Faux Pas [chapter 8/?]

author: azzy
beta: ej/asylumfarm
illustrations: maxxiedemon
warning: implied child abuse, major character death, bigotry, AU medieval setting.
rating: M+
fandom: mass effect
pairring: kaidan/mshep, implied; miranda/shep, jack/shep
wip: 8/?

When Shepard woke, his mouth was dry and his head pounded, with dawning horror he recalled the conversation with Alenko last night, he had really made a terrible mess of it hadn’t he? Why had Alenko not told him that dancing was not allowed? Sitting up Shepard groaned, and then a tiny smile formed on his lips as he recalled dancing with Alenko, he could imagine him in fine silks dancing with the nobles, his moves had been sure and perfect unlike Shepard’s own clumsy attempt. He would have looked absolutely magnificent; he would have been the most beautiful one there. If only he had not been born as the second child.

As Shepard got up he noticed the sun through the window hole in the wall, most curious, from the light he would think it was about midday, but Alenko had said he would wake him, had he not?

-*-

“They left?” Shepard stared in confusion at the Brother, “When?”

“Early this morning.” The Brother said politely, “Please Sir, I do not know when they will return.”

“Thank you.” Shepard said and placed a friendly hand on the Brother’s shoulder. He turned and looked out over the encampment, why had Alenko not woken him? Had he really offended him that much by a dance? He had been rather mad at him last night, had he not? Shepard sighed; maybe he had been a little too obvious in his attraction in his drunken state, making the poor man uncomfortable with compliments? He had to get a better hold of himself.

Shepard cross his arms over his chest and started to walk down the same path he and Alenko had walked last night. He would have to make it clear that he cherished Alenko’s friendship, and put an end to any other more inappropriate thoughts about the young man, clearly they were unwanted. It saddened him that he had been that rudely rejected, but he understood why.

The moment he admitted to himself just how sad he was that his attraction to Alenko was not mutual, he could not help but to think of Jaqueline, it was like the qualities that she lacked, he saw in Alenko. He recalled how frustrated he had been that Jaqueline did not have a humble bone in her body, as a rich merchant’s foster child she was used to getting her way. Hardship for her was no more tea, and the closest to manual labor she had ever done was walking up stairs. Still he worried, and hoped that James had upheld his end of the bargain and got her out of the city.  Maybe he should write a letter to her. But he would not know how to get it across the border and quarantine zone, and even if that was manageable, he did not know where she lived anymore. A sting of dread went up his spine as he realized that he might never meet his child, should it have survived birth.  He looked out over the fields to the right of the encampment, and decided that it did him nothing to stand around this and drive himself mad with worry and dark thoughts. And so he descended further down into the settlement and walked towards the fields.

-*-

It was dark when Shepard stopped working the fire pits, and walked back towards the cloister. He was tired to the bone, and with no food in his belly, his body had burned all energy he had woken with. As he made it to the cloister courtyard, there were five women at work by a large cauldron and the smell was heavenly.  One of the ladies saw him and waved him over. “You look exhausted, Sir. You must be hungry, come, sit and have some food.”

Shepard had no energy left and let her guide him to sit, and accepted the wooden bowl with some broth in it. “Horse?” He asked, not that he cared really.

“Yes Sir.” The woman nodded. “Brother Alenko bought it for two orphans from a miller who needed labor.”

Shepard looked up at the woman mortified, his food forgotten for the moment, “Brother Alenko sold two young into slavery for a horse?” The woman dared not answer but just turned her back to him. Shepard could have asked for her forgiveness, but did not. He hesitated for a second and then drank down the broth greedily, wiping his mouth with the back of his hand. “Thank you good ladies.” He said with a polite tone, hearing one of the youngest ones giggle.

He had been tired a moment ago, but he knew he would find no rest until he had spoken to Alenko. He walked directly into the halls of worship in search of the Brother. He did not have to search for long until he saw him sweeping the floor at the left row columns, Shepard walked directly over to him with long angry strides. “Brother Alenko.” He commanded “A word please.”

