Checkmate [1/2]

author: azzy
beta: ej/asylumfarm
illustration: heavenonfire
warning: Graphic Depictions Of Violence, Rape/Non-Con, slavery, depressing themes
rating: M+
fandom: mass effect
pairring: Kaidan/M!Shep, Vega/M!Shep
authors note: This is a sequel to Omega Days, read that first or this will be really weird. So this was supposed to be a short 6 to 8 pages ficlet, but you know how it goes… – Definition of checkmate: A situation in chess in which a player loses the game because that player’s king is in a position from which it cannot escape.

The scars of your love remind me of us

They keep me thinking that we almost had it all

 

Think of me in the depths of your despair

Make a home down there

As mine sure won’t be shared

– Adele


The door slamming made Shepard cringe, not that the sound startled him; it was more the silence that followed. He wanted to shake Kaidan, wake him up. Shepard took a deep breath, and went straight to the kitchen and poured himself a drink.  This was not what he had pictured at all, and then again what had he pictured? That they lived happily ever after? Shepard frowned, there just wasn’t such a thing. It was a childish romantic fantasy, a nice one sure, but not terribly realistic, and absolutely not the reality.

For a moment he had really thought that he’d get to grow things, feel dirt between his fingers again. But he had been stuck in this shit apartment in Vancouver since he arrived. He had compensated with potted plants, but it just wasn’t the same.  They just made him sad, reminding him of the real thing. And when he looked at them now all he saw was living things stunted in their growth. Artificial freedom, life but not living. He really should get rid of them, plant them outside so they could grow wild and free. He poured himself another drink. Maybe he’d do just that.

-*-

When Kaidan returned, the apartment was dark, and Shepard was sitting on the kitchen counter flipping through channels on the TV, with an almost empty bottle of bourbon by his side. He looked up at Kaidan as he went through the living room and smiled a little guarded smile.

“Have you just been sitting here getting drunk all day?” Kaidan asked with disgust in his voice.

“Pretty much.” Shepard said flatly, disappointed that whatever fight wasn’t over. He needed this bickering to be over.

Kaidan frowned. “This is bullshit.” He mumbled.

“Yeah.” Shepard agreed without taking his eyes of the TV.

“Sometimes I don’t know why I even bother.” Kaidan growled before he turned and walked towards the bedroom.

Shepard sighed and turned off the TV, sitting in darkness for a moment before he ungracefully slipped from the kitchen counter, and wobbled into the bedroom. He could see Kaidan laying there with his back to the door. “I’m sorry.” Shepard whispered. Kaidan didn’t answer, but Shepard could tell he wasn’t sleeping. Shepard took a deep breath and sat down on the bed with his back to Kaidan.

“What the fuck is wrong with you? I don’t get it!” Kaidan finally yelled making Shepard flinch.

“I don’t know.” Shepard mumbled.

“You want me to go fuck someone else? Is that it?” Kaidan pushed Shepard’s shoulder hard, making the other man flinch harder.

“No.” Shepard turned so he had his side to Kaidan.

“John.” Kaidan said a little softer. “Look at me.” Shepard turned all the way around so he was face to face with Kaidan. “Do you want this to work?”

“Yes.” Shepard whispered.

“Then why are you giving me so much shit? I can’t help but to think that I was just your ticket out of Omega.” Kaidan said.

“You weren’t, I wanted to come.” Shepard said reaching up to caress Kaidan’s cheek.

“No, what you wanted was to escape Groto Ib-Ba.” Kaidan answered, his voice flat and devoid of any of the emotions shown in his face.

“That too.” Shepard admitted, “But that was not why I came with you. And you know it!”

“Really?” Kaidan sneered. “You could have fooled me.”

“Are we really gonna have that discussion now?” Shepard sighed, looking up at Kaidan pleading.

“No let’s not.” Kaidan said in a sarcastic tone, getting up from the bed.

Shepard hung his head and ran a hand through his hair. “Alright! So okay let’s have this discussion right now!” He mumbled as he turned to look at Kaidan ripping through the drawers in the dimly lit room. “Who is Peter?”

Kaidan stopped dead, and his shoulders slumped but he didn’t turn to look at Shepard.

“Who is Peter?” Shepard repeated his voice shrill and scared.

“Someone I know.” Kaidan said calmly.

“I sorta already know that, I am asking you what he is to you?” Shepard yelled as he got up from the bed.

“A friend.” Kaidan said slowly turning around.

“Stop messing with my head!” Shepard screamed from the top of his lungs, “Stop fucking lying to me!”

Kaidan stared up and down Shepard; he was a far cry from the man he had met on Omega. “He is my lover.” He finally said, “Happy now?”

Shepard’s answer died on his lips, and he just stood there and stared wide eyed on Kaidan. “No.” He managed to whisper. He had known hadn’t he? Kaidan’s answer should not come as a shock, but still to hear him admit it so readily without as much as a twitch, made Shepard want to vomit.

“Aren’t you gonna say something?” Kaidan said staring at Shepard, “Something John! Anything.”

Shepard just shook his head, “Suppose it’s my own fault.” He whispered under his breath.

Kaidan grabbed Shepard’s arm and twisted him around so they were face to face. “I fucked him right here in your bed.” He hissed.

“Oh.” Shepard whispered broken as he just stood there and stared from Kaidan’s angry brown eyes over at their bed and back up at Kaidan. Suddenly he pulled his arm out of Kaidan’s grasp, and fled the room, jogging to the kitchen and the last of his bourbon. He unscrewed the lid and downed it in greedy gulps.

