Inhale – Exhale

title: Inhale – Exhale
author: azzy
artist: Heavenonfire
rating: M+
warnings: drugs, slavery, violence
summary: Shepard one day finds himself at the Citadel, ready to fight for his Batarian master in four days of blood arrenged by the citadel space council. His biotics quickly catches the eye of the over protected, general’s son, Kaidan. And what they had thought was pretty forward and simple, turns out to be very, very complicated.
notes: This is my entry for the mass effect big bang 2013, and it was just one of those stories who kept feeding itself and turned into a goddamn mastodont. I had a ton of fun writing it though =) Thanks to Robotkumo and Asylumfarm for being my voices of reason. Thanks to Lisbet for taking it upon herself to beta all of this mess! And thanks to bioticbooty I am so glad you are you *laughs. And to Heaven on Fire who made the gorgeous art work, I am still in awe of your work sweetness. I have a playlist here if anyone is interested.

Artwork by Heaven on Fire

(add notes 2014 – I apperently forgot to upload this EVERYWHERE exept on Ao3 O_o)

You cannot kickstart a dead horse
You just crush yourself and walk away
I don’t care what the future holds
Cause I’m writin’ out today
With your fingers you can touch me

Be your black swan, black swan
I’m for spare parts, broken up

-Thom Yorke

 

Chapter 1.

”Have you ever seen anything like it?” Shepard asked in a hushed voice, elbowing Grunt.

Grunt shook his head, and strained his neck to look out of the window at the Citadel outside.

”God, it’s huge!” Shepard whispered.

”And beautiful,” said Nudrel, the youngest of the two Batarians travelling with them.

”You know,” Grunt said, ”I heard someone once claimed there were fish living in the water on the Citadel.”

”That’s such bullshit,” Shepard laughed softly, not taking his eyes off the view.

”Yeah?” Nudrel said, ready to side with the Krogan. ”And how would you know?” He fixed his four eyes on Shepard’s back, glaring at the tattoo that peeked out from his collar and spread across his neck.

”I don’t,” Shepard stated flatly. ”It just sounds like bull, that’s all.” He was about to say something else, but the door opened with a soft sound and all chatter ended.

“Ladies,” Ozafat said, crossing his arms over his chest. “And human.”

Shepard reluctantly pulled himself from the window and turned to look at his master, the huge Batarian, Ozafat, who had bought him off his former master for a small fortune. Ozafat was the fifth master that Shepard had had since he was sixteen, but he was by far the most demanding of discipline, and also the cruellest. He expected nothing less from his crew than outright victory. Since this was the case, Shepard had thought it was ludicrous to bring Nudrel. He was young and inexperienced, but he had never dared voice his concerns. It simply wasn’t his place to question his master’s decision.

“You know the drill, just because we are at a special event, doesn’t mean that you are allowed to slack off.” He looked at Nudrel, ”You have a day to train while we wait for the main events to start tomorrow. You need more practice with a shield. This is the big league, and you will not disappoint me.”

”Of course not, Sir.” Nudrel said, straightening his back, looking determined.

”You two,” he pointed at Shepard and Grunt, ”You practice the pull and charge routine.” He looked at the older Batarian in the cabin. ”Ezel, you make sure they actually do it.”

”Yes, sir.” Ezel said, and leaned back in the shadows. Ezel was the oldest of the gladiators in Ozafat’s house, and there had been whispers in the corners that he would be too old to fight soon, and what then? Would Ozafat offer him another position? Or would just be done with him? Either was a possibility, even if Shepard believed that Ezel would be fine since he served his master with a loyalty the human had not seen in any other gladiators, in any house he had served.

The shuttle slowed and docked ungracefully at the station. With practised routine, the four fighters grabbed their gear, and made their way through the airlock to the docking bay. They were used to bystanders when they arrived at any gladiatorial event. People wanted to see who they were betting on or against, before the games. But this was just overwhelming, and Shepard heard Nudrel suck in his breath in awe, before taking a small step to stand behind Grunt’s massive form.

A dark haired woman in a skin tight dress hurried toward them, a camera bot darting to and fro behind her. “Diana Allers with the Alliance News Network, with breaking news from the Citadel’s docking bay level E where the Batarian Gladiatorial Team has just arrived. Team, what do you think of your chances?” she said, pushing her microphone at them.

Ozafat snatched the microphone from Allers, and bellowed in his best dramatic tone. ”I am Ozafat of Anhur, and these are my fighters.” He stepped aside and Shepard hoped that Nudrel would get out from behind Grunt before he got in trouble. Apparently, the young Batarian had already figured that out on his own, slinking into a space next to Shepard, his hands clasped on the small of his back, so the crowd wouldn’t see them shaking.

”Ezel is a seasoned warrior of the arena, a skilled expert in the trade. And has not lost a fight in years!” Ozafat beckoned like a salesman on a market. ”And the Krogan, bred for war, not many have been able to withstand his charge!” Ozafat looked over at the four gladiators, ”And of course Nudrel, a natural born killer!” He skipped fairly quickly on to Shepard without saying too much about Nudrel, and really there wasn’t much to say. Nudrel had not even been in the ring a total of ten times. And he had only landed his ass here because he had deserted from the Batarian forces, and had been stupid enough to be caught in a whorehouse on Omega. ”And lastly!” Ozafat yelled, ”The human biotic! He is a deadly freak of nature!”

The crowd buzzed for a while, before Ozafat nodded at Shepard, who then stepped forward and let his body ripple with blue static.

”It’s true!” one onlooker said. ”He is a freak!” another yelled, ”Is he even safe to have on the Citadel?” a third cried. Shepard ended his demonstration and looked down at the ground between his feet. He was used to this reaction, but he would never really get used to it, somewhere deep down, in a part of him that wasn’t ruined by extensive training and what this occupation brought with it. He still hurt hearing it. He remembered his parents fighting over it, if it was natural or not. Before they died that is, murdered at the hands of the very creature who would later claim him for his own, and would force him to parade what he had spent years hiding.

”This is a strong team!” Ozafat continued, ”A winning team!”

”But the Turians have Garrus!” a Batarian yelled, as he stepped out of the crowd.

”He is not a ghost, he is flesh and blood, and he can lose,” Ozafat said, conviction in his voice. ”Remember these four when you place your bets tomorrow, good citizens of the Citadel!” Ozafat returned the microphone and let the reporter finish her segment, leaving nearly as quickly as she had appeared. Ozafat turned his attention to some Batarians and an Asari who wanted to know more about his contestants.

Nudrel inched closer to Grunt again. ”You really think that Garrus is here?” he whispered.

”Don’t know, don’t care,” Grunt huffed, getting tired of standing there like an idiot, being eyed by the morbid, fascinated, crowd.

~*~

Finally Ozafat was done, and he let the guards guide them through corridors. Even Ezel would twist and turn trying to take in the clean, lavish beauty of the Citadel. It really was miles away from the dirt patches where they would normally fight, and none of them had ever seen its equal. None of them spoke, they just stared at the city above, below and around them with large, childlike eyes.

They stopped in front of a large gate, and waited as Ozafat spoke to the guards stationed there. Shepard shifted his feet, watching his master, who looked like he was about to get into an argument with the C-sec guards. Wouldn’t that be something? If the great, magnificent, flawless Ozafat had borked the entry fee? That wouldn’t have been a first time he had tried to cheat the arena out of their profits. When Ozafat finally returned he looked angry, making all four men antsy, not sure what to expect. ”Apparently the good quarters are taken by inhabitants from Citadel space, the fucking racists! So, we have to make do with what we can get.” He turned on his heels, and walked with long angry strides through the now open gate.

Shepard looked up at the balcony where he saw groups of Asari and Salarians in deep discussions. It was clean and flawless everywhere, which made him slightly uncomfortable, like some sort of faceless nightmare. A little too polished, a little too without a soul.

Ozafat and the group followed the C-sec guard down halls and ended up in the far end of the facility. Shepard could have sworn they had even walked past the utility room. ”All right,” the C-sec officer said, ”You guys need to check in with the medical bay.” He placed a hand on Ozafat’s shoulder. ”You come with me to administration, and I will show you where your room is after that.”

Ozafat nodded, and wordlessly just followed the C-sec guard, leaving the foursome in the modest room.

”Holy fuck!” Nudrel grinned, ”This place is cleaner than a nun’s ass!”

”How would you know?” Shepard laughed while he dropped his bag.

Nudrel flopped down on a bottom bunk and sighed blissfully, ”I never kiss and tell.”

Grunt huffed, and Ezel just ignored them while he unpacked his meagre belongings, mostly battle enhancing shots and weights.

Shepard tossed his bag on the top bunk, and stretched his back. ”Wonder if the food is as weird as this place, ’cause that would be creepy as fuck.”

”I hear you!” Grunt huffed. ”Think we’re gonna get fed in sterile containers?”

”I wouldn’t count on it,” Ezel said drily. ”Come on, let’s find the med bay. And then you can sleep, drink, play cards or whatever the hell you do.”

”Yeah,” Shepard agreed, following Ezel as he left. ”Ezel?” He asked casually as they walked down the long white corridor. ”What do you think the exam is for?”

”Illegal substances, most likely,” Ezel shrugged.

”Oh.” Shepard nodded, recalling the master he had had prior, who had used to administer shots to them all, telling no one what it was, but Shepard had felt strong as a Krogan, and light headed. As if Ezel had read his mind, he said ”You have nothing to worry about.”

”What about all them shots of yours?” Nudrel argued from the back.

”They are legal,” Ezel said. ”If you are Batarian, that is.”

~*~

When they arrived at the med bay, there was a long line waiting for blood tests, and a crude medical exam. The medical exam was mandatory, but he had never heard of drug tests before. Maybe that was because he had never fought in a venue this big. It did make sense, however. There was a lot of money and influence in this place, and he knew that the better gladiators lived the life of goddamn rock stars here. He scanned the room they stood in, and took in his competition, or at least that portion of it which was represented in this room. There were Asari, Turians, Humans, Krogans, and even Vorcha and other Batarians. He noticed that there were no Quarians or Salarians in this line up. The Quarians made sense, they would never risk their health on something as pointless as a fight for money. But Salarians? That was puzzling.

A Salarian doctor came out and scanned the crowd as well, and then looked down at the datapad in his hands. ”James Vega, Corey Conrad, Jeremy Knight, Gustavo Perez, Jack O’Neill, Ross Clune and John Shepard. Follow me please.”

”It’s you, man.” Nudrel elbowed Shepard who was miles away in his head.

”Oh!” Shepard jolted into action and hurried after the people who followed the Salarian doctor. The med bay was no different from the rest of this place, too big, and too sterile and busy at the same time. Shepard obediently sat down next to the other men on a metal bench, watching the doctor.

”First we’re gonna do some blood tests, and then a medical exam.” The doctor said, ”It won’t take long.” He turned around and yelled ”Isek! Find the human template!”

The seven men sat shoulder to shoulder, squirming a little at the uncomfortable close contact. ”You, you aren’t on the Earth team, what are you doing here?” the man next to Shepard said.

”Who me?” Shepard asked, feeling like an idiot instantly ’cause it was pretty obvious he was talking to him. ”Uh, yeah. I’m from Anhur.”

”Really?” The man asked.

Shepard looked at the man with a little smile, ”Yeah, really.”

”There is still a human minority on Anhur.” The man named Jack objected, turning his head to look at James, who looked slightly annoyed with being corrected.

The Salarian doctor came back and pulled out a box with seven syringes. ”Hold out your arm,” he said to the first man in the row on the bench, and injected the needle, which then automatically sucked the blood needed with a soft swoosh and click. ”Stay seated,” the Salarian said, already uncapping the next syringe. When all blood samples were done, the Salarian gestured for the men to stand. ”Come with me, please.” He gestured to a door which led deeper into medbay.

Shepard was the first in line this time, and he looked at the giant machine with healthy scepticism. ”What is that?” he asked, nodding at the giant metal monster.

”You remove all metal, and step into it,” the Salarian explained. ”Much more efficient than the exams.” He swirled a long hand in the air, and ushered Shepard on, when he kicked off his boots, and removed his pants and belt. ”Are you wearing an omnitool?” the Salarian asked with his back to the row of men.

”Yes, I can’t remove them,” Shepard said, ignoring the surprised stares, holding out both arms to the Salarian’s gentle poking on the metal and plastic.

”Suppose it can’t be helped,” the Salarian sighed.

”Sorry, Doc.” Shepard squirmed a little under all that attention while he quickly finished undressing, stepping gingerly over to the entry point of the machine. ”Just in here?”

”Yes, yes.” The Salarian said, slightly rushed. ”Stand still in the white square and await instructions.”

Shepard took a deep breath and walked into the machine, coming to a halt in the white square just in time to see the blue grid slowly make its way up his body, mapping every bit, internal and external.

”Shepard, John.” The Salarian said through a microphone, ”Turn.”

Shepard turned and the grid ran over him again, and for a moment he wondered if there was something wrong, because the Salarian didn’t ask him to do anything new for a while.

”Your implant, what model is that?” the Salarian said through the intercom.

Shepard hung his head, he should have seen this coming. ”I don’t know, doc,” he answered honestly. ”It is Batarian, and I was never told anything about it.”

”Fascinating,” the Salarian said dreamily. ”I have never seen an implant like this on a human, and your skull even recovered nicely from the procedure, minor scarring… simply fascinating. I must do some more tests on you, John Shepard.”

”You’d have to ask Ozafat, of Anhur,” Shepard mumbled, he could feel his cheeks heat up just imagining what the other humans had to think. He had met other humans in the arena, but mostly they were either prisoners of war, set for a spectacular ending, or they were soldiers who had for one reason or another been offered a position in the Arena, and had chosen to do so.

”Will do,” the Salarian said, still a little hurried. ”You can step out and get dressed now.”

”So am I good to go, doc?” Shepard asked when he came out, from what seemed like the weirdest physical exam in his life.

”Yes. But you must come back so I can look at that Batarian tech of yours.”

Shepard hurriedly pulled his clothes back on, ignoring the glares of the other men. ”Suppose it makes sense now.” James said looking at Shepard with a puzzled expression.

”He’s one of them freaks,” the man named Ross peeped.

James Vega crossed his arms over his chest and studied Shepard. ”I for one think you just made a hell of a more interesting opponent.”

Shepard looked up while pocketing his hand. He had expected anything but that! ”Really?”

”Really,” James said. ”What the fun is it if it doesn’t even makes me break out in a sweat?” He grinned, and the other men nodded.

 

Chapter 2

They had all passed their blood work and physical, and true to Nudrel’s fears they had been served four sterile containers with food, weighed off in nutrients true to their blood type, race and weight.

The next morning they awoke fresh and rested, like they couldn’t remember when they had last. Shepard pulled the thin sheet over his head and turned on his other side, refusing to get up yet. He just wanted to return to his dream.

”What’s on for today?” Nudrel asked, slowly sipping the coffee that had come along with their breakfast.

”I suppose they draw on what teams should meet today,” Ezel said, and even he sounded less gruff due to a decent night’s rest.

”Shepard, if you don’t get your ass out of bed, I’m gonna drink your coffee!” Grunt barked, grinning as Shepard almost fell from the top bunk at the promise of coffee.

Flopping down next to Ezel, Shepard grabbed the coffee which came with the food container with his name and the number 55 on it. ”Jesus, it even smells like coffee,” he sighed as he popped the lid.

”Tastes like it, too,” Ezel said with a tiny smile. ”Not like that stuff Jalnor.”

”Yeah,” Shepard mused, ”That tasted like shit.”

Grunt chuckled, and Nudrel clearly missed the internal joke, but said nothing.

The door slid open and Ozafat stepped in, followed by another Salarian, this one carrying a datapad as well. ”Look alive,” Ozafat said, looking at the quartet, who all bowed their heads in respect. ”Do your thing,” he said to the Salarian, who walked straight to Nudrel. ”Your omnitool.” Nudrel obediently placed both his arms on the table and let the Salarian punch in what he needed.

”All right, we got the fourth and the sixth fight today,” Ozafat said. ”A pair and a solo.” No one said anything, they just listened. ”Ezel, you and Grunt work as Retiarius and Murmillo.” He then looked at Shepard, ”Shepard, you apparently already got a buzz going, so you go in alone. You will fight as Dimachaerus.”

Shepard looked up at his master, surprised. He wasn’t sure what surprised him the most, that he would get the solo fight, or that he would work without a shield in a match like that.

”This is the big league, and you better fucking bring your A-game,” Ozafat said. He looked at the Salarian who was done with the omnitools.

”You have an individual number in your omnitool now. It will match you up with our paperwork at the med bay.” He nodded swiftly. ”Good luck.”

Ozafat waited till the Salarian was gone. ”Today’s fights are for show; this means that you can yield.” He paused. ”But the pinnacle of this festival will be – different. The crowd wants blood, they want death, and we are going to give it to them, or you will die trying.” He stared at Nudrel, who stared fixedly down into the table top, knowing that they were all thinking the same.

When Ozafat left, the room was silent for a long while. ”You’ll be fine,” Shepard finally said. ”You have done this before. They are nothing but prisoners of war, with defective omnitools. Hells, they are most likely not even soldiers.”

”You’re forgetting who they are at war with,” Grunt offered from the end of the table.

”Shut the fuck up,” Shepard spat. ”Besides, we don’t know if it’s Krogan. It could be Vorcha or whatever. It could even be Batarians who jumped.”

Nudrel nodded carefully. ”You’re right, everything will work out.”

”Atta boy,” Shepard smiled widely. ”You could spar with me, and maybe learn something.”

”From a human?” Nudrel said in a poor attempt of sounding cheered up.

”From the human who’s gonna kick your ass,” Shepard shot back, finally succeeding in making Nudrel grin.

~*~

Shepard and Nudrel stood at the side of the arena and peeked out, watching as Ezel and Grunt went into the arena against two Asari. One of the Asari managed to get Ezel pretty good, and Nudrel visibly cringed at the sight of the dagger sticking out of Ezel’s thigh. ”The doctors here are the best of the best, man. Maybe his leg will be even better than when we came,” Shepard whispered. They both cheered as Ezel and Grunt took home the victory, one Asari out cold, and the other throwing down weapons.

They stayed on and watched the next fight, hearing the crowd roar. They couldn’t tell how many onlookers there were, but judging from the sound it was a lot. It sounded mostly like thunder when they cheered.

The fifth fight was almost over, and Shepard flexed his shoulders, slowly making his way to the entry gate to the arena. Taking a deep breath, he wrapped his fingers around the pendant dangling from the crude leather cord around his neck. Closing his eyes, he used a moment to ground himself, remembering the small things, the sound of gulls, the feel of a sea breeze, and the warm smile of his mother. All the things he had been denied for most his life. Sometimes it seemed like another lifetime. He had been a boy then; he was a man now. A man whose life was made up of travelling from place to place, dazzling the audience with blood. And when he stood there, holding the only thing he had with him from his childhood home, he was able to leave this piss-reeking place. ”Who are you praying to?” Nudrel asked softly, at Shepard’s side.

”Anyone who’ll listen,” Shepard said in a near whisper. ”All right.” He flexed his back, hearing it click into place. He widened the leather string, pulling the necklace over his head, placing it in Nudrel’s hand. ”Don’t lose it,” he said.

”Oh, I won’t,” Nudrel vowed almost solemnly. ”Good luck.”

Shepard just smiled, stepping closer to the gates, waiting for them to open.

~*~

”You remember to place your bet son?” Catherine Alenko asked, coming to stand next to her only son.

”Of course, mother,” Kaidan sighed, but smiled at her. He hated this place, and saw absolutely no point in attending these ‘festivities’, but Catherine had insisted, and like always Kaidan had never voiced his opinion, and just did as she wanted. His father had left for the war for a year ago, and had yet to return.

”Are you going to tell me who you voted for?” She asked, hooking her arm with his.

”55,” Kaidan said, and didn’t offer more.

”Oh, the freak?” Catherine asked, leaning in over the edge of the balcony, ”I saw that Williams girl earlier.” She offered him a little flash of a smile.

Kaidan just downed his drink. This was going to be a very long week. ”Yeah, I saw her, too.”

”You know, you could try and be on your best behaviour, son,” Catherine said with a fake chipper tone. ”For me?”

”Mother…” Kaidan was just about to argue that he had absolutely no intention of playing out his mother’s plans of him marrying that Williams girl. It was not that he didn’t like her, he actually thought she was both intelligent and funny, thing was just that – she just didn’t do it for him. And he was quite sure that he didn’t do it for her, either. But in their parents’ heads they were already engaged.

The crowd roared as the first gate went up and a Turian came out. The referee announced him as ’54 Emton of Taetrus.’ He raised two blue swords over his head as the other gate opened and a much smaller human came out. He flicked his wrists and two orange swords shot out of his omnitools. The referee announced him as ’55 John Shepard of Anhur.’ Kaidan joined his mother in leaning on the railing, watching the tattooed man who made much less of a spectacle out of himself than the Turian.

The fight started and the crowd made an exited whoosh as Shepard’s biotics flickered. He was not allowed to use it as armour, but he could use it for pushing, and for show.

Had Shepard been able to use his biotics as a shield, he would have been able to avoid the larger, faster Turian’s sword, but as it was he was too show pushing him off, and gained a gash in his shoulder. He quickly returned the favour.

”Catherine,” Councilman Udina said, joining the mother and son at the balcony. ”I was afraid you would miss it.”

”Donnel,” Catherine said with a smile worthy of a politician. ”I wouldn’t miss this event for anything.” She looked at Kaidan, who was focused on the fight under them. ”Kaidan, manners?”