Kaidan looked up at Shepard, “With all respect, I have nothing to say to you. Knight-Commander.”

Shepard blinked, and with a fast slap knocked the broom out of Kaidan’s hands. “Maybe not, but I have something to say to you.” He stated angrily. “The women told me that you sold two young boys to a miller for a horse, is this true?”

“Yes.” Kaidan said and looked defiantly up at Shepard.

“Why?” Shepard’s face contorted in confusion and disgust. “Have these people not seen enough hardship without you selling them off into slavery?”

“You assume you know everything, don’t you?” Kaidan said, and even he was surprised at his boldness and tone. “Those children were orphans, they would have died… maybe not today or tomorrow, but eventually and definitely when winter comes, and the miller promised he would treat them as his own, for he had lost his wife and sons to the sickness.” Shepard shifted in his stance but said nothing, he just stared at Kaidan. “I saved them.” Kaidan argued, “I have no need for your righteous fury, knight-commander Shepard.”

Shepard took a deep breath, “Was that why you did not wake me like you promised?”

“Partially.” Kaidan admitted, “I knew you’d not see it the same way as we did.”

“Aha.” Shepard nodded. “So what was the other reason?”

“That I did not wish to be in your presence, and I still do not.” Kaidan could not look at Shepard as he said those harsh words, but bent down to pick up his broom again, “Now excuse me, Sir.”

“Wait.” Shepard stepped in front of Kaidan so he could not retreat, “My mind might have been drunk, but my words held true. But if my compliments made you uncomfortable then I will never speak of it again.” He stepped a bit closer and placed a hand on Kaidan’s shoulder.

Kaidan looked conflicted but finally looked directly at Shepard and whispered, “I have never had anyone speak to me like that.”

“Surely you must have caught the eye –“

“Stop, please.” Kaidan stepped away, “Let us never speak of this again, and there is no ill blood.” He smiled unsure at Shepard.

Shepard stared intently at Kaidan, “It was the kiss then.”

Kaidan did not answer he just turned around to leave, when Shepard grabbed him and pulled him close, and kissed him passionately. Kaidan struggled weakly, conflicted if he wanted this or not. He wanted it so badly his skin tingled with electricity, but he also knew that he should not want it, he could not want it. It would just end in tears and heartbreak for him.  Finally, he pushed Shepard away. “Stop!” He commanded.

Shepard just stood there like a child he was scolding, his blue eyes looked sad, and his entire body language was unsure and skittish. “Never do that again.” Kaidan said softly.

“Is it because I am a man?” Shepard finally whispered.

“Yes.” Kaidan said firmly. “I am a Brother, and you are a man, this is not natural or permitted. Be glad the senior priest did not see.”

Shepard nodded in silent understanding. “I understand.” He mumbled, “Seems I wronged you twice with my foolishness.”

Kaidan looked at Shepard, he just looked to heartbroken that it made Kaidan sad too. “You will be reunited with your wife and your child soon.”

Shepard nodded again.

“I am not angry with you.” Kaidan said, “But do not ever speak of this again.”

Shepard took a deep breath, “You would have been magnificent in silks and expensive fabrics, you would have been worthy of a queen.” He reached out and gingerly caressed Kaidan’s cheek in the dark.

“Please leave.” Kaidan took a step back.

“Of course.” Shepard bowed slightly and left.

Kaidan resumed his sweeping with short angry movements, this was not his calling, this was the card that had been dealt him. He did not ask for it, he did not want it, but it was his – Shepard was not. It was best this way! He licked his lips, and stopped sweeping; he wanted to throw the broom in anger. He wanted nothing more than to run after Shepard, but he knew he could not; he would be ousted from the Brotherhood and disowned by his family, and for what? A fleeting silly daydream and soft lips? He shook his head and resumed sweeping. No, it was best this way.