“That is your answer?” Kaidan yelled from the doorframe.

Shepard tossed the bottle in Kaidan’s direction and it shattered on the wall right next to Kaidan’s head. “Fuck you!” He screamed.

Kaidan just stared at Shepard for a second before he crossed the room in a few angry strides, grabbing Shepard by the throat and slamming him up against the fridge.

                                    (art by HeavenOnFire)

Shepard let out a shivering breath, “Go on then.” He turned his head, closing his eyes. “You’re just like all the others.”

Kaidan tightened his grip. “You created this. You made me do it!” He growled; spit spraying on Shepard’s cheek.

“Fucking do it!” Shepard didn’t struggle; he just waited for the blow.

Kaidan panted and slowly let go of his grip. “Fuck you, John.”

Shepard rubbed his neck, and turned to stare at Kaidan.

“Peter is my fucking business associate; he works for the interstellar bounty collector’s office here on Earth.” Kaidan yelled, pushing Shepard’s shoulders pinning him to the fridge. “I can’t believe you were so ready to believe I was fucking him! Gods! Fuck!”

Shepard’s gaze went from angry to ashamed, and he looked away, down over at the glass shattered on the floor from the bottle. “I don’t know what to believe anymore.” He whispered.

“If you were sober for long enough, then maybe you would.” Kaidan said drily.

Shepard nodded as much as his position against the fridge would let him. “I love you.” He said, still not able to meet Kaidan’s eyes.

“If that was only enough.” Kaidan said softly, kissing Shepard’s temple.

Shepard let out another stuttering breath, “We can’t keep doing this.”

“No we can’t.” Kaidan whispered before he kissed Shepard’s soft lips, they tasted of bourbon but he didn’t care.

-*-

Kaidan had not noticed last night, but in daylight, he could see that every single potted plant was gone. It was as if they had never been there. He heard the coffee maker beep, but just stood and stared out over the living room. He heard John shuffle out into the bathroom and open the medicine cabinet.

Shepard downed two painkillers hoping it would do away with his splitting headache, his movements were sluggish and his feet unstable, okay so maybe he wasn’t totally sober yet. He put on a smile and walked into the kitchen where he found Kaidan leaned in over the counter in the nude. He walked up behind him and wrapped his arms around the other man, kissing his shoulder. “Good morning.” Shepard mumbled against Kaidan’s skin.

“Where are the plants?”

“What?”

“Where are the plants?” Kaidan turned around, forcing Shepard to step back, “Your plants, they are gone.”

“Oh… yeah.” Shepard shrugged casually. “Got tired of them.”

Kaidan just stared at Shepard, “That is such bullshit.”

“Does it matter?”

“Don’t start.” Kaidan almost begged.

“Alright.” Shepard sighed, “I planted them outside. Thought they’d grow better there.”

Kaidan’s phone let out a loud shrill making both men stare at the blinking screen. The screen just said Lawson, Kaidan snatched up the phone, “I have to get this.” He kissed Shepard’s cheek, “Hold that thought, and don’t you dare get dressed.”

Shepard rolled his eyes and just went for a cup while Kaidan answered his call. He could hear Kaidan laugh in the next room. Shepard stirred his cup, walking to the living room he picked up a remote and turned on the big TV, flopping down into the sofa mindlessly zapping through seven thousand channels of shit.

“Okay.” Kaidan came out from the bedroom. “I hope you won’t get upset, but I gotta go.” He tried to ignore Shepard’s annoyed expression. “Lawson is an old colleague and she happens to be in town, promised I’d go have brunch with her, and hear over this proposal she has.”

“Can I come?” Shepard asked softly.

“Well… uhm I suppose so.” Kaidan said with a little unsure smile, “Didn’t think you wanted to.”

“You thought wrong.” Shepard smiled and got up from the sofa.

“Alright then.” Kaidan pulled Shepard in for a hug and a kiss. “We better get going then.”

-*-

Shepard had promised himself he would try, he really would. He was tired of fighting, and he knew it was mostly because of him, he had a terrible time adjusting to earth, and to freedom. For the first couple of months he had hardly dared to go outside for fear that someone would grab him and bring him back to Omega. He was better now, but there was still all the family stuff he didn’t know how to do, and he didn’t know how to be a boyfriend either. He had never thought it would be this hard to live with someone else, but most of all it was idle hands, he was bored out of his skull and dealt with it badly. Shepard reached for Kaidan’s hand as they walked down the street to the café where they were having brunch, but Kaidan moved his hand away.

A beautiful dark haired woman already sat by a table outside, she waved at Kaidan whom waved back. They hugged and Shepard just sort of hung back waiting to be introduced. “This is John.” Kaidan said gesturing at Shepard, “My roommate.”

“Now that’s a first.” Miranda smiled wide, “Pleasure to meet you, I’m Miranda – Kaidan is an old friend of mine.”

“Likewise.” Shepard said, desperately wondering if they had been lovers.

They ordered food; Shepard just sat and soaked up the sun while Miranda and Kaidan caught up.  And he hardly noticed that Miranda was talking to him. “Hey?” She said.

“Oh Sorry.” Shepard smiled courteously as he focused at Miranda at his left.

“I asked you where you met Kaidan.” Miranda said.

“In a club.” Shepard said softly, “I am an exotic dancer.”

“Really?” Miranda’s smile widened.

“Really.” Shepard just stated.

“What were you doing in a club with male exotic dancers?” She asked Kaidan with laughter in her voice.

“Following a lead, you know how that goes.” Kaidan shrugged. “John needed somewhere to stay, and I need someone to water my plants when I’m out of town.”

