warning: implied child abuse, major character death, bigotry, AU medieval setting.
fandom: mass effect
pairring: kaidan/mshep, implied; miranda/shep, jack/shep
The next day when Kaidan entered the room, Shepard was awake and looked better than he had the day before, not much but still it seemed like his eyes were a little more alive. “Good morning Knight-Commander.” Kaidan said.
“Good morning.” Shepard said, following Kaidan with his eyes as he walked across the small room. “I am sorry, but I forgot your name.” He said softly.
“I’m Brother Alenko.” Kaidan said over his shoulder, preparing the clean wraps for Shepard’s arm.
“Ah yes.” Shepard mumbled. “You served at the court temple you said?”
“Yes.” Kaidan said, turning around and sitting down next to Shepard, starting to slowly pull off the old bandages to adjust the wooden shins under them.
Shepard winched as his arm lost the comfort of constant pressure to keep his shattered bone in check. “Can I ask why you aren’t at court anymore?” He noted that Kaidan furrowed his brows annoyed, “I mean,” Shepard quickly added, “It’s a position most would kill for.”
“Truth?” Kaidan said.
“The ABM purged the court for biotics, and in that process I and other brothers were sent away too.” Kaidan said with a slight shrug.
“But…” Shepard looked at Kaidan puzzled, “I thought the biotics were just all reassigned to elsewhere.”
“Oh they were.” Kaidan said unable to hold the bitterness out of his tone. “They were dropped off in droves at the border.”
“With all due respect Knight-Commander.” Kaidan just sighed, “If you believed the biotics merely removed from court and reassigned elsewhere in the province, you were lied to. They were stacked up on rickety wagons and shipped to the border of Everdark and told to walk.”
“By Sovereign!” Shepard looked away from Kaidan for a moment, deep in thought.
“A biotic is not immune to the sickness…” Kaidan mumbled.
“But…” Shepard muttered, rerunning the scenario in his head, “I saw those wagons when I arrived back from the Queens Summer residence. They were full of servants, soldiers and officials – and their families.” He turned and looked at Kaidan, “King James would never send tiny children to their deaths, no matter if they were born with the condition.”
“Are you sure?”
“Yes!” Shepard snapped, and then sighed and meekly almost whispered, “No.”
“A lot of the Brothers from the temple chose to follow the biotics in their exile, to support them with spiritual guidance. I came here with five other Brothers and a Senior Priest. There are three of us left.”
Shepard hung his head, nodding slowly. “I should have protested more, maybe that would have saved some of the people on those carts.”
“I don’t think so.” Kaidan said, pulling the bandage to support Shepard’s arm once more. “Do you think that you could sway the King in such matters?”
“Once maybe.” Shepard whispered.
“Knight-Commander…” Kaidan said, placing a warm hand on Shepard’s chilly one.
“Shepard.” He smiled a little apologetic, “Call me Shepard, we aren’t in the army.”
“Shepard.” Kaidan repeated, it felt odd in his mouth to say, and he half way expected Shepard to be upset that he called him something so personal. “Don’t blame yourself, there was nothing you could have done, you saved your wife from this fate, and that is something. You would just have caused harm to her or yourself if you had tried to openly stand up against Udina and the ABM.”
Shepard nodded, “You know, Brother Alenko.” He said, “I have been thinking, nothing much else to do while I lay here and wait for either recovery or death. That maybe that was exactly why I was sent on this campaign, I am not entirely sure they would have let me through the border even had I been victorious.”
“You do not know that.” Kaidan said.
“No I don’t.” Shepard nodded as he turned his shoulder, it made a loud crack sound in its socket, and he kept rolling it. “Feels okay, maybe my days of the sword aren’t completely over yet.”
Kaidan smiled, “Let’s hope you are up and fit shortly.”
“Yes.” Shepard said. “I wanted to believe it Brother Alenko, I wanted to believe the story given, that all the biotics were just relocated and reassigned in other positions throughout the province. But I think that deep down inside I must have known something was wrong. I stopped them from taking my wife, convincing the guards that she was essential for court. I didn’t even think about what would happen to everyone else who didn’t have someone to stop the guards.”