”Oh,” Kaidan held out his hand to Udina, ”Councilman.”

”Fascinating, isn’t it?” he said, nodding at the arena. ”Got money on it?”

”Yes, sir.” Kaidan said with a slight nod, and returned his attention to the fight as Udina focused on Catherine once more, asking polite questions about her husband.

”Yes!” Kaidan cheered as the Turian reluctantly stayed down in the dirt and didn’t get up.

~*~

Shepard turned around and sucked up all the cheers, flickering off his weapons again, helping the Turian up, ”Come on man, let’s go get patched up,” he panted.

”You put up a good fight,” Emton the Turian said, hobbling out of the arena.

”You too, you got me good,” Shepard admitted, and winced slightly as he prodded his injured shoulder.

As they waited at the med bay, Emton greeted another Turian. ”Hey, Garrus.”

Garrus stopped and studied them both. ”So this is the human that just handed your ass to you?” Garrus asked.

”Can’t really lie about that,” Emton admitted with a slight squirm.

”Garrus?” Shepard whispered. ”As in ‘the’ Garrus Vakarian?”

”One and only,” Garrus said, amused.

”Oh man,” Shepard said, raising his arm to greet him, but winced as the fragile scab broke up and it started to bleed again. ”You are, wow, I can’t believe it’s really you.” He smiled, a little embarrassed at his own outburst, but he just couldn’t help himself.

”And you are John Shepard, the human biotic,” Garrus said, amused. ”How did you ever land in the lap of that despicable Ozafat character?”

Shepard looked over his shoulder, not sure if he could speak freely or not. He opted to be careful, just in case. ”He paid a lot of good money for my services.”

”You’re a merc?” Emton asked, surprised. ”I thought you were a soldier.”

”Not exactly.” Shepard admitted, and looked away from Garrus, as he could see the truth dawning on the Turian’s face.

Garrus said nothing, he just nodded in realization. ”You’ll be glad to hear that the winners of the day are to attend tonight’s party with the council.” He grinned, ”By the fifth day I will be surprised of any of the councilmen will even be able to get out of bed.”

”I didn’t know that.” Shepard said, looking over at Emton trying to figure out if they were taking the piss. ”…But…”

Garrus chuckled drily, ”Welcome to the Citadel.”

Shepard rubbed his face with his dirty, bloodied hands. ”Fuck,” he mumbled. He had thought that he would be stitched up, and could go have some food and fall asleep. He had slept so well last night that he was already wishing he could go to sleep again.

”Judging from the performance you put on today,” Emton said, ”you’d better get used to it.”

”True,” Garrus said. ”Not a lot of humans would be able to best Emton that fast.” He looked up at the Salarian who came their way with purpose in his steps. ”Looks like you’re up, see you later,” Garrus said and left.

”Garrus fucking Vakarian, I can’t wait to tell Nudrel,” Shepard whispered and chuckled to himself.

”Oh?” Emton asked with a wince as the Salarian set to work on his injuries.

”That Turian is a fucking legend!” Shepard explained excitedly. ”And he just spoke to me! I mean, me!? I am just some dust-trash from a practically unknown planet… Wow…” A large smile split Shepard’s face. ”And he knew my name.” He turned his head to Emton. ”Why would he know my name?”

”Because you’ve been the talk of everyone since you arrived?” Emton closed his eyes as the Salarian closed up a cut in a particularly sore spot.

”But why?” Shepard asked, and then answered his own question. ”The biotics, right?”

”Yes,” the Salarian answered, much to everyone’s surprise. ”Rare to see human biotic, even rarer to see human surviving slave. And exceptional to see a human biotic slave with Batarian tech in their brain. You are indeed a one in a million specimen.”

”Thanks?” Shepard mumbled not sure what to think of that. ”But surely there are other human biotics, and human slaves aren’t that rare.”

”Humans are frail, only good for a short span, maybe mines.” The Salarian blinked, and slid over to Shepard and prodded his skin gently to find his injuries.

Shepard nodded, knowing that the Salarian was right. Most captured humans were killed on sight, or put to work in quarries or something. It stung less than he thought to have the Salarian close his cuts and bruises.

”Hey,” Emton said as he stood to leave, ”can you control those biotics?”

”Of course,” Shepard smiled, and focused on a datapad on a desk behind Empton, lifting it up into the air.

”Sweet!” Emton said, nodding. ”See you around, huh?”

”Sure,” Shepard said, nodding carefully, not wanting to accidentally bump the Salarian.

 

Chapter 3

Shepard, Ezel, Grunt and Ozafat all walked to the giant mansion where the party was being held. Ozafat was barking off instructions about how to behave in the company of the absolute elite, but Shepard didn’t listen. He couldn’t forget Nudrel’s face when they left him in that sterile looking room alone. Poor Nudrel, he should be here as well. Shepard would have offered him his invitation, but Nudrel hardly passed for a human. And Ezel hadn’t offered.

Now Shepard didn’t know if Ezel had ever seen anything like this, but he doubted it. Once they walked through the heavy double doors to the party, the first thing that hit them was the smell: opiates and sex, to Shepard’s best knowledge.

An Asari came up to Grunt, chattering wildly as she pulled the Krogan off. Grunt looked somewhere between smug and scared, which amused Shepard to no end. Ezel and Shepard shared a look and then slowly made their way to the bar. Ozafat was nowhere to be seen. He must have had other business to tend to.

”Did you see that?” Ezel whispered. ”That statue is alive!” He nodded towards an arrangement of people covered in gold, standing as still as they could.

Shepard shook his head, not sure what to say. He tried his hardest to avert his eyes. He didn’t want to offend anyone, but no matter where he looked, there was something that made him look away. It was not as if he had never attended a party before, but nothing that resembled this. The council sure knew how to let loose.

”If it isn’t the human biotic,” a voice said at Shepard’s left. He turned to look, and cold fear shot up his spine as he realised who it was; it was the councilman from earth. He had seen loads of images of him around. They had been bombarded with images of all the councilmen, probably prepping them for this moment.

”Councilman Udina,” Shepard said politely, bowing his head.

”No need for that,” Udina chuckled, taking a sip of his drink.

Shepard scanned the crowd for Ozafat. He was worried that he would get in trouble just for speaking to the councilman, even if the councilman was technically speaking to him. Ozafat wouldn’t care how it went down, just that it did. Oh, how he wished he had listened to his lecture instead of thinking about Nudrel’s lost expression.

”Excuse me, councilman Udina,” Shepard tried with a little smile. ”I have just arrived, and I find myself without a drink.”

”Luckily there is a remedy for that!” Udina chuckled, placing a hand on Shepard’s shoulder and guiding him to the bar.

Shepard wanted to shrug off the hand, but didn’t dare. He just let Udina guide him through the party, and into the very loud music, to a servant who held a tray of drinks. He handed one to Shepard, with surprising grace. ”Thanks,” Shepard mumbled as he took it.

”So what do you think of our little party?” Udina asked, wrapping an arm around Shepard’s waist.

Shepard held his breath, but nodded politely. ”It’s quite the spectacle,” he said. ”I’ve honestly never seen anything like it.”

”Of course you haven’t, child, you are used to those crude Batarians in some backwater system. Tell me, do they just light a fire and fuck?”

Shepard felt heat rush to his cheeks much against his own will. ”No, Sir, they do not.”

”Shame,” Udina whispered in Shepard’s ear, sending shivers down his spine. ”That would have had ‘some’ charm.”

Shepard bit his lip as he felt the hand leave his waist and travel up to caress his back. He steeled himself and raised the drink to his lips, wishing his hands weren’t so sweaty. Trying to focus on anything but the hand on his back, he looked at the dancing guests.

When Udina’s hand withdrew, it took Shepard a moment to realize it. He dared a look to his side, and saw Udina talking to two women. He saw his moment, and fled. He had to get out of the loud music and the shameless display of flesh and desire. He wasn’t a stranger to these things, but when it was put on display the way it was here – it was both alluring and disgusting if he had to be honest.

~*~

Kaidan saw his mother in the crowd, waving a long glass about, clearly agitated about something she was debating. He hurried the other way, back to where he would be out of sight from her, and could get a drink. Looking to his left he saw Ashley who was laughing merrily at something one of those gladiators said, he had never picked her for being into those muscular types, but it did explain why they had never gotten along. Kaidan looked down at his own squeaky clean, milky white complexion. Even as a child he had not been allowed to play outside too much. His parents were afraid he would accidentally activate his biotics, so he had been governed every second of his time, till he was old enough to get an implant with an inhibitor. He had pleaded and begged with his parents to have it replaced with a newer model, one without the inhibitor, which handicapped him with these ground shaking headaches. He looked at the servant with the tray and reached for a filled glass. At least he could get hammered and go to bed. But a second later the tray with the remaining glasses came crashing down, spilling their contents out over his chest and – standing completely still, he looked first at the mortified servant, whose hand was still in place, but without the tray. And then he heard a sharp intake of breath to his right. Turning his head, he looked straight at the tattooed man he had seen earlier in the arena.

”Oh God,” Shepard gasped, looking from the servant to Kaidan. Staring at the huge wet stain on the light blue satin attire. ”I – ” Shepard held up a hand, like he was trying to stop something, ”I am sorry, I didn’t see where I was going.” He snatched the towel from the servant’s other arm, and swiftly rubbed on the wet stain.

”It’s okay.” Kaidan said with a smile, but didn’t move to stop the other man from trying to dry it off.

”No it’s not, Sir,” Shepard said hurriedly in a pathetic tone, already imagining how many lashes he would get if Ozafat saw this. At least fifteen, his mind told him, and he winced at the thought.

”Really, it is,” Kaidan said with a little chuckle, placing a hand on top of Shepard’s to make him stop attempting to wipe off the stain. ”I always hated this fucking uniform anyway.”

Shepard looked up at Kaidan, and smiled nervously. ”If you say so, sir.”

”What do you say we get another drink, and start over?” Kaidan said letting go of Shepard’s hand on his chest.

Shepard withdrew his hand and wrung the cloth nervously in his hands. Desperately wishing he was as suave and good at this as Grunt. Because holy crap, he had never seen anyone more attractive in his life. This man seemed to be cut out of flawless ivory. Even his hair and his smile were perfect. And the way the brown eyes sparkled with mirth – If John Shepard had never believed in love at first sight, he did now. He didn’t know what to answer, so he just nodded.

Kaidan opened the uniform shirt, it was unpleasant with the wet fabric against his skin, but to throw it would be an invite for anyone. And just maybe if he was lucky, the surprisingly shy man at his side, would take it as an invitation. His mind was already playing with the thought of how he would look naked, tattooed, muscular and moaning in abandon in the receiving end of his cock. Kaidan licked his lips and cleared his throat. He had to stop these thoughts or he would have to stand here and carry a conversation with a raging hard on. ”What are you having?” he asked.

”Anything, sir,” Shepard said, hoping he wouldn’t pick something too gross.

Kaidan turned around and handed Shepard a drink. ”So, how about your name?”

”Shepard, Sir,” Shepard said politely. ”John Shepard of Anhur.” He had no clue what to say, and was dead scared that he would say something wrong, but at the same time he wanted to talk to this man forever.

”John Shepard,” Kaidan repeated. ”My name is Kaidan Alenko.” He held up his glass to Shepard. Shepard clinked his glass and obediently took a drink, it was sad to see Shepard’s movement, mechanical and laboured, as if he were afraid his body would betray him if he had fun. ”Anhur, huh?”

”Yes, Sir,” Shepard said, trying his hardest to look away from the handsome face with the deep brown eyes.

”Were you born there?” Kaidan asked, smiling at how Shepard would keep his stoic stance, but blush ever so slightly when he was caught staring. Oh yes, it was definitely mutual, which made him ridiculously giddy.

”Mindoir, Sir.” Shepard said, smiling softly, forgetting his place and taking a sip of his drink. ”My parents were colonists from Earth, terraformers.”

”So, farmers?” Kaidan said with a little laugh.

”Pretty much.” Shepard couldn’t help but to chuckle too, even if it wasn’t funny.

”John Shepard the farmer, I have a hard time seeing that.” Kaidan said with a soft tone, downing the last of his drink, reaching for two new. ”After the performance you delivered earlier today, one would think you were born to kill.”

Shepard drank the last of his drink, before taking the new one that Kaidan offered him. ”My parents were the terraformers, not me, sir.”

”Oh Kaidan!” Catherine sing-songed as she made her way to where Kaidan was standing with Shepard.

”Mother,” Kaidan bowed slightly. ”What brings you here?”

”The Williams girl, son. She is over there with one of those fighters. You really ought to do something,” Catherine said, giving her son a stern look, ignoring Shepard’s existence completely.

”I was actually having a conversation here, mother dear,” Kaidan said with barely contained irritation.

Catherine turned around and looked Shepard up and down. ”Oh,” she smiled, ”You’re the biotic, right?”

”Yes, Ma’am.” Shepard kept his eyes at the floor and bowed slightly at Mrs Alenko.

”Look at that, Kaidan, you have to do something!” Catherine whined, gesturing to where Ashley stood.

”Jesus, Mother.” Kaidan gruffed, brushing past a very surprised Catherine Alenko, wrapping his arm around Shepard’s waist and hauling him off. ”Bloody hell,” Kaidan hissed so only Shepard heard, ”That fella practically has his cock up in her, and my mother, of all people, wants me to go break it up. What did she expect me to do? Offer them hors d’oeuvres?”

Shepard couldn’t help but laugh. It was absolutely mind blowing to him, that someone who looked so refined, so perfect, sounded anything but, when he opened his mouth.

”What’s so funny?” Kaidan asked, laughter in his own voice. He looked at Shepard, noticing that he had little tiny smiling crinkles in the corner of his eyes. This was a guy who was used to laughing, however bizarre that sounded in Kaidan’s own head, ‘the merry slave’.

”You are, Sir,” Shepard chuckled, desperately trying to get his laughter under control.

”Believe me you, in my mother’s head, that was deadly serious,” Kaidan said with an amused sigh, pulling Shepard a little closer as they walked. If the other man minded, he didn’t make any attempt of showing it. ”My mother would like me and this woman to get married, but the thing is that, even if she is a great girl and all, she is just not…” Kaidan stopped to sip his drink, and let go of Shepard to sit at a bench. ”Not my type,” he sighed.

Shepard raised a brow. He wanted to ask why the hell Kaidan didn’t just tell his mother that he obviously had other preferences, not that Shepard was sure, but he couldn’t get more sure without Kaidan offering up his cock. Shepard had just never given these things second thought, he had always just taken each thing as it came, in whatever form it had presented itself. It wasn’t really what was important to him. Sitting down next to Kaidan on the bench, maybe a little too close, Shepard dared to raise his glass to toast with Kaidan. ”Sorry I ruined your shirt,” Shepard said, at a loss for anything else that was safe to say at that point.

Kaidan opened his mouth to say something, but when he turned his head and looked directly into Shepard’s slightly worried blue eyes, he just decided to jump into it, head first. ”I’m glad it was you,” he said softly, amused to see Shepard’s cheeks assume a slightly rosy color again. He didn’t think he would ever tire of seeing that, this man who was larger than life in the arena, fighting like a deadly ballet dancer. He would sit here and fidget and blush like a teenager over the simplest of compliments.

Shepard bit his lip. ”It was an ugly shirt anyway,” he said, but what he wanted to say was something along the lines of ‘you look better without it’ or maybe just the truth, that he was glad it was Kaidan’s shirt he had ruined as well. But that would be to tempt his luck a little much.

”My mother chose it,” Kaidan shrugged.

”Your mother chooses your wardrobe?” Shepard asked, the words out before he stopped himself. He blamed the bubbly in his glass.

Kaidan didn’t mind, though. He just nodded and smiled bitterly. ”If she bothered to know the first thing about me, she would know I fucking hate baby blue.”

Shepard laughed a little into his own hand. He realised that sitting here, listening to Kaidan, drinking bubbling wine, had made him forget why he was here. It had made him forget that he had to go back to in a little while. And that made him sad in a way. He wished he could have met Kaidan as his equal, that he could have said all the things he thought, that he perhaps could have acted on instinct, when instinct told him that Kaidan’s lips had to be as soft as they looked. But reality was another thing entirely, and those idiots who said that slaves never dreamed of freedom were wrong, dead wrong. Actually they thought of little else until they were broken completely, and knew they would never escape servitude.

”Is something wrong?” Kaidan asked, worried, when Shepard suddenly had gone silent, and his smile had faded.

”No, no… not at all, sir.” Shepard said, back to his trained answers, the soft flirt gone from his expression and tone. ”But maybe, maybe you should get back to the party? Before they start to worry.”

Kaidan frowned, he had no idea what had brought this on, where was the shy young man he had seen just a moment ago? And why had he been replaced by this distant thing? ”Did I offend you?” Kaidan asked.

Shepard’s eyes widened, and his lips became a fine line of words unspoken. But when Kaidan said no more, Shepard thought he’d better say something. ”No, you didn’t, Sir.” He shook his head and stared down into his almost empty glass in his hands, dangling between his knees. ”Forgive me, it’s been a long day.” He opted to look up at Kaidan and smile a thin smile to cover up his lie.

”I know!” Kaidan said with a smile, ”I’ll get us a new drink, and you take off your shirt.” He smiled at Shepard’s surprised expression.

Kaidan left, and Shepard sat on the bench alone. For a moment he wondered if he should just slip away and ask one of the guards to take him back to his room. But curiosity got the better of him, and in the end he pulled his shirt off, feeling horribly self conscious by doing so. He experimentally rolled the injured shoulder in its socket. It was still sore, and he hoped that it wouldn’t come loose and start bleeding in the arena tomorrow.

”Oh my,” Kaidan said with a little secretive smile. ”They really do continue.”

At first Shepard was confused, but then realised that it was the tattoos that Kaidan was talking about. ”Yes,” he just said and the shy smile was back, which seemed to please Kaidan as he slid down on the bench, handing Shepard his drink.

”Turn around, your back to me,” Kaidan said, and Shepard did it in the blink of an eye, like a trained dog. For a moment Kaidan’s hands hovered over the scarred skin. Tattoos and scars made it impossible to see how the skin would have looked without either. He marvelled at how Shepard’s muscles in his back would jitter as Kaidan placed his hands on the other man’s shoulders. ”Jumpy,” Kaidan snickered.

”I don’t know what you have in mind,” Shepard answered truthfully, resisting the urge to lean back against Kaidan.

”Still you took off your shirt and turned your back to me?” Kaidan asked, a little surprised.

”Of course,” Shepard said. ”Because you asked me to.” He hung his head, closing his eyes in bliss, enjoying the feeling of those impossibly soft hands on his heated skin. Kaidan’s hands were soft as a child’s and Shepard mused that he could never have held any type of weapon or tool in his hands in his life.

Kaidan pushed a little harder, watching goosebumps emerge in the wake of his touch. Funny that it gave him a sense of power. It was not like he didn’t know that he could in theory have asked anything of Shepard and he would have done it, like a goddamn circus pony. But Kaidan didn’t want trained, he got a kick out of the real John Shepard underneath all that, the man who would hold his breath when Kaidan’s thumbs ran down his spine, and who would twitch ever so slightly when Kaidan’s fingers brushed against his ribs. ”Is it any good?” Kaidan finally asked.

”Oh yes,” Shepard said dreamily in a near moan, as Kaidan worked a specifically sore spot. ”Where did you learn how to do that?” he asked, dazed.

”Around,” Kaidan answered, trying not to go from a massage to just fondling the poor man. The blissful voice of Shepard went directly to Kaidan’s cock, and no questions asked. Oh God what Kaidan wouldn’t give to bury it deep inside the taunt skin and what ‘had’ to be a muscular ass, of John Shepard of Anhur. True, he could just say the word. He had always despised those who abused their powers for such things, but truthfully those words had never scorched his lips as much as right now.

Shepard tried to recall the last time he had gotten a massage like that, and he couldn’t. The closest was that one time when they had cleared the table completely at an event, and his master at the time had treated them all to a whorehouse. For morale, of course. There had been a hooker who had had truly magic hands, but no, not since. He knew it would have to look strange to the occasional bypasser, but he didn’t care! He had just died and gone to heaven. ”Mmhmm, right there,” he drawled, arching his back, to get more of that wonderful pressure on his sore muscles down by the base of his spine.

Kaidan massaged that spot with great care, just to hear those soft sighs from Shepard. It was the closest to sex you could have with your clothes on, and he wouldn’t be surprised if he could shoot his load in his pants if this continued, just like a teenage boy. But those sounds were just so sinful. He noticed that Shepard was still holding onto his drink dutifully. Kaidan wrapped an arm around Shepard’s chest, and pushed back with a fist at the base of Shepard’s spine, hearing a slight click.

Shepard let his head fall back on Kaidan’s shoulder. He felt completely boneless and warm all over. If he didn’t know better he would think that Kaidan had been to the same whorehouse. He wasn’t really surprised when the hand that had been at the base of his back, flattened out and gently ran over his hip and to the front of his pants, soft fingertips meeting the tip of Shepard’s arousal, under the stiff fabric of his pants.

”Did I make you hard, from a massage?” Kaidan asked huskily in Shepard’s ear, moving his hand to unbutton Shepard’s pants, smiling at the soft sigh from the other man, as Kaidan took his cock in his hand.

”God, yes,” Shepard moaned. He knew that etiquette dictated that he should offer, but it just felt so delicious, and Kaidan obviously wanted to do this, so he just closed his eyes so he wouldn’t know if anyone looked, and let it happen.

