, “Get him the fuck out of there! Now!”

Finally, after more than an hour’s hard labour they were able to pull Shepard from his involuntary grave. James kneeled down and checked him over. “We have to get him to the FOB clinic, ASAP.” He looked up at his team mates. “What?”

“Well,” a team member said, “he’s more dead than alive.”

“So?”

“Well, it’s just..”

“When I want your opinion, I will be sure to let you know. Thi,s however – is not one of those times.” James snorted, secretly amused that he sounded like goddamn Alenko. He looked down at Shepard, “Hang in there, man.”

A stretcher was set down on the ground next to them, and Shepard was moved over to it. They had no oxygen or bandages, so the unit just had to hurry back with the injured to the forward operating base, and hope that the doctors there could do something for them. James grabbed the foot end handles of the stretcher and carried it with the other soldier as fast as they could through the treacherous landscape.

~*~

James had not meant to fall asleep, he didn’t even know he had dozed off until someone shook his shoulder gently. He raised his head, wiping his mouth with his sleeve, blinking to focus. “James?” Kaidan asked with a meek voice.

“Kaidan.” James rubbed his face to wake. “You’re up and about.” He opted for a smile. “That’s great!”

Kaidan just sat down opposite James at the table. He was sure he looked as worn as he felt, he could tell from the way Vega studied him carefully. “I hear you found John.”

James nodded, “We did, he was buried in rubble not far from where we left him.”

“I see.” Kaidan sighed, “No one tells me anything.” He locked gazes with James and hesitated before he spoke again. “Is, is he..?”

“No,” James smiled, inwardly cursing whichever asshole didn’t give Kaidan the most basic information about the situation. “He’s alive.” James paused, “But he is not.. uhm.. awake.”

“He’s in a coma?” Kaidan asked surprised, “Why didn’t they tell me?”

“Yes, I think that is what they said. And I don’t know.” James looked out the window on the dark city outside. “When we found him, he was breathing, he had a pulse, but we couldn’t wake him or make him answer.” He scratched his cheek, feeling stubble. “But if he fell from the Citadel, it’s a miracle that he is alive at all.”

Kaidan let out a long sigh. “Only Shepard could pull that off.”

“You’re probably right,” James said. “And even if he didn’t fall that far, he was buried under a large amount of rubble. It would have killed anyone else.”

“Right.” Kaidan stood with a wince. “I need to see him.”

“Hey,” James said, following Kaidan with his eyes. “I know where he is, want me to take you there?”

Kaidan nodded sadly.

“Liara might tear you and me both a new one, just saying,” James said with a little smile as he got off the chair, offering his arm to Kaidan, who limped in obvious pain.

“Screw her.” Kaidan mumbled under his breath, accepting James’ help as they huddled down the corridor of the dark building.

Kaidan was completely at a loss for words when he finally stood at Shepard’s bed. He looked hurt, mangled and dead. He shot James a wary glance before he left the other soldier’s side and walked over to Shepard in the bed. “You idiot,” he whispered, “you made it. You did it, how about that, John?”

James shifted awkwardly in the doorframe, not sure if he should leave, but also not sure if Kaidan would be able to make it back to his own bed alone. “I’m gonna find you some crutches,” James said just loud enough so he was sure Kaidan heard him. Still it felt like he was yelling out in the tense atmosphere of the silent room.

“Sure,” Kaidan answered, not really interested. All he cared about was the shallow breathing that he heard. He placed a hand on Shepard’s chest. It felt alien and wrong, thinking about all the times he had placed his hand here in the past, feeling the muscles flex under his hand. Now it was like touching something dead. Even his body heat seemed colder than normal. “You gotta wake up! I’m here now. John, please?”

James had returned from his aiding-the-handicapped mission. He walked silently over to Kaidan’s side and placed the crutches up against the side of Shepard’s bed. “If you want me to, I can try and find a pillow and something, so you can use one of the other beds down here,” he offered in a whisper, careful not to touch Kaidan’s shoulder.

“That would be…” Kaidan swallowed a lump. “Thank you, James.”

“It’s nothing,” James said, hoping that his sadness wasn’t audible in his voice. “I’ll be right back.” He walked out again, secretly relieved that he didn’t have to stay there. “By the way, Alenko,” he turned around in the door, “are you hungry? I could see what I could find for you.”

“You don’t have to mother me, Vega,” Kaidan sighed, resting his forehead against Shepard’s flank, running his hand over his lover’s limp one.

“I know,” James said, “but are you hungry?”

“No. I’m fine.”

~*~

James had found a pillow and a blanket, but had gone up to the clinic to see if he could find some protein bars or something. He wasn’t sure when Kaidan had last had something to eat. “Vega?” Liara called, stopping James dead in his steps. “Yes?” He turned and shot her his most innocent smile.

Liara wasn’t impressed and just stared at James. “Have you seen Kaidan?”

“Yeah.. actually I have,” he admitted hesitantly. “He’s down with Shepard.” James looked away and squirmed from Liara’s angry glare. “I sorta took him there.. ma’am.”

“Have you lost your goddamn mind, Vega?” Liara argued angrily. “He should be up here where I can keep -”

“With all respect, I think he’d rather be down there,” James said, clutching the pillow and blanket a little closer. “I’ll look after him, I promise.”

“I’m not sure I think that is a good idea,” Liara sighed. “He should worry about healing, not use his energy on worrying about Shepard.”

“He’s gonna worry about Shepard no matter if here’s here or there. You know that.” James shrugged. “At least this way he won’t have to scale those stairs on crutches every hour.”

Liara nodded. “Okay, okay.. But you tell him that he needs to rest! Or I’ll come down there and knock him out myself.”

“I will.” A big genuine smile spread on James’ lips. “Thank you.”

“You need rest, too!” Liara scolded him lightly. “And food.”

“About that…”

“There is some stuff here,” Liara said and turned back through the door from which she had come, returning with her hands full of standard issue earth alliance protein bars. “Better than nothing, right?”

“Absolutely,” James said with a nod, holding out his hands to receive the bars. “Thank you again.”

~*~

A month went by like this, and finally the orders to dissolve the London FOB came. There was nothing more that they could do here, and most of the men were needed elsewhere. James had been handed over the paperwork for the crew which had been aboard the Normandy. No one had heard from them since the Citadel blew up, and they were now assumed missing in action. James knew it was the proper procedure, but he couldn’t help but feel a little weird as he read over the papers. Nothing he could do about it, this was a call from the brass. If it were up to him, he wouldn’t give up on the Normandy crew so fast. But dissolving the forward operating base also meant moving Shepard, who over the last 30 days had shown no change. What worried James even more was Kaidan hovering over him every waking hour, like a man possessed. Maybe Liara had been right, that it was a really bad call to let Kaidan stay there. And lastly he also had his own orders in his hand. He was to return to California, from where he had originally signed up. He was going home to rebuild. He wondered if everyone was this lucky, or if it was some bone that had been thrown at him. He walked down the stairs only to meet the team who was responsible for moving Shepard. James was a little in awe of how many there were, but after all he -was- a war hero. “Hey, where is he going?” He asked one of the men.

“San Antonio,” the medical unit member said casually.

“Texas?” James asked confused.

“Apparently it’s not as ruined as other cities. The Reapers dealt the most damage to Houston and Dallas. Our luck, I suppose. But Santa Rosa hospital still stands.” He smiled at James’ worried expression. “He’s gonna be fine. That Asari is going with him.”

“Ah, okay.” James stepped aside as the team wheeled Shepard out, just as deadlike as he had been when they found him, only skinnier and more sickly looking. “Be careful -”

The medical unit member, to whom James had spoken before, placed a warm hand on his shoulder. “We’ll take great care of him, don’t worry.”

As they left, James turned to look inside the room, finding Kaidan sitting in his chair staring into the space that no longer held a bed. “Alenko?” James asked, worried, squatting down in front of the Major. “Are you gonna be okay?”

“I don’t know,” Kaidan admitted sadly. “Why won’t he wake?”

“I don’t know,” James said softly.

“Maybe he’s having a good dream?” Kaidan smiled to himself. “He always said that when this was over, we’d be having drinks on a beach in the Bahamas or somewhere with turquoise water and private beaches.” Kaidan closed his eyes as his smile grew. “Just the two of us, no orders, not missions, no Alliance military… just us.” Kaidan opened his eyes and looked down at James. “Maybe that is where he is, and just doesn’t realise that it’s not true. Maybe he’s happy in his sleep?”

“Come now, Kaidan.” James stood up and took his hand. “There’s no need for that.”

Kaidan didn’t answer, he just hung his head.

“Did you get your orders?” James asked, trying to keep his tone light.

“Yeah,” Kaidan mumbled. “Sick leave.” He looked at James. “I can’t go home, what if Shepard wakes, or … well what if I’m needed. I don’t want to be too far away. So I don’t know, maybe I should go to San Antonio and -”

“I don’t think Liara would let you do that,” James said, knowing he lied, but again, he didn’t want to see Kaidan waste away while sitting around waiting for Shepard to wake, -if- he woke. ‘Make sure he’s safe, Vega,’ went through his head. “You know what, Alenko? You could come with me. I was sent back home to report in at San Bernardino.” He wet his lips, “It’s not so far from San Antonio, like 16 some odd hours to drive.”

Kaidan nodded again, listening.

“So what do you say?” James asked smiling. “You know what? On second thought, don’t think about it, just do it!” He got to his feet. “Grab your crutches, old man, we’re going home!”

Kaidan wasn’t sure what made him get his crutches and just do as James said. Maybe it was because it made sense, and maybe it was because he felt like he had no one else to lean on. Like James was some sort of link to Shepard because he was a friend too. Or maybe he was just really sick and tired of being cooped up in that basement. “Lead the way, Marine,” Kaidan said, opting for a joke, wanting to come off as less pathetic than he felt.

~*~

James’ heart sank when he saw the devastation had reached San Bernardino as well. It was not as bombed out as London, but it was not left unharmed by the Reapers. Kaidan was silent as well, and James made no assumption that he could guess what went through the Major’s head. James turned down a small street and stopped in front of a green door. “It’s here.” He looked from the map to the building. “Let’s hope it looks better on the inside, than this trash heap out here.” He smiled as he put the keycard in the slot on the side of the door. It had taken him forever to make the relocation team understand that he and Kaidan were not a couple, and that he needed accommodation that would fit both of them, preferably in separate rooms. In the end they had assigned him this apartment since the base was full, plus to James’ surprise the fact that he had been nominated for the N17 program and had served on the Normandy, pretty much gave him what he wanted. He chose not to think too much about it. What was important was that they had somewhere to kick off their boots, and maybe Kaidan could find something to occupy himself with, other than thinking too much.

The apartment was high lofted and nicely bright. “Look at that, Alenko,” James whistled. “I think it’s the nicest place I’ve ever stayed.”

Kaidan just looked at James and hobbled past him to look out the living room windows. “It has a nice view.”

“It used to be a beautiful place, this city, I mean,” James said as he joined Kaidan at the window, looking out at the view.

“I’m sure it was,” Kaidan said. “You’re from here?” he asked softly, slightly embarrassed that he never bothered to ask James where he was from or anything.

“Southern California, yes.” James answered cryptically, and then smiled. “What about you choose a bedroom and take a load off your leg, and I will see what I can make of the cans I brought from the base.”

Kaidan inhaled deeply, but didn’t move.