Miranda nodded. “So where are you working?” She asked Shepard.

“I’m between jobs right now.” Shepard said politely.

“Okay.” Miranda said, “When you do get a job, let me know.” She chuckled, “I’d like to catch your show.”

“Will do.” Shepard said and for the first time since he arrived on Earth felt genuinely uncomfortable.

“So Kaidan, I didn’t call you here to catch up on old days.” Miranda said, “I have a lead that I’m sure you’d want.”

“Really? What will it cost?” Kaidan asked.

“For you it’s almost free.” Miranda said with a knowing little smile.

Kaidan smiled back, which made Shepard want to just get up and leave, he had no desire to sit here and watch their twisted foreplay.

“Anyway.” Miranda said, leaning in over the table. “Nothing in this life is for free, Kaidan.”

“I see.” Kaidan nodded, “You gotta throw me something.”

“It’s about Saren.” Miranda smiled sweetly, sipping her coffee. Shepard looked down at his plate hoping they forgot he was here.

“I’ll bite.” Kaidan said without hesitation, “What’s your price?”

Miranda laughed softly, “I knew you would.” She lifted her cup to her lips with a smug expression, “We do this together, split 50/50. That is my price.”

Kaidan looked over at Shepard, but he was apparently lost in his own thoughts. “Alright – partner.”

Miranda split into a huge grin, “My source tells me that Saren is on Makhaira, it’s a small planet in the Hades Cluster. Now I don’t know why he is there, but it’s the mother of all payloads.”

Kaidan bit his lip. “Are you sure?”

“As sure as I can be.” Miranda said.

“You got a deal.” Kaidan said with no hesitation, he held up his coffee cup to salute Miranda. She saluted him laughing. “So when do we start?” He asked in all seriousness.

“Tonight?” Miranda said, “I’ve had enough of Vancouver.”

Kaidan turned his head and looked at Shepard who just stared down into his empty coffee cup. “Think you’ll manage alone?”

“Yeah.” Shepard mumbled, his body language was relaxed but his voice was anything but.

“Tell you what.” Miranda said, “I’ll pick you up in a couple of hours, think that would work? Give you some time to pack and sort things out.”

“That’ll work.” Kaidan nodded, getting up from his chair, hugging Miranda once more before he left, Shepard following him listlessly.

-*-

Shepard stood in the bedroom doorframe, looking at Kaidan packing. “Are you sure you can trust Miranda?” He asked carefully.

“Of course I am.” Kaidan said quickly looking up at Shepard, “I have worked with her on other cases before. She’s alright.”

Shepard nodded weakly. “Still.”

Kaidan tossed a sweater down into the bag, “If I can bring Saren in, then we’d be rich!” He walked over to Shepard, “Don’t you want a house with a garden?”

“I don’t know.” Shepard said, and then shook his head, “Not if it means you going after Saren.” He stared intently on Kaidan, “Do you know who her source is?”

“Relax, baby.” Kaidan laughed softly, pulling Shepard in for a loose hug. “Either I get him or I don’t. But it’s gonna be alright.”

“I’m just…” Shepard sighed.

“You’re being paranoid, and I find it all very flattering.” Kaidan chuckled as he kissed Shepard gently. “Good to know you care after all.”

“Of course I care!” Shepard hollered pushing Kaidan away, “I have not forgotten what Saren is, or what he is capable of. And I am telling you this is all wrong!” Shepard rubbed his face with his hands, and then reached out for Kaidan again, pulling him close, “Don’t go, please don’t go.”

“Don’t be silly.” Kaidan whispered, “I’m gonna be fine, and so are you.” He kissed Shepard again, “I can’t let Miranda take him in, he is mine.”

“If you go, I won’t be here when you get back.” Shepard said softly.

“What is that nonsense?” Kaidan asked, staring intently on Shepard who refused to meet his gaze.

“Don’t go.” Shepard insisted shaking Kaidan lightly. “I have a bad feeling about that friend of yours okay?”

“What the hell is wrong with you?” Kaidan pushed Shepard off him, “I trust Miranda more than I trust you.”

“Aha.” Shepard sucked in his breath, “There we have it then.”

“You are the one talking nonsense!” Kaidan argued.

“I survived in places you cannot even fucking imagine, and I only survived because I trusted my instincts!” Shepard yelled, “I am telling you something is off about her!”

Kaidan laughed, “You’re jealous, that’s cute.” He shook his head, went back to his bag, and resumed packing.

“Keep telling yourself that.” Shepard growled and left the bedroom, aiming straight for the kitchen to find the bottle of vodka that he hid away.

Soon after Kaidan came back into the living room and tossed his bag on the sofa. “I should have left you in that hospital.” He muttered.

“Yeah maybe you should have!” Shepard sneered.

Kaidan stopped dead in his tracks and just stared at Shepard, “I’d take that back if I were you.”

“Or else?” Shepard spat back. “You’ll ignore me? Belittle me? Hit me?” Kaidan just stood rooted to the spot and looked at Shepard. “You don’t understand!” Shepard yelled, “I wanted to come with you, I wanted to – I wanted a future with you. I was so in love that I didn’t even see the cage you stuck me in.” Shepard tossed his glass on the ground so it splintered at his feet, and took a large gulp from the vodka flask instead.

“John…” Kaidan took a step closer to Shepard.

“No!” Shepard yelled, “I still want all those things, but you don’t! You told your parents and your friends I’m your goddamn roommate! What the fuck Kaidan?”

“And you are.” Kaidan argued, “With benefits.”