”You keep moaning like that, and I will finish in my pants.” Kaidan whispered, experimentally pinching one of Shepard’s nipples while he jerked him off slowly.

Shepard left all shame at the door, and spread his legs a little more than he had to, thrusting ever so slightly into Kaidan’s hand.

To Kaidan’s delight, the blush he had admired so before, now reached Shepard’s chest. He curled his tongue around Shepard’s earlobe, earning a soft moan. He wanted to tell Shepard how beautiful he was like this, but he was afraid that it would break the spell. Instead, he licked what he could of Shepard’s neck, pleasantly surprised as the other man stretched his neck ever so slightly, offering it to Kaidan. Speeding his hand up, Kaidan whispered, ”Kiss me.” His cock told him he should have said ‘bend over’ or something dirty, but all Kaidan wanted was to kiss the soft looking, slightly parted lips and steal his breath. Shepard turned his head and planted an open mouthed, sloppy kiss on Kaidan’s lips. Kaidan could feel Shepard’s cock fill and twitch ever so slightly, so Kaidan decided to play dirty, and timed his tongue with his thumb running circles.

Shepard screwed his eyes shut, he could feel the familiar warmth spread from the base of his spine, and on one side, he felt horribly vulnerable like this, but he found that in Kaidan’s soft hands, he didn’t mind. He moaned into Kaidan’s mouth. Why he had opened his eyes right at that moment, he didn’t know, but he did and his right arm went up and pulled Kaidan more forcefully down into their kiss.

When Shepard took control of the kiss, Kaidan could not hold back any longer, and as he had predicted, he finished without ever getting his pants off. He knew he would have an embarrassing spot on his pants, but he couldn’t care less right now. Instead, he regained control somewhat and sped up his hand, jerking Shepard off. His reward was almost immediate. Shepard let out the most deliciously dirty moan, and came all over Kaidan’s hand.

They sat for a little while and regained their breath. ”Fuck,” Kaidan finally panted, laughing. ”I have not been that turned on since, damn.”

Shepard slowly sat up, and covered his open fly with his hands. He didn’t look at Kaidan; he didn’t know what to say or do. Because he had wanted this, he truly had. But would Kaidan ever believe that? And did it matter? It was not like it was something, it had just been a hand job. Admittedly a very elaborate one, but still just a hand job.

”Would you look at me?” Kaidan asked, and bolder than earlier, he lifted Shepard’s gaze with a hand under his chin. ”You made me finish in my pants, man.” He smiled a little awkwardly.

”Sorry?” Shepard said, returning the smile. ”Looks like I owe you a whole new set of clothes.”

Kaidan started to laugh, and leaned in to kiss Shepard again. This time it was a sweet, soft kind of kiss. One that Shepard returned without second thought.

”Darling?” Catherine called, from the top of the stairs out to where Shepard and Kaidan sat. ”Oh Kaidan,” she sighed, her face painted in disappointment. ”We talked about this.” She swiftly made her way to the bench, and forced Kaidan to look at her, much like he had done with Shepard before. ”Look at your clothes, son. And -” She shook her head and turned to Shepard who sat still at a statue. ”Shoo, your services are not needed any more,” she waved at Shepard, who almost sprung off the bench, white as a sheet.

”Yes ma’am, sorry ma’am,” he mumbled as he tried to get out of there as fast as he could, while buttoning his pants. He looked over his shoulder once when he was on the top of the short staircase. He could see Kaidan with his head bowed, and Madam Catherine was absolutely livid, hands flailing all over, and her voice had risen an octave. Shepard could see his shirt lying on the floor, but he was afraid to go get it. Ozafat would be furious that he had lost his shirt, but it would be ten times worse if he had complaints from someone like Catherine Alenko. So Shepard decided to let the shirt go, and slinked through the shadows to a C-Sec guard and asked to be escorted home.

The walk was silent. The guard eyed Shepard’s appearance, but said nothing. And once they made it to the gates of the quarters where his room was, the guard left, leaving his colleagues to let Shepard inside.

Shepard didn’t quite know if he was all giddy because of Kaidan, and how his soft hands and lips had felt, or if he was scared shitless that Ozafat would still get a complaint from Kaidan’s mother. He slipped into the room, and into bed. He would have to shower in the morning; he didn’t want to wake anyone sleeping.

 

Chapter 4

Shepard got up without a word and headed for the shower. He knew that the others would know something was up, but he just couldn’t be bothered. He stood under the warm spray of water and no matter what he did, he couldn’t shake the feeling of impending doom. He tried to reason with himself, that it was because he had taken something he wanted for himself, he had selfishly wanted Kaidan. There was no denying that, nor would he want to. His hands searched for his necklace like always when he needed to ground himself, but found nothing. Shepard opened his eyes, looking around his feet and on the bathroom floor.

Ezel, Nudrel and Grunt just all looked at him when he came out of the bathroom like a bat out of hell, pulling the covers aside in his bed. ”No!” He groaned, ”Fuck… Aw no.” Shepard banged his head into the metal frame.

Ezel blinked, and stood. ”You two, busy yourself elsewhere,” he said, looking at Nudrel and Grunt. ”Now!”

”But…” Nudrel argued vaguely, but took his coffee and walked after Grunt out the door.

”Shepard?” Ezel asked. ”What’s wrong?”

”My necklace,” Shepard mumbled, awfully close to tears. ”I lost my ring.” He pushed off the bed and listlessly sat down on a chair, staring at his breakfast and coffee cup. ”How could I lose that?” Ezel said nothing, he just opened the lid of Shepard’s coffee and handed it to him. ”My mother gave it to me when I turned sixteen,” Shepard whispered with a muddled voice, ”It was a silly tradition amongst the terraformers, that you got a ring when you turned sixteen, that you would give to your heart’s desire when you finally found him or her, I…” He took a deep breath. ”I never got to give it to anybody. The colony was attacked days later, but I still remember the smug grin on my father’s face when my mother gave that ring to me, he patted me on the back and, well yeah, it is just a very good memory. And it reminds me that I once had a life, I had a family, and I was somebody.” He looked away from Ezel, ashamed that he had said all that to the other gladiator.

”Look, Shepard we were all somebody else once.” Ezel said. ”Even me.”

Shepard turned his head, listening, sipping his hot coffee.

”I was a chieftain’s son, a messenger was sent to persuade my father to see reason in merging with another tribe. He refused. Short story is that he died and we were merged. But my father’s tribe would still look to me for guidance and leadership, so I was attacked one night, and dumped out in a ditch for dead. A trader found me, and the rest of the story you know. So yes, Shepard, we all used to be someone else.” Ezel leaned back in his chair and studied Shepard. ”You don’t need that necklace, you’ve got those memories right here.” He pointed to Shepard’s head. “And here,” he pointed to his heart.

”I know,” Shepard said miserably. ”It still meant something to me.”

Ezel nodded. ”You lost it at the party?”

”Don’t know. I suppose so,” Shepard admitted, recalling the crumpled mess that was his shirt, and wondered if his necklace would be in there.

”You can always ask some of the servants there if they found it, if you go back,” Ezel said with a tiny smile.

Shepard nodded. It made him feel a little bit better. ”Thanks, Ezel,” he said with a crooked smile.

~*~

That day when Shepard waited by the arena gates, he just held his hands, empty where the necklace would have been, and closed his eyes like he usually did. But he could not feel the sea breeze, or hear the gulls. He just felt like he would be smothered in the stench of piss. He eyed Grunt at his side. ”I can’t do this,” Shepard whispered. ”Break my leg so I can’t go, and Nudrel can take my place.” He looked pleadingly at Grunt, who just stared back.

”Are you mad?” Grunt huffed. ”You just pull them in, I will knock them out. Remember the routine.” He then stared a little closer. ”You’re not about to go weird on me, are you?”

”What do you mean?” Shepard asked. ”Of course not… it’s just…”

”No buts,” Grunt replied. ”Give them a show, goddammit. You are already testing Ozafat’s patience, don’t want to get on his short list.”

”No, I suppose not,” Shepard sighed, and rolled his shoulders, smiling to himself when his back didn’t ache or crack.

~*~

Kaidan stood on the balcony with his mother again, but this time she had made sure that Ashley was there too. Ashley and Kaidan were trying to count how many cameras there were, recording this for the extranet.

The announcer hit the microphone. ”Ladies and gentlemen, I am proud to present to you, from Earth – 27, James Vega; 25, Gustavo Perez; 19, Ross Clune; and 17, Jeremy Knight.”

Ashley clapped, elbowing Kaidan. ”Check it out,” she whispered. ”Number 27, he is -”

Kaidan cut her off with a dirty grin. ”Yeah, I saw.”

”Shh,” she hushed, looking over her shoulder to make sure that Catherine didn’t hear. ”I hope he wins again. I wouldn’t mind taking him for another round.”

Laughing, Kaidan shook his head. ”You are a bloody nympho.”

”Am not,” Ashley argued, ”I happen to like James a lot.” She winked at Kaidan. ”I heard Catherine caught you being naughty as well.”

”Amazing, I thought she would have swept that under the rug by now,” Kaidan said drily.

”Well she tried, but too many people saw and heard her rage and rant,” Ashley whispered.

The announcer waited for the cheers to die down, and the gladiators get ready in the arena. ”And from Anhur, I present to you 55, John Shepard; and 58, Grunt.” The gate went up and Shepard and Grunt came onto the stage. Kaidan stared fixedly at Shepard, who did not whip out any weapons this time, but a shield. And his buddy had a shield and a spear. Kaidan sighed, how was this fair? Four against two? And the two weren’t even allowed any decent weapons.

Ashley let out a sigh of relief. ”That’ll be over quick.”

”Yeah,” Kaidan said, focused on Shepard.

”And what the hell is up with that anyway?” Ashley asked, reaching for another drink. ”Anhur is in Batarian space, isn’t it? I don’t see a single Batarian.”

”Not all systems have Gladiators who are more famous than movie stars,” Kaidan said with a cold bite. ”They are slaves, Ashley; they are only here because they are told to.”

Ashley laughed. ”That is ridiculous.”

”Couldn’t agree with you more.” Kaidan agreed without taking his eyes of Shepard.

Catherine came over to the two and leaned out over the balcony. ”Who did you place a bet on, dear?” she asked innocently.

”I didn’t bet,” Kaidan answered, when he in fact had. He just refused to take his mother’s bait.

Catherine smiled and leaned in. ”You’d better get that varmint out of your head, son.”

Kaidan frowned, and gripped the edge of the balcony. ”That is none of your business, mother,” he whispered back angrily.

”Do as you wish, but I am only trying to look after your own interests,” Catherine whispered, kissing her son on the cheek.

Just then Shepard’s biotics flashed alive, and the crowd buzzed in awe and disgust at the same time as he caught Ross in a gravity field, letting Grunt make short work of him.

Kaidan smiled.

And suddenly it made sense why there were four against two. Unless the Earth team could flank the Anhur team and take one of the gladiators out, they would be picked off one by one. Shepard slammed Jeremy up against the concrete wall, knocking him out cold, but wasn’t fast enough to watch his nine, and with rehearsed ease James slid in under Grunt’s spear, and Shepard’s biotics that were charging, and slammed his shield up into Shepard’s jaw, sending him stumbling backwards, desperately trying to regain his footing. His biotics exploded out from his body in a massive burst, sending James flying in the opposite direction. But neither Grunt nor Shepard had seen the fourth man who was up against the wall, and now made a wild dash to Shepard as he was spitting blood and a splintered tooth. The man threw himself down, sliding on his thigh across the sand as Grunt saw him and set off after him, hoping to cut him off before he made it to Shepard.

Shepard only heard his name, and turned just as Gustavo rammed his sword up in Shepard’s abdomen. Shepard grabbed Gustavo’s shoulder and looked at him in wonder, as if he wasn’t sure how it happened, and then he passed out, leaving Grunt alone.

Kaidan squirmed, seeing how much blood pooled in the sand. ”You think he will be all right?” he finally asked with a tiny voice.

”Who knows,” Catherine said with a shrug. ”Who cares.”

‘I do’ Kaidan almost said, but just brushed past his mother, and out into the hall.

~*~

When Kaidan finally found the gladiatorial med bay, he was met by two Batarians who sat and talked softly to each other. He figured that he might as well ask. ”Excuse me,” he said. ”Would any of you happen to know Shepard, Shepard of Anhur?”

Nudrel looked up at Kaidan and blinked. ”Who are you, sir?” he asked politely.

Kaidan held out his hand. ”My name is Kaidan Alenko, and I am looking for Shepard. I saw he was injured and I figured they’d take him here.” He looked from Ezel to Nudrel. ”They did bring him here, didn’t they?”

”They did,” Ezel said. ”He’s down there, but I don’t know if the Salarians will let you through. We had no luck.”

”Oh,” Kaidan said with a sad smile. ”Mind if I wait with you?”

”Not at all,” Nudrel slid over a little to give Kaidan a seat.

”You guys from Anhur too?” Kaidan asked, careful not to say anything offending.

”I am,” Nudrel said with a nod. ”I think Ezel… Eh, I am Nudrel, by the way.”

”Vana,” Ezel said with a soft voice. ”I was from Vana.”

”I’m from Earth,” Kaidan said, realising how lame that sounded the moment it left his mouth. ”Sorry.”

”What are you sorry for?” Ezel asked. ”It’s not your fault.” He shrugged.

Kaidan could have laughed, but he didn’t.

”How is he?” Grunt asked when he finally came hobbling out of the room that was equipped as an emergency room, for stitching the participants up again if it was nothing serious. He instantly looked at Kaidan. ”Who are you?”

”We don’t know,” Nudrel sighed. ”And this is Kaidan.”

Grunt eyed him. ”I saw you standing on the balconies, sir.”

”I was, yes,” Kaidan admitted, ”I -” He didn’t even know how to explain to himself why he was here, how the hell was he supposed to explain it to a bunch of strangers? ”I have something of his, and I think he wants it back.” All three looked at him, and he gingerly fished the necklace out of his pocket, opening his hand letting them all see. ”He dropped it,” he said, smiling a little evasively.

Ezel chuckled, apparently being able to make the connection, whereas Nudrel and Grunt were oblivious. ”I am sure he would want that back,” Ezel said, with an amused smile on his face.

”Alenko, Sir,” James and Ross said, seeing Kaidan as they too left the emergency room.

Kaidan looked up at the two men, who stopped in front of him. He was about to say something when Grunt beat him to it. ”Keep walking, assholes,” Grunt growled.

The two men looked at each other, and then smiled. ”Sore loser?” James asked, amused.

Grunt just huffed, crossing his arms over his chest. ”I am warning you.”

James and Ross looked at each other and then James shrugged. ”Sir?” he addressed Kaidan. ”Are you all right?”

”Why wouldn’t I be?” Kaidan asked, surprised.

James opened his mouth to say something more, but stopped himself. ”Very well, Sir.” He bowed politely and walked out of medbay with Ross in pursuit.

”What was that about?” Kaidan asked Grunt, studying the angry Krogan.

”Their team mate,” Nudrel said softly, as if testing the ground, if Ezel and Grunt were okay with him explaining to an outsider. ”What he did to Shepard, is not allowed at this point in the games.”

”I thought it was an accident,” Kaidan said, puzzled. ”I mean he turned around at the wrong moment, and…” He frowned. ”All just a freak accident, that’s all.”

Grunt huffed. ”Gustavo is a seasoned gladiator; he would not make a mistake like that.”

”What are you saying?” Kaidan felt blood leave his cheeks, looking back and forth between the Krogan and the Batarians, with a rising lump in his throat.

”He is saying that the blow that Gustavo dealt, was meant to kill, not to merely draw blood,” Ezel said in a near whisper.

”But he would be disqualified, wouldn’t he?” Kaidan asked confused. ”And arrested or something.”

Grunt chuckled drily. ”He would be forced to leave the games, yes. But someone clearly made it worth his while.”

”That’s just speculation,” Nudrel said. ”Maybe it really just was an accident.”

”A gladiator like Gustavo doesn’t make mistakes like that,” Ezel said. ”I think Grunt is right.”

”Oh,” Kaidan felt slightly nauseous. ”So someone paid him to – to, do that?”

”That’s one theory,” Ezel said in a deadly serious voice. Grunt was about to add something, when they all heard Ozafat yell down the hall to the medbay’s hospital rooms. ”I need him up and fit by tomorrow.”

”There is a possibility that – ” the Salarian doctor argued, but Ozafat just raised his voice even more ”I don’t care! Do your Salarian thing. Just make sure he is out of that bed by tonight!”

Ozafat stomped out of the hall and saw the four sitting out in front. ”Do you three really have that much free time so you think you can spend it sitting around here like idiots?” he growled.

Ezel, Nudrel and Grunt all shuffled to their feet and followed their furious master out of medbay.

Kaidan turned the ring over in his hand, noticing an inscription inside the band. ”My heart,” it just said. He wondered if it was perhaps a wedding band or something. After all, Shepard could be married, he had never bothered to ask. Funny how it tugged at his heartstrings just to think that. Kaidan scolded himself for being ridiculous. Just because they had had a moment, didn’t mean a thing. And he was just here to give back Shepard’s necklace, right?

In the end he decided that he would go crazy sitting here, so he got to his feet, and walked down the corridor where Ozafat had exited. ”Excuse me,” he tapped a busy Salarian on the shoulder, ”55.”

”Two doors down,” the Salarian said, not even turning around to see who asked.

Kaidan nodded to himself and clutched the necklace as he walked down the hall. He looked at the name on the side of each door, until he reached the one that said, ’55 J. Shepard – Anhur.’ He walked through the doors that opened with a soft sound.

”I’m good,” Shepard said behind the makeshift wall made of fabric. Kaidan could hear his laboured breathing, and fabric rustling.

”Shepard?” Kaidan peeked around the wall. ”It’s just me.” He almost laughed at Shepard’s surprised expression; he mostly looked like he had just seen a ghost.

”Kaidan, sir.” He bowed his head, unable to bow. ”What brings you here?”

”Are you okay?” Kaidan asked worried, seeing Shepard was deadly pale. ”Maybe you should lie down.”

Shepard smiled swiftly. ”I’ll be fine, Sir.”

”You are a crappy liar, you know that, right?” Kaidan sat down at the foot of the bed, watching Shepard struggling to get his thin armour on again. He grit his teeth and was in visible pain as he clasped the buckles over his side. ”Fuck,” Shepard hissed, sitting down before his legs gave out.

”You are in no shape to be standing,” Kaidan said, worried.

”You don’t get it, do you?” Shepard said, with more anger than Kaidan deserved. ”I don’t have a choice.” He sighed at Kaidan’s hurt expression. ”Sorry, I didn’t mean to bark at you. With a little luck Ozafat will leave me out of the games tomorrow.”

”He will if he has any sense in that big head of his,” Kaidan mumbled, scooting a little closer to Shepard. ”How bad is it?” he nodded at Shepard’s side.

”Oh I’ll live,” Shepard said with a vague smile. ”But I don’t think I will win any matches any time soon.”

”Shame,” Kaidan said softly with a smile. ”I was looking forward to having a drink with you again.”

Shepard smiled and a little colour came back in his cheeks. ”I would have liked that,” he said in a near whisper. ”But it looks like you’ll have to find someone else to drink with.”

”I’m here now, aren’t I?” Kaidan said, not even sure why he had said that. Why was he acting like a lovestruck teenager? Maybe because his hands still remembered how Shepard’s muscles had flexed under them, and his cock still recalled the sweet sound of the other man’s lust.

”Would I be rude, if I asked why?” Shepard asked, studying Kaidan with his deep blue eyes.

”I found this,” Kaidan opened his hand holding the necklace. ”I believe it’s yours.”

”My ring!” Shepard lit up in a wide smile. ”I thought it was gone.”

”I found it on the ground when I took your shirt,” Kaidan said. ”Take it.”

Shepard gently took the ring and the leather string out of Kaidan’s hand. His eyes were swimming with unshed tears, which made Kaidan choke up a little. He had not in his wildest dreams imagined that Shepard would get this emotional about it. ”It is a silly customs with the colonists,” Shepard said, ”to have a ring forged for their children.”

”You have children?” Kaidan asked, not sure if he wanted the answer.

”Lord, no.” Shepard shook his head. ”Not that I know of, at least. No, this ring is mine, given to me by my mother.” He smiled up at Kaidan. ”And I was supposed to pass this on once I met my other half.” He chuckled a little. ”Hannah was always cheesy like that. Well the whole custom is pretty silly. Still it reminds me of her, of better days, and maybe I sorta like her sentiment.”

”She sounds nice,” Kaidan said.

”She was.” Shepard just stated. And then looked back up at Kaidan. ”Thank you for bringing this back to me, I don’t think I can… It means a lot. So thanks.”

Kaidan tilted his head slightly, and before he even knew what he was doing, he cupped Shepard’s face with his hand, gently running a thumb over his lips. ”You’re welcome,” Kaidan said. ”At least it gave me a reason to come see you.”

Shepard was silent, he just looked at Kaidan. His adam’s apple bobbed as he swallowed an invisible lump. This was just so surreal. He had wished that he could see Kaidan again. Maybe he would have walked into the mansion with a swagger in his step, and swept Kaidan off his feet. Something, anything but this really. His imagination had not been able to conjure something like this up. This was just too intimate. It was not about carnal desire; it was something else. And Shepard wasn’t sure he had any objections other than it was a nice fantasy, never to be. Shepard licked his lips, swiping Kaidan’s thumb in the process. ”This is -” he whispered.