“The ABM is so much more dangerous than anyone thinks… With the ABM’s numbers rising, I would think King James was afraid of a rebellion, and therefor just thought that if those with the condition was elsewhere, like in disease stricken provinces, then the ABM would have nothing to fear and ergo nothing to campaign against.” Kaidan said softly.
“I think you could very well be right.” Shepard nodded.
“Your wife is a biotic?” Kaidan asked, not really wanting to talk about Shepard’s wife, but feeling horribly selfish, and stupid for avoiding that subject.
“Yes.” Shepard said with a little smile that grew to a grin. “When I met her, she was living at her adoptive parent’s inn, the local men and women would fawn at her feet, and she would deny them all. Jaqueline was never lady-like, and I guess what is what I loved about her, she was about as rowdy as one of the men, and could fight like nothing else I had ever seen. Most people with the condition I had ever met until then, would hide it, be ashamed of it. But not her, she would flaunt it and everyone was equally in love and afraid of her.” Shepard’s smile widened at the memory. “It came to pass that I was moving through that town with a garrison, we were to set up tent a mile outside the village, and the other soldiers would tell me stories about this crazy woman they had met in town. I saw her when we went into the inn one evening to have a drink, she was magnificent, and truly, she was. What I didn’t know was that her father had told her to find a husband within a year, and if she didn’t succeed, he would send her out on her own.” Shepard looked down on his hands, “I thought I wanted a wife like everyone else, and I was her ticket out of that sleepy little town. And it all worked out in the end. I respect Jaqueline, I adore her and I trust her with my life, but I don’t think we ever loved each other. Call it a marriage of convenience if you must, but that was what it was.” He sighed heavily, “And now I am to blame for sending her back to that cauldron of small minds, heavy with child and no husband to show for it.”
“I’m sorry.” Kaidan said.
“I’m guessing that the child is born by now.” Shepard said softly, sadly. “I didn’t want that child to begin with, but no one deserves the fate that they must endure. I just wish that my son or daughter isn’t born with the condition as well.”
“At least you know she is well, and you can ride to her as soon as you are fit to travel.” Kaidan said with a tiny smile, which he felt was more fake than a whore in a Brother’s cape.
“First I will try and repay your kindness.” Shepard said with a yawn, already drained by staying awake this long. “Undo what they did to you…” He mumbled.
“First,” Kaidan said softly, “You must rest.” He patted Shepard’s shoulder lightly, “I will be back this evening, with some food, and see to your arm and your fever again.”
“Yes.” Shepard mumbled half asleep.
The next day Kaidan was whistling to himself as he walked down the dark, cold corridor with his arms full of clothes. He had managed to secure some smallclothes, pants and a shirt, and best of all he had found that Shepard’s boots had not been burned along with the rest of his belongings upon his arrival. Kaidan pushed the door open with his foot finding Shepard sleeping. “Good morning Shepard.” He said merrily, grinning as Shepard stirred in bed. “I have something for you.”
“Food I hope.” Shepard mumbled, pulling the cover up over his shoulder.
“Not quite Ser.” He put the clothes down on his own cot, “I look the liberty to discuss your recovery with the Senior Priest, and he agreed with me that you most likely will not regress now. And so we can let you out of this room and access to the rest of the temple grounds. I do however not think you are well enough to travel, you still have some recovery to do, but it’s nothing a little time and sun won’t cure.”
Shepard sat up with a labored groan.
“I brought you clothes.” Kaidan said happily, “I hope they fit because it was hard to come by.” He silenced the question he could see on Shepard’s face with a calming hand gesture. “Your clothes were all burned when you arrived here; your armor is still locked up, as is your weapons.” He pointed at the bundle, “But your boots were not destroyed, I take it that someone thought that they could make a quick coin off them in town.”
“Thank you Brother Alenko.” Shepard said with a little amused smile, amused because Kaidan was so excited about so little. “So does this mean I will recover completely?”
“Yes I believe so.” Kaidan said, “Do you need help getting clothed?”
“No.” Shepard huffed.
“Very well,” Kaidan bowed slightly and went for the door, “I will wait out here, call for me when you are done.”
Shepard was sweating as a pig just from the effort of swinging his legs out over the side of the bed. He reached for the bundle and started dressing himself, he was about halfway through when Kaidan knocked the door and asked if he was well. Shepard just grunted something in reply, and finished dressing himself clumsily. “Brother?” He called.