“Benefits huh?” Shepard started laughing, but he sounded anything but amused. “Next you’re gonna tell me I’m not boyfriend material right?”

“It’s not like that.” Kaidan said, stepping closer yet. “My parents would die from shock, surely you –“

“No I don’t!” Shepard hissed. “And I don’t have to!”

“Come on John, you’re always drunk and acting weird, I can’t bring you with me to my friends or parents’ house.” Kaidan said with a frown.

“That is not true!” Shepard screamed from the top of his lungs, “Stop with the fucking lies!” He pointed at Kaidan with a trembling finger, “I know what you’re thinking! You’re thinking that I’m some skanky space trash, all I’m good for is fucking.”

“Do you really think I would have installed you in my fucking apartment and shared my life with you, if that was the case? Seriously John?” Kaidan yelled. “I gave you all this! I gave you a fresh start!”

“You gave me fuck all Kaidan!” Shepard yelled conflicted between tossing his vodka at Kaidan and his stupid overbearing smile and drinking it.

“Oh my God! All this shit because of Miranda.” Kaidan shook his head and walked out the kitchen. “You better get with the fucking program John. I am going to go after Saren, and that is final.”

“Alright.” Shepard said with a muddled voice, “I’m done.”  He walked out into the living room to where Kaidan stood. “I’m done with this shit! With this misery, with Vancouver – with you!”

“You don’t mean that.” Kaidan sighed.

“Yes I do!” Shepard said but his voice packed less heat than before.

“Come on.” Kaidan walked over to Shepard and wrapped his arms around him. “You’re just scared, and no one blames you.”

Shepard sighed and leaned up against Kaidan, “I wish you’d fucking hear what I said sometime.”

“I do hear you.” Kaidan whispered, “But I’m doing this.” He ran a hand through Shepard’s hair.

“Then so am I.” Shepard mumbled.

“When I come back, I promise I’m done hiding.” Kaidan whispered, cupping Shepard’s face with his hands, “we’re done hiding.”

Shepard made a sound that was somewhere between a chuckle and a sob. He wanted to call Kaidan out for just saying what he thought he’d want to hear. But they both knew that Shepard would probably still be here when Kaidan came back, stuck in this dysfunctional limbo. Truth is that when they were good they were stellar, nothing in the world compared to how they felt when the stars aligned. But the valleys were as deep as the mountains were high, and one day it would not be enough. Shepard just wasn’t sure that this was that time, even if he tried.

The doorbell buzzed and Kaidan kissed Shepard gently. “Miranda is here.” He whispered, “Promise me you won’t do anything stupid.”

Shepard sighed and shook his head, “I can’t promise that.”

“Dammit John, I thought we already talked about that.” Kaidan sighed annoyed.

“No we didn’t, you did.” Shepard shrugged. “Do you really think I’m gonna sit here and wait while you piss off to the ass-end of the universe and fuck that chick?”

“Stop that!” Kaidan yelled, “I am not fucking her!”

“Right.” Shepard crossed his arms over his chest.

“I don’t have time for your insecurities right now.” Kaidan said sternly as he pushed the button on the door “I’m there in two shakes.”

“Alright” Miranda said through the intercom.

“This is crazy!” Shepard yelled, “She is a little twofaced bitch, and why do you want to invite Saren into our lives again? I don’t get it Kaidan!”

“Shut up!” Kaidan yelled back as he grabbed his bag. “Okay listen, I hope you are here when I get back, but if you aren’t – “He looked up at Shepard with sad but hard eyes. “I guess it can’t be helped.”

“Yeah.” Shepard mumbled, “Take care.” He grabbed Kaidan’s arm, “Promise me you’ll remember this when she stabs you in the back.”

“God! John! Stop it with the paranoia.” Kaidan laughed, “She won’t, we worked together several times before. She was always a loyal friend.”

“Everyone has a price.” Shepard said acidly. “And you clearly don’t know Saren and his accomplishes very well after all.”

Kaidan shook his head, “I gotta go.” He kissed Shepard swiftly, “Please be here when I get back.”

Shepard didn’t answer; he didn’t know what to say, so he just watched as the door closed behind Kaidan.

-*-

Moments after Kaidan left the doorbell rang again, Shepard answered it out of habit. “Who’s there?”

“It’s Miranda, can I come up? I really need to borrow your bathroom.” She paused, “It’s a long drive to the spaceport.”

“Where’s Kaidan?”

“In the car,” Miranda said, “Come on man. I really gotta –“

Shepard bit his lip, everything inside him screamed not to open the door. But maybe Kaidan was right, that he was just being paranoid and hating Miranda for all the wrong reasons, so he pushed the buzzer and opened the door.

“Hey?” Miranda said into the dark living room. “It’s just me. Thank you for letting me up.”

“No problem.” Shepard answered from the kitchen, his eyes going from his bottle to the drawer with knives. He didn’t want to offend her in case he was wrong, but it was hard to overwrite the urge to just run.

Miranda came into the kitchen and Shepard’s reaction was to reach for the knife drawer handle, he was wound tighter than a bowstring. “A knife, really? Shepard.”

“Sorry.” Shepard said but didn’t let go of the handle. In a split second, he realized that Miranda had never been introduced to him as Shepard. But it was a second too late, 50.000 volts coursed through his body and he heard the crackle of the Taser before he passed out, knocking over the bottle of vodka in his fall.

-*-

Kaidan sat waiting in the car humming along to a tune on the radio, and didn’t really notice Miranda until she opened the car door. “I’m surprised he let you in.” Kaidan laughed.

“And it was not a second too early.” Miranda laughed.