”What it is,” Kaidan finished, leaning in and kissing Shepard so sweetly that his toes curled in his boots.

As the kiss ended, Shepard rested his forehead against Kaidan’s. ”You know there is a very real possibility that I will die in this arena, and even if I don’t, I will leave for Anhur.”

”I told myself this a thousand times over,” Kaidan admitted. ”That I was acting like a fucking teenager, but I can’t help it.” He smiled and caressed Shepard’s scarred chin tenderly. ”All I come up with is all the more reason to not play games.”

Shepard let out a deep sigh. ”This is stupid, Kaidan. You could have anyone of your choosing.”

”But I want you,” Kaidan whispered, looking at Shepard directly in the eyes.

”Fuck,” Shepard sighed, resigning all his arguments for why this was a really bad idea. It was impossible to say no to that soft voice accompanied by the hopeful glimmer in Kaidan’s eyes. Shepard knew he would hate himself later, but right now all he wanted to do was to kiss Kaidan.

 

Chapter 5

He had to hand it to the Salarians, besides it hurting like a motherfucker when he stretched, and having to hold his side when he had laughed at Kaidan’s stupid unfunny jokes, otherwise he was fit as a fiddle. Shepard had showered and was sitting with his coffee when Ezel got up. ”Shepard!” Ezel’s voice was full of relief.

”I heard we won the other match yesterday,” Shepard said with a smile, and a tip of his coffee mug.

”We did,” Ezel said, sitting down opposite Shepard, studying him with both pairs of eyes. ”So did that man give you your necklace back?”

”Yeah,” Shepard said, looking away from Ezel, while a large shit eating grin spread on his face. ”He did.”

Ezel nodded. ”It is as I suspected.”

Shepard looked up at Ezel, slightly alarmed. ”What is?”

”You lost that necklace in his bed, did you not?” Ezel asked with a perfectly blank expression.

”No, I…” Shepard fiddled with the brim of his cup. ”Maybe I did, in a roundabout way.”

”You do realise who he is, don’t you?” Ezel said, leaning in over the table. ”His mother is a close friend of the human councilman, Udina. You should be careful.”

”How do you know that?” Shepard asked breathlessly.

”I met him, and I looked his last name up, pretty simple really. His father is that big shot General who is in charge of the ‘Batarian charm campaign’.”

”Eric…” Shepard’s eyes widened. ”Alenko, of course! I knew I had heard that name before. Oh God.”

”Exactly,” Ezel said with a sad shake of his head. ”Do you really think what happened in the arena yesterday was an accident? Think about it, Shepard. Strategically it would have made more sense to take out Grunt first. But they went for you. And before you make excuses, remember that all of these men are way too seasoned to make a mistake like that.”

Shepard looked down into the brown liquid in his cup. ”You think someone persuaded them to play dirty?”

”Yes, I do.”

Shepard rubbed his face with callused hands. ”But Kaidan sounds so sincere, I don’t – ”

”I am not saying that he did it,” Ezel quickly shot in. ”When I met him, he seemed pretty genuine in his worry.”

”So…” Shepard bit his lip. ”It’s impossible that it was an accident?”

”No, not impossible, just unlikely. And I don’t think they acted on their own; it would make no sense for them to have Gustavo disqualified now, as they will need him later. So being a team mate short could cost them the victory. So I was thinking that it was someone who made it worth their while to, uhm, let that victory pass,” Ezel said in a near whisper.

Shepard just nodded.

~*~

Ozafat was predictably livid. Shepard tried his hardest to keep up as he was made to fight a mock fight with Nudrel just to see if he was fit. In the end Shepard had to yield, his side felt like it was on fire, and he was out of breath. ”You’re not even trying!” Ozafat yelled from the sideline.

”No, Sir.” Shepard grit his teeth, and his weapon flickered to life again. ”Again, Nudrel,” he panted.

Grunt and Ezel looked at each other, wondering when Shepard would just pass out.

”Humans,” Ozafat spat. ”If you had been Batarian, this wouldn’t even have been necessary.” He shook his head. ”That’s what I get for putting some trust in a human’s ability.”

Shepard yelped as Nudrel grazed his side with his elbow.

”If you do not bring me home a victory today, I swear I will sell you to the quarry, and you can use your precious biotics to lift rocks till your nose bleeds and your brain fries,” Ozafat barked, slamming his fist down into the chair in which he sat. ”Put some effort into it, Nudrel!”

Nudrel looked at Shepard and closed his eyes as he hit Shepard square on his injury, bringing Shepard to his knees.

”Why did they even bother patching you up?” Ozafat raged, getting out of his chair, stalking over to Shepard, who was still on his knees, trying to catch his breath. Ozafat grabbed his chin and forced his neck in a strange angle to face him. ”You ‘will’ win this, Shepard.”

”Yes, Sir,” Shepard said.

Ozafat poked Shepard’s side with his foot, earning him a pained whimper. ”Ezel, go fetch the medicine bag.”

”Yes, Sir,” Ezel said. He wanted to argue, because point one he didn’t know how any of this would work on a human, it was designed for Batarians, and if Shepard was subjected to a test, he would be disqualified for using drugs. But his master told him to get it, and he would get it.

~*~

”I can’t see straight,” Shepard whispered, rubbing his eyes as he tried to correct his vision. ”Fuck, I can’t see, Ezel!”

”You’ll be fine,” Ezel said behind him, all four of them waiting at the arena gate. ”Stay with me, I will -” His voice dropped to silence, not sure he wanted to finish that sentence, feeling slightly guilty that Shepard had a hard time standing without his knees buckling.

Shepard rolled the little gold ring between his fingers. ”You know what?” He grinned. ”It doesn’t remind me of the sea or my mother anymore.” His smile grew smug. ”It reminds me of his hands on my cock.” He giggled, very undignified.

”He is stoned out of his mind,” Nudrel said softly. ”What the hell are we gonna do?”

”Don’t worry, he will remember what to do,” Ezel said to Nudrel, and then hoisted Shepard up to stand straight. ”Whatever works for you, are you ready?”

”Yes,” Shepard said, his eyes glassy and his mouth dry.

~*~

Kaidan couldn’t believe his eyes when he saw Shepard enter the ring. How the hell had they been able to prep him for fighting this fast? Yesterday he had needed assistance to walk. He hoped desperately that they’d win and earn a seat at the party, so he could perhaps sneak Shepard off somewhere private and get to taste all of him. What the hell was wrong with him, anyway? He was usually a very practical man, but these last few days he had thought about nothing but Shepard, and his cock. Not even getting himself off worked, he could jerk off till he was sore, and still that hunger would linger. He could honestly say he had not experienced anything like this since his sexuality had made itself known. He was about ready to rub a fast one, just looking at the fight, and in reality since his mother was not here, he could have, and no one would have seen, but it was still in pretty poor taste.

He studied Shepard down below, who had gone from being good, to being a fucking God of the arena, finishing off the opposing team faster than Kaidan would have thought possible.

And as the last opponent lay at his feet, Shepard turned to where Kaidan sat and hoisted his arms, grinning.

 photo Gladiator_15.jpg
(Art by Haven on fire)

Kaidan smiled back, resisting the urge to wave. Finally he would get his time with Shepard later.

~*~

Returning to his room, Kaidan thought he could do with a drink, or a cold shower.

”Darling?” Catherine sing-songed, and entered the room.

”Mother,” Kaidan said, proceeding to pull his boots off, ”What can I do for you?”

”My darling son,” Catherine said with a sad smile, ”I have spoken to your father.” Kaidan looked up in alarm. ”And we decided that you should be on the first shuttle back to earth. All this blood and violence is not for you.” She ruffled his hair as she sat down on the sofa next to Kaidan.

”Why?” Kaidan asked. When Catherine didn’t whip up an answer instantly, Kaidan frowned, ”Because Ashley is fucking that soldier boy?”

”Oh Kaidan, must you be so vulgar?” Catherine sighed.

”Mother, listen, just this once,” Kaidan said, taking his mothers hands in his. ”Ashley is a great girl, she really is. And I would have courted her in a heartbeat, were it not that -”

Catherine held up a hand to stop Kaidan from speaking. ”Don’t.” She shook her head. ”Maybe we have to find another girl, but we ‘will’ marry you off to someone suitable.”

”Would you listen?”

”And when you get a seat on the council -”

”Mother,”

”Imagine what you could do!”

”MOTHER!” Kaidan yelled getting up from the sofa, instantly regretting that he had yelled, when Catherine looked like he had slapped her. ”Catherine, mother… I am not going to get on any shuttle, I have a date and I intend to show up. I happen to like him, and I like him ‘that’ way, whether you want me to or not. I can’t change who I am, and you know it, mother, you just refused to see it for years.”

”But you’re supposed to get a wife from a good family,” Catherine said close to tears. ”I can’t have a scandal like this on my hands.”

”What scandal?” Kaidan sighed. ”It wouldn’t be like I was the first politician in the history of Earth, or the Citadel, who is -”

”Don’t!” Catherine said again. ”I will not stand for this, I put way too much effort into planning, and you will not ruin it for me, Kaidan Alenko!” She stood up and straightened her dress in an angry gesture. ”I am your mother, and you do best in obeying my wish.”

”Don’t be like this, mother,” Kaidan said, placing a hand on Catherine’s shoulder.

Catherine looked up with tears in her eyes. ”My whole life has been planning yours, and now you are going to mess it all up, just because you want your selfish ways.” She wiped her tears away with her hand. ”He’s never going to be yours, you know that, don’t you son? He is a slave, Kaidan. Someone’s property. Please don’t degrade yourself like this. You are breaking your mother’s heart.”

Kaidan sighed and closed his eyes in quiet resignation. This was how it always went when he tried to do something for himself, every time he had fallen in love, or had wanted to sign up for the army, or anything really. Catherine would be there with her tears. ”I’m sorry, mama,” Kaidan said, wrapping his arms around Catherine.

”You are a good son,” Catherine said, petting Kaidan’s hair.

‘when I play by your rules’ Kaidan thought to himself, but he held his mother closer. ”I love you,” he mumbled.

”I love you, too,” Catherine said. Holding her son in outstretched arms, she looked at him seriously. ”I will let your father know you are staying, then.”

”Thank you,” Kaidan said with a little smile. But the second Catherine was out the door, Kaidan lifted a vase with his biotics, hurling it to the far end of the room, where it smashed in a million pieces. ”Bitch,” he hissed to himself. He hit himself in the head with the heel of his hand, his headache already beginning, goddamn inhibitors.

He sat down and didn’t know if he should laugh or cry, so the sound he made was somewhere in between. He thought of an experiment he had once seen in school, a rat in a box, who was taught the ‘right’ response by punishment. Touch the left button and you’ll get electrocuted, touch the right, and you’d get food pellets. He kicked his boot at his feet, and gritted his teeth. Now he had an option which was unlike the rats. He could outsmart his puppet master, and that was just what he was going to do. Not even Catherine was going to keep him from Shepard tonight.

~*~

Shepard’s vision still hadn’t cleared by the time he made it to the party. And Ezel was getting a little antsy, unsure when the unwanted high from the Batarian pain meds would go away. Shepard was mellow and chatty, very unlike his usual shy and guarded self. Ezel just hoped he wouldn’t cause a scene at the party.

They were greeted at the door by Kaidan, who was casually standing there, talking to two women, drinking, laughing. ”Excuse me,” Kaidan said as he saw the four come through the mansion gates. He smiled at Shepard who smiled back, the most blindingly pretty smile Kaidan had ever seen. ”Would you excuse us?” Kaidan said to the two baffled Batarians and the Krogan, as he hauled off with Shepard.

Shepard slinked up against Kaidan’s side, wrapping an arm around his back. ”This is nice,” he mumbled.

”Shh, my mother is on the warpath, and we need to hide, and quickly.” Kaidan hauled Shepard down halls and up stairs. ”Here,” he finally said, panting and grinning. ”This part is under maintenance, no one will ever look here.” He leaned in to kiss Shepard, who pulled him closer and kissed him back. ”I am,” Kaidan whispered between kisses, ”going to fuck you.” Shepard sucked in his breath and sighed at Kaidan’s words. ”Been thinking of my cock inside you, all day.” Kaidan mumbled, grabbing Shepard’s ass and stepping into the dark room in front of them. ”I almost jerked myself off watching you in the arena.”

”Really?” Shepard asked breathlessly, struggling to hold on to Kaidan, and get his shirt off at the same time. ”I have been thinking of your hands all day,” he admitted, letting his head loll back, while Kaidan dove in to lick a nipple.

”What about your injury?” Kaidan asked, suddenly worried he would hurt Shepard. ”Want to lie down?”

”I’m fine,” Shepard hummed, grabbing on to whatever was behind him, which turned out to be a recliner with a white sheet over it. ”Ezel gave me a shot for the pain.” He arched up into Kaidan’s mouth as Kaidan sucked on his nipples, switching his attention from one to the other, while fumbling with the buttons of Shepard’s pants once more. Shepard wanted to unbutton Kaidan’s pants, too, he wanted to see if his cock was as delicious as the rest, but his body refused. Kaidan’s mouth on his neck and on his nipples was distracting him, while one hand was kneading his ass, and the other was pushing Shepard’s thigh to the side.

Kaidan smiled to himself at how fast he could make Shepard literally melt between his hands, his skin felt like it was on fire. Kaidan took this as his cue and licked a trail down Shepard’s stomach, finally running his tongue down over all those scars, which gave Shepard’s skin a unique texture, he licked down over his cock, feeling it twitch under his wet tongue. ”Lean back,” Kaidan said, reaching up and pushing Shepard’s shoulder to force him back into the recliner. ”Hold your legs up for me,” Kaidan said with a smug smile, noticing Shepard looking down at him with half hooded eyes, and the blush was back, all the way down to his chest.

Shepard didn’t take his eyes off Kaidan, he hooked his elbows with his knee joints, and let Kaidan push his thighs out till he had the angle that he preferred. Shepard was just about to say something when Kaidan licked a wet trail up under his balls. ”Again,” was all he could muster, and as he heard Kaidan chuckle, Shepard closed his eyes and just felt the contrast between the cooling saliva, and Kaidan’s hot tongue against his skin.

Spreading Shepard’s ass cheeks more, Kaidan pushed his tongue into the inviting spot. Hearing Shepard’s mewls and moans made him all the more wanting to just ram his cock up there, and hear those deliciously filthy moans, just for him. ”Like that?” he asked, lapping at the slightly swollen muscle.

”Don’t stop,” Shepard whispered hotly, pulling his knees closer to his chest as an invitation.

Kaidan, reached up and pressed his fingertips against Shepard’s lips, Shepard opened obediently, and sucked his fingers best he could. This was better than his idle daydreams, not even those could conjure up an image as horny as this. And as when they had been down on the bench, Kaidan knew that Shepard would take whatever he gave him, and no questions asked. It made his heart beat a little faster from excitement. Slowly withdrawing his fingers, he studied Shepard’s face, and had to bite his lip not to let out a moan, as he slowly pushed his slick fingers inside, and Shepard’s mouth opened to a wordless ‘o’, and then made a low keening sound, that had Kaidan all hot and bothered. He fucked Shepard slowly with his fingers, relieved not to find him too tight, but not as loose as he would be if he had fucked someone else recently. Kaidan added a third finger, and licked up along Shepard’s erection.

Shepard’s thighs trembled, and he tried all he could not to let his body get the best of him. But when Kaidan’s tongue joined his fingers, Shepard lost the battle, and came.

Teasing Shepard a little, Kaidan twisted his fingers inside him, making him twitch. ”Shepard,” he whispered hoarsely, ”look at me.”

Shepard opened his eyes, and looked at Kaidan as he stood up and kicked off his pants. ”Your cock looks as soft as the rest of you,” Shepard said.

Kaidan just chuckled at the sentiment, and wiped off the cooling semen from Shepard’s stomach, and rubbed it on his own erection, it would have to do. ”Turn around,” he said, watching as Shepard turned around, resting a knee on the armrest, and holding on to the backrest. Kaidan ran his hands up over Shepard’s butt, and up over his back to his shoulders.

”Mmhhmm,” Shepard mumbled, arching his back to feel more of Kaidan. And when Kaidan finally started to push in, Shepard had to rest his head on the backrest, between his hands. It felt absolutely divine, there was no pain what so ever, and his cock slowly rose again.

Grabbing Shepard’s waist, Kaidan started to move, thrusting up into the warm heat, this was… Nothing could have prepared him for how this would feel, and he wasn’t sure why. Was it because Shepard was a glorified killer, so it was a thrill thing? Was it because the mental images of Shepard preparing himself for this flashed before his eyes, or was it simply because it felt right? He was absolutely no virgin, he had no assumptions that any of them were. But it still felt different than any other man he had ever known. Kaidan was brought back from his brief musings, when Shepard got into the game, pushing back against him, moaning with abandon. God he loved that voice.

Kaidan pulled Shepard up against him in an odd angle, but he just had to taste that sweat he could see on Shepard’s neck. He licked his way to Shepard’s ear and moaned lewdly, getting the response he wanted, that Shepard would stutter against him. ”You are so fucking perfect,” Kaidan panted, bending Shepard over again. Smiling, he didn’t bother to stop the sweat dropping from his forehead to land on Shepard’s back. Kaidan snapped his hips, and heard a fine gasp, which sounded preciously close to a ‘please’.

Shepard felt Kaidan’s hand slip on his sweaty skin, and digging those perfectly manicured nails deeper into muscle, and making tiny half moon dents in the tattooed, scarred skin, he reached down between his legs, and took himself in his hand, shivering lightly as the touch sent a little electrical jolt up his spine. Kaidan pulled him up again, their slippery skin sticking to each other. ”Come on then,” Kaidan whispered in his ear. Shepard rested the back of his head on Kaidan’s shoulder. The recliner creaked and protested under Shepard’s knee, now that it had to carry all his weight. Another tiny thrill travelled up Shepard’s spine, and he moaned purposefully loud in Kaidan’s ear, getting an instant reaction, as Kaidan’s thrusts became less controlled, not quite as deep and demanding, but stuttering and desperate. Shepard’s skin flushed with blue as he lost control for a moment.

”Do it,” Kaidan panted, hoping he would last long enough for Shepard to finish first. He pinched one of Shepard’s sensitive nipples, with the hand holding him up, earning himself another blue flash. ”Let go,” Kaidan moaned in a deep throaty voice. He was so damn close.

”Yes,” Shepard breathed, closing his eyes keening as the tiny jolt became a constant river until the dam broke, and Shepard trembled as his orgasm hit him, hard and bright. And with that his entire body flashed blue, hitting Kaidan with something that felt like a soft electrical charge. And for a second Shepard thought he would lose his mind, and this high would never end, a second much smaller orgasm rippled through him as Kaidan filled him up, reaching his own high.

Kaidan fought for breath, but couldn’t help but to laugh softly. ”Jesus fucking christ, man” he sighed happily. ”That was… intense.”

”Yeah.” Shepard panted, slowly pulling from Kaidan and letting himself fall to the floor, where he lay and chuckled and tried to catch his breath, too.

Kaidan lay down next to him on the dusty floor. ”If I had known, I would have fucked you on sight,” he grinned, turning his head to kiss Shepard’s temple.

”Tell me about it,” Shepard said, his breath back to normal, but his body still buzzing, mostly like the aftermath of a nuclear bomb or something. He turned his head and looked at Kaidan in the dark. ”I didn’t know a little electric charge could feel that fucking good.” He said with a sweet smile.

”No?” Kaidan smiled, ”It’s one of the best parts.” He looked dead serious for a moment, ”If I tell you a secret, you have to promise me to keep it, no matter what.”

”Sure,” Shepard said in the dark.

Kaidan bit his lip and slowly engulfed one of Shepard’s boots in a purple mass, levitating it to the ceiling and letting it drop. ”So there, you know.”

Shepard stared at Kaidan intensely. ”You’re a biotic?” He grinned, ”But that is great!”

”No, it’s not,” Kaidan sighed. ”My parents were afraid I’d be shipped off to war if anyone knew, and so they paid a lot of money for an implant with an inhibitor. Basically it just means that I don’t accidentally trigger it, like I did when I was a kid, and when I choose to use it, it gives me a headache.” He smiled at Shepard. ”Like now.”

Shepard scrambled to sit cross-legged. ”Lie down.” He gestured at his lap, and when Kaidan moved over to use Shepard’s legs as a pillow, he started to massage Kaidan’s temples and forehead. ”Better?”

”Very,” Kaidan said blissfully, closing his eyes. ”You really are perfect,” he smiled sweetly.

”Flattery will get you nowhere,” Shepard chuckled. As he sat there, slowly massaging Kaidan’s temples, looking down at the relaxed man in his lap, he wished desperately that it was true. That they were free to fall in love, and do all of the normal things that people did when they were crazy about each other. He had an idea that Kaidan would make him feel like the center of the world, like he had just done minutes earlier. Shepard figured that now was as good a time as any, and licked his lips. ”I could fall in love with you, you know. Like madly in love. You are everything wonderful in one small package.” Shepard looked away from Kaidan’s eyes as he opened them and looked up at him. ”I envy the one that gets to keep you.”

”Hey, Shepard,” Kaidan said, lacing his fingers with Shepard’s at his temple. ”John. Look at me.”

Shepard looked down, feeling silly and vulnerable, and horrible for ruining the mood. But he felt he would lie, if he didn’t get it off his chest. ”No one called me that since I was on Mindoir.” He smiled a little sad smile.