“All right.” James wrung his hands in lack of other things to do. “I’m gonna go be a kitchen wizard with two cans of beans.” He grinned, but as Kaidan didn’t react, he just trotted off into the kitchen and started to pull the stuff up he had brought from the base stock. “Beans with beans. Welcome to the Army, kid.” – When he returned with a plate with food on it, he found Kaidan in one of the adjoining bedrooms. “Here you go, the dinner of champions.” James smiled again, handing the plate with beans to Kaidan.

This time Kaidan couldn’t help but to grin, too. It looked absolutely dreadful, and was going to taste just the same. But he was hungry, and he was still somehow trying to process this whole thing, turning everything in his head till it lost meaning. James turned to leave. Kaidan called after him, “Are you gonna come back and eat dinner with me?”

“Sure,” James said, going to the kitchen and fetching his own plate, returning to the bedroom. He seated himself on the floor and started to eat, wondering what prompted this. Kaidan had barely spoken a word since they had left London.

“James?” Kaidan asked studying the Marine on the floor, with dark brown intelligent eyes. “Why are you so kind to me?”

James coughed and almost choked on his beans. “Uhm… Because you are my friend.”

“Oh please.” Kaidan rolled his eyes. “You and I were never friends.”

“No?”

“No.”

“Well then, because you are the most important person to a friend of mine.” James said, trying to save the situation, but he couldn’t help but to admit that it stung a little that Kaidan so bluntly refused their friendship.

“It’s because he told you to, isn’t it?” Kaidan asked, his voice low and innocent.

“Is this a trick question?” James asked with a little smile, knowing full well that it was.

“Maybe,” Kaidan answered cryptically.

“There is just no winning with you, is there?” James asked, “He asked me to, that’s true, but you are also my squad mate who needs a helping hand.”

Kaidan seemed to accept that answer, and put the plate over on the makeshift side table. “I should contact the hospital and tell them I’m here.”

“You do that.” James stood up and took both plates with him, walking in a straight bee-line to the kitchen. As the dark settled, James was just glad that they had gotten an apartment with working electricity. Apparently large portions of southern California were still without electricity, a gift from the Reapers. He went into his bedroom, which was in the opposite side of the living room than Kaidan’s. He untied his boots, kicked off his pants and pulled off his shirt. Grabbing a towel from his backpack, he aimed for the bath. This was going to be fucking glorious.

Kaidan waited for ever for an answer from the hospital, grateful that no matter the earthly damage, the Reapers had not managed to ruin the communications network, at least not the signal on Earth. Finally someone picked up with a friendly face, Liara. “Kaidan,” she said with a little smile.

“Liara,” Kaidan said offering her a tiny smile back “I arrived at San Bernardino, so I can be there within a day if you need me to.”

“That is great news. You with James?”

“Yes,” Kaidan furrowed his brows, feeling slightly guilty for rejecting the other man’s offer of friendship so quickly, when he had clearly bent the universe to make this happen, for both their benefits. Maybe he didn’t deserve it, but he’d live. “The base here found an off-base apartment we could stay in.”

“Good,” Liara nodded. “It’s good that you have someone to look after you.”

“What about Shepard?” Kaidan asked, almost afraid to know the answer.

“No change,” Liara said. “I promise I’ll get a hold of you straight away if something happens, both for the good or for the worse.”

“When my leg is better, I’m gonna come,” Kaidan said with a determined expression.

“All right,” Liara smiled. “Just focus a little on mending yourself; I’ll look after him, don’t worry.”

“All right,” Kaidan sighed.

“So, where’s James?” Liara asked. “I take it his scars aren’t causing him any trouble.”

“Uhm…” Kaidan looked around and peeked into the living room. “I don’t know,” he admitted. “And he hasn’t complained, so…” Kaidan could hear how lame that sounded, even to himself. “I can ask him.”

Liara just laughed, “You army men just never change.”

“Good night, Liara,” Kaidan huffed, slightly bothered by her ridicule. He was -sure- it was an insult the way she laughed.

“Good night, Kaidan,” Liara said sweetly, and cut the line off.

Kaidan logged off and grabbed one of his crutches and made his way to the living room. He noticed there was a nice TV, nicer than anything he had had before. Probably from scavenging. Actually most of this stuff was probably the property of someone else, someone who had either died or abandoned their things. “One man’s trash,” he mumbled to himself, as he made his way to the TV. Suddenly he heard the sound of the shower. So that was where James had gone.

James heard the TV being turned on, letting out the breath he had been holding. For a second he had been afraid that Kaidan had to use the bathroom or something. James’ entire body was shaking with pent-up sexual frustration. As he stood in the shower working himself toward climax, he couldn’t help but to think that maybe Shepard had not been an idiot, maybe he had seen the say that James had looked at his lover. James had really not wanted to, he would always respect their bond, but somehow his libido has just not gotten that memo. He had tried to take his mind off matters, entertaining flings with crew members and shady prostitutes from the Citadel. But his inner eye always returned to those serious brown eyes, and that goddamn butt he had to parade around. The thought of running his hands over those perfectly shaped cheeks, undid James in the shower.

Leaning backwards on the cold tiles he tried to steady his breath and heartbeat. He had to learn some fucking self control if he were to share an apartment with Kaidan. They weren’t even friends, only squad mates at best, so his secrets would be absolutely an unwelcome addition. “Fucking hell, Jimmy, get a grip, Marine,” he mumbled to himself as he stepped under the spray of water again.

Kaidan was looking through channels, deciding that TV had not benefitted from the Reaper war. James came out from the bathroom, still drying his face. “Your turn.”

“What?” Kaidan looked surprised.

“Don’t you want a bath?” James said with a completely angelic face. “There are clean towels out there, and -”

“I know how to take a bath, Vega,” Kaidan bit him off, undeservingly so, but none the less, he wished that James would quit mothering him. He was a goddamn soldier, a little under the weather – sure. But a soldier the same.

James just nodded. “Let me know if there’s something you need,” he offered meekly, and hurried through the living room. He looked at the clock. Too early to go to bed, but he didn’t want to be stuck in the sofa with Mr. Cheerful. And then it struck him, Kaidan had of course spoken with the hospital, and James had not even thought to ask. “Shit.” What a good friend he made. ‘Yeah right, a friend with ulterior motives,’ his subconscious whispered. He tossed his towel into the corner of his bedroom. He was startled when he heard a scream, and he ran back into the living room. “Kaidan?” he called, but got no answer. “Kaidan!” he called again as he jumped over the back of the sofa to save time. He couldn’t see him anywhere. “Kaidan?”

“Here.” A groan came from inside the bathroom.

James didn’t think twice, he just flung the door open, only to find Kaidan on the floor. Apparently he had slipped on the wet tiles that James had left after his bath, and had fallen on his bad side. “Fuck!” James groaned, hurrying to aid Kaidan to his feet. “Come on. Can you stand?”

“Yeah, I think it’s good.” Kaidan experimentally wiggled his toes on both feet. “I don’t think anything’s broken – again.”

“Gracias a Dios!” James puffed, relieved, easing Kaidan to sit on the toilet. “What if I got a chair and you could sit down and shower? Would you want to finish your bath?”

“James…” Kaidan sighed.

“I’m sorry,” James said a little sheepishly. “I just -”

“That is a really good idea,” Kaidan said, smiling faintly at the other man. “Thank you.”

CHAPTER 3 – I wouldnt wanna be anywhere else but here.

James fetched the chair and Kaidan finished his bath, but all the masturbation in the world couldn’t rid James of the knowledge that he had run his hands over that smooth skin. Even if he had not thought about it at the moment, his brain seemed to have stored the sight away for him to find when he was alone and couldn’t sleep. Otherwise, they quickly settled into a rhythm of some sorts. James would leave in the morning. Usually he would join a team that was in charge of ridding the roads from fallen walls, trees and other debris. Best perk was explosives; he could just never get enough of that shit. James would grin like a 10 year old boy with a matchbox, every time a detonation went off.

He would return to Kaidan sitting around on the couch, and sometimes he had made coffee, which was a pleasant surprise. And every day, James would ask the same question as the first. But today he had borrowed a jeep from base, and thought that Kaidan could do with some air. He hadn’t been outside once, not as far as James knew, at least. He stepped through the door to find Kaidan in his usual spot. “Hey,” James said with a big smile, “how is Shepard?”

“Still the same,” Kaidan said, changing the channel.

“No news is good news, my uncle always said.” James said, sitting down in the sofa, knowing that he was dusty and grimy from work. He had played this conversation in his head one hundred times, and no matter what version he chose, they all sounded retarded. “I borrowed a Jeep, what do you say that we go out somewhere?” He reached for the control in Kaidan’s hand. “We could bring two cans of beans.” He grinned, relieved to see Kaidan chuckle, too. “I was thinking of taking you to Huntington Beach,” James admitted.

“Is the water really warm down here at all times?”

“Absolutely.”

“What are we waiting for?” Kaidan said reaching for his crutch. His leg and hip were much better, and he only needed the crutch for longer walks. He could make it from the living room to his bedroom just fine without it. He walked after James down the stairs and got into the Jeep, and couldn’t help but laugh as he saw the crate there with food and water, even some beers. “You planned this, didn’t you?”

“What if I did?” James gave Kaidan his most boyish grin. “Besides, I wanted to show you how beautiful it is here, all the destruction from the war aside.”

Kaidan smiled and looked up into the afternoon sun, leaning back in the seat as James backed out of the drive.

“That is Los Angeles out there.” James pointed to their right.

Kaidan nodded. “Is that where your unit works?”

“Yeah,” James said adjusting the side mirror of the Jeep. “We’re gonna restore it – eventually.” They drove in silence until James stopped the Jeep at the promenade. “Here we are,” he said, tossing his arms out, “The glorious sight that is – The outside of a room!” He laughed and elbowed Kaidan, who just shook his head, got a grip on his crutch, and followed James down the stairs to the sandy beach.

“Crazy,” James mumbled. “Just 3 months ago, this beach would be filled with people at this hour.” He looked around and saw a mother and child at the edge of the water.

“Did you come here much?” Kaidan asked, trying to keep up with James as he walked down closer to the ocean.

“On occasions.” James’ smile was evident in his voice. “I always loved the sea.”

“Oh,” Kaidan breathed, not wanting to admit that he didn’t know that. The longer he had been James’ roommate, the more he realised that he didn’t know anything about the man. Crazy, really, that he could trust someone with his life, and he did, he had never had any doubt that James would always have his six. But he had never bothered to get to know him. It had been crazy times, that was all he could say. And it was not like he knew any of the other team members better, with maybe the exception of Tali and Garrus. But that was more due to the fact that they had tried to befriend him, not because he had mustered the interest himself.

“What about here?” James asked, setting the crate down.

“Perfect,” Kaidan said with a tiny voice as he eased himself down on the sand.

James sat down and started to dig through the crate. “I got a sandwich with something that ought to resemble lunch meat.” He took another sandwich up and studied it. “And this shit, I don’t even know what is supposed to be,” he laughed. “The mess cook swears it’s all edible.”

Kaidan gingerly took the meat sandwich and the beer that James handed him, while kicking off his shoes the way James did. How long had it been since he had sat by the water and had a beer? He didn’t even remember.

“Kind of reassuring to have a sunset with only one sun, huh?” James said, staring pensively off into the horizo., “When I was a kid, I thought that going out to new frontiers to kill monsters would be the shit.” He smiled to himself, opening his beer. “Funny how I realise that there is nothing better than home.”