“Was he okay?” Kaidan asked. “He was sorta upset when I left,” He shrugged, “He doesn’t know anyone here, and he can’t really find work so you know he gets lonely when I leave.”

“Understandable.” Miranda nodded. “But I’m sure he’ll think of something to do.”

“Yeah you’re right.” Kaidan mumbled, “Anyway, let’s go.”

-*-

When Shepard woke, he was no longer in Kaidan’s apartment, it was a hotel room or something, and he hadn’t seen someone in the room before he heard the beep of a phone and a deep voice saying ‘he’s awake’. Shepard’s head throbbed like he had been drinking for a couple of days non-stop.

The door opened and a bulky man came into the dimly lit room. “Shep, good to see you.” He said, his voice was friendly and familiar.

Shepard blinked as would it sharpen his sight. “Where am I?”

“That isn’t important.” The voice said, and finally he stepped out into the light.

“James!” Shepard gasped; a cold shiver went down his spine. “How did… why… I mean – fuck.”

“All I know is that Groto paid good credits to have you back.” James said as he sat down on the opposite bed, looking at Shepard.

“Kaidan is walking straight into a trap.” Shepard whispered.

“I’m afraid so.” James nodded, “But that’s the past, if I were you I’d worry about the future.”

Despair washed in over Shepard like an oppressive force of ten tons. “I can’t go back there.” He whispered. “Shoot me! Tell them you had to because I tried to run.”

James shook his head, “You aren’t going back to Omega.”

Shepard slumped down into the bed, “Then where?”

“Back to your master.” James said, “Back to Jalnor.”

“No!” Shepard cried, hiding his face behind his arm.

“Consider that lenient for what you did to Skarr.” The man by the door said sourly.

“It’s true,” James said softly, “The boss man is still pretty upset about that.”

Shepard didn’t even have to ask why James did what he did, like he had said to Kaidan – everyone has a price.

“So, consider this a favor because I personally happen to like you.” James pulled out a syringe and popped the lid. “It’ll let you relax for most the journey.”

“But you were in that bunker too.” Shepard whispered.

“I was.” James said with a tiny sad smile, “It was sad that I had to shoot Jack, she was a nice piece of ass.”

“Of course.” Shepard groaned, he had never in a million years thought that James might be a double agent, set to ferret out those less loyal to the cause.

“So.” James said, “Do you want it?”

“Yeah.” Shepard muttered holding out his arm in the space between the beds.

-*-

Shepard was floating, the world was warm and soft, and he felt engulfed in a cocoon, no matter how James and the other man manhandled him, it didn’t hurt. The man by the door whom Shepard didn’t know pushed him down in the mattress and forced himself on him. Not even with this unwelcome intrusion did Shepard flinch; he closed his eyes and felt mostly like a numb ragdoll. He didn’t care about what that man did to him, he turned his head and looked at James who still sat on the other bed, it took Shepard a moment to realize he was cleaning his gun. The man above him pulled his head back by his hair. It stung slightly, but mostly he wanted to wipe the drool from his mouth.

“Shit, he’s like fucking a glass of water.” The man growled annoyed.

“What did you expect? I gave him enough red sand to knock out a horse.” James said calmly. “Maybe you should find something else to entertain yourself with?”

“Fuck!” The man hit Shepard hard in his side.

“Come on man! We can’t hand over broken merchandise.” James said harshly. “Finish up so we can get going.”

The man angrily pushed Shepard away, and then leaned in over to whisper in his ear. “I’ll be back for you, and you will struggle, and you willscream.”

James laughed, “Don’t kid yourself man, the second we hand him over, you couldn’t afford his ass even if you wanted to.”

The man shook his head and went back to his seat while he tucked himself back in his pants.

Shepard stared at the orange light from the nightstand for a while before he drifted off in a haze matching the hue of the lamp.

-*-

Next time he woke he was in a cargo cage in some spaceship. There were only emergency lights but he could feel his entire body ache. A shiver went down his back when he recalled the man in the hotel room, who knows what he would have been capable of had James not been there.  Shepard thought of Kaidan’s loving brown eyes and little cute smile, cursing the day he ever went with him. He should have left it alone from the beginning, he should have known better than to believe in love or a normal life. He honestly didn’t know how to adjust to this again, he wasn’t sure he ever could. If only Kaidan had listened to him when he had said there was something dodgy about that Miranda chick. Tears of despair pooled in his eyes, he missed Kaidan, he missed his stupid potted plants, hells he even missed Kaidan’s parents balcony. He hid his head behind his knees, biting down on his hand as his body trembled with sobs.

Someone kicked the crate, “Awake huh?” The hard voice said with a mocking laugh, “Shame I don’t have time to sample you now. Would have been so much more fun.”

Shepard bit harder down on his hand, he refused to give that man the satisfaction.

The man came around and hunched down in front of the crate’s door, staring at Shepard. “Poor John Shepard.” He chuckled, “Does your ass hurt?” He knew it was wrong, but Shepard still kicked the crate as hard as he could, but that only made the man laugh harder.  “I’ll take that as a yes.”

James came into the cargo hold of the ship and placed a hand on the other man’s shoulder. “Go get something to eat or something.” He said.

“Whaddaya know? It’s your knight in shining armor.” The man laughed at Shepard before he slowly stood and left.

James sat down where the man had sat before, “Hey, Shep.” He said, “We’re almost ready to enter Lorek airspace.”

“I’ll do anything.” Shepard whispered brokenly, “But that man…”

“I know… he is not right in the head.” James said sadly, “Tell you what, I’ll give you another injection if you promise me to behave at the customs claim.”