”What’s with the kicked puppy face?” Kaidan asked. ”I thought we just – did something that made both of us happy.”

”We did,” Shepard said with a soft smile. He had a hundred rational arguments for why this would never be, could never be. But he wasn’t sure that Kaidan understood, and if he understood, why would he want to be reminded? ”Truth is, it’s gonna break my heart to leave.”

Kaidan opted for a little grin. ”I thought you said you ‘could’ fall in love.” He moved from Shepard’s lap to sit next to him, his head on Shepard’s shoulder. ”I know I fell in love with you the second I saw you. Weird, right?”

”Not at all.” Shepard said, leaning over and rummaging through his pants, only to sit back down, letting Kaidan settle against him again. ”I uhm… don’t misunderstand this, but my mother told me to give this to my heart, and I finally think I found it. It feels like it anyway. And… I want you to have this.” He held out the ring to Kaidan.

”But you need that,” Kaidan argued. ”You said it reminded you of your home.”

”Not anymore,” Shepard said, dead serious. ”Now it reminds me of you, and I think it belongs to you now.” He smiled at Kaidan who reluctantly pushed his finger inside the golden band, and he thought of how his mother would have absolutely adored Kaidan. His father maybe not so much, but he would have come around.

”Thank you,” Kaidan whispered, sounding a little choked up. ”I don’t have anything as meaningful to give you.”

”You just did,” Shepard said, wrapping his other arm around Kaidan as well, pulling him to his lap, kissing Kaidan’s chin lovingly.

They made love once again, slow teasing of overly sensitive skin, taking their time because they could. And when they finally regained their breath again, Shepard was the first to get up and search the dark room for his discarded clothes. Kaidan sat up and watched as Shepard slowly dressed rather ungracefully. ”I guess this is goodbye,” Kaidan said softly.

”I wish it wasn’t,” Shepard said with a sombre tone, pulling the sheet off the recliner and sitting down, fiddling with his boots. ”But I guess you are right.” He looked at Kaidan in the dark, Kaidan who struggled with his pants, which made him smile. ”You told me a secret, only fair I tell you one,” Shepard said, clasping his hands together, resting his elbows on his knees. ”I was in no shape to fight today, just to turn around was painful, my master was furious and since he couldn’t let me sit that one out, he did the next best thing. He doped me up with some Batarian shit.” Shepard bit his lip, hoping he could trust Kaidan like he thought he could. ”My injuries didn’t hurt any more, but – ” He took a deep breath, ”I was higher than a kite, I couldn’t see anything, everything was blurry and I couldn’t focus at all.”

”I’m sorry,” Kaidan said. ”But you fought like a fucking God.”

Shepard grinned and would have made a dirty joke, were it not for the seriousness of their talk. ”Tomorrow is the last whole day of the festival, and tomorrow all bets are off. It is what most have been waiting for. And then the teams will be pitched against each other, and I can’t – I don’t… I mean… What I am trying to say is that I don’t think I am going to survive a round hooked up on Ozafat’s goddamn horse tranquillizer.”

”Don’t say that!” Kaidan said in a harsh tone. ”I saw you today, and you wiped that other team off the map, and out of the games. Do that again tomorrow, and you will win.”

Shepard smiled lovingly at Kaidan. Really what did it matter if he croaked here, or had to return to Anhur? Same thing really. ”I don’t think the Earth team is going to play fair,” he finally said. ”And then there are the Turians. Garrus is undefeated champion, what makes you think I can take him on?”

”Because I know you can,” Kaidan answered firmly, his face determined.

Shepard looked away from Kaidan, but slipped from the chair and landed on his knees on the floor, grabbing Kaidan, shaking him lightly. ”It doesn’t matter, Kaidan, because I don’t want to say goodbye, I want to have this, have you. Over and over and over again.”

”Then give me some time, maybe I can find a way?” Kaidan said with a hopeful nod, kissing Shepard briefly on the lips.

”That is cruel, Kaidan,” Shepard said, his face fell before he too leaned in and kissed Kaidan softly. ”Where there is no future, there is no hope, and where there is no hope there is no life.”

”I ‘will’ find a way,” Kaidan said, his expression even more determined.

Shepard just sighed, and leaned his forehead against Kaidan’s. ”Don’t make this harder.” He let go of Kaidan and sat back on his heels, taking Kaidan’s hand, kissing the hand with the ring on it. ”Don’t lose it.”

They finished dressing in silence, and slowly made their way down the corridors and stairs in silence. A silence that grew more and more pregnant with every step, but none of them knew what to say. Finally they reached the door to the courtyard, which would take Kaidan back to what remained of the party, and Shepard back to his cot like nothing had happened.

”So,” Shepard shuffled his feet, and Kaidan found it most endearing that somehow he had transformed back to this shy Shepard. Maybe that was what was left of John, he thought to himself.

”So,” Kaidan echoed.

”Take care,” Shepard said with a little smile, stretching up to his toes, to kiss Kaidan.

”You too,” Kaidan said. ”Be safe till I see you again.” He smiled at the slight height difference that he had never noticed before.

Shepard simply didn’t know what to say, so he just pulled Kaidan in for a kiss, and then fled the courtyard, asking the C-sec officer to take him back to his quarters. He didn’t look over his shoulder, he had to leave, and knew looking after Kaidan would just make this worse.

 

Chapter 6

Shepard had showered and gone directly to bed, wondering what Kaidan was doing. He figured that he would pretty much be doing the same, only he got to lie down in a large bed with lush pillows and a thick cover. He pulled the thin cover over his shoulder which was almost healed by now, and if he closed his eyes he could imagine that Kaidan was lying behind him, breathing softly. Shepard smiled to himself, allowing himself the fantasy because it made him happy.

Kaidan did however not lie in a bed with lush pillows or otherwise, he was pacing the floor of his room, with a bottle of wine in his hand, trying to find a way to solve this. He looked at the ring on his finger. This was not a silly fling, it was larger than him, larger than Shepard. It felt like destiny. However grandiose that sounded, and Kaidan couldn’t help but to roll his eyes at his own train of thoughts, but he had no better word for it. This was meant to be, and he couldn’t just let Shepard die in the arena, or leave with that despicable Batarian. Maybe he should approach Ozafat and try and agree on a price for Shepard, but if Ozafat would even sell, he couldn’t raise that much money, he was not the one with the funds, his parents were and – it was a dumb idea.

Kaidan heard voices out in the corridor, and out of curiosity peeked out. He saw James Vega, the gladiator that Ashley had the hots for, debate something with one of the Earth lobbyists whose name eluded Kaidan. ”Hey Vega!” Kaidan yelled. ”Can I have a word with you?”

”Of course, Sir,” Vega said, excusing himself to the lobbyist, and went directly to Kaidan’s room. Kaidan closed the door behind him, and handed him a glass of wine, while he himself drank of the bottle.

”James, I can call you James, right?”

”Of course, Sir,” James said with a courteous nod. He wasn’t sure if he should freak out or be curious. Kaidan Alenko was a strange man that way.

”So James, tell me, what will it take for an Editore to dump a Gladiator?” Kaidan looked at James with a tiny hopeful smile.

”I could just retire, Sir,” James said. ”I would get a pension large enough to be comfortable, much better than the average soldier’s pension, sir.”

”All right, but what about those who cannot retire?” he asked, not sure how to ask what he really wanted to know.

”The slaves? The Prisoners?” James asked. ”Well they either die, or are put down like a sick horse.” He shrugged. ”Sometimes if they served their master well, he will find other uses for them.”

”So it’s pretty much a for life thing?” Kaidan asked, taking a swig of the bottle.

”Yes, sir,” James said with a little measured nod. ”Can I ask what this is about?”

”I need your aid in something James,” Kaidan sighed. ”But first you have to swear that nothing of what we discuss here, leaves this room.”

”Of course, sir.”

”Very well,” Kaidan said, returning to his restless pacing. ”The Biotic human, I can’t have him leave for Anhur, and – ” He turned to look at James. ”He can’t die.”

”That is asking a lot, Sir. I am not sure that you should be asking me this. Maybe take it up with his master?” James said diplomatically, sipping his drink.

”Fuck that deplorable shitstain on life,” Kaidan spat, ignoring James as he almost choked on his drink. ”You James, you are the one in the arena, and you are the one who could, I don’t know, just injure him enough so he is pulled for good, or just not kill him.” Kaidan winced in pain just thinking about it. ”I don’t know, something.” He stepped closer to James. ”There must be something you can do, for the right price. Everyone has a price, Vega, name yours.”

”You want me to rig a fight?” James said with surprise written all over his face, and then it dawned on him. ”So that is what this is about? The freak?”

”He is not a freak,” Kaidan spat hotly. ”And yes that is what this is fucking well about, now will you do it or not?”

”It would only be fair to inform you, that you should be careful to whom you suggest such a thing,” James said. ”But I have to decline; I have a prior arrangement.” He moved to put down his glass, when a force like a Krogan slammed him against the wall.

Kaidan held James against the wall with a crackling forcefield. ”What is your prior arrangement?” he asked, visibly both upset and drunk.

”Your friend has a price on his head,” James groaned as the pressure intensified.

”What?” Kaidan gasped. ”How much, and for what?”

”Thirty thousand credits, to the one who delivers the fatal blow.” James thought he might have heard the wall give away behind him.

”Who! Who wants him dead!” Kaidan yelled, his knuckles white around the bottleneck.

”Please, Sir, I can’t.” James whined, and for the first time really afraid he would be squashed like a bug.

”Who!”

James winced as he felt the bones in his arms straining, and he knew that any moment he would hear that sickly noise like when you broke a twig. ”Please,” he begged, and then it happened, his left arm snapped, making James howl in pain. ”I’ll tell you, just stop!”

”Tell me, and then I’ll stop,” Kaidan said coolly.

”Your mother!” James whimpered. ”Your mother put out that challenge.”

”That bitch!” Kaidan tossed the bottle against James, but it splintered on the forcefield. Kaidan let the forcefield up, and James fell to the ground, cradling his broken arm. ”I can’t believe she would do that!” He turned to James. ”Is that why your team mate tried to off him?”

James nodded. ”He has a sick child, and he needed the money for hospital bills.”

Bile rose in Kaidan’s throat, to think that his mother would stoop so low, as to use anyone who was desperate enough to take the bait. Just to get it her way. ”Oh God.” Kaidan turned his back to James and emptied his stomach’s content on the rug. He wiped his mouth, and straightened up, turning to James again. ”I can’t offer you more money than she did, but I can promise you that I will lobby the fuck out of you getting married to Ashley.” Kaidan shrugged. ”If she wants you.”

James looked a little softer in his pained smile. ”I always wondered why you two never got together, you seemed so perfect for each other, even your parents apparently think so.”

”Yeah, that is why,” Kaidan said, dismissing whatever James was about to say. ”Look, James I will be your goddamn best man, I will even fly the shuttle to where ever you want to go. But please don’t kill Shepard.”

James nodded mostly to himself. ”Suppose so.” He looked up at Kaidan in all seriousness. ”I can talk to my team mates and -”

Kaidan shook his head. ”Do you really think that a promise to me, will count for more than my mother’s money?”

”You’re right,” James said, watching Kaidan as he went to the small fridge to get them another bottle, and an ice bag which he tossed to James.

”Here it is,” Kaidan said, uncorking the next bottle, taking a healthy drink before offering it to James. ”He was pretty badly hurt by your team mate, but his Editore forced him to fight the very next day. I saw that injury and under normal circumstances, should you survive, you ought to be in bed the better side of a month for everything to heal up.” Kaidan took the bottle back from James as he finished taking a drink. ”Shepard’s master has him pumped up on some Batarian stuff that he doesn’t know what it is. He feels no pain, but he also has poor use of his senses.”

James nodded and listened, surprised that Kaidan would even tell him this. After all he was the competition, right? ”Maybe I could warn him? Or help him out a little, nothing big, but hopefully knocking him out hard enough so the crowd thinks he is dead?” James licked his lips. ”If it’s even our team going up against the Anhur team.”

”Oh yeah, hadn’t thought of that.” Kaidan sighed sadly. ”What am I going to do? I can’t just let it happen, not knowing that I tried. I have to do something.”

James leaned his head against the wall and moved the ice bag a little. ”Talk to Garrus, the Turian, he is a by the book kinda guy. And if I’m not mistaken, he would be outraged to hear that anyone tried to rig a fight, by pitching the poor or the greedy against one fighter.”

Kaidan ran a hand through his hair. ”I can’t feed my own mother to the wolves like that.”

”You don’t have to say why you know,” James said with a little smile.

”It might work,” Kaidan said with a strained voice. ”It’s more than I had before.”

James held out his broken arm. ”And just how am I going to explain this to the Salarians? – Sir.”

”Tell them you fell on a staircase, drunk. Who cares,” Kaidan said, getting to his feet. He was so terribly confused, his own mother! But at least he had some sort of counter plan. He should tell James to not tell anyone about the biotics thing, but he wasn’t bothered right now, it was a minor concern.

~*~

Shepard sat obediently, waiting for the injection. He looked over his shoulder at Ezel, knowing that he could never ask the other Gladiator not to do it. But he wished that he wouldn’t. He wasn’t sure he liked feeling like his head was full of cotton wool. ”So,” Ezel said, preparing the shot, ”where did you two go off to last night?”

”Do I look like I kiss and tell?” Shepard said, his smile widened to a genuine leer.

”Yes?” Ezel said teasingly.

”Can I tell you something?” Shepard asked. ”Before you give me that stuff, and I forget what I wanted to say.”

”Sure.” Ezel place the syringe on the table, sitting down.

”You are just as much a father to me, as my real father was. I have known you for a lot of years, and even if you are an old grumpy asshole, you always gave sound advice, to me and to anyone around you.” Shepard chewed a little on the inside of his cheek. ”I didn’t want to fall in love, it just happened, and I don’t even know why or how. But I did.” He looked at Ezel miserably, scratching his head. ”I know that it’s stupid, but… But how do you not forget? I don’t want to forget.”

Ezel seemed to ponder of that for a while. ”You’re right, that was stupid,” he said, and then added, ”The same way you recall your childhood home, or your favourite bedtime story.”

”Are you done in here?” Ozafat stuck his head into the bathroom, and Ezel shook his head, but picked up the syringe. ”We can talk about this on the shuttle home,” he smiled and pushed the syringe in, waiting for it to automatically empty out.

Ozafat looked at his team. They were a sad bunch indeed. Nudrel had his arm in a sling, and Shepard was blasted out of his mind. Only Grunt and Ezel seemed to carry themselves with some dignity. ”Okay, here is what will happen. ”Grunt, you will be Murmillo, and Ezel you’re Retiarius.” He looked at Nudrel and Shepard, who nodded off. ”Nudrel, you have to have a shot more of that painkiller, and take up as Dimachaerus.” He turned to Ezel. ”Shepard will fight as Andabata. Prep him.”

”Yes, Sir,” Ezel said, and set to work with grim determination.

~*~

Standing at the gate to the arena, Ezel turned to Nudrel and smiled, and then almost motherly-like, placed the metal ear piece on Shepard. ”Shepard, can you hear me?”

”Yes,” Shepard slurred, his movements sluggish and doped. ”You’re the Andabata, I am sorry, but I have to do this.” He punched in a code on Shepard’s omnitools, and produced an orange glowing shield and sword, but also a helmet that covered his eyes, tightening it till it was like a second skin. ”No!” Shepard whimpered. He turned his head around in panicky jerks. ”I can’t… Where are you?”

Nudrel placed a hand on his shoulder. ”We’re all here. Remember, Shepard, today there are no chance to yield, so you just strike, all right.”

Shepard’s panicked breathing slowed down a little, and he nodded. ”You have to keep saying something, so I can hear you, otherwise I might mistake you for the others.”

”You’re not that hard to dodge,” Grunt huffed, but reluctantly agreed after Ezel had stared at him long and angry.

~*~

Kaidan’s knuckles were white from holding on to the railing, watching Shepard who was twisting and turning at any and every sound. He bit his lip, and desperately hoped that the Turian had heard his plea. It had been hard lobbying at the next level to make sure that Shepard’s first fight would be with the Turians, but no one really wanted to fight the Turians this early on in the final matches, so it had been doable. Apply pressure to the right people, and you could go a very long way. At least all his lessons in political relations hadn’t been for nothing.

One of the Batarians went down and didn’t get up again. Kaidan was starting to sweat. Maybe Garrus had not been as interested in the information he had been served, as Vega had been sure of. He watched as the rest of the Anhur team closed ranks around the blind Shepard. Kaidan could hear one of them bark out commands, and the next moment an electric force slammed over the ground, like a deadly river, tossing everything in its path up into the air. Two Turians were in the wrong place at the wrong time. One fell down and Kaidan couldn’t tell if he was alive or just out cold.

”Who’s winning?” Catherine asked sweetly, handing Kaidan a glass of wine.

”The Turians, I think,” Kaidan said flatly.

”Guess it can’t be helped,” Catherine said with a smile, and kissed her son on his cheek, going back to her seat in the shade.

Kaidan cringed as one of the Turians threw a short spear, aimed with deadly accuracy, at Shepard, but he turned as he apparently heard something. Maybe it was a team member who said something, but the spear hit his thigh. What was the most amazing was that Shepard didn’t even seemed to notice he had a spearhead embedded in his flesh.

”STOP!” Garrus suddenly yelled. ”EVERYBODY STOP!”

A gasp went through the crowd, and all the Gladiators stopped, not sure what to make of it. Only Shepard seemed confused till the Krogan came over and placed a hand on his shoulder.

Kaidan couldn’t tell what was said, but Garrus was arguing with the referee, pointing at Shepard. The Referee went over and looked at him, he poked the spear, and Shepard didn’t as much as flinch, but apparently said something that made the Referee shake his head. ”FIGHT’S OVER!” he yelled and suddenly the arena was filled with people, some carrying out the dead, some escorting the wounded, and those who were uninjured left on their own, until the arena was emptied out. Kaidan let out a sigh of relief. Maybe he had ruined Shepard’s chances of winning, but he had also prevented his death, and that had to count for something. He massaged his temples. ”Excuse me mother, I am going to lie down,” he said with a weak smile at Catherine.

Catherine took a sip of her drink. ”Headache, dear?”

”Too much excitement,” Kaidan said, walking past her.

~*~

Shepard was escorted none too gently to the medbay and seated in a chair. A Salarian doctor was preparing something, he couldn’t tell what it was. His visor still obscured his eyesight, his heart was racing and his entire body hummed of pent up electricity. ”Doc?” he drawled.

”It will take a moment,” the Salarian said, brushing up close to Shepard, and punched the Visor, watching closely as Shepard blinked against the harsh light. ”Be still,” he said and drew blood with two different syringes. He then proceeded to shine the light in Shepard’s eyes, and listen to his heart. ”How are you feeling, 55 Shepard J. of Anhur?”

”Why was the game stopped?” Shepard asked innocently.

”Your leg,” the Salarian stated, getting busy with analysing the blood samples.

Shepard looked down himself, and saw a spearhead still embedded deep in his leg. ”Oh.”

The Salarian let the analysis run its comparisons, and came over to pull out the spearhead. He studied the man as he just took a hold of the spearhead and pulled it with a sickly slurp. Shepard didn’t even blink. The Salarian shook his head in dismay. He dripped some liquid down into the wound, and closed it up with a tool, lovingly named ‘the flesh welder,’ mostly because it looked like the wound was welded. It was cheap and efficient, but rather unpretty. ”Answer my question,” the Salarian said.

Shepard blinked, confused. ”What?”

”I asked you a question,” the Salarian said, walking back to his analysis on the screens.

”You did?” Shepard asked, the endorphins settling a little, and he just felt tired and warm.

The Salarian ignored him and pushed a button. ”Isek, come in here.”

Isek was there within ten minutes, and by now Shepard was having a hard time keeping his eyes open. It was their own fault, that dozing sound of the machines, and the low voices combined with the sound of fast fingers across a keyboard and the occasional beep.

”Watch him,” the Salarian doctor just said, and hurried out of the room.

~*~

When the door opened again it was not the Doctor, but a couple of C-Sec guards who woke Shepard by shaking him. Shepard was so tired that he just wanted to sit here and sleep for the next hundred years, but the guards got him to his feet, cuffed him and hauled him out of the medbay. It confused Shepard that they continued out through the facility and didn’t turn down toward the quarters. Sobering a bit, still stumbling over his own feet, he noticed that he was going back the way they had come. ”But…” was the only thing he could think of.

”It’s game over for you, mate,” one of the guards said. ”You and your team are going back to whatever backwater planet you came crawling out of.”

”How?” Shepard asked confused.

The guard just shook his head. ”I think you know.”

Shepard’s brain worked on overtime, till he finally whispered, ”the painkiller shots.” He looked up at one of the guards. ”But no one knew, how..”

”Someone apparently knew.” The guard shrugged. ”And it’s none of your concern any more, you’re going back where you can fight high on red sand, with a battleaxe the size of a small child.”

Shepard’s eyes widened. Had Kaidan blown the whistle? He was the only one he had told about the shots, and if so, why would he do that? If they had made it to the top five, maybe Ozafat had been so busy or content that he would have stayed a little after the games were over, and maybe he had been able to sneak off, and maybe they could have seen some of the other things at this festival together. They could have had a little more time, just a little more. But now there was just no way, Shepard looked around him as he was escorted down the street toward the shuttle they came in. Someone threw something at him, and though the guard yelled at the person in the busy crowd, Shepard figured that he sorta deserved it, cause if they had lost money, it was his fault in a roundabout way.