“Yes?” Kaidan leaned into the room. “Are you done dressing?”
“I am.” Shepard said,
Kaidan resisted the smile that would have crept up on him seeing Shepard sitting there on the haystack; it was nothing short of a miracle. “Are you ready to venture outside? The weather is lovely today.”
“Outside? Well… I suppose…” Shepard nodded, “Yes.”
“I brought you something more.” Kaidan said, holding out a makeshift crutch, “I will aid you, but you haven’t used your legs for so long, that I hardly think you are going to skip down the corridor.”
Shepard smiled relieved, and took Kaidan’s outstretched hand, letting himself be pulled to his feet. Alenko hadn’t been far off, Shepard’s legs were sore and wobbly, and he had to lean heavily on Alenko till he got a good grip on the crutch, he grit his teeth as he tried to level his weight, leaning more on the crutch and his good arm, while the injured one rested on Alenko’s shoulder.
Kaidan got a good grip around Shepard’s waist, and nodded, “Come then.” He slowly started to walk letting Shepard set the pace.
Before they even stepped outside, Shepard winched. “What is that smell?” He asked under his breath.
“It is – “ Kaidan paused as he adjusted his grip on Shepard. “The fire pits.”
Shepard turned his head and looked at Kaidan, “Dead livestock? People? Both?”
“Both.” Kaidan nodded, “It’s crude but necessary, I am sure you know this.” He smiled a little sadly at Shepard, “Being used to the battlefield and all.”
“Yes and no.” Shepard admitted.
They stepped outside in the pale sunlight, grey specks rained down on them as if it was snowing in summer. They both knew what it was, but chose to leave it at that. However, the fire pits were far from the worst part, when Shepard was in the temple courtyard he could look out over the rather large settlement that had emerged around the hill upon which the temple was built. Shepard sat down with great care on a stone from what had once been a wall around the courtyard, “That is a lot of people.” He whispered as he looked out over the settlement and its sickly looking inhabitants.
“All sorts came here, some came with is all the way from court, and others came when their village was burned down, or their crops had failed for third year in a row. Starvation forced a large part of the local population to find other means of survival, some joined the rebel army, others became highwaymen, and some came here and other places like it to…” Kaidan said softly, sitting down next to Shepard.
“Die?” Shepard said in a near whisper. “I cannot imagine that anything can grow in this place.”
“A lot die.” Kaidan admitted, “A lot come down with the sickness, and every day there is more people joining us, deserters from either army stuck in this place.” He sighed, “No one comes here because they want to, they come here in the hope of help or a cure.”
“There is no cure.” Shepard said, looking away from the depressing settlement and looking at Alenko, “Is there?”
“No.” Kaidan said, “We simply don’t know why some survive and some die, but if you were to ask me, then the better stocked you are, the better your chances of survival are. I am no doctor but I bet my life that many of these poor souls could have been saved if they had not been so weak from other diseases and ailments.”
“That makes sense.” Shepard said.
“The temple houses those bedridden, but we simply cannot accommodate everyone who seeks us out.” Kaidan gestured out over the settlement, “The people built this, and more tents and huts are made every day as more come. They come here looking for spiritual salvation, while living in their own filth. I cannot help but to feel horrible that I can’t do more for them.”
Shepard sat listening to Alenko, while looking down at the people milling about down between the tents, watching as the grey residue slowly descended on everything. “What do they eat? I see no fields or livestock around.”
“War, famine and plague left these lands destitute, as I said before then the crops have failed the farmers for years now, most the livestock died. Even had these men been hunters there is not enough wild game around anymore to feed a family, little less an entire village.”
“Animals got the sickness too?” Shepard asked, surprised to hear that.
“Yes and no.” Kaidan said with a slight shrug. “My guess is that whatever caused the crops to fail also poisoned the animals that ate the greens.”
“And the people who eat the animals?” Shepard asked, shifting in his seat, slightly disturbed.
“I have seen people attempt to eat sick and rotten meat, only to get sick themselves. But hunger will drive people to eat things you would not believe.” Kaidan said solemnly.