Shepard nodded. “Thank you.”

“You’re welcome.” James risked a little smile. “For what it’s worth, I’m sorry. I sorta almost liked Alenko.” He sighed and leaned up against the crate, “If you play your cards right I’m pretty sure you can still survive this. Groto want you back, so you have some value to him. Remind him of your value, and he will maybe let you off with a light punishment.”

“What will happen to Kaidan?” Shepard whispered.

“I don’t know.” James said, “But Saren wants him bad” He turned his head and looked directly at Shepard, “He’s probably already dead.”

Shepard sighed feeling his chest contract in an odd empty feeling that would never have release. “He’s an idiot, he should have listened to me. I was on to Miranda – “

“As I said; worry less about that, and more about yourself.” James said, his voice became a whisper. “There are worse fates than Jalnor or death.”

Shepard looked up at James with red eyes from crying. “You mean Purgatory?”

“Yeah.”

Shepard nodded, he recalled several people, which has displeased Groto, had been sent to Purgatory, not as inmates but as toys for the inmates to entertain themselves with, and the warden would look the other way if the price was right. For him it must have been win/win, the inmates were preoccupied and he raked in a fortune.

“But as I said, just remind Groto of your value, and you’ll be fine.” James said soothingly.

Shepard laughed with a little controlled haughty sound.

“Don’t be like that, I’m sure you can do it.” James said with a soft smile, “You’ll always have me in your corner, right?”

“You’re staying on Jalnor?” Shepard asked surprised.

“Yes.” James said, “After I ended my contract on Plastique, then I went back to stay with Groto here on Jalnor. I go where the most credits are and preferably where the risks are low.”

“You’re a mercenary, I should have seen that.” Shepard smiled a little tiny smile.

“And you have more balls than all of Omega, I should have seen that.” James said in dead seriousness. The ship made a screeching noise and James got to his feet. “Remember what I said; behave when we land, and I will give you more to relax on.”

“You got it.” Shepard nodded weakly, in truth then his heart hammered so hard he was worried he’d pass out. It had been so many years since he had been here. Not since he had first been captured and was re-schooled for his new purpose. Not a happy time. He hated Jalnor with everything in him.

The man and James arrived in the cargo bay and opened the crate to let Shepard out. They slapped a buzzing collar on him and hauled him along, Shepard couldn’t help but to worry about the buzzing sound, he reckoned it was electricity but he couldn’t be sure.

They stopped in front of a bored looking Batarian. “James Vega and Kai Leng reporting back with a runner.”

The bored Batarian looked Shepard up and down. “Mark.” He said. And Shepard dutifully pulled down in his pants to show his hip and the brand. “Alright. I’ll need your papers.” He addressed Shepard’s guardians.

Shepard just stood there and looked out over Jalnor’s spaceport; it was a bustle of families hugging, people fighting, slaves hurrying after their masters with their arms full of suitcases. He hoped Kaidan was all right, he hoped that he had discovered Miranda’s treachery before Saren could get to him. Maybe he was at home in the apartment thinking that Shepard had made good on his threat to leave. Yeah he hoped so, he hoped that Kaidan was a little sad, but alive and well. Even if they hadn’t had the life together that they both had wanted, hells they hadn’t even had the romance they had dreamt of, then he loved Kaidan in his own broken ways. He was brutally ripped from his daydreams when Leng pulled his chain, “Come along, darling.” He smiled wide, “We’re clear.”

Shuffling after Leng, Shepard felt a sharp pin prick in his side, he looked over his shoulder to see James smile at him and nod. An unnatural calm flushed through his system and with a wide smile, Shepard realized that James had made good on his promise. Just a moment ago he had been sad and frightened, and not he was walking on warm clouds, his body weightless and perfect. Yeah this would be all right.

-*-

Everything was a pleasant blur, the drive to Groto’s mansion to the other slaves getting him dressed as Groto preferred. He looked down on the floor seeing the shirt that Kaidan had gotten him, discarded in the corner he frowned. “Smile!” A slave woman said urgently. Shepard nodded, there was just something so sad about the last link he had with Kaidan laying there on the tile floor.

He was guided into a room which he knew to be Groto’s office, for a second he just stared at Groto he had completely forgotten what he looked like. Luckily, James was quick to take over. “Here is your runner.” He said as he came to stand next to Shepard.

Groto looked intently at Shepard, all four eyes trained on the man in front of him. “He is damaged goods. Put him in the cage and cart him out for the next market.” Groto said.

“Wait.” Shepard whispered, and quickly added “Master.”

“Give me one good reason slave.” Groto said, “You caused nothing but problems.”

“Forgive me.” Shepard breathed and got to his knees with such haste that his knees slammed down into the floor with a sickening sound.

“He knows his plants.” James said softly at his side, “He could tend your garden if his appearance displeases you.”

Groto nodded his head, “Is that true?”

“Yes Master.” Shepard peeped, “I grew up a terraformer.”

For a long time Groto was silent, but then nodded, “I will give you one chance.”

“Thank you, thank you.” Shepard mumbled.

“Take him to Sonis and ask her to put him to work.” Groto said.

“Right away.” James said hauling Shepard to his feet again.

-*-

Shepard followed James towards the maintainer staff’s rooms. “Thank you.” He whispered.

“Hey it wasn’t solely for you.” James said with a shrug, “Maybe I wanted you to stick around a little longer.” He smiled down at Shepard.

Shepard smiled back but his smile didn’t meet his eyes. Of course, James wanted something for this favor.