-*-

Shepard had vacated his cell and moved down to the tent in the settlement where some of his men lived. Kaidan had not been able to sleep there the first night; he kept fooling himself into wondering if this was how Shepard would smell if he was here close, and what it would be like to have a warm body against him under the tattered blanket. He had done his best to get Shepard out of his life because he could not allow himself to entertain the thoughts he had of him, but now that he succeeded, it felt empty and cold. Kaidan missed Shepard around, his laugh and his enthusiasm, and his lovely little shy smile that he would see sometimes when Shepard did not think he was looking.

It was one of the last days of summer, and Kaidan decided to walk far out into the grassy fields around, maybe go see if the women who washed linen needed help. He just had to leave the cloister for the day, away from all the people, away from the smell and away from Shepard. He walked across a flower field, headed for a shady spot under a tree, and laid down. He closed his eyes and just listened to nature, the insects in the air and the faint sound of the settlement, some kids laughing, screaming. He smiled to himself, he imagined him and his sister running around in the mansion garden, their nanny and some other women always busied themselves close by. He had hated hide and seek, Ashley had always been better at it than him, she had also been faster and better at almost all things. Of course, she could not levitate things, he could, and she had been furious. He heard his name called from far away but ignored it until it came again. “Alenko!”

Kaidan sat up and looked for who called his name, he saw a young man from the settlement waving at him. As he comes closer Kaidan can see he is carrying a large bouquet of flowers from the field. “Jacob,” Kaidan said with a smile, “Who are those flowers for?”

Jacob’s smile became a grin “There is this girl, Kelly. I wanted to bring her a gift to make my intentions clear. I have no means or money so someone suggested me flowers.” He smiled shyly, “I hope she likes them”

Kaidan smiled too, “Tell me about your girl.”

“What do you want to know, Brother?” Jacob asked a little verily.

“You plan on marrying her?” Kaidan asked.

“If she’ll have me.” Jacob said with a little nod.

“Who wouldn’t?” Kaidan said with a motherly smile. “I’m happy for you.”

“Forgive me for asking, but what about you and the knight-commander? Maybe you could –“

Kaidan cut Jacob off rudely, “There is no me and the knight-commander, where did you get that wild story from?”

Jacob just smiled serene and looked at Kaidan unimpressed. “Anyone with a pair of eyes can see it.” He stated, “I have never had a woman look at me the way he looks at you, not even Kelly.”

“You are seeing ghosts my dear Jacob.” Kaidan stated flatly, “The knight-commander has a wife and a child, and I am a Brother.” He paused and opened his mouth to say more, but Jacob beat him to it. “Surely you know of a man’s desires, even if you are a Brother.”

“I don’t.” Kaidan said, hoping that Jacob could not tell that he was cringing. “I was sworn as a Brother when I was but a big boy.”

“Oh.” Jacob nodded “Forgive me, I did not mean to…”

“I know.” Kaidan said with a little smile. “But maybe you should get home with those flowers for your Kelly before they wither.”

“Aye, I should.” Jacob said hesitantly. “I will see you down at the settlement, Brother Alenko.”

Kaidan nodded, and as Jacob got up from his seat and started walking down the grassy hill Kaidan yelled, “Good luck!”

Jacob turned and smiled widely, “Thank you!”

Kaidan sat in the shadow watching Jacob disappear in down the hill with the flowers. Anyone with a pair of eyes, he had not expected that.

-*-

Hours later Shepard walks across the west fold, making a shortcut for the lake. His arms full of foul smelling bed linens that all needed to be rinsed. He needed to keep busy, it was his coping mechanism, cause when he worked he was focused on the task, not thinking about how he missed talking to Alenko, and how he wished he could take all of it back, and they could go back to as it was before. He saw a figure sitting on the far end, he squinted his eyes into the sun, if he was not mistaken it was Alenko. His first impulse was to go there, but the moment he took a step off towards where Alenko sat, he stopped. He should not bother Alenko when he had gone this far for peace, so he turned on his heel and walked on towards the lake.