Kaidan opened his beer and took a little sip, tasting. “This is good,” he said with surprise.

“Of course it’s good; it’s Mexican!” James grinned.

“You know, John and I talked about getting a house by the ocean when he was done saving the world.” Kaidan smiled bitterly. “I wish he was here to see this; he would have loved it.”

James held his beer up. “A toast to The Commander.”

Kaidan toasted, but didn’t drink. “It seems like a very real possibility that he won’t wake, then what?”

“Then you move on with your own life,” James said in a serious tone. “Find another reason to get out of bed in the morning.”

“Suppose so.” Kaidan leaned backwards, leaning on his elbow, taking another sip of his beer. “I just don’t know where to start.”

“What about maybe coming with me to work?” James said leaning forward resting his arms on his knees. “You could be of use there.”

“I can’t even walk properly.”

“You don’t have to walk to keep a fire going,” James said softly.

“Do you still find corpses?” Kaidan asked, almost afraid to hear the answer.

“Yeah,” James nodded slightly. “It happens, some folks crawled in weird places and died.”

Kaidan put down his beer in the sand, and rested his hand on James’ shoulder. “I’m right here, you know, if you ever need to, you know – Talk about it or something.”

“Thanks,” James said giving Kaidan a sweet smile.

After a long pause, Kaidan sighed, “This is really nice.”

“Glad you like it,” James said emptying his beer, picking up the other sandwich. “I know it’s not exactly English Bay, or Canadian beer, but it will have to do.” Kaidan stared at James for a long while, not sure he heard right. James laughed softly. “I’ve got ears, you know.”

“…How…”

“Shepard told me,” James said with a guilty expression. Not telling Kaidan why Shepard had said or when, because what he had actually said was that he wished that it would come true, that he and Kaidan would someday have that Canadian beer, looking out over English Bay. Knowing that the possibility was low.

“Oh? You guys talked about stuff like that?” Kaidan asked surprised.

“Not really, but sometimes.” James said, crumbling up the paper from the sandwich.

“What else did he tell you?” Kaidan asked, raising a brow, not really sure he wanted to hear this, but he had to ask.

“You mean, about you having the smallest penis he had ever seen?” James asked, trying to hold his poker face, but failing miserably when Kaidan’s expression looked somewhere between baffled and struck. “Just messing with you!” James roared with laughter, falling backwards in the sand, holding his stomach, laughing in tears. “Oh my God, you should see your face.”

“Asshole!” Kaidan slapped James’ arm but couldn’t help but laugh, too.

“Help, help, I’m being attacked by a cripple,” James laughed, which just prompted Kaidan to hit him harder, and in the end James grabbed Kaidan and rolled them over, so Kaidan was under him. “Say uncle!” James chuckled.

“Never.” Kaidan grabbed James’ wrist and tried to turn the situation, pulling James off him.

“You are nothing without your biotics, Alenko!” James laughed, twisting his wrist only to grab both Kaidan’s and pin them in the sand over the Major’s head.

Panting and chuckling, James looked down into Kaidan’s eyes. His smile disappeared as they held each other’s gaze for a long moment. Fun and laughing was suddenly exchanged for awkward silence. James got terribly self-conscious of his position, and for a split second he wondered if he should kiss Kaidan, and what it would be like. Shaking himself from that stupid string of thoughts, he shifted a little and finally looked away. “Sorry,” he mumbled and moved off Kaidan, and scooted back to his own place in the sand.

“James?” Kaidan asked softly.

“I said I was sorry,” James said in a miserable tone, staring off in the horizon. “Maybe, maybe we should get back before it gets dark. I have to work tomorrow – and… Let’s just go.” He stood up and brushed the sand off his pants.

“Hey James,” Kaidan asked again. “Don’t – ”

“Come on, Alenko,” James said, putting on his best smile and picking up the crate. “It’s late.”

Kaidan got silently to his feet and walked after James to their car. They drove home in silence, and as they returned home, James put the empty box out in the kitchen and brushed past Kaidan on his way. “Good night,” he mumbled.

“James, Goddammit,” Kaidan barked. “Don’t be like that.”

“Like what?” James asked innocently, turning around to look at Kaidan in the half light of the living room.

“Do you take me for an idiot, Vega?” Kaidan huffed, tossing his crutch to the side in anger.

James blushed, much against his will. “No,” he said hesitantly. “Just – just leave it alone. Okay?” He turned to escape into his bedroom, when Kaidan grabbed his arm and forced James to look at him.

“James, you’re upset. At least tell me what upset you so much.” Kaidan held James’ gaze and watched him grow a deeper shade of red.

And like a child, James just shook his head, indicating wordlessly that he didn’t want to talk about it.

“Maybe you need to blow off some steam? What about going out in the town with some of the others from the base?” Kaidan said, hoping that James couldn’t read the lie on his face. He knew exactly why James was upset, and he wasn’t sure how he felt about it himself – And just then he had been tempted more than he should have been. He had felt the spark too.

“Good night,” James said, a little more dejected than before, and pulled from Kaidan’s grasp and closed the door to his bedroom, hard. Standing on the other side of the door, with his back against the wood, he let out the breath he had been holding. He -really- had to get a grip! This was not just ‘someone’, he had all the respect in the world for John Shepard, and when he had asked him to look after his lover, James had been proud and worried. He had promised to look after Kaidan, to make sure that the Major was okay. What he felt, what he had done there, was inappropriate. Maybe he should just keep his relationship with Kaidan to a minimum when it came to physical contact. Shepard would never forgive him, and neither would James himself, if he didn’t learn to keep this under control.

~*~

And that was just what he did. James would get up before Kaidan, he would make sure that there were clean towels, something to eat for breakfast, and leave a little note wishing Kaidan a good day like he always did. He figured that if it was him who was immobile, like Kaidan, he would like to know he was wanted there, and not just a burden. Even if he had to admit that Kaidan didn’t really use the crutch anymore, and that he moved much more easily now that his complicated hip fracture was healed. James figured that Kaidan would most probably keep the last hint of a limp for the rest of his life. And maybe there was no need for James to look after Kaidan anymore, but he -liked- to look after Kaidan, even if it now and then pulled his heartstrings. Most of all, he had to admit to himself that he was in love. He knew it could never be, and he knew that it was not returned. But he couldn’t lie to himself anymore, couldn’t hide behind duty, or the role of the caretaker. The sight of Kaidan’s slightly parted lips, looking as if they were inviting a kiss, would just not leave his mind. The picture invaded his every idle moment. And every day he would come home a little later, but he would still ask how Shepard was doing, half way hoping that the man would either give up and die, or wake up and live. Anything to distance himself from this whole clusterfuck without losing face, or regretting his actions for the rest of his life.

This night, however, Kaidan would be waiting for him. James felt slightly guilty when he saw the coffee that Kaidan made had gone cold. “Hey,” James said, same tone and same smile as always, “how is Shepard doing?”

Kaidan looked up at him with unadulterated fury. “Why didn’t you tell me that you were going to be this late? I thought a building had collapsed on you or something!”

“Sorry,” James mumbled. “I didn’t know you were waiting with coffee.”

“Because if you had known, you would have been here several hours ago?” Kaidan snarled back, crossing his arms over his chest.

“I – ” James hung his head defeated. “No, probably not.”

“What the hell is wrong with you?” Kaidan yelled. “Is it something I said? Would you rather I went to San Antonio and stayed with Liara?”

“No!” James shook his head and gingerly sat down on the couch, staring at the offending cold cup of coffee. “I am really sorry, I had to finish something up, and…”

“Just stop, James,” Kaidan growled. “That is bullshit!”

James blinked, knowing how angry Kaidan would have to be to swear like that. His mind fast tracked, trying to find a plausible lie that Kaidan would believe, anything but the truth, really. “I’m gonna make us some new coffee,” James said trying to dodge the situation by busying himself.

“Screw coffee!” Kaidan grabbed James’ arm and stared directly at him. “Talk to me, dammit!”

And like the last time when Kaidan tried to make him talk, James just shook his head.

“Has anyone ever told you that you are a blundering idiot?” Kaidan said, the anger seeping out of his voice. “And a really bad liar for a poker player.” James just looked back up at Kaidan, puzzled. Kaidan had felt the strange dull electricity in the air for weeks. It was so tense that it was almost physical. He had to admire James’ attempt to take the higher road, but they were both just human, and something had to give. The breaking point was really when he realised that he missed James, missed their talks, missed their laughing fits and how they used to be. Kaidan had talked with Liara earlier, and even if he had not said anything, she had noticed that he was sad, and had asked. He didn’t know why, but it all just came pouring out of him. Maybe he just really needed to get it out, to pluck it out of his head and dissect it, analyse it and hopefully understand it. He was not an idiot, he had noticed James looking in on him in the mornings, and sometimes he had tucked the blanket up around him, and once he had even kissed his cheek. And to Kaidan’s surprise, he wished that James would just crawl in under his blanket and – And what? He shouldn’t have these thoughts. He was here, waiting for John, the love of his life, to wake from his goddamn coma. And all he was doing was having indecent thoughts about his caretaker. He hadn’t told Liara that, but he had told her that he was tired of the not knowing, waiting for something he didn’t know would ever happen. And she had told him that she had not wanted to tell him before, but the odds for Shepard waking were slim at best. They weren’t sure how damaged he was, but they weren’t Cerberus and didn’t have the technology or money for any magic tricks. He had thought about her words for days, until he had made up his mind, noting the way that James would dance around him, ever the gentleman, but not his friend, not anymore. He felt a pang of guilt as he recalled the look that James had given him when he had said that they weren’t friends. Funny, really, that it was what he missed the most right now.

“Wha – ” James started to answer, but was cut off as Kaidan pulled him in for a kiss. He knew he should not agree to this, but Kaidan’s lips were just as soft as he dreamt of, and the kiss was just as perfect as anything his mind could conjure up when he was alone. When the kiss ended, James could hear his own thundering heartbeat. Slowly, he opened his eyes and looked at Kaidan. He felt exited and shy at the same time. Funny how Kaidan made him feel like a teenager. “What.. Err.. I mean.. what?”

Kaidan couldn’t help but to laugh at James’ absolutely flabbergasted expression. “What, what?” he teased.

James furrowed his brows and just stared at Kaidan. “Why did you do that?”

Staring at James’ angry eyes confused Kaidan. Why the hell was he angry? Had he really read it all wrong? Had he gone and made a terrible mistake? But he didn’t have time to speak because James answered his own question.

“Why did you have to kiss me?” James hissed. “You shouldn’t have done that!”

“Why not?” Kaidan wondered. “I thought that you wanted to… I’m sorry if I read you wrong, I just -”

“It’s not that!” James got up from the sofa, knocking over the cold coffee in his hurry to get away from Kaidan. He started to pace the room, pinching the bridge of his nose, thinking. “I wanted that, you have no -idea- how much I wanted that… but you are-” He stopped mid-pace and looked at Kaidan with a heartbroken pose. “Not mine.”

Kaidan took a deep breath, feeling horribly guilty for the hurt expression in James’ voice. Here he had just thought it was about having a friend with benefits, and had never thought that it might have deeper roots for James than that.

“I am trying, Kaidan, I really am,” James admitted picking up his pacing again. “I love Shepard like a brother, and no matter what -”

“Shepard?” Kaidan sat up and followed James’ pacing with his eyes, “I love John, but I have to be realistic, and we both know that he might never wake.” He paused, “James, would you please stop that!”