Nudrel was sitting outside the shuttle, cuffed by his right arm to Grunt, and he to the pilot. Two guards were standing there with them, waiting for Ozafat, Shepard and the body of Ezel. ”Look!” He elbowed Grunt, nodding at the Guards halfway carrying Shepard toward them. He looked like shit, he had one leg of his pants cut off, and it pooled around his boot, and a large angry looking scar adorned his thigh.

Shepard was tossed at Nudrel’s side, and his one hand was freed of the cuffs, only to be locked with Nudrel. Shepard rubbed his newly freed wrist. ”Where’s…”

”Dead.” Grunt said, not even looking at Shepard.

”Oh,” Shepard nodded.

Kaidan could see Shepard had fallen asleep up against Nudrel, and even if he was a little worried about whether Shepard would be angry, and what would happen now, he had been unable to stay away. He just ‘had’ to talk to Shepard before he left the Citadel, so he supposed it was a sort of luck that they hadn’t left yet. He walked up to the Guard standing at Shepard’s side, smiling politely. ”Excuse me, I need to talk to that man, before they take off.”

”No can do, chief’s orders,” the guard said.

”All right, well your chief happens to owe me some money from poker, and maybe I can talk him into letting you off with easy duty, if you would just look the other way for ten minutes,” Kaidan said, crossing his arms over his chest. It was a long shot but hopefully the idiot would believe it.

Shepard opened his eyes, hearing a voice he had not expected. He licked his lips, realising he would give just about anything for a drink. Looking up he saw Kaidan discussing something with the guard. Was he still on his ridiculous crusade for freedom? He would have to realise that not every place gave a shit about what some brat on the Citadel thought was justice. Still it made him very happy to see him, and it made him smile that he would even try.

The guard finally turned his back and Kaidan sat down in front of Shepard. Holding a hand to each side of Shepard’s face, he pulled him in for a kiss. It was short but none the less reassured Kaidan that he was right. This was no fling. None of them noticed Nudrel turning his head away politely. ”I’m so glad you’re okay,” Kaidan whispered, still caressing Shepard’s cheeks.

”What are you doing here, you idiot?” Shepard grinned, not wanting to ruin the mood. He raised his own free hand and slid it around Kaidan’s neck and buried his fingers in the expertly cut hair.

”I wanted to see you,” Kaidan said, and this time it was his tone which was sad.

”That was stupid,” Shepard said, his voice carrying no bite, just worry. ”We already said goodbye; this is not going to make it easier.”

”I know that,” Kaidan argued childishly. ”I wanted you to know that I won’t stop, I’ll -”

”Stop,” Shepard whispered. He didn’t exactly know what he wanted to stop, Kaidan’s sad expression, or this conversation, or the slim hope that he too carried deep inside that Kaidan would hold true to his word.

”What we have, is -” Kaidan whispered, taking a deep breath, not quite knowing what to call it. ”Is special, surely you feel that too.” He looked at Shepard longingly, as if he had just said ‘I love you’ and waited for the reply.

”I don’t know what to say, Kaidan,” Shepard said when he finally found his voice. ”It’s something we’ll always have in here.” He let go of Kaidan’s neck to point to his head. ”That is the best I can do.” He smiled and whispered, ”I am beginning to think that it’s you who’s fucking perfect.”

Kaidan smiled, too, at the reference, remembering when he had said it. He inched a little closer and whispered in Shepard’s ear, ”Do you still want me?”

”God yes,” Shepard whispered back, cursing that ability that Kaidan had, making him forget all around him.

”Good, then I will never stop, John. And I will find a way,” he whispered hotly, and with such conviction that Shepard had to close his eyes and smile.

”Go.” The guard poked Kaidan. ”Alenko, Sir, you have to go.”

Kaidan looked over his shoulder and saw what he thought could be Ozafat with some guards coming through the crowd. He swiftly kissed Shepard once more and reluctantly let go and blended with the busy traffic on the port.

Ozafat nodded at the guards, and one of the guards handed him the key which would work for the cuffs. ”Safe trip home,” the guard said, and walked away with his colleagues. Ozafat was fuming, and as he opened cuffs to the pilot, allowing him to open the cargo door to the shuttle, Ozafat pulled Grunt to his feet and shoved them all stumbling into the shuttle. ”Get moving, you fucking bastards,” he yelled.

Kaidan frowned and silently left the docking bay. The headache he had faked earlier was suddenly sneaking up on him, and all he wanted was to go to bed and sleep this awful day away.

~*~

When Kaidan did not show up for the party that night, Catherine took it upon herself to check up on her son. She peeked inside his room, and saw him lying in bed with the lights off. ”Kaidan?” she whispered, and got no answer, so she walked into the room, and sat down at the bed. When she looked down at him, she could see his eyes were open. ”Still suffering from the headache?”

”Yes,” Kaidan whispered.

”Poor baby,” Catherine ran her hand through his hair. ”Want something to help you sleep?”

”Maybe,” Kaidan answered cryptically. ”Mother?” he whispered staring off into the dark room.

”Yes dear?” Catherine was already getting up to get him some pills from the medicine cabinet.

”Do you love me?” he asked, his voice thin and tired.

”What kind of silly question is that? Oh, Kaidan you must be exhausted.” She proceeded to the bedroom and returned with a glass of pills. ”Now, you see you’re going to take a nap, and when you wake up tomorrow, it’ll all be better.”

”You realise that I am never going to marry Ashley, don’t you?” Kaidan whispered, ignoring his mother’s hand holding out two tablets for him.

”What kind of nonsense is that, please Kaidan, listen to your mother now.” She placed the tablets in Kaidan’s open hand on the mattress. ”You need sleep.”

”I don’t need sleep,” Kaidan pouted, ”I need you to listen to what I am saying.”

”I am, Kaidan, I am” Catherine said softly, rubbing Kaidan’s shoulder. ”But no good will come from that absurdity, surely you can see that.”

”It’s not absurd.” Kaidan refused to acknowledge how much he just wanted to bury his face in his mother’s shoulder and cry.

Catherine was just rubbing Kaidan’s shoulder, waiting in the dark for him to take the tablets and go to sleep. ”Maybe a little vacation to Illium would cheer you up?” she said.

Kaidan smiled bitterly, at least she was acknowledging that he was feeling miserable, and he was quite sure she knew why. ”Yeah, maybe that would be good,” he whispered, rising to his elbow to swallow the tablets, lying back down. ”Thank you,” he mumbled.

”Shh, go to sleep now,” Catherine whispered.

~*~

Shepard was sitting in the shuttle on the way back to Anhur. They had been dead silent for hours, until Shepard whispered, ”I’m sorry.”

”Don’t be,” Nudrel whispered back.

”This is all my fault,” Shepard answered miserably. ”Somehow I jinxed it, if I had just seen Gustavo. I, I didn’t mean for that to happen.”

”Look,” Grunt said from the far side, ”Ezel knew the score, we all do.”

Shepard nodded, because it was true, simple like Grunt, but none the less true. His voice fell to a low whisper. ”I didn’t tell the Turians.”

Nudrel and Grunt said nothing, they had no reason to believe he was lying, but also couldn’t change the facts. ”Ozafat seems to think you did,” Nudrel finally said.

Running a hand over his short trimmed hair, Shepard sighed. He knew that whatever was in store for him when they returned home would not be pleasant, but a part of him hoped that he would still be valuable enough to not just flat out kill. With a little luck he would be sold on to some other master, even the quarry or the mines sounded better, because as long as he was alive, there was a chance. A chance that Kaidan’s last words would come true. Shepard just had a hard time convincing himself of either.

When they returned to Anhur, Nudrel and Grunt were uncuffed and sent on their way to their barracks. Ozafat didn’t bark out any orders on Shepard’s behalf, but didn’t dismiss him either. Two of Ozafat’s wives came to greet him, along with a bunch of children. Shepard just stood and watched. He saw them go inside and that left him alone with only Ozafat’s guards to make sure he didn’t make a sprint for it. And there he stood for three hours, waiting. He got more and more sure that the guards would take him around the house and put him down, but nothing happened. Then suddenly two guards came and hauled him off to the prison that Ozafat had gotten installed. Shepard couldn’t see anything at first in the dark, but slowly noticed that there was one other, a house slave in there with him.

Shepard slid down the side of the bare wall and wrapped his arms around his knees, resting his head on his arms. He wondered what Kaidan was up to. It had been almost three days since they had said goodbye on the docking bay. The games were over. Had he gone to Earth? Or was he perhaps still on the Citadel? – He imagined Kaidan at a large buffet, like the one there had been at the party. Shepard’s stomach growled at the thought. He had not been fed since his meal before he went into the arena on the Citadel. All he wanted was to sleep, but he couldn’t. He looked out of the reinforced glass door. Funny how the world just continued around him like nothing had happened, yet his world was forever changed. Stop it! He thought to himself, Kaidan was not going to find a way, he was not going to launch some brave rescue mission. He was going to go on, find another man who could do all the things that Shepard couldn’t. Even had he been a free man, he would still not be the same breed, or class as Kaidan, and it still would never have been. Better to just forget it, and try and stay afloat and alive here. This was his life; this was his reality. Kaidan was just a nice dream, a soft comfort to wrap himself in when things were ugly. That thought made him sad, because God he wanted it. If there was ever anything he had wanted, he wanted to be with Kaidan, like he was supposed to. If he had one wish, it wouldn’t even be that Mindoir had never been attacked, or that he had never been captured, but that he could be someone worthy of Kaidan.

 

Chapter 7

Kaidan left the Citadel a day later, on a shuttle bound for Illium. He tried to busy himself, reading a book that he had promised himself he would get to, but the plot never caught on, and he was repeating the same couple of lines over and over, till he just put it down with a deep sigh. His eye caught the ring still on his finger. He pulled it off with a frown and turned it between his fingertips. The inscription was simple, ‘my heart,’ and it only made the dark feeling inside grow with more intensity. He looked up and around at the others on the shuttle, young people on their way to Illium to continue the party, businessmen, and a few who probably were just going home. He flipped open his omnitool and with a little hesitation pushed the call option to his father.

”Kaidan!” Eric Alenko said with a tired smile, as his picture flickered on.

”Sir,” Kaidan said mirroring his father’s smile.

Eric looked a little off put, but sat down in his chair to talk to his son. ”How was the Citadel?”

”It was,” Kaidan paused, ”extraordinary.”

”Good,” Eric smiled genuinely. ”Your mother said you suffered headaches.”

”It was okay.” Kaidan shrugged. ”Dad, could you do something for me?” Eric nodded, and Kaidan continued, not even sure how to word it. ”You’re in Batarian space, right?”

”Right.”

”Are you by any chance close to Anhur? Or do you perhaps have a campaign there?” Kaidan asked sweetly.

”Why do you ask that? You never took any interest in my work before,” Eric said, his expression guarded and suspicious.

”Because,” Kaidan took a deep breath, ”there is a man on Anhur, and I wondered if you could perhaps check up on him for me?”

”I suppose I could.” Eric Alenko leaned in closer to the camera and looked at his son in the other end. ”But why?”

”Does it matter?” Kaidan snapped, instantly regretting it, running a hand over his face. ”Because I want to know if he is safe, that’s all.”

”Kaidan, there is a serious storm brewing on Anhur. Those in favour of the Citadel’s influence are dwindling by the hour. The majority are captivated by local anti-Citadel warlords.” Eric sighed. ”Being a human on Anhur is already dangerous as we speak. Most of those with sense and resources have left.” He smiled weakly. ”Maybe your friend already -”

”He hasn’t,” Kaidan said, feeling utterly lost.

Eric took pity on his son, and grabbed a datapad with a sigh and asked, ”Does your friend have a name? You wouldn’t happen to know what colony he is stationed at, would you?”

Kaidan shook his head. ”John Shepard,” he said. ”He was one of the survivors from Mindoir.”

Eric didn’t bother to hide his surprise. ”So he’s not a colonist?”

”No.”

”I’m sorry, son, I really want to help you, but I can’t do anything if he is… uhm, not registered in my colonist database. There is no way of knowing where he is, and Anhur is large, kid.” Eric put down the datapad again, the plastic against the tabletop sounded awfully final in Kaidan’s ears.

”Ozafat, his master’s name is Ozafat.” Kaidan said. ”Maybe he is registered somewhere?”

”I don’t have access to Batarian intel like that,” Eric said chewing his lip, ”But wait,” He bent down to take another datapad. ”I have a list over some of the, uhm, elements in play.” He looked the list over, and swiped his finger across the screen. ”There! Ozafat of Talmis, he is a warlord in the city of Talmis,and surrounding settlements.” Eric read on. ”He is one nasty fella, are you sure?”

”Positive,” Kaidan said with a weak whisper.

”Funny, cause according to this intel, he doesn’t seem like someone who would keep human slaves,” Eric said.

There was a long awkward silence before Kaidan finally asked, ”Please?”

”Tell you what, son, we don’t have any soldiers around Talmis, but if by chance some were to go to that general area, I could ask them to look for your friend. That is all I can do,” Eric said, studying Kaidan’s heartbroken expression. Deciding to take a plummet into the core of this, Eric wet his lips and said, ”You know I don’t exactly agree with your mother on a lot of things, but one thing I will let her have, is that you should not fraternize below your standard.”

Kaidan looked up at his father’s image, alarmed.

”I didn’t get this far by being a complete numbnut, I can tell what’s going on, but son, you shouldn’t – A slave, really Kaidan? For the love of God, if you want to, uhm, go slumming, there are perfectly capable hookers. Tested and clean.”

Kaidan’s expression became pained, and he just nodded. ”I get it, Sir.”

”Don’t be like that,” Eric argued. ”I never said I wouldn’t do what I can for your friend. I am just saying you should be a little more, uhm selective with your affections.” Eric’s smile widened. ”I was your age too once, I know, okay?”

”Thank you, Sir,” Kaidan said. ”I appreciate anything you can do.”

”You are very welcome,” Eric said. ”Was there anything else?”

”No,” Kaidan said, his voice stiff and thick. He just wanted to end this conversation; it had been a mistake to call his father. ”I have to get ready, Sir. We’re docking at Illium soon.”

”Alright, now get some R&R, promise?”

”Promise.”

And then Kaidan hung up, just staring off into the wall. If he had been able to find a shuttle that would take him to Anhur right now, he would have.

~*~

”Wake up!” Kaidan laughed, kissing his neck, lingering longer than he had to. ”Are you seriously gonna lay there and sleep the day away?”

Shepard opened his eyes to see Kaidan sitting with a leg on each side of him, dripping with water, smiling. ”Of course not,” Shepard said, running his hands up Kaidan’s sides.

”Come on then, the day is wonderful, and the sea is warm.” Kaidan leaned down and kissed Shepard again, swiftly, pushing off Shepard, sprinting toward the ocean. Shepard sat up and looked at the blue skies, the white sand, and the even bluer lagoon. He knew this beach. This was on Mindoir. ”Hey, wait!” Shepard got up from the sand, and ran after Kaidan to the water.

~*~

”Wake up!” The house slave poked Shepard gently. ”There’s food.”

Shepard opened his eyes, finding himself in the same cell as the day before. He looked up at the skittish house slave, whom he learned was named Veres. ”Thanks,” he smiled tiredly, and took the bowl of whatever and started to eat it. Looking out the door, he could see the courtyard of Ozafat’s house, and it was buzzing with activity. ”What’s going on?” he asked out into the cell. He didn’t actually expect Veres to know.

”It’s a meeting,” Veres said coming to sit at Shepard’s side. ”I heard Master Ozafat talk about it before I came here. They have been planning this for weeks.”

Shepard stopped eating for a moment, and looked up at her. ”Planning what?”

”An attack on the human colony outside Talmis,” Veres stated.

”I thought this was a relatively safe region to be human,” Shepard said. ”Or that was what I was told.” He shrugged. ”I came here from Gebtu, so I suppose anything seems safe to me.”

”Well not anymore,” Veres said, blinking with both pairs of eyes. ”I am not even sure it’s safe to be Batarian here.”

Shepard nodded, seeing a bunch of Batarians carrying themselves with importance, some sporting richly decorated robes, other military outfits. ”We were disqualified in the Citadel games,” Shepard whispered, as if anyone but Veres would hear. ”Do you think Master Ozafat is that vindictive?”

”Maybe,” Veres said. ”It sure looks like it.”

”It does.” Shepard took another mouthful of the disgusting gob. ”I see no humans, Asari or Turians… anything that would make up an Alliance party, or just Citadel friendly group.”

”Are you afraid?” Veres asked bluntly. ”Being human and all?”

”No, yes… I don’t know,” Shepard said, not sure what to feel. ”I suppose it’s out of my hands.” He pushed the empty bowl away, and lay down again.

”I am,” Veres said. ”Scared.”

”Come here,” Shepard said, lifting his arm so she could come spoon against him. ”Try and get some sleep,” he mumbled, pulling her close, surprised that he too found comfort in it as well.

~*~

Kaidan knew his parents’ intention had been for him to relax, but instead he would lock himself in his hotel room and try and find what he could, both conventional ways and otherwise, about Ozafat of Tiamis. What he found was disturbing, and he regretted ever letting Shepard get on the shuttle back to Anhur.

Catherine had called a couple of times, and Kaidan had lied, saying that he was on his way out, or was just on his way to bed. Eric hadn’t made any sound, and Kaidan figured it was because he simply hadn’t any news. In that way, his father was a rather practical man. Never one for small talk.

~*~

Shepard woke to a commotion outside the cells. For a terrible moment he thought that it was the guards who’d come to take him out and put him down like a rabid dog. ”What…”

”They’re fighting, but I can’t see…” Veres said. ”It’s an Asari!” she squeaked, and Shepard couldn’t tell if it was from fear or excitement. Shepard got up on his knees and tried to find an angle that would let him see as much of the courtyard as possible.

It was all very surreal, the sounds were muffled, and they felt the blasts more than they heard them. Veres were hyperventilating by now, and Shepard put a friendly arm around her shoulders. ”They won’t hurt you,” he whispered, and for a moment he was taken back to hiding behind a corn silo, being scared out of his mind, wanting to run home to warn his family, but too afraid. He had told the two other kids that he would protect them too, and had failed. Maybe he was not a protector, or maybe he had just been sixteen and scared, but no matter what, he was not about to let history repeat itself.

The shooting died down, and Shepard ushered Veres into a dark corner of the cell, blocking her with his own body he waited. When the door slid open, the one who stepped through the door didn’t stand a chance, but was sent several feet back out through the door by a biotic shot to her chest. ”Peace!” Someone yelled from outside, but Shepard wasn’t reassured. He sent off a chain of bursts that would hurl anyone in its path off their feet, just to keep them away.

Inching to the door, one hand in front of him, the other keeping Veres behind him, he made it to the door out of the cell. And sure enough an Asari stood in the dimly lit corridor. She had her hands in front of her, and her weapon faced the ground, but she blocked his exit up. Shepard shifted indecisively for a second. Should he trust the Asari when she said she meant no harm? Or should he just kill her? In a flash he recalled his second master, whose house had been taken over by a stronger warlord. It had meant nothing to him, just that he changed master and scenery, but it had stayed the same, he had still been a prisoner, his jailor just had a different name. He was not going to let that happen again. If he was ever going to see Kaidan again, he had to escape this endless circle. And now was a good a time as any.

”It’s an Asari!” Veres yelled, shaking Shepard’s shoulders. ”Stop!”

Shepard lowered his hands and let Veres leave the cell, but he was more cautious. ”Don’t hurt her,” he stated with a sneer, but was too exhausted to do anything about it really, maybe he would have been able to get a shot or two off before his biotics would have to recharge, but that was it.

”Peace,” the Asari said, holding up her hands, showing that she finally put her weapon away. ”Are you injured?”

”What?” Shepard asked.

”Are you harmed, in pain?”

Shepard looked past the Asari, and longingly at the stairs up to freedom, when to his horror, Veres came tumbling down like a rag doll. Instantly he looked at the Asari, who turned around to see what the noise was, but she was too late and the advancing Batarian guard shot her square on her shoulder, almost ripping her arm straight off. Shepard just jolted into action, he didn’t really give it much thought when he used the last of his energy to send the Batarian guard crashing against the wall two times, breaking his neck so his head dangled at a strange angle, before he let the body fall to the ground. Regardless of his previous caution, he now exited the cell, and looked from Veres to the Asari. There was no doubt that Veres was dead, but the Asari was groaning and tried to scramble to her feet.

“Come on,” Shepard reached out for her, only to have her sidearm aimed at his head. Shepard sighed. “Suit yourself” He rose to his feet again, and looked down the corridor. “You wanna get out of here alive?” he asked in a whisper, noticing that the Asari reluctantly nodded. “Gimme your gun.” He held out his hand for the rifle.

“No,” the Asari groaned.

“There is a guard station down there.” He nodded toward the far end of the corridor. “And I have not seen them come by here.” He turned his head and looked down at the mortally wounded Asari. “Give me your gun.” He extended his hand once more, smiling a little when it was placed in his hand, smearing blood on his skin.