“Oh I would.” Shepard nodded, “I never saw it myself, but I heard many a battle tale about soldiers being left for dead in secluded areas, and they would eat their own friends. Madness is sure to follow once one turns to cannibalism, and the stories go that these soldiers got a taste for it.” Shepard looked up into the skies, “I am sure that these stories are mostly cautionary tales, but it is not so farfetched.”
Kaidan nodded, and even if the talk they had was dark, he was surprised that Shepard was this easy to have a meaningful conversation with, he seemed genuinely interested in these people’s wellbeing, something Kaidan had never thought in a million years.
“You never answered me, Brother Alenko. What do these people eat then?”
“Nothing.” Kaidan said, “We attempt to feed them every other or third day. Solely on recourses that some people still place at the temple. Sometimes it is valuables sometimes it is cloth. We attempt to get food to the children every day.”
“I imagine there is not a whole lot of those left. Children I mean.” Shepard said with a deflated expression.
“No there are not.” Kaidan admitted.
“I have been fed every day since I woke.” Shepard said unsettled, “Who’s food have I been eating?” He turned to Kaidan, “Please tell me you didn’t take it from a child’s ration.”
“It’s more complex than that.” Kaidan said. “We are stuck knee deep in death out here in the middle of the wilderness, and still they play the court game.”
“Politics.” Shepard said with disgust.
“Yes.” Kaidan said, “We are in dire needs here, if we are to save these people, we need funding from home, and you were a fate-sent. Surely you understand that.”
Shepard nodded, he had spent too many years learning how to navigate in court to miss the badly hidden intent. “If you could save me, you would have someone in your debt, someone close to the King.”
“You could not have known that I have not been close with the King since the old King was still alive. So I cannot do what you wish from me.” Shepard said. “Was that why I got the Royal treatment? And – “ He almost didn’t dare word it. “What will happen now that you know that I am not the salvation you thought I was.”
“Nothing.” Kaidan said gently, “What you have is what I gave you.”
Shepard studied Alenko’s expression.
Kaidan took a deep breath and said, “I was not always a Brother, and before I came to be one, I lived a life of privilege. This is not important, besides that, I know how to remember information, store it away in my head to use later. It was a skill I acquired with my mother’s milk.”
“Nobles.” Shepard whispered mostly to himself.
“I overheard you talking with the Senior Priest at court, and I thought to myself that if you were really the Kings right hand, then why would you argue with the Senior Priest? You would just have asked the King for a permit, but clearly, you struggled with obtaining one. And I admit that I already knew that your wife was biotic because of this incident, because otherwise you would not need a permit.” Kaidan looked up into the sky and smiled to himself, “I did as I was told when you arrived here, but kept this information to myself. I knew that you were not the champion that the Senior Priest here was hoping you were. Moreover, to answer your question, then the rations you ate were mine, and the cell where you have been sleeping is mine, I gave you this by own volition. You were always kind to me when we met at court, I am sure you do not remember, but I do.”
“You gave up all that for me? Why would you do that Brother?” Shepard asked, feeling absolutely dirty, he did not want Alenko’s sacrifice, nor had he asked for it.
“Because I wanted to.” Kaidan countered.
It took a while before Shepard spoke. “You nursed me back to life, you mended my bones and kept me safe when I needed it the most. I cannot do what your Senior Priest asks of me, but I swear I will find another way of repaying your kindness.”
“Lofty words.” Kaidan muttered.
“And true.” Shepard said. “Do you want your cell back? I don’t feel right taking it from you.”
Kaidan smiled, “You can stay in my cell for as long as you wish.”
“What about you?” Shepard asked.
“I have been sharing a cot with a Brother.” Kaidan stated.
“Oh.” Shepard said, smiling as he looked away from Kaidan. “Then all is well.”
Kaidan did not bother to set Shepard straight, reminding him that all Brothers took a vow of chastity and whatever Shepard’s vulgar mind could conjure up was not true. He just sighed heavily, “Do you need help to get back in bed?”
“Yes please.” Shepard said, standing with much difficulty. “Tomorrow, can we go down there?” He asked, nodding towards the settlement.
“If you wish.” Kaidan said, wrapping an arm around Shepard’s waist, aiding him back to the cell.