James stopped pacing but was still not looking at Kaidan.

“I felt it, too, that day on the beach,” Kaidan said standing to his feet, slowly making his way to where James stood. “I didn’t sleep when you kissed me in the morning. And don’t punish yourself like that, because I was thinking the same thing – I would have told you if you’d only let me.”

James looked at Kaidan, his face unreadable. He wasn’t sure if he should kiss Kaidan back, or if he should jump out the window. “Are you sure?” was all he could say.

Kaidan smiled, and reached up to caress James’ cheek, which set James in motion. His subconscious still told him it was terribly wrong and that he should not do this. It would only end badly, very badly. But he chose to ignore it as he leaned in and kissed Kaidan again, and this time he took his time to run his hands down Kaidan’s sides, moaning into the kiss as he felt Kaidan’s hands push up under his shirt. They broke the kiss, and Kaidan used the moment to pull James’ shirt up. James swiftly took hold of the bottom hem of it and pulled it over his head, tossing it to the floor. Kaidan ran his hands over the smooth skin, amused at the way that James’ skin would spasm slightly under his touch. Kaidan smiled to himself and with one hand he pulled his own shirt over his head, and the other he used to pull James close again. Even if James’ sudden shyness was adorable, it did raise a question in Kaidan’s head. “James?” he asked, tilting his head allowing James to kiss his way up his neck.

“Jimmy,” James whispered. “You can call me Jimmy.”

“Jame- Jimmy.” Kaidan sighed blissfully as James ran curious fingertips over the wet trail which he had just kissed. “Have you…” His breath hitched as James ran a teasing fingernail down his spine. “Ever… with a… with a guy?” Kaidan’s entire body was listening to James’ touch, and it wouldn’t be ignored for much longer. These pants had to go!

“Maybe,” James whispered teasingly in Kaidan’s ear, running his fingernails down Kaidan’s spine again, if nothing else than because he loved the way his breath would hitch and he would arch his back, pushing up against James. “Years ago, I knew someone.” He didn’t have to say more because he had answered Kaidan’s question, who really just wanted to know if he was a virgin when it came to his own gender. James would maybe tell him the story one day, tell him about Alvaro, but not today.

Everything was fast and flurried, like when you were drunk. Maybe they both needed it like that so, they didn’t have time to stop and think. By the time they hit Kaidan’s bed, James was a shaking mess, seriously worried that he would finish like a teenager by the first feather light touch to his cock. “Wait, wait…” he panted, and cupped Kaidan’s face in his hands, and kissed Kaidan slowly. They were in no hurry, and he didn’t want it to finish too fast. After all, what if it never happened again? No, he wanted a memory to tuck away for a rainy day. Gently, James pushed Kaidan down on the bed and followed, running his hands from Kaidan’s thighs up over his pelvic bone, over his chest and finally resting them on the other man’s shoulders. He really wanted to say something, something that could express the buzz he felt, but all that came out was a weird half-laugh, half-sigh. It was hard for his brain to process the fact that it was Kaidan who was lying there arching up into his touch, his eyes fluttering shut as James ran a testing palm over his erection.

Kaidan wasn’t sure what to expect. He had thought that when James was shy, and maybe didn’t have a lot of experience when it came to another man in his bed, that he would fumble. But it was quite the opposite. Kaidan was quickly reduced to a squirming mess under James’ soft, slow touch. At one point Kaidan had tried to sit up, but had been gently but firmly pushed back into the mattress while James took his sweet time worshipping every damn inch of his skin. It was delicious, and something he didn’t quite know how to deal with. His moan vibrated in his entire chest as he finally felt soft lips ghost over the tip of his rock hard erection. “Oh yes,” he mewled, sounding very undignified, even to his own ears, but he was not beneath begging, not if it meant that those delicious lips would return.

James wasn’t really sure if he even remembered how to do this right, but he could hear Kaidan’s breathing, and when a hand found its way to his neck, urging him on with an erratic caress, he knew he was doing something right. “Jim – Jimmy.” Kaidan moaned, “stop.” – James could feel Kaidan’s cock swell, and he pulled back, but replaced his mouth with his hand, licking the base of the shaft. He felt like he had won a prize when Kaidan’s thighs tensed, and a few pitiful moans were followed by a louder long one, which again was followed by “Damn.” James crawled up over Kaidan, smearing the cum between their stomachs, kissing Kaidan who was smiling as if he had been sedated.

Kaidan wrapped an arm around James’ neck. “Wanna fuck me?” he rasped, biting James’ earlobe teasingly.

“God, yes,” James whispered back. At least that was something he knew how to do, no questions asked.

Kaidan reached to his bedside table where he had some hand lotion. It would just have to do. He handed it to James, who sat back on his heels in the bed and poured some into his hand. Kaidan wasn’t sure if he was just hot, or if he was actually blushing again. Not even asking, Kaidan rolled around in the bed and raised his ass to James.

“Sweet Jesus,” James breathed, experimentally running two fingers smeared in lotion across Kaidan’s opening. Leaning to his left so he could see Kaidan’s face, he experimentally pushed a finger inside the tight heat. Watching Kaidan’s expression, he added another finger, and lastly a third. He didn’t have to ask if it felt good, he could tell from the needy little sighs, and the way that Kaidan would push up against his hand, that he enjoyed it. When James finally pulled his fingers out, and replaced them with his cock, it felt so wonderful, and yet oddly like someone had kicked him in the stomach, punching out all air. The feeling of Kaidan clenching around him, and the absolutely delightful moan that slipped out into the room, left James breathless.

~*~

James woke first, remembering instantly where he was and why. He could feel Kaidan curled up against him, his breath tickled slightly on James’ neck. Never in a million years had he thought he would wake with Kaidan sleeping naked up against him. He was warm, soft and perfect. Nothing could shoot this moment out of the sky, except the slight pang of guilt he felt, knowing that it was not really his place. But as Kaidan’s arm wrapped around his waist, James didn’t care whose place it was he felt like he had stolen, or why. All he cared was how right it felt, and how he didn’t want to move, ever. James heard his alarm clock go off in the other end of the flat, he tried to ignore it but after a couple of minutes he had to admit that it was impossible.

“Kill that alarm, please,” Kaidan mumbled half in sleep, pulling James closer only to settle down and try to fall asleep again. But when James made a move to get out of bed, Kaidan held on tighter, keeping him in place. “Stay,” he slurred sleepily.

James chuckled. “I can’t turn it off by telekinesis.”

“Damn,” Kaidan smiled. “Guess I have to let you go, then.”

James sat up in the bed, and pulled the blanket up to Kaidan’s shoulders. “You just get some more sleep; I’ll be back later,” he said softly, bending down to kiss Kaidan’s cheek.

CHAPTER 4: Love is a verb, love is a doing word.

James couldn’t focus all day, he almost fell into a giant hole just because he didn’t pay attention. And when he finally left, he drove home as fast as his jeep would take him. He willed himself to walk up the stairs, and not just run. Almost like when you were a kid and you thought there was a monster under your bed, but you had to go to the bathroom; it was the same pool of self control he pulled from. He even opened the door in a civil manner. “Hey!” he called out.

“Hey,” Kaidan answered from the kitchen.

James put down his bag of stuff on the floor and looked out into the small kitchen. “Something smells good,” he said with a shy little smile.

Kaidan turned and looked at James with an unimpressed expression. “It’s rice and beans; it smells exactly like it always does.”

“No,” James said, grabbing Kaidan’s wrist, pulling him into an embrace. “It smells extra good because you’re the one making it,” he said softly, kissing Kaidan quickly.

Kaidan laughed. “Everything smells better when you don’t have to make it yourself.”

“That was not what I meant,” James stated, resting his forehead against Kaidan’s, looking him straight into the eyes.

“I know,” Kaidan admitted with a sly smile. “I’m just playing with you.”

James rolled his eyes and kissed Kaidan again before he stepped back, letting Kaidan returning to his cooking. He went about unpacking his stuff. It was all loot from abandoned apartments and ruined cars. It was a great perk of his work. Plus it wasn’t as if anyone would miss the items. He picked the small Canadian flag out of his bag. It had been hanging from someone’s window, and he had thought of Kaidan the moment he saw it. Actually he had no idea if Kaidan even missed his home, or if he just missed it because it was where he was from. James himself would miss everything about Cali, not just his home. He had to admit to himself that in the long run, he would probably be miserable anywhere else.

“Dinner!” Kaidan called, and James folded the flag in his hands and walked into the living room.

“I saw this today,” James said, holding out his hand with the folded flag. “Thought you’d like it.”

Kaidan looked at the outstretched hand, and up at James’ smiling face. “For me?” He asked.

“Yeah.” James nodded awkwardly, suddenly wondering if it was lame. Maybe he should have waited? He was pretty sure that they were okay. Kaidan had seemed pretty okay with it all this morning. Hadn’t he?

Kaidan put down the plate he had in his hand and took what James offered him, unfolding the small Canadian flag. “Holy… ” Kaidan laughed delightedly. “I haven’t seen one of these in ages.” He folded it neatly and left it by his plate. “Thank you, Jimmy.” He smiled with a faint blush.

James felt something that was close to pride, and without thinking about it, he pulled Kaidan in for a kiss.

~*~

The next couple of weeks would spiral James completely out of orbit. He had just never known he could feel like this. Not that he talked about it, but even the others in his unit had noticed he was more grounded and level headed.

“Hey Vega.”

“What is it?” James rolled a concrete block out to where a machine could pick them up faster, getting them out of the way. He looked up at Annie, the red haired woman who was leaning up against what was left of a pillar to a storefront, smoking a cigarette.

“Some of the folks at base camp put together a play. I was just wondering if maybe you and your roommate would like to come?” Annie said with a knowing smile, suspecting that James’ roommate was a little more than just a buddy.

“A play?” James asked stretching his back, wincing as it cracked softly. “As in people on a stage talking funny?”

“Yeah, something like that,” Annie nodded her head. “But there’s free food.”

“Free food sounds good,” James said with an amused shake of his head. “I’ll have to ask Major Alenko. I don’t know if he’s into cultural shit.”

“Riiiight,” Annie grinned, stomping out her cigarette. “Just be there tonight at seven. Corporal Keenan is Snow White, or so I’m told.”

“Fuck off,” James laughed, flipping Annie the bird over his shoulder as he moved on to the next bunch of debris.

~*~

Kaidan’s multi-tool beeped. At first he thought it was James’ obnoxious alarm clock but then realised that it originated from his own room. Kaidan hesitated a second, what if it was Liara? And what if she told him that John had stopped breathing on his own? What if he was forced to deal with that? And to his own horror, he realised that he had not given John a thought in weeks. He had forgotten why he was here, and why he was waiting. It was all just so perfect and right. James treated him like he was something special. He would pick up knick knacks for him, and wait on him hand and foot. Kaidan most of all felt loved and cherished. There was absolutely no doubt in his mind that James loved him. And it was so unlike John’s love, but John’s love was unlike anything else… it was – only his. Pushing the dark thoughts from his mind, he answered the persisting call. “Liara? Is everything alright?”

“Been a while there, Major,” Liara smiled weakly. “Wonder why.”

“Don’t be coy,” Kaidan huffed. “What’s wrong?” He wished his voice wouldn’t tremble, as he braced himself for the terrible news.