His path took him closer to Alenko, he turned his head to look and saw that Alenko had gotten to his feet and was walking down towards him. “Brother Alenko.” Shepard said with a smile, his arms still full of dirty linen.

“Knight-Commander Shepard.” Kaidan said fighting not to smile back. Maybe Jacob was right? Was that adoration he saw in Shepard’s eyes? He was not sure what he saw, or what he wanted to see.  “On your way to the women by the lake?” He asked, stating the obvious.

“Yes.” Shepard said, “I needed to go to the lake anyway, thought I might as well bring the linen.”

Kaidan nodded, “Would you mind if I accompanied you?”

“Not at all!” Shepard smiled again, but did not look at Kaidan for long, but instead just started to walk towards the lake.

“I have been meaning to talk to you.” Kaidan admitted, “I wanted to apologize for my hard words.”

“No need.” Shepard said softly, “You are right, and I was in the wrong.”

Kaidan nodded silently, not knowing how to react to that, he had not expected Shepard to just accept his words like this. “Still, I was unnecessarily cruel.”

“Do not think about it, no harm done.” Shepard said, and this time he dared to look at Kaidan briefly.

Kaidan clasped his hands together on the small of his back, maybe this had been a terrible idea? “What business do you have by the lake, other than the linen?” He asked casually.

“A bath.” Shepard admitted, “I have some cuts which Brother Virgil said had gotten infected, told me to go clean them.”

“Cuts?” Kaidan sighed, “Oh Shepard, what are you thinking? Any normal man would still be bedridden from your ordeal, and here you are doing hard labor. What about your hip and leg?”

Shepard smiled to himself, “I am fit Alenko. I have no problems with my leg, or my arm.”

“So you would be fit for travel?” Kaidan asked a little sadly.

“Suppose so.” Shepard said with a little shrug, as he turned right to walk straight to the ladies by the lake, “My ladies.” Shepard said with a smile as he dumped the filthy linen on the ground.

Kaidan stood and stared at Shepard as he talked to the ladies, he would make them laugh and jest instead of being angry that more work had come their way.

Shepard came back to Kaidan, and stood there a bit insecure for a moment. “So, I should go do what I came for.”

“I should look at those cuts.” Kaidan heard himself say.

“There is no need, Brother Virgil…”

“I know medicine better than that quack.” Kaidan huffed.

Shepard laughed softly, “Very well then, come along.”

-*-

The walked around the lake on a small path. “How is your arm healing?” Kaidan asked primarily to break the silence.

“Okay.” Shepard said softly.

As they came to the lakeside secluded by vegetation, Shepard hesitated for a moment, not sure how to react to Kaidan, desperately not wanting to send him running again.

“Let me see your arm” Kaidan said, frowning slightly as Shepard held out a sunburned, grimy arm. He prodded it until he heard Shepard’s sharp intake of air. “Does that hurt?”

“Yes.” Shepard nodded.

“It’s not healed right.” Kaidan looked directly up at Shepard. “You risk that the bone won’t ever set correctly, if you do not keep it still.”

“How come you know so much about these things, Brother?” Shepard asked as he turned his hands to let Kaidan check his hands.

“I wanted to be a doctor.” Kaidan admitted, looking up at Shepard for a long second. “I thought I would go – uhm… I.”

Shepard nodded with a soft smile, only winching as Kaidan pressed an infected blister on his palm. “I understand, you had dreams of learning medicine as a child. You would have made a good doctor, I am sure of it.”

Kaidan nodded. “You have to wash these and hope that you get the infection out.” Kaidan said still investigating Shepard’s hands.

“I wanted to be a travelling merchant.” Shepard said with a little chuckle.

Kaidan looked up at Shepard with a little smile, “You jest.”