“You Sonis?” James asked as they entered the quarters seeing an important looking Batarian standing behind a desk.

“I am.” Sonis said, “What have we here?”

“This is Shepard, the runner.” James said flatly. “Groto reassigned him to you.”

“By the brute’s balls.” Sonis sighed, “Alright Shepard, do you even know the first thing about anything other than lying on your back?”

Shepard had the decency to look away from Sonis and nodded, “Plants.” He mumbled, “I can garden.”

“Really?” Sonis said, “Well that’s something.” She sighed and rubbed her temples, “Alright wash that gold shit off, you look like a harem whore, and I’ll go find some proper clothes for you – and then we’ll see if your claim is real or not.”

“Yes.” Shepard said softly, “Thank you.”

“Don’t thank me yet kid.” Sonis said nodding at James, “Take him out back, hose him down and I’ll be there in a moment.”

“You got it.” James said, grabbing Shepard’s arm hauling him off to the back door.

-*-

The water was ice cold and Shepard shivered, taking large gulps of air to not scream and jump out of the water ray. “Turn.” James said flatly, and Shepard did. He closed his eyes and involuntary arched his back as the ray hit him there.

“Done.” James said and turned off the hose.

Shepard just stood there and shivered, blinking water out of his eyes, covering himself with his hands.

“I somehow didn’t think this was how I’d see your ass again.” James laughed.

“Not funny.” Shepard replied his teeth clattering from the cold, but he couldn’t help but to chuckle.

Sonis showed up with her arms full of clothes and a pair of shoes. “I hope this fits.” She said as she handed the clothes to Shepard.   “And if it doesn’t, too bad.”

“Thank you.” Shepard said as he reluctantly gave up on covering his modesty and accepted the pile of clothes.

-*-

Four days later Shepard had settled in, gotten his own cot, met the other slaves who took care of Groto’s vast garden, and even gotten a smile from Sonis because she for once got a competent worker.

“Hey Shepard.”

Shepard put down his rake and turned around to see James behind him. “Hey Vega. What brings you out here?”

“Your pretty smile.” James said with a grin.

“Yeah right.” Shepard chuckled.

“This outfit does nothing for you,” James looked up and down Shepard in his brown coveralls two sizes too big and bare feet.

“It’s not supposed to be appealing.” Shepard stated flatly.

“No shit.” James shook his head, “Anyway I have something to tell you.” He grabbed Shepard’s arm, “In private.”

“I can’t leave.” Shepard pulled his arm lose. “You can tell me here.”

James shrugged. “If you want to.” He took a deep breath, “A little bird told me that Kaidan gave them the slip.”

Shepard lit up in a huge smile, “That’s fantastic!”

“’Except it’s not.” James said darkly, “You are the only one who knows his private life, and ergo his whereabouts, where his family lives and so forth.” He caressed Shepard’s cheek gently, “I am telling you that they are going to come here and will get you to talk.”

All color drained from Shepard’s face.

James looked over his shoulder and back at Shepard, “I can’t help you, I’m sorry. I can only warn you.”

Shepard looked up at James with large frightened eyes, “What if I told you what I know?”

James shook his head, “Doesn’t work that way.”

“Fuck.” Shepard whined, raking a trembling hand through his hair, “When are they coming?”

“Could be now, could be in a week, I honestly don’t know.” James said, and then pulled Shepard in closer. “What you need to do is decide how hard it’s gonna be on you. How much you are willing to go through for Kaidan. Or ask yourself how much he’d go through for you?”

“Fuck, I don’t know that!” Shepard whispered.

“Do you love him?” James asked seriously, “Do you seriously think he loves you?”

“I… Maybe,” Shepard whispered with rising desperation, “No… I don’t know… I’m not sure. Shit!”

“My point exactly.” James whispered back, “You don’t have to protect him. Look Shep, you have no value anymore. The only ones who think anything of you is me and Sonis, and we have absolutely fuck all authority.” James whispered.

“Vega.” Kai Leng stood a couple of meters away, his arms crossed over his chest. “Fancy seeing you here.”

James turned around to look at his colleague shrugging. “I paid good money for my time here.” He said as he squeezed Shepard’s wrist.

“Really?” Leng said, “What a shame.”

“For you that is.” James said, “I want my money’s worth.”

“You can have him afterwards; I can have someone drop him off.” Leng said, staring at James and Shepard.

“No deal.” James said, “I don’t want your leftovers.”

Leng sighed and then nodded, “Alright, but be quick about it.”

“I will take absolutely as long as I fucking well please.” James said hauling Shepard with him towards the main house.

They walked in silence to a room that was empty, “This is as good as any.” James said and pushed Shepard inside, knowing that Leng had eyes and ears everywhere. Once inside he pulled Shepard to the far end of the room. “I didn’t think it would be this fast.” He whispered.

“Fuck.”

“Alright let’s think about this.” James whispered, “This is a concubine bedroom.” He spun around and went directly for the bedside table. “Come over here!” He said harshly making Shepard hurry to his side. “Make no mistake, Leng doesn’t trust me, and he will have spies around everywhere.” James whispered in a breath. “I wouldn’t be surprised if he kicked down the door to see if I helped you escape or something.”

Shepard opened his mouth to say something but James hushed him with a hand over his mouth. “You just listen, you know as well as I do that the concubines always have that heavy aphrodisiac close by just in case. There are two of those pills here. Hide them under your tongue and bite down on them when he starts, maybe it will relieve you a little. Sadly it’s the best I can do.”

“Alright.” Shepard whispered behind James’ hand, as he started to undo James’ belt.