“Nothing is wrong, quite the opposite actually,” Liara said, studying Kaidan as best she could from her end of the transmission. “Shepard is off life support. He is still not awake, but we have monitored REM sleep, so he is at least somewhat conscious, although I’m not sure if he hears me when I speak to him.”

“Oh.” Kaidan’s face paled to ghostly white. “That is fantastic news.”

“You don’t look like it’s fantastic, you look like you saw a ghost,” Liara said, narrowing her eyes.

“It’s just…” Kaidan took a deep breath. “I’m not sure what to do with that information, to be honest.”

“Vega, huh?” Liara asked.

“No! – No…” Kaidan shook his head, and then stopped with a sigh. “Yeah, maybe…”

“I see,” Liara said. “If he makes you happy, I see nothing wrong with that. He’s a good boy.”

“That he is,” Kaidan said, smiling even as he tried not to.

“Hey Kaidan,” Liara said, making Kaidan look up. “It’s okay, you two deserve to be in love, you know that, right?” She smiled. “Even Shepard would understand.”

“Maybe,” Kaidan whispered.

“You know what? Shepard is not awake. I was just calling you to say that he is stable and off life-support. He’s going to be okay.” Liara smiled. “If something changes, I’ll call you back, okay?”

“All right. Thank you, Liara,” Kaidan whispered, and killed the link. He took a deep breath, trying to not feel panic creep up his spine. What had he done? To him? To James? To John? He would end up hurting them all, just because he couldn’t keep his hands to himself. “Fuck.”

~*~

James wasn’t sure if he should ask or not, was it too stupid? But on the other hand, he missed social events. He had been locked in the apartment with Kaidan unless he worked. Not that he objected, but it would be nice to go out, even if it was to base camp to see other people make fools out of themselves. “Hey Kaidan!” he called when he got through the door. “You in?”

“Here,” Kaidan called from his room. He swiftly packed his multi-tool away.

“Annie, you know that redheaded chick I told you about from the – ” James stopped in the door as he saw Kaidan sitting on his bed looking pale and sad. ” – Told me that there was…” His voice trailed off. “Are you okay Kaidan? Is something wrong?” he asked, slowly making his way to Kaidan’s side, sitting down next to him, gingerly wrapping an arm around Kaidan’s shoulders, not sure if he needed comfort, or even wanted it.

“Liara called,” Kaidan said with a small voice.

“Oh.” James felt like his chest contracted till it was hard to breathe. “Is Shepard okay?”

Kaidan nodded. “He is. They took him off life-support because he can breathe on his own.” Kaidan paused. “He even dreams.”

“But that is good, right?” James rubbed Kaidan’s shoulder. “You’ve been waiting for him to – ”

“Don’t be a fucking idiot, James!” Kaidan suddenly snapped. “I know you don’t mean that!”

“Maybe I don’t… But… ” James looked up at Kaidan, hoping he looked less pathetic than he felt.

Kaidan took a deep breath, knowing that James didn’t deserve his anger, because all in all he was angry with himself, not James. “Never mind.” He smiled weakly, sitting down again. “What were you telling me about Annie?”

James opened his mouth, and closed it again without making a sound.

Kaidan snapped his fingers in James’ face. “Annie? What did she say?”

“There is – there is a play at the base camp, and she asked if we wanted to come.” James still looked completely bewildered at Kaidan. “At seven.”

“A play?” Kaidan shrugged. “Sounds great! I need to get out of here for a little while anyway.”

“All right,” James just said, standing up feeling completely numb, or at the very least very confused. What the hell was going on here?

The entire trip there, the conversation they’d had on the bed haunted James. He knew he was only borrowing Kaidan. He had told himself that he would remind himself of this every day, so when he left, the emptiness wouldn’t be so empty.

“What are you thinking of?” Kaidan asked softly, closing his eyes against the warm evening wind on his face.

“Nothing,” James said with a smile. “Just wondering if Corporal Keenan is really Snow White as Annie said.”

Kaidan smiled but none the less studied James’ profile, not quite sure if he should believe that or not.

~*~

It was late when they returned from the base camp. It had been a brilliant night, a much needed break from their everyday routine. They tumbled through the door, slightly drunk, kissing. All the dark thoughts were past. They both laughed as James fell backwards over the coffee table, pulling Kaidan with him. Slowly getting to their feet again, they picked up where they left before the interruption, and finally made it to James’ bedroom. James fell down again, but this time on purpose and Kaidan didn’t mind one bit being pulled down, too.

James wrapped his arms tightly around Kaidan, gathered all his drunken courage and whispered, “I love you.”

Kaidan was silent for a long minute, and finally he whispered, “I know.”

Closing his eyes, James let Kaidan move out of his arms. He didn’t need to open them to guess what Kaidan looked like in the dark. He had expected to hear footsteps out of the room, but instead he heard a rustle of fabric, which made him curious. Finally he opened his eyes and looked up at Kaidan who stood naked above him. Even when he pulled down James’ pants he didn’t say anything, and when James wanted to object, Kaidan just held a finger against James’ lips. Silenced, James fell back into the mattress and let Kaidan make love to him. Whatever trouble was to come his way could wait, whatever words he longed to hear, or numbness that scared him. It would all wait. In this moment there was nothing but Kaidan’s touch.

As soon as they settled down to sleep, wrapped in each other, sweaty and lazy, the unwelcome sadness snuck back into the back of James’ mind, and the way that Kaidan lay completely still and stared off into the ceiling, James was sure he was not the only one who felt it. “Hey,” James whispered, running a hand over Kaidan’s chest.

“Sorry, I didn’t mean to zone out.” Kaidan smiled and turned over to face James.

“S’alright.” James smiled a thin smile, resting his hand on Kaidan’s hip. “Everything’s gonna be okay, you’ll see.” He was sure that Kaidan could hear his lie, but it was a lie that he needed, too.

“Yeah,” Kaidan whispered. “Are you tired?”

“Not really,” James mumbled, counting another untruth.

“Could we go to the beach?” Kaidan asked with a shy smile. “I want to see the stars.”

“Sure.” James sat up in the bed, knowing that he would fall asleep if he didn’t. He looked over his shoulder at Kaidan with a grin. “Come on then.”

~*~

The night sky was beautiful, no doubt about it, but it felt wrong. James could still smell Kaidan on his skin, yet it didn’t comfort him at all. Most of all it just made him melancholy, even if Kaidan was right next to him, staring up into the stars. “It was great, wasn’t it? Up there, seeing strange worlds we never thought existed. The Krogans and the Salarians, even the Vorcha. It was all fascinating…”

“Yeah,” James just muttered.

“Do you miss it?” Kaidan whispered.

“No,” James answered truthfully. He was quite happy right here where he was.

“I do,” Kaidan admitted. “It was exiting, and new… We made a difference in the universe, Jimmy, have you ever thought about that?”

“I didn’t make a lick of difference,” James answered sourly. “-Shepard- saved the galaxy.”

Kaidan looked away from the stars and down at James. “You made a difference, what kind of nonsense is that?”

“Just don’t,” James growled and stood quickly, brushing the sand off his pants. “I’m gonna fetch the beer from the car,” he said, speaking more to the dark sea than to Kaidan. Stomping off to the promenade, he had to count to ten in his head, and pinch the bridge of his nose. Why wouldn’t this feeling of impending doom leave him? Maybe because it was so damn obvious. He cursed himself for being childish as he grabbed the beer and slowly walked back to where Kaidan was. As he returned, he couldn’t see Kaidan anywhere. He looked around, set down the beer, and called, “Kaidan?”

Kaidan broke through the water’s surface with a loud splash. “Come on!” He waved at James. “It’s fantastic!”

James had to grin, and dropped his pants without thinking twice, running double-time out into the night sea.

Wrapping his arms around James’ neck, Kaidan kissed the corner of James’ lips, “You are -” he whispered, “everything anyone could ever ask for.”

“No I’m not” James mumbled back, but none the less wrapped his arms tightly around Kaidan, pinning the other man against his chest. “I didn’t just say it,” he said, looking directly into Kaidan’s eyes. “I mean it, – I love you.” He smiled sadly as Kaidan looked away, but otherwise didn’t move. “I know I shouldn’t, I’m not an idiot you know. But I do, I love you, Kaidan.”

“I – ” Kaidan whispered, he was just about to say something more as his multi-tool let out the insisting beeping noise. “Is that mine?”

James didn’t say anything, he just let go of Kaidan so he could run to the shore.

“Liara?” Kaidan panted as he saw her face on the video link.

“Kaidan,” Liara said. She looked slightly puzzled at Kaidan, “Where are you at?”

“At the beach, I have – ” Kaidan started, but was interrupted by Liara covering her eyes and feigning modesty, “I see. Could you please tell Vega to put on some pants?”

“James?” Kaidan turned around and saw James come up from the water, and he had to admit that the sight of that was enough to make him want to just close down his link with Liara and pull James down into the sand and have his wicked way with him. But now was sadly not the time, so instead he called, “Hang on, Liara,” and turned around so Liara couldn’t see the sea, but had the promenade in the background instead.

James put on his pants and sat down next to Kaidan, and just stared off into the sea.

“OK,” Kaidan said, “is everything all right?”

“Yes,” Liara said a little hesitantly. “Shepard, he – he woke. And…” She paused. “He is asking for you. What do you want me to tell him?”

“I… That is a miracle!” Kaidan said, his smile wavering between a huge grin, and a frown. “Tell him that – ”

“Why don’t I just tell him that I couldn’t get a hold of you right now, and then you call me back in the morning?” Liara said.

Kaidan just nodded. “Yeah, let’s do that.” And then he killed the link. For a long while they both just sat in silence, until Kaidan sighed, “Where’d you put those beers?”

James pushed the six-pack over to Kaidan, but said nothing.

Kaidan opened a beer and stared at the sea. “Jimmy, would you please say something?”

“What is there to say?” James asked with a flat voice.

“Anything,” Kaidan said. “Even a ‘knock knock’ joke would do it.”

James snorted, amused. “I’m sorry?” he finally said.

“What do you have to be sorry about?” Kaidan asked confused.

“This,” James just stated, reaching for a beer for himself. “You should call Liara right now and tell her that we’re leaving in the morning, and we’ll be there tomorrow around midnight.”

“No!” Kaidan argued in a childish tone. “What about you? I can’t just…”

“Of course you can,” James said softly, finally turning his head to look at Kaidan. “And you should.” He smiled sadly. “I’ll be fine, I have a city to clean up, remember?” He bit his lip, hearing his own voice breaking. “Shit.” James looked away and hurriedly took a sip of his beer to do anything but cry. He refused to cry!

“Don’t be like that,” Kaidan said, scooting closer. “I’m the one who’s sorry.” He leaned his head on James’ shoulder. “Your love is such a peaceful and soft place to stay – But…”

“I am not John Shepard, – I know,” James whispered. “And it’s okay, I understand.”

“He needs me, Jimmy,” Kaidan whispered back.

James just nodded and took another sip of his beer, killing the words that were about to spill. Shepard wasn’t the only one who needed Kaidan, but James thought it better to keep that to himself. The situation was awkward enough as it was. “At least I did as he asked me to,” James said with a little amused smile. “I took care of you, and kept you safe.” He blinked, trying to wipe a wayward tear away without Kaidan seeing it. “Wouldn’t you say?”