“No.” Shepard said in all seriousness, “There would come these foreign dignitaries to court, and James would let me see the gifts they brought him, they were magnificent, as exotic as their clothes, and language.” Shepard closed his hand around Kaidan’s for a moment. “And all I wanted was to see the far away sandy beaches and the strange animals depictured.”

“What did you want to sell?” Kaidan asked caught up in the intimate air.

“I don’t know.” Shepard admitted, “I never got so far in my plans before someone handed me a sword and told me to fall in line.”

“You could still see your dream happen.” Kaidan said softly, “When you leave here, you could go take up a contract on a ship instead of going back to court. Maybe that was why you were sent here in the grander scheme of things.”

Shepard tilted his head and studied Kaidan. “I might.” He wanted to say ‘only if you come with me’ but Alenko had made his intentions quite clear, and Shepard knew that an invitation like that would be most unwelcome. Shepard took his hands back and went to sit down on a fallen tree, carefully taking off his boots, wiggling his toes burying them in the loose dirt. “That feels so good.” He laughed as he pulled his shirt off.

Kaidan’s first reaction was to turn around so Shepard would have his privacy. “When did you have a bath last?” Kaidan asked.

“Oh it must have been back at court.” Shepard said as he dropped his pants, standing naked by the lake giving Kaidan’s back a longing stare before he strode off into the water and emerged himself completely in the cool water of the lake.

Kaidan slowly turned around as he heard the splash. Only to see Shepard merge rubbing water out of his eyes. “Come in!”

Kaidan shook his head demurely.

“Please don’t tell me that Brothers don’t bathe either.” Shepard said, knowing that his words might have the opposite effect.

Kaidan squirmed, he really should leave, but the water really did look welcoming, and no one would know. This spot was secluded. “Turn around.” Kaidan said gesturing with his hand for Shepard to turn his back.

Shepard turned around, but stole a look over his shoulder at Kaidan on the lakeside. Who would have thought there was such a beautiful figure under those terrible robes? He hurried to turn back before Kaidan caught him looking.

Slowly walking out into the water, Kaidan sighed blissfully, it truly was fantastic. He could not remember when he had last bathed in a lake; he must have been nothing but a young boy. He splashed Shepard’s back playfully.

Shepard turned around and laughed, “See? It’s absolutely divine.”

“You were right.” Kaidan said happily staring off into the sky. There was not a cloud in sight, insects buzzing lazily and birds chirped in the background. If he closed his eyes he could imagine all these years, terrible years, he had spent in the temple was erased, or never happened. He almost expected to hear Ashley laugh.

“You look heavy with thought.” Shepard said, “You can talk to me, you know that.”

Kaidan nodded. “I was just admiring the scenery.”

“And?” Shepard said softly.

“Kaidan.” Kaidan said, “My name is Kaidan.”

Smiling Shepard looked down at his blurry hands under the water, “It’s a lovely name.” He said not sure how to respond.

“And I hate being a Brother.” Kaidan finally said with a sigh. “I just don’t know how to do anything else. My life has been like this for so long, that I can’t remember what it was like to be happy.”

Shepard gingerly took a step closer in the water.

“I had never in my wildest nightmares imagined my parents would ship me off to this fate, they could have let me study medicine, they knew I loved it, and they knew I had flair for it – my tutor had said so.” Kaidan said with a broken voice, “But because of my condition I could not be allowed to… to… They had to hide me, like they were ashamed of me.”

When Shepard just stood still and listened, the droplets of water on his shoulders drying in the sun, Kaidan let his biotics flare for the first time in years, and felt mostly like crying.

“You’re a biotic.” Shepard stated.

“Yes.”

“You lied to me.” Shepard said, “You said you and the brothers were sent here to care for the fugitives.”

“I know.” Kaidan took a deep breath, “Forgive me, but I could not tell you we were sent here not because we wanted to save the flock, but because we are all biotics and were on the ABM’s list.” Before he knew it, he had Shepard’s arms around him, being pulled in for an embrace. “I forgive you.” Shepard said softly. “And I understand your fears.”

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