“What are you doing?” James whispered.

“Trust me.” Shepard whispered.

-*-

“Shep?” James whispered, wetting Shepard’s lips with a wet cloth, “John?”

Shepard opened the eye that wasn’t shut from swelling.

“You’re alright.” James smiled wide, “You did it.”

Shepard closed his eye and frowned, “No.”

“What are you talking about? Of course you did, you’re right here!” James tenderly pushed some wayward hair out of Shepard’s face. But to James’ surprise Shepard started crying, that was something he had never seen before, the closest ever had been in the crate in the freighter. “What’s wrong?”

“Those poor people.” Shepard whispered.

“Who cares?” James whispered back caressing Shepard’s cheek, “Your job is done. Leave it be. It’s in the past now.”

“I have to warn them…”

“You can’t.” James said softly, “Please listen to me, it’s in the past. All you have to do now is mend, and then find some peace in this life.”

Shepard snorted offended. “Leave me the fuck alone.”

“Alright.” James said putting down the wet cloth on the floor. “I’ll be back to check on you tomorrow.”

Shepard stared up into the ceiling, his entire body hurting every time he took a breath, he willed himself not to think about what happened, but failing as all he could think about was the same fate would await Kaidan’s poor, parents. Those nice people in their tidy apartment, those people who were so proud of Kaidan’s police work – not aware of what he did for real. Those poor people who had taken him in when he had first come to Earth, they had taken time to show him normal stuff for Earth families and never once laughed at him for being dumb. Kaidan’s mother had even called him son more than once. He had sold those people out. Self-preservation had kicked in at the outmost moment. If Kaidan hadn’t hated him before he would now.

-*-

A month later as Shepard was washing up, holding the hose over his head, getting somewhat used to the ice-cold water over time, he saw a figure out of the corner of his eye. He twirled around spraying the person with water as he turned. As he saw who it was, he paled. His heart beat so fast he thought he would pass out and it was with shaking hands that turned off the water. “I’m sorry.” He mumbled.

“It’s fine, I startled you.” Kai Leng said from the shadows.

“Please I told you everything I know.” Shepard said holding up his hands in front of his person.

“I know you did.” Kai Leng said with a little appreciative smile. “That’s not why I’m here. Get dressed.”

Shepard blinked confused, but did as asked. He followed as Leng asked him to, all the time prepared for sudden pain or worse.

“Tense?” Leng chuckled, “Relax Shepard, I’m not here to hurt you.” When Shepard just stared at him dumbfounded, Leng laughed in earnest. “I only hurt people if I’m paid for it.”

“What happened to Kaidan’s parents?” Shepard asked with a tiny voice.

“Nothing yet.” Leng said shrugging again. “So aren’t you curious as to what I have to say?” he smiled.

“Yes.” Shepard said looking down at his feet in the grass, ashamed.

“Okay I’m throwing you free information here, not because I owe it to you, but because of something you said when we uhm… had our little chat.” Leng said. “So let me tell you how we found you.” He paused and stared at Shepard in the dim light, “We found you because we could tell that the same ID kept checking your bounty. So I sent this ID a message asking if they had any solid information on your location, because then they could collect a third of the bounty.”

Shepard sat down on a flower crate, just watching Kai Leng not sure what to believe.

“The person answered back that they didn’t have any information as of now.” Leng said, but as we did a more thorough search into this ID we found it to be Kaidan Alenko, and then we knew.”

“He – he checked what I was worth on the market?” Shepard whispered.

“Yes.” Leng nodded, “So for the guilt you might have for telling me what you did, don’t. He is a lying bastard, and would have sold you out if the price was right.”

“He wouldn’t” Shepard argued, “He just checked to see if anyone was still looking.”

Leng shrugged yet again, “You can tell yourself that.” He grabbed Shepard’s jaw hard, forcing him to look up at him, Shepard hardly dared breathe, recalling the touch of those leather gloves all too well. “I met a lot of people in my life, and I’m telling you that he was gonna sell you out.” Kai Leng smiled “I see what Vega sees in you, you got some balls, you really do.”

“Why are you telling me this?” Shepard asked with a muddled, confused tone.

“Because I was paid to.” Leng said matter-a-factly, “I even gave a discount because I hate liars and assholes like Alenko, that simple.”

“Who?” Shepard asked urgently, not really expecting an answer. “Who paid you?”

“Can’t tell you that darling.” Kai Leng smiled amused. “I was paid to tell you what I knew about how we found you, and I have.” He let go of Shepard and stepped back.

“I just don’t understand…” Shepard mumbled mostly to himself, rubbing his face with his hands. “How, why… I thought that…”

“I’m not a therapist.” Kai Leng said, “That little shit has everything coming to him. I’ll even throw in an extra punch for you if you want me to – pro bono.”

“Thanks I suppose.” Shepard whispered hesitantly, feeling an insane laughter bubble up inside – this was crazy! Kai Leng was the motherfucker who… who had broken his body and spirit in one, he had subjected him to pain he didn’t even know existed before. He hated Kai Leng, and yet why was he standing here all civil making so much fucking sense? Maybe he was going crazy. But it all just sat so right and so wrong inside him.

Shepard sat in the garden staring out into the air long after Kai Leng had left, was it really true? Or was Kai Leng just messing with his head? But what could he possibly gain by that? It was true wasn’t it? Their relationship had never been good, and the last couple of months it had been downright terrible. Maybe that was Kaidan’s way of distancing himself so he wouldn’t feel bad when he sold him out. Maybe he knew that Miranda was a double agent all along.

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