“You did,” Kaidan said wrapping an arm around James.

“We should get some sleep,” James said, shrugging Kaidan’s arm off. “It’s a long drive.”

“Jimmy,” Kaidan called as he stood, hurrying after James across the beach. “Don’t be like that.”

“Like what?” James asked, unable to hold his frustration out of his voice.

“Upset,” Kaidan said, grabbing James’ wrist and forcing him to a standstill. He could hear how childish it sounded, but he honestly couldn’t deal with James being this unhappy. It made him feel guilty, and dirty.

“I’m just tired,” James barked.

“Liar!”

“So what?” James yelled, “What difference does it make? – Fuck! – Let’s just go get some fucking sleep.” He pulled his wrist from Kaidan’s grip. “I need this to be done with.”

“I’m sorry, Jimmy! I never thought it would be like this! I – ”

James turned around in the dark. “How else did you expect this to go down?” He tossed his hands out in the air in frustration. “Just leave it the fuck alone, Alenko.” He paused and sighed. “Please?”

The drive back to the apartment was silent. It was not until they were inside the apartment that James elegantly walked over and opened all windows in the living room to let the air in. The room smelled of sex, beer and sweat. He looked over at Kaidan as he moved on to the next set of windows. “We can get something like four hours. I’ll wake you.”

“All right,” Kaidan said, deflated, walking into his room. For a while he just stood and stared at his bed. It seemed large and empty. He had not slept alone for two months, and it seemed so wrong to do it now. But who did he really want to share it with?

~*~

James shut the door to his bedroom and opened the window. For a moment he thought about changing the sheets, but as much as he wanted to get rid of Kaidan because it made him hurt, he also wanted to cling to him so badly that it made him crazy. He set the alarm, and sat down in his bed. Without thinking, he reached for a pillow to hug, just like when he was a child. “Shit, Jimmy… you are a fucking idiot!” he whispered to himself, fighting the tight feeling in his chest and throat. In the end he lost the fight and wept into the pillow, letting his anger and heartbreak seep into the pillow casing.

Kaidan heard him from the other end of the apartment, and after debating with himself if he should honor James’ wish to leave it alone, he got up and walked across the living room to James’ door, opening the door gently. There were a million things he wanted to say when he saw James huddled there in the bed, crying into a pillow. But he knew they would all sound insincere, so instead he just sat down next to him, careful not to touch him.

“Leave me alone,” James mumbled into the pillow.

“I am so, so sorry James, I truly am. If there is one thing I regret – it is us.” Kaidan wrung his hands, wishing he could make James stop crying. To see a man who had always been unflinching in his bravery and spirit, weep like this, was unsettling. And to know that it was his fault was heartbreaking. It wouldn’t help if he were to tell James that he was torn down the middle, a part of him wanted to drive to Texas straight away, and another part of him just wanted to stay here and pretend Shepard had never existed.

James took a deep breath and lifted his head from the pillow, turning away from Kaidan so he didn’t have to look at him. “You do?” He said with a voice hoarse from crying. “I don’t.” He dried his eyes with the back of his hand, terribly uncomfortable with Kaidan sitting there, seeing him like this. He wished he’d had a key for his bedroom door, so he could have locked it.

“How – How can you say that?” Kaidan asked, surprised.

“Because it’s true,” James shrugged.

Humbled, Kaidan didn’t know what to say, but he guessed he knew exactly what James meant, because he didn’t regret James. He regretted hurting him like this. “I can’t… Could I sleep here?” he asked, knowing he was asking an awful lot.

James nodded slowly. “Sure.” He got off the bed. He was just too exhausted to ask why.

Kaidan got down under the covers with all his clothes on, and James lay down on top of the covers, instinctively wrapping an arm around Kaidan. “Jimmy?” Kaidan whispered. “You know what I wish?… I wish I had met you before I ever had heard of the Alliance.”

“No you don’t,” James whispered behind him. “I was not exactly – ” He stopped himself, saw no point in explaining, “not exactly a good guy.”

“I find that hard to believe,” Kaidan answered softly.

“It’s true.” James stared off into Kaidan’s neck and the wall. “It doesn’t matter now; it was a lifetime ago. Or so it seems.”

“I am slightly jealous of the man who gets you. You are the most gentle, considerate, person I have ever met,” Kaidan confessed in a whisper.

James just hushed him. “Sleep, you’re gonna need it.”

Lying there listening to Kaidan breathe, feeling his chest rise and fall, James stared off into the dark. He thought about Shepard, he thought about all the things he thought would be, and all the stuff he had dared to believe, that would never happen now. And what a big idiot he was for letting himself build a sandcastle like that; he ought to be smarter. He turned his head a little and looked at Kaidan sleeping next to him. Smart had nothing to do with it. He felt like a starving man who had been treated with a piece of cake, and wanted more. He wanted to eat the cake and own the recipe both. In the end James got up from the bed and went to the kitchen, making himself some coffee. Maybe he should pack his shit and go back to base camp. He couldn’t live here alone, could he? Maybe he could ask Annie to come bunk with him here so it wouldn’t be so empty. He would just have to solve that when he returned from Texas. The alarm cut off his train of thoughts, and he left the coffee to shut off the alarm and wake Kaidan.

He sat down on the bed and shook Kaidan’s shoulder gently. “Wake up, we have a long drive ahead of us.” When Kaidan only murmured in his sleep, he shook him again. “Come on Alenko, I made coffee.”

Kaidan stretched and blinked, slowly focusing on James at his side. “Mmm… coffee sounds good.” He sat up and rubbed his face. “Damn man, it’s the middle of the night.”

James raised a brow. “It’s 06:00.”

“Morning it is then.” Kaidan sighed swinging his feet out over the side of the bed. “Did you sleep at all?”

“Yeah, I got a couple of hours.” James lied. “You take a bath and pack your stuff, I’ll pack the car.”

~*~

Kaidan didn’t have a lot of stuff to pack; he could easily make it fit into a backpack. He picked up the little Canadian flag that James had given him. James had given him all sorts of stuff, but somehow the flag was just the simplest, yet most heartfelt. Kaidan smiled to himself, remembering when James had given it to him, shuffling, shy and blushing even if they had fucked each other’s brains out the night before. And Kaidan had never seen anything cuter in his life. And he had fallen in love right there and then.. hadn’t he? If he was honest to himself, then yes, he had, he had been just as much in love as James, he just didn’t feel that admitting to that would serve any good, least of all to himself. He was on his way to John, and they were supposed to pick up with their lives, do the things they always wanted to. Enjoy each other in time of peace. And he looked forward to that, the thought alone made him giddy like a teenager. But why did it bother him so much to leave James? And why did he consider packing the flag? In the end he just gave up and stuffed the flag down into his backpack. He swung it on his back and walked out to where James was packing the car.

“That’s right, Sir.” James said, talking to someone Kaidan didn’t recognize over a video link. James had his back to the stairs so he didn’t see Kaidan standing there. “Yes Sir, the very best,” James said with pride in his voice, and Kaidan wondered who he was talking about. “I will be back Tuesday, Sir.” James shifted on his feet, nodding at whatever was said to him, “Sir, yes Sir.” And then he ended the call, and turned around when he sensed that Kaidan was there. “Oh, Alenko.” He gave a friendly smile. “The last bag?”

“Yeah,” Kaidan said slowly walking down the stairs, feeling a little reluctant to leave. “Want me to close the door?”

“Sure,” James said, taking Kaidan’s bag from him, handing Kaidan the keycard to lock the door in the process. He strapped down the bag, and got in behind the wheel. The sun was rising on the horizon. “All right, let’s go.” He smiled at Kaidan. “Excited?”

“Do I look excited?” Kaidan asked, feeling tired to the bone.

James didn’t answer, he just started the car, and drove down the road.

~*~

After two hours worth of driving, James broke the silence. “Are you hungry?”

“A little,” Kaidan said, lying through his teeth. He was too upset, nervous, and tired to be hungry.

“There’s some food in the bag right behind your seat, otherwise we can pull off to the side and eat, whatever you prefer,” James said, not taking his eyes off the road.

“I forgot to call Liara and say I was on my way,” Kaidan said, rubbing his eyes to stay awake. He sat up straight and called Liara in Texas.

James still didn’t take his eyes off the road, but he could hear James just fine, and when the conversation stilled, he turned his head for a second. He saw Kaidan flush and grin. “Shepard,” he said with tenderness. “Oh my God, John, you look like shit.” – James forced himself to not hear what Shepard answered, the sound of his voice was enough to feel that unwelcome tightening of his chest again, and he was sick of feeling like he couldn’t breathe. His throat felt like it was overflowing with words that weren’t meant for speaking. He wanted to get down on his knees and beg Kaidan to never leave, to stay, to love him back. But those words would never be spoken, they wouldn’t even be whispered in the dark when he was alone, or written down. They only existed in the darkest corner of his dreams.

“James?” Kaidan asked.

“Yes?”

“Are you even listening?”

“No…” James rubbed his eyes with one hand, holding on to the wheel with the other. “What were you saying?”

“I wasn’t, Shepard was.” Kaidan turned the video link monitor so Shepard could see James.

“Hey Loco!” James grinned. “A little bird told me you were up and kicking ass.”

Shepard laughed weakly. “I will be, as soon as I can hold solid foods.”

James huffed amused, still not taking his eyes off the road.

“Kaidan was right, you look like shit, Vega. Maybe you should get some rest,” Shepard said.

“And that comes from someone who looks like he just tangoed with Death?” James said, humor evident in his voice.

“Point taken,” Shepard groaned. “Still, get some shuteye, soldier. None of you are any good to me as road kill.”

“Yes Sir.” James said, still with a smile, though he had no intention of sleeping anytime soon. He just wanted to get this hell mission over. And hope that he wouldn’t have to deal with either Kaidan or Shepard for the next decade.

As Kaidan hung up on Shepard, he turned to James. “You didn’t sleep last night, did you?”

James stopped the car and sighed in defeat. “You wanna drive?”

“You didn’t answer my question.”

James looked up at Kaidan with a frown. “No, no I didn’t sleep. Happy now?”

“Of course I’m not happy!” Kaidan argued. “God!” He got out of the jeep so they could switch seats. “There’s just no winning with you, is there?”

“What the hell are you talking about?” James yawned.

“For starters, why did you even come with me on this trip?” Kaidan spat, getting in behind the wheel, starting the jeep up again.

“Because I promised,” James deadpanned.

“Who? me?”

“Shepard,” James said, staring out the side of the road, anything to not look at Kaidan. He didn’t want to have this discussion. He wished he knew how to not feel like something was taken from him, something that was within an arm’s length, yet he couldn’t touch it.

“You promised Shepard that you’d drive me to Texas?” Kaidan asked acidly.

“Don’t be an idiot.” James growled.

Kaidan hit the brakes of the car so hard that James had to hold on to the side. “Look,” Kaidan said, turning to James, “I don’t want to fight.”

“Sorry,” James said, resting back into the seat, staring off into the blue skies over them. “I just meant that I promised him that I would take care of you, and – ” He let out a long sigh, “That’s all.” He pointed at the road out through the front window. “Just drive.”

~*~

The closer they got to the Texas border, the more an uncomfortable silence settled between them. They switched seats again, so Kaidan could rest, and James would drive. They would only break that silence to talk about mundane things such as food or changing radio stations. Kaidan yawned and settled in a new way in his seat. He looked up at the sign that told them how far they were from San Antonio. “Jimmy,” he said out of the blue, “we need to talk about this…”

“I don’t know what to say,” James said with a little shrug. “I already said all I have to say.”