He stalked down the corridor, the gun close to his chest, his heart hammering. It was not true that they couldn’t get out of here without killing these guards, but he had seen this before too. That the guards orders were to kill all prisoners before the enemy could get to them, and retrieve information from potentially dangerous individuals, and critics of the Batarian system. He had not been able to protect Veres, but maybe he could get these prisoners out and let them have a fighting chance. He peeked around the corner to see two Batarians sitting in silence, listening to the noise from the outside battle. They were checking their rifles, and sighing. Now Shepard was absolutely positive that he was right. ‘One, two, three,’ he counted in his head, and turned around the corner to the guards station, and shot one of them straight in the head. The other looked baffled, suddenly being covered in his friend’s brain matter. But Shepard didn’t let him get a chance to reach for his own gun before he shot him, too. Shepard stepped into the room, just to be sure that there wasn’t someone hiding. The room was empty, and he walked over to the control table. “Fuck, that is gross,” he mumbled to himself, as he brushed off bone splinters and brain tissue from the controls. He heard a faint click, and the doors to the cells opened up. He took the two rifles from the guards, trying to ignore the sticky wet stuff on one of them. “Grunt?!” He yelled out in the corridor, trying to raise his voice above the prisoners jolting out of their cells, making a remarkable ruckus. “Grunt, you here?”

“Shepard!” Grunt looked up from where he stood, at the side of the wounded Asari, and smiled, which to anyone who didn’t know him, would probably have looked terrifying. He caught the rifle that Shepard threw at him with ease.

“Okay,” Shepard said handing the gun back to the Asari on the ground. “This is what’s gonna happen.” He took a deep breath. “I am getting out of here, are you with me?”

“Thought you’d never ask.” Grunt looked down at the Asari at their feet, whose breathing was laboured. “What about her?”

Shepard shifted again, rubbing his neck nervously. “She will die if we don’t do something,” he mumbled. “So maybe, maybe we should just take her up and leave her with her own.”

Grunt grabbed the Asari’s good arm, looking at the insignia. “Alliance Navy.”

“Great,” Shepard sighed. “I can’t leave her here to die, Grunt.” He looked up at Grunt who huffed. Shepard shouldered the rifle and got the weak Asari to her feet. “Come on, you can do this.” Shepard said soothingly. “What’s your name?” he asked, arranging her good arm around his neck, hoisting her up on his hip to carry her weight more easily.

“Nagia,” the Asari whispered.

“Nagi,.” Shepard repeated. “I’m Shepard.” He paused. “What do you say we get the fuck out of here?”

The Asari nodded and Grunt started walking up the stairs, with Shepard in tow. The scene that met then was confusing at best, and Shepard hoisted Nagia up on his hip a little more so he could walk faster. “Where are your people at?” he asked.

“Gates,” Nagia slurred.

“Stay awake!” Shepard growled, hauling her off toward the front gates. “Grunt! We’re leaving!”

“Shepard,” Grunt yelled, aiming at a Batarian on a low rooftop, taking him down with ease. “Say we get out of here, then what?”

“Don’t know.” Shepard panted, carrying Nagia in dead weight now that she passed out. “Not much of a planner.” He paused and slipped behind a pillar. “Wing it?”

Grunt huffed again, mostly because he didn’t have an answer to his own question either.

Making their way around the courtyard which was a slaughter house by now, Shepard and Grunt were almost at the gates. “Is she even still alive?” Grunt asked, tossing his empty rifle.

“Don’t know.” Shepard was out of breath, and his arm was somewhere between painful and numb from carrying the Asari.

“Rifle.” Grunt said.

Shepard shrugged his off and let Grunt take it. “We good?”

“As good as it gets,” Grunt said drily. “Let’s get rid of that parasite and get moving. I don’t care to stick around to see which side wins.” He moved slowly to the corner of the gate, and looked back at Shepard over his shoulder. “Aw fuck, it’s massive,” he pointed out, talking about the Alliance presence. “But nothing we can’t take.”

“That’s the spirit,” Shepard smiled, mentally preparing himself for carrying the Asari the last bit. “Ideas?”

“Come see for yourself,” Grunt said with a little bitter but amused smile.

Shepard sighed and lifted the Asari, coming to Grunt and looking around the corner. There were more military here than he had ever seen, at least six shuttles from what he could see, and each shuttle could carry about twelve soldiers, plus a squad leader and pilot. “Fuck!” he hissed. “We could hide till everything calms down?” he suggested leaning heavily against the rough plaster outer wall of Ozafat’s home, slamming his head into it, once, hard.

“And then what?” Grunt asked. “Play cards and hope for the good guys to win? Except there ‘are’ no good guys here.” He paused and looked away from Shepard. “Not for me, anyway.”

Letting the Asari slide to the ground, Shepard rotated his shoulders, hearing a disturbing crack as he did. “And if they sweep the grounds, and find you – They will kill you,” he said, closing his eyes, trying to think.

“You think they won’t kill me if I go postal and shoot my way out?” Grunt argued. “And Krogans, never surrender… never.”

“I know,” Shepard said miserably. “But -” He paused and looked straight at Grunt, “humans do.”

“Don’t you fucking dare, Shepard!” Grunt growled.

“When I step out here, you get around the corner, to your three there weren’t any shuttles so you just run.” He looked at Grunt. “You hear me? You fucking sprint!”

“Shep-”

But by then Shepard had already slung the Asari over his shoulder and stepped out into the open. “Run, dammit,” he whispered out the corner of his mouth, as he started to walk toward the Alliance shuttles. He didn’t know if Grunt had actually done anything, but he didn’t hear any shooting, so he figured that he had gotten away.

“STOP!” A Quarian yelled, aiming a rifle at Shepard. Shepard stopped and heard several rifles clicking as the safety was switched off. Holding on to the Asari over his shoulder, he could only hold up one hand. “Put her down!” The Quarian yelled. And Shepard did, as gently as he could, not sure if the Asari Nagia, who had tried to free him, was even still alive. He slowly straightened up and held his arms over his head.

“Move and you’re dead,” another soldier said, advancing from the side. Shepard heard someone coming in close behind him, and a part deep inside of him just curled up in complete resignation. All he had to do was to reach for the small gun tucked behind his belt, and it would all be over. He would be free. Maybe the afterlife would be kind to him, and serve him an illusion of a life with Kaidan by his side? – But he didn’t do anything, he hardly dared to breathe, and when his arms were forced behind his back, he just let it happen. “What did you do to her?” the soldier at his side asked, checking for the Asari’s vitals.

“Nothing,” Shepard said in a cracked whisper.

“She is still alive,” the soldier said, looking up at the Quarian.

“Well what are you waiting for?” the Quarian barked, watching Shepard intensely from behind the visor, while the soldier scampered off with the Asari. “We weren’t expecting any humans here.” The Quarian said, “Why are you here?” Shepard opened his mouth, but the Quarian held up a hand, “Never mind,” she said. “Take him, we’ll figure out who he is later.”

“Yes ma’am,” the soldier behind Shepard said, and pushed Shepard none too gently in the direction of the shuttles. And Shepard just stumbled along, nothing he hadn’t tried before. He just hoped that Grunt got away.

 

Chapter 8

Soon Shepard found himself in another prison cell, cleaner, and smelling more of steel polish, bleach and disinfectant than anything. But it was still a prison cell. He slumped down on the bed, and after some uneasy shuffling about, he fell asleep. A day later he was run through every test and quiz known to man, mental exercises that he didn’t even dare grasp the point of. Bloodwork, brain scans and finally the facial recognition, funny how it made his chest a little tighter when it said ‘John Shepard, human, male, unknown data implant – unknown data person – Milky Way/Eagle Nebula/Amun system/Planet Anhur/Tiamis/, property of Chief Ozafat of Tiamis’. Even after all this, it was what he was. Shepard just waited for the scientists to do their thing, while he was staring at the monitor where his information and vitals flashed. He used to be someone, he used to have a family, a birthday, and even a middle name, but all this was taken from him. It was like the kid that had lived happily on Mindoir was just gone. And in some sense Shepard reckoned that was true, that kid had nothing to do with the man that now stood here waiting for scientists to make sense of his implant. The only thing he had really, was that his future was unknown, it had not been that way since he was a kid.

He was taken back to his cell, and after two days two guards came to pick him up. They took him up from the cargo hold where the stockade was located and up through the decks. Shepard could honestly say he had never seen anything like the inside of the battle cruiser. It seemed as busy as a market, but everyone seemed to know exactly where they were going. Funny, really, like a really complex puzzle. His hands were cuffed behind his back, and he guessed it was just a precaution since he had not been angry or difficult at any point during his stay here. They went into an elevator and up, out into a hall and down to the far end. One soldier knocked the door and called, ”Sir? Special delivery. One John Shepard from Tiamis, Sir.”

”Send him in,” the voice from behind the door said, and the soldiers opened the door, ushering Shepard through, not taking his cuffs off. Shepard stood in a room that looked a little like the library had on Mindoir. He didn’t know what to do, or what to expect, so he did the safest thing – Stood still. ”Sit.”

”Yes, Sir,” Shepard said politely and went over to the only chair he could see, at the large desk. The man behind the desk turned around, and now that Shepard could see him he thought he looked oddly familiar.

”I tried to pull your records, and I found something odd,” Eric Alenko said. ”John Shepard is presumed dead, along with his family on Mindoir, and then there are no records of anyone by that name, until it shows up at the Citadel, as John Shepard of Anhur.” He eyed Shepard. ”Explain that.”

”I ehm, I don’t know, Sir,” Shepard said, clearly nervous, licking his lips. ”Maybe the Batarians don’t keep records of prisoners of war?”

”Very likely,” Eric said calmly. ”Your story seems suspicious, and under any other circumstances I would not have believed someone could suddenly reappear like that. But both records show that John Shepard is a biotic, one with no implant, and the other with Batarian tech.” Eric rested his chin on his fingertips and looked at Shepard closely. ”Not a whole lot of human biotics around, Shepard.”

”I know, Sir.” Shepard agreed with a little nod. Funny how what had made him a freak as a kid, and a gifted killer as an adult, now seemed to be his luckiest party trick.

”So what happened?” Eric asked. ”Those years.”

”I was with different Batarian masters, and they saw my potential for,” he paused, ”Death.” Eric just nodded and Shepard continued. ”They told me to kill in the most spectacular way there is, and I did.” He stopped and looked down at his lap. ”Please don’t ask me to recap it all. Because I can’t, Sir.”

Eric leaned back in his chair. ”I am not against blood sports, or gladiatorial games per se,” he said softly, ”But as with soldiers, there is a fine line between honouring what you do, and why. And then being a cold blooded murderer with a fancy title.” Eric paused, ”I don’t know if you understand my concern, if you are indeed who you claim to be, you were forced into servitude at a very young age, and those Batarian masters groomed you for God knows what, and I will not have a loose canon like that free on my ship. Or anywhere else.”

”I understand, Sir.” Shepard said softly. At least he knew what the cuffs were for now.

”But…” Eric said with a shrug, ”My son speaks highly of you. In fact he was the one who asked me, or rather begged me, to look for you, should I ever have a campaign that brought me to Anhur.” Eric studied Shepard’s very surprised expression, and said, ”Kaidan and I don’t always see eye to eye, but I trust his judge of character.”

”I -” Shepard swallowed an invisible lump, not sure how to react to this. Eric made his way around him and unlocked the cuffs. Shepard felt an insane chuckle rising in his chest. Kaidan, that wonderful idiot, he had done it, somehow he had pulled it off.

Eric sat back and flickered on a monitor, dialling. The screen flickered on and a sleepy Kaidan rubbed his eyes, and slowly sat up in bed. ”Sir?” Kaidan mumbled hoarsely.

”I have someone here who’d like to see you,” Eric said cryptically, and turned the monitor to Shepard.

”John?” Kaidan jolted up straight in bed, brushing his sleep tussled hair out of his eyes. ”Is it really you?”

”Hi,” Shepard said, feeling terribly awkward.

”I can’t believe it! That is… fantastic!” Kaidan grinned, relieved. ”I don’t know what to say. I – I will be there as soon as I can.”

Shepard smiled back, and was about to say something when Eric shot in, ”Now hold your horses son, he is still my prisoner till I sort this thing out.”

”But?” Kaidan’s brows knitted in confusion, ”Why?”

”Protocol, Kaidan,” Eric said. ”Your friend will be looked after, don’t worry.” Eric couldn’t help but to smile as he saw them looking at each other and smiling. He knew that Catherine would have his ass for this, but who was he to tell Kaidan what made him happy? And obviously this rugged looking fella did, ’cause Eric had not seen a smile like that on his son’s face since he was a small child.

”I will be there in a couple of days,” Kaidan said. ”I will find a shuttle that can take me to the Yggdrasil.” He smiled at Shepard again. ”See you soon.” And then his smile turned shy and he looked at his father. ”Thank you, sir.”

”You’re welcome, son.” Eric said and cut off the comlink.

Shepard lit up in another smile, mostly to himself. This must be the strangest day in the history of John Shepard.

~*~

When Kaidan arrived on the Battlecruiser Yggdrasil, Eric was waiting for him. Kaidan looked around to see if Shepard was around. His heart sank as he didn’t see him. He dropped his sportsbag, and politely held out his hand to his father. “Eric,” he said, clearing his throat, “Good to see you.”

Eric smiled and shook Kaidan’s hand. “It’s good to see you too, son.” He placed a hand on the small of Kaidan’s back, and guided him deeper into the ship. “I trust your trip was good?”

“It was decent,” Kaidan said with a nod. “Eric?” He stopped, “Where’s Shepard?”

“In the stockade,” Eric said with a stoic expression.

“You’re keeping him locked in?” Kaidan asked his mouth twisted as he was appalled.

“He is a prisoner of war, Kaidan,” Eric said. “And that is final.” He smiled a little, pushing Kaidan further down the hall. “I don’t make the rules, son.”

“Still,” Kaidan huffed, “Did he attack anyone? Do you really think he is dangerous, Sir?”

“No,” Eric said, “But I just don’t know, the evaluations are inconclusive.”

”So what happened? Is Ozafat dead?” Kaidan asked casually

”He is,” Eric stated, guiding Kaidan to his cabin.

~*~

Kaidan was getting ready for bed. He wished he could sneak down a floor or two and crawl into Shepard’s narrow cot. But he better not, he knew that it would upset his father, and right now the last thing he wanted was for Eric Alenko to be upset. He sat down on his bed with a sigh. Maybe he should try and find a movie on the extranet to fall asleep to? Shifting through movies, he suddenly heard two raps on the door. “John! I knew -” He said with a little sneaky smile, but when he looked up to see who stepped through the opening, it was his father. “Oh, Sir… What can I help you with?”

“Kaidan,” Eric sighed walking the two shallow steps to seat himself on Kaidan’s bed, next to his son. “Now, uhm… I know we aren’t exactly close, and we never talked much.”

Kaidan didn’t think he could have been more surprised if he tried. “I know that you are always busy, Sir.” He offered his father a little quirky smile.

“I shouldn’t have been too busy for my son,” Eric said softly. “I know that most words we ever exchanged were harsh, and maybe I was wrong.” The general shifted uncomfortably, clearly not used to talking about feelings. “You know how your mother is, she is a battleaxe extraordinaire.” Eric grinned a little. “When she gets something into her head, she expects the world to follow her lead, or she will bend it to her will.”

Kaidan nodded.

“I don’t know how to tell you this, but… I can see that you are very fond of that Shepard character, and I wanted you to know that. Uhm..” Eric looked helplessly at his son, not sure how to tell him what he meant.

“I know, Eric.” Kaidan just said. A bitter part of Kaidan was standing over them and screaming that ‘of course Eric didn’t care who he loved, that would demand a minimum of engagement from the General.’ But another part of Kaidan knew that Eric just wanted him to be happy, that was all. Maybe because he was never happy himself? “I sense a but -”

Eric nodded. “Your mother and I don’t always agree on things, and I came here to ask you… Uhm,” Much to Eric’s annoyance he stumbled over his words, wondering vaguely if this would have been equally difficult had Kaidan’s lover been a girl. “Are you serious about him?”

“What?” Kaidan chuckled drily. “Do you think I would have called you in the first place, begging you to plot a different course for your ship, or come rushing here at ridiculous overprice, if I didn’t care?”

Eric nodded stoically.

“Yes, I am dead serious,” Kaidan said more softly. “Eric.” He looked up and down his dad, wondering why he looked so beaten all of a sudden. “Is that a problem?”

Eric sighed. “Your mother is hellbent on your engagement with Ashley Williams, you know that.”

Kaidan fidgeted with the hem of his one sleeve. “I know.”

“It’s not that she doesn’t want you to be happy, I know she does. She loves you Kaidan, and if she is just a little… strong willed, and is sure she knows what is best for you, it’s because she doesn’t want you to make mistakes that will only leave you heartbroken, or worse,” Eric said, hoping his son would listen.

“Well,” Kaidan slowly looked up at his father, “They are my mistakes to make.” He cleared his throat. “Are we still talking about Shepard or?”

Eric didn’t answer right away. He looked up at Kaidan and smiled a little sadly. “I have seen the survailance footage from Tiamis.”

“And?”

“Maybe you should see it for yourself.” Eric said as he got up and walked over to the computer on the desk, punching in his security code to bring up the video footage he had saved for Kaidan. “Look here,” he said, waiting for Kaidan to join him at the table. “There Shepard is being arrested, he gives himself up and doesn’t struggle at all. But look at the Asari he carried.”

“Is she dead?” Kaidan asked.

“No, she is recovering in the medbay. I even spoke to her for a short time. She said that Shepard had saved her, she was attacked from behind and he had carried her out. She had passed out at some point and doesn’t recall what happened to the Krogan.” Eric studied his son’s reaction. “We never found a Krogan.”

“There was a Krogan on the Anhur team at the games,” Kaidan stated. “Could be him.”

Eric nodded, and rewinded the footage of Shepard carrying the Asari, and Grunt with him. “Look, there is the Krogan,” he said. “You don’t find it odd that we found no other trace of the Krogan? He seems to vanish into thin air, but as you see they are working as a team in the footage.” He shut the video off. “All I am saying is that you should maybe not blindly trust Shepard’s motives.”

“Or.,” Kaidan said, folding his arms over his chest, “ The Krogan vanished because he didn’t want to be caught by the Alliance, prisoner of war or not.”

“Or he was the one who shot the Asari in the back, giving Shepard a free pass to get aboard this ship,” Eric stated.

“Is that your theory?”

“It could be.”

“Don’t be ridiculous,” Kaidan sighed.

“I just want you to be safe,” Eric said, placing a hand on Kaidan’s shoulder. “There is no way of knowing how damaged he really is, if his story is true, and he spent all those years as a slave. Do you know what they do to slaves Kaidan?”

“Eric.” Kaidan ran a hand through his hair. “You’re right, I don’t know how damaged he is. But I know there is a real person under all that, and you are talking like you’re not even going to give him the chance to show it.” Kaidan stood from the bed and started to pace the room. “Why did you even bring him here, why did you call me if you have no intention of helping him, helping me – us..” He turned to look at his father, his gaze serious and hard.

“Kaidan… He is a prisoner of war, you can’t just elope to Illum and get married by an Elcor in a dress.” Eric sighed, and rested his head heavily in his hands.

“Let him prove himself, then,” Kaidan said, turning the ring on his finger nervously, even if his voice was uncompromising. “Eric, there has to be a way. You can’t just hand him over to the council to be court martialled.”

Eric looked up at his son, and the ring that Kaidan absentmindedly kept turning. “I can’t promise you anything.”

“But you will try?” Kaidan asked softly.

“I will try,” Eric said standing from the bed heavily. “I hope you know what you’re doing, son.” He nodded at Kaidan’s hands, and Kaidan suddenly became conscious of turning the ring, and let his hands fall to his sides.

“Trust me,” Kaidan said lamely.

“I do.” Eric placed a fatherly hand on Kaidan’s shoulder. “If you want to, you can go see him. Just don’t do anything stupid.” He sighed. “He is in cell R7.”

“Thanks, father.” Kaidan said giving his father a quick hug.

~*~

Shaved, well rested and dressed in army sweatpants and a white t-shirt, Shepard sat in his cell, trying to watch a stupid tv show from earth. He figured that maybe he should have seen the others that came before, because he didn’t even understand the concept. The doors to the hall swished up with a soft airy sound, and Shepard looked over there, fully expecting to see a MP bringing him a cup of coffee or something. Sometimes they did that to be extra nice. But it was not an MP, and Shepard felt his smile widen to the point where it hurt. It was Kaidan who came out into the starkly lit corridor. He looked every bit as much of a poster boy for the Alliance as he had always done. He walked calmly over to Shepard’s cell. ”Hi,” he said, his voice an octave too high, and his smile as wide as Shepard’s.

”Hi.” Shepard mirrored, his smile refusing to go down. He looked up at the surveillance camera, not sure what the proper reaction would be, knowing that people here still had a watchful eye on him.

”You clean up real nice,” Kaidan chuckled, leaning up against the thick window, placing a hand on the glass, watching as Shepard did the same.

”Tell that to the Alliance,” Shepard blushed weakly, like he had that first night Kaidan had met him. And he would never ever get tired of it. “You’re still wearing the ring,” Shepard said in a whisper.

“Why wouldn’t I?” Kaidan whispered back. “Are – Are you okay? Are they treating you all right?”

“I’m fine,” Shepard said with a smile, his eyes running over Kaidan’s form.

“Such a shame there is a wall between us,” Kaidan said with an amused smile. “Would have been nice if we could -”

Shepard’s eyes widened. “Are you even sure you should be saying that?” he whispered. “They are watching, you know.”

“I know,” Kaidan said, resting his head against the glass. “And I don’t care. I still wish I could touch you.”

Shepard’s blush intensified, “Kiss you, I would kiss you if I could.”