“I want you to know that I didn’t plan on this,” Kaidan said, looking out at the road.

“I know,” James said flatly.

“Goddammit, James,” Kaidan whined, “You know what? Fuck it… I tried.” He turned his back to James.

James didn’t answer, he just kept his eyes on the road. He didn’t want to talk about it. Maybe Kaidan needed to talk, but he sure as shit didn’t. He didn’t have a magic wand that would change his feelings. His body still remembered what Kaidan felt like, sounded like. But he had to force nature and kill that link. “Are we still friends?” James asked, so softly it was almost lost in the sounds of the Jeep.

“You want us to be?” Kaidan answered, knowing how cruel it was.

“Would be nice,” James just said, completely unfazed by Kaidan’s tone.

~*~

James parked two streets from Santa Rosa Hospital. There was still a lot of traffic to and from the hospital. The sick and injured who had survived the Reapers were plentiful. Getting out of the Jeep, James pulled both his and Kaidan’s bags from the back of the Jeep. “This is it, huh?” he said with fake merry tone.

“It is,” Kaidan agreed, not sure what he agreed on. ‘It’ could be so many things, the end of them? The start of something else… he wasn’t sure.

James leaned in over the side of the car, reaching for Kaidan’s bag. He handed it to the other man, and before he had a chance to think, James cupped his face with his hands, caressing Kaidan’s cheek with his thumb. “Take care, Alenko,” James whispered.

“You too, Vega,” Kaidan whispered back, dropping his bag, placing a hand on top of James’. “-I.”

“Don’t.” James shook his head slightly, kissing Kaidan’s lips softly, in an almost brotherly way. And when he let go of Kaidan, he picked up his bag. “Come on, you shouldn’t make him wait.” James squared his shoulders and walked towards the hospital with Kaidan in tow.

~*~

They made small talk on the way up to where Shepard’s room was. They talked about medical and how well-run the hospital seemed to be, even with small funds. They got off at the sixteenth floor and first thing they saw was Liara.

Liara lit up as she saw the two soldiers in the elevator door. “James! Kaidan!” She ran over and kissed Kaidan on his cheek, and hugged James. “Had a nice road trip here, I expect?”

“Absolutely,” Kaidan said with a smile.

“You look great!” Liara dragged Kaidan off towards the hall. “You got a tan, and even lost the crutches. Vega did a smashing job.”

Kaidan looked over his shoulder at James, who still stood at the elevator door. ‘Go’ he mouthed as he noticed Kaidan looking at him, and then picked up both bags and went to sit down. Kaidan looked at Liara again, awkwardly aware that she knew a little more than he was comfortable with. “Where’s Shepard?” he asked a bit sheepishly.

“In here,” Liara smiled, and opened the door, pushing Kaidan in front of her, and waited for the door to shut. She went back to James, leaving Shepard and Kaidan to themselves.

James sat on the edge of a chair, looking out at the view. He noticed Liara and smiled. “Hey.”

“Hey,” Liara said, sitting down next to him. “You okay?”

“No, not really,” James sighed. “But I will be.”

“Of course you will,” Liara said, rubbing James’ arm in a motherly fashion.

“Would you take this to Kaidan?” James pushed Kaidan’s bag over to Liara with his foot. “It’s all his stuff.”

“Sure,” Liara said. “But why don’t you just give it to him, while you visit Shepard?”

James shook his head. “I don’t think he has time for me.” He smiled a sad little smile. “Not that I blame him, I wouldn’t have time for me.” He stood up and swung his backpack over his shoulder. “Take care of them. And of yourself.” He grinned a little. “I’d better report back to base camp LA. We have a city to clean up.”

“All right, if that is what you want. I can set you up somewhere so you can sleep some, and leave tomorrow,” Liara said, looking over James a little worried.

James shook his head. “I’d better get home.”

~*~

For a little while Kaidan just stood and stared at Shepard, who was lying sleeping. He didn’t even know what he was feeling. Most of all he was so guilt ridden that he was numb. He wasn’t supposed to feel guilty, this was the moment he had waited for, right? – “John?” he said softly. It sounded terribly loud in the still room. Kaidan smiled as Shepard’s eyes fluttered open.

“Kaidan,” Shepard rasped, turning his head to look at Kaidan. Shepard reached out a hand for Kaidan. “You look – You are – Come here, man.”

Kaidan took Shepard’s hand and kissed the knuckles. “I missed you.”

Shepard smiled. “I’m here now.”

Kaidan bit his lip, feeling way more emotional than he had expected. “Never do that again.”

“Not if I can help it,” Shepard said looking a little puzzled. “What’s with the sad face?”

Kaidan grinned and wiped his eyes with the hand that didn’t hold on to Shepard. “I’m just… Happy.”

“I’m sorry if I scared you, but it’s gonna be different now. We have all the time we want to… To do whatever we want – Right?” Shepard said closing his eyes, feeling tired after having talked more than he had combined, since he woke.

“Right.” Kaidan smiled.

“You staying?” Shepard whispered, tired.

“I am,” Kaidan said softly, raising Shepard’s hand to kiss it once more. “The next time you’re sending me from your side, you better be ready to shoot me too.”

Shepard let out a snort that should have been a laugh.

~*~

James had hesitated before getting into his Jeep, maybe he was being a coward? Maybe he should stick around to talk to Shepard? After all, anything else would be weird. Most of all he wanted to stick his tail between his legs and run. But he was a Marine, wasn’t he? And Marines didn’t quit! With an annoyed growl he picked up his bag again, and pocketed his keys and walked back to the hospital.

He had expected Liara to give him the third degree, but she didn’t – she just took him down to an unused room where he could sleep. When she came back with a tray of actual food, not just protein bars or beans, he swore he could have dropped down on his knees and asked her to marry him, right then and there.

Lying in bed watching some taped game show, James hardly noticed the door opening.

“Hey Jimmy, Liara told me where to find you,” Kaidan said as he shuffled into the room, gently closing the door after him. James muted the TV, and sat up in the bed, looking at Kaidan as he walked over to the open window. “Amazing view from here, huh?”

“Yeah,” James said, getting out of bed, joining Kaidan at the window. “How’s Shepard?”

“He’s weak, but he’ll bounce back in no time,” Kaidan said, unable to smile as he said it.

“Good,” James nodded, and then the same uncomfortable silence settled again, just like it had been in the Jeep. James leaned out the window, gripping the edge of the window till his knuckles went white. “I’m happy that you’re happy,” he smiled to the night sky.

“I feel guilty,” Kaidan suddenly said, wanting to unburden his heart. “Both for thinking that John would never wake, and for hurting you.”

“Don’t – we all knew the score, Alenko. Both you, me and Shepard. Shepard knew that it was a suicide mission, we all did. You knew that the odds for him waking were slim, and I knew that I was being a lovestruck fool.” James turned his head and smiled a lopsided smile at Kaidan. “So it’s all fine. You are where you are supposed to be, and you are supposed to be happy.” He placed a hand on Kaidan’s shoulder. “You won, Kaidan, and now it’s time to grab all the things you didn’t even dare to believe you’d have.”

“I don’t understand you, Jimmy,” Kaidan said. “If I were you, I’d hate me.”

“I – I don’t know what to say to that,” James said with a defeated sigh, and pushed off the windowsill, walking back into the room. For an insane moment, he wanted to just scoop up Kaidan and run. And had his boyfriend been anyone else than Shepard, he might have done just that. But he owed Shepard his loyalty, however twisted that sounded coming from someone who had fucked his boyfriend when they thought he was as good as dead. “I have to accept it, but that doesn’t mean I have to like it.” He looked over at Kaidan. “If I thought it would make a difference, I would crawl at your feet and beg you to stay with me.” James ran a hand down over his face and groaned. “I just – I have no idea what I’m doing here.”

“I wish you’d just scream and yell at me,” Kaidan admitted with a sigh.

“And what good would that do?” James asked, honestly puzzled. “God! I fucking hate this!”

“I wish I could make it right,” Kaidan said, his voice thick with sadness and regret.

James bit his lip. He wanted to tell Kaidan exactly what was on his mind, how betrayed he felt. He knew it was petty, but he felt used and tossed away. His rational mind knew it wasn’t true; he knew that he had known Kaidan loved Shepard with everything he had, but it didn’t change that he wanted it to be different. “You can’t,” James whispered, gingerly sitting down on his hospital bed. “I can’t ask you to choose.” Kaidan didn’t move, he just watched James fidget with his hands.

“I feel like the worst person in history,” Kaidan said, walking around the bed and sitting down next to James. “I should be ecstatic that Shepard is alive, and I am. But I – Maybe I wish you weren’t here to – to, make it real, somehow. To remind me that just a week ago I thought that John was basically just a soulless body in a hospital bed. And you told me you loved me, and I believed it.” He took a deep breath and continued. “Not even John has ever said that to me.”

“I’ll leave if you want me to,” James stated flatly.

“That’s not what I meant,” Kaidan said, running a hand through his hair. “I know that’s what I -said- but… I suppose I just don’t know what to say, either.”

James turned his head and looked at Kaidan. “Maybe it’s because there isn’t any more to be said.” He smiled a little.

Kaidan nodded, feeling terribly unfulfilled, but maybe James was right, maybe there just wasn’t anything more to be said on the topic, and no matter how much Kaidan wanted to make it right, he couldn’t. And at the same time he was dead scared that he was making a wrong decision. He had always trusted his own instincts, but this whole thing felt wrong and right at the same time. What was he supposed to do with that? Why hadn’t he objected to James coming with him? Why did he seek him out all the time to talk? Guilt? No, it was something more. It was because he didn’t want to let go, and he supposed that James didn’t either, because why else would he have done this to himself, coming all the way out here to just turn back home? For an insane moment, Kaidan wished he could just have them both, but things like that only happened in movies, and not the ones they featured in primetime, either. It would just be a lot easier if he felt like he could make a clean cut with either of them. James was the most gentle soul he had ever met, whereas John didn’t have a nurturing bone in his body. But John was John, larger than life and his attention made you feel special, chosen.

“Go to bed, Kaidan,” James said.

~*~

James had forced himself out of bed and done fifty push-ups before he had taken a shower and dressed. He packed his bag and left it at the nurses’ station so he could leave right after he had spoken with Shepard. A nurse showed him the way to Shepard’s room, and much like Kaidan’s shuffle into his room last night, James opened the door, hesitating a moment before stepping inside.

“You awake?” he asked, forcing himself not to fidget nervously.

“MMhmm.” Shepard rolled over on his back, smiling as he saw James. “James.”

“Thought I’d check in on you myself, before I return to L.A.” James said, walking over to sit in the chair that Kaidan had been sitting in yesterday. “You look about ready for an ironman,” he grinned.

“Asshole,” Shepard chuckled, sitting up with a laboured groan.

In the same moment Kaidan stepped into the room. Not knowing what to do with himself, he walked over and raised the blinds and opened a window.

“I owe you one, Vega,” Shepard said, placing a hand on James’ arm.

James shook his head, “No you don’t.”

“You went above and beyond to make sure Kaidan was looked after, how can you say that it’s nothing?” Shepard stated, looking over at Kaidan who stood over at the other end of the room.

“Honestly Shepard, it was nothing,” James said, hoping it didn’t sound as lame as it did in his head. He stood from his chair and smiled at Shepard. “You know what, Loco?” he said, leaning in over the back of the chair, “You saved the world, man. If anyone deserves some happiness, it’s you.”

“Thank you,” Shepard said, not really sure how to react to that. He couldn’t recall that James had ever spoken of something that was not army-related in one way or the other. “You give yourself too little credit, Vega.”

“Maybe,” James shrugged. “I should leave you guys to it.” He saluted the room, only to have Shepard salute him back. Kaidan hesitated a second before he, too, saluted.

“Hey Jimmy!” Kaidan called at James’ back as he was leaving the room.

James stopped and looked at Kaidan, “Yeah?”

“Don’t be a stranger.” God! That was possibly the lamest shit that had ever come over Kaidan’s lips, but he just didn’t quite know how to say that he didn’t want James to leave.

James looked sadly at Kaidan. “You know where to find me,” he said, turning and left the room for good this time. He let go of a breath he wasn’t aware he had been holding. “Dear God,” he breathed to himself as he leaned against the wall, inwardly counting to ten. “Come on Jimmy, you can do this. Walk away and forget about it.” He banged the back of his head into the plaster wall twice before he pushed off the wall, and walked straight to the nurses’ station and picked up his bag, walking out of the hospital without looking back.

CHAPTER 6 – If you love me, won’t you let me know?

It was almost impossible, bordering on painful, to get used to silence. Shepard had gotten so used to flashing buttons and someone who wanted him to deal with something all the time, and private time was hard to find. He swirled a drink in a glass, staring at the amber liquid. He knew that Kaidan had wanted to go back to English Bay and get married. That was his dream. Shepard looked down at his bare ring finger. He had run out of excuses, and why not? Why not get married? Why not promise forever to the man he loved? Because Shepard knew that all he was good at was war. He was a horrible homemaker, he had never had a real home. Closing his eyes, he melted back into the chair. He had cheated death twice – and was more struggle really what he wanted? He and Kaidan had spent days just being in each other’s company, and when Kaidan had found an abandoned apartment in San Antonio that was livable, they had gone there. There was no need for Shepard to stay at the hospital if he was not hooked up to machines. Now it was mainly a question of gaining weight and doing exercise to get some muscle mass back. He was just happy that Kaidan was here, that they made it against all odds. Shepard smiled to himself. He had missed Kaidan’s presence. It always calmed him and gave him the extra kick he needed to push through things he thought were impossible. He had gone through a lot of crazy things to have a future with Kaidan. And now that it was here, he didn’t know what to do with it. Or rather, maybe he did.

“John?” Kaidan rubbed his eyes, and sat up in the bed, scratching his side. “Something wrong?”

“Not at all,” Shepard said, turning around in the chair, looking at Kaidan. “Go back to sleep.”

Kaidan resisted the urge to roll his eyes and groan. Wrapping the blanket around himself, he got out of bed, and came over to Shepard. “You only drink when you worry.” He took the glass out of Shepard’s hand and sniffed it. “Whiskey? Bad, huh?”

“It’s all there was.” Shepard said, pulling Kaidan down in his lap. “But you’re right, I was thinking about something.” He caressed Kaidan’s cheek. “I know how you want to go home, and start some kind of family, just you and me. The thing is that I have to return to London.”

“What?” Kaidan frowned, “Why? Haven’t you done enough for humanity?”

“Shit Kaidan, I don’t expect that you understand, but I -want- to return. I can’t just sit on my ass and get old and fat. However appealing it might sound,” Shepard said with a tiny smile, trying not to object to Kaidan brushing his hand away.

Kaidan sat in silent anger for a moment and then sighed and nodded. “All right, then we go to London.”

Shepard reached up again and ran a thumb over Kaidan’s lower lip. “No we’re not,” he said softly. “I am going alone.”

“What?”

“You don’t want to be in the army, you only ever joined the Normandy a second time because of me, you said so yourself,” Shepard said. “I can’t make you choose that life for yourself, just because of me.” He pulled Kaidan down for a kiss. “What about all those things you dream of?”

“I don’t care,” Kaidan whispered back, with fierce determination.

Shepard gazed lovingly at Kaidan. “You talk in your sleep, you know that, right?”

“No?”

“Jimmy, huh?” Shepard said softly, not prepared for Kaidan, who literally jumped off his lap.

“Jesus…” Kaidan whispered, “It’s not what you think, it’s just…” He walked over to the kitchen unit and poured himself a drink too. Maybe it really was time to be honest? “I didn’t know if you were gonna wake, none of us did… and it just happened.” He sighed and took a deep sip of his drink. “I had planned to tell you eventually. I just thought it was a little much to lay on you when you just woke from a coma, and I know that James worried that you wouldn’t trust him again.”

“You don’t have to apologize,” Shepard said, studying Kaidan from the other end of the room. “Life is precious, I know.”

~*~

Sitting in the car, driving from San Antonio back to San Bernardino, wondering if Shepard would have a good flight to England. This, this felt right, not just right because it was supposed to be right, but right down into the core of his soul. He had felt a sting of sadness as he had waved at Shepard when he had boarded the plane. Shepard was right, and Kaidan wasn’t sure what was the biggest miracle, that he had survived the blast or that he woke up with a new insight. Maybe a couple of those politicians could do with a little near death experience, if you woke up from them as a changed man.

It was not that he didn’t love Shepard, he always would. But he wanted something completely different with what was left of his time, and Kaidan would have followed him to London and would have been miserable. Strange as it seemed, it really didn’t hurt to let him go, because they let each other go somehow. The realisation that the fantasy that they had, was something they had needed in a time of war, but now that there were no more battles to be fought, they had to find out what to do with themselves. Shepard wanted to rebuild London, and put in his effort where it was needed the most. And Kaidan just wanted to drink Mexican beer on the beach, camping out in the warm nights under the stars.

He wondered how he could ever explain it to James in a way that made sense, that he had been in love with an idea more than anything. He’d had a rock solid idea of how his life was going to pan out, and had been so firm in his belief, that he had not seen that the cards had changed. He had not dared to admit just how much he had fallen in love with James, because he couldn’t let go of the thought of Shepard, and once Shepard was there, he had not wanted to admit it. He should have seen it when he felt more guilty over James’ sacrifice than happy that Shepard was awake. Talk about pigheaded. He laughed at himself, turning up the radio, flooring the pedal, just wanting to get there faster.

~*~

James had been at the base camp when a call came in. Puzzled, he put the supply crate down and looked at the name of the caller ‘Major Kaidan Alenko, Earth’ – He didn’t know what was weirdest, that it still said what planet you hailed from, or that Kaidan would call him. Finally he pushed the accept call button, because what if it was important? What if something terrible had happened? “Alenko? Are you okay?” he asked, worried. And to his surprise Kaidan laughed on the other end.

“Never better,” Kaidan said with a big smile. “I was thinking, you want one of these?” He held up a Mexican beer so James could see it.

“What?” James’ eyebrows knitted in confusion. “I don’t…”

“I couldn’t get any Canadian ones.” Kaidan shook his head in mock disappointment. “So are you gonna let me drink by myself?”

James just stood there with an open mouth and couldn’t make head or tails of Kaidan. Until Kaidan turned 180, and James realised where he was. “Huntington Beach? What the… What are you doing there?” He calmed his excitement for a second, not really daring to believe it was what he thought it was. “Where’s Shepard?”

“He should have landed in London about now,” Kaidan said with a little smirk. “Get your ass down here soldier, before I drink all these beers myself.”

James’ face split in a shit-eating grin. “Yes Sir!” He saluted Kaidan’s image before the link went dead. James just let the crates be crates, and sprinted out of the base camp, almost backing the Jeep into the fence as he drove out. A million thoughts were flying through his head. Why was Kaidan here? What the fuck was actually going on? He wanted to believe it was what it seemed, but he was just too afraid to. Thirty minutes later, James tumbled ungracefully out over the side of the Jeep, and landed on the boardwalk. He could see someone sitting down by the water’s edge, and yelled, “Kaidan!”

Kaidan turned around and waved, “Hey!”

James wanted to be calm, but he couldn’t, not just a little bit. Stumbling as he ran in the sand, he was panting hard as he made it to where Kaidan sat. Leaning forward, hands on his knees, he tried to catch his breath. “Beer,” he managed to say.

Kaidan handed him a beer, and watched as James unceremoniously sat down in the sand.

“So…” James said, still a little out of breath, opening his beer.

“I had it all figured out on my drive here, but now I don’t remember what it was I wanted to say.” Kaidan laughed a little awkwardly. “So here goes nothing.” He licked his lips. “I was – I am – Could you? – Oh…”

“I heard about your abilities as a diplomat, I just never believed them until now,” James teased, pushing Kaidan’s shoulder lightly.

Kaidan blushed, and leaned in against James. “I love you,” he managed, not knowing how else to say what he really wanted to say.

James couldn’t have been more surprised even if he had tried. “Come again?”

“I – ”

“But I thought that…” James cut Kaidan off, trying to make sense of this.

Kaidan smiled happily. “So did I, but I was wrong.” He reached up and rested his hand against James’ cheek, which leaned into the touch. “I’m here to stay, if you want me to.” He knew he could have said all that more eloquently, but as he studied James’ puzzled and slightly guarded expression, they were the only words that came to him. Apparently James didn’t need fancy words, either, because the smile that broke on his face could melt the sun.

“Seriously?”

Kaidan lifted a brow in amusement. “No, I just drove all the way here to tell you that I love you – just for shits and giggles. Of course I’m serious, you idiot.”

James’ smile wouldn’t go down. He closed his eyes and placed a hand on top of Kaidan’s on his cheek. “Guess I have to tell my new hot stripper roommate to move out,” he chuckled.

“You better, unless you want me to blast him to tiny particles,” Kaidan joined the chuckle, completely unprepared for when James pounced him, knocking over both their beers, too, letting them run out in the sand.

James pinned Kaidan down and kissed him softly. “Welcome home,” he whispered.

Kaidan wrapped his arms around James’ neck. “Guess I have to get used to beans and Mexican beer, huh?”

“Damn right.”

“James?” Kaidan asked seriously, looking up at James’ face above him. “What I did to you was cruel. Why are you forgiving me so fast?”

“You expected me to have a grudge or something?” James said softly. “I thought I told you, I understood your choice just fine.”

“I wish you would have fought for it,” Kaidan said half-jokingly.

James smiled. “What? You wanted me to deck out a crippled man in a hospital bed? That would have been pretty.”

“Not like that, you moron.” Kaidan laughed at the mental image and pushed James to the side, rolling them around so Kaidan was on top. “You were just really fast to just accept that I stepped on you, why was that?”

“Because I cannot compete with Shepard,” James said bluntly.

“Well, you just did, and it’s not him that I’m with now; it’s you,” Kaidan whispered with a little smirk, kissing the corner of James’ lips.

“I’m not even gonna ask,” James said.

“It’s quite easy really. Apparently I talk in my sleep.” Kaidan blushed and laughed a little. “And what I had to say about you was pretty steamy.”

James sucked in his breath. “Really?”

“Really,” Kaidan said with a knowing grin, pushing James’ knees apart with his own, getting comfortable between his legs. There was no need for James to know the rest just now. All that mattered was that they were finally together, exactly where they belonged.

-fin-


(Just put this here in lack of other places to put it right now)

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