“That too,” Kaidan agreed.

They stood there in silence, just looking at each other for a long time, till Shepard whispered, “What happens now?” He licked his lips nervously, not sure he wanted the answer.

“I don’t know,” Kaidan whispered back. “I just don’t know.”

“Oh.” Shepard’s shoulders slumped in silent defeat.

“I’ll do what I can to persuade my father to, uhm.. find a way.” Kaidan said with a reassuring nod.

“Anything,” Shepard said gently banging the glass with a flat hand. “I’ll do anything.”

Kaidan smiled and placed a hand back on the opposite side of the glass of Shepard’s hand. “Me too.” He looked up at the surveillance camera and sighed. “I should probably get back before my father thinks I busted you out, and eloped.”

Shepard chuckled, “You probably should.”

“I’ll come back tomorrow,” Kaidan swore solemnly. “You need anything? Like something to read?”

“Yes, please.” Shepard pushed off the glass and turned to look at the small tv screen in his cell. “These shows are… really dumb.”

“I’ll bring you something to read tomorrow,” Kaidan said stepping reluctantly back from the glass as well. “Tomorrow, Mkay?”

“Tomorrow,” Shepard said, smiling, feeling much better just knowing that Kaidan was here, and that Kaidan was still in his ringcorner.

~*~

The next day Kaidan had gone through any datapads with something to read, trying to find some entertainment for Shepard. He had spent an hour typing up a datapad of his own which he hid between the others, hoping that no one would actually check what it was he was giving Shepard. It felt like being back in school, where the clock seems to stand still, and in the end Kaidan just gave up and made his way to the stockade.

”Hey Shepard,” Kaidan said, entering the corridor with the cells to each side, but he kept walking past him and over to the MPs, handing over the reading material… “I promised Shepard that I’d give him these,” he said, holding out the datapads. “He wanted something to read.”

The MP on duty skimmed the titles. “This one just says ‘read this, John.’”

“Yeah well.” Kaidan squirmed, “It’s a surprise for him, you can read it if you don’t believe me, but I am not sure you’d want to.”

The MP opened the file, and quickly closed it again. “All right, you can give him these,” he said with a unreadable expression.

Kaidan just smiled back and walked back to Shepard’s cell, where a little priesthole sort of thing opened and he could give the datapads to Shepard. “As promised,” he said watching Shepard, who reached out for the datapads, brushing Kaidan’s hands in the process, completely on purpose.

Kaidan leaned in against the glass with an amused smile. “I am sure you’ll find something in there worth your time.”

”I was thinking that maybe we could – ”

The door to the prison swooshed open behind Kaidan. ”Shepard,” Eric said, walking across the corridor with a drink in his hand.

”Sir.” Shepard looked up, puzzled that the General himself would come here at this hour.

Kaidan was about to say something but stopped dead as he saw his father there with his most serious expression. ”Oh, I was not expecting you, Sir, is everything alright?”

”I will cut this short,” Eric said, looking from Shepard to his drink and back again, ignoring Kaidan’s presense and bewildered expression. ”I can see that you and my son are, uhm, affectionate.”

Shepard squirmed a little, resisting the urge he had to fiddle with anything, just to keep his hands busy. He was just never any good with this personal stuff. But Eric said nothing, and Shepard knew the ball was in his court. ”He means the world to me, Sir,” he finally said, his words measured and hopefully not too much or too little.

”Good,” Eric said, smacking his lips. ”You have to understand that I couldn’t care less who makes my son happy, but…” He paused and looked at Shepard. ”Catherine is right about one thing, we can’t have our son riding off in the sunset with some nobody from the outbacks of a strange system. Not to mention a prisoner of war whose best shot at a life is the Citadel’s court of war crimes.”

Shepard felt all colour drain from his face, and just stood silently and listened, not knowing what to say.

”Please, Sir. I will – Something, please don’t do this to me,” Kaidan begged, knowing exactly what it was his father had in mind.

”I was just stating the facts,” Eric said with a shrug, and took a tiny sip of his drink. ”Dry your eyes son, I have a solution to your problem.”

”You’re going to persuade mother to -”

”I am not going to persuade your mother to anything, son. I don’t even think that an army of angry Krogans could do that. And I think that the whole Council would be easier to persuade to anything than her,” Eric said with a little sad smile. ”No, I came here to offer you a job, Shepard.”

”A job?” Shepard repeated, wishing he could hide behind Kaidan, but he stood alone in the unforgiving light of his cell.

”It’s war time, and the draft is reinstated,” Eric said with a carefree gesture. ”So I was thinking that if years of army training makes you a desirable gladiator, then maybe it works the other way around as well?”

Shepard blinked, not sure he understood.

”What do you say, John Shepard? Are you ready to be an Alliance Soldier?” Eric asked with a smile.

Shepard looked at Kaidan, who nodded, and then looked at Eric. ”Absolutely, Sir.”

”Serve some years here under me, and maybe Kaidan’s mother will ease up on you,” Eric said, downing the rest of his drink. Kaidan almost stated that she ‘did’ try to kill Shepard twice, but didn’t because there was no reason to bring it up, if it would all solve itself. ”Now, I should go make some calls.” Eric sighed. He was surprised when Kaidan suddenly hugged him, as he had not been hugged by his son since he was a small child. ”Thank you.” Kaidan said. “I love you.” Maybe Eric didn’t quite understand his son’s choice, but deep inside it made him happy, too, to see his son so animated and obviously head over heels in love. It felt right, and Kaidan was a grown man. He could deal with Catherine and the council another day.

When Kaidan reluctantly left his father’s Battlecruiser, it would be another year before he would see Shepard again. It felt like ten.

 

Chapter 9

A YEAR LATER;

Kaidan was waiting, rolling his shoulders, trying to not look all too obviously nervous. He wasn’t alone standing here on the platform waiting for the shuttle from the Yggdrasil to land. A human girl and an Asari were standing there with him, trying just as hard not to look like they were impatient and careful not to make eye contact. The Asari looked over at Kaidan briefly and smiled. Kaidan smiled back, guessing that she felt every bit as ridiculous as he did. He noted that the two others had things in their hands, presents, flowers. And he had nothing. He should have thought of that! He was quite sure that Shepard would not mind, or even notice. This just made him smile even wider. He had worried, of course he had. That what they had was a spur of the moment thing, and that now that Shepard had his freedom he wouldn’t care, and that it would end up in awkwardness and tears. Maybe he had found someone else to fill the loneliness of space? He had talked with Shepard twice while he had served on the Yggdrasil, and both times he had seemed genuinely happy to talk to him, smiling and said that he missed him. So maybe he was just being ridiculous? He pushed his fears away and pocketed his hands, waiting for the shuttle.

The other soldiers were all wound up for shore leave, but Shepard couldn’t really join their heated debate of where the best disco was, or who found the better hooker. He just wished that Kaidan would be on the Citadel. It was okay if he wasn’t on the landing pad and all, he was a busy man. A budding career in politics ate too many hours of his life, and when he had spoken to Kaidan he had looked tired. Tired but happy and smiling, so they were good, right? Back when he had still been someone’s property, he had never doubted Kaidan really. He had had a hard time imagining what freedom would look like. But now the more he fought to be someone who could stand next to Kaidan in his own right, the less he felt like he was good enough for it. What if Kaidan would get in trouble? What if his career would take a blow if someone got the wrong kind of gossip? What if Kaidan’s mother was right? That he was nothing but a crude killer, and not a suitable match for her son? “Shepard!” Someone said right next to him, “Shepard to control” – Shepard turned his head and shook off his dark thoughts, looking straight into a pair of amused blue eyes, “So you think he’s gonna be there with a big band and VIP tickets to the new Blasto?”

Shepard shook his head, amused. “You’re an asshole, Parker,”

“Come on Shep, it’s gonna be fine.” He grinned and elbowed Shepard. “Maybe he even got a nice hotel room on daddy’s dime.”

“Do you ever listen to the shit that comes out of your mouth, man?” Shepard laughed softly. Knowing that of course they gave him a hard time about the whole ‘generals son’ thing, but mostly just in good humour. “So is your new girlfriend gonna be there with your newest five children?”

“I fucking hope not. Maybe she’d run into my wife.” Parker grinned.

“Yeah, you wish.” Shepard leaned over and looked out the shuttle window. “We’re here,” he said, thinking back to the first time he had docked the Citadel, Nudrel had been just as fascinated as he had been. He hoped that the Alliance was treating him well in whatever facility they kept him. He didn’t have the clearance to track him down, but he had played with the idea, both him and Grunt. Or maybe the war would end, and – and maybe pigs would fly. What he knew was that they were hopefully all better off, and that the Citadel was still breathtaking when you entered.

The shuttle docked and Shepard grabbed his standard issue alliance army bag, just like all the others, and took a deep breath, trying to tell himself he would not be worried if Kaidan wasn’t there. He would just call him up and tell him he landed and make an appointment for later. Maybe he could get some drinks with the boys or – Shepard looked up and saw Kaidan standing there, handsome as ever, and Shepard’s worried semi-frown turned into a shit-eating grin.

Kaidan was trying to think of something to say, but if he had thought Shepard looked stunning after a shave and some clean clothes, it was nothing compared to how he looked in uniform. “You are…” Kaidan managed to say, “Hi…”

Shepard laughed, laughing all his little ridiculous, insecure fears away, and in two long strides made it to where Kaidan stood and wrapped his arms around him, holding him tight. “Hi.” Shepard mumbled back.

Kaidan held on to Shepard’s head with a hand on each side. He stared directly into those goddamn intense blue eyes and smiled, “I missed you.”

“I was afraid you wouldn’t be here,“ Shepard confessed, smiling and a little embarrassed, resting his hands on Kaidan’s hips. “I mean it shouldn’t be a biggie, but I guess it was.” He blinked, and smiled again. “Maybe I just never had anyone wait for me like this.”

“Anyone?” Kaidan raised a brow.

Shepard ignored him, and leaned in to kiss those lips, which he now knew were just as soft as they looked. “So did daddy pay for a hotel room?” he whispered against Kaidan’s lips, smiling as he felt Kaidan’s lips stretch in a smile against his.

“He did.” Kaidan grinned knowingly. “Come on, let’s get off these docks, you hungry or something? I passed this place that looked decent on my way here.”

“I’m actually famished,” Shepard admitted, pleasantly surprised as Kaidan took his hand and guided him through the chaos of people.

 

~*~

 

Pushing Shepard up against the wall, Kaidan pulled his shirt up to sneak his hands in under the fabric, touching the warm skin.

Shepard held his arms up for Kaidan to pull off his shirt. ”This has been a very strange year,” he muttered against Kaidan’s lips. ”Perfectly strange.”

Kaidan grinned, as he worked to pull his own shirt off without breaking their kiss. ”So will I have to salute you the next time we meet?” he teased, finally tossing his shirt to the floor.

”Would you like that?” Shepard asked, arching a suggestive brow. ”You can start now, if you want.”

Kaidan laughed, kissing Shepard again. He took his hand and guided him to the bed, sitting him down. ”I had other things on my mind, honestly,” he admitted and opened his belt, letting his pants drop.

Shepard reached out and pulled Kaidan close, kissing his hipbone. ”I see that,” he teased, licking a wet trail up Kaidan’s hard cock. Shepard didn’t hear Kaidan’s reply as he wrapped his lips around Kaidan’s erection. He had dreamt about this, most of the dreams he had had while in his cell, or alone in his cot on the Yggdrasil had been about Kaidan’s cock, that and having the time and freedom to enjoy it. And so he did, using every trick he could think of to reduce Kaidan to a panting mess.

”Stop.” Kaidan pushed Shepard gently on the forehead, looking down at his own cock lying flat against Shepard’s tongue. ”Or don’t.” Kaidan experimentally moved his hips, watching as Shepard opened his mouth to grant access to the tip of his cock. Kaidan pulled out and did it again. He ran his fingers down Shepard’s face, across his lips that were stretched across his erection. He looked Shepard straight in the eyes, seconds before he pushed himself further into the welcoming mouth. And about then Kaidan was almost sure he heard angels singing.

Kaidan reached for the corner of the blanket on the bed, and gently wiped off the mess he had made on Shepard’s face. Kissing the corner of Shepard’s mouth, he could taste the aftertaste of himself on the skin. ”How is that back of yours?”

Shepard looked up at him with his blue eyes slightly unfocused.

”Need a back rub?” Kaidan smiled, kissing Shepard again. Shepard shimmied out of his pants and let himself fall back on the bed. ”Turn around,” Kaidan grinned. Kaidan sat down between Shepard’s thighs, pushing them out so he’d fit there. Starting with one thigh, he worked his way up to the lower spine.

”Oh shit, you are so fucking good at this, you should consider a career change,” Shepard sighed blissfully.

”If I had a career, I might,” Kaidan grinned. ”From politician to concubine.” He snickered and leaned over to kiss Shepard’s shoulder blade.

”Kaidan?” Shepard whispered with a lazy smile on his lips. ”Did you even for a moment think that -”

”Shh,” Kaidan put more weight in his backrub, which made Shepard squirm. He leaned down to kiss Shepard’s tattooed neck, grinding his pelvis against Shepard’s butt suggestively. ”We’re here now, that’s all that matters,” he whispered, biting the thin skin gently.

Shepard bit his lip, trying not to rub against the mattress under him.

”Hey, wait a second.” Kaidan slid off him and turned to the black sports bag on the floor, beside the bed. He returned with a tube in his hand. ”The luxury.” He snickered. Kaidan’s monitor on the side table let out an insisting beep. “You gotta be shitting me.” He sighed. “I have to… uhm… hang on.” He leaned over to pick up. “This had better be life or death, Ashley,” he said, as the image of the caller flickered to life.

“Not really, no,” Ashley smiled. “What are you? Oh… OH!”

“Do you mind?” Kaidan huffed.

“Why are you even picking up the phone?” Ashley asked, shaking her head, amused.

“I thought it was important. It’s not like you usually call me,” Kaidan argued, amused by the fact that Shepard was curled up and hiding from Ashleys’ view behind him.

“Actually yes, I mean it can wait. Till you are, uhm I don’t know, like wearing clothes,” Ashley said, but when Kaidan didn’t move, she just sighed. “All right, James asked me to marry him, and I wanted you to be the first to know.”

“Really, that’s great!” Kaidan smiled. “But can I call you back?”

“Yeah,” Ashley chuckled. “See you, loverboy.” – And then she disconnected.

Shepard pressed his face down into Kaidan’s neck. ”Do you think you can wait for a year or two?” he said softly. ”For me, I mean.”

”Of course.” Kaidan turned to lie down and pull Shepard down on top of him, running a warm hand down Shepard’s side. ”I waited for you for twenty-five years.”

Shepard laughed helplessly. ”Kaidan, stop.” He pulled back just enough so they could look at each other. ”I mean it.”

”Can I tell my friends I have an Alliance army boyfriend?” Kaidan smiled sweetly.

Shepard’s lips became a fine line of worry. ”Sure. If you think that -”

“John Shepard, Alliance serviceman first class, that has a nice ring to it, don’t you think?” Kaidan whispered.

“Can I tell people I have a boyfriend on the council?” Shepard grinned, licking a wet trail down Kaidan’s jawline.

“I’m just an intern.” Kaidan laughed, “But sure.”

“Mine,” Shepard purred in Kaidan’s ear.

“I was yours since the moment you ruined my shirt,” Kaidan sighed blissfully, loving that Shepard kissed and nipped his skin randomly.

“Really?” Shepard looked up at Kaidan in all seriousness.

“Really.”

 

Chapter 10

EPILOGUE

“At least the savage knows how to use a fork,” Catherine whispered to Eric, who just nodded but largely ignored his wife. He did look up at Shepard, who sat in his sparkling navy blues, focused on all the table manners he had ever learned, Eric knew his charge, and could tell that John was wound as tightly a spring. “What did Kaidan get for them?” Catherine whispered to her husband. “I didn’t see his present. Because he -did- get one, didn’t he? I specifically told him to go to -”

“Catherine,” Eric sighed, “I’m sure they got Ashley and James a present, dear.” He smiled fondly at his wife. “Could we please get back to the food?” And the alcohol, he thought to himself.

Kaidan sat further down the table and smiled at Shepard, who desperately tried to multitask, and not embarrass anyone. He noticed Eric lean in over the table a little and say something, Shepard nodding and smiling that shy little smile that Kaidan loved so much. But whatever his father had said, it worked. Shepard’s body language seemed a little more relaxed. He even sipped his wine, turning his head as the woman next to him said something, and for the briefest of moments their eyes met. Kaidan excused himself and smiled reassuringly at Ashley, who looked a little confused that he’d leave the table. He walked around the family table and came to a standstill behind Shepard. “John?” he said softly, placing a hand on Shepard’s shoulder.

Shepard turned a little in his seat to look up at Kaidan. “Hey there,” he said softly with a little smile.

“Would you go get the present?” Kaidan asked.

“Of course,” Shepard said with a little nod.

“What did you get them?” Catherine asked over the table, studying her son and Shepard closely.

“Catherine…” Eric sighed, elbowing her softly. But Catherine ignored him and leaned in over the table even further to hear Kaidan’s answer.

“You’ll see,” Kaidan smiled secretively. “Come on, John.” He patted Shepard’s shoulder and turned to leave with Shepard in tow.

Kaidan went back to his seat, and Shepard left the hall all together. Kaidan took a deep breath, and hit the glass with his fork. “Excuse me,” he said and stood up. “I promise I will keep this short so you can get back to your food, but I just wanted to tell James what a lucky man he is.” He turned to look at James and Ashley. “Ashley is a dear friend of mine, and you are lucky to have caught the eye of a fantastic woman like her.”

All eyes were on Kaidan and the bride and groom, so no one noticed Shepard coming back in, walking up towards the couple with determined strides.

Kaidan smiled knowingly. “Now I can’t be around all the time to tell you to behave,” the party giggled at the innuendo, and Kaidan continued, “And that is why I sent John on a mission to pick out the perfect gift for you two. And believe you me, you guys are hard to shop for,” Kaidan said, turning to look at Shepard.

Shepard walked up to the couple and opened the side of his uniform to reveal a tiny Varren. He gently ran a hand down its back, and then carefully held her over the table to Ashley, who took the Varren puppy and placed it in her lap. “Now I wanted to call her ‘Kaidan’s watchful eye’ but John wouldn’t let me.” Kaidan smiled fondly at Shepard.

“What’s her name?” Ashley asked with a grin, scratching the tiny Varren on the side.

Shepard looked up at Kaidan who nodded. “Uhm, Flora. Her name is Flora.” He smiled a little awkwardly, clearing his throat. “I thought she looked like one of those flowers from the Pax holos.”

“She does,” James agreed, finally giving in and scratching Flora under the jaw. “She’s cute.”

“And an excellent pedigree,” Shepard said quickly, not sure what to do now, so he just inched backward toward his seat.

“And of course she comes with a lifelong varren-sitter in me,” Kaidan laughed. “Anyway, congratulations to the both of you.” He held his glass up high, “To the happy couple!”

~*~

Kaidan was looking over the party. Ashley and James had left and now the ceremonial part of the party was over, leaving people to booze and cake. He could hear his mother arguing that Kaidan could just have gotten them tickets to Pax, or Illium instead of a goddamn pet. He ignored her and just watched Shepard who was deep in conversation with the woman, who was probably one of Ashley’s friends that he didn’t really know. He thought her name might be Penelope, but he wasn’t sure. Alcohol sure had loosened Shepard, he wasn’t just listening anymore, he was actually answering the woman. “Kaidan, are you listening?” Catherine said, wrapping her arm around his.

“Excuse me mother, I have to save my boyfriend from a bridesmaid.” He smiled genuinely at his mother, and snaked free of her hold and walked across the dance floor, and came to a stop in front of Shepard. “Hey there, handsome,” he said, holding out a hand which Shepard took without hesitation, letting Kaidan pull him to his feet.

“Hey there yourself,” Shepard grinned. “I was actually having a conversation.”

“Too bad.” Kaidan smiled back.

“Dance?” Shepard asked, wrapping his arms around Kaidan’s neck, pulling Kaidan down a little to his eye level.

“Why not?” Kaidan said, ignoring his mother staring daggers at his back, and kissed Shepard. “I was thinking, maybe we should get my mother a Varren too, call it ‘nagging-death.’”

“Shit, Kaidan.” Shepard laughed as he pulled Kaidan off to the dance floor. “We want her to -like- us.” He shook his head, amused.

“Yeah, there’s that,” Kaidan grinned. “So no varrens, poisons or deadly vira. And look on the bright side, in twenty year’s time, when you’ve had like ten promotions, she might even smile at you.”

“Shut up, Kaidan.” Shepard whirled Kaidan around and pulled him close again to dance. “I’ll settle for her not trying to kill me anymore, so let’s keep it that way.” He smiled at Kaidan’s slightly drunk leer. “Hey, I was thinking, do you think James likes Flora as much first time it shits on his floor?”

Catherine held out her glass to have it filled, and to her surprise a pair of arms circled her waist, “So,” Eric said, “What do you say you and I retire, and leave the kids to party?” He kissed her neck.

“Eric, I can’t just…” Catherine argued.

“Of course you can,” Eric said resting his chin on his wife’s shoulder. “Come on.”

“Just this once,” Catherine said, her tone softer and she leaned her head against her husband’s.

“Maybe it’ll be their wedding next?” Eric teased.

“Don’t push it.” Catherine huffed, but couldn’t resist a little smile when Eric kissed her jaw.

 

THE END

 

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